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.
Owu l’a koda
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.
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.
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.
IDENTIFYING THE OWUS
It is not unwise to suspend the series on Owu Achievers for a while and equally proper to return to it when appropriate to do so. The reason for its suspension is that there are many other topics crying for consideration to mark the annual owu’s greatest festival, ‘Odun Omo Olowu’. For now, our attention will be divert in the direction of more urgent issues.
Our searchlight for the 2019 celebration is beamed on the generality of the Owu, and not on the achievers in isolation. In a sense, though, the attributes of the average Owu indigene qualify him or her to be regarded, at least, as a quasi-achiever.
What are the characteristics of the Owu – the way they see themselves and the lens through which other sub-groups of the Yoruba peer at them? The spectrum is broad, so broad that one cannot do justice to it in one fell-swoop, but we can, at least, make this edition a foundation upon which you add brick after brick in the future.
Call an Owu a dandy if you like but you can hardly fail to admit that he is well-dressed; the belief of good appearance is in-born in him or her. In manners and comportment, an Owu strives to stand out.
There is an epithet which sustains the assertion that an Owu is fashionable. Madam Efunroye Tinubu was notable as a merchant and king-maker in the Lagos and Abeokuta of the 19th century. One of her pet names – and she had many – was ‘Afigba-daro-nitori-ewe-Owu’ (one who infuses indigo in a way to prepare the unique dyes to suit the tastes of fashionable Owu youths). Tinubu, also the Iyalode (First Lady) 0f the Egba, had her extensive trading activities located in Owu quarters of Abeokuta. One of her line of products was indigo dyeing which was use for creating Adire cloth patterns and for dyeing new and faded outfits. Because of the proximity of her workshops to Owu Quarters, she took special interest in catering to the tastes of the fashionable Owu youths and made her profits. But the emphasis here is the confirmation, through that nickname of hers, of the exquisite tastes of Owu youths known for dressing resplendently.
GRACE AND BEAUTY
Ancillary to tastefulness in dressing of the Owu is their graceful gait. There is the saying :O dara bii ewe Owu
Sugbon o se irin wombida l’ese bii ara iseyin.
Translation: He or she has the beautiful features of a young Owu
But the gait is clumsy, reminiscent of a person from Iseyin.
That’s it – another testimony of the beauty associated with an Owu. The above statement does not necessarily cast aspersion on others but simply emphasizes the well-known natural beauty with which an Owu is endowed. Look at him or her closely and you are going to see that inscrutable beauty in his build and personality. It is inborn.
An Owu is incurably steadfast – probably to a fault. An Owu makes up his or her mind and stands by it, no matter what. An Owu observes probity to the very limit. He brooks no double-dealing from another person and by the time he or she reverts to saying, ‘N o gba wun-un’ (that is unacceptable to me), a cliché for which an Owu is associated, and sometimes denigrated, he or she has the reason he can adduce for affirming it. That is a reminder of the steadfastness in an Owu. An Owu is principled.
An Owu observes honesty as a tenet of life – as much as humanly possible. The late Chief Ohuu B. Akin-Olugbade had a testimony he was fond of sharing in his life-time. It is to the effect that when he was newly enrolled at the Nigerian bar, he performed minor services like visiting the prison yards to bail out his clients. in the course of doing this, he used to testify, he rarely found citizens of Owu within those prison walls awaiting criminal prosecution. It wasn’t as if Owu are angels but it is the rarity of their criminal proclivities that he was glad to discover and attest to. The rider to this is that an honest person who is sensitive to insults would invariably strive as much as is possible to avoid criminal activities.
BROOKER OF NO NONSENSE
An Owu might be accused of strong-mindedness but he is not hard-hearted by any measure. The accusation of stubbornness was derived erroneously from the saying –
A bimo l’Owu e l’ako ‘n b’abo,
Eswo ni yoo dagba ti yoo se esin!
Translation: A child is born in Owu and there is curiosity to know its gender.
Is gender of relevance when none of them can be subdued!
Yes, an Owu can rarely be defeated or rendered servile or cowed down. It is a testimony of the faith and uprightness indigenous to him. He cannot deny this bravery in him but nevertheless he detests abrasive behavior. His tolerance magnet easily repels insult because he is not the one to initiate the insult. Above all, the no-nonsense disposition of an Owu is invariably tempered by a high degree of charitableness and compassion.
