Friday, February 22, 2013

Agbon Festival in Ile-Ife


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AGBON festival in Ile-Ife is woven around the personality of "Osara," a heroine of Ile-Ife and wife of Oduduwa. It is usually celebrated in May every year.

Interestingly, a lot has been said and written about Oduduwa, the progenitor of Yoruba race. But little is known about "Osara" - his wife without whom Oduduwa could not have been remembered today because Osara was the only wife through whom Oduduwa had children in life. Yoruba oral tradition supports the claim that it is out of these children that other Yoruba kingdoms evolved.


According to Ife Oral tradition, Osara and Olokun were bosom friends. Olokun had married Oduduwa for several years without a child. Olokun was acknowledged to be extremely beautiful and wealthy woman as a result of bead making and trade in beads: She persuaded Osara to marry her husband (Oduduwa) probably through her, Oduduwa might have children. This oral tradition is reminiscence of the story of Abraham and Sarah in the bible.

The marriage between Osara and Oduduwa was blessed with a male child named "Okanbi". As a result, Oduduwa loved Osara dearly to the extent that she accompanied him wherever he went, to the annoyance of Olokun.

Soon after the birth of Okanbi jealousy, unhealthy rivalry-and serious quarrel ensued between Osara and Olokun over who is dearer and, most precious to Oduduwa between the two of them.

While Olokun was saying "Olobe lo koko" Osara said "Olomo lo loko", meaning: "A good cook is the husband's favorite; a fruitful wife is the husband's favorite."

Eventually, the quarrel between Olokun and Osara soon became public knowledge to the embarrassment of their husband.

Consequently, Oduduwa and the chiefs fixed a day for the settlement of the quarrel between the two, Olokun and Osara at Aafin Olofini that is Ooni's palace. On the morning of the agreed day, Olokun being a wealthy woman prepared a delicious feast for everybody present. Olokun is known to be extremely beautiful woman but attire and body adornments on this particular day made her even more beautiful to the admiration of all present. Giving the quality of items Olokun displayed, she was greatly admired and appreciated more than ever before for her beauty, wealth and the assets God has endowed her with, this attracted comments from spectators that Olokun surpasses her rival (Osara) in everything.

Soon afterwards, news went round the town and Osara heard of Olokun's exploits and display of wealth and affluence in the palace. She gathered all her children and adorned them with Agbon seeds on their arms and feet because she was as rich as Olokun. Nevertheless, Osara's children became a sight to behold because of their costumes. At the junction of Lakoro's compound close to Oja Ife market junction, Osara called on Lakoro family members and people around to come and witness her display at the palace. Osara gave eight out of the hand woven palm fan in her possession to Lakoro family members. On getting to the junction of Oriyangi's compound near the palace, Osara said "Agbonro" and the followers answered by saying

"Ro", "Agbon ro" Ro". Meaning: "Agbon descend, it has descended."

Armed with the hand woven palm fan earlier distributed to them, the followers of Osara and her children started clapping and dancing to the song.

"Olomo lo laye o'

Osara mo Komodeo,

Ololo loo laye o;

Osara mo Komodeo"

"A fruitful woman owns the world, Osara has brought children, a fruitful woman owns a world, Osara has brought children."

Unlike Olokun, Osara was merely able to feed people present with "Akara" beans cake. This is why 'Ekuru' is an important ritual item during Agbon festival. This is also why hand woven palm fan is used to provide music during Agbon festival up till today. Osara being a good dancer, danced to the admiration and delight of everybody even to the extent that Oduduwa and all, the chiefs and spectators gave Osara and her children a standing ovation. In the course of the uproar, Osara's children and the spectators scattered and disrupted all the priced and precious objects Olokun had displayed. This annoyed Olokun greatly and she sworn never again to have anything to do with Osara in life. But Osara promised to follow her wherever she went.

Olokun gave her priced and precious properties, which include beads and local fabrics "Aso Oke" to Osara's children. This perhaps explains why up till today Osara worshippers and adherents usually tied "Aso Oke" local fabric round their waist and beads round their neck as part of their costumes during the annual Agbon festival in Ile-Ife.

According to the oral tradition, Olokun in annoyance departed for Ilesa, some few kilometers from lIe-lfe. Osara followed her as promised. When they got to Ilesha Osara fell down and water came out right on the spot. The pond bake is still there up till today at the palace of Owa Aromolaran of Ilesha. The pond is still worshipped till today. Thereafter, Olokun left for Abeokuta and Osara followed her until they got to Lagos where Olokun fell down and turned into "Okun" an ocean, Osara also fell and she too turned into "Osa" an ocean. Olokun, owing to her earlier vow, was still annoyed that she would not have anything to do with Osara.

Magically, the two oceans, "Osa and Okun" separated permanently. This however explains the tiny demarcation that separates "Olokun and Osa" oceans in Lagos even up till today.

The festival is celebrated in the month of May in Ile-Ife. Before the commencement of the festival, the main participants proceed to Oke-Igbo or Ifetedo some towns near Ile-Ife to get the palm fronds and seeds. This is because Ile-lfe does not have the male species of palm tree that is used for the festival in its domain, (it is the female species that produces the coconuts that we eat).

The festival runs for seven days. Participants in the festival represent the followers of Osara and her children. The dried palm fronds will be tied with stones inside round the legs to form rattle like beads which was the prized and precious properties that Olokun gave Osara's children.

On the seventh day, attention will shift to the palace of the Ooni of Ife where Akara (bean cake) will be freely distributed. They will receive the blessings of the Ooni of Ife and afterwards all the palm fronds, Agbon seeds that was used in adorning the bodies will be removed suddenly and that mark the end of the festival till the following year.