[by Pelu Awofeso]


An Eyo family (Photo by Silvia Dona)
An Eyo family (Picture courtesy of Silvia Dona)

On Saturday 20 May 2017, Lagosians and friends of Lagos will yet again witness another grand display of the Eyo Festival (aka Adamu Orisha Play), last held in 2012. It is one of several events to cap the year-long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Lagos as a federating state in Nigeria.

The celebrations proper kicked off with a gala on 27 May 2016, the exact day in 1967 when Lagos State was created; and every month since, there has been a monthly colloquium examining the state’s evolution, historical and cultural heritage.

“Fifty years is a significant landmark in the life of any individual, institution or State. For Lagos State, it has been an eventful 50 years which deserves to be fittingly celebrated,” said Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in February 2016, while inaugurating the Lagos@50 Committee. “It is imperative that we celebrate Lagos at 50. In celebrating Lagos, we must showcase our cultural heritage. We must celebrate the language, arts, sights and sounds of Lagos.”

Eyo masquerade (by Silvia Dona)
An Eyo masquerade (picture courtesy of Silvia Dona)

The governor added that beyond just festivities, the state will use the opportunity of the golden jubilee “not only to celebrate our past achievements, but also to showcase to the world our immense potential for future growth and development”.

According to co-chair of the planning committee, Hon. Habeeb Fasinro, other programmes announced for the grand finale include: a regatta parade, a carnival, film screenings, concerts and a Jazz-meets-Fashion event to mark the UNESCO International Jazz Day.

The Eyo festival is the cultural alter ego of Lagos, celebrated mainly in memory of a Lagosian who, while alive, contributed to the growth and development of the state. On another level, it is hosted to honour a highly placed visitor or to mark an important milestone, which is the case this time around.

A look at the Lagos@50 logo shows that it includes the Opambata (Staff) and Aga (Hat), both of which are key elements of the Eyo clothing. When held, the festival is usually a pageant of colours invigorated by the energy of the masquerades, all dressed in flowing white garments. To quote the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO): “The Lagos Eyo gives good meaning to the words ‘festival’ and ‘spectacle’.”

eyo cover 1
Picture courtesy of Silvia Dona

Says Hon. Fasinro: “The Eyo day is always a day of pageantry and gaiety in Lagos Island. The day is the climax of a series of events, which by tradition herald the advent of the play and has – on that day – Lagos Island agog with millions of spectators, watching resplendently dressed masquerades parading the major streets of Isale Eko.

And though it is a day-long event that the public sees, the festival is actually preceded by many days of systematic preparations, planning and eventual performance, all involving the Isale Eko community of Lagos Island where the festival is domiciled, the Oba of Lagos, all the white-cap chiefs, heads of families and entire households within and outside the nation.