Of Modern gods and Ancient Prophets: Thoughts on Ooni Ogunwusi’s Era
“I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong”- John Lennon
In a distant future, I would proudly tell stories of being one of the lucky few who witnessed certain events in their undergraduate days. Events such as the demise (or ‘waja’) of an Ooni, the coronation of a new king, the divorce process of a sitting Yoruba first-class king (something so unheard of and would stun Oduduwa should he hear), the refusal of a mere mortal to prostrate for the deity King on account that he came out late and in what is the recent rave of the moment- the marriage of the King to a Prophetess.
It would be worthy of note that the present Ooni following his emergence paid much attention to keeping tradition and at the same time giving a modern face to the throne. Taking a step further than his predecessors, he has proven to be a builder of bridges by attending various ceremonies in other territories to cement relations and constantly refusing to be provoked by other Kings of Yoruba land who perhaps feel insulted because of his younger age (as the Yoruba people place premium on age than achievement in allocating respect) or who are keeping the malice of history that only favours their instant locality.
The opening quote of this article seems to reflect who the Ooni is. Today, he is with Muslims praying. Tomorrow, he is in a church kneeling down to God. Then all of a sudden again he is dressed in the traditional way, carrying out some function such as a traditional festival. He seems to accept all shades of God and gods.
For his age, Ooni Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi has shown more maturity than his years. After the mystery tear gas incidence at the palace which dispersed everyone when Omoyele Sowore was there, it is worthy of note that the Ooni did not move an inch. He would go on to calm those who were angry on his behalf and thought he had been disrespected. He showed so much leadership within that brief period of crisis and he is worthy of his throne by all standards. He would also extend forgiveness to his former wife and would let her leave the royalty without any harm mete out on her.
The question of how relevant the throne is in modern times has been partly answered by Ooni Ogunwusi who now organises a yearly symposium intellectual discourse. He has also related properly with the youth taking advantage of social media. He has attracted investment through Ife Grand Resorts and other projects such as lighting the roads in Ife. He has cut a bridge from the intellectuals to the people in music and arts. He has a notable relationship with Obafemi Martins, Davido and other young people figures who he has ensured come within the network of the throne. The present Ooni has done a lot to justify the retention of the cultural monarchy but this still remains insufficient for a lot of people.
The Ooni is revered as being next to the gods and superior to men. The demands of his position as ‘Arole Oduduwa’ means he must carry out certain spiritual and physical functions. These spiritual functions are not to be imagined alone as rumours but the Ooni himself would admit he carries them out as he would explain to people after the incidence of the refusal of Omoyele Sowore to prostrate initially and the mystery teargas release that followed this action. The Ooni explained that he was held back into coming late “by some functions he had to perform inside the house”.
The Oonirisa, if he is a god, is a modern one. A god that uses social media. A god that divorces. A god that delivers lectures and public speeches. A god that travels to deliver speeches in parliaments overseas. A god that rides a white Cadillac. The irunmole has truly begun to eat fried rice.
Traditional worshipers laud the present King as being up to these spiritual tasks as he has paid much attention to the festivals and other rites. Their fear now is what the entry of a Prophetess would mean.
Well, Prophetess Naomi has shown there is not much to scare the 201 gods in Ife with her presence in the palace. She would symbolical perform the rite of entry by stepping on slain animal blood (possibly goats). An action supposed to induce fertility. This action would mean much to the indigenous worshipers who would want to be sure that the Prophetess does not threaten already waning adherence to traditional religion. They have their calm in this fulfilment of tradition.
However, should Prophetess Naomi just be playing to the gallery and bent on bring missionary reformation into the stronghold of Yoruba orisha worship. She should be held in place and in caution by the firm competition for the position of Olori that she now holds which a lot of women eyed and she would not be quick to lose out of the good books of the people by challenging what they hold dear or keeping the King they hold dear from performing the functions they place in premium.
The King is himself not immune from the jealousy especially by others who might have eyed the throne and he would continue to keep his good ratings by being the Ooni Ogunwusi everyone loves. He would continue what he has always done and by this maintain public love.
While people continue to question the correctness of certain things especially the divorce matter and they wonder if a Prophetess can live with the gods in harmony. First, they need to understand that a new wind of modernisation is blowing into the monarchy. In fact, the Aare Ona Kakanfo Chief Gani Adams has himself repeated often that Jesus is Lord. Despite holding one of the most revered traditional titles. The former Ooni Sijuwade also had a wife who was an active member of the Christ Apostolic Church and a branch of the church was built inside the palace. This did not threaten the gods and they should be used to it by now. Second, they need to know that monarchies across the world and not only in Africa such as Saudi and the UK are choosing the modernity ahead of the maintenance of custom and tradition whenever both are placed side by side.
The gods have begun to use iPads. The Prophets are welcome to the house. The interplay of a modern world and the maintenance of ancient tradition is starting to take place. In some years, it will assume a more permanent format especially when younger Kings emerge in other towns and cities. People need not be scared of the war of vigils. The gods and the Prophet tolerate themselves across Yoruba land, especially where people seek spiritual solutions with little care to if it comes from Ifa, Imam or Church. Nollywood reflects this multiplicity in their familiar script of an afflicted person who committed some great evil in his past and in seeking atonement has to go to various spiritual centres. Thus, it makes the space comfortable for the Queen and the gods. Cohabitation has since been learnt.
We should not expect any clash and if there is any. The gods are not to blame as they always aren’t.
Koye-Ladele Mofehintoluwa, a member of the Centre for Human Rights, is a Law student at Obafemi Awolowo University. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.