The Yoruba world has witnessed how one man stood out from the rot in Yoruba leadership to first win one state from the grip of the incumbent political party , then spread his influence over all the Yoruba states, and finally  with a victorious roar managed to  transform  leadership in every Yoruba town.

No this post is not about   Bola Ahmed Tinubu…… It is about Oduduwa.

Oduduwa, the son of Lamurudu who migrated from somewhere North East with all his idols to settle in Ile Ife. That’s the earliest written history about Oduduwa. But was this  version flawed? Was it tainted by religious zeal of  the Reverend son of a freed Yoruba slave eager to trace Yoruba origins to an Abrahamic faith ? Mecca is often cited as the North Easterly place Oduduwa fled from, and Lamurudu is said to be a corruption of Nimrod from the bible….

What if Oduduwa didn’t migrate from anywhere? At least not anywhere exotic like the Middle East, Sudan or Nubia. And not the son of Nimrod either, but a bonafide Yoruba son of the soil?

Another narrative of the Yoruba origin is that Oduduwa was from Yoruba land but perhaps a recent settler to Ile Ife at the time of his prominence. It goes like this:

From around the 4th century BC when Yoruba were primitive disorganized small groups constantly on the move due to various terrors and disease,  till the 10th  Century AD  when they had established many   elu ( large settlements) to the west and south of the confluence of the rivers Niger and Benue, Yoruba  had no one leader and  each governed their elu  or  agbo ile (family compound) as autonomous settlements.

Folk  gravitated to the area around Ife, being  a preferred location for many elu due to its inviting climate and surrounding hillside which offered protection and some measure of security.

Oduduwa’s elu  in the Ife area was a later  and less established settlement to those around him. He and his kin had come into the Ife area  from beyond the surrounding hills.

And so it happened that Oduduwa’s elu got into conflict with  Obatala who though  a chairman of the alliance of kings of the older elu was reputed to be an incompetent drunk.

What followed was a  series of conflicts and violence , at the end of which  Oduduwa  emerged victorious and with a bigger following than he started with.

To add to the humiliation of defeat, the settlement of Obatala suffered a  devastating smallpox epidemic . Knowing the superstion of the time this would have vaulted Oduduwa’s fame into the realm of legend for the common folk.

With peace  finally  brokered it was agreed that Oduduwa and his followers together with those of the older elu would form a joint government.

Oduduwa was able to gather up the broken people from the battle worn ruins of the warring elu and put together a new political system , a new king, a new settlement  called  “Ile Ife, the first city in the Yoruba forests of the the Yoruba people” – A History of the Yoruba People

By and by , Oduduwa became the dominant leader in all of  the Yoruba elu  throughout the land.

The Itapa  ( The great conflict) festival  is an annual reaffirmation of Ooni’s ( Oduduwa’s descendant)  kingship. It includes  a re enactment of the conflict between Oduduwa and Obatala and features as one of the main attractions priests marked in white spots to indicate small pox lesions. Obatala , Oduduwa and some of the lesser players in the conflict have been deified in Yoruba history.


Stephen Adebanji Akintoye’s book deals with Yoruba history in fascinating detail with good archeological references.






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6 thoughts on “Oduduwa Vs Obatala & a smallpox festival

  1. I dont mind the any other part of that story, the part that painted Obatala as an incurable drunk did not sit well with me. I think it was a creation of the Oduduwa side in their quest for supremacy over Obatala. If Obatala is the god of creation, a drunk cant create even a sand-house.

    1. Hi Mifty,
      You could be right that the drunkeness was a character smear created by the Oduduwa side! Because even in one of the creation myths Obatala was said to have become drunk and fallen asleep on the creation mission, and then created “deformed” humans. Oduduwa had to take over to create perfect humans…

  2. Oduduwa was the 1st Wife of. Obatala
    Of all the Deities
    Obatala was/is the only one with Prefix: “Oba” to his Name
    while Oduduwa hath the Prefix: “Odu” to his Name.
    So, Royalty was assigned to Obatala while was assigned to Oduduwa.

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