The Federal Government signed the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Act 2015 into law which banned Female Genital Mutilation practice within the country but the people of Shao, an agrarian town, still hold tenaciously to this cultural practice which comes to full-blown during Awon festival where female children often circumcised against their wish and with many young girls also given out in marriage through a mass wedding.
Corroborating the activities that often occurred during the festival during the 2023 edition, the traditional ruler of the town, the Ohoro of Shao, Chief Job Atolagbe, told journalists that his mother got married through a mass wedding organised during an Awon festival, saying that the activities that occur during the festival promote unity and inclusiveness among indigenes.
Aside from the mass wedding, other traditional rites and rituals were carried out during the festival with married women including wives of chiefs, who were often compelled to participate in the rites considering positions of their spouse in the town.
A style that had been condemned by some activists but a community leader, Dr. Adewole Oke, who dispelled the claim on the grounds that the festival attracts visitors including “our sons and daughters who usually return to the community to celebrate the event”, and boosts the town’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
While they allegedly support the continued practice of some of the norms during this festival which violates human rights, the victims, who were forced to undergo FGM against their consents, and those being pressured to do so including wife of a chosen new priest, Rodhiya Abdulfatahi, who was being threatened for refusing to present herself and the children for the rites as their customs demands, as well as, human rights activists do not understand reasons the mutilation and other myths performed during to the festival could not be put aside.
Rodhiya’s ordeal, according to residents, started in 2016 when her husband, AbdulFatahi, was chosen by the oracle as new Chief priest, to fill the vacuum left by the former after he passed on.
But the joy that greeted the elevation on his wife’s face suddenly fade out after it was declared that before he can be installed as the successor, his wife, son and daughters, who had been onlookers previously, must also take part in the cultural rituals including FGM as part of the rites.
In protection of her children, it was learnt that she fled the community to abstain from the life-endangering ritual procedure they were about to be subjected to by custodians of the deities.
Rodhiya’s action was said to have prevented the town’s from installing the husband as the new chief priest for Shao, causing seven years interregnum on the position.
Even the 2023 edition was organised without an installed chief priest, who hold a key position within the community, performing his rites during the festival, a development that had continued to attract sons and daughters of the community to the fleeing woman and her children, with some elites among them applauding the newly chosen priest’s wife stance while others especially residents faulted her decision.
A resident, Abiodun Raheem, argued that Rodhiya should have stayed and go through the rites with the children including their circumcision, to avoid the embarrassment and preserve Shao culture and tradition.
Raheem noted that though the government banned FGM practices but their culture and tradition relies heavily on it, stressing that the culture could not be adjusted to fit the current societal trend.
Also, the Shao monarch, Atolagbe, noted that all that happens during the festival were passed down to them by their forefathers and all efforts would be made to preserve the culture for their unborn generation, saying the festival especially wedding model provided an annual rallying point for indigenes, recalled that his mother wedded during the Awon festival.
Delving into the history of the tradition, Atolagbe explained that a hunter in the community in ancient times called Omo Larele often stopped at a stream to drink water anytime he went hunting in the forest.
He said, “As was his tradition, he stopped by the stream to drink water on a particular day and he saw a strange woman seated on the banks of the stream with only one breast.
“History tells us that the woman was a fairy and her name was Awon. She told the hunter that she was the owner of the stream which he normally drank from. She then told the hunter to take her to Oba Olanibo who was the first Ohoro of Shao.
“Awon was taken to Shao and she spent 18 days with the people of Shao. Before she left, she had a meeting with Oba Lanibo and his chiefs. When she was set to depart from Shao, she was accompanied by Oba Lanibo, his son and the chiefs of Shao, following a path that Awon chose.”
He further said Awon pledged to protect the community, but stipulated that indigenes should immortalise her through an annual mass wedding for females.
He pointed out that women married through the Awon mass wedding festival must acquire skills and should be of marriageable age, adding that would-be grooms must be employed or engaged in vocations to cater for their spouses.
Till date, Rodhiya and her children remains unknown, due to this The New Chief priest cannot be installed.