History of Owu Kingdom
In the beginning
Oduduwa (Oodua) was the first ruler of a unified Ife Kingdom and the acclaimed progenitor and patriarch of various independent royal dynasties in Yoruba land, and is today venerated as “the hero, the warrior, the leader and father of the Yoruba people”.
Obatala was the chief Priest of Oduduwa. He was a chaste man who also travelled far and near in what became known as West Africa. He was a great man who later married Oduduwa’s first daughter – Iyunade, by whom he got his first son, Ajibosin.
Other Historian posited as follows:
Oduduwa was the progenitor of the Yorubas. Oduduwa had only one son, OKANBI who died in an expedition. Before his death, Okanbi had fathered seven children. The first two were females – mother of Olowu and mother of Alaketu. The remaining five were males. Oduduwa had to take up the care of his seven grand children.
Ajibosin was the darling grandson (great grandson) of Oduduwa. One day he was playing in the laps of his grandfather pulling on the beads of the crown repeatedly. The indulgent grandfather placed the crown on the child’s head, but the child refused to give it up. He cried uncontrollably when the crown was taken off his head. Eventually Baba Oduduwa gave up further attempt at retrieving the crown. The patriarch declared and decreed that Ajibosin should be allowed to retain the crown as his mother’s inheritance. He automatically pronounced him king hence the nickname Asunkungbade (One who cried to acquire crown)
Baba Oduduwa then called six of his trusted nobles – Akogun, Obamaja, Orunto, Osupori, Oyega and Omolaasin to accompany the young king to his father’s (Obatala) homeland among the Tapas in the Empe region near River Niger.
These six trusted nobles were charged to establish a kingdom for him and help him in the administration of the kingdom.
Thus the boy became the first to be crowned king amongst the offspring of Oduduwa – hence “Owu ni a koko da” – it’s Owu Kingdom that was first created
It will therefore be correct to say that the Olowu Ajibosin and his six companions form the nucleus and foundation of Owu people all over the world.
These are the six trusted high chiefs and first class counselors from the court of Oduduwa, the Yoruba patriarch and progenitor who were chosen by him in faith to accompany his royal grandchild, AJIBOSIN Olawunmi and upon whom the newly established crown which was to translate to the crown of the Olowu was entrusted.
The 6 Iwarefas were to guard the infant oba, guide and counsel him into adulthood and into becoming a worthy king. They constituted the first original six Owu citizens apart from Ajibosin the child Oba himself!
These 6 Iwarefa chiefs were Akogun, Obamaja, Orunto, Osupori, Oyega and Molashin. They also double as the original traditional King makers of the kingdom called Afobaje.
Some account reported that the Iwaefas may have been accompanied on that historical expedition by the Olosi who was Oduduwa’s resident Ifa priest.
Ajibosin was reputed to have many children including 6 males: Ayoloye, Amororo, Otileta, Akinoso, Akinjobi and Lagbedu (Ola-n-gbendu).
Owu Expansion and Migration
The Owus multiplied, prospered and expanded in the Empe region towards the old Oyo. They became very prominent and even ruled the waves. Owu collected tribute from the Bariba, the Borgu and had sometime ruled over old Oyo until the reign of Sango. Their presence in that region was indisputably powerful.
There is a place called “Owu Orile”, some ten miles north of the town of Awe which oral evidence claim to be the original homestead of Owu. Spreading for miles on the north eastern side of the settlement is mostly Igbo Owu.
The earliest record of southward movements of Owu people showed their encounter with the pre-1820 first settlement of Ibadan. (See “Iwe Itan Ibadan by Oba L.B. Akinyele Olubadan of Ibadan, 1955-1964).
Although, every movement was as a result of war, Owu did not fight Ibadan but instead entered peacefully. This is because Ibadan leaders had earlier sent them an Olive branch. They knew that Owu attack on them was imminent. Ibadan even offered them a place to settle, spreading from Ita Lisa in Ibadan to the place now known as Owu Ipole near Ikire. This pleased the Owu leaders to the end that they agreed to live peacefully with Ibadan.
