Ife (Yoruba: Ifè, also Ilé-Ifẹ̀) is an ancient Yoruba city in south-western Nigeria. Evidence of habitation at the site has been discovered to date back to as early as 600 BCE. It is located in the present day Osun State. Ife is about 218 kilometres (135 mi) northeast of Lagos.
Mythic origin of Ife, the holy city: Creation of the world
The Yoruba claim to have originated in Ife. According to their mythology, Olodumare, the Supreme God, ordered Obatala to create the earth but on his way he found palm wine, drank it and became intoxicated. Therefore the younger brother of the latter, Oduduwa, took the three items of creation from him, climbed down from the heavens on a chain and threw a handful of earth on the primordial ocean, then put a cockerel on it so that it would scatter the earth, thus creating the land on which Ile Ife would be built. Oduduwa planted a palm nut in a hole in the newly formed land and from there sprang a great tree with sixteen branches, a symbolic representation of the clans of the early Ife city-state. The usurpation of creation by Oduduwa gave rise to the ever lasting conflict between him and his elder brother Obatala, which is still re-enacted in the modern era by the cult groups of the two clans during the Itapa New Year festival. On account of his creation of the world Oduduwa became the ancestor of the first divine king of the Yoruba, while Obatala is believed to have created the first humans out of clay. The meaning of the word "ife" in Yoruba is "expansion"; "Ile-Ife" is therefore in reference to the myth of origin "The Land of Expansion". Due to this fact, the city is commonly regarded as the cradle of not just the Yoruba culture, but all of humanity as well, especially by the followers of the Yoruba faith.
Origin of the regional states: Dispersal from the holy city, Ife
Oduduwa had sons, daughters and a grandson who went on to found their own kingdoms and empires, namely Ila Orangun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo, Oyo and Benin. Oranmiyan, Oduduwa's last born, was one of his father's principal ministers and overseer of the nascent Edo empire after Oduduwa granted the plea of the Edo people for his governance. When Oranmiyan decided to go back to Ile Ife after a period of service in Benin, he left behind a child named Eweka that he had had in the interim with an indigenous princess. The young boy went on to become the first legitimate ruler of the second Edo dynasty that has ruled what is now Benin from that day to this. Oranmiyan later went on to found the Oyo empire that stretched at its height from the western banks of the river Niger to the Eastern banks of the river Volta. It would serve as one of the most powerful of Africa's medieval states prior to its collapse in the 19th century.
The King (Ooni)
The Oòni (or king) of Ife claims direct descent from Oduduwa, and is counted first among the Yoruba kings. He is traditionally considered the 401st deity (òrìshà), the only one that speaks. In fact, the royal dynasty of Ife traces its origin back to the founding of the city more than two thousand years ago. The present ruler is Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, styled His Imperial Majesty by his subjects. The Ooni ascended his throne in 1980. Following the formation of the Yoruba Orisha Congress in 1986, the Ooni acquired an international status the likes of which the holders of his title hadn't had since the city's colonisation by the British. Nationally he had always been prominent amongst the Federal Republic of Nigeria's company of royal Obas, being regarded as the chief priest and custodian of the holy city of all the Yorubas.
Cults for the deities
Ife is well known as the city of 401 or 201 deities. It is said that every day of the year the traditional worshippers celebrate a festival of one of these deities. Often the festivals extend over more than one day and they involve both priestly activities in the palace and theatrical dramatisations in the rest of the kingdom. The most spectacular festivals demand the King's participation. These include the Itapa festival for Obatala and Obameri, the Edi festival for Moremi Ajasoro, and the Igare masqueraders, and the Olojo festival for Ogoun. During the festivals and at other occasions the traditional priests offer prayers for the blessing of their own cult-group, the city of Ile Ife, the Nigerian nation and the whole world.
Important people were often depicted with large heads because the artists believed that the Ase was held in the head, the Ase being the inner power and energy of a person. Their rulers were also often depicted with their mouths covered so that the power of their speech would not be too great. They did not idealize individual people, but they tended rather to idealize the office of the king.
The city was a settlement of substantial size between the 9th and 12th centuries, with houses featuring potsherd pavements. Ilé-Ifè is known worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures, which reached their peak of artistic expression between 1200 and 1400 A.D. After this period, production declined as political and economic power shifted to the nearby kingdom of Benin which, like the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, developed into a major empire.
