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The religion or Africans have for a very long time been a subject or controversy. African Traditional Religion has been labeled negatively by' most' European scholars as primitive and barbaric. As a reactive gesture, many African have, posed defensive stance in explaining the religion of Africans, as a befitting system of belief suitable for needs of Africans. In a similar vein, this work attempts to discuss the social control aspect of African belief system, through a historical analysis of the Cult of Ayelala in I1aje Ese ado region of on do State, Nigeria. The work examines the efficacy and abuse of the cult of Ayelala and suggests more openness in the cult's activities in order to be able to achieve historical scholarship in the explanation of African Traditional Religion.







Title page







1.1     Background to the Study

1.2     Aims and Objectives

1.3     Statement of Problem

1.4     Significance of the Study

1.5     Research Methodology

1.6     Scope of Study

1.7     Limitation of Study

1.8     Definition of Terms




A Historical Analysis of the Cult of Ayelala in Ilaje  Ese-Odo

Local Government Area of Ondo State






A Historical Analysis of the Cult of Ayelalain Ilaje Ese-Odo Local Government Area Of Ondo State

3.0     Historical Background of lIaje

3.1     Traditional Religion in Ilaje

3.2     Missionary Activities in Ilaje  

3.3     Impacts of Missionary Activities on the Traditions of Ilaje People

3.4     The Origin of the Cult of Ayelala in Ilaje

3.5     The Cult of Ayelala

3.6     The Worship or Ayclula Cult in Ilajc

3.7     The Nature of Ayelala Cult in lIaje





4.0     A Historical Analysis of the Cult of Ayelala.in I1aje

4.1     The Place of Ayelala in the Lives or the llaje People

4.2     The Contributions of Ayelala to the Development of Ilaje

4.3     The Contemporary Status of Ayelala in Ilaje




5.1     Recommendations for Further Study







This is an examination of the Traditional Religious practices of the people of Ilaje Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. Specifically, it is a historical analysis of the cult of Ayelala among the Ilaje people in the local' government. From the timeless prehistory, the Yoruba’s have been very religious. The religion or the' Yoruba people permeates their lives so much' that it expresses itself in multifarious ways. It-forms the theme of their songs, myths, folktales, 'proverbs and sayings which are the basis of their philosophy.

For example, the Ilaje people have been worshipping series of gods and goddesses before the advent of Christianity. Among these gods and goddesses is Ayelala who has become a respected and the highly revered goddess in llaje. Ayelala, the goddess of justice is revered and worshipped because is believed to have' great' powers over evil doers such as sorcerers and witches. The divinity stands for justice and she strikes evil doers by visiting them with swelling all over their bodies.

Ayelala was not the real name of the woman who became the progenitor or the Ayelala cult, The I1aje and Ijaw-Apoi people 'who worship Ayelala keep as a ritual, top secret the names of the woman, her parents and her home town. The name Ayelala came to be given to her during her agony of dereliction as a sacrificial victim at the point of death. The tradition says that Ayelala was dedicated to sixteen gods, the greatest of which was Orisa-Nla, the creator god and guardian of morality among the Yoruba. As a symbol of the cult of Orisa-Nla, she bears on her head a horn or hair devotion to Orisa-Nla is probably the reason why wine which is a taboo in the ritual of Orisa-Nla is forbidden where Ayelala is worshipped, among the llaje people, high moral standard is the paramount feature of their cultural heritage. Adultery is forbidden and for a commoner to Have illicit relationship with a noble man's wife is considered very heinous. Adultery in 'any case is punishable by death in llaje land. The antecedent or the lies ' this moral standard. History has it that in those days, a certain named Keko had sexual intercourse with the wife of another man called Temetan, and this immoral, act became known. Consequently, and in an attempt' to avoid the punishment, he, fled to Igbobini, a town belonging to the Ijaw-Apoi also in Ilaje Ese-Odo area. He sought refuge under the Oborowe shrine where he summoned all the villagers to come to his aid and save his life. The people asked for their remuneration of a' carton of gin amounting in those days to only six shillings. Their .demands having been met, the people agreed to defend Keko against the Jlaje people who were bent on bringing him to justice. This was the beginning of a prolonged state or hostility between Ijaw-Apoi and Ilaje people. Attacks and counter attacks were carried out against each other subsequently.

Fortunately, at this material time, there lived a. very prominent Ilaje man called Idogbe who was a native of Aboto and was living among the ljaw people at Igbob;ni. He felt that there should be an end to hostility and he spoke to an Ijaw friend of his called Agbeleki. Both of them agreed to intervene, Idogbe -went to Mahin, the headquarters or the, IIaje people appealed to them to put a stop to the fight. Agbeleki in a similar manner appealed to the Ijaw people whose headquarters was at Igbobini. Both sides agreed to do so but the Ilaje attached a condition, they insisted that if Keko, the offender was not to be killed then a substitute must be found. The Ijaw agreed to this condition and a search was made for a suitable slave. Eventually Ayelala as found and it was arranged that the two, sides, Ilaje and Ijaw should meet to offer the substitute as a sacrifice. A rendezvous was arranged, and at a time fixed.

The agreed place of meeting was a junction now known as Ita-Ayelala, which is a junction between Mahin, Igbokoda and Aboto. The prospective victim had been sent to the spot earlier to await her fate. It was then agreed that two boats should be sent with a person in each boat. The first to jump down at the spot and hold the hands of the victim would carry out the ritual. Two warship boats were then dressed, one containing an Ilaje and the other, Ijaw man. There was drumming and music has they went along. The two boats moved toward the point of meeting on the shore, Mekuleyi the man who had been detailed to carry out the assignment for the Ilaje moved briskly as they got to the shore and quickly jumped out first to hold the right hand of the victim. The man in the Ijaw boat jumped after him but held the victim's left hand. This by implication meant that the Ilaje would carry out the ritual first. Thus by implication, each time Ayelala is to be worshipped, the lIaje priest performs the ritual first which includes casting of kolanut and pouring of' libation before the Ijaw man. This practice still holds till the present day Ayelala, among the Ilajes is often called "UMALE", that is a goddess of justice. If Ayelala kills somebody, the relatives do not really mourn the deceased and the. Properties of the deceased are thrown into the bush. Ayelala fights when the offenders have forgotten and she fight wickedness in procuring Ayelala, one has to receive the symbols and insignia from the' worshippers which include five bags or cowries, a small piece or white cloth, red, tail feather of parrot and white native chalk. The properties of the victim are either carried with the victim to evil forest or left for the priest or the relatives of the deceased person when they must have been brought from spiritual cleansing from the divinity.

Since experience plays significant role in the birth of any religious activity in the world, religions are bound to be different from one another. This was the religious experience of the IJaje and Ijaw -Apoi people that culminated in the birth of Ayelala which has since become the most widely worshipped, most revered and respected goddess in the area.



In view of the fact that the worship of Ayelala is becoming a thing of the past as a result of missionaries' activities, there arises the need to properly document and clarify the historical origin and the status of Ayelala in Yoruba hierarchy for divinities. As it were, moral value seems to have diminished among the people arising from civilization. All these reinforced by a personal desire to contribute to knowledge are the motivation factors in this essay.

Moreover, many people exploit the avenues of Ayelala cult nowadays to enrich their pocket. As a result of this, many people have lost hope in Ayelala. Since it is not possible .to fold one's arm, there is the strong desire to present incredible terms, the liturgy and historical significance of Ayelala in Ilaje land.



·                  This work seeks to properly document and clarify the historical origin and status of Ayelala in the Yoruba hierarchy of divinities

·                  It also aims to seek the inherent logic of religious thought and life; to bring together the various facet of life of the people, individual and social,

·                  It seeks to create a clear understanding of the method of worship in Ilaje and the significance of the cult of Ayelala to the people of Ilaje.

·                  The essay will also make the people of the present generation understand the vital facts about the traditional religion in I1aje, specifically the worship or Ayelala.


Western civilization has greatly over-shadowed Africa's rich cultural past. Little is known of the rich past. Many misconceptions have also been espoused about Africa religion and its role in. the lives of the people.

This work attempts to make a cult-specific research or the Ayelala cult to refute misconceived claims and 'provide an educative critique and insight into understanding the dynamics of African Tradition generally.



The study is significant in the area of cultural revival. The worship of Ayelala is becoming a thing of the past due to missionary activities. The study is relevant due to the fact that it attempts to unravel the religious realities of the Africa’s past, thereby awakening cultural consciousness and respect for the culture.

Moreover many exploit the avenue or the Ayelala cult nowadays to enrich their pocket. Consequently, many have lost hope, in the divinity and its potency; the work would carry out a corrective analysis of the Ayelala cult to effect a change of perception.



The method of gathering data to be used in this study is oral sources and interviews which are mainly from the chief priest and priests of the cult and also some old people in Ilaje land who are versed in the worship of the deity.

The secondary source would be books which are relevant to the topic together with the relevant articles, journals, and reports which discussed certain part of this topic.



The scope of study for the topic in “historical analysis of Ayelala cult” will be limited to Ilaje people in the Ilaje Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State. Apart from the limitation of finance, the status of this essay cannot accommodate an exhaustive research work on Ayelala cult. However this essay will cover the following ground: 'the Traditional Religion in llaje, the cult of Ayelala alongside with historical origin of Ayelalu; the worship or Ayelala and the place of Ayelala together with the significance of Ayelala politically and economically will be studied. Recommendation for further research activities will also be reflected at the end of the essay.



The study is limited due to lack of finance, the secret nature of the cult under research, limited access to oral tradition and scarcity of written source.



ATR - African traditional religion

Ase – Chanted Commands

Ayelala- A secret divinity cult in Yoruba land

lIaje - A Yoruba sub-group

ljaw - A fishing Deltan sub-group

Igbobini- headquarters of Ilaje people

Ita-Ayelala- A junction between Mahin, 19bokodo and Aboto

Mahin- The headquarters of Ilaje people

Oborowe shrine- This is the shrine of a popular goddess in Igbobini town.

Orisa-Nlu- Creator god

Umale- The goddess of justiceAyelala (as called amongst the llaje)

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