Kiriji War

Kiriji War time picture of the Ijesha War camp
The Ijesha War camp. Source: National Archives, UI

Kiriji as a term is not native to the Yoruba speaking people, from the perspective of its epistemology . It was said to have been derived from the onomatopoeic booming of the cannons echoed by the rocky terrain of the war field; the cannons which were acquired by the Ekiti Saro merchants in Lagos through their trading with the Europeans.

The Kiriji war was researched to be the first civil war among the Yorubas to herald the usage of weapons of precision, such as the cannons. It’s been a war of bow and poisoned arrows; cutlasses and swords with knives and black power in the previous battles.

It is generally believed that a war is staged to solve issues, or display superiority over another entity; issues being power, people or economy. It had sometimes been wife or gods that had caused the issue of war in some cases. But oft times, otherwise is the case, as it brews more intractable problems than it intended solving.

According to E. A. Ayandele, “the Kiriji war can not be analyzed in isolation, seeing that the Ijaye war (1860-1865) broke out partly because the Owu war (1820-1827) had settled nothing but brewed more problems, just as the first world war. The following problems remained unresolved after the wars before the Kiriji war: The Egbas had strengthened there war fort through contact with the Europeans; There was no edifice to replace the traditional Old Oyo Empire; The Egbas were partly dismembered and dislodged from their original homes; The emergence of Ijaye and Ibadan from the defunct Oyo empire changed the political map of the Yorubaland. The Kiriji war in turn acquired the problems not settled by its predecessors. There were a number of other fresh problems created in sequel to the previous wars. The principal of which was: the Irredentist movement among the educated Egbas and Ijebus to free their fatherland from the imperial yoke of Ibadan. What can be said to be the major cause of the war: the Kiriji war which many historians refered to as the longest civil war ever fought by an ethnic group in the world was a major dispute between the Ibadans and the Egbas. This made the formal declare a war that would stop subsequent civil wars in the Yorubaland.

Following the account of Johnson; the Oyo historian in his popular book titled History of the Yorubas It can be deduced that the Owu and the Ijaye wars were preludes to the Kiriji war. Many historians hold the fact that the Kiriji war was a war of revenge by the enslaved-librated Egbas and Ekiti people. Quoting an online source, the writer upholds that “The Kiriji war was a decisive war that prevented the Ijeshas and the Ekitis from being subjugated by Ibadan bullies” the source claimed that excesses of the Ajele (District Officer) from Ibadan in Ijesha/Ekiti territory was too much to bear. This led to the fierce killing of the Ajeles and the establishment of an alliance called Ekiti Parapo (confederate of Ekiti), to challenge the suzerainty and hegemonistic stance of Ibadan.

A reliable source by Johnson and Ayandele (in 1978) gave the straight cause for the war: “the Ibadans who were denied unrestricted access to Lagos by the Egbas were importing ammunitions from Porto Nono. Then, the Egbas that had denied trading ammunitions with them interfere with her convoy. In 1877, the Ibadans exercised patience until a convoy carrying a large number of ammunitions had arrived successfully in Ibadan. The latter then attacked the Egbas settlements. Both states began to waylay each other in farms and highways.” In concise, Johnson’s account relates the cause to The Are Onakakanfo (the Imperial commander). He was the stir behind the war. He ordered the war on these three casus belli:

• That they (the loyal neighbors) only performed an act of loyalty to the king by sending to Porto Novo to bring home ammunitions the king had bought there, when the Egbas refused to sell to them.

• They never trespassed on Egbas’ territory, nor gave any cause of offense to any, yet the Egbas resented their action by closing their roads against the Oyos forbidden all trade and intercourse with them.

• Hundreds of our people who went to Abeokuta for trading had been kidnapped and sold into slavery which alone gave us the right to demand redress.

Upon the declaration of this, an ambassador called Leasu was sent by the Egbas. He rather aggravated the problem my disrespecting the Aare Ona kakanfo.

Upon the declaration of this, an ambassador called Leasu was sent by the Egbas, rather aggravating the problem by disrespecting the Are Onakakanfo.

In order not to analyze this war out of focus, it is pertinent we communicate that it was not the entire Yoruba land that participated in these wars. Taking note of the three major was: the Owu war of 1820 – 1827; the Ijaye war of 1860 – 1865 and the Kiriji war of 1877 – 1893 everything making a total of 28years. The Ondos and the Mahins did not participate in the wars. The Ekitis and the Ijesas did not involve themselves in the first two wars, while the Oke Oguns and the Egbados were passive spectators in the wars.

On the personality of the warlords: Ogedengbe – Agbogungboro – Adikakaka L’ojuogun, the Seriki Meyaki of Ijesalasnd and the Generalissimo of the Ekiti parapo (Ekiti Confederate), it’s the same person that is being referred to be different titles. His skill and bravery at war earned him this, though his full name being Saraibi Ogedengbe. He was a man of valour who saved his people from the suzerainty of Ibadanland. He was said to have been sold as a slave to Ibadan, where he got his military training. Eventually, he came back home to be the hero of his fatherland.

Latoosa was the Are Ona Kakanfo of the then Ibadan. He was the warrior who declared the war on the Egbas on what he termed “the war that will halt every other war” in the Yorubaland. It was believed that he usurp the “Kakanfo” title by might over right.

The Kiriji war was fought in different fronts simultaneously, Ibadan faced the Ekiti Parapo in the east. In the south it faced the Egbas and the Ijebus. The Ilorins joined the Fulanis in the north while Ife joined the war in 1882

The war lasted 16 years, from 1877-1893. An armistice was signed by all the Yoruba kings on September 23rd 1886. It is believed to be the end of epic wars in the Yoruba land.

This war did not only bring desolations and disorderliness on the Yoruba land, there were some positive development brought by the war: there was increase in commercial activities with the Europeans; it brought about the making of path across the coasts by foreign observers; the appetite of the Yorubas for European products in return for theirs increased; improvement and development of rivers and roads to increase commercial activities. It equally makes us understand the complexity of the Yoruba political power; the diplomatic skill of the leaders; the unbound ambition of individuals and dedication to community freedom; with the sanctity of immemorial customs and traditions to the Yoruba people.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer