Yoruba and Benin Kingdom: Ile Ife The Final Resting Place of History


Kunle I Sowunmi






The first edition of this article was titled  “Yoruba and Benin Kingdom The Missing Gap of History” following the Statement credited to Oba Ereduwa Omonoba Polopolo, that the Yoruba race originated from Benin Kingdom, was very rich in details and calls for re-examination by historians of high repute from all the Nigerian Universities and recognized institutions not from uneducated and bias sources of chambers or shrines of some Obas or traditional rulers as presently being envisaged or contemplated. The statement from Ooni of Ife disputing the fact of Oba of Benin was not strong enough or capable of influencing any academic exercise. The statement from the two kings and the follow up from Oba of Lagos and host of others had generated lots of discussion worldwide but some questions still remain unanswered. This has given this writer the opportunity to further ask questions hopefully it will lead to getting the solution about the source of the Yoruba and Edo with the publication of this second edition now titled “Ile Ife the final Resting place of History”.


I was often fascinated by the different versions of uncoordinated folk stories we were told about the origin of the Yoruba.  As a very young Yoruba man from Abeokuta I was told Oduduwa was the first man created by God just like the Bible said Adam and Eve were the first to be created by God. The Bible says Cain the only surviving child of Adam and Eve went to another city called Nod to marry his wife. The question is who created the wife, the wife parent or the family of the in-law if any. Just like I asked in my innocent mind as a student in the primary school then who created Oduduwa and how did Oduduwa marry his wife? Where did parent of the wife of Oduduwa come from?  My Teacher never told me the answer.  We were even told Oduduwa was the son of one Lamurudu from Far East most likely Saudi Arabia and that some of Yoruba cousin can be found in Uganda infact they call the Yorubas in Uganda Akarabas, which is true.  Most of these uncoordinated conflicting stories were very difficult to prove or be binding on history for any academic minds.


The Genesis of the Yorubas


Oduduwa had sixteen children we were told and the eldest was Orangun of Ila and the Egbas in Abeokuta were descendants of the female child of Oduduwa named Alaketu. None ever disputed the fact that Oranmiyan the last born of Oduduwa also ruled the Benin Kingdom. Why did Benin or Edos allowed the last child of Oduduwa to be made a king over them or his descendants through Eweka 1st, if there was no blue blood connection?  Oba of Benin gave a detail account of fact of history that are very difficult to dispute. The Yoruba share so many things in common with the Edo’s in names and culture, which must be part of the reason why it is very difficult to dispute the version Omo noba polo polo Oba of Benin.


Again, in the Bible, Adam and Eve who were believed to be the first human creation by God never told or shown Cain the only surviving child the Garden of Eden where God created them, just like Oduduwa never shown the place and real evidence how he was created by God. The idea of a rain and dove as the method of earth creation sounds more like magic than real. Archeologically, the Yoruba race is not more than 2000 years meaning other tribes excited before the Oduduwa appearance. None availability of any other serious fact to negate this lend credibility to Oba Benin’s version in which he the Oba of Benin himself has not proved positively where the Edo’s also came from. Did the Edo’s also come from heaven? Or emerged from the Igbos that often regarded themselves as the lost tribe of Israel? Why does is necessary to bury the head of any late Oba of Benin at Ile Ife or why is it compulsory to receive the blessing of Ooni before a King or Oba is crowned in Benin. All these are missing gaps of facts and history, which the academic institutions must trash.


Aside from the above both versions of History from Oba of Benin and Yoruba agreed that Oramiyan the last son of Oduduwa returned to Ife from Benin after he installed his son, Eweka the first as Oba of Benin after he became frustrated with the strange land.  He met  his father Oduduwa who was very advanced in age and blind more also, all properties had been shared and distributed among his fifteen brothers and sisters. Alternatively, seven brothers according to Oba of Benin, Oduduwa was at a dilemma on what to do because he assumed Benin Kingdom would be enough inheritance for Oranmiyan.


Both versions of history agreed that the name Benin meant “the land of the annoyed” because Oranmiyan left the place in annoyance. Could it be said that Benin had another name before Oranmiyan went there? What was the name? Does it have anything to do with the destruction of the Edo Empire or can we say Oranmiyan actually founded the Benin Kingdom, which must be the reason why he changed the name of the city to Benin? Oba of Benin comment on the Edo’s checking the secrecy of Oranmiyan led to his abdication of the thrown for his son is not convincing enough taking into consideration the attitude of Oranmiyan who was believed to be ruthless, one would have thought he would have handled the issue in different method.


