The lives of many African legends past are often not remembered in the history books, and receives little scholarly attention. This has in turn denied Africans, most especially the younger generations, the opportunity to keep in touch with their distant past.
However, since the last five decades, there has been a remarkable uncovering of Africa’s history, which has helped change once held assumptions about the continent and its people.
That said, this article will tell the story of one African figure whose history will never be forgotten due to her immense sacrifice to help save her nation: This legendary figure is no other than the brave Queen Moremi Ajasoro.
Born a princess, Moremi Ajasoro (Yoruba: Mọ́remí Àjàsorò), was a highly significant figure in the history of the Yoruba peoples of West Africa. She is believed to have lived between the 12th and 14th centuries and hailed from Offa, an offshoot town of Ife.
She was married either to Obalufon Alayemoye II or Oranmiyan (or both at different times), both sons (or direct descendants) of Oduduwa, the first Ooni (king) of Ife and legendary founding father of the Yoruba people.
Moremi and the Igbo People
In her time, the Kingdom of Ile-Ife was at war with the mysterious Igbo people (or Forest people: It is still disputed among scholars if these people have a connection to the contemporary Igbos of modern Nigeria), who were believed by the Yoruba to be spirits or as powerful as demi-gods because they conducted regular raids on the people of Ife appearing as masquerades completely covered in raffia leaves.
As the people of Ile-Ife had no means of defending themselves, these raids―very ferocious in nature―went on for long, and left scores of Ife citizens being enslaved by these people.
So anxious to see the raids stopped, the people of Ile-Ife made several sacrifices to their gods. All, however, proved fruitless. Not able to endure watching her people continue to live a life of suffering, the very beautiful Moremi sought the help of the goddess of Esimirin River, who demanded the sacrifice of her most precious possession, in return for her help.
As instructed by the goddess, Moremi deliberately allowed herself to be captured by the raiders who brought her to their king, who, enchanted by the woman’s beauty, fell in love with her and made her his anointed queen.
During her stay with them, Moremi set in motion her plan to unravel the secrets of the raiders’ strength. It was during this time that she discovered―through their king―that the Igbos were not spirits, but humans dressed in masks and raffia palms.
The Igbos Are Defeated
Having achieved her goal, Moremi escaped back to Ile-Ife where she revealed her findings to the Yorubas who decided to use flaming torches on the Igbo when next they attacked. When the raiders came, the people of Ile-Ife were ready and had their plan carried out.
The raiders had, as usual, come in their masquerades with the thought of scaring the people. However, they were attacked with the torches, which set their raffia palms on fire, and had sent scrambling back into the forest. The Yoruba had subsequently defeated them in battle.
Moremi Fulfils Her Pledge To The Goddess
Having seen her people free, Moremi returned to the Esimirin river to thank the goddess and fulfill her pledge. It should be noted that Moremi, being a rich queen, initially thought the goddess’ not a problem. As such, she went with cows and cowries―gifts which were refused by the goddess who demanded her only son, Olurogbo.
Horrified by the demand, Moremi pleaded with her to spare her son, but the goddess refused her plea. Helpless, and in sorrow, Moremi sacrificed her only son to the river goddess.
When the people heard what had happened, they rushed down to the river, in tears, to sympathize with their Queen. It is said that the people all pledged to be the sons and daughters of Moremi, which is why till today, the natives of Ile-Ife are referred to as the “children of Moremi Ajasoro”.
Another account of the legend, states that Olurogbo did not die, but was restored back to life by Olodumare (the Yoruba chief deity) who pitied Moremi’s plight. Hence, when the people had departed, Olurogbo was said to have resurrected and was taken up to heaven where he lived ever since with the Yoruba gods.
To remember her, the Yorubas till this day mourn with Moremi and hold her in the highest esteem of all women in Yorubaland. In honor of her, the Edi festival was instituted as a means to celebrate her role in saving her people.
In 2016, Oba Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ile Ife, immortalized Moremi by erecting a statue of her (the ‘Queen Moremi Statue of Liberty’) in his palace―also said to be the place she had lived during her lifetime. After it was erected, the statue became the tallest in Nigeria, displacing the Jacob Zuma statue in Owerri, Imo State. It is also the fourth tallest in Africa. Moremi’s story is very well told today through songs, books, operas, movies.
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SOURCES OF AUTHOR’S INFORMATION
Blie, S. P. (1985). Kings, Crowns, and the Rights of Succession: Obalufon Arts at Ife and Other Yoruba Centers. The Art Bulletin, 67(3); 383–401
Blie, S. P. (2015). Art and Risk in Ancient Yoruba: Ife History, Power, and Identity, c. 1300. Massachusetts: Cambridge University Press.