Home » AWO Market: A Historic Journey Through Africa’s First Trade Fair

AWO Market: A Historic Journey Through Africa’s First Trade Fair

by Olufemi Awoyinka
otun 6


The Origin

The first trade fair in Africa known as Oja Awo started over 500 years ago. When the people of Otun Ekiti decided to leave Ile Ife, before the death of Oduduwa, they first settled in the place now known as Akure. They later moved to Ipole not far from the present site of Ipoti. However, because of the lack of adequate water supply, Oore and his people decided to relocate.

Three hunters were sent out to look for a land that is well watered. The three of them discovered different streams or rivers in different places almost at the same time. Each person was asked to fire a shot to the air upon the discovery of a river or stream. Coincidentally, the three hunters shot to the sky within a few minutes of one another, that was how the present site of Otun Ekiti was arrived at, another team was sent out to decide where the market will be. The diviners specifically told them that the market must be in a place where there are Isin trees. They found an Isin tree along Ilero Street and so they chose that site for the market.

However, the diviners insisted that there’s a better site for the market. Hence the team went back to comb the forest very well. That was how they discovered many Isin trees at the location where the regular market is now located. It was decided there and then that a special market (trade fair) should be held once in a year at the point where one single Isin tree was found, this special market or trade fair is what is called Oja Awo until this day.

The Roots of AWO Market

AWO Market, also known as “OJA AWO” in the Yoruba language, holds a unique and illustrious position in Africa’s history as the first trade fair market on the continent. Nestled in the heart of Otun Ekiti, in Ekiti State, Nigeria, this annual special market intertwines with the revered New Yam Festival, marking the beginning of a new calendar year in Yoruba culture. As we delve into the captivating history of AWO Market, we uncover its significance, influence, and enduring cultural ties that make it an unforgettable spectacle.

The origins of AWO Market can be traced back to ancient times, a period when trade and commerce flourished across Africa. Otun Ekiti, situated in the southwest region of Nigeria, served as a critical meeting point for traders from various tribes and neighboring kingdoms, creating a melting pot of cultures and goods. The market’s foundation was laid with the aim of promoting economic growth and cultural exchange, turning it into a hub of activity and prosperity.


The Symbiotic Bond with the New Yam Festival

Central to the allure of AWO Market is its entwined association with the New Yam Festival, a momentous occasion in Yoruba culture. This annual celebration takes place at the end of the rainy season, heralding the beginning of a new agricultural year. The festival honors the Yoruba deity, “Oya,” who is believed to bring about a bountiful harvest and prosperity.

During the New Yam Festival, farmers present the first harvested yams at AWO Market, showcasing the fruits of their labor. These yams, considered sacred, are offered to the gods in gratitude and supplication for a plentiful harvest in the coming year. As the market teems with vibrant activity, traders display an array of commodities, attracting both local and international visitors.


The Marketplace Spectacle

AWO Market is unlike any other in Africa, with its unique combination of commerce and cultural festivity. The market buzzes with a kaleidoscope of colors, sounds, and aromas, as vendors and artisans from far and wide gather to showcase their wares. From handcrafted pottery and intricately woven fabrics to exotic spices and precious gemstones, the market boasts an eclectic array of goods that symbolize the rich diversity of African craftsmanship.

Furthermore, the market serves as a platform for storytellers, musicians, and dancers, who breathe life into age-old tales and performances. Visitors are treated to mesmerizing Yoruba dances, musical performances, and folklore, further accentuating the cultural significance of AWO Market.

Preserving Tradition for the Future

Despite the winds of change sweeping through modern Africa, AWO Market has managed to retain its authenticity and cultural heritage over the years. The local community and authorities have worked together to preserve the essence of this historic market, ensuring that future generations can partake in the timeless traditions and cultural exchanges it offers.

AWO Market, the pioneering trade fair in Africa, has captivated the hearts of visitors for generations with its historical significance and profound ties to the New Yam Festival in Yoruba culture. Its enduring legacy as a center for trade and cultural exchange stands as a testament to the resilience of African traditions and the enduring spirit of Otun Ekiti’s vibrant community. As the sun rises each year, casting its warm glow over the bustling marketplace, AWO Market continues to thrive, serving as a symbol of Africa’s enduring spirit and its rich tapestry of cultural diversity.


