Aringinya festival: Celebrating Ikare-Akoko’s date with fertility, chastity
In Ikare-Akoko, headquarters of Akoko North East Local Government Area of Ondo State, the people of the town were gathered to celebrate the annual cultural and traditional event known as Aringinya, where virginity, regarded as the greatest virtue of any woman, is celebrated.
The tradition, according to history, has been part of the town since its inception, and has become a religious celebration. Despite the moral decadence in the society, young girls and ladies, living in Ikare Akoko community still live a Spartan life and keep their virginity till marriage.
Though there are other traditional festivals in Ikare Akoko which include new yam festival, Egungun festival among others, the Aringinya festival remains the foremost festival.
Genesis of Aringinya
An indigene of the town, Bashiru Adeniyi, went down memory lane, explaining how the festival became an annual ritual. He said that Aringiya is a water goddess brought from Ile Ife to Ikare Akoko by the founder of the town, Owa Ale Agbaode, who was a prince from Ile Ife.
He added that after Agba Ode settled in the present abode known today as Ikare, the Aringinya goddess was placed beside a stream which flows from the top of Owa Ale hills, known as “Omi Atan” which literally means a water that never dries, despite coming out from the rock.
He said the Aringinya brook is located some 500 meters from the palace and, according to him, the goddess comes out every May of the year to bless its people.
He said”it is a celebration of virginity which depicts the customs of the people and dignity for womanhood, because of the purity of the goddess itself and anybody who has lost her virginity cannot move near the brook.”
The brook and the water from it, Adeniyi said, is regarded as pure, and should not be visited by a one who has lost her virginity. He said “traditionally, Aringiya is a festival celebrated by the whole of Ikare land but it is only young maidens (virgins) from the nucleus of the town that participate in the festival.
“The worship of Aringiya goddess brought about the Aringiya festival, known as goddess of chastity, fruitfulness and harvest, Aringiya festival is celebrated during the early months of the planting season. The festival always precedes the Egungun festival.”
Another indigene, Mrs Omowumi Sanusi, who has witnessed about five decades of celebration of Aringinya, said the festival is of a great sociological importance to the people of Ikare as the cultural practice does not only encourage young ladies to preserve their purity and virginity, but equally serves as a moral tool against sexual abuse and the spread of sexual endemics.
Madam Sanusi, while recalling her experience, stressed that only virgins can get near the shrine or the brook. According to her, it is a taboo for rain to fall on this special day and if it happens, it is believed that one or more of the girls participating in the festival, might have lost her pride. That, she said, only happens on a very rare occasion and explained that on such occasion, the Ifa Priest will be consulted with the aim of fishing out the offender.
She disclosed that most girls, participating in the celebration of Aringinya festival, will remove their clothes with only beads tied round their hips. She said tattoos are drawn on their faces and all over their body with native chalks/white lime, and the maiden dance to traditional musical instruments such as drums and gong, while the men do the clearing and cleaning of the brook.
She said the peak of the festival is when the men have finished the cleaning work, the water becomes still as it will stop flowing and all the maidens will go down on their knees and bow down their heads.
“At this point, it is believed that the Aringiya goddess will come out to received her children and this point, a masquerade known as Igede-oka whose cognomen is Apaje-buje (meaning the one who kills the witch and have a bite of her) will descend from the Owa-Ale Hill with a long cutlass in his hand, he will jump across the brook and swiftly cut off the head of the maiden that has lost her virginity but conceal the truth and deceitfully followed the other girls to the side of the brook”.
“This was usually the penalty for offenders in the olden days. But the law of the land did not permit such instant judgment anymore; nowadays, the masquerade will just fish out the girl/girls and she will be publicly disgraced; she and her family will be ridiculed everywhere in the community”.
“After this, married woman who visited the brook for the fruits of the womb would be asked to come forward, and he will pray for the women and also pray for bumper harvest for the season.
“After the prayers, they will all ascend the Owa Ale Hill, while the virgin girls will dance out from the side of the brook and dance round the Iyomefa area of the village. They will proudly sing and dance round the village naked, showing the world with pride that they have kept their virginity for their would be husbands”.
Madam Sanusi said further “Men and boys that are looking for wives will come out to watch them and make their choices of wives. No one is allowed to touch or snap their pictures.
“The climax of the festival is the assembly of the girls at the Owa- Ale’s palace with all the guests, friends and spectators, and women that came the previous year to ask the Aringiya goddess for fruit of the womb are called out to give testimonies of wonders that have occurred in their lives”.
Corroborating Sanusi claim, the Olokoja of Okoja-Ikare, High Chief Idowu Ogunyemi, confirmed that there should be no rain on this special day but said if rain falls, it is an indication that one or more of the girls participating in the festival has already lost their virginity or are pregnant.
Nigerian Tribune visited the ancient town during the celebration of Aringinya this year and noticed that several traditional crowns were brought out by the traditional ruler of the hilly town, Oba Kolapo Adegbite-Adedoyin, who prayed for the unity, progress and development of the land.
Oba Adegbite-Adedoyin explained that the quarters in the agrarian community was grouped into five major areas namely: Iyometa, Ikaado, Orun-un, Edo/Ekan and Ilepa/Oyinmo, but said that maidens who qualified to participate in Aringiya festival are maidens drawn from the Iyometa and Orun-un which comprise of Okorun, Okegbe, Iku, Okoja, Okeruwa and Odoruwa Odeyare, saying it is a taboo for girls from outside the six areas of the ancient town to participate in the festival.
He said participation of maidens is usually voluntary and the girls are always very enthusiastic about it while non-participation means guilt on the parts of the girls who refuse to participate. He said any girl between the age bracket of 14 and 18 years can participate in the festival, once she is sure her pride is still intact, and to avoid bringing shame and ridicule to her family.
He said apart from celebrating the sacred Aringinya goddess, he confirmed that the goddess was also believed to have powers of fertility, healing and protection and said the goddesses possess the ability to bless the children of the town with the good things of life.
“The annual Aringinya festival is a paramount celebration in Ikare Akoko and it gives the people of the town the opportunity to reconnect with the deity of the land. It is a festival no son or daughter of this community would want to miss.”
Analysing the economic importance of the Aringinya festival to the town, Oba Adegbite -Adedoyin, said though it’s a yearly festival but said there was no sponsors to turn the event to a real marketing and economic event. He noted that the economic value of the festival can be left imagined if the festival attracts sponsors from different companies.
He used the occasion to call on the Federal and Ondo State governments to take over the popular Aringiya festival as a way of making it an international cultural festival that could attract tourists from all over the world.
The Owa-Ale posited that by giving the festival a top priority, the federal and Ondo State governments will be on their way to hitting a jackpot as it will boost tourism which is now a potential money spinner.
According to the monarch, Aringiya stands in the rank of festivals like Argungu in Sokoto, Ojude Oba in Ijebu Ode, Igogo in Owo and the recently popularised Mare festival in Idanre.
Oba Adegbite-Adedoyin noted that if the festival is well packaged, it will bring in more revenue to the government while at the same time provide jobs for the teeming youths as well as bring development to Ikare and its environs.