The Eyo Festival is a Yoruba festival unique to Lagos, Nigeria and therefore celebrated on Lagos Island, the traditional homeland of Lagosians. Due to the impressive rituals and pageantry, it has grown through the years to become a tourist attraction.
The word "Eyo" (from where the festival derives its name) refers to the costumed dancers, or the masquerades that come out during the festival. The Eyo masquerades represent the spirits of the ancestors and so the Eyo festival may be held in honour of a chief, an elder of a ruling family or a dead Oba. It may also be held when a new head of an Iga (palace) or a new Oba is installed. In modern times as the notion of eminence evolved to include politicians and most things could be commercialised, a governor or a political leader may also request that the festival be organized to add colour to an occasion for a fee.
Each Eyo comes out of an Iga (palace) of a ruling family in the morning and heads for the shrine (Agodo). It is robed from head to toe in white flowing cloth. The white flowing costume consists of an ‘agbada’ (the top robe), and the ‘aropale’ (the bottom wrap around). No part of the person carrying the Eyo is expected to be seen. The Eyo also wears an ‘Akete’ a hat that bears the colours and shield of the Iga from which he comes. An Eyo may tie ribbons, in the colours of the house that he represents, to the Opambata (palm branch) that he carries . An Iga’s Eyo may have up to 50 to 100 or more members.
The only Eyo that is not part of a group is the most senior, Eyo-Adimu Orisa. Only a very old and spiritually advanced male can robe as the Adimu. It is the last Eyo to leave the “agodo.” In terms of hierarchy, Ẹyọ Adimu is above all other Eyo. Unlike the other groups, there is only one Adimu and he wears a black hat. On a chosen Sunday, the Òríșà Adimu (spirit of Adimu) will emerge with his staff in public. This means that it is official that the festival will take place coming Saturday. The rest of the big 5: Làbà (red hat), Ónikó (yellow), Ọlọgẹdẹ (green), and Ageré (purple) will also go public from Monday to Thursday in that other.
The Eyo, when it encounters people, greets them with the phrase, “E sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!” meaning, “Don’t fear anything, have a taste of the palm tree,” and taps the individual on the shoulders with the “opambata.” When he is given money, he will pray for the person and recite the praise song of his Iga. The phrase, “e sunrunkunrun, we ma jagbon die!” is in the Ijebu dialect of Yoruba. It was rendered as a wedding present when the Oba of Lagos married an Ijebu princess.
However, it is a taboo to either wear the Eyo costume overnight or cross any body of water, such as the Lagoon Rivers and so on. The first procession in Lagos was on the 20th of February, 1854, to commemorate the life of Oba Akintoye. Subsequently, this festival has come to be anticipated by Lagosians, non-Lagosians and the International Community. It is organized under the auspices of the Yoruba tradition, as well as social organizations or clubs. Since it can be organized for special occasions apart from the death of prominent chiefs, elders, or installation of a new Oba, it is used to showcase the culture of the Isale Eko people and entertain at special state functions or occasions.