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The Untold Story of an Ancient Town, Oba-Ile (Part III)

By: Dr Stephen Ayo Fagbemi
 Published December 19th, 2010

As previously mentioned, the meeting of the Oloba of Oba-Ile and the Deji of Akure at their boundary, Umojo near Ala River (Fiwasaye Anglican Girls’ Grammar School area), to pray for the peace of their two communities is interesting.  But a curious mind would wish to know whether this is what all traditional rulers who share boundaries do together. This happens only very rarely, and is dictated by specific and strong historical links, such as the Ijebu and Oke-Owo case to which we have referred earlier. This section is intended to show that the relationship between the Oloba of Oba-Ile and the Deji of Akure and by implication their two communities go beyond merely being good neighbours.

There is more to this relationship and it is unique. Apart from Oba-Ile being older than Akure the two communities had always been there for each other. The peak of this was when Akure approached Oba-Ile for a vital help that was to later change the nature of their relationship permanently or at least for a long time to come, even to this generation.

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The history states that Akure had witnessed rapid succession of its rulers, that is, the Alakunre, as the Oba of Akure was then called, owing to high mortality rate of the monarchs. This was an obvious concern that they wanted to address. They consulted the oracle as was the practise in those days, and were advised to seek help from the Oloba of Oba-Ile. The request was positively addressed by the Oloba and Oba-Ile community with a promise to release an Oba-Ile son to go and become the monarch at Akure.

It was said that the Oloba had initially agreed to allow Odofin Otalogun to present his son because the former was initially reluctant to send his own son. This was to take place the next time the Chiefs met which would be on the 9th day. As it is till today the traditional Oloba-in-Council meeting of chiefs holds every 9 days, which is why every calculation at Oba-Ile is done by calculating every 9 days. For instance, instead of finding out whether the next Agbon festival was going to be in July or August next year, the calculation would go by how many 9 days there would be before the event. So an event could be fixed for isan meta, i.e. three-nine days.  For the modern mind this may seem ridiculous, but for those who lived then before the advent of western education, that was as valid for them as the modern calendar is for us. I can tell you that they never missed their dates. They were probably more accurate in some cases than our modern mind could imagine.

It was said that after Odofin had returned to his base at Ugoba, some of Oloba’s Chiefs persuaded him to have a rethink. Indeed, he became persuaded by this latter argument and agreed that he would send his son rather than Odofin’s son to Akure to become its Oba (monarch). One version has it that this was the reason Odofin Otalogun angrily left Oba before finally settling at Ado-Ekiti because an agreement with him had been broken.  The details of the ensuing crisis had been narrated in part II.

To cut the long story short, the Oloba Oodaye of Oba agreed to send his son Obagbeyi to reign in Akure, to ensure stability and return of peace and confidence to Akure. So Obagbeyi became the 11th in the line of Akure Obas now known as the Deji. This was going to have a permanent effect on both Oba-Ile and Akure communities.

However, Obagbeyi was not keen because he would miss his friends and many of the indigenous and traditional festivals at Oba-Ile that he used to enjoy as a prince. Among those festivals that are celebrated in Oba-Ile with great pomps are Agbon, Aeregbe Oloba, and Ijesu, to name a few. During the Agbon or Ipagbon festival the Oloba and his community are treated to the delivery of Agbon and Oloba’s crown is decorated with the Agbon (palm fronds) while his wrist and ankles are also decorated with some of it. They are also shared with chiefs and people.

The Aeregbe which takes place just 21 days after is another great celebration that involves the baking of special cake (akara Aeregbe) by the Oloba and his High Chiefs.  In fact, 5 days after Aeregbe when the Esibi dancers visit the palace, after their traditional performances and prayers at Ugbo-Oluoroke led by Chiefs Aro, Ojomu, Bara and Olodan; they are fed with another round of bean-cakes (akara). But this would have been preceded by several days of dancing by Esibi dancers round the town. The Esibi dancers are led by the Asoga, with a huge demonstration of some most beautiful dance steps coupled with wild athletic or acrobatic movements. This is definitely not for the sick in body or mind. This is why part of the eulogy of Oba-Ile people is omo ajosibi peyin udi da. The Esibi dancers sing proverbial songs that as well as celebrate also challenge any evil doer in the town, to shame them. For instance, if anyone had been convicted of stealing or adultery in the community, they are bound to be looking for an escape route out of the town as the celebration draws near. They cannot escape the songs of these people which would further shame them. So many times people had to think very well before getting involved in silly things that could bring shame and ridicule to their family. 

