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The Egba at Abeokuta: Acculturation and Political Change, 1830-1870

Earl Phillips
The Journal of African History
Vol. 10, No. 1 (1969), pp. 117-131
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/180299
Page Count: 15
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The Egba at Abeokuta: Acculturation and Political Change, 1830-1870
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Abstract

Following the establishment of the city-state of Abeokuta, the Egba and Owu returned to the forms of government known and respected before the retreat from the north, each township running its own affairs and reclaiming old prerogatives. This urban parochialism proved increasingly cumbersome after the death of Sodeke, when, without effective central leadership, the Ogboni and Ologun manoeuvred for political predominance. These difficulties were compounded after mid-century as the tempo of economic and cultural change quickened in southern Yorubaland. The Egba were intent on establishing themselves as commercial middlemen between the coast and interior. On the one hand, they were thus drawn into the ever-widening focus of European economic and political influence and demands radiating from Lagos. On the other, seeds of change were planted at Abeokuta itself: European merchants, missionaries, and Saros, who were soon promoting new economic forms and demanding political expression. The formal appearance of the Saros as political contenders in 1860 coincided with the breakdown of the uneasy Yoruba peace. Their first bid for power was consequently unsuccessful, and, as the war progressed, the military became the controlling political force. In fact civil government came close to vanishing completely during the next five years, a point of near-anarchy being reached, and with deteriorating relations with Lagos. The temporary end of hostilities in 1865 gave the Saros another opportunity to further their cause. The 'Egba United Board of Management' appeared, an attempt to fuse modernizers and traditionalists and provide the city with the legislative and executive authority that was lacking. But the Board of Management was ahead of its time, and efforts to make it a representative political forum were too radical to win significant support. Indeed, after forty years of urban living, the Egba were totally unsuccessful in fashioning institutions of government and administration in keeping with their new environment.

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