ALAFINOLOGY: THE IDEOLOGY AND EPISTEMOLOGY OF KINGSHIP
This paper is, indeed, not about the historical narratives of kings and their kingdoms over time; but, instead, it is about the ideology and epistemology of kingship, especially as it is manifested in the body of the king, the rituals of power, the “arts” around the king, the spaces over which the power is exercised, as well as the people over whom it is exercised upon, and the insurgencies that kingship generate.
In ” totalizing” the discourse on kingship and power, I combine the past with the present because both are sacrosanct and, to a large extent, relevant.
Conceptual and theoretical ideas are, of course, driven by, and grounded in narratives but theories as well as epistemologies can exclusively and implicitly elevate analysis beyond the interpretations of specific regional events, episodes, and historical timelines, and particularistic or localized attributes of kings. A conceptual analysis, such as the “second order” level that I present here, cumulates into narratives that belong to different parts of the world and historical eras, distilling them into theoretical and philosophical categories of analysis. I want to articulate a series of divergent and mutually reinforcing conceptual ideas on kingship in general, drawing on the Alaafin and hundreds of other noble kings in a comparative framework, with their long historical moments, and within a larger geographic space in Africa and other parts of the world.
Narratives on African kingships and chieftaincies tend to focus on peculiarities in association with cities, as in the power of the Alaafin in the eighteenth century, the Alake of Abeokuta in the nineteenth century, the Olubadan of Ibadan in the twentieth century, and the powerful anti-colonial Asantehene, King of the Asante. Sometimes, the narrative can focus on the sources of power, as in the case of Islam and the Sultan of Sokoto or the traditional as in the case of the Aku-Uka of Warri. There is nothing wrong with such micro-studies and many more of them are needed.
Two critiques of the micro-studies approach with respect to Africa must be noted. The first is that the characteristics of roles and responsibilities of kings, as in the case of Yoruba Obas, are presented in a descriptive manner, thus adding very little to the literature other than new names and titles. Second, kingship, as it must be understood, is not peculiarly African, but has a global reach.
That global traditions and histories of kings imply that analysis can be framed as comparative, which colonial anthropology and British officials actually attempted in creating hierarchies among kings in Nigeria — for example, they were comparing the Emirs of the North with the Obas of the South.
Kingship is not confined to the Yoruba people as there were, and still are, kings (going by different names) in hundreds of other places, nations and also in different civilizations and empires, some of which are no more. The long history of kingship, from state formations, to its pre-democracy antecedents, to its apogee in different historical periods (as in the case of Africa before the colonial conquest), to the rise of modern democracies, and the subsequent decline if kingship in modern politics, has been a subject of long historical narrations in different parts of the world.
There are countless stories on the activities of kings in different societies, which I will use as some of my examples, but there are also common denominators which allow us to construct a “second order” epistemological analysis of kingship(s).
Narrations, as those on the Alaafin of Oyo, in combination with those of other kings in other places, supply the data that drives this conceptual piece. For the most part, I will skip those narratives on the specific deeds of kings and the histories on their kingdoms.
I will relate the very idea of kingship to that of the ideology that produced it; the ideology that kingship itself manifested; and the knowledge that kingly power– in its conception and uses– produced and profited from.
Power is a product of an intellectual political philosophy, deeply held and keenly contested. As power becomes manifested in governance and conflicts, it generates a complicated set of events that feed the production of knowledge. My primary interest here is the interface of kingship, as a concentrated form of power, with knowledge, ideology, and epistemology.
This essay is structured into five parts: a long preface on the meaning and practices of kingship; a focus on the interlocking relationship between kingship and rituals; the connection between kingship and creativity as it draws the public to the palace and establishes control over talents and their products; and the fourth — the relationship between kingship, ideology and epistemology.
The fourth part is the major segment and core of the essay. In the fifth part into a major intellectual recommendation for the creation of Kingship Studies in African universities. I will conclude with a proposal for how studies of kingship should be taught in schools for African students who are influenced by tradition but are also aware of rising democracies across the world. Let me start with a controversial suggestion.