Nigeria: Ile Ife – Big Festival in the ‘Holy City’
Ile Ife. City of 401 gods. City of temples. City of music makers. City where the first dawn and dusk took place. Opposite the palace of the Ooni is an imitation of the Aare crown which the Ooni wears during the annual Olojo festival, and the origins of the event stretch back to a time between the 1th and 15th centuries. Every lover of art, culture and all that is fine and beautiful, should travel to Ife to look upon this indigenous Nigerian wonder.
But then there is the actual Aare crown itself. At the climax of the festival which was started by Ogun Oniru, the third Ooni of Ife, the Ooni wears the crown and appears before his people who pray in the expectation of blessings, with some circling their heads with their hands as Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi passes by. People are encouraged to pray or make a wish when the Ooni appears wearing the crown.
Oyelami Awoyode, PA to the Ooni says “Olojo is the day that the Ooni wears the Aare crown.It is the highest in the whole world. The Aare crown is meant for the Ooni of Ife alone. No other king in Yorubaland has it. The Ooni uses it to pray for the world, for the country as well as for Ife.”
According to Akin Aderibigbe in a work published in 2014, “The festival is usually accompanied with the ceremony where the sons and daughters of Ife pledge their loyalty to the imperial Majesty the Ooni of Ife, who comes out with a special crown from seclusion, after holding consultations with several Yoruba gods and deities. The massive crowds line the route as the Oba makes his way to Oke Mogun. He is escorted by many chiefs, the fine rhythms of excited drummers and there is the constant chant of devotees. At the shrine, the Ooni would perform a ritual dance with Osogun and in the end, they would both perform a ritual of sword crossing, apparently an oath of comradeship.”
Funso Adedayo, lecturer in Heritage Studies and Cultural Tourism at the Kwara State University, who has brought his students to Ile Ife to experience the festival, comments”The significance of Olojo is that it celebrates a new dawn, because Ife is said to be the cradle of Yorubaland, and that is where life started from. The importance of Olojo also includes the fact that the Yoruba believe that most of the Yoruba kings took their crowns from Ife. So, the festival is practically saying this is our beginning, this is where we all came from. It is always assumed that Ife is the beginning of the Yoruba world.”
“There is only one Aare crown in the whole of Yorubaland,” says Dr. Adisa Ogunfolakan, Director, Natural History Museum, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, “To the people of Ife and Yorubaland as a whole, Olojo is the major festival that brings all sons and daughters of Ife and Yorubaland to Ife. In those days this is the time when the maidens will come out looking for suitors, and young men will come looking for women to marry. That is the only day people will see the Aare crown which is brought out once a year. It is the period when the Ooni will renew his allegiance to his ancestors and to the Almighty. That is why you see him moving from the palace to the Oke Mogun, the Ogun shrine where he renews his allegiance through the priest of Ogun.”
By Tadaferua Ujorha