Agogoro Eyo Festival in Lagos, Nigeria

The word Eyo also refers to the costumed dancers, known as the masquerade, that come out during the festival. The origins of this observance are found in the inner workings of the secret societies in lagos. It is widely believed that the play is one of the manifestations of the customary African revelry that serves as the forunner of the modern carnival in Brazil.

On Eyo day, the mainhighway in the heart of the city (from the end of carter bridge to tinubu square) is closed to traffic, allowing for procession from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace. The white-clad Eyo masquerade represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as Agogoro Eyo (literally “tall Eyo”). The first procession in Lagos was on the 20th of February, 1854 to commemorate the life of the Oba Akintoye. While Orisa Ogunran is a male Adamu on the other hand is a female.

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In the manner of a spirit being visiting the earth on a purpose, the masquerade speaks in a ventriloquial voice, suggestive of its otherworldliness; and when greeted, it replies: “Mo yo fun e, moyo fun ra mi”( I rejoice for you, I rejoice for myself). This response connotes the masquerades as rejoicing with the person greeting it for the witnessing of the day, and its own joy at taking the hallowed responsibility of cleansing. If we could take an up-to-date record of staged Adamu Orisha plays in Lagos, it should be close to one hundred celebration since its inception.

This papers seeks to discuss the celebration of the Eyo Adimu festival, the different types of theOrisas and there functions to the celebration and finally the significance of the Eyo regalia to Agogoro Eyo festival in Lagos.

Although its history is shrouded in mystery, from very humble beginnings in lagos, the Adamu Orisha play which is performed by the senior member of the Awe Adimu and under the authority of the Oba of Lagos, has grown to be perhaps the biggest cultural and tourist event in Nigeria. The Awe Adimu is the conclave of the elders of the Adamu Orisha cult.

There are two Orishas in the Awe Adimu. The one is the Orisha Adimu, while the other is the Orisha Ogunran which is said to be a male spirit and rarely ventures out. After a joyous outing, the Orisha Adimu is welcomed back to her sanctuary with the song: “Kaa bo o, ka a bo Kaa bo o, ka a bo Omo a bile soro Omo a bile soro kile lanu Ka a bo !! ” We do know over that over 300 years ago, when Lagos was focal fishing village and a stop-over en route to different parts of Nigeria and West African coast, there was a market at Oke’pa, the location of which today, is around the former Federal Secretariat in Ikoyi.

The market attracted buyers and sellers from many villages who came to trade items from Benin, Badagry and Ijebuland by boat. The market was a beehive of activities particularly rites were performed for an Orisha masquerade which resided near Oke’pa. During its festival, the masquerade blessed the traders and admonished perpetrators of evil. The masquerade was the Orisha Adimu and had been brought from a village near Benin kingdom by the Ologun Agan. And so began a culture that has lasted till this day. The Adamu Orisha would appear on “Abo Oja” being the Saturday which has the next day after the market day.

This is why the Eyo festival is largely held on a Saturday. The festival generated so much interest that people would travel from many parts of Lagos, to Oke’pa to watch the celebration. It was perhaps unwieldy for the Oba and his court to make the tedious journey to Oke’pa and no one occasion, on the return trip by Oba Dosunmu from Oke’pa to his palace on Lagos Island, a lion appeared to his entourage. Not long thereafter the Oba directed that the tradition play be brought from Oke’pa to Idunmodokun in Ita Ado on Lagos Island. This led to the oriki: Akama ekun, Omo afinju wo jo Orin gerege,

Omo obun woja Pa shio shio. The other name of the Adamu Orisha is Orisha Oko (oko is boat in Yoruba) which is perhaps due to its mode of transportation from Okepa to Lagos Island which was by boat called Oko Aje. It is also known to posses the power to bless barren women and help them to conceive. Many people looked forward to touching and being touched by the Orisha. This was possible at the time as it is important to note, that the Eyos did not then accompany the Orisha Adimu. The Adimu Orisha was said to carry an extraordinary headgear which by tradition must not touch the ground.

