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Eyo Festival In Lagos - Voice Behind the Mask
As they throng out in their thousands on the streets of Lagos Island, the Eyo masquerades thrill and captivate the crowd of onlookers who come out once again to watch with excitement the spectacular and grand procession of the Eyo.
This cultural and traditional ceremony is known by all as the Adamu Orisa Play.
On the festival day, in the very early hours of the morning, the Eyo masquerades move out in a large mass, beautifully dressed in regal flowing white Agbadas. The regalia is as spectacular as it is beautiful.
Each masquerade has on a colourful wide-brimmed hat and covers his face with a traditional cloth called aso oke. Held firmly in their hands is the much dreaded thick long cane, the Opambata. Most of us who've attended the ceremony have been lightly smacked with this cane, mostly in a jovial manner. However, some mischevious masquerades may hit you a little bit harder. I know I've been hit hard once.
It is said that those who hit you a wee bit harder are those who actually know you, some mischevious friend just trying to be 'funny' or some guy you 'turned down' in the past.
As they move in this 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.
From the palace, they spill out into the streets of Isale Eko and other parts of central Lagos Island, the beginning of a carnival-like celebration, the Eyo festival.
Who Are The Masquerades?
The Eyo masquerades are regarded as 'spirits' who represent their ancestors. These ancestor-representatives 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, Isale Eko, and the entire city of Lagos.
The Aropale is so long, it actually sweeps the streets as they continue in their procession. Reasons why by nightfall when the festival is over, you'll find their bottom wraps dirty from being dragged on the roads' surface all day long.
As revered 'spirits', they pray for continued success, happiness, progress, good health and prosperity for the land. They also pray for a pleasant and peaceful coexistence among its indigenes.
Historically, only tall men were admitted as masquerades, the reason why they are called Agogoro Eyo, a term which literally means 'the tall Eyo masquerade'.
Things are different today and you will equally find short Eyos as you will the tall ones.
The Strange Voice of the Eyo Masquerade
The masquerades, being representatives of spirits of the dead, speak in a strange way whenever they talk, which is hardly ever, or in short bursts of a weird sound.
They engage in ventriloquism and speak with a voice that suggests that they are 'beings' from another world.
Observers do greet them as they pass by, hailing them and appreciating them. 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 means is that the Eyo masquerade rejoices with visitors and observers for being alive to witness the great day and that it is in return filled with happiness for having the honour of taking the deified duty of cleansing the land on this great day.
© 2011 artsofthetimes