dateline: Wednesday, July 20, 2016. I had just finished from an assignment at the Oyo State Secretariat, Ibadan, and returning home that evening when I came across a crowd reacting to the presence of a popular masquerade, Oloolu. They were shouting, “Oloolu is around! Oloolu is around!”
Then I saw the usual – women taking to their heels to avoid sighting or being sighted by the masquerade, as it is a taboo for women to see Oloolu. Coincidentally I was working on a piece on the activities of masquerades in Ibadan. Taking photos of these women running “like hell” would definitely add flavor to my story.
Little did I know that a story of “how I was killed my masquerade” was in the offing if not for divine intervention.
As I dug into my pocket to bring out my phone to take photos, fiery thugs appeared from nowhere. These thugs were in the habit of taken advantage of the commotion usually created by the Oloolu’s presence, to beat and rob unsuspecting persons.
I saw the usual violence and returned my phone to my pocket. But I still didn’t want the moment go without capturing it. Thus, I looked around for a safer place to take the shots. As I put on my phone camera, a thug charged towards me before I could make a move out of there. He was shouting, “bring that phone!”
I asked, “why should I give you my phone?” But that question infuriated him. He slapped me and raised the alarm that I wanted to snap the Oloolu.
Immediately, other followers of the masquerade swooped on me, beating me mercilessly with all kinds of weapons. I almost passed out when I sighted policemen who came to my rescue. For few moments after police got me out of their clutches, some of them still continued hitting me with all manner of objects including what I suspect were charms.
Afterwards, one of the policemen asked why I took the picture of the deadly masquerade and I told him that I am a journalists. The police took me into their patrol van and drove away. The police asked for my ID card, which showed and they promised to protect me.
The cops warned me never to pull such a “stunt” again as I could have been lynched if they had not intervened.
Even while I was in the police van, one of those leading the masquerade came to me and I saw that he was heavily fortified with charms. He asked me to produce the phone for him to check what I had already snapped. He even asked the police to seize it from me.
He said I should confess my mission or he would use the charm on me and I would die. I told them I was just doing my job and had no intention to expose any secrets. The police later told him that they had checked my phone and that it had no picture of the masquerade.
But because of the fear of the mob, I was told to wait till the crowd dispersed. They later dropped me at a safe place to go. After I was released, my body ached badly until I used some drugs to alleviate the pains and later went to hospital for treatment.
I have also learnt that persons who wear this masquerade garbs usually die in mysterious circumstances, with many saying the deaths were the consequences of the wicked acts.
A vivid example is that of an Alfa, a Muslim cleric who felt offended for being disturbed by the outing of the masquerade on a Friday, the sacred day for Muslims worship.
It was gathered that on this day, the cleric commanded the women in his mosque to come out and defy the rite of not seeing the masquerade.
The man in the masquerade was reportedly killed after how he treated the women who saw him on that day. And since this incident, the masquerade has stopped to come out on Fridays.
I was told the longest living among the past carriers of the garb was a man popularly called Alaru who died some years ago.
Other theories about these masquerades include the fact that it is forbidden for them to wear shoes. They walk bare-footed for the rest of their lives while the garb can only be kept in an ant-hill called Okiti Ogan in Yoruba language.
History had it that many years ago when Ibadan was known for wars, the garb was taken from an ant-hill during a war won by a warrior called Ojo Kofo. Ojo Kofo was said to be tired of keeping the garb.
One day, as the story had it, the garb disappeared from the house it was kept. The wife of Ojo Kofo found it in an ant-hill. After this, the masquerade was said to have continually disturbed the woman whose source of livelihood was frying Akara (beans cake). The masquerade would appear in the hot cooking oil she used to fry Akara.
The hunter who was tired of keeping this garb therefore gave it to Aje, his friend who was interested in keeping it. And since then, the family of Aje in Ode-Aje, Ibadan, has been worshipping and celebrating the masquerade, Oloolu, every year.