It was in protection of both this headgear and the Orisha that the then Oba of Lagos directed that body guards armed with staffs should assist and protect the Orisha from the crowds that eagerly wanted to see and touch the Orisha. The staffs carried by the body guards were called Opambata and the bodyguards were called Eyos. Whilst the Orisha originated from Benin, the Eyos in their present form originated from Lagos and their staffs were carved solely from a peculiar palm tree only found in the Lagos vicinity.

The Eyo bless spectators with their Opambatas which have inscriptions that at times correspond to some insignia such as E ji Ogbe and O ye ku of the traditional ifa oracle in Yoruba land. There are never curses inscribed on the Opa, only blessings. Orisha Adimu and Eyo Adimu are very peaceful, however, once in a while, the Orisha will say. “ija si oro o” to which her Eyos respond “Ogunye” which is a notification for all to clear the area as the Eyo Adimu react fairly robustly on the third “Ogunye” at such times spectators are advised to leave the vicinity of the Eyo Adimu.

Next in hierarchy to the Adamu Orisha is the Eyo Laba or Alakete Pupa who are the king’s own Eyo. Their authority is derived from the Oba and they carry a potent bag or Laba. They are also known as the Olopa Eyo (policemen of Eyos) and do not have an Orisha. The Eyo Laba are also responsible for the preparation of the Para, which is an enclosure of raffia mats around provided by the Awe Adimu. The Para is constructed the night prior to the festival and is the only place where a drummer beats a certain drum called Arigo which moves Eyos into a state of frenzy.

Part of Laba’s oriki is: Hu ha, ha !! Okanlaba ekun ma fara soko Oju ekun ina Eyin ekun oorun Ahon ekun mu bi abe ifari Ojigiri takiji ni t’ekun L’esi ma gbena woju ekun Lai sawo ONIKO AND OLOGEDE Following the Alakete Pupa are the Orisha Oniko and Orisha Ologede. The Oniko is referred to as Mole Ejilu, Mole Malaki, Egun Onigemo while the Ologede is known as Mole Ejilu, Mole Malaki Egun Olugbani. The origin of the Orisha Oniko and Orisha Ologede is linked to Olugbani who was a trader in Idumagbo and who had three children whose names were Efunyemi, Ejilu and Malaki.

Oba Ado married Efunyemi who became his favourite wife and was always called Olugbani by the Oba even after their marriage. Thus the following: Opa omo re, ki se Erelu gba yi o gbo la Omo Olugbani ni After many childless years, Oba Ado directed his wife’s brothers Ejilu and Malaki to travel to Oyo and find out why Efunyemi was childless. Not long after they returned, Efunyemi bore a daughter called Erelu (Ikutilekun) kuti. Thus the following: Ejilu mi saiye, Ijaiye Malalki yato Omo iya meji re Oyo, Won ri oun mu bo wa si irele Won fi Akala mo awo, Ni mesi ikole.

Ti nse Olotu Eyo. When Efunyemi died, her brothers Ejilu and Malaki introduced the participation of the Eyo as part of her funeral rites. This is why Eyo is staged as a burial rite and why Eyo masquerades should not be displayed for weddings and other social events. To do so may invoke ill fortune because it is contrary to the assertion contained in Eyo Asoje which goes: Emi aboloku sinku ti diyan gbese. There are spiritual repercussions for the wrongful adornment of Eyo paraphernalia. Malaki and Ejilu had two Orishas which were Orisha Ologede and Orisha Oniko.

As Ejilu had no children, both Orishas were inherited by Malaki’s children who were Sogbo and Adamu. The purpose of Orisa Ologede and Oniko’s outing at this time is to ensure peace, Tranquility and Safety to the performance of the day. The followers of Orisa Ologede also lead ‘Opa Procession’? for the announcement of Adamu Orisa Play Day. While The outing of the Oniko during the midnight/ early morning of Adamu Orisa Play Day is to ensure that the devil and other evil spirits are driven away from the town. The final Orisha in the hierarchy is the Orisha Alagere. Agere was created an orisha in the present century.

It ranks last on the list of Orishas. It is indeed, a modern addition to the play. One Bante Seda is said to be the first Agere. It has no special functions to perform than to entertain the spectators on the Adamu Orisa Play Day. And they are among the Eyo groups to lead Opa Procession for the announcement of Adamu Orisa Play.

