Ahebi Ugbabe

King Ahebi Ugbabe (died 1948) was king (eze) and warrant chief of Enugu-Ezike, Nigeria. She was the only female king in colonial Nigeria.[1] Her life's impact is described by Nwando Achebe: "She was a 'slave' married to a deity, a runaway, a sex worker, a headman, a warrant chief, and ultimately a female king. She was a strong leader of her people, yet also a collaborator empowered by and serving the British colonial regime in Nigeria." [1]


King Ahebi Ugbabe
Eze of Enugu-Ezike
Ezeshipmid-1920s – 1939
Igala Coronationmid 1920s
Warrant Chief of Enugu-Ezike
Chiefdom1918 – mid-1920s
BornLate 19th-century
Enugu-Ezike
Died1948
Enugu-Ezike
FatherUgbabe Ayibi
MotherAnekwu Amehin

Early lifeEdit

Ahebi Ugbabe was born in the later part of the 19th century to Ugbabe Ayibi, a farmer and palm wine tapper, and Anekwu Ameh, a farmer and trader, in Umuida, Enugu-Ezike. She had two brothers and no sisters.[2] She lived with her mother's family in Unadu for a brief period before returning to Umuida. After her return, she did not stay long before running away.[3]

ExileEdit

She later had to escape to Igalaland. Ahebi was running from an order for her to be married to a female deity as punishment for her father's crime. This punishment was known as igo ma ogo (to become the inlaw of a deity). Her family had gone through a series of unfortunate events when she was thirteen and fourteen. The farm yielded little, illness spread, and trading was slow. Her father had gone to a diviner, someone who was perceived as knowing the unknown. This man had correlated the events to the wrath of the goddess Ohe due to his crime.[1][4] During her forced exile, Ahebi became a prostitute and used this form of work to her advantage. Along her travels, Ahebi learned to speak numerous languages, such as "Igala, Nupe, and Pidgin English. Her success and independence helped to redefine sex work in Igbo culture, from servitude to a voluntary profession. Chinua Achebe wrote that "Achebe furthermore sets out to introduce 'the concept of 'wife of a deity' and extends the analytical category of 'autonomous sex worker' as models through which to engage with continuities and change in conceptions of female enslavement as well as competing and overlapping definitions of prostitution in an African context".[4] Her sex work and linguistic skills gave her access to the Attah-Igala (king) and the British divisional officer, who not only facilitated her return to Enugu-Ezike, but supported her claim to the office of headman, warrant chief, and, later, eze."

Ahebi's ruleEdit

Ahebi's reign began a few months after she returned to Igboland from exile.[5] Ahebi was the only person in her village able to speak with the British. She replaced "the aged (and increasingly incompetent)"[6] headman Ugwu Okegwu who was unable to communicate with the British. She was made the only woman warrant chief in all of colonial Nigeria in the British Native court. British District Officer W. H. Lloyd said Ahebi was "a lady of influence and power. She is intelligent and of a quiet disposition. When she does speak, it is usually to the point and sensible."[6]

Although Ahebi commanded the respect of her people, she sewed seeds of resentment by conscripting forced labor and imposing a census and a British tax. The Igbo people "did not believe that human beings should ever be counted.[7] This census caused the Woman's War in southern Igboland.

At first, "Ahebi easily quelled whatever resistance to her kingship existed" because of her British backing.[8] Ahebi amassed wealth and power, but ultimately fell from grace when the extent of her multiple—gender and power—transgressions became too much for her community.[9] She overreached in her ambition and violated a social more by attending a spiritual masquerade ritual with her own mask.[6] This ritual was only for men. The male elders and Ahebi went to court to settle the case and the British sided with the male elders, undermining Ahebi's rule.[10]

Ahebi Ugbabe cultivated an aura of mysticism to solidify an image of all-powerful rule. She used pre-colonial traditions to push this mysticism and therefore power. She also used this to augment her gender to effectively make herself king. Another way that Ahebi asserted herself as a man was she collected multiple wives, many of whom were runaways from abusive husbands. She also had multiple servants who would help her. These wives would bear children to continue Ahebi's name.[11]

DeathEdit

Before Ahebi died, she performed her own burial rites. She "did not trust that her society would accord her a befitting burial."[12] She intended to perform the rites "in such a magnificent manner that her society would never forget that an incredible being such as herself had lived."[12] Her living funeral included gunfire, animal sacrifice, and glorious music of remembrance.

Ahebi died in 1948.[11] Although she was a woman, she was buried according to the local customs for burying men.[13]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c Achebe, Nwando (2010). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 2. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  2. ^ Achebe, Nwando (2010). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  3. ^ Lindsay, Lisa A. (2003-06-20). Miescher, Stephan (ed.). Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. ISBN 9780325002545.
  4. ^ a b Jell-Bahlsen, Sabine (2012). "Review of The Female King of Colonial Nigeria, Ahebi Ugbabe". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 45 (2): 305–310. JSTOR 24392949.
  5. ^ Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. pp. 99–100. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  6. ^ a b c Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. p. 172. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  7. ^ Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. p. 122. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  8. ^ Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. p. 133. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  9. ^ Achebe, Nwando (June 2012). "The Female King of Colonial Nigeria, Ahebi Ugbabe". International Journal of African Historical Studies. 45 (1): 306. JSTOR 2439294.
  10. ^ Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. p. 183. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  11. ^ a b Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  12. ^ a b Achebe, Nwando (2011). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Indiana University Press. p. 187. ISBN 978-0253222480.
  13. ^ Achebe, Nwando (2010). The Female King of Colonial Nigeria: Ahebi Ugbabe. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 189. ISBN 978-0253222480.