47 kings, one abode: A journey through Deji of Akure’s 850-yr-old palace
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Ua Lila, Ua Ogoga, Ua Ibura, Ua Oriole, Ua Ojukoto, Ua Agbeto, and twelve other courtyards make up the cultural magnificence that is the old palace of the Deji of Akure. Still standing despite being constructed more than 850 years ago, 47 kings after, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, who took a trip around the palace, examines the aesthetics and peculiarities that give the old palace a place in modern history, as well as the current activities that promote its significance as a national monument.
The old palace of the Paramount Ruler of Akureland, the Deji of Akure, located in the modern day Akure South Local Government Area of Ondo State, which has housed no fewer than 47 kings, depicts the rich history, values, customs and tradition of the people of the town. Historical monuments are on display there, and it is no wonder the palace was declared one of the historical national monuments in 1990. It is home to many artefacts.
The palace, according to history, was built around 1150 AD by the first traditional ruler of Akure Kingdom, Oba Asodeboyede, who came from Ile Ife, and was one of the grandchildren of Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba race.
The architectural designs of the palace, in spite of how old it is, retains its traditional use and value till date, as many traditional rites, rituals, festivals, and other ceremonies such as the coronation of a new king and chiefs are performed in the old palace. The building represents a masterpiece of human creative genius based on the level of technology at that time.
Old palace was preserved to give young people access to Akure’s history –Sele of Akureland
Speaking on the significance of the old palace, the Sele of Akureland, Chief Taiwo Fagite, said the old palace of the Deji of Akureland was preserved to offer opportunity for the young ones and visitors to learn about the history, values and culture of Akure people, noting that many historical monuments can be found in the palace.
Chief Fagite and the Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr Micheal Adeyeye, who conducted Nigerian Tribune round the old palace, said the palace is as old as the town. They disclosed that the palace has about 18 different courtyards, with each courtyard holding significance to Akure people.
‘If women pass the palace’s male entrance, they risk infertility’
According to Chief Fagite, there are two main entrances to the palace, aside the main entrance which is reserved for the king. There is an entrance meant for men and another for women.
He said: “Women are not allowed to pass through the male entrance and this has a traditional attachment. If a woman tries to enter through the male gate, she risks becoming infertile for the rest of her life. This is one of the reasons why we stationed guards here to monitor the movement of the people. But men can use the women entrance.”
Conducting Nigerian Tribune round the courtyards known as Ua, Chief Fagite said: “Ua lila” is the biggest of the courtyards in the palace. He explained that the people of the town met and gathered at the courtyard to discuss general issues concerning the town. As the name refers, Ua Lila, which means big courtyard, is surrounded by big pillars, covered with old rustic zinc, with a section for the king and his high chiefs, and big enough to accommodate more than 1,000 people.
He said: “This is an assembly where decisions are taken by the people of the town.” Aside this, there is a big hall which he said was constructed by Oba Afunbiowo but was recently renovated by the present Deji of Akureland, Oba Aladelusi Aladetoyinbo.
A royal cart, which is a replica of the Queen of England’s cart, is also noticed by our correspondent at the entrance of the palace. The royal cart, with its large umbrella, is said to be used to transport the king on special occasions.
Leading the correspondent through a dark corridor which led to other Uas – courtyards, the Sele of Akureland, noted that every courtyard has its ritual significance and implications on the people of the town.
The Akure, Ekiti cow courtyard connection
At Ua Ogoga, carcasses of cows and bones were seen in this courtyard. The chief explained that the courtyards expressed the bond and link between the people of Akure and Ikere in Ekiti State.
He said: “For every king installed in Ikere Ekiti, they must bring a cow as a sign of respect to Akure, because it is in history that they moved from here to their present abode. We regard them as part of us and we also identify with them. This is the reason a whole courtyard was dedicated for them.”
The courtyard the king enters once in a lifetime
The Ua Ibura, as its name connotes, is specially reserved for oath taking. He said the place was created for oath taking and it was to prevent criminal activities in the town. He recalled that some 100 Akure youths recently voluntarily visited the Ua Ibura to voluntarily renounce cultism. Apart from Ua Ibura, there is another courtyard known as Ua Oriole, where traditional rulers, chiefs – whether traditional or honorary – swear an oath of allegiance.
At the Ua Oriole, there are two special magical pots placed at a section of the courtyard. The traditional chief explained that “whenever there is drought in the land, the pots would be placed at the shrine, while some appeals would be made, and I can assure you that after five minutes of the completion of the rituals, rain will surely fall.”
Beside the oath taking courtyard, is a special room, which was blocked and he said: “This room is specially designed for Deji of Akure and he enters this room once in his life time.”
Some traditionalists were seen at the Ua Ojukoto, holding their weekly meeting, where prayers are usually offered for the king. The Ua Ojukoto is a place where all rites and ceremonies are held for new chiefs. Aside this, if there is any emergency, the king and the chiefs usually meet there to discuss about the town and pressing issues.
‘Ua Agbeto, the room for urinating that never stinks’
Chief Fagite said: “The traditionalists or ifa worshippers meet here every nine days to offer prayers and consult for the Kabiyesi. A special feature of one the courtyards known as Ua Agbeto, is that it rarely stinks. The chief explained that no matter how often people urinated there, it will never give off odour. He said: “There is no explanation for this; it is something which people cannot easily explain, but it has been established as being true.”
There are so many other courtyards, which include Ua Ameshe, where offenders are punished. Another significant feature in the palace is the final resting place of some of the past kings of the town. Carcasses and skeletons of cows were noticed in each of the rooms which housed the remains of the past kings. He revealed that about 26 traditional festivals are being observed in the old palace, just as he noted that there were some places within the old palace which were not exposed to visitors.
‘Only kings were allowed to have women, slaves were castrated’
Chief Fagite revealed that the old palace used to house only the king, as the king is regarded as the only ‘man’ in the palace. He said it is a taboo for anybody to smoke in the palace.
“The Deji is the only ‘man’ residing in the palace. The slaves living in the palace in those days were usually castrated, and no man, except the Deji has the right to have a woman in the palace.”
He noted further that “even princes were not allowed to live in the palace. When they reached a certain age, they would be sent to the villages and installed as heads of those villages. This explains the reason Dejis were also brought from the village to be crowned,” noting that this was to checkmate atrocities within the palace, while the princes were usually trained outside the palace.
He told our reporter that though much development had taken place in the old palace, most of the historical monuments are preserved. He said regular fumigation protects the wood from the ravaging impact of insects.
According to him, the palace has been able to stand the test of time because of the planned drainage system and landscaping within the palace. There is free flow of rain water from one courtyard to another, and the water empties itself into the main courtyard, Ua Lila, then moves from there to the town’s main drainage system, and this has prevented the palace structure and walls from collapsing.
The palace, undoubtedly, remains one of the best examples of the cultural richness of Ondo State, and by extension, Nigeria, as the palace mirrors the customs, tradition and values of the past and present people of Akure community, centuries old, yet relevant in the modern world.