ango Festival is a celebration held in south-west Nigeria annually commemorating Sango, a thunder and fire deity who was a warlord and the Oyo Kingdom’s third Monarch after his elder brother Ajaka. Sango, a prominent Yoruba ruler-turned deity who was thought to have magical powers, is honoured via this Festival. Traditionally, the Festival is hosted in the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo every August and is celebrated in over 40 countries throughout the world. Through the efforts of Olayiwola Adeyemi III, the Alaafin of Oyo, the celebration was renamed World Sango Day by the Oyo State Government in 2013 to reflect its global reach.
Sango Festival celebrations date back to one millennium (over 1,000 years) ago, following the demise of a prominent Yoruba ruler (Sango), he became Òrìşà (deity) Sango popularly considered as the founding father of modern-day Oyo State. Sango was a powerful ruler and sorcerer who succeeded his elder brother, who was considered a “weak ruler,” as Monarch of the Oyo Empire.
Sango’s death has been related to various mythical traditions, as he is said to have brought prosperity to the people of the Oyo Empire throughout his reign. Sango was a ruler (Alaafin) known for his mystical ability to emit fire from his mouth. He was a tough ruler who fought numerous wars to expand the Oyo Empire’s dominion to what is now Ghana.Identified with thunder and lightning, Sango has an extremely prominent cult among the Oyo people of Nigeria, and the Festival features various ceremonies connected with rain magic.
Women conduct a parade to the river on the first day of the seven-day festival to commemorate the beginning of the dry season by sinking a hollow calabash gourd packed with unique medicines. The Timi, or King, meets the worshippers at a place near the river, accompanied by drummers, trumpeters, and a huge crowd of onlookers. The women of the palace put on a special musical performance praising all the tribe’s rulers throughout its history.
The rest of the week is devoted to similar musical and dancing performances in front of the Timi, with the ultimate goal of pleasing and entertaining the god – Sango. Each day, the primary performer dances in a self-induced trance-like condition, during which he is said to speak with the voice of Sango and is impermeable to pain. On the seventh day, the Festival finishes with a fire procession in which a worshipper carries a big pot with a sacred flame that delivers benefits to the entire village.
Sango was only King of Oyo for seven years, yet he was considered the best King in the history of Oyo kings because of his formidable leadership.
The Sango Festival is an annual event held in the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo in August. The 2021 edition of the World Sango Festival which began on August 12 was recently held in Oyo and as expected, the event was filled with ‘fire’ literally, as masquerades were seen dancing on burning bushes and woods without a strand of their garment getting caught up in the burning inferno even though virtually all their costumes were made of fire-prone materials.
As if that was all, moments later, the Sango priest came out on display and to the amazement of the crowd – locals and visitors alike, he was literally oozing out fire from is oral cavity (mouth). And when I say he was ‘spitting out fire’, I do not mean the type that magicians perform on circus ground which is aided by them holding up some flammable liquid in their mouth and then spitting it out over a burning torch to create an outburst of fire. Quite the opposite! In this festival, the Sango priest reeks of no flammable liquid, and there is no flammable torch on sight within his reach. Yet, he blows fire up in the air like a fire breathing dragon one only sees in movies. But, this is no movie neither is it a special effect; even though it looks phantasmagorical or surreal, the force behind the whole display and show of fire is something more supernatural and powerful than it seems or looks.
The event, reported begins with Iwure Agba, which is an elders’ prayer led by the Sango priest. During the 2021 Festival, the King’s wives (the Ayaba) brag about how, after consulting with the mermaid goddess (Yemoja) and the Sango priest, they were able to prevent rain from disrupting the ceremony.
The rain, which was set to ruin the grand finale celebration of the 2021 World Sango Festival in Oyo Town on Saturday, August 16, 2021, was stopped in its tracks thanks to the deities’ intervention.
Ayaba Ramat Adeyemi, the Iya Ile-koto and one of the Ayaba of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, made this known on that day.
She spoke while leading other Ayaba in the customary role of “Igbatiti” at the Festival’s big conclusion, which was held at the palace of Yorubaland’s first class traditional Monarch.
According to her, “Igbatiti” refers to the Ayaba in the palace pounding a calabash to gain Alaafin’s attention anytime they need to collect something from him, particularly money, “because we women love money”, she said with a chuckle.
Explaining further, “It is obligatory for Kabiyesi to come out and meet us while we are pounding this calabash in the palace. We eulogize him and chant his praises through his ‘oriki’ (eulogy) which we are extremely familiar with, as we beat the calabash. As a result, we the Ayaba were concerned when it began to rain shortly before the celebration began at about 1PM, as it would prevent us from performing our usual responsibilities.
“Whereas we needed money from the Kabeyesi as women and Ayaba in the palace, I had to consult the ‘Yemoja’ and Sango priests to placate the goddess and stop the rain,” she explained. The rain stop’ped five minutes after Adeyemi consulted the priests, and she added, “If it hadn’t, we wouldn’t be able to execute the igbatiti.”