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Olokun festival 2009: Ecology, drama and myth of life

By McPhilips Nwachukwu  & Japhet Alakam
The two day festival that played out in the historic town of Badagary last week brought out into visual vivacity  those arresting poetic lines of John Pepper  Bederekemo Clark, which he wrote as follows in his beautiful poem, Olokun:

I love to pass my fingers,

As tide through weeds of the sea

And wind the tall fern-fonds

Through the strands of your hair

Dark as night that screens the naked moon

…And I would that you realize

No greater love had woman

From man than the one I have for you!

The occasion was the 2009 annual Olokun Festival. The goddess, Olokun in Yoruba mythology is one of the  goddesses in the pantheon of the peoples gods, in its own case a sea goddess that is believed to be the giver of wealth. It is a well revered goddess to the extent that many Yoruba parents give names that  have to do with water or sea to their children. Such name like Omisere and Osun are typical examples.

Olokun-Festival-2The two day exciting festival appropriately tagged, Olokun festival held at the Suntan Beach in Badagry is a clear testimony to a well spent efforts by individuals and the government of Lagos State to reviving the fading culture of Africa ;and especially that of  the Yoruba cultures.

The project, a brain child of Olokun Festival foundation in collaboration with Lagos State Government was celebrated with the theme; Ideals of African Culture for a Positive Change.

The two day festival with its line up of activities, which included  a beauty pageant show held at Lagos State Television Premise, Agindingi, cultural performances of various hues and colours and intellectual harvest of cultural discourse succeeded in registering in the minds of an average Yoruba citizen that culture is the foundational landmark of human existence and should not be killed by mis-informed religious teachings and practices.

The festival drew participants from Ghana, Benin Republic, Ivory Coast , Germany, US and many other parts of the world, who all came to have a first hand knowledge of what the organizers had in stock for the year.

This year’s edition being the 5th edition of this great festival  according to the organizers “is held annually for the  protection of the world ecological system and keeping of the  environment clean and hygienic.”

Declaring the festival open in front of Marine Beach at the former Slave Port Badagry, the chief promoter of the festival, Otunba Gani Adams said that the event kicked off in the Slave port in the ‘Olosun’ in order to accord respect to the ‘Olosun’ before going to the ‘Olokun’( beach) for the grand finale.

Going memory lane, the former OPC arrow head explained that the festival originally started at Alfa Beach in Lagos Island but had to be moved to Badagry because of the conducive atmosphere of the town. He thanked the Oba of Badagry for his fatherly roles and enjoined all to enjoy the festival. Thereafter there were performances from different cultural troupes including beautiful displays of boat regatta from Ebute Olofin and Ajido. From the Slave port the entourage moved to the Oba of Badagry for a royal visit after which there was a carnival night at the French Cultural Village at Badagary.

On the second of the festival and shortly after the arrival of some people at Suntan beach, the heavens opened  her water filled eyes and cried passionately as she blessed the teeming crowd with showering coolant noodles. However, despite the little delay caused by that beautiful down pour , the whole place was nonetheless filled with people as people from different parts of the country especially, members of the OPC came to be part of the great occasion .

The Ande cultural group from Ghana opened the second event  with a splendid performance by dancing round in pairs to the admiration of the audience. Thereafter, other cultural troupes came in batches and performed.

In his own welcome address at the occasion, the chief promoter of the event, Otunba Gani Adams said that the theme of the festival explained everything about the defining philosophy of the  festival with regards to how African culture could be used to developing and promoting  social situations in the continent.

In his well reasoned argument, he was of the view that the only solution to the crisis of cultural identity, that has been the lot of many African societies lies in the promotion of the peoples cultural heritage and therefore commended the Lagos State House of Assembly, Ogun State House of Assembly and Ondo State House of Assembly for adopting Yoruba language as official language of legislative  businesses in their respective Houses of Assembly.

In his key note address, the culture enthusiast, Prof. Ishola Akinwumi of University of Ibadan advised that Africans especially Nigerians be not carried away with foreign culture.Though, he delivered his speech in Yoruba language argued that  “If our country must develop, it must maintain   its culture.”

Also speaking on the topic “Exploring the Ideals of African Culture for a Positive Change” the guest speaker at the occasion, Prof. Akwasi Asabere- Ameyaw, Vice Chancellor of University of Education, Winneba, Ghana called for protection of the environment and especially , the continent’s waters arguing that with threatening distortion of the global ecological map that Africa stands to suffer serious water crises, except she applies the cultural knowledge of ancient African fathers that are embodied in the spirit of Olokun festival.

The Ghanaian scholar also  advised Africans to do away with what he described as “cultural genocide and cultural suicide.”and reasoned that “if our ancestors were able to successfully protect the environment, protect our communities from criminals and crime, keep our communities neat and healthy, keep the water bodies and the ocean clean so that our beaches could provide pleasure for human beings, and even animals. I find it very important for us as Africans to go back to the roots and pick all the good elements in our culture to save our societies.”

Finally he suggested that the Olokun Festival Foundation should extend its activities across the whole of the West African litoral States- from Nigeria through Benin Republic to Ghana and even up to Senegal and other countries that are willing to cooperate with the foundation.

Highlights of the celebration was the cultural troupes that came from different parts of the country and outside the country. It was indeed a cultural carnival as different communities came with their troupes.

Amongst them were: wonders from Ivory Coast, Igede cultural dance from Ghana, cultural troupe from Benin Republic and those from many states of Nigeria. There were also masquerade displays, boat regatta, Egungun dance, Eyo dancers and other traditional dancers that defied the rain to perform their arts.

Despite the glamour, colour and drama the two day festival effused, it was however disheartening and surprising to notice the palpable absence of representatives of both the Lagos State and Federal Ministries of Culture despite the assurance by the organizers that they were part of the festival. Important dignitaries that witnessed the occasion include: Cultural Patriarch, Ambassador Segun Olusola, Prof. Ishola Akunwumi, Ekundayo Adele Ifamoregun, Yeye Olukun, Andre Sosing from Germany and Prof Rahman from Finland.

The occasion was also graced with the presence of the following royal fathers: The Akran of Badagry, Oba Wheno Aholu Menu Toyi 1, representative of the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Onikoyi 1 Abesan from Port Novo, Eleda of Edeland, Oleta of Ota, Jacob Oyedokun of Ifoyin Land, Possu of Badagry Kingdom and a host of others.


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