From Brad, Historical Interpreter:
Yam Day Update: New Yam Festival!
This week, we are commemorating the New Yam Festival that traditionally takes place this time of year in Igboland, and we have also updated our yam farm experiment!
August marks the prolonged period when individual villages or village groups in Igboland hold their annual harvest festival. Every day, different locales hold festivities, and no matter how close or distant your relationship to anyone there, you're invited! You'll be asked to eat your share (and then some) when they hold the feast, partake in dancing, and, depending on your gender, accompany the masqueraders.
The New Yam Festival is a time of jubilation that represents the beginning of a new season, turning from a time of scarcity to a time of plenty. The Igbo are eager to share the abundance of a successful crop by inviting anyone even remotely acquainted with the villagers to a feast. It's said there should always be leftovers. The jubilation also celebrates the cyclical changing of old to new, and new to old. All the old yams that families still have in their barns are thrown out, and the new yams are brought in. The wives thoroughly scrub pots and wash the clothes in a nearby stream, all of which are meant to purify the household for the incorporation of a new and sacred harvest.
It is, in fact, taboo to eat a fresh yam before your village's yam festival, because not only are your body and house still seen as unfit for a new harvest, but the proper sacrifices to the deities of the land have to be performed first. Typically, this includes making a sacrifice to the spirit of the land, Ala, the spirit of the Yam, and other deities a given locale chooses to recognize. After the sacrifice, the men in the village take the slaughtered chickens, cows, or goats to be eaten. Their sacrifices are not exclusive to the animal kingdom, as they may also offer kola nuts, or palm wine to Chukwu (the creator of all, almost like a Zeus figure) and the lesser deities. With the land purified and the next year's crop blessed, the Igbo are allowed to enjoy their sacred harvest.
This week, we are honoring the New Yam Festival by showing off some of our prize yams from last year's harvest in Africa, which we picked up from an African food store in DC. The Igbo festivals are celebrated at the beginning of the harvest season, and harvesting goes on for weeks or months afterward. So it's possible that our yams may have been harvested as late as October 2011.
They aren't so fresh, but still edible!
Back to the experiment!
Here's Yam 1: standing at about 35", it grew the fastest this week extending itself by 14".
Next week we'll continue our New Yam commemoration, and I'll delve into the world of masquerades! Also, the yam experiment will continue!