By Kareem Kolawole Adesina
There are various accounts of the origin of ‘’Okebadan” but there is a common agreement among them with the resolution that Lagelu: Oro Apata-Maja, who was the founder of Ibadan, was also the one that established Okebadan.
The first account according to Femi Osofisan in the prologue he wrote for a book [Ibadan Mesiogo], says dissident soldiers from Oyo, Ife and Ijebu all came to the place called Ebaodan to settle after the sacking of Owu which was as a result of the disintegration of the old Oyo Empire. This new settlement was a savannah land backing the forest of the Egba. Among these dissident soldiers was a great warrior called Lagelu from Ife who became their leader. He consulted an oracle on-behalf of the new settlers to enable them know the future of their new settlement and he was told that they should adopt [Eleyele Hill] as their guardian deity. Eleyele Hill then became Okebadan Hill.
Another account by the late Oba Akinyele, in his book” Iwe Itan Ibadan Ati Die Ninu Awon Ilu Agbegbe re bi Iwo, Osogbo Ati Ikirun ‘ ’, says, Lagelu left Ile-Ife to set up his own community as was the order of the day then. According to Professor Bolanle Awe, before Lagelu left, he consulted Ifa oracle for guidance as was the custom of the Yoruba people and was told to settle where there were many hills which he did, hence the founding of Ibadan. After he had settled along with those that left with him, their neighboring communities waged war against them.
According to the late E.A. Adeyemo, in an opening address read during a lecture organized by the Okebadan Union on March 17th, 1988 at Mapo Hall, (as an integral part of war tactics of the Ibadan people, they receded and went on to the top of the mountain to plan a counter-attack against their enemies). During this period, the people believed that the hill provided them with security, food, shelter and spiritual backing in order to subdue their enemies. As a result, they decided to commemorate the event annually. This was said to have happened around 1820 and the Odu-Ifa [Ifa divination verse] that was given them was ‘’Ose meji” which later became ‘’Ose Olubadan”as given by Justice Fakeye in a paper he presented at a symposium organized by ‘’Okebadan Union’’ in commemoration of 1988 Okebadan festival.
Another account said Lagelu left Ile-Ife to settle in the present Ibadan; that, on arrival, he met some other people but, being a great warrior, he settled with them but farther away to the savannah part which prompted the name ‘’Eba Odan” [beside the savannah] which later metamorphosed to Ibadan. Within a very short period, the new settlement started witnessing progress and prosperity as an answer to four things that Lagelu requested from Olodumare before settling in Ibadan, viz: prosperity, blessing upon the traders, responsible partners for his children and for himself, good health and long-life. The answer to these requests instigated influx of people from different parts of Yorubaland to Ibadan. As a result of the size of the new community [Ibadan], the Alafin of Oyo, Sango, decided to make Lagelu the generalissimo of the Yoruba army [Aare Ona Kakanfo].
With the new status of Lagelu, and that of his town, they decided to practice some aspects of Yoruba traditional belief which included egungun festival. It was during the course of the egungun festival in a certain year that the costume of a masquerade fell off thereby revealing the identity of the masquerade to the children and women present. The news got to Sango –the Alafin of Oyo-who was furious at the desecration of the tradition of which he was a custodian. He sent for other Yoruba monarchs like the Orangun of Ila, the Owa of Ijesaland, the Alake of Egba, among others who deliberated on the issue and decided to wage war against Ibadan as punishment for their abomination act. Lagelu got wind of the planned invasion and summoned his warriors and civilians to be prepared for the impending ‘’World war” as it was tagged. When the battle began, Lagelu people fought gallantly and made it difficult for the allied forces to overcome them. The war lasted about three years contrary to the expectation of the allied forces; many people were killed and the new settlement was scattered and destroyed.
The survivors, including Lagelu, his children and few supporters, were driven to the top of Eleyele Hill where they dwelt for years. They lived on top of this hill without food, clothes or shelter. They fed on the fruits of ‘’oro” trees [Iryingia gabonensis] which they found on top of the hill and also snails that were in abundance there. This is why part of Ibadan’s praise song says: Ibadan, Omo ajoro sun, Omo ajegbin je ikarahun, Omo afi Ikarahun fo’ ri mu,” translated to mean: Ibadan indigenes/offspring of those who ate oro for supper, offspring of those who ate oro for support, offspring of those who ate snails to satisfaction, offspring of those who took hot pap in the snails shell. All these point to the fact that the hill provided them with Oro fruits and snails for food. Once they had little peace, they started cultivating the land to plant maize which they used for making pap and because there was no bowl with which to drink the pap, they drank from the snail’s shells. They were on top of the hill for a long time and, from there, the children of Lagelu started invading neighboring villages at night, setting their huts ablaze and carting away their properties. Because of this, Lagelu’s children could not get married because people were afraid of them. This prompted Lagelu to give consent to his children to marry one another so as to continue the generation.
It was on top of this mountain that their number started to increase. When they discovered that the place could not accommodate them anymore, and the condition of the place not no longer conducive, they decided to come down from the hill.
