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    Grace Amos

      An Ivory Pendant Mask of Iyoba Idia of Benin


      The Iyoba of Benin is the Queen Mother and a powerful figure in the Edo Benin Kingdom. She is an important female titleholder in the chieftaincy system of the Kingdom of Benin.


      The first and most famous Iyoba of Benin was Idia, the mother of Esigie, wife to King Ozolua who died in the 15th century. Oba Esigie ruled from 1504 to 1550. Iyoba Idia was known to be legendary.


      After the death of King Ozolua, the throne was left to a dispute of royal succession between the two sons  – Esigie and Arhuaran. However, Esigie became the 16th King of Benin with the help of his mother Idia who made moves physically and spiritually to him the Oba. Idia found herself in a dilemma of an ancient culture which states if an Oba is crowned, his mother must be eliminated as she was considered a threat to the future Oba and throne.


      Due to this, Oba Esigie requested the assistance of Omoregie Ero the 17th Ero of Benin to help him preserve Idia in 1504, in a secret groove at Idumwum-Oro at Uselu which was called Aro-Osun the shrine of the god of herbs and could not be accessed by anyone who was not initiated to enter the place.


      While Idia was in hiding, Oba Esigie fought to eradicate the bad custom and at the end it was for a fruitful cause. The barbaric tradition was successfully abolished by Oba Esigie.

      She was restored back to the palace and Oba Esigie crowned her the Eguae-Iyoba  – Palace of the Queen Mother – making her the first Iyoba of Benin.


      However, there was a cost to saving the King’s mother. Oba Esigie promised to never have direct contact with his mother again for life. Following this long aged tradition, the Queen Mother in Benin cultures cannot come into direct contact with her once he becomes king.

      The Queen mother Idia was allowed to rule at Uselu as a ruler – the hidden Oba of Benin.


      Although some stories tell that the installation of Idia as Iyoba was after her efforts on behalf of her son to restore Benin’s supremacy, after the Igala people declared their independence from Benin and seized an area of territory to its north. It was accounted that Iyoba Idia stood by her son Oba Esigie, serving as everything from his counsellor to his priestess. Oba Esigie created a new office  – Iyoba – to show his gratitude for her efforts on his behalf. She ranked equal to the senior chiefs of the royal court. It was said that she built her own palace in the town of Uselu and it was thereafter attached to her title as a perpetual fief.


      Iyoba Idia was the first woman in the history of the Benin Kingdom to have such power.

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