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Ife bronze head (possibly depicting Oduduwa)
A statue of Oduduwa

Oduduwa was a Yoruba divine king, legendary founder of the Ife Empire and a creator deity (orisha) in the Yoruba religion. His earthly origins are from the village of Oke Ora[1][2] According to tradition, he was the holder of the title of the Olofin of Ile-Ife, the Yoruba holy city.[3] He ruled briefly in Ife,[4][5] and also served as the progenitor of a number of independent royal dynasties in Yorubaland.[6][7]

In Yoruba religious traditions, Oduduwa is seen as a divine or semi-divine being that was sent by the creator deity, Olodumare, from heaven to create the earth upon the waters. These beliefs are held by Yoruba traditionalists to be the cornerstone of their story of creation. Obatala, Oduduwa's sibling, and Oduduwa here are represented symbolically by a calabash, with Obatala taking the top and Oduduwa taking the bottom. In this narrative, Oduduwa is also known as Olofin Otete, The one who took the calabash of existence (Igbá Ìwà) from Olodumare.[8]

Historical accounts on the other hand holds that he migrated into the Ife valley from Oke Ora, a community to Ife's east. The time and length of his reign are not certain, but Yoruba spirituality believes that Oduduwa is believed to be as old as time itself. Oduduwa was the first ruler of a unified Ife, which before him had existed as a group of loosely allied communities of thirteen Elu. He is also the founding father of various independent royal dynasties in Yorubaland, and is today venerated as “the hero, the warrior, the leader, and the father of the Yoruba race”.


The etymological derivation of the Yoruba name “Oduduwa” is: Odu-ti-o-da-uwa (i.e. Odu-ti-o-da-iwa).[9]

This translates literally to: The great repository which brings forth existence.[9]

Ife traditions[edit]

House of Oduduwa
Yoruba royal dynasty
Ife Head, relic of the royal cult of an ancient Ooni of Ile-Ife and heraldic symbol of Ife royalty
Parent house
Current regionYorubaland
Foundedc.11th century
FounderOduduwa (Olofin Adimula)
Current headOjaja II

Ojoye/Oloye Ife[10]

  • ÌHÀRẸ - Outer/Town chiefs (Àgbà Ifẹ̀):[11]
  • Ọbalufe (Ọ̀runtọ́) Ife
  • Ọbalọran Ife
  • Ọbajio Ife
  • Ọbalaye Ife
  • Akọgun Ife
  • Waasin ife
  • Jagunọṣin ife
  • Ejesi Ife

  • MỌDÉWÁ - Inner/Palace chiefs (Ẹmẹsẹ̀):
  • Lọwa
  • Isanire
  • Jaran
  • Aguro
  • Arodẹ
  • Ladin
  • Lọwate
  • Erebẹsẹ

Imperial Highness
Connected familiesOyo royal family
Bini royal family
MottoIlé Ifẹ̀ orírun ayé, Ibi tí ojúmọ́ ti ń mọ́ wá. (Yoruba: Ife, source origin of the world, the place from which dawn begins)
Cadet branchesIn Ife (4)
  • Oshinkola of Iremo
  • Giesi of Moore
  • Ogboru of Ilare
  • Lafogido of Okerewe

Outside Ife (Several)

Ife tradition, which modern Yoruba historians accord precedence, relates that Oduduwa was a personage who migrated from the community of Oke Ora, a hilltop abode to the east of the original Ife confederacy of communities known as the Elu. Leadership of the confederal agreement that existed between the thirteen communities of what would become Ife was structured to be rotational between the Obas of each community taking turns at chairmanship. The communities are remembered to be; Iloromu, Imojubi, Ideta (Idita), Oke-Oja Parakin, Ido, Iwinrin, Odin, Ijugbe, Iraye, Oke-Awo, Iloran and Omologun. At that time Oduduwa and his followers migrated down into the ife valley below, there was a brewing level of dissatisfaction amongst the communities on the issue of Obatala's kingship, which was unsatisfactory to some.

