In modern times, it is presented by the people of Lagos as a tourist event and, due to its history, it is, traditionally, performed on Lagos Island.
The word Eyo refers to the costumed dancers, known as the masquerades that participate during the festival. The origins of this observance are found in the inner workings of the secret societies of Lagos. Back in the days, The festival was to escort the soul of a departed Lagos King or Chief and usher in a successor. It is widely believed that the festival is one of the manifestations of the customary African festivities that serves as the forerunner of the modern carnival in Brazil.
On Eyo Day, the main highway in the heart of the city (from the end of Carter Bridge to Tinubu Square) is closed to traffic, allowing for procession from Idumota to the Iga Idunganran palace. The white-clad Eyo masquerades represent the spirits of the dead, and are referred to in Yoruba as Agogoro Eyo (literally: tall Eyo). The Adamu Orisa (Eyo) festival is, perhaps, the most famous cultural festival in Lagos State. This is partly because it developed in the heart of central Lagos, which is the Island.
The festival was first staged in 1854 in honour of the late Oba Akitoye of Lagos and since then, it has remained a prominent festival, which seeks to celebrate the life and times of prominent, but, dead Lagosians. A complete paraphernalia of Eyo consists of a white flowing gown that covers the head and feet which symbolises the spirit.
The Eyo wears a head gear called Aga, with each group having separate colours for its Eyo. Eyo usually carries a long palm stick called Opambata as his staff of office. The stick is, usually, with artistic inscriptions to express its uniqueness and beauty. Opambata are normally used by Eyo to greet each other and elders. They also use them in beating offenders or harassing their friends.
The different natures, colours and costumes of the Aga distinguish the chiefs, their groups and Eyo. The groups include Adimu, Oniko, Okolaba, Ologede, and Agere. While there are royal Eyo like Olorogun, Aromire, Oloto, Bajulaye, Akitoye, Eletu-Odibo, Onilegbale, Onitana, Ogunmode, Onisemo, Ashogun, Oluwa, Jakande, Eti and Ashodi among others. Each Eyo is easily identified by the nature of his Aga.
Preparations towards the grand procession of the Eyo festival are rooted in long-standing tradition and no one dares alter the sequence or denigrate it. From the chosen date to the inscriptions and demarcations on the staff, from which each family erects the Para, to who has the exclusive rights to dismantle it, from costume to public conduct when in uniform, every single detail is closely observed and strictly adhered to.
There is a week-long Opambata show, with the Agbodo dance and a rituals to be performed by Chief Eletu-Odibo, this marks the beginning of the festival. The major music of the show is Korogun, consisting of Iya- Ilu, two Omele drums, Konkolo and gong. Drumming and other musical equipment accompany the Eyo as they move around the streets of Lagos during the festival which involves thorough merry-making.
Regulations & Significance However, there are basic regulations to be adhered to by the public during the Adamu Orisa festival on sighting an Eyo. First, everybody must remove their shoes, head-ties, caps, women must not plait their hair (Suku style), umbrellas must be folded, riders must dismount from bicycles and all cigarettes and pipes should be put away.
The main cultural significance of the festival to Lagos Island is its practise in the funeral ceremonies of a king or a chief and its importance in the crowning of a successor. No wonder, that in the past, a new Lagos Oba should, as a matter of necessity, perform rituals through the festival to appease his dead predecessor for the success of his own tenure, failure of which could be disastrous to his reign.
It is the belief of the people of Lagos that the festival wards off death, sickness and poverty while long life and prosperity would be restored to the island and environs. Eyo festival aids social interaction among the inhabitants on the Island as people come from different places like Ijebu, Badagry, Ikorodu and others, to join them in celebrating the festival.