Oduduwa Phenomenon In Yoruba And Benin History

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written by Bode Alake (April 10, 2005) (Last Update June 16, 2021)

Let me first and foremost correct the erroneous belief in certain quarters that Olodumare- Yoruba name for God sent Orunmila, said to be another name for Oduduwa down to this earth with a cock and a little gourd containing earth form Yoruba cosmology will tell you that Orunmila and Oduduwa are two different personages in their history. While Orunmila is believed to be the founder of Ifa pedagogy, the foundation stone of Yoruba Philosophy, Oduduwa was said to have descended from heaven to come and re-plan the earth.

In Yoruba pantheon, Orunmila is known as Agbonimiregun, Oniwayeaiku, and Aludundu Orun. He is the Philosophical head of all their 401 divinities and deities and the mouthpiece of all their deities.
The language of Orunmila is Ifa, using the seven instruments of divination to unravel the secrets of the universe for the benefit of mankind. The messages of Ifa are contained in the 16 major Odu Ifa and the 240 combinations often referred to as minor Odu or Omo Odu, making a total of 256 Odu’Ifa of Ifa corpus used by the initiates of Ifa known as babalawo worldwide in divination and in consultation

Orunmila is a divinity in Yoruba pantheon, Ifa is his word; encompassing his messages and revelations, which dates back to the very beginning of creation, and as such they are ageless and verily predates the arrival of Oduduwa into Yoruba history.

The interesting thing about this is that, as the Yorubas have Orunmila with his languages of Ifa in their cosmology, so also the Benins have Orunmila with the Ominigbon with a 16 seed mystically developed communication channel, chained into four sets, consisting of four seeds per set and often used in communication, between the spiritual and time mortal. The date and time of Oguega’s introduction into Benin Kingdom as an instrument for predicting and for problem solving is lost in obscurity, but it has since retained the similarity of purpose in divination and in consultation with Ifa.
This then brings us to the question, who is Oduduwa? What is the place of this personage in Yoruba and in Benin history? There are many claims as to the place of Oduduwa in the two people history. The phenomenon of Oduduwa appeared in Yoruba history about 900A.D when men were gods. According to Yoruba oral history, he was said to have descended from heaven unto Oke-Ora in Ile-Ife through a mythical chain.

Modern historians later came up with their contributions by advancing the migration theory. They insisted that Oduduwa and his group had migrated from Egypt through Sudan to Ile Ife to begin a flourishing civilization with an equally flourishing dynastic revolution. Prof. Biobaku (1995) had suggested 7th /10th century A.D., while Jeffries (1958) estimated that by 11th century A. D Ile Ife had become a flourishing urban center. If these dates are carefully examined and accepted, then, we can safely affirm that the phenomenon of Oduduwa came into Yoruba history about the same time the son of the last Ogiso Owodo was said to have vanished from Benin to find refuge in a place called Uhe.

Benin Oral history says that Ekaladerhan, the only son of Ogiso Owodo escaped palace intrigues for his execution and wandered in the tropical forest until he got to a place called Uhe where he was accepted as a ruler after due consultation with Ifa oracle, hence his name “Izoduwa” which in Benin means “I have found prosperity”. It is this name that the Yoruba people corrupted to Oduduwa; they say and this was why Benin people sent an ambassador to Oduduwa the great and wisest ruler of Uhe asking him if he cannot come back to his throne, he should send one of his Sons to be their ruler after the interregnum of the republican rule of Evian and his son Irrebo nicknamed Ogiamien in 1170- 1200 AD.

Egharevba (1965), Oduduwa was said to have sent Oranmiyan as Yorubas call him or Omonoyan as Benins fondly refer to him to Benin, to establish Obaship rule through his son Eweka 1 in 1200 AD.
While these claims and counter claims were going on, Dr. O. S.B. Omoregie, a Benin historian, writer and educationist, has added another dimension to the controversy. His claim will be of interest to modem research fellows, scholars and historians and it is worthy of serious consideration. Dr. O.S.B. Omoregie in his newsletter volume2 on the Evolution of Great Benin- Twelve points to note asserts among others that:

  1. Uhe of Benin was not and could not have been Ile-Ife of Ooni, it is conclusively Uhe of Oduduwa of Ife of Olokunmi tribe as the Yorubas were originally known.
  2. While Uhe of Benin or Uhe Oduduwa or Ife of Yorubas belongs to the most ancient days, Ile- Ife of Ooni belongs to the middle century. An establishment of Oranmiyan with his host of lieutenants and artisans, skilled in carving, weaving iron making and stone works.
  3. That the present Ile-Ife was Adimu’s village where Oranmiyan as he is known in Yoruba history or Omonoyan as he is fondly referred to in Benin history stopped to rest on his way to Oyo Ile not the present Oyo, to find Ajaka dynasty.

