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Résumés de thèses soutenues en 2022/2023

The Archaeology of Power through the Lens of Architecture, Ritual, and Astronomy in the Ancient Ìjẹ̀bú Kingdom

Olanrewaju Lasisi
p. 126-128

Index terms

Geographical index:

Nigéria/Nigeria, Ìjẹ̀bú
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Editor's notes

PhD thesis in Anthropology (Historical Archaeology), obtained April 21, 2023 at William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia (USA)

Advisors: Neil Norman, Gérard Chouin; committee: Gérard Chouin, Grey Gundaker, Neil Norman, Akinwumi Ogundiran

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1Situated in present-day southwestern Nigeria, the archaeology of the Ijebu Kingdom is a chapter in Yoruba history that explores the ways in which architecture, astronomy, and ritual intersects and interacts to define the Ijebu-Yoruba polity (Lasisi 2023). The investigation commenced with an examination of Sungbo’s Eredo, the enclosure demarcating the Ijebu kingdom from the rest of the Yoruba land (Lloyd 1959; Lasisi & Aremu 2016; Lasisi 2017; Chouin & Lasisi 2019). This fortification is up to 170 km with either of the ditch or bank systems measuring up to 10 meters. A similar system of interlocking fortifications was identified at Ìjẹ̀bú-Ode, the capital city at the Kingdom’s center where Afin Itoro, the central palace complex is situated.

2In the waning years of the 19th century scramble for Africa, the Ijebu kingdom yielded to British colonization, marking the abandonment of both fortifications and ancestral royal dwellings (Ojo 1966; Momin 1989; Oduwobi 2004; Lasisi 2021). This architectural displacement, alongside the diminishing significance of its associated ritualistic practices and celestial knowledge, disrupted the organization of space and power thereby impacting their sacred, social, and economic equilibrium. Consequently, this upheaval gradually eroded the traditional power structure and fragmented indigenous practices, including those related to astronomy, rituals, and architecture. Nevertheless, these fragmented practices presented as “Indigenous hermeneutics” observable in the ethnographic present encoded the narratives necessary to unravel the power dynamics that sustained Ìjẹ̀bú kingdom before the 1892 British expedition.

3These surviving practices of the ethnographic present became indispensable tools for the archaeological excavations of Afin Itoro, the Ijebu royal palace complex. Two primary ritual festivals that take place within the palace, Agemo and Ojowu (Ogunba 1967), are pivotal in understanding the archaeology of power in Ìjẹ̀bú. In-depth analysis revealed that these rituals transpire on astronomically significant dates, exclusively within specific precincts of the palace designed for these ceremonies. Additionally, the architectural layout of the palace conforms to principles of astronomical alignment. Similar to other palaces belonging to Yoruba divine kings, the orientation is directed towards Ila-oorun, the point where the sun rises in the east. This alignment is evidenced by the positioning of structures in relation to horizon markers of the rising sun (Ojo 1966; Lasisi 2023). As these rituals primarily occur within the palace complex, the organization and economic activities of the Ìjẹ̀bú polity—connecting its remote towns to the palace landscape—are influenced by Ìjẹ̀bú’s overarching blueprint of astronomical and ritual-architectural interconnectivity and the dynamics of power. This narrative examines power through two lenses: spatial power or power in space and temporal power or power in time.

4The manifestation of spatial power in the ancient Ìjẹ̀bú palace is intricately connected to the orchestrated ritual movements of Agẹmọ and Ojowu priests. These movements, which have been meticulously observed over generations, serve dual functions: they are both a physical and symbolic negotiation of power within the spatial domain. Archaeological excavations revealed potsherd pavements in key ritual spaces of the Agẹmọ and ojowu Performance itinerary during their festivals at the Palace. These pavements transcend mere utilitarian functions, acting as mnemonic devices imbued with symbolic meaning and serving as conduits between terrestrial and celestial realms.

5The choreographed movements of the priests, conceptualized here as the ‘architecture of ritual movement,’ are inscribed on a carved potsherd pavement. This pavement was excavated at the site where the Ìjẹ̀bú titular head engages in combative ritual dance with the priest of the Agẹmọ deity (Fig. 1). This inscription exemplifies the non-locality of the architecture of ritual movements, precision of ritual movements in identifying archaeological sites, negotiation and balance of power between authorities, both between the king and the priests and between the terrestrial and celestial realms. Moreover, the palace’s architectural alignment with celestial phenomena, specifically the rising sun during the Eebi—the Ojowu festival of the equinoctial sun—amplifies the negotiation of power through spatial configurations. These configurations aim to design the landscape based on the organization of the skyscape. The ethnographic documentation of the ritual movements, orientation of the palace, archaeological evidence, including astronomically aligned V-shaped potsherd pavements excavated from the Ojowu priests’ geometric ritual formations, all position the palace as an ancient observatory. This seamless integration of skyscape elements into the daily life of the Ìjẹ̀bú people adds another layer of complexity to the interplay between architecture, ritual, and astronomy. This relationship provides a nuanced framework for understanding the spatial negotiation of power within the Ìjẹ̀bú Kingdom.

Figure 1 – Carved potsherd pavement uncovered at one of the ceremonial spaces within the palace complex Afin Itoro (SW Nigeria)

Figure 1 – Carved potsherd pavement uncovered at one of the ceremonial spaces within the palace complex Afin Itoro (SW Nigeria)

© Olanrewaju Lasisi

6In contrast to the spatial power dynamic, temporal power identified changes and continuity of spatial power between AD 1000 and 1900. The analyses of indigenous interpretative phenomena combined with ceremonial enactments unveil the essence of the built environment within spatial constructs predating the 16th century. A pivotal shift incited by the Atlantic commercial enterprise brought about transformations in Ìjẹ̀bú structures, particularly fortifications, subtly transitioning from defense strongholds to economic engines directing the movement of people, goods, and services through the enclosure gates. In the twilight of the 19th century, the Ìjẹ̀bú kingdom succumbed to British colonization, resulting in the melancholic abandonment of the fortifications and ancestral royal dwellings. This architectural dislocation, coupled with the waning of ritualistic practices and celestial knowledge, disrupted the Ìjẹ̀bú social, sacred, and economic harmony, leading to the gradual erosion of geographical authority and the abandonment of indigenous celestial wisdom. Nevertheless, remnants of the enduring culture remain encoded within ritualistic actions and Indigenous hermeneutics, one that this work gives credence in writing Ìjẹ̀bú history.

7Overall, this research sheds light on the Ijebu-Yoruba palatial urban landscape by integrating historical archaeology, cultural astronomy, and indigenous hermeneutics. It emphasizes the importance of rituals in shaping Yoruba urbanism and power dynamics.

8The strategic power ensembles, combining architecture, rituals, and astronomy, define the Ijebu–Yorùbá palatial urban landscape. These ensembles symbolize power hierarchies and social intricacies, with the outer enclosure serving as a crucial boundary marker and trade control point, symbolizing the kingdom’s political and economic dominance. The authority of the supreme ruler is reinforced through rituals that can only be initiated by the priests who have mastered the astronomical patterning of the sun. The integration of celestial alignments, rituals, and architectural design enhances the ruler’s legitimacy and upholds the cosmic order within the kingdom.

9This body of work underscores the importance of Indigenous epistemologies in African studies. By employing diverse evidence to investigate various themes in Ìjẹ̀bú’s history and archaeology, this research enriches our understanding of African societies, their relationships with power, the cosmos, rituals, space, and the broader built environment.

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Chouin G. & Lasisi O. B. (2019) – Crisis and Transformation in the Bight of Benin at the Dawn of the Atlantic Trade. In: C. DeCorse (ed.), Power, Political Economy, and Historical Landscapes of the Modern World: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, Albany, State University of New York Press: 285–306.

Lasisi O. B. & Aremu D. A. (2016) – New Lights on the Archaeology of Sungbo’s Eredo, South-Western Nigeria. Dig It: Journal of the Flinders Archaeological Society, 3, 54–63.

Lasisi O. B. (2017) – History of Archaeological Research in the Yoruba-Edo Region of Nigeria: New Directions for Urban Earthenworks. West African Journal of Archaeology, 47, 169–201.

Lasisi O. B. (2021) – A Preliminary Report on the Excavation at Ijebu-Ode Royal Palace Complex (Nigeria). International Journal of African Historical Studies, 54(1): 93–106.

Lasisi O. (2023) – Landscapes Of Power: A Historical Archaeology and Cultural Astronomy of Ijebu-Yoruba Palatial Urbanscapes, AD 1000–1900. Doctoral Dissertation submitted to the Department of Anthropology, William & Mary.

Lloyd P. (1959) – Sungbo’s Eredo. Odu: 7, 15–22.

Momin K. N. (1989) – Urban Ijebu Ode: an archaeological, topographical, toponymical perspective. West African Journal of Archaeology, 19, 37–49.

Ogunba O. (1967) – Ritual drama of the Ijebu people: a study of indigenous festivals. PhD thesis, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

Ojo G. J. (1966) – Yoruba Palaces: A study of Afins of Yorubaland. London, University of London Press LTD.

Oduwobi T. (2006) – Early Ìjèbú history: An analysis on demographic evolution and state formation. In: Toyin Falola & Ann Genova (ed.), Yoruba Identity and Power Politics, Rochester, University of Rochester Press.

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List of illustrations

Title Figure 1 – Carved potsherd pavement uncovered at one of the ceremonial spaces within the palace complex Afin Itoro (SW Nigeria)
Credits © Olanrewaju Lasisi
File image/jpeg, 573k
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Bibliographical reference

Olanrewaju Lasisi, “The Archaeology of Power through the Lens of Architecture, Ritual, and Astronomy in the Ancient Ìjẹ̀bú Kingdom”Afrique : Archéologie & Arts, 19 | 2023, 126-128.

Electronic reference

Olanrewaju Lasisi, “The Archaeology of Power through the Lens of Architecture, Ritual, and Astronomy in the Ancient Ìjẹ̀bú Kingdom”Afrique : Archéologie & Arts [Online], 19 | 2023, Online since 30 November 2023, connection on 17 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Olanrewaju Lasisi

School of Architecture (Architecture History), University of Virginia (USA)

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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