Saturday, October 22, 2011

Chiefs and Kings





To be addressed as a Mr., Mrs. or Ms. in Nigerian social circles
 means you are a nobody. 
To be a mover or shaker you need to be a chief
 - or to at least hold a doctorate.

"To be a traditional chief is like being a small god - 
it is seen as the peak of one's achievement in life."

"A chief should be someone who is well-to-do financially and intellectually - 
and has contributed substantially to the development of the community."  

 "It's a recognition by your people," says Luke Ogadagbe, who became a chief in one of the Delta States in the 1990s.    He is known as Erhuvwu of Udu kingdom - "Goodness of the Udu kingdom" - and has found that his traditional title puts him in a "special class".  "You don't operate as an ordinary man anymore. As a matter of fact you are supposed to be in the upper bracket of society and that lifts you from the commoner," he explains.  

In Nigeria, titles are very important.  Many titles are inherited; others are awarded for doing good works within the community.  Some titles are earned professionally and other titles are bestowed as favors.   It is not uncommon to have titles which connect people with royalty or  those which are honorary chieftaincy titles. Sometimes the titles are also 'purchased'.    When we don't know the title of the individual (or in my case, when I can't pronounce the names) we use Her/His Excellency which covers all errors.   In general, we know that the Chief is either the head of an African village/community OR an honorary title given by an official.   The Otunba is a title given to signify a form of royalty in the chiefdom.  The Ayore is also a royal title which is given as a huge honor.  The king of a state or large community is the Oba.  The Oba is highly respected, but doesn't have political authority.

We had our first real exposure to this system when we were invited to a birthday party recently.  
It was the 75th birthday for "Her Highness, The Otunba Ayore,  Dr. (Mrs.) Bole Kuferege - Olube O.O.N." and we were thrilled to be invited.  She is a board member where Charles works and a very impressive lady.    


The Otunba is a beautiful woman and does not look 75 years old.  She is gracious, well-spoken, intelligent and has earned all the titles bestowed upon her.   There is a wonderful article about the Otumba here which is worth reading.  She is a high-profile woman in Nigeria, a former CEO of the United Bank of Africa and the former minister of commerce.  This excerpt from the article mentioned above tells about one of her titles. 

"...An Otunba is not the kind of title for which they send a letter and ask you to come and be an Otunba. It is a proper traditional title. 
“I went to do what they call ‘Ipebi’ for eight days, where I sat down and I was humbled by different people, old and young, who came to prostrate and greet me ‘Kabiyesi’. I stayed there for eight days, not going home or even to ease myself. To me, it was an eye opener as to the rich tradition that the Yoruba have. 
“On my father’s side, I come from the Jibodu Sokalu family. My paternal grandmother was Jibodu Sokalu on her father’s side, while on the mother’s side, she was from Ilupomi Soleka. So, I am from royalty in the two sides, as you can see.”    ...."So my basic responsibility to the Oba is to pay homage and, as much as I can, give support to the projects that are taking place within Ijebu-Ode and its environ."  

The Otunba's birthday party was held at the Medici Restaurant on Victoria Island in Lagos.  It was a well-attended event with various dignitaries and important personalities.   
We had a seated dinner with excellent food along with many, many, many speeches in traditional Nigerian style.   We were one of a very few oyibos (white ones) so we stood out a bit.  However, we had wonderful dinner partners and we enjoyed meeting many new people.  
However, to me, the most unique part of the evening was the Oba who attended from Ogun state.   After all the guests were seated, the Otunba walked in with the other dignitaries who filled the head table.  Then a trumpet sounded and everyone stood for the entrance of the Oba.  His trumpeter led the procession while blowing (loudly) and the Oba paraded in under a cloth jeweled umbrella.  He carried a beaded walking stick and a fly whisk made of horse hair fastened to a gold handle.  This is an important part of the Oba's regalia along with his special beads.  After he was seated, the Oba's court went to the table right behind us.  Suddenly, his attendant started shouting"Oba N' kio" for all to hear - over and over.  
All through the evening, this same man would SCREAM "Oba N kio" anytime that the Oba was addressed OR just at random, so we didn't forget that he was in the room.  All during dinner and all during the speeches - even mid-sentence, we heard the shout of "Oba N' kio" -which means either "Hail to the King" OR "The monarch recognizes your presence and welcomes you" depending on when it is shouted.  It was crazy!!  The Oba does not speak (I figured it was beneath him) in public, so his attendant responded from across the room - over FIFTY times!  You can find more information about the Oba (also very impressive) here.  It was just intriguing to us.  


The evening ended with a wonderful band and dancing.  


As we left, we were given a gift as a thank you for attending the event.  
The women received pink packages and the men were given blue, which was a nice touch.  


Charles received a small accessory bag as his momento.  


And I am pictured at 1:30 a.m. with my new bright red coffee thermos. 

What an interesting evening!  

And....I have decided on a new title which was inherited 
and handed down from my family line
 and is also a very HIGH condition of birth 
AND listed as an approved title from Nigeria.
   
Just call me "Princess Akobi", which means FIRST BORN.  
I think I earned that one!  :)  

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