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The History of Owa Obokun and the Formation of Ijesa, By Omoba Toyin Akingbade

Ijesa was “founded in 1350 by Owaluse, a grandson of Ajibogun Ajaka (Ubiquitous Warrior) Owa Obokun Onida Arara, one of the most accomplished son of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race of South-Western Nigeria and Benin Republic.”  Ijesha, as a historic town is one of the oldest settlements in Yorubaland. Other tradition among the Ijesa themselves also traces the origin of the Ijesas state to a younger son of Oduduwa called Obokun (Owa’s ancestor), in commemoration of an occasion on which he fetched sea water to cure his father’s blindness. Obokun then settled in what was to become Ijesaland. He found, like other founding heroes, pre-existing political structures including a confederacy of five towns in the Obokun area. Obokun himself is so central to the Ijesas that they call themselves Omo Obokun (Children of Obokun)
Owa Obokun Adimula Ajibogun, after fetching the ocean waters (Omi Okun) to heal the old-age blindness of his father Odua Olofin-Aye and who through conquest captured many territories including the vast territory known today as Ijesaland. It is worthy of mention that the capital of Ijesaland is dictated by which ever place the Owa Obokun Adimula chooses as his seat of government. Ajibogun ruled Ile-Ife a short while, leaving vestiges of rulership in monumental words like “Enuwa”, Mode Owa” and so on. After conquering many territories in the whole of North Eastern Yorubaland, he established his imperial government at Iddo Omupetu and after a while at Igbadae. His successor, Owa Obokun Adimula Owaka Okile moved to Ilowa – Owa’s city. Okile’s successor, Owa Obokun Adimula Obarabara Olokuneshin, who was the FATHER OF PRINCE LAROOYE GBADEWOLU, THE FIRST ATAOJA OF OSOGBO, moved the seat of government to Ilemure, now known as Ibokun. His successor Owa Obokun Adimula Owari moved it to Ilekete and later Ipole. Owa Obokun Adimula Owaluse established Ilesa, which is today the royal capital city of Ijesaland in the fifteenth century.
Owa Obokun Adimula Owaluse transformed and reshaped the Ijesa traditional government which gave room to military supervision which took after the role of Ajaka, Ajibogun’s commander-in-chief of the Ijesa Armed forces. Owa Obokun Adimula Atakunmosa succeeded Owaluse in 1526.
The Ijesha territory is adjoined by the Ekiti on the east, the Igbomina to the north, the Ife to the south, and the Oyo and Ibolo to the west.
Ijesa history has a varied accounts based on myth and historical accounts. According to the first account by Samuel Johnson the Ijesa people used to reside in Ile Ife prior to the reign of Sango. It is said that Ijesa people were “slaves were purchased and located in the district of Ibokun ; there they were tended as cattle, under the care of Owaju, and from them selections were made from time to time for sacrificial purposes; hence the term Ijesa from Ije Orisa (the food of the gods). Hence the saying “Ijesa Omo Owaju ti ife opo iyk ” (Ijesas children of Owaju, subject to much sufferings).
It is believe that this particular history accounts for large number of Ijesa enslaved people of Ilesa getting shipped to slavery in South America especially Brazil, and the Caribbeans.
Johnson (1921)  recounted that “There is also a legend that when the nations began to disperse from Ile Ife and members of the Royal Family were appointed kings and rulers in diverse places, a young and brave scion of the house was appointed the first Owa or king over the Ijesas, but that he returned to the alafin and complained that his territory was too small, and his subjects few, the sire there upon ordered a large bundle of sticks to be brought to him, and these sticks he converted into human beings for the Owa, in order to increase the number of his subjects. Hence to this day the Ijesas are often termed by their neighbours ” Qmo igi ” (offspring of sticks !)”
Whatever be the case it can be clearly seen that the ancestors of Ijesa people migrated from Ile ife to their present location in Osun State. Ilesha traditi
ons hold that the site of Ilesha was already occupied by scattered settlements of an aboriginal population, the most important being identified with today’s Okesa, the long street running west-east along Ilesha’s spine, whose leader is regarded as the ancestor of Ogedengbe, The Obanla of Ijeshaland.
Ilesha became an important and major Yoruba military centre in the campaigns against Ibadan, 60 miles (97 km) west-Southwest in the 19th-century Yoruba civil wars. A leading member of a confederacy known as the Ekitiparapo meaning ‘Ekiti together’. This combined forces of the Ijesa and Ekiti was formed to fight for the independence of their people.
In 1817 a long series of civil wars began in the Oyo Empire in which hundreds of people died; they lasted until 1893 (when Britain intervened), by which time the empire had disintegrated completely.
