Aare Crown Sculpture

Elevating the Office for a Time

This sculpture of the Ooni of Ife's singular crown reminded others of the kingdom's primacy

Lagos-based sculptor Aina Samuel constructed the Aare sculpture that was installed in 2016—just a year after HRM Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II became the Ooni of Ife. It stood in front of the palace on a small roundabout near the Oke-Mogun shrine, a sacred spot that is the focus of October’s Olojo Festival dedicated to Ogun, god of iron.

The sculpture represented the Aare, a specific beaded crown worn by the Ooni at his coronation and once annually during the festival. Its extensive, dark-toned blue and red “beading” contrasted with the surrounding features of then-nearby Afewonro Park. Its overall design was geometric, its triangles referring to the Yoruba cosmos. The colors were sectioned into three individual chromatic groups divided into sections of white, red, and black, although its cascading fringe was multicolored.

While conical beaded crowns are worn by the Ooni and other Yoruba monarchs (oba) who are descendants of Oduduwa, the first ruler of Ife, the Aare’s design differs from them in shape and decoration. Like an ordinary man’s dog-eared cloth cap (fila abeti-ajá), it has two flat curved-seamed sides. Some monarchs wear beaded versions as informal crowns; these can include a full or partial beaded veil that hides the individuality of the monarch and also protects the viewer from the medicine-empowered gaze of the oba, directing focus to the crown itself.

The Aare is more elaborate than these informal crowns, however. Its multi-colored beaded veil extends to the Ooni’s calves, and it includes several bead projections on a mica rondel, as well as parrot feathers, white okin feathers, and a group of bulbous elements at the nape. Unlike other Yoruba formal crowns (ade)—some of which the Ooni also owns—it lacks abstract beaded faces, birds, and interlace motifs.

Although the palace states the Aare crown dates to the time of Oduduwa, Ife’s legendary first king, its form and decoration differ substantially from the crowns that appear on terracottas and bronzes dating from the 11th–15th century. Except for the large carnelian (okun or lantana) beads sewn along the crown’s crest and protruding from its badge, today’s Aare is decorated with seed beads that were not available in Nigeria until the 19th century. Earlier crowns were made of large stone lantana from the Ilorin region or glass beads produced in Ife itself at the Olokun Grove, where crucibles were found, although they too bore a round badge (albeit with different details) at the front, absent from other Yoruba crowns.

The actual crown’s symbolic elements include the round badge made from mica, a material inserted in some of the pottery found in archaeological sites at Ife. The four beads that project from it represent an important number, critical to Ifa divination and its orisha, Orunmila; a further suggestion is that they represent the palace’s supports. The Aare’s red tail feathers from the African grey parrot are associated with prophecy and witchcraft, and signify the Ooni shares the powers of the witches but is superior to them and can serve as a supernatural protector.

One of the most important elements of the Aare is the hidden medicine within it. When worn by the Ooni, he incarnates Oduduwa, the first Yoruba ruler, as well as Ogun, whom the Olojo festival honors. Most of this medicine’s ingredients are secret, but Aare is said to be unusually heavy because it includes objects sacred to Ogun, including cutlasses and hoes. It also apparently includes a palm nut, referring to divination apparatus, and the bark of a tree (aginla or asorin) associated with the powers of witchcraft that represents the royal ancestors. The Ooni should never gaze upon the inside of his crown, lest he dies.

When he is laid to rest, his Aare is buried with him, although certain elements are removed and incorporated in his successor’s version. The crown itself is held to be a deity; sacrifices are made to it and it rests in its own palace chamber.

At some point after July 2018, the sculpture was removed from the roundabout. A large replica of the Aare, however, has been incorporated into the decorated stands erected for the Olojo festival from 2018 on.