Written by R.O. AJETUMOBI Ph.D
The communities that evolved in this region over a long period time continued to increase in number population strength to a significant degree because of series migrations from the Yoruba hinterland and West Africa Sub-region. The promising geographical location of the region for games, the security provided by the creeks, swamps, lagoons and islands, prosperity in trade; the effect of the Yoruba internecine wars, Dahomey raids and Egba wars of the 19th century, as well as the tendency for families to break up, partly accounted for migrations and evolution of the early settlements. Added to these, were the effects of slave trade and the expansionist policy of Edo warriors in the 16th and 17th Centuries A.D.
The Aworiland of Lagos state occupies two thirds of the region between Apa in Nigeria-Republic of Benin border to west, and Epe to the East. It has Ogun State boundary as its northern limit and the Atlantic ocean, Islands, Lagoons, swamps and creeks as its’ southern limit, while Republic of Benin to the extreme East and Lekki Lagoons to the West as the eastern and western limits respectively.
The people had long been organized into villages, chiefdoms and kingdoms, which were not completely isolated from one another nor imperceptible. The Awori usually explain their socio-political and eco-cultural connection in terms of affinity which has been canvas for all basic agnatic, collateral, consanguineous and affinal relationships amongst individuals, communities and kingdoms. In geographical terms, the traditional Lagosian are found within the coastal region of the Atlantic ocean which is the most important of all oceans. For instance, many rivers flow into it and it receives half the drainage of the world. Also, most of the world great port linked by trade routes, more frequented this ocean before the 20thcentury than any other, which partly accounted for the development and significance of the land occupied by the Awori.
The region of the predynasty Lagosians like other coastal settlements is made up of network of creeks, lagoons, Islands and swamps. Some of the settlements are surrounded by fresh water. While others share boundaries with the sea water of the atlantic ocean. The presence of sea water undoubtedly encouraged salt production in places like Lekki and Badagry. Generally, the geographical factors of the coastal Yoruba country have influenced the nature of the ecology, habitat and pattern of migrations. Fishing, salt production, mat weaving, basketry, coconut oil refinery, farming and trading were the major preoccupations of the predynastic people of Lagos state. Those within the area of red soil practiced a lot of farming, the chief cash crops in most of the communities include yam, maize and cassava for local and inter-regional markets, while those in the sea shore or water logged areas relied heavily on on fishing. Some of the fishing centre include Epe, Ibeju, Aja, Orimedu, Ala-kun, Imeki, Abomiti, Emina, Oniyanrin, Oni area, Ibon and Ilagbo sea coasts. In all, Yewa river, Ologe and Lagos lagoon; Obe and Ilo basins, Owo river valleys and Lagos-Port-Novo creek which is traversed by a network of swamps and lagoon determined the character of the ecosystem and the entire history of the inhabitants. The network of lagoons and rivers provided easy communication among the Lagosian and Awori of different communities and other groups.
The influence of environment was great on the nature of architectural designs and complexity of the structures in the early settlements. The early Awori and Ijebu building were modest. The modesty was dictated not much by the climate but by the raw materials available such as sand, mud from lagoons, palm fronds, bamboo poles, ribs or raffia palms, decayed vegetables and clay. The earliest type of houses were the timber framed structures were constructed with mats, leaves, bark of trees, bamboo poles and creeping stem.
The early settlements were made up of residential districts inform of quarters and fishing settlements which had strong kinship association. Most buildings and even palaces were constructed out of the same fragile materials like mud, sticks and thatch that rural huts were made. Hardly any buildings one until the second half of the 19th century.
The 19th century saw the importation of foreign building materials into Lagos state, some of which were used by the traditional rulers and the European settlers. Typical of the settlements in Lagos state of the early period is the upland streets. Agbole, Iga and Ebihouses features in the socio-political arrangement. However, this is not to say that architectural designs and town planning among the communities were formless. The central citing of Oba’s Palace-Afin or Iga and Baale’s house is an example of organization. Along the same lines, concentric rings within the palace sometimes represented the hierarchy of power. Every dynasty formation is a product of evolution process through transformation from segementary organization to sedentary political system, and from stateless to state organization.
The Awori of Lagos State occupy one the most important position in meaningful discussion of prehistory of Lagos state. More than any other group, they have contributed in large measure to shaping the political, social, economic and religious destiny of what is now known as Lagos state. The predynastic Lagosians are the Awori and Ijebu sub groups. The Awori are a dialect speaking sub-group of the Yoruba who are found in large concentration within the region of Lagos and Ogun states. They share common cultural values in varying degrees with other Yoruba and Edo groups. The legendary Ogunfunminire was their progenitor and his origin has been traced to Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba civilization and culture, and undoubtedly of princely class.
