THE Araba Agbaye, the leader of the entire herbalists in the world came out in form of leopard during the Ilefen festival and the tumultuous crowd cheered him as he came out of Oke-ltase (the origin of human being).
The man, clad in wrapper with white and red chalk from the waist to the head looked every inch like that of a leopard. The white and red chalk was divided into two while the man appears fiery and was surrounded by the inner caucus. That was the situation when Odun Ilefen (Festival of Ilefen) was held in Ife.
The yearly festival was witnessed by a large crowd from Nigeria and beyond and the festival was to commemorate the day Orunmila changed into leopard and was on his way to fight with the then Oloofin (Ooni of Ife), who according to history accused him of dating his wife. It was said that Ooni got scared and ran away.
According to Owolabi Aworeni, the son of Araba Agbaye and a student of Obafemi Awolowo University, (OAU) Ile Ife, “there was a gang-up against Orunmila in those days, and he was wrongly accused. He got angry and changed into leopard and moved towards the Ooni palace to deal with him. He was appeased by the chiefs and the people at the time. After a while, Orunmila calmed down and returned to Oke-ltase, but before then, he prayed for the people.”
The story has it that Araba at that time was met by Awo Olodu Merindinlogun (the 16 Higher Ifa Priests) who were instrument to his changing his mind. According to history, when he calmed down, he asked what Ifa divinity has to say, they replied in unison that Ifa said Iree ni o (it is peace).
They gave him kolanut. He collected the kolanut and called the Emese which are the Ooni’s palace boys and told them that he is no longer angry. To demonstrate that he is not angry, he ate the kolanut and move from one god to the other to appease them.
He said that ever since then, Agbonmiregun (is the same person as Orunmila or Araba Agbaye), which is the reason Araba Agbaye set aside this day to worship and pray for peace and the people. Indeed, it was a grand festival as Ifayori Aworeni from Argentina danced away to the local drum (Gangan) to the delight of the people. She said, “Ifa is life and we are here to worship Ifa because we believe so much in the divinity of Ifa”.
Odun Ilefen starts early with Apetebi (the wives of Orunmila) that goes round the family compound sweeping with Ifa leaves while also decorating the compound in preparation for the ceremony proper. Shortly after, Araba came out, danced to the praise songs rendered by the women. He left to the burial ground of the late Araba where he paid homage. The late Araba from inception were about 30, he performed rituals at the place where each was buried.
Fagbamila Aworeni, Majeobaje Awo Agbaye from Uruguay and Ajiwenu Aworeni, Iyalatee Awo Agbaye from Uruguay noted that they came to Ile-Ife to worship and celebrate Odun Ilefen. To them and the others like Ifatunmbi Ifasanmi, the Isokan Awo Agbaye from Cuba, Ifaporile Aworeni from Brazil, Ifasogbe Aworeni, Ifaloye Aworeni, Ifadesi Aworeni and Ifagunyemi Aworeni all from Uruguay extolled the virtues of Ifa. They said that Odun Ilefen is their festival and would not miss it because it is a significant period in the life of Orunmila.
To them, it shows that truth pays. It is also a time to keep in touch with their roots Ile-Ife. Ajiwenu Aworeni, the Iyalate Awo Agbaye wondered why the government of Nigeria is not taking the culture and tradition of her people seriously. She said: “If the Odun Ilefen can be encouraged and well packaged, it will be great as many of my people will turn out in their hundreds, if not thousands to Ile-Ife. We believe so much in Ifa divinity like many of my people at home.”
First Published in Nigerian Compass on Saturday, 20 October, 2012.