Ariginya: A Festival Of Virginity All over the world, there are dances, practices, myths and traditions that are peculiar to one ethnic group or the other. This, they often exhibit in their festivals. There is the popular Argungu festival in the East, the Kwahi and the Swange dance in Benue State marking the new yam festival. There is the Eyo and Agere festival in Lagos; the Zangbeto in Badagry; the Osun of Osogbo; the Olojo festival at Ile-Ife; the Ojude Oba festival in Ogun State; the Oke Ibadan; Oke Iragbiji festivals and several others. All of these occasions require a particular peculiarity that draws indigenes and foreigners alike from all over the world to partake in the aura of the events. Of all these festivals, one is outstandingly different: The Ariginya and the
Ijeroba festivals of the Ikare Akoko in the Ondo area of the South-Western states in Nigeria.
It is a celebration of the community's virgins in outright nudity. The origin, the significance, the modalities and the challenges of running a festival like this in a civilised decade that we are, are all the Owa Ale of Ikare -Akoko through his representative, the Asoju Oba, and one of the maidens of the occasion unveiled to our culture correspondent at the occasion. A festival in colours Few months ago, in May to be precise, the ancient town of Ikare- Akoko was agog.
There was wining, dinning and backslapping in celebration of another year gone by. It was a day when the people of Ikare-Akoko in Ondo State converged one more time to appease the goddess of fertility. It was a moment of renewal of faith and belief in the tradition of the land; renewal of acquaintances and as well, a time to reassert one's purity and innocence in the presence of families, friends and relatives and the horde of visitors from all over the world.
It was the annual Ariginya festival, and expectedly, this year's event was not in any way different from the previous ones. One week before the event, tell-tale signs of a big event were in the air. There were banners, signposts and posters with various inscriptions welcoming visitors, tourists, sons and daughters of the land to yet another occasion of the wonderful Ariginya festival.
All the roads leading to the town were 'bathed' in bright colours, indicating the gaity of the said occasion. The people on the other hand, were quite willing. Right from the palace of the traditional rule, the Owa Ale of the town, His Royal Highness, Oba S.K.A. Adedoyin, down to the market place, everyone was simply in a celebration mood. Foreigners were not left out as some of them, according to the Owa, were around to capture the year's scene while policemen were also on ground for security purpose. More vehicles had entered the rustic town more than ever before, with the dwellers experiencing an unusual traffic jam from taxi drivers and commercial motorcycle operators, otherwise known as okada riders.
Explaining why this is so, the Asoju Oba of the land, speaking on behalf of the Oba related the issue with a traditional fact. According to him, the history of any group of people or settlement, especially in Africa is incomplete without their ability to lay claim on a particular tradition and culture that would link them with an ancestral home. For the Yoruba, he said, they must have a link with Ile-Ife, their ancestral home and this must be shown in a particular tradition. His people, on their part, brought many traditions from Ife, notable among which are the Ariginya and the Ijeroba festivals.
The intriguing part of this is that while many would celebrate theirs in an array of colourful outfits and accessories, others would do theirs in simple tools and working implements that are peculiar to their community. For the Ikare-Akoko, their style and motive is peculiarly different. The mandatory nakedness. The Ariginya festival is celebrated yearly and it is a festival for the goddess of fertility.
During this occasion, all the maidens, the unmarried girls in the land would file out from the palace of the Owa Ale nakedly, to a stream known as the Ariginya stream just a few distance from the palace. At the stream, there is a shrine where a particular sacrifice would be made. As soon as the sacrifice is made, some water from the stream would be sprinkled on these maidens and off they move to the town's square which is also close to the stream.
While all these are going on, the drummers and traditional songsters are at their bit doing their thing, creating a festive wave in the atmosphere. All these however are made in the public; in the glare of everyone, young and old, male and female. At the village square, another segment of the festival is commenced. A wrestling contest involving the eligible men ready for marriage that year would be next. The men are to fight vigorously to pick the girl of their choices.
The Ariginya is a festival used to measure the moral standard of the Ikare maidens and prepare them pure and alluring to many men around. Whether crude or not, it is an avenue to show those virgins in their very raw and undefiled form to set the mouth of their male admirers watering. It is a platform where a vital foundation for a blissful marital life is made. For a girl to have participated in this festival of nudity, she has achieved a lot by establishing her purity and a life free of promiscuity. She is therefore the pride of, not only her parents and family members, but of the entire community as a whole.
Wherever she goes henceforth, she raises her head high above her shoulders. Meanwhile, any Ikare maiden who is unable to take part in this festival is outrightly ostracised by her friends and family. She is dismissed as a girl of easy virtue and treated as such. This explains why every girl would always struggle to be part of the occasion that their virginity might be celebrated. Strange as this may sound, these exhibition of nudity remains the maidens' pride any day. Their age range from one year to any marriageable age of 18 and above.
Even the barren according to the Asoju come during the festival. "It is not just a festival of fertility, but of progress and co-existence in the Ikare-Akoko town," he said.
Detecting those defiled While it is mandatory and almost a thing of fashion for young ladies to be part of this festival particularly to establish their state of purity, not many of them were able to scale through the process. There are some who dare to play a fast one. But, the oracle was also prompt to address the situation.
According to records, on the day of the festival, it is an abomination for rain to fall, so, should rain dare fall on that day, the festival committee instantly would know that a defiler is amidst the group. They then would try and pacify them to tell the truth. If none of them opened up, the oracle would be consulted and the offender on detection would be beheaded by an accompanying masquerade. However, a lot of ladies are no longer part of this festival. Their number has drastically reduced, all thanks to the high-tech civilisation that is infringing on their sexual purity on a daily basis.
On another hand are the parents who would not want to lose their wards to some rigid doctrine and its blood sucking masquerade all because of some sexual immorality consciously or unconsciously committed. The age bracket has dropped from 18 and above that it used to be to majorly 15 downwards. And whether or not it is acceptable, the festival remains the main festival that the town identifies with till today.