There is a not so big town about 12KM out of Ilorin the Kwara State capital,north central Nigeria.SHAO is the name. It is one of those places that you actually pass by and may not look to the sides,but really it’s a town that catches the eye because of its cool,collected unassuming ambience. Shao’s cool and collective nature is depicted by the lush greenery especially in the rains.As one passes by,you can’t but notice the low hill at a distance,that stands as a tell tale of Shao’s birth.
A purely agrarian community,Shao was founded 400 years ago by a common agreement between four hunters who migrated from the already existing people known as the Yorubas notably,from Oyo- Ile. Alaa an hunter had settled a little distance from the hill,but history related said that as he was on an hunting expedition on a particular day,he heard the boom of a gun.His curiousity as to where the sound came from lead him to Olarele who had just killed an animal. Olarele emigrated also from Oyo empire.The two hunters soon became acquainted as hunting partners.Not long after , they meet two other hunters; Okunnibi,from ikoyi,Oyo and Olaitan from Oko, Osun all south west nigeria. The four developed a close relationship and so reached a collective pact to live together as one. The decision to settle at the foot of the hill was therefore birthed.The name SHAO came out of their decision to gather (SA) themselves together and form a chanting
(HO) group for their hunting expeditions. (Hunters in Yoruba land were known as great chanters and eulogizers)
What intrigues me about Shao is a yearly cultural festival, the ” AWON” festival . The festival is symbolic for it’s celebration of virgin girls and their entry into marriage. On this day, spinsters are married out to their hearthrobs during a mass celebration of love and culture.The origin of the Awon festival lends to the intrigue: it was related that Omo Olarele,an hunter usually drinks from a river whenever he is on an hunting expedition.One of the days, he had just drunk from the river, when a one breasted woman mysteriously appeared
to him.she claimed ownership of the river and asked Omo olarele to take her to the king
” the ohoro of shao”. TheA mysterious one breasted woman spent some days with the king and chiefs in deliberations.On her final day she handed a charm to the ” ohoro” and told them to rename the town after her.She also initiated the mass weddings to be held in her honour and promised them fertility if whenever the festival is held. Upon this she disappeared . The settlement became known as SHAO AWON after these strange occurrence.
Since then the yearly event had taken place.The river from which the one breasted woman appeared was called the AWON river. Oblations and prayers are always offered to Awon during the festival.
Reports had it that about 100 maidens had been married on an Awon day in the recent past. However the advent the white wedding ceremonies seems to be ebbing the culture away.Apart from the cultural heritage,Shao Awon which is an agricultural community has soils which yields in bounties and leaps. Yams,cassava, maize,beans are some of the farm produce which are grown . I enjoyed some bites full of freshly boiled corn sold by the roadside on the day I made a “pass by” the ancient town and need I say, ” every chew was worth the bite!
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