Right from the Ijebu-Ode Flyover on the Lagos-Benin Expressway, you can feel the excitement in the air. Both locals and visitors, all dressed in colourful outfits, make their way to the palace of HRM. The Awujale of the Ijebu Kingdom, which is the traditional arena for the yearly celebration (Ojude Oba).
Except for few traders, particularly those from the southeastern part of the country, who have opened for business, the town has literally shut down. All hotels in the vicinity have been fully booked. One can site different companies and marketers with their erected stands in and around the traditional arena for the yearly celebration. The locals are making brisk money selling food items, drinks and branded souvenirs to tourists. And the people of IJebu-Ode, who are known of course, for their insatiable love for parties, are ready to party like never before. It’s the Ojude Oba Festival, and it’s about to begin!
A Brief History…
It all began in 1892, when Oba Adesumbo Tunwase, who signed the treaty of relationship with the British Queen, gave land to the Muslims to establish their Central Mosque. At the same time, he agreed with the British missionaries to preach Christianity in Ijebu Land. He also went further to allow some of his children to be baptized. To cap it all, he gave the land on which the first church in Ijebu Land was built; St Saviours Italupe. The Muslims started the Ojude Oba Festival, which when translated means “Festival in the King’s Court”. Using it as an occasion to pay homage. Appreciating the reigning Monarch for his benevolence towards them.
At the main arena, different Age Grades seat in groups, observing proceedings at the high table. Dressed in flamboyant outfits that distinguish each group from another, they create a colourful ambience, with extreme pomp and pageantry. Amidst heavy singing, dancing and drumming, each Age Grade (Regberegbe) takes turns to pay homage to the paramount ruler of Ijebu-land, by presenting him with different foodstuff and other items. Both men and women belonging to different Regberegbe also display their dancing prowess. Notable dignitaries and invited guests seat on the centre stage, flanking the Oba and his family on either side.
As the people of Ijebu Land progressed and evolved as a thriving community, they came up with a classification method where every indigene was grouped according to their ages. These age-groups – Regberegbes – were classed in 3-year brackets with assigned names, respectively. It is reported that the current Awujale, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona, is of the Egbe Mafowoku age-group (1932-1934). One of the more recent age-group commissioned is the Egbe Maiyegun Akile Ijebu, comprising people born between 1974 and 1976. These age-groups all have a link to the throne and go all the way back in time to the first age-groups that were ever commissioned.
Ojude Oba Festival holds annually, typically three days after the start of Eid-el-Kabir. Usually, two days before the Ojude-Oba festival is for Muslims to mark the Eid with their families, friends, and well-wishers. Then, on the third day, Christians, dignitaries, tourists and visitors join them at the Awujale’s Palace. Witnessing the glamour of the festival, which aims at celebrating the rich culture and heritage of the people of Ijebu-Ode. They celebrate via resplendent traditional attires, deft hairstyles, cuisine (ifokore) and the reenactment of rare cultural dances and spectacular horsemanship that reminds one of Durbar Festival up north.
Some of the main features of the Ojude Oba Festival include;
- Each family goes as a group dressed in colourful attires before the Oba to receive the royal blessing.
- Most of the families, especially the warrior families, parade on beautifully dressed horses, exhibiting their horsemanship to thrill the spectators.
- Different musical and dance displays from the respective regberegbe groups before the Oba.
- Gunshots are fired intermittently when a warrior family and its entourage dance along the arena.
- Different types of fanfare events going on around the festival arena.
- Cash prizes and other rewards are given to the best-dressed regberegbe and horse-riding family.
Significance of the Festival
The Ojude Oba festival starts on the third day of Eid-el-Kabir. It has a long-lasting history of bringing together all the sons and daughters of Ijebuland once every year. The festival affords people of Ijebu and their well-wishers a chance to pay homage to their traditional rulers and give honour to the symbol of Ijebu tradition. Hence, not only does the festival stand as a unifying factor and a tourist attraction, but it also goes a long way to amplify and showcase the rich cultural heritage that the country possesses. From a small gathering of adherents and followers of the Islamic religion, today the Ojude Oba festival has become an all-encompassing showpiece, transcending religious lines and attracting people of all faiths, as well as tourists from within and outside the country.
It goes without saying that the Ojude Oba Festival is a clear reminder that indeed, culture commands respect.