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Yoruba World Exploration And The Loss of Dynasties
Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa
August 7, 2006
The ancient Yoruba were one of the most accommodating and the most adventurous people on earth. They were the explorers, the traders, and the Oloko (boat people) who traveled by ships, animal carriers and on foot. They traveled north and south of the Nile, from one coast to another, to Asia, Australia and the Americas. We all agreed that mankind started from Africa, see Dr. Spencer Wells research on Y and X chromosomes, but vacillated on the spread of civilization.
The Yoruba left marks by spreading their genes, arts, sciences, culture and religion. They are born out by ancient artistic stone monoliths dated before Christ and later by terracotta. Thanks to archeology, arts, sciences and devoted scholars that are still unraveling these past accomplishments. The history of the Yoruba before present era (BC) and their cousins can be told intelligently even by what we know now.
I have always wondered why Yoruba wrote on people’s arm and body and devised systematic numbers by tens, twenty and hundred but restricted them to a few who could read and write. A book brought back to IFE by Oduduwa on his sojourns on the Nile Valley can still not be interpreted?
Many Yoruba do not know where the name came from. Every Ethnic group in Nigeria (their cousins) has taken the advantage to interpret the name, Yoruba. Even before, they came in contact with one another, in the recent past.
Combination of OYO and OBA gives YORUBA: OYO-OBA, OYO-ROBA,
These were words that were taken from different orikis in Yoruba that we hardly connect together. There is no need to look outside the language itself for where Yoruba name came from. “Omo Karo o jire” (Good morning) is understood by most Yoruba, from Lagos to Sierra Leone, Cuba, Brazil, and Americas. Yet, there are some who have lost it and even deny their own identity. Mix Africans in Europe, Asia, Australia, America and Africa refer to their white blood. Including those with skin darker than char coal, ignore the threat of one drop of black blood rule.
My own name is so foreign, one has to be familiar with Lagosians to know that I am a Yoruba. One important identity that my family has, as all Yoruba, is oriki. It takes me back home to Enu Owa in Isale Eko and Popo Aguda in Lagos. I will leave it as “Omo Aresa.” .Yoruba Lagos original connection. So, please understand my biases. Yes, I am the same person who refused to join Yoruba organizations in the seventies, because I am a NIGERIAN! I can be a proud Yoruba and a Nigerian, no conflict.
ILE IFE has been the ancestral home of Yoruba and most of their history begins from there. It is the religious, spiritual and artistic home. There are important people revered by the Yoruba who marked critical landmarks in the history. Some are even delegated as messenger of Olorun (God).
Olorun the only God, has always been the belief of the Yoruba before Christianity and Islam. He created mankind through Orunmila. The point of this paper is not to deal with myth or gospel of the Bible, Koran, Tora or Ifa. The rift between evolution and creation is very strong regarding what to teach in elementary school, not only among parents in the United States but in other countries including Nigeria. This paper will assume scientific facts and oral history.
There were generations in between the heroes or icons the Yoruba revered in history. So there were Obatala, Moremi, Oduduwa, Okanbi, Oranmiyan, Sango and others. These generation gaps can be born out by the time difference between Orunmila and Obatala. It has been postulated that there were ninety rulers before Obatala. Assuming that Olorun created Orunmila from the beginning. That is, before or around the Bible time of Adam and Eve. If Obatala came after ninety rulers, he must have been around before Christ.
Most Yoruba will agree that Awolowo was the most recent icon, popularly called the son of Oduduwas, regardless of the generation gap between them. Others may regard Herbert Macauley, Adelabu, Akintola, Ajasin, etc as the heroes of Awolowo’s time. They were all Yoruba of significant achievements.
Obatala’s work was never completed, not because he got drunk or big headed as oral history told us. But each of these icons advanced the cause and the civilization of the Yoruba to the next level. Who took the banner from Orunmila before it got to Obatala or whoever takes it from Awolowo from now on will be remembered in history as the son or daughter of Obatala, Moremi, Oduduwa or Awolowo.
