Ogun Festival

Ogun Festival (Olojo Festival)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Yoruba)
Date of Observation: July
Where Celebrated: Ife, Oyo State (Nigeria)
Symbols and Customs: Crown, Iron ORIGINS

The Ogun Festival is observed by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, whose religion is based on ancient oral traditions. Beliefs and practices are preserved by passing history, customs, and traditions from one generation to the next. Authority for interpreting events and establishing proper conduct of ethics and morals rests with a bureaucratic structure of rulers who function in both religious and political realms.

According to traditional Yoruba belief, all power in the universe emanates from a supreme being, Olodumare. Olodumare, known as the owner of everlasting abundance, among many other praise names, holds all power and is the giver of all life. Olodumare is the mystical remote source of all things and is not identified by gender. All that exists, including supernatural divine realities and natural earth realities, are part of Olodumare.

As the supreme almighty source, Olodumare is directly involved in the affairs of the earth through a complex core of sub-divinities called orisa. The orisa are authoritative divine emissaries and serve as intermediaries between the people of earth and Olodumare. They are the major objects of veneration and ritual obligation. The names and number of orisa vary according to national and local custom, but they number in the hundreds. Some are more nationally known while others may be only venerated according to localized custom.

The Ogun Festival commemorates the god Ogun, a mythical warrior, and the birth of his son, Oranmiyan, who later became king of Yorubaland. Ogun is the god of IRON and of war, as well as the patron of blacksmiths and hunters. He was the first god to descend to earth while it was still a marshy wasteland. Since he was the only one who possessed a tool-an iron cutlass-that could penetrate the dense vegetation, he cleared the way for the other deities to descend. When Obatala had finished molding the physical form of the first ancestors, it was Ogun who added the finishing touches-a role he played throughout all of creation. He continues to preside over the "finishing touches" of culture, such as circumcisions and the cutting of tribal marks.

The Ogun Festival lasts for three days. It begins with the vigil known as the Ilagun or Asoro, which takes place at midnight. On behalf of its blacksmiths, the city of Ife donates two new hoes and several iron bell-gongs needed for the ritual. The Ogun shrine in Ife is decorated with palm fronds, and two dogs are prepared for sacrifice. A libation is poured, prayers to the god are offered, and a ritual dance is held around the shrine.

The city is in a festive mood for the remainder of the festival, when the war chiefs in full regalia dance to the tune of the ibembe drums and bell-gongs made of iron while traditional Ogun songs are sung. The highlight is the procession from the Ogun Festival

palace to Oke Mogun, where Ogun finally settled after abdicating the throne. The chief, who wears the royal CROWN of Ife, is accompanied by priests and priestesses of the various other gods and goddesses worshipped by the Yoruba. Guns are fired when they arrive at the shrine. Special rituals are carried out there, and a ram is sacrificed to the dead ancestors or Oonis.

The dances performed at the Ogun Festival reenact mythical themes and are choreographed according to traditional models. Sometimes they consist of simple gestures-such as swinging a machete-that recall the god's powers. Although Ogun is traditionally regarded as the patron of blacksmiths, who unlock the secrets of the earth and forge them into tools, nowadays he is worshipped by drivers and surgeons as the god of automobiles, trucks, and the operating room. Since metal makes the creation and expansion of civilization possible, Ogun is seen as the god who "opens the way"; that is, he makes it possible for the powers of other gods to be effective.



In the procession that is the highlight of the Ogun Festival, the chief wears the beaded crown known as Are, which is supposed to be as heavy as the load that an average man can carry. The crown symbolizes a living deity and therefore attracts many invisible spirits when it is brought out for the annual event. The people of Ife believe that it is the power of the crown that usually causes rain to fall on this day.


Ogun is the god or orisha of iron, which can be transformed into the peaceful tools of agriculture as well as the terrible weapons of war. His iron cutlass stands as a symbol of his power, which can be channeled toward both creative and destructive ends. People who are asked to swear to tell the truth in a court of law and who will not swear on the Bible or the Qur'an are sometimes asked to put their tongue and lips on a cutlass made of iron. In one of the palaces of Ife, there is a large lump of iron that people touch to guarantee that they're telling the truth.

As the one who shapes iron, the blacksmith plays an important role in African mythology. The ability to turn fire and earthy substances into the products of civilization is seen as a parallel to the creation of the world. The smith is regarded as the chief agent of God on earth, the one who shapes the world.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Eliade, Mircea. The Encyclopedia of Religion. New York: Macmillan, 1987. King, Noel Q. Religions of Africa: A Pilgrimage into Traditional Religions. New York: Harper & Row, 1970. MacDonald, Margaret R., ed. The Folklore of World Holidays. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Murphy, Joseph M. Santería: African Spirits in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.