Historical FACTS: Lagos belongs to Edo, Urhobo, Igbo-descendants: “Eko” means camps in Urhobo–Otitigbe, PhD New York[RR]According to Dr. Otitigbe, History: Lagos belongs to Edo, Urhobo & Ibiod: “Eko” means camps in Urhobo… In his piece titled:”HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT LAGOS ” EKO””, he said, that, “Eko” means camps in Urhobo language. sharing with his audience he […]
Historical FACTS: Lagos belongs to Edo, Urhobo, Igbo-descendants: “Eko” means camps in Urhobo–Otitigbe, PhD
New York[RR]According to Dr. Otitigbe, History: Lagos belongs to Edo, Urhobo & Ibiod: “Eko” means camps in Urhobo… In his piece titled:”HISTORICAL FACTS ABOUT LAGOS ” EKO””, he said, that, “Eko” means camps in Urhobo language. sharing with his audience he said, “We keep searching for our history.” Some of his source he claimed were obtained form Facebook.
Expanding on this, respected international political, religious, historical expert, Ezeana, said, they: Urhobo, Edo, are all Igbo descendants. His words:”We are finally getting somewhere. Would you believe Edo, Eke, Eko and Oko are all Igbo? And what do we have here? Igbo descendants or what?”, queried Ezeana Igirigi Achusim
Lagos narratives, has multiple faces. Mr. Otitigbe, said, during his multiple travels he made it to Ndjamena in 1973.
“When I was in Ndjamena in 1973, I knew a couple from Dahomey that also lived in Togo, I spoke Yoruba with them but at a moment the two spoke to each other and the woman said “Egene o Eghene”, then I asked them the meaning, they said that it meant four francs and that it was in the native language in Togo and Dahomey. I laughed because it is an Edo word which in Urhobo is “Igho Ene”, four money. In the same year I spent the end year in Ghana where I knew a Yoruba guy Segun Adigun who like me was looking for a way to go abroad , we both visited one primary school and the teachers all women came out to greet us and in one voice they said “We are Ga, Ga are descendants of the Yoruba”.
Adding he said, “My deduction is this. The date of the founding of Lagos and Dahomey by the Edos predates slavery , there later was conflict among the ruling Edo groups in Lagos which was a fortress. From my humble understanding Oyo Empire which came later was not a military power but a commercial power.
“Oyo Empire spread its trading along the coast from Itshekiri land to Accra , this Empire of trade was highly involved in Slave Trade. Usually trading powers control the communications and thus Yoruba language spread but yet in places like Dahomey and Togo some Edo words remain. The Edo family in Lagos got mixed up with Yoruba traders and in fact Lagos did not have a recorded King until Kosoko all descendants of Edo people.
He warned, “So I believe the influence of the trading Oyo Empire which was later replaced by the British who later introduced English.
“To support my theory that the trading Empire imposed the communications I give an example Sapele Market and Ogbe Ijaw Market in Warri, all women who trade in foodstuff and clothes speak to perfection Urhobo, Itshekiri and Ijaw. At Sapele in the evening you would see Urhobo women on boats going to Itshekiri village market that takes place in the night which I also think is influenced by Yoruba trading, in Imodi there was market in the day and market in the night.
“So travelling traders carry langauges, but Oyo traded in slaves after it found it of great income…”, said, Dr. Otitigbe
On History of Lagos, he said, “The Historical fact is that Oba Orhogbua, who reigned in Benin in the 16th Century (about 1550AD) waged a number of wars, one of which carried him as far as to the land now known as Dahomey, which he conquered and over which he installed a Military Administrator by the name of Isidahome after whom that territory was named “the land of Isidahome” which, over the centuries, became the modern “Dahomey.”
“It was during the Oba’s expedition that he came to the island which the Portuguese subsequently named Lagos. As the journey was long and tedious, he decided to find a resting place.
The whole area was a swampy bush but after some exploration, he reached the sandy beach which he found very suitable, with its clear water and plenty of fish, the Oba with his men decided to build a camp there.
Adding that, “This was how Lagos came to acquire the name “Eko.” This word is not a Yoruba word. The fact is that this island had no name, being only a fishing camp, before the Benins entered. In the Benin language, “Bu Eko” or “Bu ago” means “to build a camp” usually a resting place in the village. Thus, there is a sacred spot in Benin City today known as “Eko ohae” (Bachelor’s Camp) where an Oba must spend a few days in the course of the ceremonial journey leading to his coronation. So again “Eko Oviawe” means “Oviawe’s Camp.” EKO therefore is not a Yoruba word; that what is now Lagos bears that name is due to its early occupation by the Benins…”, he stated.
