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Ile-Ife

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Ile ife bronze head  

 

Yoruba bronze head sculpture from the city of Ife, Nigeria c. 12th century CE
Ife bronze art  portrays the human form in a naturalistic way. The holes may have been used to attach facial hair. 

 
 
 

Ife is the city where the Yoruba civilization began according to Yoruba tradition, and the place where the gods descended to earth.  Literally the name means the place of the dispersion, that is the place from which all Yoruba cities originated.

The origin myth tells of God lowering a chain at Ile-Ife, which Oduduwa, the ancestor of all people, came down. He brought with him a cock, some earth and a palm kernel. He threw the earth into the water. The cock scratched the spot and it became land. The palm kernel grew into a massive tree with sixteen limbs, each representing one of the original sixteen kingdoms.

History tells a different story. There was a people living at what became Ile Ife, the Ugbo. The founders of the Ile Ife civilization invaded the Ugbo, coming from the east and led by King Oduduwa. Oduduwa and his people conquered the Ugbo and established the flourishing Ile Ife civilization. After the death of Oduduwa, the Yoruba people of Ile Ife founded the other Yoruba kingdoms, the most significant of which were the the Oyo and the Benin.

Between 1100 CE and 1700 CE, the Yoruba Kingdom of Ife was at its peak. The ruler of Ife (the oba) was referred to as the Ooni of Ife. However, after 1700 the Yoruba Oyo Empire came to dominate the region.

Part of The Yoruba African Kingdoms Exhibit

African Kingdoms Primary Sources

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