By Anote Ajeluorou
ALREADY in its seventh year and still counting, Mare Festival 2015 organised by Ondo State Government, roused up sleepy Idanre last weekend when the world converged to celebrate among the ancient town’s rocky hills and caves. It was a one-day event that packed many interesting activities together and threw Idanre into festive mood.
Perhaps, it was Wole Soyinka’s poetry Idanre and Other Peoms published in 1967 that first gave Idanre, a town tucked away in a vintage corner of Ondo State, prominence, as rocky haven. Soyinka had visited the town and, like the hunter he is, explored the rocky hills and caves, then decided to explore the mythical Ogun through the vehicle of poetry. Since then Idanre had remained a quest in the imagination of readers who encounter Soyinka’s poetry.
But rather than Idanre festival, or perhaps align the festival with Idanre communal traditional festival, Orosun Festival (which tells the historic exploits of Idanre founders and its existence from time immemorial) already in existence, the Olusegun Mimiko-led administration preferred Mare (meaning ‘don’t fall’) festival instead to celebrate the natural hilly rocks and caves of Idanre as a natural tourism destination. Indeed, the entire Idanre community is a time-frozen tourism haven with its dark, brooding rock mountains forming a phalanx-like shield round Idanre, further accentuated by Idanre Hills Resort in need of rehabilitation to attract tourists.
From the early morning Marathon Race at Habitat (Owena) Idanre to the Mountain Climbing competition at Methodist High School, Idanre, the Cultural performances at Idanre Hills Resort, it was all spectacle. A raffle draw at the resort courtyard saw Idanre natives and visitors alike winning household and business items like standing fans, pressing irons, fridges, a sewing machine and the star prize of a motorbike.
IN opening the festival proper, Commissioner for Information and chairman, Local Organising Committee of the festival, Mr. Kayode Akinmade, stressed the importance of tourism in human development. He noted that it was why Governor Mimiko was investing heavily in tourism, adding that plans were underway to “turn Idanre Resort into a tourism destination; Mare has entered into international lexicon as tourism festival. Director-General, Nigerian Tourism Development Commission (NTDC), Mrs. Sally Mbanefo, has been here. I watched the mountain climbing; our own people will begin to climb mountains internationally from the experience gained here at Mare. In the coming years, our people will begin to bring laurels to Nigeria. Our golf course is ready, and by February, the Governor’s Cup will be held to attract ‘who is who’ in Nigeria to Idanre. In years to come, I see our people competing in the Marathon. Idanre is full of fun and activities that tell of our visibility, our strength and our versatility”.
Also, newly appointed Commissioner for Special Duties, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Femi Adekanmbi, noted that under his watch, tourism development would be taken a notch higher so as to position tourism in the state for better performance as economic tool. Traditional dancers of varying hues performed to thrill dignitaries in the open court of Idanre Hills Resort.
MUSICAL Concert billed for the evening started early and had many upcoming artistes entertaining the huge crowd. The star artistes were Ara, Paul Play Dairo and 2face Idibia. Some of the younger artistes seeking to cut their teeth included Samba, choreographers, Psalm 23 and Explicit Dancers, Salome, Ondo State Cultural Band, ODD, Ojoro, Iyalode, Japh Extra, Emerald Choir and Rough Ken. Of the youngsters, Deola, an upcoming rap artiste, stood out and wooed both the audience and Governor Mimiko. Deola’s rap theatrics was stunning as he adapted to virtually every situation the master of ceremony subjected him. His fluidity, his swag and all-out delivery were spectacular. He was the only artiste Mimiko shook hands with as a mark of his staggering stage presence and rap virtuoso.
It was only Paul Play Diaro who got Mimiko, his wife and his cabinet members to their feet to dance. And they danced. From one hit tune to another, Paul Play had the huge crowd dancing. And so from his R&B, ‘Angel of my Life’ to his remake of his father’s famous ‘Mo so rire,’ Paul Play led the groove in Idanre.
But famously, the crown performer was 2face Idibia whom the crowd had been patiently waiting to come on stage. Ara was barely tolerated as she failed to rise to any appreciable level of performance. However, her introduction of 2face Idibia seemed a redeeming gesture, as both artistes hugged. Indeed, if anything the super stardom of 2face was well assured on the night. It was well past midnight when it finally got to his turn. But he turned the night on its head and pelted his audience with his signature hits one after the other. But it would seem the night had just begun; the large audience, made up mostly of young Idanre, didn’t seem to have enough of him. They surged through the barrier and crowded the main arena close to the stage and became one with their idol.
Even when Governor Mimiko had had enough and wanted to have a few words before leaving, the crowd would have none of it. Energised by the crowd, 2face, too, wanted to sing on till he possibly dropped. It was clear he hadn’t had such passionate crowd in a long while by the show of love from Idanre audience.
However, Mimiko stressed how much celebration of culture the night was and the need to appreciate tourism as a resourceful tool of economic sustainability. He restated his commitment to the development of tourism as a driver of the economy and the need to leverage on domestic tourism as an important tool of socio-economic development. Mimiko noted that with the fortunes of oil as economic resource dwindling and Nigeria’s economy on downturn, it would make economic sense to turn to tourism as a way out. He called on governments at all levels to look inwards for the economic resuscitation tourism could offer.
HOWEVER, participation of local Idanre community in Mare Festival since its inception seemed minimal. Indeed, how much indigenous content does Mare festival boasts and how is it woven into Idanre social-cultural fabric? An Idanre respondent to this poser, who craved anonymity, was unequivocal in asserting that Mare Festival is foreign to Idanre culture and people and that the entire Idanre people have remained mere spectators in a festival celebrated yearly in their town. Although he commended the spirit behind Mare, he could not but wonder why the local, age-old festival, Orosun, was not adopted instead of creating a new one that has no bearing on Idanre culture and tradition.
As he put it, “Idanre people cannot participate in Mare because it is not their culture. The biggest problem with Mare is that Idanre community people are not carried along. They are grumbling that an outsider is operating Idanre Hills Resort right before them. They are made to pay to enter the resort that is natural to their environment. So, Mare is purely government festival since inception”.
He sued for greater participation of Idanre people in the festival as a way of making them the people claim ownership of it, adding, “They need to allot roles to the people through Idanre traditional chief. Mare Festival is an invasion of Idanre people although it impacts them somewhat. But it should have been more like it happens in Osogbo during Osun Osogbo festival, with the local populace playing varying cultural and economic roles that benefit the local community”.
He noted that there is a thriving local economy based on cocoa and timber and said Idanre economy was bigger than those of most Nigerian cities. He advised Governor Mimiko to merge Mare with Orosun Festival, usually celebrated in May or early June, and assured that the governor would be shocked how Idanre people would be galvanised through it, given the impetus of government, as they would truly claim it as their own and give it their all.