Olojo festival of Ancient Ile-Ife

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By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU &  APPOLOS IBEABUCHI OZIOGU

The people of ancient city of Ile-Ife are mostly traditionalists who still uphold the religious practice of their forebears. They worship a lot of deities and as a result they celebrate a great many traditional festivals to propitiate or pacify or appease the deities.

Some of these deities are: Orisa Oko (deity of agriculture); Ogun (deity of iron); Obatala (deity of creation); Esu Elegbara (trickster deity); Osanyin (deity of medicine);Ifa (deity of divination), Erinle (deity of forest); Orunmila (deity of fate)  etc.

There are also prominent ancestors that are also deified and worshiped like Oduduwa, Oranmiyan and Oluorogbo . There were 401 deities that resided in the ancient city of Ile-Ife. Thus, the Ife people have diverse cultural festivals that they celebrate annually, which among them is OLOJO festival.

Olojo festival is an age-long tradition of the ancient city of Ile-Ife which is celebrated by the indigenes of Ile-Ife. It began during the reign of the third Ooni of Ile-Ife. Though the date of Olojo festival inception has not been determined, but it is said to be between 11th and 15th century and the celebration usually begins in the middle of October each year.

*Beaded Crown worn by the Ooni at the festival

It is celebrated in honour of the revolutionary deity, Ogun (the god of iron).Th festival is celebrated to commemorate the importance of Ogun; to exhibit the solemn belief of the Ife people on Ogun deity to usher in prosperity and abundance of agricultural products, as well as the well-being of the people for the year.

Olojo literally means “Owner of the day”. The Olojo festival is a programme, marked with great pomp and pageantry. It is celebration occasioned by prayers, songs, dancing and merry-making. However, before the festival commences proper, the sitting or reigning king, Ooni of Ife would go incommunicado or into seclusion for a period of five days to communicate with the 401 deities that resided in the ancient city of Ile-Ife.

He engages himself in special prayers and ritual sacrifices along with seven high priests. Within this period, the Ooni will not eat any natural food, but spiritual food and alligator pepper with kola nut. During this period also, the high priest will be coming to see the Ooni to perform some rituals, turn-by-turn for consecutive five days.

Olojo festival is a three-day event. The first day, which is normally Friday, is called “Ilagun” day. The second day, being Saturday is called “Olojo proper while the third day being Sunday is the grand finale and for merry-making. Thus, before the commencement of the festival on the first day, the Ooni of Ife would first of all emerge wearing the sacred beaded crown “Ade Aare” which  was believed to have been empowered by the deities. After that, the chief priest, Osogun with other chiefs including the priest and a representative of Ooni would immediately  proceed towards the Okemogun (the shrine) to prepare the Ogun shrine before the Ooni would come out in the open. There, the chief priest would  make some incantations while the other chiefs that accompany  echo “Esei” (meaning, Amen).

At the shrine, a dog is tied, while the Osogun and other seven chiefs  move round the shrine seven times before the Osogun (chief priest) would finally cut the dog into two halves.  Immediately after  the ritual killing, the entire people of Ife around will shout “Ogun yee” (meaning, the ritual has been accepted).

The totems  for ceremonial ritual include: dog and kola nuts (which are to be shared among the people at the shrine). Other items are salt, palm oil and palm wine. During the festival different  songs are sung in praise of the Almighty God for a peaceful festival and for the reigning Ooni.

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