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Ondo Kingdom: Social Life Descent, Inheritance and Succession

Ondo kinship ideology today is highly bilateral with an emphasis on patrilineality. Unlike other Yoruba kingdoms, however, the Ondo possess a strong tendency toward matrifocality. This is expressed in the kinship term, Omiye mi, which simply means “my maternal kin,” but which is a household word and constitutes a fundamental tenet of the ideology of the ancient Ondo society. A female progenitor was quite common for many lineages among the Ondo.

What then is the importance of this for Ondo myths and rituals? The palace coup d’etat in which the woman Oba was replaced by a male line in the Ondo myth of origin must have had an impact on the way Ondo populace view their descent system and perhaps also on other aspects of the social structure. Airo, the name of the male king that succeeded Pupupu, the female king, means, “a substitute.” The Lobun, who is considered a king in her own right, emphasized this fact by saying: “afi paro ni” (We make him replace someone). Thus the Ondo myth of origin may indicate that at some point in the distant past Ondo women played a powerful political role, the remnants of which are still preserved in the Lobun institution, one of the most revered titles in Ondo today. It is a daughter of the Lobun or a woman within the lineage that succeeds her. That an institution of such crucial ritual importance to the state has survived (for without the Lobun, no king can be enthroned) suggests the importance of women in the past and may represent a sort of compensation for women’s lost power.

Even today the Ondo live with the paradox of suppressed female political power. Lobun is still referred to as “Oba Obinrin” (the woman’s king). This paradox is further demonstrated in the all-night “Opepee festival’, “a ritual of reversal” when the society’s suppressed urges are brought into the open. Such rituals always end up by reinforcing the stability of the status quo. The young men and women take to the street and sing “Oba wa N (referring to the personal name of the incumbent king) Se duo ku di Lobunje” (Our king N, die and let us elect a Lobun).

Edili (Lineage) Uli (Family) Pattern

The most significant social unit among the Ondo is the lineage group, or edili. This is a corporate descent group consisting of members who trace their origin to a common male founder (Baba Nla) through a line of male descendants. Reference to the primacy of lineage abounds in the vocabulary of Ondo people, especially in the naming system. For example, Ediliola, literally, “a wealthy lineage,” she is an example of the ideal to which many Ondo families aspire. The lineage can be broken down into family units or uli. An uli is a compound family unit consisting of a father, his wives, children, and immediate relations. Membership in the family is by birth and a child born into an uli automatically becomes a member of the larger lineage, thereby obtaining access to its rights and privileges.

The oldest living member of the lineage (Baba Agba) in principle becomes the lineage head (Olori Edili). He is the sole guardian of the lineage, the one who holds intact the tie of kinship (Okun ebi). The genealogical bond (ajobi) existing between members of the lineage represents the central link of trust within the lineage and quite often people will swear or pray in the name of their ajobi in order to give validity to a statement or a point. The decline in the traditional lineage structure today and the emergence of new social ties outside the lineage structure is vividly portrayed by the Yoruba proverb, Ko si alajobi mo, alajogbe lo ku (“there is no longer a kinship bond, what is left is co-residence bond”). This is in reference to the new pattern of relationships and neolocal residency that is common in most Yoruba urban areas today.


Residence is patrilocal in traditional Ondo society. A male child born into an uli remains there until death. A female sibling, however, upon marriage, leaves the residence and joins the uli of her husband. Children born of the marriage are born to her husband’s lineage or edili. However, residence in Ondo society today is patterned differently. Each male child upon marriage aims at establishing his own household and will move out of the family residence once his house is completed. However, it is noteworthy that the first born male children remain permanently in the family house even when they have built their own personal houses somewhere else in the town.

There are three reasons for this type of residence pattern:

  • (1) The notions of residence and home have a mythical character so that the idea is to keep the spirit of the lineage alive by maintaining continuity with the departed ancestor.
  • (2) All ceremonies and activities pertaining to any member of the lineage, such as the rites of passage (marriages, naming ceremonies, etc.) are by convention performed in the ancestral home. Such houses have a niche (Ojubo) usually marked with three cowries and stuck into the floor, as observed in Sora’s (the priest of Oramfe) house in Ondo.
  • (3) The Yoruba generally cannot conceive of a home without a male head member. A house without a male head is thought of as virtually empty, as suggested in the saying Baale Ile ku lie di ahoro (“the death of the head of a home turns it into an empty one”). Therefore, the first born male child is referred to as Opo mule ro (the pillar of the house), and it is more appropriate for him to stay in the home permanently.

