To speak of Oduduwa, is to tell the history of the Yoruba people.
The Yoruba people are an ethnic group that inhabits western Africa, widespread across Nigeria, Benin, Togo and part of Ghana. Across the globe, the Yoruba constitute around 47 million people. The majority of this population being Nigerians- 21% of Nigeria’s population- making them one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. The language of the Yoruba people is called the Yoruba language, which is the Niger-Congo language with the largest number of native speakers.
As an ethnic description, the term “Yoruba” (or more correctly “Yaraba”) was initially in reference to the Oyo Empire and is the usual Hausa name for Oyo people as noted by Hugh Clapperton and Richard Lander. It was hence popularized by Hausa usage and ethnography written in Ajami during the 19th century by Sultan Muhammad Bello. The expansion of the term to all speakers of dialects associated to the language of the Oyo (in modern terminology North-West Yoruba) dates to the second half of the 19th century. It is due to the influence of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther, the first Anglican bishop in Nigeria. Crowther was himself an Oyo Yoruba and compiled the first Yoruba dictionary as well as initiating a standard for Yoruba orthography. The alternative name Akú, derived from the first words of Yoruba greetings (such as Ẹ kú àárọ? “good morning”, Ẹ kú alẹ? “good evening”) has survived in certain parts of their diaspora as a self-descriptive, especially in Sierra Leone.
Where do Yoruba people come from?
There are many oral traditions about the origin of the Yoruba people. Some accounts claim the Yoruba people were created at Ile-Ife and Ile-Ife is the beginning of life. Other accounts assert the Yoruba people migrated from a farther region to settle in present-day West Africa.
However, the history of Yoruba people is generally accepted as the migration of an East African population across the trans-African route leading from Mid-Nile river area to the Mid-Niger. Archaeologists, according to M. Omoleya, educate us that the Nigerian area was occupied more than forty thousand years ago, or as far as 65,000BC. During this period, the Nok culture colonized the region. The Nok culture was visited by the Yoruba people, between 2000BC and 300BC. According to historical accounts, a group of people was led by a divine-king, Oduduwa, who settled peacefully in the already established Ile-Ife, the sacred city of the indigenous Nok people.
This period is known as the Bronze Age, a time of great civilization of both of these groups. According to Olumide J. Lucas, “the Yoruba, during antiquities, lived in ancient Egypt before migrating to the Atlantic coast.” He made use of resemblance of languages, religious beliefs, traditions and names of persons, places and things. Furthermore, numerous ancient papyri discovered by archaeologists point at an Egyptian origin. (Tariqh Sawandi: Yorubic medicine: The Art of divine herbology).
That brings us to an ultimate question;
Who is Oduduwa?
Aboriginal traditions, which contemporary Yoruba historians accord precedence, narrates that Oduduwa was an emissary from the community of Oke-Ora, the easternmost part of the Ife cultural area which spans towards the Northeastern Ijesa people. He came down from the Hills on a chain, earning the oriki Atewonro (i.e ‘one who descends on a chain’). He is said to have been a warrior that wore armour made of iron. At that moment, a confederacy existed between the 13 communities of the valley of Ile-Ife, with each community having its Oba; the Oba of Ijugbe, the Oba of Ijio, the Oba of Iwinrin etc.
When Oduduwa emerged as a prominent citizen of ancient Ife, he and his faction are speculated to have dominated most of the 13 component communities and expelled Obatala, subsequently evolving the palace structure with its practical centralized power and dynasty. Due to this, he is commonly referred to as the first Ooni of Ife and progenitor of the legitimate kings of the Yoruba people.
Oral religious traditions about the inception of time claim that Oduduwa was Olodumare’s favourite Orisa. As such, he (or she, as the primordial Oduduwa is said to have represented the Divine Feminine aspect and Obatala the Divine Masculine) was sent from heaven to create the earth upon the waters, a task he/she had usurped from his/her consort and/or sibling Obatala, who had been equipped with a snail shell filled with sand and a bird to scatter the said sand in arrangement to create land. These beliefs are held by certain Yoruba traditionalists to be the cornerstone of their creation story. In this narrative, Oduduwa is also known as Olofin Otete, the one who took the Basket of Existence from Olodumare.
