Before ÒYÓ became what we know today as Oyo town and Oyo State, it was known as ÒYÓ-ILÉ, which Historians referred to as Old Oyo Empire. That was the era when the ALÁÀFIN had the autonomous power and referred to as, “Alaşę ikeji Orişa” (the 2nd in command to the gods). There was an absolute power endowed to the Alaafin all over Yoruba Kingdom. The powers can only be checked by the OYOMESI, for the purpose of Checks and Balances.
There was one Alaafin who ordered for the head of his father in-law, simply because the wife indirectly challenged his authority while bathing the Alaafin in the bathroom, Bashorun Gaa.
Thus, the phrase ‘IKÚ BÀBÁ YÈYÉ”, which is translated as “The Death, The Paternal and the Maternal”, might not mean anything to us in this modern democratic era; but, in the ancient Yoruba, it meant a great deal.
Behind the Alaafin Oyo’s Palace in the ancient days were rows of stalls where wood and calabash carvers known as ONÍRÈSÉ engaged in their craft work. ONÍRÈSÉ, as earlier said, literally means Calabash Carvers. But, among these carvers, one was nicknamed ONÍRÈSÉ. He was a divinely gifted carver.
During his birth, an IFA priest who was consulted by his parent, informed them the new born baby will be a great leader and one day, he will find himself in a strange land across the ocean among the white people. But he must not engage in any work than the carving business.
His kinsmen were not surprised with the calibre of people who were patronising ONÍRÈSÉ as he was growing into the carving business. The Alaafin, his chiefs, kings from neighbouring towns and all idol worshippers were customers of this young man. His work was second to none in the entire Yoruba Region.
One day, some Europeans who had come to Oyo for tourism and to study the monarchical system of the Oyo Empire stumbled into the stall of ONÍRÈSÉ and they were completely amazed by the excellent craft works done by him. ONÍRÈSÉ found himself in an exhibition in Switzerland where his work became the best among others. ONÍRÈSÉ spent thirteen years touring different parts of Europe with the help of a European lady who had become his close Associate.
After tying the knot with this lady after an Exhibition in a small town in Sweden, ONÍRÈSÉ decided to return home with his new bride for proper African traditional wedding.
The entire Oyo township and its environ were filled to the brim with people who had come to witness this very rare marriage. It was a showcase of pure African tradition and the Europeans that witnessed the occasion were fully entertained.
After the wedding rites, the Alaafin bestowed the title of BAALE ÌRÈSÉ to ONÍRÈSÉ for the great honour he brought to Oyo Kingdom. With the new title and responsibility, the Alaafin believed that the white woman would not take the great man back to her strange land again.
At this period back home, ONÍRÈSÉ desisted from making calabash but rather focused on other lucrative businesses and the governing of his little area.
His old customers, who were highly placed all over Yoruba Kingdom, approached him to make calabash for them, but he refused bluntly, encouraging them to patronise his kinsmen who were still into the business. This attitude annoyed some prominent chiefs in Oyo, and they reported him to the Alaafin, saying the man had become so arrogant and disrespectful. They wanted Alaafin to give him a marching order to continue with the carving skill.
However, the Alaafin, in his wisdom, replied thus: Eyin Oyomesi, BÍ ONÍRÈSÉ BÁ KÒ TÓ LÓHUN Ò FÍN’GBÁ MÓ, ÈYÍ TÓ TI FÌN SÍLÈ KÒ LE PARUN LAELAE”, meaning, If ONÍRÈSÉ, the calabash carver, stops making calabash, the ones he had made in the past can never be perished.
Credit- Yinka Egbeyemi.