From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Itoko is one of the townships in Egba-Ake, Abeokuta. It was known as Oko Adagba, where a fiery hunter, Adagba, was residing and farming when the Egba migrating from the forest (Igbo Egba) met him.
Apart from its cultural and traditional heritage, the township still retains its antique settlement. Its adjoining communities are Emere and Ikopa, and the birthplace of the late Apala maestro, Ayinla Omowura aka Anigilaje.
Located at the back of the Alake’s Palace, Itoko is reputed to be home to traditionalists and fiery masquerades. The Egungun festival in Itoko is usually one of the most attended in Egbaland. It boasts of tough masquerades, whose processions are dominated by youth who show their prowess and capabilities of individual masquerades.
The festival, which takes place every April attracts people from all walks of life. People travel from abroad to participate and watch the festival, renowned for its display of wizardry and fierce competition.
Though, Itoko has over 50 unique masquerades, but Olukoso stands out. Owned by the Eninlolobo family in Ago-Ibadan, it is not only glamorous and controls respect among its peers, it is reputed to be the fiercest of them all!
Most youths usually turn Enilolobo’s Compound to a permanent abode during the annual Egungun festival, eating and drinking. Olukoso derives its name from the fiery Yoruba god of thunder, Sango, is a delight to watch. From its colourful and resplendent attire (eku), his dancing and the eventual emergence from the masquerades’ coven (Odo Oko), the masquerade leaves his followers and audience awed.
Apart from that, the dexterity displayed by different drummers who throng Enilolobo’s Compound in turns, adds colours to the festival.
Chief Olalekan Igbayilola Enilolobo told Daily Sun that his great, great, grandfather was the progenitor of the masquerade:
“My great, great, grandfather came from Efon-Alaye (Ekiti State) to this present location. He brought his own masquerade and two traditional titles – Apinin Oje and Lijigun. The first one has to do with the Egungun, while the second title is significant title within the Ogboni fraternity.
“He was a powerful man with seven wives. My great, great, grandmother was the first wife and her own father was Atokun Oje, another masquerade title. My two lineages have something to do with Egungun deity.
“When I was young, I bore my father’s masquerade for years and I was known throughout the Western Region. In fact, the then Premier of the region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his deputy, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola, knew me personally. Our masquerade was so popular and I as the bearer was well known for my dexterity, colourful display and cult-like followership.
“I was the bearer of our family masquerade for 22 years. I started in 1958 till 1975 when I first travelled to the USA. I came back in 1980 and I continued until 1988 when I returned to America the second time. Since then, I have been coming home once in a while to celebrate the Egungun festival.
“But this time around, I purposefully came home to rebuild my father’s house, which had been in a bad shape. This, to me, is important to carry on my father’s legacy and that of the progenitor of this family.
“You would wonder how I came about the name ‘Olukoso’, synonymous to Sango. I was born at the coven of Sango devotees. They circumcised me and instructed my parents that when I grow up, I must have personal masquerade, hence, the name Olukoso.
“In Egbaland, Olukoso is regarded as the toughest masquerade. Every other masquerade trembles at his sight! When I was bearing it, my reputation went even beyond the Western Region. In fact, there was a time I got entangled in the rivalry between the Action Group and the NCNC, which made my name to be on the news all over. My naivety as a young man landed me into a kind of political trouble and by the time I got out of it in 1956, I knew better.
“Serious atonement and propitiation must be prepared for the successful outing of Olukoso. Sango must be appeased, while appropriate sacrifices will also be at a night preceding the outing known as Ale Agan. These are necessary precautions against evil-doers who may decide to harm the bearer of the masquerade, my nephew.”
On the belief that masquerade festival is replete with fetish practices: “That is a wrong notion and belief. Egungun is purely Yoruba tradition. Because of Christianity and Islam, our people frown at some of the elements of our culture and traditions, tagging it paganism. This is not so.
“When I left for the USA in 1975, one of my brothers continued to bear the masquerade and kept on the legacy. When I returned in 1980 and I was asked to continue doing the thing, I felt that because of my exposure, I should not be seen with such. Therefore, I turned the request down.
“The following year after my refusal to continue bearing the masquerade, I started to experience misfortunes, particularly financial misfortune. All the four cars I had perished. I became worried and made consultations and I was told that I would have to go back to bear the masquerade, the trend would not abate. It was until I did this that things were back to normal. That is the power of tradition.”
He advised government to harness the opportunities in traditional festivals, into tourism that can draw people from all over the world to Nigeria.