The people of Ilaje belongs to a sub-group of the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria. The people are said to have migrated from Ile-Ife (the ancestral home of the Yoruba people) in the 10th century to the Atlantic coastline of Ondo state of Nigeria where they occupied till today. They also spread along the coastal belts of Ogun, Lagos, and Delta States.
The Ilajes are found in Ilaje Local Government Area in Ondo state. It has its headquarters in the town of Igbokoda. Its territory is made up of four geo-political entities which are Ode Ugbo, Ode Mahin, Ode Etikan and Aheri. Among the four entities, only one (Ode Mahin) have towns and villages distributed on arable lands. The other three are spread out along the beaches and swampy terrains of the Atlantic Ocean coast. The people’s motto is ‘Ayemafuge’ which has ‘Awa yee’ as a response when chanted by the people.
The people speak a distinct language totally different from the Yoruba language widely spoken in all Yorubaland. The Ilaje language is spoken by the people in its numerous towns and villages.
The ilajes are one of the most dynamic and enterprising people in Nigeria. The occupational activities of the people include fishing, canoe making, lumbering, net making, mat making, launch building, farming and trading. Fishing however remains the major agricultural occupation of the people. In fact, there are thousands of Ilaje fishermen in the coastline communities all over Nigeria. These people have aquatic skills and can quickly adapt in different environment which makes them thrive.
Ilaje is blessed with a land flowing with milk and honey. Crude oil is found in its towns and villages; Aiyetoro which is one of its communities in the early days had the highest per capita income in the whole of West Africa. Apart from petroleum found in the area, other mineral raw materials available in Ilaje land include glass sand, tar sand/bitumen, quartz and clay. The arable land of Ode Mahin and the mangrove swamp vegetation of the three other zones make the cultivation of vegetables, palm oil, cocoyam, banana, raffia, cassava, and rice in large scale very possible. Other agricultural products of economic importance include fish, poultry and piggery.
Crude oil found in the areas makes it attract oil companies such as Shell, Chevron, Texaco Nigeria Limited, and so on. There are numerous oil wells and fields spread all over the LGA both onshore and offshore. Glass sand which are dug in large quantities in communities such as Agerige, Olopemeji, Araromi sea-side, Zion Pepe, Igbokoda and so on makes the people have a glass manufacturing industry; Oluwa Glass Company PLC situated at Igbokoda. Bitumen is also found in communities such as Mahintedo, Igbo egunrin, Igbobi, Agerige, Araromi sea-side and host of other communities. This has made the Ondo state government to propose a Sea Port which would help export the product to other parts of the world. There are other industries such as boat building industry, oil producing mill, Alcohol distillery (ogogoro) and palm wine tapping, mat weaving industry and so on.
Culture and Tradition
The people are known to worship a goddess known as ‘Ayelala’ as well as holding several cultural festivals in the year. The goddess which is said to be powerful and widely respected is worshipped in its shrine called ‘Ayelala Shrine’, which exist as a river junction called ‘Ita Ayelala’. It is a few kilometers from the headquarters at Igbokoda. The goddess is known to make witches and wizards confess their sins in the open. It could be invoked to unravel the causes of diabolical cause of mysteries.
As a result of its coastline areas, seafoods such as fish, crayfish are important ingredients in the people’s cuisine. Foods peculiar to the Ilajes include pupuru (made from cassava), obe marugbo (a special type of vegetable that is grounded), ogolale (mashed yam and unripe plantain prepared with palm oil), and igbanyeghe (boiled corn with fish, palm oil and other condiments). Ogogoro (gin) is a popular drink of the people; it is finely produced in their communities.
The Ilajes dress like the neighboring Ijaws and Itsekiris. Men wear hats on shirts and trousers while the women are adorned in blouses with double wrappers tied below.
The advent of the white missionaries made the people to embrace Christianity. Majority of the Christians worships in the Cherubim and Seraphim Church of Zion, which has its headquarters in Ugbo Nla. The worshippers also have a distinct style of music also called ‘Zion’ which is always sonorous to the ears. There are other Christians of other denominations such as Pentecostal, Anglican, and Jehovah Witness worshippers.
The people of Ilaje always strive for academic excellence and this is seen in the numbers of educational institutions in the area. There are 117 institutions of learning which comprises 96 primary schools, 20 secondary schools, and Technical college and the University of Science and Technology Okitipupa. The Ilajes constitutes the highest numbers of students at the Ondo State School of Health Technology Akure and other tertiary institutions in the state.
Do you know that?
Ilaje Local Government Area is home to the biggest palace in West Africa. The Olugbo of Ugbo’s Palace (head of the four zones) is home to the richest king in Africa, Oba Obateru Akinruntan. He is worth $300 million from his oil and gas businesses. The traditional ruler is also the current Chairman of the councils of Obas in Ondo state.