24 October 2017

Nigeria: Ile Ife - Big Festival in the 'Holy City'

Ile Ife. City of 401 gods. City of temples. City of music makers. City where the first dawn and dusk took place. Opposite the palace of the Ooni is an imitation of the Aare crown which the Ooni wears during the annual Olojo festival, and the origins of the event stretch back to a time between the 1th and 15th centuries. Every lover of art, culture and all that is fine and beautiful, should travel to Ife to look upon this indigenous Nigerian wonder.

But then there is the actual Aare crown itself. At the climax of the festival which was started by Ogun Oniru, the third Ooni of Ife, the Ooni wears the crown and appears before his people who pray in the expectation of blessings, with some circling their heads with their hands as Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi passes by. People are encouraged to pray or make a wish when the Ooni appears wearing the crown. Oyelami Awoyode, PA to the Ooni says "Olojo is the day that the Ooni wears the Aare crown.It is the highest in the whole world. The Aare crown is meant for the Ooni of Ife alone. No other king in Yorubaland has it. The Ooni uses it to pray for the world, for the country as well as for Ife." According to Akin Aderibigbe in a work published in 2014 "The festival is usually accompanied with the ceremony where the sons and daughters of Ife pledge their loyalty to the imperial Majesty the Ooni of Ife, who comes out with a special crown from seclusion, after holding consultations with several Yoruba gods and deities. "The massive crowds line the route as the Oba makes his way to Oke Mogun. He is escorted by many chiefs, the fine rhythms of excited drummers and there is the constant chant of devotees. Again Aderibigbe writes "At the shrine, the Ooni would perform a ritual dance with Osogun and in the end, they would both perform a ritual of sword crossing, apparently an oath of comradeship."

Funso Adedayo, lecturer in Heritage Studies and Cultural Tourism at the Kwara State University, who has brought his students to Ile Ife to experience the festival, comments"The significance of Olojo is that it celebrates a new dawn, because Ife is said to be the cradle of Yorubaland, and that is where life started from. The importance of Olojo also includes the fact that the Yoruba believe that most of the Yoruba kings took their crowns from Ife. So, the festival is practically saying this is our beginning, this is where we all came from. It is always assumed that Ife is the beginning of the Yoruba world."

"There is only one Aare crown in the whole of Yorubaland," says Dr. Adisa Ogunfolakan, Director, Natural History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, "To the people of Ife and Yorubaland as a whole, Olojo is the major festival that brings all sons and daughters of Ife and Yorubaland to Ife. In those days this is the time when the maidens will come out looking for suitors, and young men will come looking for women to marry. That is the only day people will see the Aare crown which is brought out once a year. It is the period when the Ooni will renew his allegiance to his ancestors and to the Almighty. That is why you see him moving from the palace to the Oke Mogun, the Ogun shrine where he renews his allegiance through the priest of Ogun."

He adds that the crown is 4,000 years old, this being the figure arrived at by the university for dating the culture of bead making in Ife .Aare is also said to weigh 400 kilogrammes. It has the weight of 5 grown men each weighing 80 kilogrammes. This makes it the heaviest crown in Yorubaland. Ogunfolakan, who is also an archaeologist and anthropologist, agrees with this conclusion. Adedayo adds "I have heard that the crown weighs 400 kilogrammes, but I cannot explain these things. It must have been made of heavy metal. They always give us this belief that the crown is heavy, but on that day it will be worn, it will be lighter. You cannot compare it with the current crowns, which are made of lighter material. It could be heavy and because of the weight, it's not something you wear every day. It's not a ceremonial crown, not a social crown. It's a ritual crown, handed from one king to the other."

Ogunfolakan tells me that Aare itself is under researched, which means that perhaps there is still a lot more we still don't know about the crown, the origins of which go back to the time of Oduduwa "The palace has not given us the opportunity to go into full research into it, or even to weigh it." On the significance of the festival, he emphasises "The festival is to celebrate the new dawn in Ife, and you will see that the Ooni will move from the palace to the Ogun shrine, and Ogun we believe is the path finder when Oduduwa was coming. He was the one leading the way. It is a celebration or renewal of the allegiance of the Ooni to his ancestors."

One lasting memory of Olojo 2017 is the parade of the deities: Along comes Moremi, jovial goddess and dancer, Oramfe dressed in red, carrying a pot within which a fire gently burns .There is the young girl bearing a beautiful beaded calabash, fiery Sango with his axe, and Esu, whose body is painted in both black and red. Making up the rear are the emesi who carry whips, run up and down clearing the route for the Ooni, and the chiefs who sit within the palace wearing very lovely hats. Then there are the lively drummers wooing the crowd near the palace at sunset, with their rich mastery of the drum. But above all these, there is the sight of the Ooni in front of his palace in white attire, the multicoloured crown on his head. Raising his hand, he turns left and then to his right. The last rays of the sun fall upon the exalted Aare crown. He prays for his people.

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