Yoruba Obas’ crowns: The mystic, the taboo

Aside the long staff and horsetail, one important paraphernalia of Yoruba traditional rulers is the crown which affirms and also asserts the monarch’s authority. TUNDE BUSARI, in this piece,  examines the history, significance and the making of the crowns.


There are different Yoruba  versions of the history of Yoruba Obas’ crown. What the versions, however, share in common is their acknowledgement of the primacy of Ile-Ife as the source of the crown from where other Obas received theirs.

The Olugbo of Ugboland, Oba Frederik Obateru Akinruntan would always declare that his town, which migrated from Ile-Ife, owns the first ancient crown.

Although his claim is open to debate given the fact that Oduduwa, the progenitor of Yoruba race is regarded as the first to wear beaded crown, Oba Akinruntan says his crown predates the arrival of Oduduwa to Ile-Ife.

Regardless of the side the argument swings , the crown is an important insignia of the stool in Yorubaland.

It comes in two types. One, Are Crown, regarded as the ancient one, is worn only by the Ooni of Ife. It is put at coronation and on annual basis. It is also called Adenla and conically shaped and attached with heavily beaded veil that covers the face of the Oba.

According to the Alayemore of Ido-Osun, Oba Aderemi Adedapo, the Are crown is a supreme crown which spiritual essence cannot be over-emphasised.  Until certain sacrifice is made, it is not put on the head of the Ooni.

“Another side of it is that it must be worn once in a year. It is important to clarify that it is forbidden not to wear it in a year. In lieu of not wearing it, sacrifice needs to be made also. The Ooni must not see its interior. It is so powerful a crown to be desecrated,” he said.

crownsThe second type is what is commonly seen on traditional rulers at social functions.  Sometimes shaped in a Lawyer’s wig, it carries no spiritual importance because it is more of fashion than tradition.  Even at that, without a crown on his head, an Oba is not different from his subjects.

Yoruba Obas in Nigeria, Benin Republic and the Diaspora are easily identified with their crown and so revered as a symbol and indeed custodian of custom and tradition.

In one of his articles, Afro-American Art Historian, Robert F. Thompson writes, “the crown incarnates the intuition of royal ancestral force, the revelation of great moral insight in the person of the king, and the glitter of aesthetic experience.”

With crown, complemented by horsetail and a long staff, the Oba is an authority over his subjects who also see him as their royal father whose word is binding on them.

Irrespective of modern system of government which has arguably eroded significant power of traditional ruler and turns them to ceremonial personage; the position of Obas is still sacred to the extent that modern government officials often result to them for grassroot mobilisation.

However wealthy a man is, he is forbidden to wear crown despite the fact that he can afford as many as his appetite demands in his wardrobe. It is against chieftaincy law for one who has not been approved  or is not qualified to wear the crown. That is the rule which has survived many generations.

But the flip side is that Obas are not expected to wear their crown everyday. This seeming restriction is recommended to underscore the sacredness of the crown. The evidence of this is seen is in the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Olayiwola Adeyemi, who does not often appear with his crown.

The monarch, widely acclaimed as chief promoter of Yoruba culture and tradition, is rather seen in a cap called abetiaja which sits comfortably on top of his head at both private and public’s functions. The abetiaja has arguably become the Alaafin’s dress code and his identity and signature.

To analysts, the Alaafin’ s act might be informed by his better understanding of all that surround the use of the crown. An analyst revealed that many Obas in Oke-Ogun appear to have taken after the Alaafin in this regard.

The Shabiganna of Iganna, an Oke-Ogun community, Oba Soliu Oyemola, described the crown as a special paraphernalia of the stool which should not be reduced to ordinary cap worn on a daily basis. Oba Ikuomola argues that wearing it to every outing is an abuse of the crown.

“Traditional rulers should always guide against the abuse and desecration of the crown. Crown is what separates an Oba from his chiefs and subjects. The crown is, therefore, synonymous with the stool.  Unfortunately,

“it suffers abuse today as you see some traditional rulers putting it on with less regard to its sacredness. It is turned to a fashion and style thing. But we are making effort to let them see reason this should not continue to preserve the significance of the crown,” he said.

As beautiful as the crowns appear on the heads of traditional rulers, only a handful know the details of its making and efforts that go into its beautification.

crowns2Tools used to make crown include, Tape rule, scissors, needle, thread, beads, sharping stone, knife and others. Without the above, crowns cannot be made.

An Ile-Ife-based crown designer,   Owojori Asinde, dismissed spiritual connotation of making crown, stressing that he does not need to perform any sacrifice to make a crown. Conducting this writer round his workshop located in Ile-Ife, Asinde made a mock display of how a crown is made and asserted his strict adherence to his Christianity faith.

On the contrary, an important event during the annual Osun Osogbo festival is called Ibo Ade (Sacrifice for the crown). The event includes display of the Ataoja’s crowns of different sizes in the presence of the sitting Ataoja, the Arugba Osun and priestesses who offer prayer in the memory of the past Ataoja and also bless the sitting Ataoja.

The Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun explained that Ibo Ade is an integral part of activities marking the Osun festival, saying that on no account should the event be skipped before the grand finale of the festival which draws thousands of tourists to the town.

“We have to perform Ibo Ade as a matter of obligation. It is about the history of the town and a way to bless the past and present Ataoja. It is done in such a manner that does not attract much attention of the outsider. But there is secrecy in it because people who are supposed to be there must be present,” Oba Olanipekun said.