Today, after over five hundred years of existence. Ondo Kingdom has evolved and carved for itself a compelling stage not only on the Yoruba landscape but in the national and indeed in the final analysis, on the global horizon.
An average Ondo man is very proud of his heritage. In a sense, what drives him is an undiluted focus to continue to lift the Ekimogun banner of the great Ondo Kingdom. The Ondo man is not just proud of his source, he is confident that the fact speaks for itself (res ipsa loquitur). A venture into any field of human intellectual endeavour brings you face-to-face with the Ondo person.
There they are, more often than not, at the very peak. The first Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in the old Ondo Province, now Ondo and Ekiti States, Chief Frank Akinrele, is an Ondo man. Ondo is the only town in the whole of Nigeria where three Nigerian National Merit Award winners, Professor O.S. Adegoke, Professor Ifedayo Oladapo, and Professor Oladipo Akinkugbe, have emerged.
Ondo Boys High School, 'the oldest community grammar school in Africa south of the Sahara which was founded in January 1919, is one of the 12 oldest secondary schools in Nigeria' (Ogunsulie, 2006). As Ambassador Tayo Ogunsulie (2006) noted, 'Ondo was the nerve centre of commercial, cultural and educational activities in the old Ondo Province. It was the undisputed leader in matters of culture, architecture and fashion, thanks to its excellent schools and the high level of enlightenment of its citizens'.
Major European commercial conglomerates like CFAO, GB Olivant, UAC, and Anglo-Guinea, John Holt, Flionis Brothers, SCOA Thamapolous, MC Silver, UTC and Miller Brothers had their operatonal outlets in Ondo several years ago (Ibid).
'The Anglican church established its mission here in Ondo in 1875 and has been the seat of a Bishop since 1893'. Much earlier in 1873, a band of Christian missionaries led by Hinderer had written of Ondo thus, 'after much peregrination, we arrived in Ondo, a compact town peopled by an enlightened community with a settled culture, delegation and representation in the conduct of their communal affair' (Ibid).
Again in the words of Ogunsulie (2006), 'in those early days, democracy, peace, order and good government were a feature in the life of our forefathers… no wonder then, that the congenial atmosphere of the city and environs attracted businessmen, artisans and others from Nigeria and Europe, who found Ondo a pleasant place to live and work and even enjoy life. A land of grace and splendour, citadel of learning, undisputed leader in commerce and culture that was for all practical purposes a pace-setter in this part of Nigeria'.
Way back at Nigeria's independence in 1960, '22 Chambers of Commerce and Industry were listed in official records. Ondo Chamber of Commerce, Oge Street, Ondo, was one of them and as ODC Former Chairman, Late Professor Ifedayo Olawole Oladapo avered , 'Ondo town, built several centuries ago, has a layout that appears to have been designed by engineers and surveyors; the early Anglican Missionaries chose Ondo for a base for their activities and established the first Bishop's seat outside Lagos there'.
Ondo are exceptional in their total absorption and commitment to their tradition and culture. The culture itself is such that one cannot but be held spellbound by its sheer scope and incomparable dynamic force. The Ondo persons warmth, hospitality and civilised gregariousness attest to the nobility of this culture and heritage.
The Ondo man would, with sheer pride and confidence, not only enthusiastically talk of his noble birth and heritage, his mind would also tick off the rich strands that co-mingle to produce that special stamp and quality, so indefinable and yet so distinct, that it can only best be described as Ondoness. This Ondoness is cut out in the Ondo person's carriage and output. What with the enthralling theme of the inimitable oriki (cognomen) of his forebears wherein their past legendary exploits are chronicled. It reverberates in the drums of the land. Very unique in entertainment, the drums are unsurpassed in rhythm. Could anyone ever miss the inspirational message of the Kumbe, the Lekoto or even the Kengen? What about the deep resonance of the Adan or Ijigi.
