Owu people (Orile-Owu or Owu-Ipole) are agriculturalist, ancient warriors and Yoruboid-speaking people that forms a sub-set of the larger Yoruba ethnic group of West Africa, particularly Nigeria. Owu people are particularly residents of Abeokuta in Ogun state.
Historically, Owu region in the Federal Republic of Nigeria is bounded in the south by Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State; in the east by Ife South Local Government Area; in the north by Gbongan – one of the prominent towns in Osun State and in the west by Irewole/Isokan Local Government Area. Ago-Owu in Abeokuta is where the Owus are mostly concentrated, however large Owu settlements are found throughout the Yoruba kingdom. The Yoruba kingdom extends beyond the boundaries of Nigeria into the Republic of Benin.
Orile-Owu in the past was an ancient forest kingdom which is believed to be the first settlement outside Ile-Ife, the popularly acclaimed traditional homeland of the Yoruba people. Several notions about this ancient kingdom regarding its status as the cradle of all other Owu communities have led to some generated heated controversies.
Among the various Yoruba sub-ethnic groups such as Oyo, Egba, Ife, Ijebu, Ijesha, Awori, Remo, Igbomina, Ondo, Ekiti and others, Owu people are very popular especially when one count the war years of the larger Oyo Kingdom. Within the said region of old Oyo, Owu was very prominent and even ruled the waves. Owu collected tribute from the Bariba, the Borgu and had ruled over old Oyo until the reign of Sango. All this happened because they (Owu) also settled within that very region. (See Johnson’s “History of the Yorubas” p.149). Their presence in that region was indisputably powerful. Owu fought side by side with Egba in the Makun and other wars against Ado Odo and Dahomey in 1842-45. Owu contingents fought and routed Awori at Itori, Yobo, Ifo, Atan, Ota and also occupied those places till today. In his address to Owu people during the 8th Owu Day celebrations in 2007, the Olowu, Oba Adegboyega Dosunmu maintained that "Owu people had fought wars, won battles and settled in very many places between the Niger river and the sea (Owus in Lagos State; Epe, etc.), yet their main stream had settled among the Egbas in Abeokuta BUT, THEY ARE NOT EGBAS, neither are they lJEBUS. (See Johnson’s “History of the Yorubas, p.18). Owu settlements in Ijebu and Abeokuta were not as a result of direct battles or victory over them, but mostly on friendly terms."
One of the distinctive socio-political difference between Owus and other Yoruba sub-tribes is that the Owus do not have an Oluwo (Ogboni Head Chief) and do not hold Ogboni assemblies. On the contrary, the Owu palace has its own culture of open deliberation where any Owu person can participate. That is why people refer to the Owus as “Owu a gbooro gbimo” meaning "Owu the deliberative group".
Owu settlements are found throughout the Yoruba Kingdom, all of which have historical and cultural affinity to the homeland – that is Orile-Owu. In the Yoruba language, “Orile” means an ancestral home or settlement while the word “Owu” is derived from a cotton plant belonging to the genus Gossypium. This plant is called owu by the Yoruba. Therefore, “Orile-Owu” means the original settlement or site of the Owu people. The early settlers of this kingdom planted and traded in cotton. Hence, this place was called “Igbo Owu” i.e Cotton Forest.
Mathew Arema Okikiola Olusegun Obasanjo, Owu tribe man and Retired Army General who hails from the Olusanmi compound in Sokori, Owu Abeokuta is the only 3 term and longest in office Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He revamped the Owu National Movement now called RUOP which was originally founded by Balogun Akin Olugbade, his predecessor in the office of Balogun Owu Abeokuta. A one time leader of the Eminent Personalities group and contender for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations. He is the current Balogun Owu.
There are a lot of abandoned historical and cultural heritage resources in Orile-Owu. This attests to the heritage of the Owu people as a great kingdom in the past. Moreover, for several years that the ancient town has been in existence, settlement features such as ditches and embankments, refuse mounds, historic buildings, and pottery scatters within the ancient town (site) are yet to be fully understood especially within the context of how they reflect the antiquity of the settlement on one hand, and how they stand a good chance to investigating the connection between the homeland and outlier Owu settlements in the Yoruba region, on the other hand.