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The Historical fact is that Oba Orhogbua, who reigned in Benin in the 16th Century (about 1550AD) waged a number of wars, one of which carried him as far as to the land now known as Dahomey, which he conquered and over which he installed a Military Administrator by the name of Isidahome after whom that territory was named “the land of Isidahome” which, over the centuries, became the modern “Dahomey.”
It was during the Oba’s expedition that he came to the island which the Portuguese subsequently named Lagos. As the journey was long and tedious, he decided to find a resting place.
The whole area was a swampy bush but after some exploration, he reached the sandy beach which he found very suitable, with its clear water and plenty of fish, the Oba with his men decided to build a camp there.
This was how Lagos came to acquire the name “Eko.” This word is not a Yoruba word. The fact is that this island had no name, being only a fishing camp, before the Benins entered. In the Benin language, “Bu Eko” or “Bu ago” means “to build a camp” usually a resting place in the village. Thus, there is a sacred spot in Benin City today known as “Eko ohae” (Bachelor’s Camp) where an Oba must spend a few days in the course of the ceremonial journey leading to his coronation. So again “Eko Oviawe” means “Oviawe’s Camp.” EKO therefore is not a Yoruba word; that what is now Lagos bears that name is due to its early occupation by the Benins.
The Benins never intended to make a permanent settlement on their newly discovered sandy beach. All that the Oba (Orhogbua) needed was a good camp (Eko) where he and his men could always break their long tedious coastal journey. But they stayed long enough to begin to bring up families. In fact the Oba is believed to have stayed there for about 12 years most of the time fighting and acquiring territories by conquest, before he returned to Benin.
After 12 years of successful campaigns, with headquarters at Eko, Oba Orhogbua returned to Benin. From Benin he appointed an Administrator by the name of Aisikpa to look after the Island. Aisikpa was a name (or title) specially chosen for the Administrator to commemorate the Oba’s many years’ sojourn at Eko and it is simply a contraction of the Benin phrase “Aisikpahienvbore” which means “people never desert their place” or “the place will not be deserted by us.” That is how Aisikpa, whom the Yorubas now call Ashipa, came into Lagos histories.
Bajulaiye is an important Lagos title but it only reminds us of Obazuaye of Benin the chief who was sent to Eko with Aisikpa. Inabere Street in Lagos has its origin in Unuabehe in Benin City.When Aisikpa died, his remains were carried to Benin for interment, (he was the grandson of the Oba) and he was succeeded by Edo (or Ado as the Yorubas now call the name).
The early “settlers” (apparently Yorubas from the interior) never went beyond the mainland. They stopped at Ebute Metter or Ode-Iddo. The “settlers” stopped at Ebute Metta. “Ode-Iddo” or “Iddo” on the other hand is, like the name “Ado” which is a corruption of the Benin phrase “Ode-Edo” meaning the “road to Benin.” It is simply a corruption by the itinerant fishermen of the Benin phrase they picked up from the Benin people who always pointed towards the mainland whenever they referred to the outward route.
There could be no denying the fact that it was Oba Orhogbua in the 16th Century who founded what is now Lagos Island; it is equally a historical fact that on his return to Benin after many years, he appointed one of his grandsons by name Aisikpa to look after the affairs of the place and it was this man who laid the foundation for the Administration of Lagos; finally Aisikpa on his death was succeeded by his son, Edo.
It should be noted that Oba Orhogbua during his conquest, had conquered one Chief Olague (now known as Amakpetu of Mahin) in Mahin, as well as Olofin in that campaign.
It is interesting to recall that when present Oba of Benin, as a Prince then, entered as a student in the then Higher College, Yaba, a prominent Benin man resident in Lagos went to visit the Prince and took him to a swampy water front where the Federal Palace Hotel is now and showed the Prince four iron rods pined to the ground. The man explained that they were the charm Oba Orhogbua fixed to prevent the swampy water extending to his camp “Eko.” The man and the Prince recognized the iron rods as what Benin traditionalists call “OSUN N’IGIOGIO.”
Historically, the rights of who own Lagos are clear: Lagos was a Benin town with a Benin Oba who paid tribute to the Oba of Benin –indeed, his chiefs were the descendants of noble Benin families. The Benin Empire ran Lagos for over 400 years before the colonial powers took over.
