Ooni: The Public Displays Of A King (1)
By Tunde Odesola
Nature was enveloped in darkness as dawn quickened in the womb of time, pushing towards the birth canal, carrying on its head daylight.
The cock, being nature’s timekeeper, knew the water was about to break. So, it sounded the flute in its throat, cookooorooocooo! And nature stirred awake.
Upon hearing the cock crow at the crack of dawn, the fox bolted madly up the mountain, panting and shivering. Again, the cock flapped its wings and crowed. The fox ran farther up the mountain, dreading death.
The cock jumped down from the branch of the iroko and went after the fox. The fox ran and ran and ran, and came to a precipice, stopping to weigh its options: fall from a mountaintop or death by fire. It chose the second option because, with fire, escape was still possible. So, it waited as the cock strutted majestically toward it.
Resplendent in gold, brown and black plumage, the cock smiled as it neared the shivering fox which laid flat on all fours, sinking its claws into the ground, wondering what language the earthworm speaks that makes the earth open up.
“Is this how far you can run?” the cock teased.
“I wasn’t running, sir,” the fox replied.
“I know you weren’t running, you were flying,” the cock said, asking, “Why’re you always running away from me when we should be friends?”
Fox: “It’s the fire! The fire!
Cock: The fire? Which fire?
Fox: The fire on your head!
Cock: Fire!? Fire on my head?
Fox: Yes, sir! It’s right there, burning. See! See it! On your head!
The cock touched its comb with its leg. “Is this what you call fire?” “Yes,” the fox replied, still terrified. The cock burst into a fit of laughter, tears rolling down its eyes. “Foolish fellow, this is no fire. It’s my comb; come touch it, touch it,” the cock said, moving towards the fox.
The fox felt the meaty comb of the cock, took a deep breath and yanked off the cock’s head, crunching the comb and cranium.
I knew when the Ooni of Ife, Alayeluwa Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi, the Ojaja II, was at King’s College, Ile-Ife, for the three-month seclusive tutoring in ‘Ipebi’, where royal secrets and etiquettes are taught to would-be kings.
However, I do not know how long he stayed there. I also do not know if Ooni Ogunwusi passed all the courses on rites of passage, discretion, dignity and tact before he was released to mount the throne of his forebears.
But being a legend himself, I’m certain the Ooni knows the legend of the cock and fox I just told. As the second-in-command to the gods, I’m sure the king can see through the stupidity of the cock. As a wise monarch, who knows the importance of bloodline and lineage, I know Oba Enitan is likely to spare a thought for the generations of the cock that has gone down the throats of foxes into oblivion.
Being a true Yoruba son, it doesn’t lie in my mouth to say many of the public displays of Ooni Ogunwusi fall short of royal expectation and dignity. I shouldn’t say that. Because no one rebukes the masquerader when it misses the road; you say, my lord, the road you took is a cul-de-sac. “A kii so fun eegun wipe o s’ina. Baba, ko s’ona nibe yen ni won n wi.” Who am I to teach the Ooni how to be a king?
In the olden days, Yoruba beaded crowns were Almighties. They combine executive powers with judicial authority and legislative functions in a trinity of crown, sword and sceptre. Because they ensured security, monarchs of yore worked closely with hunters who double as police and army. Perhaps, the immediate past Ooni of Ife, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, ‘jingbinni bi atekun’, supernaturally saw that my forebears were hunters, so he made me, an obscure subject, a distant little friend.
After watching the controversial video of how Ooni Ogunwusi exchanged greetings with a Nollywood old-timer, Pete Edochie, and another Nollywood veteran, Kanayo O. Kanayo, I decided to peep into the lives of royals in and outside Nigeria – to see if the Ooni desecrated the stool of Oduduwa by his incessant star-struck public displays.
Memory lane. In what appears like a coronation celebration in 1980 when Sijuwade became Ooni, an old video shows a brand new Oba and his guests being serenaded by Juju superstar, King Sunny Ade. In a combination of prostration and kneeling, KSA and his boys sang all through the time Sijuwade was on the dance floor. Neither KSA nor any of his boys got up all through the performance.
Ooni Sijuwade was simply majestic; he didn’t gyrate, he was just there, swaying, solid and confident, soaking in the songs of praise.
Nobody dared ‘spray’ Baba Tokunbo with money. But guests sprayed the queen dancing with him. Everyone maintained a respectable distance from Sijuwade, nobody turned Sijuwade’s ears into a microphone, neither did he behave like an usher or MC, ushering people to seats, telling them about the latest isi-ewu joints in town and where to get ladies in desperate search of husbands – like Oba Atilawi.
In England, there are protocols that even the high and mighty must observe when they are in the presence of the throne of England. Former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, caused a stir, in 2009, when she put her arm around Queen Elizabeth. You don’t touch the Queen!
There are other non-steadfast rules to observe when you come before the Queen. You don’t show up empty-handed. You should bring a gift. “Ko si gberu mi laafin,” is a Yoruba proverb that equates to this English royal protocol. No one carries goods out of the palace, be it in England or Yoruba land. But you can bring gifts into the palace.
You must stand at attention when the Queen enters the room. Don’t eat before she does. Don’t leave before the does. Never turn your back on the Queen. You don’t call her by her first name or nickname. Speak only the Queen speaks to you. A lady must curtsey (bend at the knees) while a man must bow. These same rules apply to the King of England.
“Oba kii m’eje, iyi ni oba n fi ori bibe se,” says a Yoruba proverb. The king doesn’t drink blood, he beheads to affirm his glory.
Modern royalty, some may argue, is an extension of feudalism. Feudalism was abolished on August 4, 1789. But royalty has survived, albeit, with one kidney, one lung and an enlarged heart. In Nigeria, kings, queens, regents and the palace are the custodians of culture and tradition. It goes to say that each tribal royalty has its dos and don’ts.
In the second part of this article, I shall analyse Ooni Ogunwusi’s unkingly display when he publicly met some celebrities, particularly when he became the MC during the birthday of a celebrity named Elizabeth Itunuayo Jack-Rich.
To be continued.
Written by Tunde Odesola and first published in The PUNCH, on Friday, June 9, 2023)