The Yam Festival is extremely popular throughout the Caribbean Islands.

What is a Yam Festival and why are yams celebrated?

Well, because yams or name, as it is called in the local supermarkets in the Philadelphia area and most of the U.S., became an important staple in the diets of Caribbean people. When the slaves were brought to the region from Africa, they brought name with them. This grand tradition has survived the test of time.

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Back in the motherland, yams were, and still are, important. The Igbo people of Nigeria are cited as the culture behind the celebration.

On, it is noted that August, September and October are three special months in the Igbo cultural calendar. Each year, thousands of Igbo people come out to celebrate the annual New Yam Festival.

According to Wikipedia, The New Yam Festival is a celebration of the prominence of yam in Igbo culture and life. The evening prior to the festival, the old yam crops from the previous year are consumed or discarded.

“This is because it is believed that the new year must begin with tasty, fresh yams instead of the old dried-up crops of the previous year. The next day, only dishes of yam are served at the feast, as the festival is symbolic of the abundance of the produce,” the Wikipedia entry noted.

Over time the yam festivals have become a Caribbean tradition and a tourist destination in many of the islands such as Jamaica, Trinidad, Haiti and the Bahamas.

In October 2014, Trinidad and Tobago introduced the New Yam Festival as its newest cultural event. ‘Yam is king’ the advertisement said at it touted a celebration of food, history and culture. Another ad said, “Tobago loves its blue food – sweet potato, yam, dasheen, cassava, eddoes. Yams have a whole festival dedicated to it. They can turn it into just about anything, even lasagna.”

This year, places in Canada, the Queens Borough of New York and the Clapham Common area of London were all set to kick off their respective festival or carnival. But that won’t be happening due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Jerome Cash of Delaware is an African American who loves everything Caribbean. He took a trip to Jamaica in 2018 and had his first encounter with yam.

“A little over two years ago, I visited my adopted Jamaican family and I was invited by friends to a festival,” Cash said. “I was extremely excited because the carnivals that I attended in the past was mainly music and dancing. I was ready to rock to the reggae music. We drove through small villages and ended up in a small town called Albert Town in the parish of Trelawny. This was the real thing not a hotel activity for tourists.”

Cash said that there were yams, yams and more yams on food stands, in local stores and even in the yards of several residents in the area.

“There was a food aroma in the air and of course I could identify my favorite jerk chicken in the mix,” he said. “I quickly learned from my friends, that jerk chicken or any other type of meat goes well with some roasted yams.”

The Trelawny Yam Festival started in 1997 by the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency. The highlights of the festival, which draws tourists and local visitors, include famous musicians as well as many exciting activities and competitions for participants. The feast includes creative yam concoctions in which yam flour is substituted for regular flour to make cakes, buns and other baked goods. There is also yam pudding, yam punch and yam wine.

Most of the yams are grown in the parish of Trelawny, which produces 60% of Jamaica’s yams and 50% of its exports. The most popular is the yellow yam.

Caribbean grown yams are exported to West Indian communities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

After returning to the U.S., Cash visited several Jamaican restaurants to satisfy this newly acquired taste buds but none had roasted yams and saltfish on their menu. He mentioned that he did some internet searches and found an easy recipe online. He visited the Caribbean markets and bought his yellow yams and salted codfish and wallah, he was able to duplicate his new favorite dish.

“The memories of Caribbean cultural activities such as carnivals and festivals will remain with me for a lifetime,” he said. “This is the time of year when these activities would be in full swing but the Coronavirus has shut everything down for a good amount of the year.”

Let’s be hopeful that the Yam King will reappear in 2021.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. They are not necessarily intended to reflect the views of the Philadelphia Tribune.

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