The Ijesha people used to have a big territory but lost some portions of it to their neighbours during various conflicts and wars of the nineteenth and preceding centuries. The Ijesa was ruled by a monarch bearing the title of Owa Obokun Adimula of Ijesaland. The state of Ilesa consisted of Ilesa itself and a number of smaller surrounding towns like people of Oke-Ako, Irele, Omuo-Oke speak a dialect similar to Ijesha.
Some of the popular towns of the Ijesa are Ibokun, Erin Ijesa, Ipetu Jesa, Ijebu Jesa, Esa-Oke, Ipole, Ifewara, Ijeda,Iloko-ijesa, Iwara, Iperindo, Erinmo, Iwaraja, Idominasi, Ilase, Igangan, Imo, Eti-oni,Iboku, Erin-Ijesa, Ibodi and many others.
The Ijesas are very good in commerce and have cut a niche for themselves as the architects of ‘Osomaalo’ business in Nigeria. The appellation was originally considered as a term of abuse to characterize the aggressive Ijesa textile traders. The word ‘Osomaalo’ is tied to the process of debt collection. It means ‘I will not sit until I have collected my money,’ showing an inflexible determination to succeed in the face of all odds. This  popular trading method allows customers to pay for goods in installments.
Ijesa military prowess is summed up in this war song “Ijesha ree arogun yooo..ye so’gbodo fowo kan omo obokun ri a……” “An old Yoruba community, Ilesha was an important and major military centre in the campaigns against Ibadan, 60 miles (97 km) west-Southwest in the 19th-century Yoruba civil wars. A leading member of a confederacy known as the Ekitiparapo meaning ‘Ekiti together’. This combined forces of the Ijesa and Ekiti towns like Ikole , Ijero, Otun-Moba, Aramoko and other Ekiti smallers towns expect Ado and Ikere (who were engaged in war with Bini at the period) was formed to fight for the independence of their people. The town has a memorial to Ogedengbe, an Ijesa warrior-leader who died in 1910. Ogedengbe played a vital role during the kiriji war of the 19th century, which prevented Ilesa and other towns from being conquered and dominated by Ibadan and other powerful regions.
Language
Ijesa people speak a Central Yoruba dialect (Yoruboid language) that belongs to the larger Niger-Congo language group. Ijesa dialect is akin to the adjoining  Yagba, Igbomina, Ifẹ, Ekiti, Akurẹ, Ẹfọn, and Ijẹbu areas that are classified under Central Yoruba dialects of the larger Yoruboid languages.
The state of Ilesa (Ile ti a sa which means a homeland we chose),the traditional Headquarters of Ijesaland and the capital of the first Local Council in Nigeria (Ijesa/Ekiti Parapo Council) named by the British Colonial Administrator on 21 June 1900 comprising the present day Ondo and Ekiti States of Nigeria.  POPULATION: 310,000.
The major traditional deities unique to the Ijesa are Orisa Onifon, which is prevalent to the North West of Ijesaland, Ogun which is very significant and celebrated with grandeur annually by all Ijesas, culminating into the Iwude Festival. Ifa-Orunmila, Arampe and Osun are also very important deities in Ijesaland.
The “OSOOMALO” sole entrepreneurialbusiness menwith high transactional fortune acumen spread their activities and interest like wild fire into the nooks and crannies of Nigeria and beyond. Osoo
malo trade is one of the greatest contributions of Ijesas to the world of commerce, trade, industry and banking. The Osoomalo migrants became very influential in their abode of business and saw the prospect in education and sent their children and wards to school. It was their practice to visit home at least twice in a year, contribute to the development of their homestead in terms of cash. The emergence of the Cocoa trade which a lot of Ijesas took part in cannot be wished away. Ijesas took the lead and massively reaped the gains of western education.
PAST IJESHA RULERS
There are four royal houses amongst which accession to the throne is supposed to be rotated: Biladu, Bilagbayo, Bilaro and Bilayirere.