A Melting Pot of Cultural Heritage and Festivities

Beyond the magnificence of AWO Market, Otun Ekiti stands tall as a true treasure trove of cultural heritage and festival celebrations. Enveloped in the southwestern part of Nigeria, this vibrant town embraces diversity with open arms, making it the most visitors-friendly destination in the region. Here, people from various tribes and ethnicities across the globe find a warm and hospitable home.

The OROGBO Festival

In the vibrant town of Otun Ekiti, another prominent festival that holds immense cultural significance is the OROGBO Festival. This eagerly awaited event takes place just before the popular “OJA AWO” trade fair, making it an integral part of the community’s festivities.

The Orogbo Festival is deeply rooted in spirituality and plays a pivotal role in the lives of Otun residents. Its importance is such that it is an indispensable annual celebration, and no circumstances can hinder its performance. The festival’s rich cultural heritage is cherished and upheld by the community, ensuring that its essence remains intact through the generations.

During the Orogbo Festival, the town comes alive with music, dance, and communal feasts, creating an atmosphere of joy and togetherness. Traditional tunes resonate through the air, and colorful dances reflect the essence of Otun’s vibrant culture. The communal feasts bring people together, fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie among the residents.

Beyond the merriment, the Orogbo Festival holds profound spiritual significance. Ancient beliefs and rituals are intertwined with the festivities, connecting the community with its ancestral roots. Through these sacred practices, the festival honors the spirits of the land and the ancestors, seeking their blessings and protection for the town and its people.

The Orogbo Festival is not just an event; it is a symbol of continuity and preservation of Otun’s heritage. The community takes great pride in passing down the traditions from one generation to another, ensuring that the festival remains a vibrant part of its identity.
OROGBO Festival stands as a testimony to the rich cultural heritage and spiritual beliefs of Otun Ekiti. As the festival precedes the renowned “OJA AWO” trade fair, it sets the stage for a series of festivities that showcase the town’s unique traditions. Through music, dance, and communal feasts, the Orogbo Festival brings together the community and celebrates the essence of Otun’s identity, making it a remarkable and cherished occasion in the hearts of its people.

IFA ABA Festival

Among the numerous festivals celebrated in Otun Ekiti, the IFA ABA Festival takes center stage. This festival pays homage to the revered Yoruba deity, Orunmila, who is considered the deity of wisdom, divination, and destiny. Devotees come together to seek counsel and divine guidance from priests, known as “Babalawo,” who use the ancient art of divination with the Ifa oracle.

ATAPO Festival

The ATAPO Festival adds a touch of merriment and jubilation to Otun Ekiti’s cultural calendar. This festival is celebrated to honor the yam crop, an essential staple in Yoruba cuisine. Farmers exhibit their finest yams at the festival, and various activities, including traditional dances and sporting events, foster a sense of unity and camaraderie within the community.

Egungun Festival

The biennial Egungun Festival, a colorful and mystical event, showcases the veneration of ancestral spirits. During this occasion, masked performers known as “Egungun” dance through the streets, symbolizing the presence of the ancestors. This festival is a unique blend of spiritual reverence, cultural heritage, and vibrant festivities.


The Otun Day Festival stands as a day of pride and celebration for the people of Otun Ekiti. This event commemorates the town’s history, culture, and progress. It serves as a platform to showcase the talents, achievements, and creativity of the local community. Visitors and residents come together to revel in music, dance, arts, and traditional performances that reflect the spirit of Otun Ekiti.

Education and Industriousness

The people of Otun Ekiti are renowned for their dedication to education and hard work. The town boasts a high literacy rate and is home to several educational institutions that provide quality learning opportunities. This emphasis on education has empowered the residents, fostering a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that drives economic growth in the region.

Otun Ekiti, a town steeped in cultural heritage and renowned for its festive spirit, offers a mesmerizing journey through the richness of Yoruba traditions and beyond. From the bustling AWO Market to the spiritual rituals of the Egungun Festival, each celebration and activity in Otun Ekiti reflects the warmth, diversity, and hospitable nature of its people. As visitors venture into this melting pot of cultures, they are welcomed with open arms, creating lasting memories and a profound appreciation for the treasure that is Otun Ekiti.

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