An African Kingdom in America
Keefer, Beirne, American Visions
Pass through the gates and enter the Kingdom of Oyotunji, Nigeria. Capital of the Yoruba people of the Western Hemisphere, Oyotunji welcomes visitors with a sign that reads, "You are now leaving the United States and entering this Kingdom." Once you have entered, you are, for all purposes, in Nigeria. Oyotunji is a mysterious little village nestled snugly in Beaufort County, S.C. Such modem cities as Charleston, S.C., to the north and Savannah, Ga., to the south are forgotten in this 10-acre paradise of the Yoruba people. His Royal Highness Oba Oseijeman, crowned in 1981 in Ife, Nigeria, reigns over all Yorubas in the Western Hemisphere from this post in South Carolina.
Make no mistake: This is a Yoruba kingdom, and its residents practice a lifestyle that dates back more than 5,000 years. "If you understand the Greeks and their religion, then you'll understand the Yoruba," says my guide, Baba Obafemi, priest of Osun and Ogungun. "Our ancient people studied the planets, and our gods are named after those heavenly bodies."
A slight but powerful man, Obafemi speaks in a soft, lyrical voice. "Many scoff," he says. "Even many African Americans have turned their backs on us and their roots, but we celebrate our 25th anniversary this year. We've had to struggle to build our village, but we have followers from across the U.S. and Canada, and we'll continue to grow."
He adds, with a twinkling eye, "Our women have never needed the women's rights movement. They have always been in charge."
According to Obafemi, not only do women dictate the homes they and their new husbands will have, but husbands also are required to have enough money to finance their wives in the businesses they desire. For those and other reasons, young women are allowed to marry in their early teenage years, and they are allowed to marry men 10 to 15 years their seniors. "They need older men who are established in business and who can take care of them," says Her Royal Grace Iya Orite.
Yoruba first took hold here in the 1960s. …