Past Rulers have been as follows:
Owa Ajibogun –
Owa Owaka Okile
Owa Obarabara Olokun Eshin
Owa Owari 1466 – 1522
Owa Owaluse 1522 – 1526
Owa Atakunmosa 1526 – 1546
Yeyelagagba 1588 – 1590
Yeyegunrogbo 1588 – 1590
Owa Biladu I 1652 – 1653
Owa Biladu II 1653 – 1681
Yeyewaji 1681 –
Owa Bilaro 1681 – 1690
Owa Bilayiarere 1691 – 1692
Owa Bilagbayo 1713 – 1733
Yeyeori 1734 – 1749
Ori Abejoye 17.. – …
Owa Bilajagodo “Arijelesin” … – …
Owa Bilatutu “Otutu bi Osin” 1772 – 1776
Owa Bilasa “Asa abodofunfun” 1776 – 1788
Owa Akesan 1788 – 1795
Owa Bilajara 1… – 1807
Ogbagba 1807–1813
Obara “Bilajila” 1813–1828
Owa Odundun 1828–1833
Gbegbaaje 1833–1839
Ariyasunle (1st time) -Regent 1839
Owa Ofokutu 1839–1853
Ariyasunle (2nd time) -Regent 1853
Owa Aponlose 1858 –1867
Owa Alobe 1867–1868
Owa Agunlejika I 1868 – 1869
1871 Vacant 4 Jun 1870 –
Owa Oweweniye(1st time) 1871–1873
Vacant 1873
Oweweniye (2nd time) 1873–1875
Owa Adimula Agunloye-bi-Oyinbo “Bepolonun 1875 – 1893
Owa Alowolodu Mar 1893 – Nov 1894
Vacant Nov 1894 – Apr 1896
Owa Ajimoko I Apr 1896 – Sep 1901
Owa Ataiyero [Atayero] 1901–1920
Owa Aromolaran 1920–1942
Ajimoko “Haastrup” -Regent 1942 – 10 Sep 1942
Ajimoko II “Fidipote” 10 Sep 1942 – 18 Oct 1956
J. E. Awodiya -Regent 18 Oct 1956 – 1957
Owa Biladu III “Fiwajoye” 1957 – Jul 1963
.Ogunmokun… -Regent Jul 1963 – 1966
Owa Agunlejika II 1966–1981
Owa Gabriel Adekunle Aromolaran II 1982 – ?
 Ijesa history is such that one can properly put into three major perspectives: the monarchy/royalty, war-lordship and assertiveness all encompassed in effective leadership. One cannot but mention the bravery and gallantry of great Ijesa Heroes Seriki Ogedengbe Agbogungboro and his lieutenants like Fabunmi Oraralada of Okemesi, Obe, Okunade Arimoro, Ogunmodede, Fapohunda, Jowo-jori Onigbogi, Ogunlae Dagunduro and host of other Ijesas who fought the overzealous Ibadans led by Aare Latosa to a standstill at Kiriji in Imesi-Ipole during the Intra-Yoruba ethnic civil war. Ogedengbe and Fabunmi led the Ijesa, Ekiti and Igbomina Allied Forces to save the whole of the Yoruba nation from the dominance of the Ibadans.
The great  Yoruba man of history
OGEDENGBE (AGBOGUN GBORO) OF IJESHA LAND!
General Ogedengbe Agbogungboro, The Commander-in-Chief of the Ekiti-parapo Army-The Yorubaland Kiriji War of 1877-1892.
Balogun Ogedengbe Agbogun gboro of Ijesaland was Born as Orisarayibi Ogundamola, (His passion for leadership earned him the appellation Ogedengbe).
He was born in 1822 to Apasan Borijiwa and Juola Orisatomi, and his birth according to Yoruba history coincided with the annual Ogun festival.
Aponlese 1, was the Owa of Ilesha at the time the young leader to be born. It was customary for the Owa during this Ogun festival to invite all the ‘babalawos’ (medicine men) in the Ijesha territory to come and predict what will be the outcome of the new year to come.
It was at this meeting that one particular ‘babalawo’ predicted that on an ‘Isegun’ day in 1822, a child will be born in the land, and he will deliver the Ijesha people from its oppressor(s).
And when the day came the Owa sent all his servants to all ‘igberikos’ and as predicted by the ‘babalawo’, Ogedengbe was the only baby who was said to be seen born on that day. After the naming ceremony, he was carried from his father’s house in Ijoka Ilesha to Atorin his mother’s vi
llage, about 24 kilometres away from Ilesha township.
History has it that Atorin, towards the end of the 18th century consisted of only six to eight huts and an average estimation of 40 people. Cut away from the Ijesha town, Atorin was a very poor village with a tiny connecting route to Ilesha town.
Because of the circumstance surrounding his birth and the plan of the Owa to keep a close eye on the young Ijesha savior, it was said that he was pampered and loved by his parents, and he was still breast-feeding at the age of seven. Growing up, the young Ogedengbe was a rascal, known for his rude attitude toward old people, and he had the very strange habit of calling his parents by their first name with no care.
Such was his wild behavior before the age of fifteen when he went on a voluntary exile, because of the personal assault he encountered in a woman called ‘Salakenu’ a villager in Atorin reputable for her witchcraft.
He later fled to Ilesha where he was received by his father and close associate. Due to his rascal attitude and restlessness, he found a common cause with a popular age group called the “Ipaye” which had an age range of 15-24 years. At 17, Ogedengbe was elected the deputy leader of the group. As a socio-political unit in Ilesha then, the “Ipaye” was responsible for cutting and fixing public buildings like the Palace, the shrine, Market stalls, building and repairing of roads and making sure orderliness prevailed in the town then. It was from this group that Ogedengbe was catapulted into political limelight.
