Lagos, undoubtedly, is the commercial hub of Nigeria and the convergence of diverse festivals which had become veritable instrument for cultural tourism in Africa. Besides the socio-political and religious dimensions of the festivals, they have over centuries survived and transmitted the cultural heritage of the people of Lagos from generation to generation. The diversity and uniqueness of the festivals is geared towards the richness in the culture of the people and avail local and international tourists the rare opportunity to enjoy the aesthetic brilliance of the treasured festivals. One of the most celebrated festivals in Lagos is the Eyo festival that has preserved the rich and entertaining cultural identity of Lagosians from obliteration for the past three centuries.
Without gainsaying, Eyo festival is the most celebrated cultural piece of the people of Lagos with its splendid, expansive theatrical displays and pageantry highlights that showcase the aboriginal history of Lagos through a picturesque array of regalia and costumes. The festival is largely regarded as a day of joyous splendour and gaiety for all Lagosians and tourists both local and international. The festival characterises a period when that which is beyond the ordinary sight is celebrated and thrills of glamorous fun the purpose of speaking in one voice through unity, upholding the traditions of their ancestors in the cultural eloquence of Eyo, also known as Adamu Orisha.
Eyo festival is occasional and it is used to celebrate the ascension to the throne of the Oba (King) of Lagos or to commemorate the passage of an Oba or an illustrious individual who had contributed immensely to the socio-economic development of the state. Thus it is the highest honour Lagosians can pay to celebrate the diligence and eminence of public service .The absence of written document and reliance on oral tradition for the origin of Eyo has made the history shrouded in obscurity owing to divergent views on the accounts of the progenitors and circumstances surrounding the founding of the festival. Thus an objective appraisal will suffice for the integral rudiments and social structure radiating round the festival. One of the traditions espoused that Eyo masquerade did not originate from Lagos but the product of two personalities from Ibefun and Ijebu communities in present day Ogun State. The theatrical display of the Eyo was used as an interment rite of passage for their beloved Inlaw, Oba (king) Ado, who married one of their cousins, Olugbani. Another similar account from the Isokun Onilegbale Chieftaincy Family states that the wife of King Ado of Lagos whose two brothers (or male cousins), Ejilu and Malaki, came to visit her in Lagos, but discovered her dead upon their arrival. Thereafter, they returned to lbefun to bring the Eyo Masquerade to Lagos to celebrate her death. These two traditions despite the reasons for the introduction of the Eyo and the discrepancy in the names of the cousins to the wife of King Ado, they both share a common story that the masquerade was brought from Ibefun and or Ijebu.
Flowing from this dynamics another version from the Ogunmade Chieftaincy Family states that it was only the Eyo Masquerade that was brought in from lbefun, but that the Adamu Orisa, which is the lead deity in whose name the play has been subsequently staged, was brought into Lagos from Benin by the Olugbade family. Yet, another version claims that the Adamu Orisa, the Orisa Ogunran and the Orisa Elegba Opopo were originally brought in from Benin by Chief Ologun Agan and Chief Ologun Igbesodi during the reign of Oba Ado of Lagos, which was over 350 years ago.
On the contrary to the above assertions, another source states that the Adamu Orisa Eyo was brought by the same people who brought Awopa to Lagos and not by the Ijebu from the area, while yet another version says that due to the lack of royal entertainment in Lagos during the reign of Oba Ado, apart from some traditional music, Chief Ologun Agan went to his town, Benin, accompanied by his friend Ejilo, to bring the Orisa Oko, which is the Adamu Orisa, and presented it to the Oba. However, another version has it that the main deity Adamu Orisha originated from Ibefun just as Eyo masquerade came as a result of the need to protect the deity from the activities of hooligans who might seek to destroy or steal it. Those who hold this view say that the traditional iconic staff of the masquerade known as Opambata, was invented as part of the regalia for the purpose of warding off undesirable elements.
In the exploration of Eyo, there is bound to be endless and divergent accounts to the origin and circumstance for the introduction of this colourful and elegant festival. Despite these divergent accounts on the origin of Eyo, the mode, regalia, and other features have over the years remained uniform and more spices are added to it for the enjoyment of all attendants across the globe. From inception the festival is depicted by the image of a masquerade in flowing white apparel and encompasses a week-long series of activities that culminates in a striking procession of thousands of men clothed in white and wearing a variety of coloured hats, called Aga. The procession which dances and celebrates on the streets of Lagos moves through various crucial locations and landmarks in the city, including the Oba’s Palace. The Eyo are considered to be related to the spirits of the dead who have returned to cleanse Lagos of evil and to pray for its continued prosperity and peaceful co-existence.
The festival starts from dusk to dawn, and has been held on Saturdays from time immemorial. Even though the frequency of such festivities vary depending on who the Oba considers worthy of having such play staged in his/her honour. Hitherto, the Eyo masquerades (Eyo Orisha) are categorized into five groups, Adimu (Eyo Orisha), Eyo Alaketepupa, Eyo Oniko, Eyo Ologede, and Eyo Agere. Within these different types of masquerades, there exists a hierarchical order. Asides from these hierarchical differences, they also have distinct physical characteristics and functions. Eyo Orisha is the highest and most respected among the five Eyo groups. They are also referred to as Adimu Orisha, as they are seen as the closest to the gods. Eyo Alaketepupa is the second in the order of Eyo groups. They are also called ‘Iyu Oba Olori Eyo Alaketepupa’ which makes the people believe they are the first Eyo cult groups in Lagos. People refer to them as Laba – the first. The Alaketepupa usually wears a red hat with white tapings around it.
