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IPONRIKU., a dreadful war masquerade, he that fought, defeated, killed and beheaded OLOOLU during a superiority fight in Gege market right here in the city of Ibadan in 1928, and took his head away.

Baba Muri, popularly known as Baba Alowonle narrated the story in my presence in 1989 and I will spare some minutes with you to relate the story in details. This is one of many evergreen memories from my childhood experiences as a little boy growing up in IIDIKAN, in the ancient city of Ibadan.

Baba Alowonle was a respected and brilliant storyteller, he narrated a lot of never-been-told stories of the gone years. It was true he had that knowledge. His gift of story telling was unequalled and unparalleled…, you would be forced to listen to him as suspense would grow after suspense which would pin you down to listen to him with undivided attention. I used to think if baba Muri had gone to school he probably could beat Chinua Achebe in storytelling competition, (Lol). I give it to him.

On that day, I was sent to grind pepper in his shop. Baba Alowonle ran a one-stop grinding shop where grinding of foodstuffs of all kinds could be done, his shop was located beside Alade Suleiman ‘s house just directly opposite Idikan Baptist Primary School in Ibadan.

Baba Alowonle was very popular in IIDIKAN street between the 80’s and the 90’s, he was a fine agile old man in his early 60s at that time, with a big bank of knowledge of history.

I was asked, or rather forced to sit and wait because a technician was fixing the grinding machines he would use for us, some other women were there too, waiting to grind beans, corns, dried yam tubers known as ‘elubo’ and etc., and few minutes later a girl came and queued behind me.

We were about five in number waiting and wanting to grind different things one after the other according to the order of our arrival in ascension. Muritala, his son, who suffered from sickle cell anaemia sat at one corner by the pathway that led into their house at the back of the shop. Muritala was my classmate in the primary school. And Muili, his apprentice, and Lateef, Muri’s younger brother, were busy fetching water from the well in the middle of the compound.

While we waited, baba Alowonle threw a big chunk of cola-nut in his mouth and began to smash it between his upper and lower molars, the crush sound was audible as the cola-nut surrendered and lost its strength between his teeth, and immediately he began to sing joyfully:

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One among the women became restless and  turned to baba Alowonle, “Baba is it true that Iponriku killed Oloolu ?” She asked enthusiastically.

Baba Alowonle stopped singing and he cleared his throat, he gave a nod to indicate he wanted to begin to tell the story. He definitely enjoyed being depend upon for clues in such situation, as he was ready to share his story he knew they didn’t know.

Though, I had heard people singing that trite song many times but I had thought it was a mere fairytale. Baba Alowonle was ready to narrate the story and I really wanted to listen and learn. Maybe he really wanted to divert our attention and while-away the time while the technician busied working on his grinding machines.

Many things still flash through my mind from the huge log of events from my childhood in Idikan Ibadan. The evergreen jamborees of Egungun festival can never be swept under the carpet of the gone years just like that.

The days of:
Amoniloju Baba Morili,
and Adeyi were few among the known-by-all Egungun in Ibadanland at that time.

From Oopo-yeosa down to the Ibikunle, Ayeye-Agbaje to Asukuna, Beere-Alekusho to Orita-merin. Fom Oje to Labo and Aremo, we would trek as many miles as we could following any masquerade of our choice.

As a child of dedicated deacon in one of the biggest church in the city of Ibadan at that time, I knew hell would be waiting for me at home if my father knew I had been catching fun by following egungun around the town.

One among the masquerades that used to captivate my interest among all was IPONRIKU. But why?

IPONRIKU was believed to be the most feared and powerful. We were told he killed OLOOLU and had his head taken away with him. And that truly added to his prestige among other masquerades we knew about at that time.

But how far is this true? Baba Muri confirmed it was true.

According to him, sometime before the second world war, OLOOLU had a superiority feud with IPONRIKU.

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Honestly, OLOOLU was supposed to be the most dreadful masquerade in Ibadanland because no woman had ever seen him and remained alive to tell her story. Markets, schools, worship houses like churches and mosques must be closed down, and streets must be abandoned and empty.

That was the only time ever when boys and men were considered equal. Women and girls must be kept in the closets of their houses. The mere threats of sounds of their feet could kill as fear would hold their breaths to ransom, men were superior indeed.

The man behind OLOOLU cloak, the one that carried the masquerade regalia at that time was a short dark skin man, with a tribal marks that resembled the that of chief Adedibu. On his shoulder there was always a dried human skull.

There was another legendary story about the dry skull, it was widely believed that the skull was his own daughter’s. His daughter ran into him while he was still wearing the masquerade regalia, it was a taboo. The girl die on the spot and he severed her head. Truly if he could kill his own daughter like that, then tell me whose daughter he won’t kill for disrespecting the tradition and violating the taboo?

Unlike other masquerade, he never covered his face with mask and always held in his hand a big wooden scoop, ‘Igbako’. It was believed the magical scoop was a tool he used in drying up the blood of his victims before cutting their heads. For nearly two decades I knew him, I never witnessed where he killed anybody. The stories of killing and cutting of heads started and ended only in the rumours peddled around by his admirers.

OLOOLU masquerade would roam the whole city of Ibadan on his bare feet in the midst of several thousands of men with wild beating of drums, but wherever he would go, all female living creatures must not meet or see him face to face.

According to baba Alowonle, IPONRIKU had warned OLOOLU not to pass through his street around Gege area where today is known as BORN-FOTO, but OLOOLU defied his warning, and IPONRIKU angrily vowed to deal with him mercilessly if he could dare him once again.

On the last day of OLOOLU roaming that year which was a Thursday…, IPONRIKU gathered seven of his senior wives outside, all of them tied black wrappers while their heads were left shaved off and they were told to be pounding empty mortals with pestles inside the burning sun on that day.

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IPONRIKU himself sat by one corner watching over them. He had warned OLOOLU and was waiting for him to defy his order. Not too long when the sound of OLOOLU’s heavy drumbeat was heard from far, IPONRIKU stood up and the tempo of pounding by his wives was elevated.

The massive followers of OLOOLU knew the implication of the impending war between the two powerful men and they stayed aloof in order to prevent possible inflictions during the battle.

OLOOLU dared IPONRIKU and he was able to bring down one of the IPONRIKU’s wives and took to his heels, IPONRIKU ran after him and was able to catch up with him at the deserted GEGE market junction where both engaged each other in war-like confrontation, IPONRIKU was able to overpower OLOOLU while he rendered him unconscious. He took out his sword and cut-off OLOOLU ‘s head. He took his head and his masquerade regalia away with him.

The news of the incident spread across the city of Ibadan and beyond. The colonial authority brought the situation under control as quickly as possible before it escalated to a full-blown war among the people, especially amongst the two opposing followers, and the government hence came up with strict regulations against the traditional and ritual practices among the locals at the time. Egungun festival was banned for several years to suppress the bitterness and needless calls for reprisal attacks.

That was the end of baba Alowonle’s narration, IPONRIKU fought and killed OLOOLU in 1928.

Don’t let us forget that a similar incident took place in the 80’s between the new generation of OLOOLU and AJAGBE-MO-KEFERI (a popular Islamic scholar who was famous in the 80’s), who also warned OLOOLU not to pass through his street. OLOOLU disregard the warning and that nearly became a religious war between the traditionalists and Islamic community at that time. The situation was brought under control by the stern interference of the then military administration at that time.

Iponriku p’Oloolu si Gege, p’Oloolu. I don’t know how far the story it’s true, but I remember we sang the trite song always at that time as little kids.

Source:.Prince Hammed Olajide