The name Awori id is used for the people of Yoruba, Benin origin who speak Awori dialect of the Yoruba. Supporting this view, Faluyi (1987) described the Awori as an organized set of people who formed a sub-group of the Yoruba and possess a distinctive speech which is recognizably a separate Yoruba dialect. Furthermore, Agiri and Barnes pointed out that:
There are strong indications that the people now known as Awori represent a long and uneven movement of people from Ketu, Egbado, Oyo, and no doubt, other origins, who were forced by warfare and slave raids, and this was occurring as early as the 14th and 15th centuries prior to, and perhaps extending into the same period that saw Benin March Westwards.
This positions was further embellished by the colonial description of the Awori that the racially, they appear to be a mixture of the Yoruba and the Benin and their immigration into the region of coastal Yorubaland coincided with Benin conquest or rather absorption of Lagos and its adjacent villages and hamlets.
The Lagos state Awori are distinguished by four main factors; the language which is a variation of Yoruba dialect, traditions of ancestral migrations from Ile-Ife, traditions among their rulers of common descent from Oduduwa, the eponymous hero of the Yoruba and traditions of consanguineous affinal relationships resulting from the ancestry of various ruling classes and cultural heritage, as well as diffusion through migrations and interactions. Common historical experiences, similar geographical environment, cultural diffusion, migration as well as conjugal ties have made the Lagos Awori cultural homogenous.
The other major predynastic inhabitants are the Ijebu. The Ijebu are a dialect speaking sub group of the Yoruba. They have traditions linking their origin to Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba civilization. Some of the early settlement include Remo and Ijebu Ode from where many settlers migrated to the region of modern day Lagos State.
The history of predynastic Awori, Ijebu and Ogu (Egun) of Lagos is replete with internally and externally induced continual and often profuse migrations, some of which were set in motion by political impasse, quarrels over chieftaincy titles, fight for justice, lust for political power and independence, natural disaster, outbreak of epidemic diseases, overpopulation, search for labour market, ecological push, love of change or adventure, drought, famine, as well as warning of real or imagined calamity by oracle- Ifa. These factors in varying combinations accounted for various migrations towards the coastal Yoruba especially the region of modern day Lagos State.
While migrations led to rapid socialization and cultural diffusion as in the case of the Awori of Lagos State and the Edo, the amalgam of cultures was not peculiar to the predynastic Lagos Awori, but characterized the nature of dynastic Ijebu, Ogu and Awori society that developed in Lagos and Ogun States in general, thus explaining the fact that assimilation and cultural diffusion or borrowing through migratory effects, partly accounted for the homogeneity of the people of Lagos State in terms of socio-political organizations, economic and spiritual development.
Available data showed that the presence of the Awori, Ijebu, and Ogu, and their development of coastal settlements have explanations in the sociological theories of migration.
One important event that has shaped the history of Lagos State from prehistory time up to the twenty first century is migration o people of different ethnic and sub-ethnic backgrounds to the region of the state. The migration of different groups and individuals took place at different times covering about six centuries for a number of reasons. The first wave of significant migrations to the region of the statewere those conducted by the Awori, Ijebu, Edo and Ogu, while those of the Ilaje, Ijo, Egba, Yewa (Egbado), Oyo, Ekiti, Igbomina, Tapa and a host of others constitute the second layer of migrations and settlement.
Motion is an enduring character in human history and the history of the early settlements and founders of Lagos state is replete with waves of migration. The concept of human migration suggests the permanent change of residence by an individual or group excluding such movements as normadism migrant labour, commuting and tourism of which are transitory in nature. In a broad sense, human migration is a relatively permanent movement of an individual or group over a significant distance.
Migration of people from one area to another has been a common phenomenon thoughout man’s history. Right from the biblical and Quranic migration of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden the first recorded exodus of the Iraelites from Egypt, people races and families had continuously migrated from their home to establish new and permanent settlements in mother places. Migration has been a systematic contributor to the evolution and development and settlements, kingdoms, states as well as urban centres. This assertion is not openly true of the settlements in Lagos state but equally true, of various pre-colonial settlements in Nigeria.
Indeed, most pre-colonial and predynastic groups and settlement easily credit their origins and phenomena growth to the activities of immigrants within and outside their present domain; and in some case outside the modern boundaries of various precolonial countries in Nigeria. The patterns of demographic movement were usually, from areas considered politically unstable to the relatively peaceful ones; from the less economically vibrant areas to the viable ones; from the administratively disadvantaged areas to the advantaged ones. In a number of cases immigrants out of their own predilections, could aggregate themselves within certain quarters within the settlements, thus imposing migrant cultures on such areas. In other cases, the immigrants are settled within such quarters because of the state of policy of the host government. Migration had got tremendous influence on the course of historical development of predynastic people of Lagos state and had exerted substantial influence on the demographic patterns of the Awori, Ijebu and Ogu of the state.
