Traditional rulers as custodians of Yoruba culture

TRADITIONAL rulers have been known as very important personalities in the society; they have been playing significant roles politically and economically in their respective domains.

It is believed that Yoruba traditional rulers are representatives of the gods on earth, and that is why they are referred to as ‘Igbakeji Orisa,’ that is, second only to the gods.

Traditional rulers had been administering the affairs of their domains before the advent of colonial rule in Nigeria, and they were able to record success despite having no written constitution, as they relied on customs, convention, precedents and consent of their people to govern.

The success of any traditional ruler in Yorubaland is often measured by the level of development that takes place during his reign. In fact, in the olden days, traditional rulers participated in the production of local crafts and artistic materials like painting, drawing, weaving, dyeing, among others.  A good example of this is the late Ataoja of Osogbo in the 1930s-1940s, Oba Samuel Adenle 1, who loved arts so much.

In fact, it was during Oba Adenle’s reign that Suzane Adunni Iwinfunke Wenger (Yeye Osun) came to Nigeria.

Adunni Olorisa’s reign would not have been a success without the support of Oba Adenle, and when Oba Adenle transited and Oba Iyiola Oyewale Matanmi came to the throne of his forebears, he continued to support the activities of Yeye Osun.

The roles Adunni Olorisa played for the development of Osogbo, to the extent that the Osun Osogbo shrine was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 2005, will never be forgotten.

The annual Osun Osogbo festival in August has, therefore, been registered on the global cultural map which culture enthusiasts and lovers across the world strive to participate in.

All of these would, therefore, not have been possible without the support of the traditional institution in Osogbo.

The same thing can be said about Obas across Yorubaland, as they have continued to show the people that they are the custodians of the tribe’s culture.

At a time when foreign culture is competing with the Yoruba culture, the traditional institution is standing firm, while emphasising the need for the people to appreciate their culture and embrace it.

The Yoruba culture, for example, highlights the need to respect elders and project positive values in the society.

The traditional institution is also the symbol of the culture and that automatically makes it the custodian of the culture.


Itadare is Assistant Chief Museum Education Officer, National Museum, Ibadan.

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