* Gelede Festival in Otta ongoing
By Godwin Okondo
NIGERIA’S performance artist, Jelili Atiku, will headline The Netherlands-based Prince Claus Fund 25th anniversary festival that will be held virtually on December 8 & 9, 2021. Atiku is a 2015 leaureate of the Dutch culture promoting foundation. A statement from the foundation said, ”Check out the artists who will join us at the 25th Anniversary online Festival taking place on 8-9 December! Among the changemakers we’ll be featuring 2015 Prince Claus Laureate Jelili Atiku who will hold a proactive performance on the streets of Lagos. A pioneer of contemporary performance art in Nigeria, Atiku challenges the oppression derived from colonialism through the fusion of indigenous and international performance practices.”
Atiku is excited to be on the international platform to showcase his unique performance skills tomorrow, Wednesday, December 8, 2021 in support of the raging quest for Yoruba nation. According to him, ”On Wednesday, my performance, (I AM) A Yamu Yoruba (Maanifesito VIII) will be streamed live from 11pm as part of the 25 years 25 hours online festival to celebrate Prince Claus Fund’s 25th anniversary. The performance premises on the context of causes and agitations for Yoruba self-determination, for the survival of Yoruba indigenous language, culture, human values, and philosophy. And above all, in the absence of true decolonization and ‘a return to the true and ideal regional system of government in Nigeria’, Yoruba nation must be established!”
The performance will be live-streamed on Prince Claus Fund website: https://princeclausfund.org/25.anniversary.
In a related development, Atiku is also headlining a festival in his maternal homeland, Otta, Ogun State, called Odun Gelede Festival, which kicked off on December 4 and will run till December 12, 2021. On December 4/5, the ‘Ere Efe/Ibere Odun’ will be held; on December 6/7, it will be ‘Eji Odun/Eta Odun’ while on December 11/12, it will be ‘Ijo Gelede Ode Oruba Otta’.
Atiku explained the significance of ‘Gelede’ festival to Otta people, saying, ”It’s a way of showing or venerating the energy and power of women in the community, and also to connect to the power of ‘ase’ (power or energy of manifestation) embodied in women. And it emanates from the understanding that the human family starts from the womenfolk. And so they use ‘Gelede’ to celebrate the power of women.”
He also said he would play a part in the festival because ”all men are also connected to that power” that emanates from women, as no man would exist without a woman as agency of birth.
”You and I came into being through women,” he said. ”You and I lived inside of them for nine months before coming into the world, and so that makes us to connect with them. So one way or the other, we’re connected to that power. So the festival is the carrier and essence of all that women embody.”
However, in spite of ‘Gelede’ venerating women it would seem contradictory that women are denied political power in society. But Atiku thinks otherwise and believes Africa’s one-sided encounter with the west is to blame for reducing staure of women in the social engineering of modern African societies.
Accordong to him, ”It’s a contradiction that was set in by the colonial masters, because the religion of the colonial masters did and does not recognise the power of women, and that’s why in Islam, women cannot lead prayers. So the colonial masters brought their own sentiments that supppressed the power of women and that sipped into African social fabric, in Yoruba, for example, to taint the indigenous ways of life. ‘Gelede’ is an indigenous festival. This shows to you that the indigenous people understand that power, that the centrality of their own being is woven around the womenfolk.
”For example, in Otta where the festival is being held, during the Dahomey War, it was that mask that helped the people to win that war. As a matter of fact, in my own family they have one of the headdresses of ‘Gelede’ they call it ‘Agbara Dahomey’, which is the power that ended the Dahomey War. That means it’s the power of the women; that means they understood that for you to survive in the war, you must appeal every time to the women power which starts from your mother, because you’re connected to that energy, because we were in our mother’s womb; it becomes the power that brings us into the world. And that’s exactly what the ‘Gelede’ energy and festival talk about.”
Atiku further explained that although a woman may not have ascended unto political power such as king or oba as a consequence in Otta or elsewhere in Yoruba land for that matter, the role of women as agency of birth is not to be discounted.
”Women surely have political roles to play,” he explained, ”although we get a lot of misconceptions in how some of these things work, especially the indigenous political system alongside democracy. No, it’s not. The oba of a community in Yoruba does not have the same absolute power like the governor or president; no. He does not have such power. The oba is specifically for the male, but the female can even exercise power that surpasses the king’s. For example in my community in Ejigbo in Lagos, we have the ‘ileba’ or what the oyibo call ‘shrine’; the king or oba cannot offer prayers there. It’s the custodian of that shrine, a woman, who offers prayers there. If the kings goes there to offer prayers, he will die; that’s how the rules are.
”It’s a women who must occupy the highest (spiritual) power there; she is the one who offers prayers for the king. She must be the one who presides when he’s to be crowned king at the shrine. That woman must say ‘yes, this man is fit to become the king’ or he does not become king. So the woman has the highest authority to say ‘no, you cannot be king’! So, it’s interwoven; but when you’re looking at it from the point that a woman must be king; no, our structure is not built like that.”