Gender exclusion: a study of Oro cult among Awori of Ojo, Lagos, Nigeria
Oro is the name of an extra-judicial resource that is used by the Yoruba people of south west Nigeria for ensuring peace. Hailing from pre-colonial times and re-emerging 56 years ago, Oro cult members once controlled administration of the land, and presently represent a potent device of social control in their various communities. Among the Awori communities of Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos, Nigeria, the Oro cult is associated with a sacred forest (Igbo Oro) and Oro sanctuary (Ojubo Oro), both of which are not accessible to non-initiates, including women. Women are further isolated during the annual Oro festival, where the coming of Oro - in long robes and wooden mask - and his followers, necessitates women to shut themselves indoors. This exclusion, cultural curfew, and curtailment of movement against women and other non-initiates has enormous implications for socio-economic progress for women, the region, and Nigeria, yet the gendered nature of the impacts of Oro have been under-researched.
To address this, this paper examines the implications of women’s exclusion from this influential and important cultural institution in terms of socio-economic equity among the Awori people. The paper draws on qualitative data sourced through 20 in–depth interviews involving the chief priests, traditional rulers, opinion leaders, community heads, and some Awori residents, complemented by archival records. The findings of the study suggest that the women themselves were displeased with the abridgement of their right of freedom of movement for the duration of Oro festival. The study concludes that the threat inherent in the widespread belief that any woman who beholds the Oro cult will die is not only discriminatory, but is also inhibitive of sustainable economic interaction. The study suggests that public policy should enable the Oro cult to focus more on public security, and minimise its life threatening trauma to Awori women in particular, and Nigerian women in general.