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Alake of Abeokuta and the Challenges of History

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The recent controversy jump started by the Alake of Abeokuta and the introduction of Gazette as the “authentic” base for the classification of Obas in Yoruba land underscores the reason more than ever why History as a serious subject must be separated from politics or politicking.

The limitations presented by our tradition as Yoruba to give utmost respect to elders, especially our traditional rulers serve as caution in wanting to engage them publicly on any matter for that matter. But with due respect to my traditional fathers, it is important, especially for the sake of posterity, that falsities are not allowed to be perpetrated and perpetuated.

As one pointed out in the first part of this series, “The pride, self respect, dignity and integrity of a people are functionally related to their history.” This is a truism and it is human. Everyone wants to be able to have pride in its roots. So, it is not disallowed to romanticize one’s history. Where this is carelessly done however, it could lead to war figuratively and literally.

Thus it is one’s contention that any group of people with self respect would not want to put out any version of history that does not portray them in good light in contents. But the integrity of those contents also matter a lot. Hence, it is incumbent upon such purveyors of their own history not to put out any story or version of History that would make them look or sound ridiculous when put under the klieg light of variables of authenticity in relation to time, space and date.

This is why the advice of Uncle Bisi Lawrence in his piece in the Vanguard of March19,2016, is very pertinent. He has posited that it is important that our Obas need to cease making public pronouncements that would denigrate the revere institutions that they represent. He also insisted that they should stop engaging in actions that could or would bring them into disrepute. One’s understanding of Uncle Lawrence’s remonstration is that it is important that the Obas should make conscious effort not to be unconscious of their pedestal and refrain from acidic statements that could further divide the Yoruba Nation.

It is a dangerous practice to base the rankings and classification of Yoruba Obas on the judgments of the colonialists who are foreigners and at best were very much untutored about Yoruba History. Most of the judgments made by these European colonialists were based on what they were exposed to and who they had contact with and how such could enhance their economic and political control of their (colonialists’) area of influence. It had nothing to do with the importance as it were and the superiority of the Obas as far as Yoruba History was and is still concerned. It is Yoruba who contends “Alejo l’oju ko fi r’iran.” This was very true of the colonialists and the havoc they have done to not just Yoruba History in particular but the African History in general.

To prove how the Europeans could easily be misled by disingenuous ones among us seeking undue relevance and pride as well as how generations of half baked historians have tried to muddle up Yoruba history, in 1850, one Briton named David May met one Mr. Esugbayibi in Iye, in the northern part of Ekitiland. He had just settled between Ishan and Itayi Ekiti after returning from Eba-Odan (Ibadan). He had retreated to Eba-Odan to escape the Northern aggressors from across the Niger. He called his settlement "Ibi Aye le mi de" later shortened to Ayede which eventually became Ayede-Ekiti. Mr. Esugbayibi later told David May that his “beaded crown" was directly from Oduduwa. The only reason for this was that the crown was sent from Ile-Ife. Oduduwa existed 1000 years before that time. Evidently, this does not mean the “beaded crown” was "directly sent from Oduduwa!"

It is a public historical secret that by the time Sodeke, an Ibadan warrior sauntered unto Abe Olumo in the early 1830s, the Itokos were already living there. Before his arrival around 1830, the subsisting parts of Egba Clan include the Ake (controlled by the Itokos), Gbagura, Oke-Ona, and Ibara. They were part of the Oyo Empire that just collapsed at the turn of the 19thCentury. It was after Sodeke became Alake of Ake that the Owu became part of the Egba Nation after suffering debilitating defeat in their homestead at Orile Owu near Ikire courtesy of Awujale of Ijebuland, Alaafin of Oyo and Ooni of Ife, Gbegbaaje in 1832. Sodeke had sauntered into the midst of the Itokos and was made king because he was a warrior in whom they hope that their security could be guaranteed.

Alake did not even have jurisdiction over Gbaguara, Oke-Ona or Ibara. Even, those whom he showed favor, the Owus, were allowed to maintain their autonomy. Before the British Colonialists came to muddle up the situation, it used to be Alake of Ake. When the British made him the paramount ruler of the whole Egba Clan he was thence referred to as Alake of Egbaland. But we still have Oshile of Oke-Ona, Agura of Gbagura and Olowu of Owu. So,

how a stool that was created in the early 1830s could be among the five highest ranking in Yoruba land that has existed for more than 1,800 years before then beats imagination!

The first known kingdom, not city – state or principality, the first kingdom that was ever created in Yoruba land was Ife around 870AD- 880AD more than 1,150 year ago. Since then there had been several powerful kingdoms and empires in Yoruba land created by several kings. It stands logic on its head to assume that the stool of Alake of Ake just created about 175 years ago by the Itokos could claim superiority over several other Yoruba kings that have been in existence for 1000 years or 500 years. In History, dates matter because they contextualize events and fill the vacuum called space and place.

Thus, with due respects, it is very untenable and preposterous, for anyone to refer to a so-called Gazette as the source of authentic classifications of Yoruba kings. To use such as the basis of preeminence is to engage in self ridicule. Though, the existence of such Gazette has been contested, it is one’s contention that even if it exists, it does not confer any form of class on any Yoruba King as far as History has guided us. There is no denying the fact that Alake has enjoyed the benefit of prosperous “subjects” as in “citizens” who through their profiles elevated their origin as a result of their achievements. This increased the clout of Alake but does not make him superior to many other Yoruba Obas. Not even to the Oshile or the Agura. One deliberately leaves out the Olowu out of this because it was Alake who made him and his people part of Egba clan.

On the issue of mythology about Oduduwa coming down via a chain from the sky, that is what it is – mythology. Every race worth its salt has one mythology or the other. It does not remove the verifiable fact that Oduduwa was once a human being who walked the hallowed grounds of Ile Ife. It is like the Jew’s mythology in the Bible about the Balaam’s Horse that spoke like a human being. Other Jewish mythologies in the Bible that the Christian faithful have accepted as “gospel truth” hook, line and sinker include the fact that the Red Sea was parted into two to make ways for the fleeing Israelis; that Elijah’s sacrifice caught fire from heaven while the Baal priests were wowed; that Jesus was born of a woman who never had intercourse (no disrespect intended) even though Mary had a husband called Joseph, among many other myths in the Bible.

The chain in the sky story was a myth created around Oduduwa for transcendental, metaphysical and mystical endearment. It was the same kind of myth that surrounded the exploits of retired Brigadier Benjamin Adekunle "The Black Scorpion" in the Nigerian Civil War. His temerity, tenacity, and the tantalizing media reports helped in enhancing his legend and the concomitant myths. It is the same kind of myth that surrounded Alaafin Sango because of his weird powers and was eventually turned into a god. There are a lot of mystical figures in Yoruba History and Oduduwa seem to be a preeminent one among them. Oduduwa was a hero who blazed the trail for the Yoruba race. In fact after the death of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, some have referred to him as the Oduduwa of our generation. In fact some started a church in which Awolowo is used as the intermediary to God while some have turned him into a god just like Sango.

This is one of the reasons why one is seriously concerned about the refusal to teach History as a serious subject in our schools. The first contact of the Europeans with Yorubaland was around 1442. Before that time Yoruba had a History. How can a group of untutored Europeans who ventured unto our shores around 1442 and did not even have any serious contact with t he majority of the Yoruba be the standard determinants of who is inferior or superior among our Obas? The way our History has been perjured by Europeans led to why eminent Historians have been calling for the deconstruction of African History to liberate it from the prejudices, biases and mix ups by the Caucasoid. The present controversy lends another reason to why this should be very imperative.

“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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Articles by Remi Oyeyemi