By Adewale Adeoye
She was a damsel. She had ewele set of teeth that she was sometimes revered as an Ijesa princess. Her beauty was compelling. She was also elegant in the field of war, having had her military training at Ofa where she was born as a princess. Her origin was not in doubt. What is disputed by some people is her role in the defence of human freedom. Moremi did not defend Ife. She only defended humanity because the root of creation her generation had traced to Ile-Ife. Her role was to protect the spring from hence great rivers sprout. She had only one son, Ela. Her only son was also referred to as Oluorogbo. It was historic that the Ooni of Ife only recently built a monument in her memory.
At this ancient period, when Moremi was the wife of the King of Ife, probably Oranmiyan, Ife was under constant raid by Ugbo people. The world “Ugbo”, referring to the Ilaje of present day Ondo State should not be confused with the world Igbo, representing the Igbo people of the South East. I think Rev Johnson made this innocent error when he spelt the word as Igbo, subjecting the theme to undue appropriation by scholars, of recent, Igbo scholars who thought Igbo people were responsible for the raid of Ife at the time
The raids were carried out mostly in the night; children and women were seized and taken away by the Ugbo. Perhaps, this was a revenge attack by the Ugbo having been at Ile-Ife in the primordial times. The raids did not target Ife alone, but all Yoruba people on pilgrimage to Ife of old and some of these people came from afar.
Now, the raiders became a huge embarrassment to Ile-Ife.
The Oba contacted the gods. Yet, there was no solution. Moremi was downcast, because her husband, the Oba was troubled. It was a disgrace in that era for an Oba to fail in his responsibility of providing the common good for the greatest number. She knelt at the bank of River Esinmirin and vowed that if the gods could reveal to her the secret of the invaders, she would sacrifice her first and only son, following the god’s demand for her most precious asset. She was quoted to have said. “I will save Ife. But If I perish, I perish”, the height of a sacrificial mission a woman could volunteer. She positioned herself strategically on the day of another raid and made herself easy prey. She was taken to Ugboland to the warriors delighted that the Queen had been captured, only comparable to the capture of the Oba’s inner soul. Moremi became the wife of the Olugbo and portrayed herself as having a divine love for the Olugbo. She lived among the Ugbo for years.
She learnt their tricks, the secrets of their powers, the routes they usually take, the content and form of their war antics and above all, how to capture the invaders. The Olugbo told her the warriors usually clad in Ekan grass and bamboo fibres. To defeat them would involve using Oguso. Olugbo told her new found Queen: “If your people know how to make a torch, and have the courage to rush amongst them with lighted torches, they cannot stand that.” (Rev Johnson).
We heard that Moremi also lodged complaints about the gross human right violations especially the maltreatment of women and children in the Ugbo country at the time, in her personal dissertations shared with her new found lover, the then Olugbo. She was also the first woman to have participated in military infantry training under the Ugbo army. In the thickset of the night, Moremi escaped all alone to Ile Ife, trekking for more than 100 kilometres. She was said to have encountered wild animals in the midst of ferocious pursuit by the Ugbo warriors all of which she subdued. Arriving at Ile-Ife, she offered to the god goats, yams and others, but the god refused instead demanded for her first and only son.
We were told Oluorogbo had the privilege to have escaped to Ofa, the town of her mother. He was advised by palace guards to so escape. He refused, seeing a greater wisdom in sacrificing his life as demanded by her mother on behalf of the god. There is however an account that on the day he was to be sacrificed, he was half dead, but rose from his death and made a robe from which he ascended to heaven. In what is similar to the biblical accounts of creation, many Ife people of the time believed he would one day return to Ife. Not only to Ife alone, for the Yoruba, Moremi sacrificed her living and gave her only son to atone the difficulty and anguish of his people, the Yoruba as exemplified by Ile-Ife, the cradle.
It is then difficult to classify her bravery as trachery as the Olugbo wants to make us to understand. She stood against war crimes, she fought against child trafficking, she resisted killing and maiming of children, rape of women and the massacre of innocent souls. This she did not do for Ile-Ife alone, but for humanity. It is our duty to look at what the raiders stood for and what they professed: Indignity, Rape, Child Trafficking, Killings, Genocide and inhumanity to man. Moremi stood against these crimes against humanity, she gave herself up. She could have been killed.
She also gave her only son. In modern history, the Olugbo should have apologized to Ile Ife for the assault extended to Ife. It is little different from the Jews asking for restitution and compensation for war crimes. Why one understands the attempt by Olugbo to state his own side of this intriguing history, it should be noted that the Olugbo has not in anyway disputed the humanitarian mission of Moremi.