By Ekanpou Enewaridideke
Ayakoromo, a densely populated town in Burutu Local Government Area of Delta State in Nigeria distinguished by its passion for intellectualism, culture, peaceful co-existence and creative engagements with people and its own environment – its own environment that often inspires creative thoughts and journeys cast in prose, poetry, drama, music and history – is the home of the famous annual masquerade carnival called AYAKOROMO OLOROGUN MASQUERADE CARNIVAL. It is celebrated January every year.
Whenever the celebratory season arrives, people from different parts of Nigeria and beyond gather in Ayakoromo. For women and men in the grip of spinsterhood and bachelorhood, the carnival is a must for them because great marriages are usually contracted after the cultural fiesta which always brings together the best collection of men and women both in content and in character. Marital bond-cementation is an additional attraction for the Ayakoromo Olorogun Masquerade Carnival.
Memorably, the famous Ayakoromo Olorogun Masquerade Carnival, which movingly parades three prominent colours found in the costumes of the Masquerade and the frolicsome celebrants designated as WHITE (seen symbolically as the divine protective power of God over all celebrants), as RED (seen interpretatively as the will and the capacity of Ayakoromo people to sustain and preserve the carnival for generations born and unborn), as BLACK (seen symbolically as the destined responsibility to celebrate the Olorogun Carnival and culturally make the society progressive, exciting and enjoyable as a natural magnetizing attraction for every succeeding generation), was excitingly at its best during the January 2018 celebration when the wonderfully costumed Awalukpe Masquerade featured dramatically as a herald of the beginning of the season of Ayakoromo Olorogun Masquerade Carnival and got immediate unsolicited accolades from all spectators over its dizzyingly masterly dance steps on a canoe upon the Ayakoromo river.
The Awalukpe masquerade usually came out a day before the entire masquerade carnival began. Awalukpe masquerade was carried on a canoe. Inside the canoe carrying Awalukpe on the river were professional Owuozi drummers and singers. As the professionals engaged their task of drumming and singing, the paddlers rowed steadily through the Ayakoromo River while Awalukpe displayed on the canoe. It displayed and danced both on the left teeth and right teeth of the canoe, sometimes dancing as if it were about to fall into the river. After the canoe had rowed merrily to the eastern and western end of Ayakoromo River, the canoe was moored to a stake at the waterside leading to the Okosu-otu masquerade grove.
No sooner had the canoe been moored at the waterside than the Awalukpe masquerade would smartly disembark from the boat and run swiftly to the masquerade grove. Awalukpe masquerade was often seen as the visible precursor that the seasonal masquerade festival of the Ayakoromo Okosu-otu Group was about to begin. The rhythmic symmetrical lowering of the paddles of the paddlers into the waters of the Ayakoromo River to power the canoe while the Awalukpe Masquerade aquatically entertained the spectators with its captivating dramatics was remarkably unforgettable.
Interestingly, the arrival of the Ayakoromo Olorogun masquerade carnival having been dramatically and mesmerisingly heralded by the Awalukpe Masquerade, a watchnight was always held on the eve of the Olorogun carnival. At about ten O’ clock women, girls, boys and men attired in red costumes broke into two lines of procession in the town. Each holding a lit candle, they sang and danced from one end of the town to the other, musically chanting the praise name of the Olorogun Masquerade. This nightly celebration continued till dawn when it was overtaken by other celebratory activities organized while the head masquerade was being awaited enthusiastically by the owubaintu (those the masquerade pursue to catch up and flog).
The movingly dizzying celebratory activities of the Awalukpe masquerade and the Olorogun watchnight over, men, women, boys and girls were flamboyantly attired in red costumes. This was the famous Olorogun masquerade carnival. Agborogben masquerade came out from the masquerade bush of Okosu-otu masquerade group and joyously sprinkled dry pulou garri across the length and breadth of the town. The dry pulou garri was inside the plate it held in the left and from which he scooped with the right hand and sprinkled on the ground from the beginning of the village to the end.
