Aare Ona Kakanfo was a title given to the generalissimo, the war general during the old Oyo Empire. An Aare Ona Kakanfo would lead battles, fight wars, mobilise and train “soldiers” and conquer the enemies.
The title of Aare Ona Kakanfo was introduced hundreds of years ago to the Yoruba country by King Ajagbo, who ruled over 700 years ago. The introduction of the title was informed by the need to fortify the ancient, pre-colonial army of the old Oyo Empire which at one time could boast of over 100,000 horsemen. In recent times, the selection seem to have been informed by other considerations the chief of which is the acceptability of the leader among a large section of the people of the South West and such a leader being accepted as worthy Yoruba leadership by other nationalities in Nigeria.
The selection involves several rituals and there have been speculations that the last two Kakanfos did not complete the ritual circles. Samuel Johnson in his book treatise on the Kakanfo stated that the Kakanfos are always shaved, but the hair on the inoculated part is allowed to grow long, and when plaited, forms a tuft or sort of pigtail,’ adding that Kakanfos are generally ‘very stubborn and obstinate.
They have been more or less troublesome, due to the effect of the ingredients they were inoculated with. In war they carry no weapon but a weapon known as the King’s invincible staff.’ It is generally understood that they are to give way to no one not even to the King, their master. Hence, Kakanfos are never created in the capital but in any other town in the Kingdom ‘
Kakanfo is akin to a field marshal and is conferred upon the greatest soldier and tactician of the day. ‘By virtue of his office he is to go to war once in 3 years to whatever place the King named, and dead or alive, to return home a victor, or be brought home a corpse within three months’. Kakanfo usually has certain ensigns: The Ojijiko, and a cap made of the red feathers of the parrots tail, with a projection behind reaching as far down as the waist, an apron of leopards skin, and a leopard skin to sit on always the Asiso or pigtail and the Staff invincible.
the following are the list of the past Fourteen Aare Ona Kakanfo (from archive) that had been:
Kokoro igangan of Iwoye-Ketu,
Oyatope of Iwoye,
Oyabi of Ajase,
Adeta of Jabata,
Oku of Jabata,
Afonja l’aiya l’oko of ilorin,
Toyeje of Ogbomoso,
Edun of Gbogan,
Amepo of Abemo,
Kurumi of Ijaye,
Ojo Aburumaku of Ogbomoso (son of Toyeje)
Latoosa of Ibadan
Ladoke Akintola (the premier of western region during the first republic)
And MKO Abiola who earned the title in 1988″
Kakanfo Ojo Aburumaku had no war to fight. He fomented a civil war in his native Ogbomoso which he then had a good sport of putting down with severity. Afterall, he was Aare Onakakanfo, the Supreme head of the Esos, the 70 military commanders who make the Yoruba warrior caste.
Eso Ikoyi won kii gbofa leyin
iwaju ni won fii gbota.
Agba Ikoyi to gbojo iku toree gbalu.
Ikoyi Eso, arogun yo.
Kakanfo Kurumi was even more spectacular. He insisted that the Aremo must die with the Alaafin according to tradition. The truth was that he had been part of an earlier conference in which that convention was abolished. To enforce his desire, he made war on the rest of Oyo kingdom from his garrison city in Ijaye. His reputation as a warrior was legendary. He is portrayed in art as a no-nonsense nimble wit with a commanding presence. Aare Kurumi npe o, o londifa. Bifa ba fore ti Aare o ba fore nko? There was no excuse for refusing a call from the generalissimo. In a surgical commando strike, Ibadan special forces attacked at night his troops in Iseyin and wiped out the entire rear brigade. All of Kurumi’s five children who were company commanders died in that attack. Like his name, Aare Kurumi was ruined by death, indeed. I-k –u-r-u-m-i.
It must be acknowledged though that a few of the kakanfos had glorious tenures. Oyabi was based in the garrison town of Jabata. He kept off the internal strife of the kingdom with the wily Osorun Gaa killing the Alaafins in quick succession until the reign of Adegoolu who linked up with the military to destroy the prime minister. The Eso were lead into the city like Caesar did across the Rubicon River and Basorun Gaa was killed. Nontheless, Oyabi died rather young.
In Ibadan, the new city full of promise where Kakanfo Obadoke Latoosa had taken up residence, the scourge of the notorious slave dealer, Efunsetan Aniwura, was ended by the Aare Ona kakanfo. However, even he Latoosa was victim of the mystique of the office of supreme commander. Latoosa was confronted by a palace coup and in very dramatic circumstances, he committed suicide. He had a notorious slave according to history, who grew increasingly disrespectful of the generals. Latoosa did not curb this behaviour until the deputy commander, Balogun Ibikunle was insulted by the slave. Ibikunle could not believe his eyes when Latoosa asked the slave to state his side of the case like two equals squabbling. Ibikunle simply beheaded the idiot there and then.
Latoosa then asked Ibikunle if he was ready to take the sceptre of office, to which Ibikunle answered in the affirmative. There was no negative response from the other commanders present. Latoosa had overrated his own popularity. Depicted as an overbearing and brutally magnificent warrior who went about like a masquerade, he was stunned by the turn of events and swallowed poison. He simply laid down and covered himself like one in sleep. These and more are the intriguing story of Aare in the then old Oyo Empire.

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