The Eyo festival also known as the Adamu Orisa is a Yoruba festival celebrated in Lagos Island, Nigeria. With no fixed date on the calendar, the Eyo festival was known to only take place when a King or important Chief passed away. The Eyo Masquerades come out in their throngs to escort the soul of the departed and/or to usher in the new leader.
The first procession of the Eyo festival was on the 20th of February 1854 to commemorate the life of Oba Akitoye.
The white clad masquerades were said to represent spirits of the dead. On Eyo day, the procession heads from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace (the official residence of the king since 1630) while the main highway in the heart of the city (Carter bridge to Tinubu Square) is closed off to traffic.
On the Sunday before the festival, the senior Eyo group – Eyo Adimu (identified by black broad rimmed hat) goes public with a staff as a form of announcement. This usually means the event will take place the next Saturday.
The days following the emergence of Eyo Adimu is colored by the other groups as they all take turns to come out in order of hierarchy through Monday to Thursday.
The 5 major Eyo groups usually identified by their hats are;
Eyo Adimu (Black Hats)
Eyo Laba (Red Hats)
Eyo Oniko (Yellow Hats)
Eyo Ologede (Green Hats)
Eyo Agere (Purple Hats)
On the day of the festival each Eyo comes out of their Iga (mini palace) in the morning and heads to the Agodo (Shrine).
The Eyo masquerade is robed from head to toe in a white flowing cloth which consists of an Agbada (top cloth) the Aropale (bottom cloth like a wrapper) the Akete (the Hat) and the Opambata (the staff). The Eyo regalia is an emblem of class and honour so back in the day, it wasn’t worn by infidels or unworthy people.
When the Eyo masquerade encounters people, he greets them with the phrase “e sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!” which means “don’t fear anything, have a taste of the palm tree” he then proceeds to tap them with the opambata (the staff made from palm branches)
Among the Yorubas, the traditional followers have migrated to Christianity and Islam however, most of the old traditions and festivals like the Eyo festival are still celebrated and have a high tourism value for Lagos and as we are celebrating Lagos State at 50, what better time to bring out the masquerades than now?
There is no fixed date for the Eyo festival, it holds whenever tradition or occasion presents itself. Before the Eyo Festival held this past weekend on the 20th of May 2017, to commemorate Lagos at 50, the last celebrated Eyo festival was on the 26th of November 2011 commemorating Prince Yesufu Abiodun Oniru.
As with all traditions, the Eyo Masquerades have their taboos that must not be broken;
- Don’t ride motorbikes or bicycles
- No wearing of Hats
- No wearing of shoes, sneakers or sandals
- Ladies cannot have the Suku hair style ( suku is a traditional up do in cornrows mostly worn by Yoruba women)
Breaking any of the taboos warrants getting hit with the opambata. The staff is carried by the masquerades to ward off undesirable elements, breaking any of the aforementioned taboos warrants the offender getting hit with the staff or literally beaten like they were undesirable elements themselves.
The Eyo festival generates a lot of recognition for Lagos state and revenue for the government and the small businesses around the Lagos Island venue. As we are all for tourism and anti-recession in Nigeria, we can not wait for the next one to hold.
Hopefully not in another 6 years.
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