What is the story of Òrìṣà Aku?


When European explorers, traders and missionaries began to arrive, from the late 16th century CE, at the portion of West Africa which stretches from present-day Ghana to Nigeria west of the Lower Niger River, they met there a people whose common origin is Ile-If. As they interacted with them they tried to note their name and were able to gather that these people whose way of life is Ifá called themselves Aku. Even during the trans-Atlantic slave raids, those that the British re-settled in present-day Sierra Leone never forgot their identity till date as Aku. However, the European could not get from them the meaning of and reason for the name as the bearers had forgotten.

Another observation of the European was that the Aku had a unique way of greeting which is

ku X,

where X is the third party or the situation or period being referred to e.g. ar (morning), al (night), asan (noon), ojo (rain), and so on. It is characterized by the presence of the verb ku which occurs as the root of Aku. This seemed to them and to some Aku who were trained by the Europeans to be the most logical source of the name. However, quite a number of the Aku have till date been unable to come up with the translation of ku as used in the greeting as the answer could have been useful in deriving the meaning of Aku. Depending on tone, ku can be translated as the verbs “die” or “remain”.

This method of deriving the name of a people from their mode of greeting is nonetheless strange and, to the best of my knowledge, does not occur anywhere else on this planet. Usually, a people are named (i) after their founder and the term used to describe such a person is eponymous ancestor, or (ii) the circumstance of their foundation. An example of (i) is the do people who are descendants of their founder whose name is do. An example of (ii) is the subgroup of the Aku known as Awori which means “the plate has sunk” and which was derived from their decision to settle where a spinning plate that had been floating on a river and which they had been following sunk for the last time upon which they joyfully proclaimed to themselves “Awo ti ri!” meaning “the plate has sunk”.

Since the Aku say that their founders are Irunmls, usually translated as gods, who made them in their likeness them under the authority of Ifá, the Word of the Almighty Being known as Olódùmarè, the condescending Europeans immediately dismissed this as a likely place to search for the source of the name Aku. Instead they argued that it was a myth that the Aku developed from Islamic feedback – Islamic missionaries had arrived before the Europeans. They also discarded the other option of seeking out their eponymous ancestor for similar reasons, especially as the Aku have certain ancestors who were deified and were thus known as Òrìṣàs. If the Europeans had probed further with objectivity and fairness, they would have tried to compile a list of the names and profiles of all the Irunmls and Òrìṣàs.

It turns out that there is a deified ancestor known as Òrìsà Aku who is still actively propitiated in Irefin quarters of the Iṣan kingdom of Ekiti which is situated at the eastern section of the land of the Aku. The ritual activities of the devotees of this Òrìsà have been noted briefly by Andrew Apter, a Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, in his paper titled “Notes on Orisha Cults in the Ekiti Yoruba Highlands. A Tribute to Pierre Verger,” and who seemed unaware that he had come across information that is very useful in unravelling the mystery of the name Aku and the origin of the Aku people. Obviously, Òrìsà Aku must be the eponymous ancestor of the Aku, and objective researchers would do well to go to Irefin and get from the devotees of Aku his oríkì (colloquial praises) and stories of his exploits.

As asserted on this blog, Aku is the name that the eburu (mischievous beings of the underworld) among the oyinbo re-lexified to Yaʿaqov, Yaʿqūb, Yaʿăqôb, Yakub and Jacob for the texts of their pseudo-religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) and the associated languages. Since there are quite a lot of references in the bible about the people of Aku having a remnant left after bouts of persecutions, trials and punishments (Isaiah 10:22; Romans 9:27), it is not farfetched to conclude that the root -ku of the name Aku means “remain” and that Aku is translated as “the remnant”. Another similar name is Aiku (longevity; not dying) which is short for names like Aikulọla (longevity is honour/wealth) and has -ku translated as “die” but I am not aware of any Òrìsà with this name. There is also a royal title of the Jukun people of the Middle Belt region of Nigeria and of the former Kwararafa Empire, Aku of Wukari, who are related to the Aku and who also migrated from the Horn of Africa and Southern Arabian region at the same time with the Aku in the latter half of the 1st millennium CE. However, I do not yet know what their Aku means, and it applies to a royal title not the people.

I have tried to provide linguistic evidence over and over again that the biblical name Jacob is a mutation of Aku. Those who are not sure of which side to take on this matter, that is, to believe or not to believe, can take a trip to Irefin in Ekiti and enquire about Òrìsà Aku. If they do not want to believe, they can at least get information that would be useful in confirming whether or not he is the source of the name Aku.

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