These celebrations were just too much to miss for the prince, not even for the purposes of becoming the traditional ruler of Akure, a neighbouring town. So to persuade him, his father the Oloba had to agree a few but key decisions with him which again were to bring a permanent change to the way Oba-Ile was to celebrate many of its indigenous traditional festivals and the way Oba-Ile is governed.

The Oloba agreed that in order to reduce his nostalgia for missing Oba-Ile he should go and replicate some of the festivals that Oba-Ile used to celebrate such as Agbon festival, Ijesu festival and Aeregbe among others.

Firstly, as regards the Ipagbon or Agbon festival, the Oloba decreed that three days after the celebration of the festival, he would send some Agbon to his son (Deji of Akure) and this would be carried and delivered by the junior chiefs, the Egiris to Akure with all the traditional pomp and pageantry across to the palace of the Deji. They would deliver this to Akure much in the same manner as they would deliver it to the Oloba himself, with the Egiris (junior chiefs) carrying with them long canes and shouting to make way for easy passage so that no one would obstruct the special message to the monarch. It is also part of the honour and respect for the king just as they would do for the Oloba. The only difference is that this would be delivered in broad daylight whereas in Oba-Ile it would have been delivered in the night, because that’s when the Elegbes led by Agbakin first returned to deliver the news of their victorious capture of Agbon to the Oloba. This is why Oba people are called omo amokunkun yugbo ebo mosu pa ji erebo that is they go when it’s dark (no light is issued at all) and return when the moon is out, probably as late as 2am in the night.

According to this tradition, even market women at Erekesan market in Akure would have to give way on hearing of the arrival of Oloba’s emissaries, removing their head scarves and tying them round their waste. The emissaries would also decorate the Deji of Akure’s crown in pretty much the same way as they would decorate that of the Oloba of Oba-Ile. 

Secondly, the Oloba authorised that the Deji of Akure would also have the right to celebrate the Aeregbe festival the same as the Oloba with traditional akara.  I recall as a young boy living not far away from where the regent of Oloba, late Princess Aderemi Fabilola once lived, that at about the time when the women were going to place the frying pan on fire to start baking the cake, there had to be absolute silence- no one should talk around the whole area, not only in the palace, but wherever they could hear the special announcement being made by a woman. This was presumably because the Oloba would eat from the Akara and no one should talk out of respect for the monarch.  So the Oloba agreed that the same should be done for Obagbeyi on the throne in Akure. This is why till today Aeregbe is celebrated in Akure and Oba-Ile on the same day.  A most noticeable mark of this is that there would be no buying and selling in Akure just as it is in Oba-Ile. Rather all buying and selling would be done the day before the celebration-this market is called anokoru, that is, the market goes on till late, as there would be no market the following day. This is the tradition to date in Oba-Ile and in Akure.

However, if anyone opened his store or chose to sell his goods would be consumed and shared by the masses. The late Asoga has led this pretty much in Akure.  On the third day, after the Aeregbe festival, the father (the Oloba) would send the ceremonial cake (akara aeregbe) to his son (the Deji).  This is called Akara Obagbeyi.

Third, in appreciation of his father’s gesture, the Deji would send an object for sacrifice to the Oloba of Oba. This is nowadays called, ewure iruna. According to history it used to be a human being, used for human sacrifice, until later during the reign of Deji Afunbiowo Adesida I when this stopped over a century ago because of modern influence and civilization.  This was the mistake made by an Akoko indigene resident in Oba-Ile during the reign of ex-Oloba Ilesanmi Orioge II, when during the Aeregbe celebration, the Oloba of Oba-Akoko had come to celebrate with the Oloba of Oba-Ile. It was such a joyous occasion as the Oloba of Oba-Ile with the Oloba of Oba-Akoko danced round the town. However when it was time to go to Umogun for the grand finale, Supare, the Akoko-born resident had signalled to the Oloba of Oba-Akoko not to go with the Oloba of Oba-Ile to Umogun for the grand finale because he might be sacrificed to Oluaye. The Oloba of Oba-Akoko was visibly disturbed and had to inform his host, ex-Oloba Gabriel Ilesanmi Orioge II that he would not be going with him. It was a very sad moment. The rest is now history. That was what led to the banishment of Supare, as the man was called, from Oba-Ile. 

Now before the Aeregbe festival Chief Bara and the Esibi dancers would have been very busy, with various kinds of celebration and dance in the town, which would culminate in Esibi dance five days after Aergbe on Idasu day- when new yams are harvested in preparation for Ijesu, New Yam festival on the 6th day. I remember that as young boy we were always guided when coming back from the farm, first to be early enough to get back home, and second to avoid meeting the Esibi dancers who should not see any yam on their way.

