The Ijesha (Ijesa)are ancient militaristic, agriculturalists and expert trading Yoruboid-speaking people that form a sub-ethnic of the larger Yoruba people of West Africa, particularly Nigeria and Benin. The Ijesa are predominantly from the city and environs of Ilesha (Ilesa) and the historic Kingdom of Ilesha in the same area. Ijesa people forms the largest chunk of sub-Yoruba ethnic group that were shipped into slavery in Americas and the Caribbeans.
Ijesa people celebrating their Iwude Owa Obokun Festival, at Osun State in Nigeria. Courtesy Nigerian Festivals
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. The city of Ilesa was described by Rev. Williams Howard Clark in 1854 as: "For its cleanliness, regularity in breath and width, and the straightness of its streets, the ancient city of Ilesa far surpasses any native town I have seen in black Africa."
Ijesa women celebrating their Iwude festival at Ilesa in Osun State, Nigeria
Ijesa people are said to have migrated from Ile Ife, the cradle of Yoruba people, to build their Ilesaland (which is one of the oldest Yorubaland) in its present-day location in Osun State. According to tradition, Owa Ajibogun or Owa (“King”) who was one of the 16 sons of the deity Oduduwa founded Ilesha. The standard version of tradition among the Ijesa themselves 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).
Samuel Johnson, the great Yoruba Historian also averred: "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 he returned to the Alafin and complained that his territory was too small, and his subjects few, the sire thereupon 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 !)"
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 state 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 cities. The 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, Iwara, Iperindo, Erinmo, Iwaraja, Idominasi, Ilase, Igangan, Imo, Eti-oni,Iboku, Erin-Ijesa, Ibodi and many others.
Ijesa women in their traditional costume at a political gathering
The Ijesa are the traders and business icons amongst the Yoruba people; very good in commerce and have cut a niche for themselves as the architects of 'Osomaalo' business in Nigeria. As described in the book by Omole (1991) 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 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.
Ijeshaland is rich in GOLD (Largest deposit in Nigeria) - Igun, Itagunmodi etc; FELDSPAR - Erin Ijesa, Igangan; MARBLE - Esa Oke, Ijeda, Iloko; TIN ORE - Imesi Ile; KAOLIN - Iperindo; TALC - Ilesa, Iperindo; and MICA - Ilesa, Iperindo.
Ijesaland is also the home of the famous and beautiful ERIN IJESHA (OLUMIRIN) WATERFALLS, a lavish acrobatic display of nature and a proud Tourist Attraction Centre. The Waterfalls has Seven Levels and the seventh level is the peak of the falls, it hosts a settlement where many of its inhabitants have lived for years such as the Fresh Water Prawns. Only few visitors can climb beyond the second level. The breeze at the falls is cool and refreshing, the water flows among the rocks and splashes down with great force to the evergreen vegetation that surrounds it. This amazing waterfalls is definitely one of the many wonders of the world.
Erin Ijesha or the Olumirin Waterfall located in the Osun state of Nigeria is one of natural wonders of the world.
In Ijesaland, there are also archeological tourist attraction venues such as KIRIJI WAR MUSEUM - Imesi-Ile; AGIRIGIRI SHRINE - Ijebu-jesa; OGUN SHRINE - Ipole; OSUN SHRINE - Iponda; OWA-OBOKUN MILLENNIA PALACE - Ilesa; OBANLA PALACE - Ilesa.
Ijeshas prided themselves enormously on their national dish, pounded yam (iyan), and their vehicle registration plate is LES for Ilesha, Osun (Ilesha).
Ilesa is home to the famous Fajuke Family and prestigious Ilesa Grammar School, a school founded by Egbe Atunluse Ilesa and alma mater to many Nigerians including a former Chief Justice of the Federation, Alfa Belgore, a former Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the former Vice Chancellor of University of Lagos, Prof Oye Ibidapo Obe, the former Vice Chancellor of Obafemi Awolowo University Ile Ife, Prof Omole and the current Vice Chancellor of University of Ibadan, Prof Isaac Adewole.
The Ijesas as a rule have no distinctive marks ; they are mostly plain-faced ; some families, however, are distinguished by having on each cheek 5 or 6 horizontal lines. They are closely drawn, and much longer than any Oyo mark,
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.
