In Nigeria, the Yoruba culture is one that can not be missed due to its glaringly obvious heritage and practices. Shades of it are seen in the dressing, language, cuisine and the family. In Yoruba land, the family is the basic unit of a social life thus all other aspects of the society, be it economic or political, stems from the unit. This relationship is very much valid as it extends to the ruling systems. Yorubas take pride in the monarchical system in their regional level. This to an extent can be as a result of the former state of the pre-colonial Yoruba system or just the need to keep the ‘throne’ in operation. In states such as Osun, Ogun, Oyo and Lagos, this monarchical system is performed with all the rites traditionally attached to it as passed from the generation before. Usually, this is seen during the period of the installation of a new monarch; king upon the demise of another thus encompassing the burial rites as well.
Depending on the state of focus, it could be the Alaafin, the Ooni or just the Oba that undergoes these ancestral rites and while it differs, the common similarity is the “Oro” that happens in the king’s community. Some people say that this practice affects the entire state. It has also been affirmed that more attention is paid to the strict observation in the community where the king resides, the area close to the king. This was the case when the Oba Oyekan of Lagos left the throne before the installation of the current king, Oba Akiolu. This could also be seen after the Alaafin of Oyo left the throne last year as some restrictions were placed on movements. This practice is less of the restrictions and more of the consequences if those restrictions are flouted.
More often than not after the “Oro”, selecting a new king is strictly according to the dictates of the oracle. Upon selection, the person will stay indoors for a number of days (or weeks) depending on the society’s tradition. This is the period where the king gets to familiarize himself with the aid of the priests, with the town’s history, tradition, stories and heritage as he becomes the “alase ìkejì orisa” (the second in command to the deity).
Another practice during the installation of a new king is the said eating of the former king’s body part. While this is largely dependent on the particular society (and still based on mere words of mouth) when it comes to what part of the body is to be eaten and what part is to become soap, there is no doubt that it is a common practice. In some societies, the king’s eyes are plucked out and grinded into traditional soap for the king undergoing installation to bath with. Sometimes, the deceased king’s heart is removed and cooked with a soup for the selected person to eat. As he eats, he is asked the question, “kiloje”? He then responds with, “moje oba”. This simply means, what did you eat? He answers, “I ate the king”. Other times, the feet and hands are included as well.
After the ancestral rites have been performed to give the new king spiritual guidance and authority, the coronation ceremony is then held. This is where the king will be formally crowned in the presence of the community members and handed the staff of authority, further representing the title bestowed upon him.
While there are other rites performed, they are within the knowledge base of the initiates and not for the ordinary man to know or be aware of. These rites are sacred and closely guarded by the king’s chiefs. However, despite this state of affairs, it is to be known that rites are performed, strictly even in line with the traditions of the particular land.
Fathia Abolore Yusuf