Masquerades in Nigeria are regarded as spirits or heavenly bodies which communicate between people’s ancestors and the living. They wear masks and have dance steps that can keep spectators in one spot for a long time. Some masquerades chase and flog spectators while others don’t.
Masquerades festivals are traditional and cultural events which civilization cannot erase. It is an event usually celebrated by a local community. Different communities have different type of masquerade they celebrate. These festivals serve to meet specific needs as well as to provide entertainment for the people. They also help to remind people of their traditions and in recent times helps in unifying a community.
Agbo remireke festival is the most important and significant festival of Agbowa-ikosi. It is celebrated once in three years during the Christmas period. This study seeks to bring to lime light the dramatics of the festival, and to look at the way the people of Agbowa have been celebrating this festival in the past and recent years. Another purpose of this study is to look at the way the people celebrate this festival despite the fact that many identify themselves as either Christians or Muslims.
The masquerade is considered as a very important feature in the life of Africans, especially in Nigeria. It plays very significant roles in the people’s belief system; influencing and shaping their cultural views as well as their social universe. It is believed that most organised communities in Nigeria are closely associated with one form of masquerade or the other. These masquerades are diverse in their nature, features and functions. They are regarded as communal possession of the society. Finnegan has this to say about masquerades:
“the masquerade-dances of masked figures of various kinds-probably vary throughout the region in content, purpose and pattern, but they all seem to include certain element of drama and often referred to as ‘place’” (494).
It is obvious from the above statement that Nigeria as a region is blessed with diverse types of masquerades. These masquerades are of different kinds and serve different purposes. Their mode of performance also varies from place to place. There are some masquerades that women are forbidden to see. An example of this is “Oro” masquerade in Western Nigeria particularly among the Ijebu tribe. This masquerade comes out in the night. There are also others that are meant for public viewing by both male and female, old and young. An example is the Agbo-remireke masquerade which this work is about.
As different as this masquerade are from one another, there are some elements that they have in common just as Finnegan has said in the above statements. She goes further by saying:
‟ there is generally the idea of some kind of enactment or representation by the masked figure with great emphasis on costume (especially masks) and on music and dancing. On the other hand, there seems to be little or no linguistic content, though there is sometimes a rudimentary plot” (494).
The last statement is very true about masquerade performance because there is a limited use of words. Drums are the major instruments of communication.
‟ masquerade performance traditions archive both tangible and intangible cultures. Masquerade performances in Idoma are traditional structures that articulate the cultures and mores among the people” (Anyebe.1).
This statement is true not only Idoma masquerades alone but also about different masquerades in Nigeria as well. One will agree with Anyebe also that the link between masquerade performance and the well being of the society is firmly rooted in the traditional psych. Masquerade performance in Nigeria help to preserve and propagate cultural values.
Brief History of Agbowa Ikosi
The 31st Ooni of Ife, Lafogido, gave birth to Owa Otutubiosun. Owa otutubiosu later became the ‟Awujale” (King) of Ijebu-ode in 1537. Awujale Owa otutubiosun gave birth to many sons among whom was Olayeni otutubiosun, alias Ona-osa. Ona-osa left ijebuode and set out for a journey. Being directed by a virgin soothsayer at “Iwopin”, he settled at the first camp and named the place “Odo-Ona-Osa” meaning, the dwelling of Ona-Osa. He later left the place and settled near a lagoon and named the place “Egun-mo-osa-wo”. There were series of movements by Ona-Osa, but he finally settled at Oriwu in 1891, after a consultation with an Ifa Priest. Oriwu later grew to become what is known today as “Agbowa-Ikosi”.
Origin of Agbo-remireke Festival
According to my informant, the Agbo festival did not originate from Agbowa-Ikosi. It was collected from a village called Iwopin. It is said that a man from Agbowa-Ikosi went on a journey to Iwopin in Ogun State. He saw the festival been celebrated and he liked it. He went to meet the elders of Iwopin to enquire how he would be able to bring the festival to Agbowa. He was required to perform some sacrifices. So he came back to Agbowa to consult with the elders about bringing the festival to Agbowa.