Admittedly, the Owu earned this label through their performances on the battle field. As other Yoruba groups can and do attest to, the Owu were unconquerable on the war front. An Owu is brave and not easy to appease once provoked to anger. But hardly is he the initiator of the provokement. What is the justification then for making an Owu the recipient of an odious label called ‘stubborness?’ until the advent of firearms, the Owu was the master of his agedengbe (broad sword) and the victor on the battle ground. The rhetoric therefore boils down to: face him and be rewarded with the just dessert.
THE Owu are selective in the choice of their deities. They hold Obatala and Anlugbua in high regard but their faithfulness is highest in their observation of their ODUN OMO OLOWU festival, the official programme for which this article is being written. Odun Omo Olowu is marked annually by a week-long programme of festive activities which can be categorized as religious cum social. In effect, the event creates a week-long holiday for every Owu citizenry to play full part in it.
It begins with what is termed Eburedun, a watch-night to declare the festival open. The next day after it is observed as Ojo Airin (Curfew Day), designed to keep all and sundry at home while dinning and wining. It is perhaps the most restful day of the festival week. On another day, the new yam of the year is sliced open in the presence of a public gathering to signal to every Owu, particularly the Obatala worshippers, that they are free to taste the new yam of that year. And of course, the Olowu who is the Chief celebrant, waits for this day before tasting the new year’s yam. And to round the festival off, one more day is set aside for the Akogun, the Owu war leader, to host the Olowu and his Chiefs to a full briefing of the year’s festivities. In addition, the traditional masquerade of Owu people, known as Otomporo, stages an outing as a way of declaring the festival closed.
It is the arrangement of this unique festival and the devotion of the Olowu and his subjects to it that points the Owu up as a unified people. Even the modern-day modification has not changed the coloration of this festival which is bound to continue until God’s kingdom come.
Perhaps the most unique feature which distinguishes the Owu today is the dialect because, whether we like it or not, other distinguishing features like the Owu abaja and keke facial marks have become endangered species.
The Owu dialect is strong and vibrant and can now be heard mainly in Abeokuta and Owu villages in Ogun State. This irony was created by the dispersal that resulted from the Owu War of 1821 – 1825 in the course of which the major block of the Owu settled in Abeokuta around 1834. This block now constitutes the speakers of the original Owu dialect.
The dialect faintly sounds nearest to the Oyo dialect but is distinctly different from the Oyo dialect, and it is definitely a pleasure to listen to.
Listen to an Owu as he or she says, ‘N o gba wun-un’ (I don’t take that nonsense) and you would enjoy how it sounds. For that, an Oyo speaker would say, ‘N o gba un-ni’ and an igbomina would say, ‘Mee gba yun-ni’.
The Owu say, ‘Bawun-un ni’ (yes, it is so) but the Oyo would say, Bawun ni’. Or an Owu might say, ‘ O wa ti soo se e to fi danu! (How on earth did you handle it that it spilled down!), while the Oyo say, ‘Bawo lo ti sowo se e to fi danu. The Owu sa, Ewun-un naa lo wa n binu si! (is that all that you are getting mad over) or, ‘koo sope baba mi ko lo bi mi’, (Call me bastard if…….), and so on. Bottom line: Owu dialect stands on its own and is distinct from any other Yoruba dialect. However, it should be made clear that the Owu are now domiciled in various Yoruba locations they had found themselves and therefore assimilated that dialect of their host communities. For instance, each time the Owu gather these days either for their Owu Day or National Conventon, a riot of Yoruba dialects becomes discernible. This is because those of them in ijebuland have acquired ijebu dialect. Those in kwara state speak nothing other than igbomina dialect. The Owu in Oyo and Osun states have adopted Oyo or Ijesa dialects, and so on and so forth. And all these diversities of dialect inspite of the existence of the intact Owu dialect spoken in Abeokuta and evirons.
What is the purpose of this discourse? For the avoidance of doubt, it is an expose of who and Owu really is vis-à-vis the perception of an Owu by others. For the celebrants of Odun Omo Olowu, it is meant to serve as a reminder and reference point, lest these details be overlooked or forgotten in the midst of the riot of merriments.
This is the first of a 3-part series and so readers are advised to look forward for the others in due course.