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Author: Lillian Trager
Title: New wine in old bottles: community day celebrations and the hometown
Publication info: Ann Arbor, Michigan: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library

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Source: New wine in old bottles: community day celebrations and the hometown
Lillian Trager

Evanston, IL: Program of African Studies, Northwestern University
no. 6, pp. 10-11, 1993
Author Biography: Lillian Trager is on the faculty of the Fine Arts Department, University of Wisconsin, Parkside.

NEW WINE IN OLD BOTTLES: Community Day Celebrations and the Hometown [1]


"Ipetumodu Day is November 30, 1991. Please join us"

—sign on roadside

"Government cannot do everything alone"

—statement by Osun State Administrator, quoted in Daily Times, Nov. 25, 1991

A few years ago, discussions with Nigerians about the problems of the country, and of their local communities, would usually lead to a conclusion along the lines that "government must do something". Whether the issue was the development of agriculture, or the building of infrastructure such as roads, the tendency was to see the government as the key source of all benefits and resources. Despite long traditions of community self-help among many of the ethnic groups in the country, the perception created, especially during the period of the oil boom was that the country was rich and had plenty of money to carry out whatever development efforts were needed at all levels.

Today, a new refrain is heard, reflected in the two statements quoted above. On the one hand, one frequently hears comments both from government officials and from ordinary citizens that "government cannot do everything". And as a corollary to that, one finds an enormous number of activities being organized, primarily by local community organizations, with the stated goal of "developing" the community. One common form that those activities are currently taking is the setting aside of a community "day" for fund-raising and other events, such as that noted in the roadside sign quoted above, which encourage community members resident outside the local community to come home and contribute to the development of their town.

In this paper, I will argue that these community day celebrations draw on cultural ideas of the hometown and of "traditional" practices that occurred (or are thought to have occurred) in the past, which are believed to have created community solidarity and to have brought people home on a regular basis. I argue that community day celebrations of the type discussed here constitute "invented" traditions; they are consciously created rituals which are modelled on ideas of past ritual practice, and constitute contemporary cultural enactments of ideas about community solidarity. In effect, new content—community celebrations with instrumental goals of fund-raising for community development purposes—is being poured into an old form—ritual activity. [2]

This analysis of community day celebrations is based on data collected in the Ijesa area of Yorubaland and focuses in particular on two such events in November 1991 and May 1992. While there are similarities between these specific events and others taking place elsewhere in Yorubaland (see Drewal 1992), there are also crucial differences, which shape the analysis presented here. The first part of the paper examines the concept of the hometown among the Yoruba and suggests that the hometown constitutes a key associational base, as well as an important cultural construct, in contemporary Yoruba society. I then turn to examination of the community day celebrations, considering in particular statements and speeches which indicate the way in which community members themselves perceive these events. In the discussion that follows, I draw on these statements to argue that community day celebrations are consciously invented "traditions."

The Hometown as Cultural Construct and Associational Base

Well-known as a highly complex and dynamic society, numbering in the millions of people, the Yoruba are active participants in the shaping of contemporary Nigeria. At the same time, among the Yoruba, as elsewhere in Africa, the "hometown"—essentially the birthplace of one's father, or where one's father's lineage is from—is a place of great social and cultural significance. The city or town of origin provides a web of connections, involving both obligation and opportunity; it is not simply a place with which one has emotional ties, or the place where one's family resides.

Historically, the hometown has long been the place to which a successful Yoruba might retire, or where he would expect to build a house regardless of where he lived and worked. Today, the hometown can function as a place for people to turn to to seek out social and economic resources in a declining economy. Or, it can be a place that those who are successful feel obliged to assist; as a Nigerian university lecturer said to me several years ago, "What else is development other than helping your hometown?" (quoted in Southall 1988).

