By Owolola Abiola O.
Oranmiyan is an important character in Yoruba and Benin mythology. Though the youngest of Oduduwa grandchildren according to Ife oral tradition, he eventually became the most powerful and famous of them all. According to Ife’s list of kings compiled in Oonis Palace, Oranmiyan, the sixth Ooni of Ife had the singular honour of founding two existing dynasties of Oyo and Benin via two of his sons: Ajaka and Eweka.
Oranmiyan staff, located at Mopa along Arubidi Road, Ile-Ife is dedicated to Oranmiyan. On global positioning system, it is situated on an elevation of about 28 meters above sea level. The staff is the most spectacular antiquity in Ile-Ife and is believed to be one of the tallest stone sculptures in the south of the Sahara. It is a granite column of about 18feet (5.5cm) in height and about 4 feet square in width at the base. Several iron studs were driven into it. The belief is that it was erected on the spot where Oranmiyan was originally buried. However, an archaeological investigation has proven otherwise.
The iron studs on Oranmiyan staff had been interpreted at various times as a diary of events in the life of Oranmiyan as a warrior. Some believed it represents record of festivals in Ile-Ife. Chief Eredumi Akinyemi, Priest of Oranmiyan, believes that the iron studs represent the number of bullets fired at Oranmiyan during war of expansion.
According to Johnson (1921:146), the iron studs are suggestive to represent Hebrew letter Resh and Yod. Johnson further interpreted the 62 iron studs in the middle of the stone monolith to mean the number of years Oranmiyan spent to fight war of expansion, while the 31 iron studs on either side of the staff represent the number of years he stayed in Oyo and Benin respectively. However, a cursory look at the topmost part of the staff actually depicts a vivid picture of the sacred Aare crown.
The written character on the staff actually gave us a clue to the fact that Yoruba at a point in history had developed some forms of ancient writing that is evident in Ifa corpus (signatures) walls of Oluorogbo, Akire and Obalejugbe Shrines in Ile-Ife. Oranmiyan staff equally suggests that carving in stone is part of the artistic tradition in Ile-Ife. The concept and quality of the art demonstrates the richness and sophistication of Ife cultural tradition. The style and technique further reveals that Ife must have had knowledge of iron working long before the advent of Europeans.
Aside from Oranmiyan staff, Ore stone mud fish in National Museum, Ile-Ife is another example of Ife stone object with iron drilled into it. The number of iron smelting sites in Ife and its environ in the time past are physical evidence that the technology behind the combination of stone objects with the iron studs is indigenous to Ife. According to Johnson, it is on record that between 1884 and 1953, the stone monolith fell down on two occasions as a result of heavy rain storm.
The cultural significance of Oranmiyan staff lies in the fact that it is connected to the installation rites for Ooni of Ife and Alaafin of Oyo. In the past, before an Alaafin was enthroned or crowned, part of his installation rites requires that he must come physically to Oranmiyan grove for a very important rite and the ceremony of receiving sword of authority before he could be crowned as Alaafin. Thus, the rites symbolise his authority and legitimacy on the throne.
According to Ife oral tradition, corroborated by Chiefs Eredumi, Apata and Akogun, Yoruba Obas and Are Ona Kakanfo (Yoruba generalissimo) before going to war in the time past, usually come to Ife and offer sacrifices to the deity of Oranmiyan and the staff to ensure victory. Till today, people still come to pray before the staff. According to Chief Eredumi, it is believed that whatever prayer that is offered before the staff would be answered. The healing power inherent in the staff is what had been attracting visitors to the grove and this explains ritual items found in the vicinity of the staff. The associated festival to Oranmiyan staff is Olukere-mude celebrated in the month of April and Olojo festival celebrated in October.
The importance of museum in today’s world
By 1974 definition of the International Council of Museum (ICOM), Museums is a “non-profit making permanent institution in the service of society and its development, and open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, material evidence of man and its environment.
From the foregoing, it’s obvious that Museum, especially in Africa is a cultural establishment, whose primary responsibility is concerned with the collection, preservation and exhibition of both natural and cultural objects for the purpose of knowledge and education.
In the past, Museum settings had been misconstrued and their philosophies misrepresented by people and scholars as well, especially in Africa. It is no gainsaying that, in the olden days, the Museum was best described as fascinating but fearful by people who had little or no attempt was made by early scholars in examining the Museum as a socio-cultural centre.
Generally speaking, Museums all over the world serve a wide range of useful purposes. Because they are custodians of man’s natural and historic objects, they have equally become the custodians of man’s cultural heritage. As a result of this, Museums have become firmly entrenched features of all civilized and informed societies all over the world. There is no doubt about it that Museums are suitable habitants for collection, preservation and interpretation of objects both natural and man-made. By so doing, they have become veritable sources of information on research and reference.
In addition to this, Museums, as treasure houses of the human race, are seen to be repositories of cultures, histories, memories among others, of a people. Today, the attention being given to cultural facilities all the world over is as a result of the quest for international tourism and its concomitant economic benefit, which has, therefore, resorted to the increasing demand for the establishment of Museums all over the country.
Further, Museums, by their nature, offer formal and informal education to the public through various collections and knowledge, giving a unique opportunity to interpret appropriately different names of objects displayed. Not only this, Museums, unlike other media that often tend to dish out digest opinions to the public, offer more insight and reflections on historical phenomena and cultural objects as well.
As a matter of fact, Museums, in the area of information, speed up the process of acquiring information because collection of authentic objects involves discoveries and it pulls together threads of what is already known. Thus, Museums can be seen as reliable avenues for international communication in a multicultural and multi-linguistic world.
Museums are useful through their educational role of exhibiting cultural and natural objects, which depict socio-cultural life of the people. Museums remain the only institution which makes use of objects as a universal language of communication. As a result of this, the Museum has become an instrument of socio-cultural integration, as Museums in Nigeria are using objects in their custodies to speak to members of the international community with a view to enhancing better socio-cultural understanding and offer more insight and reflections on their people.
- Mr. Owolola Abiola works at the National Museum, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.