– By Patrick Ochei
It is often said that a people without culture are naked; because culture is the totality of human existence in behaviour and ways of life. Part of the activities of human communities is the celebration of seasons, being times when the living acknowledges the omnipotence of God in giving life to things that humans do, especially the plants that go into the ground as seeds which eventually brings forth fruits or produce in harvest time.
In the year 2022, precisely on August 25, the people of Asaba in Anioma Nation of Delta State, celebrated the Aja Festival which is symbolic in the sharing of joy with the arrival of the new yam and corn, especially the yam being the staple food of the people. And so they gave thanks to the god of the land and their Ancestors who made it possible for them to experience the farming season and also experience the harvest season.
The Inland Town Media Network crew moved round Asaba town to observe the happiness being exhibited by the people in celebrating this unique way of appreciating God and making of sacrifices by the people. One specific place visited was the Palace (Ogwa) of the Iyase and Diokpa of Idumuojei village, Umuezei Quarters of Asaba, Obi Patrick Isioma Goodluck Onyeobi to witness how he does the Aja Festival and he has these to say:
“The first of the annual festivals is the Aja Festival which comes up in the month of August. Our Traditional society was agrarian and most of our festivals revolve around the farming season. The Aja Festival, which falls in August, marks the beginning of the new yam festival and leads to Iwaji (New Yam Festival proper) in September and ends with the ‘Ine’ in October. It is an annual event.
“The Aja Festival celebrates the arrival of the new corn and yam – yam being the staple food of our people. The new yams being harvested at this time of the year (July – August) come mainly from the alluvial plains of the River Niger and before they are eaten, the Aja Festival is celebrated to thank the Almighty God and ancestral gods for giving us a bountiful harvest. It is a ceremony of offering and sharing, and it is performed mainly by the Red Cap Chiefs (Obis) and some other chiefs and indigenes who can do so too, particularly farmers who have been blessed with rich yam harvest. But Red Cap Chiefs and Traditional Chiefs do not eat the new yam until Iwaji proper.
“It involves the slaughtering of cocks and goats as appropriate. The new yam is pounded and eaten with pepper soup. It is a Festival of communion and joy – a Festival of giving and sharing.
“Aja is usually celebrated on Eke day and on that day, no one goes to the farm or enters any farm road. It is preceded by ‘Nkwo Aja’ when farmers go to their farms to harvest the new yams to be used for Aja.
“Wrestling events are also staged to mark the festival. This is known as ‘Mgba Aja’ and they are unique moments for our people”, Onyeobi narrated.