African Arts & Culture

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas’ Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

Story Highlights

  • Olojo Festival: Ritual Rites
  • Change In Olojo Festival
  • Olojo Festival: Influence Of Past And Present Kings Of Ife

Olojo festival is an African Cultural Heritage and the celebration of God Almighty, Elédùmarè. It implies reference to the Almighty, The Creator, Great Spirit or The Power That Be which is also called Elédùmarè or Olodumare by the yoruba people.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas' Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

Giving historical background of the Olojo festival, the current King Ooni Ojaja II said the owner of the whole universe (Elédùmarè) would be appreciated during that period of celebration of Olojo. He said “All forces of nature such as rain, sun and water among others will interact for the betterment of the day and humanity. We all believe and worship one God in diverse ways. Olojo Festival is a day that God specially answers prayer not for ife indigenes alone, but for all and sundry.”

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Cultural Heritage’ Olojo Festival: Ritual Rites

On this day, the Ooni (king of Ife) appears after several days of seclusion and denial communing with the ancestors and praying for his people. This is to make him pure and ensure the efficacy of his prayers. Before the Ooni emerges, women from his maternal and paternal families sweep the Palace, symbolically ridding the Palace of evil.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas' Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

The Ooni later appears in public with the Ancient Are crown (King’s Crown), which is believed to be the original crown used by Oduduwa, serves as the sacred identity and which at the gaze move the people to respect the Oba’s sacred role and receive his sacred blessing to lead a procession of traditional Chiefs and Priests to perform at the Shrine of Ogun.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas' Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

Special days are set aside by the community to remind the people of the existence of the sacred figures. Most festivals & Cultural Heritage are associated with specific divinities, spirits or ancestors and they are therefore religious in outlook. Among the Yorùbá, for example, each divinity has an annual festival associated with him or her and this is called “Odún’’ (festival). “Odún” also means year, and when used in relation to festivals it means “annual festival”.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods


This means that major festivals & Cultural Heritage among the Yorùbá come up once every year.  Festivals that are celebrated in Ilé-Ifè, a town described by J. K. Olupona as the city of 201 gods,  include Edì festival, Ǫbàtálá festival, Ǫbamerì festival, Ǫsàrà festival, Ǫrànmìyàn festival, and Ǫlợjợ. Ǫlợjợ festival is the most prominent of all the festivals. It demands the participation of a reigning king, the major chiefs in the town and the ‘‘Ìsòrò’’ (priests of deities in Ilé-Ifè).

The royal walk involves the Ọợni of Ifè who leads procession to Òkè-Mògún the principal and main shrine during the Ǫlợjợ festival, with Arè crown and offers prayer on behalf of the people to the deity.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods


There are sacred enchantments and song that often prelude the commencement of Olojo festival as part of the ritual of the celebration, as women from Eredumi compound enter into Ile oduduwa to herald the arrival of Olojo festival, which is the pourri festival of all deities in the ancient city of Ile-Ife, such as “Gbajure! Gbajure! Gbajure [an interlude that indicates the arrival of the festival]!”

The ritual is characterized by formalism, sacred symbols and performance. Songs and praise are part of the special performance that creates a theatrical-like frame around the activities, symbols and events that shape the participant’s experiences and cognitive order. As Barbara Myerhoff puts it, “not only seeing is believing, but doing is believing.” It is very clear that the diction of songs and the praise connote a deeper meaning in the mind of the adherent. It also conforms the people to a long-lasting mood.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

Ǫlợjợ ritual space consisted of a sacred arena, Òkè-Mògún, where adherents observe the ritual of cosmos revival and affirmation of the king’s power on his society.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

The myth of Ǫlợjợ festival averred that the specific ritual time of Ǫlợjợ was in the middle of the night when ilàgún (Vigil) was observed. However, ten years after the reign of Oba Adėrėmí as the king, the Cultural Heritage witnessed a change in the time of ilàgún to late afternoon. King Adėrėmí changed the ritual time to clear the air about the rumour cumulating that the festival is for human sacrifices. The timing of the ilàgún thus changed, but the ritual rites stillcontinue.

The king is both the political and spiritual head of the society.

Ilé-Ifè kingship ideology created a unique belief in the king. The king is both the political and spiritual head of the society. He is well respected by his subjects to be referred as ‘Aláseigba keji òrișà’ (the second companion of god).

