Historical background

The Yoruba communities trace their origin to Oduduwa and the town of Ile-Ife. Oral history has it that after the death of Oduduwa, his seven grandchildren scattered across the Southwest of Nigeria, establishing their respective kingdoms while conquering and absorbing the aboriginal inhabitants.

Oranmiyan, the youngest prince, founded the ancient Oyo Empire in the Northwest of the River Niger in the then Ilorin Province, now Kwara State. He became the first Alaafin, the progenitor of the Oyos, who transferred the political power to Oyo-Ile.

Sango legacy as

landmark leader

Born and built with inherent formidable spiritual energy, Tella-Oko, also known as Sango, Oranmiyan’s second son, succeeded Ajaka, who appeared to be a weak ruler, and became the third king of the Oyo Empire. He was a very influential king and was said to have established a new culture and tradition. Historically, it is said that most of the cultural productions and traditions, especially spiritual crowns and emblems, were all products of Sango through his imperial influence.

Also, historically, Sango brought prosperity to Oyo Empire during his reign. Under his influence, Oyo culture spread within the empire and outside, to the Atlantic Ocean and is, today, known in the world, including North America, Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobego, Cuba), South America, (Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela) and Europe.

The Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Olayiwola Adeyemi III, said life of Alaafin Sango remained excellent example in leadership, considering the fact that his rule over Oyo was far less than a decade.

Sango’s brother, Ajaka, the monarch said, was probably deposed because his temperament did not meet the requirements of the turbulent period. He explained that Sango’s dynamic alliances, including marriages, were constructed to pursue the greater interest of Oyo just as he spared no effort at consolidating the military ascendancy of Oyo in the region.

He said: “Sango was preferred because he was a man of valour, purpose-driven and master of diplomacy. He became king when Oyo was at its formative stage and surrounded by mighty and warlike states such as Nupe, Ibariba and Owu. His charismatic leadership re-defined the character and pattern of inter-group relations and diplomacy and made Oyo the centre-piece of his foreign relations.

“He was a strong warrior, strengthened to a point of historical dominance, building with glory, vitality and expansion and became a symbol of power and truth, serving as the supreme judge in the Oyo Empire and being the final court. His Ose, representing two axes, was a symbol of justice,” Oba Adeyemi said.

According to the monarch, modern science was yet to unravel the mystic behind Sango’s form of energy, which manifested in the two essences of life at the same time, asserting that the power of Sango was best demonstrated during the rainy season when the flame and lightening of his Oseproduced energy larger and more intense than what mere mortals can generate in a flash.

To become Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Adeyemi said, one must undergo the spiritual processes of Sango, adding that during the initiation seclusion, the Alaafin must wear the legendary and spirit possessed crown of Sango as a symbol of traditional authority and spirituality. ‘’In the process of becoming Alaafin, I was also made to undergo inductions in order to be the direct representative of Sango on earth. I was taken through these processes to be educated in the chants, proverbs, praise names, dynastic poetry and panegyrics of my lineage and all previous Alaafin.

“Then I began the journey with a huge responsibility to protect, defend, promote the cherished values of Yoruba customs and traditions with the zeal and if need be, to lay down my life defending those values. I thank my destiny for making me part of the Sango tradition. Without Sango, there is no Alaafin and without Alaafin there can be no Oyo, Without Oyo, there is no Yoruba land,’’ he said.

Although his reign was short-lived, Oba Adeyemi said Sango remained a hero for many, adding that the late monarch and the circumstances of his death, as controversial and mysterious as they seem, have remained a reference point across the world.

“’Sango died with the concern of his people paramount in his heart. He paid the supreme sacrifice and left Oyo more grandiose, more stable, better administered and more secured than he met the nascent kingdom. He is today been remembered as one of the rare African leaders, who became instant success in empire building.

“Under the inspirational leadership of Sango, the Oyo kingdom became known not just for the effectiveness of its political system, but for its military strength. Sango’s seven years reign was marked with several wars fought to liberate Oyo from its predatory and truculent older neighbours. His short reign consolidated the position of Oyo as the foremost Guinea Savannah State and also secured the independence and sovereignty of the nascent kingdom,” the Alaafin said.

