Aláàfin Of Ọyọ, His Majesty, Kabiyesi Alaiyeluwa Ọba Dr. Làmídì
Ọláyíwọlá Atanda Adéyẹmí III sits on a throne that is older than that of
the British monarch. Among the Yorubas, women occupy a very respected
position and they are involved at every level of administration in the
society. The outstanding civilization of the Yorubas over time is seen
in the royal court of the Oyo Empire.
In Yorubaland, a woman can
aspire to the highest position in anything she desires and this has been
the practice for thousands of years. The role of the female in the
traditional Yoruba society is so deeply embedded that no major policy
can be implemented or decision made without involving the women.
Women in Yorubaland are so incredibly influential that they control
the economy by holding an unshakeable sway over the markets, social
events and commercial activities. This is very obvious in the emergence
of roles such as those of the Iyalaje, Iyalode and Iyaloja. Even in the
occult, the women are still at the very top of the pyramid, the powerful
Ogboni cult cannot make any decision without the Palace Mother giving
the final go-ahead.
Please note that the Egbe Iyami Oshoronga
(or the Great Mothers of the Occult, not witches in the traditional
European or Caucasian sense of it) are considered to be the Mothers of
the Ogbonis and also use the same symbolic gestures and handshakes when
greeting or saluting each other. In fact, the Edan Ogboni takes its name
directly from Egbe Iyami Oshoronga. Ogboni members are also known as
Awon Omo Iya and the breast milk of the Mother (Earth) takes a very
central place among the Ogbonis. The breast milk is symbolized in the
greetings of the Ogbonis and when they greet they chant three times:
Omu iya dun mu, gbogbo wa lan jo mu (Mother’s milk is sweet to drink, we all drink it).
no mistake, women are behind the secrets of the Ogbonis. And when I say
women, I mean the Ajes, Awon Iyami Oshoronga, Iya Mapo, Iya Nla, Edan
(aka Iya Aye) and other prominent female members of the awo (occult).
These names do not really connote negativity but rather mystery,
unusualness or the remarkable nature of their prowess of the
centuries-old traditions of the Yorubas. Women are believed by the
Ogbonis to be more secretive or reserved than the men so mothers are
deeply respected by the Ogbonis as the vessels carrying the most
important secrets of existence and the occult.
explanations have been given as introduction to allow the reader
appreciate the role of women in Yorubaland as against the subjugation of
the female gender as promoted by the foreign faiths of Islam (which
insists a woman must be hidden, cloaked and veiled) and Christianity
(which says a woman cannot even talk inside the church). This is not the
case in Yorubaland and even the foreign faiths have been influenced by
traditional Yoruba practices. So, who are the eight powerful women
inside the aafin (palace) of the Alaafin of Oyo that people have not
heard of? These women are collectively and casually referred to as the
‘King’s wives’ but they should not be confused with the Ayabas (Oloris)
who are the queens and wives of the monarch. Here we go:
is the only person in the world the Aláàfin is permitted to kneel
before. He kneels before no one else except Iyamode. Other people kneel
before the Aláàfin. Iyamode occupies a role so deeply respected that the
king calls her ‘Baba’ (father). Whenever the Aláàfin goes on his knees
before this influential woman, she returns the salutation by also going
on her knees but she never reclines on her elbow while doing so as this
is the custom of women in saluting their superiors. Iyamode is one of
the most senior eight priestesses inside the Aláàfin’s royal household.
priestesses within the palace include Iya’le Oduduwa (Priestess of
Oduduwa) Ode (head of all the worshippers of the god Ososi, she dresses
as a hunter, hence her name, on state occasions adorned with a bow
ornamented with strings of cowries neatly strung on her shoulder),
Obagunte (she represents the Aláàfin in the Ogboni confraternity and
enters the Ogboni chamber on all occasions acting in the name of the
Aláàfin), Eni Oja (she is the head of all the Eshu worshippers in the
town, she is in charge of the King’s market and wears a gown like a man,
the King leans on her arms the day he goes to worship the god of the
markets, the Olosi is under the Eni Oja, same with the Aroja or the
Market Keeper ), Iya’le Agbo (she is a private attendant to the Aláàfin
and is in charge of his private pharmacy preparing all the agunmu
(powders) and agbo (infusions) for the king) and Iya Otun.
and Iya Oba are always clean shaven while others plait their hair in
small strips from the forehead to the top of the head and gather the
rest from the back to the top, tying all the hair clump into one knot
with a string in a style known as the Ikokoro. As for the Ode, Eni Oja,
Iyafin-Iku, Iya Olosun and the Iya’le Oduduwa adorn theirs with red
feathers of the parrot’s tail.
