Eyo Festival: Displaying the glory of African spirituality.
The 'Adimu Orisha play,' which is another name for the Eyo festival, ranks high in the listing of world's festivals.
Eyo festival was initially held, as part of the final burial rites, to escort the spirit of a departed Lagos King or Chief.
Essentially, man is a spirit. That spirit is released onto earth in a vessel which becomes the physical body. When death happens, the vessel is returned to the earth; and the true form, the spirit, returns to the afterlife.
Owing to this truth, the Eyo Festival was primarily held to ensure safe passage for the spirit of Kings and notable Chiefs, after their earthly departure.
But, over time, the ceremony has been expanded into an amusing ritual to also commemorate the installation of a new head of an Iga (palace) or when a new Oba is installed.
And, due to the westernization of things, there is now a possibility for a governor or a political leader to request that the festival be organized to add colour to an occasion for a fee.
Eyo, who is believed to be a representative of the ancestral spirits, is a masquerade that comes out only on the Island of Lagos. It is usually costumed from head to toe in white flowing cloth.
The attire consists of an 'Agbada,' which is worn on top and the 'Aropale,' the bottom that is wrapped around. The Eyo also wears an 'Akete' a hat that bears the colours and shield of the Iga from which he comes.
Customarily, on the Sunday before the festival, Saturday, the 'senior' Eyo group, the Eyo Adimu (identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat), goes public with a staff. Upon this happening, a message is passed: the event will take place on the following Saturday.
Each of the four other 'important' groups — Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) — take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday.
On the eve of the festival (i.e the night before festivities begin), which is a Friday, a feast is hosted at the reigning Oba's palace. And it is customarily required, for all the men who will be partaking in the ritual to assemble at the Oba’s palace.
It is here that the Oba officially gives his blessings.
At the end of the merriment, the Eyo Adimu, which is first in command, carry out an inspection of the structure after everyone has left.
Following, the other groups carry out their own inspection, in the order of hierarchy, one group after the other.
Also, there is the observance of the Gbale rites which symbolizes the 'sweeping away' of evil and the ushering in of peace, harmony, and prosperity.
There is a sacred place on the island of Lagos where the ceremonious crowning of any Oba takes place. It is known as 'Enu Owa'.
As early as 5am on the festival morning, the sounds of the Gbedu and Koranga drums, calls for the gathering of the Eyo’s.
And as their number increases, all masquerades in their full regalia begin to move towards the Para– a tent built with raffia mats; erected somewhere in the neighborhood of Enu Owa.
Thereafter, procession then leads to the Oba's Palace at Iga Idunganran to render submission before moving out into the streets of Lagos Island through Idumota.
Now, imagine the display of thousands of figures adorned with a white robe, colourful hats, and flowing ribbons as you crown your thoughts with elegance, distinction, gracefulness, and style.
Picture the joyfulness of men and women about the street; and the dancing of children, as they try to include themselves in the merriment of this splendour.
Ideally, there are not many celebrations in the World that would really pass for a festival.
But, the 'Adimu Orisha play,' which is another name for the Eyo festival, ranks high in the listing of those few.
In other words, the Eyo festival gives good meaning to the word– festival. And the truthfulness of this claim is seen in the high numbers of foreign spectators from the different part of the world.
It is also important to state here that motorcycle, taxis, bicycles, sandals Suku ( a hairstyle that is popular among the Yorubas, one that has the hair converge at the middle, then shoot upward, before tipping downward) and smoking are not allowed on the sites of the festival.
On encountering people, the Eyo greets them with the phrase, "Esunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!”"meaning, "Don't fear anything, have a taste of the palm tree," and taps the individual on the shoulders with the "opambata."
When he is given money, he will pray for the person and recite the praise song of his Iga. The phrase, "e sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!" is in the Ijebu dialect of Yoruba. A song that was rendered as a wedding present when the Oba of Lagos married an Ijebu princess back in the days of old.
End of festival
The setting of the sun calls for the conclusion of celebration. And after a wonderful and but exhausting day for the average Eyo masquerade who had walked some good numbers of miles, the cultural ceremony simmers down.
At the end of the grand show, the Eyo masquerades move back to the Para, where the opening of the traditional festival was declared at dawn, to tear it down.
The tearing down of the Para is instructed by the Orisa Adimu, and his Eyo masquerades.
Although, due to the numerous stories about its history, uncertainty still surrounds the origin of the dignified Eyo Festival.
But, the most profound and widely believed account is that: the cultural festival was inherited from Ibefun, a town in Ogun state, where according to legend, the then Oba of Lagos, Oba Akinsemoyin, set out to appease the Eyo deity so that his childless younger sibling, Erelu Kuti, can bear a child.
Miraculously, the Erelu did eventually bear two children whose line till this very day determines the enthronization of Oba's, the traditional ruler of one of the world’s most populous city.
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