The Ojude Oba Festival, Ijebu Ode
Updated: Aug 4
The Yoruba people of South western Nigeria are amongst the most culturally and spiritually rich people on the planet. There are many times that this is displayed but probably the biggest occurrence is the annual Ojude Oba festival - made popular by the Ijebu subgroup of Ogun State.
"Ojude Oba" literally translates to "The frontage of the king", basically an homage to him and is one of the biggest festivals in Nigeria. Prominent sons and daughters of the kingdom parade on horseback with their families and pay homage to the Royal Majesty, the Awujale of Ijebuland. The event attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world to the town of Ijebu Ode.
The colorful occasion is celebrated on the third day after the Id-El-Kabir (Ileya) but was suspended for the last 2 years because of the covid-19 pandemic. We heard it was coming up and planned an impromptu trip. We were full of excitement because we would be experiencing an ancient festival that's been passed down many generations. Some background on why the Ijebu people revere their king in this extravagant manner can be understood from a tribute at his resting place at the memorial museum dedicated to him.
Oba Adesimbo Tunwase saw it necessary to provide land to everyone that wanted to practice their religion in peace and he is immortalized because of it. Now, every year on this day, the people dress up in their finest regalia to wish him a long, healthy life. This festival started out as a purely Muslim affair but has grown beyond those boarders. It is attended by all types of people and now constitutes a huge part of the economic integration and development of the Ijebu community.
The day of the festival came and we met up with some friends who would be photographing the Moyegeso clan - one of the riding families. We were then “adopted” for the day and we would be marching with them and wearing their colors.
Dressing is the biggest element of the event. It shows you’re doing well economically when you’re draped in the finest cloth available; and Yoruba people do not play about their slay. The scale of the event is mind-boggling and the variety of styles and textures lets you understand why this is a major economic event. Definitely one of the lushest displays of Yoruba culture I’ve witnessed.
Each family wears their own colors and patterns, and I thought this was an interesting way of standing out in a sea of people. Safety is key and small children are actively involved in the event so everyone needs to be visible and move as a team. More on safety later on.
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Horses are another big part of the spectacle and they are ridden by members of prominent families and invited celebrities. For the festival, they are adorned from head to hoof in colorful cloth, beads and it's all quite spectacular.
For entertainment, the family heads/Baloguns take part in something called a mock war, which is a reenactment of war events. The rider makes the horse do different stunts to demonstrate his riding skills such as making them stand on their hind legs or trot rhythmically. Every now and again, the sound of thunder from the Dane guns being fired in the air creating an electric and exciting atmosphere. I can't imagine that the horses enjoy the festivities as much as everyone else does however.
Music is the final piece of the event and it acts as a binding agent for all the other elements. Each family marches with a band and they wield an orchestra of local drums, local rattles/sekere, trumpets and a series of Yoruba praise songs. It's a marvel of a party, full of dancing, food, color and glee, and you can watch what it's like by clicking here.
This year however, it rained heavily but that had little to no effect on the celebration. The festivities continued without a hitch and it almost seemed like the weather served as fuel for an even grander spectacle.
Now, let's talk about the things that were problematic:
The first thing is that it was quite chaotic. Thousands of people dancing excitedly around horses that randomly buck so you have to stay vigilant to avoid injury.
The parade ended at the Ijebu Ode stadium, but the road leading into it had been turned into a parking lot for VIP and security vehicles. There was hardly any space for the huge crowd of people and their accompanying horses. I suggest a proper parking space be dedicated for this purpose to avoid injury.
The internal roads of Ijebu Ode are a mess and it makes getting around tedious.
Apart from the highlighted issues above, the event was a fantastic experience. Seeing culture displayed with this much joy and on this scale filled me with so much pride. It unearthed a deeper appreciation of the Yoruba culture and is something many more people need to experience. I implore more people to get out of their comfort zones and chase the missing pieces of our broken past, it's the only way we can efficiently build the future.
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