Ode – Irele is about a hundred kilometres from Akure, Ondo State capital. The town is located in the Southern part of the state. Irele enjoys a veritable weather, as it is neither too close to the sea nor too far. This favourable climatic disposition gives farming an impetus as crops grow all through the year. Irele people are mainly farmers. Farming is the major occupation of the people. Even if other occupations are practised, agriculture remains an attraction to a very great number of the populace. Teachers, local government officials, traders and drivers own acres of farmland both for subsistence and cash crops. It is, therefore, not out of place for them to sell cocoa, kola-nut and palm oil from time to time.
The people of Irele could be found in places such as Ore, Odigbo Local Government headquarters, where they constitute the majority; Asejire, Lugbomudu, Onisere, Abapanu, Barogbo, Gbeleju–Kiribo and others.
In these town and villages, where their total ownership of the land could be in dispute, Irele people have established a claim on a substantial part of the land as they have farming rights on them. It is, therefore, difficult to fix the boundary of places inhabited by Irele people in Ondo State. In Gbelemotin, Edo State, Irele indigenes are known to form a substantial size of the population.
Irele Egun: that is the praise name of the people of Irele. Their souls are lifted any time they are addressed by this praise song. Today, Irele people speak Ilaje/Ikale dialect, a variant of Yoruba language. The original dialect of the people is Ilaje. Irele people lost their language as a result of uncontrolled language miscegenation. Even if the linguistic affiliation to Ugbo is lost, not in its entirety though, Irele people still maintain the social, historical and cultural essence of their ancestral origin during rituals. They cling with nostalgia to Ugbo even if administrative demarcation will not permit them to claim total association with Ilaje people. As it is today, Irele people, all over the world are about one million. The expanse of land occupied by the people is hundred times greater than the size of Ugbo land. Here then, lies the pride of superiority.
Lately, scientists discovered large deposit of bitumen in Irele. This does not come as a surprise to the people. The praise-song of Irele points to this great wealth in the bowel of the earth that no one could tap.
Irele Egun, ubogho ti ho
Je rogho ka
Irele Egun, where money sprouts
Yet, no one to pluck.
The land is reputed to harbour a lot of mineral resources such as gas, petroleum, kerosene and stockfish. (This last claim has been proved to be wrong). The presence of a Canadian Company at Loola named Jerez towards exploring this bitumen has changed the praise song of Irele people. They are now covetously referred to as:
Irele Egun, ubogho ti ho
Je rogho ka
Irele Egun where money sprouts
And everyone plucks
What joy; what pride; but one prays that the joy will not be short-lived as the effects of mineral exploration begins to dawn on the people.
The history of origin of Irele has variants. This does not come as a surprise though. It is a problem associated with oral history. Facts are embellished and at times forgotten depending on the mental sophistication of narrators. All the people interviewed in the course of this study pointed to the same roots but there are differences in the names of personalities involved in the migration story.
Anthony Obasemo, 48, is a farmer. His narration is more credible. According to him, Irele people were the descendents of Ajana, the eldest son of Olugbo Ameto. The demise of Olugbo Ameto made Ajana the heir-apparent to the throne. As it was the case to deliberate on the next person to the throne, kingmakers were agreed on their choice. It was Ajana. However, before dawn, Gbagba was crowned on the advice and inducement of his mother. Ajana’s half-brother became Oba. Dawn came and Ajana became disenchanted. He could not accept the injustice. A sizeable number of chiefs and supporters flee the town. They took some vital objects from the Malokun shrine. Among them were a traditional drum, (agba) and a staff. They arrived at Orofun. The drum, however, got drowned at Igbekebo in the Oluwa River.
Ajana settled at Orofun. He was crowned the Olorofun of Orofun. He died there and was buried. There began another round of tussle between Orunbemekun and Ogeyinbo for the throne. Orunbemekun through the assistance of the daughter named Lobimitan won the sympathy of the Oba of Benin who was to adjudicate in the crisis. Orunbemekun left Orofun as a result of the incessant raids of the town by Ogeyinbo through the assistance of Ijaw folk. He had a princess named Lobimitan. She was pampered that Orunbemekun reclaimed the whole muddy path at Ohunmo so that his daughter Lobimitan would not step on the mud. He who turned a muddy path to a land: (Orunbemekun a ho oran doke).
Today, Ode Irele is the largest town in the former Okitipupa division. It is now the headquarters of Irele Local Government, which was first known as Idapometa District Council. It was later merged with the defunct Ikale/Ilaje/Ese Odo Local Government. The newly created Irele Local Government was approved in 1992. The presence of this local government has greatly enhanced the development of the town.
Oba Olanrewaju Lebi is the current Olofun of Irele. He ascended the throne in 1995 with the demise of Oba Feyisara Odimayo. Oba Lebi occupied the highest political post in the traditional hierarchy of the town. He is closely followed by Ijamas whose leader Olori Ijama is the next title-holder to the Oba. Chiefs dot every quarters of the town. They adjudicate on matters affecting land, marriage, and other social issues. However, graver matters beyond their control are referred from time to time to the Oba.
There are four quarters in Irele. They are: Oyenusi, Jagboju, Orunbemekun and Gbogunron. The first three quarters are the three Ruling Houses while the fourth is the family of kingmakers. On the whole, about eighteen Obas had reigned in Irele. They are: Orunbemekun, Osomona, Orukotan, Kubeji, Ojagbemi, Jagboju, Lobiken, Opetusin, Fadulu, Ayeboeyin, Akingboye, Ojagbaletemi, Olowomuwagun, Meseyino, Adepeyin, Aladetubokanwa, Odimayo and Oba Olanrewaju Lebi.
In terms of culture, Irele people exhibit traits that are similar to those found in Ugbo, Benin and Itshekiri. Their songs are highly sentimental. The lyrical pattern shows leanings towards dirge or elegy. One could not but shed tears when these songs are rendered. As if the people are versed in musical arrangements of the western world, Irele people arrange their songs in a high and low tempo. The harmony inherent in them touches every soul when rendered. Musicians such as Dele Lebi, Felicia Obamuwasan, Cecilia Akinsehinwa, reveal the rich repertoire of images found in Ikale language in their songs. Sung to the accompaniment of drums, Biripo songs are enjoyed by all and sundry. These songs highlight the social, cultural and political developments in the town. Asiko, Biripo and Juju music are available there.
The dressing habit of Irele people is not different from what obtains in other Yoruba towns. Menwear Dansiki and Soro. Women tie wrappers, buba and headgears to match. These women plait their hair in styles such as Suku, Olowo, and from the royal families when they are being given away in marriage Olugbu style is adorned. Beads of shining qualities are weaved round every part of the hairdo. It marks out these ladies as being descendants of the Olugbo royal family.
Irele people do not discriminate in terms of marriage. They can marry from any town and would not mind to give away their daughters in marriage to whoever cares to marry them so long as they are human and civilized. Even slaves, owned by propertied men in the days of old were integrated into the families and could marry freeborn. Such people are no longer regarded as slaves. However, some mischief-makers would not fail to point them out when matters affecting land and chieftaincy disputes are being discussed. Therefore, for a slave to enjoy his rights as a member of the community, he must not wield unnecessary influence on matters affecting land and chieftaincy.
Communalism (Aaro or Owe) is still very much in vogue in Irele as it is in many traditional societies all over Africa. This involves self-help among members of the community in the tillage of farm, harvest of crops and other tasks. The personality involved is also expected to replicate the gesture at a convenient time. In this wise, it becomes easier for the farmer to cultivate a large expanse of land with the hope that assistance would come from his friends. Help comes from other members too in the cultivation of the land. A group of people would work in the farms of a member until such farmlands would have been fully cleared. This system is called aaro. During such self-help, songs are rendered.
Airo ma lere
He he, airo ma lere
Bi wo se un mi o
Ma tun se un re o
Airo ma lere
It is good to help
It is good to help
If you help me
I will help you
It is good to help
The people do not differentiate one member of the extended family from the other in the allocation of land. During farming seasons, it is the responsibility of the head of every family to apportion acres of farmland to whoever desires. Thus, the land is communally owned, and no one could lay a claim on any plot except the family allocated such a portion to him for the erection of his building.
A salient feature of Irele people is their attitudes to the deceased members of the community. They bury their dead with songs and fanfare. Their daughters that are married to people from other quarters of the town as well as from other towns are never allowed to be buried away from home. They are always brought home for burial, no matter the distance. This system is tied to the belief that both the living and the dead constitute properties of the community. They must not be wasted. They also insist on bringing their dead relations home in order to guard against the possibility of any violence on them that could lead to their death.
The religion of the people of Irele is animism. Shrines of local gods such as Ogun, Esu, Sango, Oluweri, Obaluwaye and others too many to be listed, adorn at least every house in a roll of ten. Ifa priests pride themselves in the esoteric knowledge of their oracle. They divine for the people. Each time a member of the community falls ill, he is taken to the Ifa priest for possible clues to the sickness. The few educated elite in Ode Irele patronizes hospitals. Other natives hardly go there. However, true Ifa priests and herbalists are difficult to come by in the town. Every idle person parades himself as a priest of one god or goddess. The ulterior motive is economic. Even if true Ifa priests had existed in the past, modern day priests exhibit a mere caricature of their glorious past.
The advent of Christianity and Islam had influenced Irele people to a very great extent. Missionaries such as the Roman Catholic Mission, Christian Missionary Society, Baptist, Methodist and many independent African churches exist in Irele. It is paradoxical, however, that even if a sizeable proportion of the people attend one church or fellowship, they are far from being converted. They still keep oracles and maintain shrines to which they shed blood and kola as occasions might demand.
Educational institutions such as United Grammar School, Comprehensive High School and Oyenusi Memorial High School are located in Irele. Other schools include, Arerin Grammar School, Olofun High School, Loda High School, and a host of private secondary schools like Marygold, Premier College, Golden Apple, Royal International School and Omosule International School (Nursery and Primary) etc. Also to be added to the list of establishments are: St Therese’s Hospital, owned and managed by the Catholic Mission, General Hospital owned by the state government and other private concerns which place health care delivery at the threshold of the people. This does not however obliterate the inclination of some people to cling tenaciously to traditional medicine.
