‘In the past, Ooni neither travelled nor spoke in public’
But for sheer providence, the current Ooni of Ife, His Imperial Majesty, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II would have been confined to the four walls of his palace like some of his predecessors, who reigned earlier.
Perhaps, his fence mending mandate of unifying the Yoruba race, which had hitherto been set apart by politics and ego, through visits to palaces across the Yoruba states, would have been only a dream.
He is very fortunate to belong to the era of ‘modern Ooni’, which started with Ooni Adenekan Olubuse I, who reigned as the 47th Ooni between 1894 and 1910, then Ooni Ademiluyi, Ooni Sir Adesoji Aderemi and immediate past Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade. Oba Ogunwusi, is the 51st monarch of the kingdom, a descendant of the 44th Ooni of Ife, Ojaja Orasigba, who reigned from 1878 to 1880.
During his inauguration, he had proclaimed thus: “we shall use this stool to unify the entire Yoruba race; there shall be no division, no supremacy or animosity amongst us, we are all from the one and the same source-God Almighty.”
One of his first assignments was the visit to the traditional ruler, Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, breaking a battle of supremacy between the thrones, which spanned nearly eight decades. He says his focus on development was at the heart of this decision. “Without peace there can never be progress. It’s better to stretch your hand of fellowship. For me, it’s very critical. I want to be known for a peace movement.”
According to history, the Ooni of Ife occasionally appeared in the public and if he did his face was always covered with a special crown that had veils decorated with ornaments and beads. Aside the custom, this is to show the highest respect the people have for the stool. In the olden days, the palace was a structure, built of authentic enameled bricks, decorated with artistic porcelain tiles and all sorts of ornaments. The Ooni is believed to have been a demi-God who descended from heaven to create the earth, Oonis are considered sacred.
According to history, the palace of the Ooni is a monument of the highest order while the monarch himself is a symbol of Yoruba existence. The Oòni, otherwise known as Arole Oodua, is traditionally considered the 401st spirit (Orisa), the only one that speaks. The royal dynasty of Ife traces its origin back to the founding of the city, more than 2,000 years ago.
In the olden times, the aura, candour and the opulence surrounding the Ooni stool exude core values of Yoruba culture to make whoever occupies the place to abhor speaking English within and outside the country, especially in public fora. That was why the late Ooni, Sijuwade engaged the service of an English lady secretary any time he was outside the country who translated for him.
His Royal Highness claimed that the irumoles forbade him to speak any other language, other than his mother tongue, Yoruba. He always maintained the strict posture in commune with the gods, the irumoles and his ancestors.
Ile-Ife is the ancestral and spiritual home of all Yoruba, bonafide in Nigeria and the Diaspora. The spiritual headship of the Yoruba race by the Ooni cannot be queried either. Ile-Ife is well known as the city of 401 deities.
The Ooni can never be seen in public glare. No mortal, not even the representative of the English monarch could behold his face.
But that came to an abrupt end in 1903 during the era of Ooni Adenekan Olubuse I, who reigned as the 47th Ooni between 1894 and 1910, who travelled out of Ile-Ife as a result of a significant trip, occasioned by Colonial Government Gazette of the same year.
Ooni Olubuse 1, who reigned ahead of Ooni Ademiluyi and Ooni Sir Adesoji Aderemi, from all accounts, was the first `modern’ Ooni of Ife, who travelled out of Ile-Ife.
Based on history, Ooni Olubuse was invited by the then Governor of Lagos, Sir W. MacGregor, to adjudicate in a festering dispute between the Akarigbo of Remo and the Elepe of Epe in Sagamu as to whether the Elepe was entitled, by right, to the wearing of a beaded crown, as Oba.
During a decent historic visit of the Akarigbo of Remoland, His Royal Majesty Oba Babatunde Ajayi, Torungbuwa II, to Ooni’s palace last December, the Ooni, attributed his ‘liberty’ to the Akarigbo and Elepe, as a result of the protracted supremacy battle that forced Ooni Olubuse out of Ile-Ife, paving way for other Oonis that succeeded him to travel out of the palace.
Oba Ogunnusi, Ojaja II said: “This visit is historic. Look at the Akarigbo and Elepe sitting side by side. In the olden days, such will never happen because of the protracted conflict between them. It was the settlement of their conflict that led to Ooni leaving his confine to settle the case, which others had actually failed to settle. If not for them, I will not be opportune to leave this palace that is why this visit is very historical.
“I must also thank the Akarigbo and Elepe, based on the fact that it was the unresolved discrepancy between the duo on February 28, 1903 that ended the age-long tradition of an Ooni not permitted to leave his domain. When the crisis reached the peak, the Ooni was forced to go out for the first time and the issue was resolved. So, if not for them, I wouldn’t have been going out now.”
That unprecedented journey to Lagos, as The Guardian learnt, caused a stir in all of Yorubaland, because, as a mark of respect to the Ooni, all Obas and princes, momentarily vacated their thrones throughout the period of the Ooni’s sojourn in Lagos. When he finally arrived Lagos, transported in his hammock, under a flutter of colourful, giant, royal umbrellas, with his retinue of courtiers, he was a sight to behold. And when he finally gave his verdict, presumably, through an interpreter, he had his back to the colonial Governor, since no mortal, not even the representative of the English monarch, could behold his face, according to the records.