500 years of the Osemawe Dynasty

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In the track on Ondo in a record album featuring various kingdoms in Yorubaland, Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey invited listeners to join him in saluting the people of Ondo Kingdom. It is time to sing that song again:

E ba mi ki‘mogun oo ee,

Ondo oo, Ondo ee,

E ba mi ki‘mogun oo ee.

At no time in Ondo history has the song been more appropriate than now as the people celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Osemawe Dynasty. The celebration immediately raises an important question: How many kingdoms in Yorubaland can boast of a genealogical record of 500 years? And what does such a record tell us about Ondo people and their love of education and record keeping? Could this have been the motivation for the establishment of the famous Nigerian Weekly Law Reports by one of their sons, the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi?

I have studied the Osemawe genealogical tree and could not help but marvel at its completeness. It names every Oba and the duration of their reigns since Oba Pupupu about 1510. In trying to place Ondo kingdom within World History during that decade, I discovered that was the decade when King Francois I of France and King Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire (also Carlos I of Spain of the Spanish Empire) signed the treaty of Noyon, by which France abandoned its claims to the Kingdom of Naples. Coming to Africa, it was the same decade that Egypt was conquered by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. The decoration of the Christmas tree has also been traced to that decade, precisely to 1510, when Oba Pupupu began his reign in Ondo Kingdom. That is how deep Ondo people have traced their history.

This historical depth underscores the significance of the two-week celebrations, which kick off on Saturday, July 3, with a town parade, and end with an interdenominational service on Sunday, July 18. The celebrations will overlap with the annual Odun Oba, a special celebration of the throne, slated for July 4 through 13. Other highlights of the 500th celebrations include a musical concert (July 7), tree planting (July 10), launching of Ondo Heritage Museum (July 10), treatise on the evolution of Ondo kingdom (July 15), launching of Ondo City Vision 2015 (July 16), a royal banquet (July 16), and inauguration of Honorary Chiefs (July 17).

Masterminding the celebrations is His Royal Majesty, Alayeluwa, Oba Victor Adesimbo Adenrele Ademefun Kiladejo, Jilo III, the Osemawe and Paramount Ruler of Ondo Kingdom. Starting with Oba Pupupu in the early 1500s, Oba Kiladejo is the 44th Osemawe of Ondo and the third from the Jilo line of Okuta Ruling House. His predecessor in that line, Jilo II, otherwise known as Arojojoye Oba Pupa, ruled between 1926 and 1935. The Okuta Huling House descended directly from Oba Luju, one of Oba Pupupu‘s sons, who reigned between 1561 and 1590. Oba Luju‘s four sons ruled after him in order of seniority, each establishing a ruling house. However, one of the four ruling houses, led by Oba Liyen, terminated in 1702 because there was no male child to continue the ruling house.

The above brief capsule of the Osemawe Dynasty belies the complexities and intrigues within the dynasty over the past 500 years. There have been highly charged competitions for the throne across and within the ruling houses. In recent times, those competitions have led to protracted legal tussles. However, the Ondo throne has held its own over and above competitions and tribulations. Today, the Ondo throne is a beacon of hope for traditional institutions in our land.

Ondo people themselves have held their heads high in Ondo State, Nigeria, and even beyond. Their public image may have been constructed around Ogun and Obitun festivals, high fashion, and asun (roasted goat meat). But make no mistake about it: Ondo people also excel in hard work, entrepreneurship, and professional training, especially in medicine, engineering, law and business. Many universities and hospitals in Nigeria have benefitted from the knowledge of professors and doctors from Ondo town.

Above all, Ondo people are known to be very proud of their town, family lineage and culture, particularly their dialect of Yoruba. That‘s why it is often said that you could take an Ondo man away from his town but you could not take the Ondo dialect away from him. They are widely known today as Egin precisely for the dialect. They speak it with so much gusto as if they do not share it (with slight variations) with speakers from Idanre and Ile-Oluji.

It will be a grave mistake to view the celebrations of the 500th anniversary of the Osemawe Dynasty as yet another ariya (festivities), for which Ondo people are also noted. Rather, their true significance lies in their objectives, namely, to celebrate the continued existence of Ondo Kingdom and showcase its achievements over the centuries; to celebrate the people‘s culture and to develop a permanency for its exhibition through the establishment of a museum; to rally Ondo people worldwide for developmental support; and to join the World in the attempt to ensure ecological balance through tree planting and other eco-friendly activities.

These objectives must be understood within the context of major transformations within Ondo Kingdom, which Oba Kiladejo has embarked upon since his coronation in 2006. Perhaps the most important transformation, which is also the basis for other achievements, is the reign of peace and maintenance of security within the kingdom. On his coronation, Ondo kingdom was in the middle of social and political factionalism and land disputes, which led to various security problems. But Oba Kiladejo shrewdly managed the various crises and resolved security problems through innovative institutions; he carefully established committees and diplomatic negotiations, involving chiefs, religious leaders, notable Ondo citizens and officials of various security agencies.

Oba Kiladejo‘s managerial skills came from previous executive experiences as a Medical Director and as Chairman of various businesses, including Kilad Hospital Limited, which he established long before he ascended the throne. He also acknowledges the traditional tutelage he received prior to coronation. This is how the Kabiyesi himself put it in an interview: ”The period of my stay in different traditional locations for about six months … enabled me to learn how to be patient and tolerant. The art of mediating was also learned”.

He drew on these varied experiences to embark on innovative modernization projects in order to make the Crown work with the government and the people for mutual benefit. He digitalised royal records, created a website for the Osemawe palace and established Kiladejo Crown Foundation (KCF). Its mission is ”to leverage all available human, technical and institutional resources nationally and internationally towards the development of Ondo Kingdom, with the objective of alleviating and mitigating poverty and disease burden among the people of Ondo Kingdom and its environs”. With computers in the palace and an Oba who reads newspapers daily, surfs the web and communicates with his subjects via telephone, text messaging, and e-mail, Ondo kingdom runs a modern bureaucracy within a traditional palace setting.

KCF‘s objectives and those of the 500th anniversary of the Osemawe Dynasty reveal a dynamic synergy between traditional and democratic institutions. Oba Kiladejo himself works hand in hand with state and local government officials to maximize appropriate economic rewards for his subjects. On the health front for example, KCF‘s past activities complemented those of the state government. They included a health awareness lecture given by renowned cardiologist, Professor Oladipo Olujimi Akinkugbe, free treatment for hypertensive patients, supply of free glasses to needy patients and distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets to citizens.

The Ondo case shows that there is still a place for traditional institutions in our society. It also indicates the direction of modifications needed for those institutions to work effectively with democratic institutions. Surely, Oba Kiladejo has done his forebears proud with his activities and these celebrations. It is only appropriate to close this essay with oriki Osemawe, of which he is the current bearer: Aba-iye. Uku, Alase, Ekeji Orisa. Ugba gb‘omo la. Ajigwa jigwa ileke. Lewokun, Lewu woi woi, Lewu Aimojubomi. Alade nla. Wa d‘aigbo o.

Prof. Akinnaso teaches

Anthropology and

Linguistics at the Temple

University, Philadelphia,

United States.

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