Black Spirituality Religion : An Aspect of Yorùbá Court Poetry

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    Positive Expression of Negative Attributes:
    An Aspect of Yorùbá Court Poetry

    Research in African Literatures - Volume 35, Number 3, Fall 2004, pp. 93-111

    Akintunde Akinyemi

    University of Florida

    There are official royal bards at the courts of prominent African paramount rulers who sing in praise of these monarchs. Although it is the exaltation of the kings that dominates the bards' production, there are also traces of criticism of the monarchs' unpopular policies and high-handedness. Such critical comments, however, are not easily identifiable because they are often presented in figuratively dense language. Using the court bards in the palace of the Aláàfin of Òyó, a prominent Yorùbá ruler, as a case study, this paper explains how the bards employ poetic skills and diplomacy in discharging this difficult responsibility. It is my claim in this paper that the production of Yorùbá royal bards must be correctly interpreted before it can be meaningfully related to events in the society. While it is true that the material of the poetry might have been taken from common daily occurrences, it has to undergo some form of aesthetic adornment to become poetry. The purpose of this paper is to unmask the bards' tactics of criticizing their patrons.

    Court poetry is one of the most developed and elaborate oral poetic genres among the Yorùbá people of southwestern Nigeria. By court poetry, I mean specialized forms of praises that are directed to paramount rulers either publicly or privately. These are ambitious praises composed and recited by professional bards attached to the kings' courts. The most formal state praises are usually rendered by the official male bards known by various appellations, such as: Akígbe oba (the-ones-who-acclaim-kings), Akéwì oba (the kings' poets), Apohùn oba (the kings' bards), Onírárà oba (the kings' praise singers), Arókin oba (chroniclers of kings' genealogies), Onísèkèrè oba (the-ones-who-chant-to-the-accompaniment-of-gourd-rattles-for-kings), or Alaro oba (the-ones-who-chant-to-the-accompaniment-of-metal-clavicles-for-kings). Also, there are female royal bards known as Akùnyùngbà in Òyó [End Page 93] whose performance is restricted to the inner chambers of the palace. As royal wives (ayaba and ayomo), yùngbà chanters are forbidden to perform in the public, unlike their male counterparts (Akinyemi, "Poets as Historians" 143). In precolonial Yorùbá society, all court bards were "kept in royal service" and "well supported" by their patrons and, in return, the bards "repeat daily in songs the genealogy of the kings, the principal events of their lives, and other notable events in the history of the Yorùbá society" (Johnson 125-26). Today, however, no Yorùbá royal palace can lay claim any longer to the monopoly of the court bards. According to Farias, the bards now "combine their hereditary calling with other professions, as barbers, tailors, weavers, farmers," although if summoned to the palace by the king, "every other activity is dropped [. . .] even if they should be required to play at the ààfin (palace) for several consecutive days" (269).

    Apart from the royal bards that recount the deeds of past kings whenever the incumbent appears in public, there are also among the Yorùbá people a band of court drummers and horn-blowers, specially appointed as part of the rulers' formal entourage. On state occasions, these drummers also use their drumbeats or horn notes to provide both music and drum-poems, which are interpreted in actual words, praising the rulers and their predecessors and commemorating the glorious victories of the past. Such performances are an essential part of state occasions, be it at a state reception (in or out of the palace), during a procession to sacred groves for religious rites, at national festivals, during royal funerals, or at political functions, like the installation of new provincial chiefs or the swearing of oaths of allegiance by these chiefs.

    One other traditional occasion for royal bards' recitation of their poetry is in the early morning praises of their patrons. Formal praises are also delivered by the bards on ceremonial and public occasions when they recite a whole series of eulogies in honor of their patrons, starting with the famous praises of the patrons' ancestors before shifting to the exaltation of the incumbent (Johnson 58; Mafeje 193). This form of poetry "seems to go with a particular ethos, a stress on royal or aristocratic power and an admiration for military achievement" (Finnegan 111). The poems themselves are exceedingly elaborate and sophisticated, with a specialized mode of expression mastered only by the corporation of poets and the intelligentsia of the society. As I have mentioned elsewhere (Akinyemi, "Yorùbá Royal Bards" 89-106) , the ruling monarchs themselves and their ancestors are glorified in the poems, and real and ideal deeds are attributed to them in lofty and effusive language as well as in highly figurative forms of expression. In all these areas, the rulers are elevated as the center and ideal of Yorùbá society.

    Though court poetry remains a living tradition that has been relatively little approached by researchers working on the history of the Yorùbá people since Samuel Johnson's time, this is not to deny that several scholars (e.g., Agiri; Ajayi; Atanda; Babayemi; Barber, "I Could Speak Until Tomorrow"; Law; Olajubu; and Olatunji, "The Yorùbá Oral Poet" and "Features of Oral Poetry," just to mention a few) have consulted the bards as specialists of the past. However, with the exception of Karin Barber, Oludare Olajubu, and Olatunde O. Olatunji, who actually devoted substantial amounts of attention to the analyses of Yorùbá praise poetry texts, other researchers have more or less based their conclusions on materials from historical oral narratives (ìtàn) supplied by court bards. The reason for this, as will be revealed by this discussion, could be attributed to the language of praise poetry in general, that is "characteristically cryptic and obscure, the hearer, to understand them, needs to [End Page 94] know the separate background story of each one" (Barber, "Yorùbá Oríkì" 505). In spite of this difficulty, however, I still acknowledge the efforts of Law, who promoted and recorded traditional royal poetry of Òyó in the 1960s. Although S. O. Babayemi continued the collection of the same Òyó royal materials in the 1970s, he was able to publish only a part of his collection before his death. Mention must also be made of B. A. Agiri and J. F. A. Ajayi, who have not only found Babayemi's fieldnotes useful, but have used extracts from the notes in their writings.

    The consensus of opinion among scholars of Yorùbá verbal art (Farias 269; Isola 18-21; Olajubu 392; and Olatunji, "The Yorùbá Oral Poet" 193-99) is that even though what we always come back to in the productions of Yorùbá court poets may be more of adulatory and political propaganda, this social responsibility, they are quick to add, does not prevent the bards from criticizing their patrons. It is for this reason that Yorùbá court poets are officially acknowledged as a group of individuals holding privileged positions in the society. Not just because they take charge of the preservation of the dynastic poems whose main objective is to exalt the king and other members of the royal family, but more important, because as watchdogs of public morality in the society, the bards also make the moral welfare of their patrons an important aspect of their production. This privileged position gives Yorùbá royal bards the opportunity to pass critical comments on their patrons' unpopular policies and high-handedness when eulogizing them.