As Peel (1983) and others such as Berry (1985) have shown, there is nothing new about the maintenance of external linkages and the use of those linkages as resources for political and economic activities within the region. In his study of the historical process of incorporation of the Ijesa kingdom within Nigeria, Peel provides a useful summation of the view of Ijesa (and other Yoruba) people toward those with origins there who live elsewhere: "They should associate themselves with the town, build houses and spend money there, and above all give it effective leadership in the competition of communities for the resources of the state (1983:260).

The hometown continues to be highly salient as a reference point for the vast majority of Yoruba, and hometown-based organizations are crucial in the variety of local development efforts currently underway in the region. In fact, some would argue that the hometown is even more important in the current social, political, and economic environment of Nigeria. Recent economic and political processes have led to a renewed emphasis on the importance of one's own community of origin as an associational base; these include processes such as the formation of new states and local governments, as well as events such as religious conflict in Northern Nigeria which have highlighted the need to have a place to consider "home." (See Trager 1992a,1992b for more discussion of the hometown as an associational base in contemporary Nigerian civil society).

However, the hometown is not simply a place to which Yoruba maintain ties for instrumental reasons, to come to when there are problems elsewhere or to display one's success. Rather, it has long been a source of social and cultural identity. As Barber points out, social identity "through membership of a common town of origin" was probably particularly important in pre-colonial Yorubaland; her study of oriki demonstrates that oriki referring to the town of origin continues to be a source of identity today (1991:149).

The construction of this identity is not a simple process. The mobility of Yoruba in both the past and present has meant that there is considerable flexibility in what place a person chooses as his or her place of origin. One can find among people with similar biographies variation in the place with which they identify. For example, two brothers with claims to several Ijesa towns each emphasize a different place as "home"; more dramatically, one man whose father was a successful businessman in Ibadan may now consider himself an "Ibadan man" while another has chosen to emphasize his Ijesa connections. Despite this flexibility, having a hometown with which one identifies continues to be viewed as highly significant. In ordinary conversation, Yoruba can easily identify where they and others are "from" and assume a variety of implications of that identity. [3]

Furthermore, it is important to display this identity in a variety of ways. As noted above, building a house in one's hometown has long been viewed as the key mark of success for a Yoruba man (and to some extent for a Yoruba woman as well). Today, display of success involves a range of participation in hometown activities—participation in community organizations, donation to community activities, and so on. It is in this context that the community day celebrations which have recently become a feature on the landscape of Yorubaland provide a new means of demonstrating identity and solidarity with one's community.

Community Day Celebrations

A perusal of Nigerian newspapers yields considerable number of articles announcing or describing community celebrations; for example, in the month of November 1991 alone, there were articles on ten community day celebrations. All were in Yoruba communities in Ogun, Ondo, and Osun States. There were at least five others that came to my attention that did not appear in the newspapers. In the Ijesa area, where my research is focussed, there were at least four such celebrations during that same month.

Most of these community day celebrations are relatively recent innovations; those announced in the newspapers, for example, included ones which were the sixth and third year of the event, as well as several where this was the first year. In one Ijesa community, a community festival has been held since about 1976, while in other Ijesa towns 1991 was the first year for such a celebration.

These events are being organized in all types of Yoruba communities, including large urban centers such as Abeokuta and Ijebu-Ode, both of which had such celebrations recently, and in small and medium-sized Yoruba towns. Those in the Ijesa region were all in the smaller Ijesa towns; there has not been such an event—to date, at least—in the major city of Ilesa.

The form of community day celebrations seems relatively similar from one place to another. Speeches are made by prominent citizens of the town and by traditional chiefs, usually the oba. These speeches emphasize the importance of contributions of those "both at home and abroad" (i.e., resident outside the community) to assist the development of the community. Prominent individuals are honored, usually through the conferring of honorary chieftaincy titles. And fund-raising is conducted, sometimes for specific projects and other times for a general development fund. Some of these events also include dances and dinners, awarding of prizes to school children, and recognition of the associations which organized the event.