As regards this celebration, the Oloba instructed that the Esibi dancers should go with Obagbeyi to Akure and do all the dancing round Akure for many days and come to Oba-Ile to finish on the last day only. So they would have been dancing for the Deji of Akure right from the start and only come to do the grand finale at Oba-Ile. As far as I know this remains the tradition to date.  So on the day, five days after Aeregbe, the Esibi dancers arrive at Oba-Ile in the morning and are met at Tasoro where they change to their special robes for the dance and are led by Chiefs Olodan and Asoga. On this day the market moves to Umogun and is about one of the mandatory days market must hold at Umogun. The dancers make their way straight to Ugbo Oluoroke at Oke-Aro from where they go to dance round the town and at the Oloba’s palace.  So the going of Obagbeyi to become the Deji of Akure changed the face of Esibi dance in Oba-Ile. Instead of many days’ dance, it now holds only one day at Oba-Ile while it would have taken place many days preceding this at Akure.

Thirdly, the Oloba also felt that Obagbeyi would need to be supported. So he released some of his chiefs to go with him and support his administration at Akure.  Among the chiefs he released to go with him were Ooye, Ejemikin, Osunmo, Ojumu, Eyelogun, Olodan and Asoga. Since then these chieftaincy title holders have always resided in Akure although they are never far from traditional events and meetings taking place at Oba-Ile. Whenever any of them passes on, their successor is installed at Oba-Ile before moving to Akure.  So although most people would know Asoga in Akure, traditionally he is Asoga Oba.  The present Ojumu, Ooye and Osunmo of Akure were installed by the present Oloba, Kabiyesi Agunbiade Otutubiosun III. This is why Asoga lives at Akure but attends the Elegbe’s meetings at Oba-Ile. He has the same role to play for the Deji of Akure. So if you call him Asoga of Akure you are as right as to call him Asoga of Oba-Ile. But there can never be two Asogas. No Asoga resides in Oba-Ile. He only comes to Oba-Ile for key functions. This began with the release of Obagbeyi, Oloba’s son to become the Deji of Akure.

Deji Obagbeyi was also advised as a way of dealing with his nostalgia for Oba-Ile, to build his palace and make the main entrance to face Oba-Ile direction so that he could look straight towards Oba-Ile whenever he was missing home. Thus Deji Obagbeyi Adegite reigned in Akure for a long time (1313-1363), restoring stability and confidence. It was Obagbeyi who instituted the now famous Erekesan market (otherwise known as Oja Oba), among other things. Before that most of his predecessors reigned for a very short period of time. For instance, Oba Imolumode reigned in Akure from 1287-1299, Olarako from 1299-1305 while Oja Iyara’s reign was between 1305 and 1313. But Obagbeyi, Oloba’s son, reigned as the Deji of Akure for 50 years.

Today many other celebrations take place in Akure reflecting the Oba-Ile roots and connection of the Deji, including the Ijesu (new yam) festival.  In many praise songs (or Oriki) for the Deji of Akure, references are still being made to the Deji as the son of Oloba including Ara Deji Oba, Omo Oloba Oruje Ule, Omo Oloba Oodaye, Ejioba Omo Oolale, Omo ajigbagba urin.

Interestingly, in spite of modernity these ancient traditions and festivals remain as testament to the great link and long relationship that exist between Oba-Ile and Akure and between the Deji of Akure and the Oloba of Oba-Ile. It is also in this context that one should interpret the interaction that exists between the two communities. It helps then to understand why in places that should have been regarded solely as Oba-Ile territories there are a mixture of Oba-Ile and Akure indigenes living and working together. As highlighted previously this would include places like Ogbese and Ugoba and other surrounding villages. And although, again for administrative purposes, Uso is considered to be in Owo Local Government, the fact that it traditionally belongs to the Oloba of Oba-Ile cannot be contested. So it would seem that not only is Oba-Ile older than Akure it also has a long history of relationship with Akure without compromising its autonomy as well as the moments it has risen to help the Akure community.  This relationship has changed the traditions and administration of both Akure and Oba-Ile. Akure cannot do away with Asoga while Asoga does not live within Oba-Ile. The same goes for Olodan. Similarly the annual Esibi dance at Akure must finish at Oba-Ile while for any Asoga to function at Akure he must first be installed at Oba-Ile.

(To be continued)

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