Another account was that:
While in Ibadan, Ayoloye took “Nkanlola” daughter of a leading Ibadan chief as wife. On one of his numerous war expeditions, he had to sacrifice Nkanlola to appease a river – River Ogbere. It was reported that this was the event that sent Owu parking from Ibadan, and finally led them to a land close to Ife where they settled under Amororo.
This is the place that replaced “home”. This was Owu Ipole. However, they left great landmarks in Ibadan including river Ogbere (Ifa diviner of Olowu who turned to a river that was named after him) and the Anlugbua shrine near Orita Bashorun etc.
The Owus, having gone through harrowing war time experiences over centuries, built a formidable fortress at Ipole, the type that had never existed in Yoruba land. The Owu kingdom was ruling the waves in the area that now constitute the present Osun and Oyo states.
The Owu Wars
The Immediate and Remote Cause of Owu war
One market day in 1821, an Owu man who sold alligator peppers was at Apomu Market, now in Irewolede Local Government Area of Osun State, selling his stock of peppers. He laid them out in lots containing 200 peppers each. An Ijebu woman came to the market and purchased one pack. She did not verify on the spot the accuracy of the number of peppers in the lot she selected, but rather found it convenient to do the counting on reaching the guest house where she lodged.
She claimed to find only 199, which meant that one was missing. The Ijebu woman dashed back to the market to confront the Owu man over the one pepper by which the portion she selected was less and demanded that the missing one should be replaced. But the Owu man rejected, maintaining that he was sure of his own count. The argument over this single lobe of pepper developed into an open quarrel between the two of them. Later, it escalated into a fracas in which people of Owu and Ijebu clans in the market took sides with their respective kith and kin. Sectional sentiments soon became whipped up into open confrontation in which a life was lost and several people on both sides were injured as no one allowed the other any quarter. Within matters of days, the fight over a single alligator pepper had escalated into a conflict in which the Owu and Ijebu peoples threw caution to the winds and resorted to open arms.
Another account was that the then Akogun Owu, Olugbabi Awalona, who was the market Marshall at the International Apomu market accidentally and fatally lacerated an Ijebu trader with his special sword (Epe)
Before this incident, the people of Ife had suffered several defeats in the hands of the Owu people and the Ijebu had similarly been routed by the Owu in a war fought over slave trading. An Oyo Crown prince had earlier been arrested and tortured for carrying out slave trade.
Now, both the Ife and Ijebu saw the opportunity to settle scores with the Owu by joining forces to face the Owu. Even the remnants of the Oyo forces, just returned from their mission to repel a Fulani invasion, and who were by then mere lay-abouts, teamed up with the Ife and Ijebu forces.
The combined attack of the Ife-Ijebu-Oyo coalition laid a long siege for about 5 years but could not break through the fortified Owu wall.
Inside the city of Owu Ipole, food shortage surfaced and the only option was for the Owus to escape.
The Owus escaped out of their heavily fortified city about 1826. They escaped through their southeastern gate in groups and journeyed through Ijebu Igbo and spread southward, settling in places like Ikija, Omu, Ayepe and other places.
However, the main body of Owu escapees went towards Ibadan. From Ibadan they marched across Ogun River and finally arrived at Oke Ata near Abeokuta about 1828 – 29. They heard news of some of their relatives settling down with the Egba refugees in Abeokuta but they were bent on getting to Lagos.
Within two years the “temporary” sojourn in Oke Ata had spread to nearby Aro, Olomore, Kurere, Idiori and some parts of Imala. For nearly two years the Egba leaders headed by Sodeke came to persuade them to join them in settling in Abeokuta and through the persuasion of General Sodeke and Agbo of Gbagura who were war acquaintances of Olufakun, Laara, Gbademu and Adetaloye they agreed to join the Egbas to live in Abeokuta.
Thereafter Owu fought side by side with Egba in the Makun and other wars against Ado Odo and Dahomey in 1842-45. Owu contingents fought and routed Awori at Itori, Yobo, Ifo, Atan, Ota and also occupied those places till today.
