The Odidi Masqueraders
By Patience Ekwunazor
Oimiyan Masquerade Festival is as old as the people of Ogute in Owan East local government area of Edo State. It is an annual event celebrated from the month of January to March on every Ogute market day.
It is celebrated to appease the gods of the land for their protection and provision for the people. Also, it is to wave off calamities, sickness, untimely death, disaster and bring peace, good harvest for the New Year. According to oral tradition, it is believed that the celebration of the festival helps to sweep out all evil likely to be experienced in the New Year.
During this period, people are not allowed to mourn their dead ones neither are they allowed to beat drums except those of the festival, which are dedicated to the gods. This is to honour the gods and anyone who violates the law is required to appease the gods with sacrifices of goats and other items.
The festival is usually transmitted from one age grade to another every four years. An age grade at Ogute is a group of people who have attained the age of forty (40) and have been initiated into manhood. Age groups are normally formed among children from within the space of three years.
The most senior of the children (a male) is automatically the leader of the group. When they attain age forty they perform the age-grade celebration. It is for both men and women but it is only the men that perform the manhood ceremony after which they are administered into the masquerade cult.
Among the masqueraders that perform during the Oimiyan festival include Oweluwee, Aweeka, Odidi and Oliwevba.
Oweluwee: it is a great and mother of all masquerades and the most prominent among them. It comes out once a year at dawn, it is believed that it displace evil that is likely to happen during the New Year.
When the masquerader is about to enter into its house, people with one request or the other are expected to pray and make vows, demanding what they want. It is believed that anyone who agreed without doubt usually receive that they request before the next festival. Prominent among their request is seeking the fruit of the womb.
Aweeka: This masquerader is a representation of a male child and the eldest of all the other masqueraders. People seeking male child is expected to present gift to the masquerader.
Odidi: This masquerader has a representation of a female figure carrying a black bowl on its head. When displaying, those seeking female child will give their offerings to it and pray that before the next celebration they will give birth to their female child.
The masquerader is also meant to punish offenders especially witches and wizards that offend the land through their diabolical means. They usually have their legs, hands and stomach swollen and it is believed Odidi fill up their stomach with water using the bowl it is carrying.
Oliwevba: This masquerader has a representation of twin figure (male and female) on its head. It is believed that those seeking twins when they present gifts to the masquerade and it crosses their head with his hands and prays for them, their requests will be granted and are expected to give birth to twins before the next festival.
Till date Oimiyan masquerade festival remains one of the greatest festivals celebrated by the people of Ogute. It promotes unity in the community as indigenes of Ogute use it as a time for a family reunion.
It is also used as an avenue for the people to learn more about their culture and tradition as the elders share stories, experiences and transfer stored knowledge about the festival.
Ekwunazor is Chief Museum Education Officer, National Museum, Onikan Lagos.