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Rhythm of Lagos waxes intellectually stronger …Spotlighting Badagry zone towards Lagos

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Yeye Osun group... performing during the colloquim

Yeye Osun group… performing during the colloquim

The intimidating profile of some of the personalities serving in the Lagos at 50 Committee evokes the conclusion that the delivery of its core mandate is going to be a work-over.Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode appeared to have summed up the mandate at the committee’s inauguration, late last May, saying, “In celebrating Lagos, we must showcase our cultural heritage. We must celebrate the language, arts, sights and sounds of Lagos.”

Presided over by the Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, the panel also parades renowned playwright, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi as co-chairman and other creative minds.So far, the committee is living up to expectation as it designs a variety of activities in order to raise awareness about the forthcoming golden age celebration, which is over nine months away.

Early this month, two performing groups – National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN) and Footprints of David – through theatrical offerings, scaled up the awareness about the anniversary as they staged performances at strategic locations in Ikeja division of the Centre of Excellence.

Few days after the open air performance outing, which Director, Dance of the National Troupe, Arnold Udoka dubbed “Ambush theatre”, the attention shifted to the intellectual segment of the anniversary with second festival colloquium that examined Hidden Cultures and Multiple Identities in Lagos.

With Dr. Wale Adeniran as guest speaker, the presentation focused on some lesser known indigenous cultural festivals and rituals of the Egun and some smaller Egun-related sociocultural groups who are in contact with the Yoruba in the Badagry zone of Lagos. This trait, the culture scholar argued, is responsible for describing the area (Badagry) as multilingual and multicultural society in the Nigeria-Benin border zone.

Noting that the cultures of Zangbeto, Vodun and Sato drumming are peculiar to Badagry zone, Adeniran traced the origin of multi-ethnic posture of Badagry to long years of coexistence between the Egun and the Awori (Yoruba) as well as the presence of other indigenous small socio-cultural groups such as Seto, Tori, Tofin, Defi and Allada.

These groups, as well as the Egun, Adeniran submitted, “recognise the fact of their having migrated into that zone from places currently in the Republic of Benin. It is noteworthy that these small groups recognize the fact that they have a strong historical, linguistic and cultural affinity with the Egun.

“In linguistic terms, one may consider these various speech forms as dialects of Egun, which can be said to be the proto language from which they have developed.
The Allada and Tori are spoken in Frasime; Seto is spoken in Ajarra; Defi is spoken in Owode Apa, Gbogbele, Wesere, Xweme, Asiri, Lopodji, Game, Akoko and Gedu. Tofin is spoken by those at the water front of the beach and the lagoon and they are mostly fishermen.”

Apart from the well-known cultural practices of Egun speakers of Badagry, Adeniran identified several relatively unknown festivals and cultural practices which are peculiar to the Badagry zone to include Othan, Duduwa, Musivu dance, Tron, Zanholu, Gozen, Atinga, Shraun dance, and Sapata.

He provided brief information on the listed festivals to the delight of the members of the audience that comprised traditional rulers from all parts of the state, government officials, members of the Lagos at 50 committee, White Cap chiefs, culture administrators, artistes of different persuasions among others:
Othan (Odan) is a form of snake worship. Its priestess and devotees are always clad in very colourful and beautiful costumes. Whilst executing the dance steps of this deity, they carry snakes around their necks, arms and body, and they imitate the movements of a snake. Materials required for its performance are palm oil, goat, cock, hen and non-alcoholic beverages. Odan is peculiar to speakers of Seto of Ajarra Topa.

Duduwa is also known as yeye osun. The shrine is in Ajarra Topa where the deity is worshipped with sweet things such as aadun, 7up, sprite, white goat and white snails. Celebration is accompanied with drumming, singing and dancing. Devotees come to Ajarra from Badagry, Ado Odo and Ipokia for the 16-day celebration and they are clad in white. The celebration is rarely done elsewhere. Before the celebration can be done outside of Ajarra, Ifa must be consulted and sacrifices made with a white goat as an essential item.

