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Meet Queen Idia, The First Queen Mother Of Benin Kingdom

Queen Idia was the mother of Esigie, the Oba of Benin who ruled from 1504 to 1550. She played a very 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 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 30 kilometres away.

Idia mobilised an army around Esigie, which defeated Arhuaran, and Oba Esigie became the 16th king.

Idia was the first Queen Mother of Benin Kingdom and she paved the way for Nigerian women of yesteryears and present times to have their part in decision-making as touching the political issues.

There are many sculptures of her face, which heralds the Benin Carving culture which the West envies.


These masks went on to be the Signature of African culture and arguably the most common face in the History books of African Culture.



Idia received much of the credit for Esigie’s victories as his political counselor. Her mystical powers and medicinal knowledge were viewed as the reason for 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.

Apart from these, Queen Idia was a woman of many firsts. Below are some of the things she achieved.

  1. The first woman to earn a title from the Benin Empire as “IYOBA” also represented as “The Queen mother”
  2. First woman commander [mother of the king] to have led soldiers/warrior to fight and win a war in defense of her nation.
  3. First woman to have produced one of most enlightened prince relating with the Europeans in their early encounter.
  4. First woman to have witnessed one of the highest diplomatic ties between Black Africa and Europeans in her time.
  5. The first woman to have taken up the mantle of leadership in terms of socio – economic development of the Old Benin Empire, that was later invaded and burnt down by the British military on the Benin punitive expedition 1897 to finally exile Oba Ovonramen to Calabar. A time when some of the finest bronze of Benin were made and exported to Europe.
  6. First woman to have introduced the gladiator’s spirit and high virtues of feminism in the history of Black African civilization
  7. First black African woman to have earned such world recognition, respect, and dignity in the west African sub-region, a great work of art whose presence [sculpture and art work] continue to show in every media and publications far and near. The popular Ivory Mask, the face of African culture and pride of the black race.

Written by PH

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