FEA­TURES Uja, hunters fes­ti­val in which women play lead­ing roles

Daily Trust - - NEWS - By Tadaferua Ujorha who was in Akure

Once a year the hunters fes­ti­val known as Uja,takes place in Akure. At this time of the year the hunters gather to re­mem­ber Uja and his daugh­ter Erelu, and to pray for a bet­ter, more ful­fill­ing hunt­ing sea­son, as well as to send a pos­i­tive vo­li­tion to­wards both Ondo State and the coun­try as a whole. It is a fes­ti­val which also cel­e­brates the place of women in the Akure king­dom, and this may ex­plain the sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of women present dur­ing the fes­ti­val and the lead­ing role they play dur­ing the event. The women are seen to chant, sing and dance from time to time in the course of the fes­ti­val.

This year’s cel­e­bra­tion took place shortly after Sal­lah and it be­gan with much joy­ful drum­ming and danc­ing at the front of the palace of the Deji of Akure. Tow­er­ing above the dance and song is the gi­ant in­tim­i­dat­ing statue of Omoremilekun, the first Oba of Akure who was also a hunter. This shows that there may be much about the hunter and the hunt in the early begin­nings or growth of the Akure king­dom.

Chief Mercy Adekanye is the Erelu Iyaloja of Akure King­dom and she speaks on the ori­gins of the fes­ti­val “The fa­ther of Erelu was Uja, a great hunter, a herbal­ist and a very strong man who was very in­flu­en­tial. At that time he was killing an­i­mals, and he asked his daugh­ter Erelu to help sell th­ese in the mar­ket. So, when her fa­ther brought bush­meat, her wares be­came en­larged. Her fa­ther who was a close friend to the Oba, now sought per­mis­sion that the other wives of the hunters should join Erelu in the mar­ket to trade. In re­mem­brance of Erelu, and the King that gave per­mis­sion for the hunters wives to join her, it was now said that it should be a yearly cer­e­mony for the Kabiyesi and the Erelu to cel­e­brate. That is why you saw us in front of the Deji’s palace. Erelu was the first woman in Akure’s his­tory that was in­stalled as a chief. She came with the first king in 1150 AD.” The Erelu is the ‘King of the mar­ket as well as the Queen of the mar­ket,’ the Erelu says,and she hails from the Elemo fam­ily which has al­ways re­tained the ti­tle of Erelu from time im­memo­rial, and the Elemo is third in rank to the Deji of Akure. Deep within the fes­ti­val may be an at­tempt to cap­ture or chron­i­cle the growth and ex­pan­sion of mar­ket places,as well as the steady in­volve­ment of women in com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties.

After the per­for­mance at the front of the palace,all those present head to the shrine of Uja which is lo­cated within a nearby mar­ket. After a num­ber of rit­u­als have been done at the spot, bro­ken by chants in praise of Uja and Erelu, Erelu dances, along­side the Deji as well as the hunters. Then this part of the fes­ti­val comes to an end with the Deji re­turn­ing to his palace ac­com­pa­nied by Erelu, the women as well as the hunters. There are gun shots at var­i­ous stages of the fes­ti­val, as well as when the Deji makes his way back to the palace. Ev­ery other year a mas­quer­ade emerges dur­ing the Uja fes­ti­val. This means that next year a mas­quer­ade will emerge since none was present at this year’s ver­sion. Erelu plays many roles ac­cord­ing to Erelu Iyaloja “If there is chicken pox in the town, the people will con­sult Erelu. Any­thing that has to do with the mar­ket, the Erelu will be con­sulted for she is the ad­min­is­tra­tor of the mar­ket. If there are quar­rel­ing groups in the mar­ket, the mat­ter is re­ported to Erelu, and if she can­not han­dle it, the case is taken be­fore the Deji.”

Lere Ijalade Ojo,leader of the hunters in Akure, sheds light on the fes­ti­val which is cel­e­brated by over 500 hunters in the king­dom “Uja is a fes­ti­val of the Deji of Akure, and it also cel­e­brates Uja and Ogun, who were born by the same par­ents. Dur­ing this fes­ti­val, we seek more bless­ing for the town, and we are helped to be more suc­cess­ful as hunters.” Ibitoye Oladele, an­other hunter, says “Uja fes­ti­val sig­ni­fies the day we wor­ship Uja. Ogun and Uja are from the same fam­ily. Ogun is the se­nior, while Uja is the younger brother. We hunters hon­our both of them.”

He ex­plains other as­pects of the fes­ti­val “The women you see are the ones sell­ing the an­i­mals that we kill.” The Uja fes­ti­val cel­e­brates Uja, a great hunter, as well as Erelu, his daugh­ter who was phe­nom­e­nal in many ways -she first traded in the mar­ket, and she was also made the ad­min­is­tra­tor and is saluted as ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ of the mar­ket. A fes­ti­val which, iron­i­cally, has many mas­cu­line el­e­ments, in­clud­ing the ro­bust fir­ing of guns and the splen­did art of hunt­ing, has ly­ing within it an at­tempt to hon­our the woman too.

Photos: Tadaferua Ujorha

Chief Mercy Adekanye, Erelu of Akure King­dom (r), danc­ing with drum­mers and other women dur­ing the fes­ti­val

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