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How Alaafin sacked town
From WOLE BALOGUN, Ado-Ekiti
It was the centre of the town, called Ojude Oba in Yoruba. The Iyawo Ode (hunter’s wife or hunter’s masquerade) made rapid but rhythmical dance steps to the romantic beating of the Iya Ilu (a Yoruba chief local drum) drummed by a team of skillful Ayan (drummers).
The hunter sang a melodious Ijala (hunter’s ode) while his colleagues chorused, thus making the atmosphere come alive, as everyone was overwhelmed in the euphoria of communal celebration. It was the 15th edition of the annual cultural festival of Omu-Ekiti, once a sprawling community in the pre-colonial West Region of the country, but now a sleepy town in Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State.
For the folks of Omu-Ekiti, strange tales feature prominently during the celebration of their annual Omu Day. It is a day set aside to remember the exploits of their forbears and founding fathers, whose pre-occupation was hunting dangerous games in the thick forests.
Scheduled for early November of every year, Omu Day, according to the monarch, Oba Ogundeyi Joseph Adeyeye, JP, a doctorate degree holder in Public Administration, is celebrated with a plethora of cultural activities including hunters’ masquerades dance and music performance, women’s eulogy of the king, appeasement of the deities, prayers for the community and merry making.
The monarch who earns the title: Ododo Asofindero ( great one who brings peace with the law) and Owajomu of Omu kingdom, recalled that the town gained its name, Omu, from a myth which holds that from time immemorial, the town was peopled with so many local merchants who journeyed in and out of it from far and near. Their vibrant commercial activity was so huge that the founding fathers decided to name the town “Omu” (meaning a place with many people moving here and there in Ekiti dialect) to reflect that incident.
The Owajumu, however, recalled a tragic encounter, which turned the fortunes of the town into poverty and desolation:
“There was a time in the far distant history when Omu was a very big kingdom, peopled by many successful business farmers and was very buoyant economically. But we had an encounter with the then Alaafin of Oyo, who wanted to lord his supremacy over Omu kingdom. Omu kingdom was so big then that we had about 16 roads leading into the kingdom and each had its own gate.
“This was around 1416, and the Alaafin then wanted to expand his kingdom and was coming into the interior of Yoruba land. He sent messages to us then that we should close one of our gates. But the Owajumu declined and told him that he also was a powerful king and would not take orders from the Alaafin.
“That angered the then Alaafin who waged war against our town. After warring against us two times and lost, he changed his tactics and extended a hand of friendship to our king. He said: ‘Now that I have found out that you are equally powerful like me, let us rather become friends.’
“One of the ways to seal such friendship as proposed by the Alaafin then was to marry off one’s daughter to the man you wanted as friend. So, the Alaafin sent one of his beautiful daughters to our Owajumu then, whose name was Adetutu. She was with the then Owajumu for so many years and gave birth to two pretty children for him.
“But while she was with him, she was clever enough to extract the secret of the Omu hunters/warriors from the Owajumu. Once she got that, she ran away to leak the secret to her father, the then Alaafin. Before our Owajumu knew what was happening, the Alaafin was again at Omu with his warriors who already had the winning secret.
“The secret itself was that the Omu warriors’ charms could be rendered impotent with raw eggs. At that time, our warriors were so powerful with charms that all they did was to speak incantations and their enemies would drop dead. They didn’t have guns but only huge sticks. When the Alaafin warriors invaded Omu, they carried baskets of eggs and threw the eggs at our warriors and rendered their charms ineffective. They eventually conquered the town and made it almost desolate.
“Once defeated, Omu people sought refuge in many neigbouring towns such as Erinmope, a border town between Ekiti and Kwara. Ikoro where there is Ile-Olomu, the head of the house there happened to be the head of the warriors in Omu at that time, when the Alaafin ravaged the great Omu. They headed back to Ife where we all came from, but they had a stopover at Ikoro where they have since settled.
“Our people also got to Aran-Orin also in Kwara State, on their way to Ife to seek refuge there. Some of them settled with Aran people and today, their place is identified as Omu-Aran. Some settled not far from us here and they are now Omu-Oke and so on.”
A fish with four eyes
Incredible but true. In the outskirts of Omu community, inside a tiny stream is a fish with four eyes! But the sad news is that if you use a camera with the best digital lens, its image would not appear in the picture.
Oba Adeyeye explained: “ Yes, indeed, we have a mysterious fish here which has four eyes. The fish is in Iwereji River. We have been trying to find the root of that strange development but no one has been able to get that. But if you take photograph of the fish, it won’t show in your device. That is quite strange.
“The only myth we have established around it is that in our reigning days as a great kingdom, we had very powerful warriors who decided to enter into some strange things when Omu was betrayed and was defeated by the Alaafin warriors. We heard of many of these warriors who went into the river, thick bushes, trees among others, which today are characterized with many strange incidents.
“For instance, there is a river in this town, located far into the forest where in the mid-day, you see people’s clothes spread all over the bank of the river. No human is living at least more than a kilometre away from the place and you wonder who were those washing their clothes and spreading them there. But by the time the clothes were dry, they would just disappear. It was this river one of our former monarchs, Oba Adewa, was said to have entered when he was defeated by the Alaafin warriors.”
