In the rustic and serene town of Okemesi which is located in the heart of Ekiti State, Nigeria, people gather every two years to celebrate and honour their long gone ancestors through a colourful festival known as Oladunwo. Oladunwo is the name of the most revered Egungun (masquerade) in Okemesi. It is highly respected because of its importance and the role it played in the history of Okemesi and her people.
History has it that Oladunwo festival saved the people of Okemesi during the Ekiti parapo war (1877-1893) which liberated the Ekitis from Ibadan hegemony. When Ibadan soldiers were about to attack Okemesi, the people ran to a place called Oke Agbonna for safety, meanwhile, this was a night before Oladunwo festival; the preparations of the celebration which include drumming, chanting and other rites scared Ibadan soldiers away with the thought that the people of Okemesi were ready for the attack which was supposed to be launched clandestinely. This made Oladunwo festival the most celebrated of all Egungun festivals in Okemesi. Other Egungun festivals in Okemesi include: Ale baale; Ehinle; Yoyo; Alamuye; Alukudi and others.
The town of Okemesi has its origin from Ile-Ife, the ancestral home of the Yoruba people. History has it that Okemesi, Imesi-Ile, Ile-Ife and Ijesha are all related by blood. Okemesi and Imesi-Ile (in Osun State) were once a single town which later divided in the search of greener pastures for their people.
During Oladunwo festival, the streets of Okemesi becomes lit and full of festive activities such as singing and dancing. The festival is held for two days. On the first day, the people make preparations which include cleansing and sanitizing the environment. Members of the Egungun cult carefully select and prepare the costume of Oladunwo masquerade which consist of a pure white robe decorated with expensive silver and golden bracelets, beads, swords and a caned mask. The youths of the town also hold an awareness carnival where foods and drinks are shared for free.
On the D-Day, women and non-indigenous members of the town stay indoors till 10am when a special drum called poro announce the commencement of the festival. People irrespective of their gender, age or status then troop to the Owa Ooye’s (traditional ruler of Okemesi) palace to watch Oladunwo and other masquerades display. Oladunwo being the father of all masquerades in Okemesi is respected by other masquerades of the town. At the palace of Owa Ooye, Oladunwo masquerade majestically sit beneath an Odan tree where other masquerades come to pay their homage. The festival is also graced with different games and speeches rendered by the Owa Ooye and other dignitaries of Okemesi. Oladunwo festival also stand as a symbol of unity among Okemesi people as their sons and daughters at home and in diaspora come together to celebrate.
Oladunwo festival remains one of the top Egungun festivals in Yoruba land.