The Eyo festival, otherwise known as the Adamu Orisha play is a festival unique to Lagos, Nigeria.
The festival which is believed to represent the spirits of the ancestors is held in honor of a chief or an elder of a ruling family or an oba who had died. It is held to escort the soul of a departed oba and to usher in a new one. The first Eyo procession was reportedly held on the 20th of February, 1854 to commemorate the life of Oba Akintoye.
Lagos city is separated into the Island and the mainland. The indigenes of Lagos are mostly domiciled in Lagos Island, known as Isale Eko. Eyo festival is celebrated by the Isale Eko indigenes.
The Eyo refers to the costumed dancers that come out during the festival. Each eyo comes out of an Iga (palace) of a ruling family. They are robed from head to toe in white flowing clothes which consists of an agbada, the top robe, the ‘aropale’, the bottom wraparound, and also a hat, known as ‘akete’. The hat bears the colors and shield of the Iga an Eyo comes from. No part of the person carrying the Eyo is left uncovered.
A full week before the festival, the senior Eyo, the adimu goes public with a staff. This usually happens on a Sunday and it means the event will take place on the following Saturday. The adimu is identified by a black broad-rimmed hat and he does not belong to any group. Only a very old and spiritually advanced male can robe as the Adimu.
Some other Eyo groups are the Labe, identified by a red hat, Oniko, identified by a yellow hat, Ologede, identified by a green hat, and Agere, by purple. There are up to 50 other groups but these five are the head. After the Adimu goes public, each of these other four groups takes their turns from Monday to Thursday.
On the day of the festival, the main highways in the heart of Lagos, from the end of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square are always closed down to allow for the procession. When the Eyo encounters a person, he greets with a phrase, “E sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!” -which translated to “Don’t fear anything, have a taste of the palm tree”- and taps the indivisible with his staff.
There are some taboos and prohibitions during this festival, both to the person carrying the Eyo and the people around. The Eyo costume must not be worn overnight or across any body of water.
Some prohibited activities during the festival include smoking, wearing footwear and headgears, shuku hairstyle, taking pictures, riding bicycles, taking pictures of and with the Eyo, and many more.
The most recent Eyo proceeding was held on May 20, 2017, to mark the 50th anniversary of Lagos state. In modern times, a high-ranking individual may request for the festival to be organized to add colors to an occasion for a price. It is also presented as a tourist event sometimes. It is an outlet to showcase the culture of the Isale Eko people.