In the city of the Cradle of Civilisation, a king and his people’s celebration of the First Dawn of Creation offers a prismatic view of ancient traditions and an immutable culture
Story by MUSA JIBRIL
Photos by OMONIYI AYEDUN
During Olojo festival, the historical and cultural tapestry of Yoruba antiquities unravels to the delight of descendants of Oduduwa, who converge at Ile-Oodua, the palace of the Ooni of Ife at Enuwa, to witness their spiritual leader wear the mythical Ade Aare, an ancient crown worn by 51 successive Oonis.
The ceremony is usually characterized by pomp. This year’s celebration, which came to a high on Saturday, September 30, 2017, was palpable and prismatic.
Arguably the biggest festival in Ile-Ife, a city of the State of Osun in South West Nigeria, Olojo’s popularity stems from its roots in the Yoruba creation myth. Ile-Ife as the cradle of the Yoruba race is hailed as “Ife Oodaye, Ile owuro, ibiti oju ti mo”––the land of most ancient days where the dawn of the day was first experienced.
Olojo means “Owner of the day.” Figuratively, ‘Controller of Time’. In that wise, the festival commemorates the dawn of the first day of existence on earth according to the Yoruba mythology. Unlike most fiestas, Olojo is not dedicated to the worship of any idol, but to Olodumare (Supreme Creator). On the other hand, it is a festival that memorializes Ogun––first son of Oduduwa and Orisa (god) of war and iron––for his lead role in the creation of Ile-Ife.
The third personality in the tripartite honorees of the festival is Oranmiyan, symbolized by a weird collection of Lokoloko, palace messengers, who with their bodies daubed in ochre and white, bring an extraterrestrial whiff to the festivity. Oranmiyan––a prince of Ile-Ife and founder of Oyo and Benin kingdoms––was the son of a slave woman captured by Ogun during a war expedition. Unaware of her betrothal to Oduduwa, Ogun slept with her upon his return to Ile-Ifẹ from another campaign. The error became known, but the marriage to Oduduwa could not be stopped. Thus Oranmiyan was born of double paternity: fair-skinned as Oduduwa on half his body, and black in the other half, which was a manifestation of the gene of the dark-complected Ogun.
The central motif of the Olojo festivity is the Ooni Ile-Ife (Owner of Ile Ife)––that is, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II––and the mythical Ade Aare. This year’s celebration was conducted according to an age-old tradition. It started with the Ooni’s visit to ‘Ile mole’ shrine in Moore for prayers. He then proceeded on a seven-day seclusion to commune with the ancestors over the welfare of the people.
In the intervening days, the people anticipated the public appearance of the heir of Oduduwa with the sacred crown. Ilagun day––the eve of his appearance––was devoted to communal cleansing. The palace was tidied and rid of evil.
The next day, Okemogun Day, celebration revved up to a climax. The appearance of the king triggered a frenzy of joy that culminated in the Ade Aare cultural procession and detailed prayer rites led by the Ooni himself.
There was a timeline to the proceeding.
2:00–Ooni made his first appearance, welcomed and hosted the traditionalists and visitors.
3:15–He went into his chamber to put on the Ade Aare (King’s Crown), the climax of the Olojo Day celebration.
5:35–Ooni reappeared, spurred by cheers and prayers from his subjects, wearing the Aare crown––the original crown used by Oduduwa to lead a procession of traditional chiefs and priests to the shrine of Ogun. He walked a few meters to the shrine at Oke Mogun––where the first dawn came into existence––to pray for his subjects, Osun state, Nigeria, his visitors and the progress of humanity. Divination for the Ooni was held at the foot of Oketage hill. Traditional chiefs toting staffs of office marked with chalk and camwood, garbed in ceremonial attire and danced to the Bembe drum, for each chief, a peculiar drum beat and song. The Ooni too also danced to the Osirigi drum that was used to usher him out with the crown. The carnival atmosphere lasted from noon to evening.
Ancient magnificence and the splendour of the Ade Aare aside, Olojo showcases the richness of the Yoruba culture. Exotic traditions, clothing, music, dancing, customs, altogether visually spectacular. Ile-Ife’s status as the cradle of life and capital of the Yoruba kingdom before the emergence of Oyo Empire gave Olojo the pre-eminence of one of the oldest festivals in Ile-Ife.
People came from all walks of life––government functionaries, politicians and monarchs, traditionalists. Caucasians, Black Americans and West Indians got into the thick of the festivities, mixing freely with indigenes.
The 2016 record showed 250,000 attendees at the festival. It is projected that by 2021, Olojo would attract over a million visitors to the spiritual homeland of Yoruba people.
At home and abroad, Oba Ogunwusi has harped on the imperative of raising indigenous culture to a global pedestal. The gaiety and grandeur that attended this year’s Olojo is a positive sign, for Ife and, indeed, the Yoruba race and Nigeria.
Unlike the Belshazzarian Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin inscription on the wall, the writing on the wall, culturally, is inspiring and impressive for Nigeria––Ooni and Olojo at Ile-Ife; Osun at Osogbo; Ofala and Obi at Onitsha; Ojude Oba and Awujale at Ijebu Ode We should not forget the sinew of Glo. Then throw into the mix the culture juggernaut at the National Council of Arts and Culture––Otunba Olusegun Runsewe––who has come with a new mantra of “Culture, the New Oil”––if the momentum is sustained, in a matter of few years, Nigeria may easily become the unrivalled ‘Africa’s Land of Culture.’