Lagos and Nigeria at large are known for a rich cultural heritage which has been one of the major sources of tourism over the years. The Yoruba are the major ethnic group in Lagos city although other tribes are found, the Yoruba sit at the head of the cultural hub in the city. The most interesting festival in the city is the Eyo Festival which is celebrated in the Lagos Island area of the state. This festival has stood the test of time and has attracted thousands of guests to the city yearly.
The Eyo Festival is a symbolic Festival celebrated by the Yoruba and its origin dates back to February 1854, when the first ever procession was made to commemorate the life of Oba Akintoye.
The procedure of the festival is very unique in that a full week before the festival (always a Sunday), the ‘senior’ Eyo group, the Adimu (identified by a black, wide – brimmed hat), goes public with a staff when this happens, it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. Each of the four other’ important groups –Laba (Red), oniko (Yellow), ologede (Green) and Agere (Purple) – take their turns in that order from Monday to Thursday. The procession starts from the streets of Lagos Island through Idumota, Tinubu square, other major/minor roads, and ends at the Iga Iduganran palace. The Eyo are seen to be singing, dancing and displaying good moves.
Eyo festival is otherwise known as the “Adamu orisa play”. The word “Eyo” represents the costumed dancers also known as the masquerades who perform during the festival. The Eyo dresses up in a white costume ‘Agbada’ (The long robe) and the ‘aropale’ (the bottom wrap around) to cover all body parts while holding opambatas as the body of the Eyo must not be seen. A colored hat is also worn to represent the shield of the Iga he comes from. Each Iga could have up to 50 or more members.
The Eyo Festival is held as a way of escorting the soul of a departed king or a chief of Lagos and in welcoming a new one. What makes the festival unique is the fact that it is not held annually unlike other Lagos festivals. There have been times in the past where it did not hold for like 21 years and there have been times where it was held for three to five times a year.
The Eyo Festival is organized under the auspices of the Yoruba tradition, as well as social organizations or clubs. An outlet to showcase the culture of the Isale Eko people. While it is usually organized for special occasions apart from the death of prominent chiefs, elders or installation of a new oba, it is also used to entertain at special state functions or occasions.
The festival helps to usher the soul into the spirit realm. The festival begins with the driving away of evil spirits from the occasion by the Orisa Oni Ko after which the weeklong activities begin. A parade is held by the dancing Eyo as they march through popular roads in the city. The climax of the Festival is the paying of traditional homage to the Oba of the palace.
Being a symbolic Festival, there are many prohibited activities and items for both guests and locals which include smoking, riding motorcycles or bicycles, wearing sandals, making a suku which is a Yoruba hairstyle and wearing the Eyo costume.
The festival attracts tourists to the state and generates revenue for the traders within the area.