Egba:A History 

One of our class projects last year was to write about our place of origin.Mine is Egba, it was fun and educative,so I have decided to share it and I hope it greatly helps anyone in their search in unserstanding the Egbas.


The Egba are a subgroup of the Yoruba tribe who live in Western Nigeria.The term ‘Egba’ probably comes from Egbalugbo,which may be rendered as ‘wanderers towards the forest’ on the analogy of Egbado or Egbaluwe,which E.P.Cotton,in his report on the Egba Boundary 1905,gave as the ‘wanderers towards the river’. The Egbado were the people of the waterside whilst the Egba proper were dwellers in the forest. Another conjecture is that the Egba were led into the forest by one Esegba,from whom they took their name,but the most popular origin of the word connotes open handed generosity,which was considered to be the distinguishing trait of the Egba.To assert the exact boundary of the Egba then The Rev Samuel Johnson is quoted he says,’ The Egba originally occupied the area bounded by certain imaginary lines drawn say from the same point via Ibadan to the West of Jebu Remo down to the Coast’

The Egba penetrated the Egba forest in three successive waves in the 13th or 14th century A.D. One wave went slightly to the northwest of Ile-Ife and settled in the region of modern Oyo. Their group of towns constituted the province of Gbagura,i.e Egba Agura,the Egba under the Agura,their group oba,Iddo,which is now part of Ibadan,was their capital. Another wave went beyond the first to the south and crossed the Ona River,which gave the people their name Egba Oke-Ona. The Oshiele was their group Oba and Oko their capital. The third wave went further still and bought the Egba into contact with the Ijebu Remo and within the coast. This wave,which because the leading group,was at first called Egba Agbeyin,with the Ojoko of Kesi as the dominant Oba. Its present name,Egba Alake,is bound up with what was probably a fourth and certainly the last major wave of migration into the Egba forest.

Ajalake,a descendant of the House of Oduduwa,the main Yoruba royal lineage,went,according to tradition, with the Alaketu to Ketu,where he became a weaver .Later,he was led into the Egba Forest by Ako- Agbo,a Ketu hunter,and there founded the town of Ake. One tradition has it that he obtained paramountcy in Egba Agbeyin by breaking the Ojoko’s monopoly in corn and free distributed maize seeds to all. Kesi people denied this and gave a more mystical explanation: the Alake’s claim rested upon the division of a ram in which,after all his brothers had taken choice parts,he was left with the head,interpreted by their mother as symbol of over-all authority. The truth was probably that the Alake,by the direct descent from Oduduwa possessed a prestige that raised him above the rivalry of municipal kings. Ake became the capital town and the name of the group was changed from Egba Agbeyin to Egba Alake. The Alake himself is chosen primarily by five towns which were adjacent. To one another and may be taken to have formed the core of the Alake migration. These Omo-Iya or Sister towns shall retain their premier position this present day.

The three Egba groups were unalike in the Egba forest,but their distinguished features have been greatly obscured by common residence at Abeokuta,inter marriage,and other influences. They all probably gave their children the characteristic Egba marks of three short vertical strokes on either cheek,the Abaja or Pele. Difference have however, perished in their speech. They all speak the Yoruba language but in different dialects which reflect the prevailing usage in their localities in the Egba Forest. The Egba Alake people,for example,tend to approximate their speech pattern to that of Ijebu Remo,their neighbours,through they maintain the individuality of their dialect.

The basis of their communal life was the town. There were intercourse among the people of the various towns,each of which as fortified .The people lived in towns for safety, farming near their towns and gathering the fruits of the surrounding forest . In the market, which was a feature of every town,they exchanged their surplus products among themselves and with their not-too-distant neighbours. This simple economy,based largely upon barter,required a certain amount of security,law and order. At the head of each town was an Oba,who was the ultimate source of justice in the town. He was also the High Priest,but never a despot.He was much more the symbol of authority than the instrument of its exercise. The real rulers of the town were the Ogboni. The Egba brought the Ogboni institution with them from Ile-Ife and developed it to such an extent that has became the most characteristics Egba institution.

Egba was under the Oyo lordship and paid tributes in exchange for protection against external forces. The Alafin’s Ilari assuming the role of chiefs priests of Shango,the deified Alafin of Oyo and the Yoruba Thunder god,exploited the religious fears of the people to feather their nests and in order to exact enormous tribute for the Alafin. Lishabi decided to liberate the Egba by massacring these oppressors. The Egba achieved their independence during the Civil War at Oyo which led to the downfall of and condign punishment of Gaha,the Bashroun,who had usurped the prerogatives of the Alafin and had indulged a reign of terror. Lishabi gathered the three Egba provinces and joined them together,fought and got rid of Oyo imperialism in the late 18th century. 600 Ilari were believed to have been slain .

