A Yoruba praise poem or Oriki, commemorating the figure of Balógun Ìbíkúnlé, the great ruler and commander-in-chief of Ibadan forces in the nineteenth-century. Ìbíkúnlé was born in Ogbomoso, a city in Oyo State, south-western Nigeria, during the first decade of the nineteenth century. This was at a time when the Fulani jihads were beginning to make incursions into various territories within Yorubaland.

Ìbíkúnlé joined the Ogbomoso army and rose to an influential position within the war council in his twenties. Observing that Ogbomoso lacked the numbers to effectively banish the Fulani jihads, Ìbíkúnlé moved to Ibadan in the 1830’s. Ibadan contained the largest concentration of warriors in Yorubaland at the time and Ìbíkúnlé aligned himself with an Ibadan war-chief known as Toki Onibudo. Through the 1840’s – 1850’s Ìbíkúnlé had led a series of successful conquests that made Ibadan the most formidable power in Yorubaland. An interesting biography of Ìbíkúnlé can be found at Ibadan Insider.

The Oriki that follows celebrates Ìbíkúnlé’s courage, martial prowess, prosperity and leadership qualities. In addition to being an accomplished soldier and commander in chief, he is also praised for his wealth and generosity.

Ìbíkúnlé, the Lord of his Quarters,
The proverbial magnificent doer
The Captain that disgraces men as would the dearth of money
The Warrior! As regular as the Muslim afternoon prayers
A strongly witted man, with incomprehension comparable to that of Olódùmarè. (1)
The affluent with enough to spend and to spare at the brewery.
A reliable military errant,
A challenger of all men.
Owner of farm land at Ògbèré,
Ìbíkúnlé also has a farm at Odò-Ona
A wide expanse of farm land,
Extensive as far as the city wall at Adéségun. (2)
Father of Kuẹjó, owner of a dreadly fearsome backyard.
Ìbíkúnlé’s backyard is even bigger than other people’s farms;
His backyard is wide enough a track for hyenas to race full length
Proverbial big backyard, father of Òjó-Gàn
He drove the sojourners of Ará to Òhan,
Drove Òban people against ’Kogúsì,
Admirable at expeditions, father of Ògúnmólá, (3)
Fierce-striker at war, father of Asípa;
A stockist of bullet and gunpowder, father of Òsì of Ìbàdàn.
Usually commissioned to subdue the head of any rebellion.
Father of Orówùsì the Èkerin.
Keeper of inseparable cudgel like Olódùmarè.
He fought against Aláké’s army and killed his son;
Ìbíkúnlé fought against lÌgbèin, and became a terror in captivity
He struck at Sómúyè, struck at Apáti,
Used a short cudgel to drive Alólá about.
Without stating his case, he had the judgement against the Ègbá.
Killed Alólá that ordered them to the expedition.
Ever winning in every case.
Òbìrìtií, a changer of one’s fateful day.
Had Ègbá heads for erecting a hut at Oló’risà-oko.
Also used it for hut making at Òkè-kere
And as well used it for a hut at Alabàtà.
Òbìrìtí – overflowing here and there like river Òsun Àpara.
When in fighting mood, both eyes and nose are usually blood red,
Always in bloody mood at the theatres of war.
A really hefty personality.
With strong plump hand and feet of a gorilla.
Despiseful of the Ìjèbú on his right
Adéyewón their Awùjalè
Also spiteful of the Ìjèbú on his left
It is unlikely he may not mete the same treatment to Jímbà in Ìlorin,
The man with a disproportionately longer nose than his mouth.
He killed Ìjèbú and planted Ìjèbú
Planted Ìjèbú as he would plant a post
Planted Ìjèbú facing outwards
Opposite the Corn market.
He was dared to camp in the forest,
Ìbíkúnlé camped in the forest and despoiled it.
He was dared to pitch his tent in the field
Ìbíkúnlé pitched his tent in the field,
He ravaged and rent the whole field as would a cloth.
A man that was forewarned not to call at Áwèré,
He marched through the farms of Òla’s chiefs at Ede. (4)
Òla’s chiefs dare not move anywhere,
Tlmì must stay put in his palace.
His departure gave them relief at Àgbàlé
They all in a chorus sighed “Ìbíkúnlé has been responsible for our impoverished state.”
He departed and the Baálè breathed a sigh of relief;
He said thank God Ìbíkúnlé has at last left today!
His departure made Tlmi to have a good bath
Saying: “I will have my bath today, Ìbíkúnlé is gone.”
He plans for another expedition while still executing one
He barely quells a rebellion while he opens fire in another front.
He planned for Ìjèsà war;
Èfòn was pitching a blockade (5)
Balógun cleared the forest and dug trenches,
Ìbíkúnlé pounded and ate away the yams of the aristocratic Èfòn in an uncaring manner.
Pillaged their àpepe yams, pillaged their alòlò yams
Even the sprouting yam sets of Àrìwò went completely went in for it too.
Emptied the grain granaries in a jiffy,
And set fire to all their poisons in the village.
He nakedly entered the house with Elé’riwò
An enemy of Kóngò, father of Kéré
He lightningly fought in Lolá’s open field with the resemblance of an elephant
The elephant hardly ravaged Lolá field.
Kúejó’s father really plundered the field in Ìlásè
The warrior! Witty as a European.
When àgbá drums are sounded in 0lúfón’s house,
It was always in praise of Balógun.
When they beat the drums in Ejìgbò-0kóró
It was also in praise of Balógun.
When Kínjìn drums are even sounded in Ìlorin
It was in praise of no one else but Balógun.
A lone elephant that rocks the jungle.
Ìbíkúnlé has given up the idea of just rocking the jungle
He says he is a lone elephant
That rocks the whole world to its foundation.
A God-sent for the fulfillment of a mission.
The mission that God gave to Ìbíkúnlé, he executed the same before his death.
A chain with the thickness of a palm tree is incapable of stopping an elephant.
Any creeper that aims to obstruct the elephant from crossing the road
Will surely follow the elephant in its trail.
Balógun! my unending respects for you
I will never charge you for a liar for ever.
Alárá that took you for a liar.
Obìrìtí! the result was the subsequent despoliation of his town.
Ìkogùsì that took my father’s words for falsehood,
Onílelolá! his town was thus in complete ruins. (6)
Ajerò-Ajàká that took your words for lying,
Arowoló! his town became a completely deserted place. (7)
Balógun! Olùgbàyà! I implore thee (8)
The smoke screen has often spread round the jungle.
Balógun I beseeech thee, Olùgbàlà
The climbing rope has often retrieved the palm tree.
The sole of the feet has always led the path,
The city has always been surrounded by the town fortification wall.
Olùgbàlà!
The nursing mother usually ties the shawl for carrying the baby securely round her and the baby.
Arówólò!
You outwit them all in town
Ro-gi rogbe
Master in battlefield
Arówólò
Terror in the battlefield.
Arówólò
Terror in battlement.
There is no deity that can excel Ogun (9)
Others are just full of mere affront.
Without his leadership, they cannot move an inch
Without his accompaniment they cannot confidently march on,
If Ìbíkúnlé, Lord of his quarters is no more,
They cannot even challenge the jackal to a duel.
Europeans may stop sailing and disembarking;
Ìjèhú may even boycott coming with their wares
If the Europeans stopped sailing and Ìjèhú ceased to come,
The inexhaustible stock of gunpowder of Ìbíkúnlé, Lord of his quarters, is there for our everlasting use.
Whoever dares the elephant dares death.
Whoever dares the buffalo dares its charge
Whoever dares the matchet-carrying masquerade,
Desires a free invitation to go to heaven.
Ìbíkúnlé is in the opposite direction and one fails to clear the way,
Maybe the man desires to join Ondugubóyé in heaven.
Ògbàràgàdá, the man,
Who broke asunder Kúrunmí’s defence gate in an instant.
What a lamentable thing! all sighed for sympathy with echoes of the honey·bee Ìbíkúnlé has let down the cargo – he is no more
Ìbíkúnlé lie is gone with his name and left his title.
The father of Kuejo has left with his head pad.

