Pagan – Christian clashes in Yorubaland

Under the cover of the start of the Carnival season, costumed members of a pagan religious cult have attacked Christians in a town in southwestern Nigeria’s Ekiti State. On 14 Sept 2016 local newspapers reported that men dressed in costumes worn by participants in masquerades attached to the Ogun Egungun festival attacked worshippers leaving St Andrew’s Anglican Church in Ado Ekiti. The Rev. Zacchaeus Ibitoye told the Daily Trust that as members of the congregation were leaving the church following a prayer service, one man rushed back inside the building chased by “cudgel-wielding masqueraders [who] smashed his head with a broken bottle.” The Governor of Ekiti State Ayodele Fayose banned the masquerade festival to prevent violence between Christians and pagans. However, the traditional leader of the festival in Ado Ekiti, Chief Obayemi Aladetoyinbo, told the press the incident was not connected to their religious festival. He speculated that thieves had dressed in costumes associated with the festival to carry out their crimes in anonymity and to scare their victims, or that cultists outside the traditional hierarchy of the religion had turned it to their own evil ends. The Odun Egungun is an annual Yoruba traditional religious festival in honor of the dead that serves to bring ancestral spirits into contact with the living. Egungun priests and devotees wear elaborate costumes and masks and through drumming and dance seek to become united with the spirits of the dead in a religious frenzy. The possessed initiates then spiritually cleanse the community, pointing out through dance and dramatic acting the sins and weaknesses of members of the community.  The performances conclude with messages, warnings, curses or blessings from the spirits. The Carnivals of Brazil and the West Indies arose from these traditions, and a number of Afro-Brazilian cults draw upon the masquerades of West Africa for their belief systems. Participation in the masquerade dances are discouraged by the Church of Nigeria, which has forbidden its members from joining secret societies and cults.

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