Culture, religion and modernity: The Ogun, Oyo, Delta experience – By ‘Wole Oladipo

  • Photo: Oba Adetona *

The Bible says my people perish for lack of knowledge. Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBH) enjoined His followers to seek knowledge up to the far East— China. In essence, love and knowledge are the main thrust of God’s message to mankind!

Culture/tradition, as a way of life, defines people’s uniqueness. But, unlike the Western world, the black African worldview is divinely rooted in the spiritual interconnectivity of the unborn, the living and the dead.


Unlike the late Olu of Warri,  Ogiame Ikenwoli, whose subjects overwhelmingly rejected the Olu’s move to religiously meddle in their tradition, the Awujale of Ijebuland, Oba Sikiru Kayode Adetona Ogbagba II, finally found solace in the recently signed Ogun State Chieftaincy Bill that put paid to people’s opposition to his longtime desire to see an Oba being buried according to his religion.

However, unlike Ogun State, the Oyo State government had put a stop to the tampering with the people’s age-long succession process to the Olubadan stool by the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi.


In essence, unlike the Warri people whose protests and wishes held sway, the sustainability of tradition in Yorubaland is gradually being subjected to the dictate of politico-religious and class sentimental interests (Ogun State) or to the native intelligence, knowledge, wisdom and discerning minds of the people and government in power to uphold the unifying nature of culture and traditions (Oyo and Warri people).

In The PUNCH Newspaper interview on page 46 of Thursday, June 22, 2006 edition, the Ajalorun of Ijebu-Ife in Ogun State, Oba Adesesan Afolorunso Oguntayo, stated inter alia, “…I thank God for the light that has come to the community. People are no longer fetish and the churches and mosques are making progress… We install chiefs without having to perform rituals. What we do is to allow the recipient of the title to invite a pastor or an imam to pray for him during the installation… We now believe that an oba should have a religion.”

Obas have always been the custodians of Yoruba traditions supposedly without any religious affiliation publicly.

In my opinion on Kabiyesi’s interview, ‘Re: Monarchs should avoid politics,’ published on page 16, Wednesday, July 19, 2006 edition of The PUNCH, I stated, among others- “…When Pope John Paul 11 died, we all saw his lying-in-state, but, to date, no one knew how he was buried. And in the process of choosing a new pope, all the cardinals took an oath of secrecy before entering the conclaves…

This is known as imule in Yorubaland… If such an event were to be performed by Africans in an African setting, we would be the first to condemn the whole process as ritualistic, idolatry, evil, secretive, fetish, anti-this and anti-that.”

‘Sisin, ti a sin omo ogberi, aa gbodo sin omo awo bee’— How the son of the ignorant/low class and the uninitiated are buried can not be likened to that of the sons of the knowledgeable, noble and the initiated ones. And this Yoruba wise saying seems to be universally acclaimed/accepted, judging by the Pope John Paul II burial process.

Hence, like Yoruba obas, a non-interested person in the pope’s ritual passage rites and secret processes of both selection and burial needs not to venture or accept to be initiated into the cardinal group, from which popes are always chosen! Why then should ours be different? Wanting to be holier than the pope and, thereby, destroying our own traditions!

In fact, the contents of the black and white smoke that appeared on the conclave rooftop, during the process of the new pope selection, was only known to the initiated cardinals inside the conclave, indeed.

I later wrote a personal letter to His Royal Highness, the Ajalorun, pointing out the spiritual implications of the kabiyesi’s disparaging remarks which do not uphold Yoruba traditions. I copied the Awujale and other notable obas in Ogun State, then.

The whole town of Ijebu-Ife, thereafter, came to a standstill; empty and deserted by both the old and young for months in a widely publicised crisis, ignited by an incident and escalated by the killing of a police officer.

Ignorant or deliberate violations of the spiritual essence of African culture, nay Yoruba traditional practices, under any pretense of human rights, religion or modernity have taken a heavy toll on the lives and properties of the individuals, families, communities and towns involved across the Yoruba land.

Examples abound, like Sagamu, where the palace, properties and lives were lost some years ago! The Ikenne town church violation of the age-long practice of non-beating of drums for a few days of traditional spiritual cleansing exercise that led to the mysterious death of the people, especially the youths, who later urgently summoned the elders, community leaders and associations to Awolowo recreation centre, Ikenne, for possible solutions.

In the early 90s, the burial of an oba of a town, immediately after Ijebu-Ife town, despite the traditionalists’ insistence otherwise, led to the death of the late oba’s prominent younger brother of the famous White House in the town, few days after the oba’s family religious burial ceremony in which the man played a prominent role!

The late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, once observed the hypocritical nature of the Euro-Arabian religious expansionist nations and their average African neo-religious educated elite counterparts, whose intellects, according to Chief Awolowo, are only being psychologically stimulated by religions but deep down in their inner hearts/spirits are places for their culture and traditions, where they often privately take refuge to seek out the solutions for their numerous spiritual challenges and knotty issues beyond their intellectual understanding, either as a youth with their parents or as an independent adult!

Hence, apart from the religious and state burial, the traditionalists equally performed their roles in Awolowo’s burial being the traditional holder of Losi of Ikenne. Members of the ruling traditional Ikenne Osugbo Inner circle— the Rosicrucian Order (or AMORC)— staged an unprecedented ceremonial procession at Awolowo’s funeral programmes in 1987. Many Nigerians were not aware that Awo was an AMORC staunch member, deeply and fully engaged in the mystical teachings.

In the original African setting, the elders never took for granted taking divine traditional means to find out the cause/solution to strange happenings like epidemics or when sudden death, in quick succession, of family members, youths or prominent persons occurred after the demise of a parent, family head or an oba.

Traditionally, Yoruba obas are forbidden to see dead bodies but theirs are, nowadays, ignorantly displayed and exposed openly for people to see during religious burial— an aberration with great resultant consequences for the family and prominent members of the community or town—”idalu ni iselu”— originality is in the transcendental culture of the people. But our people and leaders seem not to be conscious or pretended to move on with their lives— “fifi ina si ori orule sun” (putting fire on the roof and enjoying today, damning the future/tomorrow)— thereby wallowing in the cobweb of ignorance, calamities, unexplainable mysteries and strange occurrences, hitherto unknown, on Yoruba soil and in our immediate environment every day.

In the olden days, obas used to live to between 100 to 150 years and hardly die in accidents, hospitals or untimely unlike nowadays.

There are traditional medicine charlatans everywhere because the majority of the custodians of our culture and traditions, the Obas, have abandoned their responsibilities of checks and balances, using the traditional structures on the ground.

The sayings, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge’ and ‘seeking for knowledge up to the far East- China,’ will only be holistic within the realm of having deep knowledge and understanding of the culture, traditional values, principles and practises of the host community/town without any unholy rivalry, dominance, forceful displacement and being overcritical of the hosts, instead of peaceful co-existence and harmonious relationship as enjoined in the Bible and Quran.

• ‘Wole Oladipo, a former Director of Information & Education in Ogun State, writes from Ibadan; he can be reached via

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