The village in which Adimu was left behind to settle became prominent when the people had to accommodate the sacred shrine stone of Oduduwa from Uhe or Ife at a latter date. Adimu had become the ruler of the village, but the latter arrival of Oranfe with the sacred shrine stone led to the establishment of the bearer as the spiritual head with the title Ooni- (non-owner). And sixty years latter the age-old visual arts, a fail out of Nok and Uhe civilization became a feature of fame for the place now known as Ile-Ife. Oranmiyan magical walking stick left behind later turned into an obelisk, a symbol of his authority and an important landmark in Ile Ife.

The name Oduduwa is the generic title of the chief priest at Uduwa before the decline of Uhe civilization and migration southwards was Oduduwa Obalufon, who from the heights of Uhe or Ife sent Oranmiyan as he is referred to in Yoruba history or Omonoyan as he is often referred to in Benin history, to Benin to start Obaship rule in 1200A.D.

Further research and investigation led to the conclusion that, the Ooni of lle-Ife holds the position of the chief priest, the custodian of the ancient sacred stone brought from the ancient shrine in Ube of Oduduwa or Ife by Oranfe. one of the many personages in Yoruba history. The ancient sacred stone was brought from the shrine at Uduwa for safe keeping on Oke-ora during the reign in Uhe of Oduduwa Obalufon, the Oghene N’Uhe or Oghene of Uhe or Oduduwa Oba N’ Ife.

Ile Ife became the spiritual center of Olokumi people who were later to be known as Yoruba from Hausa appellation “Yariba” meaning the people of the south. At the demise of Oranfe, who was deified with a shrine close to Oke-Ora hill, Lajamisan became the Ooni of Ile Ife, the founder of the dynasty, which now rules in Ile Ife, five of his descendants being the founder of the different ruling houses of the dynasty in Ile-Ife today.

The dome shaped beaded crown, known as Are and worn only once a year at Olojo festival by any reigning Ooni, contains the sacred ancient stone brought from Uhe heights by Oranfe and preserved in Oke-Ora. It must be placed on the effigy of Obalufon before any new Ooni wears it. It is the ancient beaded crown and the sacred ancient stone both in the possession of Ooni of Ile-Ife that makes him the king of kings in Yoruba land and this probably explains why Ooni is referred to as Arole Oduduwa-Igba Keji Orisa.

The question then arises, where is Uhe or Ife according to Dr.O.S.B. Omoregie. Archaeological findings, deductions and historical research points to the area of lands in and around the confluence valleys of rivers Niger and Benue where Nok Culture 2000 B.C, - 500 A.D. took his roots and Uhe civilization 8550 B.C -600 A.D. south of it also took its roots Archaeological findings around this area had been carbonated and dated to 6,000 B.C. By 850 B.C., while thriving civilization in Uhe land was still part of Nok Culture Complex. It gained momentum from 200 AD after Nok Civilization had begun to decline.

By 600 A.D, Uhe Civilization had reached its peak, the ruler was then the great potentate of the interior called Ode-Oduwa or Oduduwa the chief priest or the people earthly Oghene who ruled from Oduwa and fondly called “Oduduwa Oghene N’Uhe” or Oduduwa ObaN’Ife.
Uhe or Ife at that point became the center of the known world or the place from which the new world started to expand as the Kwa Negro race who occupied this area started to migrate into other parts of the geographical entity today known as Nigeria.

The theory of our common center of origin as postulated by Dr.O.S.B. Omoregie in his works needs to be thoroughly studied and assessed by historians, and researchers. The result I believe will provide a more acceptable understanding of the phenomenon of Oduduwa in the history of Yoruba and Benin people and the emergence of dynastic rule in both nation states.

The argument has never been on the history or origin on the place of and the role of Oduduwa in Yoruba history as it relates to the emergence of dynastic rule and the place and role of Ikaladerhan nicknamed Izoduwa as it relates to the emergence of Eweka rule through dynasty in Benin history.
Yoruba history and Benin history span over a long period of time even before the arrival of the personage or phenomenon known as Oduduwa or Izoduwa into their history. Oduduwa was said to have arrived at Ile-Ife in the 10th century with his party to become the progenitor of Yoruba race and founding father of their Obas.

