As at 1850, Ara was one of the most powerful towns in Ekiti with a settlement spaning as big as that of Ijaye in Egbaland. In August 1855, the people of Ara (also called Ara-Ekiti) committed mass suicide to avoid getting enslaved by Ibadan.
The mass suicide was initiated by the leader of Ara town, Alara Elejofi, who (with the help of his first son) destroyed his properties, killed his family and himself. Many other households in the town replicated this act, and when the Ibadan army arrived with their wide array of weaponry, they turned back at the gory sight of dead bodies that littered the town.
Earlier, the people of Ara had rebelled against their former Alara (ruler) because of his bad governance and the grevious offences he had committed against his townspeople. He was exiled. It was during his exile that Chief Elejofi took over the rulership of the town.
The exiled Alara was not willing to let go of his throne and thus sought help from Ibadan. His request was granted because Ibadan, which as at then was gradually filling the vacuum created by the fall of Oyo, was hungry for towns to shove under its administration. The Ibadan army had just returned from an expedition in Ijebu-Ere and with their help, the deposed Alara returned to Ara and was fearfully accepted.
Shortly after Ibadan restored the deposed Alara of Ara, its army attacked Ikoro, another town in Ekiti, because they prevented Ibadan army from foraging on their crops, and also because there were rumours that Ikoro was planning to attack the Ibadan army.
During the attack on Ikoro, some other towns in Ekiti, including Ara-Ekiti, tried to defended Ikoro. The restored Alara prevented his townspeople from joining the fight against Ibadan, hence another unrest ensued in the town. Ibadan eventually defeated Ikoro and went ahead to punish the towns that helped Ikoro during the war, including Ara.
During this period, Chief Elejofi had again taken over the rulership of Ara and held on to it for some months before it eventually crumbled due to starvation, and to avoid being enslaved by Ibadan, the people of Ara-Ekiti committed an unprecedented mass suicide. This incident is quite similar to the mass suicide of Igbo slaves off the U.S. coast in 1803.
The town of Ara was left deserted for many years before some of its exiled descendants returned home. Ara suicide remains one of the most disturbing chapters in the history of Ekiti and the entire Yoruba land.
Note: The image used above is not related to any of the historical events in this article.