    Generally, in Yorùbá court poetry, the deeds of rulers are alluded to in order to determine the extent to which they promote the people's collective aspirations for stability, peace, and orderly development. This, in effect, means that the Yorùbá people have clear notions of what is an orderly, good, effective, and organized government. They also have clear ideas about what constitute a coercive and insensitive government. The constant juxtaposition of these two perspectives in court poetry informs the nature of attributes coined for paramount rulers by their praise-singers. Principles of leadership, the uses and abuses of power, and the relationship between the ruler and the ruled are constantly evoked in court poetry. This salient aspect of Yorùbá court poetry attracted the attention of P. F. De Moraes Farias in his elaborate article that was based on extensive in-depth interviews that he held with a group of royal bards attached to the Aláàfin of Òyó, a prominent Yorùbá king, and the subject of this paper. Farias rightly concludes that apart from being the Aláàfin's palace entertainers, flatterers, and image-makers, the Òyó royal bards also enjoy the privileged opportunity of calling the Aláàfin to order when none of his other subjects dared to do so:

    The Arókin enjoy poetic licence [. . .] they are entitled by tradition to say uncomfortable things to the Aláàfin himself. Now they can use their oríkì chanting skills as a channel for public opinion, [. . .] thus expressing openly what others dare only whisper in private. This is a useful reminder that the scope of rókin is not limited to storytelling and simple eulogy and instruction, and that it extends to other forms of word power.
    The fact that Farias based his conclusions largely on the myths and oral tradition supplied by the group of royal bards that he interviewed and not on the actual praise poetry chanted by the bards in honor of the Aláàfin calls for further research, which this paper intends to do. Even then, I still recognize the fact that on few occasions the court poets (arókin) that Farias interviewed used excerpts of praise poetry (oríkì) to support their historical narratives (288). My decision to focus on oríkì as opposed to [End Page 95] oral narratives (ìtàn) in this paper is not to choose one out of two inseparable bodies of oral literary production for analysis, but to show that any worthwhile interpretation of one depends on the other. Therefore, my interpretation of the text of praises rendered in honor of the Aláàfin will benefit tremendously from the oral narratives supplied by royal bards and other palace historians. In addition to that, I intend to use archival records and published historical materials to support my claim where necessary.

    Consequently, this paper intends to use appropriate textual material from the praise poetry rendered in honor of the Aláàfin to account for the court poets' craftiness in formulating criticism of Òyó royalty. The poets are able to do this by maintaining a balance between their moral obligation to the society at large and their primary civic responsibility as the entertainers and image-makers of the royalty. Before proceeding, however, it will be necessary to delve briefly into the artistic immunity accorded traditional Yorùbá verbal artists, which allows the poets to be critical of the paramount rulers, traditional chiefs, and other highly placed individuals in the society.

    Yorùbá oral poets occupy a unique position in the society because they serve as the moral police of the people. Therefore, the poets have the "poetic licence" to criticize the social and political structure or activities in the society without any fear of molestation from any quarter (Olatunji, "The Yorùbá Oral Poet" 194 and Isola 19). In view of the fact that Yorùbá poets are protected against arrest or punishment for expressing critical views on paramount rulers and privileged individuals in the society, they are at liberty to comment on any burning issues in their production without fear of censorship. For instance, many Yorùbá traditional festivals are occasions for passing scathing remarks about erring privileged members of the society. Likewise, folksongs have been used on several occasions to force some erring Yorùbá paramount rulers into exile, or into committing suicide (Akinyele 154-59, Johnson, 171-72, and Isola 19). A case in point is the following sarcastic song composed by the Ègbá women during the 1948 anti-tax demonstration in the Yorùbá city of Abéòkúta to humiliate their king, Sir Ládàpò Adémólá (the then Aláké of Ègbáland), for supporting the introduction of some forms of taxes by the British colonial authorities:

    Kábíyèsí, oba oníké
    Adémólá kéran
    Omo eran tó jogún ilá
    Omo òtè ló lobè
    Kábíyèsí, baba eran
    Kábíyèsí, oba iwin.
    All hail king of hunchbacks
    Adémólá is in trouble
    Offspring of the beast that inherits okra
    Offspring of the intrigue who owns the soup
    All hail father of beasts
    All hail king of demons.

    While offering an explanatory comment of the song, Wole Soyinka observes that a "different sarcastic verse had been substituted for the former glorious words of salutation and loyalty to the ruler" in order to protest his insensitivity to the plight of his subjects (223). Later that year, the king was forced to abdicate the throne for Òsogbo, where he took refuge. [End Page 96]

    In carrying out this research, I am mindful of the limitation of a single researcher attempting to study any form of verbal art in a complex society such as that of the Yorùbá, which is home to about twenty-five distinct dialect groups of its language. For the purpose of this paper, therefore, I have restricted my analysis to excerpts taken from court poetry delivered by the less studied yùngbà female royal chanters in honor of some of the eight succeeding Aláàfin that reigned in the new Òyó between 1837 and today. By so doing, I will not only document the style of criticism of Òyó royalty by the female royal bards, which was not covered by Farias in his work, but I should also be able to assess the extent to which the bards fulfilled their social responsibilities through their production.

    The Yorùbá nation as a whole exhibits a highly developed "aristocratic system of governance" that is based on a traditional "hierarchical structure" that has the king as its head (Fadipe 203). By the seventeenth century, the old Òyó empire, under the sovereignty of the Aláàfin, was the largest and the most powerful political unit in the Yorùbáland. The empire developed a political organization that entrenched the authority of the Aláàfin in Òyó, the imperial capital and seat of government, and in several other provincial towns and villages. With the fall of the empire in 1835 and the political developments that followed, the extent of authority and power of the Aláàfin narrowed down considerably (see Ajayi; see also Law). However, with the inauguration of the new Òyó in 1837 by Aláàfin Àtìbà, every effort was made to restore the traditional power and authority of the Aláàfin, even at the expense of the generality of the people.

    Soon after his installation as the first Aláàfin in new Òyó in 1837, King Àtìbà (1837-59) took certain steps to revive the falling old Òyó empire. For instance, he adopted forcible means to enlarge the seat of his newly formed government in order to make the new Òyó as big as the old Òyó that was destroyed in 1835 by the Fulani Jihadists. Therefore, several of the surrounding provincial towns and villages (such as Àgùwo, Ajagba, Akeètàn, Àpáàrà, Dàda, Èsínèlè, Gudugbu, Ìdóóde, Ìdóógun, Ijoga, Ìsèkè, Jàbàtá, Òjòngbòdú, Òpapàá, and Òtefòn, to mention just a few) were attacked by the king's army, and their inhabitants forced to settle with the Aláàfin in the new capital (Babayemi 123). The following excerpt confirms such attacks:

    Ògbojà: Olówóò mi, àbàtà se kèèkè gbalè.
    Ládèèbó: Ó gbórí òkè

    Ògbojà: Ó ránni s'Áké.

    Ládèèbó: Ó gborí Ifá

    Ògbojà: Ó ránni s'Ákogun.

    Ládèèbó: Rógun-má-tèé...

    Enì kan ì í jagun l'Óyòó

    Ògbojà: Ayé àtoba là n je.

    Ládèèbó: Òrò Àtìbà

    Ògbojà: Tótó fùn-ún-ùn!

