The “Gregorian calendar world” may be in the eight month of the year, but in the kingdom of Ado, in the South West Nigerian state of Ekiti, the new year is just beginning, with the Udiroko Festival, albeit traditionally.
The Udiroko Festival which kicks off today, Monday, August 12 and climaxes on Tuesday, August 20, marks the first day in the Ado-Ekiti traditional calender.
According to the traditional head of the kingdom, the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti, Oba Rufus Adeyemo Adejugbe, Aladesan III, “the Udiroko festival is a cultural phenomenon that strikes at the foundation of the systemic existence of Ado Kingdom and its people.”
In his words, the festival, which upholds the history, culture and tradition of the Ado people, “provides the ample opportunity to all Ado sons and daughters both at home and in diaspora, to come together to appreciate God and pray for continuous peace and progress in the coming year”
The festival, which has been growing in quality and popularity, in the country, is taking a richer, fresher and more colourful dimension this year, even though it has always been a unique festival right from inception.
Newspeakonline, which was at the World Press Conference organised by the festival’s planning committee and the Ekiti State Council of Arts and Culture, brings you 10 facts about the festival, mostly explained by the Ewi himself, who addressed the media at Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja.
1. Under the iroko tree
Udiroko, the Ekiti dialectic translation of Idi igi iroko (in general Yoruba Language) literally means “under the iroko tree”. The festival is so called because it represents the first meeting of the Ado-Ekiti people under the Iroko tree to celebrate the founding of Ado Kingdom under the paramountcy of the Ewi (as far back as 1300AD) who thereafter gave a royal proclamation of the First Gathering under the iroko tree as the first day in the Ado-Ekiti calendar year. During that first meeting, it was decided that such a gathering shall continue to be held at the same period of every year
2. Those who assemble under the iroko tree
On the ancient Udiroko Day, the assemblage of the people under the iroko tree included the following: Ado-Ekiti indigenes; the returning military leaders of Ewi’s Army; other military commanders and mercenaries; emissaries from subordinate kings and chiefs; messengers carrying different gifts and food items from the rulers of Ewi’s vassal villages; captured slaves and cultural displays.
3. Olorunborun is what happens on Udiroko Day
In the ancient times, Udiroko was celebrated in the form of a universal Ado-Ekiti festival called “Olorunborun”. Oloborurun refers to the offering of praise, worship and prayers to the heavens in every home in the town with the killing of a cock to pray and appease their Heads(Ori) and Creator (Eleda). In the evening of the same day, members of the community assemble under the iroko tree in Ewi’s palace to receive the monarch’s blessings because Ewi was believed to have the power to make prayers accepted by the Heavens.
4. Use of kolanuts, walnuts
During Olorunborun, the indigenous population of Ado-Ekiti make offering of kolanuts and walnuts in propitiation to their heads (Ori). The war chiefs (Elegbes) also serve their people with foods and drinks including kolanuts and walnuts at their homes before leaving for the Chief Bafon’s lodge.
5. Ancient day activities of Udiroko
In the morning after waking up, the people perform Olorunborun. After serving their people food and drinks in their respective homes, the war chiefs converge on Chief Bafon’s lodge for entertainment, after which they all dance from there to the Ewi’s palace, venue of the celebrations, drumming and singing war songs. Chief Bafon, the head of the war chiefs comes last to the palace, also dancing to bata drums and traditional war songs. The greetings of the Ewi, which are beautiful renditions, then follows in a particular order, starting with the Ewi’s wives, the princes and princesses, down to the chiefs. The Ewi’s Speech from the Throne, comes next, and it includes a general report of his kingdom for the out-going year and the resolution and advice for the new year.
6. Major players in the festival
The major players at the activities at the Ewi’s palace are: the Ewi consorts – Oloris, under the leadership of the Eyesorun-Ewi; the traditional chiefs from the three principal sections of Ado-Ekiti (Oke-Ewi, Odo-Ado and Oke-Ila); the Omowa choefs who are the Heads of the Ado cottages and farm settlements by virtue of the historical benevolence and decision of the Ewi dynasty; the princes and princessess of the kingdom cutting across the two ruling houses (Owaroloye and Atewogboye); the Efas (Ado traditional policemen); titled and untitled princes, distinguished sons and daughters and, Ado indigenes in general; the Elegbe (war chiefs) and Bafon, the head of the Elegbes.
7. Udiroko in modern times
Today, the festival still features the ancient practices mentioned above but with some touch of modernity due to changing times and existential realities. Some of the new activities, which occur in the course of the weeklong celebrations are thanksgiving services in churches and Jumat services in the mosque. In recent times, indigenes of the town in the diaspora come home for the festival and also contribute their quota to the development of the town. These have culminated in several rehabilitations of some social facilities in the city, sometimes in conjunction with the state government. According to Oba Adejugbe, the kingdom’s commitment to modern trends and practice forms part of the reasons why the world press conference was organised, occasioning his first public appearance outside his kingdom since his ascendance to the throne in 1990.
8. Devoid of fetish practices
Unlike most traditional festivals in Yoruba land, the Udiroko festival is devoid of acts that look or are fetish. According to the Ewi, “no deity is worshipped in Udiroko and no idolatry and secret ceremony is performed. It is a ritual-free festival”. He stressed that through the festival, Ado people generally rejoice that another milestone is covered or reached in their life’s journey.
9. Why the Ewi is the chief celebrant
Originally, the Ewi was not only a king; he was also the supreme military leader of the army. Ewi Awamaro led the conquest of Ulesun, the decapitation of Elesun and appropriation of his territories in early 1300 AD for the establishment of Ado Kingdom.
When his kingdom became extremely larger than the original settlement of the Ado-Ekiti, the administrative and cultural demands of his office as a paramount ruler did not allow him to lead military expeditions anymore. He then delegated his responsibilities to his immediate senior military officers who were expected to annually render the accounts of their war efforts on the Udiroko Day.
10. Taking Udiroko into the future with Ekiti State government as partner
At the press conference, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi expressed his administration’s readiness to partner with the people of Ado-Ekiti to rebrand the festival by globalizing its celebration and getting strategic marketers to make it self-sustaining.
Governor Fayemi, who was represented by the state Director-General, Council for Arts and Culture, Mr. Wale Ojo-Lanre, said: “There is no doubt that the Ewi of Ado-Ekiti has joined the list of monarchs who have at one time or another addressed a world press in a bid to market their festivals to attract global attention and tourists. Osun Osogbo, Olojo and Ojude-Oba festivals have brought the Ataoja, Ooni and Awujale respectively to Lagos on similar purpose. Today, these festivals are bringing economic prosperity and attracting investment opportunity to those who own them. By this commendable initiative, Udiroko has become a festival for the cultural and tourism public, the manifestation of which would become noticeable in subsequent editions.