The Traditions of Origin of Otuo People

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Last up date October 3, 2018
Igugu festival Otuo
Oral narrative collected by Marshall has it that Otuo descended from twelve age grades (Otu ni’egbeva) which were followers of Prince Uguan, the founder of Ora when he left Benin. The twelve villages ¡nclude Oluma, Amohon, Olila, Orake, Ohigba, Amoya, Imoukpe, lyeu, lshiokha, lghera, Obo, and Imafun. At first these age grades lived at Ora and served Prince Uguan, his son Ora-ekpen, and his descendants. Later they quarreled with the Ora people and left. They established an independent community among the inaccessible hills (Oruo hills) which they now occupy. The clan consists of twelve village units, each one of which is supposed to represent one of the original twelve age grades. A 1971 government report and my field research corroborated this
tradition. The elders claim they left Ora for their present site as a result of inter-clan wars.

Another version recorded by an Otuo historian, S. I. Lawani (Rey. ¡mevbore Edeki), claims Otuo was founded by an oni of Ife’s son, Gbadejo He was said to be a temperamental and impulsive young man. For this reason he was nicknamed Otuaka (“He scaccers”). Gbadejo was said to have left Ife on a hunting expedition which took him to Idogun through Ilesha, Akure, and Owo. He pitched his camp at Idogun and hunted wild animals in the Otuo bush. He married wives who bore him children. Consequently, he decided not to go back to Ife. They settled at Okotheko or Igbobi brook. This version asserts Gbadejo met people in the area. However, the narrative claims it was after Gbadejo and his followers had settled in the area that an oba of Benin sent his messengers to Otuo for palm oil. It also claimed the oba’s messengers did not go back to Benin. Clearly, these messengers became the same twelve age grades referred to in the first version. Lawani concludes thus: “It appears from the Otuaka story that Otuo was an admixture of two separare stocks, one from Benin and the other from Yorubaland.” My field research revealed that the Ife migration theory does not go down well with the Otuo people. ° A recent study by S.O.J. Ojo’’ also questions the tradition recorded by Lawani. He argues that because Otuaka met people in the area, the Ife tradition is not valid. Furthermore, Ojo contends that the people Gbadejo met in the area were Benin migrants. In Ojo’s words:

This appears to provide a breakdown of the Otuaka theory of origin of Otuo as recorded in Rev. Edeki’s book because it raises questions as to where the people Oruaka and his team met in the location on their arrival from Idogun area came from and what language they spoke. ... In all probability, these people that Otuaka and his company met in Otuo bush would have come from Benin and that in irself resolves the question.

That people were living in Otuo before Otuaka arrived is not sufficient grounds to reject the Ife migration theory. Possibly Oruaka and his group met aborigines and not necessarily Benin immigrants. Two of the Otuo community totems are the boa and groundnut, which indicates the existence of an aboriginal population before the coming of either Yoruba or Benin settlers. It may well be that when the Otuo people moved out of Ora (ca.1632—1644 by their genealogy), they too carried plant totems with them. They moved just after the foundation of the Ora villages, where all the villages were enforcing animal political totems. The genealogy also fits the narrative tradition thar the age grades were followers of Prince Uguan. As such, the Otuo people could possibly have moved out of Ora during the period of Prince Uguan’s children and grandchildren. Furthermore, it fits the period of internal migration (ca.1632—1664) in which Irimo led his followers out of Uokha and Arokho and Ikhin were creating new settlements. For all of these, the direction of migration appears the same—to the west of Uokha. The assumpcion by Ojo thar the area was a tabula rasa is unacceptable. Unquestionably, all that can be concluded from available evidence is that there was autochthonous person in Otuo area before the Yoruba and Benin colonists moved in. For now it is safe to assume that the Yoruba migrants settled there before those from Benin. Moreover, the predominance of Edo words in the Otuo language could be explained by the fact that the Benin invaders were more than the aborigines, and therefore the Yoruba migrants ultimately adopted the Edo language. The narrative traditions point to the fact that Otuaka came with his wives and followers, while the Benin migrants arrived with twelve age grades. The animal totems predominate in Otuo, especially the leopard and bushbuck which represent the migrants from Benin. Certainly the predominance of animal totems and the Edo language in Otuo is significant. On the other hand, the mud fish and gorilla totems are found only in Otuo and not elsewhere among either the Owan or Edo people. The only possible conclusion one can reach at the moment is that they might be Yoruba totems. As a consequence, a theory of Yoruba participation in the establishment of Otuo is understandable.

When dealing with contrary traditions as in Otuo, it becomes important to attempt to synthesize them rather than become caught up in a futile bid to argue that one ¡s faulty and the other is correct. The question is not who first settled in Otuo, but rather what population elements went into its present composition. While oral narratives have seldom been manufactured out of thin air, some adjustments are often made to them so as to fit modern conditions. For example, in the Otuo tradition, one could become suspicious of twelve villages descending from twelve age organizations. Over time villages multiply and 200 years ago, when there were only six villages, the tradition may have referred to only six age grades. In fact, the totemic evidence suggests only six. It is in practice difficult to believe in twelve different age sets an operation at one time. The Otuo tradítion will therefore be analyzed against the totemic distribution within the community, employing the following criteria:

1. Aborigínal elements will be associated with plant and snake totems.

2. Totems unique to Otuo, that is, chose which appear nowhere else in Owan, will be considered to be of Yoruba origin.

3. Totems which appear both in Ora and Otuo will be considered as signs of the age organizations which departed from Ora.

4. Ocher totems which fit none of these categories and yet are duplicated elsewhere in Owan will be considered as derived from interregional migrations whose traditions have not been collected.
According to the above criteria, the following appears to represent the complexity.

• Only 1 village appears completely aboriginal; the indigenous elements form a majority in 3 and a minority in 4 villages. Thus aboriginals live in 8 of the 12 villages and in 23 of 46 wards, making up about 50% of the total population.

• Only 1 village appears completely Yoruba; Yoruba settlers form the majority in another and the minority in 4. They live in 6 of the 12 villages and in 9 of the 46 wards, comprising about 20% of the entire population.

• The Ora age sets which settled in 6 villages are dominant in 1, a majority in another, and a minority in 4, occupying 12 of 46 wards, and forming 26% of the whole population. It is significant that these age grades depart from 6 villages, not 12, in Ora.

• Only 2 wards in 2 villages were migrants from elsewhere in Owan and comprised about 4% of the total population.’

Ironically, while 50% of the people of Otuo descend from aboriginals, their story has not been collected; the academic debate has focused on two settler groups—Yoruba and Benin, which represent 20% and 26% of the people, respectively. Only the dual totems of the whole community—a plant and a snake—point direcrly to the importance of the aboriginals. The aboriginals live in 23 wards which claim no ward totem but only revere the plant and snake totems which are emblems of the entire community. Furthermore, as people who revere a snake and plant, the no-totem population was not aboriginal in the true sense, in that it held to no totems. Rather, it came from the Ogiso strata of Edo society. From earliest times they spoke Edo. The Yoruba language had little chance of becoming the Lingua franca. Additional evidence of the aboriginal” nature of the population involved a shrine catering to the entire community. Observing the aboriginal strata of the population of Otuo, one sees a perfect image of Uokha. The community as a whole shared a common shrine, revered the python and a plant, and did fnot add village or ward totems.

The descendants of the Ora age grades were also interesting in that they came entirely from only two totemic groups, leopard and bushbuck, one bushbuck ward combining with an antelope. As the community totem of Ora, every Ora citizen revered the leopard.

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