Ugbo-Ilaje’s place in Yoruba history, by Oba Akinruntan
CONTRARY to claims by historians and some sections of oral tradition that the Ugbo people were driven away from Ile-Ife at the beginning of the Oduduwa Dynasty, the Olugbo and paramount ruler of the Ugbo-Ilaje people of the coastal stretch of Ondo State, said that his people left Ife out of their own volition.
The Ugbo-Ilaje, a sub-ethnic group of the larger Yoruba culture who presently occupy the country’s western coastline of the Atlantic ocean with fishing as the mainstay of their economic activities, have been confirmed by various historical sources and through living traditions to be the original inhabitants of Ile-Ife who had been living in the ancient community centuries before the arrival of Oduduwa and his people “from the East.”
Now occupying the bank of the “great waters”, the Ugbo-Ilaje, the only Yoruba grouping living in an aquatic environment with traditional spiritual links to the ocean through the worship of Malokun, the water deity which also signifies thir believe in the mightiness and richness of the vast ocean, the Ilaje are itinerant fishermen known for their seafaring exploits along the West African and Central African coastline.
The Olugbo, a First Class monarch, who resides at Ode-Ugbo, their ancestral home, reigns over about two hundred small kingdoms scattered along the 80-kilometer coastal stretch of Ondo State and to signify the uniqueness of the stool and the importance of fishing to the tradition of the people, the biggest fish, when caught, is always reserved for the Olugbo.
A recent disclosure in The Guardian by Ambassador Olu Agbi, a professor of History, in the wake of the controversy over the demise of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, had stated that the Ugbo people were forced to flee a land they had been occupying for centuries “because of the overbearing influence of Oduduwa against the aborigines.”
But the Olugbo, Oba Fredrick Obateru Akinruntan, told The Guardian while responding to the Agbi claim, that “it is true that we were the original inhabitants of Ife, but our history told us that we left, not because we were craven away but because the land was not fertile enough for our economic activities.”
The Olugbo who cited many authorities to back his claim, said the Moremi story, a historical narrative that is still being observed today in Ile-Ife as a festival, rather than confirm that the Ugbo people were driven away, only strengthen the fact that the original inhabitants were physically and spiritually stronger that the newcomers. According to Oba Akinruntan, “the Ugbo people were the original custodians of the spiritual art of divination through the Ifa oracle and it was the oracle that directed the inhabitants of Ife to leave the place and move southwards.
The raid on the Ife community that led to the sacrifice of Moremi’s son, Ela, confirmed that the original settlers were ahead of the newcomers in the art of warfare. ‘It was only through divine consultations that the Ife settlers were able to free themselves from the raids by the Ugbo people during which our forebears in Ugbo seized slaves and women from Ife. History taught us that the raids were as a result of the hostilities between the two groups back then in history.
“We were not driven out of Ife. Ifa and Osanyin deity directed that our ancestors should move southwards to the body of great waters because Ife was baren. Ugbo in our dialect means “this is where we are to stay” and we settled at Ode-Ugbo. “Oraife, a very important historical figure which has a shrine in Ife was the father of Osangangan Obamakin, the progenitor of the Ugbos and it is the same personality as Oranmaken who was the Olugbo when Moremi was carried off as a slave to Oke Maforanga, the war camp of the Ugbos which is located at a place near today’s Oke-Igbo.”
Relying on oral Ugbo palace tradition and current cultural linkages between the Ugbo and Ife, the Olugbo said “according to oral history, sixteen broad-chested men were always leading raids against Ife and when Moremi eventually made a deal and the raiding gang was busted when the secrets of their costumes leaked, seven of the raiders from Ugbo stayed back while nine found their way back to Ugbo. “Those who stayed back in Ife, till today, still maintained their Ugbo links and anytime that the Ugbo palace is celebrating anything, they always send representatives.
For instance, they are always present at my coronation anniversary to maintain a tradition that they have been observing for centuries. “As I speak to you, the old palace of the Ugbo is still at Iremo quarters of Ile-Ife and the people of the quarters they occupy in Ife could be found in Baba Sigidi, Obawinrin and Obagio. They are there and they still maintain their links with Ugbo.”
When asked the origin of the Ugbo people if the Oduduwa Dynasty came from another place, Olugbo said, “We are the original atewonro because our ancestors descended from heaven. Our story of creation must have been accredited wrongly to Oduduwa. We came from nowhere but heaven.
That is why part of our cognomen refers to us as “Ugbo Atorunwo”, meaning a people that descended from heaven.” To confirm the historical importance of the Ugbo stool and its history, Oba Akinruntan referred to the submission of Olukoya Ogen in a lecture delivered by the Professor of History titled “History, Politics and Ethnicity: A Critique of the Existing Canons of Yoruba Historiography”, where the Ugbo crown was described as the oldest in Yoruba land because it predated the Oduduwa Dynasty.
The Olugbo also referred, in his words “for emphasis” to the submission of the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Erediuawa in his book “I remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant” where the Benin monarch said the Ugbo people were “the ancient settlers at Ife” before they moved to their present day location and also referred the yearly ritual of reenactment of the movement of the Ugbo in Ife today.