Omu as hunters’ town
As part of the elaborate cultural festival witnessed by Daily Sun in the town, the hunters, led by Chief Fagbemi Amos Sunday, the Olori Awo (head of Ogboni confraternity) of Omuland, featured very prominently in the celebration with such activities as Ireja, (hunter’s masquarade visiting the market place), Ijade Iyawo Ode (ritual dance and music by hunters’ masquerade name Alayehun) and merry-making.
During the prayers, each of the hunters brought out a kolanut and used it to offer prayers for themselves, their families and the community.
Afterwards, they settled down for refreshment. During this time also, the hunters’ masquerade, otherwise called the wife of the hunters “Iyawo Ode” whose local name is Alayehun, would emerge from his grove (Iyewu). He would sing Ijala (hunters’s praise song or panegrics) to entertain, dance and sing round the town while his colleagues, the hunters, would follow him. The one who acts the Alayehun does not go hunting as he is mainly an entertainer gifted in that aspect.
Olori Awo said: “The time we have this festival usually coincides with our market days. We hold market days every five days when farmers from all homes would bring their farm produce to sell.
“On this day, the Alayehun comes out two times, the first time which is early in the morning, he goes into the market to perform a ritual we call ‘Oloreja’, meaning that the masquerade visits the market while market women and men hand out small portions of their wares to him for prayers of a bountiful harvest in the future.
“When the evening comes like this, the same masquerade comes out for the final time. This time his coming out is entirely for merry-making and full of entertainment. He would sing folk songs of the hunters, what we call Ijala in Yoruba. All these songs are to praise the exploits of hunters and also massage our ego to do more.
“We have smaller settlements called ‘Aba’ under this town. They include Kutonu, Jakuta, Owajumu and Omooju. The hunters here are over 100. We hunters are very important to our society. Whenever there are strange happenings, or we suspect any crisis or chaos, or if there is an attack on farmlands, the hunters are always called upon by the town to bring peace. We understand the forest and whenever evil things are to be dealt with, we are usually called on.”
The Asipa Ode (hunters’ supervisor), Chief Joseph Osuntoyinbo, said: “As the Asipa Ode of this town, I mobilise all the hunters whenever the need arises for us to rescue the town from any emergency.
“We know what a hunter is worth during a ritual of gathering all the bones of animals that have been killed. A hunter who knows that he has killed a certain animal indicates it by carrying the calabash of palm wine placed beside the bones of such game.”
Pa Amos Babalola is the secretary of the hunters’ union in Omu-Ekiti: “We want to urge the government to plan towards compensating the hunters in all the towns. This is because it is we hunters who secure towns as we know all the nooks and cranny of every town we belong.”
Oba Adeyeye again: “They are the bedrock of this community. They feature prominently in the cultural festivals because we are renowned for having powerful hunters. A group of warriors founded the town, and today it is called a warriors’ plant. Everywhere you find a tree called Oro, it is the Omu people who plant it there. That is why they call us: ‘Omo Olomu Aperan, omo oloro agogo’, meaning we are hunters, and also plant trees that bear bell-like flowers.
“Actually, Olomu Olopuro founded this town. He was a prince who came from Ile-Ife. When the Oro grows it blossoms with flowers that resemble hand bells. Monarch of Omu is one of the earliest monarchs in the history of Yoruba and Ekiti particularly. Our warriors participated in most of the wars fought by our forefathers in Ekiti, Jalumi, Kiriji and the popular Ekiti Parapo war, which stopped in 1887.
“Then we have the Egbe Abobasuwa, which comprises women in the community who rally round the king to celebrate with him during cultural festivals like this.
“Our indigenes usually come home from the Diaspora and other places to celebrate and support community projects such as the new palace of the king that we are building on a day like this. We start the festival with special homage to our forebears and deity at the Owu mount, the highest mountain in the community where in the old days our forbears used to sacrifice a ram for the deity.
“Today, we just go there for prayers with some natural articles and on arrival everyone from all the quarters put on our celebration costumes, wine, dine and dance.”
The Oba lamented that the economic recession affected this year’s celebration: “The chairman for this occasion resides in London, his name is Olu Falade. He could not come home this year because the cost of dollar is too high. We are building a new palace for the monarch. In 1937, the palace of Olomu was burnt because there was rancour. That made some to abscond and go to found a town called Omu-Oke.
“I started to build the palace about five years ago from the proceeds I got from the celebration of my 10th year anniversary on the throne. I place the venue of the palace between Omu-Oke and Omu-Odo to settle the dispute between the two sister towns which led to the burning of the palace in 1937.
“We are making serious efforts to ensure that we complete the palace project in a short time. The governor has promised and so a few other individuals. Our people in the town are also helping and are contributing towards the projects. The palace is located on the Oba Owajumu Road between the two towns. We are about 5,000 from the last population exercise.
“We have about five huge farm settlements in this town. We are the food basket of Oye LG. We have many farm produce including eggs, yams and cassava. We need government assistance in our government health centre. We need a resident or visiting doctor. We have already built a three-bedroom flat for such a doctor and we are begging the governor on this, even if it would be a corps member doctor.
“We also need electricity. A debt of N6 million has been barring us from having power. Our only public water was commissioned by a military governor of the old Ondo State in 1978. The day after the commissioning we could not find any water from the tap till today.
“It has been the UNICEF providing us with boreholes which we have been managing. We need assistance for our farmers in terms of provision of agricultural machines such as tractors, harvesters and all that. We need more boreholes from government.”