[By VICTOR NZE]
Serene town of Agbaja, the spiritual and administrative headquarters of the Oworo people, located around the eastern and western banks of the Niger-Benue Confluence and on the plateau off Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State, came alive on Saturday, May 14,2022 with the celebration of the iconic Oluwo Festival, 23 years after the last one held back in 1999.
The Oluwo Festival itself is a triennial (celebrated after every three years) festival of the Oworo ethnic group, found in the Lokoja Local Government Area of Kogi State.
The Oluwo Festival in ancient history was celebrated by the people of Agbaja every three years to appeal to the god of the earth for bountiful harvest before the commencement of every planting season.
The observation of the festival commences with the performances of some rites at the sacred site connected to the festival, which is a tunnel of about two kilometre long, located in Agbaja upland and leading to the valley below. The tunnel is called Olu-Iho (King of Tunnel), from which the festival name “Oluwo” is derived from.
The festival has grown since ancient times to involve all the towns and villages of the Oworo people, who operated a kind of confederacy during the pre-colonial period till the present time, though the ethnic group now has a paramount ruler since the pre-colonial period designated as the Olu of Oworo.
The 2022 Oluwo Festival; coming after such a long time, occasioned by the death of the paramount ruler in 2002 when the follow up festival to the 1999 one should have held, followed by a period of interregnum in the land without a paramount chief, social upheaval and economic downturn, came as a welcome development for the Oworo people.
The festival has since has grown to become the unifying point of cultural convergence of the Oworo people in their harmonious internal diversity with the strains of origins and influences that make up the people.
At the festival , all the villages and towns that make up the people, from the Murtala Mohammed Bridge in Jamata up till after the famous cement town of Obajana at Oshokoshoko (bordering Bunu people in Oweland of Kabba local government area) to the upland area around the Agbaja plateau, converged at Agbaja with their songs, dances, and masquerades in various forms of cultural display. The highpoint of the Oluwo Festival is always the masquerade displays by the various villages that make up the ethnic group.
The Oworo are rich in the art of masquerading with very colourful masquerades adept in the art of entertaining the ecstatic audience with nimble dance moves, acrobatics, dramatic gestures and magical displays. The Oworos have about six unique masquerades in variations (Iyenigbo, Agila, Ohuna, Ehingabo, Naroko and Ileyo). There is another masquerade which is invisible, and called Abure, who actually announces the celebration of the festival seven days to its commencement and plays a prominent role in safeguarding law and order in the communities in which they are found.
The masquerades at the 2022 Oluwo Festival did not disappoint in their famous role as the epicentre of every celebration of the festival. They displayed spectacularly to the frenzied inspirational chanting of women and girls.
The women and girls’ chants (Ye ye ye ye) to accompany dancing masquerades is stylized, high octane and appears unique to the Oworo. In other places, women flee on sighting masquerades, in Oworoland, masquerade displays without chanting women and girls, will be lacklustre.
At the 2022 Oluwo Festival, it was a herculean task controlling the chanting women and girls who connected in a sublime and luminal manner to the performing masquerades.
The District Head of Agbaja, Alh. Abubakr Isa Alugbere, who stood in for the paramount ruler of Oworoland, the Olu of Oworo, Mallam Muhammed Adoga Baiyerohi(Agbosi II), the Chairman of the Festival Organising Committee, Chief(Engr) Yahaya Adoga Umar, the Chairman of the Occasion, Dr Onimode Bandele and the Festival Consultant, Mallam Denja Abdullahi, were all unanimous in their speeches at the occasion on the need to sustain the celebration of the festival as it embodies the unique history and culture of the Oworo people.
They also harped on the unifying factor of the festival and its potentials as a rallying point for the general development of Oworo land, even as they did not fail to note that the festival should be extended with new and modern events that will call attention to the boundless tourist attractions on the Agbaja plateau and surrounding valleys rich in agricultural and solid mineral resources waiting to be tapped and invested in.
Other dignitaries including; the House of Representatives member, representing Lokoja/Kotonkarfe Federal Constituency, Hon. Shaba Ibrahim, representative of Senator Smart Adeyemi , representative of Lokoja Local Government Chairman, traditional rulers and chiefs across Oworo land and other neighbouring communities were present to witness the revival of the Oluwo Festival that also featured the official launch of a publication; “The Oluwo Festival: An Overview” , written by Chief (Engr) Yahaya Adoga Umar.
Everyone is looking forward to a bigger, better and much improved celebration of the festival in 2025.