Yes, the dominant people in Lagos were Yoruba but they formed not the rulers of the town but the subjects of the Oba just like we find in the United Kingdom today where people are subjects of the Queen of England and not citizens.
In 1603, Andreas Joshua Ulsheimer, a German surgeon, aboard a Dutch merchant ship, visited Lagos. He later described it as a large frontier town surrounded by strong fence and inhabitant by “none but soldiers and four military commanders, who behave in a very stately manner.” The Lagos visited by Ulsheimer and his trading colleagues nearly four centuries ago was in many ways highly developed. Each day its four commander came together as a court and each day two envoys were dispatched to take decisions back to their ruler in Benin. To do so, Ulsheimer wrote, was a common practice in all towns under the suzerainty of Benin. Food in the Lagos area was plentiful: handsome fish, good wildfowl”, meat fruits, yams and a host of other foodstuffs. The town was by water and by land, and many traders who brought their wares by water and by land, and who conducted their transactions in cowries or trade goods, amongst which brass was highly prized. Ulsheimer was struck by the beautiful, colouful cloth, the ivory, and the elephant tails were traded in Lagos, and by the large amount of pepper that was available. Indeed, his party was rewarded with five lasts of pepper for successful helping the Benin-led army-which he possibly overstated as being ten thousand- to lay siege to dissident neighboring towns.
Ulsheimer’s brief, but revealing; description is remarkable in many ways. It confirms Benin oral traditions of conquest and occupation of Lagos during the sixteenth century. Egharevba has described how Oba Orhogbua of Benin (c. 1550-1578) occupied the island of Lagos, established a military camp there from that base waged wars upon some of the people, described as rebels against his authority, in the immediate interior. Orhogbua, Benin traditions say left Lagos when he learnt of a coup against him at home. But he left behind in Lagos, a military camp under three generals,. His son and successor, Ehengbuda (c. 1578-1606) on his journey to Lagos, is said to have drowned in River Again, roughly mid-way between Benin and Lagos, when his boat capsized. Ulsheimer description reveals the situation in Lagos towards the end of Oba Ehengbuda reign.
Ulsheimer also gives us the first account, documenting the transformation of Lagos from fishing camp to a trading centre, and from an autonomous settlement to a Benin tributary. Lagos Lagoon was known to European traders by 1485, when it first appeared on maps, but the town of Lagos was not included. Nor was it mentioned by Portuguese and later Dutch merchants who were trading in the area with the Ijebu in cloth, slaves and ivory by1519. Oral evidence indicates that the Portuguese were sufficiently interested in the trade in this area to have established themselves in the Ijada quarter of Ijebu-Ode. But their written documents as those of other foreign traders are silent concerning a town of Lagos for most of the sixteenth century.
Nonetheless, Benin extended its military and trading pressure along a corridor from Benin City as far as West Allada by 1530. and it is possible that step by step it opened staging, provisioning, and rest camps along the route. Benin’s armed forces were surprising large. A Dutch source of the seventeenth century indicates the King of Benin could mobilize from 20,000 to 10,000 men4 and move contingents of them through the waterways between Benin and Allada in war canoes built to hold from 50 to 100 armed soldiers each. It is quite likely that Benin recruited, by choice and by force, troops as it moved, for its armies were too large to have moved as a single body, in a single campaign, from one source. Lagos was probably one of many recruitment zones and camps. For it to have presented the well-governed and vital commercial picture that it did to Ulsheimer, however, means it did nor emerge overnight. The years between 1530 and 1603 no doubt is a period of development, stimulated by Benin’s presence and by opportunity this gave nearby peoples to make contact with, even if indirectly, the growing and lucrative European trade.
Oral traditions, well-known to historians of Lagos, indicate that Benin found pre-existing settlement on Lagos and nearby Ido Islands. Ulsheimer also confirmed this. Some of the inhabitants in the Lagos interior lived in towns walled for defensive purpose and Ulsheimer’s group armed with two cannons helped the local Benin army to conquer and completely destroy one of such towns described as dissident. But we know little of the size of these settlements or their inhabitant. Clearly, there were no large centralized polities or major trade centres in the immediate vicinity. Those that did exist, farther away, such as Ijebu-Ode, Benin and the Aja port towns, were well-known to Europeans and mentioned in their written description of the period. European records are silent on the time before 1603. Accordingly, we must turn to oral traditions and environmental evidence to reconstruct a picture of pre-Benin Lagos and of the era when Benin began to influence its development. Who in fact inhabited the area. What was their way of life?
