Ile-Ife: The History

It has also been the custom for many years for most crowned Yoruba Obas to visit the grave of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife for blessings during their coronation ceremonies

Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yorubas, the city of survivors, spiritual seat of the Yorubas, where the dawn of the day was first experienced, the source, the head of the whole universe, the land of the most ancient day, the home of divinities is to the people of Ife “ILURUN” i.e Gateway to heaven. Read more. Read more...
Ile-Ife - Map
Ile-Ife - Map

According to Yoruba mythology, Olodumare, the Supreme god, ordered Obatala to create the earth, but on his way he found palm wine which he drank and became intoxicated. Therefore, the younger brother of the latter, Oduduwa, took the three items of creation from him, climbed down from the heavens on a chain and threw a handful of earth on the primordial ocean, then put a cockerel on it so that it would scatter the earth, thus creating the land on which Ile Ife would be built.

Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yorubas, the city of survivors, spiritual seat of the Yorubas, where the dawn of the day was first experienced, the source, the head of the whole universe, the land of the most ancient day, the home of divinities is to the people of Ife “ILURUN” i.e Gateway to heaven. Read more.

Oduduwa planted a palm nut in a hole in the newly formed land and from there sprang a great tree with sixteen branches, a symbolic representation of the clans of the early Ife city-state. The usurpation of creation by Oduduwa gave rise to the ever lasting conflict between him and his elder brother Obatala, which is still re-enacted in the modern era by the cult groups of the two clans during the Itapa New Year festival.[3] On account of his creation of the world Oduduwa became the ancestor of the first divine king of the Yoruba, while Obatala is believed to have created the first Yoruba people out of clay. The meaning of the word “ife” in Yoruba is “expansion”; “Ile-Ife” is therefore in reference to the myth of origin “The Land of Expansion”.

Ile-Ife, the cradle of the Yorubas, the city of survivors, spiritual seat of the Yorubas, where the dawn of the day was first experienced, the source, the head of the whole universe, the land of the most ancient day, the home of divinities is to the people of Ife “ILURUN” i.e Gateway to heaven. Ile-Ife is located in the South Western part of Nigeria, West Africa.

The history of Ife can also be chronologically divided into three periods: The first Ife was known as Ife Oodaye, Ile owuro, ibiti oju ti mo, that is, the land of most ancient days where the dawn of the day was first experienced. The inhabitants of Ife Oodaye were believed to be powerful giants with mystic abilities. Tradition claims that the life of this community came to an end as a result of flood which flushed the whole area occupied by the community. Those who survived the deluge formed the nucleus of the community that formed the second era of the history of Ife.

The second Ife was called Ife Ooyelagbo, that is, the city of the survivors. Tradition maintains that the second Ife lasted until the arrival of some strangers who entered the city of Ile-Ife from the “East”. An attempt made by the strangers to seize power from the aborigines on the land led to a bloody struggle between the strangers led by the Oduduwa on one hand and the aborigines led by Obatala, eventually Oduduwa and his groups won the war.

The third Ife is called Ile-Ife founded with the arrival of Oduduwa and his groups. It is believed that Oduduwa, the founder of the Yoruba raced emerged after the deluge, he (Oduduwa) and his followers descended on to dry land by means of chain ropes from their life boat (hence the saying Oduduwa afi won ron). And later anchored on Oke-Ora (Oranfe Hill) between Ile-Ife and Itagunmodi on the Ife-Ilesa road, from where they came to Moore quarter in Ile-Ife.

Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), one of the leading academic institutions in West Africa, is the major institution of higher learning in the city. Founded in 1962 as the University of Ife, it was rechristened by the Federal Military Government of Nigeria as the Obafemi Awolowo University on May 12, 1987, in honor of one of its most distinguished founding fathers, eminent nationalist and former chancellor, Chief Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo (1909–1987).

