Once upon a time, before money displaced Ifa in the Land of Oduduwa, decency was the crest on the Yoruba crown. This was before government’s filthy hands slowly opened the palace gate, grabbed the glittering crown and tore off the crest. So, the crown, crest-broken, tumbled into the mud, crestfallen.Étiquette is not strange to monarchy.
The word Étiquette was born in the French foremost palace at Versailles during the reign of King Louis XIV in the 1600s.
Every summer, King Louis invited the folk, who lived around his palace, for a big celebration. After each celebration, it was noticed that guests defiled the environment. They plucked the flowers, swam in the fountain, walked on the grass, littered the lawns, and laid to waste the entire palace grounds.
This got the king thinking. There must be a solution to the mess! So, he called his courtiers to a brainstorming session. Together, they devised a strategy of putting up little signs such as ‘Walk not on the grass’, ‘Leave the flowers to blossom’, ‘Don’t litter’, and ‘Fountain, not swimming pool’, at strategic points in the palace.
Thus, etymologically speaking, the noun, ‘etiquette’, which is a cautionary nugget, means ‘little signs’. In the general sense of its meaning today, however, etiquette means the customary code of polite behaviour required by good breeding in society or among members of a particular profession or group.
Etiquette is the fragrance of decency. Decency doesn’t illuminate the differences in creed, colour and class. It clothes kings and peasants in dignity but disrobes the bombastic, the lousy and the thoughtless. I daresay decency frowns whenever a clown wears a crown.
Though today’s palace might have resident fools, as it was in Shakespearean times, foolish thoughts and actions, however, shouldn’t have permanent residency in the palace. The king must live above fools, not among fools, as we see today.
When he became king on October 26, 2015, at 41 years, Ooni Ogunwusi wasn’t the youngest in the history of Yoruba monarchy. That record belonged to Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scotland, who ascended the throne when she was six days old. Yes, six days.
Mary, who became queen in 1542 when her father, King James V of Scotland, died, was also the great-niece of King Henry VIII of England, making her eligible for the English throne, too.
It is also in the recorded history of Western aristocracy that Edward VI became king at the age of nine when his father, King Henry VIII, died.
Back home to Nigeria, the Awujale of Ijebu kingdom, Oba Sikiru Adetona, the Ogbagba Agbotewole II, was only 26 years old when he mounted the throne of his forebears in April 1960, and has, so far, chalked up 63 years of glorious reign, with birds chirping like birds, and rats squeaking like rats.
The 1980 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records named the Obi of Agbor, Dein Keagborekuzi I, the youngest king in the world at the time. Born June 29, 1977, Keagborekuzi became king when he was two and a half years old, succeeding his father.
Nigeria has more unnoisy princes who became kings at pretty young ages. The Obi of Ubulu-Uku kingdom of Aniocha-South Local Government Area of Delta State, King Chukwuka Akaeze, was crowned at the age of 18. The king is now in his early 20s.
Born in 2003, the Arujale Ojima of Okeluse kingdom in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State, Oba Oloyede Adeyeoba, was made king as a secondary school teenager in 2019, after his father joined his ancestors.
In January 2020, the youngest king in contemporary Nigeria emerged when a 10-year-old prince, Akubuisi Okonwko, was coronated the Olanme II of Iyiora Anam kingdom of Anambra-West Local Government Area of Anambra State, following his father’s passing.
The stool of the Ooni of Ife in Yoruba land isn’t first among equals. It’s the first without equals. A 1903 journey of Ooni Adelekan Sijuwade, Olubuse I, the grandfather of Ooni Sijuwade Olubose II, buttresses my assertion.
That year, Ooni Olubuse I was on a visit to Lagos to rule on whether the Oba Elepe of Epe was entitled to wear a beaded crown. The unheard-of journey to Lagos shook the whole of Yoruba land to its very foundations as all Yoruba kings and princes, as a mark of respect, vacated their thrones throughout the Ooni’s sojourn to Lagos.
A gazette by the colonial government said, “And when he finally gave his verdict, presumably through an interpreter, he had his back to the colonial governor since no mortal, not even the representative of the English monarch, could behold his face.”
This was the tradition Ooni Okunade Olubuse II inherited from the Ooni of Ife and Governor of Western Nigeria, Oba Adesoji Aderemi, his predecessor, and which he (Okunade) preserved till he breathed his last.
No Nollywood character will attempt to shake hands with the great Aderemi or the majestic Olubuse because you can’t even get close to either of them. Your outstretched hand will freeze when you hear Okunade’s messengers chant his panegyrics, “Ò y’ọmọ l’óko làlà sọnù, Ò sún’mọ lẹ̀, sún’mọ ẹní, Ò kun’mọ lósùn, kun ‘mọ láta.” What does this mean? The fearsomeness of majesty.
After the controversy generated by Oba Ogunwusi excitedly shaking hands with Edochie and Kanayo, I guess Yoruba elders and leaders would’ve called and told him that the Ooni is the spectacle itself, not a cheerleader; the Adimula is the ‘enití wónwò, tí kìí wòran’.
Just like the Yoruba, the Igbo are highly endowed culturally – the reason why the Igbo still revere kola nut, wine-carrying and bride price etc, despite the influence of Christian and Islamic religions on their culture and tradition.
At best, I’ll rather Edochie and Kanayo courtesy to the Ooni without shaking hands with him because curtseying is not against Igbo culture. By shaking hands with the duo in Igbo tradition, the Ooni subsumes Yoruba greeting under Igbo greeting. No Ooni has ever done that.
At Jack-Rich’s birthday party, the Ooni overreached himself by taking up the role of a stand-up comedian, holding the hands of the celebrant, and dancing with her.
The Ooni is too visible on the Owambe radar. The stealthiness of the tiger is not cowardice. In numerous videos of his meeting with Davido, Phyno, Wasiu Ayinde etc, the Ooni was star-struck, overexcited and overjoyed. It should be the other way around. It’s Davido, Phyno, Wasiu Ayinde and co who should quake at the sight of the Ooni.
Learning is a lifetime endeavour. Ife kingmakers still have a job to do on the Ooni. When the Ooni sees a celebrity, he shouldn’t be the one to jump up to greet or try to find a seat for the celebrity. Nobody walks into Ooni Sijuwade’s presence, nobody. Even when Sijuwade responded to me, a journalist on the phone, saying, “Omo mi, oba kii se politics. I’m not involved in politics. Nigbawo lo ma wa s’Ife ko wa mu champagne?, I still trembled and bowed.
Presidents came to him, governors memorised his number, ministers and senators flooded his palace. He respected himself. He didn’t show up everywhere like a white elephant. He ran after nobody. They ran after him. That was the way he set out on his kingship from the get-go in 1980.
That was the Ooni.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: Tunde Odesola; Twitter: Tunde_Odesola.
Published in The PUNCH, on Friday, June 16, 2023.