1.1 Background to the Study
Ancestor worship is an essential aspect of every Yoruba culture. The Yoruba pantheon consists of hundreds of gods, worshipped for an immense variety of purposes, each representatives of some natural or spiritual element or human emotion. Some gods existed before the creation of the earth and others are heroes or heroines from the past that become gods after their deaths. Other gods are natural objects in their environment such as mountains, hills, and rivers that have influenced people’s lives and cultural history. Important to the Yoruba religion are storytelling and the journey of life, and these are connected to many sacred rituals. These gods are worshipped, honoured, reverenced particularly during festivals which often begin with the retelling of a Yoruba myth.1 Omu-Aran is the most populous and largest town in Igbominaland of Kwara state. Omu-Aran like all other towns has significant cultures which are loved by the people of Omu-Aran such as naming ceremony, marriages, festivals etc. Omu-Aran though influenced by modernisation still worship gods and celebrates festivals like Egungun, Ogun, and Oro etc. Festival is an occasion for feasting or celebration, especially a day or time of religious significance that recurs at regular intervals. 2
In Yorubaland, festivals serve as a connector of the social world of the Yoruba to the unseen world. Many traditional festivals are celebrated in Yorubaland and are as old as the people, they are being celebrated in different ways and specified period of the year. A quick classification of these festivals into three categories further establishes the nature of traditional worship and festivals in Yorubaland. First are festivals used to celebrate agricultural products such as the New Yam festival, another festival is celebrated in memory of some powerful and historical figures in a particular community, who had achieved and fought for that community and made history and lastly is the masquerade dances . Festivals are thereby organised annually to celebrate them. Examples of such festivals include Osun Osogbo festival in Osun, Moremi festival, Offa in Kwara State, Egungun Elewe festival held among the people of Igbomina, Irepodun, Esie, Aran-Orin and Omu-Aran.3 During this period, people come together as a group to renew their relationships and strengthen their cohesion. They are sort of sacred times when people are free from their normal life and celebrate freely. In fact, it has been contended that without festivals and rituals, the life of an African man would be dull, “rituals and festivals are religions ways of implementing the values and beliefs of society”.4
In the ever-changing world of the people one thing remains consistent that is the close connection with their ancestors. The ancestral spirits of the Yoruba are much more than just dead relatives, they play an active role in the daily life of the people. They are sought out for protection and guidance, and are believed to possess the ability to punish those who have forgotten their familial ties. While there are numerous ways the ancestors communicate with the living, one of the most unique way is their manifestation on earth in the form of masked spirits known as Egungun.5 Most Yoruba religious traditions are based on oral traditions, practices and these beliefs are preserved by customs, passing history, and traditions from generation to generation.6
There are no people without traditions and traditions are the lifeblood of a people. A people who refuse to express its love and appreciation for its ancestors will die because in traditions, if you are not expressing your own, you are participating in and expressing faith in some else’s ancestor. No person is devoid of an attachment to some cultural foundation. Whose water are we drinking....7
1.2 Objectives of the Study
The central aim of this study was to investigate the various ways in which Yoruba indigenous identities are composed in both ancient and contemporary times, specifically through Egungun festival in Omu-Aran. The study seeks to explore Egungun festival within the context of Omu-Aran culture. The study intends to explore the extent to which colonialism together with Christianity and Islam has affected Egungun festival. The research also seeks to decolonise the minds of many Yoruba (Christians and Muslims) about the traditional practice of Egungun festival. In specific terms, the study sets out to:
- Examine the historical origin of Egungun festival in Yorubaland and Omu-Aran;
- The importance of Egungun festival in Omu-Aran;
- The understandings of Egungun festival in Omu-Aran;
- Investigate the aspects of change consequent upon civilisation and modernity and the aspects of continuity despite civilisation and modernity.
1.3 Scope of the Study
The scope of this work is on changes of the Egungun festival limiting itself to part of Kwara state [Omu-Aran]. This study specifically sought to explain the changes and the continuity that have occurred in the celebration of Egungun festival in contemporary Omu-Aran.
1.4 Research Methodology and Problems
A multi-dimensional approach was explored. Two major aspect commonly associated with historical research was adopted in this study, the Historical (it comprises the technique and guidelines by which historians use primary sources and other evidence, to research and then write histories in the form of accounts of the past) and Empirical approach (it is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience) which was carried out to ensure the success of this work.
In the case of primary source, the ascendants of the Egungun family was interviewed, those who are not from the area but work there, those who are witnesses or offspring of witnesses, who could narrate with pleasing exactitude. On secondary source, there are no sufficient materials to lay hands on especially on Omu-Aran but materials on the Egungun festival were available. The National library in Ilorin, the Centre for Archive and Documentation Centre, University of Ilorin, Unilorin library, existing theses, dissertations, journals, internet and books would be consulted to enable the richness of this work. Meanwhile, because of the problem that was faced in the non-availability of materials on the area under review, this research work relied on the oral interview that was conducted. On the other hand, because of the major problems attributed to oral tradition such as subjectivity, exaggeration, distortion of facts and loss of memory, the problem of getting exact information from the informants cannot be ruled out. Nevertheless, with these problems, this research work encountered a successful completion with effective and judicious utilisation of various materials.
1.5 Significance of the Study
Omu-Aran was chosen because of her historic importance in Igbominaland, while there is wide breadth of literature and research on Omu-Aran town and Igbominaland in general, not much have been written on the traditional festivals in Omu-Aran especially the Egungun festival which is almost going into extinct. Analysis of the contemporary or indigenous Yoruba spirituality through Egungun festival amongst Yoruba in Omu-Aran has not been undertaken. Very little research investigates how the contemporary Omu-Aran influences the Egungun festival making this study unique for its relevance. This research is of significance as it challenges the dominance of largely anthropological research methods and theories that have dehumanised and positioned Africans and other indigenous peoples as uncivilised in the civilised world, a view which many Yoruba converts hold today. This study is anchored in a part of a larger decolonising project that seeks to give voice to the Yoruba traditional culture which has been marginalised, silenced and demonised even by the Yoruba themselves.