In “The Fortuitous Meeting”, Oludara mentions that he “hails from the kingdom of Ketu”.

Ketu was the westernmost of the seven historical Yoruba kingdoms.  Yoruba tradition says that these kingdoms were formed by the descendents of the Orisha Oduduwa when they moved west from Ilé-Ife.  Oduduwa is credited with creating the Earth, at the command of the supreme deity Olorun.

Sopasan is credited as the first oba (king) in the line of Ketu, even though the city did not exist during his lifetime.  Instead, it was he who led forth the people from Ilé-Ife who would eventually inhabit Ketu.  Only the seventh king, Ede, would finally found the city.

The town was settled on a plateau with so few sources of water that a saying developed among the Yoruba: “Water becomes honey in Ketu”.  To compensate, inhabitants gathered rainwater in cisterns and dry wells.  This lack of water limited the size of the settlement.  However, the plateau provided excellent protection–Ketu was conquered only once in all its long history.

Sixteenth-century brass plaque, Benin

(Source: Penn Museum)

The town was built around a sacred Iroko tree.  According to custom, a human sacrifice was required to protect the town.  A hunchback from a nearby Ewe community was sacrificed at the entrance to the city, which is said have provided the town’s name.  The question “Who straightens the hump?” is “Ke ‘tu ike?” in Yoruba.  The answer: no one can straighten the hump, so no one can destroy the town.  The fourteenth oba, Sa, built a massive gate at the same spot.  The gate, crafted from Iroko wood, contained two wooden doors, one outside and one inside.  It was given the name Idena for “sentry”.

From the gate stretched an immense clay wall which surrounded the city.  Outside the wall lay the ditches from which its clay had been dug, providing further protection.  As a final defense, a row of thorn bushes was planted outside the ditch.

Remains of Ketou ditch

(Image: Centre of World Archaeology)

The Oba of Ketu takes the title Alaketu: “the one who owns Ketu”.  From the twenty-fifth Alaketu on, the position of oba has rotated between five different royal families: Alapini, Magbo, Aro, Mesa, and Mefu.  I will discuss the Oba in greater depth in another post.

Ivory belt mask – Sixteenth century Benin


To the west, Ketu shared a border with Fon-speaking peoples who would eventually found the kingdom of Dahomey and become their greatest rivals.  After many wars and much history, Ketu and their Fon neighbors both fell under French domination and were eventually united in the modern-day nation of Benin, while most other Yoruba kingdoms fell under British control and eventually became part of Nigeria.

Ketu still exists today, under the French-modified name of Ketou.  It is a city with a long and rich history, tracing its kings and traditions back over six-hundred years.  Many travelers visit Ketou and speak with the Alaketu himself to learn much of this magnificent history.

19 Responses to “Ketu”

  1. Taiwo Olanrewaju

    This is educative. Simply wonderful! A good job well done.

  2. Taiwo Olanrewaju

    I am from Nigeria. I am a journalist with the African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc, publishers of the Nigerian Tribune, Saturday Tribune and Sunday Tribune with head office in Ibadan, capital city of Oyo state.
    I am married with children.

  3. amaury ifadayo

    acercamiento a nuestras raices herencia de nuestros ancestros,soy cubano y vivo en francia hablo español y frances el ifa original que yego a cuba vino de benin y lo trajeron akonkon oyeku meji,adesina obara meji atanda ifa bi ogunda otura ifa omi salieron de abe okuta en el tiempo de los esclavos obo ato asureo iwori bofun orunmila abewao aseo odabo

    • Christopher Kastensmidt

      Thanks for posting!

      It’s always interesting to look back. The Yoruba have deep roots, and have spread around the world.

      I hope you have a chance to read the story!

  4. Baba Sangodare Egunjobi Ifasina

    E ku Se ! Mr. Katensmidt many accolades to you ,and your staff.We of the English-speaking world have been waiting a long time for some updated information of the three Yoruba (Nagot) kingdoms in the Republic of Benin! Ifa a se egbe oooooo

  5. Maeka joel

    Maeka joel .am a history teacher.great work. if you need any thing about kenya. I can help

    • Christopher Kastensmidt

      Thank you Maeka joel! I will be doing some more fiction in Africa in the future. Please send me an e-mail at elephantmacaw (gmail) or friend me on Facebook so we can keep in touch.

  6. Baba Sangodare Egunjobi Ifasina

    Greetings Cristopher Kastensmidt. Please contact me privately concerning contacts in Ketou.


    Baba Ifasina

  7. dfd

    The object labeled “Sixteenth-century Yoruba brass” is in no way, shape, or form Yoruba. It is purely Benin and from the Benin kingdom.

  8. biletulzileipariuri

    I seriously love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself? Please reply back as I

  9. Dr Stephen Adejoro

    I love the history of Ketu and which to know from where they migrated to the present day Bennin,is it after the overun of Katunga or had they moved to Bennin Republic, before the this escapade?
    Also the royal families of Alapinni and Aro is of interest to me as the Alapini family formally were exiled to oke ila after the pressure of wars on Oyo Ile and the Aro of Aro ogogo are of igbomona stock and are in many locations in the yoruba race of Nigeria
    I have a strong feeling that the ketus have close link with the Wawa or Gbere where the former Alafin Onigbogi was exciled after he was overrun by the Nupes
    Was it after this, that the Ketu emigrated to Bennin?
    Do you have Ikare stock in Ketu or are they the one called Ika
    Please I need your comment as it will helpme develop the history of the Ikares in the present Ondo State,but which origunally resided in Wawa or Gbere with Alafin Onigbogi of the 15th century
    Dr Dtephen Adejoro

    • Christopher Kastensmidt

      Dr. Adejoro,

      I’m not a scholar on Ketu, my research is related to my writing, and I’ve only studied one period of their history (during the sixteenth century). I haven’t studied their origins.

      However, I can recommend three books which deal with their origins, I believe you’ll find them helpful:

      History of the Yorubas, The: From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the British Protectorate by Samuel Johnson

      Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast of West Africa: Their Religion, Manners, Customs, Laws, Language, Etc. by A. B. Ellis

      The Story of Ketu by E.G. Parrinder


  10. jimoh ogundele

    I am interesting in this history .plz tell us about oba of adja Ouere

  11. adebisi adegoroyetayo

    I need oriki alaketu of ketu

  12. adebisi adegoroye

    please I need oriki of alaketu ti ketu,please is very crucial

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