The Olugbo of Ugbo kingdom in Ilaje area of Ondo State, Oba Obateru Akinruntan has of recent been distorting history and fanning the ember of enmity among the Yoruba Obas and the Yoruba nation at large. Sadly, the same Olugbo is the chairman of an amorphous body that goes by the name ‘Yoruba Obas Committee on Peace and Reconciliation’.
The Olugbo has repeatedly referred to Moremi as a traitor against her widely acclaimed tag as a heroine of liberty. I have taken it upon myself to put the record straight and lay same bare before the court of public opinion to judge whether Moremi was a traitor as Oba Akinruntan claimed or a heroine as the world has come to accept her. The abridged history of Moremi will suffice here.
Moremi Omowumi Ayoka Okin, was born in Offa as a princess (and this is my locus standi). She grew up in Offa to become a ravishingly beautiful young lady who later got married to Ooni Oranmiyan of Ile Ife. As a result of her beauty and astuteness, she soon became the Aayo (Queen Consort) of Ooni Oranmiyan and the only one who had his ears on vital issues about the kingdom.
During her stay in Ile-Ife, the ancient city was incessantly raided by a group of warriors who were believed to be from the outer space. This was as a result of their weird dressing as they were usually cladded in dried raffia fronds from head to toes. On each occasion, these warriors carted away food items, materials, and humans as slaves. These unrelenting raids on the ancestral home of the Yoruba was giving King Oranmiyan (himself a renowned warrior) a grave concern. Queen Moremi noticed this mood swing of her husband and asked him why he was brooding endlessly of recent. King Oranmiyan told her it was these mysterious raiders that were giving him serious concern. Queen Moremi instantly decided to do all within her power to restore her husband’s happy mood.
She went to consult the goddess of River Esinmirin (still in Ile-Ife) and made a vow that if she could be granted the power to overcome the mysterious invaders, she was ready to sacrifice anything the goddess of Esinmirin demanded. The goddess told her to allow herself to be captured when next the invaders come around. As instructed, on the next invasion by the mysterious invaders, Moremi unlike the rest of the inhabitants deliberately allowed herself to be captured by the invaders and taken as a slave to their place which turned out to be Ugbo (the home of Oba Akinruntan).
Upon setting his eyes on the war booties, the then reigning Olugbo of Ugbo could not take his eyes off the paragon of beauty that was Moremi. He subsequently decreed that she be handed over to him as a wife. Moremi became the Olugbo’s wife and soon got elevated as the Queen Consort in the Olugbo’s palace. During a moment of passion, Moremi craftily told the Olugbo that she was enjoying everything about her new home except the dreadful warriors especially the way they dressed. The lecherous Olugbo told Moremi that the warriors were merely cladded in dried raffia fronds which were highly combustible.
After this all important disclosure, Moremi surreptitiously plotted her escape back to Ile-Ife. She immediately revealed the secret to her original husband, Oranmiyan and some elders of Ile-Ife. The entire Ile-Ife folks then mobilised and strategized against the next invasion of the marauders who were now known to be coming from Ugbo land. As envisaged, the Ugbo invaders came calling again in their usual raffia fronds attire and Moremi leading the Ile-Ife people carried firebrands made of Oguso (a highly combustible by-product of palm kennel). The Ugbo warriors were attacked and quite a number of them were burnt to death. The remnants that escaped to Ugbo land narrated their experience of the unprecedented defeat and the fact that it was the missing queen of Olugbo that led the counter-attack. In any case, that was the end of the Ugbo invasion of Ile-Ife.
The Ugbo people were devastated on the number of casualty suffered and the fact that their King must have revealed their secret to his consort. It was then decreed that it has become a taboo for any Ugbo man to marry any fair complexion lady as a result of the Moremi experience with the Olugbo.
Back in Ile-Ife, while the euphoria of the defeat of the Ugbo invaders was still going on, the goddess of Esinmirin demanded that Moremi should fulfil her vow as made before embarking on the mission to Ugbo land. Moremi offered animals, foods, and other items but Esinmirin rejected all. The only sacrifice Esinmirin wanted was Moremi only child and son Ela Oluorogbo. She eventually sacrificed him to the Esinmirin goddess in fulfilment of her vow. In appreciation, the entire Ile-Ife promised to be her children and fill the gap of the sacrificed Ela Oluorogbo.
