The Oranmiyan Staff

The 20 foot tall staff is an important cultural relic to the Yoruba people. It is located in the city of Ile-Ife, this city is of importance to the Yoruba people as it is regarded as the place where all life was created. The staff is still has ceremonial significance to this day.

The story of this ancient and revered artifact begins with the Yoruba people. The Yoruba are an indiginous African ethnic group that number roughly fifty-five million. The area occupied by the Yoruba people, often referred to as Yorubaland, constitutes modern day Benin, Togo, Ghana, and south-western Nigeria. It is in southwest Nigeria where you will find the highest concentration of Yoruba people, roughly forty-three million. Much like the U.S., the country of Nigeria is divided into states. The town of Ile-Ife located in the Osun state, which is northwest of the capital city of Lagos, is where the Oranmiyan Staff is located.

The story goes that Oludamere, the supreme god in the Yoruba religion, commanded his underling Obatala to create the earth. Unfortunately, Obtala slacked in his duty which allowed his younger brother, the god-king Oduduwa, to steal the materials needed to create the city of Ile-Ife. Oduduwa had many sons and daughters. His last son Oranmiyan is the namesake of the staff. Oranmiyan would help his father rule in the Edo empire in modern Benin. Following that venture, Oranmiyan would become the leader of the Oyo empire sometime during the late thirteenth century or early fourteenth century. This empire encapsulated southwest Nigeria and some of eastern Benin.

The staff is said to have been created sometime around the year 1300 as commemoration for Oranmiyan after he died. The folk legend of how it was established is much more entertaining. The giant godking Oranmiyan had journeyed south of Ile-Ife to do battle. In his absence the city came under attack and he was forced to return to its defense. He unleashed devastation on the attackers, but he also killed his friend in the crossfire. He was so overcome by grief that he plunged his weapon into the ground and departed from Ile-Ife, never to be seen again. The staff is nearly twenty feet tall and made entirely of granite. The body of the staff is ornamented with 123 iron nails that are arranged in the shape of a trident. No one knows who arranged the nails or why they are arranged in that way.

Ile-Ife as a city has a paramount importance to the Yoruba people. It is regarded as the spiritual homeland of the Yoruba and the place where all life was created. Oduduwa was the first Ooni of Ife, the guardian and leader of the city. All successive leaders of the city carry the title of Ooni. The staff itself is located in the Oranmiyan house and is guarded by the Akugan, translated as brave warrior. The house plays an important role in the succession of Oonis. Any newly appointed king of Ile Ife receives his staff of office in the grove that houses Oranmiyan’s staff. Another festival held in Ile Ife is the Olojo festival. This festival is held every October and honors Oduduwa’s first born son Ogun, the god of iron. The Ooni spends several days in isolation communing with the ancestors. The women from his family sweep the palace to cleanse it of evil spirits. After the Ooni emerges, he leads a procession to the shrine of Ogun where various rituals take place. This day of festival is very important to the Yoruba people as it is specially blessed by the supreme god Oludamere.

This monument, just like any monument that commemorates a cultural icon, is a symbol of hope for its people. Whether or not the Yorubas believe the myths about its origin, the staff represents who they are and who they can be. The figures involved in the legends helped construct the societies and cultural practices that resonate to the present. The staff acts as a direct link to Oranmiyan, his siblings, and his father Oduduwa. These ancestors founded great empires that expanded and thrived for centuries. In this way, Oranmiyan’s staff is a symbol of pride; a reminder that the same blood that flowed through the veins of the great Oonis flows through every Yoruba.