Theories of migration in early Yoruba kingdoms, to which the Awori and Ijebu groups share affinal relationship is directly linked with myths and legends, which are lavishly laced in religion. For instance, Ile-Ife to which hardly migratory claim among the Awori of Lagos state would not share a direct or indirect type of consanguineous affinal relationship is given to may theories of migration. Yoruba political history shows that the earliest and perhaps the most important migration was the one associated with Oduduwa, the eponymous father of the Yoruba in Ile-Ife. His migration to Ile-Ife led to formation of centralized political institution and rapid socio-cultural development. Ile-Ife soon became the dispersal centre of the children of Oduduwa and other groups who founded many other kingdoms north and south of Ile-Ife.
Recorded data and oral evidences show that most of the Awori and Ijebu settlements in Lagos state owe their origins to waves and layers of migration from Ile-Ife and Oyo-Ile before the 18th century A.D. According to tradition, the founder of Isheri, Ogunfunminire, was an immigrant from Ile-Ife. Isheri soon became a secondary dispersal centre of some other Awori settlements in Lagos, especially those that claim direct descent from Ile-Ife and Oduduwa.
Apart from the fission and fusion that characterized the history of the Awori, Ogu and Ijebu settlements in Lagos state and the theory of migration from Ile-Ife and West Africa sub-region, there are ample evidences to support that the Bini undoubtedly founded some Awori settlements. A crowned Chief of Benin, Aina Aseba, for instance, founded Ojo. The Benin birth of the founder of Ijanikin is indicated by the Oba’s mark Alade, and that the town’s fetish is Iroko, commonly worshipped by the Egun, suggests an influence of Dahomey now Republic of Benin, Isashi, Ilogbo-Elegba, Iba, Oto-Awori have traditional link with. Also, Ibeju wa founded by Abeju a reputed hunter from Benin or Ile-Ife. Osolu, Irede, Imore, Ikare, Ilogbo-Eremi and indeed Eko are with significant with Benin connections than would possibly be admitted in contemporary time. Asiwaju reinforced this view by saying that Bini influences as military conqueror on coastal communities indeed on the Awori was strong and covered a wider area of Lagos region than is generally accepted.
In spite of the fact that most of these communities still affirm some forms of relationship with Ife like other Yoruba settlements, literature give impressive evidences to show that early writers might be wrong in viewing the “Bini connection” as merely a product of military operation rather than kingship ties and natural process of migration and interminglings of Ebi. Akinjogbin and Olomola who in separate studies have looked into Ebi system and nature of affinal relationship among the Yoruba show evidences of kinship ties between Ile-Ife and Benin. Also, there are ample evidences in oral data and disjointed evidences in literature to the view that the nature of Benin with the Awori of Lagos state is more than largely political and miht have not entirely be the result of Benin conquest. Adding weight to this assertion is Avoseh’s view that the founder of Ibeju named Agbeduwa was a migrant hunter from Benin and his migration was more economical than political. His followers also founded some other riverine communities in Lagos state.
In addition, Iba tradition of origin posits that the foundwers were hunting migrants from Benin who settled in some other communities before reaching the present day Iba. But why the rejection of Benin connection and significant influence by some of these Lagos state Awori kingdoms that had early connections? One of the possible explanation is that Benin era and factor in Awori-Ijebu settlements was initiated and sustained by force and when the imperial power of Benin collapsed the political influence of Benin or its factor went on a downward trend. The decline of Benin power contributed to the independence of settlements founded by Benin warriors or provincial governors. Thus, lust for political independence led to deliberate attempt to severe the political and affinal relationship, and more often than not through diplomacy. This might have induced most of these communities towards finding favour from Ile-Ife to which other Awori and Ijebu settlements share direct relations.
Added to this, it would appear that the overwhelming populations of later Yoruba migrants from the hinterland with purely Yoruba cultural values that settled in some of these communities gradually weakened the Benin influence and gave the communities indelible Yoruba- Awori-Ijebu distinctive stamp. It is conjectural, but it may as well be true that in this process of culture conflict Benin leadership or influence simply lost face and gradually became assimilated leaving behind the existence of artifacts and traditional respect as constant reminders of traditional Benin connection.
Added to this, it is fashionable among the Yoruba to use connection with Ile-Ife, Oduduwa or Oyo to justify their claims to wear beaded crown with fringes. Consequently, attempt to gain favour from Ile-Ife and the need to unite with other Ijebu and Awori speaking groups in a rapidly changing political climate where unity is strength, made the focus of migratory patterns from Ile-Ife a necessity.
