By Adedoyin Olalekan Sikiru
The place of Moremi in Ife history is woven around one Ife oral tradition which claims that Moremi, a victorious and beautiful woman from Offa, married to Oranmiyan, helped Ife to overcome the incessant raids of the seemingly super-human Igbo warriors whom the Ifes were unable to resist.
According to this oral tradition which was linked to the reign of Oranmiyan as Ooni of Ife, a small community called “Igbo” unleashed unprecedented terror via incessant attack and raids on the people of Ife. The attack and raids made life unbearable for Ife people. The Igbo attackers and warriors usually pillaged Ife. An Ife warrior seems not to have visible solution to the menace of the Igbo warriors who were believed to be supernatural beings.
The Igbo warriors used to be masked and disguised with raffia palms. This made Ife warriors to believe that Igbo warriors were supernatural beings and therefore unassailable. Consequently, Oranmiyan became nervous and troubled. Soon, Moremi noticed her husband’s worries got to know it was connected with the menace of the Igbo attackers which was gradually reducing the population of lle-Ife and the property of the people. Moremi being a purposeful and dedicated woman approached the goddess of Esinmirin River in an effort to discover the secret behind the invincible powers of the Igbo warriors in order to deliver her people from their menace. Moremi, because of her patriotism and genuine love for her fatherland – Ile-Ife, vowed to sacrifice her most valued possession if the river goddess helped her overcome the Igbo raiders.
The river goddess accepted Moremi’s vow. She told Moremi to allow her to be captured next time the Igbo warriors strike. She was warned not to reveal this to her husband, Oranmiyan.
As usual, the Igbo warriors struck and Moremi, being a very beautiful woman, caught the attention of the warriors who captured her along with some other people. According to Igbo tradition, all war captives were usually paraded before the king. The Igbo king was instantly attracted to Moremi’s beauty and commanded Moremi be retained in the palace as one of his wives while the rest should be sent to work in his farm.
Moremi, being a paragon of beauty, a virtuous and loyal woman, soon found favour in the sight of the king and the royal household. The love between Moremi and the king began to grow by the day and within a short time Moremi gained the confidence of the king. The love between the two was reminiscent of the love between Samson and Delilah in the Holy Bible. Soon after, Moremi noticed raffia palms being spread in the sun to dry.
Upon enquiring from the king, because of the trust and confidence he had in Moremi, the king divulged the age-long secret to her: That the raffia palms were what they used to disguise themselves when attacking the Ife people, and that the warriors when wearing the raffia must not go near naked fire.
From that revelation, Moremi came to realize that Igbo warriors were not supernatural beings after all. Being a woman of patience, she exercised caution and stayed for a while. Armed with this information, Moremi began to plan her escape from Igbo community. One day, the opportunity came, and she sneaked out of the place and escaped to Ile-Ife.
Oranmiyan was happy to see his wife again because she was believed to have died. Moremi narrated her ordeal in the hands of the Igbo warriors to Oranmiyan. She also told him how she discovered the age-long secret behind the so-called supernatural power of the Igbo warriors and what Ife warriors must do to overcome them when next they attacked. Soon afterwards, Igbo warriors struck as usual but to their surprise, Ife warriors attacked them with fire brands and the Igbo warriors were completely defeated.
The defeat of Igbo warriors were greatly celebrated in Ile-Ife. Oranmiyan and the elders extolled and revered the heroic and patriot deeds of Moremi who at the risk of her life saved her people from the menace of Igbo raiders.
When the celebration ended, Esinmirin river goddess sent emissary to Moremi, reminding her of her vow. Moremi brought a fat goat before the goddess in fulfilment of her vow. The river goddess rejected the goat. Moremi, thinking the goat was rejected because it was too small, brought a fat cow. The goddess rejected that too. The goddess of Esinmirin River wanted Moremi’s only son – Oluorogbo!
Moremi paid the highest price by offering her only son, Oluorogbo, as sacrifice in fulfilment of her vow to the river goddess.
Recognizing the monumental loss Moremi suffered on behalf of Ife community, Ife people vowed to be her children from that day onward. After Moremi died, the Edi festival was established and celebrated annually ever since in remembrance of the heroic and patriotic deeds of Moremi in Ife history.
During the annual Edi festival which is celebrated with pump and pageantry, Moremi’s effigy is usually carried by a beautiful virgin girl who leads the procession of worshippers to Moremi’s shrine. A mock fight depicting Igbo warriors in raffia palm and Ife warriors holding ignited fire brands is exhibited in the palace by Moremi worshippers as a re-enactment of the Igbo/Moremi era in Ife history.
A shrine is also dedicated to Oluorogbo to immortalize his name in Ife history as a sacrificial lamb. The worshippers of Oluorogbo are passionately attached to the shrine in Ile-Ife. At the palace, the effigy of Moremi holding the ignited fire brand is strategically located. Esinmirin River is still in existence today as evidence to this oral tradition. The river runs across Ife-Ilesa Road.
To further immortalized Moremi and her son in contemporary time, a school was established in their memory. These are Moremi High School and Oluorogbo School of Science.
Moremi’s heroic and patriotic did have socio-cultural, political, and religious relevance to contemporary time.
Socially, Moremi shows the importance and advantages inherent in intertribal marriage. According to the oral tradition, Moremi, an Offa lady was married to an Ife Prince, Oranmiyan. The said marriage besides being a good legacy, served as a unifying factor of cultural diversities which helped to bring about peace and harmony.
Politically, Moremi’s patriotism could be seen as the starting point of women involvement in politics. Her’s could be compared to other gallantry contribution of women in contemporary time. Women like Amina of Kano, Iyalode Efunsetan of Ibadan, Madam Tinubu of Lagos, Madam Funmilayo Ransome Kuti of Abeokuta, Kudirat Abiola and host of others are examples of women involvement in politics that perhaps may have gotten their inspirations from people like Moremi.
In the area of religion, Moremi’s contributions cannot be over emphasized. It will be recalled that her heroic and patriotic strides brought about the establishment of Edi festival which is being celebrated today. Besides, it also led to the evolution of Moremi and Oluorogbo shrine which is still meeting the cultural, religious and social needs of the people.