For every people, there is a distinct tradition. A way of life, culture, and religion by which they identify as. Just as Holi is to India, the Eyo Festival is to Lagos.
Eyo is a costumed dancer, and also the masquerades that come out during the festival. The origins of this observance are found in the inner workings of the secret societies of Lagos. Back in the day, the Eyo festival was held to escort the soul of a departed Lagos King or Chief and to usher in a new king.
On Eyo Day, the main highway 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 Iga Idunganran. The white-clad Eyo masquerades represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as ‘Agogoro Eyo.’
We spoke to three people about their best memory of the Eyo festival and they had a lot to say.
It was when I was around six years or thereabout, we were all in preparation for the festival, although I am a Muslim my grandma believed we should celebrate whatever festival meets us in goodwill and the Eyo festival is one festival I have always looked forward to at the young age because of all the amazing things my older cousins have told me about this particular festival.
I was prepared and my whole body was ready for this day. I don’t remember the particular days of the week but my dad took me out to watch the Eyo masquerade as they paraded the streets of Lagos Island. This particular one came up to me and because my dad was there I wasn’t frightened, instead, I held out the 20naira note my grandma had given me in the morning and gave it to him. He took it from me, prayed, and gave it back to me.
That particular day was one of my sweet and wonderful moments in life, my whole family was also there, and yes, I asked my grandma to help me keep the 20naira note for good luck.
Apart from the ambiance that comes with the festival, I think my best memory was witnessing the festival as an adult because I had a close-range view of the masquerade and their Orisas, seeing the covered-up Orisas by the festival Eyos with their staffs and getting closer to the Eyos themselves.
While watching the Eyo masquerade match pass Beecroft by Highcourt heading straight to Onikan, three Eyo masquerade approached me (they left the processions). I was so scared that I took to my heels before one of them shouted my nickname. I stayed calm and went back to them.
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I discovered it was Lekan, Rilwan, and Martins under the veil, and I became comfortable knowing they are my people. They chanted the Eyo thing (prayer) with joy while I smiled but at the end, they hit me in turns with their staffs 😂😭😭😭 when leaving
Trust me I went back for them after the whole festival.
My best memory of the Eyo festival was when I was in secondary school. I can’t really remember the occasion the Eyo came out back then but I remember everyone was in a joyous mood.
Being a sucker for tradition, I was ecstatic to see them all moving by in smooth procession, but knowing that when an Eyo runs towards you, the best thing to do is run. So that day when I saw one running towards me, I ran with my heels almost touching my head.
It turned out he was not running towards me to beat me. He was just goofing around. When he got to me, he playfully touched me with his staff, then went ahead to open his veil for me. It was one of my seniors in school and the moment just stuck.
Before he left, he chanted the Eyo song for me, and it seemed like all the hair on my body stood because of how eloquent he was with the song, and how close it made me feel with the Yoruba tradition.
People who live in Lagos Island, the part where the Eyo festival is most celebrated, always look forward to the festival. Mostly because of the celebratory mood, and the fun, interesting moments that come with it.
Like them, we are also looking forward to the next Eyo festival.
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