Osooro; an Ikale clan predominant in the northern part of Ikale land south of Ondo State, the region of which, with Urhobo immigrants accounts for more than a quarter of Ikale population. Ikale, the Yoruba linguistic subgroup to which Osooro belong, originates from Ugbo and Benin areas, with a population of almost a million people1 who chiefly occupy the thickly forested red laterite land overlaid with rich black loam, bordered to the south by the Ilaje waterside neighbor.
Like other Ikale clans, Osooro shares ascendancy with Abodi, son of the Oba of Benin in the early 16th Century who lost his right to throne to the Oba Orhogua (later reigned 1550-78), and consequently compensated by his father, Oba Esigie with a part of the Eastern Yoruba territory where Benin political influence was dominant. The story of Osooro as a community began when Ojagbulegun, acclaimed progenitor of Osooro, marched with his entourage to claim a new territory after quarrel with his father, the Oba of Ayeka, whose own ascendancy, eight generations before, was from Pagha Lumure, one of the retinue who originally accompanied Abodi Jabado, being a step brother. The name of this clan, Osooro, is said in a tradition to evolve from the exclamation of one Ojagbulegun’s follower, “Omi yi ma soro,” meaning “this river is difficult,” apparently uttered while navigating a turbulent river during their search for a new settlement after leaving Ikoya Kekere, an older Ikale town. In other tradition, the name, largely indicating difficulty was said to be in reference to the long strife for independence from the Abodi, the Ikale vassal of the Benin kingdom.
Osooro, the largest Ikale sub-region which is also historically the most populous, lies north of Osoromi River. This sub-region, 200 kilometers east of Lagos, consists of towns and villages like Ilutitun, Igbotako, Iju-Odo, Iju-Oke, Erekiti, Irowa, Ura, and Agrifon. Its major neighbor to the east is Benin, in the west is Ijebu, north; Ondo, and at the south is Ilaje. Okitipupa, a lively town in the south of Ondo State is less than a hundred kilometers away. Osooro was one of the ten administrative districts under Ikale Native Administration which was in turn one of the two units to which Ikale land was divided during the early years of British rule. From 1976, Osooro became part of Ikale Local Government, one of the seventeen Local Government Areas of Ondo State, and part of Okitipupa LGA when it was split from the former in 1991.
Osooro is surrounded by undulating hills and valleys which usually have fresh rivers springs and rivers that drains into the lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. Other rivers, asides the popular Osoromi, which provides means of transportation and patronized by fishermen include Omiju and Ohen. There are also smaller rivers like Omuo, Lolifan, Loisa, Erifunfun, Losoro, Jokore, Legbudu, Gboisa, Senpen-senpen, Baseren, and Eriheki2. The well-drained Osooro land is, compared to its Ilaje neighbor, a mainland. Ilutitun-Osooro has been determined to be equatorial hot and wet condition. Temperature averages 26.5°C. The fresh water vegetation and swamp forest with which it meets Ilaje blends to the northerly rain forest that is ever green.
Although all Ikale is said to be politically aware, the intrigues of Osooro chieftaincy stool stands out among those of her other communities. This began when Monogbe, the second Oloja and grandson of the founder of Osooro, fearing for the ascendance of his half-brother, Jibulu, plotted to assassinate him, eventually scaring him out of town. Ojagbedo who was Monogbe’s full brother later succeeded him, and his son, Bamido’s reign was followed by that of Jibulu’s son, Lubukun, who became a great monarch, decorated with a special beaded crown from Benin. Lubukun consequently became the first to go with the title, Erebuja or Rebuja of Osooro, one which will be hotly contested across generations.
The political history of Osooro from 1891, at the demise of the third Rebuja was plagued with disputes. The families of Ojegbado and Monogbe parading Ikuyinminu and Bamido Omogbehinwa respectively as the Rebuja till 1895 when the crisis was resolved in favor of Ikuyinminu. The son of Bamido, David Negwo, however reigned after Ikuyinminu.
Ojagbulegun founded Ode-Moribo, the first autonomous Osooro community after quarrels with the Abodi who was the authority at Ikoya, the place where he had sought refuge following a serious rift with his own father, Ehuhuola, Lumure or head chief of Ayeka. Being a skilled man of war, he helped his host, the Abodi with many battles and became popular among the people. Soon, he became a threat and a plot was hatched against him.
At each Erun festival, Ojegbulegun, being the chief priest led a party across the Oluwa river to collect Ogigi water for rites at Ikoya. He was not to talk to anyone until this was accomplished. Once, his party to Oluwa, composed of his adversaries, abandoned him while he set to fetch. They returned to town and murdered his mother who had been his great support. Tradition says Ojegbulegun was rescued when a boar constrictor which he mistook for a dry wood floated down to him. When he finally realized what it was he had used as ferry back to Ikoya, he concluded ancestors had sent him help and worshipped the river. Ojegbulegun arrived Ikoya to the news of his mother’s killing, and realized his own life was not to be spared. He rallied his supporters and left town in search of a new settlement. After three months at his first stop, Lawoodo, he decided Abodi would never come to repentance. Consequently he moved further to found a place he named Moribo, coined from the fun poked at the Abodi for his success in settling to a new place in spite of his former ally’s antagonism. This, his people paid for dearly as successive Abodis descended on the new settlement at frequent intervals with wars which often threatened to alienate it. During one of these wars, the very consequential Ugba-Oluwa artifact was obtained from the Abodi by Omojuwa, Ojegbulegun’s son who became the first Oloja in his life time. At this time the people of Osooro had settled to an independent community life.
