Legend Of Oduduwa: From Benin Prince To Yoruba Ancestor
Ughoton is a small village about 42 kilometres from Benin city, it is today a site for tourism and an ancestral landmark, many years earlier however, it is accepted that it was this village that housed Prince Ekaladerhan and his mother who had then been banished from Benin by his father, the Ogiso Owodo of Benin.
He reigned in the 12th century AD and had only one child despite his multiple wives. His wife Esagho had been sent alongside three male messengers to consult an oracle and ascertain the cause of the barrenness. Esagho was named as the cause by the oracle and in bid to avoid punishment of the king, she threatened the male messengers about fabricating a story that they had had carnal relationship with her, if they revealed the oracle’s declaration. The messengers, terrified by the death penalty if Esagho went through with her lie told the king that the oracle named his only son, Ekhaladerhan to be behind his wives’ barrenness and that the Prince Ekhaladerhan had to be killed to overturn the situation.
The king because he was hesitant to kill his only son, banished Ekhaladerhan and his mother to Ughoton on the outskirts of Igodomigodo kingdom. They found refuge in the small village, starting a new life at a time that was described as one of the darkest in the history of Benin.
The banishment however did nothing to stop the barrenness among his wives and even after Esagho’s treachery was revealed and she was executed as punishment, the king’s wives remained barren.
It is from Ughoton that the crown prince made his journey to a Yoruba settlement which he would later name Ile-Ife (successful escape) as a fugitive.
He had arrived at the settlement with a few people from Ughoton which included some Uzebu (corrupted in Yoruba to Ijebu) to meet an excited people, they wanted to know his name and where he had journeyed from. The prince after weighing on his experiences of royalty, thereafter experiencing life as a fugitive and his painful exile arrived at the conclusion that Osanobua had willed for him to be prosperous and so abandoned his former name.
“Izoduwa,” He told them, “My name is Izoduwa. It means, I have chosen the road to prosperity.”It is this Benin name that the excited Yoruba’s in their manner of pronunciation made into Oduduwa for the latter has no actual meaning in the dialect.
The prince thereafter settled among this friendly people as Izoduwa and they made him because of his immense magic tricks, a leader. They believed he was a descendant of the creator, his true history as a crown prince of Benin was hidden from them, and they reveled in the knowledge that he had come directly from the sky.
His father was banished from his throne shortly after for the execution of his mother and he died wretched at Uhinwinrin. Following his death, the elders began a search for Izoduwa who they believed was the rightful and well only heir to the throne. They traced him to his new settlement with his Yoruba people and pleaded that he return home to ascend the throne, but he declined vehemently, he would not abandon this people who had been there for him through his troubles, he said.
Here Izoduwa had several sons (16 in number) who later became powerful traditional rulers of Yoruba land, most notably Alafin of Oyo, Oni of Ife, Oragun of Ila, Owa of Ilesha, Alake of Abeokuta and Osemawe of Ondo.
Shortly after, the elders returned again to plead that Izoduwa come to rule, but he instead opted to sending his son Oramiyan with them, to continue his father’s empire.
Today the arguments about the legend of Oduduwa hasn’t ceased yet. Some say he had fallen directly from heaven, others say he was a Muslim migrant from Mecca, but what holds water most is that the Yoruba ancestor was a Benin crown prince who had not created the Yoruba people, but who had met them at a point of their vulnerability and introduced them to leadership. Whose essence in the affairs of the people is greatly expressed in the last verse of the Yoruba anthem;
Oduduwa is our spring
Wherever we may be
Let’s be kinfolks
That home is home for us