This cosmological myth has occasionally been blended with the belief of the historical Oduduwa. Based on a few accounts, the historical Oduduwa is considered to be called after an earlier version of Oduduwa who was female and related to the Earth called Ilẹ. This myth would assert that, Oduduwa was the wife of Obatala as cited in Odu Ifa Osa Meji, a verse of the Ifa oracle. In this Odu, Obatala uncovers the mystery of his wife and steals the masquerade’s robes from her to wear it himself. This is indicated to be a historical expression of a switch from matriarchy to patriarchy. A few historians would claim Yoruba women used to own the ancestral cults of Gelede and Egungun.
One of the many Yoruba traditions critics is the London-based Yoruba Muslim scholar, Sheikh Dr Abu-Abdullah Adelabu. In an interview with a Nigerian media house, the founder and spiritual leader of Awqaf Africa Society in London dismissed the common belief that all Yorubas are descendants of Oduduwa as “a false representation by Orisa worshippers to gain an unjust advantage over the spread of Islam and the recruitment of Christianity”. The Muslim scholar advised his followers against using phrases such as Omo Oduduwa (or Children of Oduduwa) and Ile Oduduwa (or Land of Oduduwa). He argued that the story that all the Yorubas are children of Oduduwa was based only on word of mouth.
Other Arabic/Islamized people have claimed a connection to Oduduwa. According to the Kanuri, Yauri, Gobir, Acipu, Jukun and Borgu tribes – whose founding ancestors were said to be Oduduwa’s brothers (as recorded in the early 20th century by Samuel Johnson), Oduduwa was the son of Lamurudu, whom Yoruba call either Lamurudu or Lamerudu, a prince who was himself the son of the magician King Kisra. Kisra and his supporters are said to have fought Mohammed in the Battle of Badr. Kisra was urged to depart from Arabia into Africa after losing the war to the jihadists in 624 AD. He and his supporters founded numerous kingdoms and ruling dynasties along their migration route into West Africa. This tradition is a variant of the belief that held that Oduduwa was a prince originating from Mecca. Nonetheless, this belief is thought by some scholars to derive from the later influences on Yoruba culture of Islamic and other Abrahamic religions, and conflicts with other traditions from the corpus of Yoruba myth.
Regardless, the identity of Oduduwa has sustained many attacks in modern times. The Bini people of Benin kingdom in present-day Benin, Edo state, claiming he was a Benin prince (Ekaladerhan), who later became Imadoduwa or Izoduwa, and then Oduduwa. Some Igbos would also claim he was an Igbo man from Nri. Some Igalas claim he hailed from Igala land. Meanwhile, the Igalas have many Ifes, and they claim Oduduwa was from one of such Ifes. The Igala language is close enough to the Yoruba, to assert a common origin for both peoples.
This article is however focused on the possibilities and claims of a relation to the ancient Kemet. The closest link so far would be the last indigenous Kemetic King- Pharaoh Nectanebo II.
Pharaoh Nectanebo II, the last indigenous Kemetic king, was exiled from Kemet by the Achaemenids (Persians); along with hundreds of thousands of indigenous Africans from Kemet, who considered him the divinely anointed king. In the long run, Nectanebo departed into inner Africa. His descendants maybe those that reached Yoruba land were Oduduwa, a kemetian, became the founder of the great dynasty at Ife.
Pharaoh Nectanebo 2
Just like in Ile-Ife of Oduduwa, religion played an important part in Nectanebo’s domestic policy. He started his dynasty by officiating over the funeral of an Apis bull in Memphis. There, Nectanebo developed a relief decoration to the eastern and western temples of Apis. Among significant sanctuaries constructed under Nectanebo II are a temple of Khnum in Abu and a temple of Amun at Sekhtam. He also dedicated a diorite naos to Anhur-Shu (a fragment of it was found in the temples of Tjebnutjer). Nectanebo II was responsible for the increasing popularity of the Buchis cult. During Nectanebo II’s reign, a decree forbidding stone quarrying in the so-called “Mysterious Mountains” in Abydos was issued.
Foreign affairs under Nectanebo II were impeded by repeated Achaemenid effort to take over Egypt. Before the accession of Nectanebo II to the throne, the Persians strived to reclaim Egypt in 385, 383, and 373 BC. Nectanebo used the peace to raise a new army and employed Greek mercenaries- which was a common practice at the time. In about 351 BC, the Achaemenid Empire launched on a new operation to reclaim Egypt. After a year of fighting, Nectanebo and his allied generals, Diophantus of Athens and Lamius of Sparta, managed to defeat the Achaemenids. Having achieved a resounding feat, Nectanebo II was acclaimed “Nectanebo the divine falcon” by his people, and cults were set up in his name.
