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The Enlightened Ones of the Medieval and Ancient World: King Oduduwa & The Buddha

Updated: May 31

Native (Yoruba) tradition tells that through the centuries, Oduduwa was a warrior and priest king ruling equally.

The Buddha, a great tribal chieftain who dedicated himself to understanding life’s problems, and his path of discovery led him to enlightenment.

"There are two great Ethiopian (African) nations, one in Sind (India) and the other in Egypt." - Greek Historian Herodotus

King Oduduwa of the Ife Kingdom (Yorubaland), and the Buddha of the Indus Valley Civilization

The Yoruba country (Yorubaland: present-day Southwest Nigeria, smaller part of Benin Republic and a still smaller part of Togo Republic) is in West Africa and the Ife Kingdom was one of the most prosperous during medieval times in Africa. The Yoruba believe they are the first race of humans, and that all human life and civilization originated from Yorubaland. The history of the Ife Kingdom is from about the 9th century to 1900 AD, but from the period of Oduduwa from 1000 AD to 1500 AD was a period of growing economic and political prosperity and power in the history of Ife. The Ife Kingdom grew and prospered, but it also became a source of inspiration for major political changes in Yorubaland in general. In four centuries before the 15th century, kingdoms like Ife sprang up in most parts of the Yoruba forests, and all of them acknowledged Ife’s leadership, their rulers claiming Ife as the source of their origin and legitimacy.

Yorubaland Map

“It is impossible to describe here all the riches of the civilization of Ife.” – Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop

The Indus Valley Civilization map

The Indus Valley city of Mohenjo-Daro had a hydraulic network that was very complex, and it would only be surpassed thousands of years later by the network of aqueducts in Rome during the 3rd century CE.

The Harappans of the Indus Valley Civilization was in the region of Pakistan and Western India (South Asia) that began forming hundreds of settlements around 3300 BCE. The population of the Indus Valley Civilization was over 5 million people. This empire during ancient times was a huge territory, larger than the combined territories of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Its western border was near the modern Iran-Pakistan border. The territory stretched as far east as the modern city of Mumbai. Northwards it stretched to the western elbow of the Ganges River and formed a rough triangle. The Indus River fed the Indus Valley Civilization in much the same way the Nile River fed the Pharaonic culture, and the Two Rivers fed the Sumerian and Akkadian cultures. The Indus and its tributaries covered almost 100 miles of Pakistan and the northwest region of India.

Avenues in the empire ran north to south and east to west. The main boulevards were 35 feet wide. The Indus Valley Civilization even had shops and restaurants that lined the streets, but the most important public buildings were the Granary, the Citadel, and the Great Bath. The houses of this ancient civilization were two or more stories high and built around a central square courtyard. Most houses, large and small, had chutes to dispose of waste. Filtering into tunnels, the waste emptied into central sewers. The Harappans also built sumps or drainage pits to collect the heaviest waste in order that the main channels would be passable.

“Virtually every household was equipped with what much of the modern western world still thinks of as ‘modern conveniences.’ In addition to the trash chutes, each household had bathrooms with drains which carried waste to the sewers under the streets. Almost every dwelling had its own private well from which fresh water was drawn. Apparently, prosperity was not as elusive to the Harappans as it was to their contemporaries in Egypt and Sumer.” – Historian Wayne Chandler

King Oduduwa and the Ife Kingdom (Yorubaland, West Africa)

“So monumental was the role of this man (Oduduwa) that, popular traditions and legends elevated him to the awesome pedestal of father of the Yoruba race and founder of the monarchical system which thenceforth became their typical system of government.” - Dr. Stephen Adebanji Akintoye

Oduduwa is the first human to walk the earth, and the Yoruba people crowned him as the father of the Yoruba people, and all people of the world.

