BY GEORGE OKOJIE
Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State’s latest strategy in drawing global attention to the rich cultural heritage of the state was the recent staging of the spectacular Eyo Masquerades Festival to mark Lagos at 50. GEORGE OKOJIE reports.
Although the country has what it takes to overtake most countries whose domain had since become global tourists destinations, the fact remains that reasonable actions have not been taken by successive governments in the country to uplift culture and tourism.
In what many observers describe as a radical departure from the past, the recent staging of Eyo Festival by the present administration led by Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode with pomp and pageantry to mark Lagos State at 50 provided the much required impetus to harness the nation’s tourism potentials and ample opportunity for the state to show case its dynamic cultural heritage to tourists across the world who seized the opportunity to savour the cultural richness of the state.
Lagosians relish in Eyo Festival, which is the foremost festival that identifies and distinguishes them as a people, their beliefs and distinguishing emblems which they prepared to jealously guard and transmit from generation to generation.
Commenting on its how it relates to beliefs, cultural inclinations that influence citizens, Amos Ibrahim, a septuagenarian said Eyo Festival or Adamu Orisa Play as it is also known, is a traditional festival that takes place in Lagos once in a year or after a couple of years to either honor a deceased son of iconic status who must have contributed immensely to the progress and development of his people, or as a final burial rites of a prominent chief or to celebrate the coronation of Obas.
According to him, it is a cultural heritage of the indigenes of Isale-Eko in Lagos Island, adding that history of the Eyo Festival is reputed to have been dated back to 1750 CE i.e. about 260 years ago when it was introduced by two male cousins of Olori Olugbani, the then wife of Oba Ado and the mother of Erelu Kuti of Lagos.
“Its exact origin is in contention though between people of Iperu in Ogun State who claimed that Eyo Masquerade came from their place and the indigenes of Badagry who also claimed Eyo Play used to be staged on market days during the times gone by. History has it that the latter genesis of the event seems to be more favoured.
“It was documented that the Adamu Orisa procession started on Lagos Island by traders from Badagry on the streets of Lagos and was performed at a place called Oke-Ita in Ikoyi, where kings of Lagos and their chiefs and dignitaries would go to watch the communal display of their culture.
“But around the mid-19th Century, due to some official reasons which had to do with running the affairs of Lagos during colonial rule, it was agreed by elders, prominent sons and the Oba of Lagos and his chiefs to move the venue of the celebrations from its original point of being staged in Ikoyi to Lagos Island, with the maiden edition after such a movement taking place in 1854.
“This cultural heritage is mainly characterised by the presence of a masquerade dressed in an all-white regalia from head to toe, with a lacy net that covers the face to allow the shrouded Eyo Masquerade see where he is going.
“On his head is usually a colored wide brimmed hat that identifies him to be among the adherents of their five deities represented by the five main Eyo groups of the Orisa or from other participating groups.
“The Orisa Adimu i.e. Orisa Baba Nla Mila is the leading Eyo group, easily identified by black colored hat. The other four groups are Okan Laba Ekun i.e. Alakete Pupa that wears the red colored hat, Eyo Orisa Oniko i.e. Aba Yewu, dons the yellow colored hat.
“Eyo Orisa Ologede is the green hat wearer and the Agere Eyo Orisa usually is seen with purple wide brimmed hat.”
The Eyo festival According to Oba of Lagos Rilwan Akiolu has its dos and don’ts, warning everyone not to wear any shoes within the vicinity of the masquerades, adding that females must not to wear any form of head ties to the event.
The Oba of Lagos pointed out that the Eyo Festival would boost tourism, saying people come from all over the world to witness the festival which holds only on important occasions.
Past ceremonies showed that during the festival, tourists from all part of the world gather together to have fun. People are seen on both sides of the major streets to watch them.
A trader, Mrs. Funmilayo Rasheed, who sells wares on Lagos Island said the festival normally provide opportunity for her sell her goods in large quantities.
Rasheed said, “The festival is always a welcomed idea for us in Lagos. I usually sell double of what I sell on a daily basis during the festival.”
A food vendor, Mrs Aminu Balogun, said that the Eyo Festival had always remained a significant cultural heritage of the people of Lagos. According to Balogun the festival is a sign of good tidings and blessings to come in the later parts of the year.
For Femi Adewale, a bar operator, sellers always increase the prices of their commodities by a fraction in other to make quick profits because of the high demand, saying “There is usually numerous people in attendance during the festival which forces an increase in the prices of commodities.
“When there is a lot of demand for goods, the prices of goods automatically increase in other to preserve existing stock or make more profit,” he said.
Adewale said that he had to increase a small bottle of alcoholic drinks that was selling for N150 on ordinary day was sold for N200 and while a bottle of table water was sold for N70 instead of the normal N50.
Highlighting the importance of the festival and other moves being made by the present administration to harness the tourism potentials of the state, the state’s acting commissioner Tourism, Arts and Culture Hon. Adebimpe Akinsola said the success recorded this year was not a fluke.
She said the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture in keeping to its vision of making Lagos State one of the top 10 preferred destination for tourism and entertainment in Africa has continued to engage in programmes and events set at achieving the vision in the last two years.
Akinsola explained that, “The formulation of Project THESE (Tourism Hospitality Entertainment and Sports) to achieve excellence was thus conceived to generate economic returns to the state. In terms of organisational efficiency, the dream for achieving the desired goal can only be met with the accommodation of arts, culture and tourism responsibilities under same ministry.
“Hence, the creation of a full-fledged Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture confirms the importance the administration attaches to the sector and demonstrate readiness to tap into the huge benefits and socio-economic potentials in the creative industry.”
She said the state was making frantic efforts to use entertainment as a tool to increase consumption of Lagos tourism products and ensure that tourists consume more of Lagos State to strengthen tourism establishments and institutions and also to create employment opportunities in the sector.
If sustained, she said the government is optimistic that it can cause an increase in economic activities with a direct bearing on hospitality, entertainment and job creation.
Other pebbles of tourism being harnessed include the Lagos Street Party, One Lagos Fiesta among others.
Akinsola said, “In line with the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and culture’s vision of making Lagos State one of the preferred tourist destination in Africa, the Lagos State Government in conjunction with WhiteStar held the maiden edition of The Lagos Street Party on the 3rd and 4th of December 2016 at Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos.
“The two-day street party featured live musical performances, comedy, dance sessions. Diverse cuisines and creative indigenous games were showcased for the audience. The event also focused on fostering commerce by providing young entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell their goods at the event.
“A major component of the event was the exhibition of various artworks and artefacts produced by young talented artists drawn from various secondary schools and tertiary institutions in Lagos State.”
The acting commissioner added that in its bid to use entertainment to promote tourism and to ensure that all parts of the state feel the impact of the New Year Countdown, the present administration conceptualized hosting the event in the five divisions of the state.
According to her, the state had since redeveloped the countdown model and using the platform to turn the entire state into one community; celebrating change and the achievements of the past year with a strong expression of hope for the New Year.
“The entire citizenry of our dear state exhibited unlimited pride for being the entertainment hub of sub-Saharan Africa with an eight-day show, laced with flamboyant multi-cultural expressions across the five divisions of the state.
“The customized stages inscribed with location names – Agege, Ikorodu, Epe, Lagos and Badagry, resonate with beautiful lighting designs and sounds of joy and happiness. Lagosians were treated to an all-inclusive series of events including music, food, drinks, comedy, dance and theatre, and talent hunt competition to discover and develop young and talented artists.”
She said the over 50 renowned artistes and hundreds of aspiring artist performed for over (500) hours in “one community, one celebration and for one purpose.