Book Review — History of the Eko Dynasty by Bolakale Kotun

In the wee hours of this morning, I finished Prince Bolakale Kotun’s “History of the Eko Dynasty”. The author is of the royal family of Lagos.

The book narrates in a chronological sequence the events in, on, around and after the founding of Eko as a town.

Because of our poor written tradition, most of the happenings narrated were passed through oral traditions, and thus we have several controversial and often contradictory accounts of what occurred in the distant past, yet Prince Kotun has been able to justify his accounts by not only diving into the events, but also explaining the circumstances surrounding the historical happenings.

A good example is the connection between the Eko Kingdom and the Benin Kingdom. The story of how two Ife Princes came all the way from Ile Ife with a group called the Yoruba Awori immigrants to settle in present day Ebutte-Meta, how the Benin Kingdom conquered the territory, and how it eventually became independent.

#DoYouKnow Eko was named Lagos by the Portuguese due to its semblance with a certain Lagos in Portugal.

The narration of all the Yoruba Kings who have ruled is particularly delightful. As usual, you have different characters. From the King who proved his innocence by the parting of the Lagoon and walking on dry land (see, Eko already had this myth before the Abrahamic religions brought theirs), to another so fascinated by Islam that he asked for it to be propagated in the land, to one so overcome with shame that he committed suicide…

…to another who refused Kingship and gave it to his nephew, not even any of his sons, to a King who while a King still became Nigeria’s Senate President (how does that even work?), to a ‘Marlian’ King who dragged royalty in the mud by refusing to pay for goods and being chased out of supermarket on account of being drunk. You will read thrilling accounts of all the twenty Kings who have ascended the throne of Eko dynasty.

#DoYouKnow that it was an Eko King who invited the Europeans, the Portuguese traders precisely, for the purpose of slave trade and goods like palm oil? Historical context is everything. Who is this King and when was this invitation extended? You have to read the book.

The book delved much further into the four classes of Chiefs who make Eko thick. The Akarigbere. The Idejo. The Ogalade. The Abagbon. Puzzle: Who among these classes are the popular White Cap Chiefs you see around? Read the book.

#DoYouKnow that there is a special royal status in Eko which is equal in all ramification with the Oba with the only exception that the Oba wears the crown and he does not? How did it start? When did it start? Why did it start? What was the justification? I can’t tell you. You have to read the book.

It is interesting to know how accommodating Eko has always been to foreigners. From the earliest times, Lagos has been a melting point of cultures. Some rulers from the hinterland, who had given up their royalties and had moved to Lagos were capped with important chieftaincy titles. A good example is the Onikoyi of Ikoyi. He is not native to Eko. Another one is the Ba of Idole who is now known as the Obanikoro of Lagos. To show that not only Yoruba kings were accommodated, there is the instance of Nda Kolo Etsu Nupe who left Bida during the Sokoto Jihad and was capped Balogun Okolo, a position still in place today. And no, the ‘Lagos is a no man’s land’ misyarn did not start today. Eko gba onisokuso na (Lagos also accepts the senseless loquacious talkative).

There is a long bit about the glamorous Eyo festival. If you love to read about the Yoruba culture, you will love the origin, nature, celebration and mystery of the Adamuorisa festival.

While it is fashionable to rebuke the British for claiming Lagos, I found it interesting to know that Oba Dosunmu decided to cede the Island of Lagos to the Queen in 1861 because he wanted help to defend the Island from neighboring kingdoms like Dahomey. Heartwarming it is that Britain then proceeded to ban all kinds of slave trade in the region, including the destruction of slave houses, as well as uphold the previous declaration in the 1952 treaty of prohibiting the barbarous practice of human sacrifice. It is said that he later denied ceding any land to the British but it’s difficult to believe this seeing he was promised annual pension, among other things.

There were certain places I wished there were more clarifications. For instance, why was the Eko civil war called the Coco-yam leaves war?

I got interested in this book because I’m getting involved in a massive urban planning and regeneration project in Eko and having to deal with some of the traditional chiefs, I knew it would be a great help to be abreast of their customs and traditions. After reading this book, I feel I am well equipped for this task, but it also got me thinking about writing a book like this for my Igbomina heritage.

There is no better way to tell our stories than having them written ourselves for the future generation.

I have often derided the poor oral tradition in Africa and I will no longer tolerate anyone who feels the very few books available are biased. Anybody who thinks the available literature is lopsided should write his own.

The more the merrier, innit? :)

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