The Returns of Oranmiyan


Oduduwa found an easy way out to appease the disgruntled son Oranmiyan he gave him, his staff as a symbol to present to his brothers and sisters to be able to collect ten percent of revenue derived from yearly harvest through out Yoruba Land. With this, Oranmiyan was able to collect over 150 percent of all the returns throughout the uncoordinated kingdom. Oduduwa also grudgingly agreed to allow his last son Oranmiyan to be king at Ile Ife after his death. The reason for this was unknown as this was against the customs and traditions of giving priority to first child or son who was Ila of Irangun. 


On the other hand, could it be said that Orangun was too afraid to challenge his junior brother or Oranmiyan was indeed the senior? Or could the version of history that actually claimed Okanbi as the only son of Oduduwa was right and Oranmiyan was indeed the same person as Okanbi? This is a fact of history the present Orangun of Ila should clarify. His silence amounts to selling his birthright to his junior brother if he was indeed the first-born and why did all other 14 brothers and sisters fail to do something? Some even say Oranmiyan was not a direct son but a son of Okanbi. Some even argued that Okanbi was the same person as Oranmiyan but Okanbi literarily meant only child if that should be the case it will amount to a conclusion that Oduduwa had only one child while his only child Okanbi gave births to the 16 children that became the pillar of Yoruba race this is another area the historians must explore.


Oduduwa was primarily a skillful priest and voodoo person who the Oba of Benin argued picked up the powers in the forest. Who were his teachers? Was it by demons or gods? Or by the power of abcadabra. Who verified how Oduduwa acquired his powers? None and how did Oba of Benin come to this conclusion? It is often said rituals and sacrifices is an everyday issue at Ife except for one day and that is never made public probably the only day Odududua took vacation. Oba of Benin must explain the reason why the Head of all previous Oba of Benin were buried in a cave at the shrine of Oduduwa at IFE.


Origin of Ooni Title


We have read and heard stories that in one of the ritual ceremonies where nobody was allowed to be outside, an unidentified foreign woman of no means of tracing her background was captured and was to be used as sacrifice for the gods. She was later spared because she was found to be pregnant beside; it was against custom at that time to use a pregnant woman for sacrifice. The child from the woman was dedicated to the gods and acted in an assistant capacity to the aging Oduduwa in his day-to-day ritual and voodoo job. The child was named Ooni: meaning, “This is Spared One”. This cannot be totally disputed because the Yoruba’s often named children after events surrounding their births. Nobody apart from this simple understanding of Ooni has given any other meaning interpretation of the title. This writer did not create this meaning every Yoruba man or woman grew up with this assumption. It may not necessary be the reason.


After the death of Oduduwa his son, Oranmiyan was invited to take over the job of his father, which was primarily ritual and voodoo, as well as traditional ruler of Ile Ife. Oranmiyan refused because he had succeeded in building an economically viable place at Oyo Ile with administratively sound method of government around the Oyomesi council in chief and it would be very degrading to leave and move to Ile Ife to be involved in ritual daily sacrifices exercises. In the light of that assumptions Oranmiyan gave conditions that he must be buried at Ife to symbolize his right to Ife thrown. Ooni the Assistant to Oduduwa in the day-to-day ritual sacrifice exercise continued with Odua’s job while he continued with supervision from Oyo Ile.  It was that condition Ooni the son of the slave woman that was captured and dedicated to the gods who was assisting Oduduwa continued the work of Oduduwa at Ife. This is the reason why ALafin of Oyo will never accept Ooni of Ife as a king or a superior in any Yoruba gathering of Obas. The creation of Oshun State out of Oyo State was the major events that separated the two kings in one of the sittings of Obas in the old Oyo State the Chairmanship issue was almost a national problem that which was exploited by the political leaders of both the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and national Party of Nigeria (NPN) at that time.


Ooni assumed superiority was a British creation because the King of England assumed a king at Ife the assumed cradle of Yoruba must be superior to all Obas just like the British did in Abeokuta by imposing Alake superiority over other Obas at Abeokuta. In case of Egbas Sorunke who led the Egbas from Ibadan to the present Abeokuta was from Oke Ona, which Oba Tejuoso is the King today. This is the reason why there was conflict between late Alake of Abeokuta and Osile of Oke Ona. In fact both the Akes and Oke Onas met Owu’s in the southwest area of the city. Power and control in Abeokuta was not evenly distributed among the five kings. The British creation has led to communal disagreement among the city’s five kings. Including the Ibaras and Gbaguras the side of late Moshood Abiola. Although the late Alake of Egbaland was very technical and tactical in the way he cautiously curtailed other Egba Obas to accepting his leadership that can not be said of Ooni who does one thing better by allying himself with the government at the center in and out of the state all time a strategy Alaafin must have to adopt.


IFE The Final Resting Place of Oranmiyan


Why was Oranmiyan buried at Ife not at Oyo Ile or Oyo Igboho? What is the meaning for Opa Oranyan symbol at Ife today? Except to confirm his right to the thrown or seat of Oduduwa. If Ooni was not a true son or direct descendant of the sixteen children of Odua or a relation of Okanbi how did he get his title so recognized that it became the symbol of Yoruba center of unity and not Alaafin the much feared Iku babayeye? Some historians will argue that Ooni was just his name that became his title. If Ooni was a direct son of Oduduwa how come he could not be traced to the 16 children of Oduduwa?  Did the first Ooni pay tributes to Alaafin or Oranmiyan like all other Yoruba Obas and Baales (village Heads) at that time or was he exempted from taxes or levies? If not. Why? Those emerging empires that refused to pay were destroyed or sold away as slaves. The practice to sell any opposition as slaves stopped after the Oyo Empire was destroyed. It is rather difficult to accept the Ooni’s version as against the Omonoba Polo polo but then Oba of Benin’s version was not full proof. Has any Oba of Benin from history been a member of governing council at Ife? If yes. Why? And why must Oba of Benin’s head be buried at Ife if Ile Ife is not the source for the two tribes? Oba of Benin must be courageous to explain this fact of history.


Oranmiyan’s Role In Yoruba History


Oranmiyan from history was a belligerent person. A war hero and where his brothers and sister failed to give the yearly ten percent duty as agreed with the staff of Oduduwa he used force. He later appointed his representatives in each of the kingdoms of Yoruba to monitor the returns, thus the creation of Oyo Empire that lead to the end of the kingdom Oduduwa created which was not properly coordinated. There was no proper channel of control during Odua. Oyo Empire gave the Yoruba race the much respect and proper foundation in the south of Sahara. The new empire grew with amazing rapidity throughout West Africa and was like the Ghana or Shonghai Empire of the medieval history in the south of Sahara.


 One of the strategies of the Oyo Empire was engagement in slavery. It was a tactical way to weaken opposition among the Yoruba’s and those captured. Oranmiyan and his descendants were absolute in control and management. Infact, the word Kabiyesi that was later adopted by subsequent Alafin from the time of Sango oko Oya in Oyo meant absolutism the king could never be wrong. Such was the fear and power of Alafin throughout Yoruba land.


Oranmiyan’s administration was the best in Africa and could be likened to the British system of Administration during the colonial government. The Empire expanded up to the present Benin republic. Those who escaped the control of Alaafin are the Yoruba’s living in Benin Republic, which was formerly Dahomey. On the East side there was no historical record of any interference between the father and the son the rulers in Benin Kingdom. The reason for this was not known but it will amount to fighting yourself if Oranmiyan had to wage war of control over Benin. Oba of Benin Omonoba Polopolo did not explain the reason for the prolong truce between Benin and Oyo Empire. Spiritual contact was established with each Benin King’s head buried at Ife and spiritual approval from Ife before any Oba is crowned at Benin? Why is this so if Benin was the source how come the source goes to the Ife for approval of final rest of the head of Benin Obas? Ile Ife in actual fact demonstrated its superiority by having the head of Oranmiyan himself.


 At least there was no record of history of any transaction between father and son commercially or any known tribal or communal war between Yoruba and Benin Kingdom while Benin Kingdom continued to progress and Oyo Empire continue to expand to the west coast. In Lagos, there could not be a clash, it was a place of reunion for Edo’s and Yoruba it was said Eko, which is Lagos, and in our local dialect is a Benin word. Why did Oranmiyan and his descendants fail to expand towards the East of the empire, which would have been a clash with Edo’s? Was it a mutual agreement or respect or tactical error or oversight in the expansionism of Yoruba Empire?


