In this retro series, Legit.ng examines the mysterious tradition that surrounds the burial of a Yoruba king after he dies.
The life of a Yoruba king from the period he ascends the throne to his passage to the spiritual realm is shrouded in mystery as he is not just the traditional head but the spiritual and religious leader. Thus, his rise to the position is accompanied and guided by several rites one of which is considered the process of Ije Oba (eating the king).
Ile-Ife is considered the cradle of Yorubaland and Oduduwa was its first king. Like every other Yoruba Oba, he was considered a deified human being or better, a representative of the gods on earth. Sango was the third Alaafin of Oyo and every Oyo monarch is considered his descendant. While some consider Sango as a king who was deified after he passed away, others hold the belief that he was a god who was humanised. Regardless of the belief it is widely accepted that the physical and spiritual realm is transcended by Obas and this brings to focus the issue of the unification of the souls.
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A king does not die in Yorubaland, instead, he is transposed to the spiritual realm while the new king is put through a rite that makes him a continuation of the dead king. According to Abiyamo, the Ajes or Awon Iyami Oshoronga (the Great Mothers of the Occult) and the Ogbonis are the first to be informed following the demise of the king. Iyalashe who is the highest priestess of the Gelede shrine and the most powerful of the Ajes is saddled with the responsibility of initiating the new Oba into the cult and unify his soul so as to continue the lineage.
The role of the Ajes cannot be overemphasized as without them, a new king cannot ascend the throne. The Iyalashe cuts the heart of the dead king and gives his heart to the next king who ingests it. As other kings before him have gone through this process, the ingestion of the dead king’s heart signifies the unification of the new king’s soul with his predecessors.
“The Ogboni priests have a part in the ceremonies following the death of a king and during the installation of his successor. In Oyo they are summoned to the palace as soon as an Alaafin has died and attend while the corpse is washed, then they cut off its head and take it to clean all the flesh from the skull. A palace official removes the heart and puts it in charge of the Otun Efa, the titled eunuch responsible for the Sango cult. During his installation, the succeeding Alaafin is taken by the Otun Efa to make a sacrifice to Sango and while with him is given a dish containing the heart of his predecessor, which he must eat. Later, he is taken to the Ogboni shrine where the Oluwo hands him the skull of his predecessor, which has been filled with a corn gruel which he must drink. This rite is said to enable his ears always to discriminate between the true and the false, and to give compelling power to his words. Thus, the death of an Alaafin cannot be concealed from the Ogboni, and his successor cannot be properly installed without their acceptance and collaboration.”
Honourable Alderman Erelu Ayorinde wrote a detailed account of what happened to happened to the corpse of the late king, His Royal Highness, Oba Sunday Funsho Adeolu Sataloye who was the Alaye Ode Remo of Ogun State.
He wrote: “My late Kabiyesi was a distinguished Elder Statesman who like many monarchs, responded to the call of Almighty God and his ancestors through Ifa (eefah) / the Oracle of Orunmila - a spiritual ancient Yoruba method used to confirm heirs to the thrones in Yoruba Land. He wholeheartedly served his communities, state, nation, and country, yet when he joined his ancestors/died, instead of a befitting burial, the whereabouts of his remains is still unknown. What we know is that the body was brutalised, treated like that of a criminal, dragged around on the streets of the town, his head left hanging for many weeks until the neck was rotten to allow the neck to come off naturally without the use of a sharp knife. Once the head came off, the body was cut into pieces, his heart removed to be eaten by his successor. His head is still in captivity somewhere in Ode Remo, Ogun State. He has no grave.
We are told the Kings of of Remo-land (Ogun State, Nigeria) are not entitled to an identifiable final place of rest, so do not have graves - a tradition which is not in accordance with the practice in ILE IFE or in OYO, the historical origin and source of all Yorubas including those from Remo-land.”
He also made reference to Oba Oyebade Lipede who had requested for a Christian burial but after his death, attempt by his wife to fulfil this request was thwarted.
“Following the death of the immediate predecessor of current Alake of Egbaland, late HRH Oba Oyebade Lipede, who had an expressed wish for a Christian burial, his loyal and dutiful wife - Olori Bimpe placed his body in the boot of a car fled to Lagos, in order to facilitate a Christian burial rite for her late husband. Unfortunately she failed, the body was removed from her and handed to the ritualists of Egba-land”
Abiyamo quoted Chief Alani Bankole, the Seriki Jagunmolu of Egbaland and the Oluwo of Iporo Sodeke/Iporo Ake condemned the action of the Olori and said in the past, her action would not have been possible.
He said: ‘In the days of old, nobody would dare make such move. Traditionally, as soon as an Oba joins his ancestors, his family ceases to have control. So, the Olori or family, does not have the authority to go near his remains, let alone take them away. The impasse was resolved when the kingmakers found the Oba’s remains in one of the rooms in the palace, but that was not without a thorough search. If such thing occurred, I would not blame the Olori or whoever was involved in such abomination because, as it is popularly said, if you give a hoe to a mad person, he will till the soil to his side. I think that, we, kingmakers, should take full responsibility for all the drama that happened. I make this statement on the grounds that we should have been more proactive in our responsibility for all the drama that happened. Ideally, the moment we begin to sense that the health of an Alake is deteriorating, all the occupants of the palace are supposed to be sent packing and the palace taken over by the ‘Omo-Iya-Marun.
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Perhaps, I should state here that the palace does not belong to the Alake because it is actually owned by the entire sons and daughters of Egbaland and kept under the care of the ‘Omo-Iya-Marun. Aside the fact that we did not act according to the dictates of our culture and tradition, most of us arrived the palace late. So we provided the grounds for those traditionally ignorant individuals to violate the tradition or, mildly put, make attempts to do the unexpected. In the process of searching for the remains of the Oba, we were shuttling between the palace and the Government House for consultation because the Alake is not an ordinary Oba.’’
A lot of the things that happen between the death of a Yoruba king and the installation of another are shrouded in mystery any fully known to members of the cult. However, there is a an attempt to establish a link between the departed and the continuer, the past and the present, the old and the new, the dead spiritual and the physical ream and the continuation of royal lineage.
Thus many kings are buried in unmarked graves or guarded tombs with vital parts of their bodies removed to serve as a royal link.