We want to take a look at one of the great Queens of ancient Benin kingdom in Edo State.
Her name is “Queen Idia”
Idia was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550. Queen Idia was the wife of Oba Ozolua, the Oba who reigned in about 1481AD. Queen Idia became the first Iyoba (queen mother) of Benin when Esigie conferred upon her the title and the Eguae-Iyoba ( palace of the queen mother). She played a significant role in the rise and reign of her son, being described as a great warrior who fought relentlessly before and during her son’s reign as the oba (king) of the Edo people.
When Oba Ozolua died, he left behind two powerful sons to dispute over who would become Oba. His son Esigie controlled Benin City while another son, Arhuaran, was based in the equally important city of Udo about twenty miles away.
Idia mobilised an army around Esigie, which defeated Arhuaran, and Oba Esigie became the 16th king.
The ensuing civil war severely compromised Benin’s status as a regional power and undermined Benin City at the political and cultural center of the kingdom. Exploiting this weakness, the neighboring Igala people sent warriors across the Benue River to wrest control of Benin’s northern territories. Esigie ultimately defeated his brother and conquered the Igala, reestablishing the unity and military strength of the kingdom. His mother Idia received much of the credit for these victories as her political counsel, together with her mystical powers and medicinal knowledge, were viewed as critical elements of Esigie’s success on the battlefield. To reward and honor her, Esigie created a new position within the court called the iyoba, or “Queen Mother,” which gave her significant political privileges, including a separate residence with its own staff.
Queen Idia was instrumental in securing the title of oba for Esigie following the death of his father Oba Ozolua. To that end, she raised an army to fight off his brother Arhuaran, who was subsequently defeated in battle.
Queen Idia was the 1st woman who went to and fought in War. She used her magical powers and knowledge of Medicine to help her son overcome his enemies. She was one of the best known female soldiers ever from the Benin Kingdom. She was a fearless Army General who led the Armies of Benin on several successful battles. One of such was the Idah War of 1515 – 1516 A.D. that was won by her Army who fought very bravely. She also acted as the Oba’s Agent in some Villages.
The use of symbolic images of Art identified with Queen Idia indicates her early contacts with the Portuguese and has become one of the most popular work of Art in World Black History. The image of Queen Idia is the popular Festac Head that was used for the celebration of the Nigerian FESTAC ’77 – Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977 that was attended by dignitaries all over the World.
The Queen-Mother also started “Ekasa” – a special dance which forms part of the Royal Ceremonies till date.
Queen Idia’s tomb is located at Egua-Iy’oba, Uselu, Lagos Road, Benin-City.