Benin forces settled at a strategic place on the northwest tip of Lagos Island where they could easily mount a defensive garrison and still overlook the lagoon which narrows suddenly at this point between Lagos and Ido Island. Aderibigbe suggests that there was a protracted period during which Benin attempted to take Ido Island, apparently the most populated place in the Lagos area and essentially, the gateway to the mainland. Given its interests in towns, especially Isheri, Ota and other Ogun River settlements. The Ogun was an important waterway leading to inland trade. The large number of colonies established by Benin throughout the Ogun basin (west from Lagos to Badagry, and north from the coast to (latter-day) Ilaro Division boundaries, attests to its interest. Ido was surrounded by water and given the palisades Ulsheimer found around Lagos, it was quite likely that Ido was also fortified against Benin invaders. Whether Benin was initially unwilling or unable to take Ido is unclear. Certainly it did so later, for its refugees founded new settlement nearby, especially along the southern side of the lagoon in today’s Eti-Osa. In contrast to Ido, Benin established a firm base across the lagoon on Lagos Island with little resistance. At the time, Lagos Island had one known settlement, founded by the legendary Aromire, “lover of water”, as a fishing camp
Ido, so traditions indicate, was a centre of local activity. It was the seat of Olofin, a strong leader who appears to have dominated a group of villages that were thought to exist prior to Benin conquest and to be Awori Yoruba ancestry. In mythological language, Olofin was said to have had many “sons” amongst whom he divided the area’s lands. These sons and the settlements they represented were the early settlers met by Benin forces. At the time, they probably represented a village group, allied for governmental, protective and perhaps economic reasons. Later as Lagos grew and its government expanded. Olofin’s sons became known as Idejo, landowning chiefs. The number of chiefs in the Olofin alliance is usually remembered as a formulaic eight, ten, sixteen or thirty-two. Twelve of them are today recognized by government Aromire, Oloto, Ojora, Onitolo, Onitano, Onikoyi, Oniru, Oluwa, Onisiwo, Eleguishi, Ojomu and Lumegbon. The Olofin title disappeared while the Olumegbon is now the leader of the Idejo class and presides over its installation ceremonies.
According to the early historians of Lagos, the settlements represented by Idejo chiefs were not established simultaneously, but in stages. Traditions in Idejo families confirm that this was, indeed, the case and furthermore that not all Idejo families were of Awori descent. As indicated, the people of Ido did predate Benin conquest. Warfare had driven them from the mainland area of Ebute-Metta, “three wharfs” to Ido Island where they established two small settlements; Oto village, facing the mainland, and Ido, a fishing camp facing Lagos Island, which eventually disappeared or was absorbed into the larger village. These two settlement were governed together under a chief who became known as Oloto and whose family controlled a large stretch of land on the mainland behind Ido. The southwest part of Ido Island was settled by a group of migrants whose origins were traced to Aramoko in the Ekiti area. This group’s first headman, Kueji, married an Ido woman, one Isikoko by name, and they settled at Ijo-Ara (Ijora) where Kueji took the Ojora titles, Aro and Odofin, eventually arose within the Ojora line. Whether or not this occurred before the Benin era is not clear.
There were other chiefs in the Ido group. The Elegushi of Ikate and Ojomu and Ajiran have traditions stating they fled Ido to escape Benin raids and settled in Eti-Osa area in the south shore of the lagoon east of Lagos Island. This being the case, their settlements and independent chieftaincies came after, not before, Benin. The Ojomu title, however, is not entirely explained by the refuges tradition, since until recently it was not included in the Idejo, but in the Akarigbere class of chiefs, that is inn the administrative line of Lagos chiefs that, for the most part, claim Benin origins. Another Ido chief, the Opeluwa, also became Lagos chiefs. Eventually, then the Lord group gave birth to four Idejo chiefs (Oloto, Ojora, Elegushi and Ojomu) and one Ogalade chief (Opeluwa). At least one (oloto) and possibly three chiefs (Oloto, Ojora, and Opeluwa) were in existence at Ido before the arrival of Benin.