In the centre of modern Ile-Ife is the afin (“palace”) of the present Ooni, the spiritual head of the Yoruba people, who has custody of the sacred staff of Oranmiyan (Oranyan), an 18-foot (5.5-metre) granite monolith in the shape of an elephant’s tusk. The palace compound is also the site of the Ife Museum (1954), which contains a collection of cire-perdue bronze castings and terra-cotta sculptures that was partly acquired by the German archaeologist Leo Frobenius in 1910 and subsequently expanded through excavations at the Wunmonije compound (1938–39) and at nearby Ita Yemoo (1957).

Origin of the regional States : Disperal from the Holy city of Ife, Oduduwa had sons, daughters and a grandson who went onto found their own Kingdoms and Empires, namely Ila Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo and Oyo. Oranmiyan , Oduduwa’s last born, was one of his fathers principal ministers and overseer of the nascent Edo Empire, after Oduduwa granted the pleas of the Edo people for his governance.

When Oranmiyan decided to go back to Ile Ife after a period of service in Benin, he left behind a child called Eweka , that he had in the interim with an indigenous Princess. The young boy went on to become the first legitimate ruler of the second Edo dynasty, that has ruled what is now Benin. Oranmiyan later went onto found the Oyo Empire that stretched at its height from the western banks of the River Niger, to the Eastern banks of the river Volta. It would serve as one of the most powerful of Africa’s medieval States prior to its collapse in the 19th Century.

THE OONI (KING)
The Ooni of Ife claims direct descent from Oduduwa and is counted first among the Yoruba Kings. He is traditionally condiered the 401st Spirit (Orisha) and the only one that speaks. The Royal dynasty of Ife traces its origin back to the founding of the city more than two thousand years ago. The 51st Ooni, of Ife , His Imperial Majesty , Ooni Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II ascended to the throne in December 2015.

Following the formation of the Yoruba Orisha Congress in 1986, the Ooni acquired an international status the likes of which the holders of his title had not seen since the citys colonization by the British. Nationally, he had always been prominent amongst the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s company of Royal Obas, being regarded as the Chief Priest and custodian of the holy city of all the Yorubas.

In former times, the Palace of the Ooni of Ife was a structure built of authentic enameled brick, decorated with artistic porcelain tiles and a multitude of other ornaments .Ife is well known as the city of 201 or 401 deities. It is said that every day of the year the traditional worshippers celebrate a festival of one of these dieties. Often the festival extends over more than one day and they involve both priestly activities in the Palace and theatrical dramatisations in the rest of the Kingdom.

Historically the king only appeared in the public during the annual Olojo festival; other important festivals include the Itapa festival for Obatala and Obameri, the Edi festival for Moremi Ajasoro, and the Igare masquerades. The Art History Bronze Head from Ife, is a king dated around 1300 C.E., in the British Museum. Kings and Gods were often depicted with large heads because the artists believed that the Ase was held in the head. The Ase being the inner power and energy of a person.

Both historic figures of Ife and the offices associated with them are represented. One of the best documented among this is the early king Obalufon II, who was said to have invented bronze casting and is honored in the form of a naturalistic copper life sized mask.

The city was a settlement of substantial size between the 12th and 14th centuries, with house featuring postherd pavements . Ile Ife is known worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures, which reached their peak of artistic expressions between 1200 and 1400 A.D.

In the period around 1300C.E. the artistes at Ife developed a refined and naturalistic sculptural tradition in terracotta , stone and copper alloy – copper, brass, and bronze. Many of these appear to have been created under the patronage of king Obalufon II, the man today is identified as the Yoruba patron deity of brass casting, weaving and regalia.

After this period, production declined as political and economic power shifted to the nearby Kingdom of Benin which, like the Yoruba Kingdom of Oyo, developed into a major Empire. Bronze and terracotta art created by this civilization are significant examples of naturalism in pre-colonial African Art and are distinguished by their variations in regalia, facial marking patterns and body proportions. Ancient Ife also was famous for its glass beads which have been found at sites as far away as Mali, Mauritania and Ghana.

THE SACRED AARÉ CROWN
The sacred Aare Crown is the only physical symbol of authority the Ooni of Ife inherited from his ancestors. It is believed to have been made from many items, such as cutlasses , hoes and 149 other undisclosed objects.

