Ogun, the God of Iron

Ogun, the God of Iron

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Many myths and legends exist as to the origin of Ogun. Much of the knowledge of the deity is based on the fact that he was one of the earliest divinities. He loved hunting and was referred to as “Osin-Imole”, that is, the Chief among the divinities. He cleared the thick impenetrable way with his iron implements for other the divinities when he was coming from heaven to possess the earth. Being a ruthless deity, he lived in seclusion at the top of the hill where he went about hunting. Tired of secluded life, he decided to go for a settled life, which he had rejected earlier on. He came down from the hilltop in a garment of fire and blood but could not find an abode in any community. So he borrowed fronds from the palm-tree and headed for Ire where he was made king. Hence, the name Ogun Onire (Ogun, the Lord of Ire) was given to him.

The Ogun Festival in Ondo: The Ogun festival is celebrated in Ondo between the months of August and September every year. According to Olupona the preparation for the festival commences seventeen days before the actual Ogun day at the appearance of the new moon. At an early morning ceremony in the house of Ayadi, the ritual specialist of Ogun public worship, the upe (a traditional trumpet made from a long gourd) is sounded to notify the people of the on-coming festival. The sound of upe then becomes a common feature throughout the period of the festival, which lasts seven days. The sound of the upe is very significant because it carries messages which are sometimes complimentary and at other times abusive from one youth to the other.

During the seventeen-day interval, the worshippers of Ogun assemble in groups to praise the divinity and other past cultural heroes associated with him, such as Jomun Ila.
On a major market day, which is nine days before the festival, the king’s emissary makes the official announcement of the ceremony. Many activities are usually carried out in preparation for the festival, among which is the communal clearing of paths and the repairing of bridges and other footpaths. Five days to the festival, a few households perform a ceremony called aleho.

There are usually three parts to the ceremony – aisun ogun (night vigil), ogun ale (night ogun) and ogun owuo (morning ogun celebration). The procession involves all traditional and modern day professionals and guilds. Every possible professional group in Ondo – such as blacksmiths, medicine men and women, drivers, hunters, tailors, barbers, to mention just a few, participate in this celebration. The only exceptions are probably civil servants and white-collar workers. Most of them are usually dressed in rags, palm- fronds with their faces and bodies smeared with blue dye, white powder and or charcoal. Some, however, use that period to show affluence and nobility by wearing unusually beautiful multicoloured outfits.

The Osemawe is not left out of this festivity. He usually leads the early morning procession. He wears a beaded crown that covers his whole face with white sheet tied on his left shoulder over his agbada (flowing gown). Others such the high chiefs, medicine men and other trades men follow the king’s procession. Every professional demonstrates his trade. The most esteemed group is the traditional medicine men referred to as oloogun (medicine people). They are attired in medicine garments laced with all kinds of frightening herbal substances. This group usually engages young school children to write signposts, which display the name of their pedigree and praise names, some with warnings written in proverbs and the metaphorical magico-medical expertise of the oloogun.

This serves as a warning to the general public. The following are examples of such signposts:

i). Eni ti o ba fi oju ana wo oku
He who looks upon today’s dead with the same eyes that saw the living.
ii). Ebora a bo l’aso.
Will have his clothe removed by the spirit.
iii). Ati pe eni ti oju eni ti ju eni lo.
He who is above one is above one.
iv). Bi uya lila ba a gbonen sanle.
If one is brought down by big trouble.
v). Kekee a ka gun oiho onen
Smaller problems come up too.
vi). Opekete ndagba
As the palm-tree grows up,
vii). Inu Adama nbaje
The palm wine tapper becomes sad
viii). Ase i s’amodoun
Many happy returns of this festival
ix). Ogun ye mo ye

Ogun lives and I live too.

