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Sango Festival: Alaafin deepening Yoruba culture and tradition

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OLAGOKE OLATOYE, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

The World Sango Festival is a rebranded way of celebrating the popular Yoruba deity, Sango, believed to possess magical powers.

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, is at the centre stage of the festival that takes place at the royal father’s palace.

This year’s World Sango Festival witnessed a colourful mixture of tradition and culture.

The grand finale of the 10-day event witnessed a large turnout of worshippers and visitors from across major towns in Yorubaland and even outside the shores of Nigeria that stormed the ancient city of Oyo.

They adorned neatly sown red attires, depicting Sango’s unique identity.

Members of Elegun Sango, also believed to possess magical powers, entertained the crowd.

The Elegun Sango, many of whom looked so frightening, came from different parts of Yorubaland, such as: Oyo, Ibadan, Igbeti, Igboora, Ekiti, Ede, Ajagba and Koso, among others, adorning plaited hairs.

Also, visitors, worshippers and devotees across the country, mostly from Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Kogi and few foreign tourists in view of the global pandemic, COVID-19, which restricted travelling from one country to another, were at the ceremony.

One unique incident in this year’s event was the stoppage of the rain, which initially threatened the celebration.

The rain was believed to have been stopped through the intervention of the Ayabas (Alaafin’s wives) led by Ayaba Ramat Adeyemi, the Iya Ile-koto.

At exactly 1.00 p.m. the rain stopped, to the consternation of visitors and worshippers who had thought that the raging torrent would disrupt the all-important occasion.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the Ayabas pleaded with Sango priests to appease the deity to allow them to perform their traditional roles of “Igbatiti” (beating of calabash, to the admiration of Alaafin).

In his bid to preserve the culture and tradition of Yoruba people, Oba Adeyemi had, in 2013, collaborated with Oyo State Government to rebrand the Sango Festival and elevate it to an internationally recognised event.

He indeed brought the festival to the limelight and caused it to be celebrated in August of every year.

A culture expert from Portugal, Dr Paula Gomes, graphically captured the significance of the festival.  Gomes, the Cultural Ambassador to Alaafin of Oyo and popularly known as Iya Sango, was the centre of attraction at the festival, as everyone was contacting her for one thing or the other, as the chief coordinator.

“Yoruba tradition and culture are very strong. Everything is knowledge and you people have lots of knowledge. It is a pity that Yoruba don’t appreciate and respect their culture and tradition anymore.

“As a foreigner, if I don’t love what I am doing, I won’t be here. It is something that I really respect, because money can’t pay for what I am doing.

“Yoruba people have a very rich culture and tradition. Virtually everything has a meaning in Yorubaland. Unfortunately, the people have lost lots of their culture and tradition,’’ she said.

Gomes, a highly mobile individual, running around from one end of the venue to the other barefooted has  an advice for Yoruba: “embrace your culture and tradition; otherwise, you will lose it.”

According to her, most Europeans go to Brazil to learn about Yoruba culture, because the culture is preserved in that country. “So, you have to preserve it for the Brazilians to come here and see for themselves,” she said.

Another side attraction at the festival was the active involvement of a popular priest, retired Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu of Methodist Church Nigeria.

Ladigbolu, an Oyo prince, says the festival is aimed at celebrating the heroic virtues of Tella Oko, the third Alaafin of Oyo Empire, after succeeding Ajaka, his elder brother, popularly known as Sango, a thunder and fire deity.

He said that the festival was also targeted at promoting Yoruba cultural values and tradition, as part of efforts to celebrate heroic values of progenitors.

“The Alaafin Sango was the king, and people ranked Sango as next to Almighty in terms of his impact, influence, mercy, justice and personal carriage,” Ladigbolu said.

The cleric, who said Christianity could not separate him from his culture as an Oyo prince, described the celebration of Sango as an enhancer of peace and builder of community harmony.

He said: “The essence of the celebration is to showcase the rich culture of the Yoruba.

“When we celebrate this royalty, that is, our progenitors, it will enhance the pride of all Yoruba people, particularly those from Oyo, who have produced heroes worthy of veneration by the global community.’’

To Gomes, Alaafin deserves commendation as he has been preserving the festival the way it was, so that people can understand the Yoruba heritage, how it was and how it is.

She said: “This festival is very ancient; it comes from Oyo Empire, and is related to Alaafin’s crown, because no one can become the Alaafin without being crowned in Koso with Sango crown.’’

The Sango Koso was followed by a big crowd on his way to the Alaafin’s palace for the final ceremony, amidst display of magical powers, dancing and eulogising of his virtues, as a once foremost ruler in the town.

Those he had blessed in the past lined up on the streets, thanking him for what he had done for them the previous years. He was the last to appear on the stage at the palace around 5.30 p.m.

While in the town, he prayed and blessed them, telling the people what to do, especially for the sick, the barren and those with other problems.

At the palace, he went around, greeting and praying for people, and was later received at Iya Ile-koto’s place, before leaving the palace.

