Ile-Ife: Tradition Vs Modernity (1) -By Dele Agekameh

Filed under: Life And People |

Perhaps, one of the reasons the media has been abuzz with recent development at Ile Oodua, is the flamboyance and visibility of the occupant of the Ooni’s stool which, over the years, has been accorded tremendous media attention and conspicuous visibility

It is quite obvious that those who question the myth of Ile-Ife as the origin of the human race cannot deny the historical roots of Yoruba people as a whole in the ancient town. The town is home to the sacred grove of Oduduwa, the progenitor and founder of the entire Yoruba race and to whom all Yoruba, scattered all over the globe, hold their existence. Today, a short walk from the palace of the Ooni of Ife, situated at the centre of the ancient town called Enuwa, takes you to an area called Igbodio where the sacred grove of Oduduwa is located.

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Inside the grove is a moderate building surrounded by trees. Inside the building, which is not accessible to anyone except the traditionalists in the town, is a rustic, ancient chain through which Oduduwa was said to have descended to the earth. Although, different towns and congregations of Yoruba have different stories about how they got to their present locations, that they still owe allegiance to Oduduwa is not in doubt. Except for Ile-Ife where the grove housing Oduduwa is located, I do not know anywhere else where such exists in Yorubaland.

Having said this, the role of an Ooni is central in the affairs of the Yoruba people. And when an Ooni brings to that role, the virtues of widespread business and enterprise experiences, immense regional, national and international connections, wisdom, wealth, and above all, a dignifying carriage, it is bound to make tremendous impact on the race in particular and other black people in the diaspora in general.

These days, modernity has reduced the world to a global village where events and activities happening thousands of miles apart are simultaneously received and monitored all over the place with electric speed in the comfort of homes and offices. But despite these ever-consuming forces of modernity and advancement in technology, the umbilical cord that binds the ancient town of Ife with tradition has remained unbroken. Last week, the ancient town, the cradle of the Yoruba race was put in the spotlight. In what was akin to a clash of the titans, there was a direct collision between the forces of tradition and modernity. While tradition, as exemplified by traditionalists in the ancient town, held on to their age-long beliefs and norms, the forces of modernity which have found expression in the internet and the social media through smart gadgets were engaged in a war of supremacy.

It all began like a whisper in the early evening of Tuesday, July 28, 2015, before it quickly snowballed into a near ‘conflagration’ of sorts. Time was about 8:30pm Nigerian time, which also corresponds with the summer time in London. That evening, I received an unusual call from London. The terse message from the other end almost threw me off balance: “Baba ti lo” meaning, ‘Papa is gone’. I stammered: “Baba wo?” meaning, ‘which Papa?’ My adrenalin shot up. My question received no immediate response as the person on the other side simply said: “Jo, je kin pe e pada” meaning, “Please, let me call you back.” From that time on, things happened in quick succession. My phones rang endlessly. Calls came in from virtually everywhere from friends and relatives, as well as from numerous colleagues both within and outside the country – the USA, Canada, Britain, etc.

They all wanted to confirm whether the news they had heard or picked up on the internet about Ile Oodua (Oduduwa House) as the palace at Ife is now known, was true. Of course, I had nothing to tell them. All I could say was that I had just received a call from London pointing to the same thing but that the person at the other end quickly hung up with a promise to get back to me. Minutes turned into hours and the expectations continued as the phones would not stop ringing throughout the night. I could not get annoyed for the disturbance the calls posed to my sleep that night. I knew I was paying the price for having been born and bred within the four walls of the palace in Ife where I lived for more than 22 years with my parents and siblings during the reign of a great son of Oduduwa, also a great figure in Nigeria’s history, Sir Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi, the late Ooni of Ife, 1930-1980. The callers truncated my sleep that night because they thought I was in a position to throw more light on the wild “rumour”.

The question now begging for answer is: With increasing advancement in communication technology, how can these perennial leakages be stopped? I have written this with a great sense of responsibility and reverence as an ‘insider’ who has a good knowledge of Ile-Ife and particularly, the story of the palace of the Ooni of Ife.

The following day, almost all the newspapers in the news-stands carried the story in one form or another. The other communication outlets – the internet, via smart gadgets and the social media platforms – also continued their feast on the news. But there is no way modernity will consign tradition to the backyard of events, especially when the transition of a revered monarch and powerful institution as the Ooni of Ife is involved. In spite of the encroachment of modernity on our traditional ways of life in Africa, traditional beliefs especially in places like the Benin kingdom, Ile-Ife, Oyo and many other historical towns in Nigeria and other parts of Africa, have remained sacrosanct and unyielding to civilisation. It is this unyielding stance that precipitated the clash between tradition and modernity which we have witnessed in the developments in Ife. What is at the centre of the raging media war between the traditional chiefs in Ife and mass communication practitioners, who believe that it is their duty to keep the people and their readers informed of happenings at all times, is the belief that tradition is superior to modernity.

For more than four months now, the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolopkolo, Erediauwa, has neither been seen nor heard in public. Though the Benin Traditional Council came up with the news that the revered Oba was indisposed on March 8, 2015, since then, nobody has dared to speculate anything about the Oba. Over the years, the Binis have held tenaciously to their tradition so much that whatever happens to their highly revered monarch cannot be for public consumption under whatever guise until the Traditional Council decides otherwise. This tradition is as old as the Benin kingdom itself. It is a procedure that has been rigidly followed and has remained unbroken for centuries, modernity notwithstanding. I guess the whole country is now waiting patiently for an update on the fate of the Oba from the traditionalists in Benin. Before then, people can only talk in hushed tones. Such is the fear and trepidation that tradition has created.

Perhaps, one of the reasons the media has been abuzz with recent development at Ile Oodua, is the flamboyance and visibility of the occupant of the Ooni’s stool which, over the years, has been accorded tremendous media attention and conspicuous visibility. As a result of this, it is natural that any news, whether good or bad, emanating from the Source, as Ile-Ife is affectionately called, will attract instant media celebration. Besides, it appears there are far too many leakages in the whole system and these leakages can only be engineered from within. It is like what comes around, goes round. The same scenario that played out in July, 1980 is again playing out with greater effervescence and disruptive capacity to tradition, this time around in July, 2015.

The question now begging for answer is: With increasing advancement in communication technology, how can these perennial leakages be stopped? I have written this with a great sense of responsibility and reverence as an ‘insider’ who has a good knowledge of Ile-Ife and particularly, the story of the palace of the Ooni of Ife.

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