The elders bought into the idea and went along with him to Iwopin to carry out the necessary sacrifices and bring the festival to Agbowa. After the completion of the sacrifice, the deities that are associated with the festival were given to them. The name of the deities are: “Majenimo” also known as “Okooro”. This diety is the one that declares the date of the Agbo Festival. Another diety given to these elders is called “Alelugbagba”. This diety is also important in choosing the date of the celebration. When the “Alelugbagba” masquerade comes out, it means that the date of celebration is fixed. If it has not come out, then the date can still be changed. It also goes in search of plantains to be used for sacrifice.
Another deity in the celebration is the “Ajeye” (Chicken eater) deity. This deity goes in search of chickens to be used for sacrifice and it is also believed that the “Ajeye” is the Agbo-remireke deity.
It is believed that the Agbo remireke will be tired after the performance, so as the husband, “Ajeye” has to provide the food that she will eat after her performance. Hence, he goes in search of chicken for her. The main deity of the festival is the Agbo-remireke deity. It is a feminine deity. A collection of this deities are called “Irunmale” meaning “deities”. The festival is performed once in three years and it is done during the Christmas period.
There are special drums for the festival. The drums are in three different sets, the smallest one is called “Ipere” or “Omele” in other Yoruba communities. There is also a twin set of drums called “Kuge”. One of the twin sets of drum is known as “Kuge Olohun Oke” which means high sounding Kuge and the other one is called “Kuge Olohun Isale” which means low sounding Kuge. The biggest drum is called “Olori Ilu” which which means the “Chief drum”. The drum is used to communicate with the Agbo masquerade. It changes its dance steps as the drummer changes the beats.
The masquerade dances to the beat of the drum. There are also three different types of dance that the masquerade dances. The first one is called “Irenle” or “Ilale”. This dance is sued to show off the costume of the masquerade. It is a majestic dance where the masquerade bends down and displays its colourful costume. The second dance is known as “Kederi”. In this dance, the masquerade shows off its dancing skills. The third dance is called “Ayegun”. It is only danced on the last day of the festival. When the Agbo-Remireke is about to dance the “Ayegun” dance, her husband, the “Ajeye” masquerade stands besides her. The dance steps are a natural gift. Though, people learn the dance even if they are not talented but there is always a sharp difference between those who are naturally gifted and those who are not.
This is the most expensive aspect of the festival. “Eku” is the Yoruba name for masquerade costumes. The people of Agbowa-Ikosi go as far as importing the material for the costume from abroad. The costume for non masquerade can cost as much as two to five million naira. Colourful designs are embroidered on the costume. According to my informant, when the festival first came to Agbowa, women’s old wrappers were used as costume. With the arrival of modernity, the costume changed and beautiful designs are being made on the costume. The costume also includes a mask with a feminine face. It is believed that the masquerade is a female, so the mask is also made with afeminine face and plaited hair. The masquerade also holds a sword and horse tail known as “Irukere” in Yoruba language. The sword is used by the masquerade to make way for itself. The audience gets carried away with its performance and they constitute an obstruction which prevents the masquerade from dancing round the square. It wields the sword in order to scare people back, thereby making a way for itself. The horse tail is used to add to its majestic aura. There are also rattles tied to the masquerade’s legs. The rattle is called “Ide” in Yoruba. It is used to announce its presence and also to keep it in tune with the drum.
This is a very important aspect of the festival. Though, there is little or no linguistic content in masquerade festivals as noted by Finnegan, there is the use of music to convey messages to people during this time. The elders sing a song to greet the people. The people also reply with song. A very important part of the music is this festival is the insult and praise songs. Different groups emerge to compose songs which will either be in praise of someone or be an insult to someone. The praise song is used to encourage people to keep on doing good and the insult song serves as a form of check and balance to defaulters. The Agbo also has an “Oriki”, a panegyric/praise chant. The chant is used to hail the Agbo deity and the other deities associated with it.