By Tayo Johnson
As the masqueraders’ season in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, draws nearer, TAYO JOHNSON takes a look at a tradition that is as old as the ancient city itself and presents some of the 100 or so masquerades that make Ibadan tick. In Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, devotees of masquerades or Egungun in Yoruba are getting set for their annual festival, a socio-cultural event that captures the essence of this ancient city of over three million people. The festival which takes place throughout the month of June and part of July, kicks off later this month when the Oloolu, the most revered of the 100 or so masquerades in Ibadan carries a pot full of ritual ‘sacrifice’ round some designated areas in the city to ward off calamities and cleanse the land to usher in peace and prosperity.
The Oloolu is expected to take the ‘sacrifice’ from its ancestral home at Ode Aje in the heart of the city by 1 pm to Idi Ape, Beere, Oja’ba down to the Olubadan of Ibadan palace before depositing it at Idi Ape by midnight. It is the belief among the locals that without the Oloolu carrying this sacrifice every year and depositing it at Idi Ape which is of spiritual importance to the city, Ibadan would not know peace and no Olubadan dares toy with this tradition. After the Oloolu must have cleansed the land with the sacrifice this month, the other masquerades take the stage one after the other in June before the Oloolu returns in July to close the masquerades’ festival.
Who are the masquerades?
Masquerades literarily and ordinarily depict grotesque figures that should be feared, but in our clime, the Yoruba race in particular, they represent a bevy of beauty and colourful costumes. Through drumming and dance, it is believed that these robed performers get possessed by the spirits of the ancestors, as manifested as a single entity. Their festivals are usually a huge destination for tourists and locals alike. As a matter of fact, some people travel home from far and near to behold the spectacle presented by the masquerades. However, their essence is believed to be more than the colours and glamour, singing and dancing. It is also believed that they spiritually clean the community. They also expose the strengths and weaknesses of the community to encourage behavior more befitting of their descendants.
Ibadan, with no fewer than 100 masquerades being ‘worshipped’ by devotees so to speak, the head of the Egungun clan in the city Chief Soladoye Fadeyi, lends more voice to the essence of these masquerades. He said in the early years of Ibadan when the whole place was in disarray, scattered by war, crisis everywhere and nothing was working well in the land, “our forefathers consulted the oracle ýand the oracle said Ibadan will become famous and great only if the families can start worshipping masquerades. So that was how they started it at Ile-Lapapo at Ita Baale and each families in Ibadan contributed clothe for the outing of the first masquerade”
According to Fadeyi, there are over 100 masquerades in Ibadan and all the families rooted in Ibadan have a link with these masquerades one way or another. Giving a brief background of the masquerades, Fadeyi said the first masquerade in the land was named Labala and it came out over 120 years ago. His coming, he said brought peace, progress, prosperity and goodwill to Ibadanland. And whenever that masquerade comes out, he said, no other masquerade or any other person crosses his path. He listed the other masquerades including Alagangan, Alapasapa, Ogundeji, Oloolu, Olunlade, Atipako, Abidi-Elege, Godogodo, Ferebiekun, Anikulapo, Lobanika, Telebiitan, Gbebolaja among others. These masquerades have different family backgrounds, costumes, rituals and taboos.
Recalling the history and importance of one of the greatest masquerades in Ibadanland, the head of Aje family where the Oloolu masquerade originated, Chief Raheem Oyerinde, disclosed that their ýgreat forefather, Ayorinde Aje, who was a warrior along with Ogunmola, Ogbori-efon, Ibikunle, Oderinde, Oderinlo went to fight in Ogbagi in Akoko, Ondo State and Oloolu was a great war masquerade in that town and was so powerful such that no one could confront him during the war.
”Nobody could defeat Oloolu during that war but it was our father, Ayorinde Aje that fought him and removed his regalia and costumes, before he was brought to Ibadan as a slave. During his stay in Ibadan, there was famine, ill-health and crisis in the land and all the elders and chiefs were looking for a way out, that was how Ayorinde Aje suggested that Oloolu should be used to carry the ritual to appease the gods, so immediately he carried the ritual, there was rain and everything got back to normal in Ibadan. Oloolu helped Ibadan to be what it is today. Since then anybody that is the head of the Aje family becomes the custodian of Oloolu masquerade.
According to Chief Oyerinde, ”any area in Ibadan where the people ýtry to fight the Oloolu anytime he is out, such areas will continue to experience bloodshed, and that is what is happening in Opopoyeosa area till date, because they tried to beat Oloolu there sometimes ago. Oloolu is so great that he gives the barren children, he provides for the needy, he prospers business among other good things he can give to an individual who is ready to serve him”. He further revealed that in time past and presently many politicians seeking elective positions have started coming to seek Oloolu’s assistance for victory at the polls, adding that their wishes are always granted once they can also fulfill their promises.
According to Chief Ojetunde Asoleke, one of the two claimants to the title of Olori Alagbaa (Head of the masquerades) in Ibadan, Obadimeji masquerade is worshipped by the Opayinka, Opadiran and Ojesanmi family in Ibadan and any member of the family can ‘carry’ the during the festival, adding that any member of the family that
abandoned the family tradition of worshipping the masquerade will be in trouble for the rest of his life. ”For instance, I once abandoned this masquerade but shortly after, I had series of problems. I lost all the wealth I had accumulated over the years and things were not going well for me until I returned back to worship him. Evil befalls anyone ýthat does such” he said. Obadimeji masquerade according to Asoleke was one of the warriors deployed to the front by Ibadan during Kiriji war and assisted greatly in swinging victory in favour of Ibadan soldiers.
And as part of the preparations for the outing of Obadimeji, the families concerned usually offer sacrifices to appease the masquerade using such items as He-goat, ram, corn meal, alcoholic drink, dry pepper, kolanut, and beans cake. Its costume or Eku is usually sown with such materials as red lace, damask, and other types of unique materials except white. Giving the taboo associated with this masquerade, Asoleke said;” during his outing, Obadimeji’s clothe must not be torn by anyone and there must not be any fighting behind him, or the persons that fought behind him will die.”
Owolewa and Owolaake
The two masquerades are under Obadimeji because in Ajia town where they are based, Obadimeji was worshipped before they came into being. Owolewa is a statue masquerade, while Owolaake is not. Their costumes are similar with red and black materials tidings. The ritual performed for the two are the same, as the worshipers use kolanut to enquire from the masquerade what he demands for the festival before he comes out. It was learnt that he may demand vegetable oil, ram, alcoholic drink, ýor more kolanut. This masquerade is used it to seek peace during any turbulent time in the land.
Worshipped by the Aladin Osogbo family in Ita-ege, Olomi area of Ibadan, the masquerade is open to all members of the family to ‘carry’ the costume on the day of its festival. The Alaagba of Idi-Aro, Chief Ojelabi Aladi-Osogbo told The Nation that the masquerade bestows prosperity on its followers. “I have been carrying it for 35 years and it has brought prosperity to me.” He said. He explained that the masquerade was brought from Osogbo by their fore-fathers during a war to Ibadan. Before it can come out, he said the family will ýfirst worship the god of iron and devil and if he refused to come out that means there is danger on its way. “The only thing we do afterwards is to eat and drink and leave this masquerade alone” he said.
Aladi-Osogbo stated that it’s costume is unique with shades of red, yellow, and black. He explained that the taboo associated with the masquerade is that it forbids any member of the family from eating pounded yam and yam flour together at the same time. Aladi-Osogbo said anybody that does that would suffer terrible stomach ache that may take his life except the anti-dote was given to such a person. The Alaagba of Idi-Aro lamented that the masquerade festival would have been more glamorous and colourful if the families involved are given financial support by the government. “As bad as it remains, even if we request police escort during our outing, ýwe will be forced to pay them a token before they can accept. Our traditional religion is the first, as such it demands all the entitlement being given to the modern religion worshippers” he said.
The Alaagba of Oremeji, Chief Ojemuyiwa Olubuade said this masquerade is worshipped in Eesarun compound in Agugu area of Ibadan, adding that the masquerade determines who among the family members wears its costume during the festival. If anyone stubbornly carries it without its approval, he said there will be problem for such a person and the masquerade only be appeased with alcoholic drinks. Olubuade gave part of the ritual materials for the worshipping of the masquerade to include ram, fowl, corn meal, beans cake and vegetable oil. Adaradoun’s significance to Ibadanland according to him, was that it gives barren women children but the mother and child must worship it forever.
Speaking on its taboo, he said:” In a year, if the family refused to carry the masquerade and worship him, there will be thunder strike on us. Also, we must all agree in unison for the masquerade to go out, or else his outing will not be successful”. Olubuade stated that his costume is reddish, along with all colours except white.
The Adinimado-Ire masquerade is the responsibility of the Korukoru family in Oje area of Ibadan. Speaking with The Nation, the Alaagba of Oje Chief Aderinto Ojeyemi said he was in charge of leading the masquerade out every year for 24 years before he became the Alaagba. “Before we could ascertain the next person to carry it, we used kolanut to consult the masquerade and he chose Ifasina after me but if he is not around, it’s Oluwagbemiga that carries it. “Anyone in our family who abandons this masquerade for another religion will have problem” he said.
It is forbidden for any member of the family to eat a parrot, and any member that does that will writ in pain and would only be relieved after consultation with the masquerade to know the antidote. On its significance to Ibadan land, Ojeyemi stated that it’s a war masquerade that was brought from Owu kingdom to fight and win many wars for Ibadan. It’s costume is barely the same with other masquerades.
It is worshipped by Olosa-Oko family in Idi-Aro area of Ibadan. According to the Chief Security guard of all ýmasquerades in Ibadan, Chief Ojetokun Areweyo, it’s a he-goat that is used to appease the gods to decide whom to carry the masquerade. “I have been carrying this masquerade for over 16 years. It was nine of us that wished to carry him but I was the youngest among them all and I was later chosen to carry it. Its significance is that it gives the barren children and they usually come back the next year for thanksgiving. The materials used for ritual before its outing includes; vegetable oil, beans cake, corn meal, kolanut, he-goat, dry pepper among others” he said. Areweyo disclosed that it is forbidden for any woman to move closer to the masquerade or hug him, if not she will be barren forever.
