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Tribune Online
Alawo Ekun festival: Celebration of religious diversity, peace on Obatala hill

For the residents of Ofiki town in Atisbo South Local Council Development Area of Oyo State, the town surrounded by mountains and hills like many other towns within the state is not a mere physical situation because their own hills form a major part of their cultural heritage and the hills, especially the major ones; Obatala and Iluku, which are said to have mystical powers are celebrated annually and have become home to all religions despite the cultural issues attached to them.

And because of this, it is not surprising that the 2019 edition of the Alawo Ekun festival themed, ‘Festival of peace’ enjoyed great patronage as residents and people from the town, both at home and in the diaspora, converged to celebrate the grace of God that kept them for another year on the Obatala hills which hold a significant place in the history of the land and have become scared grounds for various purposes.

Ofiki community is one of the six major towns that form part of the Atisbo South Local Council Development Area created by Senator Abiola Ajimobi in 2017.  The towns;  Ofiki, Ago Are, Agunrepe, Sabe, Baasi and Liwo also fall under Oyo North federal constituency and is made up of three quarters, namely Sanndo, Ito and Agere. The purely agrarian Ofiki community has its administrative headquarters at Sanndo and it is a town blessed with a rich historical background as it lays claim to being a part of the liberation of the Yoruba race, dating back to the 18th century

Ofiki town can be placed in the category of communities with historical mountains as though it has some mountains; two are of great significance to the people because of its historical attachment. The hills are the Obatala Hill and the Iluku Hill and these hills, according to the traditional ruler of Ofiki, have great significance to the cultural heritage of the town. The Alawo Ekun festival takes place primarily on the Obatala hill which is exclusive for the Aare and his subjects while Iluku hill is the second abode for both quarters in the town.

Due to the significance attached to the ceremony and the hills, the influx of people into the town wasn’t unexpected; people trooped in for the ceremony and took part of the festivities without bias as each individual had the chance to thank God in a way  and manner that is convenient for him without any form of bias. This it was learnt added to the general acceptance of the festival.

One of the people that participated in the festivities, Areo Olusola stated that the reason he participates in the festival annually is because his faith and religious beliefs are not compromised in the process as everyone comes together for a purpose but are allowed to engage in the festival with liberty for individual belief.

“I find this festival appealing because I do not have to partake in any fetish rite; we are all allowed to pray in a way convenient for us at different sides of the hill before we come together at a central location for other festivities. This allows me to meet people, enjoy myself and learn more about our heritage without compromising my faith,” he stated.

Speaking on the importance of the hills to the town and the festival, the traditional head, the Aare of Ofiki, Oba Adeoye Gbenga Adigun JP, Oyinlola 11, stated that the Obatala and Iluku hills stand out amongst others because they hold a significant place in the history of the town and every descendant of the town must respect this part of their heritage.

“What stands the Obatala and Iluku hills out is their place in our historical heritage. The Obatala hill is where the Aare and his followers first settled, it was named Obatala by Aare Ajibesin, the progenitor of Aare Ofiki and Ago Are dynasty. The Aare is the sole custodian of Obatala and the priests are the traditional worshippers. In the royal family, we currently have a princess known as “Iya Oyerogun” who is in charge of that.”

“The Iluku hill is also meaningful, Iluku which fully means “Ilu kii Ku”, that is, a town never dies, is the most popular as it was the hill that accommodated the amalgamated settlers of Sanndo, Agere and Ito, who later formed Ofiki and Agoare.

“Aare Alawo Ekun festival is an annual traditional festival which was in existence long before my reign. It is often celebrated exclusively by the king, the Aare-in-Council and traditionalist as a prayer day of sacrifice for the community sometime in September before my installation.  After my installation, I was informed about the festival but I ignored until it caused some internal issues before I came to a conclusion to repackage it for other religious beliefs to participate and particularly because of religious belief, it was accepted. Hence, it changed to a three days festival,” he said.

Nigerian Tribune learnt that the Alagere is the custodian of the Iluku hill while the priest of Iluku is called Aboluku. The peculiarity of the Iluku hill is that it is owned by all the quarters in Ofiki and Ago Are. The hills were a place of sanctuary where people hid in the olden days during wars, especially when the army of Dahomey and Sokoto Fulani invaded Yoruba land.

However, Iluku is given more cultural significance because it is said to be more of a sanctuary as it is more secure than Obatala Hill due to its many caves and the topography. Also, Iluku is alleged to have mystical powers which come from a pond on top of the mountain that never dries up and has power that is used for healing while Obatala Hill also has a stream that never dries up at the foot and an “Ojubo” where sacrifice is made annually to appease the forefathers.

But on these hills, especially Obatala, during the Aare Alawo Ekun festival, there are three significant spots where prayers are offered. In spite of its rich cultural background, the hills also serve as a prayer ground for the three major religions in Nigeria without one affecting the other. The traditional head of the community attested to this when he stated that, “in accordance with religious liberty and freedom, as a king, you are expected to pray in the mountains by your belief and not to hinder the belief of others.