These celebrations are organized not by single associations but rather by unions of such associations based in the community. For example, the Ijebu-Ode Obanta Day was organized by the Ijebu-Ode Development Association which includes "more than 100 social clubs and organisations" (Daily Times Oct. 29 1991). In Ijebu-jesa, a medium-sized town in the Ijesa area, the first Ijebu-jesa Day was organized by the Ijebu-jesa Union Conference, with a national executive committee of 18 members. In addition, there was a 25 member Ijebu-Jesa Day Celebration Committee. The members of these committees include both residents and non-residents of the town; for example, the chairman of the Celebration Day committee was a lawyer who resides in Ibadan, coming home to his house in Ijebu-jesa only on weekends.

Two community day celebrations held in 1991 and 1992 in the Ijesa area provide extended data on the organization, form, and content of these events. The first, in November 1991, took place in Ijebu-jesa, a medium-sized town located about six miles from Ilesa, the main city of the region. The second, in May 1992, took place in Iloko, a much smaller community located between Ijebu-jesa and the main Ilesa-Akure road. Both Ijebu-jesa and Iloko make historical claims of their independent status from Ilesa, and Iloko indigenes state that their community was at one time larger and more important than it is currently. Both communities have obas, although there is not anyone currently holding that title in Iloko, and the history of Iloko published as part of the Iloko Day proceedings points out the efforts made by the last Oba, who died in 1989, to restore "the right of wearing the traditional beaded crown which his dynasty has won in the past" (Iloko Day Commemorative Brochure and Programme p. 15).

The 1991 and 1992 community day celebrations in Ijebu-jesa and Iloko were the first to be held in these towns. In both, the activities were organized by a council or committee that included a number of social organizations. These organizations include members who are both resident in the towns and those who are from the towns but resident elsewhere. Many of the latter are successful business people and professionals resident in Ibadan and Lagos. However, not all of those resident outside their hometowns are members of the elite; in fact, in the Ijesa area, nearly everyone has at some time lived outside his or her hometown, usually to work as a trader (Trager 1993). Furthermore, the clubs that participated in the events include a wide range of social organizations, including both those that can be considered "elite" organizations, such as the Federation of Iloko Students Union, and others that are not.

The Ijebu-Jesa Day activities provide a useful example of the activities and goals of community day celebrations. The daylong event took place on a Saturday on the grounds of the local grammar school. It was preceded by preliminary activities on Friday, including prayers at the mosque, and followed by a dinner and dance Saturday evening, and church services on Sunday. The day's activities included a speech by the oba, a display by all the participating organizations and clubs, a speech by a representative of the state government, and the conferring of honorary chieftaincy titles on about twenty people, each of whom then contributed to the development fund.

The Chairman of the organizing committee made a speech, in English and printed and distributed to those attending. This speech can be seen as reflecting the concerns and goals of those organizing the events:

The Military Administrator of Osun State, Honourable Special Advisers, Directors General, Kabiyesis, Chairman Oriade Local Government and other Chairmen here present, distinguished guests, noble citizens of Ijebu-jesa, on behalf of the President of the Ijebu-Jesa Unions' Conference Mr. D.B. Agunbiade and the Executive, I welcome you all to this celebration, the first of its kind in our enviable history.

Every society or community not only in Yorubaland but indeed all over the world has a period set aside for itself to celebrate one festival or the other either in remembrance of its founder or in commemoration of one of its fetish gods or again in celebration of a season such as the yam festival. In Ijebu-Jesa the Ogun festival, the Agada festival and the new yam festival were all occasions when the whole community was in festive mood when these festivals were celebrated with the pomp and pageantry they deserved. With the growth of the Christian and Moslem beliefs in the community the apathy towards these festivals became pronounced as very few people are today interested in them. In fact some festivals of minor importance in the community have become extinct.

It is for this reason, that when Agboja Club of Ijebu-Jesa one of the associations that constitute the Unions' Conference first brought the idea of the Ijebu-Jesa Day event some four or five years ago, it received a wide support firstly because it is an event that has no connection with any religious belief be it Christian, Moslem or Traditional and secondly because the people see it as a forum where everybody will come together in the celebration in honour of AGIGIRI the founding father of this great town.

