IY'OBA IDIA (NIGERIA)
Queen Mother Idia was the mother of Oba Esigie in the ancient west African kingdom of Benin. From as early as the 11th century until the late 19th century, the ancient kingdom of Benin with its capital in what is now south western Nigeria was a major power in the region. Extending from Onitsha through Idah, Owo, Akure and into present day Ghana, the Benin Empire was an economic and political power, famous at the time (and even now) for its bronze, ivory and iron artifacts. The empire was also famous for its powerful military expeditions and its slave trade with the Europeans, which were led by their king (Oba) who is deified as a god.
Esigie became king and defeated the threat of the Oba Esigie's conquest of the invading Igala forces and his brother were credited to his mother's mystical powers. As a reward, he created the title of Iyoba, derived from Iye Oba, which means the King's mother. This title gave her very important political privileges, which included a separate residence with her own staff. As Iyoba, Idia had sovereign moral authority and power, being the supreme mother of the kingdom as well as the political mother of the king. The Bini people believed that the stability of the realm depended much on his spiritual strength and power, for which a variety of rituals were performed. Lacking this knowledge of the spiritual himself, Oba Esigie relied much on Idia's knowledge for protection, spiritual and political guidance. He trusted her to supernaturally protect him, knowing that by the bond of spiritual motherhood, she was was his main ally and would never betray him. He depended on her metaphysical powers to clear away all psychic and physical barriers, which enabled him to focus on his own strengths: politics, economic expansion and particularly the kingdom's dealings with the Portuguese.
Idia the Warrior
Idia's powers knew no bounds, with all the charms, spells and curses she had at her disposal. Royal in every way a ruling queen would be, she was a most revered and respected warrior. Her battle regalia, as rendered by the royal poets, consisted of a war crown made of corals, peculiar to her alone. On her forehead was 'ugbe na beghe ode, eirhu’ omwan aro,' a charm with four cowries that ensured any oncoming stone or missile will not blind her. On the back of her head was 'iyeke ebe z’ukpe,' the charm known as boomerang. On her neck was 'iri okina' (a precaution rope) with four leopard teeth tied to it. The rope reminded her to be careful and to avoid danger. On her chest was 'ukugbavan' (a day belt), designed to ensure that whatever the nature of the problem dawn will always come. Hidden under it was 'uugba igheghan odin,' the belt of dumb bells used to hypnotize her enemies while her 'ukugba igheghan' (the belt of bells) jingled to frighten enemies. Because of the difficulty of finding a suitable place to set camp and cook during wars, she would have her 'ukugba ohanmwen,' a charm that prevented her from feeling hungry. Underneath her loin cloth were two very potent medicines. The first was, 'aidede okherhe vb’igban' (you don’t embrace a young oil palm tree full of thorns) that erected a psychic barrier to prevent enemies from daring her; and the second was 'atete iwi y ogho' (a traditional tray never gets lost while being used for hawking) that guaranteed her safe return. All these medicinal items were propped by 'ukugba ason' (the sacred belt of the night witches) to grant her victory over enemies. There was an emphasis on the powers of the night witches, because it was believed by those versed in esoteric arts that victory was always guaranteed to those supported by the forces of the night. The several charms were sewn, and fastened to her war dress made from the full skin of of a mature leopard with the head, fore and hind legs completely intact, supposedly to make her invincible and invulnerable to accidents and also to strike fear into the hearts of her enemies. Added to the arsenal upon her person were two 'agbada' (daggers) hung in their sheaths on the two sides of her hips. She had three 'ifenmwen obi' (amulets) and poisonous arrows on her left arm known as 'ebei k’awe y’ uhun erhan' (danger never meets the Awe bird while perching on a tree). On her right hand is the 'etebetebe' (the war sword) and a charm seized from an herbalist sent by the Attah (king) of Idah to spy, on her left hand.
As the Queen Mother, Iyoba Idia went to great lengths to protect, guide and preserve her son's reign and the entire realm, embodying the kingdom in herself without undermining the moral and political authority of the Oba. Such fine balance of power and service could only have been achieved by a woman genuinely passionate about her son and his kingdom. Idia battled as a general not as a woman. Her sexuality was insignificant on the war front. For this, she was celebrated as the 'only woman who went to war. History has it that at by the time of her death, she had to a great extent, altered Benin's dynastic history as well as defined its course of history. She is renown as a master strategist and warlord. Her political savvy and her vast knowledge of the occult were central to the ascension of Esigie to the Benin throne. Combining her political adeptness with her knowledge of the occult, she was able to preserve the realm under her son, the Oba; earning Queen Idia the reputation of being the "Hidden Oba of Benin".
Contribution: Opeyemi Jide-Ojo
Last Updated on Thursday, 19 January 2017 19:31
Written by Tongues