    Ládèèbó: Ayé àtoba,

    Ògbojà: Là n je; là n tà.

    Ògbojà: My lord, the swamp that takes over the whole place in style.
    Ládèèbó: He who stays on top of the hill

    Ògbojà: To send emissaries to Aké town.

    Ládèèbó: While he was consulting Ifá divination oracle, [End Page 97]

    Ògbojà: He sent emissaries to the war chief, Akogun.

    Ládèèbó: The one-who-is-never-put-to-shame-in-war . . .

    Ògbojà: We do not wage war in Òyó

    Ládèèbó: We only enjoy life and exercise royal authority.

    Ògbojà: Matters concerning Àtìbà

    Ládèèbó: Must be handled with care!

    Ògbojà: Royal authority,

    Ládèèbó: That is what we enjoy; that is what we trade in.

    The process of annexation is simple. Usually, the king's army would surround the town to be annexed by night and at daybreak the inhabitants would be forced to choose between peaceful migration to the new capital or total destruction. After opting for migration, then, the inhabitants of the suppressed town would be led to the capital where a section of the town would be assigned to them by the Aláàfin as their new residence. These towns might be said to have been transplanted in the new city with the people from each of the towns settled in their respective quarters, bearing the names of their former towns and villages. Although the excerpt is largely an exaltation of Àtìbà and the glorification of the extent of his power of authority, a second look at the excerpt reveals that the ruler is also accused of excessive use of power. What the bards referred to as exercise of the "royal authority" of the Aláàfin is in itself an irony of the ruler's coercive style of administration and insensitivity to the plight of inhabitants of the provincial towns being annexed, and this is particularly scathing.

    In another instance, court bards indicted Aláàfin Adéyemí I (1876-1905) for his lack of diplomacy in handling sensitive political matters and his obsession for tradition and power. J. A. Atanda observes that "as part of the general phenomenon of European imperialism in Africa towards the end of the nineteenth century, the first British colonial government Traveling Commissioner for the Hinterland in Nigeria, Captain R. L. Bower engaged in bullying, scolding and insulting the Aláàfin in the public" (56). The climax of Bower's harassment of the Aláàfin was the bombardment of Òyó town on the 12 November 1895, and court bards attached to the palace of the Aláàfin blamed their patron for not being tactful enough in his handling of the issue that eventually led to the bombardment.

    A recast of the incident that led to the bombardment of Òyó in November of 1895 will be necessary at this point. According to S. G. Pinnock's account (76-78), early in 1894, one Lábíyìí, the ruler of Òkèihò—a provincial town under the jurisdiction of the Aláàfin—was deposed by his chiefs without proper reference to the Aláàfin who had earlier approved the appointment and installation of the deposed ruler. When Captain Bower, the colonial officer for the area, heard of the deposition, he offered to assist the Aláàfin to reinstate the deposed ruler, and the Aláàfin gladly accepted. To the Aláàfin, who was obsessed in the memories of his traditional powers, Bower's gesture meant no more than the continuation of the British efforts to restore the past glory of his royal authority. But for Bower, the occasion could serve as an opportunity to establish British authority in the territory of the Aláàfin.

    Shortly after the reinstatement of the deposed ruler by Captain Bower, the Aláàfin, who had thought that it was his authority that Captain Bower was enhancing, decided to punish all the chiefs of Òkèihò who were responsible for the deposition of their ruler in the first place. Therefore, the Aláàfin sent his chief royal messenger to Òkèihò, demanding the head of the chiefs who masterminded the deposition. Rather [End Page 98] than submitting themselves to the authority of the Aláàfin, as requested, the chiefs deposed their ruler once again and enthroned someone else. On hearing the news of the deposition, Captain Bower decided this time to invite the deposed ruler to his office in Ibadan to hear an account of his second expulsion from the throne. Unfortunately for the Aláàfin, the account given by the deposed ruler was interpreted by Bower to mean that the Aláàfin deliberately sent his royal messenger to reverse Bower's initial settlement. For Bower, therefore, the time had come for the Aláàfin to be told in clear terms that the British authority being established in Yorùbáland must not be challenged by anybody, including the Aláàfin. Thus, by 7:30 A.M. on 12 November 1895, Captain Bower led his soldiers to lay a siege on the town of Òyó for almost five hours; shooting, killing, looting, and burning houses. During the confusion that followed the shelling of the Aláàfin's palace that day, the king himself escaped from Òyó, and his chiefs submitted unconditionally to the authority of Captain Bower that same day by sending to the British Colonial Officer "ducks with their wing feathers cut, in token of their submission" (Atanda 72). The decision of the Aláàfin not to let go the initial deposition of the ruler of Òkèihò in spite of the reinstatement that was carried out by Captain Bower and the restrictions placed on his traditional power of authority over provincial towns by the colonial government is condemned by royal court bards:

    Ògbojà:Adéyemi, Ò-sòrò-gbooro
    Àkèé: Gbédà-gbooro-kó.

    Ògbojà:Òrò gbooro ò tán,

    Àkèé: Idà gbooro ò wàkò.

    Ògbojà:Òòsà, okoo Mólágún.

    Àkèé: Omoo Moróhunfólú.

    Ògbojà:Adéyemí, oba tíí se bí odó,

    Àkèé: Ó n se bí olo.

    Ògbojà:Láyemí Àdìó,

    Àkèé: Tíí jímo lákùko ìsaájú.

    Ògbojà:Adéyemí, who raises a controversial issue
    Àkèé: And waits patiently for its resolution.

    Ògbojà:For as long as the matter remained unresolved,

    Àkèé: He will not let it go.

    Ògbojà:The god, husband of Mólágún.

    Àkèé: Child of Moróhunfólú.

    Ògbojà:Adéyemí, the controversial king who behaves like the mortar

    Àkèé: The tough one who behaves like the grind-stone.

    Ògbojà:Láyemí Àdìó,

    Àkèé: Who wakes up the child at the first crowing of the **** (at dawn).

    In yet another instance, Òyó court bards skillfully criticized the excessive use of royal apparatus during the tenure of Aláàfin Siyanbólá Ládìgbòlù (1911-44). The tenure of Siyanbólá witnessed full restoration of the traditional power of authority of the Aláàfin by Captain William Alston Ross, the then British colonial Commissioner for the newly created Òyó Province. Atanda has argued that Ross's policy of extending the power of the Aláàfin beyond its hitherto limited boundaries "accounted for the much fanatical manner with which he championed the cause of Òyó" (108). By virtue of the various reforms put in place by Captain Ross, the position and stature of [End Page 99] the Aláàfin were greatly advanced in the new province. In the first place, the Aláàfin asserted his authorities over lesser chiefs in the Province to the fullest. For instance, in 1914, he was instrumental in the deposition of chiefs Ìréfín, the ruler of Ibadan, and Láyodé, the ruler of Ògbómòsó. He also deposed Sítù, another ruler of Ibadan, in 1925. In each of these cases, the wish of the Aláàfin matters in selecting replacement for the vacant stools. The fearful impression that these depositions created in the minds of the people vis-à-vis the power of the Aláàfin is what Òyó court bards referred to in his praises as

    Ògbojà: Ò-takun-gbooro-
    Àjínún: Fi mú gbogbo oba.

