Egungun (masquerading) is a popular practice among the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. They see it as a channel to connect themselves to their ancestors.
Oloolu is one powerful egungun or eegun in the Yoruba city of Ibadan. Oloolu is not in any way strange to Ibadan natives and dwellers. At the mention of Oloolu, Ibadan people, women especially, shiver in fear which ascertains the claim that Oloolu is the most feared masquerade in Ibadan and one of the most revered in the entire Yorubaland and Africa.
Oloolu masquerade is feared because of its powers, history and sacrality. Women are not allowed to see Oloolu because of the female skull attached to the top of its costume. It is believed that if a woman stares at Oloolu, she will miss her menstruation and might even die.
It is also believed that on the first appearance of Oloolu, the first person it sees will fall ill and if necessary rites are not performed on time, the person might die.
History of Oloolu Masquerade
The history of Oloolu masquerade has it that a brave warrior named Ayorinde Aje who fought battles alongside Oderinlo, Ogunmola, Ogbori-efon and other Ibadan warriors, went to war in Ogbagi, a town in Akoko, in present Ondo State.
During the war, no one was able to face the powerful war masquerade of the town which was Oloolu. Ayorinde Aje was the only one who challenged and defeated the masquerade. He then took the Oloolu bearer captive and led him to Ibadan.
On the way, the bearer’s refused to proceed with the journey and in annoyance, Ayorinde Aje beheaded her and commanded her husband to add her head to the costume of Oloolu. This was how Oloolu masquerade began in Ibadan and why women are forbidden to look at it.
When Does Oloolu Perform?
Oloolu masquerade comes out every July to celebrate Oloolu festival which is believed to bring blessings upon the land. At every appearance, Oloolu masquerade goes around the heartbeat areas of Ibadan such as Popo-Yemoja, Beere, Oja’ba and others.
Whenever Oloolu is out, no other masquerade is allowed to perform, or else, it will meet its waterloo. History has it that during the reign of Olubadan Dada, a masquerade called Iponri-Iku came out when Oloolu was performing. This enraged Oloolu and he challenged Iponri-Iku.
OldNaija gathered that Oloolu dropped a mystical cowry on the ground and dared Iponri-Iku to pick it up. As Iponri-Iku bent down to pick the cowry, he broke his spine and died eventually. Since then, no masquerade dare challenge Oloolu.
The tradition of Oloolu forbids its bearer to meet his woman 30 days before coming out. Also, during the display, the bearer must not wear shoes or carry any load other than the Oloolu costume which includes different pieces of clothes, a net, a human thigh bone, and a female skull attached to its head which makes it look more dreadful.
The skull is that of the woman whom history said was beheaded by the warrior Ayorinde Aje. Back in the olden days, Oloolu used to wear a mask that detects the presence of women. But it was said that the mask was lost to Europeans who took it to their land.
No one can deny the fact that Oloolu is the most popular, feared and celebrated masquerade in Ibadan.
Thanks for reading, OldNaija.com
- Omipidan, Teslim Opemipo (2019). The Original History Of Ibadan – City Of Brown Roofs. OldNaija. https://oldnaija.com/2019/04/10/the-history-of-ibadan-the-city-of-heroes/
- Omipidan, Teslim Opemipo (2015). Traditional Occupations in Yoruba Land. OldNaija. https://oldnaija.com/2015/10/06/traditional-occupation-in-yoruba-land/