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Àrò Mẹ́ta: The Three White Cap Chiefs

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By Abraham Adekunle

The statue of the three chiefs carries deeper meaning in Èkó culture.

The Àrò Mẹ́ta or Àgbà Mẹ́ta statue (known as Welcome to Lagos) is an Art Deco statue of the three white-cap chiefs which is located in Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos is the largest city and former capital of Nigeria until 1991. Its history is robust, and its population has been estimated to be about 15 million people. Lagos was a Yoruba settlement of the Àwórì people which was initially called Oko (farm). The naming of the city dates back to the Portuguese merchants in the 15th century. The Portuguese explorer Rui de Sequeira visited the place in 1472 and named it “Lago de Curamo.” “Lagos” in Portuguese means “lakes.” Some have also claimed that it was named for Lagos in Portugal, a city and municipality along the Atlantic Ocean just like the one in Nigeria.

Some indigenes of Ìsàlẹ̀ Èkó (Lagos Island) have said that the three chiefs represent the three most important traditional white cap chieftaincies in Lagos known as Idejo, Akarigbere, and Ogalade. The Akarigbere are often referred to as the political leadership of the community and the “kingmakers.” The Idejo (also known as White Cap Chiefs) are a group of fishermen and descendants of some of the early land settlers. The Ogalade are the chief traditional, religious worshippers and spiritual custodian of the local gods.

Statue was built in 1991 and refurbished two times after.

Welcome to Lagos was designed by Biodun Shodeinde in 1991. Standing at over 12 feet high, the three sculpted chiefs were built under the administration of Colonel Raji Rasaki to welcome people coming to Lagos. It was initially placed at the Lagos-Ibadan Toll Gate. It was burnt in 2004 by people who insinuated that it was the cause of the regular occurrence of road accidents along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. On December 17, 2004, it was refurbished and moved to its present location in Epe. After it was burnt again in 2012 during the fuel subsidy protest, the Àrò Mẹ́ta statue was rehabilitated for the third time.

It was erected and placed on a high pedestal to welcome people into the city of Lagos. The statue portrays the image of the three chiefs in slightly different positions. They are wearing white wrappers tied across their right shoulder to enable them make gestures with the right hand predominantly. The dispositions of the chiefs depict the three kinds of traditional greetings in Ìsàlẹ̀ Èkó (Lagos Island).

Site carries deeper meaning in the culture of the Lagos people.

The right fist of each of the chiefs is clenched and raised above the left. Also, their wrappers have been intricately robed over their right shoulders to allow the gesture of the right arm. Their clenched right fists symbolize a strong supremacy of the right (hand) over the left (hand). Little wonder that the Yorùbá believe that almost all the hand gestures made must be with the right hand as using the left connotes disdain, disrespect and abomination.

For instance, as a young person, one must not give or receive something from an elder with the left hand because it is disrespectful. The Yorùbá also say that it is the bastard who describes his father’s house with the left hand. In the Yorùbá culture, the right hand signifies acceptance and respect, while the left hand is viewed with revulsion because it is often used to perform unsavory tasks and chores. The Àrò Mẹ́ta became more popular in the early 1990s when the Yorùbá Fuji superstar, Òbésèré, sang about it.

Star Lager builds 60-feet replica in Eko Atlantic City.

In 2018 after the One Lagos Fiesta, the Eko Atlantic City remained a center of attraction. Visitors and tourists still troop in to capture the Àrò Mẹ́ta statue, which was erected by Oracle Agency for Star Larger, one of the sponsors of the fiesta. The building of the 60-feet replica of the Àrò Mẹ́ta statue was made with over 10,000 crates of the lager beer. The CEO of Oracle Experience Limited said that what the agency has done is to bring life into the age-long belief of the three wise men.


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