Owe festival: Celebrating tradition, community’s rich heritage
The preparations towards this year’s Owe Festival in Ile Oluji were hysterical! It reached fever pitch on the eve of the annual traditional Owe Festival, when the only market in the town was relocated to the centre of the community.
Relocating the community’s market is always done once in a year, and according to tradition, it is a way of announcing to the whole world that the new yam festival, called Owe Festival, by indigenes, is about holding in another 24 hours.
Owe Festival holds huge significance to indigenes and residents of Ile Oluji, a serene community in Ile Oluji Okeigbo Local Government Area of Ondo State. Besides being an annual traditional event, meant to lift the ‘traditional embargo’ placed on consumption of fresh tubers of yam on indigenes of the town, it also provides the opportunity for those indigenes to offer prayers for their wellbeing and that of the community.
For instance, tales had it that in the days of yore, residents and indigenes, especially farmers in this largely agrarian community, saw the Owe Festival as a major factor that determined how bountiful the community’s next farm harvests would be.
It was therefore a common spectacle, then, seeing such farmers come from different villages, within the town to actively participate in the Owe Festival.
They lined up the streets, where the Owe priests would move on their way to the city square to meet the chief celebrant, the Jegun of Ile Oluji, the community’s traditional ruler, and throw kolanuts on the way of those priests.
“Such kolanuts were later picked and planted by those farmers and the harvests were always bountiful,” stated one of the traditional leaders in the town, Chief Yeghengha Henry Akinsuroju.
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Akinsuroju described the event as a way of invoking good harvests, apart from offering supplications to the forebears of the community.
“After the cycle of parliamentary meetings of traditional chiefs held every nine days in the community has been completed, the town is in some form of a recess. The Owe Festival, held every July, therefore signifies the end of such meetings.
“Besides, it also signifies the beginning of a series of cultural festivals, on the community’s calendar. Owe Festival usually opens the floodgate of cultural events in the town. For instance, other festivals in the town such as the Ogun festival, Obalufon and even the Lijebu Festival, considered to be the monarch’s traditional event, are expected to follow suit,” he stated.
Akinsuroju also expressed delight that waning interests, in the festival are being rekindled by the new traditional ruler of the community, Oba Olu Adetimehin, through different innovations he had introduced since ascending the throne few years ago.
According to him, prior Oba Adetimehin’s ascension of the throne, the advent of Christianity and Islamic religions had begun to take its toll on the once vibrant cultural festival, as evidenced in the increasingly-shrinking number of attendees, in the past.
Describing the Owe Festival as a way of giving thanks to God for his blessings to farmers and indigenes of the town, Oba Adetimehin stated that one of the key agenda of the palace on ascending the throne was to repackage cultural festivals in the town in a way that they would serve as tourists’ attractions.
“We believe one of the ways we can enhance and grow the economy of the town is to reposition its cultural festivals so as to attract people both within and outside the town. I think that is being gradually achieved now, as evidenced in the growing interest that we’ve recorded in the past few years,” he stated.
According to the community’s traditional ruler, the palace decided to create more publicity for the event, enhance security arrangements before, during and after the event and embark on some social services, such as the general cleaning of the town, in order to create publicity for the event and properly bond it with the people.
Interestingly, not a few are of the opinion that the palace and the indigenes of the town would not need to wait for long before seeing their dream, of a more improved and better packaged Owe Festival, come into fruition.
For instance, US-based Gbolagun, despite being a distance away from the town, was part and parcel of this year’s festivities, describing the event as ‘a true way of enjoying a one-month vacation’, in the country.
“This is the type of festival people in other climes especially those in the developed economies spend money to ensure they are a part of. I think with gradual re-packaging, as we are currently witnessing, it’s a matter of time before the town begins to be a tourist’s delight,” he stated.
For Madam Ajoke, who operates a modest restaurant in the town, the festival did not only celebrate the culture of the people, it was also fulfilling, economically, especially for entrepreneurs in the town.
“How I wish we had this type of festival very often, because it boosts our economy,” she stated.