Prior to modern day system of ruling, what we have is the monarchial system of ruling whereby a kingdom is being ruled by a King. In this part of the world in Nigeria, the king is known as Emir, Obi and Oba in the Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba tribe respectively.
The male heir to the throne is oftentimes made a King, but one important thing to note is that the word “Oba” (King) in Yoruba is not restricted to a particular gender, as there have been one or two females that have ruled as kings of prominent kingdoms in Yoruba besides regents.
Unfortunately, history has not been fair to these female kings as people barely know about them. This is why we have decided to bring to you today the story of female kings that have ruled two different significant kingdoms in Yoruba land; Ife and Oyo kingdoms.
Ife is known to the spiritual threshold of Yoruba nation. It is mythically believed that Ife is the origin of not just the Yoruba nation but the entire human race.While Oyo is known to own the political strength in Yoruba land.
The first and only female to reign as a king in Ife is known as Ooni Luwoo Gbagidi. She reigned as the 21st Ooni of Ife and also the most predominant supreme ruler of Yoruba land. According to history, Queen Gbagidi was a woman of enormous beauty, who derived great joy from her good looks.
Some quarters in history said she was an offspring of Otaataa from Owode compound, Okerewe. According to oral tradition, she was married to Chief Ọbalọran of Ilode and became the mother of Adekola Telu, the founder of Iwo town. After the demise of Ooni Giesi, she was the first and only female to take up the crown as Ooni. Ooni Luwoo being a beautiful woman and deriving great joy in her physical appearance and that of her surroundings kept the townspeople i.e. men and women of Ife on their toes by ensuring they partook in keeping their environment well groomed and serene.
Due to the fact she did not enjoy walking on bare soil, she commissioned the creation of uncommon pavements (now owned by the Ife Museum) and various open-air courtyards paved with shreds of pottery to adorn her environment and any other Yoruba town she paid a visit to. This was also used to punish law breakers as the paved the streets of Ile-Ife with quartz pebbles and broken pottery. The miscreants were commanded to bake the clay, and later on use their bare hands to break it into pieces and afterwards lay it on the floor for the queen to walk on. Among all these, she was also said to be filled with terror and feared especially by the men. She was known to dislike lazy men who broke her laws and was a nightmare to slackers. There was no difference between slave and “child.” Everyone was treated the same way. The elders of the land saw her as being “uncontrollable” and “high-handed.” As a result of this, when her reign had ended, the council of Obas had a meeting and promised never to make a woman the Ooni of Ife ever again.
Ooni Luwoo though given negative labels by her council of chiefs still assisted her son Adekola Tolu to create the city of Iwo, which resulted in making him the first Oluwo of Iwo. There are various accounts of the reign of Luwoo as Ooni of Ife. Some regarded her as brave and just while others regarded her as arrogant and highhanded. However, It was reported that after her reign, the council met and vowed not to make a female the Ooni of Ife again as they saw Luwoo Gbagida as being uncontrollable by them.
On the other hand the name of the first and only female Alaafin of Oyo is Orompoto. The story of Orompoto stands out in History because of the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society. It is generally believed that the seat of a King belong to the male folks. The council of Chiefs stood in the way of Orompoto but for every move they made, she remained insistent that she was the next Alaafin of Oyo.
Against all odds, Orompoto became the first and only female Alaafin of Oyo. Orompoto achieved this feat even when the mist of patriarchy was thick and easy to touch. How she achieved it was amazing and it remains a puzzle that is yet to unravel in the history of Oyo Empire. However, it unofficially and unverifiable put Nigeria on the spot light to be the first place that a transgender surgery was ever done.
Since the Council of Chiefs insisted that the throne of Alaafin was only meant for the male folks, Orompoto then asked the elders and chiefs for the chance to prove that she was a man, seeing that this was the only impediment to her coronation.
For the chiefs, this was the perfect opportunity to ridicule Orompoto. They knew she wouldn’t be able to prove that she was a man. So, they gave her seven days to strip herself naked to prove her masculinity.
Immediately after this pronouncement, Orompoto started dressing like a man wearing Agbada and fila (cap). On the seventh day, Orompoto revealed her upper part and it was absolutely flat, no breast! They thought it was possible for a woman to have a flat chest, and the Oyomesi were not impressed.
So she went on to remove her trousers, and all that the Oyomesi could see was a male reproductive organ. All immediately fell on their chest and chanted “Kaabiyesi oooo” — she was enthroned the Alaafin of Oyo immediately. Oba Orompoto is considered in history to be the first transgender. Popularly regarded as “the custodian of the vagina that kills evil plots”
Oba Orompoto was Oyo’s seventh Alaafin; she was the niece of Eguguoju, her predecessor. Orompoto took the throne, and at that time there was no male heir within the royal family (better still, the available males were too young to rule).
Her brother, Prince Eguguoju, became the next in line to the throne when her father died, and he succeeded his father. However in his youth, he died without a male heir. Her younger brothers, Prince Ajiboyede and Prince Tella, were very young, and at that time they were unable to assume the throne. That was how the light of whom to become the next Alaafin beamed on Orompoto.
Orompoto was a formidable warrior; even her male counterpart feared her. She made the greatest and final attack to annihilate the Nupe during her former reign as a regent to ensure they never threaten Oyo again.
It was speculated that her reign lasted from 1554 to 1562. She is said to have died in battle, one of the few Alaafins to have actually died in combat.
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