Olu of Ilaro and Paramount ruler of Yewaland, Oba Kehinde Gbadewole Olugbenle
Last week, Oronna-Ilaro festival Central Planning Committee of Ilaro and Yewa area of Ogun State disclosed that plans have been concluded on the annual Oronna festival to go international with the aim of locating Ilaro on a world map. Sheriff Balogun writes
Like the Brazillians, Nigerians are beginning to export culture through carnivals. The yearly Oronna cultural festival of Ilaro people in Ogun State, South West Nigeria would be joining the leagues of Nigerian cultures that have been exposed to the international platform just like Osun-Osogbo Festival annually celebrated by the indigenes of Osun and the Black Heritage Cultural Festival in Badagry, Lagos.
This year’s cultural festival is with the involvement and participation of Ilaro and all the Yewa sons and daughters in the diaspora.
The Chairman, Oronna Festival planning Committee, Chief Kayode Odunaro told THISDAY that the Oronna celebration is a unifying yearly socio-cultural event by Ilaro people in pursuant of their cultural tradition and a platform for self help initiatives to develop the community.
The Festival was celebrated formally since 1993 with Ogun State Government participation in one form or another. But in line with positive trends and the axiom that change is an inevitable aspect of human life, the Oronna celebration is now being rebranded and taken to the next level as a national and international tourism event with potentials to impact on the economy of Ilaro and Ogun State.
Odunaro who unfolded activities of the 2012 festival disclosed at a Press briefing that the socio-cultural event hitherto marked as Oronna Day is now re-named Oronna Ilaro Festival.
He also disclosed that the new nomenclature captures the essence of the event as a pot-pouri programme of culture, tourism, educational and health awareness, saying that the new name also claim ownership of the brand Ilaro has been known for as a community reputed for its warriors during the Dahormey war of 18th century to be differentiated from other similarly named celebrations elsewhere in Nigeria.
He further said the theme of this year’s celebration is “Festival of New Beginning”, saying “in this wise, we want to celebrate a festival that will not only add value to our socio cultural tradition but would elevate it to the standard of a tourism event on the national tourism calendar.”
According to him, we are sure that our culture in all parts of Ogun state can be marketed to achieve not only a national status but an international one.
As part of making Oronna Ilaro festival into a tourism event of national and international repute, he said the re-branding of Oronna comes up on November 24th thru December 2nd, saying it will feature Street Carnival/Road Show, Egungun Day and Efe Night, Poosu/Apara Night, School Essay Competition, Community Health Programme, Sisi Ilaro Cultural Pageant, Royal Award/ Dinner, Onigba-Aje cultural ceremony and a Grand Finale on Saturday December 1.
Speaking on objectives of the festival, he said it’s to position Ilaro on the world stage; encouraging the view that Ilaro town is a rewarding tourist destination; bringing back Ilaro sons and daughters to trace their root during this period, and collaborating with Ogun State government in her effort to develop tourism potentials of the state
He continued: To showcase the growth and development of Ilaro town socially, structurally and economically; and identifying talents for further development.
Odunaro, therefore, said: “In a way, my appointment as the Chairman of Oronna festival is to contribute to the development because most of my adult life has been spent in the service of the larger society as a journalist and the State in particular.
He continued: “We are coming with changes to move the celebration to a new frontier to make it cultural as well as economic and social events of note in the tourism industry. We have since proposed and our approving authority had since approved some changes in the celebration.
He added: “One of such is that of change from Oronna Day Celebration to Oronna Festival. The thinking here is that even in its formal state, the celebration is usually a weeklong event comprising multiple cultural celebrations and carnivals and not just a day event.
Equally significant in terms of branding is the approval granted by the paramount ruler for the festival to reflect the name of the town, in this wise, it will now be Oronna Ilaro Festival.
This is to stop confusion and differentiate it from other events with similar sounding nomenclature as well as identify the festival with Ilaro for branding and claiming of ownership purposes.”
The origin of the celebration of Oronna Day/Festival could be traced to the very beginning of Ilaro shortly after it was founded by Aro, a brave hunter and farmer from Oyo Ile sometimes in the middle of the 17th century.
Not long afterwards, the settlement Ilaro (from Ilu Aro) was under the threat of invasion by the notorious and fearful Dahomean Army. Aro had no choice but to send message to warriors and princes in Oyo to join him in protecting the fertile land from the marauding Dahomean fighters.
One of the Oyo Princes and warriors that answered that call was Oronna who won many battles and became a Generalissimo in the defense of Ilaro from Dahomeans and other attackers.
Oronna’s exploits was great that he was recognised as super-human and in time assumed a deity figure. It was belief that Oronna enjoyed special support from Odua, the deity of the ancient town of Itolu as well as other deities from Oyo.
However, no enemy dare challenge Ilaro to war and even in death Oronna pledged to defend Ilaro people. Oronna is said to have disappeared into the earth following a provocation leaving the tail of a long chain tied to his waist as exit point from earth.
The point of his disappearance is now the famous Oronna Shrine which is now a tourist centre in Ogun State. It is at the shrine that all kings of Ilaro are crowned while most Ilaro people are called ‘Omo Oronna’.
According to Odunaro, “ the appellation is shared only with our kith and kin in Oke- Iho, a community in Oyo State, also at the international level, the appellation refers to Ilaro people in Barbados in the West Indies.
These ‘Omo Oronna’ were forcefully taken to their new location through the obnoxious Slave Trade. Ilaro people in Barbados retained a very strong linkage to their historical ancestral home as it is evidenced in the naming of their presidential palace in the nation’s capital as Ilaro Court..
However, in 2008, ‘Omo Oronna’ in Barbados staged a major home coming event through their participation in Black Heritage Festival and they were given a rousing welcome in Ilaro, Ogun State.
Today the annual celebration of Oronna Day/ Festival cannot be divorced from its progenitor Oronna and the circumstance of his arrival in Ilaro. “The celebration is a clarion call to all ‘Omo Oronna’ to come back home and defend the interest of Ilaro in whatever form,” said Odunaro
He adds: “Just as the original Oronna was called upon to defend the interest of Ilaro, the yearly celebration is meant to bring sons, daughters, friends and other well wishers for the advancement of the culture and economic development of Ilaro through self help.”
The first Oronna Day was celebrated by Ilaro people on May 24, 1992 under the chairman of erudite scholar and elder statesman, Professor Afolabi Olabimtan.