The Ugbaji, the drum beat by the Ughaes, presents itself with irresistible candour and dignity. Who would not be awed by the royalty of the Ulu-Oba, the royal drum of the Osemawe? The Ondo traditional dressing also holds a vantage clue to the understanding and interpretation of the Ondo person and his heritage. Adorning any of the Ondo traditional attires makes any indigene feel an inch taller and in fact, more proud of his person and heritage. The non-Ondo person becomes almost green with envy and a momentary temptation to take up Ondo indigeneship. These are the mixture of feelings and special sight of splendour that go with the array of Ekimogun traditional attires. These attires include the Alaari, Sanmiyan, Etu, Petuje, Oukope, Ookegbeiye, Ogungun-Elu, Iyanmoje, Pendanro, Jama, Egboro, Dandogo, Iketa, Letiyoyo, among others.
To say that the Ondo exemplify the Yoruba tenacious claim to hierarchical order and respect for the traditional institution would not just suffice. In fact, the culture of Ondo creates enough room for the much-admired hierarchical arrangement that gives the community its unique traditional administrative set up. At the apex of the traditional chain of command is the Osemawe. He works in concert with the traditional council. The High Chiefs are called Loogun (war leaders). There are six people in this group. It is considered a great honour to be elevated to the position of one of the top six among the myriad of versatile and enterprising Ondo males. The Eghaes (cabinet members) consist of High Chief Lisa, High Chief Jomu, High Chief Odunwo, High Chief Sasere, High Chief Adaja and High Chief Odofin, in that hierarchical order. The Ondo cabinet is headed, like a colossus, by the Osemawe who is widely regarded as the "Uku alase, Ugba gbomo la" (next only to God Almighty; the one who saves). These have their equivalents among the female chiefs. Here we have the Opoji, which comprises the Lobun, Lisa Lobun, Jomu-Lobun, Orangun-Lobun, Sasere-Lobun and Adafe-Lobun. There are other groups of male chiefs consisting of the Ukules, the Elegbes, and Ijama Chiefs. The Olojas are the traditional heads of Ondo Satellite towns and villages. SomeOlojas have however been upgraded as Obas.
As we noted elsewhere, 'the Ondo are a very confident people'. Indeed it is this almost palpable sense of confidence that the average Ondo carries about that usually gets criticised as their tendency to be proud, especially in their relationship with the non-Ondo. While the emphasis in their inter-personal relationship tends to be on individualism, it is not to suggest that the Ondo are a selfish lot. The truth is that every man is always willing to be his brother's keeper, especially where the needy brother has displayed the highly regarded penchant to withdraw to (himself) and suffer the pains of hunger and the pangs of deprivation rather than display the indignities associated with begging and all forms of supplication from a fellow human.
The average Ondo is ever conscious of the need not to do anything that could render them incapable of asking the very significant question of whether they are a dependant of the next person no matter how close the relationship. Mo daje n'abe e i? (i.e. do I feed at your table?), you can always hear the Ondo ask in the course of any hot discussion that bothers on personal integrity. The Ondo also always takes great pride in speaking the Ondo dialect as long as there is a person with whom they can connect' (Mimiko, 1990).
Ondo town is noted for its panoply of social, traditional or cooperative clubs. It is regarded as unusual for an Ondo not to belong to at least one of such. The clubs are usually dedicated to the promotion of the existing 'friendship among friends' and inevitably 'the development of Ondo and its environs'. A distinctive feature of this associational life is the race by these social clubs to outdo one another vis-ã-vis their relevance to the community. A striking evidence of this fierce, yet healthy competition can be found in the quest to erect one monument or the other in strategic places within the town; to organize well-publicised inter-school quiz competitions and to award scholarships to indigent students.
Overall, it is apposite to note that the flagrance of the Ondo culture is rich. It speaks for itself and it is highly contagious. A chance meet leaves a non-Ondo with a wish for another day while a second experience has the desire for Ondo indigeneship. However, its depth and beauty are better accessed with a mind that is simply Ondo.
*Source: Mimiko N.O. and Awude. D: Bearing Testimony Twenty Years of Ondo Development Committee. 1986 2006.