World Sango Festival: Celebrating mix of culture, power

In Yorubaland, the month of August plays host to different cultural festivals. From Ekiti to Osun through to Oyo, it has been mammoth crowd converging to witness those traditional gatherings. The World Sango Festival was held in Oyo last Saturday and left enduring mark in the memories of tourists who thronged the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi. TUNDE BUSARI captures every moment of the crowd-pulling festival.


Unlike regular masquerades most of which appear in multi-colour costumes, the all-black apparel adorned by the duo of Inayodudu and Danafojura, lightened up the grand finale of the annual World Sango Festival held in the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi last Saturday. The respective performances of the masquerades showcased mystical side of Yoruba culture and indeed reinforced the potency of  the Yoruba research on nature. First to perform was Inayodudu, who attended the Sango Festival with his followers from his Igboho (Oke-Ogun) base. At a point, almost the whole audience held their heart in their mouths. Some were screaming, while some were hailing as they watched in disbelief how the masquerade was set on fire by his aides but walked out of the raging flame unscathed. The loud ovation which greeted that act was so deafening such that it took the comperes of the proceedings some time to appeal for final calm to enjoy other performances. The announcement of Danafojura was heralded by a show of solidarity being a famous masquerade based in Oyo. He is often referred to as the Alaafin’s masquerade. In what appeaed like a contest with Inayodudu, Danafojura also did a magical show inside an inferno to the amazement of the visitors and foreign tourists from Brazil, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago and other countries. Danafojura spiced his act up with some drama which saw him testing his power on two of his followers both of whom at the touch of the masquerade, fell to the floor and became unconscious until the masquerade returned to them and applied a solution. With performances, the 2019 edition of the World Sango Festival gave additional promotion to Sango as a brave warrior which spit fire from mouth with ease.

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Nigerian Tribune gathered that there were two Sango with the first coming from Ikole Orun at the genesis of the world. That Sango was known as Ayilegbe-Orun. However, the second Sango known as Tella-Oko was a devotee of the first Sango and the third Alaafin of Oyo and son of Alaafin Oranmiyan, the founder of the legendary Oyo Empire and the youngest grandson of Oduduwa. He was a warrior believed to be a physical reincarnation of the first Sango on account of his mythical powers which he used through the energy of the thunder and storms.

There were other performances by different troupes, notable of which were those from Oyo State Ministry of Culture. Almost all the troupes dramatized Sango and earned credit for the efforts. Asa Ibile associations from all Yoruba states, including a group of hunters from Kwara State also featured with their presentations and formal homage to Oba Adeyemi, who decked in all-red agbada lace.

When it was time for the traditional ruler to deliver his speech, he was ushered in by two of his wives, Olori Badrat and Memunat. The duo did not just rise and welcome him to the floor. They knelt before him and extensively recited his panegyrics after which a senior olori, Ayaba Adedayo Adeyemi (IyaNaso) complemented them to take the Alaafin off his seat.

Sango festival
Oyo State cultural troupe

He did not make his usual lengthy speech other than expressing his appreciation to the invited traditional rulers, Baale and chiefs including foreign visitors. Oba Adeyemi then harped on the need for parents to teach their children the Yoruba culture, drawing example from what obtains in his palace where, he said, every kid is raised with Yoruba language and Yoruba values.

All the kids in his palace, Oba Adeyemi said, are being brought up to appreciate the Yoruba culture, adding that the palace organises competition for them to test their ability in accordance with the recommendation of the late Professor Babatunde Fafunwa after his research in Ile-Ife which revealed that Yoruba children would perform better in other subjects if they were taught in Yoruba Language.

“That was a professor who rose to be the  Minister of Education of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Unfortunately, his recommendation was not implemented, but as far as I am concerned, I am always guided by it. I am using this opportunity to appeal to traditional rulers to make Yoruba language the lingua franca in your palaces.

“In the US, for instance, 26 universities currently offer Yoruba language as a course. The University of Ibadan is also doing its best. So, it is our duty as custodians of our culture to encourage our subjects to speak the language at all time. All the kids are also being taught English language, Islamic studies and Bible,” he said.

