History of Yorubas – Early History of Yoruba
The Yoruba people’s origins are shrouded in mystery. The most widely accepted versions, like the early history of most nations, are mostly mythical. Because the people are illiterate and the language is unwritten, all they know comes from carefully passed down traditions.
The historians are certain families ordained by the King at Oyo, and the office is hereditary. These historians are famous as the King’s bards, drummers, and cymbalists. They are the source of any reliable information we now possess, but, as one might expect, their accounts often differ in several important details.
We can’t do much more than convey the widely acknowledged customs.
The Yorubas claim to have descended from Lamurudu, one of Mecca’s rulers, whose descendants included: Oduduwa, the Yoruba progenitor, the Kings of Gogobiri, and Kukawa, two Hausa tribes.
Since their separation and the distance between their respective localities, these two nations retain the same distinctive tribal marks on their faces, and Yoruba travelers and vice versa are free to travel among them, each recognising the other as one blood.
It is uncertain how long Lamurudu ruled, but based on the tales of the revolution among his successors and their dispersal, it appears to have been some time after Mahomet.
We give the accounts as they are related:
During his father’s reign, Crown Prince Oduduwa relapsed into idolatry, and because of his position of power, he attracted a large following.
His goal was to convert the state religion to paganism, so he turned the city’s big mosque into an idol temple, and Asara, his priest, who was also an image-maker, adorned it with idols.
Asara had a son named Braima, who was raised as a Muslim. He worked as a salesperson of his father’s idols during his childhood, a career he despised but had no choice but to do.
But when he offered his father’s art for sale, he frequently solicited purchasers by asking, “Who would purchase falsehood?”
This is a foreshadowing of what the boy will become in the future. A royal decree was issued under the influence of the Crown Prince, instructing all males to “go out hunting for three days before the yearly celebration of the festivals performed in honor of these gods.”
When Braima was of age, he took advantage of one of these people’s absences from the town to tear down the gods responsible for the desecration of the sacred mosque.
The ax used to destroy the carved statues was left strung on the neck of the main idol, which was a life-sized representation of a man.
It was established who the iconoclast was, and when he was approached, he offered answers identical to those given by Gideon’s son Joash when he was accused of having committed an iconoclastic deed (see Judges vi, 28-33).
At this point, Braima commented, “Interrogate that colossal idol and find out who did it.”
When asked if he could talk, the guys answered, “Is he mentally capable?”
When Braima asked him that, Antwan said, “Then, why do you adore beings who cannot speak?”
For his heinous crime, he was condemned to be instantly burned alive.
A large pile of wood was gathered for a stake, along with many oil containers for use in the fire.
This marked the beginning of a civil war.
Although both of the groups had supporters of great strength, the Moors (a term that means “people of the book,” as Muslims believe they are followers of the same book like Jews and Christians), which had heretofore been oppressed, gained the upper hand and vanquished their opponents.
The death of King Lamurudu shocked the entire community, and all his children, their friends, and their supporters were all driven out.
The Gogobiri princes, who became King of Gogobiri and Kukawa, moved in two directions: west to Gogobiri and East to Oduduwa.
It took 90 days to journey from Mecca to Ile Ife, and then the explorer arrived in the town where he met the originator of Ifa worship, Agbo-niregun (or Setilu).
Oduduwa and his children had fled to Ile Ife with two idols.
Sahib, who was dispatched with an army to destroy or subdue them, was defeated, and among the victors’ loot was a copy of the Koran.
This was then maintained in a temple and was not only revered as a sacred relic by subsequent generations but is still worshiped to this day under the name Idi, which means bound.
This is the widely accepted explanation among these brilliant but illiterate people. However, flaws in this tradition are readily apparent.
The Yorubas are undoubtedly not members of the Arabian family and could not have come from Mecca—that is, the Mecca that is universally known in history; no such accounts as those above are to be found in the records of Arabian writers of any Mecca kings; an event of such magnitude could hardly have gone unnoticed by their historians.
However, it may be assumed that all such stories and traditions have some foundation in facts, and the issue under consideration is not an exception to this general norm, as will become evident upon a closer examination of the accounts.
There can be little question that the Yorubas originated in the East, as their habits, manners, and rituals attest.
The East is Mecca to them, and Mecca is the East.
With strong links to the East and Mecca in the East looming big in their imaginations, everything that comes from the East comes from Mecca for them, and therefore it is logical for them to portray themselves as having originated in that place.
The sole written record on this subject is Sultan Belo of Sokoto, the city’s founder and one of the most knowledgeable, if not the most powerful, Fulani sovereigns to govern in the Soudan.
Captain Clapperton (Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa, 1822–1824) met this King.
Capt. Clapperton created a lengthy extract from a significant geographical and historical work he wrote, from which the following is extracted:— “Yarba is a vast province that is home to rivers, woods, sands, and mountains, as well as a plethora of extraordinary creatures. It contains the talking green bird known as babaga (parrot).”
“Along the eastern border of this province is an anchorage or harbor for Christian ships that used to visit and acquire slaves. These slaves were exported from our nation and sold to the Yarba tribe, who then sold them to Christians.”
“The residents of this province (Yarba) are believed to be descendants of the remainder of Canaan’s offspring, who was of the clan of Nimrod. Their founding in Western Africa occurred, as claimed, due to their being pushed out of Arabia by Yar-rooba, son of Kahtan, to the Western Coast between Egypt and Abyssinia. They proceeded from there into the interior of Africa, eventually settling at Yarba. They left a tribe of their own people in each location they stopped. Thus, it is assumed that all of the Soudan’s mountain tribes and the residents of Ya-ory are descended from them.
To be continued…