The Opambata is the staff of the Eyo masquerade and is intricately designed with markings called Isin or Isin Abalaiye most of which are blessings. Some of the markings for example are Eji Ogbe, Oyeku, Iwori, Odi Irosun, Owonrin, Obara and Okanran are representations of Odu Ifa and are found on the opambata. In Ifa tradition there are up to 15,000 permutations so there are different makings on the stick. There’s Ejiogbe which connotes success and Oyeku which connotes escape from danger. When an Eyo taps you with his stick, the Eyo is blessing the person. The blessings etched on the stick are transferred to the person being tapped.

There are no curses on the opa. Ifa is a system of divination that originated from the traditional Yoruba culture used in translation of the verses of the mythological formulas referred to as Odu Ifa. The Odu Ifa is divided into sixteen Odus and when combined form 256 Odu codings. The Ifa priests have numerous parts to play in the Eyo festival as they are consulted by the elders of the Awe Adimu on various issues related to the festival. Some of the Opambata markings are based on the formulas of the principal Odus for example; Eji Ogbe is recognized as four markings on the Opambata.

These may be 4 lines, 4 circles or 4 triangles such as ( I I I). Another inscription usually found on Opambatas is Oyeku. It is recognized as four markings in multiples of two such as (II II II II).

The Eyo Regalia consist of the Hat called Aga, the veil-Iboju, the robe – Agbada, the wrapper – Aropale and the staff – Opambata. The Aga is beautifully crafted and finished with accessories, depicting to which Eyo group the wearer belongs by colour or emblem. The iboju or veil covers the face of the Eyo masquerade. It is the traditional aso-oke also called Eleya.

The Agbada is the traditional robe that covers from the neck to the sheen and must be round at the neck. The agbada is always made from white cotton material except in the case of Eyo Omooloku whose Agbada maybe in damask or other traditional cloth such as Sanyan or Alari. The Aropale is the wrapper worn underneath the Agbada and begins from the lion and extends up to 3 feet behind the Eyo. It adds to the uniqueness of the Eyo masquerade as it trails behind him and makes walking in the characteristic manner of shuffling and hopping. The significance of the Aropale is that it symbolically sweeps the grounds of Lagos Island.

As the Eyo masquerade moves, the trail of the aropale is dragged about the ground in rapid sweeping motion, clearing deaths, diseases and disasters form Lagos Island. The staff or Opambata, is a significant part of the regalia. The Opa, a symbol of authority is a deftly carved and well ornamented palm frond sometimes decorated with raffia (Oniko) or banana (Ologede) leaves.

The carving and symbols on it are blessing in the Yoruba traditional belief system thus the Eyo masquerade blesses and prays when he touches a person with the Opa. The Opa may also be used if the occasion arises in order to protect an Orisha. The production of the different components of the regalia is largely undertaken by certain families in Lagos Island who by tradition have passed the skills and knowledge from generation to generation.

The Awe-Adimu is virtually responsible for announcing the date of performance: After consulting the Ifa Oracle” and other “Rituals” were performed and Permit to stage the festival obtained from the Lagos State Government and after the Ikaro is accepted and the Ifa Oracle is consulted and a date is assured, the Elders of Awe-Adimu will send message to the other four groups of Eyo.

These are The head of red cap Eyo {Olori Eyo Onilaba or Alakete Pupa}, the head of family of Orisa Oniko (Raffia), the head of family Orisa Ologede (Banana) and Olori Eyo Agere (Stilt). It must also be noted that only two out of the four groups are known to be having Orisa. They are Orisa Oniko (Raffia) and Orisa Ologede (Banana) which means that we have only THREE ORISA in the Adamu Orisa Play or Eyo Play.

For the Pxublic to know and believed that Adamu Orisa Play would be staged, there must be public display of the King’s staff OPA PROCESSION throughout the Street of Lagos Island, by the Five groups ie of Eyo Adimu, Eyo Onilaba, Eyo Oniko, Eyo Agere, Eyo Ologede, a week before the Adamu Orisa Play Day.

Between the midnight of Thursday and Friday morning the ? IMOKU” will be performed, which is the Symbolic Corpse of the deceased person who is being honour, is laid in State for public viewing to pay the last respect and to the traditional weeping for the departed deceased.