    Ògbojà: He who stretches a long rope-
    Àjínún: To arrest all other kings.

    To them, when paramount rulers could be summarily deposed by the Aláàfin, there was no other individual in the new empire with whom the Aláàfin could not deal.

    The reality of the excessive power of the Aláàfin was brought home more clearly through the native courts. Ross's earlier grant of a grade A status to Òyó Native Court under the chairmanship of the Aláàfin allowed it to try both civil and criminal cases. The import of the trial, and subsequent executions and imprisonment on the order and prestige of the Aláàfin, was great. The fact that the Aláàfin's court was able to sentence people to death re-established the precolonial tradition, which had broken since the bombardment of Òyó in 1895, that the Aláàfin had the power of life and death over his subjects. Consequently, Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù, in the eyes of many people across the length and breadth of the new Òyó Province, had in reality become, once again, Ikú bàbá yèyé (the powerful and almighty ruler whose authority cannot be challenged). From that time, terror was often struck into any man in the territory of the Aláàfin who was told that his case would go to Òyó. The effect of the excessive power of the Aláàfin on provincial towns of Òyó is what the court bards alluded to in the following excerpt, where Aláàfin Siyanbólá Ládìgbòlù was eulogized as lord and master over the provincial towns of Ede, Èjìgbò and Ògbómòsó:

    Ògbojà: Àládée Gíwá, babaa Gbádégesin.
    Àjìnún: O ò r'Ede, ò n soko ará Ede;

    Ògbojà: Aláàfin ò r'Èjìgbò,

    Àjìnún: Ó n soko ará Èjìgbò;

    Ògbojà: Kò r'Ede, kò r'Èjìgbò

    Àjìnún: Ó n soko ará Ògbómòsó nílé Ajílété.

    Ògbojà: Gíwá who owns the crown, father of Gbádégesin.
    Àjìnún: You did not visit Ede, yet you are lord and master over the people of Ede;

    Ògbojà: Aláàfin did not visit Èjìgbò,

    Àjìnún: Yet, he is lord and master over the people of Èjìgbò;

    Ògbojà: Without being to Ede or Èjìgbò

    Àjìnún: He has been lord and master over the people of Ògbómòsó, the home of Ajílété.

    The power of Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù was made more effective in the provincial towns through the activities of his numerous royal messengers. These royal messengers acted [End Page 100] as liaison officers between the Aláàfin and leaders of the tributary towns, ensuring the loyalty of these towns to the authority of the Aláàfin. On most occasions, they achieved this by infusing terror and fear in the minds of the people so that nobody could oppose the administration of the Aláàfin. Wherever the messengers visited, they were expected to be lavishly entertained with food and sometimes with cash or material gifts. Any refusal by the people to entertain the royal messengers of the Aláàfin this way was counted as lack of respect for and disloyalty to the authority of the Aláàfin. Traditions abound of the excesses and brutality of these messengers as agents of fear and terror. An interesting case that proves this point was reported to the colonial District Officer as early as 1917 by the ruler of the provincial town of Ibadan:

    I am sending this young man who called himself Sàlámì whose action was reported to my Akódà [court messenger] that he stood on the way to the farm road [sic], getting palm wine and other things by force without payment saying he was Aláàfin's messenger [. . .] when he was brought to me, he repeated the same action by slapping the Akódà in my presence and abused the sender which is myself and that to my face, that we are nothing but slaves to the Aláàfin, his sender.
    (National Archives Ibadan, Nigeria: Letter Book 1917-18: see Baálè Sítù's letter dated 5 Oct. 1917 to the District Officer, Ìbàdàn)
    Instances of such high-handedness by the royal messengers of Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù are just too numerous to recount. Unfortunately, the involvement of the most senior royal messengers of the Aláàfin in these acts of lawlessness and oppression made it practically impossible for the oppressed people to contemplate making any formal report to the king. Even when complaints managed to reach the Aláàfin, appropriate punishment was not likely to be meted out to the offending messengers. According to the king's thinking, an important aspect of his kingship authority was that his subjects, wherever they were, must show respect for his royal power. It will be necessary at this point to delve into how royal messengers were created for initiation in premodern Òyó society in order to prepare them for the difficult task that they have to perform for and on behalf of the Aláàfin.

    Òyó royal messengers were known as Ìlàrí, a term that denotes the parting of the (hair of the) messengers' heads, which refers to the peculiar way the messengers shave the hair of their head—by "shaving one side and leaving the other side unshaved" (Johnson 60). This way, court messengers of the Aláàfin alternate the shaving once every week. Until recently, Òyó royal messengers were initiated by the hundreds into the service of the Aláàfin to perform various domestic and religious functions for the king. By virtue of their closeness to the Aláàfin, the royal messengers of old thus assumed important state functions. Meakin, writing as early as 1859, has this to say about the excessive power and strength of Òyó royal messengers:

    The king of the Yorùbá [the Aláàfin] attempts to keep up a great court of many slaves [messengers] and people around him and he has not the means [control?] to keep them as he would, but they [the court messengers] go where they like, fire whose houses and farms they like and no one dares complain to the king. [End Page 101]
    (Church Missionary Society Archives, London: Meakin Journal, see files number A2/060 and CA/069)
    The royal messengers were also expected to take part in the celebration of certain religious rites to reinforce the supernatural powers of the Aláàfin. In other words, the royal messengers were seen as the communication links between the Aláàfin and the spirit world, on the one hand, and between the palace and the world of men, on the other. This fact comes out clearly in Johnson's account of the way the messengers were initiated (60-3). According to him, the hair of the initiate's head is completely shaved at initiation and pounded with other medicinal ingredients, which are then rubbed into the incisions made on the body and the head of the new initiate. The remaining medicinal ingredients are pounded again with clay to make a clay statue known as Sìgìdì; bearing the pseudonym of the messenger. The statue is kept by one of the palace priestesses, the Ìyákere, who constantly propitiates it to renew the spiritual power of the messenger. The Yorùbá people believe that when incantations are said over the clay statue of Sìgìdì, which is usually shaped in the form of a human being, the statue could be endowed with supernatural power that is then used to inflict injury on an enemy. In essence, the initiation is supported by rituals to instill in the messengers the courage and loyalty expected of those in the service of the Aláàfin.

