A modern poem in praise of Efunsetan Aniwura, a Yoruba woman who rose to a position of great wealth and political power in Ibadan, Nigeria, during the mid-19th century. Composed by Teslim Opemipo Omipidan from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, Ondo State in Nigeria.

There is uncertainty about precisely when Efunsetan Aniwura was born, although it is known that she became the Iyalode of Ibadan (a traditional chief, the position of Iyalode being reserved for women, can be translated as “Mother of Public Affairs”) in the 1860’s. Most of her wealth appears to have been generated through agriculture as the owner of substantial farmland cultivated by up to 2000 slaves. It’s known that she traded throughout Yorubaland as well as into Ghana and even exported crops into Europe. Efunsetan also sold and rented weapons, and commanded her own soldiers who she hired-out as mercenaries to support neighbouring warlords. Through this combination of savy business sense and arms-dealing Efunsetan accumulated enough power to become a significant stakeholder in Ibadan politics.

Efunsetan Aniwura’s only daughter died during childbirth, leaving Efunsetan unable to conceive. According to some oral accounts this led to Efunsetan developing a vicious streak, for she seems to have taken this out on her slaves, cruelly punishing them and demanding that none of the females become preganant. When inevitably one woman did become pregnant Efunsetan had her killed. For this brutality towards her slaves Efunsetan was tried by the council of chiefs. Efunsetan’s rise through Ibadan politics inevitably brought her into conflict with other powerful figures, and her resistance to the domestic and foreign policies of Ibadan’s ruler, Aare Latosa, appears to have led to her downfall.

There are conflicting versions of the events that lead to Efunsetan’s death. One account describes Efunsetan’s own slaves revolting against her and killing her one night, another version has Aare Latoosa laying siege to Efunsetan’s house leading to her taking her own life using Hemlock.

Elegbe, let us not toy with a raging fire (1)
for if the thumb get burnt,
all fingers shall suffer.
The dog that lingered when kiniun roared (2)
became a reason for others to run faster.

Kinsmen, have you heard of Iyalode Ibadan? (3)
Have you been told of Efusetan Aniwura?
Have you been told of the man-like woman
who shook the ancient crust of Eba-Odan? (4)

She was the offspring of Ogunrin
whose childhood was sketched in patterns of war.
Efunsetan knew all weapons by their names
and grew up to wield legion chains of slaves.

History said Efunsetan knew how to wear laughter
till death eloped with her only child and daughter.
History said Iyalode Ibadan bore a kind heart
till her beloved heir died during childbirth.

And so her mouth became the road to graveyard
for any of her slaves that got pregnant.
She also learnt to spit cinereous embers
into the eyes of any barricading Ijoye.

Then an erring slave got pregnant,
I said a defiant slave got pregnant
and the almighty Iyalode Ibadan
showed her the route to orun aremabo. (5)

If I tell you of the proverbial awodi
that carefully stalks the adventurous chick,
then I must tell you of the powerful Aare Latoosa (6)
who demanded for Iyalode Ibadan, in chains!

Kinsmen, I say if I tell you of akinkanju (7)
and how they bravely dodge shame,
then I must tell you of Efunsetan Aniwura
and how she took her own life!

by Teslim Opemipo Omipidan.


Footnotes

  1. Elegbe: A Yoruba word for agemates.
  2. Kiniun: Lion.
  3. Iyalode Ibadan: A position of chieftancy bestowed on women in the traditional administrative system of Ibadan.
  4. Eba-Odan: This is the first name given to Ibadan, present capital of Oyo State, Nigeria. It means “a city at the edge of the savannah”.
  5. Orun Aremabo: Heaven.
  6. Are Latoosa: The then ruler of Ibadan.
  7. Akinkanju: Can mean a brave warrior, or the virtue of courage itself.