Owu people of Abeokuta
Geography and Climate
Owu is within latitude 7°10’ and 7°15’N and longitude 4°25’E. This region is bounded in the south by Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State; in the east by Ife South Local Government Area; in the north by Gbongan – one of the prominent towns in Osun State and in the west by Irewole/Isokan Local Government Area. The study area is situated in the tropics, where the sun is overhead almost every day of the year. The annual temperature is about 28°C. Rainfall is heavy, averaging 1300mm per annum reaching its peak between April and late September. Orile-Owu is sunny throughout the year. The relative humidity coincides with months with low rainfall – December to March (Adejobi 1997; Adejuwon 1974, Ogundele and Ebonine, 2010).In terms of accessibility, Orile-Owu is about 46km from Ibadan. There is a well- tarred motorable road from Ibadan to Orile-Owu and within the town are short footpaths, which make Orile-Owu very accessible.
The vegetation type in this area is a secondary forest. The vegetation has been greatly impacted by increase in human population and activities. Orile-Owu was an ancient forest kingdom with varieties of plant species. The predominant plants that exist in this locality comprise of tree species such as oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), iroko (Milicia excela), mahogany (Entadrophragma cylindricum), arere (Triplocyton scleroxylon), and teak (Tectona grandis). The area is well drained by rivers and streams including the Obalufon, Omu, Ope, Oranran, Osun and Shasha rivers. The availability of these rivers and streams has some positive impact on local agriculture and other livelihood including palm oil production (Ogundele and Ebonine, 2010). The soil is fertile thereby allowing the cultivation of various cash and subsistence crops. The availability of the essential natural resource at the site made it a suitable place for the ancient population to settle.
Owu people speak North-West Yoruba (NWY) dialect of Yoruboid languages which belongs to the larger Niger-Congo language phylum. Apart from Owu people, the other areas that speak North-West Yoruba dialects include Abẹokuta, Ibadan, Ọyọ, Ogun and Lagos (Eko) areas.
Ogogo kulodo masquerade from Ota Awori in Ogun State
According to written sources, the establishment or founding of Owu Ipole (as Orile-Owu was formerly referred to) was shortly after the settlement of Oduduwa in Ile – Ife, therefore they said “Owu Lakoda” meaning Owu was the first to be founded after Ile – Ife is a popular saying among the Yoruba (Mabogunje,1997). It is believed from oral tradition that the Owu occupied an area directly along and below Niger River in the present country of Nigeria. Orile-Owu later expanded and became a very popular and powerful Yoruba settlement, which eventually attained the status of a kingdom of great repute. It became a force to be reckoned with within Yoruba land, particularly between the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
By the second decade of the 19th century, Orile-Owu began to wane down as a result of food shortage, war, and consequently, insecurity of lives and properties resulting from slave raiding. Thus the settlers had to go in search of better economic opportunities, as this was important in ensuring their survival. The Owus therefore abandoned their heavily fortified city and escaped southwest in groups for safety in the face of heavy external aggression (Chief Olalere per comm., 2011).The destruction of the heavily fortified city was caused by the late 19th century intra-sub-ethnic wars. This destruction had its consequences on the people and it is believed to be the reason behind their wide dispersal all over the country. Owu settlements are found today in most Yoruba communities including Abeokuta and Lagos, and as far afield as Igbomina land in Kwara State of Nigeria. The collapse of Old Oyo (in the northern part of Yoruba land), a powerful capital of the Oyo empire in the early 19th century, coupled with the final sack of Orile-Owu in 1825 was instrumental to the demographic changes in southern Yoruba land (Ogundele and Babalola, 2007:60; Ogundele and Ebonine: 2010).
Ijebu and Ife war against Owu
In 1821–26, the armies of both Ijebu and the Ife attacked and devastated Owu Ipole. The Owus abandoned their heavily fortified city and escaped southwestward in groups toward Ibadan in about 1826. From these outskirts, they marched on and across Ogun River and finally arrived at Oke Ata near Abeokuta where Sodeke, an Egba authoritative leader, persuaded the gallant Owus to settle in Abeokuta about 1834. It is important to state that the present Orile Owu is the same place as Owu Ipole where the Owus from Iwo and other places resettled in the early 20th century. The people of Erunmu (founded by the older brother of an earlier Olowu from the Amororo Ruling House) were always loyal to the course of Owu Kingdom. During the Owu war, the Olowu was carried on his back (to disguise his escape) from Orile Owu (Owu Ipole) to Orile Erunmu, guarded by a combined team of his royal guards and Oba Erunmu's royal guards. After Orile Owu was devastated, the remaining Owu army retreated to defend Orile Erunmu against the allied army of Ijebu and Ife.
