OBA Isaac Babalola Akinyele is my starting point today.
For about ten years, precisely 1955 to 1964, the city of Ibadan was held spellbound by perhaps its most unusual traditional ruler known to history. A Pastor of the Christ Apostolic Church who was more at home on the pulpit than the shrine, he prayed a lot. One of his prayers was recorded for posterity in the Iwe Itan Ibadan, a book he authored. Oba Akinyele prayed that no Ibadan son would ever be Kakanfo. A strange prayer indeed.
At least one of his logical predecessors was Kakanfo. Obadoke Latoosa, Asubiaro Agadagudu, who died in 1885. Ibadan drummers would beat ‘Asubiaro npale ogun mo; Edumare ma je o tenu mi jade’. An extraordinary Kakanfo who like the others, lived and died spectacularly.
What Oba Akinyele omitted to explain was why even in 1955, the title was still so dreaded. All Kakanfos ended tragically. WHY?
I must yield at this stage to the hallowed scriptures of Samuel Johnson who points rather obliquely at the inauguration rites of the Kakanfo as the foundation for the mysticism and tragedy that attend the holder of the office. 201 incisions are made on the occiput of the new Kakanfo using 201 lancets and 201 vials of very special preparations. Okanlerugba gbere.
This Johnson insists, makes them ‘very stubborn and obstinate. …
due it is supposed, to the effects of the ingredients they were inoculated with’.
It is on record however that Kakanfo Abiola did not perform these rites, yet he got into trouble within 24 hours and was mauled by soldiers within 48 hours over a rather insignificant non-event.
Indeed, his life became a permanent roller-coaster of turbulence until he was murdered in confinement.
He exhibited every bit of the Kakanfo mystique and ended so spectacularly in iconic tragedy.
He was branded a ceremonial Kakanfo. But his life was that of a quintessential generalissimo.
Irascible, implacable over his June 12 mandate, he embraced death rather than defeat.
All the Kakanfos at the point of death were confronted by overwhelming odds. Afonja in 1834 fought gallantly against Fulani traitors who trained over 100 arrows at him. 100 arrows at one man! The same for Kakanfo Akintola and the huge complement of soldiers who besieged him.
Latoosa died peacefully but no less tragically. All the commanders merely looked askance as Ibikunle got the better of him. It is my humble suggestion that we may have to look beyond Johnson’s okanlerugba gbere for the Kakanfo quandary.
One must add yet another shocking component to an already formidable perplexity. The Kakanfo title is not a particularly ancient office as evidenced by the rather small number of people who have been made Kakanfo. Indeed the office was a creation of the 16th Alafin, Oba Ajagbo [1650ca].
The curse of 1807 by Alafin Aole has also been identified by authorities as the reason for the Kakanfo mystery. Referred to as Alafin Afepeja [one who fights with a curse], Oba Aole cursed Yorubaland as he was about to commit statutory suicide when he lost out in a power struggle that eventually consumed him. I produce here a verbatim translation of the terrible curse of Alafin Aole:
“My curse be on you for your disloyalty and disobedience, so let your children disobey you. If you send them on an errand, let them never return to bring you again. To all the points I shot my arrows will you be carried as slaves. My curse will carry you to the sea and beyond the seas, slaves will rule over you and you, their masters, will become slaves.”
It is quite difficult to locate any reference to the Kakanfo here.
Except perhaps one may underline the fact that Kakanfo Afonja was part of the chain of events that destroyed Aole. One significant flaw with the Aole theory is that the title had always its tincture of tragedy even before Aole was born. That suggestion in the face of common sense, must necessarily fail. Perhaps there is another.
*This was published in the Daily Times dated Wednesday, December 24, 2014