“This however brings peace to the community. During my first celebration, I allowed the priests at both Obatala and Iluku hills to do their things at the foot of the hills while I climbed up to do my prayers according to my belief  as a Christian and later we all came together to feast,” he stated.

And this is also the reason the theme of the 2019 edition of the festival was ‘festival of peace.’

Because of the closeness of the people in the community and their tolerance for the religious belief and liberty of others, every man goes to the mountain to pray in whichever mode his religion dictates without disagreements.

“Anyone is allowed on the hills, both male and female, indigenes and non-indigenes, young and old. It is open to all and no religion is restricted from performing prayers here in their own way,” Oba Adeoye stated.

The two hills are powerful and tied historically to royalty; the Aare dynasty as they were seats of power in the olden days. History has it that Aare Akioso Oluwonde from Obatala joined the Alaafin Abiodun Adegoolu army at Oyo to conquer Aare Latosa who usurped the Alaafin’s powers at the time.

Aare Oluwusi was said have joined the Alaafin Oluewu army to fight the Fulani emirate of Shitta Emire of Ilorin who captured and established empire on Ilorin which was wholly a Yoruba town. Also, Aare Oladimeji Adefunbi “Aare Alawo ekun” was the brave warrior from Iluku who joined the Alaafin and the Ibadan army to conquer Kurunmi of Ijaye during the reign of Alaafin Adelu.

Iluku, according to history, also has some warriors among the Agere and Ito people who both protected their territory from invaders. Today, activities on the two hills are usually religious based but the town is looking at boosting the tourism potential and open up the hills for people to learn about the warriors that inhabited the hills and saved the Yoruba race from marauders.

Speaking on the importance of the hills to his community, Aare Ofiki stated that, “the Iluku and Obatala are powerful hills; they are very significant and have great tourism potential. We have found that the surrounding of the Obatala hills is filled with a lot of precious stones; this is also the situation of the Iluku Hill. Ofiki as a town has great potential and values that can bring economic fortunes to the town, state and the nation at large.

“Both hills are special because they are where our progenitors first settled and they also have some features with mystical powers. There are so many unexplainable features on those hills that speak of things gone on in the past; the ponds and their healing powers, the trees, spots on the rock with footprints and so many others.

“I have great plans to make Obatala hill a tourist attraction centre. I mean to make this happen and I have discussed with those that are stakeholders on the issue; I discussed with Alagere Ofiki and Agoare during the 2018 Iluku festival. We spoke on the need for all the entities that make up Ofiki and Agoare to come together and make it a tourism centre and we will achieve this,” Aare Ofiki said.

In spite of the liberal approach of the people to religion and activities on the hills, the taboos associated with the worship of the original owners are maintained strictly. Each hill has a specific type of animal used as sacrifice of worship; for the Obatala Hill, a multi-coloured she goat, snail, kolanut and dry gin are used while for Iluku hill, the requirement of sacrifice is a plain white ram and kolanut to be administered by the Aboluku, who is the only one that has the right to do it.

However, Nigerian Tribune learnt that recently, Muslims have also started offering white rams for prayers on the mountain while Christians who visit during the annual celebration also pray in the Christian way.

The three-day event was scheduled to carry along all age groups, day one featured a visit to the ancient settlement of Obatala for prayers as it was formerly done but now, it was done by all faiths and not restricted to strangers of the land.

“Also was an avenue for younger children and even adults alike who don’t know the place to know the venue; the head of the royal family, Prince Joshua Oladeji, was there to narrate a brief history of our town and the importance of our visit to the source so as to preserve our identity for children yet unborn. It is also part of my vision to open up the site (Obatala) as a tourism centre in the near future. We prayed for the peace, unity and progress of our town, all my subjects home and abroad and the state,” Aare Ofiki stated.

The second day featured a football match between Destiny FC, Ofiki and Halleluyah Babes, Igbojaiye at Baptist Primary School, Ofiki. It ended with a lone goal in favour of Ofiki. Also, a vigil was held at the palace courtyard for the Christian faithful and on the third day which was the grand finale, there was celebration and fund raising for community projects. The programme was attended by many dignitaries and other traditional rulers like the Bagijan of Ilaji Ile, the Gegun of Ayetoro Ile, Onitile of Itasa, Aare of Agoare, the Olowo of Owo, the Onigbadi of Agunrege, the Onimia of Imia, the Alagbonle of Agbonle and the Bagii of Saki.

As the people of Ofiki round off the year with their festival of peace, the mode of celebration with special preference to religious liberty continues to amaze many.

Alawo Ekun festival: Celebration of religious diversity, peace on Obatala hill
Tribune Online

source https://tribuneonlineng.com/alawo-ekun-festival-celebration-of-religious-diversity-peace-on-obatala-hill/

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