On September 29, the climax of Olojo festival, the ancient city of Ile-Ife––famed as the cradle of creation according to Yoruba mythology–– was a boiling cauldron of festivity. The city was bursting at the seams with the influx of population. The epic showpiece of culture and tradition was billed to attract a large number of visitors from around the world and it did attract a multitude far beyond the projected figure. Tourists and traditionalists of Afro religions had journeyed from the remotest corners of the globe and from big cosmopolitan capital cities to witness the final day of the cultural fest, which started on Sept 21.
On the final day, the Ooni of Ife had appeared from his seven-day seclusion and fasting where he had been praying for the Yoruba race, the country and the world at large, his appearance sparking jubilations that lasted through the day, as he received visitors in the city and later led a procession wearing the legendary Ade Aare crown. The rest of the day unravelled in a dramatic fashion.
Back in 2010, I had visited Ile-Ife and spent three days in the city. I remember the city for its Eko at’ Akara and palm wine, and also the fact that a city could be so wrapped up in lethargy. A city with Old World charms––that is part of its allure, especially when you get introduced to its trove of mythical stories.
The most popular of the Ife stories is of its creation, which stretched back to an immemorial epoch.
The first city, “Ife Oodaye, Ile owuro, ibiti oju ti mo”––Ife, the land of most ancient days where the dawn of the day was first experienced––was ended by a flood, and in its place rose Ife Ooyelagbo, city of survivors.
The third and present-day Ife was founded by a supernatural process, which began with the arrival of Oduduwa and the extra-terrestrial beings, Orisas.
Fast forward to 2019. Ife is a New World, characterized by 21st-century verve and vigour brewing from the crucible of cultural tourism.
And you have the Olojo festival commemorating the descent of Oduduwa to Ile-Ife and celebrating the first dawn in creation. That makes the festival, one of the oldest in Ile-Ife.
Olojo festival is a testament to the city’s timeless traditions, not least because it is a cultural citadel ruled by one of the oldest royalties in Africa.
On this day in September, the king led a procession of traditional chiefs and priests to the shrine at Oke Mogun––where the first dawn came into existence––surrounded by a sea of spectators including white people from all walks of life, some of them journalists, scholars and afro-religious devotees.
The king’s abode, Ile Oodua (House of Oduduwa), located at Enuwa, the centre of the town, was a burst of gaiety and grandeur, a centre of a lavish display of traditions, high fashion, music and dancing. Several bodies of traditional religion adherents registered their presence to pay obeisance to the spiritual father of the Yoruba race. Fuji maestro, Wasiu Ayinde, K1, had performed at the finale.
At this year’s celebration, the Ooni was portrayed in a new light. The sight of the king garbed in white robe and coral beads, with his queen sitting next to him added a sparkle to the cultural event. It was an event that lived up to expectations.
The growing importance of the festival is reflected by the size of visitors. The 2016 record showed 250,000 attendees. It was projected that the festival would attract over a million visitors to the spiritual homeland of the Yoruba by 2021. The 2019 edition appeared to have crossed the mark.