Saturday 18 May 2024


Additional evidence supporting the Yorùbá origin of the word "Ọba" can be found in its similarity to the word "Iba" and its historical usage within the old Ọ̀yọ́ empire. The term "Iba" was specifically reserved for high-ranking chiefs within the empire, granting them significant authority and privileges close to those of the Aláàfin, the paramount ruler.

One such high chief was the Baṣọ̀run, a position that can be understood as equivalent to a Prime Minister within the Oyo empire's political structure. The Baṣọ̀run title itself is a contraction of 'Iba Ọṣọ̀run,' indicating a direct link to the concept of "Iba" as a high chief. The Baṣọ̀run enjoyed nearly all the privileges of the king, except for the right to wear the beaded crown. Notable historical figures like Iba Oluyole. Interestingly, while the king's wives are referred to as ayaba, meaning aya ọba (wives of king) the Baṣọ̀run's wife held the title of ayinba, meaning praise giver of Iba. "Ọba" and "Iba." therefore are conceptual twins, semantically and phonetically.

Another notable figure holding the title of Iba is the Ààrẹ ọ̀nà Kakaǹfò, who serves as the chief military commander of the empire. This position not only bestowed authority over the empire's soldiers but also include governance over a specific town or territory.  The current AOK of Yorùbá land, Iba Gàní Adams, exemplify the enduring legacy and importance of the Iba title within Yorùbá culture.

The term "Iba" not only denoted a high rank but also signified sovereignty over a particular community, distinguishing these chiefs from both kings (Oba), village heads (Baale) and chiefs (ìjòyè). The salutary phrase, "Loogun Ofe," is used for Ààrẹ ọna Kakanfo, this further underscores their elevated status, contrast with the traditional "Kabiyesi" for kings and "karaole" for village heads.

Interestingly, the popular market in Ìbàdàn, known as the ọjà'ba market, historically referred to as Oja Ibà and not ọjà ọba as one would expect. This is because there was no Ọba in Ibadan then but Iba. Over time, this name evolved into Oja'ba, perhaps due to linguistic shifts or colloquial usage, but its origin as a market associated with the Iba.

With all these evidence, contesting ọba is not a Yorùbá word will be hard for our Benin brothers, especially with their agreement that the word first surfaced in Bini with the advent of Ọ̀rànmíyàn.

Picture: Ọlọ́wẹ̀ of Isẹ a notable carver with an unidentified Ọba.

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