The first Rebuja (a Benin Oba-bestowed title which survives till modern time as leader of the Osooro community) was also the man who transferred the seat of its monarchy in 1865 from Moribo to Igbotako. Under him many towns and villages of Osooro came into existence, often from the ruins of Moribo. Lubokun, the man under whom Osooro culture expanded, was grandson of Omojuwa. Most of the history of Osooro is replete with chieftaincy disputes; a row which was rooted in the story of Lubokun’s father, who was step brother to the Oloja of his day before fleeing to avoid the plot of his half-brother who favored Ojagbedo instead. Ojagbedo had an uneventful reign which was followed with his son’s, Bamido who was now succeeded by Lubokun. The Ojegbedo ruling house migrated during the reign of a descendant of Lubukun, David Negwo, to found Ilutitun. Also a part of the new ilutitun was a faction of the house of Libukun, some of who went as far as the Ijebu Waterside to found villages like Ayila and Aiyede.
Tradition records the Oluwa River to have provided means for Ojagbulegun, ancestor of the Osooro community, to transport himself safely to town when he was dangerously stranded during a ritual by the works of his enemies at Ikoya. Ojagbulegun and his descendants therefore worship the river. Elaborate rituals are performed around the river in the month of July. The people of Ikale made no obeisance to the pantheons at core of the Oyo-Yoruba tradition but relied on Ifa; the wisdom and guidance of Orunmila, for divination. Some thoughts have also been shared on Ogun.
In Osooro, spirit of the ancestors are invoked and worshipped during the Umale ceremony of ritual songs and sacrifices at the opening and closing of the Ejo festival. This ceremony is led once in three years by the most important of the masquerades called Aaju. Like other Yoruba subgroups, the Oro institution, known in Osooro as Iwo and led by chief priest Aghoro-Mopa, is performed round town. Women are not to be found outdoors during this period. The Aiyelala cult that was introduced in 1926 from Mahin and Ijo villages is believed to rid the society of evil doers with its special judicial powers.
The gospel of Christ by the Anglican church’s Christian Missionary Society (CMS) reached Ikale land through the missionary station established in 1875 at Mahinland’s Itebu Manuwa, under the leadership of Charles Phillips, head of the Mission at Ondo. Another missionary body, the United Native African Church (UNAC) formed by indigenous lay evangelists in 1891 was responsible however for the first church at Igbotako in Osooro community. This church which took its source from Igboti in Ijo confederation was followed by another in 1902 when Reverend E. Moses Lidaju and his wife, Tunasa Owolabi, extended the tentacles of their Evangelist Band, a breakaway group of the CMS, to Igbotako. Although the Evangelist Band raised funds locally to operate, its initial success was such that even Bishops Tugwell and Oluwole paid a visit in 1906. By 1947, the last of Lidaju’s churches had been subsumed under the Anglican, Roman Catholic or the Methodist churches.
The Anglican Church and the Cherubim and Seraphim C&S Church enjoys huge membership. While the former’s rise was not without the tenacity of Reverend Manuwa who journeyed by foot through bush paths that sometimes took up to three days, the C&S attracted many converts with its faith healing. The C&S, founded by an itinerant preacher from Ikare, Moses Orimolade, who was formerly under the Holy Trinity Anglican church in Lagos, started his white garment wearing, vision seeing movement early in 1925. The new indigenous church reached Ikale land in November. Quickly, it rose above the disdain which it initially invited with its quirky traditions to become one of the strongest religious movements in the area.
Food crops remained the primary agricultural activity even with the introduction of cash crops during colonial British administration. Yam, maize, cassava, plantains, beans, and okro were grown in large quantities. The periodic market at Igbotako is among the most important in Ikaleland. There is also a prominent market at Ilutitun. Volume of trade is certainly large and patrons traditionally come from places as far as Epe, Benin, Warri, and Ijebu Ode.
The Palm Oil industry blossomed with the abundance of palm trees in the landscape. While the Urhobo were most actively engaged, Ikale landowners collected rents to allow them climb the trees for palm nuts. This will prove disadvantageous to landowners who never attained the potential of the economic benefit provided by the trade in palm produce until the expiration of colonial rule. The old trend would be reversed with the creation of the Okitipupa Oil palm company which has an oil palm estate at Igbotako and ilutitun3. Also nearby is the multimillion naira Oluwa Glass Company in Igbokoda which manufacture and sell sheet-glass products. Bitumen deposit in the district, the second largest in the world, is a potential economic booster for the Osooro community.