By Lanre Ogundipe
The beauty and importance of the Obaship Institution in Yorùbáland is one of the few reasons Yorùbá traditional systems and values have attracted so much respect and admiration over the years. The institution inspires nothing short of reverence.
The magical and legendary feats of Yorùbá obas in times past have also impacted the oral history, with in-depth documentation of historical accomplishments, in the often larger-than-life narrative surrounding royalty in Yorùbáland.
These obas didn’t rule their domain as mere mortals, but like gods and custodians of art and culture. One part as a king and other part as a father to all living and non-living creatures; including the beings that abide in the forest, under the sea and below and above the different layers of the heavens.
The power of the royal father is likened to that of the gods: Kabiyesi Oba Alaase Ekeji Orisa. This paean places the oba on the same pedestal as the gods. Yet, the oba is accountable to his people and the gods of the land. His primary duty is to develop his domain, as well as protect and develop every aspect of the socio-cultural well-being of the land.
The recent installation of new crown heads in Ibadan has set in motion discourse on the mythology of ascendancy to the throne of Obaship in Yorùbáland. This deserves a thorough scrutiny -whether or not the age long tradition should be preserved, reviewed and or jettisoned for modernisation.
To this effect, the relegation of Alaafin Aole of the old Oyo Empire in 1817 by his war ‘General’ Afonja caused serious dent on the Yorùbá race and in later years, the Yorùbá plunged into a 16-year civil war, which later become the longest civil-ethnic war in World History. This was known as the ‘Kiriji or the Ekitiparapo’ War.
Thus implies that our future of heritage, culture and arts of as a race/people rest on the shoulders of the traditional rulers and the institutions around them. As guardians of culture, they are the first and last line of defence against foreign interruption and infiltration.
But over the years, the culture and heritage of the Yorùbá Nation have not been as vibrant and elegant as it used to be. Infiltration and dilutions in so many ways have caused people to abandon the old ways. Traditional values and morals laid down by our forefathers have been jettisoned for Western and modern ways of life which have brought us nothing but decay and a breakdown of order and values inherent in our traditional systems.
Is it safe to say that the Obaship Institution in Yorùbáland have been compromised and stained because of the aim of amassing wealth and affluence?
What we are witnessing is as result of political influence in the appointment or selection of candidates for the Stool and the urge to regulate traditional institutions in order to curtail or as a way of controlling traditional powers. The embarrassing state of affairs on the award of chieftaincy titles and breakdown of law and order cum moral decadence in Yorùbáland calls for urgent attention and resolution.
A Yorùbá adage says, “An elder doesn’t sit in the market and watch the head of a newborn get twisted”. The weight of the Obaship Institution in Yorùbáland is more than just the throne; it calls for proper education and preservation of the culture of the Yorùbá Nation.
It is not an issue that some of local errant chiefs were elevated; the upgrading must be seen to have been carried out in line with the tradition that conferred such authority on the prescribed officer whose duty is to bestow such honour. Rather, the award leaves much to be desired-depth and knowledge of those in charge as custodians of our traditions and culture leaves much to be desired or do we say they are in moral deficit?
Otherwise, what is being witnessed now by the younger generations is a perversion of the supposed customs and traditions they are to preserve. And for this reason, we would not keep mute watching without crying blue murder of our culture.
It is not an assumption that royalty and politics are like oil and blood: the two don’t mix well and should not be allowed in any union whatsoever. It is on this score that everything must be done to preserve Yorùbá culture, art and heritage and this goes for the right positioning of the Obaship Institution in the entire Yorùbáland.
In our country where History is not taught in any academic curriculum, it is the duty of the Obaship Institution and traditional leaders to ensure that our culture, morals and heritage are preserved and nurtured while the empowerment of youths in the society is to ensure that the peace and protection of lives and property in the community should be rested on the shoulders of the one who is considered as the “Second In Command to the gods”.
Here we are, the ‘Alase Ekeji Orisa’ is no longer serving a collective interest but lust, whereas the future of any developed society depends on his preservation of its history, culture, heritage, arts and culture. The richness of the Yorùbá culture and heritage connects the world just as the Atlantic connects diverse countries. The level of wealth of the Obaship Institution is multi-layered, hence, it must be protected at all cost. The role of the oba and traditional institutions in delivering this duty is important.
At the same time, our collective responsibility is to ensure that our culture, heritage and arts must be preserved, not forgetting that every son and daughter of the tribe must strive to be an outstanding upright and well-nurtured individual in the community.
