Nestled in the southwestern part of Nigeria is the ancient town of Ile-Ife. Often described as “the cradle “,Yoruba civilization began here as far back as 500 B.C.
There is a deeply spiritual element to this town. According to Yoruba mythology, ile -Ife was founded by Oduduwa. Odùduwà was the first Ooni (ruler) and king of Ife. Today, his royal highness Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II, the current Ooni of Ife is first among all Yoruba kings in status, hierarchy and respect.
Ile-Ife continues to maintain a cultural relevance as the bastion of Yoruba cultural heritage and tradition. Every day of the year, there is a festival to celebrate one of the over 300 deities worshipped by traditional priests and devotees in the town.
Often the festivals extend over more than one day and they involve both priestly activities in the palace and theatrical dramatisations in the rest of the kingdom.
One of the most iconic of these festivals is “Olojo”. Historically the King only appeared in public during the annual Olojo festival and it is a spectacular affair! Visitors and tourists troop into the town from all over Nigeria and the Yoruba diaspora: Brazil, U.S.A and Cuba. The climax of the Olojo festival takes place at Enuwa Square outside the grand palace of the Ooni of Ife.
Olojo is celebrated in remembrance of Ogun- the Yoruba mythological god of iron and the first son of Oduduwa. Ogun is a fiery god worshiped and revered by many indigenes of Ife including farmers, blacksmiths hunters, and smelters who all traditionally make their living using iron implements.
The exact date and timing of the festival is one that is considered carefully and very much depends on the movement of the sun from west to east in the 9th month of the lunar year.The decision as to which weekend in October will be the weekend of celebration is the sole responsibility of the Olojo chief priest.
As part of the activities leading up to the grand celebrations, his royal highness, the Ooni of Ife hibernates for seven days in complete seclusion, not communicating with anyone except the ‘spirits’. During the festival and only for a few hours, the Oòni appears, wearing a special beaded crown called “ Ade Are” .
On the final day of the festival, the palace of the Ooni is agog with activity. Groups of traditional craftsmen and women, Ife high chiefs, their court, children and the grand children of the numerous royal families all come out amid colourful outfits, music and dance. It is a proud day for all indigenes of the town.
Olojo festival is full of colour, pomp and ceremony and one of the most thrilling sights are the Lokolokos thrill the crowd and quite honestly bring an added element of drama and a cultural authenticity to the event.
Olojo festival is quite simply a fantastic cultural experience. It not only celebrates the history and beliefs of the people of Ife, it also validates the traditions and ethnic identity of an entire race-the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria.