Oja Oba: Here, royalty meets commerce

In the Yoruba community of South West Nigeria, farming and commercial activities have been a major source of sustenance since the ancient times and there exists a variety of local markets but for them, the community is not complete without a market near the palace. YEJIDE GBENGA-OGUNDARE explores the cultural, economic and religious reasons for this. Her report. 


The market institution has been an integral part of the Yoruba community and custom since time immemorial; even before the advent of money, when trading was done through barter and goods were sold on the path to the farm or in front of houses because there were no spaces set aside for marketing activities aside pathways and other sites that are thoroughfare for the people in the settlements.

Since this period, markets bacame mainstay of the Yoruba community as majority were farmers who could not eat their produce alone and had to exchange some for other commodities and services. And with the introduction of money into the economy and creation of permanent sites for marketing activities, the markets became more integral to every community.

The markets were not only the economic sustenance tools but they became the centre for information dissemination, town meetings, religious and political gatherings as well as social engagements. And consequently, specific days were set aside for  market functions, making the periodic market the first to evolve within the Yoruba society; though the exact period it started cannot be easily traced in history.

History states that the periodic markets started when exchange of goods required a mutually convenient time and place and parties had to travel to a common place to trade and the importance of traders and consumers knowing where to meet became pronounced. Also, at this period, the periodic markets were sited very near the palace, which is the seat of power, or in front of it and this act is said to be very symbolic in the Yoruba community to the extent that every palace in Yoruba town has a market near it called Oja Oba meaning the king’s market.

This is based on popular belief that the king is the overseer of the economic activities of his people and consequently the market which is the mainstay of the community. After a while, daily markets sprouted up and now, the Yoruba people have diverse types of markets; the daily markets which the Oja Oba is a part of and is found in urban areas and larger towns, the night market, the rural night market, special markets and the rural periodic day markets.

Daily markets can run both at day and in the night and are scattered across towns and cities, periodic markets are mostly rural and run on specific days of the week or at regular days interval, the rural periodic is one where people come from various settlements on stipulated days interval and does not exist outside these days, special markets often take place at annual festivals and not after such events while night markets usually hold at the daily market sites but run from dusk to almost midnight.

The distribution of market from one location to another across towns and cities have been said to show little or no correlation to distribution of population or any other factor but experts and historians have stated that situating markets near the Palace in the Yoruba community of South-West Nigeria has more to do with security though the supervisory aspect by the king is not overridden.

According to them, since time immemorial, markets are situated near the palace so that the security of the king will easily extend to the people and also to protect them from attacks by other communities and vigilante or militant groups that use the porosity and relaxed aura of the market to perpetrate evil and steal at gun point.

Also, because wherever there are business activities and many people with diverse beliefs gather together in a place, there is bound to be disagreements and the situation of the market near the palace makes it easy for dispute resolution as the king who oversees the community and adjudicate in cases is nearer to them.



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