Origin of the words ‘Obatala’ and ‘Olukwumi’ (Lucumi)

He who was born in Igbo town and went to be king at Iranje. Divinity of Igbo.

Source: Attributes of Obatala

Obatala was not one person, but the surname of the aboriginal kings of Ile Ife. This is their story.

We will use the quote above to lay out a short but concise history of the Obatala Royal Family, showing how they got the name ‘Obatala’ and how their empire got its name ‘Olukwumi’ (Lucumi):

  1. “He who was born in Igbo town”: This describes when the first Obatala was a Prince in Nri. Nri is the most sacred city of the Igbo people and it is located near Aguleri-Umuleri axis where the house (Obu Gad) of Eri Ben Gad, the founder of Igbo civilization can still be found till this day.
  2. “And went to be king at Iranje“: What happened was that some jealous relations of the King of Nri accused one of his wives of infidelity, and said that the wife’s son for the King was not biologically his.

The king banished this wife in anger but later discovered after many years that the wife was falsely accused. So, to compensate her and her son -his son- the King gave them an Ofor, Household and authority to go on an Ilu to set up a new kingdom.

When they found a suitable location (Ile Ife), Obatala’s mother stopped, admired the place, and exclaimed to her lieutenants in Igbo; ‘Nya, na o lu kwu mu?! Meaning, ‘So dignity still reached me, after all my travails?’ That phrase is the origin of the word Olukwumi, which has been corrupted to Lucumi in some places.

She and her advance team proceeded to wait for her son Obatala, who was at the rear end of the procession.

When Obatala arrived where his mother had set up camp,  her lieutenants went and told her in Igbo, ‘O bata la’, meaning, ‘He has come’. That was the origin of the royal Obatala title and the name.

3. ‘Divinity of Igbo’: The Obatala’s took on the tradition of their family at Nri of being Priest Kings. But after the defeat of the Olukwumi people by the equally mighty Yoruba people of Oduduwa, the Obatala’s went on exile. Prince Chima went to Benin, left there, set up the Anioma kingdoms and became the first King of Onitsha Ado (Eze Chima).

Later the reigning Obatala was called back to Ife by the Yorubas who were magnanimous in victory. He was also deified by a large number of people in Ile Ife, but his descendants were granted a number of important titles in Ife Kingdom, which they still hold till today.



By OzoIgboNdu1 of Igbo Defender

Digital marketer and Marketing analyst


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