Memories of the Coronation of a King
I sat in the shade of ancient trees transfixed by pungent smells, staccato voices, pounding drums, and graceful women wearing colorful dresses and head wraps. I thought I must be in an African village. But.... NO... I was in Beaufort County witnessing the coronation of a king!
I had paid $5 for a visa to enter the Independent Nation of Oyo-tunji where nine families had fashioned an African village near the town of Sheldon. A priest had led me on a tour, introduced me to several women, and explained the newly constructed temples. At the palace, I met the chief, an intense man of about 50 who began life as Walter E. King in Detroit.
King traced his ancestry to Boston King (1760–1802), a slave born in South Carolina who had escaped to New York during the American Revolution. He joined the British who, in 1792, settled him in the British colony of Sierra Leone in West Africa. He was soon sent to London, England, where he published his autobiography, Memoirs of the Life of Boston King, in 1798.
Walter E. King’s father, Roy King, was a follower of Marcus Garvey’s Back–to–Africa movement in the early 20th century. Revered as the “Black Messiah,” Garvey issued a manifesto, the Declaration of Rights for the Negro People of the World, and collected money for a self-emancipation settlement in Liberia, West Africa. In 1925, he was convicted of defrauding investors, deported to Jamaica, and died in London in 1940. After Garvey’s movement failed, Roy King became a student of African traditions which he passed to his son, Walter.
King founded Oyotunji in 1970 as a place where African–Americans could rediscover their lost ancestry, an African nation for Africans born in America. He was initiated into the sacred Society of Ifa and became His Royal Highness O. A. Adefunmi I, spiritual and political chief of the village.
Under his direction, men and women, were given social and administrative duties. Great emphasis was placed on teaching children deference to their elders and vocational skills.
For more than 40 years over 100 families have lived in the village and received intense instruction in work habits, African culture, and religion. Children and grandchildren for the founders have moved out into the world as graduates of the village’s private academy. Throughout the years, former villagers return for festivals, conferences, parades, and parties.
Even today, Oyotunji resembles a West African village: a round house for meetings, dirt streets, communal outhouses, family huts, and hoards of wandering dogs, cats, chickens, and goats. In Africa, however, most people adhere to either Islam or Christianity. Ancient Pagan beliefs exist only as animistic superstitions. To my knowledge, however, the temples to a pantheon of gods in Oyotunji do not exist in modern Africa.
The founding king died in January, 2005, after choosing his son, Prince Obalola, as his successor. This 29–year–old father of two sons was raised in Oyotunji and traveled with his father throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. He became an expert drummer and in 2001 moved to Key West, Fla., as artist– in–residence at the Sands African Bohemian Museum. He joined the Caribbean Queen Junkanoos, a band organized by Caroline Sumner Cash of Columbia and Key West.
Upon his coronation as H.R.H. Obalola A. Adefunmi II, the new chief of Oyotunji gave up his job in Key West and his position with the Junkanoos. He devotes full time to the Kingdom of Oyotunji “to pass on to the next generations our customs, traditions, and cultural lifestyle in a way that serves the betterment of our world and its people.” He has restored the ancient right of Gelede (recognized by UNESCO) and Egungun Ancestor worship to African-Americans.