The masquerade jogged while the sprinkling ritual was in progress. Olorogun the Opuowu masquerade was on the verge of coming out to display and entertain the people of Ayakoromo. As a herald of this, the agborogben masquerade had to sprinkle dry pulou garri on the ground of the village. This sprinkling ritual was created to bless and shower peace and protection on the village so that when the opuowu masquerade eventually emerged, nothing untoward happened. Before the agborogben masquerade came out to shower blessings of peace, the kiriafin masquerade had already done its duty. When the kiriafin masquerade came out, it held a long broom made of long wooden handle and swiftly swept the village from the beginning to the end. It swept and disposed of any dirt that came its way – physical or spiritual.
This ritual of sweeping was carried out to neutralize and exterminate the charms and the evils of charcoal-hearted people while the carnival lasted. It was after the kiriafin masquerade had appeared and disappeared that the Agborogben masquerade’s ritual was over. The priest of akasuwo paced to the waterside in a fit of possession flanked by his acolytes. The priest wore red sash, a bare body dotted with toru. With a toru-dotted bare body, his acolytes also had red sashes tied around their waists. The priest had a small plate of biscuits and cubes of sugar. He sprinkled the items on the water after a gaze.
A shoal of ekolokolo emerged and fed on the offerings. As the shoal of ekolokolo ate the offering wolowolo, the priest became possessed and began to wade through the water in response to the hypnotizing songs of the beini spirits. His acolytes held him back to land and gave him a sharp ogidi. The priest was now in the centre of two processions. It was time for him to announce through the length and breadth of the village his accurate predictions as regards the impending performance of Olorogun when it came out.
Akasuwo was a portable god credited with the power to predict the range of destruction Olorogun would cause when it came out. Such predictions forewarned and advised spectators and owubainotu on the most appropriate conduct to be adopted when Olorogun came out yongoloyongolo. Whether the prediction would be accurate or not, would be determined by the conduct of the spectators and owubainotu. Because the predictions were potent cautionary guides, the appearance of Akasuwo was always watched and applauded enthusiastically by spectators and owubainotu.
The priest stood Akasuwo on the ground, surveyed the two processions in a fit of building possession and sat on a portable small chair brought out for him by one of his acolytes. Seated on the chair he gazed at the inscrutable face of Akasuwo and spoke: ‘Akasuwo! Akasuwo! talk to me. Olorogun is about to come out. Tell me, Akasuwo, would Olorogun’s sharp flaming ogidi claim any spectator or owubainotu? How many owubainotu would be cut down by Olorogun? He sliced the plantain on the ground six times and gazed at the slices. After a gaze he asked again. ‘Akasuwo, Akasuwo, Akasuwo, is it true? Don’t lie to me. Is it true? He sliced the plantain again and suddenly jumped off his chair, swayed both to the left procession and the right procession, and exclaimed prophetically that Olorogun’s Ogidi would consume five persons.
Both to the left and the right of the processions he chanted Asan asan kia! Asan asan kia! Asan asan kia! to which the crowd responded owa! And he signalled the procession to move on. One of his acolytes carried Akasuwo when the signal to move was given. The ritual of plantain-slicing and asking Akasuwo confirmatory questions as to the accuracy of its predictions was enacted here and there until the procession reached the end of the village. The surging crowd that enthusiastically followed the procession never thinned out until the ritual ended.
They held the arms, the head-piece and led it towards the bank of the river, humming Igbon! Igbon! Igbon! Behind it a medley crowd of excited men, women, boys and girls fondly echoed the praise-name ‘Alabeni kolokolo-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!’ This was Ologorun masquerade being held towards the waterside by selected members of the Okosu-otu Masquerade Group of Ayakoromo. Led to the centre of the road leading to the waterside, Olorogun suddenly refused to move in protest against what nobody could immediately figure out, not even Akasuwo.
No amount of strength or force of people could force it to move whenever it suddenly protested. Shouts of asa kpiye! Asa kpiye! Asa kpiye! rent the air when it was no longer moving. It eventually moved after repeated shouts of asa kpiye, asi ye, asi ye! These were pleasing shouts designed to appease his protesting spirit. On the bank of the river the selected men held the beautifully carved head-piece and bent it to the river and sprinkled water three times upon the head-piece and let go of it. Left alone, Olorogun would, in its bent posture, keep still as if it were taking instructions from the beini spirits.
