Once upon a time, there was a kingdom called Itoro. The Itoro kingdom had a strange problem. None of the kings they coronated lasted more than six years on the throne. It seemed as if the kingdom was always in mourning. According to the traditions of the kingdom, markets had to be closed for forty days when a King died. He also had to be buried with a significant amount of gold for him to take to the ancestors to guarantee him a place in their midst. When the people complained, it was pointed out that in the days of old, it was able bodied men and women who accompanied the dead King to the great beyond, now, the gold was a replacement for human sacrifice.
The people stopped complaining about the gold. Unlike what transpired in neighbouring kingdoms, the Princes of Itoro were not particularly keen on ascending the throne since it came with a short life expectancy. Instead of the usual jockeying for power and intrigues that characterized royal courts, the Itoro Princes had to be coaxed onto the throne.
After a particularly well- liked King passed away in his fifth year on the throne, the Kingmakers met to plan yet another elaborate and expensive funeral, which would be followed by another grand coronation. One of the Kingmakers suggested that instead of relying on the Itoro Chief Priest who interpreted the wishes of the Oracle, they should seek a second opinion from another Priest known as Ezowan from a town far away, who had a reputation as a powerful medicine man. The Kingmakers agreed, and a delegation was sent to bring the great Ezowan to the Itoro kingdom. Ezowan asked his hosts to give him seven days to prepare for his consultation with the Oracle. After seven days, the Kingmakers gathered to witness the consultation. When it was over, Ezowan told the Kingmakers that in order for the next King to live a long life, certain changes needed to be made.
First, every King of Itoro had to plant a ‘Tree of Life’. The tree should be planted at the furthest end of the forest, and had to be watered every day. It did not matter if it rained, the King had to water the tree personally every day. The second change involved the King’s diet. The King was only allowed to eat food prepared with palm-oil once a month, salt once a month and he was forbidden from drinking palm-wine. The third change that was required had to do with the King’s private life. The King was only allowed to have sexual relations twice a week, and he was not to have more than two wives at a time.
The Kingmakers were scandalized. How could they force a King to go into a forest every day to nurture a tree? How could they forbid a King from eating palm-oil and salt every day, and from drinking palm-wine? As for the sex and minimal harem, that was too much to ask for, what will happen to all the relatively ‘active’ wives he will inherit, not to mention the ones he will marry out of greed or to seal political alliances? It was hard enough trying to get candidates for the throne, and now there were all these conditions. Ezowan shrugged his shoulders. ‘You asked for my help’ he told them, ‘If you want your next King to live long, this is what he needs to do’.
And so a new King was coronated in Itoro Kingdom. He did all that had been instructed by Ezowan. He made the trip to the forest every day to nurture his ‘Tree of Life’. He observed the food taboos and he had only two wives. He reigned for thirty years and died a very old man. And so did the King after him and so on.
The walks to the ‘Tree of Life’ in the forest were meant to be daily exercise. The dietary restrictions were about moderation and curbing excesses. And the limitations on sexual partners were to do with minimizing sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of having to go through life as a royal stud.
Two hundred years later, a king known as Jabu ascended the throne of Itoro. Jabu was a cantankerous fellow who did not take kindly to advice. He stopped the tradition of nurturing a tree, ate whatever he liked and had fifteen wives who he slept with every day. Jabu lasted three years. The other two who came after him ignored the previous traditions and did not last either.
Generations after Ezowan’s visit to Itoro, another set of Kingmakers gathered again to figure out what to do about the return of the plague on the throne. One of the Kingmakers pointed out that tragedy had started to befall them once they deviated from the instructions as laid down by their ancestors. They agreed that the next King would have to comply or be deposed. This was enforced and the Kings of Itoro did not die young henceforth.
The Kings of Itoro were dying young because once they ascended the throne, they no longer worked on the farm. They were not warriors either, that is what their army commanders where there for. They could not take walks around the Kingdom without creating a huge fuss. They did not visit friends or relatives, they were visited. So they stayed in their palaces and ate whatever was cooked for them by their twenty or so wives. Each of the wives competed with dishes more tempting than that of their rivals. The King ate sumptuous dishes of pounded yam made with soups of palm-oil, bush meat, antelope, chicken, goat, you name it. The food was washed down with copious amounts of palm-wine. And of course he had to show appreciation to all the twenty wives at bedtime.
The seven days Ezowan spent in Itoro before his final divination had been used to interview people about the lifestyle and habits of their Kings. The walks to the ‘Tree of Life’ in the forest were meant to be daily exercise. The dietary restrictions were about moderation and curbing excesses. And the limitations on sexual partners were to do with minimizing sexually transmitted diseases and the exhaustion of having to go through life as a royal stud. Ezowan’s advice saved many Itoro Kings from an early death, till the stubborn Jabu decided to do things his own way and earned himself an untimely demise.
Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]