“This path is the origin of the Yemoja crown and the mother of all Orisha. She is considered Oduduwa in female form.” – Yemoja Yembo (Yemu)

When Oduduwa came out as the victor during the many wars he endured with his most fierce adversary Obatala, he became king (i.e., Ooni) and Oduduwa began to gather the pieces of that new settlement, Ile-Ife (i.e., Ife Kingdom), the first city in the Yoruba forests, the first city of the Yoruba people. When the “Oduduwa Constitution” emerged, the Ife Kingdom had one king, which was Oduduwa himself, whose family became the royal family and would provide the kings in succession forever. The city of Ife became one single kingdom under one king, and not an alliance, confederation, or federation of kingdoms. Each of the kings of the pre-Oduduwa settlements of Ife surrendered to Oduduwa so that only Oduduwa was king of Ife. The king of Ife became the legitimate leader of every one of the old settlements and their lineages, and any claims to ultimate leadership by former kings were terminated. The former kings were appointed as quarter chiefs in their quarters, and other significant citizens were appointed quarter chiefs in other sections of the Ife Kingdom.

King Oduduwa did not establish a new system of government. What he did was to take the old system of monarchy, which had developed and matured in Ife and other parts of Yorubaland before his time and employ it in the service of a larger collection of people, a wider polity. His greatness consists in his ability to conceive and create a more inclusive society. The kingdom of Ife became the pattern of existence for most of Yorubaland, making the Yoruba the most urbanized people in the tropical African forests. The Yoruba are also proud possessors of what many regard as Africa’s highest indigenous civilization.

Oduduwa also devoted special attention to the economy of Ife. First, the economy in general, and second, the establishment of economic support systems for the monarchy. He seemed to have started a royal tradition of personal patronage of farming by the king, and to have raised some crops himself. The return of peace to the Ife Kingdom liberated the energies of the people, and food became plentiful again. Oduduwa also established a central market for the new city, providing for royal messengers to keep peace in it. He gained enormous wealth from exporting large quantities of kola nuts to the north and bringing many horses from there to Ife. The Ife Palace may have bought many horses, mostly for prestige, and horses seem to have been in common use for royal messengers and leading chiefs. The king’s special attention to long-distance trade as a source of wealth is indicated in the provisions he made for orderly, peaceful traffic on the roads leading to and from Ife.

It was during Oduduwa’s reign that marked a major upsurge in manufacturing, a development that was directly stimulated by the king himself. His victories in war against the old pre-Ife Kingdom settlements had owed much to his efficient attention to the production of weapons for his men. From the moment Oduduwa became king in Ife, he attached very high priority to manufacturing. He even appointed a royal blacksmith named Ogunladin to head a large royal smithy close to the Ife Palace. Ogunladin’s smithy may have been a place for the manufacture of stockpile of weapons, such as machetes, spear blades, arrow blades, swords, etc. for Oduduwa’s palace and other iron goods for the market. The old iron industry expanded rapidly under Oduduwa. It was probably in his time that the area of the Ife Kingdom became the central supplier of iron goods to different parts of the Yoruba forests.

Another industry related to Oduduwa’s reign was the bead industry. To elevate the glory of the monarchy before the people of the new city, Oduduwa is said to have turned to the lavish use of beads in the royal regalia, in crowns and clothes, bracelets, wristlets, anklets, etc. In early Yoruba society, beads, rather than gold, were the great treasure of personal adornment.

Although King Oduduwa’s reign was smooth, he did encounter political difficulty because some of the members of the pre-Oduduwa ruling families continued to agonize for some time after their loss of power. Some traditions even indicate that Oduduwa planned to build a grand palace, but distractions caused by political difficulties prevented him from doing so. At the end, King Oduduwa’s reign was long and peaceful. Besides appointing former kings as quarter chiefs, he included many members of their lineages in appointments to significant positions and generally made them feel accepted and honored in his new system of government and monarchy.

Although the Ife Kingdom was only about 20 km (12.5 miles) in diameter, the kingdom became the exalted leader in Yorubaland. Until about the end of the 14th century, the Ife Kingdom became the Ife Empire, held together not by force of arms but by the power of commerce, the belief in a common ancestry, and the manifest oneness of cultural heritage.

On King Oduduwa’s deathbed, he initiated the kingdom-founding movement by urging family members to go out and establish kingdoms like Ife, and this was how Yorubaland was born.

