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Making the 709-year-old Udiroko Festival a global event

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… nothing fetish about it, says Oba Rufus Aladesanmi III

By Chukwuma Ajakah

The Udiroko Festival was established in 1310 AD during the reign of Oba Awamaro, the first Ewi of the present-day Ado-Ekiti. The name, Udiroko, was derived from the venue of the first festival, which was held under an Iroko tree in the Ewi’s Palace. The event plays a pivotal role in the life of the people of Ado Ekiti. The monarch and his subjects set the day aside to give thanks to their creator, Olorun. Hence, it is nicknamed, “the Olorunborun festival”. It marks the beginning of a new year for the people. It is also a platform for unity and assemblage of all sons and daughters of Ado-Ekiti across the globe. It is an auspicious occasion that allows the subjects to have audience with their monarch who is traditionally restricted from regular public appearance as the exalted office demands that he lives in ceremonial seclusion most part of the year.

Udiroko Festival
Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, Oba Aladesanmi and wife, Olori Abosede and CEO, Juli Pharmacy, Prince Julius Adeluyi (far right).

Now, there is a project to rebrand the ancient festival to a global event. For that reason, the 2019 edition has been primed to be celebrated as an international event that will be beamed from its ancestral home, the ancient city of Ado-Ekiti to the rest of the world. The paramount ruler of Ado Kingdom, His Royal Majesty Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe Aladesanmi III (CON, JP), the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti made a rare public appearance on Wednesday, August 7, 2019 in a World Press Conference organized to draw global attention to the annual fiesta. The conference which held at the Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, marks the commencement of activities in preparation for the festival slated for August 12–20, 2019. The theme of the festival, “Enforcing and Sustaining the Solidarity of our History, Culture and Tradition” captures the essence of the fiesta which according to the organizers is aimed at “putting across to the people all over the world the essence of the Udiroko Festival and to showcase our cultural heritage”.

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For those who may think that Udiroko is idol worshipping, Oba Rufus Aladesanmi III said the festival is devoid of the fetish practices with which many traditional ceremonies are associated. It is a fiesta organized to showcase the historical, cultural and traditional potentials of the people of Ado-Ekiti. The monarch who has been on the throne for 28 years explained that the indigenes of Ado-Ekiti also use the opportunity to pray for themselves and the town. The revered paramount ruler dispels speculations that the festival involves heathen practices, “The festival has nothing to do with rituals, fetishism and idol worship. No deity is worshipped in Udiroko and no ritual is performed. It usually starts with Jumat Service on Friday which precedes the first-day event of the week-long celebrations and ends with a Church thanksgiving service on Sunday”. The festival brings all Ado-Ekiti citizens together. The 2019 Udiroko Festival is expected to attract people from different parts of the world. On the day of Olorunborun, prayers are said in every home in the town, and the entire Ado community would assemble in the Ewi’s Palace in the evening to receive his blessings.

The press conference held as a prelude to the festival featured thrilling live performances from the Ekiti State University Performing Troupe led by Dr. E.A. Adeseke, a former HOD of the Department of Theatre Arts and Media. The troupe made up of students and lecturers entertained the audience with diverse traditional music and dance displays including a playlet re-enacting the Udiroko Festival where the Ewi meets with the war chiefs and receives reports of their expeditions. The play revealed how Chief Barafon, the head of war chiefs dance to war songs and with his combat sword and staff, examine the fitness of each warrior before leading them to renew their oath of allegiance to the king. The Director-General, Ekiti State Council of Arts and Culture, Ambassador Wale Ojo Lanre, represented the Ekiti State Governor.

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