Musivu dance performance lasts about 2 weeks after dancers must have been trained for one year in a particular type of drumming and dance. They do not allow video coverage. There is more to it than just drumming and dancing. There are certain rituals that are hidden from non-initiates. Musivu accompanies Othan.
Zangbeto under Zanholu is a special type of Zangbeto which is peculiar to Akorokodji on the road to Seme. The performance is full of magical feats and lasts not less than one hour. The troupe is usually about 100 or more. At the shrine, they have a large open space for performance. When they go out of their domain, they can only perform on sand, never on concrete.

Zanholu is reported to be more powerful than Zangbeto because it performs awesome magical feats such as reproducing small zangbeto as it moves along, as well as herding and making them disappear under it. It is credited with the ability to transform into creatures such as rat, snake, antelope, etc.

One of the feats Zanholu performs is to dig a hole in which a human being is buried alive and fire is made on the very spot where the individual has been buried. Incantations are then chanted and the person who had been buried surfaces at a distance some 200 to 400 metres away from the “burial site” with visible signs of the earth used to cover him on his body. It is usually an awesome spectacle.Items required for performance include not less than 10 litres of locally brewed liquor, 41 kolanuts, 41 bitter kola, 41 alligator pepper (atare), 10 litres of palm oil, one pig and one goat.

Gozen is peculiar to Ajarra Veto. It is relatively unknown to outsiders. Devotees all clad in white dance in a procession to and from the sea. Two of them, who are females, carry on their head, deities made of “pure gold”. Throughout the duration of the celebration, the two female carriers position the deities on their head and they are forbidden from handling or touching them whilst dancing. Performances are usually staged by the sea-side. Atinga – a more recent arrival in the zone was brought to Ajarra from Porto-Novo by one David Whesikendi. It provides protection, and counsels its adherents to stay back at home whenever there is danger.

It is worshipped in white toga and without shoes, and for this, dry gin, candles, powder and cigarette are required. Devotees are forbidden from involvement in criminality or adultery. The leaders wear a blue coat on top of the white toga.

Shraun is Vodun drumming. It usually consists of three drums on a stand, a gong and maracass. The troupe is made up of about 16 to 18 male and female dancers. The drumming is very powerfully done, extremely electrifying and sonorous. The costumes are very colourful. Shraun is used for Musivu and Gozen and is peculiar to Seto speakers of Ajarra.

Sapata is a fertility festival to propitiate the spirit of the earth so as to prevent the outbreak of small pox or to seek a cure for it. Devotees adorn themselves with colourful costumes that consist of a skirt (yeri) and a special head gear.“These and other known and relatively unknown cultural practices mark the zone out as the treasure trove of culture and tourism in Lagos State,” Adeniran insisted.

He sounded a note of warning. “It would be a grave error of judgement if the Lagos State Government and the relevant Local Government Authorities were to take the continued existence of these cultural performances for granted.

“There is no doubting the fact that these cultural festivals, rites and rituals are as much the markers of identity of the people as the various language varieties spoken by them. In other words, the language spoken by someone and the person’s identity are inseparable.”In addition to highlighting the salient features of some of these cultural performances of the non-Yoruba groups, Adeniran established the fact that each of these sub-groups is fully conscious of its identity as a distinct unit in spite of recognizing the fact of having a common origin as the Egun. He then posited that a similarity of Egun to the speech forms of these smaller groups appeared to have triggered a process of assimilation into the Egun group on the part of the speakers of the smaller ‘language’.

 Dr. Wale Adeniran

Dr. Wale Adeniran

And what made the assimilation process interesting in the reckoning of Adeniran is the integration, into the bigger Yoruba group, of the Egun and other smaller groups. He however underscored the danger in the process of ‘crossover’ to Yoruba by the non-Yoruba people of the zone, warning, “This could threaten the future existence of their cultures if not checked.”

He advanced two reasons why these cultural expressions should be preserved and protected: they have interesting unique features and they constitute a huge treasure trove from which Lagos State could generate substantial revenue through tourism.According to Adeniran, the super highway and light rail being constructed from Lagos to Badagry by the Lagos State Government is already a step in the right direction. This, he explained, “will ease and encourage movement towards that zone from various parts of the state and open up the area to local and foreign tourists.

“However, the government must go a step further by encouraging regular and constant cultural performances” within the community, because “some of these rituals and performances can hardly be taken out to be staged outside of their specific habitat. It is this that actually makes these performances unique and gives them that exotic touch which tourists are always in search of.”

