Dignitaries preparing for the ritual of the yam. Photo: TRT Afrika

By Rachida Houssou

It is at the foot of one of the hills of the city of Savalou that the ritual takes place within the royal palace.

Like every year, on August 14 2023, religious figures, the King of Savalou and his many subjects and guests met in the square dedicated to the ceremony to commemorate the centuries-old tradition.

The way the celebrations take place has changed a little but the objectives remain: to protect the population against possible diseases that the consumption of this "sacred" tuber might cause, according to the traditional beliefs of the people.

In front of a colourful crowd, a college of traditional dignitaries settles around the items of sacrifice: calabashes and canaries surrounded by grass, two hens, local alcohol, bowls and above all two yams and a knife.

His Majesty Dada Ganfon Gbaguidi XV during the ritual on August 14, 2023. Photo: TRT Afrika

After prayers and incantations, one of the figures seizes the yams which he methodically manipulates before cutting a few slices coated with a yellowish liquid.

All this, under the watchful eye of the king of Savalou Dada Ganfon Gbaguidi XV, seated on his throne, surrounded by his subjects.

The pucks reduced to smaller pieces are thrown into the air. The pieces fall back onto the ritual podium and the priest of the fâ (the oracle) announces the sign under which the yam will be consumed during the year.

Steaming dishes

After the explanations and incantations, the pieces of yam used by the traditional figures are taken to the king. He tastes them and thus sets the tone for the consumption of new yams in the country and especially in Savalou.

This gesture by the king brings the yam-slicing ritual to an end and everyone is now free to consume the tuber. Then the party begins!

Followers of endogenous cults dancing together during the ceremony. Photo: TRT Afrika

The festival is spiced by singing and dancing. Yam brings everyone together every year. This tuber is considered as a child born staying for nine months in its mother's womb, because yam also spends nine months in the mounds before being harvested, explains Gabin Alognon, a native of Savalou.

Once the ceremony is over, the majority of the guests and the inhabitants of the city gather around good steaming dishes of pounded yams and peanut sauces.

After the festival, everyone is free to consume yam. Photo: TRT Afrika

Yam is a staple in Benin. Many love fried yams in the late afternoon in the West African country.

Yam production in Benin was estimated at 3,150,248 tonnes from 2020 to 2021, according to the country's Directorate of Agricultural Statistics.

Yam has an important social role in the country. ''It is a crop of African origin. It is also significant in weddings, funerals and other ceremonies in certain regions,'' explains Nasser Baco, an agro-sociologist at the University of Abomey Calavi.

TRT Afrika