On your travels to Oyo, situated beneath Fiditi is a small town called “Ilu Aje”. This roughly translates to “Witch Town”. Ilu Aje is an important rural village with expansive plains located between the cities of Ilora and Jobele
The Afijio Local Government Area of Oyo State is commonly referred to as “Ilu Aje” which translates to “a town of fortune in sales or business transactions”. However, this name was given a strange twist by Akinyolu, an Ifa diviner from the town who cast a divination for the late Alaafin regarding a missing prince. In the late 1980s, there was a signboard located in Fiditi that showed the way to this village with an inscription saying “Town of Witches”.
“Greetings to Ilu Aje, the haven of scientific knowledge!” In the past, many people were afraid of those living in Ilu Aje as they believed all men to be sons of witches and women to be witches themselves. This is not true though. How did this name come about? Reports suggest it began during Alaafin Ladigbolu’s reign or when Alaafin Adeyemi II, father of current ruler Alaafin Adeyemi III, was ruling.
Rumors have been circulating that the son of an Alaafin is missing! Is this true? In reality, the Alaafin of Oyo during the Oyo-Ile era was an Emperor, not a king – but a deity! Even now, his authority is only surpassed by that of the Ooni of Ife. Death itself cannot stand in his way; his power is second only to that of the gods. Therefore, when someone from such a powerful family goes missing it is cause for alarm.
The entire kingdom was thrown into chaos! Scouts were deployed to locate the prince. Every corner of Oyo city was thoroughly investigated. Although they scoured every corner and visited all hilltops, the son of Alaafin remained unfound. His father was grief-stricken from the disappearance of his child, much like in Jesus Christ’s narrative about a shepherd who had 99 sheep but grieved for the one he lost. Diviners from Oyo to Ife were consulted and soothsayers from Ado Ekiti to Sepeteri, Egbado to Ilaje were summoned, yet no success.
An elderly man, who was wearing tattered clothing and appeared very disheveled, came to the marketplace at midday looking for instructions to the King’s palace. He was met with disdain by the women in the market due to his appearance. After some time, he eventually made it to the palace. Everyone in the King’s household and across the empire was feeling sorrowful because of a missing child and this old man had come seeking help with finding him.
Protocol hindered him from accessing the King, Iku Baba Yeye. The security personnel at the Palace questioned why he desired to meet with the King. He stated that what he had to say was intended only for the Alaafin’s knowledge. He turned away until one of the guards proposed they ask for a meeting with the ruler and receive his consent. As the monarch and chiefs were exchanging words in public court, Akinyolu walked into the castle court carrying his apo ifa (oracle bag), and all present looked at him dubiously.
“What is it that you seek, Father? Why have you come here and who do you intend to meet?” Akinyolu said to the king as the chiefs gathered around. “We are in a very difficult situation at present.” He then continued, “I am a Babalawo from a distant and hidden area of town who has come to give aid in finding your missing son.”
The region that was then known as “Ilu Aje” had no official name. When the chiefs heard this, they laughed and exclaimed “Kikiki”. Other Babalawos from other safer places had tried and failed to determine a name for it, and even famous Onieguns had attempted the same with no success. Kabiyesi simply looked at Akinyolu without showing any interest, but in order not to be rude he told him to go ahead but do it quickly. He addressed the wise people of the West: Akinyolu performed his divination rituals and reported back to the king his findings.
The chiefs had drawn a conclusion that Akinyolu was crazy when he told them to gather 5 of them at the town’s eastern border, beneath the shea butter tree, in 7 days. They were to be dressed in white and clap their hands together rhythmically in unison until the 21st clap. At this point, it was expected that the king’s son would have arrived and asked for water.
Despite the seeming madness of the babalawo’s suggestion, the Alaafin decided to take it anyway in an effort to locate his missing son. On the 21st clap, his son miraculously appeared before them. After hearing what had transpired, the Alaafin reportedly asked if anyone suspected that he was living nearby a woodsy area outside of Oyo.
The King ordered that Akinyolu be provided with fine clothing and given respect due to a distinguished guest. Later, the ruler vowed that if Akinyolu asked for anything, he would be willing to give it. Akinyolu replied, “Your Majesty, at my advanced age all I desire is to go back to my woodland in tranquility and you may pick among your servants to accompany me back so we can live our own life there.” The King complied, bestowing gifts on Akinyolu and ordering that he be taken care of.
Akinyolu was given a retinue of around 30 slaves when he returned to his ancestral woodland, which has now become a bustling town. The townspeople referred to him as “Aje” and so his domain was called “Ilu Aje”, which translates as “The Witch Town”. Whenever people wanted to describe the herbalist’s neighborhood, they would say “ilu adifa bi aje” (One who divines or foretells with precision like a witch).
Eventually, people just started calling it “Ilu Aje” without saying the full phrase. That was how the town got its name, and Akinyolu was the first Alaje of Ilu-Aje.
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