The Ijebu People

THE Ijebu People inhabit the South-Central part of Yorubaland – a territory that is bounded in the North by Ibadan, in the East by Ondo, Okitipupa and the West by Egbaland.  The Southern fringe is open to the sea with the coastlines of Epe, Ejinrin and Ikorodu.  Despite the political division which has these three towns in Lagos while the main part of Ijebuland is Ogun State, the people have always regarded themselves as one entity even when the immigration ­legends which have often been cited point in dif­ferent directions.

There are immigration legends which tend to link the Ijebu with the biblical Jebusites and Noah  (hence Omoluwabi  — omo ti Noah bi  — the children of Noah) but these are farfetched.  Other immigration legends trace the origin of Yoruba people, and by  implication, the Ijebu to Mecca where Oduduwa, the legendary ancestor of the Yoruba, was said to be the son of King Lamurudu.  Oduduwa, according to the legend, had to be expelled from Mecca when he resorted to idolatry.  This is another unacceptable story in that it implied that the Yoruba must have come into existence as a group after faithful Muslims expelled Oduduwa some 1,500 years ago. 

Ijebu traditional historians tend to stick to the migra­tion legend that the people migrated to their present territory from a region of Sudan called Waddai which means that the Ijebu had a parallel migration wave just  like other Yoruba who believe they came to their present abode via Oduduwa.  That claim seems to be corroborated by a publication by one Hailemariam which states that “the most powerful people that the Negede Orit (ancient Ethiopian immigrant into Africa) met in East Africa were the Jebus.”  Their King was claimed to be so influential that he appointed the gover­nors of Yemen. If that king was the same Olu-Iwa, the legendary first Ruler of Ijebuland, we do not know.

There is a lot of evidence in support of the fact that the Ijebus migrated into Nigeria from Sudan.  The most ob­vious is the Sudanese tribal mark which, though varied, is duplicated all over Yorubaland.  In particular, the three ver­tical marks on both cheeks are the national marks in Ijebu.  Moreover, in the border between South Sudan  and Ethiopia, the original language which Arabic language has super­seded is very similar to Ijebu dialect.  Names of people such as Saba, Esiwu, Meleki (corruption of Menelik) and many others are still common in Ijebu and the South of Sudan.  A kind of flute which was formerly used during the coronation ceremony of the Awujale is still used in Ethio­pia and South of Sudan.  In the second place, the passage quoted from ‘Ethiopian History’ by Hailemariam at the beginning of this essay shows that Negede Orit which entered Ethiopia several cen­turies before King Solomon and the famous Makida, Queen of Sheba (about 900 B.C.) met the Ijebus on the east Coast of Southern Sudan. 

The ancestors of the Ijebus who now inhabit Ijebu-Ode and districts came into Nigeria from the ancient Kingdom of Owodaiye of Ethiopia which came to an end as a result of Arab supremacy in Middle East and the Sudan where Owodaiye was situated.  The Kingdom of Owodaiye was bounded in the North by Nubia; in the East by Tigre and the Kingdom of Axum; in the West there was no clear boundary, while along its South-Eastern border, it was bounded by the land of Punt.  With these people the Ijebus share their culture and religion.  With the Tigrians and ancient Axumites the Ijebus share their tribal marks which are made up of three vertical marks on the cheeks while with the Egyptians, the Nubians and Puntite people, the Ijebu share many of their funeral rites, the Agemo cult and the Erikiran.

The Yorubas in Nubia were the nearest people to the Ijebus in Owo aiye.  Even the Ijebus differ from the Yoruba in many respects.  For example, while the main Yoruba group practice circumcision on both male and female members of the family, the Ijebus never practice it on the female members;  the Yorubas used to bore the lower part of the ear in both male and female while the male never bore in Ijebu.

The first major wave of Sudanese that entered Nigeria was led by Iwase who came to Ife several centu­ries before the major Sudanese immigrations under Oduduwa and Olu-Iwa.  The Iwase group of immigrants came during the reign of Esumare of Ife Erinrin. The next group of Sudanese immigrants were the Ijebus and the kindred peoples under Olu-Iwa, who entered the country at about the same time as the Yoruba under Oduduwa.  There are many reasons to believe that they arrived before the main Yoruba group.  The most important reason was stated in a Yoruba tradition that when Oduduwa was alive, he became partially blind and went to consult  Agbonniregun, an Ife Priest, with a view to finding out what he must apply to his eyes to regain his sight.  Agbonniregun recommended  brine and so Oduduwa had to send one of his sons, Obokun, to the sea to bring him sea water.  The latter wandered for many years in vain until he came to the King of Ijebu for help. This king sent a messenger to guide him to the sea and on Obokun’s re­turn to !Ijebu, the King of the ljebus (Lewu Legusen) gave Obokun medicines for Oduduwa’s eyes. And when Oduduwa applied the brine and the medicine, he regained his sight.  The above tradition shows that the ljebus were in Nigeria before the main Yoruba stock because the king of Ijebu referred to was The fifth Awujale.  In appreciation of this service, Oduduwa determined to visit the King of Ijebu, but he died about fifteen miles east of Ijebu-Ode.  His followers settled down at Idofe, a town which has now become extinct.

The Ijebu legend tracing their origin to Waddai must have brought the known rivalry between them and other Yoruba people.  If, indeed, Lamurudu and Oduduwa de­scended from Omu, the younger brother of Olu-Iwa, there is some sense in the claim that the Ijebus are senior to other Yorubas and cannot, therefore, accept the junior position that put them under the Ooni of Ife or Alafin of Oyo.

The bulk of Yoruba people regard the ljebus as peripheral Yoruba while the ljebus  themselves do not hide the fact that the cohesion between them and others who call themselves central Yoruba has been the result of cultural and political interaction over the centuries.  Time itself has taken care of these legends as the various groups of people in Western Nigeria have come to accept a common Nationality as Yoruba, be they Ekiti, Ijesha, Egba, Ondo, Ijebu, etc..  Even among the Ijebus, there are conflicting claims to the source of origin depending on the political intention of those concerned.  Irrespective of these claims, the Ijebus are united under the leadership of the Awujale of Ijebuland and this unity is the strength of the people as exhibited by their achievements in the past 40 years of the reign of Oba Sikiru Adetona, Ogbagba II.