Ogboni Fraternity: The Oyo perspective

Oduduwa founded the Ogboni cult to protect the ancient customs and institutions of his people. The History of Aborigine Ogboni, could be traced to that era of primordial civilization of ‘MAN’ sometimes around 4500BC in Ife-Oodaye. That period of antiquity and a geological era, very long ever before the arrival of the legendary Oduduwa himself to lle-ife aroung around 4th – 5th centuries A.D(Oduduwa was their acclaimed father of yorubas). In the beginning, there was ife-Oodaye, as earlier mentioned. The language spoken was ‘Ife’ and not ‘Yoruba’ people. Maybe one might wondered and asked, who then are the yorubas? the answer to this, is a different issue and perhaps which some past issues of ‘Aborigine’ has answered among its previous inferences, that had explained among others, that the calling of all descendants of Oduduwa generally as YORUBA today, was the making of the Colonial British Authority in their desire to have unique identities for the colonised Nigerian people during the early part of the century.

While no one could precisely say what motivate ‘ogboni’ cult or confraternity, to come into being in Ife-Oodaye, but postulations in Yoruba mythology, shed light on the pre-Oduduwa era in the IIe-Ife, when ‘Obatala’ and Oreluere were the ruling chieftains of the Aborigine Ife-speaking community. ‘Awo’ ogboni, among so many other ‘Awos'(i.e cults) in Ife then, became so prominent and relevant, more as a pressure group to protest the unceremonious arrival of the great colonial master in history, (i.e.) Oduduwa, just as certian people of today’s Nigeria, first resisted the coming of the British imperialism, so also, the aboriginal Ife people and their particularly leader, Obatala; vehemently resisted the unexpected arrival of Oduduwa and his followers into Ile-ife. But when they could not withstand the might and high political network of Oduduwa, these ancient Ife people, resorted to cover activities, by making use of their ogboni group to determine oduduwa’s authority. And in most cases, against oduduwa’s people themselves, who were not their members. Most of these terrorist acts take place during the life time of Queen MOREMI, an Ofa indigene, married to ORANMIYAN, one of the Ife kings at that time. A paragon of beauty she was. Moremi used this as a leverage to entice their enemy’s leader, so as to decode the antics of these marauders, which was, possibly a faction of the ‘omo Iya’ (later referred to ogboni today), who used Igbomokun, one of the riverine settlement areas, ‘Ondo state’ of today as their base, from where they regularly launched their offensive attacks against their ‘colonial maters’ in Ife land. But with the eventual penetration of the setters(i.e oduduwa and his people), into these aboriginals ‘secret cult’, who perhaps were using this secret society as a weapon of resistance, this Egbe Omo Iya, or Ogboni, as popularly know, eventually became a cult synonymous with oduduwa, hence. ‘N’mesi awo Oodua, later became a popular clinched for the ogboni people. But what Awo Ogboni was, in Ile-Ife in the beginning, was not what it later looked like, in other parts of yoruba land, as at the time it started to spread. For examples, in place like Egba, Ijebu, Remo etc., Ogboni was more or less the SENATE and dispensers of justice in the communities. The power of the ogboni otherwise called OSUGBO, among the Ijebu people, was so enormous and very deadly. Among so many of their strict injunction in the early time, was the restriction of any stranger from entering their domain; not even to dream of ever coming to live in any part of the ijebu at that time.

The secret of the Ogboni, which has been closely guarded from other, uninitiated Yoruba as well as from outside inquiry, is that they worship and control the sanctions of the Earth as a spirit. Earth, they hold, existed before the gods, and the Ogboni cult before the kingship. Earth is the mother to whom the dead return. Earth and the ancestors, not the gods (ovifa), are the sources of the moral law. The Ogboni is thought of by the Yoruba generally as supporting the power of the Alafin. The Apena, one of the leading officials of the cult there, once said to me, ‘Every Oba must have Ogboni so that people may fear him.’ While the Basorun is celebrating the Orun festival in Oyo, the Alafin in the secrecy of the Ogboni lodge makes his yearly rite to Ile, the Earth, and divines to verify that the Earth still sup- ports his rule. The cult shrine is in a lodge (iledi-lit. ‘ tied house ‘) in the forecourt of the palace, at a place called Tapa Ogboni.The association is known as Ogboni Oba,

The King’s Ogboni’. It is said to have this name because of the Alafin’s perpetual right to own the whole land of the Yoruba, a right acquired by the founder of the Oyo dynasty from his ancestor, Odudua, king of Ife. But the Alafin only hears what is transacted at Ogboni meetings from the reports of a certain woman of the palace whose duty is to attend all meetings of the Ogboni on his behalf. He does not take part in the meetings, but the Oyo mesi do. Like other cult groups, the Ogboni has its titled officials, the priests of the cult. Each title is the property of a lineage; the successor to a title is proposed by his fellow lineage members. The choice has to be submitted to the cult members, who put the selection, if it is in other respects acceptable to them, to the sanction of the Ifa oracle; and finally the Alafin must accept the appointment. When there is no suitable candidate for the title, in which case the duties of the office are carried out by a deputy, the lineage retains the right to propose a successor to the title in due course. The two leading officials of Ogboni are the Oluwo (Lord of the Mystery) and the Apena (Maker of the Way) who is in charge of the cult’s judicial functions.

