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Isemo: When women lose freedom of movement to tradition

By Bose Adelaja

SOME call it Isemo, while others call it Igbele but whatever it is called, the meaning is the same: An age-old Yoruba traditional rite that imposes a restriction of movement on women at a certain period or occasion. Depending on some factors, Isemo is an annual tradition in some Yoruba-based communities observed to appease the gods and to ward off impending danger.

At its inception in the olden days, Igbele practice or observance was the exclusive preserve of the elders in the community, though the youths were carried along for the purpose of instructing them on the rules guiding the practice and its strict adherence in line with the rigorous demand of tradition.

The practice restricts women in every capacity regardless of race, tribe or position. On such occasions, women are denied the freedom to move from one place to another and the erring ones are made to face the wrath of the gods, including being ostracised, maiming or loss of life as the event is totally a men’s affair. During this traditional rite, which usually starts by midnight when residents have returned from work, some men, especially the elderly, usually take position at strategic locations to ensure that no unpleasant incident occurrs. This is said to account for why the practice was widely accepted, especially in the light of the protection extended to women while it lasts.

*Hoodlums on rampage during an Isemo  festival
*Hoodlums on rampage during an Isemo festival

Isemo is usually accompanied by Oro’ or Eluku festival but the bottom line is that women are restricted in every capacity as the organisers use the occasion to pray for the peace of the land as well as security of lives and property, just as the gods are called upon to fight the cause of the land.

Hijack by hoodlums

In days past when the practice held sway under strict obervance, robbery, kidnapping, bombings were rare as perpetrators of such acts dread the wrath of the gods. Nowadays, the reverse is the case, as the occasion has been hijacked by hoodlums, especially in Lagos State. Believe it or not, Igbele is now an avenue to perpetrate nefarious acts like kidnapping, robbery, rape, theft, smoking of Indian hemp or drunkenness.

Apart from coming without prior notice, Igbele has over the years been reduced to a notorious event during which the hoodlums take the law into their hands, unleashing terror on their victims. A case in point was in 2011 when some shops were burgled overnight around Ebute in Ikorodu. Disturbed by the ugly development, the traditional ruler had vowed then to deal with the culprits.

In an incident in August 2012, this reporter and many other women slept on the road to avoid falling victim to hoodlums masquerading as Igbele adherents at Igbogbo in Ikorodu. Also, on June 3, 2013, many Ikorodu women were forced to remain indoors, reason being that Isemo was ongoing in Ikorodu town.

A couple of months back, some women in Itire were forced to stay indoors when the community organised the Isemo festival for the year 2013. The same applies to places like Egan, Ajah and Ikorodu where women have raised alarm over the curtailment of their right to freedom of movement.

And they are calling on government, especially Lagos State Commissioner for Women Affairs, to intervene in the matter.

Responding to Vanguard Metro’s inquiring on the latest ‘’Isemo’’ that commenced in the Igbogbo area of Ikorodu on Thursday August 22, 2013, many residents, spoke out angrily against it and called on Lagos State government to ban it. A commercial driver Rilwan Adeolu, lamented the fact that the practice usually patronage, wondering “why the Lagos State government should allow such primitive practice to exist,’’

For Elizabeth Igbahor, Baliks Mustapha and Modupeola Dagunduro: ‘’Our shops have been burgled on several occasions; it is usually a time for hoodlums to feed fat.’’ Madam Adedayo Tinuola, on her part, claimed she usually relocates to Maryland on such occasions. ‘


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.