Edo state has a very rich tradition of festivals and masquerades through which the people either appease the various gods and goddesses, purification of both the land and individual celebrant, initiate men or women into age-grades or as a traditional get-together. More than one hundred major festivals are celebrated in the state between September and March every year.
Those celebrations offer opportunities for re-unions of members of the family and friends, it also offers opportunities to visitors to see and feel the rich cultural heritage of the state. More than one hundred major festivals are celebrated in the state between January and December every year.
Some of the festival celebrated in Benin/Edo State include:
1. Igue and Ewere Festivals (Benins Clan):
Igue and Ewere festivals which are perhaps the most colourful and crowd- pulling festivals in among the Benins are combination of various festivals. They are reminiscent of the past events in Benin history. Each of the events is connected with past Obas around whom Benin customs and traditions are woven.
The Igue festival is celebrated annually by every reigning Oba and all Benin citizens at home and abroad to mark the end of the Bini year and to usher in a new one with renewed hope for peace and prosperity.
The ancient Igue festival is akin to the white man's New Year ceremony. Before the innovations introduced by Oba Akenzua II Igue was normally celebrated during the month of September to climax a series of ceremonies, including Ugiododua, Ikpoleki, Rhor, Ugioro, Ugi' gun or Isiokuo and Ihiekhu.
Cows, goats, fowls and other beasts are prodigiously slaughtered to propitiate the spirits of the departed Obas and the various gods of the people.
Before the European era, the number of human beings slaughtered during this period of the year approximated in quantitative terms to that of the lesser animals. In those days, most of the ceremonies were held at night, a situation which made the lives of the ordinary citizens most insecure.
2. Eho Festival (Benins Clan):
Like Igue and Ewere festivals Eho is one of the popularly cherished festivals celebrated in Edoland it is an annual festival celebrated in mid-September. It dates back to pre-historical period and is occasions for paying homage to ancestors in every family unit; a period for cementing the unity of all brethren in the family fold and an occasion in which gifts are sent to fathers-in law.
Besides paying homage, the Binis believe that all who die hold meeting and appoint a time for answering prayer and soliciting for their children on earth before a more Supreme Being who they call Osa. This is why Eho festival is celebrated at various homes within a given period which lasts from nine days to two weeks.
On the advent of new moon in September, Chief Iyase, the leader of Eghaeybo None (state ministers) tells the Oba that it is time for Eho festival. On the Oba's consents, he goes to prepare, Chief Iyase is always the first among the state ministers to celebrate it while Chief Ihaza is the first to celebrate it among the Eghaevbo-nogbe (palace ministers) it is after these two that other chiefs and commoners can celebrate.
Commoners sacrifice cocks, the chief's cows during the celebration. But kola-nuts cocoa-nuts and assorted types of wines are lavishly used irrespective of the celebrant's status in life. The rich and the well-to-do- also invite old women to their homes to sing traditional songs.
3. Ebomisi Festival (Benins Clan)
Ebomisi a contracted form of Obo- imwen-isi (the herbalist has no permanent station) Is celebrated annually between February and March in commemoration of a famous herbalist and magician.
The festival is celebrated for five days at various dates in the villages forming Ugo clan in Akugbe District of Benin. These are Ugoneki, Ugonoba, Ugo-Emoson, Okuekpen Okogo and Ugbayon.
Ebomisi hailed from Uwan on the Benin /Ifon road and was farming at a place later named after him .The town is today called Ugbogiobo (the chief herbalist's farm).
The date for the commencement of the festivals is fixed at a meeting of the elders including the high priest of Ebomisi after consulting oracle and necessary preparations made.
Most of the festival is celebrated at the shrine and masquerades, usually seven in number, visit the village occasionally to dance and pray for peace, good health and prosperity among the entire sons and daughters of Ugo at home and abroad. It is only during these visits to town that women dance and take part in the ceremony.
All sons and daughters of Ugo visit home at the time of this festival to receive blessings from Ebomisi- the men from the shrine and women from the masquerades. Beside festivity which takes place in April at Ugoneki. This is called Isosun.
4. Ohonomoimen Festival Of Iuleha (Owans/Oras clan)
Ohonmoimen in the local language means 'it is all well for me'. As the name implies Ohonmoimen festival is celebrated annually between January and March by Iuleha clan in Owan to mark the end of a fruitful year and the beginning of another. It offers opportunity for expressing gratitude to God, through ancestral gods and the gods of harvest for all the good things of the past. Prayers are also offer for protection and fruitful harvest in the coming year.
The rituals associated with Ohomoimen festival are carried out it three place know as sacred forests in the clan. These are OSEZE forest near okhijo village where the elders meet and appoint a time for the festival; OHIOJO forest and OSI forest where the images, drums and other appurtenances of the masqueraders are kept. The forest is out of bounds both for women and males not yet initiated.
Citizen within a particular age group are initiated every five years and these watch the forests during the festival. On announcement that a date has been fixed for the sacred forests harvest palm-nuts and from these nuts palm oil is made for the ceremonial lamps. The forest are also cleared and kept clean.
A curfew is imposed in the clan on the eve of the festival to allow the celebrants to convey materials to the sacred forests. That also stands as the last time people in the clan are allowed to climb palm tree and sing song other than festival songs. No light is to be seen outside during the curfew except when a pregnant woman is under labour when this does happen the family pays a fine of a she-goat.
5. Adu Ikukun Festival (Afemais/ Ivbiosakon Clan)
In Etsako there are several traditional festival which the people celebrate annually or biennially to commemorate certain historical events of cultural importance. Some of them are celebrated to mark the beginning and the end of the local seasons.
The Adu-Ikukun festival is celebrated by the people of Avianwu clan of Etsako. The clan consists of Fugar. Irakhor, Ogbona, Iviarun and Ivinone villages and to them the festival is of great significance. It is celebrated during the months of February and March to signify the start of the year.
As soon as the festival occasion draws near the various villages in Avianwu begin to organize 'clean up campaigns'. The English translation of Adu-Ikukua is to (throw away dirty) hence a clean- up campaign of all the surrounding in the area is organized.