The fall of Oyo Empire


Oyo Empire later suffered from over expansion while some local heroes started to emerge to challenge the authority of the Oyo kingdom or that of the Alafin of Oyo. Among them was the Lisabi Agboagbo Akala who liberated the Egbas from Oyo Empire to create a fearless Egba Kingdom. Lisabi was never a king in fact he was murdered by the Alake of Egbaland because of his popularity after he used his Aaro o method to form a rally point and effectively destroying the mirth surrounding the Alaafin control in Egbaland The Egba emerged as a new power block in the south west. And major control of the slave market at Badagry and women like Madam Tinubu from Owu Abeokuta moved to Lagos known as Eko to further consolidate the gain of slave market route.


 Egbas as a kingdom with its own capital at Abeokuta in the present Ogun State with a conglomeration of five kings with its own National Anthem “Lori Oke ati Pele” was merged with Nigeria by the British Empire after 1914. In addition, Lagelu emerged from Ibadan, Ogendegbe Agbogungboro from Ijeshaland and Shou of Ogbomosho and Ilorin through the deserter Chief of Army Staff of Oyo who was killed by Alimi a Fulani thus the end of Oyo Empire. The new empires moved toward western civilization with sophisticated weapon while the Oyo remained old fashioned and did not modernize its weapons. The attack from the Sokoto Caliphate from the North finally nailed the coffin of the Oyo Empire. The collapse of the Oyo Empire led to the Yoruba Wars, which was never concluded until the British finally took over Nigeria in 1914 with the amalgamation of North and Southern Nigeria by Lord Luggard.  The present Oyo town is a shadow has Old Oyo town, which is still visible at Oyo Igboho. Oyo town in the present Oyo State is just a new creation to symbolize the memory of the Old.


The Egbas and Ijebus took over the control of southwest towards the Atlantics because of lucrative slave trade and closeness to the white man. The emergence of western civilization further weakened the Old Oyo empire, the empire collapsed and the ruminants of it can still be found at the old site, the irony of it is Alafin of Oyo in the present Oyo town continue to live in the memory of his ancestors glory of the Old Oyo empire. Alafin has never made spiritual contact with old Oyo town nor effort to salvage the relics of history, which should be used as fundamental tourist place in Yoruba history


Ile Ife The Final Resting Place of History


Ooni who is not a direct son or descendants of Oduduwa may not necessarily be considered viable in this discussion. Alafin of Oyo who is a descendant of the acceptable link between Yoruba and Edo must examine his place in history and that of his senior brother Orangun of Ila the first son who had disappeared into history because he never challenged Oranmiyan. The abdication of the thrown is a loss of right for Oranmiyan to his son in Benin but if the son (Eweka) and his descendants according to history continue to respect tradition and be buried at Ife or received blessing before being crowned then we can conclude that Ife is superior to Benin and Edo’s must have infact originated from Ife?


The question is this. Can a son be greater than his father can? Or can a river be greater than its source? No. Otherwise it will dry. The source of Yoruba from Benin although appeared to be very authentic as presented by Oba Eredua than Saudi Arabia or Lamurudu, which cannot be traced, traced in Saudi Arabian history. But the fact of history of allegiance of Oba of Benin to Ile Ife the cradle of Yoruba race before being crowned and after death is an indication that Ife is the source of both the Yoruba’s and Edo but the Yoruba’s and historians must come up with a very scientific and foolproof history to support this argument. This is an area the Ooni and other Yoruba writers have not defended. The argument of Professor Ajayi was not detailed or courageous enough. The professor wrote as if he was afraid to offend both the Yoruba and the Edos as against the fact, which would have helped the issue unless the Professor has no answer to the problem.




Alternatively, can we write off Alafin of Oyo from this discussion because his descendant failed to head the thrown at Ile Ife when Oranmiyan was called? No. Some will say since he was buried at Ife to symbolize his rights to the thrown or why did all his brothers fail to challenge his right to the Ife thrown if he indeed was the last born maybe, that part of history was right that Oranmiyan was the first born not the last as mentioned by Oba of Benin. They’re so many unanswered questions of history. The answer is not if we will offend ourselves or change the place of Edo’s or Yoruba in history but who we are and where we were coming from. It is often said that it is a taboo to bury a king in exile. Ile Ife from all indications and by having the heads of all the late kings of Benin and that of Oranmiyan himself buried at Ile Ife to this writer is the source of Edos and Yoruba and this fact must not be distorted with sentiments.




Kunle I Sowunmi


Dallas Texas USA