By Jack Beesley
Queen Moremi was a renowned Yoruba queen from the Yorubaland region of modern-day southwestern Nigeria. She is famed to have contributed to the emancipation of the Yoruba tribe of Ifẹ̀ from the Ugbo kingdom.
Moremi has been the subject of little scholarly attention; in fact, we know less about the history of ancient and Medieval Africa than any other region in the world. As such, we do not know when Moremi was born or indeed when she died.
Much of what we know derives from the folklore surrounding her. Moremi was a princess from the town of Offa and lived in the 12th century. Her beauty was famous throughout the town, and she remains revered as one of the most beautiful Yoruba women that ever lived.
There is a gap in the history between Moremi’s childhood and her marriage to Ọranyan, King of the Yoruba. We therefore know little of her early life. However, we do know that she was extremely patriotic, loved her husband and cared deeply for her people.
During her queenship, the Kingdom of Ifẹ̀ was subject to erratic attacks from neighbouring tribesmen called ‘Igbo’, meaning forest. These raiders abducted citizens and forced them into slavery. All attempts to stop the atrocities of the invaders failed.
The attackers were thought to be demi-gods who could only be stopped by rituals. Consequently, sacrifices were made by the Yoruba tribe to appease the Igbo.
Moremi believed in the power of ritual and vowed to make the ultimate sacrifice if her plans succeeded in confronting the Igbo. Her strategy was to be captured and infiltrate the Igbo’s leadership to learn their tactics.
As planned, Moremi positioned herself to be captured and was taken to the enemy king. Owing to Moremi’s beauty, she was not treated like a prisoner but was instead taken by the king as his wife.
After having learned their strategies, Moremi staged a successful escape back to Ifẹ̀ and relayed all that she had discovered. This led to the total defeat of the Igbo. However, in keeping with her promise of sacrifice, she offered her only son to the Esimirin gods.
Moremi’s sacrifice is still remembered today.
Jubril Olabode Aka, Nigerian Women of Distinction, Honour and Exemplary Presidential Qualities (Victoria: Trafford Publishing, 2012)
Toyin Falola and Akintunde Akinyemi, eds., Enecylopedia of the Yoruba (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2016).