After a long and heated debate, the Eyo Masquerade Festival of Lagos State, which was nominated by Nigeria to be inscribed on the Representative List of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, was referred at the on-going 8th Session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, taking place in Baku, Azerbaijan.
According to the report of the Subsidiary Body on its work in 2013 and
examination of nominations for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the nomination satisfied four, but did not satisfy one, out of the five criteria for inscription, adding that it described no concrete safeguarding measures at the community or State level to ensure the viability of the element, particularly in the wake of inscription.
However, the body was convinced that the Eyo nomination satisfied criteria 1 and 2, for its inscription on the Representative List, because rooted in the social and cultural fabric of Lagos and passed on from generation to generation, the masquerade festival is an event expressing profound spiritual beliefs that integrates all members of the community; and that the inscription of the Eyo masquerade on the Representative List could promote dialogue between Eyo communities and others, as well as foster cultural appreciation and mutual respect.
According to the report, the nomination satisfied criteria 4 and 5, in that, Eyo groups and custodians of the festival participated in the nomination process, represented by the traditional Prime Minister of Lagos, Head of the Adamu Orisha in Council, as well as the Lagos State Council for Arts and Culture and the Oba of Lagos, who gave their free, prior and informed consent; and that Eyo masquerade festival is included in the National Inventory of Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage, maintained and regularly updated by the National Committee on Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage for Nigeria.
Reacting to the decision of the Committee, Mr. Augustus Ajibola, Deputy Director, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, who is in charge of the UNESCO Desk in the Ministry, said though the referral was devastating, it was a learning process, and that the nomination will be repackaged by Nigeria for further necessary action.
He noted that, on the other hand, it was good the decision did not come the previous day, when the nomination was to have been discussed, being that it was his birth day and such an unfavourable decision on his birth day would have been a very bitter birth day gift.
The Eyo masquerade festival of Lagos is celebrated in honour of the deity Adamu Orisha, regarded as the conduit through which departed souls may enter the spirit world and it is considered an important rite of passage and is usually held to mark the burial rites of a prominent chief.
It is opened by a notable public figure carrying a white pigeon in the hand, just as Eyo costumed dancers then parade through the city, attired in flowing white gowns that symbolize purity and represent the spirits of the dead; and all the dancers carry a staff for magic prayers and wear a large, decorated, fully veiled straw hat whose colour and design indicate the extended family compound to which they belong.
The festival brings the community together, integrates all strata of society and pays obeisance to the ruling Oba (king) of Lagos; and all adults belonging to Eyo households can be bearers of the masquerade and each compound or group is duty-bound to transfer and improve the intricate designs of staff, straw hat and clothing.
The poetry recited during the festival is also particular to each compound or group and is handed down through the generations (both orally and in written form), with modifications and improvisations.
By this referral, which was at the instance of the Committee, Nigeria has an opportunity to represent the nomination file in 2014, after providing the necessary information to meet criteria No. 3; an outright decision not to inscribe would have meant waiting for four years before a representation of such nomination.
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