The ancient town of Akure, the capital of Ondo State, is located in the south-western part of Nigeria. It boasts of a population of about 400,000, mainly from the Yoruba ethnic group.
Akure is about 314 kilometres drive from Lagos and 415 kilometres from Abuja, the federal capital.
The temperature of the town varies from 28oC to 31oC with mean annual relative humidity of about 80% and falls between latitudes of 70o17´ and 70o21´north and longitude 40o18´ and 40o23´ east.
Rock engravings dating back to the Mesolithic period, have been discovered on the outskirts of Akure, and it has the oldest Homo Sapiens fossil to have been found in West Africa till now, dating back to around 11,000 years ago.
History Akure town, according to oral and written history, was a small independent Yoruba kingdom before it was conquered by Benin in the early 19th century and Great Britain gained its control in 1894.
Historically, the town was founded by a prince named Omoremi, son of Ekun and grandson of Oduduwa Omoluabi, the royal progenitor of the Yoruba tribe.
Prince Omoremi left Ile-Ife, his grandfather’s kingdom after he had passed a strict test administered by Oduduwa himself in search of a place to settle just as many other Yoruba cities were founded by Princes of Oduduwa.
This test wherein he was kept in solitude for about nine days is still annually commemorated in Akure till today by the reigning king of the town during a ceremony known as ‘Oba wo ilefunta’.
When Prince Omoremi and his followers arrived at a particular location of the town, the string holding the heavy royal beads on his neck is said to have broken, thereby indicating that God wanted him to settle at that place, hence the name “Àkún re” (Beads broken), later became the name of the settlement they established on the site, and over time, the phrase was whittled down through its constant pronunciation to become Akure.
Investigation revealed that Omoremi was said to have hunted with his people while on his way from Ile Ife when he arrived in Akure and was proclaimed the person who hunted and arrived with royalty, meaning, “Asodeboyede”.
The kings of Akure that were born of him were referred to as Ajapada. The title, Deji of Akure started with Oba Arakale, whose father took the daughter of Oba Atakumosa, the Owa of Ijeshaland as one of his wives while he was on his way to Benin.
According to him, Oba Atakumosa was returning from Benin to Ilesha on the same pilgrimage and he decided to pass through Akure where his daughter, Owawejokun had given birth to a son.
He was said to have presented his grandson with a small diadem, Owafadeji that is, Owa gave him a diadem or royal crown which later became the nickname of the young prince , and by the time he reached his adulthood it had become his appellation .
When Owafa’Deji became Oba, the appellation assumed a titular importance and because of his prominence as an Oba, subsequent Obas or kings assumed the title while the advent of the modern era has formally made Deji the official title of the Obas of Akure.
However, the original title of Ajapada has remained a significant part of the Deji’s ceremonial style till the present day.
The totem of Akure is the Leopard and the father of Omoremi Omoluabi was himself called Ekun (this was his regnal name).
It is for this reason that every descendant of the Akure clan has been addressed by outsiders as “Omo Ekun “during the recitation of his or her praise poetry or, alternatively, as ‘Omo Akure Oloyemekun’, since Omoremi was said to have stayed for a while at Igbo Ooye before coming to the Akure region.
History has it that Akure had regained independence by the early 19th century, but around 1818, it was recaptured by Benin forces and the then Deji was executed.
After 1854, Akure and other Ekiti towns came under the rule of Ibadan, which lasted until a rebellion in 1876, followed by a prolonged war that ensued among the Yoruba states.
The Deji’s palace houses a large number of historical monuments relating to the establishment of the historic town and it offers an opportunity for the visitors to learn and know more about the cultural heritage of Akure people.
Description of the Palace
The Oba’s Palace in the heart of the town was built in 1150 AD by Omoremi, known as Asodeboyede, the grandson of Oduduwa.
His father’s name is “Ekùn-”tiger. Asodeboyede, who was a popular hunter during his time, migrated from Osu- a place near Ile-Ife, and settled in the area presently known as Akure land where he later became the first Oba of the land. He reigned from 1150 to 1180 AD- a period of 30yrs
Although the Oba has relocated to a more modern palace now, but the old palace is still used for all traditional ceremonies in the town.
At the entrance of the ancient palace, a mountain of blue-stained clouds sat in the sunny skies, the statue of Asodeboyede, the grandson of Oduduwa stood ready for battle and business of hunting.
The ancient palace represents a masterpiece of human creative genius based on the level of indigenous technology at that period.
The 700 years old palace of Akure has 22 courtyards with an impressive low zinc ceiling and this feature is seen throughout the palace and it is the only palace in south western Nigeria as well as in Ondo state to have been declared a National Monument in 1990 because it still retains its traditional uses and values.
It was also observed that, there are two main entrances to the ancient palace that is Ònà Okùnrin which is the entrance through which men are allowed to pass into the palace; also Ònà Obìnrin where only women are allowed to pass through. “It is a taboo for a man to pass through Ònà Obìnrin and for a woman to pass through the men’s corridor”.
In fact, it is possible to get lost in this large palace. Each courtyard has a certain ritual significance which has implications for the wider society.
In real sense, the palace is a living heritage and is a cultural and spiritual magnet which attracts the people.
The numerous courtyards are very central to all these processes. Ua Lila is the largest of the courtyards where the Oba entertains his people and receives his guests. Ua Ibura is the oath taking courtyard. Ua Oriole is the courtyard where the herbalists meet. Ua Agbeto is a remarkable courtyard because it was gathered that no matter how often people urinate there, it will never give off an odour.
This courtyard is also according to the source, the place where people wait for the Oba if they are about to be given a Chieftaincy title.
Moreover, the source said, Ua Ameshe is the courtyard where the traditional court is located.
“If the Oba wants to perform any rite he goes to Ua Ameshe”.
“All rites and ceremonies still take place at the old palace which is therefore ritually significant.
Ua Ojukoto is another courtyard whose meaning translates as ‘Where eyes cannot really reach’.Ua Ikunle is the courtyard where the Oba meets with his chiefs”.
“This courtyard is at the centre of the palace. Here cows are killed and the number of cows killed by each Oba in the total period of his reign, are used to count the number of years he ruled”.
“This is the method used to count the length of the Oba’s reign, rather than the use of a calendar.”
Festivals and Religion
“Ua Jemifonu is a Festival marked by the Oba every year. He goes away from his people for seven days and roads adjacent to the palace are then closed for the period. Ua Umorun is the courtyard where the King’s wives reside”.
The ancient town is blessed with rich cultural festivals and religion beliefs. In fact, no month passes without a festival being celebrated in Akure.