The members of the Aromire settlement gave land to Benin conqueror on Lagos Island, and thus we can be sure that they, like the Oloto People, existed prior to conquest. Armoire again did not represent a single group. One section of the family settled at Tolo on the western tip of Lagos Island, and it became headed by the Onitolo, a descendant of the Aromire family. Another Idejo title holder, the Onitano, was said to be the grandson of Oshoboja’s daughter. Still another Idejo chief, the Onikoyi, was brought into Lagos by Aromire family through marriage. The founder of Onikoyi family lived at Oke-Ipa on Ikoyi Island, named after his ancestral home which was believed to have been in Old Oyo. Adeyemi a leader of the Oke-Ipa settlement married Efunluyi, daughter of Meku armoire, who was believed to be the sixth title holder of the Aromire line. In honour of her deliverance of a son, called Muti, Chief Meku allocated to his daughter and son-in-law a plot of land near Iga Aromire “Aromire Court”, on Lagos Island. The house built on that plot became Iga Onikoyi and Aromire’s son-in-law the first holder of an Idejo title in Lagos, the Onikoyi title. All in all, four related Idejo chieftaincies came out of the Aromire line: armoire itself, Onitolo, Onitano, and Onikoyi.
The remaining four Idejo titles clearly came into existence after the invasion of Benin. To chart this process, let us return to Ulsheimer. If his account is correct, then it appears that the daily gathering of Lagos governors was one of military commanders from Benin, and not heads of local settlement. Gradually, however, additions were made to that body. The vehicle via which accretion took place eventually was called Ose Iga a ceremonious meeting of Lagos held at the palace every seventeen days. The Osega was attended by a body of chiefs whose agenda was devoted to proposing and debating community policy. Before discussions at each meeting, sacrifices were performed. After each meeting the assembled chiefs were fed and entertained by the Oba. Rights to sit on his highest decision making body of the community were extended to all recognized chiefs. Indeed, the culmination of investiture ceremonies took place in the Ose chamber of the palace. Until a chief was brought into Osega, he was effectively not a functioning part of the larger policy. It does appear, however, that leaders of surrounding village who saw themselves as clients of the Oba could attend the Osega. Village settlement in and around Lagos Island were of several types: those powerful enough to be represented by their chief on the Osega; those that were clients (and the nature of the tie differed markedly among settlements. Ranging from complete dominance and overlordship to a loose control or dependency); and those that retained autonomy, foregoing the political and protective links that representation at the Lagos Osega could offer them.
The number of chiefs with rights to attend the Osega grew slowly and fluctuated. Olumegbon, leader of the Idejo class was said to have been brought into Lagos and given a title by Ado, one of the early Bini rulers. The first Olumegbon came from Aja, east of Lagos toward the Lekki Lagoon. The reasons for his inclusion among the chiefs who attend the Osega may never be known to us. It is possible that the Benin warriors found him and his people located at a vital position on their east-west trade corridor and therefore wished to control that position themselves by alleviating its headman to a chieftaincy title in Lagos rather than subjugating him. It is also possible that he was originally a part of the Ido alliance and brought in as its senior representatives. In any case, Olumegbon was allocated a plot for an Iga in the Iduntafa area of Lagos and thus within the portion of land originally allocated by Aromire to the Benin rulers.
The last three Idejos chiefs. Oluwa-Onisiwo and Oniru were brought into Osega at the time of Akinsemoyin in thee mid to latter part of the eighteenth century. Oluwa came to the Lagos area from Iwa, near Badagry, and settled on lands in the Apapa Ajegunle area. Onisiwo ancestors came from the Porto Novo area and settled to the south of Oluwa in the Tarwa/Tomaro area. The forebears of Oniru established a settlement at Iru village, close to todayâ€™s Federal Palace Hotel on Victoria Island, overlooking the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. Although not confirmed by the family, it is widely believed that, given their settlement on the seafront, the Oniru people descended from ocean-going fishermen who migrated eastward from as far west as today’s Ghana. The Oniru family strengthened its ties to the Idejo landowners by marrying into the Aromire family early on. All three chiefs, in fact, were said to have strengthened their ties to Lagos by marrying daughters of Akinsemoyin, but this is still a matter of debate. All in all, we can be sure that there were two pre-Benin settlements-Aromire and Oloto at Io-and possibly the immigrating Ojora group. Water rights were important to these groups and they give us a relative chronology of settlement. Fishing was the mainstay of the early local economy and therefore control of lagoon fishing rights was the most valuable fixed asset in the region. It is significant that three chiefs-Aromire, Oloto, and Ijora-settled at wharfs and controlled the fishing waters surrounding them. Their control stretched from Lagos Island, east to five Cowries Creek, across the lagoon as far as Akoka, and thence west to Apapa. With one exception, fishing rights in the water surrounding Lagos, first settlement were vested in these three groups. The exception was Itolo Wharf, controlled by the Onitolo, an offshoot of the Aromire family, who was allocated by this location and offshore fishing rights after the first Aromire title holder had been recognized. Other Idejo families who controlled fishing rights in Lagos area waters were located at increasingly distant locations suggesting their increasingly late arrivals. Oluwa in the waters off Apapa, Onisiwo in the creeks and lagoons surrounding the islands and the a pits of land south of Apapa, and Oniru near the small wharf at the mouth of Five Cowries Creek.
