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Cultural significance of the five deities leading Eyo masquerade

Lagos most respectable and symbolic festival, Adamu Orisa Play, otherwise known as Eyo masquerade, often  staged on the streets of Lagos Island, Eko, has five groups of Orisas (deities) as the head of all. The last Eyo festival was staged to mark Lagos State at 50 on May 20, 2017 which was the 68th in its history.

The Eyo Masquerade, as they paraded major streets of Lagos Island, during the last Adamu Orisa Play

Oftentimes, it is done in honour of the demise of an Oba (a Chief) or a notable Lagosian who has contributed immensely to the development of Lagos. Its popularity stretches beyond the shores of this country. It can be said that the Eyo masquerade itself represents Lagos.

A unique feature of the event is its infrequent staging; the festival does not hold on an annual basis like the popular Lagos carnivals of Olowogbowo, Oko-Faji, Egungun etc. There have been times in the past when for 21 years, the event did not hold. There had been also years when Eyo was staged three, four and five times in a single year: 1903, 1906 and 1909 respectively.

However, the five traditional Eyo deity groups: Eyo Orisa Adimu, Eyo Okanlaba,  Eyo Orisa Oniko, Eyo Orisa Ologede and Eyo Orisa Angere are the  leading groups on Adamu Orisa Play day.

The Supreme head of all, Eyo orisa Adimu (Orisa Baba Nla Mila),  has reiterated its uniqueness among other orisa groups. Prince Iyanda Bashua, Bashua of Lagos, gave this indication at Awe Adimu (Adimu cult) in Lagos, two weeks earlier before T.O.S. Benson’s Eyo event on April 25, 2009.

According to him, the Eyo festival, Adamu Orisa Play, is the traditional play of Lagos staged for the commemoration of final burial obsequies of an Oba or a chief, and sometimes in memory of a deceased person who had contributed to the progress and development of Lagos.

Bashua who spoke on behalf of the late Chief Amao Ibikunle, the Akinsiku of Lagos, the Alaworo Eyo and other members of the Olorogun-Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi, said people do not have to recite aro Eyo to participate in Eyo. “In Awe Adimu, only children of Adamu cult or somebody that is introduced by eminent personality in the society are registered for Eyo Adimu. Majority of Eyo Adimu are eminent personalties in the society. We have doctors, lawyers and justices, etc., here; no miscreant here!”, he stated.

Eyo Okanlaba (Alakete pupa), functions as the “Police” of the Orisa Adimu administration. ‘Laba ensures and maintains maximum discipline among the Eyo groups. They must ensure that Eyo groups keep to the rules and regulations of Adamu Orisa Play. They take directives from Awe-Adimu (adimu cult) and maintain regular contact with Awe Adimu throughout the preparation period and Adamu Orisa Play day.

Other major function of Eyo Laba is to construct “AGODO” (an enclosure constructed with mats) on the eve of Adamu Orisa Play day, along Enu-Owa Street (now Iga Iduganran Street) to house the drummers on the instruction of the elders of Awe Adimu. They are among the Eyo groups to lead opa processions for the announcement of Adamu Orisa Play day.

On its own, Orisa Oniko (Deity of Oniko); the outing of this Orisa (deity) during the midnight/early morning of Adamu Orisa Play day, is to ensure that the devil and other evil spirits are driven away from the town. The Orisa must choose some of his followers that would take part in the Adamu Orisa Play, to lead Opa processions for the announcement of Adamu Orisa Play day.

Orisa Ologede (Deity of Ologede): Similarly, the above mentioned functions of Orisa Oniko must be performed within different times of the early morning of Adamu Orisa Play day. The purposes of Orisa Ologede’s outing at this time is to ensure peace, tranquillity and safety of performance. The followers of Orisa Ologede also lead opa processions for the announcement of Adamu Orisa Play day.

Vanguard’s Arts & Reviews gathered from the Awe Adimu (Adimu cult) that Eyo Orisa Oniko was formerly the next to Eyo Orisa Adimu in rank but the elders affirmed that Oba Adele during his reign, asked for Okanlaba, second position and it has been like that since then. Our source also confirmed that Eyo Okanlaba has no orisa but Laba (symbolic Bag), which is the property of the reigning Oba. Now, we can authoritatively state that Okanlaba second position in the orisa groups has remained and may continue to be so forever.

Adamu Orisa Play has its history dating back to 155 years, and the procedure for staging it is that any person or family that can afford the expenses involved; or that any family that wants Eyo masquerade in the name of their house, must first consult the families of Olorogun Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi and appraise them of such a desire.

The two families will then direct the person or family to the reigning Oba of Lagos. Then they will be led to the Awe Adimu with the Oba’s official staff and two white-capped chiefs.

At the Awe Adimu, the person will be issued Ikaro to Awe Adimu (all the articles and cash for providing certain things for the obsequies). At this stage, no other family is allowed to be present at the presentation of Ikaro to Awe Adimu by the family or person willing to stage Adamu Orisa Play, than the two families of Olorogun Agan and Igbesodi. No other orisa family or Eyo Iga family would also be present. Meanwhile, each Orisa of Eyo has traditional functions which it must perform and as directed by the Supreme Head of all the Orisas, the Orisa Adimu, including the Eyo Onilaba known as the Eyo Oba or Eyo Alakete Pupa.

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