Queen Iden was the faithful and beloved wife of Oba Ewuakpe the great of Benin Kingdom. She was the pride and embodiment of love, strength, courage, brevity, African beauty and femininity, who as a Queen, stood behind her husband Oba Ewuakpe, as he faced a turbulent period, when the Benins revolted against him.
Ewuakpe became Oba (king) in the ancient Benin kingdom in about 1700 A.D. and was the 26th monarch of the hereditary title of Benin dynasty. He reigned for about 12 years which was characterized with series of setbacks during the early period to the extent that all subjects in the kingdom revolted against him.
The fundamental cause of the revolt was to protest against the monarch’s high handedness and his flagrant disrespect of human lives, which culminated in the mass killing of his subjects at Uselu during the funeral of his demised mother Queen Ewebonoza in about 17.15 A.D. When it became apparent that the elders and the citizens of the Kingdom could no longer accommodate the excesses of the King, they were compelled to sever their disreputable connections. This uprising also affected all his wives (Iloi) the royal slaves (ovien) and other palace attendants, who all left. The Oba was left alone except for Queen Iden, who demonstrated her loyalty and love for her husband and stayed with him.
In this devastating and isolating period, Queen Iden became the only friend and comforter of Oba Ewuakpe, as she made herself present as the kings only hope in time of great calamity. When it became apparent that there was no solution to his predicaments, the king decided to seek refuge amongst his mother’s relations at a village called Ikoka. To the amazement of the Oba and Queen Iden, the Oba was out rightly disrespected and rejected in his material abode. In his sad state of mind, he came back to Benin City.
In her quest to find a solution to her husband’s debacle, Queen Iden decided to do something about it, by consulting an oracle on behalf of her husband Oba Ewuakpe. She believed that the oracle would give instructions and a solution on what should be done about the calamity facing the ancient kingdom and its monarch.
After a thorough divination by the oracle, he concluded and told Queen Iden that all that was needed for the peace of the kingdom and the restoration of Oba Ewuakpe’s throne was a human being as a sacrificial lamb to appease the gods.
Immediately after finding a solution to the problem from the oracle, she headed for the palace to give the message of the gods to his majesty the King in their empty harem. The message from the diviner seemed to aggravate matters for Oba Ewuakpe because there was no other human being in his palace, free or bonded beside his dear wife Queen Iden, who incidentally was the conveyor of this report.
Consequently, the possibility of getting somebody else for the human sacrifice became remote for the royal couple.
In the absence of any other person Queen Iden in a gesture similar to the Jewish Jesus Christ, volunteered to be used as the sacrificial lamb needed by the gods for the restoration of the kingdom and his royalty.
As soon as Queen Iden suggested to her husband that she submit herself for the supreme price determined by the ancestors, Oba Ewuakpe became nervously bitter, as he could not comprehend the possibility of himself killing his dear wife, who had stood with him in times of trouble, in order to atone for the sins she had not committed. But the determined Queen encouraged the royal hands to shed her blood, if only that will appease the ancestral spirits of the land of Benin, so as to put aside the upheaval in the kingdom.
And as it became glaring on Oba Ewuakpe that there was no other way out of the predicament he conceded reluctantly to the pressure mounted by his real lover the Queen and atone the gods with the precious blood of Queen Iden, as he buried her alive on the spot near the Oba market in the heart of Benin metropolis.
Before Queen Iden voluntarily offered herself as an atonement to the gods, she requested for one favour from the king, that he should make sure her grave side is kept clean at all times. In addition, she cautioned against the reality of any person treading on her grave or else such trespasser should be killed on the spot as a mark of respect for her blessed remembrance.
Consequently her desire was strictly adhered to, till the invasion of the British forces in 1897. Queen Iden was therefore a woman of faithful worthiness, faithful to give her life and died for her husband Oba Ewuakpe to thrive and for Benin Kingdom to regain peace and unity.
This Queen had paid the ultimate price requested for by the ancestors, but she did not know or enjoy the outcome of her cherished kingdom and the reign of her beloved husband.
As soon as Oba Ewuakpe finished the sacrificial rituals, some of the prominent chiefs in the kingdom called for a truce between the throne and its aggrieved subjects. Other Benin Chiefs started paying homage to the Benin monarch again and pledge their loyalty to the bereaved Oba Ewuakpe. And truly when peace, unity and prosperity returned to the kingdom, she was never a part of it. What a true demonstration of true love!
Then all other Benin’s came in the same spirit to pledge their allegiance to his authority over them as their king. Consequently, the entire kingdom was reconciled back to the king and remained loyal to the royal majesty till the end of his reign.
Since it was necessary to celebrate such re-union, the Benins came together at the palace and rolled out drums to give such occasion a memorable one. During his happy mood the people were taken back to see their own king weeping profusely in the midst of merriment instead of being happy for the reunion of his subjects with him. This made his subjects to find out from the Oba why he was weeping at the time of celebration like this, the Oba replied that the motive behind his tears was because of his desire to mourn the sacrificial demise of his dear wife Queen Iden.
He went further to narrate all the ordeal in the palace at the time the kingdom fell apart which resulted in the untimely exit of his best friend and beloved Queen, who because of her unfeigned love for the unity of her fatherland, offered herself as a sacrificial lamb to the gods of the Kingdom. For the redemption of their intergenerational equity and social cultural heritage.
Queen Iden is the only person, be it man or woman, born of a human father and mother, who has demonstrated true love for her husband and for her kingdom to achieve peace, unity and above all the restoration of the Benin throne, which is the pride of all Benin people and indeed all Edo people today.
Queen Iden was and is today a true heroine. She was a Great, Wife, Queen and an embodiment of true and unconditional love, whom we gladly celebrate today.
She has shown to all women, through her example that true and genuine love knows no bounds because love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant and that we should show love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith for each other, even in the face of persecution. She also brought the word of God from the holy book to life, by showing that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friend”, and that Queen Iden did.
Retrospectively therefore, in view of what transpired in Benin Kingdom during the reign of Oba Ewuakpe about 500 years ago and the role played by a woman in the person of Queen Iden to ensure the continued existence of Benin Kingdom and monarch is a testimony to the fact that she is the greatest heroine of all time.
In the light of the above, her effort should not be thrown to the wind but should be immortalized and a day should be set aside as Benin National day for the remembrance of Queen Iden across the world
I Celebrate and Salute Queen Iden and All Edo Women.
The above historical account of Queen Iden, was edited by Tinyan Otuomagie, from the original account, which was documented by Brig General Patrick Eghosa Onaghise and EKAIWE IGINUA OSEMWEKHA