Re turning to the Osega, it appear that incorporation into it was the result of Lagosâ€™ expansion. As the city expanded and as its commercial importance waxed. Its sphere of influence in surrounding settlement grew and peoples” interest grew in joining it. There were consideration to be made on both sides. Lagos did not want to give power or title, to a settlement or its leader unless it was profitable. Similarly, a leader did not wish to join another polity, and thus relinquish some autonomy, unless he gained economically, militarily or in status. A weak settlement could be conquered or placed in a client position under an overload in Lagos rather than incorporated into a elite circles of Osega. A strong settlement needed to be recognized in a grand manner and this was the function of Osega, In as much as incorporation into the Osega occurred at different times, and settlements of Idejo chiefs were established at different times, their origins also represented different elements.
Lagos traditions are strong in ascribing Awori origins its Idejo chiefs. But as we have seen, the homeland of Idejo chiefs were not necessarily Awori. Some of the Idejo titles and settlement, moreover, were created internally, or by resettlement. Yet today most Idejo chieftaincy families have incorporated certain Awori cultural elements into their own traditions. This is process that could occur after, not necessarily before their arrival in the Lagos area. Marriage played an important role in the incorporation process. Onitu family members have traditions, although they are debated that their relationship to the Olofin group was established through marriage rather than descent. The armoire family, too, was expanded through marriage, as in the case of the Onikoyi and an Ojora leader married an Ido woman. The examples are numerous. The point is that the assumption of Awori identity was as much an acculturative process through marital alliance or association by proximity as it was a genetic one. After all, the Benin conquerors were eventually absorbed into Lagos identity, although their positions of origin were not obscured. Ideologies of common origin are common to people who ally together in order to strengthened their position, whether they are Benin overlords wishing to solidify their status as an aristocratic ruling class or Idejo chiefs wishing to assets their rights to participate in the governing bodies of that aristocratic class by virtues of their collective status as controllers of land and fishing rights.
The claims of common origin through Olofin of Iddo and prior to that through Ogunfuminire, of Isheri and of common Awori calculating identity are, in the parlance of historians who specialize in evaluating oral traditions, historical clich’s. In them, a number of separate, individual traditions are shortened, streamlined, and altered in order to conform to one another. This is a collective process that facilitates the transmission of information. More importantly, it legitimates the position that a group of people may wish to assert. For Idejo chiefs, the claim to first settler status was simplified when they were able to cite a single, socially validated tradition of common origin. An analogous process can be seen in the Ife legend. Here Awori and other Yoruba speaking peoples legitimate what they have in common and their accompanying feelings of solidarity, through a single, streamlined historical clichÃ© stating that they all originated from one point, Ife, through one common ancestor, Oduduwa. While historical clichÃ©s have a social function to perform as they promote unity and collective identity, they tend to erase the distinctive features various groups of people may have and to obliterate their unique histories origin, migratory patterns, and the like. In the case of Lagos, the rich and varied backgrounds of Idejo chiefs tended to be obscured by the overarching legend of Olofin and the ascribed identity of Awori.
Still, the Awori undoubtedly enjoyed a domegraphic advantage in the Lagos area at a critical stage in the formative years of Lagos. If it were not so this identity would have played a strong role in local traditions. Awori are marked by one particular feature: the distinctiveness of their speech, which has been described as a recognizably separate dialect of Yoruba. In many other respects there were and still are differences amongst Awori peoples.
