Owo, Ondo State, Nigeria: A Place Of Historical Depth
Owo is a town in the present Ondo State of Nigeria, whose traditional ruler is the Olowo. The city of Owo lies half-way between the cities of Ife and Benin, about 140miles away from Benin City, on the eastern border of Yoruba-land.
Founded in 1968 to accommodate the antiquities which were formerly in the Owo Palace, the museum contains significant archaeological artifacts and ethnographic materials discovered in the Owo area. Today, it has come to be known as a home for not just Owo artifacts but also for artifacts found in Benin and Ife, two towns which are very close to Owo.
Yoruba history has it that the people of Owo migrated from the city of Ile-Ife to the present location in about 1100AD. Another source claims that it was one of the sons of the gods who founded the city of Ile-Ife that founded the city of Owo. This may probably be the reason why the city of Ile-Ife seems to have a strong influence on the city of Owo which is clearly seen on their artworks.
Especially in Owo and Benin, the early art-historical and archaeological records reinforce these strong affiliations with Ife culture. Benin’s royal histories relate that the court’s brass casters learned their art from an Ife master named Iguegha, who had been sent from Ife around 1400 at the request of Benin’s Oba Oguola. Indeed, the earliest dated cast-brass memorial heads from Benin replicate the refined naturalism of Ife sculpture; early Owo terracotta sculpture appears to have been heavily influenced by the arts of Ife as well.
Owo is not just known for its archeological pieces but also for its festival. The Annual Igogo Festival at Owo is a celebration with a very long history dating back centuries, and today, it continues to generate interest not only from Owo indigenes at home and abroad but even foreigners. During this festival, the Olowo is seen dressed as an effeminate, with his hair plaited. Therefore it is no surprise hearing that the origin of this festival is a king who fell in love with a goddess, about 600 years ago. His wives who grew in jealousy started to commit acts that were forbidden to be seen by the goddess in her presence, after which she cursed the land just before she turned into a tree. This festival is done every year to appease her.
The Owo kingdom plays a huge role in holding an array of rich historical and archaeological artifacts depicting the early life of ancestors of the people of Owo, Ife and Benin. Though its importance is lost on our generation, it remains a place for inquisitive tourists and ethnographic researchers who are aware of its significance.