Sango, he said, was also associated with the sacred animal, the ram, and the colours of red and white. “Sango is venerated in Haiti, as a god of thunder and weather; in Brazil, he is known as Xangô; in Umbanda, as the very powerful loaNago Shango; in Trinidad and Tobago as Shango god of Thunder, drumming and dance ; Cuba, Puerto Rico and Venezuela–the Santeria equivalent of St. Barbara, he is known as Changó,” he said.

Today, Sango festival is celebrated in over 21 countries of the world and all these countries host their various Sango Festivals, where this tradition is practised.

Moves to preserve the

 Sango heritage

Oba Adeyemi said he was determined to immortalise the legacies of Sango, saying that, just-concluded World Sango Festival, is one of such moves. According to him, the purpose was to recognise Oyo as the original ancestral home of Sango and to unite all Yoruba descents and enthusiasts once in a year in Oyo town. He added that efforts are being made by his council of chiefs and the Paula Gomes Cultural Foundation to preserve and safeguard both the tangible and intangible heritage of ancient Oyo town with a view to preparing candidature dossiers for World Sango heritage nominations. Dr Paula Gomes from Portugal is Alaafin’s Cultural Ambassador.

In the same vein, the Federal Government has expressed its support for Oba Adeyemi and the Paula Gomes Cultural Foundation. This is contained in an official letter dated April 8, with reference number FMCT/ECR/11/461,  written by the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, Mr Nkechi Njele, to the Director-General, National Commission for Museums and Monuments.

A copy of the letter was also sent to the Regional Director, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Regional Office in Abuja, Professor Hassana Alidou, was made available to The Nation.

It stated that Oyo town, located in Oyo State, Southwest holds a remarkable and rich set of tangible resources such as temple, palaces, markets and traditional compounds as well as natural resources like rivers and forests.

This notable set of buildings and natural resources, Federal Government pointed out, sustain the maintenance of a millenary culture based on a unique and complex traditional, political and religious system.

‘’The intangible heritage preserved in Oyo include music, traditional craftsmanship, poetry (Oriki), as well as complex and intense festivities calendar that culminates with the important Sango Festival, make Oyo town a bulwark of Yoruba traditional culture in Nigeria.’’

The letter continues: ’’Moreover, as it is widely known, Oyo town was the capital of one of the greatest African Empires. As such, it was directly responsible for the diffusion of Yoruba culture, traditions and beliefs throughout West Africa, covering a large territory that extended from the Southwest Nigeria to Benin, Togo, up to Ghana. This same cultural heritage was later on diffused through the Trans-Atlantic slave routes to the Americas and the Caribbean and preserved from generation to generation to date. In some cases, such as in Brazil, this culture was classified as national heritage through the preservation of the Nago communities of Bahia’s Cabdomble.’’

“Due to the size and scope of Oyo-Sango’s heritage,” the letter went on, ‘’it is clear that this nomination process will require an extended multi-disciplinary research work. It is, therefore, necessary to approve the constitution of an inter-institutional network to support this work and the project implementation. Therefore, I am suggesting that the following will be required to carry out the projects; representative of the Ministry of Tourism Culture and National Orientation, National Commission for Museums and Monuments, UNESCO, the Alaafin’s palace, the relevant local governments, Paula Gomes Cultural Foundation and members from any other relevant organizations.’’

Essentially, it advised that they will be expected to embark on inscription of Sango Festival into UNESCO representatives list of Humanity for 2015 and 2016 and the inscription of Oyo town into the UNESCO World Heritage list, so as to be listed on National Commission for Museum and Monuments tentative list for submission to the World Heritage Committee in the near future.

Another letter of endorsement and support to World Sango Festival from the Ministry was later sent to the Alaafin of Oyo. The letter, copy of which was also sent to the paramount ruler’s cultural ambassador, acknowledge the festival as a global one being celebrated in over 20 countries, more importantly as it attracts all Sango worshippers in the country and the Diaspora together with those from the Caribbean, Brazil and Cuba among others.

Highlights of the 10-day event include cultural displays by various states with their governors as special guests of honour, diverse religious performances, and visits to historic places.

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