Early European administrators divided Awori into four groupings: southern, Eastern, Central and Western. Of Southern (coastal) and Eastern (next to Lagos) Awori, the internal differences were too marked and actual origins too diverse to characterize them as a whole. Of the Central and Western groups (including Ilaro and Ilogbo), however, more could be said. Both groups shared similar social and cultural, especially ritual, customs and both shared strong traditions of having moved south in slow, step-wise migrations to escape war and slave raids. Places of origin were scattered, but Egbado, Ketu and Oyo figured prominently among them. Two groups were further linked by traditions of cross-migrations, e.g. some Ota elements were said to have originated in Old Ilogbo, i.e. Western Awori territory, although traditions of the Olofin group placed them primarily in the Central group
There were similarities between Ijora, Oto and Aromire family rituals and Central Awori rituals. The Efe-Gelede masquerade (Efe falling on the eve of a Gelede outing) was common to the Ilaro (Egbado Awori) region and to Oto and Ijora. The capping ceremonies for Chief Oloto, in fact specifically include the Efe-Gelede rites. Elegbara festivals were common amongst Central and Western Awori and the Ido chieftaincy groups. Two families, Oto and Ijora and at once time, Aromire, maintained Elegbara arenas for performances of annual festivals. The Central and Western Awori were united in their skills and occupations of which three stood out. Two ancestors were hunters: Ogunfunminire, “the god of iron has given me luckâ€, and Olofin. Others were farmers-the soil of the area were rich and raising yams and vegetables was significant. More interesting, perhaps because it was less common, was iron-making. The Ota region was one of the early and rich smelting centre of Yoruba land, and several sites were prominent. Ilobi near todayâ€™s Ilaro (but settled long before it) was first settled by Ketu people who were searching for iron ore deposits in and area where water supplies were sufficient for operating the thirsty smelters. Ilobi designated one of its chiefs to run its smelting operations. Ajilete, too, was a richly endowed iron town. Its Oba was Ajilete Iyawo Ogun. :Ajilete the consort of ironâ€ Even Benin colonist established iron smelters in the area in order to equip their forces.
Awori also were familiar with river and creek fishing, as were many inland peoples. An early canoe building center (but of unknown date) was said to have existed north of Isheri in the Iro-Iori area at the point where navigability of the Ogun River ceases. The legendary ancestors of the Olofin group navigated the Ogun River and arrived at their Lagos Lagoon destination in Canoes. Water deities and rituals were familiar parts of their cultural heritage and many have been transported to the new settlements. The Awori, however, did not introduce Olokun, the great sea deity, for it came from a coastal village. The source of Ota, a lagoon deity, is shrouded in mystery although Ota rituals seems to center within the Ido group of families. The deity is believed to emit fire during periods of the full moon, and to act as a guide to voyages at night. Like Olokun it is prohibited for security, peace and a bountiful fish harvest. Sharks also are ritually symbolic in the Lagos area and their snouts have been placed on many shrines, especially the Oju Egun in each chieftaincy Iga. The ritual worship of sharks extends to Eshire where, known by another name, an ox is sacrificed to an Ogun River deity each November, shortly after sharks that spawn upstream arrive.
Whether or not Awori migrants moved voluntarily into the lagoon area is unknown. Sea, salt and smoked/dried fish were valuable inland trade items and they, alone, could have drawn prospective trader south. There are strong indications, however, that the people now know as Awori represent a long and uneven movement of people of Ketu, Egbado, Oyo and no doubt other origins who were forced south by warfare and slave raids, and that was occurring as early as the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries, prior to and perhaps extending into the same period that saw Benin march west. That these peoples and Benin met and interacted in the wedge of territory to the east and north of the Lagos lagoon is clear. Town founding traditions in nearby areas go back to either stock and sometimes both. Early British travelers called this area the territory of Ado i.e. the territory of Edo (Benin). The mixture of Edo and Yoruba language was such that in the early twentieth century administrators labeled the language of this area not as Awori but as Bini-Awori.
The lagoon, we submit, was a frontier for both Benin and Awori peoples. Given their land-oriented skills, the environment initially was not hospitable for either people. Coastal lands from the Benin River to Badagry were sandy and unfit for large scale agriculture, although palm products were abundant and yams could be cultivated in some near-coastal soils. Swamps penetrated well into the hinterland and was filled with thick stands of mangrove and high brush. Water transport was necessary to movement, and it brought people into contact with relative ease. It was not swift, however, and it required a keen knowledge of the waterways.
The two significant economic undertakings in the area, as indicated, were fishing and salt making, either from mangrove tree roots or sea water. Salt was an important items of exchange as there is no evidence of brine deposit in the whole of Yorubaland. Indeed, Benin traditions hold that the march west was triggered by a quest for salt; but neither they nor Awori were skilled in salt-making. Neither were they skilled in lagoon fishing and in operating the complex systems of water rights that had developed for large bodies of water. The lagoon area did not have sufficiently centralized policies for permanent market centre to thrive. There were no strong governmental umbrellas that protected large-scale movements of people for trade or do fishing, which made both endeavors risky and dangerous. Lagoon dwellers, like frontiersmen everywhere, were required to develop independent military prowess and to learn to move in water with care and stealth. Stories of pirates, raids and kidnapping along the coastal waterways, even after Lagos became a powerful city-state indicate that this was indeed frontier territory. The skills for operating inn this environment, we believe, were not likely to have been well-developed among the land-oriented Awori who themselves had no large centralized polities. Like fishing skills, water rights systems and knowledge of the terrain were acquired by Awori settlers from fishing people whose camps and small settlements no doubt preceded them in the area.
