EPISODE 2: Yoruba Revolutionary War Chronicles (The Oyo Empire)


According to Wikipedia, the Oyo Empire was the Empire of Yoruba of what is now Western, northern central Nigeria and the northern part of the Fon kingdom in the present Benin Republic. Oyo was founded in the 15th century and became one of the largest West African kingdoms (states). It has increased due to the excellent organizational and administrative capacities of the Yoruba people. The wealth that has been gained from the business and its strong rides.

Tradition says that Oyo Empire was founded by Oduduwa’s youngest son, Oranyan around 1300 AD. Some even say Oranyan was his grandson. What seems certain is that Oyo was one of the latest Yoruba kingdoms to be founded and to start with, one of the most junior: but it soon became important. Oyo was the largest and most populous (100,000 people lived in the capital alone). This is because of his clear ascendancy throughout Oyo. The Alaafin was the most powerful Yoruba ruler. Also, the Oyo Empire came nearest to bringing all the Yoruba people under one political influence.

The capital of this kingdom was not the present Oyo, 30 miles from Ibadan, but the place on the border of the Western and the Northern Regions close to the River Niger and about 30 miles from Ilorin. Whereas Ile-Ife and many Yoruba towns were situated in the evergreen forest, Old Oyo was to be found in the savannah belt close to the Niger.

Oyo owed its rise to its position. The soil around it was fertile, and farming was its most important occupation. But apart from farming, Oyo became the leading trading centre south of Niger. In the first place, Oyo traded with all parts of the Yoruba country. There were well-known routes for trade connecting it with all the most important markets of those days. The routes were guarded. Traders gathered at agreed times and places and travelled together in caravans. In this way, Oyo became an important centre for gathering the produce of the rainforests to sell to people of the drier savannah.

Also, the Oyo Empire had the best weavers and some remarkable blacksmiths whose products were in great demand. Oyo traded not only across the Niger to Kano where they met traders from the far north of Africa, but they were also in touch with places like Gao, Timbuctoo, and Jenne on the Niger. From this distant trade, Oyo imported such articles as salt, leather goods, antimony and glassware. But the most significant imports were horses which formed the basis of the political power of Old Oyo.

Before horses were introduced, Oyo was a small kingdom struggling with Borgu and Nupe for a foothold in that very strategic centre near the Niger. Then, probably about 1550, Nupe conquered Oyo. The Alaafin and his chiefs first took refuge in Borgu and then built a temporary capital at Igboho. It was at this time that Oyo began to think of improving their army and making it as powerful as those of their northern neighbours by using horses and training soldiers who could fight on them. With this cavalry, Oyo quickly became more powerful than Borgu and Nupe.

In 1660, Old Oyo was rebuilt, the Alaafin became dominant among the Oyo, and the Oyo people began to create an Empire. They conquered Sabe and Ketu and expanded both sides of the River Ogun to the coast. Through Porto Novo, which they called Ajase, they traded with the Europeans. By 1695, the coastal people feared Oyo horsemen so much that the very mention of their name made them tremble. With this cavalry force, Oyo reached its zenith in the 17th century and maintained it till the latter part of the 18th century. Thus, it became the most powerful political state in the Yoruba country and south of the Niger.

SEE ALSO: The Reign of Bashorun Gaa, The Wicked Prime Minister

Historian, Professor Jacob Ade-Ajayi writes:

“The empire was in three parts. First was the metropolitan area consisting those who spoke ‘Yoὅba,’ the Oyo dialect who owed direct allegiance to the Alaafin. They were divided into six provinces, three to the west of the Upper Ogun and three to the east. Secondly, there were other Yoruba people conquered or dominated by the Oyo-speaking ones. The most important of these were the Egba and Egbado on both sides of the Ogun, south of the metropolitan provinces. Thirdly, there were the non-Yoruba people who were not directly controlled but were forced to pay tribute from time to time. Of these, Dahomey was controlled for longer periods than either Borgu or Nupe.”

It is important to note that because the Alaafin was so dependent on its cavalry force. He never succeeded in bringing all the Yoruba into the Empire. He was most powerful in the open savannahs where horses could move freely and easily. Also, the deadly tsetse fly was less rampant. He had little power in the forests and hills of Ekiti and Ondo, Ife and Ijebu and did not seek to conquer these difficult areas. Instead, Oyo expanded west towards Dahomey and to the North in the Borgu and Nupe countries.

READ ALSO: EPISODE ONE: Yoruba Revolutionary War Chronicles

However, in spite of these limitations, Oyo Empire was still feared. Its power and prestige helped to prevent the incidence of major wars. It is not only within its frontiers but also throughout the Yoruba country. The decline of the empire after the death of Alaafin Aole in 1796 and its collapse in 1837 during the reign of Alaafin Atiba precipitated the wars which are the subjects of this historical thread.


Compiled by Ayomide Akinbode

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