Heroes of the Past – Moremi Ajasoro
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Moremi Ajasoro, Princess of the Yoruba (Yoruba: Mọ́remí Àjàsorò) was a figure of high significance in the history of the Yoruba peoples of West Africa. Born a princess, she was a courageous queen whose fame contributed to the victory of the Yoruba people over a neighbouring people.
The Ayaba Moremi lived in the 12th century, hailed from Offa, and was married to Oranmiyan, the heir to the king of Ife and founding father of the Yoruba people, Oduduwa. Ile-Ife was a kingdom that was said to have been at war with an adjoining tribe who were known to them as the Forest people. (Ìgbò in the Yoruba language, though the said tribe is believed by scholars to have had no relation to the contemporary Ìgbòs of modern Nigeria). Scores of Ife citizens were being enslaved by these people, and because of this they were generally regarded with disdain by the Yoruba city-states. Although the people of Ile-Ife were furious about these raids, they did not have the means to defend themselves. This is because the invaders were seen as spirits by the people of Ife, appearing as masquerades completely covered in raffia leaves.
Moremi was a very brave and beautiful woman who, in order to deal with the problem facing her people, pledged a great sacrifice to the Spirit of the river Esimirin so that she could discover the strength of her nation’s enemies.
She is said to have been taken as a slave by the Igbo and, due to her beauty and Esimirin’s help, married their ruler as his anointed queen. After familiarizing herself with the secrets of her new husband’s army, she escaped to Ile-Ife and revealed this to the Yorubas, who were then able to subsequently defeat them in battle.
Following the war she returned to her first husband, King Oramiyan of Ife (and later Oyo), who immediately had her re-instated as his queen. Moremi returned to the Esimirin River to fulfill her pledge. The river demanded she sacrificed her only son, Oluorogbo. The demand was inconceivable and Moremi pleaded with the god for a less terrible offering. But in the end, she kept her promise and paid the price. The offering of Oluorogbo to the river god grieved not only Moremi but the whole kingdom of Ife. The Yoruba people consoled Moremi by offering to be her eternal children—-a promise kept until today.
The Edi Festival is said to have then been started as a means of celebrating the sacrifice the princess made for the people of Yorubaland. Furthermore, a number of public places are named after her in contemporary Nigeria, such as the female residence halls at the University of Lagos and Obafemi Awolowo University.
In 2017, Oba Ogunwusi, the Ooni of Ile Ife, Osun State, erected a statue of Moremi in his palace. The statue is the tallest in Nigeria, displacing the previous holder of that record (a statue in Owerri, the Imo State capital). It is also the fourth tallest in Africa.