The problems of the Historical Record

Having noted the problems with the reliability of the historical record with respect to the oral tradition passed down to us by older generations, one pertinent issue that must be addressed is the relationship between Idanre people and other Yorubas. Before I narrate the Idanre history as I know it, I will lead with a note  provided by High Chief Agboola Akintan, the current Ojomu of Idanre land. Around 1972, High Chief Agboola Akintan, who was the patron of the Santos club of Idanre, wrote a piece for the Association’s journal about Idanre’s history, edited by yours truly. In it, he raised this important caveat that must always be kept in mind when reading any history of Idanre:

”When one day the history of Idanre shall be written, I can see at least four factors which will pose a serious challenge to its authenticity and conspire to militate against its reception into the history of the Yorubas. The first factor, is the usual secrecy that enshrines our history – until quite recently it was not to be told in the public. The youths were even forbidden to listen to it. Many parts could not be narrated without offending our many gods who could only be appeased, if ever, at all with blood and palm wine. Therefore, a large part of our hitherto unwritten history died with our forefathers. The part that survives is either preserved in songs (Ogborogodo, Ogbagbara, Iden, Ola, Agba etc.) or in incantations (Ofo or Ohun) and also ceremonies in remembrance of our past heroes and heroines (e.g. Orosun, Ugbe, Ulesun and Iden festivals).

”A substantially different version of Yoruba history told by a small group of people like Idanre and at this very late hour is most likely to be brushed aside by others as an afterthought or at best as a fable.

”The second factor if our history is correct and is anything to go by, our early separation from our kith and kin in Yorubaland makes our relative isolation a disadavantage.

”We are told that Aremitan, whose nickname was Olofin was the first son of Oduduwa. On the death of Oduduwa his father, Olofin left Ile Ife with a group of people and settled first at Ijama. A short while after, perhaps after only a season, he moved to Epe, It was believed that a group of people parted from Olofin at Ijama; and he bade goodbye to the rest at Epe. From Epe, Olofin moved out with those we might regard today as the fathers of Idanre and settled at Ojanla, not far from river Owena. From this time on, Idanre had maintained its distinct almost completely separated from all other children of Oduduwa.

”Before we left Ojanla however, it appears that a market did flourish there for a while to serve the nearby settlers in the area, particularly the Ekitis. We soon moved from Ojanla to Utaja leaving the market to die quite naturally.

”From now on there was no record for many years and in fact until quite recently, of any meeting, exchange of culture, trading not even any open conflicts with other people. We were almost completely unknown to others and we in fact did everything to hide our identity and our history with it. When therefore the end of the last century the history of Yoruba was being written nothing at all was known or said about Idanre. Dr. Johnson did not for instance mention Idanre in his book which is today regarded as the greatest authority in Yoruba history.

”A third factor is our tribal marks which are exactly like the Ondos with a large population and well known written and received history. Beside the provincial name, Ondo was for many years a divisional and administrative headquarters for Idanre. All over the country Idanre was still perhaps quite recently regarded as a satellite or part of Ondo with the same history, culture and tradition and perhaps presumed to be under the same traditional ruler.

”The fact remains however, as our history, culture, tongue and traditions have shown that Idanre has a separate and direct history and existence from the Ondos. It is true that we are all descendants of Oduduwa and that we left Ile Ife at the same time.

”The fourth factor is that we were not only separated very early from other people, we were in fact completely isolated and insulated from others and we played all sorts of tricks with the backing and cooperation of our gods to preserve this status quo until the iron curtain was lifted by the advent of colonial administration. This isolation and insulation was not at all accidental but a deliberate design by the people to protect their lives and properties. Going by the history we were informed that when Olofin led us out from Ile Ife after the death of his father, he took with him a few valuable and most treasured belongings of Oduduwa. These included the ancient crown of Oduduwa, Oreghe, Ugwan, a pair of irun or horse tail and certain medicine for their preservation. These were supposed to be the common property of all the children of Oduduwa. We were even informed that those of the property he could not take with him he sent Ajija to bring them for him.”

