A cultural renaissance as Afenmai Masquerades and dance troupe dazzle in Benin

Agbeloje dance group
As legendary Reggae artiste, Bob Marley, once sang in Buffalo Soldier, sang philosophically “If you know your history, you will know where you are coming from.”‎ Even though Bob Marley was referring to a people’s culture, ir is regrettable that the importance of Marley’s statement does not go beyond its lyrics to many, especially the younger generations of today, as they strive ever further for their definition of Western enlightenment.

‎It is not uncommon to hear people still talk about societal values. But most times, some of them do not actually understand what those values stand for, let alone their origin. This is largely because the influence of Western civilisation and globalisation has not only impacted negatively on the cultural heritage of African societies, but has completely eroded most aspects of the people’s culture.

For example, most children of today, including some adults, are increasingly finding it difficult to speak their mother tongue (local dialects), let alone write them . Reasons are not far fetched: they have now adopted English and other foreign languages as their medium of communication.

Bad as it may appear, however, efforts are still being made to preserve our cultural heritage, something we are passionate about at Viva Naija. Many individuals and institutions have taken it upon themselves to revive the cultural heritage. Now, there is interest in preservation rather than the culture going extinct. Now that is good news!

One such individual is Prince (Alhaji) Usman Abudah, a veteran journalist, who, in an effort to preserve the cultural heritage of the Afenmai People of Edo State, founded the Afenmai Heritage and Cultural Studies, to showcase Assembly of Afenmai Masquerades and Traditional Troupes annually.
Recently, a special edition of the Masquerades and Traditional Dance Troupes featured at the Edo State Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Press Centre in Benin, where five cultural troupes, namely Abgeloje Dance Troupe, Ogbona Masquerade, Oyase Obomeje, (soloist), Ogbona Female Singers, and Egbogio Dance Troupe performed.‎ Even though they were different in their names, lyrics, dance steps and costume, but the resounding phenomena in their various performances, the troupes were entertaining, educating, informing to the public in their own unique ways. Through their well-choreographed dance steps and lyrics, the guests were entertained, as the elderly among them were nostalgic about the good old days when such displays were common.
Oyase solo performer

Besides the entertaining aspect of our cultural heritage depicted through dancing and folktales, such troupes have provided employment to those who have taken cultural dance as a profession.

Though the cultural troupes have succeeded in performing their roles and are happy for it, the only common song on their lips is that they want  assistance from various government, local, state and federal even private organisations to help with logistics.

For Samson Alabi from Ogbona, leader of the Ogbona Masquerade, he said he grew up to meet his forefathers dancing “Avin” and he decided to carry it on and pass it on to his children. According to him, the dance is meant for the people of the community alone while members are admitted into the group after providing two cartoons of beer, two gallons of palm wine, and five thousand naira as registration fee.

He said their fees are charged based on the distance of the ceremony. He said the troupe has exposed him to the length and breadth of this country.

Obiosun Clement, from  Owan West Local Government Area of Edo State, said he has reweakened eight cultural troupes namely, Asologun, Agbede, Iyoko Water Dance, Alukpekpe, Iyawele, Adesuwa, Shonge and Ikaho Masquarade.

Even though they do not make much money from what they are doing, Obiosun said they keep doing it because they believed that they need to preserve their cultural values through dancing. He said he cannot abandon his culture for anything but would always do that which will help promote the cultural heritage of the Afenmai people, adding that he said he has made effort to ensure that the state government gives them recognition.

‎Many are of the opinion that the consequences of not paying attention to our cultural heritage are the calamities that have befallen the country today, such as terrorism, vandalism, kidnapping on a daily basis, many things that have become a major source of concern to many Nigerians.

Founder and Artistic Director, Afenmai Heritage and Cultural Studies, Alhaji Usman Abudah, appealed to government at all levels to change their attitudes to anything that has to do with the promotion, propagation and documentation of the creative artistry of the people.

He urged government officials to stop the cheating attitude meted to traditional troupes when invited to participate at official functions. Apparently, the troupes are given stipends that are not worthy of a mention and yet, what is officially recorded as being released is significantly more. Hian. Is there nothing government will not embezzle or steal?
Abudah urged the federal government to hand over the running of the skill acquisition centres built by the National Council  for Arts and Culture (NCAC), located in various zones in the country to serious artistic disciples to run for the benefit of the citizens in these areas.

In his speech, the State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Tom Uloko, commended Abudah for educating the people and exposing them to the rich cultural display.

“I am delighted seeing the troupes perform. The ceremony has given me a new vista to a new horizon,” he said, adding that he would ensure that “what happened today would be communicated to other local government areas with the view of ensuring that each community promotes their culture through dancing competition  and other means in which their culture could be promoted and preserved.”

Agbeloje dance group
Folklore keepers and tellers

Aimi masqurades

Agbeloje masqurades on stilts
Aimi masqurades in a group photograph with their performers
Agbeloje dance group

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