Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

West African Yam Festival


Yam Festival Celebration. The sizes of these yams are outstanding!
Photo Credit: Jeff Haskins (Global Crop Diversity Trust)
During August & September in West Africa, once the rainy season ends, it is time to harvest a very important staple food: the yam. The yam festival is celebrated at the start of the harvest with festivities, thanksgiving and divination in the hopes of a plentiful harvest. 

The yam is a staple crop in West Africa, and many communities depend on its harvest for survival. It is believed that many factors influence the success of the crop, such as witchcraft, ancestors and various gods. These forces are appealed to with special prayers and sacrifices during the festival.

You can read more about the yam as a staple food in our earlier post here.

Celebrations vary, but all have dancing and drumming, and often masquerades. Some times families show off their harvest, hoping for pride of the largest yam, or the largest crop. Women and girls prepare the feast, with recipes featuring the yam, of course. 

Yam Festival Celebration.
Photo Credit: Jeff Haskins (Global Crop Diversity Trust)
In Ghana, the festival is called Homowo, or "To hoot at hunger". Villagers gather, and a young boy has the honor of carrying in the best yam, followed by another boy beating the drum. Chiefs follow the yam, while others dance along to the beat of the drum.


Yam Festival Celebration.
Photo Credit: Jeff Haskins (Global Crop Diversity Trust)

In Nigeria, the New Yam festival is celebrated at the end of June, especially by two of the larger ethnic groups, Igbo and Yoruba. Altars are made to honor ancestors, the earth god and the yam god. 

For the Igbo,yams are considered sacred. According to Igbo legend, during a severe famine, the tribesman Igbo (from whom the tribe is named) was told by the spirits that he must sacrifice his son and daughter in order to save his community from starvation. Their bodies were to be cut into many pieces and buried in various patches of earth. Igbo did as he was told and within a few days, yam leaves sprouted from his son's body, and cocoyam sprouted from his daughter's. It was by farming these crops that the tribe was saved from starvation.


Tasting Fried Yam

When we first tried yam, we didn't much care for it. It was boiled in a sauce, and the texture was not to our liking. I had decided then that we would have to try it again, prepared differently. In honor of the Yam Festival, I decided to fry the yam. My reasoning was that almost anything will be tasty when deep fried and liberally salted :) And I was right - the girls even asked for seconds! Though similar to fries, you can taste the subtle yam flavor and note a difference in texture. 


This recipe is akin to potato fries. Peal and slice the yam, fry in hot oil, drain on paper towels and don't skimp on salt. 

Yams can be a bit dirty (similarly to potatoes) and are difficult to peel. Best to cut the yam in large slices, and peel those smaller pieces.  You'll likely want to clean your knife and cutting board after peeling, and I suggest rinsing your cut pieces of yam as well.

Heat oil in a pan on medium high heat. Gently place your yam pieces in hot oil, and fry for 3-5 minutes until golden and crisp. Turn over each piece and fry for another 3-4 minutes. Drain on paper towel.


Enjoy warm with salt. And try to imagine how important this vegetable is for millions of people. 

You can find more posts exploring culture, geography and history with kids at All Things Beautiful

9 comments:

  1. A wonderful post, as always. I have missed you. Where do you get your yams? I have never seen them at our local grocery stores.

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    1. Thank you Phyllis! It's good to be back, and among blogging friends.
      I happened to find yams at an independent grocer that brings in specialty items - have never seen them in our regular grocery stores... this one may be a tricky ingredient. They are eaten in parts of Asia, so may be found in Asian grocery stores.

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  2. We have a similar festival in India after harvesting. The festival foes by various names in different parts of the country though :) Love the recipe. These would be a great "healthy" snack one of these days :)
    -Reshama

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    1. Harvest festivals are always so interesting to me, and such a neat way to see what crops are most valued.

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  3. Lovely to have you back! I'm re-signing up for emails from you because neither of these posts have come through to me! The fried yam look super yummy!!

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    1. Thanks Claire! It's good to be back :) Very strange about the emails... I hope re-signing up works, because I have no idea what else could be done!

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  4. I had always assumed yams were slight sweet potatoes, but these look much woodier for the peel. Interesting.

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    1. I'm odd enough to have found learning the difference between sweet potatoes and yams to be fascinating - not the same assessment from the girls though!

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  5. ''It is believed that many factors influence the success of the crop, such as witchcraft''

    Witchcraft? Please, where did you get this information from?

    The Homowo Festival is celebrated in the Accra (Ghana's capital) Region and has nothing to do with the Yam crop. The crop associated with the Homowo festival is the maize (corn).

    One of the main Yam Festivals in Ghana is celebrated by the Asogli people in the Ho district and also has nothing to do with 'To hoot at hunger' but, a celebration of the Yam, and a harvest thanksgiving.

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