    Also, at initiation, the Aláàfin's chief diviner gives an official pseudonym to each of the initiates. These names are suggestive or indicative of the disposition, wishes, and intentions of the Aláàfin on any given issue. Five such pseudonyms are:

    Obákáyéjá [The king transcends the world]
    Oba-kò-se-tán [The king is not ready]
    Ká-fi-lé-gbonin [No compromise]
    Kò-síjà [There is no quarrel]
    Obá-gorí [The king triumphs]
    These pseudonyms are highly significant in themselves since they carry specific messages. The selection of a particular messenger for a special mission as an envoy of the Aláàfin is of crucial importance, since his or her name would automatically indicate the disposition, intention, or wishes of the king on the matter being considered. The appearance of the Aláàfin's messenger would therefore indicate the position of the king on an issue. It is in this regard that Olaniyan refers to Òyó royal messengers as "agents of the Aláàfin's diplomacy" (305).

    Although these royal messengers were forces to reckon with during the reign of Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù, they were already a spent force towards the end of the king's tenure. People were already disgusted with the excesses and malpractices of the messengers and the inability of the king to put his overzealous emissaries under check. In one of the steps taken by Òyó oral artists to condemn the lawlessness of the royal messengers of the Aláàfin, a prominent masquerade performer (Àgbóráko) put up a performance to mimic the intolerably cruel activities of these messengers and the king's lack of control over them (see Isola 19). When the artists imitated the customary hair style of the chief royal messengers (usually identified by the single tuft of hair in the center of his head) and dramatized samples of the messengers' lawless behavior, the Aláàfin immediately ordered his arrest. That decision stirred up considerable anger among the people, who believed that the artists were exhibiting their feelings and reactions. Therefore, they planned and participated in a huge demonstration all over the town to demand the immediate release of the artists. [End Page 102]

    The Aláàfin's royal bards were also not indifferent to the recklessness of their patron's royal messengers and the lack of appropriate control of these messengers by the king himself. Perhaps, the only difference is that the bards' criticism is milder and more heavily allusive as compared to the Àgbóráko masqueraders just cited above. In the following excerpt of court poetry in honor of the Aláàfin, the bards paraphrased the lawlessness of the royal messengers and the king's lack of control over them in the highlighted lines:

    Ògbojà: Ó larí larí,
    Ó l'Apá-ò-kà.

    Àjìnún: Omoo Abíódún,

    Ògbojà: Omoo Òòsà,

    Àjìnún: Gbógun-nídè,

    Ògbojà: Omoo Orí-àrán,

    Apá ò ká Dòkun.

    Àjìnún: Òdù gbangba-kúnra.

    Ògbojà: Onígboro, pàgboro mó

    Kí won má ba à bàgboro jé . . .

    Àjìnún: Olówó erú-

    Ògbojà: Ni babaà mi, Omoo Láwànì

    Ògbojà: He (the Aláàfin) appointed numerous messengers

    And eventually appointed the one he nicknamed "Out of control".

    Àjìnún: Child of Abíódún,

    Ògbojà: Offspring of the gods,

    Àjìnún: One-who-wins-a-war-tactfully,

    Ògbojà: Offspring of the one nicknamed 'Orí-àrán' (one dressed in velvet fabric)

    Dókun is now beyond our control.

    Àjìnún: One who is comparable to a big pot.

    Ògbojà: The one in charge of the city, take appropriate steps to protect it

    So that the city will not be destroyed . . .

    Àjìnún: Lord and master of slaves—

    Ògbojà: He is my lord and master, child of Láwànì.

    One may interpret this excerpt of court poetry in two ways. First, if we take it literally, we may assume that the poets have adopted the pseudonym Apá-ò-ká (one-who-is-beyond-control) to flatter Aláàfin Ládìgbòlù, who was unnecessarily powerful during his thirty-three-year reign in Òyó. One is even tempted to stop at that interpretation because that view is further reinforced by the poets' claim in line 7 that Dòkun (the king) is beyond any form of control. In other words, it could be claimed that the bards are making allusion to the great powers that Aláàfin Siyanbólá Ládìgbòlù used to possess over his subjects. On the other hand, it may well be that the court poets have only adopted irony as a device to express a meaning contrary to the stated one. Therefore, it will also be right to conclude that the poets adopted Apá-ò-ká (one-who-is-beyond-control) to criticize Aláàfin's lack of control over his numerous, reckless, and overbearing messengers. The warning of the bards in lines 9 and 10, that the king should take immediate and appropriate steps to stem the nefarious activities of his royal messengers, supports this interpretation: [End Page 103]

    Ògbojà: The one in charge of the city, take appropriate steps to protect it
    So that the city will not be destroyed . . .

    While the first interpretation could be easily seen as an edification of the king's power, the second, which is an indictment of the king's style of administration, may not be easily identifiable.

    The last example sums up the reaction of Òyó court bards to the unpleasant incident that led to the deposition of Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí II in July 1956. By 1945, when Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí was installed, Òyó had lost virtually all the territories that she re-gained during the reign of the immediate past Aláàfin. The then colonial Resident Officer for Òyó Province, Mr. Ward-Price, passionately carried out policies that systematically weakened the political and judicial powers of the Aláàfin. For instance, the activities of Òyó palace functionaries, most especially the numerous and powerful royal messengers of the Aláàfin, which had hitherto generated a lot of revenue and influence for the Aláàfin, were stopped. The last straw that broke the back of Aláàfin Adéníran's tenure was the political storm gathering over Òyó with the emergence of Chief Obáfémi Awólówò, leader of the Action Group Party, as the Premier of the Western Regional Government in 1951. When Chief Awólówò came to power, his Action Group party-controlled government proposed certain changes that Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyémí found embarrassing to his traditional functions. Of particular importance was the issue of local government reform, which involved the creation of additional local councils and the appointment of eligible residents to run the affairs of these councils.

    Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí and his supporters saw the appointment of councillors to run the administration of the newly created local councils as a usurpation of his traditional functions as the Aláàfin and those of his palace functionaries. They argued, questionably though, that the right to rule was divinely bequeathed to the Aláàfin and his cohorts, and not to the commoners. It was apparent that Aláàfin Adéníran would protect vehemently what he believed to be the rights and privileges of the institution of Aláàfin. Therefore, there was bound to be confrontation between the Action Group-led democratic government under chief Awólówò and Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí II, a core traditionalist. Aláàfin Adéníran and his supporters, under the auspices of a sociocultural group known as Òyó Parapò, believed that the Awólówò-led administration in the region was out to destroy the traditional power and privileges of the Aláàfin. Therefore, they decided to support a rival political party, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroon (NCNC) led by Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe. It appears, therefore, that the battle line had been drawn between the two of them. But the actual battle waited for a whole year, after the promulgation of the 1952 Western Region Local Government Reforms edict. That law, which was modeled after the English Local Government Act of 1933, was the culmination of the efforts of the Action Group led government to democratize the local government system in the Region (see Balogun 95).

    When the executive council of the Òyó Divisional Native Authority met later that year to consider its advance proposals for the 1953/54 fiscal year, the council decided to adopt the auditors' recommendation for the 1952 fiscal year that it should look inward to safe cost. Therefore, the council executive decided that future financial provision for the Aláàfin's envoys "who had long been deservedly unpopular in the Division be deleted" (Balogun 96). At the same time, the Native Authority's draft [End Page 104] estimate was amended by a cut of six hundred pounds (£600) in the annual salary of the Aláàfin, the total deletion of the salary of the Crown Prince, and other minor cuts that affected the Aláàfin and the palace administration. As a result of these cuts, Aláàfin Adéníran could no longer raise enough money to run the administration of his palace. The palace and its organization started to show signs of crumbling.