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)." Johnson (1921) posited further that "they never offered any resistance to this system, hence the saying "Ijesa Omo Owaju ti ife opo iyk " (Ijesas children of Owaju, subject to much sufferings).
I personally believe 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 thereupon 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 !)"
Current historical account based on Ijesa peoples own tradition, which does not contradict Samuel Johnson`s account assert that their direct ancestor was Owa Ajibogun or Owa (“King”) who was one of the 16 sons of the deity Oduduwa. It is said that their present city of Ilesa (Ilesha) in Osun State was "founded in c.1350 by Owaluse, a grandson of Ajibogun Ajaka (Ubiquitous Warrior) Owa Obokun Onida Arara, 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)
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 traditions 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.
Modern Ilesha is a major collecting point for the export of cocoa and a traditional cultural centre for the Ilesha (Ijesha) branch of the Yoruba people. Palm oil and kernels, yams, cassava, corn (maize), pumpkins, cotton, and kola nuts are collected for the local market. Local industries manufacture nails and carpets, and the town has a brewery; there are also a recording company and a publishing firm, and the Supreme Oil industry at Ilesha. Several prominent quartzite ridges lie east of Ilesha, and gold mining is an important activity in the area, i.e The Iperindo Gold field.
Ilesha is a classic - though hardly a typical - example of that ethnographic celebrity, the Yoruba town: a large, nucleated settlement that is the centre of a kingdom and itself the primary residence of an overwhelmingly agricultural population. Even when it was largely derelict owing to war, in 1886, Ilesha's population was estimated to be between 20,000 and 25,000 and a figure of up to 40,000 may be appropriate for the height of its growth before the sack in 1870. Though this is not as large as the largest Oyo-Yoruba towns of the nineteenth century, its considerable size was not due,as theirs was, to very heavy recent immigration under the impact of the wars.
It was the recognition of the need for the Ijesa to lift up themselves by their own bootstraps that led to the establishment of the Ijesa Improvement Society, the first modern pan-Ijesa socio-cultural group, in 1922. It was at a time when the Ijesa not only had problems with their British colonial overlords but also with their own local administration under the Owa Obokun who had since 1914 been constituted into a Sole Native Authority on the model of the Northern Nigeria Emirates, under the Indirect Rule of System introduced by Sir Fredrick Lugard. This meant that the Ijesa had to contend not only with a hostile foreign colonial power but with a despotic local administration supported by that foreign colonial power. In this kind of unpleasant political climate, the best help was self help.
The principle of self help, which was elevated to a philosophy of action by the aggressively individualistic Ijesa in the inter-war years, was to assist the socio-economic development of Ijesaland and to make the Ijesa very cautious towards, if not totally suspicious of all governments be it local, regional or national in the post war and pre-independence era. This explains why the few commercial and industrial establishments in Ijesaland today are owned largely by the Ijesa themselves. Indeed, with the exception of the recent Federal Government efforts to exploit the gold deposits at Itagunmodi and Igun in Atakumosa Local Government area, there are virtually no government-sponsored commercial and industrial undertakings in the whole of Ijesaland."
The Ilesa Monarchs
The state of Ilesa (Ile ti a sa which means a homeland we chose), 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. F POPULATION: 310,000 There are four royal houses amongst which accession to the throne is supposed to be rotated: Biladu, Bilagbayo, Bilaro and Bilayirere. Rulers have been as follows:
|Bilagbayo||... - 17..|
|Ori Abejoye||17.. - ...|
|Bilajagodo "Arijelesin"||... - ...|
|Bilatutu "Otutu bi Osin"||... - ...|
|Bilasa "Asa abodofunfun"||... - ...|
|Bilajara||1... - 1807|
|Ariyasunle (1st time) -Regent||1839|
|Ariyasunle (2nd time) -Regent||1853|
|4 Jun 1870 Agunlejika I||1869 -|
|1871 Vacant||4 Jun 1870 -|
|Oweweniye (1st time)||1871–1873|
|Oweweniye (2nd time)||1873–1875|
|Sep 1892 Adimula Agunloye-bi-Oyinbo "Bepolonun"||1875 -|
|Lowolodu||Mar 1893 - Nov 1894|
|Vacant||Nov 1894 - Apr 1896|
|Ajimoko I||Apr 1896 - Sep 1901|
|Ajimoko "Haastrup" -Regent||1942 - 10 Sep 1942|
|Ajimoko II "Fidipote"||10 Sep 1942 - 18 Oct 1956|
|J. E. Awodiya -Regent||18 Oct 1956 - 1957|
|Biladu III "Fiwajoye"||1957 - Jul 1963|
|.... -Regent||Jul 1963 - 1966|
|Oba Gabriel Adekunle Aromolaran II||1982 - ?|
Deputy Governor State of Osun, Mrs Titi Laoye-Tomori; Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, Oba (Dr.) Gabriel Aromolaran, during the 2013 Iwude-Ijesha Festival, at Ereja Square, Ilesa, State of Osun on Saturday 28-12-2013
History of Yoruba people By Samuel Johnson
They resided at Ile Ife, i.e., prior to the reign of Sango. Human sacrifices were common in those days, and in order to have victims ready to hand, it is said that a number of 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). They are described as stumpy, muscular, and sheepish-looking, with a marked want of intelligence : they never offered any resistance to this system,
hence the saying "Ijesa Omo Owaju ti ife opo iyk " (Ijesas children of Owaju, subject to much sufferings). 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 thereupon 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 !)
