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Eyo Festival: The Pride of Yorubas in Lagos

(Last Updated On: December 25, 2016)

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With all the hustle and bustle in the city of Lagos Nigeria, one wonders how they make out time to celebrate one of the most prestigious festivals in Nigeria; the Eyo Festival. The festival is one that expresses and exhibits the cultures and tradition of the city of Lagos.

The History of the Eyo Festival

The festival is celebrated in honor of the deity Adamu Orisha and marks the passage of souls to the spirit world. According to some historians, the Eyo Festival wasn’t originally a Lagos affair as it was brought down to Lagos by two men from two communities in present day Ogun State sometime in the 18th Century. The first recorded procession in the history of Eyo Festival was in the 1850’s when Oba Dosumu organized the festival in honor of his late father Oba Akintoye.

Aside organizing the festival in honor of the dead Oba’s and highly placed chiefs in the Kings Court, the festival is also organized to celebrate and honor an outstanding personality who the people of Lagos believe has done so much for them.

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The festival even though it may have lost some of its followers to Christianity, hasn’t lost the fun and prestige which it has been known for. As a matter of fact, the festival attracts thousands of tourists every year. A full week before the festival (always a Sunday), the ‘senior’ Eyo group called Adimu (identified by a black, broad-rimmed hat), goes public with a staff. When this happens, it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. Each of the four other ‘important’ groups — Laba (Red), Oniko (yellow), Ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) — take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday.

According to this post on NICO, the festival procedures are as follows…Each Eyo comes out of an Iga (palace) of a ruling family in the morning and heads for the shrine (Agodo). It is robed from head to toe in white flowing cloth. The white flowing costume consists of an ‘agbada’ (the top robe), and the ‘aropale’ (the bottom wrap around). No part of the person carrying the Eyo is expected to be seen. The Eyo also wears an ‘Akete’ (a hat that bears the colours and shield of the Iga from which he comes). An Eyo may tie ribbons in his Iga’s colors to the Opambata (palm branch) that he carries. An Iga’s Eyo may have up to 50 to 100 or more members. Each person carrying a robe as Eyo must pay a fee for the privilege. This fee is paid to the Iga – ruling house, whose colors and Akete the Eyo wears.

Only adult males may robe as Eyo, but sometimes, there may be a child Eyo in a group. The sons and daughters and wives, as well as friends and neighbors of the Iga follow the Eyo on a parade from one end of Lagos Island to the other. The route of each Eyo goes from the Iga, where the Iga’s Eyo leave en masse, and then on to the Agodo – the shrine of the Orisa Eyo. After this, the Eyo may go anywhere on Lagos Island their feet can carry them, all the way from Ebute Ero to Obalende, via Oke Popo, Campus, Lafiaji and all neighbourhoods the Eyo’s whims may carry him. In fact, an Eyo may easily cover 20 to 30 kilometres on that day. The crowd of supporters following the Eyo does not wear white robes. Imagine the spectacle of thousands of white robed figures in colourful hats, flowing ribbons, men women and children milling about the streets singing and dancing. The Lagos Eyo gives good meaning to the words, festival and spectacle.

The only Eyo that is not part of a group is the most senior Eyo-Adimu Orisa. This Eyo’s nose is forever running, hence, the name Adimu. Only a very old and spiritually advanced male can robe as the Adimu. It is the last Eyo to leave the “agodo.”

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The Eyo, when it encounters people, greets them with the phrase, “E sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!” meaning, “Don’t fear anything, have a taste of the palm tree,” and taps the individual on the shoulders with the “opambata.” When he is given money, he will pray for the person and recite the praise song of his Iga. The phrase, “e sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!” is in the Ijebu dialect of Yoruba. It was rendered as a wedding present when the Oba of Lagos married an Ijebu princess”.

It is a taboo to either wear the Eyo costume overnight or cross any body of water, such as the Lagoon and the Eyo mostly admits tall people. Some items are prohibited during the festival and they include Okada (motorcycle), bicycles, sandals, and smoking not forgetting the Suku hairstyle (a popular hairstyle among the Yoruba people). The masquerade whips anyone who is seen with any of the items using the stick it carries.

What more can I say? Nigeria is indeed blessed!

“Eko Oni baje O”

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