In 345/44 BC, Nectanebo aided the Phoenician rebellion against the Achaemenid Empire, led by the king of Sidon, Tennes, and dispatched military aid in the form of 4000 Greek mercenaries, led by Mentor of Rhodes. However, having learned of the strategy of the forces of Artaxerxes III, Mentor opened communication with the Persians in collusion with Tennes.
At the end of 344 BC, ministers of Artaxerxes III arrived in Greece, asking for the Greeks’ participation in a crusade against Egypt. Athens and Sparta attended to the ministers with formality but declined from engaging in an alliance against Egypt. Other cities, however, decided to support the Persians: Thebes sent 1000 hoplites and Argos 3000.
In the winter of 343 BC, Artaxerxes set off for Egypt. The Egyptian army, steered by Nectanebo, consisted of 60,000 Egyptians, 20,000 Libu, and as many Greek mercenaries. Also, Nectanebo had a volume of flat-bottomed boats intended to prohibit an enemy from entering the Nile’s mouths. The weak links along his Mediterranean sea border and east boundary were safeguarded by battalions, fortifications and entrenched camps. Persian forces were strengthened by Mentor and his men, well acquainted with the eastern border of Egypt, and by 6000 Ionians.
Nectanebo II was eventually defeated and, in the summer of 342 BC, Artaxerxes arrived Memphis and installed a satrap. Nectanebo retreated to Upper Egypt and finally to Nubia, where he was granted asylum. He, however, maintained a level of power there for some time. With the help of Khabash, Nectanebo made a vain attempt to regain the throne.
Several oral traditions are rampant with these stories. The Awujale of Ijebu land has proved that the Ijebus are descended from ancient Nubia (a colony of Egypt). He was able to use the evidence of language, body, scarification, coronation rituals that are similar to Nubians etc, to ascertain that the Ijebus are descendants of the Nubians. What the present Awujale claimed for the Ijebus, can be verified all over Yoruba land. The Awujale even mentioned (2004) that the Itsekiri (an eastern Yoruba dialect) are speaking the original Ijebu language.
Since the Nubians were descended or colonized by the Egyptians, the Ijebu, and by expansion, all Yoruba customs, derived from the Egyptian. Numerous traditional Yorubas have always alleged Egypt as their place of the original habitat, and that their monarchical tradition derives from the Egyptians. Apostle Atigbiofor Atsuliaghan, a high priest of Umale-Okun, alleged that the Yorubas vacated Egypt as a result of a big war that engulfed the whole of Egypt. He said the Egyptian remainders settled in various places, two significant places being Ode Itsekiri and Ile-Ife. Chief O.N Rewane also says “Oral tradition has it also that when the Yorubas came from South of Egypt they did not go straight to where they now occupy. They settled at Illushi, some at Asaba area, Ebu, Olukumi Ukwunzu, while some settled at Ode-Itsekiri.
What are the possible connections?
There has been a scarcity of archaeological researches in Nigeria. However, any research that has been done is not final, for new finds can be found in future.
The most ancient archaeological finds in Nigeria are the following:
(1) the relic at Iwo Eleru (with a radiocarbon date of about 12,000BC). Iwo Eleru is close to Akure, Ondo State.
(2) The findings at Igbo-Ukwu of about 6000BC.
Opa Oranmiyan (The Staff of Oranmiyan) and the Black siltstone obelisk.
Oranmiyan Omoluabi Odede was a Great Prince of Ife, King of the Yoruba people. Also known as Ọranyan, he was the youngest child who then became the prime successor of Oduduwa upon his return to claim his grandfather’s throne.
Oranmiyan was said to be a giant who was also a warrior.
Oranmiyan Staff, which is traditionally called “Opa Oranyan”, is an erected long obelisk looking staff located along Ondo-Ife Road, Mopa, Arubidi, Ife, Osun State and it represents the cradle of the Yoruba race. It is a narrow carved granite column that is almost six metres tall (more precisely, 5.5 metres). So that makes it relatively tall in comparison with the average human height. Oranmiyan used the staff as a walking stick and a symbol of his royalty when he was in existence.
