Aare Ona Kakanfo: History, Role, and Past Title Holders

Last Updated on December 1, 2022

If you’re a lover of African history, then chances are you’ve heard a few things about the legendary Oyo Empire. There have even been a few movies about the powerful kingdom. That’s because there are many stories to tell, heroes to discuss, and titles to shed light on besides kings. One such title is the position of the Aare Ona Kakanfo.

In the old Oyo Empire, the Aare Ona Kakanfo had one of the most difficult jobs. He had the duty of protecting the empire, especially when the Ibaribas disturbed the people. Every Aare Ona Kakanfo that existed, especially in the old Oyo Empire, were warriors. After all, you must first know how to fight before being tasked to “protect” anyone. The Aare led battles, organized trained troops, and subdued opponents throughout that time. The title’s creation was motivated by the need to strengthen the ancient, pre-colonial army of the former Oyo Empire, which once possessed over 100,000 horsemen.

Nevertheless, since there isn’t a war to be fought, the title has largely become ceremonial in recent years. But regardless, the Aare Ona Kakanfo is supposed to, in a manner, “fight” for the advancement and expansion of Yorubaland. He must lead the way in promoting Yoruba interests within the context of greater Nigeria.

The Aare Leads his army to war

How the Aare Ona Kakanfo’s Title Was Founded

Are Ona Kakanfo was initially established as a title to control Ibaribas’ excesses and repeated intrusions into the then-Yoruba territory. At that time, the Ibaribas terrorized the Yoruba people, and the then-Alaafin had to create the role of the Are Ona Kakanfo after realizing how big of an issue the problem was. Hence, the Aare’s responsibility was to keep watch on the home front. Of course, with the help of a special army of his.

Read: What are Yoruba people known for?

Requirements to Become an Aare Ona Kakanfo in the Oyo empire

You have to be a great warrior and be brave to be the Are Ona Kakanfo. Given the nature of the job, you’ll agree this is non-negotiable. The creation of the title prevented outside invaders from entering Yorubaland. Then, the Are Ona Kakanfo would fight multiple wars at once because he had to be strong and undefeatable.

Some historical accounts say certain Aare Ona Kakanfos were forbidden by the Alaafin to live in the same town as the king. Why? Apparently, the Aare’s influence after winning so many wars could threaten the king’s position.

Characteristics of the Aare Ona Kakanfo in the Old Oyo Empire

Below are some of the things that were common to the Aare Ona Kakanfos of the old Oyo empire:


In the past, Aare Ona Kakanfos had to undergo strenuous spiritual exercises before taking office. This included shaving their heads and then having 201 separate lancets pierce their bald heads with 201 different incisions. One for each cut is massaged with specially made components from 201 viols. As a result of the incisions, Aare Ona Kakanfos are obstinate and stubborn. This is because the incisions are primarily intended to make the Kakanfo fearless and courageous.

Indigenes of the old Oyo Were Never Made the Aare Ona Kakanfo

Oyo natives or residents were never made Aare Ona Kakanfos. It’s surprising, given these titleholders were meant to protect the interests of the Oyo Empire. But this was because the Aare was not to yield to anybody. Not even the Alaafin. In addition, Kakanfos of old were obligated to go to war on the Alaafin’s instructions at least once every three years. And the Kakanfo was required to return from the fight dead or alive within three months by virtue of his office as the leader of the Alaafin’s army and that of the entire Yoruba nation. He either returns victorious or dead.

Read: What is the Connection Between Oduduwa and Yoruba?

Roles of the Aare Ona Kakanfo (Modern-day roles)

Asides from the aforementioned roles of the Aare Ona Kakanfo, the Aare is also intended to promote Yoruba unity and serve as a focal point for the advancement of Yoruba heritage and culture. To create a united front on matters that can benefit both Yoruba and national interests, he must diligently work with other notable figures in the Southwest.

Aare Ona Kakanfo Afonja – the Sixth Aare Ona Kakanfo in the old Oyo empire

There have been a handful of people that have held this noble position. But there was one whose name shone brighter than the rest in the history books.

Aare ona kaakanfo afonja

A powerful Oyo warrior known as Afonja rose to prominence in the late 18th century. His father, Alugbin, was the son of Pasin. Also, the great-grandfather of Afonja was Laderin, who founded Ilorin. According to history, only four Yoruba monarchs, Laderin, Pasin, and Alugbin, ruled Ilorin at the time. Alaafin Majeogbe was the ruler of the Oyo Empire from 1754 until 1770 when Alaafin Abiodun took over in the same year. Prior to being killed in 1789 by his own cousin Aole, Alaafin Abiodun ruled for almost 19 years.