Then systematically it raised its head, shook it and produced pleasing tintinnabulation. As Olorogun shook its head, the kala bells fixed to the head-piece constantly produced pleasing tintinnabulation to the admiration of spectators inside speedboats in the river and on land. Spectators and owubainobu had deafened everywhere with shouts of Alabeni Kolokolo as Olorogun began to entertain with different dance styles calculated to lure spectators to the cutting trap of its ogidi. It danced crossing the legs acrobatically here and there, forward and backward, and shaking the head-piece pleasingly in response to its hysterically echoed praise-name.
Spectators were held spellbound by Olorogun in its calculated dance steps; when it was most spellbinding, it suddenly swooped on the owubainotu and cut five persons. The predictions of Akasuwo priest had come to pass with accuracy. Having fulfilled the predictions of the priest of Akasuwo, Olorogun held up its ogidi and danced in celebration of its victory over owubainotu. It was excited that the boasts of the owubainotu that Olorogun would never be able to cut any of them had been disproved.
From the masquerade grove Olorogun came out, it had danced and lolo (displayed) through the town to the owukiri which was designed specifically for it to dance. From the owuwari drums and owu songs penetrated Olorogun. Aworowo, the chief drummer, began to work out mesmerizing beats on his angbara drum to move Olorogun to the land. At this time the drumming and singing of Okosu-otu masquerade cult competed with the drums of beini spirits. Olorogun would be compelled to wade into river beyond reach when possessed by the drums of beini spirits.
The designated drummers of Okosu-tu masquerade cult had a duty to skillfully work on the angbara drum. Olorogun was no longer responding to the communicative language repeatedly drummed out by Aworowo. Panic gradually spread her blanket over Okosu-otu Masquerade Group. Olorogun had begun to wade through the water to the drums of the beini spirits. Even as it waded through the water, some were still convinced that the drums of Aworowo would call it back to land. It began to submerge as it waded through the water. It was like the beini spirits had won the battle. When Olorogun had submerged to the head-piece, they could no longer bear it. Some persons swooped on Olorogun and held it back to the land humming asi ye! Asi ye! The resonant humming of asi ye, asi ye, asi ye, and igbon, igbon, as Olorogun was being held by selected members of Ayakoromo Okosu-otu Masquerade Cult of only men trailed off to the masquerade bush from where it came out to dance and lolo to the admiration of spectators and owubainotu.
From the acquatically anchored hypnotising dramatics of the Awalukpe Masquerade, the exciting nightly celebrations offered by the famous Olorogun Masquerade watchnight extravaganza, the entertaining colourful costumes of the spectators and celebrants and the unbeatable acrobatic ‘leg-crossing’ and ‘head-shaking’ dance of the Olorogun masquerade, it is quite clear that the Ayakoromo famous Olorogun Masquerade carnival has all the potentials of a tourist attraction/centre which the federal government of Nigeria and the Delta State Government can develop into a global tourist centre as a platform to promote culture and tourism and enjoy the accompanying economic benefits. If the government of Nigeria is not pathologically pretentious in its dramatised love for culture and tourism, then expeditious actions should be quickly taken to make Ayakoromo a tourist centre where the unique masquerade culture of the people will be annually celebrated.
For Mr Aye Enefugha who founded the famous Ayakoromo Olorogun Carnival in 1937 through a fish he caught in his net and reeled in on Aghoro River during his fishing expedition and skillfully carved it into a beautiful head-piece as mystically demanded by the fish in a dream,he would be full of pride in the underworld if the Olorogun carnival is eventually turned into a global event for the celebration and promotion of culture and tourism in Nigeria.
The posthumous demand by Mr Aye Enefugha that Ayakoromo be turned into a tourist centre for the celebration and promotion of culture and tourism as regards the famous Ayakoromo Olorogun Carnival is not too much for a man whose passion for culture still remains unrivalled in Nigeria.The beautifully carved head-piece alone is a priceless cultural artifact bound to inspire artistes and artists towards meaningful creative explorations.That the head-piece alone provokes and enhances creative thoughts and gives aesthetic excitement is compelling enough for President Buhari and Governor Ifeanyi Okowa and his art -loving deputy governor Kingsley Otuaro, to spare thoughts of culture and tourism for Ayakoromo as this will give posthumous honour and pride to the great carver/founder of the Ayakoromo Olorogun Carnival,Mr Aye Enefugha.