Black siltstone obelisk of Pharaoh Nectanebo II.
Black siltstone obelisk of Pharaoh Nectanebo II. According to the vertical inscriptions, he set up this obelisk at the doorway of the sanctuary of Thoth, the Twice-Great, Lord of Hermopolis. Today, it is located in the British Museum, London.
Obelisks are very common monuments amongst the Egyptians. It is erected in front of temples in dedication to certain Neterus/Orisas.
The terracotta sculpture from Ife bares a striking resemblance to pharaoh Nectanebo’s statue on the right. Notice the prognosis and thick African lips, just like Kemet’s first monumental statue, the great Sphinx. This shows that for the span of Kemet’s pharaonic history, Africans ruled it all.
The appearance of Nectanebo II next to his cartouches not only makes him seem responsible for carrying out the rituals of all the deities that were depicted inside them, but also makes him seem to become part of the realm of the deities; he had the legitimacy of Horus, the power of Montu and Anhur, the protection of Bastet, and the eternal rebirth by the heart and tongue of Ptah. To keep his name safe from becoming erased or destroyed by his enemies, he made use of cryptography, as had been done by Hatshepsut and Ramses II before him.
Nectanebo II also utilised cryptography on his cult statues that were found in Memphis and Heliopolis. These can now be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art under No. 34.2.1. and in the Musée du Louvre under No. E III52(fig. 10). These statues show the king as a small figure standing between the claws of the falcon god Horus. This corresponds to the fact that Nectanebo II had a royal cult that included priests who served his statues that
bore the name of Nxt-hr-Hbyt-pA-bik, “Nectanebo, the falcon”.
Nectanebo cult statues show that his name consists of three elements: The falcon has the phonetic value hr and embodied the protection and legitimacy for the king at the same time, the sword that is in his left hand called nxt, “power”, and in his right hand Hb(t) sign.
The royal cult statues of Nectanebo “the falcon”, or “pA-bik”, were spread in the main temples of Egypt and the king dedicated priesthoods for them.
So, it seems that Nectanebo had established another special cult for himself in Bubastis, which was the cult of his royal cartouche “Nxt-hr-Hbyt-mry-in-Hr-sA-BAstt”, and had a priesthood attend to this cartouche and carry out the rituals for his sacred name. Therefore, Bubastis was a site with this unique sort of worship. There are traces of a cartouche showing the goddess Neith; and the king in kneeling position making offerings. It must be noted that the goddess Neith can be read as (n) in cryptographic writings, thus, this cartouche may refer to the name of Nectanebo “snDm ib Ra stp n in-Hr”, as a substitute form to his normal cartouche that was part of a naos for the goddess Bastet.
Nectanebo created for himself a special divine magical personality. Through it, Egypt enjoyed a few peaceful years, which helped him to carry out a lot of his construction projects.
The earlier myths of either a gender-fluid or an expressly female Oduduwa are seen in the spirit’s representation in the Gelede tradition. Initiates of Gelede receive a shrine to Oduduwa along with a Gelede costume and mask. This speaks to the primacy of Oduduwa as associated with the divine ancestral mothers that are known as Awon Iya Wa or Iyami. Here, Oduduwa is revered as the great mother of the world.
Nectanebo finished six temples in Delta at least and in Middle and Upper-Egypt he established more buildings whether new ones or renewed old ones, in addition to numerous chapels.
Hieroglyphs are sacred carvings. It was a character of the ancient Egyptian writing system. Logographic scripts that are pictographic in form in a way reminiscent of ancient Egyptian are also sometimes called “hieroglyphs”.
A few hieroglyphs from the ancient Kemet, can be relatable to the Yoruba people.
The pyramids were built during a period when Egypt was one of the richest and most influential civilizations in the world, the pyramids—especially the Great Pyramids of Giza—are some of the most extraordinary man-made structures in history. Their massive scale evaluates the unique role that the pharaoh, or king, played in ancient Egyptian society. However, there is a pyramid in ancient Benin Kingdom.
Certain Egyptian and Yoruboid words have similarities in spelling and translations. Several linguistics scholars have been able to identify over 100 words that are similar to both cultures- covering all Niger-Congo native Languages.
