COLUMBIA — Steady drumbeats of African music blared out of a set of speakers and mingled with the sharp smell of spices at the American Legion Hall on Saturday night. As several women in brightly colored headdresses tended to a nearly 9-foot spread of traditional Nigerian food, arriving friends and guests greeted one another with warm smiles.
Saturday marked the eighth anniversary of Oduduwa Day, a event put on by Egbe Omo Oduduwa of Mid-Missouri to celebrate the Yoruba culture.
The nonprofit organization was founded in 1998, and its members are mainly of Yoruba descent, and many speak the Yoruba language. The Yoruba culture is prominent in Nigeria, and the group sees Oduduwa as their original ancestor.
Femi Ogungbade, who emigrated from Nigeria in 1999, thinks that the Columbia community has been very accepting of their culture.
“People have come to be more aware of our Yoruba culture,” Ogungbade said. The Oduduwa organization works to foster an understanding of the Yoruba culture in mid-Missouri by inviting the community to events such as Oduduwa day and by holding classes on the Yoruba language at the public library.
The teaching of the language is a top priority for many members. Ade Osibamiro believes that it is essential that the youngest members of their community — the children — are taught to speak Yoruba.
“It is important so that when they go back to Nigeria, they don’t feel like a second-class citizen,” he said.
Ogungbade also believes that the future of their culture depends on how they teach their children.
“The culture begins at home,” he said. “We bring them together in the Yoruba class to teach them the language, dress and food. But most importantly we teach them the language. If the language is lost, the culture is lost totally. The language is the first means of communication for people. It’s the way you share ideas and the first thing that you recognize when you meet another person.”
Members of the Oduduwa organization use their gatherings as a chance to speak their native language.
“We do speak Yoruba among ourselves,” Ogungbade said. “We generally discuss and share in Yoruba so that we can keep learning the language and pick it up easily.”
The Yoruba language played a large part in Friday’s celebration. The event began with a prayer by Deaconess Elizabeth Boboye, who apologized to guests for needing to say the prayer in Yoruba. Later, guests followed along as members of Oduduwa led the group in the singing of the Yoruba Anthem.
“E je ka fi’imo sokan/’Tori ile baba wa/Lati tun se/Lati gbe ga/Fun ‘losiwau rere,” the anthem began. The opening lines translate to “In unity let us stand/On behalf of our fatherland/To rebuild it/To reform it/For the betterment of all.”
The event carried well into the night, with about 100 people sharing a feast of African dishes and traditional dancing.
A fashion show featured the intricate, flower-patterned traditional dress that members of the organization wore. Husbands and wives wore outfits made of matching flowing fabric, making the couples easily identifiable among the crowd.
Many who attended the celebration were not members of the Oduduwa organization but were guests from the Columbia community.
“I was invited by my friend Wally from work,” attendee Connie Williams said. “I love it. Love the music, love the people. I realized tonight why Wally is such a happy-go-lucky guy. It’s easy if you’re surrounded by such happy, supportive people.”
Although their traditions may seem foreign to many people in mid-Missouri, the Oduduwa organization hopes to be seen as an active part of the Columbia community. The group has participated in many local events, such as food drives for the Central Missouri Food Bank, and takes care of its “Adopt-A-Spot” near Walnut Street.
“We’re here as an organization and as part of the community,” Ogungbade said. “We want to do more for Columbia. This is where we are and it’s important to be a part of the community. We will continue to do all the help we can.”
For more information about Egbe Omo Oduduwa of Mid-Missouri, go to omo-oduduwa.missouri.org.