Ota and Ado-Odo
Owu was a major factor in the 1842-45 war against Ota and Ado Odo. It is interesting to note that halfway through the war, Sodeke devised a way for the Egba contingent led by Ayikondu to desert the warfront (see Ajisafe, Iwe Itan Abeokuta, p.73), employing the services of his friend (the enemy), Gezo, the Dahonean war leader. As an Awori Ota King, declared in 1935, the conclusion of the war of Otal Ado Odo was led by Gbalefa, the Owu General and his Owu contingents and that is how Owu people not only conquered but occupy the now Gbalefa Peninsular.
Safeguarding the Crown
Before Orile Erunmu was also devastated and razed to the ground, The Olowu and The Oluroko of Erunmu devised strategies to ensure that the royal lineages and the Crown inherited from Oduduwa was preserved. The Olowu entrusted the Owu Crown to a warrior, simply referred to as Akogun (Owu's first documented Akogun warrior. Akogun is a title similar to an army Defense Chief), Ijaola and a few of the king's closest aides. When the siege on Erunmu began, Akogun was assigned to the warfront with the hope that he could turn the tides of war while Ijaola was sent on a mandatory royal assignment to Ibadan with a message for Maye, an Ibadan warlord. Before these two Crown trustees left to carry out their respective orders, they had to entrust Oni (a skilled and specialized trader and farmer, and also the older stepbrother of Ijaola) with safeguarding of the Crown. Oni and other men entrusted with the Crown mingled with the refugees that eventually settled in Abeokuta. These men had strict instructions not to disclose the whereabout of the Crown in the absence of the Akogun and Ijaola, unless they received news of their death.
The Administration of Abeokuta
It is to be understood first and foremost that the Administration of Abeokuta is based on strict historical factors which clearly spells out areas of authority of each of the first 4 kings in Abeokuta, viz, Olowu,Agura, Osile and Alake. The largest part of the land of Ibadan through Bakatari, Odeda, Osiele to the eastern part of the old Igbo Egba is occupied mostly by Gbagura. Some of the Gbagura land which voluntarily declared their allegiance to the Alafin included Awe, Kojoku, Agerige, Aran, Fiditi, Abena, Akinmorin, Doba and Oroko. If today all these were to be added, Gbagura would be the largest Egba land. Agura is the key king over these traditionally Gbagura land.
Egba Oke Ona owns the land that spreads north of Ona River and ran along the east fringes of Remoland and through Siun/Owode to Abeokuta.
The Egba forest which spreads from the southern part of Oyo through part of Oke Ogun down to the present Abeokuta ends at Oko Adagba and includes such independent towns as Ake, Ijeun, Oba, Igbein, Ijemo, Itoku, Imo, Emere, Kemta, Iro, Igbo, Erunwon, Itesi, Ikopa, Iporo and many other towns. Most all of them and their villages have zeroed-in in Abeokuta. The first Alake was installed in Abeokuta in August 1854. Today, there are ten of them: -
(1) Okukenu 1854- 1862
(2) Ademola I 1869 -1877
(3) Oyekan 1879 -1881
(4) Luwaji 1885 -1888
(5) Sokalu 1891 -1898
(6) Gbadebo I 1898 -1920
(7) Ademola II 1920 -1962
(8) Gbadebo II 1963 -1971
(9) Lipede 1971- 2005
(10) Okukenu (IV) 2005
OWU ADMINISTRATION IN ABEOKUTA
(1) Pawu April 1855 -1867
(2) Adefowote 1867 -1872
(3) Aderinoye 1873 -1890
(4) Adepegba 1893 -1905
(5) Owokokade 1906 -1918
(6) DosunmuI 1918 -1924
(7) Adesina 1924 -1936
(8) Gbogboade 1938 -1946
(9) Ajibola 1949 -1972
(10) Oyegbade 1975 -1980
(11) Oyelekan 1987 -1987
(12) Odeleye 1993 -2003
(13) DosunmuII 2005
Paramount Ruler of OwuKingdom, HRM. Oba Dr. Olusanya Adegboyega Dosunmu. His palace is situated in the heart of the rock city of Abeokuta, Ogun State, and indeed the Olowu of Owu, (HRM) Oba Olusanya Adegboyega Dosunmu, Amororo 2, Akobi Odua is a first class monarch and the Paramount Ruler of Owu Kingdom all over the world.
7 groups constitute the Cabinet of the Olowu who is the paramount Ruler of Owu Kingdom. Listed below with the Olowu as Chairman constitute The Supreme Cabinet of the Olowu of Owu, which is now known as “OLOWU-IN-COUNCIL :" The line of authority 1. Balogun 2. Olori Igbimo 3. Olori Omo-Oba 4. Olori Parakoyi 5. Oluroko of Erunmu 6. Balogun Apomu 7. Iyalode."
