COLUMBIA — Energy and excitement pulsed through Egbe Omo Oduduwa’s anniversary celebration like a rapid heartbeat keeping time with the gangan drumbeat reverberating through the walls of Howard Johnson Inn.
“Today, we come together to celebrate, showcase and advance our cultural heritage," said Femi Ogungbade, the president of Egbe Omo Oduduwa of Mid Missouri.
Egbe Omo Oduduwa, a Nigerian cultural association, celebrated its 14th year in Columbia on Saturday night. About 200 people gathered for the occasion, which included dancing, singing and a 15-foot-long buffet of traditional African food. It was a time for joy and celebration, but before partying, there was an educational presentation about the event’s theme, “Fashion Aspect of Yoruba Cultural Heritage.”
Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which translates to The Association of Oduduwa Descendants, is the local chapter of the National Association of Yoruba Descendants in North America. The Yoruba are a nationality of people who primarily reside in southwestern Nigeria in West Africa, according to Olufolake Boboye, the event’s guest speaker.
The organization's mission is to share Yoruba culture with mid-Missouri through anniversary events, Yoruba language classes, artistic and cultural activities and educational forums. It is a nonprofit group currently made of 13 families.
“Yoruba is a rich culture,” said Rebecca Oyelola, a member of Egbe Omo Oduduwa for more than a decade. “We value respect and education…we want our community to have an understanding of culture.”
Yoruba culture was visible as members continued to pour into the event, joyously greeting friends who hailed from all over mid-Missouri.
“We were supposed to start this occasion at 7 p.m.,” said Jumoke Sanusi, who emceed the event, “but we didn’t start until 8 p.m. That’s African time.”
Before the anniversary festivities began, the audience respectfully rose and listened to Olaide Ibitoye play the United States’ national anthem on the flute. The majority of the audience sang along to Nigeria’s national anthem, but when the Yoruba anthem was finally played, the entire audience rose, and those who knew the words cheered and sang along.
Most of the audience wore Yoruba gowns and ornate hats and headscarves. Ogungbade and the keynote speaker, Olufolake Boboye, later explained Yorubas take great pride in their appearance, and fashion is often synonymous with personality.
The social and cultural significance of fashion is reflected in all aspects of Yoruba life, Ogungbade said. Clothing is often referred to in Yoruba proverbs to express the high value of fashion and its significance in human development and learning. He gave several examples of these principles.
“For the principle of planning, we say, ‘Akii wo Ewu ojo ninu eerun,’ meaning, ‘you don’t put a summer dress on during the winter,'" Ogungbade said.
Boboye also spoke about Yoruba traditions in namings, greetings and weddings. She stressed the importance of continuing long-time Yoruba customs and beliefs.
“You have to know what our culture is,” Boboye said, “I’m talking to the children now.”
Several Yoruba children demonstrated their knowledge of their heritage by singing and dancing to traditional songs during the ceremony. Children of Egbe Omo Oduduwa are encouraged to learn Yoruba language and traditions so that if they ever return to Nigeria, they will have a sense of their people’s ways.
Traditional dancing and singing lasted well into the night. A few Columbia community members attended the event to experience African culture for the first time.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Faranak Campbell, “But it’s so exciting and captivating.”
Campbell was invited to the event by her friend, Juliet Ogungbade, who is a member of Egbe Omo Oduduwa. They attend classes together at Columbia College, where they are both majoring in nursing.
“You see the turnout this year. We have more and more people come to each anniversary celebration,” Ogungbade said. “As Columbia grows, we try to reach more people in the community and enlighten them about our culture. We believe it is our responsibility.”
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