THE WARRIOR KING
The warrior king is celebrated for his unique ability to conquer on the battlefield and govern the state with equal acuity. The history of early Yoruba civilization is filled with epic tales of such kings, who had the courage, determination and military skills to dominate otherwise fragmented collections of villages and towns.
In fact, the most highly-revered orisa were renown warrior kings. Ogun, Sango and Obaluiye were all skilled in battle, as well as statecraft. As such, it is impossible to fully venerate these divinities without also embodying their military and political prowess.
Let's examine the exploits of the 19th century warrior king, Esubiyi, whose rise to power reveals three distinct phases of dominance demonstrated by other warrior kings of Yoruba land.
PHASE ONE: TAKING THE CROWN
Esubiyi was a man of exceptional birth. His father, Onimogun, was a renowned babalawo, hunter and herbalist who belonged to the royal family of Ikole. Onimogun went on to settle in Iye kingdom. There, he divined for the king, telling him that the princess was barren, which would cause her husband to reject her. When this manifested, Onimogun took the princess to be his bride. She bore him many children.
One of these children would distinguish himself from all others, however. Tradition says that the princess of Iye was pregnant for seven years, which eventually prompted her to go to the Esu shrine of Ijelu town. There, she propitiated Esu for a safe delivery. Eventually, she gave birth to a son with a full set of teeth. The boy was named Esubiyi, which means, "Esu gave birth to this one."
Esubiyi grew up to become an accomplished herbalist, babalawo and warrior, like his father. By the year 1860, he had earned a reputation for being a great war chief who effectively defended the northeastern region of the Ibadan empire. In his rise to power, Esubiyi would eventually seize the throne of Ayede kingdom and establish a new ruling dynasty.
During the Yemoja festival, Esubiyi went into the sacred grove, where a crown had been hidden. Recognizing the sacred object and the power it symbolized, Esubiyi was drawn to it. Not only that, he put the crown upon his head. As soon as he did so, his followers praised him, "Kabiyesi, Ata Ayede," which means, "Your royal highness, king of Ayede."
By 1878, the warrior king, Esubiyi would conquer many surrounding towns, including Irele, Ipao, Oke Ako, Ogbe and Omu. These towns became subordinate to Ayede and were forced to provide labor, building materials and agricultural products. During Ayede's Orisa festivals, for example, the subordinate towns were required to provide palm oil, palm wine, yams, kola nuts and other sacrificial items.
PHASE TWO: SUPPRESSING CIVIL TRADITIONS
As soon as Esubiyi took the throne of Ayede, he set out to completely rearrange the population and social order. On one hand, he brought the entire population of Iye with him, and imposed Iye's four quarters onto Ayede:
Simultaneously, Esubiyi accepted large numbers of strangers and refugees from other neighboring kingdoms. This required the creation of two new quarters, which surrounded the Iye core. In this way, Esubiyi virtually absorbed the indigenous population of Ayede.
More importantly, Esubiyi deliberately suppressed Iye's dominant civil chieftaincies, replacing them with his own military positions and strategically recruiting strangers into offices of political authority. An Iye chief, whose title had been revived in Ayede describes Esubiyi's statecraft:
He purposely refused to resuscitate all chieftaincies we had in Iye. He had no council of chiefs. He had a council of war chiefs and he made sure he had a majority of these chiefs selected either from his household, or from the stranger elements...
PHASE THREE: LAUNCHING SPIRITUAL REVOLUTION
Esubiyi's civil revolution made waves in the spiritual life of Ayede as well. In Iye, the entire kingdom had traditionally worshipped Orisa Olua, who revitalized the power of the Olu (king). In Ayede, however, Esubiyi limited Oluwa to Owaiye Quarter. He then elevated Orisa Ojuna and Yemoja to a position of primacy in Ayede kingdom.
Esubiyi brought Orisa Ojuna from his paternal lineage and Yemoja from Ibadan. He used these deities to overwhelm the other religious practices in three ways:
Esubiyi, the warrior king of Ayede, is a clear example of how power is acquired, maintained and expanded. By taking the crown, he legitimized his military expansion and conquests. Next, by integrating large percentages of diverse populations, Esubiyi destabilized potential contenders and set the stage for imposing a military administrative structure. Finally, by relegating the former religious order to a single quarter, he made it possible to elevate a spiritual practice that would favor his rule.
Esubiyi's three phases of dominance demonstrate one way in which Orisa Lifestyle reaches its fullest expression to the extent that we, the devotees, apply the principles of Yoruba civilization in our day-to-day lives.
Apter, Andrew. Black Critics and Kings
Origunwa, Obafemi. Fundamentals of Orisa Lifestyle
Live the Medicine
Obafemi Origunwa, MA
Thought leader, Ifa priest and author of four definitive books, Obafemi Origunwa inspires metamorphosis through living the medicine that will heal your life and heal the lives of the people you're destined to serve.