However, the other queens in the palace mocked Moremi as being childless to spite her for taking much of their husband’s attention. In anger, Moremi came to Offa to meet her father who was the reigning Olofa then. She got to Offa at dusk when the Olofa had retired and could no longer receive visitors to the palace. The guards could not recognise her (apparently due to her disguise to escape from Ile-Ife palace) and instructed her to wait at the palace gate till dawn when the Olofa would see her. She insisted on entering the palace but the guards stood their grounds. In frustration, she walked few meters away from the palace gate and put her luggage beneath the Araba tree.
By the morning of the following day, the Olofa was informed of the strange female visitor that came the previous night and the king asked that she should be brought before him. However, when the guards went to fetch the visitor, Moremi could not be found. Only her luggage was brought before Kabiesi and he instantly recognised them to be Moremi’s own. The spot where she left her luggage was where the original Moremi’s house was erected directly opposite the Olofa’s Palace.
Moremi was never seen again in Offa or at Ile-Ife. The probability of her disappearance was that she eventually ended up with her beloved son Ela Oluorogbo in the same River Esinmirin. To commemorate her heroic actions, she is celebrated annually in Offa as ONIMOKA and three months after in Ile-Ife as EDI where the people carry the symbolic firebrand.
Having taken readers through this abridged historical excursion, can the role of Moremi be tagged as that of a traitor or a heroine? In the first place, she allowed herself to be captured solely to liberate her people which she achieved. An apt but sad similitude is this – if the federal government of Nigeria could get a lady to ‘marry’ Abubakar Shekau today and that leads to some tactical information to wipe out the remnants of the Boko Haram insurgents, would such a lady be a villain or a heroine? I leave the readers to form their opinion on this.
History of the Yorubas by Rev Johnson - page 147
History of Offa by Rev Olafimihan page 104
The Nigeria Review published on 18th October 1947 on page 7.
Moremi Ajasoro, Princess of the Yoruba, was a figure of high significance in the history of the Yoruba peoples. She was a member-by-marriage of the royal family of Emperor Oduduwa, the progenitor of the Yoruba people. She was the wife of King Oranmiyan of Ife (and later Oyo).
A woman of tremendous beauty and a faithful and zealous supporter of her husband and the Kingdom of Ile Ife. Moremi Ajasoro, Princess of the Yoruba, was a figure of high significance in the history of the Yoruba peoples. At this time there were neighboring tribes called Igbo, who were regularly and successfully raiding the people at and around Ile Ife. Enslaved by these people, and because of this they were generally regarded with disdain by the Yoruba city-states. Moremi was a very brave and beautiful woman who, in order to deal with the problem facing her people, offered anything she had to give in sacrifice to the Spirit of the river Esimirin so that she could discover the strength of her nation’s enemies. Moremi decided upon a strategy. She went to the nearby river Esinmirin, and vowed to deity that she would make the greatest sacrifice possible if they allowed her to discover the strength of her nation’s enemies. She then went to a place that was raided frequently, and when the raiders did come she allowed herself to be captured. Being very beautiful she was taken as booty to the Igbo King.
She was very confident and skillful, and soon won the trust and affection of the King and people in Igbo land. She became familiar with their customs and tactics of warfare. She found that the Igbo, in preparation for battle, would cover themselves from head to toe with Ekan grass and bamboo fibers. She realized that if someone could pass amongst the Igbo warriors with a torch that they could be defeated. Feeling that she had adequate knowledge, she escaped, to the great surprise of her Igbo captors. She returned to her first husband, King Oramiyan of Ife (and later Oyo), who immediately had her re-instated as his Princess Consort. Knowing the warfare secrets of the Igbo, the people of Ife were forever freed from the terrors of these previously invincible warriors.In order to fulfill the pledge she made to Esimirin before embarking on her mission, she made sacrifice of rams and lambs, but these were not accepted. The priests told her that the only sacrifice the gods would accept was her only son -Oluorogbo.
Dejected she allowed her only son to be sacrificed in gratitude for saving her people The Ife nation mourned with her and she was held in the absolute highest esteem of any women in the Kingdom. They committed to forever be her sons and daughters in memory of her sacrifice. The Edi Festival is said to have then been started as a means of celebrating the sacrifice the princess made for the people of Yorubaland.
Furthermore, a number of public places are named after her in contemporary Nigeria, such as the Female Halls of Residence in the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University, Moremi High School, a government-run secondary school within the campus of Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria.