From Laide Raheem, Abeokuta
Egungun festival is one of the age-long traditional celebrations of the Yoruba people. Though the history of how it began varies – some trace it to the time of Orunmila as it was often referred to in so many Ifa corpuses – its ubiquity in all parts of Yorubaland, has, however, preserved celebration of Egungun.
Egungun is believed to be a dead relative whose spirit could be evoked for blessing and heavenly assistance. Hence, Yoruba people refer to it as, “Ara Orun kin-kin.” For this reason, Egungun masquerade shrouds itself in special but colourful attires called “Eku”, to hide the personality inside the masquerade.
The person must crook his voice so that people would not be able to pinpoint the masquerade. This further amplifies the mystery surrounding the Egungun.
Though Egungun festival holds annually, but the months and period of celebration differ from town to town. So for the people of Igbore, Abeokuta, Ogun State, every February is the time to gather and celebrate their revered masquerade, Lawayi.
The masquerade is celebrated for three days consecutively, and is well respected in Egbaland. This is so because the devotees of Lawayi as well as the people see it as harbinger of blessings and progress.
During the celebration, Igbore sons and daughters, gather to celebrate. People clad in colourful attires, while foods are prepared in large quantity. Social clubs, youth organisations and age-groups organise activities to outshine one another, while “Bembe” drummers display their artistry to the admiration of the people.
According to Chief Sunday Ojedele Olubodun, the patriarch of late Tiamiyu Legunde Olubodun, who was the owner of Lawayi Masquerade, Olawayi came to being over a century ago. He explained that his father was devout Muslim, who even built a mosque at Alagada village.
His father had seven wives and bore 11 children, who all died. It was when he consulted the Ifa oracle that he was asked to become a devotee of Egungun from his grandmother’s Atosun-mate family in Igbehin, Abeokuta, if he wished to have children.
Late Tiamiyu, who later became a native doctor, there and then, vowed to celebrate the Egungun every year if his wish would come to reality. Since then, the senior Olubodun devoted his entire life to the celebration of the masquerade.
Sunday Olubodun, now the custodian of Lawayi, said at the outset, the masquerade was known “Jabielu” but its name was later changed to Lawayi by the then Alake, Oba Ademola V, when he discovered how people revered it:
“Our masquerade was initially known as ‘Jabielu.’ When the then Alake of Egbaland organised a competition between Jabielu and another masquerade from Oke-Itoku called ‘Ajeran’, at the Alake’s Palace and ‘Jabielu’ became victorious. The monarch acknowledged his prowess and affirmed his popularity among the people, he then changed its name to ‘Olawayi’.
“Igbore boasts of over 30 other masquerades but ‘Lawayi’ is the most popular and well celebrated. He is non violent. People come from all walks of life to catch a glimpse or be part of its celebration every year. Even people in the Diaspora often come around to celebrate this masquerade. For instance, his attire for this year was sent from Australia.”
He said that both the Christians and Muslims in Olubodun family, contribute to the celebration of the festival. He mentioned that his own sons always join him in making the event a worthwhile outing.
One of his sons, Akeem, said Lawayi is indeed a lover of children. He added that the masquerade possesses a unique and ancient spiritual power, which he claims, heals the sick:
“Lawayi does not involve in violence and does not condone it. He is a lover of children; he blesses them most and they always troop out to follow him around.
“To so many people, the masquerade looks innocuous and friendly, but I tell you, he is so powerful. For instance, he has a unique power to heal the sick and exorcise any evil spirit. Whenever he sees any sick person, he would cover the person with his attire and then pray for the person. Believe me, the person would be healed no matter how bad the sickness is.”
Explaining Olawayi’s outing, Olubodun said the festival starts with “Agan” in the midnight of of February 6, while “Ibodo” follows immediately. Then, a masquerade called “Onikitibi” from Ogere-Remo will herald the official outing of Lawayi for the next three days. People who had been blessed by the masquerade will come around to share their testimonies, and then offer gifts ranging from fowl, ram, goat, guinea fowl, kola nuts and assorted spirits and wines.
When Lawayi eventually comes out, it will visit shrines called “Ojubo” especially the one at Itoku. The “ojubo” at Itoku is very important and mandatory. Lawayi’s failure to visit it could spell doom for the custodian’s family members.
On the relationship between Remo and Igbore in Abeokuta, the 65-year-old Olubodun explained: “Igbore people originally migrated from Ogere-Remo to settle in Egbaland. That is why Orile Igbore is very close to Ogere-Remo.” He said he stopped being the carrier of Lawayi five years ago when her clocked 60, adding that one of his sons, now carries it, though he remains the main custodian.
He called on government to intensify efforts in promoting traditional and cultural heritage with the view of attracting tourists.
After a long wait, Lawayi masquerade eventually emerged at the top floor of Lawayi Castle in Igbore, to the admiration and cheers of the crowd. The Igbore Town Hall, which served as the reception venue, was filled to the capacity. The masquerade then danced round the township, blessing and praying for the children and young ones, and acknowledging cheers from the people.
The official drummer of Lawayi for the past 30 years, Kashimawo Fashola, described the masquerade as unique among its cotemporaries, not only in Igbore but all over the Egbaland. He added that his own father was also a drummer for the same masquerade.