By Mutiat Alli
Agemo Festival is a masked or masquerade festival traditionally held in many Yoruba cities but more popularly linked with the Ijebu people of Ogun State.
The festival and accompanying rituals are celebrated to honor the spirit deity Agemo, who is believed to be a protector of children and who safeguards the future of the Ijebu through its blessing.
The festival is linked with the traditional African religion, in particular, the practices of the Agemo cult. Thus such issues like the restriction of movement during certain periods of the festival do occur.
The festival is mostly celebrated during between the months of June and August, and historically coincided with the harvesting of maize by Ijebu farmers. The period of the festival takes seven days and the beginning period is fixed after a consultative meeting between the Awujale of Ijebu and the heads of the sixteen recognized or titled agemos also called Olofas.
The festival was historically preceded by seven days of chants by the Oro cult and the beating of drums to ‘Gbedu’ music. Thereafter, sixteen agemo masquerades from different villages proceed to their shrine at Imosan, via Ijebu-Ode on an annual pilgrimage. Each agemo carries items such as feathers and ram’s horns on the head and are followed by some agemo followers.
It is considered a taboo for a woman to see the agemo masquerade during their procession to Imosan. On their pilgrimage, the agemo masquerade stops to receive gifts and offer prayers to residents.
At Imosan, the masquerades receive additional gifts sent by the Awujale; they spend three days at the Agemo shrine performing traditional religious rites and appeasement of the agemo deity.
On their last day at Imosan, a traditional agemo ritual dance is performed this time; it can be witnessed by both men and women. The masquerades will then move to Ijebu-Ode to perform the final rites of the festival.
The festival ends with the dance by the leader of the agemo, ‘Tami Onire’ before the Awujale, and further public dances by the other agemos.
The agemo festival is an old ritual performance among the Ijebus, historically, the agemo priests were part of the intellectual life of Ijebu and over the years, conflicting ideas about how many titled agemos are recognized or how the rituals should be performed emerged.
Though many recognize 16 agemo titles, there exist more, while the Awujale’s in modern times are either Muslims or Christians, and doesn’t stop them from fulfilling many historical roles.