By Adewale Adeoye
125 years after the end of one of the world’s longest civil wars, South-west states bring back Ekiti Parapo War (1770-1886) through a stage play that hopes to relight the spirit of hate with a new found love.
Do Africans really have an affluent history? Do we have a past that established some sense of struggle for human ethics? Perhaps, these are some of the propelling factors that have stirred the conscience of the current South-west governors. Next weekend, the states plan the stage performance of Kiriji, a distinctive attempt to rekindle ancient intra-ethnic rivalry which invariably led to long-lasting peaceful co-existence among the Yoruba people.
There are plans to invest the returns from gate fees in the proposed Africa’s first indigenous Museum of War history, an official in Ekiti State said on Tuesday.
The source stated that on September 23, exactly 125 years after the Yoruba leaders signed armistice for peace 1886 in Lagos , political leaders and traditional rulers in the entire South-west would converge on Ekiti for the extraordinary event that appears to be largely responsible for bringing some sense of solidarity in the entire Yoruba country.
Even though stories about the war are fading like stars at dawn, yet, for most aged Nigerians, especially Yoruba people in their 90s, September 23 is not just statistics, but a date that leaves an enduring footprint. If you are in doubt, Pa Omiekun Adekunle, 92, serves as a living pathway to the rediscovery of one of history’s most chilling story of brutal repression by a once dominant and awe-inspiring Ibadan Empire and the heroic resistance of a people against a superior force, that was later brought on its knees, through share determination, bravery and valour.
Though Pa Adekunle was not a soldier in the Ekiti Parapo War, which began in 1770, between a terrifying Ibadan military might and other Yoruba sub-tribes tagged Ekiti Parapo, his father was a marksman in the Yoruba civil war that lasted for 16 years, and Adekunle said he holds on his palms the “raw, true account of the war” as handed over to him by his father. This reporter visited his village, Irele_Ekiti, a small community surrounded by lurch green mountains and rocky hills, located North east of Ikole_Ekiti, on Monday.
The community of mainly agrarian locals played a critical role on the side of the allied forces. Munching a piece of white kolanut sourced from his dingy, ancient pouch, he said, with a toothy grin: “My father played a significant role in Kiriji War, my uncle also belonged to the secret service in the war.” He said his people fought for 16 years, in one of the longest wars history has ever encountred.
“We fought with determination to free the entire Yorubaland from the domineering influence of a unitary government led by Ibadan”, he added, pointing to a mountain top in the center of the village where thousands of military officers of Ibadan origin were said to have been massacred and later buried. He said that in the 1930s, the skeletal remains of the soldiers could still be found littering the mountain top. Palaake was the name of the military commander said to have led the uprising around 1780 against the Ibadan invasion.
The Chief of Staff to Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, Mr Yemi Adaramodu, who chairs the committee working on the project, had a breakfast chat with this writer last week. He said, “The celebration of Kiriji is not just about history’s longest civil war, it is also about culture, science, inventions of our great grandfathers. It’s about the culture of resistance against injustice and it’s about a long history of struggle for an egalitarian society.”
The revival of the venture, according to Adaramodu, involves different stages: the stage performance of Kiriji, starring notable artistes like Dele Odule, Fatai Oodua, Ojo Pagogo, Karan and many others; the setting up of the Museum of War History and the production of the film on Kiriji. He said generations of modern Yoruba people may not really understand what Kiriji is all about.
“Our people read more of western history as if we do not have history. We know more about Napoleon Bonaparte without realizing that we had a General Latoosa, Ogedengbe, Ogboriefon and many others.” The Ekiti State commissioner for culture and tourism, Alhaji Ayodele Junaid, said, : “Our people do not know that Yoruba people had scientists that invented several great items before the coming of Europeans.”
An official in Oyo State said that “the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, victory in the South West is not all about his political victory, but also about cultural revival and the recall of lost values. Kiriji will do just that. The Special Adviser on Regional Integration with the Lagos State government, Rev Adetunji Adebiyi, said that his state “is delighted to host the stage performance” adding that it was significant that the peace treaty by the Yoruba tribes was signed in Lagos.
The question still lingers: What does Kiriji mean and what really is the significance of the war? Long before the coming of Europeans, the Yoruba people had a rich, wealthy system of government backed with a strong, time tested military machine that at one time was said to be in the range of 10 divisions (about 150,000 soldiers), almost the size of Nigerian armed forces today, which was mainly controlled by the Aare Ona Kakanfo( Field Marshal and Commander of the Armed Forces).
However, around 1769, the Oyo Empire, which was the most fearsome government in Yorubaland, had been faced with deepening cleavages, pitching the military institution against the political class. There were, also, growing disenchantment among the Yoruba sub_tribes, against the unitary system of government. The sub_tribes wanted a federal system with a loose centre, prompting bottled up grievances against the Are, who preferred a command structure.
