Appreciating the Cultural/Historical Aesthetics of Ile-Ife to the Yorùbá Race
Ibi ojúmọ́ rere gbé ń mọ́ wáyé.
(Translation) Ifẹ̀ Oòdáyé.
The ancient land
Where the breaking of the day began
Between 1910 and 1912, Leo Viktor Frobenius (1873 –1938), a renowned ethnologist and archaeologist worked on archaeological sites in Nigeria. Ile-Ife in Osun state was one of the sites that Frobenius worked on.
At the time of his visit, Ile-Ife’s population was about 25,000, and at that time the core of the later-famed Ile-Ife art had not been exposed to the Western world.
What Leo Frobenius discovered while digging around sacred sites in Ile-Ife was mind-blowing and enchanting for the German. Among what was discovered was the famous “Ori Olokun” bronze head and also the precious broken glazed pottery and terra-cotta foot, trunk and head ornaments that were discovered at the sacred ‘Ebo-Olokun’ groove.
According to Frobenius, the discovery of the amazing artworks was great, but the real eureka moment for him was the brilliant sophistication and extreme details of the artworks that were discovered in Ile-Ife.
So brilliant and astounding were these works that Frobenius concluded that the works could not have been done by Africans. This belief led him to draw the rather racist and erroneous conclusion that Ile-Ife was an annex of the lost city of Atlantis and that the Olokun is Atlantic Africa’s Poseidon (Poseidon is the Greek god of the sea).
A few of the other valuable artefacts discovered from that expedition revealed to the world that an advanced civilization had been in existence in this city called Ile-Ife. This civilization was highly developed and sophisticated, with artefacts which dated back to 500 BCE.
In Yorùbá cosmology, the creation story and origin of mankind involves the arrival in Ile-Ife of some heavenly beings sent to earth by “Olodumare”. These heavenly beings performed the first rites that sprung forth life, and they would later become the progenitors of the human race.
Thus making Ile-Ife the cradle of life (Orisun) and most importantly the birthplace of the Yoruba race and Mankind.
In 1882, Rev Samuel Johnson, an Anglican Missionary, the author of one of the most detailed and accurate books on Yorùbá History (History of the Yorùbás completed in 1897) was told by Ibadan chiefs that Ile-Ife was “the place where all nations of the earth have sprang from”.
The distinctiveness of Ile-Ife cuts across many ramifications, from its aristocratic form of early government to early industry, and its art movement that shows a kingdom that has been existence as far as 500 BCE.
The uniqueness of the Obaship of Ile-Ife lies in the origin of the name Ooni (Eni ti o ni) meaning: ‘The owner”. The Ooni is the religious, traditional, and spiritual ruler of Ile-Ife.
The throne of the Ooni has been highly revered and respected by all the Oba’s in Yoruba land and also outside the Yorùbá Kingdom. Right from the reign of the 1st Ooni to the sitting Monarch, the throne has been revered culturally and spiritually venerated.
The Ooni is the only Oba in Yorùbá land who is not crowned by a mortal, unlike other Oba’s who are crowned by priest or elders of the town. The Ooni of Ile-ife undertakes a journey to the sacred forest to receive his crown; this journey completes the final ritual of his Obaship.
The late 19th century saw Ile-Ife destroyed in a war with the entire town in ruins. The gods reportedly declared that the whole of Yorùbá land would never know peace until Ile-Ife was re-built and restored.
The town was rebuilt and it was agreed in an accord between the gods and man that Ile-Ife would never be invaded or destroyed again. This is why Ile-Ife was never invaded during the famed “Kiriji” wars. This was the longest civil ethnic battle in world history.
The spiritual aesthetics of Ile-Ife can be seen it its worship of 401 deities (gods), and for every day in the year, a particular deity is worshipped in Ile-Ife, thus making it the traditional home of Yorùbá religion and worship. All gods that watch over the Yorùbá race have their primary abode in Ile-Ife.
Culture as a complex form of life embodies the ideas, knowledge, laws, customs, morals, art, and belief system of a people as one essence; the very land they stand upon, their home, and that very solid part of existence that defines them. The cultural and historical aesthetics of Ile-Ife to the Yorùbá race is not just about the land but everything on the land that stands on the shoulders of history.
The city of Ile-Ife also enjoys the holy passage of Yorùbás all around the world to the town as they journey to back to their ancestral home-land – this is seen yearly during the famous “Olojo” Festival which holds in the ancient city.
The festival which has been in existence for hundreds of years occupies an important place not only in the history of Ile-Ife but in the history of the Yorùbá. This is when Ooni of Ile-Ife wears the scared crown – the “Ade are” – publicly.
The ancient crown is said to have been worn by Oranyan, the 1st Ooni of Ile-Ife. The festival is held annually in October. It marks the beginning of a New Year.
The enormity of Ile-Ife lies not only in its mythical and mysterious origin but also in homemade industries (The Bead, Iron, Pottery, Fashion, Glass, and Arts Industry), which has been in existence since the reign of its main progenitor; Oduduwa.
This industry made the people of Ile-Ife wealthy and economically viable in previous centuries. These industries would later spread into different parts of Yorùbá land, thus birthing a thriving land with economic self- reliance.
Ile-Ife in present times stands firm as the source for the Yorùbá nation, with the Ooni as the father to all (man and gods inclusive). His appellation as “Oonirisa” places him on the same plinth with the gods, making him a supreme leader to the people and his land.