1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Abeokuta
ABEOKUTA, a town of British West Africa in the Egba division of the Yoruba country, S. Nigeria Protectorate. It is situated in 7° 8′ N., 3° 25′ E., on the Ogun river, 64 m. N. of Lagos by railway, or 81 m. by water. Population, approximately 60,000. Abeokuta lies in a beautiful and fertile country, the surface of which is broken by masses of grey granite. It is spread over an extensive area, being surrounded by mud walls 18 miles in extent. Abeokuta, under the reforming zeal of its native rulers, was largely transformed during the early years of the 20th century. Law courts, government offices, prisons and a substantial bridge were built, good roads made, and a large staff of sanitary inspectors appointed. The streets are generally narrow and the houses built of mud. There are numerous markets in which a considerable trade is done in native products and articles of European manufacture. Palm-oil, timber, rubber, yams and shea-butter are the chief articles of trade. An official newspaper is published in the Yoruba and English languages. Abeokuta is the headquarters of the Yoruba branch of the Church Missionary Society, and British and American missionaries have met with some success in their civilizing work. In their schools about 2000 children are educated. The completion in 1899 of a railway from Lagos helped not only to develop trade but to strengthen generally the influence of the white man.
Abeokuta (a word meaning “under the rocks”), dating from 1825, owes its origin to the incessant inroads of the slave-hunters from Dahomey and Ibadan, which compelled the village populations scattered over the open country to take refuge in this rocky stronghold against the common enemy. Here they constituted themselves a free confederacy of many distinct tribal groups, each preserving the traditional customs, religious rites and even the very names of their original villages. Yet this apparently incoherent aggregate held its ground successfully against the powerful armies often sent against the place both by the king of Dahomey from the west, and by the people of Ibadan from the north-east.
The district of Egba, of which Abeokuta is the capital, has an estimated area of 3000 sq. m. and a population of some 350,000. It is officially known as the Abeokuta province of the Southern Nigeria protectorate. It contains luxuriant forests of palm-trees, which constitute the chief wealth of the people. Cotton is indigenous and is grown for export. The Egbas are enthusiastic farmers and have largely adopted European methods of cultivation. They are very tenacious of their independence, but accepted without opposition the establishment of a British protectorate, which, while putting a stop to inter-tribal warfare, slave-raiding and human sacrifices, and exercising control over the working of the laws, left to the people executive and fiscal autonomy. The administration is in the hands of a council of chiefs which exercises legislative, executive and, to some extent, judicial functions. The president of this council, or ruling chief—chosen from among the members of the two recognized reigning families—is called the alake, a word meaning “Lord of Ake,” Ake being the name of the principal quarter of Abeokuta, after the ancient capital of the Egbas. The alake exercises little authority apart from his council, the form of government being largely democratic. Revenue is chiefly derived from tolls or import duties. A visit of the alake to England in 1904 evoked considerable public interest. The chief was a man of great intelligence, eager to study western civilization, and an ardent agriculturist.
See the publications of the Church Missionary Society dealing with the Yoruba Mission; Col. A. B. Ellis’s The Yoruba-speaking Peoples (London, 1894); and an article on Abeokuta by Sir Wm. Macgregor, sometime governor of Lagos, in the African Society’s Journal, No. xii. (London, July 1904).