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Ilorin Emirate and the Ghost of a Fallen Empire – Part 2:

  • AUTHOR: Tunji Suleiman

As for traditionalists, the relationship is more nuanced. First, ‘eni a rí làá lè’dí mó’, we bully those we see and can beat. Ilorin Islamists view traditionalists more or less as reincarnations of the Oyo threat, which they had mastered in the latter’s wars to subdue and retake Ilorin, expel those it saw as atòhúnrìnwá, foreigners, and punish the collaborating Oyo Muslims of Ilorin.

Indeed, the terror of Oyo might and wrath afforded Ilorin no rest, until the Emirate put the final nail in the coffin of the declining empire in 1835, when its forces killed the Oyo crown prince and captured Oluewu, the last of the great Alaafins, in Oyo’s massive last battle against Ilorin, and took him alive into the Islamic city, where he was executed. The capital city of Oyo-Ile, which had projected unsurpassed power and glory, did not survive the disaster, and disintegrated, with the citizens preferring to flee rather than endure subjugation to Ilorin, which immediately became Oyo’s main town and burgeoning imperial kingdom in its own right.

It would require a combined army of allied Yoruba forces led by emergent Ibadan to stop Ilorin and end its expansionist onslaught in the Osun Valley war near Oshogbo, driving it back beyond Offa (Circa 1840).

There’s also the matter of ‘see finish’. The Ilorin alfas, many of whom are of Oyo descent also muster knowledge and dexterity in the ways and means of traditionalists. Many can call on the òshòròngà mothers to eat the arm from the head and the heart from the liver of their enemies. They combined Yoruba spirituality with those of other tribes that make up the Emirate, and have blended all with powers of the Quran for over 200 years. They recorded their research and experiments, and formulas and findings in Arabic and/or àjámí (Yoruba orthography in Arabic script) and hid them in tírà (books) for reference by an exclusive class of successive generations of Ilorin scholars and adepts. The forerunners laid this foundation at a time when Yorubas were mostly illiterate. The result is a massive edge and potent head start for the úlàmáhù.

Recognition of this potency accounts for the patronage Ilorin alfas enjoy everywhere in Yorubaland for aájò and àsírí or ‘prayers’. The Ilorin clerics know the measure of traditions but also learned to keep their practices thereto private or secret as heirs to the Emirate’s theocratic establishment.

Indeed, it was partly for the allure of virtual invincibility from combining diverse ethnicities and spiritualities as weapons of war that Afonja sought support of Muslims for his army. He had sampled the mystical powers that Saliu Janta A.K.A Sheikh Alimi, progenitor of the Emirate’s Fulani rulers had availed. The same weaponry would eventually be used against him (Afonja) in the manner of the rider of a tiger that ends up in its belly, when the jàmáà rebelled.

In other words, the traditionalists have had no edge over Ilorin Emirate either in distant or recent history.

In the 1970s and 80s, one could notice the mainstream ethos of Islam, reluctant endurance of Christianity, and intolerance for the lingering traditions that hardline Muslim clerics despised, derided, condemned, and constantly preached against in efforts to persuade or guilt-trip the people into eschewing.

Troupes of alágbe, derogatory term for traditional singers and eulogists, graced ceremonies, performing bàlúù or dàdàkúàdá  music and oral poetry to the accompaniment of drums, notably gángan and sákárà, and shèkèrè, with kàkàkí flutists in tow. The bàtá drum had been outlawed, on the rumored ground that it was leathered with human skin. That they pestered revellers with demands for attention and money, in manners akin to mendicants, did not help their cause against the onslaught of the clerics, who deemed their lyrics and indeed most secular music àlùfànsá, profanity.

Sometimes, the entertainment was more northerly, treating onlookers to sensual Hausa music and Fulani or Bororo courtship dances. Young men were mercilessly flogged, yet expected to not wince, much less cry, lest they be disqualified as suitors to the participating bevy of beautiful maidens.

Often following singers and dancers were àwon onídán, magicians, who afforded the eclectic thrill of itinerant circuses. They played games and performed tricks with hyenas and jackals, monkeys, snakes and vultures. Fabulous tales were told of how performers changed forms, man to animal and vice versa. They wrestled in bouts where the champion was the able-bodied kátòthat floored all opponents. On the sidelines, a gìrìpá near-giant would fail to lift or throw an ìkérègbè dwarf, despite much exertion, innocuous as the task seemed. In the demonstration of magical prowess, someone would stand for slaughter but not be cut with sword or knife or stabbed with dagger or pierced with needle. They amused and bewildered with amazing acrobatics and spectacles.

Sometimes, the adrenaline rush from the scary approach of fire spewing, fire eating and flame throwing adósù Sàngó with half-shaven, half-plaited hair was the titillation.

Àwon olóògùn, medicine men and women, were never far behind. They sold amulets sown in leather – pàró or ìfúnpá, bànté and óndè; or òrùka, rings; as well as àgbo’, àgúmu, and ebu, herbs, roots and powders of burnt and ground gbogbonìse all-in-one remedy, aphrodisiacs, elixirs and exotic odds and ends.

For those interested, metaphysics was procurable, concealed from uninitiated eyes. As noted earlier, a variant of alfa, derided as alufá, part-time cleric and part-time aláwo, traditional priest or apprentice, partner, agent or scout (the former during the day and the latter at night) also existed. He combined ìsábì, Arabic mathematical divination, and Ifa spirituality. “Fatima was sourced from Ifa”, this type reckoned and patronised lékuléja merchants for ingredients of ìpèsè or provisions for àsèje or àtinúdénú, concoctions, and to jó’ògùn or prepare charms. And some secretly carried ebo, sacrifice.

At one oríta mérin, crossroads, near Agbarere that forked towards Agbaji, Ode Alfa Nda, Popo Igbana and Inu Odi, stood the shed of an old alágbède, blacksmith, who had, in a discreet corner, a sìgìdìminiature statue with which he shared the palm oil that fueled his furnace. This was in the early 1980s. He identified as Muslim but you could tell that he mixed his Islam with ògún (Yoruba god of iron).

The performances and practices as well as delight in and/or patronage of them by Muslim faithfuls were frowned upon by clerics as acts capable of undermining iman, piety, and so railed against as haram, forbidden.

The alfas also combated vices. A brothel once operated in Abe Emi where Ghanaian òlémi or kárùwà, harlots, catered to native male lust in the 1980s. Alcohol was freely consumed and there was a beer parlor, literally, of one Alhaji Ajadi Olótí in Oke Imale, next door to the màkóndòró home and Quranic school of militant Islamic evangelists. Búrúkútú, was brewed in Baani towards Fomo, and ògógóró was sold in Oloje. They proceeded until the clergy rose against them.

Then followed other regulations: no alcohol sale, purchase or open consumption and no prostitution in Oke Imale and elsewhere in the city center.

The heinous spectacle of forcing alleged witches to confess, beating them to a pulp and setting them ablaze disappeared after perpetrators in such extrajudicial killing of a rumored witch at Omoda in the early 1990s were rounded up, prosecuted and jailed for long terms.
To be continued tomorrow.

Culled from The Guardian

AUTHOR: Tunji Suleiman

IMAGE: Kwara State Government

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