The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi, does not proclaim that he is royal. His royalty proclaims him. Early this year, Oba Adeyemi summoned me to his palace. “Baba said I should bring you tomorrow,” Festus Adedayo, the message carrier, told me. Throughout history, no one who got such a message has ever used the fullness of Odo Oba as an excuse to get late to the Oba’s palace.
In the days of our great grandparents, the response to such a summon would be apprehension. What did I do? If you are a real Oyo-Yoruba, you would know that it is not every question you ask. You don’t ask why your lord summons you. No one would help you. Not your parents; not even the diviner would bother to cast his cowries because it was pointless, useless.
We got to the Aafin in Oyo and met tens of visitors. It was not the first time I would be inside that palace. But it was the first time I was Alaafin’s guest. I looked round. I saw in humans and in architecture a fine mix of the modern and the ancient. I saw resilience of culture; I saw the agelessness of an aged heritage, the palace. I saw the present holding the future in the cusp of values. People mill in, people mill out of the palace in ceaseless streams. But we did not have to queue.
We were ushered before Kabiyesi seated in golden poise. “Lagunju, so this is you…” Kabiyesi shouted. The warmth of the personal reception we got elevated us almost to princehood. Baba said he sent for me only to put a face to the person he read every week. “And to commend you,” he added. Then the crown: “I have a file here for all your articles…I have for Festus Adedayo, Professor Adebayo Williams and all other newspaper columnists that I read.”
He then started quoting offhand from writings, putting dates here and there. The writer may have forgotten many of those lines, Kabiyesi would not. Then we discussed every topic that came to our minds. He was worried about Nigeria. We discussed history. We talked politics.
We explored the sociology of today’s fears and failures. He is a Muslim, I am a Muslim. I expressed my fears about religion creeping into Yoruba politics. He noted it too but smiled and asked: “Taa lo ko won ni kewu” (who taught them Arabic/Islam). I knew his thought was on history of Islam in Nigeria and the accommodationist place of Oyo/Yoruba in that history. The first mosque was built in Oyo Ile in 1550. Islam got to Iwo in 1655, Iseyin in 1760, Saki in 1790, Osogbo in 1889. Texts and documents validate these claims. Our ancestors did not fight over faith.
I looked intently at Kabiyesi. I saw a very intensely young mind in an ageing body. I saw an ancient river renewing itself per second, flowing freely along its chosen course. Iku Baba Yeye was 82 on Thursday, October 15. With the young-at-heart Alaafin, it is clear that age is just a number. The young should go to him and learn how to remain young and useful throughout life.
A river does not get silted by the sheer length of its age. Manifest crap comes only with stagnancy. We spent about 60 minutes with Kabiyesi sharing views and secrets. Plato wrote about philosopher kings. We just met one. We took no present to the palace. It was the palace that showered us with gifts. We left, eventually, to come another time.
Happy birthday, Kabiyesi.