Wednesday, July 30, 2008
From The Daily News (sunnewsonline.com) Okota Fiesta : Celebrating the goddess of love and unity By FEMI SALAWU Wednesday, July 30, 2008 After several years of isolation from their cultural heritage, the people of Arigidi-Akoko in Ondo State recently celebrated the maiden edition of Okota Festival between July 21 and 22. The festival which was inspired by the highly benevolent Okota river goddess who generations of Arigidi-Akoko has come to regard as the harbinger of goodwill as well as a major source of refuge during the pre-colonial wars that almost truncated the existence of the town. Okota goddess is a highly revered deity among the people of Arigidi-Akoko and has been credited with potent supernatural powers. Oral tradition has it that, while barren women were being provided with fruits of the womb, afflicted persons had received healing after tasting the water from the Okota river. Apparently, in a drive to reunite with its ancestors and showcase the cultural heritage of the town, the Otunba Gani Adams-led Olokun Foundation organised the two-day fiesta tagged Okota Festival 2008 under the theme: Promoting one of African Deities for Positive Social Change and Development. As a major addition to the main event, the festival featured a beauty pageant on the opening day. The keenly contested event which paraded about 14 participants had Opemuti Oluwabamike, an 18 year-old undergraduate of the University of Ado-Ekiti emerging as the first Miss Okota. The beauty queen walked home with the grand prize of a Mercedes Benz 190 car and is expected to be the face of the Okota Festival for a year. Expressing her gratitude in an emotionally filled voice, Opemuti said, “I want people to know more about the history of Okota river and its contribution to the development of the town.” A situation similar to the Osun-Osogbo Festival was reenacted during the grand finale. As early as 7am, a large crowd comprising villagers and tourists had gathered at the palace of Zaki of Arigidi-Akoko. The palace and its adjourning streets was a beehive of activities ranging from trading to cultural displays. The king, Regent Adebimpe Olanipekun Fagbola offered prayers on behalf of the people to the gods for protection, long life and fruitful farming. Arigidi-Akoko has since been ruled by a regent following the death of Oba Aunmo Olanipekun early last year. Regent Adebimpe Olanipekun Fagbola, daughter of the late king has been holding forth since March last year pending the selection of a substantial royal father which is said to be in progress.Led by the elders of the town and notable sons including Otunba Gani Adams, National Co-ordinator, Odua Peoples Congress (OPC), the crowd filed in a procession to the riverside where sacrifices including a live cow were offered to appease the Okota River goddess. The crowd, which almost became uncontrollable but for the security mounted by OPC members could not be tamed for long. Immediately after the sacrifices, a mad rush to the river ensured as many scooped water from the river and offered prayers not minding the pollution arising from the huge human traffic. For Iya Osun Adewunmi, an Osun-Osogbo priestess who claimed to have been born beside the Okota River, “Whatever problem you bring to the river goddess will be answered. The river goddess welcomes all and sundry but does not condone thieves and liars.” She added: “Our nation is yet to realize the huge impact which occasion like this have on national development. Nigeria was founded with cultural institutions and because of western religion, we have neglected our foundations. This is why we are experiencing what we are seeing today.” While tracing the Okota River to the history of the town, Otunba Gani Adams, one of the illustrious sons of the town noted that at inception, people of the town had maintained a pact to set aside a day annually to celebrate the deity but due to Western civilization, the tradition had long been forgotten. The activity was followed by a special ceremony held at the palace which attracted dignitaries including Hon. Felix Ogunmilade Abboy, executive chairman, Akoko North/West, Oke-Agbe, Mr Segun Ajiboye, chief press secretary to the governor of Ondo State and several traditional rulers. Other attraction at the event include cultural displays and performances including Ewi rendition by veteran Yoruba actor Sulaiman Ayilara a.k.a Ajobiewe. Ajobiewe's performance, which was accompanied by dance interpretation by his troupe, was followed by different cultural displays by groups from neighbouring towns. The curtain fell on the Okota Festival 2008 celebration with a performance by popular fuji musician, Saheed Osupa who thrilled the audience with several indigenous lyrics. While commending Gani Adams for his great vision towards bringing the attention of the world to the town, the Regent called on indigenes of Arigidi-Akoko within Nigeria and in the Diaspora to join in the efforts to revive traditional institutions in the town as well as showcase its tourism potentialities to the world. Ambassador Segun Olusola, who graced the event commended Gani Adams for promoting Yoruba culture. The elder culture activist also expressed his joy at the efforts of cultural orientation by the Regent of the town who had spent a part of her life to build a professional career as Mortgage Broker with JP Morgan in America. The elder statesman also called on government to throw its weight behind the Okota Festival.