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Ile-Ife and The Obatala Procession
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Ile-Ife and The Obatala Procession by Adekunle Gbenga Philip

TASMAG Guest Contributor, Adekunle Gbenga Philip shares his experience about Obatala procession and the ancient city of Ile-Ife. You’ll certainly enjoy this piece, happy reading.


It was quite early, the first rays of sun just rising from the East, when the 21 elders of ‘Akodi’ (my ancestral compound) led me out of the ‘Iledi’(preparatory room). Seven days it has been that I have been camped here, eating only meals of whitish ‘maggi-less‘, pepper-less, ‘oil-less‘, saltless and unforgettably tasteless soup accompanied by pounded yam with fresh-newly tapped palm wine as drink; seeing neither sun nor moon, night nor day just for this memorial day. My name is Omo Oodua, welcome to ILE-IFE.

All clad in white, myself inclusive; white plain material wrapped around the lower abdomen from the loin down to the heels; a large white woolen muffler-like cloth called ‘Oja‘ is hanged over the shoulder, bare chested, we matched in an age long procession that will take us through Ile-Ife. This is the sacred cult of ‘Obatala’, my family’s patriarch, and today is his day of worship. To non-initiate, Obatala is just another lousy deity of the many ones we have…that notion could be fatal. Infact, the legend of creation said that ‘ELEDUMARE’ (the Supreme God) sent Obatala first together with some mythical items to create the universe. Ife folklore believes that ‘Oduduwa’ met people in Ile-Ife when he came, and for all intent and purposes were led by a chief called Obatala. Therefore to the initiates, Obatala is an elder god. This is however a topic for another intent–lest i derail.

They say out of the 365days in a year, 364days are used for worshiping different deities in Ile-Ife. Is this true?… Yes, yes and very true. True also is the fact that nobody knows the no-worship day except of course the second-in-command to the gods, the man whose authority is rivaled only by the gods, the ‘OONI‘ of Ile-Ife; spiritual head of the Yoruba race; our king. Which means there are 364 deities in Ile-Ife. Now that’s scary, isn’t it? Well that’s what makes my city special.

As the procession snaked through the ancient city, I again felt the charm that make the city fearsome but irresistible; the aura, the smell, the groves, the shrines, the festive drums–all sorts, the ghostlike gaze of the aged, the demented dogs: goats: cats: birds: lizards and even pigs that roam untamed on the streets and air, the bizarre sudden change in the air and the sacred belief of the people in the gods…its all so spell binding and breathtaking. I saw the masterpieces of the ancient crafts men striving with the shabby modern architecture of the “civilized” world for territory in a battle that the Orthodox is championing. Many of these buildings are falling off due to age and change in climate but their layout and tell tale markings canvases their once beautiful and ingenious state.

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Our forefathers had among other things, three things in mind whenever they are building a new house; security, comfort and unity. Each family has a compound built in semblance of the centallized structure of the city. There were big structures positioned at the center of the compound around which smaller structures are built the same way the province and ultimately the kingdom is patterned. The big structures at the center of the compounds serve as courts and or parlors for the families just as the Bale‘s house at the center of the province and King’s palace at center of the entire kingdom.

The material they use in moulding their bricks is mud clay–something today’s architecture has forgotten…but did I hear technologists say that mud clay is naturally bullet proof? Yes that’s right, it is .If you were shocked with that information, let me blow your imagination with this one, the houses, because of the porosity of clay, absorb heat from the surface during hot weather but is cool within,therefore comfortable to stay in during heat while it realises the heat during cold seasons to comfort its inhabitants through the harsh cold. Now that’s natural air-conditioning right there.

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After passing through the dreaded ‘Oja Oba’ (the King’s market) where you see all sorts of goods and ‘bads’ are on display; most notorious is the ‘leku leja’ stall where obscene and rare animal parts are for sale. If you are an initiate however or has been taught how to seek you can get human parts, we walked round the palace walls to get to a spot abominable to a certain Yoruba king…‘Oke Mogun‘, a seemingly normal slope but spiritually mountainous. Then I sighted it or should i say it sighted and beckoned on me…’Opa Oranmiyan’ is distinctly standing like a colossal sentinel in it’s holding shrine within the palace grounds.

As the procession made her final round back to ‘Igbotapa’ where the journey began, the witches that walk in daylight-sworn merchants of bush meat at the Enuwa market (closest-longest standing market to the palace) eulogizes Obatala. When we got to the shrine of Obatala,t he king was already there as expected and had entered into Obatala’s sacred court where no living soul save ‘Lukutumi’ (the chosen priestess of Obatala) can follow him to pay obeisance to the patriarch. Water was presented to us from the self cooling refrigerator-like reservoir called ‘Amu’…another product of ancient clay craft.

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I always say that only a few kingdoms can be compared with Ile-Ife, places with rich ancient history and ancestoral mystism like Egypt: Rome: Greece: Ethiopia: Israel and Saudi Arabia. To compare Ile-Ife with cities other than the one’s I just cited is sacrilegious.

You are welcome to come see for your self what secrets this ancient city has in keep but do not walk our streets with the illusion that you are alone, a sage once said to me,

“Omo Oodua,when you walk the streets of this city, know that at least, a thousand and one spirits are walking with you as your Allies or foes depending on the thoughts in your heart”.

If you want to know what happens during the festival when the king goes into the court…well that’s story for the gods and not for you. Come to Ile-Ife and see things yourself… There are many more things to write but the instruction was clear… Kisses.

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