Sango Festival: Alaafin deepening Yoruba culture and tradition

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, is at the centre stage of the festival, that takes place at the royal father’s palace.
Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III
Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi IIIGoogle Image

The World Sango Festival, is a rebranded way of celebrating popular Yoruba deity, Sango, believed to possess magical powers.

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, is at the centre stage of the festival, that takes place at the royal father’s palace.

This year’s World Sango Festival witnessed a colourful mixture of tradition and culture.

The grand finale of the 10-day event witnessed large turnout of worshippers and visitors from across major towns in Yorubaland and even outside the shores of Nigeria, that stormed the ancient city of Oyo.

They adorned neatly sown red attires, depicting Sango’s unique identity.

Members of Elegun Sango also believed to possess magical powers, entertain the crowd.

The Elegun Sango, many of whom looked so frightening, came from different parts of Yorubaland, such as: Oyo, Ibadan, Igbeti, Igboora, Ekiti, Ede, Ajagba and Koso, among others, adorning plaited hairs.

Also, visitors, worshippers and devotees across the country, mostly from Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Ekiti, Kogi and few foreign tourists in view of the global pandemic, COVID-19, which restricted travelling from one country to another, were at the ceremony.

One unique incident in this year’s event, was the stoppage of the rain, which initially threatened the celebration.

The rain was believed to have been stopped through the intervention of the Ayabas (Alaafin’s wives) led by Ayaba Ramat Adeyemi, the Iya Ile-koto.

At exactly 1.00 p.m. the rain stopped, to the consternation of visitors and worshippers who had thought that the raging torrent would disrupt the all-important occasion.

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the Ayabas pleaded with Sango priests to appease the deity to allow them perform their traditional roles of “Igbatiti” (beating of calabash, to the admiration of Alaafin).

In his bid to preserve the culture and tradition of Yoruba people, Oba Adeyemi had, in 2013, collaborated with Oyo State Government to rebrand the Sango Festival and elevate it to an internationally-recognised event.

He indeed brought the festival to limelight and caused it to be celebrated in August of every year.

A culture expert from Portugal, Dr Paula Gomes, graphically captured the significance of the festival. Gomes, the Cultural Ambassador to Alaafin of Oyo and popularly known as Iya Sango, was the centre of attraction at the festival, as everyone was contacting her for one thing or the other, as the chief coordinator.

“Yoruba tradition and culture are very strong. Everything is knowledge and you people have lots of knowledge. It is a pity that Yoruba don’t appreciate and respect their culture and tradition anymore.

“As a foreigner, if I don’t love what I am doing, I won’t be here. It is something that I really respect, because money can’t pay what I am doing.

“Yoruba people have very rich culture and tradition. Virtually everything has a meaning in Yorubaland. Unfortunately, the people have lost lots of their culture and tradition,’’ she said.

Gomes, a highly mobile individual, running around from one end of the venue to the other barefooted has an advice for Yoruba: “embrace your culture and tradition; otherwise, you will lose it.”

According to her, most Europeans go to Brazil to learn about Yoruba culture, because the culture is preserved in that country. “So, you have to preserve it for the Brazilians to come here and see for themselves,” she said.

Another side attraction at the festival was the active involvement of a popular priest, retired Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu of Methodist Church Nigeria.

Ladigbolu, an Oyo prince, says the festival is aimed at celebrating the heroic virtues of Tella Oko, the third Alaafin of Oyo Empire, after succeeding Ajaka, his elder brother, popularly known as Sango, a thunder and fire deity.

He said that the festival was also targeted at promoting Yoruba cultural values and tradition, as part of efforts to celebrate heroic values of progenitors.

“The Alaafin Sango was the king, and people ranked Sango as next to Almighty in terms of his impact, influence, mercy, justice and personal carriage,” Ladigbolu said.

The cleric, who said Christianity could not separate him from his culture as an Oyo prince, described celebration of Sango as an enhancer of peace and builder of community harmony.

He said, “The essence of the celebration is to showcase the rich culture of the Yoruba.

“When we celebrate this royalty, that is, our progenitors, it will enhance the pride of all Yoruba people, particularly those from Oyo, who have produced heroes worthy of veneration by the global community.’’

To Gomes, Alaafin deserves commendation as he has been preserving the festival the way it was, so that people can understand the Yoruba heritage, how it was and how it is.

She said, “This festival is very ancient; it comes from Oyo Empire, and is related to Alaafin’s crown, because no one can become the Alaafin without being crowned in Koso with Sango crown.’’

The Sango Koso was followed by a big crowd on his way to the Alaafin’s palace for the final ceremony, amidst display of magical powers, dancing and eulogising of his virtues, as a once foremost ruler in the town.

Those he had blessed in the past lined up on the streets, thanking him for what he had done for them the previous years. He was the last to appear on the stage at the palace around 5.30 p.m.

While in the town, he prayed and blessed them, telling the people what to do, especially for the sick, the barren and those with other problems.

At the palace, he went around, greeting and praying for people, and was later received at Iya Ile-koto’s place, before leaving the palace.

ery difficult for lots of people, especially the average Nigerian, to start visiting and spending on hotel accommodation for such festival.

“Aside this, I see Sango festival as a growing festival, unlike Osun-Osogbo festival, which has taken several years to build.

“I believe in continually building Sango festival, and with time, it will grow to the point of attracting more visitors to the town and grow our economy,” Ogunluyi said.

Also, Chief Sunday Ogunlade, Proprietor of Ajaba A to Z Hotel, Durbar in Oyo, was visibly angry over lack of patronage of his facility, saying, “Do you see anyone lodging here? Which Sango festival?

“I am not aware of any festival so far, no one comes here to lodge. You can see for yourself now; how many people are here drinking or relaxing? Nobody has come here to lodge.”

In spite of Adeyemi’s concerted efforts to bring the festival to limelight, more still need to be done in area of mobilisation to in order to attract more tourists.

By Olagoke Olatoye for NAN

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