A modern praise-poem by Amore David Olamide, in praise of the Egba (Yorùbá people who migrated into Egba Forest before establishing new townships around Olumo Rock) and their heroic ancestors.
After establishing Ilè-Ifẹ̀ (in what is now in south-western Nigeria) as their holy city, the Yoruba people fanned out into the surrounding tropical forests to found new towns in clearings. Several towns established in Egba Forest multiplied into several hundred.
The collapse of the Oyo empire, and the war between Ilè-Ifẹ̀ and Owu, led to the destruction of the federation of towns that had been established in Egba Forest. The Egba scattered throughout the surrounding regions with some hunters taking shelter under a massive outcrop of granite rock that became known as the Olumo Rock.
The stream that flowed down Olumo Rock enabled the cultivation of farmland and soon other Egba refugees followed to form townships. They named their new home Abeokuta, meaning “understone” or “under the rock”.
Eventually an open door policy was extended to all people who had been displaced by the inter-tribal wars, or were escaping the slave-hunters serving the transatlantic markets on the coast and the advancing Muslim conquest from the north.
The strength of numbers that followed the adoption of this policy soon made Abeokuta an impenetrable fortress. This, reinforced with the loyalty instilled by fighting together in the defence of the town, led to the Egba becoming the strongest military power in Yorubaland by the mid-nineteenth century.
Egba, the cradle of the renaissance
A city built atop steep hills
With thousands of antiques that beautified it.
Egba the home of Lakejobi (1)
Lákéjobí who consumes caustic wine
The proprietor of the sweetly rooted, secret grove
An extension of mysticism.
Egba the progeny of Lisabi (2)
Lisabi, a single-man regiment
Egba, the descendant of Agbongbo Akala (3)
Agbongbo who in wars, takes merriment
One who left a legacy on the prairie in his time. (4)
You’re the dormitory of five distinct kings (5)
Those who embraced Egba with their heroism and backed the people of Abeokuta (6)
With the finesse of an éclat.
You’re the salient in Ibara (7)
That enthroned the Olu of Ibara
You’re the Osinle kingmaker
The eminence grise that enlivened the Gbagura.
And how about the majestic Alake (8)
Who dwells in bucolic powerbase
You were the power behind his reign.
You’re the wealth-electing elephant’s son
With an abundance of substance that inspires envy in its minions
the daring one who issues and carries out the directive
One who knows the warfare mechanisms.
You are the one who resists receiving a cornstarch
But does not defer obtaining pawns
Because one’s responsibility lies with the slave
Rather than with cornmeal.
Egba who shred the lumpy yam (9)
and distributes it to occultists at the intersection
But the terrestrial men repudiated the propitiation
Egba prepare flours from starchy tubers
and offers it to the covert men at the intersection
It was forbade by the terrestrial pneuma.
Egba prepared fresh porridge at another time
and served it to the occultists in the hidden grove
It was rejected by those who are incomprehensible.
However, on the fifteen day
the occultists demanded for putrefying meals
Egba, who satiated mystic’s need
By providing propitiating meals to the diety
In order for them to obscure their customs
And dissuade outsiders from taking them in stride.
For one to cognize your fraternity
You proffered that I mash a subtle yam
And I should daintily use the wooden spatula
Before I could be gallantly fraternised.
I adhered to your esoteric rituals,
And you showed me your fascinating shrine
Where the earthen wand is the divinity that you observed.
For the greenhorn that I am
I couldn’t decode that the earthen pine is a deity
Until the Oro mutters fiercely
And the earth began to stutter.
You are the one who grants access before removing yourself from reach.
You are the one who first closed the way before opening it again.
And in response to the sarcastic remark, you said, “I own my impulses”
The pilgrimage center of Egba draws thousands of visitors (10)
An oasis for tourists and a place to live for inhabitants
The Egba civilization is unparalleled in the world
Because all advancement in the world starts in the Egba soil.
As they drink the zam zam water in Masjid al-Haram
Which is the bedrock of inexplicable miracle
Egba have their water in a sustainable manner
The pristine water of Odo Ogun. (11)
As the pilgrims hike the hills of Arafat,
To you our dynasty, we pay obeisance
To you Olumo. (12)
by Amore David Olamide
- Lakejobi — Lákéjobi is a praise name for Ajalake, the first monarch of the Egba Alake.
- Lisabi — Lisabi Agbongbo-Akala, a hero of the Egba. Although ruled by their own Alake (“king”), the Egba Forest lay within the territory of the Oyo-Yoruba empire and the Egba initially paid tribute to the Alafin of Oyo for protection. The Alafin’s representatives in the Egba towns began to oppress the locals, demanding excessive tributes. Lisabi, a farmer, organised a militant movement under the guise of a traditional mutual aid society which provided collective support for its members in heavy work such as clearing land and gathering in the harvest. In reality the farmers mutual aid society was a miltary organisation that united and armed all the Egba towns.
The civil war which erupted in Oyo around 1775 provided a suitable opportunity for Lisabi to launch a massacre of the local Oyo forces and the military organisation he had established were successful in defending against Oyo’s reprisal attacks. Having won independence for the Egba people many honour him by calling themselves the children of Lisabi.
- Agbongbo Akala: Lisabi Agbongbo-Akala (see previous footnote).
- a legacy on the prairie: The Lisabi Sacred Forest in Oba village is said to be where the remains of Lisabi Agbongbo-Akala is housed. On the 14th of March every year Egba people travel to the forest to pay their respects.
- five distinct kings: The Egba nation is made up of the following subdivisions: the Ake, Owu, Oke Ona, Gbagura and Ibara (historically, Ibara is part of Yewa, not Egba, although it is located in the present day Abeokuta geographically) each with its own king. The titles of the kings are Alake of Egbaland, Oshile of Oke Ona, Onigbagura of Gbagura, Olowu of Owu and the Olubara of Ibara.
- the people of Abeokuta: After the destruction of the federation of towns that had been established in Egba Forest the displaced peoples migrated to form townships under Olumo Rock. They named their new home Abeokuta, meaning “understone” or “under the rock”, refering to the mountain that provided a natural fortress for its inhabitants.
- You’re the salient in Ibara: The power of the heroic ancestors of the Egba lives on through the kings of the regions of modern Egbaland that the poet references in the following lines.
- Alake: The paramount king of the Egba.
- The following verses refer to Egba mythology surrounding the Oro, an ancestral cult whose symbol is the Bull-roarer. The Oro enforced justice, apprehended criminals and carried out executions in the secret recesses of the Oro grove.
- The pilgrimage center of Egba: The mountain in Abeokuta is now a popular tourist destination where visitors can explore the cave routes leading to the top of the mountain.
- The pristine water of Odo Ogun: Olumo Rock is crowned with a variety of trees that were used for medicinal purposes by the early Egba settlers and the spring water that flows down the mountain is also claimed to have healing properties.
- The beneficial qualities associated with Olumo Rock led to the the mountain becoming venerated and its patron spirit elevated to the status of an Orisha in the Yoruba religion. The name olumo is the combination of two words- “olu” which means god/deity, and “mo” meaning moulded.