Nigeria’s metropolis of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ has survived and thrived for 1,000 years: right here’s how

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By the tip of this century, the three most populous cities on the planet are anticipated to be in Africa, with Lagos in Nigeria main as dwelling to 88.3 million folks.

When eager about what metropolis life is like now and may very well be like in future, it’s useful to know one thing about African city historical past.

It’s a historical past that goes far again, lengthy earlier than the onset of European colonial rule within the late nineteenth century. And the Yorùbá-speaking space of west Africa was a key participant within the continent’s historical city historical past.

Historic Yorùbá cities and cities, comparable to Ilé-Ifẹ̀, Ọ̀wọ̀, Ìjẹ̀bú-Òde, and Ọ̀yọ́-Ilé, have attracted consideration from totally different disciplines – particularly sociology, anthropology and geography. However their deep historical past, together with how, why, and after they developed, isn’t well-known.

In a latest article I set out my findings on the early centuries of Ilé-Ifẹ̀, in south-west Nigeria.

Ilé-Ifẹ̀ occupies a central place in Yorùbá historical past and identification. It’s claimed to be the harbinger of Yorùbá civilisation. Greater than a thousand years previous, Ilé-Ifẹ̀ is among the oldest and longest-occupied cities in Africa.

Ilé-Ifẹ̀ actually means “Home of Abundance”. The title additionally refers to a spot that’s numerous and at all times increasing. In my paper, Greater than a thousand years previous, Ilé-Ifẹ̀ is among the oldest and longest-occupied cities in Africa.
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My archaeological and historic findings present how Ilé-Ifẹ̀ grew to become a industrial hub, a pilgrimage and mental centre, a magnet for migrants, and a legitimator of social order for a multi-lingual area about 1,000 years in the past.

A man holding work tools
The writer’s excavation in Oduduwa Grove in 2014.
Akinwumi Ogundiran, Writer offered

My analysis

I started my research of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ within the mid-Eighties, studying historic, ethnographic and archaeological subject strategies in shrines, temples and sacred groves within the metropolis and its suburbs. I later researched oral traditions and ritual archives within the historical metropolis to know indigenous urbanism (the best way folks relate to the constructed surroundings), social organisation and governance. My analysis prolonged to different elements of the Yorùbá-speaking area in Nigeria, combining archaeological strategies with oral traditions, rituals and language historical past. I additionally benefited from revealed scholarship on Yorùbá historical past.

My comparative and interdisciplinary approaches highlighted three sorts of city scale: complexity, multiplexity and referentiality.

Complexity is about social organisation and communities constructing from the bottom up.

Multiplexity is about the best way range of expertise and social variations are cultivated and harmonised to kind an natural entire better than the sum of its elements.

Referentiality is in regards to the values town generates for its residents and an unlimited space past its core.




Learn extra:
An extended view sheds contemporary gentle on the historical past of the Yoruba folks in West Africa


Neighborhood constructing as urbanism

My key discovering was that the raison d’être of urbanism in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ was group constructing. Not like another African city centres, such because the Swahili cities in East Africa, Ilé-Ifẹ̀ didn’t start as a terminus of long-distance commerce routes. Neither did it start as a hub of craftworks.

Fairly, it began as a political unit integrating smaller social models referred to as ilé. The town got here into being on account of the self-organising methods that a number of ilé embarked upon on the finish of the primary millennium AD.

They did this to handle assets and potential conflicts within the face of accelerating inhabitants and ecological stress.

Ilé-Ifẹ̀ quickly set the tempo for urbanism within the area via overlapping improvements in sociopolitical ideology, expertise and cosmogony (concepts about how the world started).

The intellectuals and political leaders of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ developed a coherent framework for Yoruba city-making by standardising the ideology of divine kingship and what an city format ought to seem like. For instance, spatial association of the palace, markets, temples, metropolis partitions and gates, crafts centres, and street community. They developed a brand new cosmogony that unified and universalised the Òrìṣà pantheon -the deities in Yorùbá faith.

In addition they created a brand new financial system that centred on major glass manufacturing.

The glass business in Ilé-Ifẹ̀ was dedicated to bead-making. Glass beads have been used to legitimise divine kingship throughout the area and to finance exterior commerce that introduced imports comparable to brass and presumably salt and silk from throughout the Sahara. Ilé-Ifẹ̀’s buying and selling companions included cities on the River Niger and different elements of the western Sudan area, comparable to Timbuktu and Gao.

The town was additionally a centre of studying. Its intellectuals created colleges, a few of them dedicated to therapeutic and wellness, astronomy and crucial inquiry via divination. They attracted college students from far and close to.

Commemoration and spiritual websites have been arrange throughout town that attracted vacationers. Many of those websites survive right now as sacred groves.

Our findings present that the community-building origins of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ made ancestor veneration essential to the well-being of households, households and town. Mortuary artwork was an essential sector of town’s financial system.

The town’s financial buoyancy made it a magnet for immigrant labourers and fortune-seekers. The importance of its bead manufacturing additionally attracted diplomats, merchants and pilgrims from throughout the area.




Learn extra:
How we discovered the earliest glass manufacturing south of the Sahara, and what it means


All of those made it a cosmopolitan metropolis. Consequently, it attained the moniker “metropolis of dawn”, a nod to its standing as a spot of novelty and improvements.

Through the thirteenth and 14th centuries, the core metropolis was about 4km in diameter. Past that, its satellite tv for pc areas stretched for about 30km.

The town of Ilé-Ifẹ̀ has weathered many storms in its lengthy historical past. Its progress was interrupted at totally different occasions by drought, famine, epidemic outbreaks, political intrigues, warfare and financial collapse. Its community-building basis and enduring establishments seemingly clarify its resilience. Now a metropolis of about half one million folks, it gives classes to city planners and metropolis managers all over the place.

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