Ife is an ancient Yoruba city in south-western Nigeria. Evidence of urbanization at the site has been discovered to date back to roughly 500 AD. It is located in present day Osun State, with a population of 501,952.
Today a mid-sized city, Ife the holy city, is home to the Obafemi Awolowo University and Natural History Museum of Nigeria. Ife people are of the Yoruba ethnic group, one of the largest ethno-linguistic groupings in Africa. Ife has a local television station called NTA Ife, and is home to various businesses. Ife is also the trade center for a farming region. Yams, cassava, grain, cacao, and tobacco are grown. Cotton is grown and used to weave cloth. Hotels in Ilé-Ife include Hotel Diganga Ife-Ibadan road, Mayfair Hotel, Obafemi Awolowo University Guest House etc. Ilé-Ife has a stadium with a capacity of 9,000 and a second division professional league football team. The meaning of the word “ife” in the Yoruba language is ‘sprawl’ or ‘expansion'; ‘Ile-Ife’ means ‘The House of Expansion’ (the city is regarded as the origin of Yorubà culture, industry and of people of Yoruba descent.)
In his books, “Stealing Amongst the Citizens” and “The Rpublic of Happiness,” Yemi D. Ogunyemi, a neologist and literary philosopher, refers to Ile-Ife as the sole holy city in Africa that is home to terracotta. His literary names for Ile-Ife are the HOUSE OF LOVE and the GARDEN OF LOVE.
According to the Yoruba people, Ife is where the founding deities Oduduwa and Obatala began the creation of the world, as directed by the paramount Deity Olodumare. Obàtálá created the first humans out of clay, while Odùduwà became the first divine king of the Yoruba. The Oòni (King) of Ife claims direct descent from the god Oduduwa, and is counted first among Yoruba kings. To this day many of the surviving traditional religious groups of the city celebrate the creation of the world during the Itapa festival. According to anthropologists, its habitation can be traced as far back as 350 BCE.
Mythic origin of Ife
The Yoruba claim to have originated in Ife. According to their mythology, Olorun, the supreme god, ordered his son, Oduduwa, to climb down from the heavens on a chain with three items. Oduduwa scattered a handful of dirt over the ocean, thus creating Ile Ife, then put a cockerel on the land which dug a hole. Oduduwa planted a palm nut in the hole and from there sprang a great tree with sixteen branches representing the families of the early Yoruba states.
Migratory origin of Ife
Another origin story from the Yoruba is that they were the product of intermarriage between a small band of invaders from the savanna slightly to the North East and the indigenous inhabitants of the forest. According to this version, Oduduwa was the son of Lamurudu, a prince from the east , possibly related to the ancient Nok culture of the savanna. Oduduwa and the natives left their homeland at some point between the first and the seventh centuries A.D. After wandering for some time, they found and settled the state of Ife. Oduduwa then had a son called Okanbi. Okanbi in turn had seven children who founded the Yoruba states of Owu, Sabe, Popo, Benin, Ila orangun, Ketu and Oyo.
The best of the stories of Ile-Ife as told and partially confirmed states that Lamurudu left the East around the 7th century, and wandered around Africa for a long time before settling at a place around present day Edo. The Lamurudus were accepted into the society as a highly respected family. Eventually they were accorded the royal status but not the position of king or ruler that they demanded. As a result the head of the Lamurudu family, a man by the name of Oduduwa, left in anger to settle at a place where he and his people would be recognized and accorded the status they had been seeking. Eventually they reached Ile-Ife, where the oracle had told Oduduwa his journey would end before his party left for their long journey with fanfare. The people of Ile Ife had also been told to await the arrival of their future king. As a result, when Oduduwa and his entourage reached Ile-Ife, the acceptance was mutual unlike the previous city that scorned them. Oduduwa had six sons and one grandson who went ahead to found their own kingdoms and empires, namely Ila Oragun, Owu, Ketu, Sabe, Popo, Oyo and Benin. Oranmiyan, Oduduwa’s last born, was one of his father’s principal ministers and overseer of the nascent Edo empire after Oduduwa refused the plea from the Edo people for his governance. When Oranmiyan decided to go back to Ile Ife after a period of service in Benin, he left behind a child named Eweka that he had had in the interim with an indigenous princess. The young boy went on to become the first legitimate ruler of the second Edo dynasty that has ruled what is now Benin from that day to this. Oranmiyan later went on to found the Oyo empire that stretched at its height from the western banks of the river Niger to the Eastern banks of the river Volta. It would go on to serve as one of the most powerful of Africa’s medieval states.
Between 700 and 900 A.D., Ife began to develop as a major artistic center. Important people were often depicted with large heads because the artists believed that the Ase was held in the head, the Ase being the inner power and energy of a person. Their rulers were also often depicted with their mouths covered so that the power of their speech would not be too great. They did not idealize individual people, but they tended rather to idealize the office of the king.
The city was a settlement of substantial size between the 9th and 12th centuries, with houses featuring potsherd pavements. Ilé-Ifè is known worldwide for its ancient and naturalistic bronze, stone and terracotta sculptures, which reached their peak of artistic expression between 1200 and 1400 A.D. After this period, production declined as political and economic power shifted to the nearby kingdom of Benin which, like the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, developed into a major empire.
Bronze and terracotta art created by this civilization and those related to it are amongst the earliest and most significant instances of realism in art, dating back to before the European Renaissance.
The royal dynasty of Ife is over 800 years old. The present ruler (Ooni) is Alayeluwa Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, styled His Imperial Majesty by his subjects, who ascended the throne in 1980.