The excerpt above adequately describes the challenges of any historiography of Idanre, in addition to narrating some of the historical legends.

We shall not go into the complexities of the origins of the Yoruba on these pages; for the purpose of this booklet, it is enough to state that the people of Idanre believed that their ancestors migrated from Ile Ife, led by Olofin Aremitan, the brother of Oduduwa – the legendary progenitor of the Yoruba race and the founder of the Yoruba kingdom in Ile Ife. The origins of Oduduwa are, of course, shrouded in mystery . The belief of the Idanre people is that this Olofin came with Oduduwa from the East. Where precisely is a question of controversy; some historians of the Yoruba claim that Oduduwa may have come from Upper Egypt as part of an early migration between 2000 – 1500 BCE (perhaps instigated by the Hyksos invasion). Other historians link Oduduwa to the migrations of Nubians from present day Sudan around 500 BCE, others again from the period of the Roman conquest in 30 BCE, the Christianization of Egypt during the Roman Empire, and finally the Arab conquest between 700-1100 CE which might have forced animist worshippers to flee into the interior. Consequently, many Yorubas will argue that their ancestors were refugees that fled east in order to avoid being converted to Islam.

The dearth of archaeological research in Nigeria mean that these are open questions, perhaps to be answered in the future by advanced scientific methods such as genertics. We may wish here to dwell upon some of the few archaeological results that we do have in the region.

  1. Iwo Eleru man. This relic – a skull and skeleton fragments – is the oldest human skeleton discovered in West Africa. Iwo Eleru is a cave located at Isharun in the Ifedore Local Government of Ondo State. The skeleton was radio-carbon dated to 12,000 BCE, and indicates that human beings have been living in the region for at least ten thousand years.
  2. The findings at the Mejiro cave near Oyo, dated to 4000 BCE similarly indicates a lengthy history of human settlement in the region.
  3. The bronze heads of Ife, dated to around the 13th century, indicate the highly advanced culture of the Yoruba states of the pre-Colonial period. The naturalism and universal aesthetic of the art have been favorably compared with the greatest of Ancient Greek art, and for a period, certain European historians refused to believe that such advanced metalworking could have originated in Africa, and instead posited incredible theories of lost Ancient Greek colonies . The bronze heads build on even earlier traditions of terracotta, and are evidence of an advanced metal working culture dated – from other artifacts – to as early as the ninth or tenth century. See also the similar history of the Benin bronzes.

To date, there have unfortunately been no excavations in the Idanre region; perhaps owing to the remoteness of the area, or the deliberate attempt of the Idanre people to conceal their possessions and history. Until recently, the Idanre hills have been inaccessible to visitors, much less scientific enquiry. Even I, an indigenous son of Idanre and High Chief, have experienced the hostility and mistrust that is engendered by the old superstitions of our culture when investigating the relics and artifacts of our history. It is to be hoped that, in time, more light will be shed on the relics of Idanre, and science will be allowed to resolve some of the mysteries of our history.

Among the relics that the Idanre people claim to have inherited through Olofin are the Oduduwa regalia, which included a beaded crown, Otitibiti (a piece of cloth), Ada, (sword), Oreghe, (necklace); two cow tail hairs mounted on a piece of stick as handles for dancing called Joghere; a cup made of brass with a motive of a reptile, lizard on both sided of it, and ughan bangles made of brass with motives of an Ife Monarch or that of Idia of Ado Benin, such that was used as Festac symbol in 1977. Much of these regalia have been inacessible; the crown itself was brought out for the first time for outsiders in 1943, to show to visiting Europeans.

One would wish for an effort to be made to date these relics using scientific methods, to further our understanding of the history of the Idanre hills. In the absence of such rigorous enquiry, much of what is written has obviously been shaped by the interests of the writers, to push whatever agenda they see fit.

The Schism at Ife after Oduduwa and the leadership of Olofin

The Idanre people claim that Olofin Aremitan led their ancestors from Ile Ife after the demise of Oduduwa owing to the ensuing power struggle with Oranmiyan, the youngest son and heir to Oduduwa. In some traditional accounts in Idanre, Olofin is considered a son of Oduduwa, rather than his brother. Unfortunately, the history of Ife provides little support here, as it is itself unreliable and ambiguous. The exact causes that led Olofin to leave Ife differ in the various traditional account, but the most likely cause would seem to be the power tussle that no doubt erupted between Oduduwa’s heirs after the death of this powerful King. We are told, in some accounts, that Olofin ruled Ife briefly after the death of Oduduwa, but that his reign was marred by jealousy, in-fighting and acrimony. Defeated in his bid for power, he set out to found another settlement with his followers, going eastward through Ujama, Epe, Urede, Ojanla, Jaleja, Utaja (his last stop where he called Ufe’ke), and crossing the Urore river. In some accounts, he was accompanied in these travels by the early leaders of Ado Benin who came as far as Utaja, until they left for Usen, now called Ado Benin.

In these early times before houses were constructed by the settlers, it is believed that the Idanre people lived in caves, safeguarded by the protective charms of Olofin. Olofin is said to have lived with the Idanre people at Utaja for about forty years. Seeing that he was getting too old and could travel no further, he eventually died in a cave at Utaja-Idanre called Uwo-Akota, meaning the cave of wasps.  When I last visited the cave, the cave was still home to wasps, and relics that are claimed to have belonged to Olofin remain in the cave until this day. Uwo Akota was located on the West side of Utaja at the foot of Aghagha Hill on the Eastern path to Oke Idanre.

The reign of Agboogun

Olofin was succeeded by his son Agboogun who inherited the properties of his father, as well as the old emnities. A particular worry was that the more powerful and numerous Ado people might return to Utaja and wage war on him to claim Oduduwa’s crown, as well as the other regalia taken by Olofin. In fact, oral traditions suggests that there was at least one such attempt in the history of Idanre, during the reign of Owa Beyoja when a warrior known as Lemogun was sent by the Oyo (the descendants of Oranmiyan) to live among the Idanre people for three years. Having ingratiated himself with the community and studied the routines of the Owa and the location of the regalia, he attempted to commit the theft, only to be tracked down and overpowered at Otaponyin and beheaded at Umogun. The event is commemorated in a traditional song of the Iden festival, which goes:

”Lemogun soro mimu lemogun soro pipa o, e o yere re o, lemogun o ogwa po.”

Meaning ”It is difficult to catch Lemogun, and it is hard to kill Lemogun, but Owa kills him.” Another attempt made to steal the beaded crown by one Okore, supposedly sent from the Ado Benin group, is also commemorated in song during the Iden festival, in the lines that go:

”Okoro o, e e Edun o ara ra”

These songs can be heard during the Iden festival when the Owa wears the crown.

Whatever the truth in these myths, the traditions agree that Agboogun feared for the safety of his people in the valleys, where it was easy for other tribes to raid and enslave the people. He thus met with his followers, who were split into several groups, to deliberate on a more secure place to settle for the Makanres (Idanre people). These groups included Logunro, who led the Urowo people, Asalu who led the Usalu people, and Jemiken, who led the Udale people. One of these followers was a hunter called Egunren, who had gone up Aghagha hill on one of his hunting expeditions. He reported that he had found a secure location up in the hills, where enemies could not easily attack.

Agboogun led his followers to Oke Idanre, where they first settled the Oba at a place named Usalu up in the hills. However, this region was thought to be too exposed, so another location was chosen, close to Egunren, “the hunter’s cave”, where the people would mobilise; presumable under the lead of Egunren who may have been the leading warrior.

In the absence of a palace, Agboogun settled at Odeja. The building of the palace took over 30 years, according to legends, and as he was getting old, he decided to pass the palace on to his son, Baganju, on the condition that he would perform rites at Odeja for his father after the former’s death. Baganju was thus the first Owa to occupy the old palace at Oke Idanre. However, the traditional accounts are generally in agreement in considering Agboogun the first Owa of Idanre up in Idanre Hills, with Baganju as the second.