Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Announcing: Yam Day!

Post by Brad, Historical Interpreter:

Today is...

We are documenting the progress of our yam experiment on our West African Farm. This is truly an experiment for museum staff because, as far we've found, no one has ever grown yams in the continental US before. This may come as a surprise to many of our readers who conjure up images of mashed yams with marshmallow and cinnamon, but the truth is that  people often mislabel sweet potatoes as yams. Our sweet potatoes, and all potatoes in fact, are originally from South America, but yams are exclusively native to Africa and Asia. Here we are growing the variety of yam most commonly grown in West Africa, classified as dioscorea rotundata, originating in the savanna land of this part of Africa. These yams require LOTS and LOTS of water, warm weather, and a long growing season. This is why they never stuck as a staple crop in the US, though they became popular in the warmer (and more slave-populated) areas in the Caribbean. Here you can follow our little experiment where we will measure the growth, progress, and delicate attention surrounding our miniature yam farm for all to see.     
It is hard to overstate the importance of the yam in Igbo culture. It is central in their economy, culture, and (least of all) diet. I would liken them to the Irish and their love of potatoes, but the Igbo connection with the yam goes back many more hundreds of years and is deeply involved in their traditional religion. Often the most respected man in the community is the Di Ji, or Yam King, who possesses the biggest yam barn. He is viewed as exemplifying hard work, productivity, and prosperity, some of the most important traits of an Igbo man. Through hard work and yam farming, most Igbo are at least capable of achieving some level of affluence within their community. This is the primary means for gaining numerous titles, the ultimate goal for any male, which not only brings prestige but allows for varying degrees of participation in community affairs and secret cult organizations.

Below are some photos of our yam experiment. The first Yam Day was actually Tuesday, July 31st. See how fast they grow in one week. These three yams are only a small sampling of the yams we've planted this year. Here's Yam 1. It's the smallest yam.

Yam 2:
 Yam 3, with its twin:

Here's how much they grew in one week.Yam 1-  12.5 inches tall:
Yam 2, 12.5 inches tall:
 Yam 3, the twins, 16 inches tall:

Our own personal (and botanical) Di Ji, standing around 18 inches tall. Stay tuned as we'll delve deeper into the farming tools and techniques, yam culture, food preparation, and more!

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