Moremi was a very brave woman who saved the Yoruba from midnight marauders. In the midnight hour, the marauders came from bush (igbo) to pester the Yoruba, they fell in love with a beautiful woman who revealed their strategies and saved the Yoruba. Some Igbo figured they were the ones because the spelling matched. Even if they were, they were cousins in the rain forest at an earlier point in time.
Oduduwa must have been here before Christ, going by parallel archeology of the Yoruba, Egypt, Greece and Rome with the history in the Bible or the Koran. Unless those before him were many centuries old before he was born! He traveled through the Nile river, spread Yoruba civilization and religion. Yoruba, named in Arabic writing noted them for their religion, before their present country brothers became aware of them. See Beginning of Ethnic Formation. During Oduduwa’s exploration, he had children Yoruba usually name AdeTokunbo, Omowale, Magbagbeile and others overseas. He was revered because his descendants were kingdom builders and they also unified the Yorubas. Oduduwa proved his Ife royal blood by displaying his crown, a book in verses and an obelisk. Zo Giwa mentioned these three items in his article.
Okanbi, one of Oduduwa’s descendants, may be some generations from him. It was Okanbi children or grandchildren that built empires and further united the Yoruba with their neighbors. Oduduwa descendants met civilization in Ife and propagated it but might have started empire and kingdom formation during their sojourns on the Nile River.
Civilization has a very simple meaning but today it has exotic attachment for self gratification. It is the ability of people to live amicably among one another. It is not modernization, invention of weapon of mass destruction or the ability to destroy the world in a second. The Yoruba were farmers who had enough to eat and drink because they lived on fertile soil in the rain forest and might have changed locations to take advantage of fertile environment. See Professor Ade Obayemi about eight locations of Ife. This gave the Yoruba the time to think, reflect, engage in Arts, build, organize a civilize community and practice their religion that was known through out Africa in ancient time. Those looking for solutions, predictions, cures, wisdom, artists and rulers went to Ife.
Oranmiyan, one of the grandsons of Okanbi became the founder of Oyo and Benin Empires. He was the one who wanted to go back to the Nile on his return from Benin to avenge those who kicked Oduduwa out. The history of Egypt and Nubia was that of changing rulers. Rulers (Oduduwa) returned home (Ife) whenever another power took over, in Nubia (Sudan). Akhenaton who preached one God in Egypt, like the Yoruba was also sent packing southwards, where he contacted his Nubian belief.
I have to emphasize a point Professor Jide Osuntokun made many times. Dynasty and the people may not necessarily be the same. In the case of Benin, there were Ogiso rulers before the Obas came. The Benin Empire and influence came under the Oba rulers. It is this influence that was developed by the descendants of Oba which grew from the 13th century. This remarkable much later achievement, rivaled their Yoruba predecessor, but presented no conflict with Ife. Some have speculated that the transition from Ogiso to Oba was not so peaceful, autochthonous chiefs undermined Eweka’s authority. Up till today, the land is leased from the Ogiso descendants during the crowning ceremony of Oba to dampen the rivalry between the two dynasties. This rivalry, is still in the folklore and still generate some hard feelings.
Another landmark figure was Shango, the Alafin of Oyo whose mother was Tapa. He was credited with creating gun powder from kola nuts. After his death, he became a demigod.
He was well known beyond Africa and stories were told about Oba Koso. Pedral quoted Morie’s work in Coptic text - “Obba Kousso” as he was known, was King Shango and a king of Kush who ruled north and west of Africa but was born in Ife. Morie had no idea where Ife was.
Somewhere in there was the Bilikisu Sungbon, whose travel and exchange of gift, in gold, ivory, spices and the number of eunuchs that followed her to King Solomon tally with Queen of Sheba Bible story that happened before Christ. She gave birth to her own AdeTokunbo who might have started the line of Emperor Hailey Salashi of Ethiopia. More research is needed here because the most remarkable wonder she left in Ijebu was the greatest monument in the world. According to Professor Patrict Darling of Bournemouth University, U.K, the construction was greater in size than any pyramid in Egypt. It can still be observed near Ijebu Ode today. So far, the dating has not matched the Bible story.
