Lagos from the Past

The Yorubas are one of the vast tribes in Nigeria occupying most of the southwestern part of the country including Lagos. One of the unique history of the Yorubas of Lagos is the celebration of the Eyo (also known as the Adamu Orisha play) festival to guide the soul of a dead Oba (king) or a high ranked chief and to celebrate the coronation of a new Oba. The Eyos are dancers dressed like masquerades and are depicted by their white clothing, long staffs (Opanbata), complemented by a sombrero-like hat that comes in different colors according to distinct groups. It is said that the Eyo masquerades represent spirits of the dead referred to as “agogoro Eyo” which is translated as “tall Eyo”.

According to the Nigerian history, Eyo began in Ijebu Iperu in Ogun state (Nigeria) and it is divided into five distinct groups or Iga; Iga Pakerike delineated by their red Eyo cap, the Iga Agbomagbe delineated by their blue cap, the Iga Odoru, the Iga Amororo and Iga Fibigbuwa. In hierarchy, the Iga Pakerike are the major groups in Iperu.

Eyo was brought into Lagos by a native of Iperu who thought to entertain his in-laws and now the Eyo has become a festival celebrated in Lagos than in anywhere else. In 1854, the festival became a huge thing when the then Oba of Lagos, Oba Akintoye died. The festival was celebrated to commemorate his life and reign as king, and overtime the Eyo festival was also observed to revere departed high ranking chiefs.

As an order of event, the Adimu Orisha which are the senior Eyo group in Lagos often depicted by their black hats, go public with a staff a week before the festival. Their appearance with the staff in public tells the people that the festival will be celebrated in exactly seven days’ time. The Eyo groups take turns in carrying the staff for the whole week before the festival. The other groups are Okalaba (red caps), Oniko (yellow caps), Ologede (symbolized by banana leaves) and Agere (purple caps). The festival takes place on the island, and the main highway is closed down during which motorists’ movements are restricted in order not to impede the celebration as thousands take part in this fete. Participants of the Eyo festival on the day of the celebration are prohibited from wearing shoes, head gears, smoking, and the females are not allowed to have the “Suku” hairstyle on. It is also a taboo to take pictures of the Eyo Orisha(deity). The Eyo masquerades are known to beat people who break the rules with their staff.

Over the years, the Yorubas have dived more into Islam and Christianity and many have left their roots for greener pastures. Hence, the traditional followers have reduced largely although the festival remains significant and it attracts more tourists which generates a great deal of revenue to the Lagos government. During festivals like the Eyo festival, the traditional rulers of Lagos get to exercise their full powers. The most recent celebration of the festival was in November, 2011 venerating prince Yesufu Oniru who was a Lagos aristocrat and in May, 2017 commemorating the 50th anniversary of Lagos state.

What do you think of the Eyo festival? do you think all Yoruba natives should take part in the festival regardless of their religious beliefs? Perhaps the Eyo masquerades should be a little more lenient with their rules?

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