Nigerian is a country with diverse cultures and values; Onu Okorie in this piece writes that it can create opportunity to increase foreign direct investment and develop tourism.
According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, ‘culture’ is the customs, beliefs and arts, ways of life of a social organisation of a particular country or group. It is often a way of life evolved from ancestral lineage and passed from one generation to the other.
Before now many people never thought that culture could be used as a means of economic gains, as value of culture was never placed on the economic interest. However, with time different nations have come to realise that culture could be money spinning.
Part of ways cultures have been used to make money in modern day is by using it to create tourism attraction. For instance, cultural celebrations involve some unique display that usually attracts the visit of foreigners. The resultant effect is that it is fast becoming avenue to attract tourists into some countries.
During such occasions visitors normally expand economic activities of the place where the cultural activities are taking place. In some cases visitors from advanced countries such America, China, Britain, Japan, France, Canada, Russia and Germany take interest in participation of some cultural festivals, thereby bringing about the inflow of foreign currency. Also it could be used to inform foreign investors how friendly the environment could offer. Many countries have through that means changed the fortunes of their country.
Cultural analysts have suggested that Nigerian could use that means to spur its foreign investment and make huge gain from the diverse cultures of the country.
For instance, in the South-Eastern Nigeria, New Yam Festival is fast becoming a symbol of cultural unity among the Igbo people in that geopolitical zone and their brothers in the South-South zone. Research reveals that this festival is comparable to the “Feast of the First Fruit” celebrated by the Jews while the Americans and Germans tag it ‘thanksgiving’ season.
The festival stands out as utmost memorable, all important and most esteemed ceremony. And it is a festival that all Igbo speaking people practise both in the five Igbo predominant speaking states and the other states where Igbo people are found. The spiritual and material significance of New Yam Festival to Igbo people cannot be over emphasised.
Ira ji also shares some similarities with the Asian Mid-Autumn Festival, as both are based on the cycles of the moon and are essentially community harvest festivals. Yam as a staple crop is very popular in Igbo land and this is shown in the cultural importance attached to New Yam Festival or Iri Ji in Igbo land.
The traditional Igbo society is mainly agrarian and so emphasis is placed on farming and the cultivation of sufficient food to last until the next food harvest. This implies that special emphasis is placed on yam cultivation, which is the reason why the traditional Igbo man takes pride in showing off his yam barn neatly stacked with yam tubers from top to bottom signifying wealth and success.
The New Yam festival of the Igbo is an annual harvest festival by the Igbo people with high social significance carried out by most communities in Igbo land to mark the beginning of the harvest season and held at the end of the rainy season in early August and usually celebrated through till September annually; though the time varies from one community to another.
The Iri ji, literally ‘new-yam eating’ festival is practised throughout West Africa, especially in Nigeria and Ghana and some other African countries, symbolising the conclusion of a harvest and the beginning of the next work cycle. The celebration is a very culturally based occasion, tying individual Igbo communities together as essentially agrarian and dependent on yam.
New Yam festival provides the occasion for celebration while offering special prayers to God for a good harvest. It is marked with colourful display of cultural dances and rites, including roasting and toasting of new yams. This obviously, is a time for feasting and merry-making.
The yam tuber in Igbo culture is regarded as a male and or chief crop, symbolising wealth, affluent and prowess. For this reason, it became obvious that it be chosen and as agricultural symbol for a god, bountiful harvest season and wealth for the Igbo. During the festival, the Igbos customarily perform pulsating variation of cultural dances, displays and appearance of Igbo ancestral masks and many others.
Yams are the first crop to be harvested, and are the most important crop of the region. The evening prior to the day of the festival, all old yams from the previous year’s crop are consumed or discarded. The next day, only dishes of yam are served, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce. Palm oil or ‘mmanu nri’ is used to eat the yam which is mostly roasted or boiled.
The solemn role of eating the first yam is performed by the oldest man or the king also called Eze or Igwe, depending on the community, as different Igbo communities have different names for the traditional rulers of their community. It is believed within the traditional communities that their position bequeaths on them the honour of being mediators between their communities and the gods of the land. In fact, many traditionalists and title-holders in Igbo land would not taste the new yam until the day that is traditionally set aside for that purpose.
At the Iri Ji festival, only dishes of yam are served. The oldest man or the traditional ruler is normally the first person to eat the new yam and thereafter every other person can eat.
There is also a spectacular display of masquerades of all shapes and sizes appearing in all corners with the highest concentration of dance and display in the market square to the excitement of the crowd.
The day is symbolic of enjoyment after the cultivation season, and the plenty is shared with friends and well-wishers. A variety of festivities mark the eating of new yam. Dances, masquerade parades, and parties create an experience that some participants characterise as ‘art’; the colorful festival is a spectacle of exhibited joy, thanks, and community display.
The new yam festival is an avenue for the expression of Igbo man’s cultural identity in our new cultural and social environment that should be seen by every Igbo son and daughter. It serves as a vehicle heralding the arrival of Igbo culture in Diaspora. We are now in a global village, which has ushered in liberty and freedom of cultural expression.
Despite the entire buzz associated with the New Yam festivals in Igbo land and other cultural festivals in Nigeria, it is believed that it has not started delivering the economic potentials in it.
However, it is heartwarming that some states have realised what the country stands to gain if the economic value and potentials of the Nigerian diverse cultures are developed.
Recently in a bid to ensure that the tourism sector performs maximally as an avenue for relaxation and generation of income, an 18-man inspectorate committee has been inaugurated by the Osun State government.
Performing the inauguration in Osogbo, governor of the state, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola stated that the aim of the present administration is to make the state a major tourism centre in the country.
He noted that road development to beautification of cities and others would amount to a waste if the committee does not take assiduously their responsibility.
The governor, who said that there is a high contentment to the development of the hospitality business as a major tool for economic development; added that what is required for growth in the sector is a body of competent and passionate people to see that the hospitality business is monitored to bring about the desired results.
While charging the committee to be responsive to its assignment, the governor described the committee as a police to all tourist outlets, stressing that they should ensure standardisation in all eateries from the most sophisticated to the least in the area of hygiene to decency so as not to be a source of disease and illness to the people.