IFE has been studied extensively by foreigners and less by Nigerians. This is a culture that has been nearly highjack and labeled the work of whites or black whites. What! Professor Wole Soyinka noted the irony in the words of the German scholar, Leo Frobenious, looking at the Yoruba chiefs at Ile Ife, wondering if they were the descendant of the lost civilization of Atlantis. Sir Flinder Petrie, world renowned archeologist noted the similarity between terracotta head of Ife and that in Memphis. Osun staff is a serpentine staff crowned by bird, carried by initiates of Obatala, it is the same medical symbol of Caduceus.
Africans scholars like Professors Peter Eke, Cheikh Diop, Frank Snowden, Dr. W.E.D DuBois, Marcus Garvey and John D. Balwin e.t.c worked tirelessly to prove that Egypt was and is in Africa. This may sound strange to a student new in the field, but a paper such as this can not do justice to their work. Anyone interested must pursue their work.
In Egypt we see evidence of earlier civilization of the blacks from Sudan of today (Nubia), Nok culture, Ife stone, terracotta and language known before Christ (B.C), Igbo Ukwu 10th century, Sugbon Eredo, old Oyo walls, Benin Iya ditch, the Great Zimbabwe. There were the Wolof, Mendes, Akhan. The Shaka Zulu, and the 16th century Queen Nzinga of Angola who fought against slave trade. An objective scholar would see these cultures reproduced in Egypt, but not those who wanted to claim Egypt for the white race. Indeed, those who painted black civilization white are still working at it vigorously.
African travel by boat or ship has been demonstrated by the advanced construction of Dafuna Canoe recently excavated near River Yobe dated 8,000 years old while the oldest boat in Egypt is 5,000 years old.
Nazlet Kater, an African skull, the oldest human found in Luxor in 1980 is about 35,000 years old. There were also other white scholars who had made observation of the Egyptians as blacks. Greek historian Diodorus Siculus of Sicily, 1st century B.C, credited the Ethiopians (blacks) as the first of all men created by the gods and founders of civilization and religion in Egypt imported to Greece. Greek philosopher, Aristotle 384-322 B.C.E described the Ethiopians and the Egyptians as blacks. Greek writer Lucian 125 B.C, described the Egyptians with African features. The father of History, Herodotus 490-425 B.C.E, describe the City of Meroe, religion, food, valuable metals, burial ceremony, elephants and offerings (ebo). Their first God was Min (Emi Mimo) and that the Greek gods came from Egypt. French writer Constantin-Francois Volney 1757-1820, claimed that Ethiopians were the first to attain civilized way of life and worship.
Those who have watched the Zar ritual dance conducted by special women among Fellahin in Egypt saw the replica of Yoruba dance during worship or Haitian Voodoo dance. But if you ask them or tell them, some might deny their identity. The Belady who were the original black settlers of Egypt have been oppressed by different powers but still hang on to the African tradition which is different from those who rule them. The culture remains with them. See Gamal Nkrumah on the Bedja.
They still have melanin in their skin layers, their genes are related to Africans, still carry the sickle cell trait, practice circumcision and totem. An X-ray on Pharaohs done by James E. Harris of Michigan University proved the same. Egypt Arts, Religion, Oracle and the original language of the Beladi mirror that of Africans in general and Yoruba in particular. The work of Dr. Lucas has been quoted many times.
These similarities between Egypt, Sudan, Yoruba and other African cousins are not coincidence. It establishes the rightful place of African civilization. The Yoruba civilization has been studied extensively because of their ancient way of life which predates the civilization in Egypt. We knew that even Egypt got its civilization from Sudan. An observation that must be noted carefully is that the Ijebu and the Sudanese have the same ethnic face mark. I have already stated that it is the Yoruba who traveled north.
There are some three controversies among the Yoruba that I can not ignore: Ijebu, Ilorin and Benin. Threats, intimidation, trading insults and ultimatums will not help. While history is subject to research, sheer convenience of ethnocentricity will not stand up to scrutiny.