It is a dancing masquerade worshipped by the Oro family of Ita-Ege area of |Ibadan. Any member of the family chosen by the gods is allowed to lead the masquerade out during its annual festival. Giving an insight into the masquerade, a member of the family Mr Ojeyemi Sodo said the elders consult the masquerade with a kolanut to decide who to carry it, and if they do otherwise and chose anyone themselves, the person will die. Sodo stated that it is a taboo for anyone on the entourage of the masquerade to fight with a whip or cutlass during its outing stressing that if they do the person will die immediately. “We use He-goat, fowl, beans cake, kolanut, dry pepper, and alcoholic drink to appease the masquerade before he comes out. Its significance to Ibadanland is that it blesses people in need and boost the socio-economic condition of the town. If he doesn’t come out in a year there will be hardship for the people.
”Its costume is the same with red damask, lace, Ankara and guinea, but white is not part of its clothes. None of the members of the family must abandon it, if not there will be calamity for such a person”, he said.
It was brought to Ibadan from Ighoho during the war and it is worshipped by the Olodo family in Oja-Igbo area of the city. According to the Secretary of the masquerades in Ibadan, Chief Ifayemi Awodele the custodian of the masquerade uses kolanut to consult him to decide who to carries it during its outing. “It is a taboo for anyone who is not from our family to stand in front of this masquerade for 30 minutes, if anyone does that the person’s blood will drain off immediately. Its significance is that anyone that needs a child comes to him to beg for one and he answers their prayer immediately and it’s mandatory that they come back the next year for thanksgiving.
“The costume is same with other masquerades and there must be red colour among the clothe he will put on except white. The ritual performed is done with he-goat, corn meal, beans cake, alcoholic drink, vegetable oil, moin moin among others.” he said. On the festivals, he said: “We do celebrate our masquerade festival in June of every year and during this period there will be six strokes at the top of the palm tree instead of normal three. It is the blood of the ram, cow or fowl that is used for the sacrifice along with eko, cake beans, moin- moin among others. According to him, during the masquerade’s outing, the custodian known as “Atokun” controls his movement and directs him. He is the one that curbs him from causing trouble anytime he gets annoyed.
He also stated that the ‘Alagbaa’ý was responsible for the upkeep of the masquerade’s regalia and clothes, adding that he is the one in charge anywhere he goes with his supporters.
Speaking on the features, and importance of the Alapansanpa masquerade, its former custodian Asimiyu Ogundeji stated that the Ogundeji family is responsible for the worship of the masquerade. According to him, the Alapansanpa masquerade was used in the past to fight and win many wars in and outside Ibadan. “This masquerade is a renowned one and it’s importance to Ibadan cannot be over emphasised. It comes out once in a year, June to be precise, and it must go to the Olubadan palace where he whips the Olubadan with his whip three times before the Monarch will now bless him with gift and other items. If he doesn’t go to the Olubadan Palace, there will not be peace and prosperity in the land and that means the Olubadan is a bad person” he said.
Ogundeji listed items that are used for its rituals to include Kolanut, bitter-kola, plam oil, salt, ram, cornmeal, among others. He said its costume is very unique because it is very smart on him and it’s full of shades of red and black. On the taboo attached to this masquerade, he said:” No woman must enter his power house and if any woman enters his power house during mentration, such woman may die or may be barren for life”.
This is a load carring masquerades, mostly followed by women. A family elder known either formally or informally as “Alaagba” presides over its ancestral rites. He may or may not be initiated into the local Egungun society. A priests and initiates who are trained in ancestral communication, ancestral elevation and funerary rites are assigned to invoke and bring out the ancestors through the pouring of alcoholic drinks with kolanut. They wear elaborate costumes for the masquerade masquerade. It comes out in June of every year, and it spiritually cleanses the community; through the dramatic acting and miming of the robed priests, they demonstrate both ethical and amoral behavior that have occurred since their last visit. In this way, they expose the strengths and weaknesses of the community to encourage behavior more befitting of their descendants. When this performance is completed, the Alaagba gives messages, warnings and blessings to the assembled spectators. Atipako masquerade always carry on his head stones, mortar and pestle which portrays it’s significant for blessing the masses and the land.
Attack on Oloolu
Speaking on the attack on the Oloolu masquerade in 2012 at Gbodu junction, Popo-Yemoja, Ibadan, the head of Aje family where the Oloolu masquerade was originated, Chief Raheem Oyerinde, explained that there was a fidau being held in honour of a late chief Imam, Rafiu Fasasi, a.k.a Lorisirisi, but the Oloolu needed to pass that route to pay homage to one of the traditional title holders in the area, popularly known as Kunmi. “We didn’t disturb their ceremony but only wanted to pass through that place to greet the Ibadan high chief before they pounced on us, beating the custodian to stupor and later died, while the Oloolu himself escaped in anger with minor injuries on the head’ he said. On the effect this terrible act will have on Popo-Yemoja area, he said calamities, chaos and rancour will continue to ravage the community yearly until they appease and apologise to the masquerade.