Ogundaisi partners Oyo to boost Egungun festivals
Veteran artiste and frontline culture administrator, Yinka Ogundaisi and his colleagues at Universal Films and Communications Ltd; are teaming up with Oyo State Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism to structure and transform the annual Egungun Festivals in all the communities of the state into cultural entertainment carnivals. The festivals would position the state as a major cultural addition to tourism in Nigeria. The festivals traditionally hold from May to September every year.
In expressing excitement over the partnership, Ogundaisi traced the beginning of these festivals to the sixteen century and charged the people to embrace them as cultural events worthy of celebration.
“Consider the sheer ingenuity of keeping the masquerades in the same forms they started with more than 600 years ago till date!” he said. “If it were in any of the advanced countries, the masquerades would have by now been housed in a special museum with people from all over the globe, including, especially Nigerians, trooping out to see them and regaling us of their trips as a status symbol. Now just because the events are in our rural areas and because we have been oriented to see whatever is ours as backward and inferior, most people see the festivals in the negative light. But we are set to correct this erroneous impression about one of our major cultural legacies and re-present the festivals as worthy cultural celebrations.”
According to Ogundaisi, the various masquerades are classified into three major groups. “The first and the most dreaded were those of wars and royal duties,” he continued. “They led their people into wars and carried out royal assignments for the monarchy, like information disseminations, chasing away from the towns the unwanted and the banished, and carrying out executions of the condemned criminals. It is these types of Egungun that majority confused with the mainstream masquerades, which is not so.
“The second group were the Alarinjo or travelling masquerades, that moved from one community to the other, entertaining the people. They were the forerunners of our famous travelling theatres and the kind now bastardised on the streets of our metropolis, with lace clothes and the hoods to harass people and generally making a nuisance of themselves. The third are the mainstream Egungun, which from inception in the sixteen century till today, are celebrated annually from May to September.
“The festivals are made to coincide with the new fresh corn harvests, because the main food of the ancestors are derivatives of corn. These Egungun are not idols worshipped with the fetish stuff of blood, cowries and cold pap but celebrated as earthly spiritual representatives with modern foods and drinks, which the celebrants, after evoking the spirits of the departed ancestors, like the modern prayers, will themselves consume. Anyone, Yoruba or whatever tribe, who believes that his or her starting point is with the ancestors, he or she would also join those ancestors, must begin to see the Egungun positively and warmly embrace them.
“The annual celebration of these Egungun is conceptually similar to Hindustani religion, which acknowledges the existence of an overall God (Bhagwan) but makes the access to Him through different ancestral sages, represented as rams, bulls, monkeys and several arms gods or goddesses. These pictures were of those sages at the start of human evolution, not how we see them today. Who among us knows how our offspring will look like in many thousands of years to come? Would we be happy for them to reject us or look down upon us as their ancestors?”
On the specifics of the transformation that would happen, Ogundaisi explains further, “The transformed festivals will be devoid of all the objectionable traditional practices that people believe, if engaged in, will impinge on their religious piety. The focus of the new festivals is the vintage folkloric music, songs and dances of the Egungun in their hundreds. No two Egungun have the same songs, music and dances and anyone familiar with vintage jazz, after listening to some of these songs and music, won’t find it difficult to readily agree that jazz actually originated from Africa, most likely through our forebears captured and sold into slavery. They must have combined the musical tunes of these Egungun with foreign music of their new enslavement abodes.
On what the festivals would cost Oyo State, especially at a recession period like this, Ogundaisi explains, “Egungun festivals, as being arranged, will be financially self-supporting. They won’t cost the state government any cash outlay, but will instead, create strong and sustainable sources of income for the state government and also cascade to the LGAs and the various communities hosting the festivals. All the people attending the festivals are potential buyers of the communities’ agricultural produces, games, arts and crafts.”