One of the festivals that unite Yoruba people from different communities is the Egungun festival. Most people regardless of religious affiliations participate in the festival for the exciting atmosphere and the songs, dancing and the colorful costumes of the “ara orun” (ancestors).
Egungun is believed to be the spirit of our ancestors coming to shower the world with blessings. Egunguns speak in strange voices, people especially children believe Egungun comes from “orun” purposely for the festival.
Oloolu is a popular and well-respected Egungun in Ibadan, Oyo State. His followers are male, during the Oloolu festival a public service announcement is made on radio and television of his scheduled route (which is always in Old Ibadan neighborhoods like Yemetu, Oluyoro, Itu Taba, and Oja Oba) as it is an “ewo” (forbidden) for women to see him. This is a tradition Ibadan residents are well aware of and follow.
Oloolu does not wear a mask so his followers know his identity. Oral history passed down from generations says Oloolu used to wear a mask and that this mask possess mystical powers that helps Oloolu detect the presence of women nearby and will warn accordingly. It was said that his mask was sold long ago to European explorers and was never replaced.
My memories of Egungun is quite different from that of Oloolu of Ibadan and of course I would perhaps not have anything to say given women are not allowed in the festival. My fondest memories of the 1980s, is the Egungun Festival in my town. The seven day Egungun festival in my town is the only festival I know that unites my town’s people.
My family lived in the heart of the town, our house is by a 3 way crossroad or “orita meta”. Orita meta is of special significance to the Olorishas, orita meta is where an “ebo” (food for the gods) is placed. Because of this Egunguns in my town would always pass by my house so my siblings and I do not have to make any trip to get a glimpse of their colorful and elaborate costumes.
There are a number Egunguns in Modakeke, I cherish my memories of Lémojágbà from Isale Agbara. He is the youngest and the most energetic of the Egunguns. He runs about a lot chasing the excited children and adults alike, not too surprising that he always had the largest crowd dancing and singing after him.
As part of his way of getting the town excited Lémojágbà was also known for breaking clay pots (Ìkòkò) so on the day of his outings everyone will make efforts to tidy up and get their clay pots out of view.
Lémojágbà is considered to be a senior Egungun so as tradition he and other senior Egunguns will come out to mark the first day of the festival. It usually starts with prayers and sacrifices to the gods at Igbo Igbale, asking the gods for peaceful festival.
My parents have always been Christians, my mother very much so however, she understood the satisfaction that everyone derives from the excitement leading up to Egungun festival, because of this my siblings and I are super obedient around the festival time so were many children in my neighborhood.
After the usual rituals at Igbale, the Egungun will parade key areas in town. They will eventually make their way down Alapata Street, and in front of my house where the Egungun performs to the cheering crowd. The “Gangan” (Talking drums) is used to communicate messages.
My mother’s rule allowed my two older siblings and I to follow our favorite Egungun down the road up to Mama Alakara (just before Ile Danru), the distance of about 300 meters away from my house.
Needless to say most people who speak negatively about Egungun today have never witnessed the festival or those who did perhaps don’t see the beauty in our culture and traditions. Folakemi Odoaje for #JujuFilms