Aare Ona Kakanfo was a title given to the generalissimo, the war general during the old Oyo Empire.
An Aare Ona Kakanfo would lead battles, fight wars, mobilise and train “soldiers” and conquer the enemies.
Are Ona Kakanfo was created to check the excesses and frequent incursions of Ibaribas into Yoruba territories. During that time, Ibaribas were terrorising the Yoruba nation and, when the then Alaafin realised the gargantuan nature of the problem, he created the title of the Are Ona Kakanfo. His duty was to watch over the homeland with the help of assistant commanders who had a special army.
The title of Aare Ona Kakanfo was introduced hundreds of years ago to the Yoruba country by King Ajagbo, who ruled over 700 years ago. Ajagbo, as a prince was part of many military expeditions to fend off invaders, and grew up a warrior, all the while nurturing ideas on how best to deal with military aggression against his kingdom-state. One of the direct results of his ideas when he became Alaafin was the creation of the office and title of Aare Ona Kakanfo, meaning Field Marshal, or Generalissimo of the Alaafin’s armies.
The introduction of the title was informed by the need to fortify the ancient, pre-colonial army of the old Oyo Empire which at one time could boast of over 100,000 horsemen. He was born a twin and so striking was the resemblance between himself and his brother Ajampati that the one was often mistaken for the other, and very often royal honours were paid to the latter as to his brother. Ajagbo was also a warlike prince: several expeditions were sent out by him. Alaafin Ajagbo had the foresight to organize and build the system of military which gave great contributions to the civilization of the world.
To be the Are Ona Kakanfo, you must be a great warrior and very courageous. The creation of the title stopped the invasion of Yorubaland by external aggressors. The Are Ona Kakanfo was so powerful and invincible that he would fight several wars at the same time.
Alaafin Ajagbo developed a system of government which was quoted as having contributed to human civilization and this gave Yoruba’s a pride of place in the comity of Nations. He was the first to introduce a military formation that saw the emergence of the Generalissimo of the Yoruba forces. When he appointed his friend Kokoro Igangan of Iwoye-Ile who was a military strategist as the first Aare Ona Kakanfo, that is the Generalissimo of Yoruba Army.
Alaafin Ajagbo’s mother hailed from Iwere-Ile and the warning he gave at the installation of the first Aare Ona-Kakanfo was that under no condition must Aare wage war against Iwere-Ile. Any Kankanfo who tries it does so at his own peril. Another stern warning Oba Ajagbo gave was that no Kakanfo should wage war or betray against Alaafin who is his benefactor. Doing so will be tantamount to biting the finger that fed the Kakanfo and gruesome end awaits any Kakanfo that tries it. In history, two Kakanfos had made attempts to attack the Alaafin and they ended the way Ajagbo pronounced it. They were Kakanfo Afonja of Ilorin who attacked Alaafin Aole Arogangan, and Kakanfo Kurunmi of Ijaye who attacked Alaafin Adelu Agunloye in this present Oyo settlement.
Ajagbo’s reign was very long, probably the longest serving Alaafin ever. History has it that he reigned for about 140 years. As earlier said, Alaafin Ajagbo Mogun-n-leti was a very powerful and a warlike king, and he conquered many people in the West, including the Popos and the Sabes (in Benin republic). He destroyed Iweme in Popo country. He is said to have sent four expeditions out at once; under the Basorun, Agbakin, Kankafo, and Asipa. No wonder, he craved a generalissimo for the whole of Yoruba nation.
Kakanfo, as created by Alaafin Ajagbo is akin to a field marshal and is conferred upon the greatest soldier and tactician of the day. He created seventy ranks in the Yoruba military formation; Sixteen in the Upper division and Fifty-four in the Lower Cadre. Ranks/titles of the field commanders include the Bashorun, Balogun, Jagun, Agba-Akin, Akogun, Olorogun, Oluogun, AareAgo, and many more. Alaafin Ajagbo also introduced the Cabinet system in about 1640 into the constitution of the Yoruba
In recent times, the selection seem to have been informed by other considerations the chief of which is the acceptability of the leader among a large section of the people of the South West and such a leader being accepted as worthy Yoruba leadership by other nationalities in Nigeria.