Eyo Oniko is the third in the order and popularly recognized because of the long wooden stick it wields. Oniko wears a yellow hat with black tapings around it. Eyo Ologede succeeds the Oniko, and can be identified by the stilts that make them tall, and their green hat taped with yellow ribbons. The last Eyo group is the Agere. It can be identified by its purple hat with light purple ribbon tapings. Initially five groups, different others have emerged, while participation in the play was restricted to family members of various individual Eyo groups of both the nuclear and extended family members, and any person or group of persons who have no filial link to any of the families can also join them for the purpose of the festival.
The Eyo masquerade is described as Agogoro Eyo (literally meaning the tall Eyo masquerade) owing to the fact that it admits tall people. Chronicling the belief of the people that Eyo is a masquerade from the underworld it speaks in a ventriloquial voice, suggestive of its otherworldliness and when greeted, it replies: “Mo yo fun e, moyo fun’ra mi” (“I rejoice for you, and I rejoice for myself).In the manner of a spirit being visiting the earth on a purpose, this response connotes the masquerades as rejoicing with the person greeting it for the witnessing of the day, and its own joy at taking the hallowed responsibility of cleansing the state.
In the quest for preservation of the essence of the festival and the protection of the sanctity affiliated to it, Eyo has strict codes which forbid transgression, so other performances of the play are not permitted outside its designed objective. For an Eyo play to be initiated, it is said that permission is traditionally sought from the Oba of Lagos, by an individual who deemed it fit for his/her deceased for its contribution towards the development of the state. Based on this premise, the Oba will, with his staff of office, after careful and objective evaluation invite the Akinsiku of Lagos (the head of all the Eyos) to the palace for consultation. The Akinsiku collects the necessary things required for the event and distribute them to deity families in Lagos for the staging of the festival (the process called Ikaro). It is important to note that no other family is allowed to be present at the presentation of the “Ikaro” to “Awe Adimu” by the family or person wanting to stage Adamu Orisa festival, than the two families of Olorogun Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi, that is “Ita- Ado” and “Abegede” families. After which a divination process will be carried out at the Awe Adimu (the sacred sanctuary of the Eyo Orisas) to choose a day that is propitious for the holding of the Eyo festival.
For the Public to know and believe that Adamu Orisa festival would be staged, there must be public display of the King’s staff “Opa Procession” throughout the Street of Lagos Island, by the five groups; Eyo Adimu, Eyo Onilaba, Eyo Oniko, Eyo Agere, Eyo Ologede, a week before the Adamu Orisa Festival.
Each “Orisa” (Eyo deity) has traditional functions which it must perform and as directed by the supreme head of all the Orisas, the Orisa Adimu, including the Eyo Onilaba known as the Eyo Oba or Eyo Alakete Pupa. Eyo Onilaba (Eyo Oba) is the “Police” of the Orisa Adimu administration. They are to ensure and maintain maximum discipline among the Eyo groups. They must ensure that Eyo groups keep to the rules and regulations of Adamu Orisa or Eyo festival. They take directives from Awe-Adimu and maintain regular contact with Awe-Adimu throughout the preparation period and the festival day.
Orisa Oniko comes out during the midnight/ early morning of Adamu Orisa Day she is to ensure that the devil and other evil spirits are driven away from the town. The Orisa must choose some of his followers, whom are believed, would be taking part in the Adamu Orisa Play, to lead a procession for the announcement of Adamu Orisa day.Orisa Ologede must be performed within different time of the early morning of the Adamu Orisa play day. The purpose of Orisa Ologede is to ensure peace, tranquillity and safety for the performance of the day. The followers of Orisa Ologede also lead ‘Opa Procession’ for the announcement of Adamu Orisa day. Eyo Agere has no special functions to perform than to entertain the spectators on the Adamu Orisa day. And they are among the Eyo groups to lead Opa Procession for the announcement of Adamu Orisa Play.
The Orisa Adimu is the traditional Supreme head and leader of all Orisa. No Eyo must come out before Orisa Adimu. All the four aforementioned groups and the Eyo Igas, act on the directives of Awe Adimu, on staging of Adimu Orisa festival. Hence, no Orisa can prescribe or inflict punishment on any other Eyo group without first obtaining the approval and consent of the Supreme Head (Awe Adimu). The Orisa Adimu is a peaceful and in fact a unifying Play. Immediately after the Adimu Orisa and her Eyos leave the stand at Idumota, that action signifies the traditional end of the Adimu Orisa Play. The Orisa Adimu then proceeds to Agodo and demolishes the “Para housing the Agodo”(makeshift house built for the celebration of the Eyo)thereafter, the Orisa returns home. The paraphernalia of an Eyo consists of the Ape or Aga (Hat) which comes in different colours depicting the unique group and cadre of the Eyo. The close fitting Agbada (robe), the Aropale (loin-cloth), the Ibori (veil) and also carries an Opambata (staff); an exquisitely carved and well ornamented raffia palm fond with tiny top and wider base and is sometimes decorated or dotted with raffia leaves. Opambata is held before the face and wielded as a sign of felicitation to friends and admirers.
Conclusively the beauty of the Eyo festival and its socio cultural symbolism being rooted in the tradition and custom of the people of Lagos cannot be overemphasised. It has constituted itself as one of the foremost festivals in Nigeria and the cultural monument of Lagos. Despite its elegance and theatrical display that thrills its attendants it contributes economically to the local communities in the state.