History Of Ekiti
Ekiti was an independent state just before the British conquest. It was one of the many Yoruba states which was created in Nigeria. The Ekiti people as a nation and districts of Yoruba race could possibly trace some of her progeny to Oduduwa, the father and progenitor of Yoruba race even though good reason appear to establish the existence of aboriginal people in Ekiti region prior to the overload of royalty from present day Ile Ife as that kingdom grew and abound.
It has been discovered that there are two major schools of thought regarding Ekiti history. First was the story that tied the origin of Ekiti to Ife. The story goes that the Olofin, who was one of the sons of Oduduwa had 16 children and in the means of searching for the new land to develop, they all journeyed out of Ile-Ife as they walked through the Iwo – Eleru (also known as the Cave of Ashes) at Isarun and had stop over at a place called Igbo-Aka (forest of termites) closer to Ile-Oluji.
The Olofin, the 16 children and some other beloved people continued with their journey, but when they got to a particular lovely and flat land, the Owa-Obokun (the Monarch of Ijesha land) and Orangun of Ila decided to stay in the present Ijesha and Igbomina land of in Osun state. But while the remaining 14 children journeyed onwards and later settled in the present day Ekiti land. They later discovered that there were many hills in the place and they said in their mother’s language that this is “Ile olokiti” the land of hills. Therefore, the Okiti later blended to Ekiti. So Ekiti most likely derived her name through hills.
It must however be noted, that this history may describe the history of certain royalty in present-day Ekiti, but not all of Ekiti which is made up of 131 Principal towns, with each, their own royalty and many land-owning communities with no royalty at all. In fact, the invading royalties from the East went on to colonize and transform the aboriginals, distinguishing the Ekiti dialect upon mix-up with the Ife/Oyo tongue of the Yorubas according to Samuel Johnson, who is the renowned historian of early Yoruba States and Affairs
Another school of thought on Ekiti origin is more likely and grounded in actual history. As it was said that Oduduwa, the ancestor of the Yoruba, traveled to Ife where he met people who were already settled there. Among the elders he met in the town were Agbonniregun [Stetillu], Obatala, Orelure, Obameri, Elesije, Obamirin, Obalejugbe just to mention a few. It is known that descendants of Agbonniregun [Baba Ifa] had settled in Ekiti, examples being the Alara and Ajero who are sons of Ifa. Orunmila [Agbonniregun] himself spent a greater part of his life at Ado. Due to this, we have the saying ‘Ado ni ile Ifa’ [Ado is the home of Ifa]. The Ekiti have ever since settled in their present location.
However, nobody can give accurate dates to these events due to the lack of written sources, but people have lived in Ekiti for centuries. It is on record that Ekiti Obas had prosperous reign in the 13th century. An example was the reign of Ewi Ata of Ado-Ekiti in the 1400s.
Meanhwile, according to Samuel Johnson: “Historically, the Ekitis are among the aboriginal elements of the Nigeria absorbed by the invaders from the East (Yoruba people from Ile Ife). “The term Ekiti denotes a “Mound”, and is derived from the rugged mountainous feature of that part of the country. It is an extensive province and well watered, including several tribes and families right on to the border of the Niger, eastward. They hold themselves quite distinct from the Ijesas, especially in political affairs.” (Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yoruba, 1921). It is also believed that the ancestors of Ekiti people who came to combine with the aboriginal people on the land migrated from Ile Ife, the spiritual home of the Yoruba people.
“According to oral and contemporary written sources of Yoruba history, Oduduwa, the ancestor of the Yoruba traveled to Ife [Ife Ooyelagbo] where he met people who were already settled there. Among the elders he met in the town were Agbonniregun [Stetillu], Obatala, Orelure, Obameri, Elesije, Obamirin, Obalejugbe just to mention a few. It is known that descendants of Agbonniregun [Baba Ifa] settled in Ekiti, examples being the Alara and Ajero who are sons of Ifa. Orunmila [Agbonniregun] himself spent a greater part of his life at Ado. Due to this, we have the saying ‘Ado ni ile Ifa’ [Ado is the home of Ifa].
“The Ekiti have ever since settled in their present location. The early Ekiti country is divided into 16 districts (and it has been maintained to this day), each with its own Owa or King (Owa being a generic term amongst them) of which four are supreme, viz. :(1) The Owore of Otun, (2) The Ajero of Ijero, (3) The Ewi of Ado and (4) The Elekole of Ikole. The following are the minor Ekiti kings : (5) Alara of Aramoko, (6) Alaye of Efon Alaye, (7) Ajanpanda of Akure, (8) Alagotun of Ogotun, (9) Olojudo of Ido, (10) Ata of Aiyede, (11) Oloja Oke of Igbo Odo, (12) Oloye of Oye, (13) Olomuwo of Omuwo, (14) Onire of Ire, (15) Arinjale of Ise and (16) Onitaji of Itaji. The Orangun of Ila is sometimes classed among them, but he is only Ekiti in sympathy, being of a different family.”
The modern Ekiti state was formed from part of Ondo in 1996. But before this, it was part of the Ondo Province in Western Region of Nigeria. While the non-Ekiti part of the region largely dominated geographically, Akure which was then regarded as an Ekiti town was the headquarters of Ondo province.
The Ara people of Ekiti
In the year 1850, Ara was one of the most powerful towns in Ekiti with a settlement spaning as big as that of Ijaye in Egbaland. In August 1855, the people of Ara (also called Ara-Ekiti) committed mass suicide to avoid getting enslaved by Ibadan.
The mass suicide was initiated by the leader of Ara town, Alara Elejofi, who (with the help of his first son) destroyed his properties, and also killed his family and himself. Many other households in the town replicated this act, and when the Ibadan army arrived with their wide array of weaponry, they were forced to turn back at the gory sight of dead bodies that littered the town.
Although, the people of Ara had rebelled against their former Alara (ruler) because of his bad and Terrible governance and the grevious offences he had committed against his townspeople. He was exiled. It was during his exile that Chief Elejofi took over the rulership of the town.
The exiled Alara was not willing to let go of his throne and thus sought help from Ibadan. His request was granted because Ibadan, which as at then was gradually filling the vacuum created by the fall of Oyo, was hungry for towns to shove under its administration. The Ibadan army had just returned from an expedition in Ijebu-Ere and with their help, the deposed Alara returned to Ara and was fearfully accepted.
Shortly after Ibadan restored the deposed Alara of Ara, its army attacked Ikoro, which is another town in Ekiti, because they prevented Ibadan army from foraging on their crops, and also because there were rumours that Ikoro was planning to attack the Ibadan army. During the attack on Ikoro, some other towns in Ekiti, including Ara-Ekiti, tried to defended Ikoro. The restored Alara prevented his townspeople from joining the fight against Ibadan, hence another unrest ensued in the town. Ibadan eventually defeated Ikoro and went ahead to punish the towns that helped Ikoro during the war, including Ara.
During this period, Chief Elejofi had again taken over the rulership of Ara and held on to it for some months before it eventually crumbled due to starvation, and to avoid being enslaved by Ibadan, the people of Ara-Ekiti committed an unprecedented mass suicide. This incident is quite similar to the mass suicide of Igbo slaves off the U.S. coast in 1803.
The town of Ara was left deserted for many years before some of its exiled descendants returned home. Ara suicide remains one of the most disturbing chapters in the history of Ekiti and the entire Yoruba land.