The Reign of Bashorun Gaa in Old Oyo Empire

Map of Old Oyo Kingdom

When Alaafin Labisi took over the throne from the previous (late) Alaafin, Onisile, in 1750, he appointed Gaa as his Bashorun, the head of Oyomesi (7 hereditary kingmakers). During Alaafin Labisi’s reign, the old Oyo Empire, also known as Oyo-Ile, became so powerful and earned the respect of other kingdoms in Yorubaland. History has it in profile that Alaafin Labisi collected tributes from faraway kingdoms of Dahomey, Popo and Ashanti even though his reign was very short, and more than half of the kingdoms and villages in Yorubaland (over 6000) fell under the political umbrella of Oyo-Ile. This thus made the old Oyo Empire a political and military colossus in Yorubaland.

Gaa, the newly elected Bashorun (Prime Minister), was a brave and powerful man who was respected and feared by the people of Oyo-Ile for his potent charms and supernatural strength. It was said that Gaa had the powers to transform into any animal he wished. Gaa was feared to the extent that he became more authoritative than Alaafin Labisi who made him the Bashorun. It was also said that Bashorun Gaa was most times controlled by his ‘juju’ powers which often made him misuse it. Shortly after he became the Bashorun, he murdered two of Alaafin Labisi’s best friends which made the heartbroken Alaafin committed suicide. After Alaafin Labisi’s demise (in 1750), Awonbioju became the new Alaafin of Oyo-Ile, but Bashorun Gaa, who was noted to rebel with any Alaafin that refused to dance to his tune, truncated the reign of Alaafin Awonbioju which only lasted for 130 days. He was put to death on the orders of Bashorun Gaa.

The reign of Agboluaje (Alaafin Awonbioju’s successor) was a bit longer because he danced to the tune of Bashorun Gaa. But also like his predecessors, Alaafin Agboluaje lost his dear life to Gaa’s treachery. The fourth Alaafin to rule ‘under’ Bashorun Gaa was Majeogbe (1772-1773) who also died from the overzealousness of Gaa. But before his death, he succeeded in poisoning Gaa who as a result became paralyzed. Bashorun Gaa’s end actually came during the reign of the fourth Alaafin ‘under’ him, and that was Alaafin Abiodun (1774-1789). Immediately Abiodun mounted the throne, he began to plot the death of his treacherous Bashorun in order to have a peaceful and tyrant-free reign. The desperation of Alaafin Abiodun to kill Bashorun Gaa rose when he murdered his only daughter named Agborin. It was said that Bashorun Gaa was in need of a deer (Agborin) and when he couldn’t get any, he ordered his men to kill Alaafin Abiodun’s daughter, Agborin, for she bear a similar name. The furious and heartbroken Alaafin Abiodun met clandestinely with the Onikoyi and the then Are-Ona-Kakanfo, Oyabi from Ajaseland, on how to send Gaa to his grave. Alaafin Abiodun and his co-plotters succeeded in extinguishing the fear Bashorun Gaha had instilled in the people of Oyo-Ile. They also arouse the people’s anger on Gaha whose fame and power at that time had seriously began to wane due to his paralysis.

On a faithful day in the year 1774, hundreds of angry people of Oyo-Ile stormed Gaa’s compound and killed all members of his household with little resistance from his men. However, Ojo Agubambaru, Gaa’s eldest son, survived the attack and fled to a faraway land called Bariba. Bashorun Gaa himself was dragged out and incinerated publicly at Akesan market. The people believed that Gaa will reincarnate if he is not burnt completely to ashes. This marked the end of the overzealous and power-drunk Bashorun Gaa who consecutively killed four Alaafins. Bashorun Gaa’s death gave birth to a popular saying- “Bi o laya ko seka, sugbon bi o ba ranti iku Gaa ki o so oto”. This is translated as- “If you are brave, venture into wickedness, but if you remembered Gaa’s death, adhere to the truth”. Alaafin Abiodun later ruled in peace, but also committed suicide in 1789 after attacking the town of Ijaye and Popo which earned him tons of criticisms.

It must be noted that the death of the all-powerful Bashorun Gaa affected the Old Oyo Empire in some ways. Firstly, it decreased the military and political strength of the Empire; this was due to the destabilization of the Oyomesi after Gaa’s death; the Oyomesi were supposed to act as a check to the Alaafin but instead became his puppet, and left him with absolute authority to rule the Empire. Secondly, the political unrest the old Oyo Empire witnessed after Gaa’s death made some kingdoms under her auspices (like Dahomey) declare their independence. All these were undoubtedly among the factors that led to the subsequent fall of the old Oyo Empire in 1836/1837.

References:

* E. Ola Abiola; A Textbook Of West African History; 3rd edition; Ado Ekiti; Omolayo Standard Press & Bookshops co. (Nig.) Ltd; 1984

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