QUEEN MOREMI of Ile-Ife Kingdom

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QUEEN MOREMI of Ile-Ife Kingdom


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Lived circa 1300 in Ile-Ife kingdom, present-day Nigeria.

Queen Moremi Ajasoro was a queen of the Yoruba tribe whose bravery and wisdom helped preserve the commercial life of her people and freed them from oppression, ensuring that today the Yoruba are a prominent black ethnic group of an estimated 41 million people.

What we know of Queen Moremi and her life is based on folkloric accounts passed down by generations of Yoruba, a common limitation when researching ancient and medieval African history. The preferred Yoruba medium of teaching and preserving history has been “Aroba” or folklore, rather than written accounts. What we do know is that Moremi was married to either Ooni Obalufon Alayemoye II or Ooni Oranmiyan, who succeeded him. Both these men were direct descendants of the founder of the Yoruba tribe, and lived close enough in the timeline for us to narrow down Moremi’s life to circa 1300s. Offa, Moremi’s home town, was founded in 1359, and as a young princess she became known throughout the neighbouring territories for her beauty. Her beauty was an important factor in the events that followed.

In the time that Moremi was a queen in Ile-Ife, raiders from the neighbouring community, called Ugbo, pillaged the kingdom. They stole produce from the market and abducted people. These invaders were covered in raffia leaves, and were believed to be forest spirits. Moremi was compelled to find a way to end this untenable situation, and consulted an Orisha at the Esimirin river. Consulting a goddess was a fundamental action of the Yoruba religion, taken prior to every important decision being made. Esimirin agreed to help Moremi deliver her people, in exchange for the greatest possible sacrifice, once the request was met. Moremi agreed, concerned for nothing but the plight of her people, and put the plan into action. On the next market day, Moremi posed as a trader and allowed herself to be taken by the forest spirits.

Once in captivity, she hoped to infiltrate the Ugbo leadership by means of her great beauty and magic, and find a weakness that her people could exploit. Her beauty captured the attention of the Ugbo king, and he ordered that she become his wife. Once the king had grown to trust her, she gleaned from him the true nature of the forest spirits. They were men clad in raffia leaves, disguised as spirits in order to scare the Ile-Ife people into submission. With this information, Moremi managed to escape the Ugbo and return to her own people. Back home, she reconciled with her husband and explained what she had discovered. She instructed the traders to prepare fire torches of Oguso and have them ready to be lit. On the next market day, the raiders swooped in out of the forest and descended on the traders, where they were met with burning torches. Terrified at the prospect of being burnt alive, the raiders fled, never to return. Moremi’s courageous plan led the Yoruba people to victory.

Once the raids had ended, Moremi returned to the Esimirin River to make her offering of gratitude to the Orisha. The river goddess demanded that which she held most dear, the sacrifice of her only son, Oluorogbo, to uphold her end of the bargain.The inconceivable demand was beyond what Moremi could bear and she pleaded with the goddess for a less terrible offering. In the end, fearing the wrath of reprisal against the Yoruba, Moremi again protected her people and paid the price. The loss of her son was mourned by the entire kingdom of Ile-Ife, and the Yoruba people comforted Moremi by pledging to be her eternal children.

This promise is kept until today, with songs, tales and books about the great Queen Moremi. Public places are named after her. The city of modern Ile-Ife still honours her sacrifice with the Edi festival, where people dress in raffia leaves and are chased around by those bearing the torch of Oguso.

In 2017, the Ooni of Ile-Ife, Oba Ogunwusi, erected a statue of Moremi in his palace. It is the tallest statue in Nigeria and depicts a victorious Queen Moremi holding a burning torch high in the air. It is fondly called The Queen Moremi Statue of Liberty.

Her actions liberated her people and preserved the Yoruba way of life itself, and significantly, Queen Moremi’s remarkable achievements put to bed the preconceived idea that women are silent in African history.

Dimensions 125,0 × 125,0 cm