Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Ooni, the new yam festival and my date with history by Seun Awogbenle

During my formative years, there were only two things I knew about Ile-Ife. The first was that my late grandfather lived there and had a farm. The second one is the lesson from my rudimentary knowledge of Yoruba; as a young primary school student at the prestigious Holy Cross Catholic School in Lagos Island. We were taught that Ile-Ife is the foundational home of the Yoruba race.

But shortly after my primary education, I would eventually learn more about Ile-Ife, its place in Nigeria’s contemporary history, and its importance to Nigeria and the world. On this foundation, I hold so much reverence and respect for the town, its rich tradition, history, and monarchy.

More recently, Ile-Ife has become even more endeared to me, not just for the history I talked about earlier, but for the cultured, accessible, and modern disposition of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Enitan Adeyeye Ogunwusi. This personal sentiment is first because I believe that if the Crown worldwide must remain relevant, then it must reinvent itself while maintaining its core. Secondly, it must be more relatable while maintaining its mystery. The last one is that it must become inclusive while maintaining its dignity, honor, and admiration.

And I think the British monarchy especially understands these principles. It is on record that following the criticism of British politician and writer John Edward Poynder Grigg (Lord Altrincham) in an August 1957 article, titled “The Monarchy Today”, where he argued that the British monarchy at the time was too upper class, although initially met with strong criticism and disapproval by the public. The monarchy did accept some of the reforms Grigg advocated in good faith. It was on the basis that the Queen made her first televised Christmas message, where she told the people that she wanted them to feel closer to her as their sovereign. The article also led to several other reforms in the monarchy. Some commentators believe that the reforms implemented by the monarchy at the time are, to date, the British monarchy’s first significant step towards modernism.

Following the presentation of The Urgency of Now, my book on Nigeria’s new vision for prosperity, protection, and liberty. I resolved to engage some of Nigeria’s most influential people to expand the conversation on some of the ideas canvassed in the book, hoping that perhaps some of them may become a reality in our lifetime.

For this reason, I paid a visit to the Ooni on Thursday, August 6, through the support of my brother Kehinde Alex Bankole, a close-knit of Ooni Adeyeye. In the same week, I had a similar extended discussion with Actor(s) Kate Henshaw and Deyemi Okanlawon. I also shared some time with Olubankole Wellington Banky W’, who, without doubt, is one of Nigeria’s most accomplished individuals!

Unknowing to me, the wife of the former President of Liberia, Jewel Taylor, was also visiting, who kept refraining her awe for Ife’s rich history and tradition throughout her visit. My visit was even more significant considering that it was also a day to celebrate the annual new yam festival, which I understand was revived by Ooni Adeyeye in 2020, after many years.
A palace tour preceded our audience with the Ooni. During this tour, I learned that of the 51 Ooni(s) starting with Oduduwa, the 21st Ooni was a female named Ooni Luwoo. I understand that the present Oluwo of Iwo is her descendant. But I found that quite interesting, considering that the Yoruba culture too often limits women in tradition and practice. But I learned that, among other new information and her rein, I am looking forward to exploring.

But there was nothing that fascinated me more than the grace and poise of Ooni, and I think that speaks to the modernism I talked about earlier. He was also quite impressed to see that a young person had put something together on the future of Nigeria. He flipped through the pages carefully, said a few royal blessings, and was happy to take pictures with me with the display.
But something interesting happened after our audience in private. He was to attend the traditional new yam festival. On his way to the festival, Kabiyesi said I could re-present the book to him publicly.

The presentation was in the presence of all those who attended, including the dignitaries, the traditional and royal chiefs. I felt profoundly and doubly honored. It is a feeling that will remain with me eternally.
And that was genuinely symbolic because first, I can almost wager something like a book presentation had never happened in the history of a deeply traditional rite like that of the food festival. The other is the import and impact of Ooni Adeyeye’s gesture as a vital motivation and encouragement for the other young people watching and me. At the same time, I presented him with the book – a reason that someday, writing can take anyone places!

During this time, I realized that the Crown is beyond downright sinecurism (much respect to Tai Solarin). It is a role of profound influence and a significant anchor for development. And that if the Crown everywhere in Nigeria can reinvent itself while maintaining its core, become more relatable while maintaining the mystery, and become inclusive while maintaining its dignity, it can serve that role to its fullest.
I wish the Yoruba race continued prosperity. I thank Kabiyesi, Ooni Adeyeye, for his grace and kind reception. Ki ade pe lo ri, Ki bata pe lese. Ire o!

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