In case you missed it, here are the first photos of Moremi Ajasoro Statue of Liberty as unveiled last week by Oonirisa Ojaja II.
Constructed using all local expertise and materials, and on the same spot Moremi lived several centuries ago, the statue is reportedly the tallest in Nigeria and third tallest in Africa.
The story goes that Moremi was an Olori who became a heroine by liberating the Ile Ife people from invaders. The exact time her husband was King and who he was, is a bit obscure.
She is celebrated in Yorubaland because she sacrificed marital joy and motherhood for the security of her native kingdom, Ile-Ife.
She vowed to the deity of the river Esimirin that she would make the greatest sacrifice to discover the strength of her nation’s enemies.
She allowed herself to be captured and being very beautiful was taken as booty to the Ugbo/Igbo King (distinct from the Nigerian Igbo people of the South East).
She won the trust and affection of the King and people in Ugbo and became familiar with their customs and tactics of warfare.
Moremi escaped and returned to her first husband. Knowing the warfare secrets of the Ugbo, the people of Ife were forever freed from the terrors of these previously invincible warriors.
In order to fulfill the pledge she made to Esimirin she allowed her only son to be sacrificed in gratitude for saving her people.
The other side of the story from the Olugbo of Ugbo?
In an interview, Oba Obateru Akinruntan the Olugbo of Ugbo who feels differently about Moremi, had this to say :
Many people must have read about the Moremi episode. The Ugbos raided Ife many times, so they consulted Ifa and Osanyin for a solution. The oracle told them to put a beautiful lady in the market and they put Moremi there who later betrayed the Ugbo people. This is why she is never celebrated in Ugbo. We see her as a betrayer, someone who leaked our secret to Ife. That is another reason why Ugbo people do not marry ladies who are fair in complexion. We see such women as another Moremi.
We believe that she was a traitor and a betrayer. She deceived us and leaked our secret to Ife, otherwise we would have kept invading them till date. There would not have been anybody in Ife if not for Moremi. That is why we can never celebrate her. She betrayed her husband, she was a killer and we can even call her an armed robber. That is why nobody in Ugbo can celebrate her.
But was she not the link between the Ugbo and Ife culture?
We had our sons in Ife, we had about seven quarters in Ife, so we did not rely on her. The two markets in Ife, Oja Ife and Oja Ayegbagun belonged to my great-great grandfathers, Oba Makin Osangangan and Oraife. The Aje of Ife belongs to our house. When you get to Ife, ask for Oke Remo and Ile Ero, you will see our people there. We did not need to rely on Moremi, she is a betrayer.
If your ancestors were at Ife before Oduduwa, at what point did they leave Ife and even began to invade it?
When Oduduwa came, he did not understand Ilaje language and it took him about 16 years before he could understand our language….. When he arrived at Ife, he met the Oba Makin Osangangan in Ile Ero. It was my ancestor that received Oduduwa in Ile Ife.
Oduduwa fought with Obatala and defeated him. We had a lot of warriors that worked for Oba Makin Osangangan and they felt jittery about the man that came from nowhere to defeat Obatala. Our great-great grandfather had to retreat because they had families and a lot of property at Ife. Back then, the only thing the Ife people had was palm wine; that was their only economic power. The Ugbo people decided to retreat because they knew if they fought at Ife, the battle would affect their daughters, wives and children, so they retreated to Oke Mafuragan and they decided to attack Ife from there. Our people raided Ife successfully to the extent that the people of Ife thought our warriors came from heaven.
Always good to hear both sides of a story, though according to the Oba’s account then, it becomes clear that whilst the Ugbo may have been amongst the people of the established order of Ile Ife which Oduduwa overthrew as he rose to power, they have little claim to the new political structure and economic system which followed in Ile Ife c.10th century because they had been driven into exile, and by the time of Moremi’s espionage adventure they were on the very fringes of Ile Ife civilisation resorting to invading and kidnapping? He’s wrong to feel Ile Ife belongs to the Ugbo 10 centuries later!