In the Yoruba empire, every human being is expected to kneel or prostrate when conversing or greeting the Alaafin (or even any king in Yorubaland). This, according to the Yoruba culture, is a sign of respect to the king, his forefathers, and his crown.
The Alaafin of Oyo is regarded as the supreme head of the Yoruba people, although there have been controversies about the eldest between the Ooni of Ife (who is seen as the leader of the Yoruba descendants) and the Alaafin of Oyo (who is regarded as the leader of the strongest descendants, known as Oyo, of the Yoruba empire). However, for the purpose of this piece, Alaafin of Oyo has the overall power and authority to decide and control the affairs of the traditional administration of the Yoruba people.
For this reason, no matter the age of the Alaafin (young or old), every human being must kneel or prostrate to him as a sign of paying homage or allegiance to his descendants and his crown. Also, under no circumstances should the Alaafin bow or kneel to greet any human being.
However, in the history of the Yoruba race, a particular woman (which is also a position) in the clan is the most senior and respected priestess. According to history, anyone who becomes the Iyamode must be respected by everyone, even the king.
Who is Iyamode?
According to the Yoruba Kingship rules, the only person in the world to whom the Aláàfin may bow before is Iyamode. This is because she is the senior priestess and the most powerful in the hierarchy of other priestesses.
Iyamode lives outside the palace and she is the leader of the Bara celibates, known as the royal mausoleum. According to the tradition of the Oyo people, once a woman attains Iyamode, she is said to enter a lifelong state of celibacy and she must abstain from sexual activities.
Thus, because of this, she is respected for her celibacy, and within the royal court of the Aláàfin, she is regarded as one of the most senior priestesses (because to people, it is almost impossible for a woman to be celibate throughout her lifetime). This is why the Alaafin kneels before no one else, except the Iyamode.
Iyamode holds a position of such great esteem that the king refers to her as “Baba” (father). Therefore, whenever the Aláàfin bows before this powerful woman, she always returns the gesture by doing the same, but the rule is that she must never recline on her elbows because this is how women traditionally bow to their superiors.