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Tradition meets commerce as Ibadan celebrates their Egungun festival

     There was an unusual standstill on the ever busy Bere to Oja’ba road in Ibadan, the gridlock was led to a choke up on the street with vehicles standing bumper to bumper, leaving no leeway for commercial motorcycles to maneuver and perform their usual stunts in their impatience to beat the traffic gridlock.
     And in that standstill, motorists had to roll up their car screens to avoid becoming victims of pickpockets as a huge crowd of people; male and female as well as old and young moved past the spaces between the vehicles, some wielding canes and others just making noise to express their excitement.

     The loud sound of drumbeats accompanied the large crowd as women sang and danced to herald the approach of a masquerade, decked in colourful costume and enjoying the reverence of youths that carried him shoulder high so that he will be able to move easily among vehicles. Occasionally, the handlers of the masquerade approached motorists to offer prayers and are given cash gifts in return to encourage them and show appreciation while some just give so that they would move away from them.
     This will be a common scenario in Ibadan for the three weeks that the Egungun festival will last.  Often, more than one masquerade will meet on the same path and the crowd will mix as the masquerades greet each other. But in situations where there is superiority contest, meeting along the same route may lead to chaos among supporters of the masquerades. And to forestall this, the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Akanmu Adetunji, at the beginning of the festival last week, called for peaceful conduct from all sets of masquerades and their followers.
     Oba Adetunji said the festival is celebrated in Ibadan custom and tradition that should not be turned into an avenue to unleash terror and violence on the people, urging them to avoid use of dangerous weapons like guns, daggers, machetes and broken bottles not only during the Egungun festival but also after it.
     Also in Ijebu, one of the foremost deities, the Agemo masquerade which is jointly celebrated by Ijebu communities in June or July annually came out. In spite of civilization, the Agemo like the masquerades in other parts of Yoruba land is seen as a rallying point for diverse communities
    Egungun among the Southwest people of Nigeria refers to various types of masquerades; masked or costumed. And in Yoruba context, Egungun is seen as a spirit that appears during festivals, ceremonies or rituals and is majorly linked to ancestral reverence and worship. Though masquerades are different from each other in terms of functions, appearance, structures and routine, the festival of masquerades are celebrated annually in Yoruba land and is said to contribute positively to the economy.
     Egungun festival according to history is an integral part of the culture and traditions of the Yoruba society which is passed down successive generations. Indeed, there are particular families known as traditional masqueraders in every Yoruba community and often, they bear names that indicate what their lineage is known for.
     Tunde Ojelade said it was not a mere festivities but a serious business that positively impacts the society economically and culturally.
“Egungun festival is an annual event that no one should treat as paganism or an activity that is tolerated for its nuisance value. It helps to develop trade and commerce which further aids the economic activity of the community and it also creates unity and love among the people.
“Though due to civilization, many do not believe that the Egungun has any relevance in today’s world, those of us that come from the lineage of masquerades know that it is not a culture that should be eroded in spite of our religious affiliations. Those masquerades though human are not mere men. Once they put on the costume, the spirit of the ancestors comes over them and they become representatives of the ancestors.

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