The myth of Ahiajoku – originator of the New yam festival

Masquerade at Ahiajoku festival

In Igbo mythology, Ahia Njoku, also known as Ifejioku, is a goddess revered by the Igbo people of Nigeria. Ahiajoku is honoured as the god of yam or as an intellectual god of yam harvest. Yam is an important part of Igbo cuisines. 

Yam has a long history in Igbo culture. It is revered as a symbol of fertility and is an essential part of wedding ceremonies in traditional Igbo culture.

Planting of yams is traditionally a male vocation in the Igbo tribe unless one is weeding or harvesting.

The Ahiajoku Festival is held among the Igbo people on a full moon before the New Yam Festival. In some regions, children who are consecrated to the service of the deity are named Njoku. As adults, such children were expected to become rich yam growers, turning them into nobility. The name gives you a nature that believes in the phrase – “larger than life”. It is this nature that makes you a leader, visionary and an equally grand organizer

The origin of the goddess Ahiajoku

Once upon a time, a severe famine struck an unnamed Igbo land. Plants withered and animals died. The people were livid. They pressured their king every day for a solution.

The people referred to their king as Eze Nri. At the time, the Eze Nri was a man named Igbo, from whom the tribe derives its name years later.

Eze Nri, the king, spent many nights awake in search of an end to the famine. He was told that he had to kill his children, Ahia Njoku and Ada, which he did.

After killing them, he cut their bodies into small pieces before burying them. Six months later, plants grew out of the place where the body parts were buried.

When Eze harvested them, he found yams and cocoyams. Yams sprouted from the flesh of Ahiajoku, while cocoyams sprouted from the flesh of Ada. The yam brought the village out of the great famine.

It is believed that the spirit of Eze Nri’s dead son became god of yam, while his daughter Ada became the god of cocoyam.

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Although, in Igbo mythology, the yam deity is called a goddess. It is also important to note the Igbo language does not inflect for gender. In other words, the Igbo language is described as lacking grammatical gender and has natural gender system which is associated with the natural distinction of sex. 

Njoku is represented by the yam barns, with an effigy and a shrine.

Ahiajoku is celebrated in Igbo land not because it is impossible to acknowledge the new yam without the festival but because the Igbo people became more aware of the larger significance of that event in their lives by celebrating it. 

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