The ancient ErinmoIjesa town in Osun State marked the 2017 edition of its new yam festival amid festivities and supplication to the progenitor of the town. TUNDE BUSARI reports
The Northern Nigeria-bound motorists, passing through Erinmo, Osun State, on August 5, had to exercise some patience watching the Elerinmo, Oba Michael OdunayoAjayi in a procession to mark the new yam festival of Ijesa town.
A detachment of policemen deployed to the town, lived up to expectation controlling the vehicular traffic without delaying the travellers. The procession, which saw the traditional chiefs and residents dancing to the palace, did not last more than 45 minutes. It, however, was a traditional display characterized by heavy drumming and intermittent booming of gunshots.
Clad in full royal regalia complemented with a unique crown, the hefty Elerinmo, was responding to residents’ greetings with a smile and the white horsetail which he repeatedly stretched to the direction of the cheering people. That was the image of the procession until the monarch reached few metres to the palace, where he halted and performed some rites.
The spot, which shares proximity with King’s palace, had the statue of Agidanyin, a war hero of the community. Oba Ajayi explained that the spot was where Agidanyin entered the earth after he had served the people of Erinmo meritoriously in battles.
The Elerinmo was later given a bottle of schnapps, the content of which he used to offer prayer as he walked round the statue in a spectacle that showed the monarch as a true Yoruba traditional ruler.
It was a solemn mood while the prayer lasted. Oba Ajayi prayed for the town, the people and against their enemies. Thunderous shouts of Ase amid gunshots greeted the prayer, which was rounded off with songs.
Then the crowd advanced to the palace premises. The monarch was ushered into the palace hall which was filled to capacity within a short time. What looked like an innovation to traditional festival was witnessed when the Chief Imam of Erinmon, AlhajiIbrahim Salami and a pastor of Christ Apostolic Church (CAC AgbalaIgbala), Pastor Oritu Daniel were called to offer opening prayers.
Although that segment contrasted the rites earlier performed at the site of Agidanyin, the prayer brought out the true secular nature of Erinmon indigenes. Oba Ajayi explained that he had made a vow to use his reign to achieve religious harmony among all faiths in his domain.
He said his exposure before he ascended the throne across the length and breadth of Nigeria and beyond, had guided him to allow freedom of association inasmuch as such freedom is not abused.
After different groups, including traditional chiefs had paid homage to the Elerinmo by prostrating and kneelling before him, cutting of the new yam by Oba Ajayi himself took the floor amidst cheers.
In yet another round of prayer, the traditional ruler said the rite was the tradition of the town since Erinmo came into being in 1100 AD, pointing out that it was an occasion dedicated for farmers to shower gratitude to God for recording good harvest.
“It is a year that marks the beginning of new yam year. You know that we are agrarian town populated by subsistent farmers, it is expected that new yam is not eaten until this rite is performed. This is how it is done in other places too. I can say it with all sense of responsibility that there is no secret about it.
“That is why we are all gathered here inside the hall to show it to the entire people of the town. All the prayers we offered today will be answered because our forefathers have granted us the permission to perform it,” he said.
The yam, already cut into pieces by the monarch, was first tasted by him, after which the plate was taken round to the chiefs and others.
Corroborating Oba Ajayi’s statement, the eldest traditional chief in the town, the Elefusan of Erinmo, Chief Michael Atofarati, who ascended the title in 1980, said there is nothing special about the yam festival except obeying the custom of the land.
The man, who incidentally was the school teacher to the father of Oba Ajayi, said new yam festival, is an important yearly event which indigenes of Erinmo looked forward to because of its cultural significance as well as its connection to more harvest in subsequent years.
“We are happy to gather again today to witness another one. That is how it has always been in the history of our town. We congratulate our king for sustaining the heritage despite his exposure before he became the king.
“It shows he really understands and appreciates the custom. He has moved Erinmo forward since he became the king and we believe he will still take the town beyond this level. Because of this reason, I am wishing him more years of fruitful reign,” he said.
Adding to Chief Elefusan’s word was the Lisa of Erinmo, Chief John Falodun, who also extolled the virtue of Oba Ajayi as a monarch blessed with solomonic wisdom to balance his Christianity with traditional responsibilities. Chief Falodun also greeted the people of the town at home and in the diaspora, urging them to always remember their root.
The Elerinmo used the occasion to also express his appreciation to his traditional chiefs whom he described as cooperative and strong pillar of support in the last three years. Using his past experience in the corporate world in Nigeria, Ghana and the US, Oba Ajayi said working with elderly people had always been the hallmark of his profile, thanking the chiefs for showing understanding to his leadership style.
“I can tell you that without the support of these chiefs, we may not have got to where we are today. But I am blessed with them as they use their experience and wisdom to work together with me. Nobody has monopoly of knowledge, we rub mind together on many issues that have to do with the development of the town and we are moving forward,” he said.
Oba Ajayi also used the occasion to warn the youth against offering themselves for the use of politicians during elections. He urged them to be productive as the present and future hope of the town, the state and the nation as a whole, just as he compared politics with a game which must produce a winner and a loser.
“It is very important to educate our youths to take their destiny into their hands instead of dissipating their energy in such unproductive venture. The sage, Obafemi Awolowo, Zik and Ahmadu Bello were in their 30s when they led their people. Even Jesus Christ achieved all He is known for till date before He was 30. With these examples, our youths should start to put themselves in the positions of responsibilities.
The festival was concluded the following day with a thanksgiving service during which invited traditional rulers accompanied Oba Ajayi to offer prayer to God for seeing him through in the last three years in the palace.He said the years spent were an admixture of different experiences, which have taught him more lessons, adding that in the final analysis, he is grateful to God for all He has done so far for him in the palace.
“I am of the school of thought that believes in challenge as opportunity to learn and become stronger. This life is not a bed of roses. I am happy that God is seeing me through little challenges that come on the way. There is nothing like serving your people. That is my joy of returning to my root; to my people. And serve them in this capacity,” he stated.