It is difficult to date in absolute terms when Awori migration to the region of Lagos state began. But literature shows that settlement in the coastal region predated 16th century A.D. For instance, Lagos had experienced waves of migrations since the establishment of Isheri about five hundred years ago. One account suggests that the early inhabitants of Lagos were Oluwen, Olopon and Tomuse who lived in Iddo Island before they were later joined by a gigantic warrior known as Olofin who had previously settled at Isheri. Their names appear to be Ijo or Benin origin. There were two independent and almost simultaneous migrations at the time when the Awori were to occupy the coastal Yoruba land. The first was initiated by Benin expansionist policy towards the coastal corridor of the Niger-Delta region to Porto-Noovo in the 16th and 17th centuries A.D. especially during the reigns of Oba Orhogbua (c. 1550-1578) and Ehengbuda (c. 1578-1606). Second, was the parallel, but smaller migrations southwards from the Yoruba country which culminated into the foundation of Isheri, Iddo, Eko and later Otta, Ado and Iworo. From these early settlements others were created, while, migrations either from Benin or interior Yorubaland continued till the present day.
Apart from these two major sources of Awori migrations is the Dahomey factor. The early Benin migrants including Obanikoro’s Ancestors had established themselves in the frontiers of Dahomey, but Agaja Trudo’s war of expansion-Southwards in the 17th century drove the Benin-Awori coastal settlers eastwards to the region of Ologe lagoon. Many of the Awori settlements founded by these Benin extractions or intermixtures retained some of their cultural traits in their new settlements in Lagos State and related with other Awori settlements founded by the people of interior Yorubaland.
Awori migrations to the region of Lagos state could be discussed o two major levels.
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Internal migrations among the Awori connote the permanent movement of some Awori groups from other Yoruba settlements such as Ile-Ife, Oyo, Egbado, Ado-Odo, etc. to the area of Lagos as well as the fission of some Awori settlements in Lagos thereby leading to the evolution of congeries of Awori kingdoms and chiefdoms in Lagos state. In this category are communities founded before Benin Era, the oldest of which was Isheri. Isheri: tradition is connected with the migration of a group from Ile-Ife as counseled by Ifa oracle, and the choice of the settlement dictated by the disappearance or sinking of the ritual pot. From Isheri, Ebute-Metta, Iddo, and Eko some other communities were founded. Ibese consist of mixed Ife and Egun stock which suggest aan early internal migration of people from the interior. Also, Abule Coker was populated by migrant from interior Yorubaland as far as Ojo, Imore, Ibasa, Ilase, Igbologun, the migration of some Ale people and Egba to ibiku Ibiye, Iworo, Ilogbo, Ilado and Ibereko represent internal migration of people of similar cultural values an fhostorical origins to places or regions other than the ones earlier occupied.
External migrations to Lagos state include migrations from Benin and Porto-Novo and other settlements founded by the people outside Yoruba culture area and who were not originally Yoruba. The earliest recorded external migrations are associated with Benin warriors who developed military garrisons or camps between Eko-Akete- Lagos and Dahomey. Between 1600 and 1900, the region of the state witnessed the evolution of Awori-Ijebu-Benin settlements in Lagos. Such ssettlements include Oto, Ojo, ijanikin, Idoluwo, Iba, Irede, Ikare, Gbanko and Epe, Ikorodu, Ibeju Lekki, Makun Omi and a host others.
For instance, Gbanko was founded by Ladipo, a member of the Alade, a crowned order of Benin chiefs of whom the senior was the first Obanikoro who settled in early Lagos. Tradition has it that Onigbanko received his title from the Obanikoro as the latter was the head of the order of Alade. Ikotun was founded by Benin refugees from Benin colonies near Porto-Novo and the same Ikotun group founded Idoluwo in Lagos. Oluwo, the leader of the group became the first Chief Obanikoro. Okokomaiko in the early foundation contained no Awori. The village was founded by Governor Glover for demobilized veterans of the Asante war. Isashi and Ilogbo Elegba claimed common Benin origin. Until recent time, there was no official version of Oto origin, though evidences suggests Benin origin. For instance, up to the 4th decade of the 20th century, the Oloto had only the right has insignia of office, to and Abere, a large flat sword made familiar in carvings of the Oba of Benin. Also, the founder of the Osolu family was an Alade crown who migrated from Benin and settled at Idole near Porto-Novo.
The political crisis in Dahomey in the 18th century forced the early settlement to migrate and camp in the southern side of the main lagoon near the sea. But this settlement was not a permanent one as migrations further took place to the vicinity of the Irewe and Osolu which became the final abode of this group.