Foremost Nigerian Historian, Emeritus Prof Anthony Asiwaju in this interview spoke on the recent confusion about the Ketu traditional institution, how some Yoruba monarchs were almost deceived to install parallel Alaketu and the importance of the ancient town in the Benin Republic to the Yoruba land.
There seems to be a confusion among Yoruba Obas as to what is happening to the traditional institution in Ketu, an historic Yoruba land in Benin Republic. An Alaketu of Ketu was said to have been installed last year but some Yoruba Obas are being consulted by a set of people to install another one. What is the true situation and why this confusion?
The true situation is that there is on the throne an Alaketu of Ketu, capital of the historically renowned ancient Yoruba ancestral city in the Commune de Kétou (Ketu Local Government Area), Département de Plateau State), Republic of Bénin: He is Alaiyeluwa, Oba Anicet Adesina, Akanni Adedunloye Aderomola, enthroned amidst pump and pageantry on July 27, 2019. He is the 51st Alaketu. This Ketu kinglist is clearly one of the longest, if not in fact the longest, confirming the well-known tradition about the kingdom as one of the oldest, first-generation and foundational category in Yorubaland, if not wider areas of Africa and global world of monarchies.
As to the confusion being generated by a set of people moving around some Yoruba Obas in Nigeria to lobby them to recognise and even install in Nigeria a parallel Alaketu of Ketu in the Republic of Bénin, I honestly believe that this has been due either to ignorance of the actual situation and events in the ancient Yoruba ancestral city in the Republic of Benin, such as we have just narrated; or plain frivolity; or, perhaps, both.
Let me elaborate on the matter of ignorance. Much as there has been delightfully significant cross-border exchanges of visits among Yoruba Obas, beginning with the spectacularly historic visit of Ooni Sijuade Olubuse II to Ketu in January 1983, at the invitation of contemporary Alaketu Adetutu, the interactions have not been sufficiently frequent or intensive, due importantly to the differences of the enduring colonial legacies of the anglophone and the francophone, on the one and the other side of international boundary or border.
This transcends the issue of the different official languages to extend to such other cultural orientations as law and law-enforcement as well as other critical mentalities and dispositions, such as the judiciary and court processes. Thus, it takes considerable efforts for information to flow across, certainly more than it takes to circulate within each of the discreet state territories. In such a situation, except and unless Obas in Nigeria make efforts beyond what is routinely available to many of them, they are likely to be less than adequately informed, if not totally and dangerously ignorant of events and developments in extended cultural communities in limitrophe francophone Bénin.
The frivolous easily take advantage of such situation of such real cultural border to explore prevailing ignorance on one about the other side, as it appears to have been the case of the self-seeking peddlers of misinformation and false news about the solidly occupied throne of the Alaketu of Ketu in the Republic of Bénin, campaigning in Nigeria that it is vacant or improperly ascended. Ignorance fuses with frivolity in a situation such as has been given so much publicity that, contrary to known norms and hallowed tradition, a self-identified ‘Prince’, not in any way related to the current Mesa Ruling House or any of the other four of the ancient Yoruba Kingdom of Ketu, is parading himself all around Osun, Oyo and Ogun State as an ‘Alaketu-elect’, allegedly scheduled for ‘coronation’ on October 28, this year in the palace of a leading Yoruba Oba in Nigeria, unambiguously outside the highly reverenced ancient Yoruba ancestral city in the Republic of Bénin!
Happily, the correct information has been quickly packaged and effectively forwarded to the appropriate quarters, to dispel the lies and stop what would have inflicted an irreparable damage to respected history and highly cherished relations across ordinarily inseparable Yoruba culture area and across the border of otherwise two friendly neighbouring ECOWAS member States.
How would you react to the allegation that the current Alaketu of Ketu is not a Yoruba man, so not entitled to sit on Oduduwa throne?
The allegation that the current Alaketu is not a Yoruba man, so not entitled to sit on Oduduwa throne was one and, perhaps, the biggest tissue of lies and culpable falsehood that had penetrated the aforementioned cultural border between adversely affected Yoruba Obas in anglophone Nigeria and the Alaketu of Ketu in francophone Bénin, no thanks to peddlers of frivolity.
I have already listed the personal and throne names of current Alaketu of Ketu. Except for the original French Christian baptismal label of Anicet, which he, a conservative Yoruba traditionalist, had long littered, except in his official documentation, everything around him is Yoruba, especially in the Ketu variant. He is perhaps the most educated ever to ascend the ancient Yoruba throne, a trained and professional teacher for ten years before going into the service of the Béninois Customs Service from where he came as a distinguished senior officer to become Oba. Though, perforce, fluent in French, he speaks and communicates more in Yoruba, especially, the UNESCO-recognised mother-tongue Ketu dialect. In fact, nothing evidences the depth of attachment to Yoruba culture than his decision to terminate a lucrative career as a senior customs officer to become an Oba in a francophone country where, unlike here in Nigeria, traditional rulers are not paid salaries or any such emoluments, completely at the mercy of people.
Is it possible to install Alaketu outside Ketuland, or is there any Alaketu installed outside his territory?
Regarding the question as to whether or not it is ‘possible to install the Alaketu outside Ketuland’, as was indicated in the viral online ‘special invitation’ to the widely disclaimed ‘coronation’ in a Nigerian Oba’s palace, this, in the words of cerebral Alaafin of Oyo, Oba (Dr) Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, would have amounted to ‘traditional rascality’ of the highest order, were it to have allowed to happen.
It would have an unprecedented sacrilege on the age-old tradition on the Yoruba history and tradition, quite apart from being an illegality that would have been a breach of not only of provisions of Chieftaincy Law in all the states of Southwestern Nigeria, which define the strictly limited areas of the prescribed authority of Obas in the Yoruba-dominated Nigerian geopolitical zone; it would also have been an unpardonable insult on both the local custom of ancient Ketu kingdom and Béninois judiciary, the Court of Appeal of which had adjucated in a case that had been taken to the courts of the land in late 2018 by an aggrieved party of contestants, significantly not including the Nigerian ‘prince’ lobbying to be installed in Nigeria as a parallel ‘Alaketu of Ketu in the Republic of Bénin. It was, in fact, on the basis of judgement of Appeal Court in Cotonou in favour of the incumbent Alaketu that his aforementioned enthronement took place last year, witnessed by mammoth crowd of dignitaries within and outside the borders of Bénin, including the Minister of Culture and Tourism who represented the President of the Republic of Bénin, and the Basorun and Samu, top echelon of the famous OyoMesi, who were sent to represent the Alaafin of Oyo, Ambassadors and other Béninois Ministers, government officials and general public, all bearing witness to the general acceptability and fame of the new Alaketu.
As to whether ‘there (is) any Alaketu installed outside his territory’, my response is a categorical No! This, however, is not to deny that, like the Owu-Yotuba in widely dispersed diaspora communities in and outside Nigeria, there are important Ketu diaspora communities in Nigeria and Latin American countries such, notably Brazil and especially the federated State of Bahia and state capital of Salvador, popularly referred to by the predominantly Ketu-descendant African community, as ‘Nagotedo’, the other generic reference to the Yoruba in Bénin.
A few of such communities are known to have installed traditional rulers whom they styled Alaketu. Witness the examples of the ‘Alaketu of Ketu’, a flamboyant lady IyaOlorisa who came as head of a Brazilian candonblé to the famous Festival of Black and African Arts and Civilizations, Festac77, in 1977; and, nearer home, the Alaketu of Ketu, near Epe in Lagos State, the incumbent installed on the ceremonial approval of the immediate past Alaketu of Ketu in the Republic of Benin, Oba Basil Gbose, Aladeife, who sent a delegation which I had the honour to conduct from ancestral Ketu in Bénin to the diaspora Ketu in Nigeria’s Lagos.
But, in each case, even the Alaketus of Ketu communities outside the ancestral homeland are installed in situ, that is in their respective historic settlements, not outside areas of prescribed authority.
In the mid 1980s, the then OOni of Ife, Oba Okunnade Sijuade led a number of Yoruba Obas to visit Alaketu, since then nothing is heard of the relationship between Alaketu and other Yoruba monarchs in Nigeria?
Regarding the historic visit in the 1980s of Ooni Sijuade Olubuse to Ketu, leading a large number of Nigerian Obas, we have already made some references; but it bears further elaboration, if for no other reason, at least for the invaluable importance as a consolidation of the initiative for solidarity movement among Yoruba Obas in Nigeria and Bénin, formally Dahomey, based on the invitation the Ooni, as Chairman of the former Oyo State, caused to be extended to the then incumbent Alaketu Adetutu to attend meetings of the State Council of Obas. The Alaketu’s reciprocal invitation, which led to Ooni’s maiden visit to Ketu in January 1983, opened a new era of reciprocal cross-border exchanges that came to seal the cultural diplomacy between the two countries, as well as recognised and used when, later, we came to use our comparative African borderlands studies to promote an innovative policy of cross-border co-operation as cornerstone for a renewed African integration endeavour.
