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.
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.
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 Kokorogangan of Iwoye who was a military strategist as the first Aare Ona Kakanfo, that is the Generalissimo of Yoruba Army.
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 added.
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
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. He never lost any battle. Due to his power, the Alaafin would not allow him to live in the same town with him. The Aare Ona Kakanfo normally lives in a commercial city.
The selection involves several rituals and there have been speculations that the last two Kakanfos did not complete the ritual circles. Samuel Johnson in his book treatise on the Kakanfo stated that the Kakanfos are always shaved, but the hair on the inoculated part is allowed to grow long, and when plaited, forms a tuft or sort of pigtail, adding that Kakanfos are generally ‘very stubborn and obstinate.
They have been more or less troublesome, due to the effect of the ingredients they were inoculated with. In war they carry no weapon but a weapon known as the King’s invincible staff.’ It is generally understood that they are to give way to no one not even to the King, their master. Hence, Kakanfos are never created in the capital but in any other town in the Kingdom.
Kakanfo is akin to a field marshal and is conferred upon the greatest soldier and tactician of the day. ‘By virtue of his office he is to go to war once in 3 years to whatever place the King named, and dead or alive, to return home a victor, or be brought home a corpse within three months. Kakanfo usually has certain ensigns: The Ojijiko, and a cap made of the red feathers of the parrots tail, with a projection behind reaching as far down as the waist, an apron of leopards skin, and a leopard skin to sit on always the Asiso or pigtail and the Staff invincible.
the following are the list of the past Fourteen Aare Ona Kakanfo (from archive) that had been:
1. Kokoro igangan of Iwoye-Ketu,
2. Oyatope of Iwoye,
3. Oyabi of Ajase,
4. Adeta of Jabata,
5. Oku of Jabata,
6. Afonja l’aiya l’oko of ilorin,
7. Toyeje of Ogbomoso,
8. Edun of Gbogan,
9. Amepo of Abemo,
10. Kurumi of Ijaye,
11. Ojo Aburumaku of Ogbomoso (son of Toyeje)
12. Latoosa of Ibadan
13. Ladoke Akintola of Ogbomosho (the premier of western region during the first republic. 14. MKO Abiola of Abeokuta. 15. Gani Adams of Arigidi-Akoko
Kakanfo Ojo Aburumaku had no war to fight. He fomented a civil war in his native Ogbomoso which he then had a good sport of putting down with severity. Afterall, he was Aare Onakakanfo, the Supreme head of the Esos, the 70 military commanders who make the Yoruba warrior caste.
Eso Ikoyi won kii gbofa leyin
iwaju ni won fii gbota.
Agba Ikoyi to gbojo iku toree gbalu.
Ikoyi Eso, arogun yo.
Kakanfo Kurumi was even more spectacular. He insisted that the Aremo must die with the Alaafin according to tradition. The truth was that he had been part of an earlier conference in which that convention was abolished. To enforce his desire, he made war on the rest of Oyo kingdom from his garrison city in Ijaye. His reputation as a warrior was legendary. He is portrayed in art as a no-nonsense nimble wit with a commanding presence. Aare Kurumi npe o, o londifa. Bifa ba fore ti Aare o ba fore nko? There was no excuse for refusing a call from the generalissimo. In a surgical commando strike, Ibadan special forces attacked at night his troops in Iseyin and wiped out the entire rear brigade. All of Kurumi’s five children who were company commanders died in that attack. Like his name, Aare Kurumi was ruined by death, indeed. I-k –u-r-u-m-i.
It must be acknowledged though that a few of the kakanfos had glorious tenures. Oyabi was based in the garrison town of Jabata. He kept off the internal strife of the kingdom with the wily Osorun Gaa killing the Alaafins in quick succession until the reign of Adegoolu who linked up with the military to destroy the prime minister. The Eso were lead into the city like Caesar did across the Rubicon River and Basorun Gaa was killed by Oyabi.
In Ibadan, the new city full of promise where Kakanfo Obadoke Latoosa had taken up residence, the scourge of the notorious slave dealer, Efunsetan Aniwura, was ended by the Aare Ona kakanfo. However, even he Latoosa was victim of the mystique of the office of supreme commander. Latoosa was confronted by a palace coup and in very dramatic circumstances, he committed suicide. He had a notorious slave according to history, who grew increasingly disrespectful of the generals. Latoosa did not curb this behaviour until the deputy commander, Balogun Ibikunle was insulted by the slave. Ibikunle could not believe his eyes when Latoosa asked the slave to state his side of the case like two equals squabbling. Ibikunle simply beheaded the idiot there and then.
Latoosa then asked Ibikunle if he was ready to take the sceptre of office, to which Ibikunle answered in the affirmative. There was no negative response from the other commanders present. Latoosa had overrated his own popularity. Depicted as an overbearing and brutally magnificent warrior who went about like a masquerade, he was stunned by the turn of events and swallowed poison. He simply laid down and covered himself like one in sleep. Oyabi from Ajase lived very long and he was very loyal to Alaafin and Oyo empire. These and more are the intriguing story of Aare in the then old Oyo Empire.