Sunday, 1 November 2015

Igogo Festival - Nigeria Magazine 1963.

Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, the Olowo of Owo

Sixteen Obas, all of them Oduduwa’s sons, migrated from Ife to found the Yoruba nation.
They all left Ife on the same day after parting company at Ita-ajero, a place located within the city.  One of them Olowo Arere, founder of Owo’s ruling dynasty, was the favorite of their father and, in addition to the crown which each of the Obas were given, he received a sword.

Like the other fifteen, he left Ife carrying with him some of the customs and traditions of the city, including arts, crafts, music and some of the four hundred festivals which, to this day, are celebrated annually in that city. Festivals like those connected with the harvesting of yams and with the commemoration of the birth and death of heroes and ancestors who are celebrated in Owo today were brought from Ife at this time. 

Olowo Arere migrated with the Ilaro, a large retinue classified into two broad groups: the Ugbama or youths and the Ighare made up of men of over fifty years of age who had performed the Ero ceremony. The Ugbama was assigned with the performance of all manual labor during the migratory period. The Ighare advised them and supervised their activities. This tradition has survived to this day.
Some Members Of The Ighare At The Olowo's Palace

On leaving Ita- agero, Olowo Arere led the Iloro to Uji. It was here that the greeting, Leji, wa gbo wa to, used by the chiefs in saluting the Olowo was developed in appreciation of the fact that the Olowo woke up hale and hearty on his first nights rest outside the city.
From Uji the party moved on to Ipafa hill, which they found cool and airy. The hill supported luxuriant vegetation, which provided them with plenty of shade, edible fruits and vegetables. But they were forced to leave this area by the many thunderstorms, which threatened their very existence. 
They went eastwards stopping at a place called Oke Imade. Here they found no water and when they saw a monkey, they followed it in the hope that it would lead them to water. This is how they arrived at Igbo Ogwata (also known as Okiti Asegbo) where they found water. From then on, the monkey became a sacred animal and its meat a taboo to Princes and Princesses of Owo - Okiti Asegbo is where Olowo Sir Olateru Olagbegi II K.B.E sited the local government offices and town hall.

The party arrived at Okiti Asegbo under Olowo Imade who succeeded his father, Olowo Arere.  Arere had died on the way and his corpse was taken back to Ife where it was buried.

It was at Okiti Asegbo that Olowo Renrengenjen married Oronsen, a princess from Afo. Her father told the Olowo of three taboos which Oronsen observed: First, a head load of firewood was not to be thrown down in her presence; second, water was not to be spilt before her; third, she should not hear the sound of okra being ground on a grindstone. As soon as Oronsen arrived at the palace, special quarters were assigned to her and a maid who would ensure that the taboos were not broken was provided to her.

Oronsen was as quiet as she was beautiful; she had no worries and worried nobody. And though the Olowo had many wives before he married her, he loved her more than he loved them. 
This excited their jealousy.

One day, the Olowo went off to war. Sometime after he was gone, Oluwa, The Olowo’s senior wife summoned his other wives to a meeting to discuss the threat posed to them by this new addition. They all new Oronsen observed taboos but they did not know which ones. Oluwa promised the other wives to find out what they were and they dispersed.
When they met again a few days later, she had bought the necessary information from Oronsen's maid, for a meal of mashed yams.
On learning what the taboos were, they decided to break them. They made what preparations were necessary and sent from Oronsen. As soon as she arrived, one of the women carrying a bundle of wood on her head threw it down before her; another spilt water on the ground before her; and a third began grinding okra on a stone nearby. Oronsens taboos were broken and she was compelled to leave.

She fled from the palace and ran until she came to Olisagho’s house. Here she stopped and beat her palm on the wall of the house to bid its owner good-bye. As she did this, her ring slipped off her finger and fell on the ground. Without noticing this, she continued her flight, dropping her hairpin at Igbo Ogwata. Further on she stopped to rest.

