Ogun festival. Modern terror or tradition?
You are in your car rushing off to work and then as the traffic picks up and slows, you press your hand on the horn impatiently. You do not want to be late for the all important meeting or it could be just your boss’ bad day and you had decided you were not having any of his tirades today. So you lean out of the car to find out what was keeping the traffic into a standstill then you hear the yell before the apparition appears in front of you. You blink rapidly. What was that? Face in blue , white with palm oil making a streak across a face also half covered by palm fronds, it stands in front of you swaying . A gourd of calabash is tucked at his waist and he is carrying the head of a dog still dripping in its own blood. You swallow and momentarily think you must be having a nightmare but the blasts from the musical band rudely tells you that you are unfortunately awake!!.
You are staring my friend at a devotee of Ogun, the Yoruba god of war and Iron. Under all that goo is maybe a Christian, or a Muslim, but if he is commercial driver, he will be celebrating Ogun between the months of September at different locations within the Yoruba race in the south west part of Nigeria.
Ogun is the patron god of all commercial drivers within the Yoruba race. He is celebrated yearly by all persons who have anything to do with Iron, so this will include mechanics, welders, Iron smithers of any hue and persuasion. The average Yoruba is a deeply spiritual person. Spirituality that has to be separated from religion. He believes that nothing happens by accident. There are set rules and gods that guide his daily thoughts, actions. No matter the level of western civilization , you find him visiting the elders if things do not follow a perceived pattern. The concept of witchcraft, bad medicine or that one could tamper with fate or destiny are issues that the average Yoruba takes in serious consideration.
Thus a belief in Ogun is as natural as a belief in the Almighty for he accepts without question that these gods are merely devoted messengers of the Creator. After all an Oba is referred to as being next in rank to the Creator and thus is seen as the chief priest of all the pantheon of the Yoruba gods. He can therefore not afford the luxury of stating that a different religion has changed his spirituality or affected his belief in the efficacy of the gods.
In Ondo town,one of the prime places that the worship of Ogun gets pride of place, there is a dignified and precise procedure to the celebration of Ogun. But first who is Ogun?
He is the legendary warrior of the Creator who fought several wars to maintain the Yoruba kingdom. He was reputed to be a very good blacksmith clever with forming all types of farm implement. He had a very lively temper and would at the close of day be found taking palm wine. It was said that the other gods like Sango the god of thunder would come to his smithy to ask him to prepare their cutlasses or instruments of war. In fact legend has it that it was in one of those trips that Sango met Oya the wife of Ogun, seduced her and married her. Ogun called him out to a duel but since Sango was the god of thunder he called forth thunder and lightning and won the duel making Ogun furious and churlish.
This is not however about that but how Ogun festival came to be and why it is celebrated. On one of the trips of Ogun from the numerous wars he had been sent to fight, he was thirsty for his favourite palm wine and came across some men playing ayo game. A gourd was standing up by the side, so Ogun assumed there was palm wine to drink and came across to ask for a drink. He lost his cool when he found out that it was an empty gourd. He was so angry that he nearly killed the whole town. He came to his senses only when Olodumare (the Creator) sharply called him to order. He was so remorseful that in repentance he vowed to stand in protection over anyone who had work to do with Iron. He however requested that an empty gourd should be on its side so it could warn him that there was no palm wine.
Devotees of Ogun eat roasted yam with palm oil, streak their faces and wear palm fronds recreating as it were the war dress of Ogun The women will dance in front to the drums of war songs as the men run around in threatening motions doing mock war dances. For the squeamish it is better not to be around as the sights could be disconcerting. A dog is used as sacrifice so dog lovers are advised to keep their dogs on a firm leash.
Some town are quite popular for their celebration of the Ogun festival. These towns make a real festival of it with musical nights on the eve of the festival and parties lasting through to the real day.
Commercial drivers have assumed the status of being the chief celebrants irrespective of individual religion. So you will find garages setting up their programmes There is an understanding that if you worshipped Ogun, you were protected from accidents. The drivers then ride wildly round the streets over loaded and hanging out from windows and car boots, horns blaring faces all types of colors.
Pedestrians, private drivers were sometimes made to pay the right of way on this particular day. If anyone proved obdurate to part with money when accosted, they would splash robin blue of white powder on the person. Sometimes though this could cause trouble if they happen to accost a pedestrian who does not want to part with any money and resists being sprayed with powder.
Ogun worship is one day of playful mayhem that might degenerate into violence if it collides frayed nerves in today’s super material world. Some governments are beginning to see the tourism potential inherent in this festival and are looking at ways to make it spectator friendly.