By WOLE BALOGUN, ADO EKITI
• Excited youths caning one another in festive mood.
Ogun, the fiery Yoruba god of iron is an ancestral deity respected all over Yorubaland. Myth in Yoruba cosmology has it that Ogun was the god that created the pathway that linked the luminous world of the gods to the physical plane of humans.
In Wole Soyinka’s Fourth Stage, a theoretical postulation of Ogun’s myth, which served as African’s testament for the origin of the human race or existence, the Nobel Laureate says in that essay that Ogun encapsulates the features of the three Greek gods- Apollo, Prometheus and Dionysia: “For Ogun, he is best understood in Hellenic values as a totality of the Dionysian, Apollonian and Promethean values; …. Ogun stands in fact for a transcendental humane but rigidly restorative justice.”
Soyinka unearths the god, Ogun further as one with a dual, contradictory quality of creative and destructive force. He says Ogun is the god of creativity, guardian of the road, patron deity of hunters, the explorer, provider of meat, defender of the town, drummer, poet, story teller and soldiers and lord of all who work with metals.
Ogun was said to have visited the earth before the other gods and revealed the secrets of melting of iron. He taught people the creative art of metallurgy. In this sense, Ogun resembles the Greek god, Prometheus, who stole fire for humans and had to be punished for it.
These profound features of the iron god was recently exhibited by all indigenes of Ire-Ekiti, a sleepy community in Ekiti State. It was the festival of Ogunnire (Ogun of Ire land), held yearly in the month of August in honour of the god of iron who was said to have not only settled in the town after a tortuous journey of warring all over Yorubaland but also chose its earth as his permanent home.
“Ogun owns this land”, says 120-year-old Chief Joseph Ademokoya, second-in-command to Ire-Ekiti monarch. “This is the reason every true blood of Ire-Ekiti, from the grey-haired to the youngest, adore Ogun who our forefathers christened Ogunnire,” the aged man said, clearing his throat for a long narrative of Ogun’s journey to the nether world from Ire.
But before he continued, the Aworo Ogun, chief priest to Ogun deity in the community, 90-year-old Chief Gabriel Ogundana , was quick to say what would happen should the people fail to celebrate Ogun every year: “Ogun was a warrior during his lifetime and he fought for our ancestors. We celebrate him because if we don’t, he will be angry and start killing our people.
“He migrated from Ile-Ife, Osun State, to settle in Ire-Ekiti. Here, he became Ogunnire, meaning Ogun of Ire. I am a descendant of Ogunnire. He disappeared into the earth at Iju, Iju Are is his home and he commanded us to be calling him at that spot whenever we need him.”
The story of Ogun’s sojourn from other parts of the Yoruba land to Ire-Ekiti is known in details by almost every son and daughter of Ire-Ekiti and they are very proud to tell it. Fifty five-year-old Mrs. Felicia Omoleye Jacob, is an Ire-Ekiti indigene. She hails from the Ebiolofi’s Compound, but based in Lagos. Jacob’s telling of Ogun’s story is quite interesting and dramatic:
“Ogun at a time in history settled in this town after fighting wars all over the Yorubaland. But he was approached to fight war for the people of Ondo land. When people, he left his son, Ire, to hold brief as the traditional head of this town till he would come back. Ire, Ogun’s son was in charge of this town for a long time that Ogun was away fighting the war of Ondo people. The time was so long that the Ire-Ekiti people thought Ogun had probably become too old to return home or pass on and wholeheartedly, they accepted Ire as their leader.he was going to fight the war for the Ondo
“But at last, Ogun returned home from the war and made effort to see his family and the chiefs he left behind. But by that time, the Ire town had become much bigger than he left it. There were many more people and chiefs in the town. There was a set of prominent chiefs headed by one Chief Olomodire, they were the council of chiefs holding meeting about the welfare of the town in those days.
“During their meeting, they did not talk but communicated in sign language. It was after their meeting and after they had eaten and drunk palm wine that they then talked and greeted themselves. So, when Ogun finally returned from the war front, he arrived at the place where the chiefs were already holding their meeting in sign language. He greeted them, but they didn’t reply him, he asked them of his son, Ire, but the chiefs still didn’t reply him. He then examined the gourds with which they were to use to drink palm wine after the meeting but found no wine in about three that he checked.
