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Folu Oyefeso

Unveiling the Epic Saga: The Kiriji War - Yoruba's Longest Civil Conflict

The account of the Ekiti-parapo war is another exciting period of Nigerian history, and it came to my attention just recently. It is also known as the Kiriji war, and one of my uncles had described the event as one of the most turbulent periods of Yoruba history. It holds the title for the longest civil war in Yorubaland, and it spanned a 16 year period from July 3rd, 1877 to March 14th, 1893.


The conflict was a political struggle between the Western Yoruba (primarily the Ibadan) and the Eastern Yoruba (the Ekiti, Ijesha, Ijebu and other regions). These two regions would clash in a colossal way, marking a dark period of brutality in the sands of time. The war ended in chaos and the result was death and displacement on a massive scale. War is chaotic and it's often hard to determine which side is victorious, so let's discuss it.


The rise of Ibadan

The fall of the Oyo Empire in the 18th century left a vacuum in the power structure of Yorubaland. Ibadan had grown to become a powerhouse, and stood to gain massively if Yorubaland was unified under a similar structure as the Oyo empire of the previous dynasty - with themselves at the helm of affairs.


The town's growth was accelerated in the aftermath of two iconic battles. Their defense against the Fulani Jihad in Ogun-Jalumi (1840), and the Battle of Ijaye (1862) were instrumental in securing their political position. The subsequent abuse of power would make their rule unpopular in Yorubaland, and this sparked the 16-year resistance known today as the Kiriji war.


Ogun-Jalumi

The Fulani had launched a systematic movement to spread Islam into the Oyo regions and marched south from Ilorin. They raided and destroyed the towns they came across. The Ibadan and the Ijaye towns were tasked with defending this movement and so the Ibadan secured the eastern Osun districts while the Ijaye opposed them in the areas west of the Ogun river.

Sketch plan of the Jalumi war. Source: Facebook
Sketch plan of the Jalumi war. Source: Facebook

Soldiers that appear to be lying in ambush at the Otin Riverbank. Source: Facebook
Soldiers that appear to be lying in ambush at the Otin Riverbank. Source: Facebook

The Fulani militia, realizing they were sandwiched, began to retreat and word of this reached Offa who hurriedly cut the bridge used to cross the Otin river, trapping the Fulani army. With nowhere to run, the Ibadan easily defeated them by simply driving them and their cavalry into the Otin river. Today, that battle is known as "Jalumi", and this means "to drown in the river".


The Battle of Ijaye

22 years later, the Ibadan and the Ijaye, the two sides that had joined forces to defeat the *Fulani* were at loggerheads with each other. The matter was about which town was to succeed the Old Oyo empire as the political head and so Ibadan (being the largest and most populated) called a meeting. They sat with the Ijaye and New Oyo (Oyo Atiba) in 1855 and discussed the deteriorating state of Yoruba unity and dignity.


Oyo Atiba had the most senior Alaafin at the time, so it was decided that all other towns would pay her tribute, and recognize her as the political head. A few years later, concerns were raised by the Ijaye, the Egba and the Ijebu about Ibadan's policies and intentions. Kurumi of Ijaye roused suspicion and didn't trust that the Ibadan would support the cause to set up the new leadership under Oyo Atiba.


This was later confirmed as Ibadan hadn't stopped collecting tributes from her 'subjects' in the 4 years under this proposed new system. In fact, Ibadan had established an Ajele system, whereby provisional representatives were placed in the subject towns to rule on behalf of Ibadan. Many of the Ajele used their position to enrich themselves, often collecting more than was required. They grew proud and power drunk, and there are reports that Prince Fabunmi's wife was sexually assaulted on her way to the river by the Ajele and messengers. He retaliated by storming their homestead and beheaded all of them. I suffices to say that Ibadan's rule had became a scourge.


The matter became more convoluted when the issue of succession came up following the death of Atiba in 1859. Ibadan favored the idea of Atiba's son succeeding the throne, because this meant continuation of the current tribute policy that was crippling the other Yoruba settlements. Kurumi of Ijaye opposed this movement, saying it was against the tradition of throne succession in Oyo, and this stance was supported by the Egba and Ijebu. Ibadan took this as a threat to the 'unity' in Yorubaland and didn't want Kurumi (who was Are-Ona-Kakanfo) to become disobedient under their rule, and thus sparked the Ibadan-Ijaye war.


The battle was set in the forest area between Ibadan and Ijaye and the outcome was the swift defeat of Ijaye and her ally, the Egba of Abeokuta. The town was destroyed in 1862 and her people scattered across the country.



The Kiriji war

Seeing Ibadan grow into the dominant force of the region and the subsequent abuse of power by the Ajele system, the eastern Yoruba had to join together in a confederate known as the Ekiti-Parapo. When Ibadan was asked to give up her Ekiti tributaries, they vehemently opposed and added insult to injury. The top war chief of the Ibadan army, Aare Latoosa, reportedly responded to this request, with the words "The Ekiti are their wives, yams, palm oil, and slaves..." The brazen oppression and economic sabotage were the reasons for the resistance and in July 1877, the war began.

