Deji Of Akure's 869-Year-Old Palace: A Cultural, Historical Masterpiece Like No Other.
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 despite its old age still retains its traditional uses and values till today, as many of the traditional rites, rituals, festivals and other ceremonies such as the coronation of a new king and chiefs are performed and carried out in the old palace. The building represents a masterpiece of human creative genius based on the level of technology at that time.
Speaking on the significance of the old palace despite the new palace put in place by the people of Akure community, the Sele of Akureland, Chief Taiwo Fagite, said the old palace of the Deji of Akure was preserved to offer opportunity for young ones and visitors to learn about the history, values and culture of Akure people, saying many historical monuments can be found in the palace.
Fagite and the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Ondo State government, Mr Micheal Adeyeye, who conducted Nigerian Tribune round the old palace, said the palace is as old as the town and disclosed that the palace has about 18 different courtyards with each courtyard having its importance and significance to Akure people.
According to 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 barren 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's entrance.'
Conducting Nigerian Tribune round the courtyards known as Ua, Fagite said 'Ua lila' is the biggest of the courtyards in the palace. He explained that the people of the town meet and gather at the courtyard to discuss general issues concerning the town. As it's being called, Ua Lila which means big courtyard is being surrounded by big pillars, covered with old rustic zinc, with a section for the king and his high chiefs and big enough to accommodate over one thousand people. He said 'this is an assembly where decisions are taken by the people of the town.' Apart from this, there is a big hall which he said was constructed by Oba Afunbiowo but was renovated lately 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 a large umbrella is said to be usually used to transport the king on special occasions.
Leading our correspondent through a dark corridor which led to other courtyards, the Sele of Akureland, said every courtyard has its ritual significance and implications on the people of the town.
At Ua Ogoga, carcasses of cows and bones were seen in this courtyard. The chief explained that the courtyards express 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 recorded 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 Ua Ibura is reserved for oath taking. He said it was to prevent crime in the town. He recalled that some 100 Akure youths recently voluntarily visited the Ua Ibura to renounce cultism. Apart from Ua Ibura, there is another courtyard known as Ua Oriole where traditional rulers, chiefs, both traditional and honorary swear the oath of allegiance.
At the Ua Oriole, there are two special magical pots placed at a section of the courtyard. Fagite explained that 'whenever there is drought in the land the pots would be placed at the shrine while some appeal would be made and I can assure you that after five minutes of the completion of the rituals it would rain.'
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 the town and other pressing issues. Fagite said 'the traditionalist or ifa worshippers meet here every nine days to offer prayer and consult for 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 urinate there, it will never give off an offensive odour. 'There is no explanation for this, it is something which people cannot easily explain, but it has been established as being true,' he said.
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 house the remains of the past kings. He revealed that about 26 traditional festivals are being observed in the old palace while he said there are some places within the old palace which are not exposed to visitors.
Chief Fagite revealed that the old palace used to house the king only and the king is regarded as the only man in the palace. He said it is a taboo for anybody to smoke in the palace. According to him, 'Deji was the only man residing in the palace. The slaves living in the palace in those days were usually castrated and no man except Deji had the right to women in the palace.'
He said 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 the heads of those villages. This explains the reason why the Deji was also brought from the village to be crowned.' He explained that this was to check any atrocities within the palace while the princes were usually trained outside the palace.
He told our reporter that though many developments had taken place in the old palace but most of the historical monuments were preserved. He said regular fumigation protects the wood from the ravaging impact of insects.
He added that the palace has been able to stand the test of time because of the planned drainage system and landscaping within the palace, saying that there is free flow of rain water from one courtyard to another just as the water empties itself into the main courtyard, Ua Lila, which moves from there to the town's main drainage system. He revealed that this has prevented the palace structure and walls from collapsing.
The palace remains one of the best monuments in Ondo State just as the arts and palace mirror the customs, tradition and values of the past and present people of Akure community, an old concept still relevant in the modern world.