Ayaba Moremi Ajasoro of Ile-Ife

Ayaba Moremi Ajasoro of Ile-Ife

Although accounts of Moremi Ajasoro’s exploits are sparsely documented in popular culture, the Yorubas considered folklore (called ‘Aroba’ in the Yoruba language) the strongest medium for teaching and preserving history.

Moremi was married to Oranyan (Oramiyan), the heir to the king of Ife and son of the founding father of the Yoruba people, Oduduwa. Around 1290, Oranyan founded Ile-Oyo, which his descendants then expanded into the Oyo Empire.

Her hometown of Offa is an old Yoruba town in Kwara state, west-central Nigeria… said to have been founded by Olalomi Olofa-gangan, a crown prince from Ile-Oyo from around 1395.

Ile-Ife was a kingdom to have been at war with an adjoining group who were known to them as the Forest people, Igbò in the Yoruba language. The meaning of the word “ife” in Yoruba is “expansion.

Ile-Ife had been at war with the neighboring Igbo tribe for many years. During Moremi’s reign as queen, they faced the prolonged issue of Ìgbò raiders dressed completely in raffia leaves, disrupting and looting markets in Ife, and selling the people of the Kingdom into slavery.

Tired of the regular raiding parties that the Igbo were sending into Ile-Ife, Moremi ventures to a sacred stream to consult with the local river spirit, Esimirin.

Esimirin offered to help Moremi deliver her people from oppression but demanded an offering as a payment after Moremi’s request was met, that she sacrifice her only son, Ela (Oluorogbo). The river spirit suggests that Moremi allow herself to be captured by the Igbo so that she may infiltrate their society and discover their weaknesses, which she accomplished by posing as a trader in the market.

She remained there for an extended period of time, spying on her adversaries and learning their ways of life. Earnings the King's trust and affection, she was able to coerce him into revealing to her that their raffia-dressed masquerades were not, in fact, spirits, but rather ordinary human beings disguised in that manner to instill fear in the people of Ile Ife during their raids. Additionally, he revealed that the raffia leaves covering them were flammable and would not survive even the slightest contact with fire. With this information, she was able to safely plan her return to Ile-Ife.

When Moremi returned, she disclosed the secrets and tactics she discovered to her Yoruba army. She told them that all they had to do to defeat their enemy was to pass through them with a torch. The Yoruba people used the information given to them by Queen Moremi and victoriously subdued the Ìgbò people in battle. Moremi then returned to the Esimirin River to make her offering.

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