Within their first five years of settling in Abeokuta, the Owu had faced and warded off Dahomey attacks on at least two occasions in 1839 and 42. It was on one of such attacks that the Owu army discovered that the Dahomean army comprised mainly of women – one breasted amazons. Enraged, the Owus challenged the Egbas to summon courage and together in 1845 they successfully put an end to the incessant attacks of the Dahomeans. The Owu Armies led by their generals chased the Dahomeans even into their own home of Porto Novo. The cannon that Owu seized from them is still in Owu Palace till today.
Owu Tit-bits and Common Terms
There are some terminologies peculiar to the Owu Kingdom and we may well start to throw our searchlight on some of them. As shall be found, many –if not all of them –are derived from Owu historical sources or incidents.
Obatala was the husband of the first princess of Ile-Ife, Iyunade. He was the father of Ajibosin, the first Olowu. He was also the Ifa High Priest and Spiritual Consultant to Oduduwa among many other monarchs in the West African sub-region. Ifa divination ability was second nature to Obatala being reportedly the son and scholar of Agbonmiregun Setilu, the acclaimed Ifa progenitor from Nupe land.
Obatala also had considerable farming interests as the owner of vast cotton plantations located adjacent to the River Niger in the Savannah region, presumably acquired from his vast earnings as an International Ifa Consultant – which earned him the appellation of ‘Olowu’ or cotton owner.
Obatala was larger than life and was no less prominent than Oduduwa, the acclaimed patriarch of the Yorubas. In fact, he has been deified as the head and oldest of the Orishas who created the physical world at the behest of Olodumare.
It is also claimed that Obatala had arrived Ile-Ife down a mythical chain long before Oduduwa arrived by similar means, and ruled the people before the latter came to stage a civil war which deposed Obatala as leader. The two were later reconciled and Obatala agreed to assist Oduduwa’s reign through his Ifa Divination. Oduduwa granted his first daughter, Iyunade, to the Ifa High Priest perhaps as part of their truce concessions.
As a roving Ifa consultant, Obatala became very wealthy and invested heavily in vast land holdings in the savannah region which he employed in cotton farming, an occupation that earned him the appellation of Baba-Olowu (cotton lord). Ajibosin was to inherit a large chunk of these which formed the bedrock of his original Owu Kingdom at the fringe of the Nupe country.
As an Orisha, Obatala has some of the largest followings and worshippers both at home and in the Diaspora, being matched perhaps only by Orisha Ogun and Sango adherents.
An ancient Owu war hero venerated worldwide as the symbol of Owu courage and steadfastness, who is mythically reported to have disappeared into the ground with the promise to re-emerge in order to assist his people at anytime they were threatened by enemies and if he was alerted through a pull on the exposed end of a chain he was reported to have dragged with him underground.
An incident once occurred when in order to confirm this capability he was summoned when actually there was no war and any need to do so. Anlugbua reportedly rose from the ground to behead all within his reach only to recognize thereafter from their facial marks that he had slaughtered his own people. He sank back into the ground a saddened man with a resolve never to emerge again in the same manner.
It is pertinent to note that virtually all Owu settlements, big or small, lay claim to Anlugbua disappearing into the ground within their communities and likewise they build shrines for him and celebrate him in annual festivals. However indications exist that he may have been a native of Owu-Kuta called Akindele Onilu-Ogba, who may actually have done his underground disappearance act at nearby Owu-Ogbere which was at that time possibly the main Owu homestead situated beside Ibadan.
There are also some Owu communities who believe that Anlugbua was actually Ajibosin the Asunkungbade and first Olowu himself!
A short war cutlass made of brass which is also the symbol of Owu authority and military might, used by their warriors, with which they are reputed to be battle daredevils and conquerors, who would defy all the odds of personal safety and charge at their enemies in a frenzied rage.
