Ogun, the most storied of the Yoruba gods, is a fearsome being: god of iron and war, he is reputed to protect his devotees. In Ondo town, Ondo State, the indigenes celebrate his legend in an annual festival between the months of August and September.
Yoruba cosmology has it that when the earth was created and the gods decided to come down from heaven and take charge of its affairs, the path of the gods were blocked by a bush. After several tries by the other gods to clear the way, it was Ogun, wielding his iron machete, who succeeded. He was then made the chief of the gods. Invited by the elders of Ire, Ogun left Ile Ife to the town, where he was crowned king. Early in their history, the people of Ondo pled to Ogun to come lead their wars. Impressed by his victories, they began worshipping him.
The Ogun Festival is preceded by a 17-day preparation following the sighting of the new moon. It is the duty of the Ayadi, the ritual specialist of Ogun public worship, to announce the new moon with the upe, a traditional trumpet made from a long gourd. He blows the upe for seven straight days. Nine days after the new moon appears, which would be two days after the blowing of the upe, the Osemawe, the king, sends an emissary to formally announce the Festival. Ogun worshippers then begin to gather, and different communities begin to clear footpaths and repair bridges.
Five days to the Festival, households perform a ceremony called aleho, which includes a vigil and morning celebration. At this point, processions begin, involving all traditional professional groups: blacksmiths, medicine men and women, drivers, hunters, tailors, barbers. The Osemawe leads the morning procession, wearing a beaded crown that covers his face.
The Ogun Festival is an opportunity to bring all his worshippers together. Their place of worship is Ogbomkwo area, where Ogun is said to have first arrived and which today is inhabited by most of Ondo’s blacksmiths, who form the majority of worshippers. The blacksmiths, by virtue of working with steel, understand their work in a spiritual manner. They show indebtedness to Ogun as the founder of metal.
To usher in Ogun, the Ayadi sacrifices dogs and tortoises—dogs being Ogun’s favourite meat. The dog sacrifices are the climax of the festival.
Because the Ogun Festival is a moment that connects divinity to professionalism, all aspects of Ondo society are represented. It is an occasion to commemorate the ancestors, represented by the many masquerades, and all other cultural heroes of Yoruba lore.
Otosirieze Obi-Young is Editor of Folio Nigeria, where he profiles innovators and facilitators in culture: art, business, entertainment, activism, health, food. He is a writer, journalist, curator, media consultant, former academic, and Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Open Country Mag, a new online platform covering African literature. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among "The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians" by Avance Media. Find him on otosirieze.com or on Twitter & Insta: @otosirieze.