The Ifa oral tradition reveals that the Aare crown is very heavy and it is believed that the Ooni of Ife is spiritually empowered to wear it during the Olojo festival; the crown is too heavy for him to bear on any other day. Historically it is known that there is a strong relationship between the sacred crown and Ogun deity, the god of iron, due to the crown’s iron components. The crown must be brought before the Ogun deity at OkeMogun shrine during the annual Olojo Festival celebration in Ile Ife.

According to Ifa oral tradition, corroborated by Chief Tewogbade (Chief Priest of Aare Crown), the crown is believed to attract people to itself when the Ooni dons it. During the Olojo festival people often troop out to behold the crown and on sighting the crown, they offer prayers because the presence of the sacred crown symbolises peace, unity, blessing and prosperity.

History dictates that the reigning Ooni must not look inside the crown because any attempt to do so, would result in him joining his ancestors. It is believed that when the Ooni dons the mysterious crown, He is instantly transfigured into his true nature, Orisa (Deity) whose visage has been said to become too dreadful to behold. The crown serves as a traditional legacy from one reigning king to another and this particular sacred Aare crown was the inheritance of Ooni from his progenitor, Oduduwa. All other reigning kings in the Yorubaland have their distinctive crowns assigned for social functions; but none of them possess the powers of the Aare crown. The Aare crown is very unique and symbolic in the sense that its components are spiritually inclined.

The sacred Aare crown is kept in a separate room in the palace under the watchful eyes of Chief Tewogbade and sacrifices are offered on regular basis as tradition calls for it.

ORANMIYAN SWORD
It was generally accepted that Obalufon Ogbogbodirin was the eldest son and Oranmiyan the youngest. Okanbi was the eldest daughter who beget The Olowu of Owu and six other famous kings. The place of Ile-Ife in the hierarchy of Yoruba race was clearly evidenced by the life and death of Oranmiyan, the youngest son of Oduduwa and the fourth Ooni of Ife.

It is a well established fact that Oranmiyan described as “a man of great physical power and mighty conqueror”, founded Oyo and installed his son, Ajaka as the first Alaafin of Oyo. He then went on to become the first Oba of Benin, and installed his son, Eweka (owo mi ka) in his place, “thus giving the Benis the long line of kings from the Oranmiyan dynasty, before returning to Ile-Ife to occupy the throne of his father, Oduduwa, until his death.

On the Oranmiyan dynasty, is is evident that Eweka was the first Oba to rule in Benin and that he had a Bini mother. The precise date of his reign was however not absolutely certain, because Eghareuba gave the date as 1200 and Talbot and Bradbury around 1300.. In the same manner, one can say that the period of the reign of Oranmiyan as the forth Ooni of Ife cannot be precisely dated. Oral history from our forefathers at Ife told us that even though Oranmiyan was on the throne as Ooni of Ife, he was often away from Ile-Ife on his war expeditions against the neighbouring hostile nations to other parts of the country.

Although the body of Oranmiyan might be far away from Ife many indigenes believed that his spirit was permanently with them at Ife. Consequently, whenever there was war at Ife, on land or territory or an attack on the sacred city by hostile neighbouring towns, the Ifes would send to Oranmiyan wherever he might be, to come home and save them. Remarkably, each time the Ifes called, Oranmiyan would appear immediately with his mystical sword and vanquish the enemies thus leading to the saying in Ife that “in time of war the Ifes always called on Oranmiyan” (Ijo ogun ni Ife npe Oranmiyan) and he would answer them.

This culture of always looking upon and total reliance on the power and ability of their Oba to solve most of their problems persists among Ife indigenes at home till today. According to Ife oral history, there was a particular incident, when a fight broke out between two factions in Ife which nearly developed into a civil war. One of the factions decided to invoke the spirit of Oranmiyan, their king by calling on him to come home to defend Ife. Oranmiyan appeared at once with his magical sword thinking that the factions fighting themselves were an external force. He started to fight and kill those he thought were the external aggressors until when he realized that the people he was killing were his own subjects. Oranmiyan angrily and mournfully pitched his mystical sword on the ground and disappeared to the Palace, where he vowed never to use his sword again, when he later joined his ancestors he was buried on the spot where he pitched his sword.