We are grateful to our Kabiyesa Oba Ajayi Palmer Ajifolokun II who has graciously welcomed the idea of the celebration by deciding to confer honorary chieftaincy titles on the eminent persons present here today. We are more than grateful to Kabiyesi for conceding this venue to us for the performance of the ceremonies. This concession is borne out of the desire of the Kabiyesi to allow all citizens and well wishers to fully participate in the celebrations. May our Kabiyesi reign very long on his subjects.

For a very long time, Ijebu-jesa people have always believed in the old adage which says: "The Heavens help those who help themselves." It is for this reason that apart from what the Government, State and Local alike have been able to provide for us, we have always believed in self-development. This spirit handed down by our great ancestors has yielded fruits such as—the Maternity Centre, Ijebu-Jesa Grammarschool, Urban Day Grammar School, the Market, the Ultra Modern Town Hall and the Sixty-bed General Hospital all completed entirely by the community as self-help projects. We are indeed not tired and we are still in our quest to provide more amenities for our people and our Kabiyesi. These projects include, the completion of the Oba's Palace estimated to cost N2 million, the provision of all facilities in the town-hall, provision of more amenities in the two secondary schools earlier mentioned, provision of street lighting and finally the provision of potable water for the hospital complex. These are just a few of the projects that are being considered for the town by the Unions' Conference. It is in the light of this laudable idea that we are today launching the first phase of our N25 million development fund. We shall, therefore, be very grateful for your generous donations to enable us to achieve our objective.

We salute the eminent persons who are to be conferred with chieftaincy titles today. We recognise your individual contributions towards the development and progress of Ijebu-jesa and we wish each of you long life, good health, and prosperity and many more years of useful service to the community.

Once again our distinguished august guests and visitors, we welcome you all to this great Day.

Thank you.

—T. Olashore 1991

Clearly, the organizers have instrumental goals—primarily the raising of funds for a variety of community endeavors. At the same time that these speeches emphasize self-help and local fund-raising, they also call attention to the crucial role of government. In his own speech at the Ijebu-Jesa Day activities, the oba of the town both praised the community for its self-help activities and criticized the government for not having done more for the community. Although he "admitted that government alone cannot provide everything for the people," he stated that he "wants the Osun State government to provide the necessary facilities that befit the status of the town" (Daily Times Nov. 5, 1991).

However, these events are not simply fund-raising activities. The organizers make clear that they see a need for a community-wide celebration to bring community members together. In his speech, the Chairman mentions the festivals that used to be held, which presumably had this function. In a later interview, he likewise pointed out that Ijebu-jesa used to have major festivals, such as the new yam festival and the Ogun festival, and that, according to him, all the people used to be involved. But many people have stopped attending these festivals, especially because of the influence of Islam and Christianity. In the speech, he emphasizes that the current event has no connection "with any religious belief be it Christian, Moslem or Traditional." In later interviews, the Chairman pointed out that some of the organizers had argued for a date which would coincide with major traditional religious festivals, but that instead they had decided to pick a "neutral" day. This point is also made with regard to the site of the event: it was held on the grounds of the Ijebu-Jesa Grammar School, which meant that the Oba had to agree to do chieftaincy installations there rather than at his palace—hence the statement in the speech thanking the Kabiyesi "for conceding this venue ... to allow all citizens and well-wishers to fully participate in the celebrations."

The Iloko Day celebration followed a format similar to that of Ijebu-jesa Day. Again, it took place on the grounds of a school and included speeches by various dignitaries, participation of a variety of clubs and societies, and the launching of a development fund; there were no honorary chieftaincy titles and the entire event took place on one day—a Saturday—without the opening or closing prayers at mosques and churches. A printed program included a history of the town as well as advertisements congratulating the town from a number of businesses and organizations; this was written entirely in English, with the exception of the "Iloko Anthem" which was in Yoruba. On the other hand, the actual proceedings utilized a combination of Yoruba and English. Other than an opening prayer—in Yoruba—there was no overtly "religious" aspect to the ceremony. Following a display by the organizing clubs, in which each group paraded by the stand where dignitaries were seated, most attention of the day focused on fund-raising, which was to be the beginning of a N10 million development fund. As one of the organizers later commented, of course they did not raise N10 million, but they did succeed in raising several hundred thousand Naira.