The institution should not just care about rituals and traditional worship, but should look inward and see how the land can be developed socio-culturally, morally, and in every way possible. Let me drop a note of caution that the beginning of the end of dynasties and civilizations often starts when social decay seeps into the leadership ranks of a people, with young errant chiefs becoming obas that don’t fully understand the attendant responsibility of the authority invested in them.
All through history, one witnesses the truth in the Yorùbá proverb that a strong peaceful extended family house is one in which the illegitimate children are still young. It now appears such illegitimate offsprings are now on stage to wreck havoc on our cherished cultural values.
Howbeit, Ibadan, a cosmopolitan city, suddenly lost the uniqueness of the classic word of descriptive knowledge of a renown poet – JP Clark “a city of brown roofs” with many first in its kitty in developmental spheres – but chose to set aside this and latch on the negative side of history as “a city with plethora crown-heads”.
But one thing stands out of the exercise -the installation (and this cannot be overlooked) and the promoter of this exercise are not conscious of the new reality as a revolutionary tide may sweep through the ancient city in no distant time.
The truism that power is, indeed, transient is now on board. But my worries on the fallout are two-fold: are the promoters well prepared and equipped to absorb the consequences when it comes? Would the hush tones in the background be sufficient to curtail the smoking rage when it berth?
I know danger lurks. Subterfuge among the obas in Ibadanland is imminent. It is a matter of time before it snowballed.
Honestly, some of the promoted baales are due for the exalted office because of the positions they occupied in Ibadan History and, as such, Olubadan reserved the right to dispense justice by way of according them their rightful place in the history.
However, the ‘dandawi’ process ought to have been sorted out; not the lumping which paved way for the enthronement with likes of Onijaiye, Oniroko, Alakufo, Lalupon, Erunmu, Ido and few others. Of what importance were those dashed crowns to Ibadan?
The crown represents the highest level of authority vested in an oba and thus referred to as Adé. The beaded crown is the foremost attribute of a Yorùbá oba and the greatest mark of honour and sanction of divine authority. But the myth surrounding the institution are being stripped -the supposedly “ekeji-orisanla” are being laid bare and without honour. I have said it repeatedly that “korimagbofo cap”, otherwise known as “Adé paali”, is not the same as “Adé Isembaye”.
The sacred grove called Ipebi, a serene atmosphere where the ancients resides, has been jettisoned for street parades? Obas are now subject to reading of oath writing in western languages to the detriment of the ‘alale vows’ (ancestors ordinances). All Ipebi observatory rules and injunctions are traded off for the few on ego trip!
Wearing of a beaded crown or Adé in the literary sense of it has to be defined in line with the status of each of the obas and not just the award and the uniformity. In so doing, the second-class oba would display his superiority to the lesser one.
Adé ńlá, literally big crown, is an elaborate conical head gears that feature a heavily beaded veil and fringes that shields or obscures the face. Another brand is the Akoro -the smaller coronets worn by regional rulers under the suzerainty of a paramount authority or a more powerful oba, who were essentially vassals under the Emperor of an empire. The titles of Looja and Baale are two titles that are known to wearers of Akoro in Yorùbáland, rather than an adé which they do not have the right to wear. In the real sense, the crown (Adé) incarnates the intuition of royal ancestral force, the revelation of great moral insight in the person of the oba, and the glitter of aesthetic experience.
Obaship is a choice and nobody is forced against his wishes to become one. However, when you make the choice, it must be with full understanding that the Obaship Institution is not only about flamboyancy and access to wealth, but the spiritual, cultural and political leadership of the land.
But what do we say to the new Ibadan oriki (panegyric) being crafted: omo Onigba-Oba ti ndadé, ti o mo ko to orun ileke – ko lo nle, ko’dowo, omo onile booji -offspring of the 200 crown heads, who know not the undeserving neck for the necklace? Before our very eyes, Ibadan Ilu Olokiki is now ‘Ibadan Onigba-Oba ma wo ‘Ipebi’ (Ibadan a city with 200 head-crowns without traditional values), a downturn trend no one ever wishes.
This piece would not be completed without having a word with those prowling as socialite among the so-called chiefs to take heed and watch their steps. How much of Ibadan History were they exposed to?
If they are well grounded as they claimed, they ought to know they are servitude and, at the appropriate time, they would be shown where they belong. A word is enough for the wise.
•Lanre Ogundipe, a former President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), writes from Abuja.