- Category: Femi Fani-Kayode
- Published on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 22:26
- Written by Femi Fani-Kayode
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In his book titled ''Ile-Ife-The Source of Yoruba Civilisation'', Prince Adelegan Adegbola said that ''the yoruba are the progeny of great kingship, efficient kingdom-builders and astute rulers.
Painting: A Yoruba Family
They have been enjoyong for centuries a well-organized pattern of society, a pattern which persists basically in spite of all the changes resulting from modern contacts with the western world. Their kings have, from a very long past, worn costly beaded crowns and wielded royal scepters. No one remembers the time when the yoruba people have not worn clothes. Their character of dignity and integrity is an ancient one. In reality, the yoruba claim to be descendants of a great ancestor. There is no doubt at all that they have been a great race. They are, and they appear in some ways to be detrimentally over-concious of their great ancestry and long, noble traditions.....the yoruba are one of the most researched races in the world.
According to Professor S.O. Arifalo, by 1976 the available ''literature on the yoruba'' despite many omissions numbered 3,488 items. These vast amount of works are quite substantial and unrivalled in sub-saharan Africa. Also the artefacts showed that the yoruba were intelligent, complex and wealthy people whose art and technological skills were unsurpassed in pre-historic Africa. Almost everything we know about the yoruba people comes from Ile-Ife.'' Adegbola is absolutely right and his research into the history of the yoruba and the various yoruba kingdoms is simply outstanding. His findings certainly puts a lie to the controversial assertion made by Sir Hugh Trevor-Roper, one of the best-known and most respected historians that ever lived, who once said that ''the history of Africa is darkness, nothing but darkness''. Nothing could be further from the truth and it is clear to me that this Englishman, despite his outstanding credentials, knew next to nothing about our rich and long history, heritage and culture which, in my view, was far more advanced and goes back for thousands of years more than even his. In this essay I will make my own contributions to the debate and I will concentrate primarily on the pre-historic era of the yoruba (before the coming of Oduduwa to Ile-Ife and before the establishment of the great kingdoms and princely states), their origins as a people and their migratorary patterns.
There are many different theories about it's history and meaning but no definative and conclusive consensus has ever been established about the source of this strange word. This really is very a deep and unsettling mystery. For all we know it could even be an ancient insult. That is why I have always preferred to be referred to as an ''ife'' rather than a ''yoruba''. Another question that is often asked is why did our forefathers indulge in all the mass migrations from first Mecca and Medina, then to Egypt, then to Borno and then finally to the plains and forests of what was to become, thousands of years later, the western region of modern-day Nigeria in sub-saharan west Africa west? Well my own personal theory is that the reason that our forefathers kept having to emigrate until we found somewhere of our own was because we refused to give up our pagan beliefs and practices and when islam was eventually introduced or took full root in all the areas that we once settled our forefathers were no longer comfortable there and they must have suffered all manner of persecution for their tenacity to their ancient pagan and ''ifa'' faith and practices.
Whatever the reasons for the the mass migrations may have been it is clear that the influences of paganism, their traditional faith of ''ifa'' worship, the Egyptians, the Nubians, the Sudanese, the Middle Easterners and the Kanuris is very strong amongst the yoruba, their music, their language and their culture till today. The religious faiths of islam and christianity both came much later and were both established primarily through the strong trade links that existed between the yoruba and the north-western hausa/fulani caliphate from the north, the Turkish traders of the Ottoman empire of the southern Atlantic coast from the south, the primarily Portugese and European sailors and traders who plied that same southern Atlantic coast from the south and finally with the strong efforts of the christian missionaries of both the Anglican and Catholic churches respectively. Both of these two great monotheic faiths of christianity and islam eventually took full root in the land and in the hearts and minds of the yoruba people whilst paganism, the worship of ''ifa'' and the practice of our original and more traditional faith was eventually pushed to the back seat even though initially, and for hundreds of years, they were both fiercely resisted. That is why, till today, it is very rare to find a yoruba family that does not have christians, muslims and adherents of the more traditional and ancient tribal faiths in their ranks. The slow and massive migration of our forefathers from the Middle East, north Africa and north-eastern Nigeria to our own homelands in the south-west are why the yoruba, together with the various tribes and people in what is presently known as ''mid-western'' and ''northern Nigeria'' are generally speaking known as the ''Sudanese Nigerians'' whilst the various tribes and people from the rest of southern Nigeria, which comprises of the igbo race and the people of the Niger-Delta area are generally known as the ''Bantu Nigerians''. The history of the Sudanese Nigerians is far more entrenched and better aquainted with the running and administration of extreemly large and powerful, culturally diverse, cosmopolitan and sophisticated empires that stretched across thousands of miles of different territories and civilisations and that have conquered many lesser peoples in the past than that of the Bantus whose only experience and knowledge of ancient empire is limited to a few relatively small yet notable kingdoms and coastal settlements in what is presently known as Nigeria's Niger-Delta area. As for the Bantus of the igbo eastern region, who are originally of jewish stock, they have absolutely no history of kingship, organised hierachial structures or empire at all but they were essentially republican in nature and they were a collection of village and forest communities that were bound together only by their common language, their ancient heritage and their noble traditions. Outside of the royal kings of Onitsha and Asaba to have kings and chiefs amongst the igbo is a relatively new phenomenon which certainly does not pre-date the last 150 years. It was when the British colonialists arrived in the east that they appointed ''warrant chiefs'' amongst and for them.
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