The Odun Aje in Ondo kingdom is literally referred to as a festival of the goddess of wealth and fertility. The festival is one of the over 50 traditional festivals annually celebrated with pomp and pageantry in Ondo. The festival is dedicated to Aje, the Yoruba goddess of wealth and fertility, it is another very special and impressive female angle to the Ondo traditions. Odun Aje festival in Ondo city is an annual festival usually performed by the Opojis, that is the female Chiefs. The festival is usually held on the eve of Odun Moko, a special festival usually performed around November by the Udoko community, where women are barred from public glare.
The festival in Ondo kingdom is usually referred to as the goddess that controls women’s success in business, and extends their wealth. Aje is normally regularly propitiated by Ondo women, especially the market Chiefs and the Opojis. The special annual festival and the worship is however vested in the Opojis, who perform the rites on their own and on behalf of womanhood, and the entire people in the kingdom. According to a book entitled, “Ondo Traditions and Culture, the Female Angle, written by a former Commissioner for Education in Ondo State and the Mayegun of Ondo city, Chief Mrs. Olufunke Iluyemi, Aje is worshiped annually in the city, so that fortune will continue to smile on all women and the townsfolk in general. She explained that each Opoji in the city is expected to have her own Aje, which is a kind of movable shrine, dedicated to the Yoruba goddess of affluence and fertility.
The shrine consists of the Aje itself which is placed in a big clean and white bowl, usually of brass and in the bowl are placed several items symbolic of wealth, enhanced social status and fertility. The items include Aso-Oke, the Ondo traditional cloth, owo eyo, (cowrie money) Iyun (red beads) awo (China plates) irunkere, (horse tail) and decorative mirrors as well as gold ornaments to mention a few. The items which are artistically and daintily arranged in the white bowl and topped with horse tail is a symbol of prestige, status, ease and affluence. It could also be topped with white doll, which also symbolises western civilisation in which Ondos are noted for.
The Aje in Ondo kingdom is the Opoji’s symbol of position and elevation in the society, it reflects her position as a woman of substance and respectability without which attributes she could not have been made a chief. Other women around her or her own relations may also have cause to propitiate the Aje on their own behalf for success in their individual business in life’s endeavours. For example, at the beginning of the Obitun ceremony celebrated for puberty initiation performed by the Ondos for girls prior to marriage, the girls involved will have the Aje near them or that of their relation who is an Opoji worshipped on their behalf. The usual materials for the Aje rites are kolanut and cold water (Ugba Omi Titu) in local parlance, elo (marched yam without palm oil) among others.
Apart from this private worship of the Aje, which is usually around November, precisely on the eve of Odunmoko, a special outing for each Opoji with her Aje. This is called Odun Aje, a unique outing for the women Chiefs to perform publicly the worship of their Aje to seek fortune and favour, not only on themselves, but also on the entire kingdom, including the Oba, Chiefs and all his subjects.
The Aje ceremony in Ondo kingdom also involves the Udoko priest Chiefs whose duty it is to perform the rites on the Aje to seek for success and prosperity in the entire kingdom. Preceding the day of the celebration, elaborate preparations are made by the Opoji for a festival splashed in honour of her Aje. Relatives are informed and items for feasting are got ready. On the morning of the day, the Opoji dresses up and prepares her Aje for the evening outing. The Aje will be displayed and placed in the front of the house of the Opoji chief, while spectators view it for their admiration.
In the evening of the celebration, the Aje will be placed on the head of a young virgin, for the efficacy of the prayers and rites, the Aje carrier (votary maid) must be pure. The girl herself would be beautifully attired with choice traditional wears and beads, covering her body from the thighs to her chest. She wears the Yata and other trappings of traditional affluence, very important that the Aje carrier is expensively attired, because both she and Aje are on display, as a reflection of the status and social success of the Opoji concerned.
With the Aje carried by the young virgin, the Opoji dances to the appointed assembly at a spot in Okedoko street in Ondo, accompanied in a joyous procession by her children, neighbours as well as other relations and well wishers, mainly women. Naira of different denominations would be pasted on the body of the young girl. When all the female Chiefs might have assembled, each Aje is placed on a stand in front of the Opoji. The female Chiefs then hold a mock marketing session to symbolize the importance of economic activities in Ondo kingdom and the key role of women in the commercial life of the society.
As the ceremony proceed, in a highly delightful manner, the Opoji pays homage to Lobun, who is the leader of the women Chiefs in the city, this exercise would go round in a hierarchical order, very similar to what the male Chiefs do during Ugha, a traditional meeting spot within the Palace of the Osemawe. The whole ceremony is perform in a square called Enuowa, a spot near the Old Town Hall, behind the palace of Osemawe.
The ceremony is a special forum for women. It is the high point of Ondo tradition, it is a most enthralling sight full of gaiety and colour. During the celebration, the very depth of Ondo culture is reflected in the women’s dressing, singing, ceremonial dancing, traditional prayers and exchange of ceremonial greetings to mention a few. However, the main thrust of the ceremony is for prayers to be said for communal peace, success in business and continued prosperity for the entire kingdom in general, and the Opojis in particular.
This celebration involved the Opojis in Ondo and the Chiefs from Udoko led by the Sasere who would arrive later in the evening to partake in the elaborate celebration, the Chiefs from Udoko community would offer prayers foe each of the Opojis, praying for their success in trade, prosperity and long life.
The Udoko Chiefs would also offer prayers for fertility among Ondo women and the safety, happiness and well-being of all children born into the community, during this prayers each Aje is touched with the priests, while “ase” meaning Amen would rent the air. After the rite the Udoko chief would depart, amidst drumming and dancing, while the Opojis would also leave the venue in hierarchical order, in company of their drummers, this aspect of the celebration is always a delight to watch as everybody present at the venue would be happy to be part of the annual celebration.
The accompanied friends and relatives would be cleared on their returns to the Opojis house, while the Aje is returned to its special place on a conspicuous stand in the house to await another year’s outing. If however, the Opoji herself is unable to accompany her Aje to the venue of the celebration as a result of illness, old age and demise, her children and other relations will perform the outing on her behalf.
In the alternative, she may display the Aje in front of her house, where she herself will sit, well dressed in a festive mood, while all her relatives would dance to the admiration of spectators, the virgin girl who has the honour of carrying the Aje is showered with cash gifts and valuable items. The virgin girl would also be given a hen and kolanuts to worship her guardian spirit and pray that she too may grow up to be a woman of substance in the society. When the virgin girl grows too big to carry the Aje or gets married, another carrier has to replace her.
Source From: Ondo Development Committee