It was one of these Epes (still in safe custody within the Kingdom at Abeokuta) that triggered the Owu war which fused into the Yoruba wars of 100 years when it was accidentally used to fatally lacerate an Ijebu trader at the International Apomu market near Owu Ipole by the then Akogun Owu, Olugbabi Awalona, who was the market Marshall.
A phrase popularly used by Owu people to denote that Ajibosin (alias ‘Asunkungbade’), the first Olowu was also the first among the off springs of Oduduwa to receive a crown from the great progenitor of the Yoruba race, and his Kingdom of Owu was the most ancient and most powerful in the whole of Yoruba land outside Ile-Ife!
Detractors however sometimes like to slant the pronunciation of the phrase to mean ‘Owu is the paint or sword carrier’, an assertion that makes no sense whatever, whichever way you may look at it.
Oduru is one of the commonest terms that are attached to the Owu. Invariably, an Owu is called ‘OMO OlowuOduru’ (a scion of the Olowu who is otherwise called Oduru).
The origin of this term revolves around Orongbodu (now coined as Ogbogbondu). As it was previously explained in another article, he was Owu’s greatest hero cum king who, when about to change mortality for immortality, assured the Owus of his preparedness to come to their defence should enemies besiege their gates, but who withdrew this offer when theOwu expressly doubted his words by calling him up when no war existed.
At one time in his lifetime on the Owu throne, he invited his babalawo (ifa diviner) to enquire of the oracle the prospects of his living long. ‘yes’, the oracle said, but there were some sacrifices to be performed in order to actualize the prediction. He was told he had to provide an Odu (big earthen pot), a goat, iron chains and a substantial sum of money.
Ogbogbondu braced himself promptly for this irubo (performance of necessary sacrifice). He fetched all the prescribed items and his babalawo proceeded to prepare the required ritual. Briefly put, Ogbogbondu performed the prescribed ebo riru (sacrifice observances) and he lived long.
Because of this procedure which he went through, the Olowu earned the epithet ‘Olowu to fi ikoko odu ru ebo’ (the Olowu whose sake a ritual was prepared in a big pot). With time, this became abbreviated as Odu-ru. And so today, all Owu are scions of Oduru!
Osege is a cloth of great width. It was as strong as it was spacious. One putting it on, it gave the picture of someone who is well to do but was a product coveted by both the rich and the poor. It was certainly the envy of every Owu indigene, male or female, in those days. It is no longer available nor is it in vogue largely because of the dynamism in trends and culture. A saying which signposts its popularity goes thus:
A bimo l’owu a f’osege pon-on –
Iwo osege, emi osege.
Osege o je a m’oloro l’owu!
Translation:An Owu is ever born into a family of osege wearers
You wear osege just as I myself do.
Osege cloth makes it difficult to identify the wealthy among them.
The inference is that you can call an Owu a dandy if you like but there is no gainsaying the fact that he is well-dressed; that the habit of good appearance is inborn in him or her.
This piece is particularly relevant to the Owu in Abeokuta. Presently, there is an area known as Amukankan somewhere in the fringes of Totoro quarters of Owu in Abeokuta.
The word Amukankan is a title given to someone proficient in reciting verses from the texts known as Odu Ifa; someone that could be summoned to recite Ifa verses at short notice wherever the need arises. It is an abbreviation of Amukankan-wole-Edu (a reciter quick to respond to the call to appear in the conclave of ifa). Edu is another name for Ifa.
The bearer of that title at Ago Owu (Owu quarters) in Abeokuta was one Owu Ifa priest whose name was Fasolu. He was famous and practiced for long at Abeokuta until he was bitten by the bug of Lagos and he came under the spell of the coastal city. In Lagos he acquired even greater fame and prosperity, to the extent that he was given the nick-name Ajanaku, an abridge form of Ajanaku ti m’igbo kijikiji (an elephant whose presence in the forest is intimidating). The implication was that Fasolu was a dignified person. That sobriquet sticked to him so much that it metamorphosed into his name and his descendants bear that name till today. He ministered to the high and low in Lagos through his Ifa practice and he settled in the Okepopo area of Lagos.