Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The 176th good thing about Lagos: A pleasant alternative when a cultural attraction is declared off limits.

This past Saturday was a big cultural event in Lagos, happening just a short 10-minute drive from our apartment. The Eyo festival has been a once-in-a-long-while masquerade event. It was last staged here in 2003 to celebrate the passing of the late Oba of Lagos. The event has been observed to honor deceased prominent Lagosians or for the celebration of very special occasions. This year it was held to honor the late Theophilous Owolabi Shobowale (T.O.S.) Benson, Nigeria's foremost Minister of Information, Broadcasting and Culture. The first clue to this upcoming event came a couple of weeks ago when these tall, draped figures started appearing at roadside intersections around our area. The masqueraders are typically dressed in all-white.
Information about public events here is hard to come by -- the city needs some help in the PR department, but we started hearing various reports here and there about the festival. I heard that people attending weren't supposed to wear shoes and if they showed up shod, they may be flogged. Other people said that traditionally people came barefoot, but they were trying to make the festival more audience friendly and it would be okay to wear shoes. We also heard that cameras were outlawed (which did lessen my enthusiasm about attending). An article on the internet said umbrellas were banned. Somebody told me that they heard that it would be jam packed with people -- 1/3 would be masqueraders, 1/3 public, and 1/3 robbers (though I guess the proportion of masqueraders is lower and public is higher). Our driver, along with others, said that it wouldn't be safe because the crowds would be so thick and there was potential for violence. In the end, our company security guy said that it was off-limits because of the risks. Although I didn't relish the idea of getting caught up in a huge crowd of people, I really do wish it would have been more visitor-friendly. I really enjoy these kind of cultural celebrations.

This article tells a bit more about the history of the celebration. These Eyo masquerader "speaks a ventriloqual voice, suggesting that he was not human and also that he represents the spirit of a departed person. The Eyo symbolizes the arrival on earth of the spirit."

Here's a picture from a local person who attended the festival and a link to their blog entry with more pictures. I guess it was okay to have cameras there.

The Lagos state government is planning to launch the Eyo Festival as a yearly tourism event in fulfillment of their objective to attract visitors to the city. Of course, before Lagos becomes a tourist destination, there are many things that need to be changed -- people need to be able to get a tourist visa into the country and the security situation needs to be improved so people are comfortable with the idea of visiting the place. I was able to watch some of the festival on TV, and it looked quite interesting, though very crowded. But I haven't heard of any big security problems at the event, so we likely would have been fine if we had gone.

But Saturday we were invited to go to the Total beach house and we jumped at the opportunity to have this outing again, as we enjoyed our day there so much last time. No adventure getting stranded on a sand bar this time, just nice ocean breezes and open spaces and the quiet of getting away from the city. It would have been a memorable experience to go to the Eyo festival, but this was definitely a more restful option!

1 comment:

Chuks said...

Another name for Eyo festival is the 'adamu orisa' (he who engages a spirit personally) play. Yeah, Eyo is a play, a drama. Just thought you should know after bumping into your blog.