    About this time, the Òyó Divisional Native Authority Council also introduced some form of taxes to boost its revenue generation. Unfortunately, the first of such taxes that was introduced as Regional Education and Health Levy sparked off protests throughout the length and breadth of the council and the government laid the blame at the doorstep of Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí and his Crown Prince. As a result, the District Officer for Òyó Native Authority sent a memo to the Resident of Òyó Province in Ìbàdàn requesting him to compel Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí to make a public pronouncement of agreement on the following:

    The permanent removal of the deposed Crown Prince, Àrèmo Tìámíyù Adébáyò Adéníran from Òyó to Ìwó.
    His [the Aláàfin's] firm resolve to act constitutionally in future.
    His [the Aláàfin's] full support for the Native Authority Council.
    His [the Aláàfin's] retirement from the Presidency of the Court of Appeal.
    And, a declaration that he [the Aláàfin] fully supports the Regional Education and Health Levy. (National Archives Ibadan, Nigeria: Security File number 26523/27, see memo reference number C9/48 dated 24May 1953 from the District Officer for Òyó Native Authority to the Resident of Òyó Province in Ìbàdàn).
    Following this in quick succession was a letter signed by the Acting Resident for Òyó Province, Mr. J. H. Beeley, formally removing Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí II as the official President of the Òyó Native Authority and the Òyó Appeal Court.

    Running through the controversy were elements of partisan politics. While the Òyó Divisional Council, controlled by the Action Group Party, was busy dismantling the traditional authority of the Aláàfin, the Òyó Parapò, a sociocultural group and an affiliate of the opposition party (National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon—NCNC), was gathering support around the monarch. Members of the Òyó council of chiefs (Òyómèsì) were also polarized into party political groupings; and the majority of them, including their leader Basòrun John Lánlókun, were supporters of the Action Group. So the Aláàfin was deprived of the traditional support of the council of chiefs as a bloc.

    The result of this tension was the violent upheaval that followed the political rally organized by the NCNC in Òyó on the 5September 1954. According to the report that Mr. W. Milliken, the Acting Civil Secretary for Western Region, submitted to the House of Assembly in Ìbàdàn on Monday, 6 September 1954, as government's position paper on the crisis:

    On the morning of September 5th [1954], preparations were made in Òyó to hold a political meeting in accordance with a permit issued for this purpose [the Òyó Parapò Society, an affiliate of NCNC organized the meeting]. Report were received that rival political factions were assembling and it was considered advisable that police reinforcement be drafted to Òyó [. . .].
    (National Archives Ibadan, Nigeria: See File number 6054/1 titled "Riots of Òyó" for details.) [End Page 105]
    The report went further on the number of casualties:

    By 8 A.M. today [Monday 6/9/1954—about 24 hours after the incidence], the number of known casualties were five dead and seventeen admitted in the Adéòyó Hospital, Ìbàdàn. A considerable number of other injured persons have received treatment at Òyó and as out-patients at the Adéòyó Hospital, Ìbàdàn.
    One of the national daily newspapers in Nigeria, the Daily Times of Tuesday, 7 September 1954, further reported that "six people died and several others were injured, [. . .] damage was done to property and some houses were burnt down by the rioters" (1). The newspaper, in its editorial comment of that day, recommended the "setting up of a Commission of Inquiry immediately to find out who was responsible for the riot at Òyó" (3). As if he were reacting directly to the call, the colonial Governor, Sir John Macpherson, accepted the recommendation of the Western Regional Government that a Commission of Inquiry be appointed to investigate the causes of the tension and the riot in Òyó. Subsequently, Mr. R. D. Lloyd, a Senior Crown Counsel, was appointed the Sole Commissioner. On the first day of the Commission of Inquiry's public sitting, Aláàfin Adéníran left Òyó for Ilésà on a self- and voluntary exile. As expected, the Commission of Inquiry submitted its report a few months later, but the British Commissioner could not find much evidence of the alleged involvement of Aláàfin Adéníran in the Òyó riot. He therefore exonerated the Aláàfin of the charges and recommended that he should be allowed to return to Òyó from exile.

    Despite this favorable recommendation, the Action Group Party-led government in power did not accept the verdict of the Commission of Inquiry. Thus, on 7 June 1955, the government of Western Region announced in a press statement that it had formally decided that Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí II should be suspended and banished from Òyó Division and Ìbàdàn Province until further notice. According to the press statement, that decision was made because the government felt that the return of the Aláàfin to Òyó would, in the circumstance then prevailing, constitute a threat to peace, order, and good governance in the Division. The release concluded on the note that the government hoped that during the suspension period it would be possible for the Aláàfin to be reconciled with his chiefs and his people so that he might be able to return to his throne.

    For over one year, many well-wishers and distinguished citizens in and outside of Òyó made frantic efforts to intervene in the matter in order to get the Aláàfin back on his throne. As part of their efforts to resolve the face-off amicably, many of the distinguished citizens advised the Aláàfin to dissociate himself from the actions of certain politicians who had made the question of his return to Òyó a political issue, most especially during the 1955-56 electioneering campaign. However, since Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí would not compromise on the issue, the Western Nigerian Regional government made the following statement on 6 July 1956 to formally announce the deposition of Aláàfin Adéníran Adéyemí II:

    The failure of the Aláàfin to accept the advice of his genuine well-wishers has not in the least helped the situation in Òyó and Government is satisfied that the time has come for firm and final decision in this matter. This government ought not to allow vacuum to continue to exist in Òyó. Without a head-chief in Òyó Division there is a vacuum in the social and spiritual life of the people, and unless a definite decision is made we shall be sowing the seeds of deterioration in the social order [End Page 106] which will eventually threaten peace, order and good government in the area. Therefore, the government has reluctantly come to the decision to depose Alhaji Adéníran Adéyemí II as Aláàfin of Òyó. The order of deportation excluding him from Òyó Division and Ibadan Province will continue to be in force and an order of deposition will have been served on him today.
    (National Archives Ibadan, Nigeria: See File number 6054/1 titled "Riots of Òyó" for details.)
    The Aláàfin eventually complied with the deposition order of the government and moved out of Ilésà, where he had been exiled, to Lagos, where he stayed with an NCNC political associate until his (Aláàfin's) death in 1960. While alluding to this unpleasant political development in retrospect, court bards of Òyó indicted the Aláàfin personally for his misfortune. The bards blamed the Aláàfin, tactfully though, for not exercising enough patience and diplomacy while resisting various political reforms being introduced by a democratically elected government in power at that time:

    Ládèèbó: Ohun a fèsò mú ì í bà jé,
    Ògbojà: Ohun a fagbára mú níí nini lára.

