For a lot of people presently, a lot of things are messed up and they are uncertain how to juggle the curveballs life has thrown their way. We hope this story of the first female Igbo King will inspire you.
Yes, we said ‘female king’. This is no mistake. The woman was an Eze and not an Eze Nwanyi(Queen). Before she came to ascend the position in a mostly democratic society, Ahebi Ugbabe’s life was nothing to write home about.
She rose from the status of a local girl and commercial sex worker to that of a village headman, a warrant chief and a king. Ahebi was born in Enugu-Ezike, an Igbo community, in the late 19th century.
At the age of 13 or 14, she fled into neighboring Igala land to escape marriage to a deity as penance for her father’s sins. While in exile, she became a commercial sex worker, and in this way, aligned herself with powerful men such as the ruler of Igala, and British colonial officials.
She also became fluent in Pidgin English and other African languages, a skill that proved relevant to her future political ambitions. The early 20th century was a period of British incursion into Igboland, and Ahebi used this to her benefit by leading the British forces into Enugu Ezike, her hometown.
As a reward for her support, the British invaders installed her as a village headman. Due to her efficiency and continued loyalty, she was elevated to the post of warrant chief, a feat that was contrary to British policy of female political exclusion in colonial Nigeria.
With the help of the Attah (ruler) of Igala, whose influence extended to Northern Igbo land, Ahebi Ugbabe became king of Enugu-Ezike, therefore upsetting the gendered politics in her community.
As king, she performed female masculinities in the context of the Igbo tradition, and superseded all existing male political hierarchy and authority.
When she eventually died in 1948, she had a very quiet send-off. Notwithstanding, she became deified as a goddess in her mother’s hometown, and is remembered in many Enugu-Ezike songs and parables.
Unlike other powerful women in African history, Ahebi does not get the accolades she deserves. However, she was aptly captured in Nwando Achebe’s book.
Her story shows that one can rise from anything by being determined, gathering the right skills and staying on course. Do not give up – you are a King or Queen in your own right.