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Em ‘Orho (The New Yam Ceremony)

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By Eghosa Osagie

Why Does the Edo Celebrate Em’orho?

It is appropriate to highlight the rationale for Emorho in Edo land. It is generally recognised that farming is a highly risky business Each activity of the farming cycle has to be undertaken at specified periods of the year The climate has to be right — the required amount of rainfall, sunshine and dry spell — to guarantee a bountiful harvest. Also the harvest itself is the reward for human effort expended on the land more specifically; the farmer has to engage in the following activities during the farming year:

Ifie — clearing the bush

Egbo — felling of the trees

Ekhuen — ground preparation

Egua — planting of the yam

Ikpesi — staking of the yarn

Iviema — training of the yarn tendrils

Ohie — weeding

Ikpen Ema — general harvesting of the yam

It is possible for many things to go wrong at any of the points of agricultural effort. The rain may disturb the burning of the bush, or drought may result in a failed crop. Other sources of danger to a good harvest are pest, thieves anti plant disease. In view of these considerations, a good harvest is reason enough for celebration with family, friends and neighbours, some of who may have lent helping hand stages of the farming cycle. It is appropriate that a farmer and those who consume farm produce should give praise and thanks to Osanobua for blessing the efforts of farmers in their task of ensuring food security for the community. In periods of serious food famine as occurred during the reign of Oba Ogiso Arigho, only a few that were lucky with their crops could celebrate.

The Edo celebrates Em ‘orho with Ema (pounded yam) goat meat, bush meat, among others, when farmers of the land start to harvest their yarn crops. That takes place about the eleventh lunar month of each year. Em ‘orho provides; good opportunity for Odionwere, Okaegbee, and family heads to feast relatives, friends and neighbours; to promote social solidarity and a sense of belonging among the people. It is as well a chance to reduce hunger, at least for the period of merriment. Celebration of Em’orho is not compulsory and only those able to finance the cost of the fresh yam.May celebrate it.

There is no doubt that the name Em’orho (fresh yam) signifies that the festival is agricultural. Yam for thousands of years has been the staple food and the mainstay of Edo land. Em’orho Festival is therefore celebrated as a thanksgiving to Osanobua who makes the harvest possible and who, in doing so, guarantees food security and sustains life in the land.

Em’orho is a festival of harvest and first sale of fresh yam, and its consumption by the people. It is a festival during which the Omo N’Oba, the heads of families Erha (fathers), heads of extended families (Okaegbee) and Edionwere (village or community heads) play leadership roles. These leaders, where the resource permits, organise and finance the feasting and merriment.
In the Royal Palace in Benin City, the Ague festival where the monarch goes into seven days of seclusion immediately precedes the Em’orho festival. In that seclusion, he embarks on a fast for seven days.

The Ague festival is thought to derive from the Christian Lenten or fasting, learnt from the first coming of Christianity to Benin some five hundred years ago. All those the Omo N’Oba will ask to fast with him will not have eaten and would not have had any contact with the year’s new yam. Each one of them will wear the Umanague on a thread round their necks.

The Umanague is a motif, made of brass by the Igun Brass-.Casters. The Ohen Osa’ n Akpakpava (The Chief Priest of the Edo traditional religion) will hand them out to each participant before the Ague begins. These chosen chiefs will tie them round their necks with a string of beads.

When the Oba emerges from the seclusion of the Ague the New Yam Festival immediately begins. The first meal using the new yam tubers, can then be pounded and eaten but not necessarily in all homes at the same time.

(Eghosa Osagie was professor of Economics at the University of Ibadan and the vice Chancellor of the Benson Idahosa University. He hold the Ph D of Stanford University Paolo Alto, California.)

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