Also, he suggested the institution of yearly or biennial cross-border festivals between Badagry and Porto-Novo. “These two towns can be considered twin cities because they have a lot in common. Furthermore, since the Egun and the other smaller groups believe that the more authentic versions of the rituals and practices they share in common are to be found in Porto-Novo, such festivals will serve to make them develop greater sense of pride in their heritage and their ethnolinguistic identity.

The State Government, he stated further, should also consider organizing regular workshops for practitioners of the various cultural performances in the area of improving their skills. He recalled that “a similar workshop was organised in Ketu, Benin Republic in 2006 for Gelede mask carvers from Nigeria, Benin and Togo. In the specific case of Zangbeto, workshops can always be organised for those who make the Zangbeto costumes from raffia and other materials.”

He disclosed the existence of a school for the training of musivu dancers, while urging the government to explore ways in which such a school could be supported and sustained. “This would be one way of creating employment in the zone since the rural folks would be involved as festival managers and guides,” Adeniran noted.

Specifically, he canvassed the exploration of the potentials of Badagry being a city that connects Lagos with the rest of West Africa. “The flow of persons, goods and services through the zone is one of the highest in the West African sub-region. Therefore, apart from tourists who would set out to deliberately go to Badagry to relax at the beach, visit monuments and historical sites, people transiting through the zone could be attracted to spend one or two nights to watch some unique and exotic cultural performances.” If this potential is harnessed, he expressed optimism that the zone could “generate some billions of naira annually to boost the economy of the State.”

Pointedly, the culture scholar admonished Lagos State government “to get the Federal Government of Nigeria to work towards getting Zangbeto listed as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO (Paris).” Reference was made to efforts in 2004, when Benin Republic got Gelede which is a common heritage of Nigeria, Benin Republic and Togo listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO (Paris).

“Nigeria can therefore do a similar thing for Zangbeto which is shared with Benin Republic. This will go a long way in improving the self-esteem of the people of that zone and in preserving the identities of the various ethnolinguistic groups of that area as well as their invaluable cultural heritage,” he reasoned.Expectedly, drum ensemble by the National Troupe of Nigeria and performances by the Footprints of David, cultural and masquerade groups from Badagry spiced up the gathering entertainment wise.

BUT before Dr. Adeniran mounted the stage for his presentation, the Artistic Director of the National Troupe, Dr. Akin Adejuwon had introduced the guest speaker as a native of Ile-Ife, Osun State who was born on August 22, 1943 as Olufunmi Adewale Adeniran. He topped his post-primary education with the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) obtained in 1965 at the Ransome Kuti College of Education, Moor Plantation, Ibadan. In 1969, he graduated with a B.A (Hons) degree in French from the University of Ibadan, and obtained the Postgraduate Diploma in Linguistics from the same university in 197; M.A Linguistics from the University of Paris (Sorbonne) and the Diplome d’Etudes Aprofondies (D.E.A.) from the Universite Rene Descartes, Paris V, Sorbonne in 1974. He later obtained a Ph.D. in Sociolinguistics from the University of Ibadan.

From 2004 to 2008, Adeniran was Country Director, Yoruba Graduate Project Abroad (YGPA), a Fulbright-sponsored intensive summer course in Yoruba language and culture for American graduate students. He was appointed Associate Professor of Linguistics and Cultural Studies at the University of Parakou during the 2010/2011 academic year. He worked closely with Prof. Wole Soyinka at the 2010 and 2011 editions of the Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF).

In 2014, he organized the maiden World Festival of Oduduwa Descendants (WOFOD) at Ile-Ife. In addition to serving, presently, as Director, Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding (CBCIU), a UNESCO-affiliated centre in Osogbo, Osun State, Adeniran is also on contract in the Department of Languages and Linguistics of Osun State University, Ikire Campus.

In 2014, he was honoured with the Cheralier de l’Ordre Social du Merite (National Honour) of the Republic of Benin. He is a member of the West African Linguistics Association of Nigeria (WALS); the Linguistics Association of Nigeria (LAN); Modern Languages Association of Nigeria (MLAN); West African Modern Languages Association (WAMLA); University French Teachers Association of Nigeria (UFTAN); Association Internationale Groupe Gelede (AIGG) among others.


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