This ‘mythological’ warrior inspired Nigeria’s Oronna Festival

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe September 28, 2022
Picture of the statue of Orona of Ilaro, a great warrior of ancient times. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Kayode Afolabi

Most festivals in Africa are celebrated to remember key fathers of old who made significant changes and contributions to society. While most of these fathers of old are categorized as myths by science the belief in their power and the veracity of their power cannot be denied especially by their people who do not deem them as myths.

One such father of old is Aro, who came from Oyo town. He founded Ilaro in the 18th century. From Igbo Aje, a small hill in the middle of the town, he and his warriors could see enemies (mostly slave traders from the neighboring Benin republic known at the time as Dahomey) on the attack from a great distance. Aro himself was a formidable hunter and fighter. Ilaro’s name derives from “Ilu Aro,” which refers to the Aro settlement, and was later changed to Ilaro for pronunciation purposes. The ancient town of Ilaro was fortunate to have had superb farmers, hunters, and warriors.

Aro was a warrior who migrated to Igbo Aje with his Leopard and himself, where they were able to fight off his opponents, who were mainly slave merchants. This warrior left a legacy in Ilaro that is still evident today. When he became old, he not only brought peace back to his people but also plunged into the earth with his leopard to demonstrate the strength of his influence.

News had it that Oronna with his “Ekun” (Leopard) when he became old and wanted to demonstrate the magnitude of His power and authority entered into the ground and instructed his people to call upon him whenever there is a problem by simply pulling the rope attached to himself and the leopard.

The Ilaro Kingdom observes the ancient event known as the Oronna Festival. The Oronna festival is held every year by the Ilaro people to honor, preserve, and uphold the rich cultural history of the Ilaro Kingdom. The Ilaro people considered Oronna (Aro) to be a hero and a brave warrior who, during battle, is credited with bringing the land multiple wins, mostly against the Dahomean Army. He stood in the battle to protect the land from invaders and dedicated himself to its security and well-being.

The location where Oronna and his Leopard vanished into the earth is now known as the Oronna Shrine and has been refurbished and built as a benefit for history buffs and tourists. It is also the site of the ceremony that crowns each new traditional ruler of the town. Every year, the Oronna Ilaro Festival is held to honor the legendary warrior.

However, the Oronna Ilaro festival is most notable for luring travelers and fans of culture to the area. The festival that takes place in November every year lasts for one week. Numerous activities that highlight all aspects of Ilaro’s social and cultural life take place during this one week, including a talent hunt, medical check-up programs, a street carnival, tourism-related events, a cultural beauty pageant, masquerade shows, and festival dances.

Tens of thousands of Ilaro descendants, fans of traditional culture, and tourists from abroad and within the nation have attended the festival over the years due to its distinctive colors and splendor.

With its standing, the Oronna Ilaro festival is without a doubt a popular tourism destination for people in Nigeria and around the world. The festival was formally launched in 1992 and is sociocultural, with cultural roots that helped put Ilaro on the map of the world. The descendants of Ilaro come from all over the world to celebrate one of the biggest cultural festivals in the southwest area of Nigeria as a symbol of the communal link that was built twenty years ago.

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