Lagosians, especially those who have a family background in Lagos, are most familiar with the history of Eyo and the Eyo festival. A storyteller like me was fascinated by the story of Eyo because I listened to Asa Elemide’s song titled “Beginning, where she featured Eyo.” When I traced the lyrics of the song and why she had to use that particular word. For a creative writer, it meant happiness, fresh breath, a new beginning, and joy.
However, the Eyo festival over the years has been a remarkable event, which, according to history, is a day celebrated to honour the Oba of Lagos and to escort the departed soul of a departed king or chief, as well as to usher in the reign of a new king or chief.
In this piece, I will be exploring the history of Eyo and why the Eyo festival is regarded as the most remarkable festival in Lagos state.
The Eyo Festival, sometimes called the Adamu Orisha Play, is a Yoruba celebration that only takes place in Lagos, Nigeria. Due to its history and customary performance on Lagos Island, it is being promoted by the Lagosians as a tourist attraction.
The term “Eyo” is also used to describe the masquerades, or dressed-up dancers, that perform at the festival. Lagos’s secret organizations’ inner workings are where this celebration started. The Eyo celebration was once held to welcome a new monarch and to escort the soul of a deceased Lagos King or Chief.
According to history, two nameless individuals from the Ibefun and Ijebu communities in present-day Ogun State brought the Eyo Masquerade to Lagos Island around 1750. They were successful in including it as a part of the funeral rites of passage for the outgoing Oba of the time, Oba Ado, who is thought to have wed one of their cousins, Olugbani. This was a result of the compelling appeal made by them.
Eyo Orisa Oniko was ranked second to Eyo Orisa Adimu, but during his reign, Oba Adele ordered Okanlabato to take over the second spot, and it has been that way ever since. Research also has it that Eyo Okanlaba only has a “Laba” (symbolic bag), which belongs to the current Oba, and has no Orisa. Thus, this is why, till now, Okanlaba’s second place in the Orisa group has remained unchanged and will remain unchanged indefinitely.
History has it that each “Orisa of Eyo” has customary duties that they must carry out in accordance with the orders of “Orisa Adimu,” who was the Supreme Head of all Orisas, including the Eyo Onilaba, also known as the Eyo Oba or Eyo Alakete Pupa. In addition, the “police” of the Orisa Adimu regime in Laba will also carry out this order. Thus, these orisas are responsible for upholding strict discipline inside the Eyo groupings.
Furthermore, these Orisas are saddled with the responsibility of making sure the Eyo gang abides by the restrictions of the Adamu Orisa Play. They, because of this, ensure that they follow Awe Adimu’s instructions and stay in touch with him frequently during the preparation phase and on the day of the Adamu Orisa Play.
However, people think that the play is an example of the traditional African celebration that predates the contemporary carnival in Brazil.
Whilst some Orisas, like Orisa Ogunran and Orisa Elegbaopopo, were brought from Benin to Lagos by Chief Olorogunagan Asagbemi during the reign of Oba Ado of Lagos 350 years ago, some historians believe that Eyo was from Ibefun as a result of the need to protect the deities.
However, some sources revealed that Eyo originated from Iperu, known as the source and cradle of Eyo in Nigeria and even the world. According to research, the “Iga éyo Pakeriké” is the major source of Eyo in Iperu, alongside the four Iperu royal houses. The Iga Eyo of Iperu can further be categorized into five known as Iga Eyo Akesan; Iga Pakerike, which is symbolized by the red cap of éyo; Iga Agbonmagbe, also symbolized by the blue cap of éyo; Iga éyo Odoru, Iga éyo Mogusen/Amororoo, and Iga éyo Fibigbuwa.
However, history has made it known that Eyo was brought to Lagos to celebrate the in-law and its first procession was held in Lagos on the 20th of February, 1854, to commemorate the life of Oba Akintoye, and since, it has become the norm in the state.
On Eyo Day, traffic is prohibited on the major thoroughfare that runs through the centre of the city from Tinubu Square to the end of Carter Bridge so that a procession can travel from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace. The Yoruba term “agogoro Eyo” for the white-clad Eyo masquerades, which represent the spirits of the dead, is literally known as “tall Eyo.”
Even though the frequency of such celebrations varies depending on who the Oba considers deserving of having such a play staged in his/her honour, the festival is symbolized by the image of a masquerade in flowing white clothing and has evolved from a rural celebration to an internationally acclaimed event that draws both local and foreign tourists since the beginning of time.
Family members of different specific Eyo groups, including both nuclear and extended family members, were only allowed to participate in the play, but anybody else who wanted to join them for the festival may, even if they had no familial ties to any of the families.
Research has it that during the festival, everyone who takes part in the festival honours the current Oba of Lagos. However, the festival is held whenever the circumstances and custom call for it, although it is typically part of the funeral rites for a respected chief in the king’s court.
The “senior” eyo group, the Adimu (identifiable by a black, broad-rimmed hat), makes a public appearance with a staff one full week before the festival, which is always on a Sunday. When this occurs, it indicates that the event will take place on the Saturday after that. Therefore, from Monday through Thursday, the other four Eyo groups, Laba (Red), Oniko (Yellow), Ologede (Green), and Agere (Purple), alternate.
Modern Eyo Festival
The indigenous beliefs of the Yorubas have largely lost the majority of their original adherents to Christianity and Islam. Whatever the case, the traditional celebrations are still widely observed as tourist attractions that bring in a lot of money for the local administration and small businesses around the Eyo festival’s venue on Lagos Island.
In the year 2000, the Eyo festival was held to commemorate the death of Justice G.B.A. Coker, a Lagos high chief, the Olori Adimu, and the Olori Eyo of the Adimu Eyo cultural masquerade. Also on November 26, 2011, another festival was held to commemorate the life of Prince Yesufu Abiodun Oniru, a Lagos nobleman. And on May 20, 2017, which was the last Eyo festival held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Lagos state, to honour the existence of the late Oba of Ikate Kingdom Oba Yekini Adeniyi Elegushi Kunsela 11.
During the Eyo festival, items and acts such as motorcycles or taxis, bicycles, sandals, Suku (hairstyle), smoking, female with head tie, male with a cap of any kind, and wearing the Eyo costume overnight or crossing a river or lagoon.