At about the age of 35, around 1857, Ogedengbe decided to get married to a beautiful young Ijesha woman called “Orisaleke” but the parents of the girl opposed the marriage, simply because of Ogedengbe’s lifestyle, which was considered wild and reckless then.
Ogedengbe being who he was, forcibly took the girl from her parents’ house damning the consequences. The matter was later reported to the Owa, and Ogedengbe was sentenced to three months in prison.
After his release, quite a number of incidents sprung up that turned the young Ijesha man into a full war general. Not only that, but one of the greatest in Yoruba land. One was the liberation of villages surrounding Ekiti (Efon, Itaawure, and Oke-Mesi) from their Ibadan oppressor, and also the 1867 attack on Igbajo by llesha and a reverse attack on Ilesha by Ibadan, which forced the collapse of the Ijesha army and the flight of Ogedegbe to Ita-Ogbolu.
And as time went on, his powers and popularity were growing fast. Apart from his reckless, diplomatic and commanding leadership, Ogedengbe was also said to have possessed great magical powers, which came into full limelight during and after the Ekitiparapo war. His encounters with Ibadan also proved the general in him.
The first was in 1864 when he was captured while assisting in the defense of Ilara against the Ibadan troops, and the second time was in 1867 when he was captured during the Igbajo war. It was during this war a young Ibadan soldier severed Ogedengbe’s head off during the war, and the Ijesha general staggered back, rolled, picked up the fallen head and fixed it back on his body.
This made his enemies terrified of his person. After this incident, he was captured by Ibadan’s own General Bashorun Ogunmola, who decided to humiliate Ogedengbe by disfiguring his face with Ibadan tribal marks, hoping someone will later take him for an Ibadan man and kill him, but this didn’t happen. Ogedengbe learnt a lot of military tactics, secrets and trainings while in captive in Ibadan. These two occasions brought out the “general” in Ogedengbe.
During the Ekitiparapo war, it was said that Ogedengbe would stay in his house and fire arrows from his room to the battle field, he was also known for his random disappearing acts, which made him difficult to kill by his enemies.
Known for his diplomatic and charismatic attitude, he was also a fond addict of the native sniff called “taba”. Being a war general, he didn’t trust people for fear of being poisoned, so most times he normally sent his dog on erran
ds to the market.
At that time in Ilesha, the sight of the dog was abnormal because no one had ever seen a dog as tall and huge like that before. Eye witness account says the dog was similar to a wild beast, while walking on the road, people ran at the sight of the dog. He normally tied a sack of cowries and samples of what he wants to buy around the dog’s neck, and the dog goes to the market and walks straight to the ‘Iya Loja’s’ tent.
The ‘Iya Loja’’ is the female head chief of the market. The woman unties the rag around the dog’s neck, fills it with the required goods and the dog returns to its owner. And as the dog returns to its owner, the house owner of every house it passes must greet the dog saying, “ L’o gun ofe oooo”. Any house owner who doesn’t salute the dog will be reported to Ogedengbe. Mysteriously, the dog disappeared after Ogedengbe died.
After the Ekitiparapo war and the great trouble periods in the history of Yoruba land, Ogedengbe settled back in Ilesha, but his band of war boys could not contain themselves to the new peaceful atmosphere, they went raiding people, harassing and kidnapping innocent citizens.
This prompted Captain R.L Bower to arrest the war general in 1894 with his friend Prince Fabunmi, the Owa of Ilesha. Frederick Haastrup pleaded passionately for the release of Ogedengbe and after much begging to Governor Carter, he was released after a lengthy sum of £6,000.00 were posted for his bail.
Ogedengbe was conferred with a chieftaincy title of Obanla of Ilesha in 1898, thus the highest mark for his gallant achievements in the Kiriji/Ekitiparapo war. The restless, reckless and powerful Ogedengbe now after so many years of war and fights, now became a respectable chief and his service was now to the people.
Ogedengbe was no doubt one of the greatest war generals who ever lived in Yoruba land. His great wisdom and diplomatic war-like manners saw the Yoruba through the Ekitiparapo war. A real war master, his study of war tactics and war weaponry were second to none. A straight-forward man who always kept to his promises.
The Ijesha people will forever continue to cherish his memory. A cenotaph was erected for him at the Obokungbusi Town Hall. And the Ogedengbe Memorial School in Ilesha is a monumental masterpiece in his memory. Till this day, he remains the greatest warrior in Ijesha land, Hence this praise song.
  • Excerpts from the book: Yoruba  Kingdoms and Lineages, by Prince Toyin Akingbade (Pages 82-87)
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