“Ogun became very angry at that point and unsheathed his sword and began to behead the chiefs at the meeting. At this critical point, the chiefs began to rush out of the venue of the meeting so they could speak up, as some of them went out they explained to Ogun that they were having a meeting of which they have sworn not to speak but use sign language. They also told him that many of them were children of Ire, his son, who was leading the town. They further explained to Ogun that they didn’t mean to disregard him by not speaking to him during the meeting but were only adhering to the rule of the meeting to use sign language.
“Feeling terribly guilty for his impatience and undoing, Ogun swore never to see his son, Ire, after realizing that he had killed his grandsons and other chiefs in anger. He then turned back to the where he was coming from. It was when he was leaving Ire that he met an old man on his way. The old man sensed that he was a warrior and very important person but troubled in his spirit, he then appeased him with a piece of yam and palm wine and succeeded in calming him down.
“What the old man did to Ogun in Yoruba is called “Sipe” (appeal) and so the man’s lineage is till today called Elepe (one who appeases Ogun). When Ogun had eaten the yam and taken the palm wine and calmed down, he touched the earth with his sword and made some declarations that he was going to enter into the ground at that spot.
“He ordered Elepe to go to Ire and continue to appease him there but should never set his eyes on his son, Ire, the same way he, Ogun, would not be seeing his son again. Ogun also told Elepe to tell his people in Ire to summon him whenever they were to go for war that he would fight for them. Ogun then disappeared into the earth with his crown and weapons of war at that spot which is called Iju in Ire-Ekiti, till date.
“Elepe returned to Ire and relayed Ogun’s message to the chiefs. He became the one who appeases Ogun seasonally but never sees the king of Ire till death. Till date, the Elepe chief in this town never sets eyes on the king till death parts them.”
This year’s festival concluded on August 9, was remarkable as the custodian of tradition in the community, Oba Victor Bobade, recently got back his First Class status, courtesy of Governor Kayode Fayemi. Oba Bobade had been a First Class Oba till 1903, when he was reduced to a second class traditional leader by the then colonial masters who had punished him for rejecting an immunization exercise for his people.
The festival attracted a large crowd of the sons and daughters of the town. You felt the festive mood in the air as the people drank palm wine, danced and sang songs in praise of Ogun with gusto. There were also those who went wild about the celebration, the energetic youths who caned one another mercilessly with wooden-thick canes. You wonder how they could endure the pains such exercise inflicted on them as you see lacerations all over the bodies of the participants in the caning feat.
The height of the event was the appearance of the Imole (a masquerade representing Ogun) at sunset. It is what the folks call Ere Ogun ( Ogun’s sculptural image).
Usually played by a man, his appearance is heralded by a group of dexterous dancers and singers called the Omo Iji Are (real daughters of Ogun) whose eulogy of Ogun, rendered in sonorous voices, ushered the Imole into the community for the ritual cleansing that regenerates the Ire-Ekiti community.
“Ogun protects us, he doesn’t allow any of our people to encounter accidents when we celebrate him like this,” said Aworo Ogun.
“And calling on the government and the United Nations Education and Socio-Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to build a world class monument for Ogun in the town: “We appreciate the state government for taking over the festival and according it a recognition, but we still need to push further because Ogun Ire exemplifies peace and abundance.
“But we appeal that the centre should be given a facelift. We want the old building where Ogun, which took its source from Ile Ife, the Yoruba Source entered the ground after engaging in a war to be refurbished to be able to attract global status like the Osun Groove.”
According to Ogundana, Ogun of Ire is appeased with ram and dog, kola nuts, palm oil and salt among others: “We slaughter the animals and pour their blood on Ogun’s shrine.”
One great benefit indigenes of Ire-Ekiti get from participating in the yearly festival is the golden opportunity to see their long lost friends or long seen family members. “It affords me the opportunity to meet my old friends who I have seen for a long time. During this time, we see each other and have meetings to strengthen our relationship.
“This is because this is the time that many of the folks of this town come home. Some don’t come during Christmas or Eid El-fitri”, Adeyemo Ayodeji, an indigene of the Falade royal family, said. Adeyemo, who is based in Akure as a promoter with Ideal Wave Global Investment Nig Ltd, Akure, Ondo State, said he grew up knowing about the festival, stressing, however, that:
“Being part of this festival hasn’t affected my faith as a Christian”.
Ogunnire festival is a gift from our ancestors. It ushers in peace, unity and protection for us each year and it usually falls on August, although, the day may change but the month of the year remains August. Some of us stay for a week, five or four days at home for the festival, “ Arogundae Olayinka, another excited indigene said.