Recently, a priest of Ogun and custodian of culture and tradition of the people of Ire-Ekiti, in Ekiti West Local Government Area of Ekiti State, Chief Johnson Fagbamila, revealed the shocking story of how Ogun, legendary Yoruba deity of war, forced himself to what was described as self destruction after he had committed an unforgivable offence in a fit of rage.
He recounted the story during this year’s repackaged edition of the annual Ogun Onire festival usually held towards the end of the year by the people of Ire-Ekiti, a town believed in Yoruba history, to be the place where Ogun disappeared into the earth.
Fagbamila told Daily Sun: “I am from Iju in Ire Ekiti. Ogun lived here when the 201 deities were coming from lkole Orun to Ikole Aye. He was said to have paved the way for the other deities to pass. Some of his followers were the Iju people. They first settled at a place called ‘Ona Aaro’ translated in English to mean ‘the morning path’ or the pioneering path.
“The place was somewhere where the present day Saint John Anglican Church is located in Ire-Ekiti. Ogun settled his people down there and later went on a military expedition.
When Ogun didn’t return on time, his people decided to search for him. When they got to Ajeoku, the spot they had settled before Ogun left for war and where he had instituted a periodic meeting which was then called Ajo Oriki, meaning where no one must greet or exchange pleasantries with a passer-by or stranger.
“One day, when they had just finished their meeting and finished their drinks and refreshment which were mainly pounded yam and palm wine. Ogun himself happened to be passing by while his people were giggling and laughing in relaxation. They didn’t greet him nor asked him to join them as they were following Ogun’s instruction at that spot called Ajo Oriki.
“But Ogun, who was then returning from war and was feeling very famished and thirty, got angry at their hostile disposition. He checked for palm wine or any other refreshment in their midst but he didn’t find any and getting more angry, he decided to teach the people some lesson and ended up beheading some of them in anger while others ran away.
“After his anger has gone down, Ogun decided to go to Ona-Aaro where he had left his people, unknown to him that his people had relocated.
On his way however, he met one of his people who was returning from his farm. That one was eating a roasted yam and had some palm wine.
“Fortunately, the man recognised Ogun and greeted him very well. He also chanted his praise songs. The man also offered Ogun some of his roasted yam and palm wine.
“Another version of same story has it that at the time Ogun was checking the gourds of palm wine his people at Ajo Oriki had finished, the people challenged him because they didn’t know that he was Ogun. He got angry with thm and was killing them until one of them reasoned that such a strong man could be their Ogun. He then offered Ogun his own left over of palm wine and roasted yam. Ogun then asked him what they were doing and he explained to him that they were observing Ajo-Oriki. It was then Ogun got curious and asked the man more questions and after the questions were answered Ogun realized that he had killed his own people in anger and revealed to them that he was their Ogun.
“He then told the man that after what he had down to his people in anger, he could not have the moral courage to still live with them.
He then named the man Elepe, the pacifist, because it was him who placated Ogun and made him realize his mistakes.
“Ogun resolved to disappear into the ground right there and instructed the Elepe to always invoke him , placating and singing his praise songs whenever they needed him to fight for them. The incident brought about the saying: “Eni mo oju Ogun ni o pabi ni lre” , meaning it is one who recognises Ogun that placates/invokes him in Ire-Ekiti.
“Equally, another saying, ‘Elepe loni Ogun, igi lasan laraoko nbo, mariwo sara Ogun yagayigi,’ translated in English to mean, Elepe owns Ogun, any other uninitiated worships logs of wood, Ogun robes himself with palm fronds,’ was brought out in the incident.
“Once he had given his instructions to Elepe, Ogun sat on his sword and disappeared into the ground. He neither died naturally nor was killed but deliberately chose to enter into the ground. The Elepe was my great great grand father or forebear. This is why I hold the office of Elepe in Ire-Ekiti. I am now the leader of Iju Quarters in the town. Evey year, in a celebration for remembering Ogun such as the one we are having today.
“I owe the carved image called Iya Ogun, which represents Ogun, and also other carved images which are Orangun and Obuntun. I am the one who take these carved images to Imeru, which is the Ogun groove. There we pay homage to our great warriors and forebears, Ogun being the foremost of them.
“My other assignment is that on the venue of the Ogun festival in this town, I have to visit the shrine three times before day breaks. Pour libations there and offer sacrifices and prayers for our people, the Yoruba race and Nigeria as our nation. Ogun is the god of iron and war and as such I pray for peace and justice because Ogun fought for justice and for peace to reign.
“I am the one who concludes the appeasement process at a place we call Ulolusi where I break kolanuts out of which l send to Aworo Ogun, another custodian of the Ogun tradition, and it is when I have done this for him that he can start his own rituals and sacrifices in honour of Ogun.
“After that I continue prayers for the whole town and everyone. I start this ritual as early as 4am in the morning. And by the evening when I conclude all process, I eat the new yam and at that time, it is celebration galore. We are making serious effort to ensure that the celebration doesn’t go awry by checking those who have the tendency to be violent with others during the festival. We urge the government to kindly support this festival because it is a good product for tourism in our land.”
The Government of Ekiti State took its time to prepare for the 2019 edition of Ogun Onire festival. It also supported the custodians of the tradition in repackaging the festival in such a way that it attached global attention.
Director General of the Ekiti State Council for Arts and Culture, Mr. Wale Ojo-Lanre, assured the organisers that the Governor Kayode Fayemi was committed to Ekiti cultural heritage for tourism activities.
The organisers of the festival, under the aegis of the the Ogun Onire Carnival Promotion Forum ( OOCPF), disclosed that the festival’s focus in 2019 was to establish a stronger bond between Ire-Ekiti people and their forbears. Chairman of the Forum, Chief Femi Ajayi, told Daily Sun: “ Ogun is a respected hero of the Yoruba race. He was renowned for his accountability, honesty, fairness and justice. So, we are using his celebration for this year to promote these virtues and most all all promote tourism for national and global adherents.
“We have also packaged this year’s Ogun Onire festival to generate local development as well as enhance trade and commerce in Ire-Ekiti. The preservation of our culture and tradition is our main goal. This is why we have introduced some reforms into the carnival. Some of these reforms included the use of palm fronds only for the celebration as against the use of canes which hitherto made the festival so violent. It has also featured general sanitation exercise as well as public lectures on values reorientation from our intellectuals.
“We have also formed an acronym for Ogun as a way of further repackaging the festival for tourism. The OGUN acronym is O for Our, G for General, U for Universal and N for nationalist and in full it means Our General Universal Nationalist.
“As you have also witnessed, native delicacies which were favourite meals and refreshment of Ogun have been marketed during this year’s celebration, they included palm wine, roasted yam, plantain, dog meat, bean cakes and pounded yam with ‘Rorowo’ vegetable,” he said.
Indeed, this year’s edition of the festival featured less violent acts and displays by the indigenes, especially the youths, who were fond of bringing violent acts of caning the hell out of each other into the celebration. Also, the usual acts of testing juju on one another’s bodies wasn’t prevalent like the other years.
The event was orderly to a reasonable extent as everyone who participated were more concerned with showcasing the cultural heritage of the festival and being hospitable to outsiders.
The spectators, as usual had a very interesting time watching the participants as they dramatised their culture relating to Ogun using costumes, songs and several movements to entertain the visitors.