In remembrance of the Ooni Oranmiyan, a gigantic monument of some ten feet high (an obelisk) was built around the sword which Ifes called “Opa Oranmiyan” (The Oranmiyan’s staff) at a designated area, where Oranmiyan was buried, deified and worshipped till this day. Because it was an acknowledged fact that Oranmiyan the as Ooni of Ife, he was often away from Ile-Ife on his war expeditions against the neighbouring hostile nations to other parts of the country.

Although the body of Oranmiyan might be far away from Ife many indigenes believed that his spirit was permanently with them at Ife. Consequently, whenever there was war at Ife, on land or territory or an attack on the sacred city by hostile neighbouring towns, the Ifes would send to Oranmiyan wherever he might be, to come home and save them. Remarkably, each time the Ifes called, Oranmiyan would appear immediately with his mystical sword and vanquish the enemies thus leading to the saying in Ife that “in time of war the Ifes always called on Oranmiyan” (Ijo ogun ni Ife npe Oranmiyan) and he would answer them.

This culture of always looking upon and total reliance on the power and ability of their Oba to solve most of their problems persists among Ife indigenes at home till today. According to Ife oral history, there was a particular incident, when a fight broke out between two factions in Ife which nearly developed into a civil war. One of the factions decided to invoke the spirit of Oranmiyan, their king by calling on him to come home to defend Ife. Oranmiyan appeared at once with his magical sword thinking that the factions fighting themselves were an external force. He started to fight and kill those he thought were the external aggressors until when he realized that the people he was killing were his own subjects. Oranmiyan angrily and mournfully pitched his mystical sword on the ground and disappeared to the Palace, where he vowed never to use his sword again, when he later joined his ancestors he was buried on the spot where he pitched his sword.

In remembrance of the Ooni Oranmiyan, a gigantic monument of some ten feet high (an obelisk) was built around the sword which Ifes called “Opa Oranmiyan” (The Oranmiyan’s staff) at a designated area, where Oranmiyan was buried, deified and worshipped till this day. Because it was an acknowledged fact that Oranmiyan the youngest son of Oduduwa reigned, died and was buried in Ile-Ife, all Yoruba kings as part of their ascension and coronation ceremonies were expected to receive and handle the greatest symbol of Oranmiyan’s strength -Oranmiyan’s sword (IDA ORANMIYAN) as representing their sword of office from Ife. It has also been the custom for many years for most crowned Yoruba Obas to visit the grave of Oduduwa in Ile-Ife for blessings during their coronation ceremonies.

Ooni of Ife: The Rulers

The list of past Ooni of Ife:

Oduduwa

Osangangan Obamakin

Ogun

Obalufon Ogbogbodirin

Obalufon Alayemore (Obalufon II)

Oranmiyan

Ooni Ayetise

Lajamisan

Lajodoogun

Lafogido

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Odidimode Rogbeesin

Aworokolokin

Ekun

Ajimuda

Gboonijio

Okanlajosin

Adegbalu

Osinkola

Ogboruu

Giesi

Luwoo

Lumobi

Agbedegbede

Ojelokunbirin

Lagunja

Larunnka

Ademilu

Omogbogbo

Ajila Oorun

Adejinle

Olojo

Okiti

Lugbade

Aribiwoso

Osinlade

Adagba

Ojigidiri

Akinmoyero (1770–1800)

Gbanlare (1800–1823)

Gbegbaaje (1823–1835)

Wunmonije (1835–1839)

Adegunle Adewela (1839–1849)

Degbinsokun (1849–1878)

Orarigba (1878–1880)

Derin Ologbenla (1880–1894)

Adelekan Olubuse I (1894–1910)

Adekola (1910)

Ademiluyi Ajagun (1910–1930)

Adesoji Aderemi (1930–1980)

Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II (1980-2015)

Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi (Appointed October 25, 2015. Crowned December 7th, 2015)

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