Oranmiyan: “The Child has Chosen to be Controversial”

Oranmiyan, one of the youngest grandsons of Oduduwa was probably the foremost warrior prince and adventurer that the Ife Kingdom produced. Oranmiyan’s origin story is interesting because he was the grandson of Oduduwa and the son of Ogun. He was birthed after his mother had an affair with both Ogun and Oduduwa, which is why Oranmiyan is known as the “man of two fathers.” For example, Oranmiyan’s skin tone carved out his name. He was mostly light-skinned like his father, Ogun, but he was also dark-skinned in some parts of his body like his grandfather, Oduduwa. This led to the creation of the name Oranmiyan (Oran ni omo ni yan), which means, “the child has chosen to be controversial.”

Oranmiyan was the ruler of three kingdoms and the founder of two:

  • The Ife Kingdom (Ruler, Yoruba kingdom)

  • The Great Benin Kingdom (Founder and Ruler, Edo kingdom: Great Benin had plunged into disorder and some Edo leaders sent a message to the ruler of Ife, urging him to send help for reorganization of the country. The king of Ife responded by sending Prince Oranmiyan. After some years successfully ruling in Great Benin, Oranmiyan decided to leave the Benin Kingdom because he felt the kingdom should be ruled by an indigenous Edo prince. He installed his son Ewuare as king of Great Benin. Ewuare was born by one of Oranmiyan’s Edo wives. King Ewuare became the progenitor of the dynasty that made Great Benin the most powerful kingdom on the shores of West Africa during medieval times).

  • The Oyo Kingdom (Founder and Ruler, Yoruba kingdom: The Oyo Kingdom eventually became the Oyo Empire with its territory covering about half of all Yorubaland, and probably more than half of its total population during the 17th and 18th centuries).

Yorubaland was eventually conquered and colonized by three European colonial powers. During the closing act of the 19th century, European imperialism divided Yorubaland into three different parts with the greatest being British Nigeria (Southwest Nigeria), a much smaller part of French Benin Republic, and still a smaller part in German (later French) Togo Republic.

"I only made passing reference in the work to Blacks scattered outside of Africa over the world, not from the slave trade, but from dispersions that begun in prehistory. This fact alone indicates the great tasks of future scholarship on the real history of the race." - Dr. Chancellor Williams

The Buddha and the Indus Valley Civilization (South Asia)

Plate 1. The Buddha. India―First century AD.

“Siddhartha Gautama (‘the Buddha’) is widely acknowledged as the founder of Buddhism in India more than 2,500 years ago.” – Dr. Rufus O. Jimerson

Siddhartha Gautama was born about 583 BCE, in a royal Hindu family to King Śuddhodana, the leader of the Shakya clan, whose capital was Kapilavastu, and who were later annexed by the growing kingdom of Kosala during the Buddha’s lifetime. Legend has it that, on the night Siddhartha was conceived, his mother Queen Maha Maya (Śuddhodana’s wife) dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side and 10 months later Siddhartha was born. As was the Shakya tradition, when his mother Queen Maya became pregnant, she left Kapilvastu for her father’s kingdom to give birth. However, her son is said to have been born on the way, at Lumbini, in a garden beneath a Sal tree.

When Prince Siddhartha was a few days old, a holy man prophesied the prince would either be a great military conqueror or a great spiritual teacher. The day of the Buddha’s birth is widely celebrated called “Buddha Poornima” in India as Buddha is believed to have been born on a full moon day. The infant was given the name Siddhartha, meaning “he who achieves his aim.” During the birth celebrations, the hermit seer Asita journeyed from his mountain abode and announced that the child would either become a great king or a great holy man. King Śuddhodana preferred his son to become a great king and he prepared his son accordingly. Siddhartha was raised in great luxury and was shielded from knowledge of religion and human suffering.

Siddhartha’s father eventually found a woman for his son to marry at 16-years-old. Prince Siddhartha married the woman named Yashodhara, and they had a son, Rahula. Although the prince had everything he could want, he still was not happy because he wanted to learn the meaning of existence. Prince Siddhartha reached 29-years-old with little experience of the world outside the walls of the palace. When Siddhartha got out of the castle against his father’s orders. He saw the “Four Passing Sights,” which was an old, crippled man, a sick man, a dead man, and a holy man with no home.

