African women as Amazons

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He who wins the war writes the history goes an age-long aphorism. This rings true when you take into critical consideration the conquest of Africa by the European overlords.

They wrote the history of Africa according to their own lens and this is what Africans are compelled to learn in the educational institutions of learning. Since Africans do not control the narrative, they are made to believe that there was no form of civilization in the continent prior to the coming of the Caucasians who came with the Sword, Bible and new learning.

Africans were made to believe that their women didn’t play any major role in the rise and fall of the various empires that dotted the landscape before the colonial incursion. Misogyny is the term given to how Africans viewed women. Women were portrayed as chattels who were seen and not heard. We were made to believe that women didn’t have a voice in any of the sectors from politics to governance, the economy etc.

It is high time that we Africans wrote our own history and told our stories through our lens rather than swallow hook, line and sinker what our ‘White Saviours’ told us. We should begin to sift the wheat from the chaff and be proud of our identity as we have a rich cultural heritage.

Ile-Ife where I proudly come from is regarded as the source and the cradle of the entire Yoruba race. All Yorubas in the world which number well over fourty million have their ancestral roots from this city. We have a heroine in Queen Moremi Ajasoro who was the wife of Oranmiyan the heir to the King of Ife and Founding Father of the Yoruba tribe, Oduduwa. At some point in their chequered history, they were frequently raided by the Igbo tribe who killed and maimed many of their citizens. All the sacrifices made to the various gods were in futility as the raids and murders got even more ferocious. Moremi then visited the spirit of the river Esimirin and made a vow to make the greatest sacrifice possible if her people could be saved from their adversary. She allowed herself to be captured by the Igbos and before long became the favourite Queen of the King of the Igbos who was carried away by her beauty, charm and poise. She then discovered that the secret of the Igbo soldiers was that they covered themselves from head to toe with Ekan grass and Bamboo fibres. If one passed a torch amongst them, they would be roundly defeated. Armed with this information, she escaped back to Ife and the soldiers were able to defeat their foes in no time. She then sacrificed her son, Olurogbo to the Esimirin Deity to keep to her earlier made promise. The Edi festival is celebrated in her honour and she has been immortalized in several ways with numerous books written about her and a statue was erected in her memory by the present Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi. The 42 feet statue is the tallest in Nigeria and the fourth tallest in the African continent. A female hostel in the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University is also named after her.

Madam Efunroye Tinubu was a prominent trader and had a strong influence in the lives of Obas Adele, Oluwole, Akitoye and Dosunmu. She was one of the wealthiest people in her generation in the 19th century as she built a sturdy business trading in salt, tobacco and slaves. The four aforementioned Kings revered her as she was highly influential during their reigns. She was the unofficial power behind the throne especially with regards to trading. Her influence stretched from Lagos to Badagry and Abeokuta where she played an active role in the administration of these three cities. After her death, the popular Tinubu Square formerly known as Independence Square in Lagos is named after her.

The Dahomey Amazons or Mino were female soldiers in the Dahomey Kingdom now part of the present day Republic of Benin. They played a prominent role in the Grand Council in taking active part in the debates and decision making that affected the empire. They frequently protected the empire from marauders and brought back home the spoils of war for the benefit of the kingdom. The King trusted their abilities so much that he made some of them his personal guards.

The King’s mother played a prominent role in the ancient Kanem-Borno Empire and in many cases was the power behind the throne especially in the reign of Mai Idris Alooma. The same could be said of the ancient Malian and Shongai empires.

It is imperative for us Africans to be proud of our identities and not outsource our brains to the west. We had a rich heritage which proudly recognized the role of women and the ‘seeming progress’ made by the modern day African woman didn’t start because of the colonial incursion.

Let’s write our own history in this current age of enlightenment and learning.

Tony Ademiluyi writes from Lagos and edits

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Articles by Anthony Ademiluyi