Oba (ruler)
Oba is a West Africa
West Africa
West Africa or Western Africa is the westernmost region of the African continent. Geopolitically, the UN definition of Western Africa includes the following 16 countries and an area of approximately 5 million square km:-Flags of West Africa:...

n synonym for monarch
A monarch is the person who heads a monarchy. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and occasionally rules for life or until abdication...

, one that is usually applied to the Yoruba
Yoruba people
The Yoruba people are one of the largest ethnic groups in West Africa. The majority of the Yoruba speak the Yoruba language...

 and Edo
Edo people
Edo is the name for the place, people and language of an ethnic group in Nigeria. Other Edo-speaking ethnic groups include the Esan and the Afemai...

 rulers of the region. It is also often used by their traditional subjects to refer to other kings and queens, such as Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, in their native languages.

Edo account of the word's origin

The word Oba (meaning "red" or "it is red" in the Edo language) - referring to the red royal precious coral beads worn in excess by a monarch (from crowned head to toe) - was initially created by Eweka I (1180–1246) who coined the title to separate his rule from the Ogiso dynastic period, it being intended to serve as a descriptive for a king or a sovereign ruler of a domain. The newly enthroned imperial chieftain did not only stop at changing his royal title, he also changed the name of both his land and the people that lived upon it from Igodomigodo to Edo.

Since the moment that this was done, which is generally recognised as the dawn of the so-called Eweka dynasty that has continued to rule the Edos to this day, obas have served as the traditional heads of a significant proportion of the above mentioned region's population. The title is now used extensively in the modern states of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and Togo in much the same way.
While there is only one oba or king amongst the Edo of the former Benin Empire, their relatives, the Yorubas, have developed a more devolved application of the word.

An unusual case

The title of the Oba of Lagos is a relatively modern one. Before it was under the control of the British forces, Eko, an ancient port that was initially seized in around the late 12th century by the Benin oba whose father, the ousted but much loved royal Prince Ekaladerhan (who was then the first Oni of Ife and guardian of Akoko-Ado), exposed Eweka I (his son and royal heir to his old empire) to the area as a means of preparing him to rule in his stead.

Due to this, by the time of the arrival of the Portuguese in 1485, Eko would be fully controlled by his successor Oba Ewuare the Great. The British colonial forces, who arrived a number of centuries after them, subsequently imposed a joint Edo-Yoruba control (after their infamous occupation and dismantling of the Benin Empire in 1897) in order to gain full control of the port for their trade activities. By this time, too, Eko had already been named Lagos by the Portuguese traders due to its numerous waterways. Be that as it may, it would still take several generations for the official Yoruba title of the Eleko of Eko to be partially altered to what it currently is.

Alternative views

There is quite a bit of controversy regarding the ancient history of both the Yorubas and the Edos. Although the version of events described above is generally seen as the Edo spin on the stories of Oduduwa and is accepted as gospel by pretty much all of them, the vast majority of Yorubas do not believe that their royal patriarch originated amongst the Edo people. A series of different origin myths pertaining to the mythical monarch exist, in fact, in the region inhabited by both tribes, and none have been independently verified as incontrovertibly valid.

Aristocratic titles among the Yoruba

There are two different kinds of Yoruba rulers. These are : The kings of Yoruba clans (For example, the oba of the Egba bears the title of the Alake of Egbaland because his ancestral seat is the Ake quarter of Abeokuta, hence the title Alake, which is Yoruba for "Man of Ake". The Oyo oba, meanwhile, bears the title of Alaafin, which means "Man of the palace") and the kings of Yoruba towns (Example: the king of Iwo, a town in Osun State, bears the title Olu'wo (Olu of Iwo, basically meaning "Lord of Iwo")).

The first generation towns of the Yoruba realm, which encompasses large swathes of the said countries of Nigeria, Benin and Togo, are those with obas, who generally wear beaded crowns; the rulers of the 'second generation' settlements are also often obas. Those that remain and those of the third generation tend to only be headed by the holders of the title Baálě (literally meaning Father of the Land in Yoruba), who do not wear crowns and who are, at least in theory, the reigning viceroys of people who do. All of the subordinate members of the Yoruba aristocracy, both substantive titleholders and honorary ones, use the pre-nominal Oloyé (lit. Owner of a title, also appearing as Ijoyé) in the way that kings and queens regnant use 'Oba'. It is also often used by princes and princesses in coloquial situations, though the title that is most often ascribed to them officially is Omoba (lit. Child of a Monarch, sometimes rendered alternatively as Omo'ba, Omooba or Omo-Oba). The wives of kings, princes and chiefs of royal background usually make use of the title Olori (roughly the equivalent of the English Princess Consort, otherwise spelled Oloori), though some of the wives of sovereign rulers prefer to be referred to as Ayaba (something along the lines of Queen Consort). The wives of the non-royal chiefs, when themselves titleholders in their own right, tend to use the honourific Iyaloyé (lit. Lady who owns a title) in their capacities as chiefly consorts.
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