Marriage Arrangement

The Ondo marriage pattern is exogamous. A man may not marry within his edili (lineage) but can marry within the town. There is(was) a general distaste for marriages contracted outside the town, though there was never a rule against it. Polygyny was the custom in former days and there was no limit to the number of wives a man could take. Generally, a marriage is contracted once the traditional puberty rites (Obitun for girls, Apon for boys) are completed. (However, Obitun is the equivalent of Christian baptism and that there was no need for it today, since Christianity has taken root.) Apart from this standard type of marriage, another form of marriage quite common among traditional Ondo is the levirate, vestiges of which are still to be found. The two kinds of levirate practices are anticipatory levirate and posthumous junior levirate.

The practices are described as follows:

When a man dies the children of the deceased, if of tender years, remain with their respective mothers under the guardianship of the deceased’s next younger brother. If, however, the deceased is a man of position with many wives (such as a traditional chief), his brothers and sons, if grown up, will have already in all probability paired with one or other of the wives of the deceased while he was still alive. (The Ondo-Yoruba terms used to express this relationship translate literally as ‘playing with’.) In this case each relative will take one wife together with her children. The remaining wives and children will come under the guardianship of the younger brother of the deceased, who will marry them or not, as the case may be. On the other hand, if any of the wives wish to marry again outside the family they are at liberty to do so. Their new husband will pay a dowry to the younger brother of the deceased. The children of wives that do so will remain with the family of the deceased.

The junior brother of a deceased man by rule becomes the surrogate father and provider for the children and widow of his deceased brother. The marriage system is not primarily for the purpose of having a relationship, but rather a means of ensuring the support of the deceased’s offspring. That is part of the reason why older women with grown up children are excluded from it. It has been asked how the levirate institution could be sustained in a society where age seniority plays an important part in social relations. To put it in a different way, when a levirate wife is older than the surrogate husband, is that not a conflict in itself, especially when it is assumed that the wife had to obey her husband? This problem is easily resolved in the pattern of the Ondo kinship terminology. When a woman gets married she refers to her brothers-in-law (i.e., husband’s male siblings) as ‘my husbands’, Oko mi, or my senior brother, egin mi. Whenever levirate occurs, she assumes such positions in the real sense without much friction. Concubinage (ale) is not an unusual practice among the Ondo, but concubines are not included among legitimately acquired wives, since the husband neither pays a dowry nor performs the formal wedding ceremony, both of which are considered essential in Ondo.

The organization of the day-to-day activities in the Ondo home is quite simple. The wives prepare the husband’s food in rotation, usually on a weekly basis. The sleeping pattern is on the same weekly basis. The husband sleeps in rotation with the wives. The senior wife takes a prime place in the home. She is highly respected by her co-wives, who refer to her as lyale (mother at home). As the husband marries more wives she practically withdraws from household duties, including the periodic sleeping with and food preparation for the husband, until she becomes a kind of ‘wife emerita’.


The property of a deceased man is inherited by both his siblings and his children. Upon the death of an individual, the next of kin (usually the maternal cousin) becomes the overseer of his properties. Three people are appointed by the edili. The executor gathers together all the movable goods of the deceased and takes an inventory of all his immovable property. A sizeable portion of the goods is distributed among the deceased’s junior siblings. Elder brothers and the widow(s) of the deceased are forbidden to inherit his property. The rest is divided into the number of wives he had, each wife and her children representing a stock (idi).

The senior wife’s children have the rights to a higher proportion of the property. Certain private immovable properties such as farmlands and the deceased’s domicile are never distributed but corporately owned by all the children. These are kept under the care of the first born male child. If the deceased happens to be the head of his lineage, properties held in trust for the edili are automatically taken over by his successor, usually the next oldest man in the lineage. While the above is generally applied to all of the Ondo-Yoruba,. there may be minor variations from one town to another. When a woman dies, her properties are divided among her children and relations.

Kinship Terminology

The Ondo make a distinction between two sets of consanguinal relations:

  • (1) Omiba, the paternal relations and
  • (2) Omiye, the maternal relations, though the former word is rarely used. In spite of the fact that Ondo is ideologically patrilineal today, maternal kin occupy an equally important position in the life of the Ondo individual as do paternal kin.

A child calls his or her father and any adult male around his father’s age and above, bai (my father). This is purely a sign of respect and an indication of the place age plays in the social system. An Ondo boy refers to his grandfather as Bamagba (my older father). A similar greeting pattern of kee o is expressed towards both. His senior siblings are designated egin. This title is, however, often joined to the name of the referent; for example egin Omololu, would mean, my senior brother Omololu. Egin could equally apply to cousins and other unrelated senior males. It appears that egin is in use mainly in Ondo township. It is interesting that in far distant places like Ibadan and Lagos, Ondo people are generally jokingly referred to as egin, distinguishing them from other Yoruba groups.

