13 December 2002

Nigeria: Ekimogun Day: a Mangled Tradition


Lagos — Ondo Kingdom celebrated its 15th Ekimogun Day last Saturday. Tunde Okoli who witnessed the festival where Juju music maestro, Otunba Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye (KSA) was Chief Launcher, reports that Ekimogun has shelved its traditional festival garbs of yesteryears

Things are fast changing in the globalising world. African culture, tradition, religion, language and ways of life have been the worst for it right from when Western civilisation and religion berthed on the coasts of Africa in the garbs of colonialism and imperialism. Even in contemporary times, these twin agents of Western aggression against traditional Africa have continue their pull-it-down agenda against African culture and religion with the rise of globalisation and Pentecostalism. Today, the relics of what survived the Western onslaught are nothing but mangled remains of what used to be originally African.

Pentecostalism particularly, have done more damage than its begetters - colonialism and imperialism. The latter day Christian concept came with the utopian idea that seem bent on destroying traditional Africa, its fashion, hairstyle, art, music, culture, religion even, ridiculously, food. It regards anything traditional Africa as heathenish, ungodly and vile. In the Pentecostal world, the fiercer a Church minister attack traditional African ways of life and religion, the more his popularity among his congregation. The trend continues unabated.

Contemporary African societies, particcularly Nigeria, have continue to respond by remodifying their social, cultural and religious heritage. Consequently, communities that used to celebrate new yam and other traditional festivals changed the names and contents of the festivals to suit the dictates of these neo-imperial agents. Hence, the plethora of community days as in Ogbomosho Day, Ile Oluji Day, Igbara Oke Day, Oka Day, Ikare Day, Ilawe Day, Idanre Day among others in fad. Even traditional festivals like Igogo in Owo Ondo State, Ojude Oba in Ijebu Ode, Ogun State, Agbaa in Iwaro Oka, Ondo State among others are not fast changing their appellations, their traditional garbs and contents are by now, diluted. Most of these festivals no longer follow the traditional rites for which they were instituted in the first place. One of such festival is the popular Ekimogun festival among the Ondo people of Ondo State. The Ondos distinguished themselves among the Yoruba tribe occupying the South West of Nigeria, for institutionalising the age-long Ekimogun festival in celebration of Ogun, the Yoruba god of iron and custodian of all professionals working with iron instruments.

Ekimogun festival used to draw tourists from far and near. It was then not just a celebration of the life and times of Ogun, it was an expression of the peoples' allegiance to their ancestry. More importantly, the festival marks the end of the harvest season and preparation for another planting season.

Ogun who was said to have possessed dual qualities to create and destroy and a lover of palmwine, roasted yam and dog meat, had instructed his followers on how to celebrate every traditional Ekimogun festival. Before its transformation 15 years ago, hunters, blacksmiths, drivers, farmers, all professionals working with iron instruments worshipped Ogun at every Ekimogun festival with masquerades, roasted yam, palmwine, Ijala and other traditional performances that endeared the festival to tourists in the past.

However, with the rechristening of the festival and the advent 'Ekimogun Day' 15 years ago, the ancient Ekimogun festival has almost completely shelved its traditional essence of Ogun worshipping for which it was instituted. Palmwine are hardly used and the ritual involving the symbolic severance of a dog's head seem eternally rested.

The 15th Ekimogun Day celebrated last Saturday was far from being a tourists' delight. Aside loosing its traditional rites juice, the event could easily pass for a political rally cum fund raising ceremony by the Ondos.

Only two masquerades were admitted into the Ondo Civic Centre venue of the event. Even then, the programme did not accommodate performance slot by the masquerades. Sensing that they have been deliberately left out of the proceedings, the masquerades forced their way into the arena where they thrilled the audience with performances before they were hauled away by the security agents.

The three gubernatorial aspirants to the Ondo State Government House witnessed the event attempted to turn the arena to a campaign rally. Banners, posters and supporters of Chief Olusegun Agagu, former Minister of Power and Steel who is contesting on the platform of the People's Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Rahman Mimiko, former Commissioner in the cabinet of Governor Adebayo Adefarati of Ondo State, Alliance for Democracy (AD), and Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, All Nigeria Peoples' Party (ANPP) painted the arena in glowing colours. Of particular spectacle were the supporters of Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim. With talking drums, trumpets and other musical instruments, they followed Ibrahim everywhere he went in the arena creating a carnival-like picture. Even banners and posters of Governor Adebayo Adefarati who shunned the event were placed at strategic points in the arena.

Not done, the politicians also compete for relevance during the launching segment chaired by Ambassador Omotayo Ogunsulire. Each struggle to have the microphone to address the mammoth crowd before announcing their donation.

The Ekimogun Day Launching for this year showed all the trappings of an exciting event right from its planning stage. In the past, the organisers have not been able to convince this year's Chief Launcher, Otunba Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye (KSA), one of Ondo's distinguished sons to play active role in the launching aside his regular all-night performances in the last 10 editions of the festivals. What is more, the launching also had Ayo Olagundoye, MD/CEO of National Bank of Nig. Ltd. and Dr. Temitayo Fawehinmi as co-Chief Launchers respectively.

Welcoming guests to the occasion, the Chairman of Ondo Development Committee, Professor I. O. Oladapo stated that "the Ekimogun Day is an annual festival when all Ondo sons and daughters, at home and abroad, come to celebrate the uniqueness of being an Ondo man" adding that the festival "serves as the rallying point and it is used to harness our energies for the growth and development of the Kingdom."

