The World Sango Festival is a yearly event held in commemoration of Sango, a Yoruba deity and third Alaafin of the old Oyo Empire. The festival is held in August at the palace of the Alaafin of Oyo. It lasts 10 days and its origin dates back thousands of years ago.
During the 15th century, Sango succeeded his elder brother Ajaka as the Alaafin of Oyo. As Alaafin of Oyo, Sango was fearless: he fought battles and crushed insubordination. He had three wives – Oba, his first, Oshun, his second, and Oya, his third (who is considered a concubine as no dowry was paid). He loved Oya more.
Sango wielded a magical axe, which he used to rain down thunder and lightning on his enemies. He mostly dressed in red-and-white attire with beads and cowries and had his hair plaited.
Sango’s reign lasted for seven years. Its end came after one of Sango’s former war generals laid claim to his throne. Sango had asked Oya for his Edun Ara (Thunder Stone) and, when she gave it to him, it was wet with her menstruation blood. Fearing that the stone had lost its potency, Sango decided to restore its power. He climbed a rock and, up there, while he chanted his incantations, he mistakenly struck his palace and burned it to the ground. Downcast, he left his people and vanished into the air. Some historians claim he committed suicide.
In remembrance, the Yoruba people worship and pray to Sango for blessings and protection. During the festival, the palace is agog with singing, drumming and dancing. There are also cultural displays like games, magic performances, among others. Worshipers of Sango wear red clothing, with the same traditional hairstyles and beads and cowries.
The first day of the festival is celebrated with games of different kinds, for instance, the game of Ayo. On the second day, traditional groups entertain the people and there is music, food and drinks. The same is so on the third day. On the fourth day, the shrine of Sango will be opened; this is accompanied by performances. From the fifth day to the ninth day, more celebrations follow.
On the last day of the festival, a group of Sango followers called the Elegun Sango entertains the crowd with magic performances. The Elegun Sango Koso, a Sango devotee in Koso, Oyo, moves through the town and blesses the people. The Elegun Sango Koso represents the Sango deity on earth.
The World Sango Festival earned its name in 2013 when the Oyo State Government changed it from what it used to be called: Sango Festival. The change was made to acknowledge the international recognition of the festival since it is celebrated in over forty countries around the world. UNESCO recognizes the festival. The festival also attracts Yoruba people or Sango worshippers in the diaspora.
Uzoma Ihejirika is a Nigerian creative writer and journalist. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa and has written for Open Country Mag. He has a short story on Lolwe.