In his book, "The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife," Yemi D. Prince referred to the terracotta artists of 900 A.D. as the founders of Art Guilds, cultural schools of philosophy, which today can be likened to many of Europe's old institutions of learning that were originally established as religious bodies. These guilds may well be some of the oldest non-Abrahamic African centres of learning to remain as viable entities in the contemporary world.
The modern town
Today a mid-sized city, Ife is home to both the Obafemi Awolowo University and the Natural History Museum of Nigeria. Its people are of the Yoruba ethnic group, one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Africa and its diaspora (The population of the Yoruba outside of their homeland is said to be more than the population of Yoruba in Nigeria, about 35 million). Ife has a local television station called NTA Ife, and is home to various businesses. It is also the trade center for a farming region where yams, cassava, grain, cacao, and tobacco are grown. Cotton is also produced, and is used to weave cloth. Hotels in Ilé-Ife include Hotel Diganga Ife-Ibadan road, Mayfair Hotel, Obafemi Awolowo University Guest House etc. Ilé-Ife has a stadium with a capacity of 9,000 and a second division professional league football team.
- "World: Africa Arrests after Nigerian cult killings." BBC. Monday July 12, 1999. Retrieved on October 31, 2011.
- Bascom, Yoruba, p. 10; Stride, Ifeka: "Peoples and Empires", p. 290.
- Olupona, 201 Gods, 144-173; Lange, Ancient Kingdoms, 347-366; idem., "Preservation", 130-1.
- Homepage of the Ooni of Ife
- Olupona, 201 Gods, 94.
- Walsh, "Edi festival", 231-8; Bascom, "Olojo", 64-72; Lange, Ancient Kingdoms, 358-366; Olupona, 201 Gods, 111-223.
- Olubunmi, A.O. The Rise and Fall of The Yoruba Race 10,000BC-1960AD, The 199 Publishing Palace ISBN 978-2457-38-8
- ---: On Ijesa Racial Purity, The 199 Publishing Palace ISBN 978-2458-17-1
- Akinjogbin, I. A. (Hg.): The Cradle of a Race: Ife from the Beginning to 1980, Lagos 1992 (The book also has chapters on the present religious situation in the town).
- Bascom, William: The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria, New York 1969 (The book mainly deals with Ife).
- --- "The Olojo festival at Ife, 1937", in: A. Falassi (ed.), Time out of Time. Essays on the Festival, Albuquerque, 1987, 62-73.
- Frobenius, Leo, The Voice of Africa, London 1913 (Frobenius stayed for nearly two months in Ife, in 1910-11).
- Johnson, Samuel: History of the Yorubas, London 1921.
- Lange, Dierk: "The dying and the rising God in the New Year Festival of Ife", in: Lange, Ancient Kingdoms of West Africa, Dettelbach 2004, pp. 343–376.
- ---: "Preservation of Canaanite creation culture in Ife", in: H.-P. Hahn and G. Spittler (eds.), Between Resistance and Expansion, Münster 2004, 125-158.
- ---: "Origin of the Yoruba and 'Lost Tribes of Israel'", Anthropos, 106, 2011, 579-595.
- Ogunyemi, Yemi D. (Yemi D. Prince), The Oral Traditions in Ile-Ife, ISBN 978-1-933146-65-2, Academica Press, 2009, Palo Alto, USA.
- ---: The Aura of Yoruba Philosophy, Religion and Literature, ISBN 0-9652860-4-5, Diaspora Press of America, 2003, Boston, USA.
- ---: Introduction to Yoruba Philosophy, Religion and Literature, ISBN 1-890157-14-7, Athelia Henrietta Press, 1998, New York, USA.
- ---: The Covenant of the Earth--Yoruba Religious & Philosophical Narratives, ISBN 1-890157-15-5, Athelia Henrietta Press, 1998, New York, USA.
- Olupona, Jacob K.: City of 201 Gods: Ile-Ife in Time, Space and Imagination, Berkeley 2011.
- Stride, G.T. and C. Ifeka: "Peoples and Empires of West Africa: West Africa in History 1000 - 1800", New York 1971.
- Walsh, M.J., "The Edi festival at Ile Ife", African affairs, 47 (1948), 231-8.
- Willett, Frank: Ife in the History of West African Sculpture, London 1967 (The book also deals with some oral traditions of Ile-Ife).
- Wyndham, John: "The creation", Man, 19 (1919), 107-8.