Community Day Celebrations as Invented Tradition

The community day celebrations as they are being carried out in Ijesaland may be seen as an "invented tradition," consciously created rituals which have been developed in a desire to recreate a community solidarity which is believed to have existed in the past. The organizers of these celebrations are drawing on models and ideas from the past, or what they conceive of as having existed in the past. In their view, the traditional religious festivals of the past brought people home for annual celebrations and created community solidarity. But these traditional religious festivals are today problematic, because, according to them, most people no longer participate in them, having become either Christians or Muslims.

Therefore, they have established a new form of celebration, a civic ceremony which is basically non-religious, except for opening and closing prayers at the churches and mosques. Yet the form of that celebration is essentially a ritual one, with a set of practices that convey the ritual nature of the event. For example, the Ijebu-jesa Day ceremony began with a 21 gun salute at the Oba's palace, followed by the arrival of the obas, and later, the "parade of associations and paying of homage to the oba." In Iloko, likewise, in addition to the speeches and announcements of donations to the development fund, there were displays of dances and a parade of the town's associations in front of the chiefs and other dignitaries. [4]

In these new civic ceremonies attention is still paid to the glorification of the ancestors and obas, as well as the community as a whole, as is clear in the speeches made and the homages paid to obas and other chiefs. But the basic content of these ceremonies is new. Dances of "traditional" groups are performed not as part of a religious activity but as "cultural display." Speeches are made, primarily in English, or in a mixture of Yoruba and English. Chieftaincy titles are given, but these are honorary chieftaincies to people who are likely to make substantial contributions to a "development fund." And the rhetoric used is one which not only emphasizes community solidarity and history but also the future—especially the importance of the "development" of the town.

The form and content of these events as they are being organized in Ijesaland differs substantially from that described in Drewal's recent work on Imewuro Annual Rally in a small Ijebu town (1992). The overall goals of the events are similar, "to bring all our people abroad home to see each other once a year" (quoted in Drewal 1992:164). But the organizers of the event described by Drewal have, as she demonstrates, re-invented or re-formulated "traditional" ritual, bringing together the various religious festivals traditionally celebrated in the town in a week-long annual event. They incorporated Egungun masquerades, sacrificial animals, and processions to shrines, along with Christian and Muslim prayers. In contrast, the organizers of the Ijesa community day celebrations described here, have not only not included specific aspects of "traditional" ritual, but they have consciously excluded them, to the extent of picking a "neutral" day for the ceremony.

In other words, the community day celebrations as they are being developed in Ijesa communities seek to do what traditional religious festivals are thought to have done without drawing on the key elements of those festivals. In the effort to incorporate everyone, neutral dates and neutral sites (school grounds) are being used for the ceremonies. It is in this sense that I argue that these celebrations may be seen as invented tradition, consciously created rituals which are modelled on ideas of past ritual practice, and contemporary cultural enactments of ideas about community solidarity.

In a recent article, Janet Siskind suggests that Thanksgiving is an invented tradition, which has successfully given Americans a ritual of nationality:

Thanksgiving ... subtly expresses and reaffirms values and assumptions about cultural and social unity, about identity and history, about inclusion and exclusion. Thanksgiving is highly structured and emotion laden, with its celebration of family, home and nation. Though for some people Thanksgiving is a secular celebration, for most it is also religious ... , as a prayer is said before the meal and/or people attend a church service, which includes a special Thanksgiving sermon. (Siskind: 1992:168).

Thanksgiving is based on myths about the past and draws on symbols that are presumably part of American history; it brings family members home and inculcates certain values based on ideas of what took place in the past.