    Ládèèbó: Àlàbí, ikú ewà ló pòkín.

    Ògbojà: Ogbón-onnú leè pagba ibi.

    Ládèèbó: Whatever we handle with care usually don't get spoilt,
    Ògbojà: It is whatever we handle with force that will be difficult to accomplish.

    Ládèèbó: Àlàbí, it is the pride of beauty that kills the peacock.

    Ògbojà: One's intelligence can overcome evil in 200-fold.

    The deposition of the Aláàfin, which came about as a result of his refusal to give in to political reforms, is what the bards personified in the sudden death of the peacock while arrogantly spreading its long tail feathers to make a colorful display and exhibit its beauty.

    There are other numerous examples to demonstrate further how Yorùba oral artists manipulate their production to criticize those in authority in order to expose their leaders' shortcomings (see Isola 17-20 and Olatunji, "The Yorùbá Oral Poet" 193-99). While employing lampoon, the most scathing form of satiric genre, as their aesthetic strategy, we often see the poets lashing out at their targets. This privileged position that allows Yorùbá poets to pass scathing remarks on politically powerful individuals within the society is, however, not an open-ended one, and the poets themselves are conscious of the limitations attached to their freedom in criticizing their leaders. Hence, after passing harsh comments on an influential member of the community, the poets may appeal to members of the audience to keep their critical comments off the records: E má pée gbórò kan lénu mi (Do not say you've heard anything from me).

    For their part, Yorùbá court bards cannot afford to be too direct when criticizing their patrons because the patrons themselves form part of the bards' audiences. In fact, the claim of Mohamadou Kane that African traditional artists do not aim at revolt but at equilibrium is very much true of Yorùbá court bards (30). The bards can highly celebrate whatever they consider to be in the interest of their patrons, and lightly condemn the rulers' vices in order to achieve the kind of equilibrium that Kane talks about. What sculptors do with their chisel or what painter accomplish with their brush and paints, Yorùbá oral poets achieve with the careful choice of words—that is, the production of true and beautiful works of art that would please everyone at [End Page 107] all times—that stand up to repeat examination and retain perpetual admiration. Through their sound command of the Yorùbá language, court bards are able to form grand conceptions that stimulate powerful and inspired emotions. These they achieve by the proper formation of figures of thought and of speech through the creation of noble fiction by a clever choice of words.

    The beauty of court poetry itself is in the figurative language employed by its chanters in their presentations. Features such as allusion, symbolism, imagery, and personification are prominently used by court bards in their productions because of the "cultic" nature of the genre, which makes their performances a special instrument that could be easily used to praise and criticize simultaneously. The use of figurative language in Yorùbá court poetry helps to set the genre apart from daily speech and other prose narratives. This creates in the audience the immediate response that they are listening to poetry. For instance, personification and metaphor make more palpable to the audience what might otherwise have been abstract and intangible. Imagery appears to disguise its intentions, but its real meaning is hardly ever lost on the audience. Allusion, on the other hand, links the chant with the historical and cultural past, and helps to set the poem apart from everyday conversation. Yet, these features are not indulged in at the expense of intelligibility. Rather, they can be understood when contextually placed or when given a little explanation. In essence, Yorùbá court poets' choice of different forms of figurative language in their production affords the poets the opportunity to freely express their opinions on any issue, which may not be too favorable to their patrons, without any fear of censorship, molestation, or retribution from the patrons.

    Therefore, Yorùbá court poetry provides its authors with concealing tricks that transmit explosive messages in the guise of metaphor or words with multiple meanings. Rather than lashing out directly at the paramount rulers, court bards are fond of presenting their criticism with allusions and idiomatic expressions, an approach that helps mitigate the direct impact of their criticism on those rulers who are directly implicated and whom the bards often mention by name. This is made possible because of the elusive nature of colloquial Yorùbá and the double meaning of many of its expressions, which are often impenetrable for untrained ears. As a result, the nature of Yorùbá court poetry provides a means for court bards to hide behind allusions and metaphors, deeply anchored in their traditions and culture, blurring the exact meaning for the unsuspecting paramount rulers. The need to camouflage critical views and emotions in court poetry gave rise to multilayered meanings, creating a text within the text, rendering the dissection of colloquial phrases and expression a complex and challenging process. Therefore, court poetry has the dual advantage of being difficult to censor but easy to circulate. Thus, by their careful choice of words, Yorùbá court bards are able to establish an invisible link with their patrons, conveying critical and indicting messages that cannot be easily intercepted by the unsuspecting but watchful eyes of the paramount rulers.

    This literary tradition is not restricted to the Yorùbá people. It is also found in many other African societies (see Agovi; Vail and White; and Yankah). For instance, commenting on the royal praises rendered in honor of Mzilikazi, an Ndebele South African king, Leroy Vail and Landeg White make the following observation: [End Page 108]

    First, this poetry accepts that Mzilikazi's authority is supreme: whatever may be said, no challenge to the existing hierarchy is intended. Secondly, it serves to legitimate that hierarchy by celebrating its achievements [. . .]. Thirdly, there is nonetheless scope for comment on and even for criticism of aspects of Mzilikazi's leadership and the general direction of his policy. Fourth, supplementing the official praises [. . .] there are songs in which ordinary people are able to present their requests and comments to the king, who is by this means kept in touch with popular sentiment. Fifth, and most remarkable of all, it is emphasized that all such comment is "privilege" in the sense that the song form itself carries with it a freedom of speech wholly beyond what would have been tolerated in other circumstances. The form legitimizes the content, such poetry constituting a medium free of censorship in an otherwise militarized and autocratic state.
    The foregoing comments complement the position already well made by scholars like Barber (in "I Could Speak until Tomorrow"), Farias, Isola, Olajubu, and Olatunji (in "The Yorùbá Oral Poet") on the purgative role of Yorùbá traditional poets. In addition to the claim of these scholars, however, this paper has now established that Yorùbá court bards criticize their patrons only on rare occasions; and that, whenever the criticism is given, it is almost always presented subtly, and in lofty and effusive language. The excerpts taken from praise poetry rendered in honor of the Aláàfin of Òyó have also shown that Òyó royal bards occasionally express the minds of the commoners when commenting on current events in their community. While it is true that Yorùbá court bards of old depended, to some extent, on royal patronage, we must also admit that a reasonable percentage of their production was also devoted to the criticism of their patrons and a call for change. Although royal bards may not be out to subvert the traditional status quo, they are nevertheless fond of highlighting the weaknesses of their patrons through allusive and indirect statements. Therefore, the production of Yorùbá royal poets must be properly understood before it can be meaningfully related to events in everyday life. While it is acknowledged that the material of the poetry is taken from everyday life, it has to undergo elaborate processing and seasoning to become poetry. Listeners should be aware of this fact so they do not misinterpret some aspects of the poetry or completely gloss over important issues. This understanding negates the erroneous view held in some quarters, which tends to suggest that court bards, being royal "praise singers" and "flatterers," are pragmatic tools in the hands of the status quo, no matter how irresponsible or morally reprehensible the establishment.

