Royal Ramblings: The Ife/Benin Controversy

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Written by Usi Osemwowa (Thursday June 17, 2004) (Last Update June 17, 2021)

For centuries, Yorubas have always claimed that the Binis originated from the Yorubas or from Ife. They have always used Benin as a beautiful bride to elevate their cultural and civilized past because of the peak of publicity Benin has attained in its cultural and civilized past. This could not have been so if Benin is not known to the world.

The kite has been flown to the “world”, by two brothers “Oba of Benin and Ooni of ¬°fe” and it will appear that the world will move because of the prominent position Benin and Ife had attained in African history.

I do not know who actually goofed, though; every individual has his own opinion. The Oba of Benin has written his own book and stated how Oduduwa is of Bini origin. The best thing is for the Ooni of Ife to also write a book to chronicle the origin, reign and successors of the legendary Oduduwa and to tell us how the name, Oduduwa, came about. Facts are needed in history and it is not sufficient to sit down and pride oneself with false claims. Let him then set the records straight. Prof. Ade-Ajayi, a Professor of History, Dr. Oyeweso and Funso Afolayan support the position of Ooni of Ife in his argument that Oduduwa is the progenitor of the Yoruba race. They agreed that he descended from heavens with chain and was the direct father of Oronmiyan. They also agreed that Oronmiyan was direct son of Oduduwa who founded Bini race and Oyo civilization. The Ooni claimed as most Yoruba claims, particularly by Dr. Oyeweso, that the heads of Obas of Benin were sent to Ile Ife for burial up to1916. That the heads of the Obas of Benin were sent to Ile-Ife up to 1916 is not in dispute. The unresolved question by the Binis to the Yorubas is who is Oduduwa?

The position of the Bini’s, like the Oba who happily was supported by Oba of Lagos, is that the monarchy, traditional institutions in Yoruba land, originated from Benin through Ekaladerhan, who became known as Oduduwa which of course has even no slightest meaning in Yoruba. language. Ekaladerhan having thus missed becoming a king in Benin as an excommunicated heir-apparent to Benin throne in 1170 AD and seeing himself crowned king of Ife, exclaimed in his privacy, but heard by the Yoruba at Ife who throng to pay him homage, that, he did not miss the crown he was destined to wear (meaning IMADODUWA IDODOWA). This is what was adulterated to Oduduwa by the Yorubas who were listening to him. This column will not be enough to narrate the whole story. I am also using this medium to challenge all Yorubas on earth for a live radio and TV debate in the NTA to unravel the true “owners” of Oduduwa.

However, it is pertinent to ask the Yorubas to answer the following questions

1.Who was Obatala ?

2. Was Oduduwa in fact the progenitor of the Yoruba race? Assuming he is based on their history as recorded in lfe Museum which I have visited, why again is history recording that Obatala was the eldest brother of Oduduwa and when he became drunk of palm wine, he lost his seniority to Oduduwa? It is recorded in Ife Museum and not Benin Museum.

3. At about when did Yoruba history start or at about when did the Yorubas arrive to their part of the world. At about 115OAD? Does this make historical sense as far as Yoruba history is concerned?

4. Could Yoruba history have started at about 1191 AD when Oduduwa descended from heaven as claimed by Ooni of Ife?

5. If Oduduwa is the immediate father of Oranmiyan, it means that Yoruba history started in about 1191AD, the possible date of birth of Oduduwa.

6. Who then were the traditional rulers of the Yorubas up to about 1150AD assuming that Yoruba history started at about 700AD according to some Yoruba historians and writers?

7. Is it believable that Oduduwa descended from the heavens at about 1150AD. Should history record that the Yorubas are about 850 years in West Africa?

Professor J.F. Ade Ajayi in the Growth of Africa civilization. A history of West Africa 1000 1800AD said: “It was from Ile-Ife, the cradle of Yoruba race, that the Binis had their long line of kings, the Oronmiyan Dynasty”. This is referring to Oronmiyan of 1191AD, son of Oduduwa born possibly at about 1150AD. Is Ajayi therefore saying that this first contact between the Binis and Oronmiyan can be used to conclude that the Binis originated from the Yorubas? Has he any evidence of bini and Yoruba contact before 1170AD is he by this saying that the Binis are about 813 years old in this part of the world?

On the other hand, is the version of Ooni of Ife, Prof Ajayi, and Dr. Oyeweso is wrong based on other Yoruba writers that the Yoruba race migrated to this part of the world, to Ile-Ife at about the 6 Century, led by Oduduwa up to 1150AD? Is he saying that none of the Yoruba towns or villages were founded before 1150AD? Let Prof. Ade-Ajayi produce any book on Yoruba history which mentioned anything about traditional institution before 11 70AD. It is recorded in Yoruba history that the Binis requested for a ruler from Ife. This means there were people in Benin before the arrival of Oronmiyan. Who were the Yorubas ruling Benin if Benin was not living independently from the Yorubas?.

