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Eyo Festival in Lagos: The Voice of the Eyo Masquerade

Updated on March 6, 2019
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Being informed about customs and tradition is the only way future generations’ will ensure that our history does not become extinct...

Eyo masquerades in their flowing white agbada, aso-oke veils, wide-brimmed hats, and the opambata cane.
Eyo masquerades in their flowing white agbada, aso-oke veils, wide-brimmed hats, and the opambata cane.

As the Eyo masquerade and his group swarm out in their thousands onto the streets of Lagos Island, they thrill and captivate the crowd of onlookers who come out once again to watch, with excitement, the spectacular display and grand procession of the masquerades.

This Eyo festival, a cultural and traditional ceremony reserved for Lagos Islanders and also referred to as the Adimu Orisa Play starts off in the very early hours of the morning of the festival day. As they move out in a large mass, you can’t but be enthralled with their white and regal flowing agbada. Their regalia is as spectacular as it is beautiful.

Each masquerade tops his outfit with the colourful wide-brimmed hat worn by his group, veils his face with a traditional Yoruba cloth called aso oke while firmly holding the much-dreaded thick long cane called the Opambata in his hands.

Most of us who have attended the festive ceremony in the past still remember how we get lightly smacked with this cane, mostly in a jovial manner. However, some overzealous and mischievous masquerades may hit you a little bit harder; I know because I've been hit hard a couple of times. It is said that those who hit you hard are the masquerades who actually know you; some playful friend just trying to be amusing, or some guy whose amorous advances you must have turned down in the past.

But it’s really all fun!

As the Eyos move in their grand procession, dancing and displaying acrobatic moves, their first port of call is to the Palace of the Oba of Lagos. Here, they pay the traditional homage to the King, which is required by their law. Before all forms of their entertainment begins.

After paying homage in the palace, they spill out onto the streets of Isale Eko and other parts of central Lagos Island, and the carnival-like celebration of the Eyo festival begins.

The masquerades in a a march-past procession at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos Island.
The masquerades in a a march-past procession at the Tafawa Balewa Square in Lagos Island.

How Do the Eyo Masquerades Communicate?

The masquerades, being representatives of spirits of the dead, speak in a strange way whenever they do, which is hardly ever, and when they do speak, it comes out in short bursts of weird sounds. That’s about all that we “mortals” will get.

They engage in ventriloquism and speak with a voice that suggests that they are 'beings' from another world. Observers and spectators do hail them as they pass by, greeting them and appreciating them, and when you greet and acknowledge an Eyo masquerade, it usually replies "Mo yo fun e, mo yo fun'ra mi". Translated into English, this means "I rejoice with you, I rejoice with myself".

What this form of communication implies is that the Eyo masquerade rejoices with visitors and observers for being alive to witness the great day, and it, in return is filled with happiness for having the honour of taking the deified duty of cleansing the land.

Further reading:

Costumes of Eyo Masquerades

Top 5 Eyo Masquerade Groups (Senior Conclaves)

Are the Eyo Masquerades Spirits?

Agogoro Eyo masquerades are regarded as 'spirits' who represent their ancestors on earth and as ancestor-representatives, they, now and then, come to earth to help us earthlings cleanse the land of malevolence and maliciousness, and 'sweep away', with the Aropale (bottom wrap of the upper robe), any evil that may befall their descendants in Isale Eko of Lagos Island, and the entire city of Lagos.

The Aropale, worn under their agbada, is so long that it actually sweeps the streets as they move and continue in their festive procession. These are the reasons why their spanking white outfit will, by nightfall when the festival is over, look so filthy and blackened by the end of their festivities. You will find their bottom wraps dirty from being dragged on the road’s surface all day long.

As revered 'spirits', they pray for the continued success, happiness, progress, good health and prosperity for the land. They also pray for a pleasant and peaceful coexistence among its various indigenes that cuts across all Nigerians.

On a final note, historically, only tall men were admitted into the Eyo conclaves as masquerades and this is the reason why they are called Agogoro Eyo, a term which literally means 'the tall Eyo masquerade'. Things are different today. Now, you will efind short Eyo masquerades, as well as tall ones.

© 2011 artsofthetimes


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