There are two grades of membership of Ogboni, the ‘ children’, and Ologbonior Alawo (Owners of the Mystery or the Secret), which includes the titled officials. Members of the junior grade do not take part in the rites of the cult, though they may eat sacrificial meat. They are not, in Oyo admitted to assemblies in the cult house. They are bound to secrecy over anything they may hear of the activities of senior members. Each of the QyQ Misi must be admitted to the senior grade, but he cannot hold titled office in the cult; which means he cannot officiate at any of the Ogboni rites or conduct its judicial inquiries. He must attend the full assemblies of the cult, which take place at sixteen-day intervals, on the day (Jakuta) sacred to the worship of the Alafin’s deified ancestor, Sango. The Oyo mesi meet every morning in the house of the Basorun, and then go together to pay homage to the Alafin and advise him on the affairs of the day. On the sixteenth day they then take their seats in the iledi (lodge), in company with all other initiates of the senior grade. The meeting opens with a libation of gin to the Earth and to the spirits of the dead within it, but ordinarily no sacrificial rites take place. At the end of the meeting, kola nuts are split and eaten, an act reminding the members of their bond of secrecy. During these meetings, anyone may raise for discussion any issue of general concern whatever. Usually the discussion is informal -the exchange of views and gossip about events in the town, carried on over glasses of gin and during the eating of a meal. It is important nevertheless for the formation of a body of opinion and because this is the one place where they could meet and talk freely, without fear of being reported on, or having to conform to the prejudices of their supporters.

Not only do these meetings bring the Oyo mesi face to face with what, so the Yoruba assert, are the wisest people in the community, and under conditions where their policy can be discussed; the fact of their attendance necessarily means that the Oyo mesi are constrained by certain sanctions. They must from time to time share in the Ogboni ritual on equal terms with other initiates, unattended by their usual following. The strength of these sanctions will become obvious when we discuss the religious side of Ogboni. Their social effects are these:

(a) The secrecy of the meetings at which doubts and disagreements may have been urged makes it hard for a minority of the chiefs to appeal to faction without breaking the condition of secrecy and inviting ritual sanction.

(b) Ogboni priests in Oyo and elsewhere have made it quite clear to me that sanctions are imposed not only to guard secrets but also to protect agreements reached at Ogboni meetings. Attempts are made to reach unanimity, and sanctions come into force if it is afterwards broken. If unanimity cannot be reached, members bind themselves ritually to accept and uphold the majority decision. This must reduce the likelihood of an open split developing within the Oyo mesi

(c) Just when a man acquires political power and is confirmed in a position of leadership through the achievement of a high town title, a new obedience is imposed upon him.

The judicial functions of Ogboni are concerned with the shedding of blood. To shed human blood upon the ground, whether the wound is slight or grave, except in sacrifice is to profane the Earth. If blood is spilled in a fight, word will reach the Apena. The report may be passed on to him by the Alafin, or it may come to him directly. Immediately, he sends his messenger to carry a sacred object, the edan,and lay it beside the shed blood. This puts the parties under a complete religious ban, and requires them to go at once to the place where the edanare lying, and announce themselves to the messenger. The Apena summons other Ogboni officials and elders to a meeting in the iledi, where the fighters are brought by the messenger. The Apena hears the dispute and makes a judgement intended to reconcile the parties. They both pay a fine and provide animals for sacrifice, the blood of which is poured over the fdan.If it is obvious that one of the parties must be lying and, because he is pressing false claims, the quarrel cannot be satisfactorily mended, an ordeal is imposed. The fdan are placed in a bowl of water. In some towns a little earth is sprinkled in, too.

The disputants are required to drink. It is confidently expected that the one who put his case falsely will die within two days. ‘Earth has cast him aside’, the Ogboni say, and once the ordeal has been administered, nothing can be done about it-it is irreversible. Yoruba quarrels are far less likely to entail bloodshed than those in many parts of Africa-among their neighbours the Bini, for a conspicuous example -and the force of the Ogboni sanction may well explain this. Someone may seriously offend another in the town, and the other may not wish to be involved in a fight or in a long-drawn-out dispute involving many people and perhaps sorcery as well. He may appeal to the Ogboni. The Apena sends out his edan, summoning both parties to the iledi. The wrong-doer must pay heavily in money and animals to be sacrificed over the edanwhich have been brought out. If the matter is trivial the edanare not to be sent out, they are too important and powerful. Disputants will instead be told to refer to their ward chiefs or lineage heads.

While some people are of the opinion that the Ogboni society is a social club, others have argued that it is a cult because of their secrecy. But while the argument rages on, the incontrovertible fact is that during the nineteenth century, the society acted as check on the Oba in the Yoruba society. Just as like the legislature, executive and judiciary check on one another, it was the duty of the Ogboni society to check the excesses of the Oba whenever he was becoming despotic or misusing his powers. Based on this vital role, every Yoruba town or village had one form of Ogboni society or the other to check on the Baale or village head whenever he was wielding his power arbitrarily.

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72 thoughts on “Ogboni Fraternity: The Oyo perspective

  1. Yoruba had been form their own gorvement, before the colonialism came, ogboni was very great then their disicion was the final. Yoruba used ogboni position to make their check and balance in everywhere, among boas and their peoples.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ogboni supervised the political structure and was totalitarian in some cases. It was so dreaded and it brought quality governance to the polity then……..As it is now, we have lost a lot of traditional and cultural values with the advent of the church.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Morton-Williams should be credited for some of this material, as the article includes a lot of his article WRITTEN IN 1960.
    The Yoruba Ogboni Cult in [uppercase letter O with vertical line below]y[lowercase letter o with vertical line below]
    Author(s): Peter Morton-Williams
    Source: Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Vol. 30, No. 4 (Oct., 1960), pp. 362-374

    Like

  3. I THOUGTH THE OGBONI WORSHIP EDAN-THE SYMBOL OF IYAMI OSORONGA. I’M NOW CONFUSED TO HEAR THAT OGBONI WORHIP THE EARTH (ILE). PLEASE ENLIGHT ME BETTER.
    THANKS

    Like

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