By: ALABIDUN, SHUAIB ABDULRAHMAN.
In Kwara state, Shao town is an environmentally rich community. It stands out as a classical tourist attractions local area owning to the popular Awon Mass Wedding marked every October in the town annually, where all ladies that have riped for marriage are simultaneously given to their heartthrobs en masse.Aesthetically, Shao Awonga has always been lively fanfare event. The time that combined festivity with celebrations and felicitations. Moreover, the moment where the age-long lost friends and family members are reconciliated. Simply put, it is a time for reconnection and where the cultural heritage of the ancient town of Shao is being showed to the global world.Strangely, little is said or known about the historical background of why it is being celebrated, which thus according to Oke (1996) in his research narrated that Omo Larele; (the son of Larele) was a hunter, who, each time he went hunting, he, as a custom, would call at a small stream to drink water. On one of such occassions, he was met by a strange fairy woman with only one breast. Tradition claims that the woman emerged mysteriously to Omo Larele and she claimed ownership of the water from which he had been drinking. She did not show any resentment to his encroachment, but instead, she requested to be led to Oba Olanibo, the first Ohoro of Shao.As the myth goes, it is believed that the woman spent scrupulously accurate eighteen days with the people of Shao, and left after holding a closed-door meeting with the Ohoro and his chiefs. In a passionate manner, she was seen off by the Ohoro and his son in the company of other chiefs, in appreciation of the time well spent with them.Interestingly, on her way, she chose a path and ordered, among them the Baruba hunter who believed to be there then to cut the bush and make a path through which they walked. On reaching a spot, she halted, and it was at this juncture that she disclosed her name as Awon. This was when she was bidding farewell to the Ohoro and his chiefs.However, in her farewell address, Awon disclosed to the Ohoro and his chiefs that they would no longer see her, but she will hand over a charm to them to establish a strong settlement. When this was realized, they should rename the settlement after her as Shao-Awon.Intricately, she urged the people that a day be set aside every year to mark or commemorate her presence among the people, and to ensure that all marriage able girls are given in marriage on this day, that is, all maidens of the town are to be married in a mass wedding ceremony to their suitors on the same day.The mysterious and alien woman pledged that she would always bless the people with children if her injuctions were followed faithfully. She also pledged to bless all the descendants of Shao along with the strangers amidst them if only they could come forward to put their request to herany time and most especially during the celebration of the annual mass wedding festival.Any other problems like unsuccessful life, barrenness, and other similar problems can be channeled to Awon through her priest for solution. But that can be done when the person concerned put her absolute trust in her.Furthermore, immediately after her speech, Awon fell downand vanished into the air. She was quickly followed by waves. It was at this spot that water began to gush out, and started to flow as a stream which later developed into a big river called ‘Awon’ river. The spot where the woman fell down and from where the water started to gush is called “AWON YALE;” this, according to Yusuf (2010) can begiven two literary meanings, one-it means that Awon visits home. This is when we talk of Awon as a woman. Also, this spot of disappearance of the mysterious woman is very significant today among the people of Shao as it is referred to as ‘OJUBO AWON’, that is, the spot where the people gather to worship the Awon goddess.After the mysterious disappearance of the stranger woman, the Ohoro, and his chiefs went back to their abode. Later, they received two other unknown women, who described themselves as sisters to Awon. They were on a search mission for Awon who had vanished mysteriously. When they could not find their sister, they two left for an unknown destination. It was later gathered that one of the sisters came to be known as “Asa” (now as a river that passes through Ilorin) and the second sister was believed to be “Osun” in Osogbo. The authenticity of this tradition is partially confirmed by many similar images and figures found in both Osun and Awon shrines.After the departure of Awon and her sisters, the Ohoro, Oba Olanibo and his chiefs instructed Mogaji Gbenagbena, who is, the family head of the wood carvers and the sculptors, to engrave the wooden image of the one-breasted woman and her sisters to immortalize and symbolize their presence among the people of Shao. These inturn became the symbol of the Awon goddess.Conclusively, in strict adherence to Awon request, the Ohoro then decreed that the annual Awon mass wedding festival should be celebrated once in a year among the citizens of Shao in remembrance of the mysterious woman and her sisters.
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