Nestled on the serene north bank of the enchanting Lagos Lagoon in Lagos State, Nigeria, Epe emerges as a captivating blend of history and modern vitality. This town and port, steeped in the rich traditions of the Ijebu people, transports you back to the mid-18th century, where it stood as the bustling heart of commerce and culture. Initially established as the paramount port for Ijebu-Ode, the kingdom's capital, Epe thrived as a hub for the exchange of slaves, exquisite cloth, and bountiful agricultural treasures. It also served as a sanctuary for Kosoko, the Yoruba king, when he was dethroned from Lagos by the British in 1851, adding a touch of resilience to its history.
In the modern era, Epe has evolved into a vibrant center for trade, where fish, cassava, corn, vegetables, coconuts, cocoa, palm produce, rubber, and firewood converge for their journey to Lagos and beyond. It is renowned for crafting the motorized, shallow-draft barges that gracefully traverse the coastal lagoons, a testament to its innovation and craftsmanship. Amidst this bustling activity, fishing remains the
lifeblood of Epe, drawing visitors and residents alike into its rich, maritime tapestry.
A Historical Tapestry
Nestled within the heart of Lagos State, the Kayo-Kayo Festival in Epe is a vibrant tapestry of tradition, spirituality, and unity that has captivated both residents and visitors for generations. This annual celebration is steeped in history, tracing its roots back to the arrival of King Kosoko in 1851, who laid the foundation for Eko-Epe.
The Kayo-Kayo Festival owes its existence to the arrival of King Kosoko and his entourage of 1500 people in 1851. To commemorate this significant event, the festival has been celebrated year after year, symbolizing the cultural heritage of the Epe community in Lagos State. "Kayo-Kayo," which translates to "eating to satisfaction," encapsulates the essence of this festival, a grand celebration of abundance and unity.
Dimensions of the Festival
The Kayo-Kayo Festival unfolds over the course of a week, featuring three distinct dimensions that intertwine seamlessly:
The Religious Dimension: the festival marks the beginning of the Islamic New Year, celebrating the 1st Hijra calendar Muharram. This dimension reflects the spiritual significance of the festival, connecting the community to their faith.
The Cultural Dimension: at its core, the festival commemorates King Kosoko's historic landing in Epe. Through cultural displays, traditional foods, and youth parades, the Epe community proudly showcases its rich heritage. One particularly enchanting aspect involves mimicking King Kosoko's arrival in 1851 by traveling to Marina in boats, bringing history to life.
The Social Dimension: The Kayo-Kayo Festival serves as a communal bonding experience. It's a time when Epe opens its doors to both indigenes and non-indigenes, welcoming visitors from far and wide. The town prepares itself to receive guests with open arms, embodying the spirit of unity and hospitality.
The festival features a plethora of activities that engage and mesmerize attendees:
The fashion parade show involved the Epe's maidens dress elegantly in native attire, adorned with intricate body ornaments and hairstyles. The fashion parade is a spectacle of style, with judges selecting a maiden to be crowned the Queen of the festival.
Afterwards, professional medical practitioners use the festival as an
opportunity to educate the audience on health-related issues, ensuring that the community stays informed and healthy.
Then cultural displays where indigenes showcase their culture at its zenith, the community members venture to Marina in boats, reenacting King Kosoko's arrival, and demonstrating their deep connection to their heritage.
Days of Celebration
The Kayo-Kayo Festival unfolds in a series of captivating events:
On day one the festival begins with Jumaat prayers led by the Chief Imam of the Central Mosque, followed by the warm welcome of visitors. Epe transforms into a carnival-like atmosphere, bustling with parades and colorful decorations.
Then a royal visit to the Olu-Epe of Epe Kingdom takes place, paying homage to the king and offering gifts. In the evening, Tahjud night is observed at the first Epe central mosque, deepening the spiritual aspect of the festival.
Afterwards, a special Jummat service is held at the first Epe central mosque, offering supplications and gratitude to God.
On the fourth day which is usually the grand finale comprises several significant activities, including the Kayo-Kayo Prayer at the Palace of Olu-Epe. It's a unique event where all religions practiced by the community come together. The festival continues with dramatic displays, musical performances, and the symbolic lighting of Etufu by the Olu-Epe of Epe Kingdom, signifying light's importance to the town's development, growth, and blessings.
The Kayo-Kayo Festival culminates in communal feasting, where
traditional dishes like seafood, iyan, efo riro, ikokore, amala, and many others are served in abundance.
Families and friends come together to share meals and celebrate their unity, strengthening the community bonds.
In conclusion, the Kayo-Kayo Festival in Epe, Lagos State, stands as a vibrant celebration deeply rooted in tradition, spirituality, and cultural pride. It not only connects the community to its rich history but also serves as a symbol of unity and resilience. This enchanting festival, while embracing modern elements, remains a vital link to the past, allowing residents and visitors alike to immerse themselves in the heritage of Epe town. It is a true testament to the enduring vibrancy of Nigerian culture and a must-visit for those eager to experience the traditions of this remarkable region.
Culture feast in Epe as Kayokayo Festival holds. Kehinde Olatunji. 2019.
Jemimah Ekundayo , Kayo-Kayo Festival (2023)
Photo Credit: Courtesy of The Lagos State Government on Twitter