The beauty of red colour apparels and white regalia can not be more appreciated than when it is being showcased at the World Sango Festival, a festival in honour of Sango, a powerful Alaafin of Old Oyo Empire.
Born and built with inherent redoubtable spiritual energy, Tella-Oko, also known as Sango, succeeded Ajaka, who appeared to be a weak ruler, and became the third king of the Oyo Empire.
Sango has conflicting stories about his parentage – There is a version that states his father was Oranmiyan and his mother was an Iyemoja (mermaid) from Nupe, there is another one that says he was the product of Obatala and Ajagun (the king of fire).
However, the version which appears valid, adapted by historians, backed by Odu-Ifa and as told in folklores in the Yoruba religion sphere was that Oranmiyan was the father of Sango, Oranmiyan the founder of Oyo kingdom and the youngest grandson of Oduduwa the progenitor married a Nupe woman who bore him Sango.
Sango was a very influential king and was said to have established a new culture and tradition. Historically, it is said that most of the cultural productions and traditions, especially spiritual crowns and emblems, were all products of Sango through his imperial influence.
His reign was, however, less than a decade – seven years – and the circumstances of his death, as controversial and mysterious as they seem, have remained a reference point across the world.
Sango’s Controversial End
According to history, his trouble is related to his tragic love story between him and Oya, his concubine who was a spirit with powers to transform into animals and summon rain.
It is said that Sango had two wives, Oshun and Oba, before Oya. Oshun is, however, considered by historians her to be the legitimate wife. To win his love, the first two wives posed a big competition but Oya had something they both lacked. She became Sango’s favourite and the bond between them was made stronger due to the complementary superpowers they possessed. Together, they became a powerful force.
Subsequently, she had access to Sango’s Edun Ara or thunderbolt and advised Sango to get rid of his two powerful war generals, Timi Olofa Ina and Gbonka after they initially refused his order not to wage a war against Owu. Based on this, Sango sent the duo to border towns of Oyo Empire. Timi went to Ede (where history says he became the first king; Timi is the official title of kings of Ede). But Gbonka stayed in Oyo.
Gbonka faced Sango in a fight, demanding him to abdicate the throne. In anger, Sango requested his Edun Ara from his beloved Oya. He got the edun but it was wet and stained with blood from Oya’s menstruation. To refortify the edun, Sango, history says, went to a nearby rock. The thunder from that exercise struck his palace and razed it down. Unwilling to fight, Sango disappeared into the air. Another version of Sango’s end has it that he hung himself in a place called Koso – this brought about the name Orisa Sango Koso
Since then, a festival was put in place to honour the Yoruba deity. The festival takes place every August, toward the end of the rainy season, at every Yoruba recognized country such as Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, Benin Republic among others but it is always celebrated at the place of Alaafin in Oyo.
In 2013, the Oyo State Government made Sango Festival internationally recognised by renaming it to World Sango Festival.
The Sango festival celebration usually takes place for about 10 days where the worshippers go completely traditional with their red or white attire and traditional hairstyles and beads. It is marked with pageantry, pomp and circumstance. On the last day of the celebration, a group of followers called Elegun Sàngó entertains the crowds with magic. The Elegun Sàngó who comes from different parts of Yoruba states such as Oyo, Ekiti, Ede, Ibadan, Ajagba and Koso, take their turn to perform. They plait their hair and their eyes are quite intimidating as they are completely dressed in the clothes of Sango Koso to perform the spirituals powers and to bless the town. The current Alaafin must also retire into the palace, because at no point in his life can see Sango Koso, except during his coronation.