Owu is ruled by Princes selected from six ruling houses: Amororo, Otileta, Ayoloye, Akinjobi, Akinoso and Lagbedu. These kings are assisted by a core of chiefs known as Ogboni and Ologun. This core of chiefs is headed by the Balogun who has under him Otun, Osi, Seriki, Aare Ago and Jagunna. Ogboni has as their head, the Akogun, Obamaja, Orunto, Oyega, Osupori and Omolasin. Olosi is the Ifa priest of the Olowu. Originally, Owu has 3 townships namely Owu, Erunmu and Apomu."
In the reign of Oba Odeleye (1993-2003) the number of Owu townships expanded to 22 and this eased the administration for Owu tremendously. By tradition, Olowus were selected by six kingmakers, but two more chieftaincies were added in 1964 including Balogun and Olosi.
Alakosos who now assist the Oba in
In 1855, the Owus crowned OBA Pawu as the first king Olowu of Owu of the Owus at Oke Ago-Owu, Abeokuta. Notably, there was a 21 year interregnum between the settlement of the Owu sojourners in Abeokuta and the crowning of Pawu as the first Olowu in Abeokuta. See past and present Olowu of Owu in Abeokuta. He reigned for 12 years.
The reason for the interregnum may be attributed to the deterioration of the socio-cultural bond that became evident during the journey between Orile Owu and Abeokuta. Hardship had made these Owu families insensitive to each other's welfare. The worst affected were the people of Erunmu because they were fewer. As a result of their minority status they were marginalized by other Owu indigenes. Oni the keeper of the Crown was convinced that if he revealed the Crown to a people who had grown insensitive to the needs of their brothers, he would allow despotic rule to hold sway over the townships of Owu, Erunmu and Apomu (the Owu kingdom in Abeokuta). Over the years, Akogun (the highly ranked soldier) arrived in Abeokuta, but he could neither locate Ijaola nor Ijaola's stepbrother, Oni. Also, unknown to the Olowu and Oluroko, Ijaola returned to Erunmu but had to hide on a farm settlement to escape capture. He later settled in Iwo town where there was a community of Owu refugees and began to trade in commodities and prisoners of wars. It was in the course of this trade that he re-connected with his stepbrother through another itinerant Owu merchant who was based in Abeokuta. Eventually, all arrangements were made for Ijaola to migrate to Abeokuta where he re-settled the people of Erunmu in Ita Erunmu (now called Totoro, after a tree). After Ijaola, Akogun and Oni consulted with each other, revealed the crown of Oduduwa 21 years after the Owu people first settled in Abeokuta.
Owu tribe man, Dr. Wale Babalakin (Born Bolanle Olawale Babalakin) is a Nigerian businessman and a Lawyer. He is also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a recipient of the Nigerian national honour of Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) in 2007.
Owu Tribal Mark
The larger Yoruba ethnic group are historically known to have used and still use facial tribal marks to distinguish one member of one sub-Yoruba tribe from other. It is said that Owus used a unique traditional facial mark called "Keke Olowu" to distinguish them from other tribal groups, especially when on war expeditions. The Keke or Gombo consists of four or five perpendicular and horizontal lines placed angularly on each cheek ; they occupy the whole space between the auricle and the cheek bone ; three small perpendiculars are also placed on the horizontal lines on both cheeks The Keke-Olowu, an Owu variation of these is like the Keke or Gombo with the lines discrete or interrupted and links each ear with the side of the cheeks. It was common prior to the later adoption of the agbaja-olowu.
Abaja Olowu: The Abaja are sets of three or four parallel and horizontal lines on each cheek ; they may be single or double, each line being from half-an-inch to one inch long. The Abaja-Olowu in distinction from other abajas has 3 perpendicular etchings fitting neatly above 3 horizontal ones and are very thin and narrow in contradistinction from the very bold ones worn by other tribes. This is further accentuated with an additional 3 small horizontal etchings on the forehead called ‘keeta’.
Furthermore, members of the royal families would have an additional 6 markings on the forearm with a further 3 below the navel.
