Decontaminating Yoruba History
Of recent, the lack of History lessons in our schools has been having very negative effects on what the people know to be the facts of history. Every “Jick and Jack” has been coming up with variations, some of them very ridiculous and without any sense for that matter. Some of these variations could not even stand the simple rigor of critical comparative analysis of timeline. Some of these variations have suggested that events happen in vacuum and not in time and places. Some of these variations have given no thought to the fact that History of a particular people is not a rendition of isolated events mutually exclusive to time, place and environment, but actual events about real peoples and their trajectories.
The purveyors of these variations have different motives. Some of them are doing it out of patriotism and love of their immediate source of origins; just wanting to project pride in their own roots. Some are doing this out of mischief. Others are political hacks who are trying to use politics to elevate the “elevatable” and confuse the present generation who have been put in the dark about the real facts of history.
The desire to be recognized as having great pedigree is not a crime. It seems that those engaged in this venture have forgotten that any sections of Yoruba could not have any seriously separate history outside the general events that have occurred in that environment and in relation to others living in it.=
An area where this has become more troubling is the subject of the descendants of Oduduwa. It seems that everyone is just coming up with his or her own combinations of who the “direct children” of Oduduwa are. In addition to this, it is evident that many even do not even know the exact numbers of Oduduwa’s children. In the discussion of this subject, there has been the growing tendency to over-look the existence of Okanbi, the only son that Oduduwa ever had and the father of the “Original Seven” who went out of Ile –Ife to found their own various kingdoms.
As a result of the Yoruba tradition that do not make any clear difference between one’s direct father and grandfather, there has been confusion among latter day untutored historians to refer to any monarch who claims to come from or has any connection to Ile-Ife as a descendant of Oduduwa. While this is a beautiful culture and practice, it should not be used to mislead, miseducate and confuse those who do not understand the culture. This is more so especially among the youth of today who have not been given the benefit of proper education about their own History.
Oduduwa only had one son and his name is Okanbi. He was so named because he was an only child; an only son. It has been recognized by the Yoruba tradition from time immemorial that “Ile l’a nwo k’a to s’omo l’oruko.” Names of children in Yorubaland often reflect the circumstances of their parents when they were born. It has been this way from day one. Oduduwa did not have seven children. He had one son, Okanbi who fathered eight children from two women. These eight children include the “Original Seven” who are children of the same mother and the eighth, also the youngest of all, from another woman.
The Original Seven children of Okanbi are as follows (Please, note that those who try to skip the existence of Okanbi erroneously refer to these as direct children of Oduduwa when indeed they are his grandchildren):
1. Orangun of Ila,
2. Alaketu of Ketu
3. Olupopo of Popo
4. Onisabe of Sabe
5. Olowu of Owu
6. Owa Obokun Adimula Ajibogun and
7. Oranmiyan (The founder and progenitor of the present Benin Dynasty and Oyo Dynasty of the Alaafins).
The eighth son whose mother is called Orunto has often been relegated to the background because of the circumstances of his mother’s pedigree. How he came to be the one to sit on the Ile –Ife throne as Ooni is a subject for another day. But he has the same blood running in his veins like the “Original Seven.”
The usage of the words “Original Seven” instead of “Original Eight” is a complicated product of a complex Yoruba culture. The Yoruba tradition is a very complex one. As in every other culture, there are “dos and don’ts”. There are procedures to be followed in every situation. There are processes to be respected in every situation. The respect of all for process has been the hallmark that infused stability, order, reverence and patriotic love for what all the Yoruba have come to accept as their ways of life not only in Yoruba land but in Yoruba settlements across the globe.
The root of the battle for supremacy between Alaafin of Oyo and Ooni of Ife is found in this background. For those who are well grounded in Yoruba tradition and are very familiar with the authentic Yoruba History other than the politicized version of it, the dynamics of this struggle for supremacy would not be too strange to them. But the fact that Ooni, though the youngest of all and from another mother different from the “Original Seven”, is sitting on the throne of Oduduwa their grandfather gives him a lot of leverage over those who abandoned the same throne to found their own kingdoms and empires. This is more so when every Yoruba from time immemorial acknowledged Ile-Ife as “The Orirun” or “The Source” of the Yoruba existence.
But this does not take away from the fact that in the course of Yoruba history, several other kingdoms created by some of the “Original Seven” or their offspring have not been more powerful, more influential, richer and wealthier than Ile-Ife. Some of these include the Oyo Empire, the Benin Empire and the Ibadan in its hey days. The Ijesha Kingdom in the era of Owa Obokun Atakumosa that expanded as far as the boundaries of Benin Kingdom is another. The Owu Kingdom, Ketu Kingdom and the Sabe kingdom among several others also proved their mettle. But despite all that, Ile-Ife has always been given its due respect, regard and space by all because of its significance in the existential trajectory of the Yoruba people.