Oduduwa and his group are believed to have disrupted the political structure of the 13 communities through the support of about 6 (Elu Mefa) of the 13 component communities. Rather than deposing Obatala, the town was divided into two with both figures serving as kings of their respective groups. His reign was largely restricted to Idio. However, Ife tradition states that he was never known as an Ooni and neither did he use the Ife traditional crown.

Oduduwa had only one son whose name was ‘Okanbi’, who also went by the alias ‘Idekoserake’. Okanbi, in turn, gave birth to seven children: the first of them being two princesses after which came five princes.

Through war lasting many years, Oduduwa was able to defeat the forces of the 13 indigenous communities of Ife led by Obatala (the most powerful and sweetest god) and formed these communities into a single Ife state.

He held the praise names Olofin Adimula, Olofin Aye and Olufe. Since he is held by the Yoruba to have been the ancestor of their numerous crowned kings, his name, phonetically written by Yoruba language-speakers as Odùduwà and sometimes contracted as Ooduwa, Odudua or Oòdua, is generally ascribed to the ancestral dynasties of Yorubaland. Following his posthumous deification, he was admitted to the Yoruba pantheon as an aspect of a primordial divinity of the same name, historical accounts state.

Later years[edit]

The leadership contest was brought to an end following the collaborative effort of Obatala, Orunmila and Owa Ilare. The three figures were able to facilitate the death of Oduduwa. Following this, a major part of Oduduwa's support base dispersed - this has been reinterpreted to mean a dispersal of his children and grandchildren from Ife to the outposts that they had previously founded or gained influence over.

Obalufon II Alayemore was on the throne when Oranmiyan, the son of Ogun but often associated with Oduduwa, returned from his sojourn and contested Obalufon's kingship. It is unclear how Lajamisan is Oranmiyan's son, though he brutally seized the throne and is arguably the progenitor of all of the Oonis that have reigned in Ife from his time till now, prompting historians to label it the Lajamisan dynasty, which has remained unbroken for almost 700 years.


Oranmiyan is said to have been a biological son of Ogun, who was in turn the son of Oduduwa and his war captain, hence the misconception that Oranmiyan had two fathers. He was one of the most adventurous of the Yoruba historical figures. The controversy surrounding his birth is due to the fact that both Oduduwa and Ogun had affairs with the same woman, his mother, Lakange. Ogun was a warrior whose expedition led to capturing Lakange as war booty and he had sexual relations with her. Oduduwa equally desired the woman and had sexual relations with her while she was pregnant. Whatever the case, the affair resulted in the birth of Odede, otherwise known as Oranmiyan.[12] Oranmiyan would later become the first Alaafin of Oyo and, later, the Ooni of Ife. He ruled also in the Kingdom of Benin for awhile after a crisis among the people of Benin forced them to consult Oduduwa to send them a ruler who will rule over them, but left to return to Ife after finding the People of the Benin Kingdom ungovernable, Prior to his departure from Benin Kingdom, he married a Benin woman with whom he had a son called Eweka who later proceeded to the throne, and is the progenitor of all the Obas in the Kingdom of Benin to the present day.

Moremi and the Ugbo[edit]

After the dispersal of most members of the family of Oduduwa, the aborigines became ungovernable and constituted themselves as a serious threat to the survival of Ife. Thought to be descendants of Oranfe through Obalufon Ogbogbodinrin (Osangangan Obamakin) who had ruled the land before the arrival of Oranmiyan, these people turned themselves into marauders. They would come to town in costumes made of raffia with terrible and fearsome appearances, burn down houses and loot the markets. It is at this point that Moremi Ajasoro, a woman from Igun in Ile-Ife, came onto the scene. She was married to Lukugba, Obalufon Alayemore, and Oranmiyan at different times; she subsequently played a significant role in restoring normalcy to the situation through a spying mission. She allowed herself to be captured and taken away with the marauders. Subsequent to this, she married the king of the Ugbo. Her new husband wanted pleasure from her, but she would not give in because she was already married and was on a mission. She told him to tell her the secret of the marauders; he initially refused to but after great insistence on her part, he gave in. He told her that the only thing they feared was fire; if they saw fire, they would retreat. With this information, she concocted an escape plan. She asked for some oranges and prepared a formula that drugged the palace entourage, causing them to fall into a deep slumber. When they woke up, they found that she had escaped to inform her people of their weakness. Using this information, the people of Ife were well prepared to face the marauders.[13]

Alternative views[edit]

Oduduwa and his/her role in creation[edit]

Yoruba religious traditions about the dawn of time claim that Oduduwa was Olodumare's favorite Orisa. As such, he (or she, as the primordial Oduduwa originally represented the Divine Feminine aspect and Obatala the Divine Masculine) was sent from heaven to create the earth upon the waters, a mission he/she had usurped from his/her consort and sibling Obatala, who had been equipped with a snail shell filled with sand and a rooster to scatter the said sand in order to create land. These beliefs, held by Yoruba traditionalists, are said to be the cornerstone of their story of creation. Obatala and Oduduwa here are represented symbolically by a calabash, with Obatala taking the top and Oduduwa taking the bottom. In this narrative, Oduduwa is also known as Olofin Otete, the one who took the Basket of Existence from Olodumare.

Another depiction of Oduduwa as being the wife of Obatala is presented in Odu Ifa Osa Meji, a verse of the Ifa oracle. In this Odu, Obatala discovers the secret of his wife and steals the masquerade's robes from her to wear it himself. This is suggested to be a historical representation of a switch from matriarchy to patriarchy.[8]

This cosmological tradition has sometimes been blended with the tradition of the historical Oduduwa. According to others, the historical Oduduwa is considered to be named after the earlier version of Oduduwa, who is female and related to the Earth called Ile.[14][15]

The earlier traditions of either a gender-fluid or an expressly female Oduduwa are seen in the spirit's representation in the Gelede tradition. Initiates of Gelede receive a shrine to Oduduwa along with a Gelede costume and mask. This speaks to Oduduwa as being associated with the divine ancestral mothers that are known as Awon iya wa or Iyami. Here, Oduduwa is revered as the mother of the Yoruba.[16]

A Muslim Yoruba's view[edit]

Among the critics of Yoruba traditions about Oduduwa is the London-based Muslim Yoruba scholar, Sheikh Dr. Abu-Abdullah Adelabu. In an interview with a Nigerian media house, the founder and spiritual leader of Awqaf Africa Society in London dismissed the common belief that all Yorubas are descendants of Oduduwa as "a false representation by Orisha worshippers to gain an unjust advantage over the spread of Islam and the recruitment of Christianity".[17] The Muslim scholar advised his followers against using phrases such as Omo Oduduwa (or Children of Oduduwa) and Ile Oduduwa (or Land of Oduduwa). He argued that the story that all the Yorubas are children of Oduduwa was based only on word of mouth.[17]

Non-Yoruba views[edit]

Certain other people have claimed a connection to Oduduwa. According to the Kanuri, Yauri, Gobir, Acipu, Jukun and Borgu tribes, whose founding ancestors were said to be Oduduwa's brothers [18] (as recorded in the 19th century by Samuel Johnson), Oduduwa was the son of Damerudu, whom Yoruba call Lamurudu, a prince who was himself the son of the magician King Kisra. Kisra and his allies are said to have fought Muhammad in the Battle of Badr and Kisra was forced to migrate from Arabia into Africa after losing the war to the jihadists in 624 AD. According to the legend, he and his followers founded many kingdoms and ruling dynasties along their migration route into West Africa.[19][20][21] This tradition is a variant of the belief, popular amongst some Muslims, that held that Oduduwa was a prince originating from Mecca. However, it is thought by some scholars to derive from the later influences on Yoruba culture of Islam and other Abrahamic religions and conflicts with other traditions in the Yoruba traditional corpus.[22][23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nwanyanwu, O. J.; Opajobi, Bola; Olayinka, Sola (1997). Education for Socio-economic & Political Development in Nigeria. Visual Resources. p. 159. ISBN 978-978-34467-0-0. Retrieved 1 May 2024.
  2. ^ Law, R. C. C. (1973). "The Heritage of Oduduwa: Traditional History and Political Propaganda among the Yoruba". The Journal of African History. 14 (2): 207–222. doi:10.1017/S0021853700012524. ISSN 0021-8537. JSTOR 180445. S2CID 148987750.
  3. ^ "The Yoruba States | World Civilization". courses.lumenlearning.com. Retrieved 2020-05-26.
  4. ^ Lynch, Patricia Ann (17 June 2018). African Mythology, A to Z. Infobase. ISBN 9781438119885.
  5. ^ Alokan, Adeware (17 June 2018). The Origin, Growth & Development of Efon Alaaye Kingdom. Timade Ventures. ISBN 9789783456785.
  6. ^ *Obayemi, A., "The Yoruba and Edo-speaking Peoples and their Neighbors before 1600 AD", in J. F. A. Ajayi & M. Crowder (eds), History of West Africa, vol. I (1976), 255–322.
  7. ^ Falola, Toyin; Mbah, Emmanuel (17 June 2018). Dissent, Protest and Dispute in Africa. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781315413082.
  8. ^ a b Washington, Teresa (2014). The Architects of Existence. United States: Oyas Tornado. pp. 25–28. ISBN 978-0991073016.
  9. ^ a b The Rev Johnson, Samuel (1921). The history of the Yorubas : From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate. p. 143.
  10. ^ Lange, Dierk (2004). Ancient Kingdoms of West Africa: African-centred and Canaanite-Israelite Perspectives ; a Collection of Published and Unpublished Studies in English and French. J.H.Röll Verlag. p. 368. ISBN 978-3-89754-115-3. Retrieved 1 November 2023.
  11. ^ Okelola, Olubayo (2001). Political History of Ile-Ife (cradle of Yoruba Race) 1900-1980. Lichfield. p. 4. Retrieved 1 November 2023.
  12. ^ Beier, Ulli (1980-10-02). Yoruba Myths. CUP Archive. ISBN 9780521229951.
  13. ^ Yoruba Alliance: Archived 2011-07-02 at the Wayback MachineWho are the Yoruba!
  14. ^ Lawal, Babatunde (1995). "À Yà Gbó, À Yà Tó: New Perspectives on Edan Ògbóni" (PDF). African Arts. 28 (1): 36–49. doi:10.2307/3337249. JSTOR 3337249. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2015-10-27 – via Jstor.
  15. ^ Babatunde, E.D. (1980). "Ketu Myths and the Status of Women" (PDF). Ayelekumari.com. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2019-10-18. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  16. ^ Drewal, Margaret and Henry (1993). Gelede: Art and Female Power among the Yoruba. Indiana University Press. pp. 232–234. ISBN 0253205654.
  17. ^ a b DELAB International Magazine, July 2010 1465-4814
  18. ^ History of the Yorubas by Samuel Johnson 1921
  19. ^ A. Matthews " The Kisra legend) "https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00020185008706819?journalCode=cast20
  20. ^ Eluyemi, Omotoso (17 June 2018). "This is Ile-Ife".).
  21. ^ Akinjogbin, I. A. (17 June 2018). Milestones and concepts in Yoruba history and culture. Olu-Akin Publishers. ISBN 9789763331392.
  22. ^ Ogundipe, Ayodele (2012). Esu Elegbara: Chance, Uncertainly In Yoruba Mythology. Ilorin, Kwara State, Nigeria: Kwara State University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9789789275908.
  23. ^ Bascom, Yoruba, p. 10; Stride, Ifeka: "Peoples and Empires", p. 290.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ojuade, J. S., "The issue of 'Oduduwa' in Yoruba genesis: the myths and realities", Transafrican Journal of History, 21 (1992), 139–158.