The crown can also tell a history. This crown is of particular importance. It is material witness to a history of dispute between the rulers of Epe, the principal Yoruba kings and the British colonial regime. In this one object lives a history of relations and politics
Epe is a town in Lagos state. The history of its founding is one of that tells a story of power politics in Lagos and the relationship with the British state. It became the home of Kosoko in exile. King Kosoko, Oba of Lagos, was overthrown by the British in 1851. The British installed Akitoye as Oba and Kosoko retreated to Epe where he installed himself with permission from the Awujale of Ijebu. He eventually signed a peace treaty with the British in 1854 promising not disrupt Lagos or trade in slaves. Epe became an important trading post, mediating between Lagos and Ijebu. So important that the British kept a close eye on events there.
In 1903 a dispute arose between Oyebajo, the Akarigbo of Sagamu and the Elepe. The Akarigbo accused the Elepe of wearing a beaded crown, a prerogative of the descendants of Oduduwa. The accusation was prompted by changes in the Ijebu region – Epe was annexed by the British. The British governor of Lagos, Sir William Macgregor decided that the dispute should be subject to the adjudication of the Ooni of Ife. Macgregor had angered both Europeans and educated Nigerians in Lagos by insisting on the development of a Central Native Council – consisting of local Obas. This case appears to have been an extension of his thinking – the application of indirect rule. After some deliberation the Ooni declared that Epe’s crown had not descended from Ile-Ife. In other words it was not sanctioned by the sacred authority of Oduduwa. Macgregor then fined the Elepe £100 and confiscated the royal regalia of Epe – the crown and the beaded shoes. These items were eventually deposited in the British Museum where they have remained until now.
The beaded crown of the Elepe has returned to Lagos and Epe is now recognized as an official beaded crown.
In the process of developing the John Randle Centre, its curators have researched some fascinating stories associated with Yoruba culture. Read on for some examples.