It should be noted that Head of the Family of the Orisa Oniko, Orisa Ologede, the Olori of Eyo Onilaba, and Eyo Ageree, must before the day of performance of the Adimu Orisa Play as part of the preparation for the play, attending meetings on invitation at AWE-ADIMU for the purposes of receiving and collecting their respective requirement for their various rites, which each of them is by Tradition, required to perform in connection with the Play. These requirement and in perquisites are known as IKARO and must be collected before the day of the play at Awe-Adimu.

At about or before twelve noon (12pm) on Friday, the Elders of Awe-Adimu will send for the Olori Eyo of Eyo Onilaba or Alakete Pupa; who on the instruction of these Elders, will go and construct the “AGODO” or “PARA” (an enclosure constructed with mats on the eve of Adamu Orisa Play Day along Enu-Owa Street, now Iga Idunganran Street to house the Drummers).

This mats are supplied by the Awe-Adimu and carried away by the leaders of Eyo Onilaba on the instructions of the Elders of Awe-Adimu he will have to return with the remains of the mats used to construct the Agodo, including the sticks he used, to the Elders of Awe-Adimu; where the usual thank you for a job well-done and breaking of Kolanuts by the Elders of Awe-Adimu. He will then be re-instructed to go back and keep watch of the Agodo, until the Elders of Awe Adimu are therein to perform some RITUALS and declare the ?

Agodo open for certain Hours of that Mid-night and early morning of Saturday of the Adamu Orisa Play Day. Nobody must be inside that Agodo or Para before and when RITUALS are being performed except the Elders of Awe Adimu, who will lead a procession in white robes and carrying long staff (Opambata) with the Drummers behind and following them in procession to the Agodo or Para.

Inside the Agodo or Para, where the rituals are being performed the Drummers are a little bit far away from the Elders of Awe Adimu, that are performing the rituals; only a white-capped Chief on the instruction of the Elders of Awe-Adimu in person of Eletu Odibo as a representative of the Oba will be present and must also be far away form where the rituals are being performed. After the process, the Drummers can then beat the drums and Arigo on the instruction of the Elders performing the rituals. After the Agodo is declared opened that early morning of

Saturday only the elders of Awe Adimu, leaving behind the drummers inside the Para or Agodo, will go to the Oba’s Palace, to pray for him, then to Imoku, where another rituals are performed in favour and memory of the dead, in whose name, the Adamu Orisa Play is about to be staged. It is only these two families of the Olorogun Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi who have been performing these rituals from time to immemorial up to date. In the early hours of the performance of the Adamu Orisa Play Day, the Orisa Oniko (Raffia) must first go round the area of the Agodo but not the whole of Lagos Island.

This takes place around 2am in the morning of the day of performance; and the purpose of this special outing is to drive away “the devil and other Evil Spirit in the town”. The Orisa Oniko will report back to Awe Adimu where he receives blessings and likewise, and then ordered back home to off his load of Raffia by the Elders of Awe Adamu, and be keeping watch of when the Traditional Supreme Head ( ADIMU ORISA) would be out for the day’s Play. After the Orisa Oniko (Raffia) shall have returned from his special outing, the Orisa Ologede (Banana) will also come at around 3am on the same early morning, and would go round the same area as well.

The significance of his own outing is for the purpose of adding “Peace and Trandquility” to the performance that will take place later on that day both the Orisa Oniko and the Orisa Ologede will report to the Adimu Orisa at Awe-Adimu in turn; and it is after this that the ADAMU ORISA, the Supreme Head, will lead his own Eyos out for the public performance of the day. Before Adimu Orisa is out for the day’s play about eight  of her Eyo’s would be send out to Imoku, and No Eyo of other Igas (Palace) must be met by them when going or when coming back from Imoku.

This takes places about 4. 0am after the Eyo Adimu, must have returned from Imoku, they will go and off their dresses ( the Paraphernalia of an Eyo) in their own meeting place, because the EYO ADIMU and ORISA ADIMU are not staying and must not stay in the same place. This is forbidden. (Ewo ni). The Orisa herself has her own abode or citadel at No 33/35 Alagbeji Street, Ita-Ado, Isale-Eko, Lagos; while the Eyos ( Eyo Adimu) they all have their gathering or meeting place at No 45 Alagbeji Street, Isale-Eko, Lagos. But whenever the Adimu Orisa is ready for the day’s Adamu Orisa Play Day, the Adimu Orisa will consult or send for her Eyos to be out.