If Prof. Ade-Ajayi and the Ooni of Ife found solace in Egharevba’s book, then this is what R. Bradbury, a research fellow of International Institute and later, a member of the Benin History project and Research fellow of the University College, Ibadan from 1956 - 66 said in his foreword to Dr. Egharevba’s short History of Benin 3rd Edition, that some of Chief Egharevba’s work will no doubt have to be modified in the light of later ethnographic, historical and Archaeological research”.

Is this the book the Yorubas are relying on? J. Egharevba said on page 3 of the book that “It is said that 31 Ogisos reigned in Benin but very few of their names are known and they are very hard to trace out. Therefore, it is wise to make some research into it because some people doubted the existence of the first period of Benin Empire. This is partly because many mythical and frightful tales have been attached to the people connected with the Ogisos, whereas infact, these people were human beings, ruled by their Ogisos in the way we have been ruled by our Obas from Oronmiyan onwards in the second period of the Benin Empire”. Is Prof. Ade Ajayi still saying Benin had no king before Oronmiyan came?

Generally fact available to support the fact that Yorubas are of Bini origin will contain volumes of books, but the controversy at hand is the origin of monarchical institutions. Lf the Yorubas claim that Oduduwa is not a Bini let them tell the world who Oduduwa was and let them show the world the chain with which Oduduwa descended from heaven and that will be recorded as a wonder of the world

That Oronmiyan came to Benin is not in dispute, but what the Binis are saying is that the first traditional ruler in Yoruba land is Ekaladerhan otherwise known as Oduduwa (Imadoduwa or Izoduwa). Let the Yorubas contradict this by historical evidence.

I am aware that there have been controversies over superiority among the Oba in Yoruba land. Binis cannot talk of superiority of the Obas because we know our history and are documented in the palace. Rev. S. John in his book History of the Yorubas, published in 1922 said “Alafin, not Ooni, is the supreme head of all kings and princes in Yoruba nation as he is the direct lineal descendant and successor of the reputed founder, (Oduduwa) of Yoruba race.” Who succeeded this first Oduduwa and the chronology of their successors till date and when was the first Oduduwa on throne?

In the Daily Times of September 17, 1989 at Page 7 titled “The Oyo Obas Palaver,” the writer said: ‘The problem in Oyo State Council of Obas between two traditional titans over precedence has been going on for close to a decade. In the centre of this stage is the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin (of Oyo)”
In Oyo Empire, in the 18th Century, A reassessment, The Journal of Historic Society of Nigeria in its issue of December 1966 said “Under Ebi System of Government, “Ife” as father of Yoruba family of states, was constitutionally superior to Oyo despite the military pre-eminence of the latter king.” Does this not contradict Johnson’s facts on the same Yoruba history?

In an article in the National concord of Tuesday, April 19, 1991, titled “The Ooni and Alaafin” imbroglio,” the writer said: “The feud raging between the Ooni could perhaps lead to the eventual discovery and revelation of the whole truth about the historical origin of the ODUDUWA dynasty and the progenitor of the Yoruba race Many versions of the historical background of the Yoruba race have been told in the past by different historians, but, if for the purpose of putting the record straight, and proving the superiority, correctness and authenticity of their positions, the Ooni and the Alaafin should go deep into the archives and reveal all the salient facts, “A. A. B. Aderibigbe said in his book, A Thousand Years of West 4frican History at p199 that ‘The origin of the Yorubas, like the earliest history of non-literate people, is still a bickering ground for the erudite. Many speculations and scholarly theories abound, but no definite knowledge has yet emerged” This is a Yoruba writer!

The early Yoruba writers rushed to put lies on papers to impress the early Europeans who came to this part of the world in order to show that their culture is the best. This is having a negative effect on their distorted history. Otherwise, how can it be said that Oduduwa came to Ife at about the 5 Century AD and the same Oduduwa was the direct father of Oronmiyan who founded Oyo and Benin according to Yoruba history at about the 13th Century when in fact Benin have had 38 Ogisos up to 1170AD ending the reign of Owodo, father of Oduduwa (Ekaladerhan) and when my village Utekon, had been founded. If their Oduduwa lived at about 13th Century, then Yoruba race is less than 800 years

This gap in Yoruba history has to be bridged by letting the world know the Obas that succeeded their first Oba Oduduwa from 5th or 6th Century. The fact that they had early access to education while denying the Binis of it in the West and having business opportunities because Lagos, also founded by the Binis, was the federal capital does not mean that their history is the best or the colonial masters of the Bini people. The fact that America is the most powerful nation on earth does not mean that it was not founded by British explorers or colonized by Britain.
It is unbelievable that Oduduwa of 7th Century according to Yoruba historians could be the immediate father of Oronmiyan of 1191AD. Is the gap no too wide?

(Source:The Guardian, Thursday June 17, 2004)

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