Saturday, 3 May 2014

‘I Inherited 107 Wives When I Became King’ – Oba Adekoya

The Legusen of Ode Ule Kingdom, Ogun State, Oba Adedayo Adekoya, doubles as the Oba of Isese Agbaye, which is an umbrella body for traditional worshippers. The monarch, who is also a medical doctor, tells GBENRO ADEOYE why he’s into Isese

Since when have you been the Legusen (Oba) of Ode Ule Kingdom?
There are three institutions that I represent. First of all, the Ode Ule institution, the Isese Agbaye institution and the Diaspora institution. I became the Legusen of Ode Ule in 1991. I was appointed by the Legusen clan to be their head in December 1991 and on April 28, 1992, I became recognised by the then Alaye Ode system. Ode Ule and Ode Remo now exist separately. So we now have Ode Ule and Ode Remo.

What does it mean to be the Oba Isese Agbaye (worldwide)?
During pre-independence era and the amalgamation processes, the colonial masters didn’t allow our people to express themselves. Our people tried to register the traditional religions but they couldn’t, the colonialists only made them to register the medicinal aspect. When I became a Board Chairman for Ogun State Council of Arts and Culture, I mobilised Isese people. Isese is the umbrella name for all our traditional worshippers – Ifa, Sango, Babalawo, Alagbede, Alagemo and so on. So through that, I got to get close to them. I was installed as the Oba Isese Agbaye in 2002. You know, I have both indigenous and western education because I’m also a babalawo (herbalist) as well as a trained medical practitioner. I trained at the medical school, University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University).

As a medical doctor, how did you emerge as the Oba Isese Agbaye?
I was the president then. I asked the babas and mamas to consult and bring their head and that I would give them the logistic support. Then, they asked me to come to Ile Ife to see who they had chosen, so I went there. I was so eager to see who it was. When everyone had assembled, they told me that I was the one and asked me to sit down on the seat prepared for the Oba. That was how I was installed as the Oba Isese Agbaye. I never expected it.

So what is a medical doctor doing as the head of a religion generally believed to be archaic?
Which part of it is archaic? Is it the one that tells you to go and pay 10 per cent of your money to somebody you don’t see that is modern?

How did you become an Isese person?
I’m an Isese man by birth. My parents were Christians, they went to Christian schools. In fact, my mother held a position in the Methodist church. But for me, I’ve always been an Isese man. The only thing that attracted me to church then was to see oyinbo (white man), so I stopped going when Oyinbo stopped coming.

Didn’t your parents object or try to dissuade you from becoming a traditionalist?
They couldn’t. They knew I was doing the right thing. When my father was born, on the third day, they consulted Ifa divination and Ifa said this one would not follow you to the farm; he would write. The man finished the whole of the Arabic book then and there was nothing to do again, so they took him to a Christian secondary school. He finished the levels within four years. At the 100 years anniversary of his alma mater, the man won the school’s all time best. He had nine bachelor degrees at that time because master’s degrees were not common in his time. He was always taking correspondence courses and had many degrees. Can such a man tell somebody not to follow a prediction that was made?

But don’t you feel awkward practising Isese in this age and time?
We’ve realised that we actually started what people call civilisation now. At Iho-Eleru near Akure, Ondo State, there is a cave where they found the skulls and skeletons of humans that lived in that cave. They dated it to 13,000 years ago, about 11,000 BC. If in my place, somebody was living 13,000 years ago and in a book, they recorded that Adam and Eve started the zero point arbitrarily at 3,500BC, do you want me to believe the person that lived 3,500BC is my father? Is there any sense in that? This is scientifically proven. You know in that story of Adam and Eve, after Cain killed Abel and ran away and got married somewhere, did he marry his sister? He went to other people that were already existing. So in other words, humanity did not begin with Adam and Eve. It was a convenient point for the Jews to start their history. Their history is not my history. Our history dates farther back than that. People crossed the Suez canal more than 100,000 years ago to go and populate the world. If people crossed the canal to populate Asia, Americas, the far east over 100,000 years ago, and you are saying 3,500BC is our starting point. I think it’s not right. Isese is what it was at the beginning.

 Islam and Christianity believe in heaven and hell. Does Isese have a similar belief?
Those things are concepts to make you docile. In Isese, we believe that the material and the spiritual world are coexisting but at different cosmic energy levels. What they are calling heaven is here with us, it’s just that they may be at a cosmic level that you may not realise it. What we are saying is that the nature that exists all over the place does not end where our technology ends. There are technologies that we cannot yet perceive. When people make technological discoveries, it is because they are able to pick them. What is not there, can you discover it? So it means we have developed a sensory mode to get those things gradually.

How are you able to balance orthodox medicine with traditional medicine?
What is orthodox? Orthodoxy is about location. When you say something is orthodox, it means that is what is practised there. So African medical practice is orthodox in Africa, European medical practice is orthodox in Europe. When you take African medical practice to Europe, then it becomes unorthodox. So what you’re asking is how unorthodox European medicine is mergable with the orthodox African medicine? Religion has nothing to do with medicine. The practice of orthodox African medicine in Africa is very simple. For instance, somebody had a stroke and we got some leaves from the backyard and made a concoction of herbs, and then gave her to drink. The blood pressure was 234/130 and she took the drink and her blood pressure came down within two hours. I’m a student of Indigenous Knowledge at the University of Ibadan. The leaves are there in our backyard and they are things that are available and indigenous to us. If somebody has a transverse lie in obstetrics where the baby is lying across, instead of cephalic rotation or doing a caesarean section, I take wasp herb and rub it on the belly and the baby rotates and the woman delivers vaginally. That means in another nine months, if she gets close to her husband, she can have another baby. But with CS, I will tell her to wait for another three or four years. We are missing a lot.

