Odun Oba in Ijeru: Celebrating a traditional festival in a Christian way

The people of Ijeru land recently celebrated the annual Odun Oba festival to thank God for His mercies on the people. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE reports that the 2017 festival, like earlier celebrations under Oba Sunday Oyediran, was devoid of any ritual or sacrifices, a reiteration of the commitment of the king and his people’s vow to forsake idolatry.

Though a traditional festival, the Odun Oba festival of the people of Ijeru land, Oyo State took the form of a revival without eroding culture but shunning all acts that border on idolatry. Indeed, there was fanfare but no one was in any doubt that the festival was about giving thanks to God for the life of the king and his people in a Christian manner.

At the festival, clergymen, church choirs, traditional rulers and Muslim clerics all mixed in thanking God with songs of praise; the clergymen from different denominations were armed with their copies of the Bible while Muslims too came with their copies of the Qur’an. And the whole community and guests came out in diverse designs of the uniform selected for the occasion.

They thanked God, listened to the lessons from the scriptures, rendered panegyrics in praise of the monarch and prayed for the continuous success of their king as well as for the peace and prosperity of the town.

Oba Sunday Oyediran, the traditional head of Ijeru land led thousands of guests to the site of the ceremony, the Igbo Aiwo, that is, the Forbidden Forest where tents were already placed to shield the people from the vagaries of nature.

The penetration of the Igbo Aiwo once again brought joy to the people who view the act as an act of liberation. Oba Oyediran led his people into the hitherto forbidden forest in company of clergymen from different denominations rather than traditional worshippers and herbalists as it was in the time of his fathers. And rather than sacrifices, rituals and traditional offerings, it was an event filled with Christian praise and worship, sermons and prayers.

History, as given by Oba Oyediran, is that the Igbo Aiwo, located in Oje, the site of the festival was a sacred ground where sacrifices were offered to the gods and it was inaccessible to the uninitiated. According to him, at that period, no man had the effrontery to go into the forbidden forest except the ruling monarch and initiates for the purpose of offering sacrifices to the gods at the shrine of Oje River. The townsmen would go with the monarch to a particular spot where they would turn back and few initiates would go with the king.

But that is a thing of the past as Oba Oyediran and his people now venture into the forbidden forest together for the annual sacrifice. Also, local hunters dressed in their hunting clothes with their rifles strapped to their shoulders. Their presence gave the cultural angle to the festival though there were no sacrifices; they rendered their Ijala and danced to praise worship.

There was a galore of testimonies from the people on what God has done and answers to prayer requests made at the last festival. And though the groove still has the look of a forest, it has been demystified.

And at the 2017 festival, renowned men of God led by Prophet Foluso Akande of the Baba Abiye prayer mountain in Ede, Osun State and music ministers from various towns came to spread the gospel and reiterate Oba Oyediran’s belief in prayers.

Oba Oyediran while speaking at the festival stated that he is a Christian and would not deviate from the path as his faith and belief in God remains unshakeable. He believes so much in prayers and ensures that in his palace, his chiefs understand the power of prayers. And though he does not enforce his ways on his people, he has made his stand as a Christian known to all and his unwillingness not to perform in any unscriptural acts.

Some Ijeru people at the event confirmed that before Oba Oyediran ascended the throne of his fathers, ritualism was a way of life in Ijeru and development was far from the town, adding that since 1999, things had changed and there is a new lease of life in the town under the new monarch.

Even the hunters are not aggrieved that the culture is being eroded. They believe that being a part of the festival is enough as it allows them to exhibit the culture of the land, adding that though Oba Oyediran does not believe in this, he has never frustrated anyone from worshipping what they believe in but rather, he shows love to everyone and preaches to them about the goodness of his God.

“He doesn’t disturb us. Though we believe he has neglected the gods of the land, he has never overlooked anyone and is a father to all. He allows each one to practise according to his belief but does not take part in anything he thinks is against his belief as a Christian.  But he always tells us to come and serve his God with him. We would like him to partake in some things but we respect his stand and belief because he is a good and God fearing man who does not discriminate or allow anyone to be cheated,” a resident told Saturday Tribune.

I am a real Christian. In the Council of Obas everybody is free. We have freedom of association, of worship and of movement.

Oba Oyediran stated that he has not done anything that can jeopardize the culture of the people. “I believe in God the almighty and anything I do is in line with His precepts. He is a God that answers prayers and He doesn’t like idolatry. Even our people are tired of worshipping idols, which is why they support my decisions. When I ascended the throne, I ensured that the taboo of not entering Igbo Aiwo was removed.

“I changed the myths surrounding it and today, aside holding the annual Odun Oba festival here, we now farm there and there is nothing mystical about the groove anymore. Though we have preserved an area for the future to maintain history and heritage and the federal government even named the place as one of the tourist centres in the country. The preserved place was not preserved for the purpose of performing rituals but to give the future generation a site for historical lessons; where they would learn about the lives of their forebears.

“We hold vigils here to pray for the town, its people and the country. It is time we stopped  worshipping idols, performing rituals or offering sacrifices to any God. That season is gone,” he concluded.