LOUD WHISPERS : Reflections On The Legend Of Moremi Ajasoro

A few days ago, I watched Moremi Ajasoro, a fantastic musical at Terra Culture in Lagos. Two years ago I wrote an essay about the legendary Yoruba heroine Moremi Ajasoro, and I am sharing it here now. The story of Moremi Ajasoro, a legendary figure from the ancient town of Ile-Ife in South West Nigeriais not one limited to the Yoruba people of Nigeria.  Her story is known across the world and in the African Diaspora, a classic tale of bravery and sacrifice for the good of the community.

MOREMI

What do the oral traditions tell us about Moremi who allegedly lived centuries ago?Moremi was originally from Offa, in present day Kwara State of Nigeria. She was married to Oranmiyan, the Ooni of Ife. The town of Ile-Ife was under incessant attacks from some strange looking invaders known as the Ugbo. They would attack the town and cart away people and goods. The more the raids went on, the more agitated and depressed King Oranmiyan became. Moremi decided to help her husband and her people. She went to the river goddess known as Esinmirin for advice. The goddess promised to help her, but warned her that she would have to pay a steep price in return. Moremi agreed to the vague terms of the river goddess. The next time the invaders raided Ile-Ife, Moremi allowed herself to be taken captive. Due to the fact that she was a great beauty, she was taken to the King of the Ugbo, who promptly added her to his harem. Through a combination of her beauty and charm, she became the King’s favourite. She then learnt the secret of the success of the Ugbo marauders. They covered their bodies with raffia palms to make them look fierce. This meant that they could be destroyed with fire. Moremi escaped from her new home and returned to Ile-Ife. She shared what she had discovered with her people, and the next time the Ugbos raided, they were routed with fire. The people of Ife were finally free. Moremi went back to the river goddess to fulfill her pledge. Alas, the goddess did not want money, cattle or farm produce. What she wanted was Moremi’s only child, a son called Oluorogbo. Moremi had to sadly sacrifice heronly child to the river goddess. As her reward, the people of Ile-Ife dedicated an annual festival to honour her known as the Edi Festival. Moremi continues to be celebrated as a heroine who saved her people from disaster.

This is what oral history tells us about Moremi. Based on this popular version of Moremi’s story, she is a heroine to the people of Ile-Ife but a traitor in the eyes of the Ugbo people, according to the sentiments expressed by the current King of Ugbo Land. There are other sources which take the story of Moremi further. After she returned from Ugboland and was received warmly by her original husband King Oranmiyan, other royal wives were unhappy that Moremi had displaced them in the King’s court. They plotted against her and made her life miserable. Moremi then decided to return to her father’s house in Offa. However, when she got to her father’s house, the guards at the gate did not recognize her and refused her entry. She then had to spend the night locked outside. In the morning, when her father heard that she had returned and was still outside the gates, he ordered his guards to bring her in. Moremi was nowhere to be found. That was the last that was seen or heard of Moremi. People then speculated that perhaps she had decided to take her life and join her son Oluorogbo in the river.

Historiography (the writing of History) is notorious for the heavy subjectivities that shape the evolution of narratives. People responsible for recording or reporting events have their own agendas and biases. This is what determines who gets remembered as a hero or villain and who gets forgotten completely. The challenge of writing the history of a people through oral traditions, music, songs, re-enactments and limited formal texts leaves room for a broad spectrum of interpretation.

I have my own version of Moremi’s story. My own narrative is influenced by an understanding of what happens to women in times of war and women’s roles in nation-building. Moremi was a citizen of Ife, probably a married woman (perhaps to a King, maybe not) going about her business. Her land was invaded by the Ugbo aggressors. She was taken into captivity alongside many other citizens of Ife. As bounty of war, she was given out to one of the invaders as a prize. Her new ‘husband’ might or might not have been a King. After spending some time in the land of her captors, she discovered their secret, and when an opportunity to escape came, she took it. She returned to the land of her birth and gave them the information they needed to defeat their enemy. After the liberation of her people, Moremi found out that she was not going to be happy at home. I see the story of the sacrifice of her son Oluorogbo as a metaphor for a great calamity that befell her on her return to Ife. Taking into consideration the other myths about her fate at the hands of the royal wives and courtiers and what happened when she allegedly returned to Offa, it can be said that she was rejected by even her own people and paid a price for a fate that was not her fault. I have always found the story of her son Oluorogbo a strange one. When men return home from wars victorious, they are heroes and they have the world at their feet, their pick of any reward or prize. What happens when a woman returns victorious after demonstrating such courage? She is forced to sacrifice her only child, the one thing that is guaranteed to completely destroy her. How can that be her reward?

