King Ahebi Ugbabe, A Quick Review Into Nwando Achebe’s Account Of The First Female King Of Colonial Nigeria

Some said she is the mother of feminism, unlike every other mythological story told to children around campfires in the night to give them hope, this story is almost forgotten, a lot of our history is lost. Especially stories of women like Ahebi Ugbabe whose stories get buried so deep in the trenches of our history, her story is being told to celebrate African women who went of their own way, break laws to get a voice and make a difference.
The Female King of Colonial Nigeria is the story of a woman, Ahebi Ugbabe, who rose from the status of a local girl and commercial sex worker to that of a village headman, a warrant chief and a king.

Ahebi was born in Enugu-Ezike, an Igbo community, in the late 19th century. At the age of 13 or 14, she fled into neighboring Igala land to escape marriage to a deity as a propitiation for her father’s sins. While in exile, she became a commercial sex worker, and in this way, aligned herself with powerful men such as the ruler of Igala, and British colonial officials.
She also became fluent in pidgin English and other African languages, a skill that proved relevant to her future political ambitions. The early 20th century was a period of British incursion into Igboland, and Ahebi used this to her benefit by leading the British forces into Enugu Ezike, her hometown.

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As a reward for her support, the British invaders installed her as a village headman. Due to her efficiency and continued loyalty, she was elevated to the post of warrant chief, a feat that was contrary to the British policy of female political exclusion in colonial Nigeria.

With the help of the Attah (ruler) of Igala, whose influence extended to Northern Igbo land, Ahebi Ugbabe became king of Enugu-Ezike, therefore upsetting the gendered politics in her community.

As king, she performed female masculinities and superseded all existing male political hierarchy and authority.

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However, when she attempted to assume full manhood by introducing her own masquerade, a deed performed only by men fully initiated into the masquerade cult, she met serious resistance from which she never recovered.

For fear that her society may not accord her a befitting burial, Ahebi performed her own funeral in her life time. When she eventually died in 1948, she had a very quiet send-off. Notwithstanding, she became deified as a goddess in her mother’s hometown and is remembered in many Enugu-Ezike songs and parables.

She was the king of Enugu-Ezike from the mid-1920s till her death in 1948. Before her reign, no one ever thought a woman could become king. But she clearly wasn’t having any of those opinions

The most fascinating thing about her, She tried to introduce her own masquerade, which was apparently an abominable thing for a woman to do.

She just didn’t understand why it was a taboo for women to control masquerades. Even though she got quite the blowback for it she stood her ground because she believed in equality of the sexes. She went as far as showing up at a festival in her own masquerade mask. The woman just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I stan a progressive queen.

She became a defiant leader The masquerade initiation led her to lose the support and respect of many of her constituents and cabinet members but she managed to remain in power till her death. , she performed her own burial rites just before she died.

which is also another surprising and shocking thing to do

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Achebe’s study of Ahebi Ugbabe is significant because it salvaged the history of a woman who became the only warrant chief in colonial Nigeria, and perhaps Africa. Her book distinguishes between Western concepts of gender and sexuality and the indigenous meanings of these concepts in an African setting.

She highlights the fluidity of gender and sex in Igbo land, where a woman, under certain circumstances, can assume the religious and social status of a man. A menopausal woman of wealth and integrity can also socially transform into a man, and enjoy the rights and obligations accorded to men. Such fluidity of gender and sex in Igbo land is portrayed in the life of Ahebi who, as warrant chief and king, became a man and assumed otherwise male roles, including marrying wives for herself and her brothers. Achebe repeatedly and rightly states that, in Igbo land, this practice of woman-to-woman marriage is totally unrelated to homosexuality. It is only a mark of wealth and social status. These wives married by women had sexual relations with men. However, children born of such marriages belonged to the female husband.

Another routinely misunderstood issue which Achebe analyzes is the concept of bride- price. The bride-price is routinely interpreted in Western feminist thought as a payment for a wife, and therefore derogatory. Achebe chooses to interpret this practice as ‘child price since it has nothing to do with the wife. This is an important and valid assessment because, in traditional Igbo land, when a couple marries or cohabits without paying the bride-price, all children from such marriage belongs to and can be claimed by the girl’s family. As Achebe points out, the symbolism of the bride-price is not a payment for the woman, but a transfer of the right to all children born of that marriage to the groom and his family.

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She further offers an African interpretation of commercial sex work which she distinguished from its Western form. She portrays it as an individual affair often practiced from the comfort of one’s home. Her book shows that African social and cultural institutions can have meanings and symbolisms different from their Western counterparts.