He explained that Ondo is an ancient civilisation whose indigenes are proud of their heritage. He recalled how Airo (1530-1561), the successor of 1st Pupupu (1516-1530) the first Osemawe of Ondo Kingdom established an administrative, political and military command structure which lasted for centuries until recent changes made by the incumbent Osemawe, Oba (Dr.) Festus Ibidapo Adesanoye Osungbedelola II.

In a comic relief, the event compere asked King Sunny Ade to drop his royal garb to be addressed just as Otunba Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye. According to the compere, it is not possible to have two kings on sit at the occasion. "Since our Kabiyesi Alaiyeluwa, Oba Festus Ibidapo Adedisewo Adesanoye Osungbedelola II is present, Sunny, you will have to remain Otunba Sunday Adegeye," he said.

As expected, King Sunny Ade presence drew the creme of the Nigerian society to the festival. Aside the governorship aspirants mentioned above, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice-President Atiku Abubakar were represented by Chief Fashawe at the occasion. Governors Abubakar Audu of Kogi State, Olusegun Osoba of Ogun State, Lam Adesina of Oyo State, Bisi Akande of Osun State, Adeniyi Adebayo of Ekiti State, among others made handsome donations through their representatives at the event.

In all, KSA alone raised about N15 million for Ondo community. Otunba Fashawe captured the influence of the personality of the Chief Launcher when announcing donations on behalf of the President and the Vice-President. He said: "We are all gathered here today particularly because of KSA. President Olusegun Obasanjo said that Sunday is has proved to be a good son of the soil and a worthy ambassador of his country's music. You are the first thing the world cherish in Ondo. The world know the quality in you as a music star. Thank you for your contribution to the promoting of our indigenous music (Juju) throughout the world."

Co-Chief Launcher, Ayo Olagundoye, MD/CEO of National Bank of Nig. Ltd. with the support of friends, colleagues and well-wishers raised over N5 million while Dr. Temitayo Fawehinmi, the Chief Launcher of the festival brochure raked in about N2 million at Ekimogun Day 2002.

King Sunny Ade said it was a rare privilege being asked to be the Chief Launcher of the 15th Ekimogun Day celebrations. "I am extremely happy. In fact, I am a bit nervous, because I have never acted in this capacity before. In previous Ekimogun Days, I have only been one of the spectators during the afternoon segment of the festival only to play at the all-night party. But here I am now, one of the big masquerades performing in the square. The excitement is making me nervous," he told THISDAY.

For him, Ekimogun Day has, over the years, grown to a symbol of identity for Ondo sons and daughters the world over. "Every year, we all eagerly look forward to Ekimogun festival. Wherever you are as Ondo indigene, you will be itching to come home to celebrate and felicitate with your kindred during the festival. It is the unifying point for all our brothers and sisters at home and in the Diaspora. Ekimogun festival is unique in the sense that it always offers one the opportunity to reunite with friends, relations and folks you have lost contact for long," he stressed.

What if he were asked to repeat his role at next year's edition of the festival? KSA chuckled and said: "It is not possible! Do you know how many illustrious sons and daughters of the community that are waiting in the wings to pounce on the opportunity to be Ekimogun Day Chief Launcher? It is not something they can make one person do frequently because there are so many people that are willing to do it that are waiting for their turn to be Chief Launcher. However, if they said I should be the Chief Launcher again next year, why not? I'll oblige. So far as it is for the development of my community," he enthused.

One of the highpoints of Ekimogun Day 2002 was the mini art exhibition/market mounted at the arena by three notable artists of Ondo descent - Olawuyi Oluwasola Israel, Olagunju Lasisi and Bunmi Olaosebikan.

Among works on exhibit were: Olawuyi Oluwasola Israel's Hawkers (pencil), African Mother (oil on paper), At Night (oil on canvass), Arrival I & Arrival II (oil on canvass), Man at Work (terracota), Rwander Child (terracota), Sober Reflection (terracota), Bata Drummer (oil on canvass), Expected Baby (mixed media), and Sea Scape (oil on board). Olagunju Lasisi's Procreation (oil on canvass), Humble Beggar (wood), Drummer (paster on paper), Tribute (oil on paper), Omolope (oil on paper), Drummer (wood), Unity (wood) and, Fruit Seller (metal). Bunmi Olaosebikan's Fulani Traditional Pot (clay), Woman (oil on canvass), and Dancer (wood).

There was also a citation on Chief S. Akinola Makinwa the 2002 Merit Award winner at Ekimogun 2002. The investiture of Chief Makinwa was performed by the Osemawe himself with the assistance of his wife Olori Victoria Anike Adesanoye. Thereafter, selected schools in the town performed the match past the royal box where the Osemawe and his wife Olori Victoria Anike Adesanoye and the launching principals sat and watch in rapt admiration.

After the match past, prizes were awarded to winners in the Ekimogun Day 2002 football, essay, cultural dance, Ise, and draught competitions. This was followed by homage paying by indigenes to the king who waved his horsetail in appreciation to the mammoth crowd that trouped out to perform the act.

Though Ekimogun festival has went through a lot of transformation in recent years, copious traditional rites of the festival remains resilient and are still visible. The Ondos are known to be one of the most traditional peoples of contemporary Nigeria. Chief Segun Agagu averred that "anyone who is culture minded cannot but envy Ondo people for the way they have been able to preserve copious elements of their cultural heritage."

Since the evolution of Ekimogun Day 15 years ago, it has been dedicated to raising funds towards the development of Ondoland. One of such monument that have emerged from the efforts is the near completion of the multi-million naira Ondo Civic Centre long Canon Adeyemi (Ondo/Ore) Road, Ondo. According to Prof. Oladapo, the Yegengha of Ondo, "we have used the occasion of the annual Ekimogun Day to generate funds for the development of our motherland."

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