Yoruba Diplomacy in the light of affront by the British Governor of Lagos

Citizen: Ah yes, but see what treatment the Governor has offered our Master [Alafin]!

SJ: What treatment?

Citizen: Suppose the Queen of the Gehesi (the English) is at war with the King of the Aguda (Portuguese) and the King of Franse (the French) offered to mediate between them, and suppose he sent his messenger to the Queen, and to the Bales (Mayors) of those great English towns we have heard of such as the shipbuilding town (Liverpool), the cloth-weaving town (Manchester) and the town where iron goods come from (Birmingham), asking them to send their own messengers with that of the Queen, how would she like it? Although a woman i believe she would resent it. Yet that is precisely what the Governor has done, sending to the Bale of Ogbomoso, and the Oluwo to send their messengers along with that of the Alafin with you to meet the Commissioner for a conference!

SJ: Did not the Alafin himself suggest the Aseyin, how could it have displease him when he himself suggested a messenger from the Aseyin?

Citizen (laughing he said): But can’t you see that that is ironical? Did you not come with a letter from the Governor to the Aseyin? And yet in the matter of delegates you left him out. The Alafin simply meant to point out to you your inconsistency in leaving him out, for he is higher in rank than either the Bale of Ogbomoso or the Oluiwo. But don’t you see that no messenger from any of them joined you after all?

SJ: Well, if we made a mistake we are quite willing to be corrected but why did he not tell us so? Why adopt measures which will serve to wreck the whole scheme?

Citizen: That is not Oyo etiquette. You know it is never considered polite with Yorubas to tell one to whom respect is due that he is wrong in his methods, but when he meets with failure then he will reconsider his methods. it is not for the Alafin bluntly to correct the Governor, but when he fails in his movements then he must know that his measures were wrong.

SJ: But the Governor cannot be expected to know these tortuous Yoruba methods, the Englishman prefers straight dealing.

Citizen: But he ought at any rate to know what is due to a Sovereign or he would not have been selected to represent one. You are just looking at the matter from the standpoint of the Governor’s messenger that you are, but the Alafin must consider how your message affects him with his chiefs.

The Rev Samuel Johnson, Bishop of OYO

in his 1897 book “The History of the Yorubas” page 592 – 593

Plead your case before the King, be like Bioran”

….During the year 1866, one Samuel Peeler, alias Bioran, a Sierra Leone emigrant, who had distinguished himself in many a battlefield was summoned before him [Basorun Ogunmola] by certain hunters and charged with appropriating a deer they had shot, the blood and footprints of which they traced to his farm; he did not give it up to hem, on the contrary when it was demanded he offered them a share! According to the customary laws of the country that was a serious offence (hunters are a privileged class of men, they are the national foresters, scouts, and bush detectives) and heavy fines were usually imposed on such offenders.

When Bioran was asked what he had to say, he replied, “Kabiyesi” …when the Ibadan army was before Ijaye between the years 1860 and 1862 on several occasions when such and such (naming them) important personages fell in the thick of the fight and a deadly struggle ensued with the enemy for the appropriation of the body, when none could do it, it was I Bioran, who went forward, lifted the body on my shoulders, and brought it to the camp. Again before Iperu when certain important chiefs fell it was I Bioran with bullets flying about my ears who went to the midline of battle and rescued the body from the enemy. Now, in walking over my farm 2 days ago, I saw a dead deer in the border of my farm, so I said to myself. If Bioran can shoulder a dead man between two fires why should he be unable to shoulder a dead animal between two farms that was why I shouldered it. Kabiyesi.”

The Balogun who remembered the occasions very well laughed outright and exclaimed “Behe na ni wayi Bioran, behe ni tire ri” (and exactly so it was Bioran, and that is just like you). ….and there before the assembly the Basorun praised and honored him for his valour….I see no reason why a valiant man should not enjoy a bit of venison. Turning round to the hunters he said “That is not the sort of man to be fined, he is a valiant man.” He then satisfied the hunters with some presents to console them and dismissed the case.

The Rev Samuel Johnson, Bishop of OYO

in his 1897 book “The History of the Yorubas” page 375 -376.

“Even if I perish in this war I know that you will take care of my children” Yesufu to Prince Atiba, his nephew.

Atiba had nearly lost his life in the Gbodo expedition; his horse was shot dead under him and the Baribas were pressing hard behind him in pursuit. His life-long friend Onipede galloped past him paying no heed to the despairing cry of his friend and master: “Onipede here am I, will you leave me behind to perish?” Onipede notwithstanding this rushed on into the river Ogun and swam across safe to the other side. But when Atiba’s uncle, Yesufu came up and saw him in such straits he dismounted and offered him his horse. Atiba declined to take it, but Yesufu forced him to accept it saying “Even if I perish in this war I know that you will take care of my children.” Yesufu was a powerful swimmer and he assisted both the horse and the rider safe to the other side. Akindero the Lemomu also offered his own horse to be used alternatively with Yesufu’s until they reached home.

Onipede did not wait for him although he was riding on a horse bought for him by the very Prince he now deserted. It was even reported of him that after he had reached the other side of the river, he halted to watch with amusement the distress and danger of his friend battling with the swift current until Yesufu came to his assistance, and that on the Prince’s reaching the other side Onipede came up with a smile and an untimely joke saying “The intrepid warrior that you are, I did not know that a river current would conquer you.” The Prince said nothing, and showed no sign of resentment, but Onipede from that day became a marked man, because it was evident to Atiba that his death would have excited no feelings of sympathy and regret in Onipede.

Rev Samuel Johnson (1921). The History of the Yorubas. Reprint Lagos. CSS Press 2001. Page 277


What we say  doesn’t often matter as much as what we do. Does the story below ring a bell?

A Lesson in Diplomacy:

….the result was a congress held at Ikoyi in which all the principal chiefs were present, and to which the King sent an Ilari.

After a prolonged deliberation they came to an agreement to return to their former loyalty and allegiance. The Onikoyi then asked that the Ilari be called in to bear the good tidings to his master; but when called aloud by his official (Ilari) name “Kafilegboin,”the chiefs all gave a start and were much surprised to hear the name of the Ilari sent to them. “What! Kafilegboin! (i.e let’s have it on stiff). Is that then the King’s intention? A name which implies implacability, resolute determination and inexorableness! Very well then, let the rebellion continue. No one among us can consider himself safe at the hands of the King should we return to our allegiance, since he can send us such an Ilari at a  time as this when he wants to win us back!” The congress was then dissolved.

Whether the King did this intentionally or not, we cannot say; but Yorubas being very diplomatic, and very suspicious of one another, he should have sent one whose name implies conciliation or harmony if he wished to win back the chiefs.

The Rev Samuel Johnson, Bishop of OYO

in his 1897 book “The History of the Yorubas” page 211.

Guess which people were described below?

“Their more generous treatment of fallen foes and artful method of conciliating a power they could not openly crush, marked them out as a superior people in the art of government.”

The Rev Samuel Johnson, Bishop of OYO

in his 1897 book “The History of the Yorubas” page 200.