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From Bamgbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Arigidi-akoko in Akoko North West Local Government Area of Ondo State, presents a unique historical evolution that will interest any discerning mind, including scholars and researchers. It is the hometown of the national coordinator of Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC) and Are Onakakanfo-designate, Otunba Gani Adams.
Its history dates back to early 19th century. One distinct thing about its culture and tradition is that women are not allowed to see masquerades. Despite the belief in the masquerades that come out annually in the town, only men are allowed to see them. Any woman who ventures to see it will die instantly going by tradition and belief.
The people of Arigidi-Akoko, according to Mr. Adekunle Olanipekun, a historian, came from Ile-Ife, Osun State and initially settled in Benin, Edo State. They moved from Benin and settled in the present day Arigidi town in 1819.
He stated that there were several festivals celebrated by the people before Christianity and Islam were introduced. Among the festivals was Agbogbo, usually celebrated after the harvest of yam. It is also used as a calendar for other traditional occasions.
There is also the Aborogi masquerade. It is one of the masquerades that entertain with its unique cultural display during Agbogbo festival. It was the Aborogi that would open the floor before others follow suit.
Oral tradition of Arigidi revealed that Aborogi masquerade would proceed to the palace of Zaki of Arigidi-Akoko before moving to the chiefs’ homes.
From there, the masquerade would move to each compound and later danced at the market square, where every indigene of the town is expected to be present. The masquerade is worshiped annually as a mark of honour and respect. Indigenes from far and near come home to pay homage to the masquerade.
Olanipekun said the people cherish their culture. They believe all that they were told by their forebears, especially that women cannot see masquerades. Other masquerades are, Ele, Egun Ede, Koromomo, Awooye, Adifa, Peleke, Aromusewa and Takotabo. He said the people of Arigidi-Akoko believe strongly in idol worshiping such as Illiben, Omoradiye, Iyorobi, Okota and Ediyo.
However, one major festival that unites the people is the Okota Festival celebrated by all every year irrespective of religious belief. It is an avenue to thank God for the outgoing year and offers prayers for the coming year.
At the last celebration of the festival at the Arigidi-Akoko’s Palace Square, Adams said Okota, a river goddess, has several attributes that are in many ways comparable to the Osun goddess, another powerful and benevolent river goddess:
“Let me quickly use this opportunity to educate those of us who are still in the dark about the essence and significance of Okota festival and its relevance to national development. The festival was inspired by the highly benevolent Okota goddess, who generations of Arigidi-Akoko and faithful from near and distant places regard as harbinger of goodwill, as well as a major source of refuge during the pre-colonial era.
“Oral tradition has it that while barren women were provided with fruits of the womb, afflicted persons received healing after drinking the water from Okota River.”
“He said though the festival has not reached its destination yet, “but I am happy to inform you that there are indications that we are on the right path and that we are beginning to triumph over all the challenges as we remain focused on taking Okota Festival to higher places.
“I have no doubt in my mind that the benefits that can be derived from cultural festival, especially in the area of national development and unity cannot be quantified.
“Since we started Okota Festival, Arigidi-Akoko and indeed, Ondo State, witnessed a huge turnout of tourists, from both local and foreign places, who come to witness a truly cultural festival. It has also provided a veritable platform for us as sons and daughters of this great town and our friends from across Yoruba land to showcase our cultural values and traditional heritages.”
He assured the people that efforts are on to ensure that Okota is listed as at the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a world heritage centre: “Let me also call on the government of Ondo State to join hands with us in this onerous task of cultural evangelism to draw the attention of the world to our state and make it tourists’ number one destination. I believe Okota festival has all it takes to create the necessary awareness about the tourist potentials of the state.”
Highlights of this year celebration included the grand finale of Miss Okota Beauty Pageant where 16 contestants made it to the final and Adesewa Otepola emerged the winner.
An indigene, Mr. Akinyemi Sunday, said: “We respect our culture and tradition that is why women here don’t see masquerades.
“I have not seen any woman who will come out and say she will try it because they all know the repercussion of it. We are law abiding people, we don’t doubt our cultural and traditional belief, hence, our fervent belief in the fact that women here can’t see masquerades.”
The Zaki of Arigidi-Akoko was said to be incommunicado and as such could not speak with newsmen or guests at the time his palace was visited.