The place where they settled was called ‘’Ori Yangi”. There, they built new houses and established a market which people patronized. Within a short period, the new settlement began to witness influx of people from far and near and there was progress and peace. Upon the observation of the progress recorded within a short period, Lagelu’s children decided to worship Eleyele Hill where they had dwelt for years.
This later became ‘’Okebadan” [Ibadan Hill] and a festival organized for its commemoration. Their belief was that Okebadan was the factor behind the success and progress recorded in the new community, coupled with the belief that the mountain protected and fed them when they were dwelling on its top.
Not quite long after they had settled at ‘’Ori Yangi”, Lagelu died at old age. His children buried his corpse on top of the hill[Okebadan]. With this, their zeal to worship Okebadan became high because the tomb of their ancestor was there. It was also alleged that the hunchback herbalist that consulted the oracle for them when they came to Ibadan and who later ‘’yielded” himself as the sacrificial material had his remains buried on top of the hill. As a result, it is claimed that the Aboke [Okebadan priest] during Okebadan festival will have to go to the tomb of the hunchback to offer sacrifice. This was before the shrine was moved to ‘’Oja Iba”.
The Aboke [the priest of Okebadan] is the one that chooses the day for the celebration of the festival to Olubadan and his chiefs. The day so chosen is usually Thursday and it is always in the month of March because it falls within the rainy season, so as to appease the spirit of the hill to give them abundant rain for their crops. Also Thursday is chosen as it is regarded as the day that Yoruba people worship their deities as denoted by the name of the day ‘’Ojobo” [Thursday, the day Orisa is worshipped].
After the Olubadan and the council of chiefs had approved the day, announcement is made to the people for necessary preparations. Olubadan provides all the sacrifice materials such as cows, snails, fish, tortoise, dogs, etc. as required by the Aboke.
On the day of celebration, that used to be a work-free day, the people start the festival by thanking their ancestors for keeping them alive to witness the day. Also they take cold meal on the day as a reminder of the period their ancestors were on top of the mountain without food. Later in the day, the Aboke performs rituals at the shrine which has now been moved from Okebadan Hill to ‘’Oja ‘’ba” [Oba market ]. The Aboke, though a man dresses like a woman depicting the presumed feminine nature of the spirit of Okebadan while performing the rites and the people go about rejoicing.
After the rituals, the Aboke heads for the house of Yade, one of Lagelu’s daughters who led a group of woman warrior and subdued the enemies of Ibadan upon which a crown was taken from one of the communities and torn by her which gave her the ‘’Yade”[tear the crown]. From her house, the Aboke visits other chiefs.
During the festival, ‘’embarrassing” songs are sang, but they portray the history of Ibadan people. Most of these songs point at the time Lagelu and his people moved about half-naked while others point at war expertise of Ibadan people. They songs include:
Baba to nlo Hey old man going
Jawajawa epon you are with dangling scrotum
Okoo tisa Teacher penis
Kiki sooki Full of chalk
O sobo dandawi She opened her virgina wide
Omode yii sobo dandawi This girl opened her virgina wide
SIGNIFICANCE OF OKEBADAN
One of the significance of Okebadan festival is to pave the way for peace and smooth organization of Ibadanland as given by Professor Bolanle Awe in a paper she presented at a seminar organized by the Okebadan Union in 1988 at Mapo Hall, Ibadan. She stated that after the performance of the rituals by the Aboke, he moves round the paramount chiefs palaces to pay homage and pray for prosperity and survival.
Similarly, she mentioned that the festival brings peace and harmony among the Ibadan people from far and near. Awe further stated that the occasion is used to foster peace, improve sanitation and mutual cooperation among the people to get ready for a healthy reunion and to pray for further blessings upon the community.
Also mentioned was that the festival is believed to increase fertility and paves the way for bumper harvest as deduced from Okebadan songs. This fact was corroborated by Mrs Kemi Morgan in a paper she presented at the same seminar when she tried to explain the reason for the vulgar songs and language used during the festival. She said some of the songs are reminders of the period that Lagelu and his people were going about half naked. She stated that other songs came about as a result of experience they had when, due to panic, the children born during that period in Ibadan died prematurely, while some pregnant women died during labor. This situation was said to have caused frigidity among the men making them temporarily impotent. When they could no longer impregnate their women, the oracle was consulted, and they were told to be singing songs that will satiate their sexual appetite during the festival and this justifies the significance of Okebadan as an avenue to increase the number of children.
Morgan stated that the festival is a way of commemorating the past heroes and the founding fathers for what they did to establish Ibadan. She submitted that the celebration is like marking the founder’s day. She said it was the assistance that was given to Lagelu and his offspring in terms of security, protection and provision of food that prompted the people of Ibadan to commemorate the event yearly and not as a form of idol worshiping as enunciated by some critics.
The celebration of Okebadan festival has elicited a lot criticism as it is regarded as idol worshipping. This insinuation has been debunked by the Ibadan people, saying that they are only observing the tradition of their forebears. They further argued that it is a means of commemorating the critical period in the history when they were living on top of the hill without food and shelter and the provision and protection they got from the hill during the period.
*Kareem Kolawole Adesina is A.C.T.O (Antiquity)National Museum, Ibadan