Bolanle Awe,
from “Praise Poems as Historical Data: The Example of the Yoruba Oriki”,
Africa 44, p331-349 (1974)


Footnotes

  1. Olódùmarè, the supreme God in Yoruba mythology. No prayers or shrines are kept for Olódùmarè because the nature of such a being is regarded as beyond human comprehension.
  2. In addition to his military prowess Ìbíkúnlé maintains large farms in various parts of the town that provide him with the economic resources to act as leader of Ibadan.
  3. Ògúnmólá, Asípa and Orówùsì were all distinguished warriors of Ibadan, Ògúnmólá being Ìbíkúnlé’s second in command at Ibadan’s war council. They are described as children of Ìbíkúnlé to emphasis his superiority within the military hierarchy.
  4. Òla’s, meaning chiefs.
  5. During Ìbíkúnlé’s reign as Balogun, Ibadan fought and won six large-scale wars against other Yoruba towns. In Èfòn, Ìbíkúnlé cleared the surrounding forest and dug trenches around the town before pillaging and destroying the farms and their sources of poison.
  6. Onílelolá, a praise name for Ìbíkúnlé, meaning One whose house is full of riches.
  7. Arowoló, a praise name for Ìbíkúnlé, meaning A man who always has money to spend.
  8. Olùgbàyà, a praise name for Ìbíkúnlé, meaning One who shields another from insult.
  9. Ogun, Yoruba god of war, see Ogun, god of war, and Ogun, god of war II.