The Curse of Aole.

Early in the nineteenth century, the powerful Oyo empire was in its last gaps. There was trouble in the land due to a bitter division between the emperor , Alaafin Aole, and his most notable warrior-chieftain, Afonja, the Aare ona Kakanfo. This is the story told to our ancestor Osogbesan by Forijagun, an old warrior of Oyo cavalry who knew firsthand the story of Afonja and Aole , his old comrades in arms.

And these were the very words of old Forijagun: "I was in camp with the Are ona Kakanfo at the time

Afonja would openly express to us, his friends and military chiefs his scorn for Alafin Aole, who had been his rival for the throne. He began to dream of having his own independent kingdom. Maybe, he told himself, he could form an alliance with Nupe and other neighboring tribes to rival the might of Oyo. He could even seek the support of the Moslem Hausa and Fulani armies from the north, who with their famous mounted warriors were already pressing against the boundaries of Oyo from the great Oya river.

The Fulanis, under their late charismatic leader, Uthman dan Fodio, had already conquered one Hausa state after another in the pursuit of what they called their ‘holy’ war, a concept the Yoruba people at the time found difficult to understand. We Yorubas had always fought for territory, booty and slaves. The Fulanis fight for their deity, Allah.

The Fulanis had also lately inflicted a humiliating defeat on the old Yoruba buffer territory belonging to the Baribas. Afonja thought that these hard-fighting Moslems cavalry army would be a powerful ally to have on his side if he wanted to confront the Alafin.

‘ This was soon after the lamentable destruction of the Yoruba town of Apomu by Afonja on the orders of the Alaafin due to an misunderstanding he had with the Ooni of Ife. But not content with the destruction of Apomu, Aole now ordered an attack on Iwere, another city controlled by Ife. Aware of the brewing resentment of Afonja and the other esos against his authority, this order from the Alafin was however more an attempt to keep Afonja and his powerful esos busy on the field of battle away from Oyo, than any desire on Aole’s part to humiliate Ile-Ife.

But Iwere was not an easy target like Apomu. It was a fortified fortress town that would prove impregnable to the lances and arrows of the Oyo army. Afonja and the other esos therefore saw this order as a calculated attempt by Aole to get rid of Afonja. Everyone knew that an Are ona Kakanfo must kill himself rather than return home in defeat if he lost any battle.

Afonja therefore refused to proceed against Iwere. He gave the diplomatic reason that Iwere was the maternal home of Alafin Ajagbo, the legendary and heroic Alafin who more than two centuries earlier had created the military title of Are Ona Kakanfo,. It was he who also established for posterity the civil titles of Bashorun, Agbakin and Asipa that we now recognize as the most important chieftains of our Oyo empire. ‘

But by this time, Aole had become very stubborn. He was now determined to disgrace the powerful Kakanfo, and would not accept any excuses from his military chief. At first, Afonja and his esos made half -hearted attempts to lay siege to Iwere. But their discontent soon overcame their loyalty.

‘I knew these men. And I was dismayed that the Alafin had handled the situation so poorly that these warriors, who were the greatest heroes of our age, were forced to rebel, disdaining their natural subservience to the authority of the Alafin, their supreme leader and king.

These valiant esos, under the instigation and leadership of Afonja, now entered boldly into a conspiracy against Aole and his administration. First, they murdered the palace official who had accompanied them to their war camp in Ife territory, and who it must be admitted, was a spy planted in their midst by Aole. Then, with the help of the Oyo Mesi, who by now had their own grievances against Aole, they sent an empty calabash to the Alafin. This was the age-old invitation for the Alafin to commit suicide.’

Now as Osogbesan listened, transfixed with quiet horror, the old man told the final part of the story of Aole. Forijagun’s countenance became grave and severe, and his voice quivered with the sorrow of what might have been. His bald head shone in the half light of the dimly lit hut. And his hand and fingers shook feebly as he pointed out a point now and then in his story.

