Queen Moremi: Meet this courageous Nigerian heroine who sacrificed her son to save her people

  • Nigeria's history is filled with stories of heroic women like Queen Amina of Zaria and Queen Moremi.
  • The latter's bravery and sacrifice freed the people of Ife from the oppression of a tribe known as the Ugbos or Ìgbò (not to be confused with the Igbos).
  • Centuries later, she is still being celebrated and honoured by her Yoruba people.

Oloori Moremi Ajasoro, known as Queen Moremi, was a beautiful woman from Offa, a city in Kwara State.

She was married to Oranmiyan, the heir to the King and Founding Father of the Yoruba tribe, Oduduwa.

She existed in 12th-century Kingdom of Ile-Ife (also called Ife) at a time when Yoruba people were under attacks from a neighbouring tribe called the Ìgbò or Ugbos (forest people).

They constantly looted the Ife market (known at the time as the mother of all markets in Yorubaland), stealing properties, staple foods, and domestic animals. They also abducted citizens, especially the women.

The Ooni tried everything from praying to their gods to sacrificing virgins but nothing worked which led people to see them as powerful demi-gods. The fact that the raiders came as masquerades completely covered in raffia leaves just made seem mysterious and unstoppable.

  • Queen Moremi steps in and saves the day

Bothered by these never-ending attacks, the Queen pays a visit to the Esimirin river, where she consulted an Orisha (spirit), as once the custom at the time. She makes a pact with the river god, vowing to make the greatest sacrifice possible once her people are free from oppression.

Supported by this divine being, Moremi comes up with a genius plan - pose as a trader on the next market day, allow herself to be captured, infiltrate the Ugbo leadership with her beauty which would give her the access needed to figure out how to defeat these raiders.

Her plan worked perfectly. She was captured during the next raid and taken to the neighbouring tribe where the captives were paraded before the leader of Ugbo.

As planned, the ruler was taken by Moremi’s beauty. He made her his wife. Over time she was able to lure the king into revealing the secret to defeating his raffia-dressed raiders.

She learnt that contrary to her people's belief that the raffia raiders were spirits, they were simply humans disguised as masquerades to strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. The raiders were covered head to toe with Ekan grass and bamboo fibers.

Armed with this information, Moremi made her way to Ife where she advised the Ooni to have burning torches ready on the next market day. When the raiders came, they were scared off by the prospect of being burned alive. This finally put an end to the raids.

The queen returned to her first husband, who reinstated her as his Princess Consort. Next, she returned to the river to give up her only son, Oluorogbo, to the Esimirin deity to fulfil her end of the bargain.

  • Queen Moremi lives on

To celebrate her bravery and great sacrifice, the people of Ife started the Edi Festival where people dress in raffias and get chased around by torchbearers.

A couple of public places like the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University have female residence halls named after her.

There is also the statue of Moremi erected by Oba Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ile Ife, Osun State in his palace back in 2017. It is the tallest in Nigeria and the fourth tallest in Africa.

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