Oladunwo is beyond masquerade, it’s a ‘human ghost’ —Owa Ooye Okemesi

It’s time again for the mysterious and legendary Oladunwo festival of the Okemesi people of Ekiti Werst Local Government Area of Ekiti State. The traditional ruler of the town, Oba Michael Gbadebo Adedeji, the Owa Ooye of Okemesi, speaks on the biannual festival and its significance, among other issues. SAM NWAOKO brings excerpts:

Your majesty, Okemesi Ekiti is one of the Yoruba towns that celebrate egungun festival, but one can note that your community celebrates your festivals bi-annually unlike other places where egungun festivals are annual events?

Please let me make a correction. We are like other Yoruba communities. We celebrate Egungun festival annually, but our chief egungun is a pair of two beautiful masquerades, male and female that come out once in two years. The year they don’t come out is called “paraka year” and any year they come out is called Oladunwo year.


Why is Oladunwo a bi-annual event? 

There are some reasons for this. In the first instance, our fore fathers believed that familiarity breeds contempt. They wanted to preserve the awe and the glamour of Oladunwo. Secondly, Oladunwo is a form of ritual drama; it involves a lot of activities that could be too tasking to the community. The third reason is that when our people left our former homestead in Immesi Ipole, they could not celebrate Oladunwo festival that year, because they had to settle down, build their houses and do farming. The next year they were fully settled, they had Oladunwo festival. Since then we have been celebrating the festival every odd year.


Why is Oladunwo so important to your community? 

It’s a festival that brings all the segments of the society together. It is also believed that the celebration re-unites the living with the dead. The general belief is that Egungun represents the spirit of the ancestors, thus the celebration involves some sacrifices to appease dieties. This promotes love and peace among the indigenes. The festival is also in appreciation of a good deed. History has it that Oladunwo once   saved and protected the town from an enemy invasion during the Yoruba inter-tribal wars. This was before the popular Ekiti Parapo Liberation war between 1877-1886. And of course, Oladunwo is not the only egungun in Okemesi Ekiti. Some of the oldest masquerades in Okemesi are: Abilere, Oladunwo, Gbado, Mongara, Oja, Alebaale, Yoyolagbon, Iyekiye, Alukuudi, Oloki, Motaajo, Ojuotori and many others.


What is the origin of Oladunwo? 

Historically, two families brought egungun to Okemesi Ekiti. We have the Obaloja family they brought their egungun from Nupe and there is the Emiile family that brought Oladunwo and other masquerades to the town. The costume is the most important part of the Oladunwo masquerade, it is very expensive and delicately awesome. The beautiful but fragile and fearful look of Oladunwo make people refer to it as ‘human ghost’.


Why have you decided to open Oladunwo to the world? 

We are in a modern world. If you know the meaning of the name, Oladunwo, it means something good to behold; it means beauty, a spectacle. It is therefore something to expose. Our festival is in the league of Eyo festival, Olojo festival and Oshun Oshogbo festival. This can be exploited to boost the tourism sector of the economy.

I hereby call on governments at all levels to utilise the tourism potentials in the town for the benefit of mankind.


Are you advocating government sponsorship of the festival?

Yes, I do, and it’s worth the effort. Most world class events and festivals have not been able to stand the test of time because they are either not sponsors’-friendly or lack the contents that attract sponsorship. But this crowd-pulling Oladunwo cultural festival in Okemesi is worth celebrating because of its uniqueness. Apart from this Oladunwo festival, let me reveal to you that, Okemesi Ekiti is a tourist gold mine begging for exploitation. The town is a beautiful valley surrounded by hills. Look at those mountains over there, they have flat tops, these could be used for mountaineering, they can also be used for religious tourism. We have been calling on both the Federal and Ekiti State governments to come and harness the tourist potentials.


What have been their responses so far? 

I am not too proud to say that the response has been encouraging. Okemesi Ekiti is an ancient town with a proud history, but despite its glorious past, the town has not attracted necessary attention from the government in terms of socio-economic development. I mentioned the site of Ekiti Parapo Liberation Army war camp which had long suffered serious neglect as the brave attempt by the community to turn the war camp into a museum has not enjoyed any assistance from the government at all levels.

The war, called Kiriji War, was the longest and the last civil war in Yoruba land. The war lasted for 11-years and heralded colonial rule in Nigeria, because the British government that brokered the truce among the warring tribes ended up taking over the administration of the entire Yoruba land. The war started by a young man by the name Ishola Fabunmi, a prince of Okemesi-Ekiti who resisted the excesses of residents posed by the Ibadan warlords against Ekiti land. The Okemesi prince instigated a rebellion against the oppressive rule of the all-powerful Ibadan war lords.

You see while many societies honour and immortalise their heroes, little have been done to give Fabunmi his deserved honour.

It is shameful that these heroes who fought for the unity and amalgamation of Ekiti are not being celebrated. The tourism potentials in this town alone, I mean those relics we gathered from the war-front, can turn the economy of this state around.


What other steps are you taking to change the narrative?

The Federation of Okemesi Improvement Union (FOIU) under the able leadership of one of our sons, Alhaji Bayo Ajijola, has set up a committee to work towards turning things around. The committee headed by Prince Kayode, a former Director in Ekiti State Ministry of Culture and Tourism, has been mandated to work towards showcasing and projecting the cultural endowment potentials for tourist attraction and for socio-economic advancement of the town. The committee is called Cultural Heritage and Tourism Development Committee. They have since been working round the clock to achieve a lot of things, despite financial constraints. We are soliciting financial support for execution of some of our projects which include renovation and completion of Ekiti Parapo Resort Centre/War Museum site at Ita Balogun area, Okemesi-Ekiti; projection of all culture and tourism-related attractions in Okemesi and the celebration of Okemesi Heritage Festival 2019.

The committee is planning to have the celebration of Ekiti Parapo Remembrance Day and establishment of amusement park at the historic Ekiti Parapo Museum and other notable sites in the community.


Is there any taboo attached to the festival? 

Egungun festival in Okemesi lasts for 30 days. When the Egungun comes out in the evening, women are not permitted to come out between the hours of 10 pm and 6am. If any woman violates this rule, the family of the woman pays dearly for it. The next day, the whole town would come to her family house and seize goats, hens and others. The family will be made to pay for the seized items. This rule used to be harsh in those days but have been relaxed now. You don’t also unmask the Egungin in Okemesi. If you do this, you will be exiled and your family will be severely punished.


Are there other festivals in Okemesi Ekiti apart from Oladunwo? 

We have other festivals like Ogun and Orisa. Odun Orisa is an interesting one. This is when Egesorisa sings ballads satirise social ills during the Orisa festival. These ballad singers and do come to Oba’s palace to sing these songs. I will receive them warmly and even give them gifts. But if they still sing to abuse me instead of praising me, they will pray that next season they will come to repeat the ritual. After doing this, they are permitted to go to town to abuse others to correct social ills. There is Oke Agbona festival. Agbonna has a very unique feature, there is a cave on the Agbonna Mountain with a very tiny opening in which according to history, our people hid during war time. As little as the hole in the cave is, a huge cow being used to appease it somehow found its way into it and this has remained a mystery. We also have the Olookun festival being celebrated by the Okeloro people. They brought it from Aramoko. It is celebrated with bean cake called akara. We have others like Onimona, Obalufon and Erinle.