As he was approaching the palace, mid-way into Alaafin’s speech at about 5.30 p.m., Oba Adeyemi quickly left the arena, as required by culture, because “he can no longer see his father.

“No Alaafin, in his lifetime, can go back to Koso, and cannot see Sango Koso. It is the wives of Alaafin that must receive him at the palace,’’ Iya Sango said.

Earlier, Otunba Olusegun Runsewe, Director-General, National Council for Arts and Culture (NCAC), had declared the festival open on behalf of Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. He described Oba Adeyemi as “one traditional ruler who is respected all over the world, irrespective of religion or tribe.

“Alaafin is one single traditional ruler that if you spend one hour with him, you may not need to go for the mandatory National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) again.

“This afternoon, I stayed with Alaafin for just 20 minutes, and I was enriched for life.

“I will like to put on record that kabiyesi is one of the most distinguished and well-respected individuals in the history of traditional institution, that was mentioned by the Queen of England when she came to Abuja in 2003.’’

Also, Oba Adeyemi, while addressing visitors, tourists, and worshippers of Sango, called for the preservation of the culture and tradition of people for the sake of coming generations.

“It is the duty of the current custodians of culture and tradition to work toward the promotion of Yoruba cultural heritage in their respective towns and communities,” he said.

Adeyemi said that Sango, during his reign as Alaafin, was powerful and had exceptional attributes that made him different from those who ruled before and after him.

“Though Sango reigned for seven years; he was the best king that ever ruled Oyo kingdom before he later became a deity. Sango festival has become one of the recognised festivals globally, to promote Yoruba culture and heritage.”

The main actor in the celebration, Chief Sangodele Atanda, Elegun Sango of Oyo kingdom, plays the role of an interpreter of Sango deity, as he delivers messages from the deity to Alaafin annually.

Atanda, the last to appear at the palace, said he must not see any Alaafin eyeball to eyeball during the festival, adding, “as I am approaching the palace, Alaafin must leave the arena immediately, because he must not see the ‘Eku’ of Sango”.

The Elegun Sango said he had been performing the role of interpreter of Sango deity for the past 50 years.

“I perform entertainment roles, such as display of frightening magical powers during the grand finale of the festival annually.

“ My last assignment during the annual Sango festival is the delivery of Sango’s messages to the Alaafin, which are usually treated with utmost priority by the royal father.”

A Brazilian tourist and Sango worshipper, Krusche Wisky, who also identified himself as “Fabiawo Eniesu,” lauded the rich cultural festivals of Yoruba people.

Eniesu said that he along with other tourists, had great passion for rich cultural festivals, and felt proud to be associated with the Yoruba.

Explaining that his family in Brazil has an African ancestral lineage, the tourist said he was an Esu deity worshipper. He argued that Esu is not the Satan as against the general belief, adding that “Esu deity is a god, like other gods being worshipped across the world.”

He said that the festival had showcased the rich culture and tradition of Yoruba people.

Aare Onakakanfo, Iba Gani Adams, called on traditional rulers, as custodians of culture and tradition, to always fix time for the celebration of unique festivals in their domain. He said that such celebrations would bring peace, promote harmonious relationships, popularise their communities and bring them into the limelight in the world of culture and tourism.

According to him, celebration of such festivals is not about religion, but about culture and traditions, stressing, “Any traditional ruler who does not celebrate unique festivals will be regarded as a guest in his domain”.

Commenting, Mr Wale Ojo-Lanre, Senior Special Assistant to Gov. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti on Culture and Tourism, commended Oba Adeyemi for preserving Yoruba culture and tradition.

Ojo-Lanre said that in Yorubaland, Oyo town has been the custodian of culture, which he said Alaafin was striving to preserve.

Also, Gov. Yahaya Bello of Kogi lauded Alaafin’s efforts at promoting Yoruba culture and tradition.

However, in spite of the celebration, many hotels operators in the town claimed the festival had not, in any way, improved their fortunes.

Mr. Adegoke Ogunluyi, Managing Director, Labamba Hotel Ltd., said there was zero patronage, attributing it to the economic climate and the third variant of COVID-19 pandemic.

Ogunluyi said: “The economic climate is very poor, as cost of services had gone up astronomically.

“Obviously, it is very difficult for lots of people, especially the average Nigerian, to start visiting and spending on hotel accommodation for such festival.

“Aside this, I see Sango festival as a growing festival, unlike Osun-Osogbo festival, which has taken several years to build.

“I believe in continually building Sango festival, and with time, it will grow to the point of attracting more visitors to the town and grow our economy,” Ogunluyi said.

Also, Chief Sunday Ogunlade, Proprietor of Ajaba A to Z Hotel, Durbar in Oyo, was visibly angry over lack of patronage of his facility, saying, “Do you see anyone lodging here? Which Sango festival?

“I am not aware of any festival so far, no one comes here to lodge. You can see for yourself now; how many people are here drinking or relaxing? Nobody has come here to lodge.”

In spite of Adeyemi’s concerted efforts to bring the festival to the limelight, more still need to be done in the area of mobilisation in order to attract more tourists. (NANFeatures)

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