The Origin of the Ijebus

The origin of the Ijebus has been variously given.  One account makes them spring from the victim offered in sacrifice by the King of Benin to the god of the ocean.  Hence, the term “Ijebu” from “Ije-ibu” (that is, the food of the deep).  The Ijebus themselves claim to have descended from “Oba-nita,” thus, referring to themselves as “Ogetiele, eru Obanita” (that is, “Ogetiele, servants of Obanita”).  But who was this “Obanita?”  Tradition says he also was a victim of sacrifice by the Olowu or King of Owu.  It was said that the Olowu offered in sacrifice a human being where two roads crossed; this was termed “Ebo-ni-ita,” a sacrifice on the highway.  This was a situation where this particular victim of sacrifice was mangled and left for dead at the crossroad (“orita”).  However, at night, the victim revived from the ordeal and crawled away into the forest, where he subsequently recovered and survived.  He lived on fruits, and then did a little bit of farming.  With population growth over time, and being the oldest man in most of the immediate area, he was regarded as the “father to all,” and subsequent generations called him their ancestor.  Thus, the Ijebus were formed, and the term, “Ebonita” ( a sacrifice on the highway) was converted to “Obanita” ( a king on the highway).  A forest is still shown near the village of Aha (or Awa), where he is annually worshiped, and from whence he was supposed to have ascended into heaven.  Actually, legend had it that when Obanta became very old and was contemplating his mortality, he inquired from the “Ifa” oracle how his legacy would be after his demise.  Ifa told him that if he did not want the township to be in disarray after his death, he should leave town and die outside.  Shortly after this revelation, Obanta disappeared and left town without notice, thus leaving people to speculate that he must have ascended into heaven.  This was how the phrase: “Obanta, the one who wages war from heaven” became coined.  But “Lawa,” after he relocated to a new settlement, testified that the forest near his new abode, was also in close proximity to that of Obanta, near Awa or Aha.  It was as a result of this testimony that people developed the belief that whatever statement came out of the mouth of Lawa was directly from Obanta! 

It is rather curious that both accounts of the ancestral origin of the Ijebus point to the incidents of being victims of human sacrifices.  The latter account narrated above is reconcilable with the former, which states that the name “Ijebu” was derived from the expression: “Ije-ibu” (food of the deep).  It is also safe to infer that the population over which “Ebonita” was the head, may have been largely influenced by the victims of the ocean so as to give the name “Ije-ibu” to the entire populace.  There are also other important facts and curious coincidences connected with the Ijebus which have strong bearings on this tradition of their origin. 

The Ijebus, before the conquest, were the most exclusive and inhospitable of the whole of the tribes.  Very few, if any, outsiders were ever known to have walked through the territory with impunity under any circumstances whatsoever.  Many of those who attempted to do so were never seen nor heard from again!  Commercial transactions with outsiders were carried on at the frontier or at the borders with neighboring towns.  

It is also important to point out that even if the latter account of the origin of the Ijebus, through being a victim of the Olowu were true, it is very singular indeed that it was mainly due to the Ijebus, with their firearms, that the Owus owed their fall and complete annihilation as an independent state to this day!  Why so?  Read on!

The original King of the Ijebus was known as the “Awujale”.  His origin was thus given by authentic tradition, the event with which it was connected having occurred within authentic history.  There were formerly two important towns called Owu Ipole and Iseyin Odo in a district between the Owus and Ifes.  They were settlements from the cities of Owu and Iseyin, respectively.  A quarrel was reported to have arisen between them on the matter of boundaries, and the dispute, having been carried on for many years, developed into open fights, thus degenerating into a crisis, which both the Olowu and the Owoni of Ife (both being interested parties) were unable to contain or resolve.  This led them into sending messengers to the King of Oyo to solicit his help and, in response, he (the King of Oyo) sent out a special “Ilari” and a large number of attendants to put an end to the strife.  The “Ilari” by tradition, had an inviolable personality.  Hence, he came and settled down between the two warring factions, and right in the middle of the disputed piece of land, thus compelling them to settle their differences amicably and keep the peace.  The Ilari was named the “Agbejaile” or “Alajaile” (an arbiter of land dispute).  This term was subsequently ‘softened,’ ‘coined,’ and ‘rounded’ into the term: “Awujale.”  This event occurred during the reign of King JAYIN.  As it was customary to pay royal honors to the King’s messengers out of courtesy, this “Ilari” was accorded royal honors, as appropriate, and he remained there permanently and became the King of the region.  The Ijebus, up to that point in history, had no king of their own because heretofore, they had preferred to hold themselves aloof from their neighbors.  Subsequently, this “Ilari” who became the “Awujale,” moved to Ode.  The Awujale ranks after the Oyo provincial kings such as the Onikoyi, Olafa, Aresa, and Aseyin.