By Victor Akinkuolie
Okeigbo town in Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State, is one of the ancient Yoruba town where Egungun festival is celebrated annually with pomp and pageantry.
“The Egungun which can be literally interpreted as masquerade,” is believed to have a link with the spirit world and as a result are accorded with honour and respect by their devotees in various Yoruba communities during the period set aside for the celebration.
It is given the most attention among the different festivals celebrated in the community. Why is this?
In his comment, one of the notable personalities in the community, Dr Adeoye Olatunji, who is the chairman Cultural Festivals Planning Committee (2018 edition) explained that the Egugun festival is an age-long event of the community.
Olatunji further explained that the community usually celebrates more than fifteen traditional festivals annually, but Egungun celebration is the most prominent because of the fun associated with it and the spiritual benefit that the community derives from it.
The Okeigbo cultural festivals chairman said the period is usually used by the people to appease their ancestors to bring peace, prosperity and protection to the community and also to pray for the well-being of the people of the community as well as those in diaspora.
Also speaking, the secretary of the Okeigbo Cultural Festivals Committee, Mr Alexander Omojadegbe, described the Egungun celebration as part of the culture of the people, also a period to showcase their culture and tradition. He further stated that one of the significances of the festival is that it is an avenue to bring the people of the community, both home and abroad, together.
He called on the government and agencies in charge of culture and tourism to partner with the community, so that the festival can be packaged as tourist attraction like other festivals in other towns.
In his own comment, one of the devotees of the Egungun festival Chief Ogunjimi Folagbade, who is also the Egbedi of the town, commended the people of the community for participating fully in the celebration the stating that the development has helped to keep the legacy bequeathed to them by their forefathers.
He maintained that the festival is not associated with hooliganism and thuggery.
Meanwhile, this year’s celebration like previous ones, was marked with the procession of the masquerades numbering about one hundred and fifty in various categories who moved round the town, entertaining people amidst singing and dancing, before they later converged at Oke-jege venue of the grand finale of the celebration.
It was learnt that women are forbidden from putting on the garb of a masquerade. They only watch as a spectators, during the period of the celebration, food and drinks are share people gather in groups under different canopies as they were being entertain by the masquerades.
The masquerades dance and move close to some spectators. After mock threat, the spectator will give them money or kola. The masquerades will then pray for them in the dialect of the town.
Although the 2018 edition of the festival has come and gone in Okeigbo, the excitement that was associated with it would remain indelible in the minds of the people of the community, and the visitors from other parts of the community would no doubt have good stories to tell of their experiences in the ancient community when they get to their various destinations.
The last day of the celebration called “Igbaja”, is meant for, is the acrobatic display by the masquerades sacrifice, it also involves the masquerades dancing round the town in a procession holding fresh leaves and their devotees in their hundreds, as the head to would later terminate at a popular river in the town called “Omi oloori” located at the outskirt.
During the celebration, some notable traditional chiefs, particularly the Egbedi and some members of the Okeigbo palace council including the traditional ruler of the community, Oba Lawrence Babjide are on hand to witness proceedings.
One of the most significant activities that also mark Egungun festival out of others in Okeigbo town.
It is believed that the strong bond of the people with the masquerades is because of how they responded in the past when the town was invaded.
The masquerades were said to have trooped out in their large numbers fought and won the battle for the people of the ancient town.