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The Queen Mother -Iyoba Of Benin 

Last Update (November 8, 2018)

THE Iyoba was the only woman to occupy one of the highest offices in Benin. In the political hierarchy. She was classed with the highest ranking town Chiefs.

The office of Queen mother was introduced in the early 16th century. “Iyoba” in the Benin Kingdom means “the mother of the king (Oba)” who ruled from 1504 to 1550, she played a significant role in the rise and reign of her son, she has been described as a great warrior who fought relentlessly before and during her son’s reign as the Oba (King) of the Edo people.

The Queen mother was introduced by his son Esigie out of the gratitude for the decisive support of his mother, who with her magical power and acute mind had helped him during military campaigns, of the thirty-eight Obas of the present day dynasty, however, only seventeen were able to install their mother as Iyoba. Idia mobilized an army around Esigie which defeated Arhuaran, and Oba Esigie became the 16th king.

After her death, the Oba commissioned a bronze head which is placed on one of the ancestral alters dedicated to the Iyoba. As a reference to their official function, the Queen mothers are depicted with, bead regalia like high ranking male dignitaries by the time she died, probably by the end of he first quarter of the sixteenth century, she had substantially altered Benin’s dynasty history as well as defined its course of history. she was the power behind the throne, before Esigie became the Oba.

The establishment of the institution of Iyoba (mother of the Oba) not only accorded power to royal mothers in the running of the Kingdom, most profoundly, it shifted the longstanding administrative protocol that conferred power to females from daughters, who are of royal blood, to wives, who are non-royals.

Without Idia’s political savory, it is doubtful if Esigie would have succeeded his father as Oba. This point is not made often enough even though her cultural inventions are freely acknowledged, in the political domain, she has also been credited for using her knowledge of the occult to seize the throne of Benin for her son and to defeat the enemies of her son. The yearly orhue festival dramatize’s the sacrificial food offering she made to help her son become Oba (Black mum 1991:60-61). Idia emerges as an extraordinarily powerful personality who continues to loom large in Benin cultural imagination. She is extolled for “fighting with a double-edged sword and for being “the womb of Orhue” (pure white kaolin clay).

The tributes and accolades to Idia draw attention to her various actions in the service of Benin, but in a random, disconnected way that mutes the audacity and far reaching nature of her achievements. Idia earned the accolade “womb of Orhue,” because she was a mother who gave birth to a son who although was chronologically the third in line, dramatically ended up becoming the Oba of Benin, but much more importantly, this womb created her pathway to ultimate power. Herein lies the special-ness of her womb. It was a womb that defied all odds, halted the famicide of mothers of Obas, and radically transformed Benin empire.

Even if Idia was a young woman, she was not naïve, she possessed skills which few people had. Idia entered the royal household after she caught the fancy of Ozolua during a dance performance in the capital. Once the Oba initiated the marriage process, her parents knew she would become an Oba’s wife and eventually took the precaution of medicinally seasoning and cooking” their daughter for her future life. This preparation strengthened her to cope with whatever vicissitudes palace life would throw at her the “strong willed” Idia and her parents would have surmised that life as an Oba’s wife may be tumultuous, but indeed an excellent route to power and wealth.

The trouble with Idia’s facial scarification is that it promotes the omniscience of Oba Ozolua and all other Oba’s in history. Although the goal is to protect the Oba from poisoning psychological control, or some other dreadful act by a wife, today it works to cow Oloi and to enthrone the ideal of a good wife as unambitious and submissive, it discourages the very real possibility that a future wife may be strong willd and ambitious enough to look to her marriage as an avenue power. She may then try to fortify herself medicinally and physically before she becomes a royal wife, Obas and Chiefs were well aware of the danger such a strong, force-filled and knowledgeable woman poses to their power. Once she has completed (such initiation, no antidote, short of death or madness, could reverse the knowledge acquired or close off the expanded consciousness.

The office of the Iyoba defines a position of supreme moral authority and power officially the occupant of the office was he supreme mother of the nation as well as the political mother of the Oba. While she supersedes him by virtue of her womb and maternal role, she does not need to threaten nor undermine his political powers, rather she shares it up, strengthen, it, and functions as his strong political and moral centre while guaranteeing his safety in the turbulent politics of the kingdom, for all this do work constitutionally, an Iye Oba’s maternity has to be transformed radically reconstituted at the supranational level so that the occupant is no longer an individual to whom she was his mother no longer exists.

When she passed away, a head was cast to commemorate her. Oba Esigie commissioned works to decorate her alter, displaying them. Some of which pyramid bases of some all the early heads of the Iyoba are modeled like life-size, the high coral bead collar reaches up to the mouth and the head as a whole is planted on a flat base with rope design, it is carefully and well executed, but the expression is frozen and stiff. The distinctive features of Queen mother hairdo are there. The elements are the same. The hairdo is graceful curvy hairdo is covered with a lattice net of coral beads with strings of beads tringed around the base of the head. The Queen’s facial features are sensitively modeled and rendered with naturalism. Her eyes are half lowered and cast downwards, her finely drawn lips are slightly open. The overall painting and smooth carving surfaces convey elegant restraint. This head is among the most famous and admired images of Benin, Nigeria in the art of west Africa. The Head of the Iyoba is covered with a bead - like cap, showing that is a Queen mother, she has got mark strings on her forehead, two straight marks on her forehead.

Her neck is covered with bead, so many beads on her neck, showing royalty, Iyoba is a very great woman who fought for her son to be the king.

Her eyes are wide open, looking like a courageous woman. The Queen mother generally backed her son’s efforts to extend the reach of the Benin Kingdom and acquire greater power and wealth throughout southern Nigeria.

King Esigie built a palace for his mother there, assigned villages to provide for her, and bestowed many privileges of rank, dress and symbols of power and prestige on her. She responded by raising an army (the only woman reputed to have gone to war) and supporting her son’s military campaigns to the north against the Igala people. In all the Iyoba of Benin is a great woman and the Benin people still look up to her till date.

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