Like Obas, Oloris Are Considered Deities

The Yoruba kingdoms are full of folklore, one of which is the Oloris (Oba’s wives) and the inheritance in the palace. KUNLE OLAYENI in this report looks at the myth surrounding why they are forbidden to remarry and how people who became monarchs in the lifetime of their fathers relate with their forebears in Yorubaland. The recent demise of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, and the subsequent selection of a successor, Adeyeye Ogunwusi, no doubt brought some customary precepts of the Yoruba nation to the fore. Beyond the buzz of succession battle, the media were awash with tales about why the wives of the late monarch cannot remarry and the fate that await them in post-transition of their husband. Apart from issues surrounding the inheritance of the Oloris, the fact that the new and youthful Ooni still has parents also provoked interesting debates about father-son relationship in the emerging palace administration. Would the father prostrate for his son in obeisance notwithstanding that the Yoruba culture forbids a father to prostrate for his biological son?

Those really curious also wanted to know if the father would take flight from the royal court now that his son has ascended the throne or whether the king would rather not see his parents again as certain cultures would demand. Indeed, many cultural practices, often associated with taboos and mythic accounts, have stood the test of time in Yorubaland. The Obas, who are natural custodians of culture and tradition of their people, are supposed to reinforce the observance of the customs within their domains. Therefore, the community itself looks up to them for guidance. The place of the wives of traditional rulers is also well ingrained in the Yoruba tradition. They share the palace with the monarchs and know many of the secrets behind the throne. That is more reason why the Oloris are well treated, even after their husbands may have passed on. A monarch in Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, Oba Olufemi Ogunleye, said the Yoruba culture had done a lot to safeguard the traditional institution. Ogunleye, who is the Towulade of Akinale, noted that the reason why the wives of deceased monarchs do not remarry was to protect the dignity and sanctity of the royal institution. He said: “The position of Oba in Yorubaland is surrounded with so many mysteries that it is difficult for anybody to unravel.


One of such is found in the relation between the Kabiyesi and his wife and this can also be explained in what goes on in our lives today. If a Kabiyesi meets a woman and develops an amorous interest in her, the first thing the woman would say is that no man would dare come to her again in any case. Therefore, she may be scared initially. So, that kind of myth has been in existence for so long. “Our forefathers, in those days, had so many culturally-related theories that are difficult for anybody to prove either right or wrong but they were made to protect their image and credibility. Such is the relationship between Kabiyesi and Olori. Once you become an Olori, it is believed that no other man gets near you in amorous relationship. Any attempt by another man to do such a thing with Kabiyesi’s wife usually results in disaster. And as such, it has stayed as either a myth or stigma on the woman. “There is no knowledge of any of our forefathers that broke such myth and so people are afraid to break it. In the contemporary age, there is a story of a wealthy man who was alleged to have an affair with a living king’s wife. The mysterious death of such a person at a later date was linked by those who know about that incident as an expected repercussion.”


Chief Tajudeen Oladeinde, who is the Amona of Egbaland, also told Saturday Telegraph that the wives of traditional rulers were forbidden to remarry in order to protect the prestige and respect for the traditional institution. According to him, the Yoruba believe that anybody who has sexual relationship with the wife of an Oba would suffer unpleasant consequences. In the Ife tradition, the Ooni is not considered dead but in transition to a higher realm. Since the Ooni is still ‘alive,’ it is therefore forbidden for the wives left behind to remarry. The same belief is shared in many other Yoruba towns and territories. Oladeinde said that “Culture is dynamic, it is the way of the people and the way of the people in a particular Yoruba community as regards the traditional ruler is that omi eko, eko ni. The wife of a traditional ruler in her own right is also a traditional ruler, because as we hail an Oba with Kabiyesi, so do we hail the Olori with Kabiyesi. “Therefore, if an Oba dies and Olori is still alive, she carries that title for life. Hence, nobody within the community would want to do anything with the Olori other than to respect and support her after the death of Kabiyesi. She cannot remarry.”