It is interesting to know that the
ancestor of the Yorubas, Oduduwa, had one son, Okanbi, with his
principal wife named Omonide or Iyamode. Iyamode embodies the spirits of
the Aláàfin’s fathers. Yoruba beliefs have it that fathers can be
reincarnated in the anafemale child, and that explains precisely why the
Aláàfin calls Iyamode ‘father’. Iyamode resides in one of the outhouses
of the palace.
Her duties are not specially in the palace and
she is the superior of the celibates living in the Bara (the royal
mausoleum)¸ and that is another reason she is styled ‘Baba’. The role of
the Iyamode entails worshipping the spirits of the departed Kings and
calling out their Egunguns (masquerades) in a room in her apartments
specially set aside for that purpose. This room is screened off from
view with a white cloth.
Please note that Iyamode does not just
oversee the worship of the ruler’s ancestors, she is those ancestors.
Iyamode is described as the quintessential Aje and the only one who can
house, embody and be the father and all ancestors of the king, all in
one body at the same time.
The Aláàfin looks up Iyamode as his
father and he addresses him as such, being the worshipper of the spirits
of his ancestors. As stated above, the King kneels for no one else but
Iyamode and prostrates before the god Sango and before those possessed
with the deity, calling them ‘father’. These include those set apart for
life-long service at the Bara. Anytime one of them is possessed by the
spirit of deceased monarchs (it is said of one of them ‘Oba wa si ara
won’) and bursts out of the Bara to the palace with violent energy, she
is immediately placed under the control of the Iyamode. On such dramatic
occasions, the possessed tells the people message received from the
gods such as the sacrifice they have to offer to ward off impending
To conduct this ceremony, some water is poured into a
mortar and it is covered by a wide calabash while other women in the
palace beat this with all their energy as a drum with the possessed and
others dancing to the frenzied beats of the drumming. Note that once a
woman becomes Iyamode, she becomes celibate and stays away from sex for
life. Iyamode also heads the convent of queens (Ayabas) who have become
widows following the death of their husbands (kings). These widows live
close to the Bara and live secluded and chaste lives.
IYANASO (Iya Naso):
Aláàfin is worshipped as the living reincarnation of the Yoruba god of
thunder, lightning and energy (Sango). Inside the palace, the Aláàfin
has a private chapel for the worship of Sango which is inside Iya Naso’s
apartment and the person in charge of this spiritual room is the Iya
Naso herself. She has to do with Sango worship generally and she is the
one responsible for everything linked to it. All the emoluments and
perquisites arising from this practice are hers and she has also to do
with the same at Koso.
The coronation of any
Aláàfin of Ọyọ is not complete without the crown on his head. The person
who places the crown on the head of the king at the coronation is the
Iya Kere, regarded as one of the most powerful women in the palace.
Actually, next to the King’s Mother (Iya Oba), Iya Kere holds the
highest rank and although greater deference is given to Iya Oba, it is
Iya Kere who wields the greatest power in the palace.
Iya Kere is
the one in charge of the treasures of the King. She keeps the royal
insignia and all the paraphernalia used on state occasions and special
events. Her powers are so extensive that she can even decide to withhold
some of these royal treasures thus preventing any state event or
ceremony from holding, she can do this to register her displeasure with
the King whenever she is offended. As stated above, it is Iya Kere who
places the crown on the head of the Aláàfin at his coronation, no one
else is entitled to do that.
Iya Kere is also the ‘mother’ of all
the Ilaris (male and female) because it is inside her apartment that
they are usually created and she keeps in her custody all the sugudus
that bear the marks of each Ilari in order to ensure the safety of the
life of the King.
