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Oro: A Yoruba Festival That Is Anti-Women

By Njideka Agbo 07 May 2018   |   4:08 pm

On the 8th of May, female residents of Ikorodu, a city on the outskirts of Lagos Metropolis, are expected to be indoors. Reason? The city celebrates its annual Oro festival tonight.

Known as Magbo Festival in the town, the Oro Day is an annual celebration, which is a nod to the traditional past of the town that sits close to the Lagos city, arguably Nigeria’s most developed urban centre.

Practised across the Southern Western states, only men who are natives of the community are allowed to participate in the Oro festival.

However, its ritual differs from town to town. Depending on the community, the Oro lasts between four days to three lunar months. In places like Ikorodu, the celebration lasts a day.

While some celebrate the festival in July, others do August or September. In the case of Ikorodu, it is happening in May.

However, the death of a king is an ideal time. Like most traditional African communities, towns and villages in Southwest Nigeria have kings called the Oba. Despite westernization, the role of the Oba is still revered in Nigeria, although they do not have constitutional roles.

When the Oba dies, a special atonement and period of mourning are held.  Part of the latter, according to popular opinion, involves human sacrifice. However, Oro faithful usually deny the claim of such sacrifice.

Apart from that, Oro does not come to town unless it is its celebration. During the festival, Oro makes itself known by a whirring, roaring sound which can be heard in the neighbourhood. This whirring sound is done by his wife, Majowu.

It is said that Oro is clothed in a robe with shells and wears a white wooden mask with blood smeared on the lips. It passes alongside its followers. Its followers announce their presence by chanting incantations in loud voices.

An ancient Yoruba bullroarer. Photo credit: LiveAuctioneers

The sacred instrument used to invite Oro and announce his coming.

Legend has it that women who see Oro do not survive. This is because they are visited by painful death. (Awo gelede l’obinrin l’emo. Ti obinrin b’a f’oju kan Oro, Oro agbe lo.)

However, it is claimed the main aim of Oro festival is to maintain peace and order and cleanse the society.

A word, they say,…

Regardless of such lofty aim, the festival, because of its controversial nature and supposed infringement on freedom of movement has been a subject of litigations.

An Ogun State High Court, in February 2018, ruled in a case between the Christian Association of Nigeria and Muslim Community in Ipokia Local Government, on the one hand, and Oro cult on the other that the celebration of the festival should not be held at daytime.

The religious bodies, in their lawsuit, complained that government parastatals, schools, businesses and other public places are shut down due to the imposed daytime curfew. As a result, the court restricted the festival to the hours between 12 am to 4 am.

Oro has also been a source of pain for a lot of people. The end of the 20th century witnessed a surge in the deaths of people. Such was the tradition of the Oro that in 1999, Sagamu witnessed a crisis that shook the foundations of Ogun State.

According to an AFP report, over 66 people were reported dead after the Oro faithful clash with the Hausa speaking tribe. Oro faithful had carried out their activities in the Hausa dominated area and killed a woman who had gone against their code.

Oro faithful had passed the Hausa-dominated area for the first time in nine years when they saw a Hausa woman, In accordance with their instruction, the woman was allegedly killed.

The resultant crises led to the death of more people.

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