Ife has strong traditional and cultural beliefs that have endured for a very long time. While modernity has been encroaching very fast into various societies, the people of Ife have placed a high premium on their culture and tradition. That is why in the face of all the media attention on the fate of the Ooni, the people of the ancient city have remained undaunted and unperturbed, preferring instead, to hold on tenaciously to their age long belief.
After all, as a foremost traditional society in Africa, Ife, as the cradle of the Yoruba race, must lead by example. The institution of the Ooni stool remains the existing seat of Oduduwa, the father of the Yoruba race. As the religious and cultural matrix of the Yorubas, Ile-Ife carries the burden of a great responsibility on its shoulders. Since the Yorubas, whose ancestry is traced to Oduduwa, are unique in their ways and values, it, therefore, follows that all the Obas in Yoruba land are direct descendants of Oduduwa. This is because they all left Ile-Ife at one time or another to settle down in their present places of abode. This is what unmistakably confers on Ile-Ife the enviable title of the cradle of the Yoruba race. As a result of this, any occupant of the Ooni stool is directly confronted with the arduous role of ensuring unity among Yoruba Obas.
Like I said last week, oral tradition and legend have played a significant role in the history and foundation of the Yoruba as Oduduwa was supposed to have been lowered down through the clouds with a string, bearing some sand and a cockerel in his hand. He was said to have spewed the sand on the ground while he released the cock to spread it over the surface of the whole earth which was then all covered by water. But there is another version, a less mythical story of the founding of Ile-Ife. The narration is that Oduduwa came from Mecca. The account is corroborated by archeological excavations of terracottas, carved figures, brass castings, stools and monoliths in granite and quartz found in several parts of the town. All these gave the suggestion that the Yorubas have the similarity of cultural origin with Egypt. The common denominator in all the various historical narrations of the origin of the Yoruba race is the undisputable acceptance of Oduduwa as their founder and progenitor. This has been the unbreakable bond of unification among the Yorubas.
Having said this, perhaps, we should now examine the importance of the Ooni in Yoruba history. The Ooni’s stool is an important one and it will be quite antithetical for anybody to question the authenticity of its superiority. The Ooni, a position which every occupant has carried with panache, charisma, candour, respectability and gaiety, is the spiritual head of the Yoruba race. The spiritual headship of the Yoruba race by the Ooni cannot be queried, because the authenticity of his leadership has remained sacrosanct since creation as attested to by various writers and historians.
In a passing reference, in its Volume No 9, of December 1932 pages 10-11, the West African Students’ Union, WASU, Magazine, featured the following: ……”the Ooni of Ife – the traditionally appointed Head of The Oduduwa House” ….. Also in 1932, the writers of Itan Ilesa, listed on page 115, the following as the sons of Oduduwa (alias Olofinaye i. e. the great lord of the world). (i) Obanifon (ii) Oba Ado (Benin) (iii) Oloye (iv) Owa Ilesa (v) Orangun Aga (vi) Ajero (vii) Elekole (viii) Ore Otun (ix) Alaketu or Aketu (x) Awujale Ijebu Ode (xi) Olowu (xii) Alara (xiii) Olojudo (xiv) Oloye (xv) Osemifarawe or Osemawe (xvi) Onipopo King of the Popos (vii) Oninan a King of the Nanans etc. Similarly, in Volume XII No 4, 662 of Monday, March 14, 1938, one Old Campaigner, a correspondent of the Nigerian Daily Times, in an article entitled “Forthcoming Chiefs’ Conference in Yoruba land’s Garden of Eden” wrote: “Here again, the Ooni, whom one may be permitted on the authority of Ex-Resident H. L. Wardprice, to call the super-father of the grand family of Oduduwa, had himself led the way”…..
According to the writers of Itan Ilesa, “Obanifon (obalufon) occupying the premier position among the sons of Oduduwa was the last surviving son of Oduduwa. He ascended the throne of Ife after the demise of their father and he is the ancestor of the succeeding Oonis of Ife”. What this implies is that as a successor to the throne of Oduduwa, the Ooni of Ife represents the tree while other princes who went away and founded new kingdoms represent the branches: In the Government Gazette No 13, March 28, 1903, the great Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi Alowolodu was in a discussion with Sir William Macgregor the governor of Lagos on the previous visit to Lagos of the Ooni of Ife early in 1903. In reply to a question from the Governor, the Alafin said, “Egbon mi ni” meaning “He (the Ooni) is my older brother”. That 1903 visit of Oba Olubuse Adelekan, the then Ooni of Ife, to Lagos on the invitation by the Government, was purposely to decide whether or not the two Obas of Remo at that time who were asking for beaded crown had a right to wear it. How the Ooni decided the two cases was how the case was rested. It was there and then made public that it is the prerogative of the Ooni and Ooni alone, as the accredited head of the crowned sons of Oduduwa, to decide which of the rulers of Yoruba land had the right to wear a beaded crown.
In short, the Obas in Yoruba land know their relative position to the Ooni of Ife and documentary evidence abounds to buttress this claim. There are many other definitive things which are the prerogative of the Ooni alone as the head of the family of the Oduduwa House. However, the problem is not that these facts are not commonly known but there are some who are reluctant to accept them as true. For instance, on page 13 of the History of Abeokuta, by A.K. Ajisafe, even though two of the crowned sons of Oduduwa – the Alaafin of Oyo and the Oba of Benin – grew powerful with mighty influence, they still conceded to the Ooni his unquestionable prerogatives throughout the length and breadth of the commonwealth of Oduduwa. At a time in the past when most of the Yoruba Obas including the Owa of Ilesa, became tributary to the Alaafin of Oyo, the Ooni’s influence continued unabated.
‘The spiritual headship of the Yoruba race by the Oni cannot be queried, because the authenticity of his leadership has remained sacrosanct since creation as attested to by various writers and historians’
A record of the 15th Century gave an example of the powerful Oba of Benin’s own relative position to the Ooni. When a new Oba of Benin was to be installed, for the insignia of royalty, the Ooni used to send: a staff, a cap or crown, a cross and a sword. Whenever an Oba of Benin joined his ancestors, it was customary to send to Ile-Ife to get an official mask of the deceased Oba. Usually the Benin envoys sent to Ile-Ife were only allowed to see the Ooni’s foot. On the departure of such envoys they became for life “enjoyers of the freedom of Ife”, and crosses were put around their neck. In that century, the Chief of Ugwato, a Benin Ambassador, accompanied some Portuguese to Portugal. There, the Bini Chief gave information of a most powerful king named Ogane (i. e. the Ooni of Ife) to whom even the great Oba of Benin was subject. This so moved the king of Portugal that he sent in the year 1485, one Jose Affonso d’ Aveiro, to accompany the Bini envoy to see the Ooni of Ife.