The only time when this rule of giving premium respect to Ile-Ife was broken was in the early 19th Century by the Owu people. The Owus have the reputation as one of the fiercest fighters in the entire Yoruba History. Their origin is in the vicinity of the present day Orile Owu near Ikire in Osun State. Among several Owu towns, Ipole and Ogbere were the most famous where the elites military and royalties lived. Ile-Ife in particular and its satellite towns in general were regarded as "no go" area for all Yoruba warriors because of its importance as the origin of all Yoruba people and respect to Ooni who sits on the Oodua stool. The Owus ability to fight and their military invincibility pushed them to threaten Apomu around 1810. Apomu was one of the commercial satellite towns of Ile-Ife under the rulership of Ooni and as such regarded as a "no go" area. Every appeal made to the Owu warriors not to violate the sanctity of Ile-Ife territory by all well meaning Yoruba kings were ignored.
In 1812, Apomu was attacked and conquered by the Owu people. Over several years, other Yoruba kingdoms appealed to the Owus to give up Apomu and restored it to Ile-Ife. The Owu people remained adamant, secured in their belief that Ile-Ife or Ooni have no capability to take them on. Then came Ooni Gbegbaaje (1822-1835) who raised a refurbished Army under the leadership of Maye of Ile-Ife, Chief Okunade in 1823. This Ife Army was supported by the Armies of the Awujale of Ijebu and the Oyo who fought for over 3 years (1823 -1825) to liberate Apomu from the Owus and destroyed the Owu kingdom. The Owus were so defeated and became dispersed all over Yorubaland and probably beyond. Ipole was never rebuilt. It was the Egba famous son and warrior, Sodeke who gave the Owus a reprieve in 1834 by providing them a quarter of Abeokuta to occupy. The Owus paid dearly for their transgressions against the rules of the Yoruba Nation of ensuring the sanctity and dignity of Ile-Ife.
Also, a lot of people are often confused how the Oba of Benin became part of the Yoruba History. Some have even listed him as a direct son of Oduduwa and is at times listed as one of the “Original Seven!” Haba! Oba of Benin is an authentic descendant of Oduduwa. But he is a GREAT GRANDSON of Oduduwa having been fathered by Oranmiyan, a grandson of Oduduwa. He is unarguably the most famous and definitely the most successful great grandson of Oduduwa because of what his own father, Oranmiyan did for him. Oranmiyan is one of the sons of Okanbi and by implication one of the grandchildren of Oduduwa. Before Oranmiyan, the Ogisos have ruled the Benin kingdom until around the middle of the 12th Century. The extant internecine rivalries created confusion among them and Oranmiyan came in to restore order. How Oranmiyan came to play this role is not a subject that could be discussed within the parameters of this article. But he put an end to the end of the Ogiso dynasty and became the first Oba of Benin. He created the dynasty that has survived to the present through his son, Eweka I.
Oranmiyan came back to Ile-Ife after restoring order in Benin and installing his own son as Oba. On his return he met Owa Ajibogun holding court as the ruler of Ile-Ife on behalf of their father, Okanbi who was old. Ajibogun had gone to the seashore to get sea water to cure Okanbi’s blindness as ordered by the Ifa Oracle through divination. On his returns all his brothers have left to create their own kingdoms. Oranmiyan did not think it was wise to fight his brother Ajibogun for the rulership of Ile Ife. He did not waste time as he also left to create another kingdom by moving towards the North. The present day Katunga was where he settled and called Oyo Ile. Oyo-Ile was the capital of the original Oyo Empire. How the Alaafins came to reside and preside in the present Oyo or New Oyo, is also another subject for another day.
In addition, there are some falsities being bandied around about Oduduwa’s origin. One is that he migrated from the Middle East. Yet another is that he came in from Sudan. In recent years, there has been the politically motivated claim that Oduduwa came from Benin. This one is considered so outlandish and beyond ridiculous such that serious Historians have even refused to contemplate and or entertain it since there has been no basis for such consideration. There is no truth to any of the speculations whatsoever that Oduduwa came from anywhere. Oduduwa NEVER came from anywhere. He was born, bread and raised in Ile-Ife. Professor Banji Akintoye’s work on Ife during the times of Oduduwa has been one of the most seminal work on this subject. The fact that Oduduwa was able to rise up, put an end to internecine rivalry among disparage city-states that littered the Ile Ife space and environs; put his stamp of authority on all; install a system of monarchical governance that was later copied across Yoruba land and the fact that he established the first kingdom in Yoruba history was what made him a folk hero. He did not father all the Yoruba people, but he fathered or grandfathered all the major rulers of Yoruba land courtesy of his war-like offspring.
It would be utterly presumptuous to assume that one could do justice to this kind of serious subject in this kind of article which is just meant for racy consumption. But the foolish attitude of not teaching History in our primary and secondary schools to properly educate, inform and stir intellectual inquiry among the youth who are the leaders and teachers of tomorrow is very destructive. It leaves room for undue manipulations and politicization of an all important subject. For any nation such as the Yoruba who have a proud history, this should not be allowed to go on. The pride, self respect, dignity and integrity of a people is functionally related to their history. It is time that concerted efforts are made to separate politics from real subject of History for the sake of all and for the sake of posterity.
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility – I welcome it.”
- John F. Kennedy, in his Inaugural Address January 20, 1961
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