On Baby Boy Obas and Defacement of Culture


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This post  stemmed from the piece I wrote about the late Olubadan of Ibadan Oba Samuel Odulana Odugade 1 a few weeks ago where I talked about the fact that inspite of the pressure of modernity the Obaship in Yoruba should always be the preserve of  old wise heads whom everybody can respect and not a radical who will bring unnecessarily idealistic ideas to the institution of the Oba. Little did I know that Olowu of Owu Ile Oba Muhammad Qozeem Ilufemiloye was going to provide a live example to prove the point I was making in that post. My immediate reaction to that picture when I saw the picture was “what the hell is this rubbish? Isn’t this just wrong especially from a royal father of?

Of course the immediate response of a lot of people especially Muslims who saw the picture on Twitter when it was first posted, was to mix up his religious status with his traditional position and brand anybody who raised an eyebrow about it, an insecure, reactive islamophobe. However for most of the  people who also found the picture unsettling like I did, the reason was not that they found the fact that he is a muslim and his wives are niqabis unsettling, it is that he is an Oba and his wives are niqabis is totally unbecoming of an Oba, a symbol of the Yoruba traditional and cultural institution.

For me that picture is a sign of how far the respect for the Yoruba traditional institution has fallen, but then in a nation where Obas are being pursued by law enforcement for abetting corrupt politicians and Obas toadying to governors and presidents for contracts, Oba Ilufemiloye’s actions are hardly suprising. it seems that we are only paying lip service to the revival of our traditional values if we do not see anything wrong with a royal father’s flagrant display of devotion to an Abrahamic religion in a culture that has its own religion embedded in it.

The honest truth is there is a reason why inspite of the fact that most of the powers Kabiyesis used to have has been supplanted by democratically elected rulers, they are still addressed as Kabiyesi, alase ekeji Orisa, which in Yoruba means “No one can question him,Commander, Deputy to the gods.” Since the gods are invisible, the Kabiyesi is their representative and you have to accord to him the respect a god deserves. Infact in some cases the Kabiyesi can stop the worship of a god, who is not blessing his people as it should, which makes it all the more demeaning and embarrassing  for the Kabiyesi to leave the religion where he is a god in his own right to declare himself an adherent of an Abrahamic religion where he not only has to bow to the Abrahamic god, he also has to obey the the dictates of his ambassadors, like an Oba who kneels down before a pastor at a crusade. It would feel like Yemi Osinbajo suddenly claiming that he is now an American citizen while still being Vice President of Nigeria and thus he is no longer subservient to Muhammadu Buhari but to Barrack Obama and not only that, he now takes orders from the American Ambassador to Nigeria too. If that is not an absurd contradiction in terms I don’t know what else is. It  is thus painful and ironical that leaders who are the guardians the Yoruba culture and the touchstones to the younger generations of the Yoruba, are the ones selling out a culture that brought the likes Susan Wenger and Uli Beier all the way from across the oceans to study, because of a misguided belief in some imported Abrahamic religion. What then will be the value of the likes of Kola Tubosun and Olu Owolabi who are working assiduously to preserve the Yoruba language and culture when, Obas who are supposed to know better are the ones presenting niqabis in public as Oloris, a decided insult to a culture that prides itself in the mantra “Oju Loro wa” (I need to see your face to talk to you).

At the risk of sounding like a reactive islamophobe, I am not saying a Muslim man with niqabi wives is wrong, the point I am making is that, as the Yoruba will say, you don’t enter a river  and then start to complain of the cold, becoming an Oba is not by force, and if you think you cannot juggle between the Yoruba traditional religion and whatever imported religion you profess, let the Obaship go to someone that can make such a compromise, because even with the limited knowledge we have about becoming an Oba, Oba Ilufemiloye has simply made himself a laughingstock with his hypocrisy. For instance if you ever have the opportunity ask any Oba to explain the process of becoming an Oba to you, he will tell you that there are certain parts of the process he is not allowed to reveal to outsiders, so who does Oba Ilufemiloye think he is fooling? To be doubly sure, I showed the picture to a Muslim friend, and the first thing he told me was that  Oba Qozeem Ilufemiloye didn’t behave like the true Muslim he is claiming to be, because  women in purdah are supposed to sit among other women and not to be shown off with their husbands at a public function. That is the kind of person we have as Oba, a confused man who understands neither the culture and tradition he is supposed to be protecting, nor the Islam he claims to be professing. How then is the Yoruba culture and tradition going to get any respect with people like that as our representatives?

As I mentioned earlier, there is pressure to be modern, to be in with the times and the Yoruba race cannot be left behind, but  in our clamouring for youthful “baby boy” Obas we must realize that part of the disadvantages of youthful leadership is that idealism and a lack of ability to see the big picture will lead to making plenty of needless mistakes, which he will realize as he grows older and wiser, but then the impressions will have been created already. Perhaps then Oba Ilufemiloye is not a lost cause yet, but  that picture brings up  fundamental questions: If the position of the Oba no longer that important, why then are we under pressure to change how the position is perceived by pandering to a youthful population, instead of putting in elders who will lead and guide? And If we think the Obaship is important to the development of the Yoruba race,  why then are we giving it to youngsters who don’t have a clue about how it works?

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2 thoughts on “On Baby Boy Obas and Defacement of Culture

  1. I think for the “oba” in this instance, it’ll be of keen interest to someone like myself to know how he intends to juggle his faith in “oneness of God” (ie monotheism) and the issue of multiple gods (polytheism), as you rightly sighted?
    In as much as I appreciate your arguments about the Yoruba traditions and culture, I think there is a profound error to assume that Islam in particular amongst other religions is alien to the Yorubas or the culture of the Yoruba people. As far as Yoruba history is concerned till date – the most widely accepted version of the origin of the Yoruba people is that they emigrated from Makkah in present day Saudi Arabia through their founding father Oduduwa the son of Lamrudi. And one of the claim is that he came with “Tira” which some have claimed to be a copy of the Quran.
    Also, if you have read the history of the yorubas you’ll see that when the British came in mid 19th century to colonize them, one of the things they found with them is the way some of the Yoruba Muslims used to use Arabic to document things in Yoruba language (Aljemi kind of writing style).
    You’ll also discover that late Samuel Ajayi Crowther had to borrow some Arabic words when he first translated the bible into Yoruba language and that was not done in a vacuum.
    Also, there is something amongst some traditional Yoruba ritualists that says something in the form of “imale gangan lesin osan ni igbagbo de”.
    To wrap it up, it is a documented fact that one of the reasons the Yoruba Muslims in the pre colonial era did not participate in the obaship system was because of some of the challenges you rightly highlighted about the challenges of hypocrisy in terms of conflicting ideogies on what this particular oba professes and the institution he claims to represent.
    But one thing I want you to get clear is that the history of Yoruba people from their prestine existence can never be completed without the reference to Islam, Arabic language and Makkah.

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