1. Wu (rise) Wu (rise)
2. Horise (a great god) Orise (a great god)
3. Ta (sell/offer) Ta (sell/offer)
4. Sueg (a fool) Suegbe (a fool)
5. Kum (a club) Kumo( a club)
6. Enru (fear / terrible) Eru (fear / terrible)
7. Kun / qun (brave man) Ekun (Tiger/title of a brave man)
8. Odonit (festival) Odun (festival)
9. Ma or mi (to breath) Mi. (to breathe)
10. Khu (to kill) Ku (die)
11. Hika (evil) Ika (evil)
12. Mhebi (humble) Mebi, (humble to one’s family)
13. Unas (lake of fire) Ina (fire)
14. Tan (complete) Tan (complete)
15. Beru (force of emotion) Beru (to be afraid)
16. Pa (open) Pa (break open)
17. Bi (to become) Bi (to birth, to become)
18. Heqet’Re (frog deity) Ekere (the frog)
19. Feh (to go away) Fe (to blow away)
20. Kot (build) Ko (build)
21. Omi (water) Omi (water)
22. Oni (the title of Osiris) Oni (the title of the king of Ife)
23. Dudu (black image of Osiris) Dudu (black person)
24. Ra (possess) Ra (possess/buy)
25. Beka (pray/confess) Be/ka (to plead/confess)
26. Po (many) Po (many/cheap)
27. Horuw (head) middle Egyptian Oruwo (head) (Ijebu)
28. Ash (invocation) Ase (invocation)
29. Do (river) Odo (river)
30. Do (settlement) Ido (settlement)
31. Aru (rise) Ru (rise)
32. Fa (carry) Fa (pull)
33. Kaf (pluck) Ka (pluck)
34. Bu bi (evil place) Ibi’bi (evil place)
35. Mu (water) Mu (to drink )
36. Abi (to be against) Abi(to be questioned/blamed)
37. Ak( male )Ako (male)
38. Se (to create) Se (to create)
Custom and Ettiquette
The art of prostrating is not new to Africans. The Egyptians were known to prostrate to venerate the King or an elder.
According to traditional worshippers, when singing the egungun song they say “bi Aja ba GBE egun wo, mo ma dobale boro ro, idobale lomo ki baba…” (If a dog wears the Egungun mask/costume, I will prostrate cause to greet your ancestor/elder, is to prostrate…)
This tradition of prostrating before a respectable figure still lives on today in inner Afrika. Royals were not only to be expected to be shown with the upmost respect but elders also. In Yoruba culture, the groom must bow down and lie flat down to ask the bride’s family permission for the marriage.
Similarities can also be found in the art culture:
Oduduwa- Name or Title?
Oduduwa= Odu to da iwa ( The Odu that gave birth/created righteousness )
The Odus teach more about the Yoruba culture and tradition:
The History- Creation- Songs of Praise- worship practice- Priest-hood- Proverbs- Messages from God- Way of life etc.
The Yoruba’s believe that as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end (Reincarnation/Karma).
Since we understand this and we have details of causes/actions that brought about events that occurred in the past, we can use the ODU (Our-Story) as a formula to deciphering future occurrence, accustoming existing events that are similar with our past events in the Odus. Hence, we can use the explanations of the Odu to get the answer to the future.
Oduduwa is the Title given to:
Yoruba history of the Creation of the World(Beginning)
Yoruba history before they were exiled (Past)
Yoruba new beginning at Bini, Ile-Ife, Oyo and other Volta-Niger (Present).
A few Christian Scholars would refer to the Bible that says in Zephaniah 3:9/10 :
9: For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent.
10: From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia my suppliants, even the daughter (children) of my dispersed, shall bring mine offering.
The Yoruba Religion is built around Offering (Ram/Ebo) to God
Oduduwa is purely a title given to the Yorubas by Olodumare.
Oduduwa= Odu to da iwa ( The Odu that gave birth/created righteousness )
Ọmọ Oduduwa- The children of Oduduwa- The ones that walk in righteousness. The Ifa traditions constantly preach righteousness- Iwa Pẹlẹ- to have a righteous attitude.
Oduduwa would then mean- the righteous leader- a Pharaoh.
The mystery behind Oduduwa being female or male, might be a starter question- why was the title not retained in Ile-Ifẹ.