The rolling hills of Imesi-Ile served as a strategic advantage for the eastern Yoruba states, offering an elevated vantage point for their long-range rifles during the Kiriji war.
Battlefield at Imesi-Ile: The Rolling Hills of Imesi-Ile, a valley separating both war camps

As part of our Ekiti tour, we visited the site of this infamous war and seeing the landscape in person painted vivid imagery of the 16-year clash that happened in these hills. It felt surreal to walk in the footsteps of ancient warriors and to see the same streams they drank from. The confederate camped 40 minutes walk from Imesi Ile, and the Ibadan were a 60 minute walk from Ibajo and between the camps there is a valley. There are two water sources - Alapato stream and Fejeboju stream. Fejeboju was renamed from "Eleriko" and its new name means 'to cover ones face in blood'. The stories say there was so much blood in the water that the stream turned red and was unfit for drinking.


Omi Fejeboju - A vital water source for the warriors of the Kiriji war at Imesi-Ile, Ekiti state
Omi Fejeboju - A vital water source for the warriors of the Kiriji war.

The years of violence droned on, and with every clash, the matter met new levels of convolution. If you want the details, there are resources at the bottom of this article. The constant raids, enslavement and death left a dark cloud over the region and a unified Yorubaland was nowhere in sight. The open members of the Ekiti-parapo were the Ekiti, Ijesa, Igbomina, Ilorin, Egab, Ijebu and Ibadan's other enemies. The Alaafin of Oyo secretly supported the confederate since Ijaye (his mother's hometown) was destroyed by Ibadan in 1862, and Ife and Dahomey were enemies of Ibadan as well.


Ogedemgbe of Ilesa became the commander in chief of the confederate, after Prince Fabunmi of Ekiti stepped aside for the more senior and experienced warrior. Ogedemgbe played a significant role in the Kiriji war and was well respected. His words held weight and he carried everyone along with the war plans. He had a look out spot called 'Aga Ogedemgbe' (Ogedemgbe's chair), which he used for watching the Ibadan army from a distance. We tried to see this location, unfortunately it was overgrown.


Portrait of Ogedemgbe, Seriki of Ijesha. Source: Facebook
Portrait of Ogedemgbe, Seriki of Ijesha. Source: Facebook

The Ibadan had an impressive military presence. A good numbered infantry, calvary and fortified walls constituted to their strong offense and defense. Under the command of Aare Latoosa (who was Aare-Ona-Kakanfo), they were (almost) unstoppable. He was a fierce and skilled warrior with good knowledge of combat, so it seemed like they would crush the confederate but they overplayed their hand.


The Ekiti-Parapo had connections with serious purchasing power and were able to import a new kind of gun through Benin - long flintlock canons with huge muzzles that sent thunderous echoes when fired.


The legendary rifles that produced the famous 'Kiriji' sound. Courtesy: Odua Museum, Ibadan
The legendary rifles that produced the famous 'Kiriji' sound. Courtesy: Odua Museum, Ibadan

This sound echoed across Ekiti's hills (Ki-ri-ji) and has since become a popular onomatopoeia known as the Kiriji war. The landscape played a crucial part in how effective these weapons were. Ibadan had beef with everybody so many of her trading routes were cut off and this changed the tide of the war to an agonizing stalemate.


There were multiple attempts at peace but the greatest obstacle was that as long as Aare Latoosa was alive, nobody trusted Ibadan to back down. In 1885, he died at the Ibajo camp. Some sources say he took his own life. The following year, the peace treaty was signed and both sides swore an eternal friendship, and all over this site, there are markers to commemorate the warriors.

An image of a historical marker, commemorating the location where Aare Latoosa made the ultimate sacrifice for the unification of Yorubaland after the Kiriji War.
A Historic Marker Where Aare Latoosa died for Yorubaland's Unity

A tribute to the great warriors who played significant roles in the unfortunate speck of history.
A tribute to the great warriors who played significant roles in the unfortunate speck of history.

It is important for these stories and these sites to be preserved in a befitting way and I think this would make an amazing film. These war sites should also be preserved in a way that encourages the curious to visit but overall I was thrilled to be there and to learn about this saga. We can takeaway a lot of lessons about resistance, unity, diplomacy, and the defense of cultural identity, but my biggest one is the pointlessness of war, especially amongst our own people. A lot of cracks in our historical framework stem from a history of intertribal conflict, and I hope we can learn from this.


For further reading you can visit the links below, and don't forget to share, comment and subscribe!


Article on BBC Yoruba about Ogedemgbe https://www.bbc.com/yoruba/articles/c840e7ggzlwo


PDF document on the events of the war. Research paper by Buhari Lateef Oluwafemi


A tribune publication about plans to develop these sites, published 2018

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1 Comment


Babalola DARAMOLA
Babalola DARAMOLA
Nov 03, 2023

Awesome

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