When Ayadi ushers Ogun in, he must sacrifice dogs (aja) and tortoise (aghon) and pour libations at the shrine of Ogun. It is the general belief in Ondo that a dog is Ogun’s favourite meat. Thus during Ogun festival, dogs are usually mercilessly immolated. The Ondo people do not in any way regard a dog as a pet as the western people do. Ondo people seldom eat dog meat but they frequently sacrifice dogs to appease Ogun. Hence, their neighbours nicknamed them Ondo aj’aja that is, Ondo the dog eater. The sacrifice of dogs is the climax of the ritual and by this, the blood flows into the shrine.

Ogun is the kernel of Ondo’s popular religion for many reasons. During O gun festival, every section of the society is represented. It is only during this festival that children, domestic servants, foreigners, artisans, traditional circumcision doctors, religious and political authorities perform as devotees of Ogun. As the divinity is tied to professionalism, everybody participates. For example, warriors, blacksmiths, traders and even women who hardly participate in other Ondo festivals play very significant roles in these festivities. Certainly, it is a time when women-dominated professions such as traditional medical paediatrics (alagbo omode or olomitutu) and women’s market associations display their wares and advertise their profession.

Furthermore, during this festival, people show their indebtedness to Ogun as the founder of iron and metals, which are essential ingredients for technological development. It should be noted that sacrifices are made to ogun from time to time, particularly whenever a journey is going to be undertaken. It is not surprising then that the importance and fierceness of ogun is captured in this proverb: “Onen yo ri ibi ogun ti gbe’je de sa eyin jija e fa i”. (Whoever sees ogun where it is taking blood and does not run, certainly has problem with his heels).

It should also be emphasized that Ogun festival serves as an occasion whereby the memory of deceased ancestors and cultural heroes are commemorated. The worshippers of Ogun proclaim O gun’s praise-names as follows:

Ogun lakaiye, osin imole – Ogun, the strong one of the earth, Chief among the deities
Ogun alada meji, ofi okan san’ko, o fi Okan ye’na – Ogun, the possessor of two matchets; with one he prepares the farm, and with
the other he clears the road.
Ojo Ogun nti ori oke bo – The day Ogun was coming down from the hilltop.
Aso ina l’o mu bora, ewu eje l’o wo – He was clothed in fire and bloodstained garment.
Ogun onile owo, olona ola – Ogun, the owner of the house of money, the owner of the house of riches.
Ogun onile kangunkangun orun – The owner of the innumerable houses of heaven.
O pon omi s’ile f’eje we – He has water in the house but takes his bath with blood.
Ogun awon l’eyin ju, egbe lehin omo orukan – Ogun whose eyeballs are rare (to behold), protector of orphans.
Ogun m’eje l’ogun mi – There are seven ogun who belong to me.
Ogun Alara ni igba’ja – Ogun of Alara takes dogs.
Ogun Onire a gba’ gbo – Ogun of Onire habitually takes rams.
Ogun ikola a gba’ gbin – Ogun of surgery habitually takes snails.
Ogun Elemona nii gba esun ’su – Ogun Elemona takes roasted yam.
Ogun a ki’run ni iwo agbo – Ogun a ki’run habitually takes ram’s horn.
Ogun gbena gbena eran awun nii je – Ogun of the artisans eats the flesh of tortoise.
Ogun Makinde ti d’ogun l’ehin odi – Ogun Makinde has become the ogun after the city wall.
Nje nibo l’ati pade Ogun? – By the way, where did we meet Ogun?
A pade ogun nibi ija – We met ogun in the battlefield.
A Pade Ogun nibi ita – We met Ogun at the junction.
A pade re nibi agbara eje naa – We also met him at the pool of blood.
A gbara eje ti i de ni l’orun bi omi ago – The pool of blood that reaches the neck like a cup of water.
Orisa t’o ni t’ogun ko to nkan – Whichever divinity regards ogun as of no consequence.
A f’owo je’su re nigba aimoye – Will eat his yams with his hands (without a knife) times without number.
E ma b’ogun fi ija sere – Do not joke about war with Ogun.
Ara Ogun kan go-go-go – Ogun is anxiously waiting to strike.

Source From: Ondo Development Committee Achieve.

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