Job Atolagbe, the traditional ruler of Shao in Moro Local Government Area of Kwara, says the community’s age-old mass wedding tradition is to promote unity and inclusiveness among indigenes.
Atolagbe, who is the Ohoro of Shao, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
According to the traditional ruler, the Awon mass wedding model provides an annual rallying point for indigenes.
Atolagbe, who recalled that his mother also wedded through the Awon festival, described the marriage institution as a critical aspect of community life in Shao.
Delving into the history of the mass wedding, the Ohoro said a hunter in the community in ancient times called Omo Larele had often stopped at a small stream to drink water anytime he went hunting in the forest.
“As was his tradition, he stopped by the stream to drink water on a particular day and he saw a strange woman sitted at the stream.
” She was said to be weird looking and had 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,” he said.
Atolagbe explained further that Awon 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 said.
Atolagbe said Awon pledged to protect the community, but stipulated that indigenes should immortalise her through the annual mass wedding for females.
He pointed out that ladies married through the Awon mass wedding festival must acquire skills and should be of marriageable age.
The traditional ruler added that would-be grooms must be employed or engaged in vocations to cater for their spouses.
Atolagbe appealed to all tiers of government and Non-Governmental Organisations to support and promote the Awon wedding festival.
He added that brides that had acquired skills should be empowered with necessary tools to be self-employed.
Also speaking with NAN, a community leader, Dr Wole Oke, described the festival as an annual unifying event devoid of religious persuasions.
“As far back as 1975, the government of Kwara had showed interest in the event and had always sent representatives to grace the occasion.
“Some of our sons and daughters also return to the community to celebrate the event,” he said.