Memorializing Warfare and Slavery in Yoruba Festival Songs

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 9:10 AM
Clark Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Olatunji Ojo, Brock University
One of the rituals at the grand finale of the annual Ore festival celebrated around Christmas in Omu-Ekiti, a small northeastern Yoruba town is that midway into the festivities the lead drummer changes his beats. The dancers, led by the priestess of Ore respond by forming a circle and dance-walk, stealthily in a clockwise fashion. With these all boys and mothers carrying male babies must flee as if escaping from imminent danger. This ritual play raises three major questions: why should young mothers and boys miss, even for a minute, aspects of the Ore festival? That is why must they run when there is no apparent danger? Second, what is the gender and generational underpinning of this reenactment drama? Third, what is the historical siginificance of the rite? Traditions show that around the mid-nineteenth century, as villagers were busy celebrating Ore festival, guards at the gates spotted, from their vantage positions on the hills, an Ilorin cavalry force marching toward the town. Panic ensued and mostly young men including many soldiers fled into hiding. With the men lacking the courage to fight the priestess of Ore led a rag-tag force and caused bees to attack the invaders who retreated hastily, hence one of the praise songs of Ore: apata pata apata, a tu an nigbo Abudo. A tu hain-hain bomo (It is rocky and stony she disperses them in Abudo forest. She attacks children with bees). Through the examination of this and other Yoruba festival songs the paper argues that festival songs are rich source data on the history of slavery, ties between slavery and warfare and military tactics in Yorubaland.