Queen Moremi of Ile-Ife: The Unsung Heroine Who Saved the Yoruba Kingdom

by Joseph Omoniyi
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Queen Moremi Ajasoro of Ile-Ife is a name etched in the annals of African history, yet her story remains one of the greatest untold sagas. Revered as a folk heroine, Moremi’s sacrifice and tactical brilliance liberated her people from the clutches of a formidable enemy. Her legacy, defined by courage and selflessness, continues to inspire and hold the Yoruba people in awe.

Moremi Ajasoro lived in the 12th century, born into royalty in Offa. She later became the queen of the Yoruba tribe, one of the most prominent and influential ethnic groups in history. She was married to Oranmiyan, the heir to the King of Ife and the founding father of the Yoruba tribe, Oduduwa.

The Ìgbò Raiders

During Moremi’s time, the people of Ile-Ife faced a relentless threat from the Ìgbò people, a neighboring tribe unrelated to the modern Igbo of Nigeria. These raiders, clad in raffia leaves, terrorized Ile-Ife, looting markets and enslaving its people. They were perceived as spirits or demigods, invincible due to their supernatural aura. The people of Ife, despite numerous sacrificial appeals to their ancestors, found no respite from these invasions.

Moremi The Spy

Determined to save her people, Moremi devised a daring plan. She sought the help of the river spirit, Esimirin, vowing to make the ultimate sacrifice if she could uncover the secret to the Ìgbò’s strength. Following the goddess’s guidance, Moremi allowed herself to be captured as a slave. Her beauty and intelligence quickly gained the favor of the Ìgbò leader, who made her one of his wives.

During her time with the Ìgbò, Moremi learned that their feared masquerades were ordinary men in raffia disguises. She discovered their vulnerability: the raffia leaves were highly flammable. With this crucial information, Moremi planned her escape and returned to Ile-Ife.

The Defeat of the Ìgbò Raiders

Back in Ile-Ife, Moremi shared her findings with the Yoruba army. Armed with this knowledge, they set fire to the raiders during their next attack, leading to a decisive victory. However, Moremi’s vow to Esimirin demanded a heart-wrenching sacrifice—her only son, Oluorogbo. Despite her pleas for mercy, Moremi honored her promise. The kingdom mourned with her and vowed to be her eternal children, a promise still honored today.

Queen Moremi’s story has been preserved through oral tradition, literature, and various art forms. Her legend is celebrated during the annual Edi Festival, commemorating her sacrifice. Moremi’s influence extends to educational institutions, with schools and university residences named after her. Her legacy was further immortalized by the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, who erected Nigeria’s tallest statue in her honor, the fourth tallest in Africa.

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