Titus Abiala was born around 1843 at Ajibesin compound, Modakeke via Ile-Ife, in Modakeke Local Government Area, Osun State, Nigeria. His parents were part of the Modakeke people group, and were followers of Obatala (a Yoruba divinity). In the late 1890s Abiala converted to Christianity after being influenced by the catechist of St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, Ita Asin in Modakeke. He then was baptized and took on the baptismal name “Titus.” Although he had no formal education, Abiala was able to read the Bible in the Yoruba language.
In 1909 there was a political clash between the Modakeke and Ife people that led to the dispersal of the Modakeke to different Yoruba towns, including Gbongan, Ikire, Apomu, Tonkere, and Odeomu. Abiala decided to settle in Gbongan and became the first person to make Christianity known there.
The place where Abiala settled in Gbongan was named Ajibesin compound after his ancestral home in Modakeke. Here he began a Bible study group with a few Christian immigrants from Modakeke. They met near a blacksmith’s workshop, in the house of a man named Ogundele.
However, the people of Gbongan were very hostile toward this new religion. Mainly Muslims or worshippers of Egungun (the collective spirit of the ancestors, worshipped through masquerades), they considered it an assault against their traditional beliefs, and persecuted Abiala and the other Christian converts. Sacrifices were put at the place where they met, and on several occasions masqueraders beat the Christians. Christians and Muslims clashed when the latter were accused of disturbing the Christians’ Sunday worship with noise. In 1910 this even led to litigation at the high court of justice in Ibadan. Another time the Christians protested when the Kanmoloolu masqueraders disturbed their Sunday worship with the beating of their drums. This led to a brawl in which Abiala’s wife, Mrs. Merian Omirinde, was injured with a charm. The wound would not heal, even with medicine, and she died as a result.
Abiala was a man of prayer and faith, even treating those who had small pox with prayers. His activities led to the founding of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Gbongan, in Ayedaade Local Government Area of Osun State. Many of his children and grandchildren have taken up service as priests. His eldest daughter, Julianah Abiala, became an Iya Aladura (prophetess) and one of his grandchildren, the Venerable Babatunde Ebenezer Abiala, is an archdeacon in the Ijebu dioceses of the Anglican Communion in Nigeria (2008).
Ayodele Adetayo Ajayi
Pa Caleb Oyetayo, member of Ajibesin house in Gbongan, age 79, interview by author, April 8, 2007, Oke-Elu, Gbongan, Ayedaade Local Government Area, Osun State, Nigeria.
Pa G. O. Adegbenro, Abiala’s son-in-law, age 82, interview by author, April 8, 2007, Olufi Area, Gbongan, Ayedaade Local Government Area, Osun State, Nigeria.
This article, received in 2008, was researched and written by Mr. Ayodele Adetayo Ajayi, a student at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, under the supervision of Rev. Dr. Deji Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.