The cultural essence of the people harbours a number of taboos. Superstition is rife here. They inhibit people from attaining a full realization. One may not be too sure if there are no taboos attached to the food they eat there. Of course, the people are forbidden from calling morsel of food about to be swallowed Okele. The response from elderly member is quick and sharp: Okele Ghorofun. This means that Okele was left behind at Orofun, the people’s former settlement.
Ikale Language that is spoken by Irele people is modified. Traces of links with Ilaje dialect could still be identified. A general feature of the dialect of Ikale is the use of the fricative sound gh. For example: navel is called Ugho, poison is Ugho. A dissipated young man that does things in a hurry is said to be: gharaghara. Money is called Ogho. When boil affects a person, he is said to have Oghigbo. Leather used in making shoes or mutton eaten as meat is called Agho. Glasses won by people for fashion or as a corrective measure to their sight are called Agho. The gh fricative sound is highly attestable in the speech of Irele people. The boy is hesitant simply means: Ese titi-ghogho, Head is Origho. It is interesting to study Ikale dialect. One pertinent question a researcher is bound to ask is whether or not the dialect does not borrow from Itshekiri dialect. Names such as: Orighomohan, Yasere, Orisuwa, Orisagbemi and others are also to be found among Benin and Itshekiri people. It should be understood that Ilaje shares boundaries with Benin and Itshekiri. If such geographical contiguity were responsible for the linguistic and cultural affiliations, it is not to be disputed.
ODE IRELE: THE ROOTS: Olugbo Ameto was the king of Ugbo so many years back. His reign was peaceful and after so many years on the throne, he joined his ancestors. He was married to two wives. The elder wife died later. Soon it was time to enthrone a new monarch and every indication pointed at Ajana who was the heir apparent. However, before dawn, the surviving wife, and mother of Gbagba with the connivance of the kingmakers ensured that Gbagba was crowned. Ajana became disenchanted with the development and decided to leave Ugbo towards founding another town. Ajana left Ugbo and the first point of call was Mahin, his maternal home. His ordeal was narrated to the people and many sympathizers thronged around him. They could not leave him to his travail and thus decided to accompany him to wherever he was going. Olukosi was the paddler.
The first settlement founded by Ajana was Ode, and he became the Olode of Ode. He later moved to Makun and became the Araba Nla of Makun. He migrated from there and founded Orofun in the present day Igbekebo, Ese Odo Local Government area of Ondo State. It is significant to note that Orofun was the village that the folk inhabited when they left Makun. The people lived happily at Orofun till a short man (Omo Igun) out of mischief, decided to unravel the secret behind the long wrapper that the visitors to the village’s market wore. He, therefore, poured oil on the holes that dotted the visitors’ stalls. The consequence was the team of soldier ants that crowded around the spots. As the visitors’ coming took place before dawn, they surreptitiously hid the tails that the short man suspected they had. Soon, ants swooped on the tails and the visitors had to hurriedly rush home when the pains resulting from the ants became unbearable. Short men are culturally believed to be associated with mischief making. The rendition of that event in the lore of the people recalls the challenges they faced at a critical stage in the development of the town.
Ajana reigned at Orofun. He gave birth to two stalwarts there, namely: Orunbemekun and Ogeyinbo. They were brothers. However, there was disharmony prior to the enthronement of another monarch immediately their father, Ajana passed on. There was a tussle for the throne and Ogeyinbo headed for Benin to seek the approval of the Benin monarch that held sway over the land up to the present day Lagos then known as Eko. Orunbemekun had a beautiful daughter named Lobimitan whose rare nature was the subject of myths. She took her father to the palace of the Benin monarch when she learnt that Ogeyinbo was already there to receive the blessings of the King and subsequent coronation. Lobimitan arrived at the palace and she distinguished herself through her diligence on domesticity. She was renowned for the dexterous attention to the sweeping of the palace. The Queen immediately recognized her and sought to know who she was. Her beauty brought her to an enviable level of recognition.
Lobimitan revealed her mission and that of her father to the Queen. She told her how her uncle had almost usurped the throne from her father. The Queen admired her greatly and quickly sent words to her son the king not to give audience to Ogeyinbo. With the pact sealed and the king mandated to favour Orunbemekun, Lobimitan’s father, a leeway was thereby provided for Orunbemekun to emerge as the king of Orofun. Orunbemekun was the favoured choice but the brother named Ogeyinbo became disenchanted and made frantic effort to wrestle power from him. Ogeyinbo became disenchanted and went home not happy. He took many vital ritual objects from the Malokun shrine and went away. When it dawned on him that it was difficult for him to attain the coveted position, Ogeyinbo left Orofun and headed to the present location of Erinje. He later held sway over the area and became the Orungberuwa. He later founded Erinje.
JAWOSINMI OGUNBATOThe first Irele-Ondo inter-tribal War took place in 1886 when the folk f…