That is not all, as powerful as the Olosi is,
Iya Kere exercises full power over him and even have him arrested and
put in chains if he crosses his bounds. Iya Kere is the feudal head of
the Aseyin, Oluiwo and the Baale (now Soun) of Ogbomoso. Once she
assumes the office, she remains a celibate for life, that is the
IYA OBA (The Queen Mother)
Iya Oba is the
official mother of the king. According to tradition, the King is not to
have a natural mother. In a case where his own biological mother happens
to be alive when he is called to ascend the throne, she is asked to ‘go
to sleep’ and is ‘decently buried’ in the house of a relative in the
city. All the inmates of that particular house are then given special
priviledges and honoured as ‘members of the household of the King’s
As a mark of deference and devotion, the King sends to
worship at her grave once every year. After the demise of the Queen
Mother, another of the ladies of the palace is then made the Iya Oba and
she is the one who is then supposed to play the role of a biological
mother to him. And part of the privileges she enjoys as the Iya Oba is
that she is the third person in the room when the King and the Bashorun
worship the Orun in the month of September every year.
Iya Oba is the feudal head of the Bashorun.
is the first lieutenant and assistant to the Iya Naso. It is the role
of the Iya Monari to execute by strangling any Sango worshipper who has
been condemned to death. Sango worshippers condemned to capital
punishment cannot be killed by the sword and that explains why they
cannot be executed by the Tetus.
She is the
second lieutenant and assistant to the Iya Naso. She is referred to as
the King’s Adoshu Sango meaning the King’s devotee to the Sango
mysteries. It is the normal practice for all Sango worshippers to devote
one of their children to the worship of Sango and that is the role that
Iya-fin-Iku fulfills for the Aláàfin. She is the one in charge of the
sacred ram which is allowed to go everywhere and about the markets
without anyone molesting it and the ram can also eat with impunity
anything it so desires from the sellers.
mother of the Crown Prince (Aremo) is always promoted to the rank of the
Iyalagbon. In a case where the mother of the Aremo is deceased, then
another woman is promoted to that office and she becomes the mother to
the Aremo. As the custodian of the next Aláàfin, the Iyalagbon enjoys
massive influence and the control of a portion of the city is in her
She is also to see to the welfare of the Aremo and works in conjunction with the Iyalagbon.
is the Aláàfin’s personal attendant. It is the Are-Orite who sees to it
that the royal meals are properly made, that royal bed is properly
made, that the royal chambers are neatly arranged and she is also the
one who sees the Aláàfin comfortably in bed after which she will go to
her own apartment. When an Aláàfin is enthroned, it is the Are-Orite who
places the umbrella-like silken parasol over his head as a canopy and
she is constantly by the side of the Aláàfin to see to his needs and
small services on public and state events.
women are the real powers behind the throne. Not much is usually said
about them, some do not even know they exist but they are always there
in the background. These women communicate with the spiritual realm and
guide every single step of the Aláàfin. They are the one who teach the
Aláàfin all he knows about the Aláàfinate, they encourage him during
times of trials, support him during periods of challenges and defend him
from all forms of evils both physical and metaphysical.
Mothers also do the divination to see how long an Aláàfin will rule,
they educate him on what he can eat and what is forbidden that he cannot
even touch, they are the ones who give the Aláàfin the ritual bath and
cleanse and anoint him. They also take him through another process where
his head is shaved (also by the Mothers) and then after seven days,
they bathe it in snail water so that the Aláàfin will have the calm
disposition and temperament needed to successfully hold the office.
Mothers reveals to the Aláàfin the days of the divinites, when to
worship the Orishas (deities), the kinds of rituals he has to do for
each Orisha and the time to perform them. The Aláàfin then agrees to all
these revelations and agrees to please these Orishas every day of the
year except only one day in the year when there is no sacrifice and no
worship of divinites. Only the Aláàfin knows this particular day of the
After the Aláàfin takes the throne with the power and
authority to rule, these Palace Mothers oversee everything and they work
silently in the background. They are the ubiquitous brains behind the
kingdom. These Mothers (Ajes) prepare and spiritually empower the Adenla
(the Great Crown) itself and as hinted earlier on, the Iyamode must be
present whenever the Aláàfin is to be install, for only her can crown
the Aláàfin. Without these Ajes, there will be no Yorubaland.
Iba eyin Iya o!
culled from Abiyamo