Back to Yoruba Past and Armed Invasion of Fatherland
William Clarke account of 1800 invasion of Yorubaland by armed Fulani in the midst of the Jihad. The ink of Clarke dotted the below lines after visiting Yorubaland in May 1854 to 1858. There are similarities between yesterday and today.
“Just at this time the great thirst for pillage and kidnapping had reached such degree in all the (Yoruba) country as to prove such a powerful auxiliary to the Fulani in carrying on their conquests by breaking that bond of union which hitherto had presented the Yoruba to their neighbours as a powerful and prosperous people.
If, on the one hand, the Fulani who had been the scourge of interior Africa, were coming down like an avalanche on the kingdom, sweeping everything before it, the people of Yorubaland on the other hand, were the prey of their own cupidity and became so far abandoned to every vile principle as to subject their neighbours of contiguous cities to slavery, verifying in their case the saying of scripture that “The wicked tremble at the shaking of a leaf.”
Scarcely anyone was going to the farms lest before night they should be in fetters of robbers and en route for the barracoon, or slave deck on the coast. Before these disturbances, though there were a number of very large and populous cities in the kingdom, such as Old Oyo, Ilorin, Igboho, Ikoyi and others, the people generally lived in small towns and villages each, according to reports, of about one thousand inhabitants and devoted to the cultivation of the country. But when compelled to flee they threw themselves together into some well-fortified towns for mutual defense against the common enemy, and with a resolution and firmness worthy of a people fighting for life and liberty, determined to conquer or die.
Town and city were continually swept away, (by the armed Fulani) the terror-stricken people were fleeing in every direction, seeking peace and safety, but find their homes in the Island of Cuba or on the plantations of Brazil– except those who were so fortunate as to find a foothold on the capricious soil of Sierra Leone.
The town of Ogbomoso, which protected the aggregating population of many surrounding towns, sustained its defense long and well and with three or four others now stands the remnant of what once (one of )was the original kingdom of Yorubaland. The Fulani, flushed with continual victory, bore down on every successive town in their march to the coast, pressing on the devoted Yoruba who, in turn, rushed like mad men on the defenseless Egba until the conquering army met a force worthy of its steel in the determined and brave soldiers of the large city of Ibadan.
These mad followers of the prophet who had made their boasts that were it not for the sea they would conquer even the pale faced Kaffirs of the west, here with a signal defeat were forced to terminate their prestige on the southern side of the Niger.
It will never be possible, I imagine, to record the details of this great tragedy on the page of history and assign the full weight to the regular causes of its desolation, so entire and extensive as to have few parallels in human experience.
The work is done. Hundreds of towns and cities within the territory of fifty thousand miles live only in name or in the songs of humiliated people or the green grass, the heavy undergrowth or the broken walls that perchance marks the sites of desolation and ruin. Of the evidences of this desolation any traveller may become satisfied in his direction East, East or North until the heart suffers at the sight of so much destruction and ruin.
Of the blood that was there, of the tears that flowed, of human misery that covered the land like a cloud of darkness in destruction of property, the blasting of hopes and the separation of each and every human tie that unites heart to heart, let the reader step back twenty years ago and walk the street of Sierra Leone and mark those multi form countenances and languages: then let him stop that man who says “Aku” and hear his sad recital of the scenes and events that have been transpiring for years back in his native land.
Hear him, as with tearful eyes he relates the capture and destruction of his town , the death before his eyes of his own father or mother, the captivity of his brothers and sisters, and an eternal separation for all that is dear to him of kindred and friends and home and consignment, as he thought, in a foreign land to a life of long servitude. Listen to the recitals of hundreds such, more thrilling and starting than the miniature pictures of what transpired on the scale of a whole nation, and we may have some faint idea of what is in the great tragedy acted out in the most interesting portions of Africa.
Or if we would have one single city presented to view, take that mentioned earlier, namely, the city of Igboho which when seen by Saunders, thirty years ago contained an immense population, with its three walls of mud, but when seen by the writer in 1855 was almost destroyed, yet with relics sufficient to testify to its former greatness, (after the Fulani invasion).
If it be now asked what was the principal cause of so great desolation and misery, I answered that it was the removal from the African coast of the Safeguards of native’ liberty, the American and British cruisers, substituted with those crafts that bear in their wake a pestilence worse than death itself.
This Fulani invasion, on the one hand, had a most humiliating effect on the minds of the people in the ruin of their country, the desolation of their homes and the murder of their kindred and friends and, on the other hand, produced the happy result of turning their minds from the love of barbarism and war to the peaceful pursuits of agriculture and commerce. Worn out, completely exhausted by preying on and sucking the life blood of each other, their determination now is, if they could but repel further invasion, amend for the past by the improvement of the present and an ardent longing for a still better future.
Since my acquaintance with this kingdom and people, beginning in the fall of 1854, there has been continually an improvement among them in almost every respect, especially in agriculture and commerce, and a desire for peace. A year ago it was a boast in the country that an old woman could go from town to town in peace with a staff in her hand. In 1855 by the regulations of the city of Ijaye not one gallon of palm oil was allowed to be shipped from the city nor is it a regular article of trade between that city and Abeokuta. Such is a brief and concise history of the rise, progress and present condition of this interesting (Yoruba) kingdom, with which those interested in Africa, we believe, would desire to become better acquainted.”
Source: Travels and Explorations in Yorubaland