By Chris Onuoha
The Queen Moremi Ajasoro Festival was celebrated on Wednesday November 1 at the Ooni of Ife’s Palace with streams of activities making it excitingly memorable. Moremi festival is an annual event in commemoration of the great Amazon in the history of Yoruba race, Queen Moremi Ajasoro, a princess from Offa married to Oduduwa, the cradle of Ile Ife dynasty and custodian of Yoruba heritage.
This year’s ceremony was precisely Ooni Alayeluwa Adeyeye Enitan Babatunde Ogunwusi, Ojaja II’s second Moremi festival celebration since he became the new Kabieyesi. However, the culturally stylish Kabieyesi prior to this has introduced several innovative cultural projects to rebrand the festival in line with modernity. These include the Queen Moremi Ajasoro Empowerment and Mentorship programme for women in partnership with Ego Boyo’s IWS initiative, the QMA cultural beauty pageant handled by the cultural Ambassador of Queen Moremi Ajasoro, Princess Ronke Ademiluyi, founder, African Fashion Week London. Others were the ‘Itewa dance’ by Ooni’s palace chiefs, the traditional prayer to usher in a new dawn according to Ile Ife cultural calendar, and the symbolic lighting of Queen Moremi’s statue.
The QMA pageant audition with about 400 young female participants was anchored by a team of seasoned beauty experts alongside celebrated ace actor, Odunlade Adekola, as celebrity guest judge. At the final selection, 41 queens-to-be made it for a 2 weeks camp preceding the final pageant to be held on December 3, at Oriental Hotel, Lagos.
The festival which kicked off at about 12 pm attracted large crowds of people from communities and towns in Osun State, visitors from far and near including foreign tourists. The traditional New Year prayer done to usher in a new dawn in Ile Ife cultural calendar started the celebration with the appearance of a masked man clothed in green leaves, culturally believed to bears the burdens of last year’s misfortunes and ill-luck of people. As the incantations and prayers filled the air, everyone rained curses upon the image and asked him to disappear with all their predicaments as the new cultural year beckons.
This was preceded by the arrival of Kabieyesi and his palace chiefs. Thereafter, comes the ‘Itewa dance’, the most revered royal dance performance by palace chiefs. The significance of this dance dates back to Ile Ife tradition as a dance performed for Ooni’s installation as a king and also performed at Moremi Ajasoro festivals which goes with royal blessing from the Ooni to the chiefs.
According to the Palace Traditional Secretary to Ooni, Chief Salami Idowu, “This dance is very symbolic. It is called the ‘Itewa’ dance. When Ooni was about to be crowned, it was performed for him. It is also performed during every Moremi festivals to usher in a new dawn. The very first Itewa dance performed for the current Ooni was in ‘Ilofi’, when he was announced as the new Ooni for general acceptance by the people.
He also said, “Queen Moremi Ajasoro is highly respected by the entire Yoruba race because of her selfless sacrifice and heroic deeds to save lives. She gave up her son to the river goddess as a pledge to save the Ile Ife people from the invaders – just like Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the cross of Calvary to save the world. Today, every Oduduwa descendant and the entire Yoruba people pay homage to this unique Amazon. We are happy to celebrate her today,” Chief Salami said.
Corroborating this assertion, the Palace minstrel and spiritual chanter to Ooni, Omisore Lateef Oyewale Oderinde, added that Moremi festival was suspended when the former kabieyesi died. “It is a thing of joy to have the festival celebrated with the new kabieyesi who is a lover of culture and style.Today we remember the great Amazon, Moremi Ajasoro. Ife warriors were able to defeat their enemies at war through the ingenuity of Queen Moremi Ajasoro.” Oderinde said.
The climax of the festival was the ceremonial lighting of Queen Moremi Ajasoro statue. His Imperial Majesty, Ooni Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi led a large crowd of Ile Ife people, marched from the palace hall to the statue spot with drums, dance and singing amidst fanfare. As the light came up the statue, there was a thunderous victorious uproar signifying the enemy has been defeated, and peoples predicaments and ill-lucks have been washed away.
Speaking to media, The Imperial Majesty in his goodwill speech said; “The Móremí celebration is very significant to the Yorùbá race. Queen Moremi as a heroine did too well for us and we can’t forget her. For the Yorùbá race, her heroic ingenuity and conquest is a cogent call for us to keep our head up, continue to live in peaceful coexistence among our brothers. Today, we are here under the 3rd tallest statue in the whole of Africa and no 1 in Nigeria. It is part of our heritage, the Yorùbá race. Moremi festival is an annual event. The essence of it somehow is also to encourage our young females to very tenacious and be focused so that they should not be oppressed by the society, not to have male pressure or comprise their values. This is what we are trying to preach from the Yorùbá heritage and it is noted from the Yorùbá heritage. It is very important to know that what we are preaching here is for Yorùbá race to uphold her value our culture. There is nothing more important than that – unity is our watch world.”