Oluwo and the glorification of ignorance (1), by Tunde Odesola

Welcome to Ìwó, the ancient Yoruba land where the parrot sings in paradox the poetry of truth and treachery.

The parrot is not a treacherous bird. For the Yoruba, the parrot is a sacred bird of historic symbolism, bearing on its head the feathers of truth, trampling underfoot the evil of treachery.

 

Abomination! Even though they domesticate it, the Yoruba don’t kill the highly revered bird, whose prized tail feathers they use in ritual performance.

 

In Ìwó and many other Yoruba towns, the parrot is sentineled at home to keep an eye on intruders and spill the beans about their wrongdoing.

 

In Ìwó, the parrot sings to the rhythm of the agidigbo drum, whose proverbs only the wise can discern. Only the truthful can understand the song of the parrot. Little wonder the Yoruba christened the parrot Ayékòótó – the world despises the truth – but the empty barrel booms and expects a resounding applause for wisdom, forgetting that the cowl doesn’t make the monk, the sceptre doesn’t confer royalty, bombast is the signature of ignorance, a sophist thrives on fallacious argument.

 

Culture and tradition are rich in Ìwó though the town is home to Christianity with the Nigerian Baptist Mission especially, and other Christian denominations having a remarkable presence. Oba Samuel Abimbola, the predecessor to the immediate past Oluwo, Oba Asiru Kiladese, was a Christian. African religion worshippers are not without a place and presence in Ìwó, making the land similar to all Yoruba communities in terms of guaranteed freedom of worship.

 

When he was leaving Ile-Ife, the presumed cradle of the Yoruba with his entourage on an expansionist agenda, Yoruba mythology says an Ife prince, Adekola Telu, who was one of the sons of Oduduwa, consulted the Ifa oracle to foretell what lies in the belly of the journey ahead.

 

Ifa predicted that Telu’s peregrination would take him to a land brimming with parrots. “Dwell in the land,” Ifa told Telu. So, Telu transmigrated under the canopy of the wilderness, bursting into plains, ascending unto hills and descending into valleys, waddling through water.

 

Then, he arrived at a river called Obà. And saw a bountiful flock of parrots with dazzling plumages. Eureka, Telu found it! Thus Telu settled around the riverbank and his coast soon enlarged. In the fullness of time, the settlement moved from around the river to the present-day Ìwó, where the land was even more auspicious.

 

The Oluwo of Ìwó, Oba Abdulrasheed Akanbi, Telu I, is my friend. I met him physically before he was installed as king by a former Governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. A colleague, Soji Adeniyi, formerly of The Nation newspapers, introduced Akanbi to me in Osogbo when he was staking his claim to the throne of his ancestors in 2015.

 

After Akanbi spoke with me, I was sold on his conviction to take Ìwó to greater heights; he spoke about the need to reinvent teaching, modernise farming, uplift arts and culture, and make Ìwó the proud home of the odíderé, the talkative bird the Anglo Saxon call parrot.

 

On the night of the second after my meeting with the prince, I went to seek a private audience with governor Aregbesola. On recognition, I scaled the outer rings of security and, in no time, arrived at the anteroom of the governor, where I met a clutter of people who looked tired.

 

I said my name to the security operatives and said to myself that that wasn’t the place to be at that moment because of the multitude. I was rearing to leave when one of the Department of State Services guys called my name and opened the door to the Governor’s Office for me. I was surprised but I grabbed the opportunity, all the same. I couldn’t have seen the governor till the noon of the next day if the governor didn’t fast-forward my visit.

 

Between the Governor’s Office and the anteroom, there was a little room to the left. I looked and saw High Chief Abiola Ogundokun, one of the foremost leaders of Ìwó. I greeted him and moved on.

 

“Ha, Tunde, a ma ri e ke, se ko si o?” Aregbesola ushered me to a seat, expressing surprise at the visit. “Ko si, sir,” I said, assuring him that I came in peace. I went on to tell him about the vision of Akanbi for Iwo. Aregbesola listened to every word I uttered without interruption.

 

When I was done talking, the governor said he was more predisposed to having a young man installed as oba than an old man. But he didn’t promise anything. I thanked him for the audience and left, stopping to greet octogenarian Ogundokun on my way out.

 

The Oluwo is my friend, so I won’t dwell on all the controversies that have characterised his reign. As good friends, we exchange chats on sundry issues – on a weekly basis. Vehemently, I disagree with the king all the time over his views about some issues relating to culture and tradition.

 

Some few months ago, there was a day our chats became so heated that I thought he was going to take offence and lay a curse on me. I had reached a point of no return and was past caring, anyway, but the king was slow to anger.

 

The bone of contention was what I considered his utter lack of understanding of the responsibilities the crown has thrust upon him and his grossly inadequate knowledge of myths, legends, folklore etc as they relate to culture and tradition.

 

A few days ago, I told the king that I was going to escalate our divergent opinions on Yoruba worldview in the media. Not one to slink away from confrontation, Oba Akanbi pelted me with more telephone texts of his thoughts on Yoruba mores – wrong and plenty enough to tear a crown.

 

Monarchy system of rulership was founded in Ìwó by Adekola Telu, son of the 16th Ooni of Ife, a female called Luwo Gbagida. Oba Akanbi himself testifies to this fact of history. Why Akanbi chose to call himself Telu I, however, beats the imagination when Adekola Telu institutionalised kingship in Ìwó over 600 years ago.

 

The Oluwo seems to be on a futile mission to erase certain aspects of Yoruba history because he lacks the understanding that history, whether good or bad, defines the experiences of a people and is critical in unravelling the present to prepare for the future.

 

The more I observe Oba Akanbi, the more I agree with the words of George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright, critic and political activist, who said, “Beware of false knowledge: It is more dangerous than ignorance.”

 

In his ignorance, the Oluwo fails to realise that there is no society that doesn’t have its traditional worship system. In his religious adventurism and intellectual mediocrity, the Oluwo seeks to curry the support of Muslims and Christians by acting as though he’s fighting paganism whereas he’s unable to distinguish between culture and childish messianic advocacy.

 

That the Igbo cherish the kola nut and use it to bless their festivities doesn’t make them fetish, they are only affirming their trado-cultural essence. The Yoruba put honey, water, salt, sugar etc in the mouths of their newborns during christening. This practice is not contained in the Holy Bible or the Holy Quran. And it’s not idolatry.

 

In an interview, the Oluwo proudly said that he removed an 800-year-old deity from his palace. What nonsense! If it was in the advanced world, the actual age of the priceless treasure Akanbi called a deity and threw away would be determined through carbon dating, and it could lead to breakthroughs in unravelling of some historical, environmental or biological events.

 

Has the Oluwo stopped to ask himself why Europeans looted from Africa artefacts that he calls deities? Do Europeans worship the looted African artefacts? No, they don’t. Europeans know that without the old, there cannot be the new. Without the Old Gbagi market there cannot be New Gbagi, without Old York there cannot be New York, without the Old Testament there cannot be New Testament.

 

. To be continued.

 

. Published in The PUNCH, on Monday, November 28, 2022.

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