The innovation of community day celebrations likewise seeks to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior, and imply continuity with the past (Hobsbawn 1983). Whether these celebrations will successfully accomplish this goal remains to be seen; after all, the events described here took place for the first time only in 1991 and 1992, and will no doubt continue to be changed and reshaped. But there is no doubt that the organizers are seeking to develop a new tradition; in his speech at the Ijebujesa day celebration, the Oba of the town stated:

To you my loving people, I say welcome to home to this occasion. I must express my appreciation to you for making this day, when we remember our dear homeland and its ancestors, a reality and I am confident that by the Grace of Almighty God, what we have started today will continue to be celebrated year in year out with equal vigour and enthusiasm as we see today.

—Kabiyesi Ajayi Palmer Ajifolokun II, 1991


Barber, Karin I Could Speak until Tomorrow: Oriki, Women and the Past in a Yoruba Town. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991

Berry, Sara S. Fathers Work for Their Sons: Accumulation, Mobility and Class Formation in an Extended Yoruba Community. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985

Drewal, Margaret Thompson Yoruba Ritual: Performers, Play, Agency. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992

Hobsbawn, Eric "Introduction: Inventing Traditions" In E. Hobsbawn and T. Ranger, eds., The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983

Peel, J. D. Y. Ijeshas and Nigerians: The Incorporation of a Yoruba Kingdom, 1890's-1970's. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983

Siskind, Janet "The Invention of Thanksgiving: A ritual of American nationality". Critique of Anthropology 12,2: 167-191, 1992

Southall, Aidan, ed. "Small Towns in Africa Revisited". African Studies Review, 31 (3), 1988

Trager, Lillian "The Hometown and Local Development Efforts: Implications for Civil Society in Africa". Paper presented at the Conference on Civil Society in Africa, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, 1992a

Trager, Lillian "The Hometown and Local Development: Creativity in the Use of Hometown Linkages in Contemporary Nigeria." Paper presented at the Conference on Diversity of Creativity in Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, 1992b

Trager, Lillian "Women Migrants and Hometown Linkages in Nigeria: Status, Economic Roles, and Contributions to Community Development." Paper presented at the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population Seminar on Women and Demographic Change in Sub-Saharan Africa, Dakar, Senegal, 1993


Daily Times Oct. 29, 1991

Daily Times Nov. 5, 1991

Daily Times Nov. 25, 1991


Commemorative Brochure and Programme, First Iloko Day Celebrations, May 2, 1992

Kabiyesi Ajayi Palmer Ajifolokun II, Oba of Ijebu-jesa, Address on the Occasion of the First Ijebu-jesa Day, 2nd November 1991, Programme of Events of the First Ijebu-jesa Day Celebrations.

Olashore, Tunde "Welcome Address Delivered by Prince 'Tunde Olashore, Chairman Ijebu-Jesa Day Celebration Committee on the Occasion of the Celebration of the First Ijebu-Jesa Day on 2nd November 1991".

1. The research on which this paper is based was carried out while Visiting Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Obafemi Awolowo University during the 1991-92 academic year, and is supported by National Science Foundation grant BNS-9120584. An earlier version of some of the material presented here was presented at the Conference on Diversity of Creativity in Nigeria, Dept. of Fine Arts, Obafemi Awolowo University in June 1992.

2. In the larger research project from which this paper is drawn, I am examining a wide range of ways in which hometown ties are currently being maintained and utilized; see for example Trager 1992a, 1992b and 1993).

3. Each Yoruba subgroup has a set of stereotyped characteristics which may be referred to in conversation among friends, both in joking and serious ways; Ijesa, for example, may criticize their own behavior as deriving from the fact that they have a tradition of being osomaalo (traders).

4. Other events are being organized in Ijesaland to celebrate the past and create community solidarity, but not all take the form of ritual activity; for example, in the past year there have been commemorations of the Kiriji War between Ijesaland and Ibadan and of the seventieth anniversary of the founding of one of the major Ijesa improvement associations.

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