This, of course, is a pure myth invented by their more wily neighbours to account for the notorious characteristics of the Ijesas generally, who are as proverbially deficient in wit as they are remarkably distinguished for brute strength.
But one fact holds good down even to our days, viz., that up to the recent total abolition of human sacrifice by the British Government (1893) the Ifes, who, far more than any other, were
addicted to the practice, always preferred for the purpose to have an Ijesa victim to any other ; such sacrifices were considered more acceptable, the victims being the " food of the gods."
This preference was the cause of more than one threatened rupture between the Ifes and their Ijesa allies during the recent 16 years' war, and would certainly have developed into open fights, but
for the Ibadan army vis-d-vis threatening them both.
The other account relates chiefly to the present day Ijesas of Ilesa (the home of the gods) the chief town. According to this account, they hailed from the Ekitis ; or as some would more correctly have it, they were the Ijesas from the neighbourhood of Ibokun who first migrated to Ipole near Ondo, and thence back to Ilesa. It appears that a custom then prevailed of going out hunting for their king three months in the year, and on one such occasion they found game so plentiful in the neighbourhood of Ilesa, the chmate very agreeable, the country well-watered, and the Ijesas there extremely simple, peaceful, and unwarhke (probably the remnants and descendants of the old sacrificial victims) whilst at home they endured much oppression from their Owa, that they there and then conceived and carried out the idea of settling on the spot at once, making it their home, and of reducing into subjection the aboriginal inhabitants.
These objects were easily enough accomplished ; but they spared the principal chief, a kindly old gentleman who had an extensive garden plantation. He was called " Oba Ila," i.e., Okra king,
from his Okra plantation, and he was placed next in rank to the chief of the marauders. That nickname is continued to the present time as a title Oba'la^ and is conferred on the most distinguished chief after the Owa of Ilesa. It would appear then that although the term Ijesa is retained by the people of that district, and those who are ignorant of the origin of the term take some pride in it, yet it is evident that the present inhabitants are not all of them the descendants of the aboriginal settlers, the " food of the gods," but are largely from the Ekitis by admixture ; the pure type Ijesas are now and again met with at Ilesa and neighbourhood.
This fact is further shown by the want of homogeneity amongst the principal chiefs of Ilesa at the present day, for when the town was growing, the settlers did cast about for help ; they sought for
wiser heads to assist them in the building up and the management of their country, e.g., from the Oyos or Yorubas Proper they had the Odgle from Irehe, the Esawe from Ora, the Saloro from Oyo (the ancient city), and the Sorundi also from the same city — all these came with a large number of followers ; from the Ondos, the 'Loro, and the Salosi from I jama in the Ondo district ; from the
Ekitis, the Arapate from Ara, the Lejoka from Itaje ; and lastly, the Ogboni from the white cap chiefs of Lagos, the only one privileged to have on his headgear in the presence of the Owa. The Owa himself is as we have seen, a junior member of the royal house of Oyo.
It is also said that when the town of Ilesa was to be laid out a special messenger was sent to the alafin to ask for the help of one of the princes to lay out the town on the same plan as the ancient city of Oyo. That prince ruled for some years at Ilesa.