Several other visits, sequel to 1983, were exchanged between Yoruba Obas on both sides of the border. Apart from the resumption of the activities by Ooni Olubuse, including the one to save shortly before his much lamented demise, there were the exchanges between the royal fathers of Ogun State with the Alaketu of Ketu in the reign of Oba Aladeife, 50th Alaketu. This was triggered off by progressive Governor Gbenga Daniel, when, as a special guest of honour, he attended the formal enthronement of the Alaketu on 17 December 2005, and was conferred with the much-cherished chieftaincy title of Adimula of Ketuland. The thank you return visit by the new Alaketu to Governor Daniel as his Chief Adimula on June 3, 2006 was a memorably colourful event marked a grand state luncheon reception at the State House in the presence of the entire State Council of Obas, plus a private Ake Palace Reception by Alake and Paramount Ruler of Egbaland, whose royal dynasty historically derived from ancestral Ketu.
Thereafter followed series of exchange of royal visits across the border, including one of Remo Obas to Porto Novo in 2009. The Alaketu also paid a two-day visit to the Ooni in Ife in 2007.
The painstaking activities added up for the new grassroots people-oriented approach African regional integration in the onset 21st century.
The enormous cost in time, energy and material to achieve this invaluable cross-border co-operation facilitation and the need to preserve and build on it are reasons for concern about recent developments that risk the disruption.
What is the significance of Ketuland to Yoruba land?
The significance of Ketu in Yorubaland has been richly documented. First is its historical antiquity. In the famous Oyo-biased History of the Yorubas by Samuel Johnson, 1921, Ketu is on the list of the so-referred-to seven grandsons of Oduduwa (acclaimed culture hero of the Yoruba), believed to have founded seven first-generation Yoruba kingdoms, with Ketu, not just being one of them, but, in fact, the eldest, ‘Akobi Oduduwa’, as insisted in the Ketu royal court perspective of the oral tradition history. As already noted, the remarkably long kinglist, documented as an appendix in E.G. Parrinder, The Story of Ketu, An Ancient Yoruba Kingdom (Ibadan University Press, 1956, now in its 3rd Edition in 2005, which I edited), would appear to buttress this claim to exceptional antiquity of the history. Other proofs of historical antiquity include the Idena City Gate, believed to be one of few relics of precolonial military architecture in Yorubaland, since declared a UNESCO monument.
Secondly, Ketu’s importance in Yorubaland is further evidenced by its exceptionally rich oral literature, especially in folk songs and music concerts, as expressed in the local dialect, one of the numerous known within the linguistic complex. Ketu’s excellence in this domain is especially noted in Gelede musical composition and concert, popularly attributed to Ketu origination, though popularized and widely admired by other Yoruba subgroups, especially the neighbouring in western in present-day Ogun State and limitrophe Plateau Department (State) of Bénin, as well as the more central in today’s Oyo and Osun states.
The recognition of Gelede as one of the Intangible Heritages of Man, again by UNESCO, has further placed Ketu on world cultural history and enhanced its significance in Yorubaland.
Thirdly, as we have already indicated, its strategic location between the Sabe and Oyo generally to the north and the more southerly Ije (Ohori), Ifonyin and Ogou (Egun) make the Ketu and Ketuland the main link between Nigeria and Bénin, and Nigeria’s main corridor into ECOWAS.
Finally, by reason of the vicissitudes of its history, especially as a victim of the era of the notorious trans-Atlantic slave trade in late 18th century, led to the forced exportation of a good proportion of its historic population to Latin America, notably Bahia in Brazil, the Ketu-descendant African diaspora community has been a significant contribution to Afro-Brazilian culture and history till date. This point is easily illustrated by the saga of the successful search and discovery of his roots in the Ketu village Kosiku by Maximiliano dos Santos, Mētre Didi, renowned Afro-Brazilian artist and cultural icon, in 1967, and a subsequent invitational attendance of Yoruba traditional religious festivals in Bahia by Alaketu Adetutu. The latest in this remarkable series of exchange between the Ketu on both sides of the Atlantic was in August 2018 when a delegation of five years Afro-Brazilian Ketu, including Metre Didi’s daughter and her son, visited and were warmly received in both the ancestral village of Kosiku and originating lineage residential compound of Ijabo in the ancient Ketu city itself.