Some Ijebu claim that they are not Yoruba, they came from Waddai. Others claimed that Awujale, Ilari named Agbejaile or Alajaile himself came from Oyo to make peace between Ife and Owu. There are other speculations I will not even touch. If you walk like a duck, look like a duck, speak like duck, you are a duck! That should end it. But there is validity about Wadai and the Ijebu. The Ijebu said their Oba was some generations senior to Oduduwa because they showed his child his way to the Ocean when he got lost. He wanted ocean water to cure Oduduwa’s blindness. If my assumption of Oduduwa before Christ is correct, they might have dealt with Oduduwa descendant not necessarily the son. As for Waddai, most Yoruba explorers and traders pass through Wadai, Danfor, Thebes, and Owodaiye in today Ethiopia on their way to and from the Nile. Not only the Ijebu.
The similarity between the Ijebu dialect, Itsekiri dialect and the Yoruba palace language of Benin might have to do with Prince Inigua who led the Itsekiri away. That may disprove any notion that the Ijebu were sacrifice or slave to other Yorubas.
Oni of Ife position must be respected. No ancient Yoruba would crown a usurper Oni if he did not deserve to be there. Let us separate personal grudges from the unity of the Yorubas.
The Afonja of Ilorin controversy is more pathetic. Today, we misplaced blame on the Fulani who were invited to help Afonja against Alafin of Oyo. Afonja became ambitious and wanted to undermine the Alafin. The story was that Afonja thought Alafin was going to move on him with an impossible task to accomplish. Afonja then got help to overthrow the Alafin. Afonja found himself at the mercy of the Fulani and lost it all, because Alafin put a curse on him. Where is the blame? The problem today is that the Fulani have rightly assimilated into Ilorin so much that the Yoruba find it difficult to be the Oba of Ilorin. They have lost the supremacy of Oba and there is confusion in a Yoruba land. How do you get someone whose father or mother is a Fulani to deny their birth?
In the case of Benin, all due respect must be accorded the Oba of Benin as one of the descendants of Oduduwa. He wrote that one of the kingdoms started by Oduduwa was Ado. He has a brother in the person of Ewi of Ado Ekiti who is now embarrassed by the controversy. Oba of Benin told us the meaning of Eweka, Owo mi ka, line of descendant. That is in the same lingua fraca of his palace up a point in time. Nobody has so far denied that the head of former Obas of Benin were buried in Ife. How can the Oba query the facts of Egbareva’s book based on his mother’s relation to Yoruba? It is a popular saying in Edo that only a son of Edo culture can be a ruler of Benin. Oranmiyan was not, so he married into the culture to produce a ruler from that culture.
Ekaladerhan was a man of the culture, Benin historians still have to settle on if he fought to death when Benin soldier went after him in Ughoton the same way they went after Inigua in Warri. By the way, this was centuries after Oduduwa.
In view of these controversies, their subjects who have unflinching loyalty to Yoruba must be in a difficult position. Embrace novel theories or walk a fine line. It has been said that special ceremony or ritual is needed to reverse the curse of Alafin. The none-Yoruba theory of the Ijebu is hardly taken seriously since majority of them see themselves as nothing else, but will not stand for any insult. More problematic, is that of Oba of Benin. He is highly respect and rightly so. Others with the same theory can be ignored, not him.
One can tell the difference between the comments coming from the Ogiso and that coming from the Oba descendants. None of the Oba line can reject Yoruba connection: “How safe is Ife” is still the greetings. While the Ogiso trumpet the influence and achievement of the Oba, they missed the opportunity to educate us about that of Ogiso. Indeed, Professor Eke did more to educate us about Ogiso, only to be chided for not distorting Yoruba influence.
Yoruba must stop fighting one another. Those who have made it in other lands – Cuba, Brazil, Benin Republic, Europe, Asia and other America must not severe the bridges they crossed. Oduduwa came back home and proved himself, one day your children will come back home. YORUBA RONU!
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