There are many stories associated with Yams. Such as the first thanksgiving between the settlers and American Indians, or Achebe’s world-renowned book on ‘things fall apart’, and on so many different themes and features, one will find online. Yams tend to be labeled by most retail chains in North America as is, but in reality, it’s just sweet potato.
So what’s the difference? And why does it matter? Well for one part, sweet potatoes come from Central and South America, and Yams from Asia, Central -, and West Africa. The root of the Yam is bigger and its texture is drier and chewier than that of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes, although sweet, have a culturally boring background in comparison with Yams, as these bark, wood colour roots have a story to tell of their own.
The Yam festival which takes place yearly in many parts of Africa pays testament to this. In regions such as Nigeria and Ghana, entire communities come to a complete standstill and practice the ripe old tradition of the Yam festival, in which offerings of gratitude to the elders and chieftains are made, and many dances by young and old signify the end of the harvest and the coming of the new ‘work’ cycle.
Young boys prove their strength by eating the yams boiling hot out of the pots in which they are cooked. Bringing the family together and portraying the incredible culture of the People’s of Africa are at the heart of these festivals, and just like the insides of Yams can differ in color, and the outside differs in shapes, so too, do the festivals represent peace amongst historical tribal conflicts. Of course, the farmers are the celebrated icons of these festivals, and in a way pay much deeper respect to their forefathers for maintaining the community’s livelihood. It is after all the staple diet of the community and brings forth the sustenance of future generations.
A full harvest of Yams can feed a community for a full farming cycle and besides this, Yams contain most of the nutrients humans need to survive. Little wonder they are held to a demi-God status in Africa at the end of harvest during a festival.
Peace, unity, and love are all recurring themes of the old tradition of the Yam festivals and carrying forth of this cultural heritage. One should beckon if, for one, the rest of Africa could learn more from these traditions elsewhere, and as a matter of fact, the rest of the world. It is a time when families can forget about their grievances and settle disputes amongst one another, celebrate the now and the future, and let old wounds disappear. Amazing how the root of a plant can bring so much harmony to this dark old world of ours and make it shine again.
Recipe to try: Curried-chicken-and-sweet-potatoes-bake