    Not all bards, however, have the courage and the integrity to criticize their patrons when there is the need to do so in the interest of the generality of the people. But it is consoling to note that a reasonable number of Yorùbá court bards are conscious of the traditional role of the oral poet in the society, and that they never shy away from sounding the clarion call for a change in the system when there is the need to do so. One could only hope that those Yorùbá contemporary poets who sing to valorize the status quo and to advertise various government programs on government-owned radio and television stations, many of which may not necessarily be beneficial to the people, would learn from the example of the court bards who have successfully combined their duties as royal image-makers and watchdogs of public morality. [End Page 109]

    I should like to acknowledge, with grateful appreciation, that the first draft of this article is but one result of the 1999-2001 Research Fellowship offered by the German Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn. I wish to register my appreciation to Professors Eckhard Breitinger and Karin Barber for their support during the fellowship; and to the anonymous reviewer of the early version of this article, for those useful comments.

    Works Cited
    Agiri, B. A. "Early Òyó History Reconsidered" History in Africa 3 (1975): 1-12.

    Agovi, Kofi. "A King is not above insult: the politics of good governance in avudwene festival songs." Power, Marginality and African oral Literature. Ed. Graham Furniss and Liz Gunner. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1995. 47-64.

    Ajayi, J. F. A. "The Aftermath of the Fall of Old Òyó." History of West Africa. Ed. J. F. A. Ajayi and M. Crowder. 2nd ed. London: Oxford UP, 1987. 191-239.

    Akinyele, I. B. Ìwé Ìtàn Ìbàdàn (The History of Ibadan). Exeter: James Townsend, 1950.

    Akinyemi, Akintunde. "Poets as Historians: The Case of Akùnyùngbà in Òyó." ODU: Journal of West African Studies 38 (1991): 142-54.

    ——. "Yorùbá Royal Bards: Their Work and Relevance in the Society." Nordic Journal of African Studies 10:1 (2001): 89-106.

    Atanda, J. A. The New Oyo Empire. London: Longman, 1973.

    Babayemi, S. O. "The Fall and Rise of Oyo c. 1760-1905" Unpub. PhD thesis. U of Birmingham, 1979.

    Barber, Karin. "Yorùbá oríkì and Deconstructive Criticism." Research in African Literature 15.4 (1984): 497-518.

    —— . I Could Speak until Tomorrow. London: Edinburgh UP, 1991.

    Balogun, Kolawole. Government in Old Òyó Empire. Lagos: Africanus P, 1985.

    Fadipe, N. A. The Sociology of the Yorùbás. Ibadan: University P, 1991.

    Farias, P. F. de Moraes. "History and Consolation: Royal Yoruba Bards Comment on their Craft." History in Africa 19 (1992): 263-97.

    Finnegan, Ruth. Oral Literature in Africa. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978.

    Isola, Akinwumi. "The African Writer's Tongue." Research in African Literature 23.1 (1992): 17-26.

    Johnson, Samuel. The History of the Yorubas. Lagos: CSS Bookshop, 1921.

    Kane, Mohamadou. "The African Writer and His Public." Présence Africaine 30.58 (1966): 10-32.

    Law, R. C. C. The Oyo Empire, c 1600-1836. London: Oxford UP, 1977.

    Mafeje, A. "The Role of the Bard in Contemporary African Community." Journal of African Languages 6.3 (1967):193-223.

    Olaniyan, R. O. "Elements of Yorùbá Traditional Diplomacy: An Assessment." Yoruba Oral Tradition: Poetry in Music, Dance and Drama. Ed. Wande Abimbola. Ife: African Languages and Literatures Series, 1. 1975. 293-332.

    Olajubu, Oludare. "The Yorùbá Artists and their Work." Department of African Languages and Literatures, U of Ife. Seminar Series 2 (1977): 384-418.

    Olatunji, Olatunde. "The Yorùbá Oral Poet and His Society." Research in African Literature 10.2 (1979): 51-70. [End Page 110]

    —— . Features of Yorùbá Oral Poetry. Ibadan: UPL, 1984.

    Pinnock, S.G. The Romance of Missions in Nigeria. Richmond: Virginia Educational Department, Foreign Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, 1917.

    Soyinka, W. Aké: The Years of Childhood. London: Rex Collins, 1981.

    Vail, Leroy, and Landeg White. Power and the Praise Poem: South African Voices in History. London/Charlottesville: James Currey/UP of Virginia, 1991.

    Yankah, Kwesi. "To Praise or Not to Praise the King: The Akan Apae in the Context of Referential Poetry. " Research in African Literatures 14.3 (1983): 381-400.
  2. Ikoro

    Ikoro Well-Known Member MEMBER

    May 23, 2006
    Likes Received:
    How complex....

    This was a superb find. Little did I know of my peoples neighbours, the Yoruba, until I read this.

    Yoruba culture has become increasingly popular amongs the Afrakans on the US continent, I have always wondered why this particular culture has enjoyed such a massive following.

    May this article help to unearth more facts of our peoples cultures and traditions.

    Ps, Silent-Ra, do you have anything on the Igbos? I am of the Igbo people, and would love to see anything similiar to this on our traditions. Rarely do I come over such academical analysises. I rely on the words of the villagers, which are mighty and powerful. But would love to see an analytical study on any topic (good or bad).

    Give thanks.


  3. silent-ra

    silent-ra Banned MEMBER

    Dec 29, 2004
    Likes Received:
    i'm here to serve yu yor Honor. yor request will be posted momentarily.
  4. Sun Ship

    Sun Ship Well-Known Member MEMBER

    Aug 31, 2003
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    excellent posting

    I’m going to copy this article and read through it thoroughly, but what I have read so far is very interesting. What is being described in this paper seems to be the same oral tradition practiced by other tribal nations in West Africa, whereas the poet or Griot literally is paid to come to the court of the chief or go to celebrations given by important people, and then began to praise their families lineage and the attributes of these people’s leaderships and power. And these same poets could also be openly and mischievously critical of those he’s directing his prose toward, and it is taken almost humorously as in satirical criticism.

    After seeing this in few documentaries over the years and few of my studies, it became obvious to me this tradition of very lyrical and even sing-song style of storytelling or satirical-type poetry has stayed alive all over the Diaspora; from work chants, work songs, to field hollers, from the blues and forms of early satirical spoken word poetry like you see with Rudy Ray Moore, From the Last Poets and Nikki Giovanni to Rap and the more progressive Spoken Word poetry of today.

    Just like the Blues, people always think of the more popular versions of the Blues with instruments and driving rhythms, when originally or traditionally the Blues could be a man sitting alone or amongst a group of people skillfully telling "their story and struggles" in long haunting melodies and prose.

  5. silent-ra

    silent-ra Banned MEMBER

    Dec 29, 2004
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    great analysis yor Honor Sun Ship.