His predecessors, from Ajaka, who succeeded Sango (the god of thunder), to Aganju, Kori, Oluaso, Onigbogi, Eguguojo, and Orompoto to Abipa and Obalokun, all suffered incessant attacks by neighbouring states. After creating the Kakanfo title, he invested the holder the command of all his forces, outside Oyo town. For the defence of the Alaafin and Oyo town and environs, Ajagbo created a metropolitan force which he placed under the command of the Bashorun
The procedures and conventions instituted by Ajagbo and nurtured by succeeding Alaafins were probably responsible for the mystiques surrounding the office and title. At installation, the major rite that must be performed is the administering of two hundred and one (201) incisions on the Kakanfo-designate. The incision is called gbere, in Yoruba, chiefly tiny cuts made with a razor, from the forehead backwards to the waist. Each of the 201 incisions is rubbed with 201 different herbal preparations expected to take the courage and bravery of the Kakanfo to super-human levels. After the incisions, the Kakanfo is “crowned” with a specially-made head-dress, that only him wears. It is, in Yoruba, called the Ojijiko.
After installation, the Kakanfo leaves Oyo, the Alaafin’s city for his own domain; it is forbidden that the Kakanfo and the Alaafin live together in the same town. In addition, the Kakanfo is required to wage war against any peoples and territories at the behest of the Alaafin, and is expected to win, or return a corpse.
The circumstances of the deaths of some past Kakanfo probably reinforced the belief that there is a curse on the title; this may not be so. Of the 14 holders of the title so far, the first 12, from Kokoro Gangan of Iwoye to Momodu Obadoke Latoosa of Ibadan, were purely military commanders. Of these, three waged wars that impacted the history of the Yoruba people significantly. These were Kurunmi of Ijaye, Afonja of Ilorin, and Obadoke Latoosa of Ibadan.
The succeeding two, Samuel Ladoke Akintola and Moshood Kasimawo Olawale Abiola were civilians; the title had regressed to the honorary pedestal after the effects of colonisation, establishment of indirect rule, and the creation of western-style military institutions.
The man of valour will put on the ageless costume and receive the ’invincible’ staff of war, which are the insignias of the ancient title. Other badges, which he will take home, are the Ojijiko, a cap made of the red feathers of the parrot’s tail, with a projection behind reaching as far down as the waist; an apron of leopard’s skin, a leopard’s skin to sit on always, and the asiso or pigtail.
The Iku BabaYeye will pour his royal blessings on the new Generalisimo at the sacred ceremony, which will be coordinated by the Oyomesi, the Esos, Ilaris, the members of the Ogboni, Osugbo, and Awo’pa. The historic event will be witnessed by monarchs, statesmen, politicians, top government officials, captains of industry, leaders of self-determination groups, and women and youth groups.
In peace time, the Aare Ona Kankanfo is a honorary title bestowed on valiant men worthy of the honour. His headship of the Esos pales into symbolism. He is still revered as the Commander. But, there is no more organised Yoruba military force.
The Alaafin is the only traditional ruler in Yorubaland who has the power and authority to bestow the title. His choice and decision are not subject to debate. They are unquestionable. The exclusive right may place the highly revered monarch in an undeniable and enviable position as the King of Yorubas, to the envy of those obsa who pose as his rivals.
In the defunct Oyo Empire, the Basorun or Osorun and his colleagues-Agbakin, Samu, Alapinin, Laguna, Akiniku and Asipa, inherited their titles by birth. But, the eminent historian and priest, Samuel Johnson, described the title of Aare Ona Kankanfo as “a reward of merit alone.” Only brave warriors were eligible and they were seen to be capable of holding forth in battles. “It is a title akin to a field marshal, and is conferred upon the greatest soldier and tactician of the day,” he wrote.
The genesis of the Aare Ona Kakanfo title
The title of Are Ona Kakanfo was created to check the excesses and frequent incursions of Ibaribas into Yoruba territories. During that time, Ibaribas were terrorising the Yoruba nation and, when the then Alaafin realised the gargantuan nature of the problem, he created the title of the Are Ona Kakanfo. His duty was to watch over the homeland with the help of assistant commanders who had a special army.
The criteria for the selection of title holder