The story of Moremi is indicative of the deep suspicion that is held about women, power and leadership in our communities. According to the ancient story tellers who shaped the Moremi narrative, there have to be limitations placed on the power or success of women. So yes, give her a place in History but throw in a story of how she sacrificed her only child as a cautionary tale for those who seek for more than they are allowed to have.Men are entitled to power and fame. Women have to pay a dreadful price. It is only male story tellers who can come up with a tale that a woman, a Queen for that matter, ‘offered’ herself up to be kidnapped by violent marauders. What guarantee did she have that she would end up in the harem of the King of the Ugbo? Could the sacrifice of her only son be her punishment for sharing the bed of her captor, even if it was for a ‘good cause’? Through the ages, even in biblical times, strange things have happened to the legacies of women seen through the eyes of male historians and story tellers.

My own version of Moremi’s fate tallies with what is happening around us, with the fate of the women and girls who are survivors of violent conflict across Africa and around the world. The few of them who survive to tell the tale are not always welcome back home with open arms. Thankfully, some of the ancient observers in Ile-Ife felt the need for the story of women such as Moremi to be told across generations. And so the legend of Moremi,no matter how garbled, lives on. We will never know the true events that shaped her story, but Moremi will always be celebrated as a patriot and leader, a brave woman who fought for the liberation of her people. Like the many women who came after her, their efforts were not duly appreciated, and they got shoved off the pages of History, but their legacy lives on. Let us write and tell more stories about the great women of old. Let us safeguard their legacies from those who seek to re-write history at their expense. It will help inspire the women and men of today, and they will better appreciate the fact that the quest for women’s agency did not start with the influence of western feminism. It started ages ago from the sacrifices of Sheroessuch as Moremi Ajasoro.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com

Source: Above Whispers

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8 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS : Reflections On The Legend Of Moremi Ajasoro

  1. Olakunle Olajide April 25, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Seeing it from the eyes of the modern world..Really enjoyed this article. Women are stronger than we can imagine.

    Reply
  2. Femi Diipo April 25, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    I have read several and diverse story about the legend, Moremi, and as well been lucky enough to see a theatrical performance about her legendary act in ife that carved an incredible footprint for her in the Yoruba history. I have also always wondered the essence of sacrificing a son in the story as her actions are always recounted and narrated as a willful courageous act of a determined woman unaided by any magical or divine powers. I think I finally got an answer to that with this exploration.

    I bless God always for your insight ma’am and your undoubtedly intelligent analysis.

    Reply
  3. Veronica Imaseun April 26, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Must women have to pay a dreadful price? No! I think women should be praised without dreadful ends. All our sheroes in history have this traits in common, who tampered with the story?

    Reply
  4. Victor Udoh April 26, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Queen Moremi, the great woman!!!

    Reply
  5. chinasa April 26, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    Erelu is our own Moremi, you are unique. I really admire your strengths ma and thank you for the gift of Above Whispers Media

    Reply
  6. Amarchi Joy April 26, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    I watched the musical when during the very first opening in theatre though I left with so many questions and you have spoken my mind. I wonder why women would face so much and not be rewarded the right way.

    Reply
  7. DSEED April 28, 2019 at 10:59 pm

    Now I have the better understanding of whom Queen Moremi is. She deserve the respect been given to her in yoruba land. If not for anything, those sacrifices she made can’t be overlooked.

    Reply
  8. Eric Onuoha April 30, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    A great leader was Queen Moremi. Her story reminds me of Queen Esther in the Bible. She is an example of leadership and bravery. May her legacy live on

    Reply

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