For example, the prince used to ride his chariot outside the palace grounds. To protect him from unpleasant sights, by order of the king only young, healthy people were allowed to show themselves on the road in the villages the prince would ride through. One day, Prince Siddhartha saw something he had never seen before: an old person.

The prince asked his charioteer:

“What’s wrong with that person? Why is his hair white?”

The charioteer replied:

“Oh, that’s because he’s old.”

Prince Siddhartha replied:

“Wait, old? What is this?”

The prince asked, and the charioteer explained what being old meant.

Before the charioteer could answer, Prince Siddhartha said:

“Hold on, is this going to happen to everybody? Is this going to happen to me?”

The charioteer replied to the prince:

“Yes, it is.”

When Prince Siddhartha got back to the palace he was shaken up. The next day he went out again in his chariot, but this time he saw a sick person by the side of the road. The prince asked the charioteer, “What’s wrong with that person? Why is she just lying there, not moving.”

This time the charioteer explained sickness to the prince, who never heard of such a thing. When Prince Siddhartha returned to the palace freaked out, he said to himself: “This happens to everybody! And there’s no exception; everybody is subject to sickness.”

On the third day, the prince went back out again, but this time he saw a dead person, which was the hardest thing for him to understand. The charioteer explained what death is to the prince, and Prince Siddhartha began to understand, “Everyone will die, not just me, but all of my people, and I can’t protect any of them.”

The prince was profoundly disturbed, and the spiritual crisis that transformed his life had begun. When Prince Siddhartha left the palace on the fourth day, he saw a renunciate, someone who had given up their worldly life. Renunciates leave their homes and go wandering in search of Truth, of spiritual awakening, leaving behind their home and everything they own, even their social status. When the prince came back to the palace, he couldn’t un-see the old person, the sick person, the dead person, and the renunciate. He also realized everybody is subject to old age, sickness, and death, including him and everyone he knew and loved. It was during this experience that Siddhartha knew that nothing could stop people from being born, becoming old, getting sick, and dying. He decided to give up his worldly life. One night the prince and his charioteer crept out of the palace, and he cut off his long princely hair with his sword as a symbol of renouncing his old identity and beginning his quest for complete awakening.

Prince Siddhartha would not keep his wives, his children, his wealth, or his palace. He would become a holy man with no home. He would look for the answer to the problem of birth, old age, sickness, and death. He left his home in the middle of a dark and stormy night. For six years, Siddhartha submitted himself to rigorous ascetic practices, studying, and following different methods of meditation with various teachers. Never being satisfied, Siddhartha, one day, was offered a bowl of rice from a young girl and he accepted it. In that moment, he realized that physical deprivation was not the means to achieve liberation. From this point on, he encouraged people to follow a path of balance rather than extremism. He called this “The Middle Way.” Siddhartha Gautama was known to his followers as the Buddha or “Awakened One” (Buddha is also sometimes translated as “The Enlightened One”). “Buddha” was the title Siddhartha Gautama was given. The name is derived from the word “budhi,” which means “to awaken.”

The night Siddhartha Gautama sat under the Bodhi tree and mediated until dawn, he purified his mind of all defilements and attained enlightenment at the age of 35, earning the title Buddha, or “Enlightened One.”

The Five Principles of Buddhism

  • The Principle of Impermanence

  • The Principle of Suffering

  • The Principle of Non-Self

  • The Principle of Karma

  • The Principle of Mindfulness

“The first principle of Buddhism is the recognition of impermanence, known as ‘anicca’ in Pali. It teaches us that everything in the world is in a constant state of change and flux. From the shifting seasons to the growth and decay of living beings, impermanence is an undeniable truth of existence. By adopting this principle, we learn to let go of attachments and expectations, understanding that nothing remains the same forever. This insight allows us to find peace amidst life’s inevitable ups and downs, fostering resilience and adaptability.” - The Principal of Impermanence, Buddhism

