This year, activities in Ijebuland came to a halt as educational, religious, social and economic activities were paralysed during the annual Agemo Festival. Vanguard gathered that while some students deserted the Tai Solarin University of Education, TASUED, while primary and secondary schools used to release pupils and students to go home by noon daily.
By Daud Olatunji
ANNUALLY, Agemo festival usually takes place between July and August every year in Ijebu Ode. The festival is usually preceded by “Ireku” which marks the opening of the gate for the Agemos to come into Imosan. Vanguard gathered that the coming of the Agemos into Imosan through Ijebu Ode is called “Iworo.”
No woman is allowed to look at the Agemo when it is coming into Ijebu Ode or going out of the ancient town at the end of its annual festival. The journey of an Agemo from his town of abode to his arrival into Ijebu Ode and departure from the ancient town after all rites must have been concluded, is always preceded with the traditional shouts of “eke eee!!! Obirin mai wo ooo!!! We wo fere, wo’ku fere! Iku aiye eee, ojiji firi firi” (the Agemo is on his way, so give the right of way to Orisa, the spirit that can commune with the dead; women, don’t look at it).
There is a strong belief that a surreptitious glance by any woman is instant death; a glance from any hidden place is instant death; no one must wear cap when an Alagemo is around”, among others. This tradition fuelled the anxiety in Ijebuland as residents, especially, women restrained their movement during the period. This year, activities in Ijebuland were temporarily suspended as educational, religious, social and economic activities were paralysed during the annual Agemo Festival.
Vanguard gathered that while some students deserted the Tai Solarin University of Education, TASUED, while primary and secondary schools used to release pupils and students to go home by noon daily. The religious activities in mosques and churches beginning from 4.00pm daily were not spared as movement was restricted for women and ladies within the hours Agemo worshippers performed their rites. Narrating her ordeal, a student of TASUED told Vanguard that the academic activities at the university have been paralysed following the restriction as academic and non-academic staff close from work by 12.00pm within the period.
The female student who pleaded anonymity noted that a large number of students live off-campus, hence, the fear of being caught out by the restriction has made them stay away from the university for now. Asked whether any student has fallen victim, she said “That I cannot say, but everybody, especially female, abided by the restriction order. So, I am not sure any student has fallen victim.” Also, the National Youth Service Corps in Ogun State has warned corps members to stay clear of Ijebuland while Agemo Festival, lasted.
Vanguard gathered that, some corps members were warned against travelling to Ijebuland. The corps members were gathered for the June monthly clearance and were told by Abeokuta South Local Government inspector, Gbenga Oderinde who warned female corps members to suspend any scheduled activity in Ijebuland during this period. “Please, I have warned you not to go to Ijebu- Ode this period. The Agemo Festival has commenced. Many of you who love parties, please stay away from any party of Ijebu during this period,” the LGI warned.
Also, a statement issued by the State NYSC spokesman, Igba Emmanuel reads: “Good morning, I am directed to inform all LGIs to strongly warn corps members in their respective Local Governments not to travel to Ijebu Ode this week because of the Agemo Festival Currently going on. “Also, corps members in Ijebu Ode are advised to stay indoors as the custom demands throughout the festival. Thank you.” Similarly, the Awujale of Ijebu, who is the paramount ruler of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Adetona warned women to “keep off” Agemo cults’ routes.
A statement released from the Awujale’s Palace, reads: “The annual Agemo Festival in Ijebuland will commence as all the Oloja Agemos would approach Ijebu Ode township on Monday, July 3, 2017, between the time of 4.00pm till night, after which they will continue their journey to Imosan where they will all assemble for their annual pilgrimage. Their routes include and are not limited to Epe/Oke-Owa road, Isiwo route, Odogbolu enroute Lagos/Benin Express way, Ijebu Imusin/Ilese Army Barracks route, Omu/Ala/Egbe/Ejinrin route etc.”
A statement from the Palace of Oba Awujale the paramount ruler of Ijebuland indicates that the Agemos will commence their annual sacrifice with the traditional dance at Imosan on Tuesday, July 4, 2017. They will also return back to Ijebu Ode township on Wednesday, July 5, 2017, while Olumoro will return on Thursday, July 6, 2017 respectively.
“The statement also added that Onire will perform the traditional sacrifice for Oba Awujale of Ijebuland on July 10, 2017 at Ojofa Itoro in Ijebu Ode township, while other Agemo Masquerades will perform their traditional dance at the yard of Isasa Porogun in Ijebu Ode township also on that same day. Oba Awujale of Ijebuland therefore advised all women and ladies to “keep-off” from the routes and sighting of Agemos as it is being practised in Ijebu tradition and customs.”
How Agemo moved to Ijebuland: This movement of an Agemo from his town to Ijebu Ode is called “Ilo.” One remarkable feature of the journey of an Agemo to Ijebu Ode is the traditional harvesting of corn. The practice is that every year, the youth of Ijebuland would go out to welcome the Agemos along the different routes they usually take into the town. Any farmer that plants corn and fails to wait for the Agemo by his farm with kegs of palm wine, his corns would be harvested by the youths. But where a farmer waits with palm wine, the Agemo would pray for such a farmer. The annual celebration of Agemo festival is for seven days, depending on the directive of the oracle.
All the Agemo would move from their respective town, through Ijebu Ode to Imosan, where they would stay for a number of days and during which they would perform all traditional rites at designated Oju Osi. The ceremony is usually held one month before the commencement of the festival which is major public affair. “Irekua” is performed by the Oloja Agemos with sacrifices and on the second day, they would pass a message to the Awujale about its success.
After this comes “Idojo” through which the number of days the festival would last is determined, whether it is going to be seven or nine days, in any particular year, after consultation with Ifa oracle. After this, the Agemos return to their various domains to prepare for the big festival. However, their coming to Ijebu Ode is usually preceded by a seven day “Oro” festival, which is performed by members of the “Oro” cult to ward off evil spirits and other negative things from Ijebuland. On the seventh day of the “Oro” festival, the traditional “Gbedu” drum would be beaten by the Obaruwa family, the only family traditionally empowered to do so. The beating of the “Gbedu” signals that the Agemos can enter Ijebu Ode to commence the festival. It is the responsibility of the Awujale, on behalf of the people of Ijebuland, to fund these sacrifices.
On the third day of their stay in Imosan, the Agemos perform their traditional dance and is witnessed by the women and male folks alike. The Agemos spend the remaining four days in Ijebu-Ode to fulfill all other traditional rites at a place in the town called “Agbala.” It is during their stay in Ijebu-Ode that those who need assistance from them or prayers would visit them. On the fourth day, which is the last day of the seven day festival, the Awujale of Ijebuland would dance with Tami, the Onire of Odogbolu and the leader of Agemos in his regalia at Ojofa, near Itoro town hall, Ijebu-Ode.
The dance between Tami and Onire is usually attended with showers of rain and the dance is not complete or considered a success without the rain. This incidence gave rise to the popular saying in Ijebuland that “ojo to ba pa Onire, gbogbo Agemo lo ma pa”. This is so because while Tami and the Awujale are performing the traditional dance, other Agemo are also performing the traditional dance at Agbala. As a result, they are also showered by the rain.
Awujale is blessed by Tami Onire during the traditional dance, likewise the people of Ijebuland. After the dance with Awujale, Tami would go back to join his colleagues who have been taking turns to dance at Agbala. Like the males, women are permitted to watch the dance but must leave Agbala much earlier before the last of the Agemo performs his traditional dance.
At the end of the dance in the evening, all the Agemos would move to their various quarters within the town to pass the night. Before the dawn of the next day, they would leave the town and travel back to their domain. It is only on conclusion of the annual Agemo festival in Ijebu ode that the individual Agemo would then celebrate in his domain.