An individual refers to his or her mother as yei (my mother), and as is the case of a boy’s father, yei could equally be used to designate any female adult of the ego‘s mother’s age group or older. As a result of the polygynous nature of Ondo marriage system, a separate terminology is reserved for the senior wife as a sign of respect. The senior wife is referred to as yei or mama, and one of the wives is referred to even by her own children as anti, the English kin term for aunt. However, it is in daily greetings that the degree of affinity between two individuals is better shown. When an Ondo child meets and greets an elderly relation (either a paternal or maternal relation), the individual greeted responds with the child’s or his family’s praise names, or he may simply say wo lani o (may today be good for you), assuming the individual who has greeted the elderly person is only slightly known by the latter. He may improvise very detailed response. Ondo chiefs are greeted in the praise names associated with their position. The individual stands in front of the chief, stretches forth his fists three times while simultaneously calling the chief’s title praise names.

Socialisation and Culturisation

Socialisation and Culturisation in Ekimogun land takes place within four age groups with families serving as the principal agents of socialisation and culturisation. These age groups are: 0-4, 5–9, 1O–16, 17+.

The first age group marks the age of total dependence of any child in Ekimogun land. This period encompasses the time the child is given a name, usually when the child is 8 days old. In actual sense, the names given, just like other areas in Yoruba land, usually reflects the circumstances surrounding the birth of the child or events, and incidences preceding the child’s birth. Here deep within the child subconscious culturation takes place, but to the old ones witnessing it, culturation takes pIace consciously and they are the one to make the transmission i.e. socilisation.

Furthermore, during this age group, the mother pacifies, breast-feeds and clothes the child. It is also within this group that circumcision and the traditional tribal marks take place.

At about seven months, the child is allowed to crawl, seat, erect and allowed to touch everything except harmful objects. Between 12—18 months, the Ekimogun child is trained to use toilet most especially to draw the attention of the mother if he or she wants to answer the call of nature. Before the end of the third year, the child is trained to walk by holding his or her hands and it is also this period that weaning takes place. At the end of the fourth year, many culturisation consciously or unconsciously take place but expression still lags.

The second age-group i.e. 5—8 typifies the semi-independent stage. Some inquisitive ones ask questions concerning the rationale behind some traditional things performed such as the tribal marks. It is the duty of the parents to tell him or her. Here an element of socialisation and culturisation has taken place.

And this stage, constant supervision is minimised. The child is allowed to fetch water on his or own. He or she is taught many domestic activities such as how to cook, feed, wash clothes, sweep and so on. The value of mutual dependence norms, of reciprocity are also taught.

Furthermore, emphasis is also placed on obedience to elders, etiquette. The child is taught on how to retaliate and defend him or herself. However, contrary to the general belief, aggressiveness, unnecessary stubbornness on and strong headedness is discouraged but not when an Ekimogun child is being cheated. He or she is made to believe that cheating in all ramifications should be vehemently opposed. This, the child learns, and transmits to the coming children and the process continues like that.

Further socialisation and aculturisation that take place among Ekimogun children within this second age group include among other things, the teaching of some forbidden things in the town. For example, it is this stage that it becomes known that eating Big rat is forbidden. It is also at this stage, the children are taught the importance of exogamy. The rationale behind tribal marks and other important socio-traditional dispensation in the town are learned for onward transmission to their unborn children.

9—16 stage marks a period of higher independence. The child is taught the essence of comradeship. Daily instruction on how to cook, sweep etc. are given most especially to the girls.

The stage of 17+ is considered in Ondo to be the major step to adulthood where a child is intellectually and emotionally mature and could get married anytime. Proper orientation is given to the ladies on how to behave at their husband’s house. The males are taught the proper things to do to their in-laws. He also acquires the skill of fatherhood, how to work on the farm most especially during the primitive stage. However, in recent times, dynamism has crawled into the culture of Ondo. For example, instead of having the total means of their existence based on farming, education has greatly assumed a wider dimension in their lives. Therefore, many culturisation at this stage take place at school. In actual sense, it is also at this stage an Ekirnogun child learns new traits, norms and beliefs outside his or her home e.g. school, church, streets and so on.

Though, culture in its universal sense is dynamic this dynamism of culture has not affected the Ekimoguns in the sense of losing any of their cultural traits. No matter the level of an Ekimogun’s education, status, influence in the society, he does not forget his root most especially his dialect,. various traditional festivals and the current “ASUN” culture.

Perhaps, the point mentioned above is responsible for cultural relativity which the Ekimoguns have attached to their tribal marks despite the condemnation which tribal marks in Yorubaland are being attracted.

To the Ekimoguns, all their cultural traits are meaningful and they have stuck to them but this does not mean conservatism. May be this is all the more reason why absolute unity prevails in Ondo town. To the newly born Ekimogun, I say welcome to the culture of your father land. Please, prepare your lesson note for culturisation and get ready for its ultimate socialisation.

Sorce By: Ondo Development Committee Archive.

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