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Ancient Ile-Ife kingdom

In the southern forested region of Nigeria, the largest centralized states were the kingdoms centered on Ile-Ife and Benin which emerged by 1500 CE and the origins of the Ife natives are lost in antiquity. According to Biobaku the town was probably founded between the 7th and 10th centuries AD; scholars opines that it had become a flourishing civilization by the 11th Century. Carbon-dating yielded from work of archaeologists appears to support these views, as it establishes that Ile Ife “was a settlement of substantial size between the 9th and 12th centuries” (Willett, 1971:367). It is suggested that the site of Ile–Ife was occupied as early as 350 B.C. and consisted of a cluster of hamlets; though little is known about the early occupants except for a city wall at Enuwa and later the construction of another outer city wall. Traditionally, Ile-Ife was divided into five quarters namely Iremo, Okerewe, Moore, Ilode and Ilare and within each quarter were compounds with family lineages . The traditional Ife kingdom, schematically, could be described as a wheel, with the Oba’s palace as the hub, from which roads radiated like spokes and in relation to which the en-framing town wall represented the rim (Krapf-Askari, 1969; Obateru, 2006). Ile–Ife is regarded therefore as the metropolis of old Yoruba. Ile-Ife is fabled as the spot where God created man, white and black and from whence they dispersed all over the earth. Though it is yet to be scientifically proven. Ile Ife is further regarded and believed to be the cradle of the world. The history of Ile Ife though unwritten is based on oral traditions and referred to as the original home of all things, the place where the day dawns; the holy city, the home of divinities and mysterious spirits.  It is however believed that the tradition of the world and of the origin of the peoples and their state centers on Ile Ife, the source whence all the major rulers of the then southern Nigeria derive the sanctions of their kingship where gods, shrines and festivals forms the center of religion.

 

Ile Ife  translated as the spreading of the earth with 'Ife' meaning ‘wide’ and the prefix 'Ile' meaning ‘home’ could refer to the creation of the whole world. Ile-Ife is further described as ‘the place where things spread out, where people left’. There are also suggestions that the present Ife town does not stand upon its original site due to difficulty in establishing a coherent account of the past of Ife. Despite the above suggestions Ile Ife is claimed to be the mother city whence all Yoruba people  hailed: this is apparent as each princedom were founded and situated few miles from the mother city. This myth provides the charter for the Yoruba people, providing them with a sense of unity through a common origin. Ile Ife in the Yoruba belief is the oldest of all the Yoruba towns given that it was from Ile Ife that all other towns were founded. The town provides the fundamental and continuity of great deal of identity conceptualization for the modern Yoruba with it's role as a center from which Yoruba culture emanates and a place for validation of Yoruba authority. There was a monarch called Ogane who reigned in ancient Ife whom modern scholars have identified as the Ooni of IfeThe Ooni or Onife is regarded as the spiritual head of the Yoruba whose influence was not confined to his own kingdom but was also exercised over other Yoruba kingdoms through the sanctions of kinship and by ancient constitutional devices. The Ooni is believed to be a sacred being because he sits on the throne of Oduduwa at Ile-Ife.

 

The Ikedu tradition, though unpublicised is the oldest Ife tradition portraying the origin of the Yoruba people and it is clear from this tradition that Oduduwa did not belong to this early period of the emergence of the Yorubas’ as a distinct language group.  Okelola  acknowledges that it is hard to establish when the city of Ile-Ife was founded but recognises that Oduduwa was the first King of Ile Ife Kingdom. There are suggestions that there were between ninety three to ninety seven kings who reigned at Ile-Ife before Oduduwa led his people to Ile-Ife. This was confirmed by the archeological evidence unearthed in and around Ile-Ife which dated back to 410 B.C that proves the possibility of human settlement before the advent of Oduduwa. Oduduwa though credited for the establishment of a centralised state at Ife is suggested to have encountered indigenous peop,le in the region. This centralised state formed by Oduduwa has contributed to the Kingdom of Ile-Ife being the strong hold of indigenous worship as well as the spiritual headquarters of the Yoruba Kingdom.

 

Contemporary city of Ile-Ife

The city of Ile-Ife today sits in what is today Osun State in southern Nigeria located on the longitude 4.6N and 7.5°N, surrounded by hills and is about fifty miles (80.467kms) to Ibadan and Osogbo. The city popularly known to as Ile-Ife and the people are referred to as 'Ife' who also refer to the town as 'Ife' or 'Ilurun' which means ‘the gateway to heaven’ (Eluyemi 1986:16). Confirmed to be situated on the site of ancient Ile Ife due to the location of the seven brass castings excavated from the ancient Ife sites which were in corresponding stratigraphic positions confirming that a settlement of substantial size existed there between the ninth and twelfth centuries (Willet, 1967). He also confirmed that the terracotta sculpture and lost wax (cire-perdue) castings were made there from early in the present millennium. Ile-Ife’s prominence in the ritual system like 'Ifa' and 'Ijala' has helped in preserving the city’s significance in Yoruba culture despite its political decline.