The masquerade season in Ibadan Oyo State Capital is drawing nearer let’s take a look at the “Egungun” tradition a prominent way of life for the people of Ibadan. The Egungun is a secret society among the Yoruba people of Oyo State, Nigeria. The major Egungun festival takes place in June, when members of the society come to the market place and perform masked dances. The masks they wear represent ancestral spirits and may cover the whole body or just the face. It is considered dangerous to see any part of the man who is wearing the mask—an offense that was at one time punishable by death.
The masqueraders all dance simultaneously, although each has his own drum accompaniment and entourage of chant. It is believed that the spirits of the deceased possess the masqueraders while they are dancing, and although it promotes a feeling of oneness between the living and the dead, the festival also inspires a certain amount of fear.
The Egungun festival is a popular event in the Yoruba land; it symbolizes the presence of the ancestors amongst the people, they are said to bring good luck, fertility and ward off diseases in the land.
Ibadan is more synonymous for masquerade festivals than all the other Yoruba land, owing to its history of warriors, some masquerades were used during war fares in time past, such masquerades include Oloolu, Alapansanpa, Obadimeji, etc. We would take a look at the history, culture and worship of these masquerades over the course of the following weeks.
The Alapansanpa (a.k.a. Eegun Ogundeji) is one of the highly revered and dreaded masquerades in the city of Ibadan. During the Yoruba civil wars (1793–1893), Alapansanpa and many other senior masquerades, including Oloolu, collectively accompanied Ibadan warriors on their military campaigns.
Its former custodian Asimiyu Ogundeji stated that the Ogundeji family is responsible for the worship of the masquerade. According to him, the Alapansanpa masquerade was used in the past to fight and win many wars in and outside Ibadan. This masquerade is a renowned one and its importance to Ibadan cannot be over emphasised. It comes out once in a year, June to be precise, and it must go to the Olubadan palace where he whips the Olubadan with his whip three times before the Monarch who in turn blesses him with gift and other items. If he doesn’t go to the Olubadan Palace, there will not be peace and prosperity in the land and that means the Olubadan is a bad person” he said.
Ogundeji listed items that are used for its rituals to include Kolanut, bitter-kola, plam oil, salt, ram, cornmeal, among others. The choice of velvet (aran; mosaaji) as a highly celebrated and exotic product goes back several generations, to the founding of Ibadan, particularly during the garrison era when Iba Oluyole reigned supreme in the cosmopolitan city.
On the taboo attached to this masquerade, it is believed that No woman must enter his power house and if any woman enters his power house during menstration, such woman may die or may be barren for life.
Noted for its high activity and hundreds of followers, the Alapansanpa makes several rounds around the town amid dancing and singing and poetic chants (oriki).
A more recent popular song chanted by the followers and admirers of Alapansanpa:
“Alapansanpa ‘o dele Olubadan, Ibadan o f’araro”
“There is no respite in Ibadan, if Alapansanpa refuses to visit Olubadan, the ruler” (English translation)
Alapansanpa is hardly ever without some drama whenever it makes its yearly appearance in the city of Ibadan. It was widely reported in the local newspapers in June 2009 that a woman had sued the masquerade, alleging that she had lost some of her personal property, including a stethoscope, a cell phone etc. The otherworldly visitor was allegedly arraigned and subsequently granted bail by the Chief Magistrate’s court on a three-count charge of assault, stealing, and willful damage to property. The entire fiasco was treated as a huge travesty, greatly derided and ridiculed, because no reasonable person could evidently prosecute such a faceless, ubiquitous entity in a court of law.
In an almost absurdist drama of incredible proportions, Alapansanpa, one of the most ambivalent masquerades in Ibadan, is revered on one level as the symbol of its most illustrious and checkered history as the home of the great warriors of the nineteenth century.