And now, Forijagun’s speech pattern changed. It took the form and rhythm of the skillful-voiced aroken, those traditional historians of our people. The old man’s voice was filled with the power and majesty of the old story tellers of Yorubaland. And as he talked, his story was interspersed with ancient proverbs - full of wisdom and strange turns of phrases that were sometimes poetic, sometimes prosaic, but always melodious, haunting and captivating. ‘

Now as the calabash was opened, not a sound was heard but the rustling of its sole content. We all peered over each other’s shoulders, and several gasps were heard from the men gathered in that inner chamber of the afin. What we saw was the symbolic parrot’s egg. It was an omen of evil foreboding, the messenger of death. We all knew what it meant. The stricken Alafin, the waiting Oyo Mesi, the priests, palace attendants, servants, eunuchs and slaves, and we, the few soldiers present, were as one ill-conceived confraternity. We all stood there, silent, resigned and forlorn, like castaways in a desert with no sign of life in sight. ‘

What went through the Alafin’s mind at this hour of his destiny we would never know. Certainly, Aole now knew that his sojourn on this bank of time was over. But he also knew that his transition was not to be the end as it would be for other men. As an Alafin, the protégé and son of Oduduwa, his bones would be laid to rest with his illustrious ancestors. They were all absolute monarchs and deified heroes, and like them, he too would become a god. And from the sky, he could pronounce with stately breath the doom of men, following the caprices of a god.

What power, what glory lay beyond that mighty river on the other bank!

But still, the world that Alaafin Aole knew may have sounded sweeter than the void and vague glory that beckoned. For he loved this life still. He was loath to leave it. He was attached to his fame, his exalted position, and the obeisance of his worshipful subjects. What about the love and embrace of his women, and the music of the royal kakaki striving for beauty and meaning as it weaved in and out of the loud thumps of the royal gbedu drum as great chiefs and slaves alike did obeisance all around him? Would there be such music in heaven?

It was then that we heard Aole curse loudly the injustice and faithlessness of men. He damned

their perfidy and worthlessness. He muttered that he would not wait until he was dead and became a god before he pronounced his judgment on his ungrateful people. With the power and irrevocable majesty of the royal ase of an Alafin, igbakeji orisa, his earthly voice would pronounce doom on us, these wretched, uncharitable Yorubas. ‘

Aole now asked for his akogun, the apothecary, for the powdery potion that would speed him to sleep. Gaining an inner strength from some supernatural source for this final act of a monarch of Oyo, Aole raised himself from his couch.

eI We could see his eyes on fire as with madness and the strange fervor of impending death. There was hatred in them, and an implacable desire for vengeance. Then was heard by all, and recorded for posterity by many present, that doomed but vengeful voice as it reached up to the heavens with its pronouncement of dire portent.

‘“May this curse of I, Aole, Alafin

fall on the house of Oyo.
Brothers shall forget the bonds of kinship.
The rulers of Yorubaland shall be divided,

never to hearken one to another
The army of mighty Oyo shall quake and whither before its enemies.
Her princes shall talk past one another
Her princesses, despoiled, will be taken away to foreign lands.
And unity will be lost in the accent of strange dialects
as the forest people strive against their brothers

from the grasslands and the coast of great Okun .
The sacred ties of old would rift asunder.
Cowardice shall come before action,

Foolishness before wisdom.
And the house divided shall falter and fall.
With no chord to bind its warring factions
the ancient house of Oduduwa,

unloved and unattended,

will be overthrown by a foreign people

And that ancient citadel, the afin of Oranmiyan

become a place of desolation and of woe,
Where hungry wolves howl

"and birds of prey search for carrion meat.”

The old man concluded mournfully, ‘This is the curse of Alafin Aole, under which we Yorubas have lived ever since. It hangs like a precariously tethered sword over our heads, casting in doubt the very survival of our ancient race.’

Nobody knew the full import of it when Aole pronounced those fatal words so many years ago. Some of those present even laughed it off as the bitter ravings of a

.dying old man. But it was the beginning of the time of troubles for our people. .

Gods and Heroes by Oladele Olusanya. Chapter 9, An Empire Falters. pp 290-295.