HRH Olowu of Owu and Jimi Agbaje
Owu Day Festival (Odun Omo Olowu)
The original purpose of celebrating Omo Olowu festival is to give thanks to Olodumare (Almighty God) for supplying all needs. The annual Owu Day festival tradition started in 1999 and has attracted participation by several Owu indigenes and people from all over the world. On October 9, 2010, the Olowu of Owu Oba Dosunmu publicly declared the second weekend of the month of October as Owu's public celebration of the goodness of the Almighty God. This declaration was made to usher in the new Omo Olowu festival which is to henceforth replace the previous Owu Day Festival which incidentally had its 10th and final outing last year on the 10th day of the 10th month! The debuting Omo Olowu festival (reported in owulakoda.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/omo-olowu-festival-kicks-off) also incorporated the ancient traditional New Yam Festival which was dramatically staged by the Olowu himself, much to the delight, admiration and applause of the attendant crowd and dignitaries! The 2010 festival was attended by Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuade Olubuse II, former President of Nigeria, Balogun of Owu Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief of Staff to President Goodluck Jonathan, Chief Mike Oghiedome, former Governor and Field Commander of ECOMOG, Rtd General Tunji Olurin.
The Owu War
The kingdom being now in a disorganized condition each tribal unit constituted itself an independent state. The Ifes in the east, and the Ijebus in the south formed an alliance against the Owus to the south-west of the former and north west of the latter.
The Owus (although now domiciled with the Egbas) are a family quite distinct from. Egbas or Oyos. Hardihood, stubbornness, immorality, and haughtiness are marked traits in their character, so much so that it has passed into a proverb " A bi omg I'owu, o ni ako tabi abo ni, ewo ni jdo se omg nibe ? " (a child is born at Owu, and you ask male or female : which will be a proper child ?) Either sex when roused by passion would sooner die than not take dire revenge. Their manners were totally different from those of the Oyos, but from the days of Sango they have been very loyal to the Alafin of Oyo.
As warriors, the Owus were hardy, brave, and courageous, they had no guns, their weapons consisting of the Agedengbe (a long heavy cutlass) with bows and arrows. Coming to close quarters with cutlass in hand was the mode of fighting characteristic of these brave people.
The cause of the war between these three families was this : —
We have already stated above that during the reign of King Abiodun, express orders were sent from Oyo to the Ooni of Ife, and the Olowu to prevent Oyos being kidnapped and sold at Apomu, the great market town where the interior and the coast people met for trade. Now, since the commencement of the revolution, and the disorganized state of the kingdom, the practice was revived. The rebellion has rendered the Central Authority powerless, but there were still some men of considerable power and influence in the land, such as Adegun the Onikoyi who was the premier provincial king, Toyejg theBal§ of Ogbomoso the Kakanfo, and Edun of Gbogun.
A message similar to that sent by King Abiodun was now sent by the Onikoyi and the Kakanfo conjointly to the Olowu, and he in carrying out his orders had to chastise several towns ; hence Ikoyi Igbo, Apomu, Ikire, Irkn, He Olup^mi, Itahakun, Iseyin Odo, Iwata, Akinboto, Gbkngan, Isope, Iwara, and Jagun, were
destroyed by war, all in Ife territory.
The Ooni of Ife was highly incensed at this and declared war against Owu. The command of the war was entrusted into the hands of his commander-in-chief Singunsin. Other war-chiefs associated with him were : — Okansk, Gbogbo Olu, Wasin, Alodeloko, etc. Their first encampment was at a place called Dariagbon a farm village of one O1upona, next at Sifirin at the confluence of the Osun and Ohk rivers.
The Ifes thought they would make an easy conquest of Owu for they themselves are a brave people, and hence this war song in their peculiar dialect : —
E maha ja (a) gba, Let us cut ropes,
Igbekun la mu a di Our captives to bind.
If a Olowu The Olowu's If a (god of palm nut)
Ewa la mu a se With our corn we'll cook.
The Owns received the news that war was declared against them with great indignation. They considered themselves the power in these southern regions, and what infatuation has led the Ifes to this presumption ? With one consent they immediately marched out to meet them at this great distance. The engagement was a
hand to hand fight in which the Ifes were completely routed ; their army was all but totally annihilated, only about 200 escaped to tell the tale of their dire misfortune !
The King of Iwo, in whose territory this disaster took place did not admit the survivors into his town for fear of incurring the displeasure of his formidable neighbours the Owus, whom he dreaded ar;d of whom he was jealous, but he so far sympathized with them that he advised that they should not undergo the humiliation of returning home, and he allowed them to rendezvous in a place called Adunbieiye for the purpose of recruiting their army and to try another chance, secretly hoping that fortune may favour them next time, and being ill at ease with such a formidable neighbour as the Owus.
This small army remained in this place for about 5 years, unable to return home from shame, and yet could not obtain re-inforcement adequate for the great enterprise.
Just as this crisis the Owus and the Ijebu traders had a serious complication at the Apomu market. The dispute arose from the sale of alligator pepper, and it resulted in the rash expedition against Apomu by the haughty Owus ; the town was destroyed, and many Ijebu traders and residents lost their lives or their all.