Traditional historians claimed that Oduduwa descended into the valley below to unite the 13 settlements into where is known as Ile Ife today. It was claimed that he had (11) children who migrated at different times and to different places in Yoruba land to find Kingdoms. They have had personages and deified figures such as Oranfe, Obalufon and Orunmila; also they had men gods such as Ogun, Soipasan, Sango even before the arrival of Oduduwa into their history.

Benin people too, claimed to have occupied the fertile land of the guinea forest zone many countries ago before the arrival of Oranmiyan, into their history to start Obaship rule through his son Eweka(1) in 1200 A.D. before then, they too have had over 300 years of Odionwere rule in their various villages and settlements of Ubini Nowa and Ubini Nurria. Another 300 years of Ogiso rule beginning from Ogiso Igodo to Ogiso Owodo, during which period Benin emerged as a nation state.
Benin history too is replete with the story of men gods Arhuaruan the giant warrior of Udo, Evian the destroyer of Osagan the monster at Ikpoba and the brave warrior who led Benin army against the invading British expeditionary forces.

With the foregoing, it is obvious that there are pieces of unresolved details about the evolution of dynastic rule in both nation states, more so with the literary sins and misleading consensus of the early writers on the subject.

Therefore, historians, writers and researchers of today must come out with courage and concern to correct the errors of the immediate past, and to reassess our reliance on only Oral history mythology, folklore and fables as the foundations of our history, for these portray the desire of most nations to find a mythical origin for themselves through their kings and ancestors.

In 1930, a Yoruba historian T.O. George had written that the present town of Ile-Ife should not be taken as the older Ife, which lay further in the interior and over sixty years earlier. An American Baptist, j. j Brown had written that the old Ife lay close to the great rivers the Portuguese traders who came into the heartland of the geographical entity we know as Nigeria in the 18th century gave a vivid description of one Prester John as the great potentate of the interior, Prester John was an adventurer and slave trader who came in heights of Uhe after the collapse of Uhe or Ife civilisation and the removal of the sacred stone from the temple Uduwa to an unknown destination which came up to be Ile Ife.

Yoruba people refer to this older Ife with nostalgia “Ife Oodaye Ibiti Ojutinmowa”“Ife the land of the most ancient days where the day dawns” Benin people refer to this ancient settlement as Uhe and up till the early 18th ┬ácentury, they make yearly pilgrimages to worship at the shrine of Oghene N’Uhe.
While the Ooni of Ile-Ife selected from any of the five ruling houses in Ile Ife, derives his divine essence and legitimacy by being the custodian of the sacred stone from the shrine of Oghene N’Ife and the ancient beaded crown worn by the last Oduduwa N’Ife Oduduwa Obalufon the Benin Oba also a divine King whose ascendancy is strictly by the law of primogeniture and whose essence and legitimacy is by being in possession and the custodian of the sacred and ancient staff of authority known as Ukhure, which was given to their founding father by Erhinwindu, their ancestral deity and the god of Idu people. Ukhure is the symbol of the unity of Benin people, while the Oba is regarded as the divine representative of Osanobuwa Oghene, Benin name for God.

Creation myths, which are common to virtually every culture group the world over has failed to answer convincingly the question “who is Izoduwa or Oduduwa or Ooduwa” Oral history too from both nation states painted more confusing picture of Oduduwa or Ooduwa either as a historical figure or as a mythological figure. There are also numerous and largely unanswered questions as to how Izoduwa, Oduduwa or Ooduwa got written into their history about 10,000 A.D. and to have started dynastic revolution among people with a long historical past.

To be considered too, how early writers and historians from both nation states used variations and distortions for political purposes and gains. Today, modem writers have the supportive evidence on the older Ife or Uhe to explore and to come up with a more acceptable concept of Izoduwa or Ooduwa.

There is no doubt in my mind that we may have to look further inland for that ancient settlement that is the bedrock of the dynastic history of both nation states around which the phenomenon of Izoduwa, Oduduwa or Ooduwa had emerged as a powerful dynastic influence and a historical attraction to the contemporary Yoruba and Benin minds.

(Source: The Nigerian Observer April 10, 2005)

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