Does that mean that you have abandoned the kind of medicine you studied in the university?
No, that is the problem we are having. Putting a barrier between one form of knowledge and another is foolish. If we are going to use wisdom, if I learn something from you, will I say that because I already learnt from one, I will not use the one I learnt from you? I will combine them. You are only better off when you are able to combine both. Prior to this time, I would ask you which form of treatment you want, indigenous African system, western or both? Quite a number of people will say they are not sure of the indigenous treatment, so I use western. Some will prefer indigenous medicine.  So it depends on the choice of the patient. From my experience, there are limitations to all of them. So what we do is to complement. We are sad about doctors who think everything that is local is rubbish.

Doctors say some of the components of herbal medicine can damage organs
Some say we claim that herbal medicine treats all ailments. How about our dear Ampiclox? When your eye is discharging, you use Ampiclox. When your ear is discharging, you use Ampiclox. So it’s not only in the traditional African medicine that you have multiplicity of effects, it is also in western medicine. It is because the same thing could be the cause and manifesting in various forms. The effect of staphylococcus aureus on your skin is different from the effects it has in the intestine.

When in school, did any of your friends taunt you because of your religion?
In fairness to them, my colleagues were fantastic. I was the chairman of the medical students on our floor, I was so popular.

What about your children, what do they think about Isese?
They are all practising Isese.

What about discrimination, do they face it in school?
Yes, for instance, somebody is supposed to fill a form in school and they asked him to provide sureties. Either a reverend of a church or imam and I asked how about Isese? That is discrimination. We are grossly being discriminated against.

Does Isese community have representatives at the ongoing confab?
No, we were not invited. Nobody even thought of us. And one could be so infuriated that how can you be deciding for 70 per cent of the population and you are not inviting their representative. I can’t just imagine it. If it happened when Europeans were colonial masters, we would have understood, but coming from Nigerians is very painful that we are still doing this to ourselves.

Does the government even know about Isese?
There is a letter here to President Goodluck Jonathan, a letter to the former secretary to the government, Ahmed Yayale, and they responded. We have been  communicating and it‘s so saddening and we feel very concerned. Whenever we ask for any project, they just ignore us. It’s like they hate us. How can you hate 60 to 70 per cent of your society and expect that society to work? Between 1850 and 1914, when they were preparing to merge Nigeria, we knew that the southern economy was supplementing northern economy by about £100,000 even before amalgamation, which was why they decided to merge the north and the south. All those things that were done then were done without involving Isese people.

When you say 60-70 per cent, do you mean that people who practise Isese are that many?
One, there are many who strictly practise Isese. Two, there are those that are for Isese but facially with other religions. Three, there are those of other religions that use Isese practices. When our forefathers wanted to register Isese and there was a brick wall, they synchronised with other religions like our people did while in slavery. We have St. Michael who is a representative of Ogun in Cuba, we have another saint who is a representative of Sango in Brazil. Those that practise and those that are clandestinely practising, in fact, will form more than 90 per cent of the people.

 If  you were at the confab now, what are things you would be advocating for?
 I would be advocating that we should go  back to the basics-our indigenous way of life. We will never develop by using the western way of life because they developed their indigenous ways of life. Once you don’t believe in yourself, how can you survive? The indigenous way of life is to adapt what is available in your environment to your needs. The interesting thing about Nigerian languages is that they started from Usen language. Ear is eti in Yoruba, nti in Igbo, ewure in (Yoruba is ewu). So there are 510 variance of Usen languages that we call Nigerian languages. So my suggestion is that we should employ people to write our vocabularies and put them on excel. You find that everything will pack into not more than 20 synonyms. So the languages become synonyms that will be in our dictionary. Employ 10,000 people to compile and pay them minimum wage and at the end of the day, we would have got a common Usen language for Nigeria.

Some people believe that traditional religious worship is associated with ritualism and killing.
That is stereotype, so I will urge people to take time to study what Isese is all about. Isese is the path of eternal truth. When you follow Isese, you will not kill or steal. It is only with Isese people that you can sleep and close your eyes because once they say their word, it’s their bond.

Your father allowed you to go ahead to practise Isese, can you do the same for your children if they decide to practise another religion?
None of them will do that because they already know what it means. My own reaction is that I will just call them to say look, you know this now. You know that what you are calling Islam and others started from Isese. Do you want to book a first class or second class? It doesn’t sound to reason?

Are there things that you miss doing since you became the Oba?
People miss things when they didn’t do what they should do at the right period. But when you do things when you should, you won’t miss anything like that. I had the best of things at all times. I did everything I should. There is no part of the human being that I’ve not successfully operated. I worked in the smallest unit of health delivery as a one-man clinic to a health centre, general hospital and a teaching hospital. I was deeply into sports and I played for Water Corporation Football Club, Ibadan. We were the only team that beat Hafia of Guinea when Hafia was really a tough team. I think we beat them three-nil or so here and they took us to Yamoussoukro and beat us five-nil because they put werepe (a plant that causes itching) in the tunnel. Those were memorable times.

How many wives do you have?
There are some things you don’t count in tradition. When I took over, I inherited 107 wives. And fortunately, all of them were very old. The system is such that you inherit these old women and most of them belonged to Obas that lived long before I was born. So I took over the Legusen dynasty and took over the women.  In the Legusen system, nobody knows who is the son of who or the daughter of who. Because when you are born, you are nursed by the oloris (queens). For instance, my grandfather did not know his mother until it was very late. Once you’re mature enough, you are weaned off your mother’s breasts and you go to other mothers whose breasts you continue sucking till you are even 18 years old.
18 years?
Yes. That’s why it was easy for people to tell others that they sucked the same breasts.

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