What was the experience of growing up in the palace?
Growing up in the palace was a combination of cultural and moral discipline, wrapped in extreme wealth. My father was a soldier, so he was firm and strict in the training of his children. He is from a wealthy family but he did not spoil us.
Every morning, we listened to the palace elders who told us the history of the Yoruba and its ancestors like Ifa, Sango, Ogun, Obatala and so on. We were awoken by the sound of drums and cultural rhymes. We were dressed in traditional attire with expensive beads lining our plaited hair. As the first daughter of the king, I always led the procession when it was time to present gifts to visitors in the palace. You cannot grow up in such an environment without being enshrined in Yoruba tradition.
How did Alaafin train his children?
My father is the head of the Oyo Kingdom and the administration of the empire takes place in the palace. There is nothing that goes on in the palace that does not get his approval.In those days, we enjoyed the presence of the Alaafin even though he was very busy. He is a wonderful father who played his roles in the development of his children. He still does it today. He created time to see us and he was always telling us to ensure that we strive to be successful in life irrespective of our wealthy background.
Was there a clash between western and traditional education in the palace?
In as much as my father was specific about the training of his children in traditional history, he did not joke with their education. We all attended the best schools around. My father supported my decision to study in the United States. He has many children but we all received excellent western education. Aremo, who is the first son, is a lawyer but he is also gifted in local musical instruments. He plays the drum in the church. So, our training was a combination of both the traditional and western education.
Does the Alaafin also play traditional instruments?
My father does not only preach culture, he practices it. He chants cultural praise and dances to bata drums. He sings and knows everything about the tradition of his empire. He ensured that all these were passed unto his children.
How much of these did you imbibe?
I don’t know how to chant the traditional rhymes but I can dance and beat some drums. My father leads by example and I love doing that a lot. Sometime ago, we were walking around Oyo and he suddenly stopped by a bean cake seller and bought some. I was shocked but that is the kind of man he is. He is not power-drunk and he shows a lot of humility in the way he leads the people. He mingles with people at the grassroots despite the position he occupies in the kingdom.
Did you miss the palace when you moved to the US?
I was 13 when I moved to the US for college and university education. I graduated with a degree in marketing and management and worked in the banking industry. I also married in the US and gave birth to a girl before I divorced my husband.
I came back home some years ago with my daughter who is now a final year student of the Osun State University. It is always nice knowing the world outside your home but sincerely, I missed the robust relationship that I enjoyed while growing up in the palace with my parents.
Why did you decide to come back home?
I came home because I want my daughter to imbibe the real Yoruba cultural values, which she could not get in the US. We are from the royal family and I witnessed the grandeur associated with being the child of a king while growing up, so it will be unfair to the girl if I continue to keep her away from royal finery. I am happy that she has decided to make the Yoruba literary genre called oriki as a case study in her final year project. She is always with the Alaafin who is helping her in the project.
Your name was synonymous with the Oranyan Festival held in 2012. Was the idea conceived by you?
The Oranyan Festival is in its second edition but credit must go to my father for such a brilliant initiative at a time when it is increasingly important to bring together the Oduduwa race and reaffirm its dominance in the West Coast of Africa. The maiden edition was a big success with the Yoruba in Diaspora attending. It is a reunion of the sons and daughters of Oyo Ile and a platform to honour their ancestors. Oranmiyan was a hero whose worth in Yoruba history remains evergreen. The empire he started cut across the West Coast of Africa and he is the grandson of Oduduwa. In a way, we were able to wrap the celebration around tourism which broadened its attendance.
Why did the Alaafin wait for so long before honouring his ancestors?
The Alaafin is the custodian of the Yoruba heritage. He celebrates his ancestors in many ways every day. It was just another way of remembering Oranmiyan. Because of the excellent arrangement and the way it was packaged, the festival enjoyed wide coverage and acceptance. Everyone was proud of my father’s brilliance and respect for the Yoruba race. We had over 10,000 guests from all over the world.
I have siblings in almost every discipline and they all came around to give their support. I have a consulting firm that helped in the planning and execution of the programmes. This year, we are even more involved because of the response of the Oyo Alaafin including the Oyomesi, the Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi and others who gave their support.
How much time did the Alaafin devote to recreation when he was younger?
My father was a boxer and he jogged a lot. I remember that he would lead us in morning exercise around Oyo town. Sometimes, when we were returning from an occasion, he would tell us to come down from the vehicles and trek home. It happened recently when he ordered everyone to trek to the palace from Durban Stadium. He still visits the gym and it’s amazing that at 75, he is still full of energy and jogs two miles every week and walks back to the palace from the stadium. Approximately, he jogs for about three hours each time he goes to the stadium. But doctors are telling him to slow down now because his body is not in the state it was many years ago.
What were the things he enjoyed doing?
When we were growing up, he liked taking us with him when he travelled outside the country. We went with him to the UK, the US and many African countries. The older children enjoyed so much of him but the younger ones came when he was slowing down in social activities.
Apart from that, he liked to cook his food once in a while despite having cooks and his wives in the palace. I once fried eggs for him and after tasting it, he told me I did not know how to cook, so he prepared it himself. He has great kitchen skills and he still likes to flaunt it. It’s fun being with him because he likes playing with his children.
What is his best food?
Because he was an athlete, he likes taking light food. His best meal in the morning is pap. He became a king in his mid-30s and till date, he still keeps that habit. He likes amala and gbegiri (bean soup) for lunch. He takes herbal medicines and he does not eat outside. During the fasting period, he ensures that he breaks the fast at home. But if he has to eat outside, he makes sure that the food is prepared at home and it must be enough for everyone in his entourage.
As a foremost traditional ruler of multi-religious people, how does he celebrate other festive periods?
They call him Iku baba yeye alase ekeji orisa, meaning the next to the ancestors. But he celebrates with Christians and Moslems. We kill rams during the Eid-El-Kabir celebration and invite people to the palace during the Christmas and Easter periods. That is not a difficult thing for him to do because he gives everyone the opportunity to live according to their beliefs.
Your mother is the first wife of the Alaafin. Does he give her children preference?
As the first wife of the king, culture and tradition give some roles to my mother in the palace. She is the first to see the king in the morning and she plays a leading role among the women when there is an important occasion in the palace. But my father treats all the children of his wives in the same way. I am very close to him now because I am involved in many cultural projects the king is executing through my consulting firm.
I have shown great interest in cultural values since I returned to Nigeria, he appreciates my concerns. I have received a merit award as Cultural Ambassador and Prestigious Princess of Isese Parapo Oyo. Each time he sees me, he always wants to discuss culture with me.
But he devotes the same time and attention to his other children who visit him. He adopted many children and we all lived together in the palace, enjoying the same royal treatment. At home, we didn’t have slaves as it was in the past, what we had were children of the king no matter who their parents were.
How did your father meet your mother?
They met like any other couple before he became a king. On his last birthday, Bishop Ayo Ladigbolu was the master of ceremonies and he told the guests the story of how my father met my mother.
My mother was the most beautiful girl in Oke-Anpopo in Oyo. My dad, who was a prince then would dress elegantly with royal beads around his neck in the evening and visit my mother. Her family would scold her and tell her to go inside the house, hindering her meeting with my father. They did not care if he was a prince. But he persevered and married her later. Maybe if I had got married in Nigeria with my mother beside me, my marriage would have survived.
How romantic is your father?
Let me tell you a story. I came home one day and my mother called me and said the king bought her Valentine’s Day gifts. She said she was surprised. That shows how romantic they still remain despite many decades of being together. The love that existed when they were young is still present in their lives.
How do you relate with you stepmothers in the palace?
We were brought up in the traditional way, so it is normal to see many women in the palace. Relating with them is natural because I see each of them as my mother too.
What are the burdens of being a princess?
I grew up in the US where my status as a princess was in the background, except when I introduced myself as a daughter of the Alaafin. But when I started visiting Nigeria in the late 90s, the respect I got from the people brought back the reality that I am the daughter of a king. The challenge is that people expect you to tell them a lot about the king and life in the palace. The media in Nigeria have developed and they sniff at anything. They want to know how people live their lives. It brings people like me to the forefront and it becomes a problem to live normally.
They want to see the traits of the king in you which are big challenges also. I have experienced wealth and mingled with the lowly. My father told me that there is no difference in every human being that God created. In the palace, there is no special seat for the rich. I don’t have rich friends because I feel happy when I am free to associate with everyone in the society.
Your father is involved in a tussle with some other traditional rulers over the control of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chiefs. Do you discuss this issue with him?
My father became a king in 1970 and inherited an empire that stretches beyond Nigeria. Oyo is the headquarters of the empire. I don’t like to go into that discussion but the truth remains that the Alaafin has power that supersedes that of other kings. He is not a king over a few local government councils but a big empire, he is an institution.
Does he remember his children’s birthdays?
He may not remember until you tell him. But once you remind him, he will tell you the birthdays of the other children. He will tell you the special event that marked each of the birthdays. He gives gifts to all his children on their birthdays. But he remembers his wives’ birthdays more.
How humorous is the king?
To put it simply, he is a clown who jokes about everything. He is never under pressure because he explores the funny side of every situation. Last week, I met him and I was trying to comment on his dress. He then moved gracefully, taking his steps gallantly.
When any of his wives offends him, he deals with the situation in funny way. If the wife in question is to cook for him, he will tell me that he is not expecting any meal and that he is prepared to buy a loaf of bread. It’s funny but that is the way Alaafin deals with every situation. He does not quarrel with people because by tradition, they are his subjects.
How did he feel when palace got burnt?
It hit him hard because of the cultural artefacts that were destroyed. I woke up so early in the morning and ran to the fire service department in Oyo in my night gown. It was a terrifying moment in the palace. The fire did not stop until many parts of the palace were razed. I had never witnessed anything like that before. My father was moving from one place to the other, telling the firemen how to arrest the situation. He has the architectural design of the palace in his head but at the end, everything was destroyed. No matter how much we try, the beauty of the palace is gone. Every quarter represented a history and every statue represented an important event. But they are all gone now. Memories and history are erased.
For the first time, I saw him feeling sad. His eyes betrayed the pain he felt and the thoughts within him. It is a day he does not want to remember. But we are coming out of the shock now. Rebuilding the palace is not all about money; it’s about how we will preserve the few monuments left behind and recreate the history around them. It’s the biggest ancient palace built in 1807 and a tourists’ attraction.