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The Ijesha people are Nigerians who are Yoruba speaking and considered a Yoruba sub-group. They are known and linked with the historic Ijesha kingdom and its capital at Ilesha.

Ijeshaland geography

Ijeshaland is located in the forest zone of Nigeria but adjacent to the Savannah, it lies in an area with a rich history of ancient human settlement. Most of Ijeshaland today is bounded by Ife and Osogbo to the West, Ondo area to the South, Ekiti to the East and the Igbomina area to the North. Much of Ijeshaland lies around the upper reaches of the Rivers Oni, Shasha and Osun. Ijesha country sits on land rising from about 800 ft in the forests along the Oni valley to about 1700ft in the hills around Imesi Ile to the North and close to about 2,000 ft in the Eastern boundaries with Ekiti State. The typical soil is largely red laterite with heavy rainfall during the rainy season which lasts from late March to early November. Underneath the laterite soil is the precambrian basement complex largely of folded pelitic schists,older granites, quartzites, gneisses and sporadic amphibolites bodies. Occurrence of gold is found in the Ilesha schist and amphibolite belt.

Ilesha which was founded in the sixteenth century as emerged as the modern center of power in Ijeshaland outstripping ancient centers at Ibokun, Ipole and Ijebu-jesha. Ilesha is located in the deciduous rain forest zone of Nigeria.

Today, an Ife-Osu-Ilesha highway system exists, although a few months after its commissioning portions of the highway became unstable.


Like many other Yoruba states, an account of the origin of Ijeshas claims historical link with Ife. Early rulers of Ilesha, the modern power center of Ijesha claim links with Ibokun fourteen miles to the North of Ilesha. Obokun, the Owa's ancestor is said to be a descendant of Oduduwa who was situated in Ibokun, subsequent Owa's resided in Northern Ijeshaland.

The major deity, Orisa Onifon has a clear provenance to the North-west of Ijeshaland across the River Oshun and some historians note that the present Ijeshas may not have been the aboriginal settlers of the area.

Pre-colonial state

Ilesha is considered the capital ilu or town of the Ijesha kingdom. As the capital town, it has a number of subordinate settlements. Ilesha's founding ruler is deemed to be Owaluse who came from Oyo to dethrone Owari whom he called an usurper. Though, Ilesha traditions states that the site of Ilesha was already an occupied settlement before the arrival of Owaluse especially around the area of Okesha. Owaluse's successor, Atakumosa who had close links to Benin, another ancient Kingdom that pre-colonial Ijeshaland came to identify with against their enemies, the Oyos. Atakumosa was linked the expansion of Ijeshaland mostly to the East and South during the sixteenth century. Ilesha also grew as a result of its strategic location between major ecological zones and their differing trade products which enhanced the value of trading. It was a mid point between Old Oyo and Benin and trade began to flourish especially when the latter was involved with trade with the Portuguese.

Owing to War during the third and fourth quarter of the nineteenth century, Ilesha became largely derelict but still had a sizable population of between 20,000-25,000 residents. Just before the sack of Ilesha by Ibadan warriors in 1870, the town comprised of 40 quarters or Adugbo. Prior to the period, the upheaval Northwest of Ijeshaland as a result of Old Oyo's war with Ilorin led to incursions against the Ijesha Kingdom, the period also culminated with the capture and trade of many Ijesha sons to slavery while their Eastern neighbors, the Ekitis became a nursery of slaves, Ijeshas like their Ekiti neighbors also lost considerable number of their sons. During the period as a result of instability and war, some Ijeshaland was subsequently lost to Ede, as the latter moved south of the River Osun, Oshogbo rumoured to be founded by Ijeshas was lost to the Oyo and Igbajo, Ada, Iresi and Otan Aigbaju were also lost. The entry of Ibadan into the power mix led a depressing period largely as a result of Ijeshas determination to recover Igbajo as a tributary state, the Igbajos called on Ibadan who defeated the Ijeshas and then turned their eyes on Ilesha. Ilesha was sacked by the Ibadans in 1870.

