Every culture has a unique tradition. A way of life, culture, and religion with which they identify. Just as Holi is to India, the Eyo Festival is to Lagos.
Eyo is a costumed dancer, and so are the masquerades that appear throughout the event. The roots of this observance may be discovered in the inner workings of Lagos’ secret societies. Traditionally, the Eyo celebration was marked to accompany the spirit of a deceased Lagos Monarch or Chief and to bring in a new king.
On Eyo Day, the major highway through the city (from the end of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square) is blocked to traffic, making way for a procession from Idumota to lga Idunganran. The white-clad Eyo masquerades symbolize the spirits of the dead and are known in Yoruba as ‘Agogoro Eyo.’
Eyo is fascinating, interesting to watch, and intrigues all those present. When Eyo chants, it is always with a sonorous voice, echoing praises or chants, mostly to show that they are spirit beings. When Eyo dances, it is one of the most beautiful things to watch. The procession shows a level of organized, disciplined people, going from their shrines to their destination, singing, dancing, and praying for the people as they pass. When Eyo greets you, it says ‘mo you fun e, mo yo funra mi.’ This is translated to mean, ‘I rejoice with you, and I rejoice for myself.’
Over the years, due to the popularity of Islam and Christianity in almost all parts of Lagos, the indigenous religions have been pushed behind the curtains. Eyo, however, has remained a big part of the state’s cultural tourism. Not necessarily as a form of religion but a strong and symbolic tradition.
In 2017, when he hosted a bi-annual retreat for state house reporters, former Governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode estimated that the Eyo Festival generated at least N3 billion for the state. Rightly so, the festival gave opportunities to artisans – those who make about 10,000 pieces of regalia for the masquerades, drivers, musicians, food vendors, artists, and many more.
“Just as we reactivate the festival, that’s almost like a N3 billion, N4 billion economy, not from us but the masquerades. There is almost like 10,000 of them. They are likely to go and sew new regalia, the drivers, the security men, and the caps that they wear, some people do it. So, that’s one economy out there.”
Seeing the potential of this festival to become part of Lagos state’s cultural tourism, what are the things that must be put in place to turn it into a booming industry? What needs to be mitigated in order to promote a more enabling environment for sponsors? This article addresses these questions and many other topics around preserving the tradition while sourcing ways to generate income for the state. Thanks
Security and good publicity
When we look at previous Eyo Festivals, they all have one thing in common-fights tend to break out. This usually stems from the inability of one faction to admit the seniority of another. For those who have witnessed the Eyo Festival more than once, we know that this is mostly caused by a deep understanding that we can get away with anything.
In most cases, these fights can easily be avoided. For instance, Eyo Etti refusing to put their ‘Opa’ (the stick) down while coming in contact with the Eyo Orisha, Eyo Laaba. Scenarios like this make those in the Laaba faction feel disrespected.
Security needs to be beefed up, alongside routes that ensure no two factions come in contact with each other. If they do, sanctions will put them in check. All protocols must be observed.
In terms of publicity, Eyo Festivals are rarely streamed live. To an extent, some may not want to be filmed or photographed but we still see pictures of Eyo online. This begs the question of why there isn’t a structure for better pictures to be taken in the first place.
The more people can see the Eyo and what it stands for, the better for the tradition’s growth and visibility. More people will be enlightened about it, and look forward to seeing it when it holds.
A lasting solution to the issue of taking pictures and covering the Eyo Festival is to liaise with journalists who are interested in the festival, create a faction for them where they are robed as Eyo but not fully, and go around with each faction of the Eyo, streaming live and reporting on activities.
Better coverage of the festival will easily translate to increased awareness and a wider audience at each festival.
Avoiding any stains…
Imagine an Eyo Festival where brands like Guinness and Airtel are the major sponsors of Eyo Adimu and Eyo Laaba. MTN too, as sponsor of Eyo Oniko and so on.
Now picture the fear these brands have of being connected to the Eyos and one of them starts a fight during the festival.
A gathering where more than 10,000 people wear or carry branded items is a good form of marketing if properly handled. This is why safety and compliance are very important. In collaboration with the state government, cultural leaders and stakeholders need to be proactive about security. Once this is addressed, more brands will be willing to sponsor the Eyo faction. The state government will also benefit from such a relationship.
Preserving the tradition in it
As much as the state government would like to do everything possible to make the festival into an income-generating industry, it is important to also remember that the tradition is what makes it unique. Preserving that part of it will target a wider audience, make it intriguing to sponsors, and also attract more tourists to the state.