In 1934, a British administrator recorded an interview with the Oloro and Erelu Odibo of Lagos, in which the two chiefs suggested that the Olofin people were given land in Ido by two inhabitants of Lagos Island: Olopon and Omuse. The two then returned to their villages and left the newcomers to themselves. For these chiefs then, Olopon and Omuse represented, however symbolically a pre-existing population. The tradition is too vague to be reliably traced, but it does indicate that human habitation existed in the areas from very early period and that succeeding populations have been layered on one another for centuries and perhaps millennia.
Who were these early inhabitants of the lagoon area? Traditions of lagoon people and parts of the Nigeria Delta indicate that fishing in lagoon, creeks and seaside was to a large extending a migratory occupation. Fish species move and seasons fluctuate. Hence fishing camps were often established at various points and fishermen were known to move to them and away from their home bases for long periods. As in farming, the concept of near and distant fishing grounds was practices among lagoon fishermen. The near, or home grounds were needed for quick fishing. The distant ground entitled setting up camps where curing and smoking could take place.
Given their need for mobility, it was likely that the early lagoon fishing groups intermixed in customs and social institutions. From the Benin River to Allada, little settlements came into contact with one another and undoubtedly influenced the customs of one another.
The Ilaje peoples of Mahin (Okitipupa) were known to have moved some 200 miles west, and thus well beyond Lagos Island, in their immigrations. They probably did not collaborate fully with Benin in its westward march and this would explain why Oba Orhogbua (c1550-1578) on his return journey from Lagos attacked Mahin and executed its ruler as a traitor. The earliest period of their movements is yet unknown but it is not unrealistic to suggest that they were acquainted with the coastal waterways by the fifteen century. Furthermore an analysis of the traditions of some of the Ijo groups in the Western Delta fringe suggest that the Egbema had visited the vicinity of Lagos (Ukuroma or Iko (Eko, Lagos) in early times. The traditions of Olodiama Ijo agree with those of Benin that the same Oba Orhogbua (c1550-1578) after defeating the Ileja, stopped at Ikoro, a major town of the Olodiama Ijo on his return from Lagos to Benin. Although, how and where the Benin obtained their boats is not yet known it is safe to suggest that the Ijo and perhaps the Ilaje supplied the boats. The Aja speaking peoples of today’s Republic of Benin, known colloquially in the Lagos area as Egun, migrated eastward in large number early in the eighteenth century, but a small, earlier infiltration Allada and Lagos Island from earliest times. During the latter part of the fifteenth century, the Ijebu appear to have begun moving south into the lagoon area, and it was Kita fishermen of Ghana who moved hundreds of mile eastward in their fishing migrants who were credited with teaching Ijebu migrants in the Eti-Osa area hoe to fish.
Once again, intermarriage was undoubtedly a prime vehicle for transmitting one people way of life to another. Today’s inhabitants of Epe, Mahin, Ijebu and Ikale all represent fairly recent intermixing of formerly separate population groups. The process is similar at the level of language, including Yoruba, Edo, Urhobo and Ijo. The Awori-Benin linguistic blend of Lagos is another example. The point is that we should not look to a single proto-population,, but to a proto-culture sharing area where there flourished peoples with high developed water-oriented skills (fishing, slat-making canoe-making and individual prowess) and a well developed sense of territorial rights and obligations with respect to waterways.
It is with these suggestions that we wish to conclude. For here lies a key to visualizing the Lagos Lagoon area from earliest times to the present. The migrant fisher folk who frequented the lagoon and camped on the shores of Lagos and Ido Island before Ulshiemer’s 1603 visit no doubt stemmed from many source spreading their way of life in the course of movements. After them, the Awori, and then the Benin peoples, added new layers to the populations and firmly embedded certain aspects of their home cultures into those of the emerging city-state of Lagos. These influence were neither a beginning nor an end. The hallmark of Lagos was and still is its ability to absorb many peoples languages and many cultural influences. It has done so since time immemorial, and it is a process to which there is no predictable end.
Credit: Wikipedia, Otitigbe Obadiah Oghoerore Alegbe PhD