he Adimu Orisa Play, popularly known as the Eyo Festival in Lagos, Nigeria, has been staged in ancient times and possibly stretches back much further than most Lagos indigenes would fathom.
According to legend, the cultural celebration was inherited from Ibefun, a town in Ogun state, when the then Oba of Lagos, Oba Akinsemoyin, set out to appease the Eyo deity so that his childless younger sibling, Erelu Kuti, could bear a child.
Finally, the Erelu gave birth to two offspring, whose line ensures an Oba’s succession to the throne in Lagos, Nigeria’s economic metropolis.
The first festival was held in Oke Ipa, which is now the lagoon end of Glover Road in Ikoyi, in the 19thcentury, according to records by historians.
The Obas (kings) of Lagos, their titled chiefs, elders, and significant dignitaries would go from their mansions and palaces to Oke Ipa to attend the Eyo drama, which was sometimes a three-day journey by foot.
Though the aim of presenting the celebration has changed significantly over the years – culturally staging the festival in memory of a departed Oba of Lagos or for the enthronement of a new one – it has quickly become a cultural show of splendour.
It is now also held in commemoration of renowned indigenes of Lagos who have just been taken by the fang of death or to mark State and foreign dignitaries’ visits with a procession that ends at Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos Island.
A festival is held as a form of farewell rite when a King (Oba of Lagos) dies. A request must first be made to the Akinsiku of Lagos, who is also the leader of the Eyos’, for a celebration to commemorate the passing away of a family member who must be an eminent Lagos indigene.
In order to meet the requirements, Akinsiku of Lagos will then outline clearly what must be done; he asks for the Ikaro (offerings and presents), and after the family fulfills their responsibility, the Akinsiku gathers the offerings and distributes them among the Lagos deity households.
Despite the fact that many facts are still veiled in secrecy as they should be, ancient regulations require that a divination procedure takes place after the gifts and offerings are distributed. The Eyo Orisa’s sacred sanctuary, known as the Awe Adimu, is where this rite is performed. This is where the festival’s suitable and appropriate date is selected.
Following the selection of a date, each of the five Eyo groups (conclave) would meet separately to discuss their goals and strategies. They must devise a strategy for organizing their multiple contingents and masquerades that will perform the Eyo performance.
This is accomplished through their chieftain houses. The entire process takes a long time, but it must be completed at least a week before the Eyo celebration.
The arrival of the Opa is a significant ceremonial that begins a week before the Eyo celebration day.
Each of the top five senior Eyo conclaves goes out in their hierarchical order to visit notable people, eminent individuals, and other organizational bodies to inform them about the upcoming festival, why it will take place, and how vital it is that it takes place.
Finally, through an official visit to the Lagos State Governor, the State Government is notified.
This process must be observed by each of the five groups.
The night before the festivities begin, it is customary for all of the participants to gather at the ruling Oba’s Palace for a large feast and revelry. This is the night on which the Oba bestows his blessings.
The Agodo Erection Rite is another major rite performed by the Eyo Laba group (one of the five conclaves).
The Eyo Laba conclave is the second in command of the Eyo conclaves known as the “Senior Five.”
After the merriment has ended and everyone has left, the most senior of the conclaves, the Eyo Adimu, inspect the edifice.
Following their own inspections, the other groups, in hierarchical order, conduct their own inspections.
The ‘Gbale’ rites are also performed, which represent the ’sweeping away’ of evil and the ushering in of prosperity, peace, and harmony.
The Eyos gather at 5AM on the day of the masquerade festival to the sounds of the Gbedu and Koranga drums, which are only beaten during Eyo festivals.
All masquerades in full costume and regalia begin to migrate towards the para, a tent created with raffia mats located in the region of Enu Owa on Lagos Island, as their numbers begin to rise at the gathering site.
The ceremonial crowning of any Oba takes place in Enu Owa, a significant location on the Lagos island.
They all head to the Oba’s Palace in Iga Idunganran to pay their respects before making their way via Idumota, Tinubu Square, and other important and minor routes on Lagos Island.
Thousands of people, including villagers, dignitaries, visitors, and others, will be ready to greet them, rejoice with them, and partake in the festivities at Tafawa Balewa Square.
While the festivities take place in a carnival-like setting, the Eyo masquerades, who number in the thousands, put on a spectacular walk-by parade. The masquerades put on an amazing show, singing, dancing, and displaying bizarre acrobatic moves. It is worth going to Lagos just to see them.
Thousands of Eyos, both young and old, are dressed in pure white Agbadas, gorgeously coloured wide-brimmed hats, with their Opambatas held firmly in their two hands, conclave after conclave.
They enthrall and awe everyone, leaving a lasting impression in their minds of how history, culture, and art are still as beautiful and vital in the present as they were in the past, and will continue to be for future generations.
The cultural ceremony comes to a close at sundown after a pleasant but presumably exhausting day for the typical Eyo masquerade who had walked many kilometres all day.
The Eyo masquerades return to the Para after the spectacular show to break it down, where the customary festival’s commencement was declared at sunrise.
The Orisa Adimu and his Eyo masquerades are in charge of deconstructing the Para.