The Alafin,Abiodun,having regained his authority at Oyo sent a force in the hopes of reconquering the territory. Lishabi made an ambush for the Oyo army and they walked unsuspecting into it. The result was a rout. Lishabi had united the Egba and they were able to defeat their enemies. He became unpopular after awhile because he wanted Egba to have a standing army and the Egba wanted to concertante on farming . Subsequently, he perished in a sudden Dahomian raid or mysteriously took his life. He is, however, remembered as the father of the Egba,’Egba Omo Lisabi’ their Liberator and their Lawgiver.

After Lishabi’s death there was a return to the status quo- town rivalries and jealousies. ‘Civil Wars’ were fought and this further broke their unity. The Owu War which was between Ife,Ijebu and Owu signalled the coming destruction of the Egba . During the War,the Egba remained neutral but that didn’t prevent them from being destroyed by the victorious allies (Ijebu and Ife) on the pretext that they aided the Owu and this also increased their opportunities for slave -hunting. Some Egba town collaborated with the allies but it did not save them from been destroyed because of their mutual jealousies they were destroyed. The only Gbagura town that was not destroyed was Ibadan.

The Egba went to Ibadan where they organised themselves and evolved,the first truly federal organisation, an all- Egba military command .They helped defeat the Fulani. Subsequently events in Ibadan made the Egba realise they were only wanted in Ibadan as slaves. They extricated themselves and encamped on the other side of the Ona River,leaving some leaders behind as hostages. A plot was made to eliminate these leaders ,it failed,Lamodi,who was an Egba Balogun,lost his life while trying to join the Egba in their trans-Ona settlement. Shodeke,the seriki,assured the leadership of the Egba. After their escape the allies attacked them but the Egba were able to defeat them,they found out they needed to move further away from Ibadan before they could be safe.

During the dispersal from Egba forest three Egba hunters had taken refuge upon a rock,the ownership of the land was however disputed. According to the Egba before the hunters got there,an Itoko man who had escape to his distant farmland when Itoko was destroyed and sought refugee with the Olubara of Ibara before crossing the Ogun River. He recrossed and settle on his farm where the hunters joined him and they made the settlement famous under the name of Abeokuta’ or ‘Under-stone’ taken from their cave dwellings under the overhanging of the rock. The Egbado claimed that it was named ‘Oko Adagba’ after Adagba the Egbado host of the three hunters;the Egba countered by claiming Adagba as an Egba hero who twice repelled attackers upon the settlement singlehanded.

When the main body of Egba refugees arrived they called their new settlement Abeokuta. Before they moved to Abeokuta, Shodeke had obtained soil samples which he tested in order to satisfy hi.self that the region was fertile enough to support an influx of people. He then detailed an advance party to cut a wide track through the forest to the chosen site. The evacuation was careful planned. Shodeke and the Egba Alake constituted the Vanguard, they were followed by Agbo,who led the Gbagura people. The Oke-Ona people bought up the rear, with Lunloye,the Balogun of Ilugun,as their leader. A skeleton force under Agburin of Ilugun,Shoge,and Lashiho protected the rear and fought delaying actions against Maye’s pursuing army. Two of these chiefs eventually joined the others at Abeokuta but the third,Lashiho,the Oshiele of Ilugun,settled at a place seven miles off and founded a permanent look-out post which was named Oshiele after him.

The main body of Egba entered Abeokuta during the lull in the rainy season of 1830’s and settled on the western side of the Olumo Rock. This founding settlement was bounded on the north by the present Ikija quarter and on the south by the Ignore quarter . Remnants of the Old towns formed townships or quarters to which they gave the names of their former towns. Some prefixed ‘Ago’ or camp to the names in order yo keep alive the desire to return to the old locations in less troubled times in the future. The Egba surrounded the new settlement with a wall which was adjusted as new refugees arrived and formed their own quarters. Shodeke allotted land to the new-comers and the settlement quickly spread over parcels of land formerly farmed by the Itoko and I emo people. For this reason,Egba tradition regards the people of these townships as the owners of the site of Abeokuta. Shodeke had the clear vision that unless the Egba could consolidate their strength and employ it in the defense of a single town,they were doomed as a people. He therefore threw open the gates of Abeokuta to all Egba refugees in order to render the town,by sheer force of numbers,an impregnable fortress. He extended his ‘open-door’ policy to all the ‘displaced persons’ of that era of anarchy and disruption.

The Owu were the greatest single body of wanderers who appeared before Abeokuta. After their town was destroyed, they regrouped and migrated towards the coast. They arrived opposite Abeokuta and debated amongst themselves where to settle. They had the option of the Dahomey or to settle at Gaun on the Ogun River,which Ifa had advised. Shodeke realised the value of the accession of the heroic Owu to the Egba cause and successfully pleaded the mutual advantages of a united Egba and Owu settlement at Abeokuta. The Owu reluctantly agreed to join the Egba,knowing that the journey to Gaun was hazardous and that the disposition of the king of Dahomey was unpredictable. Led by Lara, they crossed the Ogun River into Abeokuta and settled on the nearby hill which they named ‘Ago Owu’ or Owu camp and ‘did not unpack’ . Thus the fourth section came into Abeokuta as Egba Owu.



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