Twentieth century

Ilesha and much of Ijesha land was actually not conquered by the British nor did they willing undergo incorporation into the Nigerian state. However, their internal politics and courting of the British as an external ally against Ibadan may have led to the loss of political autonomy. Towards, the end of the nineteenth century Ilesha which had lost many of its sons to slavery saw some trickle back to town among whom were J.P. Haastrup and P.J. Mefree secretaries of Owa Hasstrup or Ajimoko, both men made risk in representing the Owa to call on the British attention to Ijeshaland and their independence from Ibadan. Discussions between Ibadan and Ilesha led to a treaty in 1886 which was guided by the British.

The coming of Christianity and Christian repatriated slaves also led to cash cropping and carpentry and during the period especially beginning in the 1920s, some youngmen and elites in the town came to embrace the term atunluse or improvement of the town. The Gerontocracy system was gradually been demolished as the old senior chiefs and residents who held the sources of income were loosing their financial hold due to legitimate trade and the consolidation of British reign across Western Nigeria and the emergence of Cocoa as a cash crop. Many Ijesha sons participated in trade such as trading cloths. The major pioneer of Cocoa trade was Gureje Thompson, a former slave and associate of Ogedengbe. By 1917, wage labourers were being hired by the Apara farm of Peter Apara, another ally of Ogedengbe. However, social, kinship and lineages connexions contributed to a relatively easy access to land by ambitious elites due to the allocation of large parcels of land to lineages.

Commercial traders also emerged during the period as leading elites in the town.

Early Ijesha enterprise

A number of commercial traders emerged in the trading and transport sector during the early twentieth century. Some of the traders such as J.D.E. Abiola and J.O. Fadahunsi were agents of multinationals and were given advances to purchase goods mostly cocoa, others were involved in buying merchandise preferably cloth from wholesalers to sell in rural communities. The importance of transportation was enhanced when a tarred trunk A road was built linking Ilesha to Akure to Benin and Ilesha to Ife and Ibadan. Many Ijesha transporters owned carriers for cargo transport including the aforementioned Abiola, J.F. Longe, J.A. Fadugba, Asaolu Osue and Jegede Ogboni. However, the great depression threatened the industry. However, transport and produce buying linked together was still one of the major means to fortune in the area. Later buyers such as S.A. Adeniran, the son of Owa Aromolaran, Lawrence Omole and I.O. Ajanaku became the major Ijesha businessmen of the post World War 2 to independence period.

Ijesha and Nigeria

Early period and identification as Yoruba

Though the emergence of Nigeria constrained Ijesha action per se, the social reality of Nigeria or the forcible incorporation of the Nigerian state on Ijesha created opportunities for migration of Ijeshas for wage employment in the colonial bureaucracy. However, moving out of Ijesha land and the awareness of their Nigerianness also coincided with increasing rather than diminished ethnic consciousness. Prior to the 1920s, the dominant job of migrants was to take up osomaalo trading which partly means a trader who sells cloth on credit in small towns and villages through hawking or by foot.

By the late 1930s, a new educated age group emerged through members who had passed through the educational system. The educated elite contributed in defining what the ends of political action should be and the means to pursue them. Among the educated group were E.O. Ayoola who founded an independent school in Ilesha, S. Akinola, a member of the House of Assembly, J.M. Ajayi-Obe an elected councilor, I.A. Owolabi, a member of Reformed Ogboniand E.O. Fajuyitan. It was through the classroom halls that it became more fashionable for Ijeshas to identify as Yorubas when prior to the 1920s, the term was applied to the Oyos. These group also emerged as a challenge to the traditional chieftancy in the political control of Ijeshland.

Nigerian state

By the end of the the Nigerian civil war past the first republic, the Ijeshas have fully been incorporated into the Nigerian state and his present state is affected both by internal and external dynamics as a Nigerian society. During the pre-independence and independence period, J.O. Fadahunsi became a leading Ijesha political boss and was also a member of the regional opposition party supporting one of the oldest nationalist party in Nigeria, the N.C.N.C.

Many Ijeshas had migrated to other states and some like S.B. Bakare are regarded chiefs in Ijeshaland though there base is far from the land. In the mid 1970s, major Ijesha societies rejected their historical affinity to join Ondo state which had Ekitis for Oyo State.