By Damiete Braide
When we talk about Yoruba history, the names of pioneers, like Samuel Johnson, Saburi Biobaku, Prof. Akinjogbin and to some extent, Issac Babalola, reverberate. But, now, there is another strong voice in the mix: Prof. Akinwunmi Ogundiran, an archaeologist, historian and anthropologist.
In an interactive book reading and autograph session anchored by the immediate past Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture in Lagos State, Steve Ayorinde, at the Page Book Connoisseur, Allen Avenue, Ikeja Lagos, recently, the author took the audience to a journey of a decade research on fresh account on Yoruba narratives.
“I did not set out to write this book initially; I was researching different topics about the Yoruba people as an archaeologist, historian, anthropologist and a field scholar. I was interested chiefly in regional interactions and how Yoruba political institutions developed.” But, at a point, he realised that the information he was discovering was not consistent with some of the canonical narratives that they had in the template. So he started writing the book 10 years ago.
He was planning to write it from 1500-1800, then he realised he needed to go back to the beginning of Yoruba history, and that was about 300BC. That is why I entitled it The Yoruba: A New History,” he said.
He painstakingly traced the history of Yoruba to Kogi State. “You will not see Lamurudu in this book; you will not come across Mecca. You will not come because the Yoruba did not come from Mecca or Sudan. We did not come from the Jew,” he said.
In the book, the author exploited historical linguistics. He tapped from geochemistry. He studied festivals, movement of people in the landscape, as well as rituals, drawing from Ogboni Temples, “because these are our archives”, and, “if you want to understand the deep history of Yoruba before colonialism, you have to go to those archives, temples, and ritual sites.”
He traced the Yoruba history to 4000BC – that was when Yoruba as a language community began to evolve.” Then climate change affected their migration. “The history of the Yoruba is the history of resilience, change, continuity and how our ancestors were resilient in coping with ecological crises, which led to the expansion of the Yoruba.”
About 300 BC, he said, the Yoruba were the smallest group of people, that is, “the proto-Yoruboid who lived around the present Kogi State, on the south-western side of River Niger; and, to the north, there were the Nupe. This proto-Yoruboid gave birth to three major languages today; the Igala at the other side of River Niger, the Itsekiri and the Yoruba dialects.”
He revealed, it was the climate change of 300BC — ‘The Big Drive’ — that led to the proto-Yoruboid expansion. “These migrations led to political innovations and the first kingdoms around 700 AD. That’s when kingdoms like Oba, in the present-day Igbomina, stretching to the present day Akure, were developed. My argument in this book, which will be controversial, is to say that Ekiti people are not the product of Ile-Ife; Ile-Ife is the product of the Ekiti region.”
He argued that some of the innovations that happened in Ile-Ife in the last two centuries of the first millennium between 800 and 1000 AD were already taking place in different places in Yoruba land. Thus, “Ile-Ife was not the first kingdom in Yoruba land. It was the last of the first generation of kingdoms. Ile-Ife benefitted from what other previous kingdoms have been doing. Within Ile-Ife, now spearheaded by Oduduwa and Obatala, there was a conflict between the duo. It was about power and control and a vision about the future for the people. Oduduwa took the leadership and transformed what was already there into something new. But what he did not do was to relegate other people that were there with him. Oduduwa did not come from Mecca; he was there.
“I always joke that how could someone travel from the desert and just land in the rainforest? It is not possible because people don’t migrate that way, and you don’t migrate by yourself, too. You move to an ecological zone you are familiar with. It is only when something is chasing you that you go to a place where you cannot make a living. Fishers will not go to a desert, because there is no water there. An Arab will not come here; he might even die before he gets here. There were no airplanes in those days. So, for our children, who are learning the history of other people, they need to elevate our narrative and tell believable stories.”
Continuing, he said, “Later Stone Age people were living in the rainforest of the region before the Yoruba began to arrive around 500 AD. They met these later Stone Age people in Ile-Ife, who were later known as Ugbo.”