In his book, History of The Yoruba, the late Rev Samuel Johnson wrote on the war: “The Are at this time exhibited some of the worst phases of human nature at such a pitch of glory, his words being law to all Ibadan and its dependencies, he became the dupe of his flatterers; he considered himself a god and that nothing was impossible for him to effect. He certainly thought he could make a short and easy work of the task before him.”
Ibadan soldiers were reputed to be fierce and highly skilled in infantry and night pitch battles. At that period, this reporter gathered, the art of war was a science. For instance, the then soldiers studied the movement of antelope, leopards and the flight of birds to determine the level of preparedness of on-coming enemies.
“When the birds fly in one direction, the enemy is setting to attack, when the birds fly in disarray the enemies are advancing, when the birds gather in droves, singing, the enemies are dining. When antelopes jump about with their heads upright, the enemies are about to encamp, when the antelopes are downcast, the enemies are far away,” Mr Abiodun Abe, who has done research on the war and now saddled with the responsibility of coordinating the stage performances across the South-west, said. He said the Yoruba warriors of the time, given their skill and wit, could match any sturdy empire of the time.
Are’s forebear, having in 1155 AD , seized several territories stretching to Togo and Ghana, horrified the Fulanis who had invaded Osogbo in 1842, was said to have become emboldened that the sky was not even the limit of his prowess and dexterity.
Around 1770, Are sent emissaries and envoys across the entire Yorubaland, Egba, Ijebu and some parts of today’s Delta State, asking that tributes, in the form of material items, be paid to him. In the spring of 1769, fresh from an extensive infantry and naval training of over 89,000 new recruits, he ordered the arrest of Ekiti’s military commander, Fabunmi, of Oke Mesi, who was accused of planning rebellion in the form of guerrilla warfare to topple Ibadan dynasty. It was the pattern to exterminate voices of dissent in that epoch.
The recruit, who was ordered to arrest Fabunmi, was said to have been arrested and detained. In annoyance, Are again ordered that the whole of Ekitiland be brought by force of arms, under his trampling. Indigenous playwright, Chief Jimoh Aliu, in a recent publication on Kiriji, stated that within a short period, the Ekiti mobilized young men that they trained for a military expenditure that was later to become heroic.
One account said the first encounter between Ibadan and Ekiti tagged Ogun Jalumi (battle of waterloo) ended in ignominy for the Ekiti soldiers, prompting the Ekiti to call on Ogedengbe, a tall, fiery fellow, with shooting eyeballs, who had been reluctant to lead the Ekiti Parapo, having himself had his military training in counter insurgency and infantry at Ibadan, and was wary of leading his people against his benefactors. Ekiti warriors were said to have sought for assistance from their “creek kinsmen, the Itsekiri for training in naval combat.” Johnson described Ogedengbe thus “…..he was a very straight_forward man, he was always true to his words to be faithful to his covenant with them, for he had sworn never to oppose them.”
He added: “Ogedengbe at last issued from Ita Ogbolu his retreat, and took the field of the Ekiti Parapos against the Ibadans. On hearing this, the Ibadan war chiefs sent home again for more reinforcements and on the 3rd November 1779, the Are sent his fighters to the battle field for another round of war. In a chat with this writer, Chief Oyekan Ogedengbe, the grandson of Ogedengbe, said his grandfather gathered 10,000 soldiers which he led to Otun-Ekiti, where the military strategy against Ibadan was hatched.
“The battle was fierce. My grandfather was a trained military leader who commanded thousands of soldiers. The Ijesa and Ekiti are siblings, so my father was excited to lead the battle against a unitary government of the then Yoruba nation”, he said as he led me through a large compound dotted with architectural alleys which Ogedengbe, his grandfather, used as a military outpost at Ilesa.
The Olojudo of Ido Ekiti, Oba Faboro, whose great grandfather was one of the five Ekiti generals that led the war, said the project being put in place by the South-wWest governors is ‘wonderful.’ He said many of the artifacts associated with the war are either missing, but hopes the governments would help retrieve some that might have been sold for profit.
Anyway, Ogedengbe subsequently agreed to lead the Ekiti Parapo War, which also enlisted several Yoruba dominions like Igbomina, Akoko, Egbe, Kabba and the Oworro, a Yoruba sub_tribe in Lokoja, Kogi State. Also, Lagos, Ijebu and Egba were said to have assisted Ekiti Parapo against Ibadan, seen by all, as a common threat to the commonwealth. The Ekiti War generals also held several nocturnal meetings where war strategies were reviewed and perfected. Ilara Mokin in Ondo State was said to have been the headquarters of the Ekiti Parapo secret service.
One source claimed Ibadan Generals were so clever that they would allow Ekiti to capture their women who would bear children for the captors but later spy on them. Several accounts speak of discipline on both sides, especially as regards the treatment of women, children and even prisoners of war.