Oba Adeyemi also poured encomium on the coordinator of Sango Festival, Dr Paula Gomes, whom he described as versatile, energetic and genuine. He prayed for the Portuguese and wished her more successful editions. “The commitment which Dr Paula has since shown to sustain and promote our culture has impressed. I can only urge her to do more because she has all it takes to record more success. There is no doubt that she is a blessing with her demonstrable passion”, he added.

The Oyo State Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Dr Wasiu Olatubosun proved to the crowd that he was the right choice for the ministry to which the state governor, Seyi Makinde recently appointed him. Aside that he publicly discarded his prepared speech written in English, he also, like a possessed thespian, rushed out of his seat and joined a dance group on the field.

He did some accurate steps which matched the rhythm of the drums and spontaneously ignited a rousing applause. He said his tenure as commissioner would witness unprecedented cultural renaissance in line with Oba Adeyemi’s daily efforts to take the Yoruba culture to the position it deserves on the world cultural map.

The commissioner stated that going by what the Alaafin has over the years done for Yoruba culture, no government in the Yoruba-speaking states should be passive. Oba Adeyemi, he affirmed, is Yoruba culture-personified in the way he carried himself and his traditional outlook, stressing that his words are also authority. Olatubosun added that the Alaafin’s extempore presentations always amaze him, making him to wonder from where he derived what he described as fertilized brain and energy.

Dr. Gomez

The Oyo State government, he revealed, is very proud of him, saying that the government would ensure the UNESCO gives the  Sango Festival official recognition and include it in its annual calendar of select festivals in the world.

“Baba Alaafin has shown the way; so there is no reason we should not consolidate on his effort. I am using this opportunity to tell our people that there  a is difference between religion brought from the Middle East and our culture. Being a Muslim or Christian should not mean we must abandon our culture, which is our own inheritance from our ancestors. God has blessed us with one of the best cultures in the world. So we should appreciate what God has done for us by promoting and preserving the culture,” he said.

Dr Olatubosun also used the occasion to, on behalf, of Governor Makinde, thank the electorate for giving him the mandate, promising that Governor Makinde would meet their expectations and confidence they reposed in him before and during the elections.

“His Excellency really appreciates your efforts and asks me to convey his gratitude to you today. We shall all witness the transformation of Oyo State in due course, God willing,” he assured.

The coordinator of the festival,  Dr Gomes was a cynosure the discerning eyes at the occasion as she was everywhere at almost the same time. Guarded by a team of local and regular security operatives, she was shuttling between the stage where the comperes were conducting the programme and the pavilion which sheltered the Alaafin and invited dignitaries, including the representatives of the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Oyetunji.

A tourist from Lagos was surprised at the stamina which Dr Gomes displayed throughout the event. The tourist who gave his name as Adesina Adio and a transporter, said he would create time every year to attend the Sango Festival.

“If it is because of this white woman, my brother, I will come next year with my friends to see how Oyinbo is promoting our culture. If not that I cannot speak English well, I feel like talking to her to know that I appreciate what she is doing,” the man who also claimed to have visited Oyo for the third time said.

While expressing her sense of fulfillment, Dr Gomes also thanked the Alaafin for his unflinching support for her from the planning stage to the grand finale of the festival. She said, with Oba Adeyemi, nothing would stop her from taking the Sango Festival to higher heights, in terms of global recognition.

“It is annoying that people who don’t know,would go out and disparage traditional religion. In-as-much as we are not disparaging their faith, it is fair to also extend same right to us. Sango was a great warrior who did his best as the Alaafin to earn respect for Yorubaland and  the Yoruba people. It is rather funny that the same people are not appreciating him. But I can assure you that Sango has come to live in our memory, and nothing can change that. I appreciate all who supported us from the beginning to this grand finale,” she stated.

The colourful festival was rounded off with a performance by the Fuji music act known as Alabi Pasuma, who on arrival earlier had paid homage to Oba Adeyemi. His baritone voice rent the air as sooner as the compere gave his nod for him to sing for the Alaafin and his entourage. Spotting a simple black outfit completed with a pair of sunshades, Pasuma sang the praise of the traditional ruler and also went down memory lane on the history of his performance for him. He sang that he was on the bandstand at the 70th birthday ceremony of the Alaafin amidst cheers by his fans who occupied all available space.

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