The traffic into Ondo State was in high volume as Akure, the capital was in preparation for the yearly thrill of Mare, a local festival having its origin among the people of Idanre. Like any other festival in the month of December, Mare is a spectacle to behold. The never-ending scenic hills of Idanre, a town, which shares a boundary with a forest reserve, saw a beehive of activities within the period. The festival in its fourth year, has lived up to its billing as the yearly spectacle, attracting the tourism industry to its territory.
Hotels, inns as well as various hospitality outfits struggled with the sheer volume of tourists, culture-enthusiasts, competitors and fun seekers that came to witness the festival. The warm hospitality of the Idanre people added colour to the festival as many struggled to make it to the top of the hills no matter how daunting that feat looked. No surprise considering the awareness initiated, planned and executed globally by the Ondo State government through its Ministries of Culture and Tourism as well as Ministry of Information.
December, no doubt holds the ace for the highest number of carnivals in Nigeria. From the Southwest to the South-South, a carnivalesque ambience engulfs the nation spewing different cultural displays and activities. But Mare stands out in terms of rejuvenation of culture and location as discovered at the just concluded edition that ran from December 13 to 15.
Scenic Hills, Excited Multitude, Daring Jaunts and Winners
The day started with the beautiful Mare Festival float of a fish-like structure mounted on an articulated vehicle with long convoy. Quite titillating and intimidating, the beautiful spectacle was sighted on the streets as early as 8am till about 2pm, when it finally berthed at the Methodist Primary School Idanre. Sitting at the foot of the massive Ojimoba Mountain, the ancient school, Methodist Grammar School, Idanre is the venue of this year's Mare Festival and the steep slopes of Ojimoba itself is the challenge confronting the participating mountain climbers (both local and international).
The venue, which has been set-up with canopies of different colors and a hi-tech stage mounted at a vantage position where different cultural groups entertained the excited audience have been seated at the foot of the Mare Mountain as early as 10am waiting for the official inauguration of 2012 festival. More than a cacophony of voices, it became a source of fun in all its elements as this excited crowd enjoyed dance, drama, songs and cultural displays from different groups from different parts of the state.
Ondo State Commissioner for Culture and Tourism, Mr. Deji Falae in his welcome address elaborately pinpointed the tourism vision of the Governor Segun Mimiko's led administration as "enhancing the tourism potentialities in the state with a view of aligning them with the aspiration of the people in terms of boosting their image, rejuvenating their culture and tradition, empowering them, mobilise wealth and engendering peace and fostering unity". He assured the guests and participants of the commitment of the government at ensuring that Mare Festival withstand the test of time and fulfill the aspiration of its inauguration
In a speech however, Mimiko further assured the people of the state and visitors that Mare has come to stay. "For us in Ondo State, Mare is about celebrating our God given cultural heritage, it is about celebrating our unique geography in Idanre. It is a celebration of excellence, bearing courage and the can-do mind set of a typical Ondo person and we will continue to celebrate Mare as a major annual event in the state"
The governor, while declaring open the ceremony, explained why the government is branding Mare mountain climbing as a product. "The festival is a symbol of the solid and enviable characteristics of a typical Ondo State indigene who is resilient, sporty, daring, adventurous, hardworking, responsible, reliable, dogged, solid, with uncanny ability to survive against any odds, going about his business reasonably and dependably."
He pointed out that these characteristics must be imbibed, transmitted from one generation to another and packaged as core values of reference for generations yet unborn with a particular relationship to a physical structure of reality which Mare stand for.
One of intrinsic beauty of Mare Festival is its nationalistic and global appeal as it has the capacity of drawing competitors from all over Nigeria and beyond. The Marathon race, which was kicked-off at the Akure stadium and ended at the foot of the mountain at Methodist primary school, was won by non-indigenes with prices ranging from $750 to $1500. A participant from Imo State won the long distance female competition, while John Onye from Jos won the Male Long Distance race, with each going home with $1,500. The females did well too at second place and went home with $1,000.
According to John Onye: "My coach told me about this exciting competition in Jos and I dreamt I won, and thank God I was able to conquer and I am a proud owner of $1500. I praise the Governor of Ondo state for coming out with this brand of competition which has not only enabled me to showcase my ability and agility but also serves as the sustainer of my education as I will be spending part of the money to offset my school bill and settle other things."
Pul Riyel, a South African who participated in the mountain climbing said Nigeria is lucky to have been blessed with numerous mountains, which can be harnessed for economic and social development. "This is a product of being cosmopolitan and resourceful in outlook. I appreciate the Governor for seeing the enormous resources in these mountains and his agrarian efforts at enhancing them for economic development and growth of his state. I am in love with these lovely mountains; it's a beautiful place, fantastic and hospitable people. They really impress me. I look forward to being here next year, I was here last year for the competition of mountain climbing, I am here again this year and I will be here next year," the veteran climber said.
Testifying to this claim, the State Commissioner for Information and Media Strategy, Mr Kayode Akinmade revealed that being an indigene of Idanre is a big blessing in terms of exposition of the town to global attention not only by the famous Idanre Hills, but also of having another intercontinental tourism product - MARE, which has always ensured the visitation of over four thousand of people to Idanre whenever Mare is being celebrated with the fall out of this on the economy of my people."
The traditional ruler of the town, who is the chief host, Oba Fredrick Aroloye, the Owa of Idanre, in his remarks, commended Mimiko for his commitment to the festival, which he said had been exposing the potential of the town to the outside world.
A Stellar Event
Nollywood stars mostly from the Yoruba-speaking genre were on hand to add spice to this yearly event. From anchoring the event to dancing, these stars kept tourists and indigenes on their feet. Artistes such as Funsho Adeolu, Richardo and Bimbo Oshin added star quality to the event.
Residents of the ancient town, especially operators of drinking joints and local food sellers, made brisk business, while the festival lasted. Also, commercial vehicle drivers and motorcycle operators had hectic time in conveying the hundreds of passengers eager to get to the scene of the action-packed cultural fiesta.
Drummer girl and musician, Ara gave a mind-blowing performance at the festival musical concert to end what many described as a stellar event on December 15.