The history of India is full of uprisings by the Dalits, Sudras, and other natives of India against the Aryan invaders. The Buddha was the first to lead India’s Black Untouchable’s (Dalit’s) in war against the Aryan invaders. Most researchers believe that climate change was the key culprit in the mysterious fall of the Indus Valley Civilization nearly 4,000 years ago. As a result of climate change, the Indus Valley Civilization produced no grain; inundated tracts produced no fish; and irrigated orchards produced neither wine nor syrup. Hunger followed starvation, and surpluses and trade declined. The Harappans and their ancient civilization developed and thrived without warfare and violence. Seals uncovered do not depict a battle, a captive or a victor, and there is no evidence anywhere of armies or warfare, slaughter, or man-made destruction in any settlement of the Indus Valley Civilization. The Indus Valley Civilization was highly organized with cities built by uniform planning, each producing almost identical artifacts like pottery, seals, weights, and bricks.

It was after the climate change in the Indus Valley Civilization when the war-like Aryans advanced and drove the Harappan people into Central and Southern India. The Harappan people did all they could to protect their citizens, like in the city of Mohenjo-Daro (the largest city of the Indus Valley Civilization, and Mohenjo-Daro may have accommodated between 35,000 to more than 100,000 people; an extraordinarily high number for cities of the ancient world) where the Harappan’s turned mansions into tenement buildings. They also blocked one of the four gateways to the city of Mohenjo-Daro. The Aryan conquest of the Indus Valley Civilization was no easy victory because the Harappans amassed armies, some numbering 10,000 people, to battle the Aryan invaders. The Harappan resistance resulted in a 1,000-year struggle for the sovereignty of their homeland. Fleeing Aryan oppression, the Harappans fled to Central and Southern India, which is where their descendants are located today during the modern era.

For the remainder of his 80-years, the Buddha preached the Dharma to help other sentient beings reach enlightenment. According to Buddhism, at the time, Siddhartha Gautama realized complete insight into the cause of suffering, and the steps to eliminate it. These discoveries became known as the “Four Noble Truths,” which are at the heart of Buddhist teachings. Through mastery of these truths, a state of supreme liberation, or Nirvana, is believed to be possible for any being. The Buddha described Nirvana as the perfect peace of a mind that’s free from ignorance and greed.

Buddhism originated in ancient India, and across the world there are over 300 million people who follow its various sects.

The Buddha traveled throughout India teaching others. His followers soon spread far and wide, developing a variety of sects. Some of the Buddha’s followers later spread to Sri Lanka, and into the Far East, such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Tibet, China, Japan, and many other countries.

When the Buddha became enlightened, he knew the answer to suffering, and he knew how to defeat suffering. He was not sure if he should teach his new ideas or not, because he was not sure if the world was ready for his deep spiritual teachings. He taught about the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. When the Buddha taught, he did not pretend to be a god to the people. He said he was just a man who had found the meaning of life (i.e., enlightenment), and any person can also find the meaning of life. For the rest of his life, the Buddha walked all over Southern Nepal and parts of India to teach people his spiritual beliefs, and many people became enlightened because the of the Buddha.

“Pain makes you stronger, Fear makes you braver, Heartbreak makes you wiser. So thank the past for a better future…” – The Buddha

“Wisdom from the ‘Enlightened Ones”

“But nobody had ever seen a king with the sort of stature and glory that Oduduwa had had as king of Ile-Ife (Ife Kingdom). Not only did the chiefs and priests take steps to deify him, the collective imagination of the masses began to represent him as larger than life. Long before then there had existed, no doubt, the myth about Olodumare (i.e., God) sending some heavenly beings (i.e., Orishas) to come and establish life on earth. That basic story would no longer do. Oduduwa had to be part of it – indeed, he had to be the leader of the heavenly beings that came to earth. Over the next centuries, the myth-making genius of the Yoruba nation amplified and embellished Oduduwa’s part in the story of creation.” – Dr. Stephen Adebanji Akintoye

“Gautama’s teachings place a premium on attainment over having a supreme god or deity. The priority is to reach a state of inner peace and wisdom while embracing the concepts of Karma (the law of cause and effect) and reincarnation (the continuous cycle of rebirth).” – Dr. Rufus O. Jimerson


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