Behind the Lady Ala
The Goddess Ala is a deity known from the Igbo pantheon. A woman known for beautifully bare flesh, and symbolism of the earth, she is the mother of all. The Igbo people pray to the goddess Ala when they want the good fortune of the earth, and a bountiful Yam harvest. The Yam, a vegetable similar to our potato is the plant best known alongside the goddess, for it is the yam that is sacrificed during the harvest celebrated in her name.
It is not only the land and the fertility of the land that Ala is known for, she is also known for her dealings with the dead. Stories told by the Igbo people, tell of how the souls of the people, when they die, return to Ala's womb. Along with having dominion over the placement of souls, she also has a hand in the customs and laws of the people. She is the one who judges the deeds of people and determines their fate and whether they return to her womb. If a taboo or crime is committed against the earth, it is considered a crime against the goddess herself. Any taboo of that sort is seen as the most disgusting among the Igbo people.
When she cannot directly deliver her messages, it is her python that is often seen by her priestesses and priests. It is said that if a python is spotted, then it is Ala trying to contact the person. The python is not the only symbol associated with the goddess Ala, but the crescent moon is as well. In her images, she is often depicted as a woman with a babe in her arms.
The Yam Festival
The yam festival is celebrated in two different countries, Ghana and Nigeria. Each of these countries has a distinct festival and tradition that honors this goddess.
It is often celebrated at the beginning of August, just after the rain season has ended and the harvest is plentiful. For the Nigerians, this festival is known as the Ikeji, or New Yam festival, and is celebrated with a couple of traditions. First is the elaborate dances that are performed. Dancers will often times wear masks that reflect the many different seasons, while others now a days will wear clothing that reflects the bright colors associated with the goddess.
For Ghana the festival of the yam goes by another name as well. Hanowo or Hoot at Hunger is the title bestowed upon this fruitful festival. For them they often celebrate with parades, usually of the strongest boys carrying the best yams so to represent the strength of the harvest and encourage harvests to be strong and bountiful in the future.
Yam Festival Dancers
Danielle Farrow from Scotland, UK on May 29, 2014:
Love the way symbolism crosses cultures - something you referred to in your comment on my Celtic Animal Folklore hub, of course. I am especially fond of the serpent and the moon occurring so often, as here. Thank you for this colourful information!