The chief explained further that the wives of traditional rulers are considered as powerful as their husbands too. According to him, the Oba and Olori are natural custodians of culture and tradition of their people and both are revered in the exercise of their majesty and royalty. “In the olden days, the traditional rulers were regarded as next to gods because of the enormous powers they had. Once an Oba says something, it becomes law and you cannot controvert it. There is no room for appeal. “That is why they seldom speak in public. Instead, they would delegate a chief to speak on their behalf. If the chief goofs, the Kabiyesi would have an opportunity to moderate and to correct. When a new Oba or a candidate for the post is picked among numerous aspirants, the Oba-elect would have to undergo some initiations and tutelage about the customs, norms and values of the community. In case he did not know much about the customs, such would be an opportunity to have in-depth knowledge of what is before him. Such initiations might also involve some rituals. “In some communities, an Oba may have to use blood of an animal to take bath. At others, he may have to eat certain concussions. However, one of the things that make anyone qualifies to be an Oba is marital status. No human being can become an Oba as a bachelor, except regency in some parts of Yorubaland, particularly Ondo and Ekiti states, where they look for young or unmarried ladies as regents. “So, when they have an Oba who has undergone these rituals – his wife cannot partake in the rituals.


But having an intercourse with the wife, it is assumed that the powers possessed by the husband would be transferred to the wife. Again, the respect given to a traditional ruler is also given to the Oloris. That is why you don’t call Olori ‘Mrs.’ As an Oba has his title so does his wife. The title of the wife of an Oba is Olori. “As an Olori, she is expected to be privy to some secret cults within the palace. So, if such an Oba dies either young or prematurely, no other person is qualified to marry that woman because she is also a traditional ruler in her own right. Even after the death of the husband, the respect still stays. The status quo ante before the death of the husband still remains. Oba cannot divorce a wife; it’s a taboo. He cannot go to court to divorce. In that wise, the wife of an Oba does not have the right to go to court and say she wants to divorce the Kabiyesi,” Oladeinde said. However, the wife of a deceased king can be inherited in the Yoruba culture. But this inheritance has its limitations. “An Olori can be inherited. She can become an inheritance of the new Oba. But she would only remain an inheritance; there would not be any sexual intercourse between the two of them because nobody shares the wife of a traditional ruler. It is the belief of the Yoruba that it’s a taboo. That is why an Oba is called alase igbakeji orisa (second to the gods).


He is next to god and you don’t share the wife of gods,” the chief added. The Oniro of Iroland in Obafemi- Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State, Oba Najimudeen Alani, equally aligned with the positions of both Oba Ogunleye and Chief Oladeinde. Speaking with Saturday Telegraph, the monarch said it is not allowed in Yoruba tradition to drive out the wives of deceased Obas from the palace. “When an Oba dies, it is not easy for his Olori to remarry because the wife is considered a leader of the community herself. If she had children before the death of the king, she would be downgrading herself if she remarries somebody who is not a monarch. It is a taboo for an Olori to remarry in Yoruba culture. In addition, they don’t drive Olori out of the palace, except if she willingly leaves the palace,” he said. The Olufon of Ifon-Osun, Olumoyero 11, Oba Adekunle Abdul Mahroof Magbagbeola, also said that the Yoruba culture is the same all over. He explained that it is not all inherited Oloris that the king can have an affair with. Some of them, according to him, are meant to give advisory roles on good governance to monarch because of their long stay in the palace. “They would add value to the administration of the king and as well as the community’s progress. “It is not culturally binding to automatically inherit all Oloris in the palace for love affairs.


For instance, an Olori of 70 years old and above could not be inherited for that could add progressive values to the kingdom because Yorubas believe that old age is golden and that experience could not be bought in the market,” Magbagbeola said. The paramount ruler therefore stressed that they would serve as good counsellors to the new Oba and exposes him to the rudiment of real governance because many of them could have even been earlier inherited by two kings before a new one ascends the throne. “Their presence in the palace is a plus for an emerging king for they would guide him on how mutual relationship could be firmly built between the Oba and his community members. “Another reason is because their status could differ. A new Oba, who is educated, lettered, refined, cultured, exposed and outstanding in all things, could not be mandated to glue to an illiterate Olori, who would not be able to operate in the same wave and frequency with the Oba,” the Olufon added. But, an Ibadan Prince, who identified himself simply as Aderogba, said, “Their unique way of dressing could even prevent ordinary mortals from getting close to them. Many of the wives of late monarchs live in the palace and are part of the inheritance of the new monarch.”


According to him, “Yoruba monarchs are considered super-human deities and so their Oloris are believed to have special supernatural attributes. The maxim: ‘The deep call the deep’ manifests in the relationship that exists between the monarchs and their wives. An Olori would not re-marry after the death of the monarch simply because she remains until her death, the property of the palace. Such women are inherited by any other Oba that succeeds the one who has joined his ancestors,” he said. Aderogba did not stop there. He said that “if any Olori is at a public function and the Oba’s guard sees any man look at her in a lustful manner, such a man would be dealt with immediately. If she dances in public, no person dares spray money on her head, chest or shoulder. They would rather be dropping it on the ground in front of her. If this tradition of awe surrounds the personality of Oloris, then you can imagine how sacrilegious it would be for any man to dream of having conjugal experience with any of them. That is why it is not a common experience to find an Olori re-marry after their husband’s passing on,” he said. Giving insight into the relationship that should exist between people who emerged as traditional rulers when their fathers are alive, the trio of Ogunleye, Alani and Oladeinde said there is no hard and fast rule about it other than cordiality. They explained that Obas are forbidden from prostrating for anybody, including their fathers. Oba Ogunleye said: “It is a taboo for any Oba to prostrate for anybody, be it his father or mother. In some cultures, a day before you are made an Oba, you are asked to prostrate for some elders, including your father. It signifies the last prostration.


After you have been crowned, there is no more prostration. “In the Yoruba tradition, there is nothing, either written or unwritten that says one cannot see his father as a king. But, there is the belief in the tradition that an Oba cannot prostrate for anyone else as a king.” On his part, Chief Oladeinde said that a king is not really forbidden from seeing his parents in Yorubaland. According to him, the fathers of monarchs are like any other subjects within the community and must pay homage in accordance with the traditional dictates. “Their fathers are like any other subject within the community. As soon as the son becomes a traditional ruler, he automatically becomes the father of his own father. The father cannot greet the son standing; he has to lie flat like lizard on the sheds because it is the tradition. “A traditional ruler is the father of all; he’s not a son to any human being. No matter his age, he becomes the father of all. He is the last speaker on any decision. When a decision is to be made, even if he makes mistake, it’s binding on everybody in that community. In their privacy and secrecy, he can call his father his father. But, according to culture and tradition, the father assumes the role of the son as soon as the son becomes a traditional ruler. He becomes the father spiritual and temporal.”


In Ibadan, a 78-year-old man, Pa Gbadegesin, also said that “immediately the son is crowned in some parts of Yorubaland, he and his father must not see face to face again. The movement of the father is restricted wherever the Oba could be found. If they must have any private discussion without any intermediary, the father is kept where the Oba-son can only hear his voice, but not see his face. Reason is that the father must as a matter of tradition prostrate for his Oba-son anytime they meet. But, because such tradition is alien to Yorubaland, seeing face to face is better avoided. It is a taboo for a father to prostrate for his son in public.” For the Asamo of Akure, High Chief Rotimi Olusanya, modernisations, including the chieftaincy declaration have eroded some of the cultural values of some towns and villages in Yorubaland. He, however, revealed that Akure has not witnessed a situation where a monarch would have a living father. Olusanya said: “Before the 1990 chieftaincy declaration that recognises two ruling houses; the Osupa and Ojijigogun Ruling Houses, the ascension to the throne in Akure was from father to son; a son given birth to while his father was on the throne. This situation cannot allow a Deji of Akure to have a living father.”

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on Feb 29, 2016

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