Wole Balogun, Ado-Ekiti
Once upon a time, invaders laid siege on Okemesi-Ekiti, Ekiti West Local Government Area of Ekiti State, dead in the night. They were to invade the town as they used to do early the following morning.
But that night fell on the day the people were to celebrate Ladunwo masquerade. That day, Ladunwo saved them from the invaders who used to unleash terror on them, steal their farm produce and force their men and young women into slavery.
That was how Ladunwo freed Okemesi from the horror of recurrent invasion and slavery by strange warriors who disguised as forest fairies and put fear on the unsuspecting people.
The monarch of Okemesi, Oba Micheal Gbadebo Adedeji, narrated: “Ladunwo Masquerade Festival is widely known among the traditional festivals in Okemesi. It is highly significant, it is a period when the indigenes of the community together. It is a festival that attracts tourism, which we are urging the government to utilise. People come from all over the world to catch fun with Ladunwo as it showcases our customs and traditions.
“The festival is celebrated biennially and usually falls in a month with odd number in the year after this year, the next will be 2021. Ladunwo is a weeklong event. On the final day of the celebration, special traditional prayers are offered for the spiritual benefit of the community.
“During the prayers, women are not allowed to come out but immediately after the prayers, which usually last within a short period, everybody comes out to felicitate with one another. It is a festival that gives physical and spiritual healings to both young and old in the community.
“Many families and compounds in this town have variances regarding to taboos. For instance, some families don’t eat locust beans. Some when they just give birth, they will not eat oil, pepper and salt. Just like that depending on the family historic lineage, but generally in Okemesi, there is no taboo.
“All communities representing ethnic groups across Yoruba who are settled in Okemesi have their own taboos. I don’t know the reason behind those lineages or ethnic groups who don’t eat locust beans or take salt when they give birth. It is something that is native to them.”
Okemesi is widely known to have a high number of professors, a development that should naturally have brought huge development: “Unfortunately, the community is still craving for development. Our sons and daughters after going outside the community, to seek for greener pastures, find it difficult to come home to effect meaningful development.
“But then, efforts are already in the pipeline to attract them back home for progressive community development. Development in terms of establishment of tertiary institutions, social infrastructural development and many more.
“We are predominantly farmers and our people are conscious of education. We place premium on education of our children and this has helped the community, as Okemesi has the highest number of professors in the country. Okemesi has a lot of tourist centres which if government keys into, will contribute to economic growth.”
The monarch decried chieftaincy tussles: “People need to jettison overzealous ambition. We need to give it a space in our mind that only one candidate will emerge in every contest like this. People need to do away with the spirit of win at all cost.
“Also materialism is somehow eroding customs and tradition. In many cases, the kingmakers are not helping the situation at all. In the quest for material gain, traditional messages, prophecies from divine oracles are set aside, misinterpreted and bastardised.
“The usual consequences of the inordinate attitudes are woes, chaos, rancours and setbacks. That is why there are clashes everywhere. Unless we do things the way it should be done, by separating traditional choices from politics, favouritism and materialism, chaos will never stop in the land.
“In the light of this, I urge everyone especially on chieftaincy or obaship matter to always allow custom/traditional laws and rules to take full shape for peace and prosperity of our culture.
“Western civilisation has not helped our growth and development as a people, especially knowing the area of cultural dynamism. This is because in the olden days traditional laws are very effective. Traditional rulers then owned politics, the subjects respected their kings they obeyed their kings. In fact, monarchs had final say on any issue. That is why things were going on smoothly compared to the present time.
“Chaos, diseases and crimes that time were limited and easily curbed. Perpetrators were easily nabbed and brought to books all because of the respect for the traditional laws of the land. Subjects reposed a lot of confidence on the monarchs as the direct representatives of the divine. They enjoyed peace incomparable to nowadays, where insecurity is glowing at all levels.
“Advent of Western civilization has turned things upside down. Traditional laws are no longer valued in the name of civilization. Politicians are more powerful than monarchs. In fact, many traditional rulers have been forced into politics in quest for seeking development for their communities.
“Political laws and rules are obeyed than traditional and cultural ones. The fact remains that any monarch, divinely installed, devoid of back door arrangement is sacrosanct, such monarch cannot be underestimated. Any community/land or subject that violates rules from such monarch incurs the wrath of the land.”
A community leader, Adeyanju Raphael Adewumi, also spoke on Ladunwo: “The family of Okeyena whose lineage invokes the Ladunwo masquerade to reveal itself had began to sing his praise chant. One of the phrases in Yoruba says: ‘Tojubamo ewa woju ekun lode,’ which translates in English to mean; ‘when the day breaks, the whole world would behold Ladunwo in his regalia.’
“The ‘ekun’, means costume of Ladunwo. But the warriors misunderstood it in their own dialect to mean ‘okun,’ which means ghost. The invaders usually disguised as ghosts to prey on their victims. With such invocatory chants, they thought erroneously that the Okemesi people had already known their secrets of disguise and fearing that their cover was blown open, they fled Okemesi from their various hideouts.
“They left their weapons in the process and they never came back to haunt our people since then. The incident made Okemesi people to remain eternally grateful to Ladunwo and have since then been celebrating him.”
A former member of the State House of Assembly, Owolabi Ajibade, said: “Our people came to settle in the present Okemesi from Imesi Ile now in Osun State and Igbole in Ekiti. It was during the rainy season, they couldn’t farm during the time they came. By the time they were eventually able to celebrate Ladunwo, which has been a cultural practice we brought from Oyo Ile, our first settlement, it fell on an odd month of the year.”
Prince Kayode Oni, chairman, Okemesi Cultural Heritage Committee, said: “To preserve the grandeur of the festival and not make it too common like other Egungun festivals in Yoruba land, it was made to be a biennial festival. There are just two families in Okemesi who owe the masquarade tradition, Okeyena family carries Ladunwo, while the Obaloja who came from Nupe carries Mogara, Asisere and others.”