Aole ruled as Alaafin between 1789 and 1796. Afonja, who at the time served as the Aare-Ona-Kakanfo, resided in Ilorin, a small community on the banks of the River Awun, a tributary of the Niger River. His reign as Aare-Ona-Kakanfo signaled the Sokoto Caliphate’s takeover of the Ilorin region when a dispute he had with Alaafin Aole turned into a rebellion.

Even now, the Yoruba people who live north of Oyo have been significantly impacted by this to date. One of the things that caused Ilorin to secede in 1793 was the Afonja uprising. Afonja, the Aare-Ona Kakanfo, was in charge of the military camp then, which was Ilorin. However, Afonja disobeyed and refused to comply when Awole instructed him to attack Alaafin Abiodun’s maternal home, Iwere-Ile, because he was sworn to secrecy and did not want to be subjected to a previous Alaafin’s curse that any Aare-Ona-Kakanfo who attacked Iwere-Ile (Abiodun’s paternal home) would perish miserably. When Awole ordered Afonja to attack the market village of Apomu in Ile-Ife in 1795, another justification was put up.

The Aare Ona Kakanfo Afonja Revolt

When Afonja started making Ilorin, where he lived, into a stand-alone town, other powerful chiefs at Oyo who had their own complaints about the then Alaafin joined him in his rebellion. A few provincial governors also gave him their backing. However, other chiefs imitated him after the initial attempts to put down this insurrection failed.

Alimi, a Fulani Muslim preacher who instigated a revolt among the Hausa slaves who were responsible for caring for the horses and providing the bulk of the cavalry force, was one of the few Muslims who supported Afonja. Afonja maintained his rebellion and went on to seize control of other regions of the kingdom with the help of a few chiefs, Yoruba Muslims, Fulani, and Hausa slaves.

Read: Who Are Yoruba Gods and What Do They Stand For?

The Downfall of Afonja

Sadly, the support Afonja got from the Fulanis was not going to be received without a price, as Afonja soon had disagreements with his Fulani supporters. He declined to convert to Islam. Afterward, he attempted to control the liberated slaves after complaining about their excesses but soon realized that he was no longer in charge. All these came after the struggle to rule Ilorin.

Around the year 1824, Afonja was finally defeated and killed. Afterward, the Yoruba Muslims commanded by Solagberu also failed in their attempts to take control of the town. This resulted in Ilorin developing into a Sokoto Caliphate stronghold, a basis for attempts to forcibly annex substantial portions of Yoruba territory, and, when those efforts failed, a potent center for the Islamization of the Yoruba people. The Fulani eventually took control of the town.

Chief MKO Abiola Was a former Aare

List of the Past 14 Aare Ona Kakanfos

  • 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 the western region during the first republic)
  • MKO Abiola, who earned the title in 1988 (he was one of Nigerian’s early popular politicians who made history)

Read: Is Ifa an African Religion?

The Current and 15th Aare Ona Kakanfo

Gani Adams, also known as Chief Ganiyu Adams, is the fifteenth Aare Ona Kakanfo of Yorubaland and a prominent politician, activist, and traditional aristocrat in Nigeria.

Current Aare Ona Kakanfo Chief Gani Adams
The Current Aare Ona Kakanfo Chief Gani Adams

When certain Yoruba elders made the decision to create OPC, Gani Adams was a very young man. However, he was chosen to be the group leader due to his courage. To everyone’s satisfaction, he has performed quite well in the role he was given. At one point, when Yorubaland was being attacked, the OPC was defending it. Therefore, we ought to understand that he deserves our respect and gratitude for doing a great job. In summary, Gani Adams is deserving of the title of Are Ona Kakanfo that the Alaafin has given him.

His Imperial Majesty, Oba Lamidi Adeyemo, the Alaafin of Oyo while he was still alive, took his time to discuss the factors he considered before making the decision to make Gani Adams the Aare Ona Kakanfo. According to the Alaafin, Gani Adams is very brave and has Yoruba’s best interests at heart.

After he was assigned the role of the Aare Ona Kakanfo, Gani Adams visited the Elegbara festival in 2019 as a guest. While there, he gave a speech about the regional integration of the South West of Nigeria.

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