The Olowo returned from battle only to learn that Oronsen fled from the palace earlier that same day. He immediately sent one Isegbe Meso, a group of eighty-one men, to find her. The search party returned without her and another Isegbe Meso was sent out. This time the party found her ring and hairpin. Their approaching footsteps roused Oronsen where she was resting and she fled, leaving her head tie behind. A brother of the Olowo picked up the head tie and the pursuit continued. At last the party caught up with her at Igbo Oluwa and since it was forbidden for anyone to touch an Oluwa's wife, they pleaded with her to return to the palace.

There and then, she demanded of the Olowo the head of the Olowa as the condition for her return and insisted on having it before she took a step towards the palace. But Olowa occupied a very important position as the Olowo’s senior wife and this made the granting of her request impossible. 
Another head was however sent to her by the Olowo. In anger when she saw the substitute that was brought to her, Oronsen demanded a similar sacrifice annually if Owo was to have peace and plenty. 

Then she vanished into thin air.

The tragedy of Oronsen took place in the season of the festival of new yams which featured drumming and dancing. It plunged the Olowo into mourning during which time he banned the beating of drums in the town. Later, a festival was built around the annual sacrifice demanded by Oronsen and superimposed on the festival of new yams. In place of drums, metal gongs (Agogo or Igogo) were used hence the festival became known as the Igogo festival.

The Olowo’s brother, who found Oronsens head tie received the title of Alaja and was ordained the priest of the festival.  The palace where the head tie was picked up became known as ul’aja (uluoja).
Chief Elerewe Dances To The Drumming After The Ban Has Been Lifted

Igogo festival lasts seventeen days. It begins with a ceremony called ighoroli, which takes place on Ugbegu market day.  At about 4pm on this day the Ighare dressed in their traditional wear; white loin cloths tied round their waist with a parrots’ red tail feathers stuck into their hair over their forehead; the Iloro Chiefs and the Edibo Aleli (domestic chiefs) assemble at the Ugha eduma (the meeting hall in the palace). Chief Osowe of Ehin- Ogbe, one of the stewards, greets the gathering by calling each man by his title name. He announces on behalf of the Olowo, the arrival of the Igogo festival. Then one by one, members of the Ighare, in a descending order of seniority, pay homage to the Olowo who presents them through the stewards – Chiefs Ajanna and Osowe – twenty four kola nuts in a special bowl made of lead and a calabash of Palm wine for use in a sacrifice.

Five days later, another Ighoroli is performed. This time the Olowo only serves out palm wine. Then follows Uyena, the clearing of a path supposed to have been taken by Oronsen during her flight. For this service, the Olowo pays twenty-eight kola nuts. Of these four go to the Ugbama who are dressed in a pair of trousers and head wear of calabash bowl formerly painted with white chalk, but today painted aluminum paint.
Younger Members Of The Ugbama Dancing

They carry long canes which they shake as they dance. The canes are carried for use on those who may try breaking the festive taboo by wearing caps or head ties. Each senior member of the Ugbama ties over his trousers, a piece of cloth just reaching his knee and carries horns or pieces of iron rods which he knocks together. The remaining twenty-four kola nuts go to the Ighare who are dressed in their traditional wears. Palm wine is also served at the Ugha Eduma (Eduma Hall).
Owo Chiefs Making Music On Igogo, Metal Gongs

Five days after Uyena comes Uyanna. The Alaja, priest of the festival and the Ighare meet at the Ugha alamuren (alamuren Hall) at about 4pm, then Olowo arrives, attended by the Edibo olowo. He wears a white robe and his hair is stuck with parrot feathers. 
He hands over the sacrificial sheep through the stewards to the Ugbama who are dancing and singing Ema mu wa, aye o yo e, a song they sing continuously until they receive the sheep (which has since replaced the human victims). The sheep is led to the Oronsen grove and sacrificed there.

Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, the Olowo of Owo Seated

At about 6pm four days after Uyanna, the Ugbate ceremony takes place. All the women who are traditionally vested with the powers of selling meat come to the Oba’s market carrying their trade baskets containing knives and pieces of iron – implements of their trade. They come to watch the "sacrifice" Onugho, being led round the Oba’s palace walls. They come dressed in white.

A strip of white cloth prepared and woven by a woman on that very day is tied round the sheep’s belly. The animal is led round the palace walls three times by the Ugbama who dance, singing repeatedly: Atipa a bale a toju de o, onugho gbanre’o. Then they lead the animal away to ul’aja, the spot where Oronsen left her head tie. There they keep an all night vigil.

The Igogo festival reaches its climax on the seventeenth day with all the chiefs dancing around the town on their way to the palace.  They dance to music beating only on metal gongs. At the palace they attend to the Olowo who also dances to Igogo music. The Olowo and his chiefs are all dressed in white loin cloths richly adorned with beads. All the priests assemble at the palace. The Olowo distributes to them peices of the sacrifice involved in the days celebrations, one he goat, one dog, seven goats and thirty six kola nuts. 

Later that evening, the Olowo presents, through Osowe, to all Chiefs, Ighare, Priests and Ugbama who are assembled in the palace: cows, goats, dogs, blocks of salt, snails, cocks, eku ama, eje ale, rats, fish, birds and eggs

During the presentation, the Osowe recites the following incantations on behalf of the Olowo at ugha alamuren:

Okereke ( three times)
Olilolohun (three times)
Oluwagarajigbo deji (three times)
Urun aja ri aja foju
Urun agutan ri agutan gbeghe
Otakun yu otakun wa
Otakun Muli ajen
Ojegejegekun bobo male
Orogbodo oyan ye poma
O poma tan o kun efun
Obelebele ye jin abe rawe
Kema se ejo a se agalamtata
Eyin ‘ka erun ‘baje
Udeli akon moron agba sengwa
Moja esisi mo na arima
Mojiba  agba
Mojiba iba bami
Iseseri odudu oron fo oronmufede
Oluwa agajigbo mo pe
Oronsen deji mo pe
Oronsen More mo pe
Odon jo
Osunsun sun
Aghoro fohun odon
Olowo omo re N.N ( name of Olowo)
Wa sodon ghen eyitoni
Onisale onisare
Oni Ugba ogbi gbo
Onipankan aso anogho
Ugba Eku
Ugba eja
Ugba Ogbigbo
Ugba eghen nene 
Akeke deregbe
Ogun aja
Odo agutan
Aso erenla

At the end of this incantation the Osowe says a prayer for the Olowo and his subjects. From this evening, for seven days, girls dance round the town and young men engage every evening in wrestling contests organized on a quarter versus quarter basis.

The day following the recital of the incantation, the Iloro dance to the palace. 
The Olowo if he is so disposed may dance around the town attended by the Iloro and Owo Chiefs or remain in the palace to receive guests. 
In the evening, Uru, a priest carrying a very long stick covered with white feather comes from Emure ile, six miles to Owo, to perform some ceremonies at Ugha alamuren. At this ceremony, Chief Osowo recites, on behalf of the Olowo, the last twenty-five lines of the incantations he recited the previous day. After he has done, the Uru recites them, striking two bulls horn at intervals.
To round up the festival all the priests gather at the Olowo’s palace at about 10pm, six days after the Uru’s visit. They assemble at the Ugha okunrin where the Olowo presents them with twenty-four kola nuts. Each priest then dances to a tune. Before they leave, all the priests recite O de o de o, Aghoro mama se ‘jo oro, three times.

After they leave the Olowo goes to Oke agbala, a hall within the palace where a priest who has the sacrifice is. This priest only sees the Olowo once a year and only at the Igogo festival. Before he leaves he presents his offering to the priest and his Olori’s dance around the palace and some parts of the town.
Omo-Olowo, Princess Dancing To Igogo Music

To mark the end of the festival, the Olowo’s servants beat a drum at Oke ugha to notify the town. The ban on drumming is lifted… till the following year.

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