A Glimpse into Ile Ife Mythology

According to Yoruba mythology, the earth and the first human beings in the city of Ile-Ife were products of divine creative process by the supreme God.

It is said that Olorun (the God of sky) gave Orisanla (thegod of whiteness) a chain, a bit of sand in small whitish shell, a palm fruit and a five-toed chicken, and told him to go down and create the earth. Having approached the gate of heaven, he saw other gods celebrating and merrying. They danced, ate and drank!!They felt to be at the top of the world. Orisanla eventually joined them. He drank a lot of palm wine, being his favourite drink, which he claimed would give him necessary strength to carry out his great task. Justas the poet would say, they touched the top-most peak of glory, and the days are feast of fairy-land and nights are dreams of rapture.




*An Ife bronze


And consequently Orisanla was intoxicated and slept off. But his younger one, Oduduwa over-heard their father’s instruction. Thus, when Oduduwa saw Orisanla sleeping and snoring deeply, he quickly took the materials of creation: a chain, a little sand in small whitish shell, a palm fruit and a five-toed chicken and went to the edge of heaven, accompanied by chaemelon to create the world.



The creation story

He created the world by emptying the sand on the sea because the earth was flooded. It was a formless waste-land as recorded in the Bible (Genesis chapter 1). Oduduwa then placed the chicken on top of the sand. When the chicken began to scratch, the sand was scattered all over, and wherever the sand fell, the water gave way and the land then appeared.

The testing of the solidity of the earth was done by the chaemelon. This is a similar Bible account when the testing of the firmness of the earth was done by a bird (a dove) after the destruction of the first world during Noah’s time (Gen. 8:11).

Oduduwa and sixteen sons decided to establish the city of Ile-Ife and many kingdoms of their own. Whatever versions anyone might give to this myth, it is generally believed by Yorubas that Ile-Ife is their spiritual home, and that civilization started from there and spread to other parts of the world.

Ile – Ife is located on longitude 4.60E and latitude 7.50N, with an elevation of about 275 metres above the sea level. Naturally  according to (Omotoso Eluyemi, 1986), the city of Ile – Ife is surrounded by a chain of seven hills namely Oke – Ora, Oke – Araromi, Oke – Owa, Oke – Pao, Oke – Ijugbe, Oke – Onigbin, and Oke – Obagbile.
As a result of these hills, the town itself was built in a bowl – like physical layout which provides it withsecurity.

The people of the ancient city of Ile – Ife were noted for their arts and crafts works.

The arts of Ile-Ife can be divided into two broad classes namely:
(i) The naturalistic art impression,  and
(ii) The abstract art impression. The naturalistic art impression is said to be dated to the beginning of the 12th century AD.

According to the historical account, the naturalistic art impression which dominated the early period of the history of Ile-Ife and it can be observed to have occurred on terra-cotta, stone, ivory and wood works.

The naturalistic art impression can also be observed on bronze and brass works, and or religious and secular functions. The abstract art impression has been known with the later period of the history of Ile-Ife.

In archaeological contents, these objects are more in number than those of the naturalistic art impression. In the words of Omotoso Eluyemi (1986), “The Egbejoda culture of Nigeria, the Sao of Cameroun and the Ahinsan of Ghana demonstrated more many of these abstract art objects”.

The famous Ife art has been known today as one of the richest Nigerian cultural heritages. Ife art consists of terra – cotta heads, terra – cotta figures, bronze heads,bronze figures, quartz stools and figures, dating to about 6th Century.

Though the bronze works made Ife famous but the major part of its art is in terra – cotta.

According to Ifeoral tradition, bronze casting technology originated from the city of Ile-Ife, where it eventually spread to other parts of the world, including Benin Kingdom, which is said to be introduced by Igueghae.

Ife arts are mostly memorial heads of different Ooni that ruled Ile – Ife at different periods of history; heads of Ife queen; the Chiefs and average citizens or commoners (even criminals and victims of human sacrifice) There are also Ife figures of an Ooni and Ife seated figure.

Terra – cotta heads of Ife include; representations of animals like rams, used in sacrifices which are placed on a shrine as a reminder of that purpose, just like in Beninwhere wooden rams and cocks are the main sacrifices to male and female ancestors.

It is expedient to note that, not all animals represented in terra – cotta like elephant and leopard are traditionally used in sacrifice.


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