New Yam Festival Of Controversy

News Introduction: 
Yakurr indigenes chides Cross River State Government of undue interference in their traditional festival. - By Increase Abasi-Ubong

The Leboku new yam festival is an annual event celebrated by the Yakurr people of Cross River State. As in most yam producing communities across Nigeria, the people use the period to thank God and their ancestor for bountiful harvests. In yakurr, before the festival proper is held, several traditional rites are performed. The Obol Lopon of Ugep and Paramount Ruler of Yakurr assisted by other chiefs perform the traditional rites to usher in the new yam.  Though most of these traditional rites are not open to the public, communities in Yakurr local government are always in festive mode throughout the one month the festival will last.The 30-day activity heralding the new yam festival  starts with the ‘Etikekomi’, visitation to farm roads to accept palm wine and sundry gifts. On that day, tapers give out their palm wine free. After that is Leboku Kepile, the traditional wrestling festival.The Ikoabase Leboku-wa (church thanks giving service) as well as ‘Ebokupom’ (traditional offering of supplication and appeasement to the gods of the land) are also held as part of the festivities. .As part of the ceremonies to usher in the new yam, Okondel, a rite meant only for initiates is also held. Newsworld magazine gathered that Okondel ceremony, which is  held only at night, is performed by the Obol Lopon of Ugep.  Other activities held before the new yam festival is unveiled, including ‘Eboku Pom (performed by traditional priests), Mblemi as well as Ledomboku (the actual traditional new yam celebration.) It is after all these traditional activities have been performed that the government Leboku is celebrated.But the ‘government’ Lebuku is given more prominence than the traditional Lebuku by the state government. In its bid to promote tourism, the state is said to have added some innovation into the event, though this has not gone down well with the Yakurr people.Prominent indigenes of Yakurr are however of the view that government’s interference in the festival was eroding the traditional values of Leboku. To them, Leboku new yam festival should be celebrated the way it is, and not how the state government wants it to be. The chairman of Yakurr Local government council, Chief Ubi Itam told Newsworld that the state government should key into the traditional festival as tourist would prefer to see the people celebrate the festival their own way.Chief Itam noted that the government Leboku, celebrated a day after the traditional new yam festival has been concluded and was absurd as it does not reflect the real traditional values of the Yakurr people.  “The government Leboku is celebrated after our new yam festival. Our new yam festival is open to the public but those invited to the government Leboku do not witness the real festival.”Chief Eteng Okoi, a traditional chief in Yakurr told Newsworld that government Lebuku has nothing to do with their festival.  According to him, “our Leboku festival last for 31,days while that of government is celebrated for just a day. This does not in any way portray the rich Yakurr culture to the outside world."He further told Newsworld that indigenes of the area do not attach much importance to ‘government lebuku’ usually held at the Ugep Township Stadium that is why most residents of the area go about their normal business on that day.But the Special Adviser (Tourism) to the state governor, Mr. Gabe Onah however dismissed the insinuation arguing that what the state government was doing is projecting the festival with the inclusion of Leboku in the state tourism calendar.“Government is only acting as a catalyst. We are trying to lay a foundation because the spiral effect of Leboku to the Yakurr people is enormous.”Mr. Onah further said that the state government was not in any way interfering in the festival adding, ‘we are a responsible government and a reliable partner.’On efforts being made by the state Tourism Bureau to project the annual event, Mr. Onah said the Bureau ‘is tracking the benefit of Leboku and its impact on the people of Yakurr.’“The value chain of Leboku is endless. We are lacking data and what we are trying to do is to put the necessary data in place. The Yakurr people are wonderful host and we hope they will continue to collaborate with the Tourism Bureau in projecting this great festival.”


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