IF ROYAL insiders’ reports are correct, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II is preparing to abdicate the throne in favour of her eldest son.
After all, he was born to be king and he’s waited a long time, and Her Majesty will be 95 next year.
For most of us the closest we will get to being royalty is by way of amateur dramatics. Come Christmas time many Black boys are guaranteed at least one role in the school nativity (perhaps not this year due to COVID-19). No, not the baby Jesus, but one of the three kings who from the Orient came. Usually the most exotic one who brought a gift of gold (much more useful than frankincense or myrrh) for the baby Jesus.
But what about a real Black king? Where can we find one who doesn’t have to traverse over field and fountain, moor and mountain following yonder star to a stable in Bethlehem?
In some parts of Africa, not least in Nigeria, there is an abundance of kings and queens and princesses and princes – hundreds and thousands.
Unlike their Igbo counterparts in the east who don’t believe in having kings, the Yoruba tribe of western Nigeria, trace their origins to a divine king, Oduduwa who founded their nation about 900 years ago in the holy city of Ile-Ife.
His royal progeny subsequently founded their own kingdoms further afield and established their culture and traditions across the vast landscape of the western region and it is those dynasties that still sit upon the various thrones, the custodians of history, custom and the soul of what it means to be Yoruba. But in this game of thrones, you never know which of the many princes will wear the crown.
Prince Gbenga Oguntayo, is the first son or the ajaolurun of Ijebu-Ife, His Majesty King Oba Adesesan Afolorunso Oguntayo, the 43rd ajalorun of his kingdom, the lineage of which can be traced back to 1450 when the first ajalorun left the spiritual home of Ile-Ife to settle in Ijebu with his followers.
The kingdom, therefore, is older than most European dynasties.
But unlike his Western counterparts, Prince Gbenga is not a crown prince. In fact, he has no way of knowing whether he will ever ascend the throne.
In all likelihood he will not, because on the death of his father it will be another ruling house’s turn to rule, and the council of kingmakers will consult with the oracle as to who should wear the crown.
“It is not an automatic ascendancy,” Prince Gbenga explained, on granting The Voice newspaper an audience recently.
“We do not have absolute monarchs. Instead we have ruling houses, in some kingdoms there are three or four or five houses and the kingship rotates. It is far more democratic than the automatic right (Prince Charles) would have to the throne.
“Before the ‘democracy’ imposed upon our system of government by British colonialists we already had checks and balances in our traditional system to ensure that no ruler could become autocratic and engage in Trump-like behaviour.”
Nigerian royalty are born onto the throne, but to aspire to it is frowned upon and even mocked.
A prince with a yearning to be king is nicknamed oba lola King Tomorrow – to his death. Tomorrow, though, may never
come, depending on how the cards are dealt.
Having said that being a prince is no minor undertaking, HRH Prince Kayode Tejuoso informs me.
His father, King Adedapo Tejuoso, is the Osile of Oke Ona Egbaland, the grandson of Oba Karunwi I of Oke Ona.
“Our people have forgotten about the culture that traditional royalty represents in our regions,” Prince Kayode says regretfully.
“Cash is king. People don’t take tribal rulers seriously anymore and to be royal has become a burden as much as anything else. When you are of royal birth people expect you to be wealthy. And that may not be the case. In fact you may be destitute.
“We certainly do not have the resources of our European equivalents. But people still expect you to take the lead in cultural and traditional things.
“There was a time when a king was revered and had a respectable status. In the old days, for example, when it was convenient for the colonial rulers to use the monarchy as representatives of the people.
“And even after independence, the local kings were respected to the extent that the Ooni of Ife was also made the premier of Western Nigeria by the federal government. But those days are no more.”
Prince Kayode points to successive military governments as having eroded the status and power of traditional kings to the extent that they are now beholden to and subservient to local politicians for stipends to carry out their royal duties, money that comes with strings of compliancy attached. Including a requirement that the local government official be notified should the king want to travel from one place to another.
He points also to the access to the global village as having watered down the local traditions and culture of which the royal families were for centuries at the centre of.
His own children were educated overseas and see the world, rather than their ancestral home, as their oyster.
We certainly do not have the resources of our European equivalents
Prince Gbenga Oguntayo
He hopes that they will carry on the royal traditions at some point, but right now he’s just not sure. This from a royal line that can trace its origins right back nine centuries to Oduduwa.
Ade Rishman represents the younger generation of princes to whom the entire institution of traditional royalty depends for its survival.
To look at him, you wouldn’t think he was a prince. He’s a builder in his 40s who was grew up in Littlehampton on the south coast of England where he was fostered by a white family. However, his grandfather is King Jimoh Oyewumi III, Soun of Ogbomosoland. And although he knew that he was a prince from a young age, it didn’t really resonate with Ade in a Britain where he lived without the trappings of royalty and all the other aspects of his status.
It wasn’t until he went to Nigeria as an adult for the first time and was granted an audience with his grandad, surrounded by the tribal chiefs who maintain the authority and dignity of the crown, that he realised how big a deal it was.
“When I went to shake my grandad’s hand, the chiefs around him looked at me with horror and let me know in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to touch the king.
“And I was not allowed to turn my back on him, so when I departed I had to walk backwards. If I knew more about what it meant and I had been brought up with all the traditions and customs around it I would probably really get into it, but to be honest I’m English and it doesn’t mean as much to me as it does to them.
“But I was really proud when a British national paper did an article on my grandad last year because he had the world’s oldest tortoise. I showed the piece to my friends and it was only then they took seriously what I had been telling them for years – that I’m royal, so royal.”