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Egbe festival in Oyo: celebrating the duality of the living and the spirits


Ladies in pink from the northern procession
Ladies in pink from the northern procession
The Yoruba traditional festival of Egbe Alaso Osun celebrates the celestial community of the humanity and marks the communion of the world of the living and the “spiritual realm” (the world of the Spirits). At night, sacrifices of food, among other things, are made throughout the town to feed the Spirits. We participated to a procession from the compound of Ile Adedeji. The procession came from the North of the palace of the Alaafin to pay homage and it was joined by another one coming from the South. Both converged at the roundabout in front of the palace walls. The processions where essentially composed of women. The colour code of the southern one was pink while the northern one was blue and brown.
ladies in blue from the southern procession
ladies in blue from the southern procession
Paula Gomes, the cultural ambassador to the Alaafin of Oyo, took us, from the palace, to the compound where the northern procession would depart.
Three marquees were set-up, in the middle of a ground delimited by mud-brick houses, providing shade to the guests seated on plastic chairs around white plastic tables. Mostly men were seating and chatting there, drinking beers (Goldberg, Star etc…) or soda. I was introduced by Sangowale to his father, Chief Sangodele Ibuowo, the Elegun Sango of the Alaafin, who was chairing a table with a number of elders dressed in their colourful celebration attires, Yoruba hats, embroidered or laced robes, beaded necklaces and bracelets.
One of the mud-brick houses was the centre of preparations. A public announcement unit with a cranky microphone was used to make loud announcements and chants. The amplifier was put on a plastic chair and the MC next sat next to it. Robust loudspeakers were directly on the ground. A small veranda was hosting drummers who infused energy to the place when they were playing.
As one entered the house, a kitchen, on the right-hand side, was the place to prepare traditional ingredients for the rituals. The room had only one wooden table and the floor as furniture.
Past the small entrance hall, one came into a large and rather dark room which appeared to be the living room, opening on three other rooms. The entrance of the shrine of Egbe, immediately on the right, was closed by a white curtain and off-limits to non-initiates. Devotees would prostrate in front of it on their knees and forehead touching the floor. Offerings were lined-up in front of the curtain. A fruit basket and a bunch of long green leaves, peregun leave, perhaps 70cm long. These would be used later on to form green ribbons tied around the head of the procession devotees. On the left, were two rooms, bedrooms most probably with mats on the floor and a bed. Opposite the entrance was an opening to a small courtyard where clothes were hanged on a cord. It also hosted a shrine to Ogun, the divinity of iron. It looked like a contemporary sculpture of metal as it is made of various metal pieces, bicycle chain, knifes, picks and other tools… and is regularly fed with palm oil and other ingredients poured over it.
The afternoon golden sunlight was bathing the living room from courtyard entrance. Women sat on mats in the middle of the room chatting, some carrying babies on their back. Very young boys were lying on the mats too, relatively quiet.
make-up before the procession
make-up before the procession
A woman was doing the make-up on another one. Eyebrows were drawn and painted in black, lips in vivid red and eyelashes in blue. Preparation was taking place merrily, dancing was part of it obviously. Young women looked like incarnation of divinities in their party looks and attire.
Around 4pm, as the heat had receded a bit, women assembled in their newly changed pink and purple dresses and were tying the green peregun ribbons around their heads. They sung and danced barefoot some religious and traditional chants at the rythm of the drums. Each of the women would salute the procession leader.
Three women carried offering baskets on their head. One had fruits, the second one Ekuru (white beans cake) and the last one a large hamper of daily house goods and toys wrapped in a white veil.
Everything was now set to go, the procession started happily on the streets. Onlookers reacted differently, some waving and smiling others looking on with wary looks, some blocking their ears as if the noise of the chants and drums were pollutions. Traffic was slowed down to create space for the procession on its way to the Alaafin's palace.
dancing in the street
dancing in the street
In the palace courtyard, as the two processions had merged women were dancing in front of the audience hall of the Alaafin. Some of the Ekuru was thrown in the air, some flour sprinkled on the participants. The Alaafin did not come out of his abode to greet the procession because he was out of town.
After a while of dancing, the processions walked back to their respective compound before breaking ranks. One of the songs along the way was “buy me sugar cane”. Someone had brought some fresh sugar cane chunks and was selling them.
The procession was the visible part of the Egbe rituals. The night before, other rituals had been carried out until early morning hours, involving sacrifices and offerings throughout the town and other aspects were kept secret.
back from the palace
back from the palace

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