It is the two families of Olorogun Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi that are having control of both the Orisa Adimu and Eyo Adimu. It is after all these preparations and rituals that the ADIMU ORISA herself will come out for the gods have done a good job, and there is an assurance. It must be stated that there is no fixed time for Adimu Orisa to come out on the day of Performance but it could be between the hours of 5- 6. 30am depending on the weather. However, as the Traditional Supreme Head and Leader of All Orisas, No Eyo must come out before Orisa Adimu and her Eyos are out on the streets.

The Strong Traditional form of cooperation between the two families of Olorogun Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi is borne out by the fact that on any occasion of the Eyo Play, when the Adimu Orisa leaves her conclave, the traditional home she goes to pay homeage to Olorogun Agan and thereafter she goes to the OLOKUN before she proceeds to the Shrine of Elegba-Opopo at Abegede at the beginning of Oju-Olokun Street to pay homage Both Chief Olorogun Agan and Olorogun Igbesodi is First Class Chief of the’AKARIGBERE’ class.

It is after visiting all these Shrines and sites that the Orisa Adimu can happily proceed to Agodo at Enu Owa now Iga-Iduganran Street, then to Imoku, before visiting Oba and his Chiefs and afterward she homage to notable personalities in the town, Lagos Island only TheAdimu Orisa, having passed through “Certain Purity Processes” over a period of weeks and days, is endowed with Special Powers which the Orisa is out to use for Blessing the Citizens of Lagos and those who comes out to pay homage for Peace of Mind, Progress and Prosperity.

But no other Eyo group crosses the path of the route and very near of Orisa Adimu and her Eyos. The Evening Procession from family houses, through Igbosere, Tokunboh, Bamgbose, Broad Street, and Nnamdi Azikwe Street, terminates at Idumota, where the Oba, Chiefs, Top Government Functionaries and other Notable Personalities gathered. The Orisa Adimu is a Peaceful and in fact it is a unifying Play. Immediately after the Adimu Orisa and her Eyos leave the stand at Idumota, that action signifies the traditional end of the Adimu Orisa Play. The Orisa Adimu then proceeds to Agodo and demolishes the Para housing the Agodo, the Orisa then return home.


The Eyo festival is a colourful festival that expresses and exhibits the culture and traditions of the city of Lagos. It is widely anticipated and attended by Lagos indigenes and also by visitors both from across Nigeria and internationally. Its splendid and expansive theatrical displays and pageantry highlight and showcase the aboriginal history of the denizens of Lagos, and through a picturesque array of regalia and costumes, forms parades on the island of Lagos.

This is largely regarded as a day of joyous splendour and gaiety. The festival has evolved over three centuries, and is usually held to celebrate the life and times of, or in commemoration of the passage of or ascension to the throne of an Oba (King) of Lagos. Equally, the Eyo festival is staged in the memory of a deceased worthy and illustrious individual, such as a White Cap Chief, who has contributed immensely to the progress and development of Lagos.

It is deemed as constituting the highest honour that Lagos can make to repay a citizen for eminence and public service. Despite its origins mainly having a ritualistic purpose, there have also been incidents when the Eyo Play has been performed to coincide with the honouring of foreign or state dignitaries.


  1. Editorial team of the Festival planning committee for January 2011 Eyo play: 300 years of tradition of the Agogoro Eyo (volume 2). M2DC Limited pub
  2. OnlineNigeria. com: Nigerian festivals. Accessed on 12/08/2012
  3. F. W. Butt Thompson; West African secret societies: their organisations, officials and teaching. Whitefish kessinger pub.
  4. www. travelintelligence. com: The Eyo festival in Lagos. Accessed 12/08/2012
  5. An interview with HRM Oba Abiodun Oniru. Aged 78, in Lagos, 2011
  6. An interview with Chief (Honourable) Adekunle Allis the Otun Maiyegun and the Baba Oja of Lagos, both conferred on him by Alaiyeluwa Adeyinka Oyekan II the then Oba of Lagos. Aged 86. In Lagos, January 27th, 2012

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