Traditions of Ilé-Ifè allow for a sense of individuality. Many kings left the throne with memories of being a reformer, controller, conqueror, motivator, business tycoon and politician or contributor in history.

The reign of Oba Adėsojí Adėrėmí represented the true African celebration of the vicegerent of the gods as a promoter of tradition and cultural heritage. Oba Adėrėmí was reported as always personally attending to and appreciating early in the morning the traditional drummers that were at the palace to grace and welcome the king to the brightness of the new day with their traditional drums.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods


Drumming was used in celebrating the popularity and messaging the ego of the king. A unique feature of the reign of Ọợni Adėrėmí was the promotion of African respect of traditional deities and ancestors. He did not allow the sacred kingship institution and òrișà tradition to be replaced with the ideologies of the so-called world religions.

In addition, the sacred space of Olojo was in a way defiled by Adesoji Aderemi. He took his only daughter Tejumade to the Ogun shrine. Although, from the in inception of Olojo festival, women are not allowed to enter the Ogun shrine or participate in the ritual process, their roles are limited to performing only domestic duties which include the cleansing of the palace in the early hours of the day. But Aderemi’s ideology exposed the women to participation in the ritual process during his reign.

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Cultural Heritage: Changes In Olojo Festival

The Cultural Heritage Ǫlợjợ festival has been noted to have changed in time and space due to several factors. The various reasons for changes include the introduction of new religious, political, and kingship ideologies to fit into the new social structure.

The ideology of the kings is seen as being capable of changing the zeal towards the celebration of the traditional festivals. Change in leadership of the political administration in the kingship institution and the ideology of the new king is capable of creating dynamics, continuity and recreation in religious festivals.

Cultural Heritage Of The Yorubas Olojo Festival & The City Of 201 Gods

Also, the political involvement of the kings and how they were able to merge the political mind with their sacred duties is very significant to the continuity of the sacred traditional religion.


Olojo Festival: Influence Of Past And Present Kings Of Ife

The late Ọợni Adėrėmí, with his influence on local and national politics, was able to combine his political role with his sacred function even amidst unrest in the community.
He was a nationalist leader, a radical, and a lover of culture and religion who also promotes the Cultural Heritage Olojo. Ọợni Adėrėmí remained a traditional king till his death in 1980.

Also the Late Ọợni Síjúwadé remained a lover of business and politics. He represents modernity and a new era; his reign witnessed more religious pluralism in the town. Olúbùse II linked the local Ǫlợjợ festival to national, global, economic interests. Ǫlợjợ festival in his time allowed ethnic cooperation and religious tolerance among different classes regardless of their beliefs or political groups. He used the festival as platform of national unity, particularly through procession to
Ògún shrine. The involvements of Ọợni Síjúwadé might have shakeen the continuity of indigenous festival in Ilé-Ifè, but he still performed his social function.

The current Ooni of ife Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi is a strong promoter of the traditional culture & Cultural Heritage. He decried the continous description of adherents of Traditional African Religion as idol worshippers.  He urges Africans to rise to the challenge and protect their cultural beliefs, Cultural Heritage and should jointly embrace the traditions of their forebears, repackage and export it.

According to him, “failure to admire our culture would surely destroy the labour of our past heroes. We are not idol worshippers, but we are using the celebration of the festival to acknowledge and give due honour to all our deities that have contributed immensely to human existence.  Olojo Festival symbolises our Cultural Heritage celebrating the first day of creation and the beginning of existence being the cradle of human race.”

Failure to admire our culture would surely destroy the labour of our past heroes. We are not idol worshippers.
Ooni Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi, Ojaja II

Olojo has remained a Cultural Heritage and also popular in Ile-Ife because of its myth and history. It connotes the day in the year specially blessed by Olodumare (the creator of the Universe). Olojo can also be literally translated as the “Owner for the day”. Prayers are offered for peace and tranquility in Yoruba and Nigeria. All age groups participate. Its significance is the unification of the Yorubas.


Tradition holds that Ile-Ife is the cradle of the Yorubas, the city of survivors, spiritual seat of the Yorubas, and land of the ancients.

Ǫlợjợ festival is the civil religion of Ifè people, a Cultural Heritage; it reveals the continuity of the Òrișà tradition in the society. It provides a central role to the Ọợni as the social and spiritual leader of the community.


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