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EFUNSETAN ANIWURA, THE MOST POWERFUL YORUBA WOMAN OF HER TIME

EFUNSETAN ANIWURA, THE MOST POWERFUL YORUBA WOMAN OF HER TIME

Efunsetan Aniwura

The most powerful woman in the Yoruba kingdom

Efunsetan-Aniwura-By-Akinwumi-Isola
The book cover of Efunsetan Aniwura by Akinwunmi Isola (Good Books Africa )

Who is the greatest Yoruba woman to have ever lived? Some will say it is Madam Tinubu and others will say it is Efunsetan Aniwura.

It is believed in some quarters that Efunsetan Aniwura was born in the 1790s. There is no concrete evidence to back this up. Aniwura was said to be a friend and rival to Madam Tinubu who was born in 1805 according to history. If Madam Tinubu’s year of birth is correct it would mean that Efunsetan Aniwura was indeed born in the 1790s for them to have been friends.
Madam Tinubu was then regarded as the richest woman in the Yoruba kingdom. If so, Efunsetan Aniwura was regarded as the most powerful. Born to an Egba father, Ogunrin who hailed from Egba Oke-Ona.

 

A statue of Efunsetan Aniwura in Ibadan (alawiyeblog)

There are really no accounts of how she rose to power but we do know at a certain time (most likely) in the 1860s she became the Iyalode of Ibadan.
History does have it that she had up to 2000 slaves who worked on her farms. Apart from investing in the flourishing agriculture scene in Yoruba land during this period, she dealt in arms and ammunition. She influenced politics, was a stakeholder in talks on peace and war. Efunsetan had warriors of her own and lent them regularly to Ibadan during military expeditions. It is also claimed that she also had military training and took part in some campaigns.

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Her farms produced cash crops which led her to do business up north and as far as Ghana. She even exported her crops to Europe which was already in the industrial revolution era.

 

“It is not unlikely that Efunsetan was the richest person in the whole of the Yoruba interior in about the late 1870s,” wrote Prof Banji Akintoye wrote about the Amazon.

The legend of Efunsetan Aniwura takes a dark turn. Oral history (depending on the one you listen to) says her only daughter died during childbirth. This tragedy would make the business tycoon become evil. It was said she whipped and starved her slaves.

She also ordered that her slaves not to get married or have sex. One of her female workers broke the law and became pregnant. Efunsetan Aniwura didn’t think twice and killed the slave. This act was said to have brought her into direct confrontation with the establishment in Ibadan.

Her dastardly act led to her downfall. There are two accounts on how she died. The first one was that she committed suicide by drinking hemlock when the king’s men came to her house and told her she had been summoned by the king.

The other account was that she was murdered by two of her slaves during her sleep. The gruesome act was said to be orchestrated by the Aare Ona Kakanfo Latoosa with help from Efunsetan’s adopted son.

Latoosa and Efunsetan had a cordial relationship but things turned sour between them over a failed arms deal. It is believed by some that Efunsetan Aniwura did not commit suicide but was killed by her slaves who were doing Latoosa’s bidding.

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In this version of events, Egba chiefs were annoyed at Efunsetan’s death. They came to Ibadan and demanded an inquiry. After investigations, the slaves were killed and Efunsetan’s adopted son was removed as the head of her family.
Some historians believe Efunsetan Aniwura has been distorted by patriarchy who have tried to demonise her and make her look like an evil woman.
If this is true, it does not diminish her influence and power in the Yoruba kingdom during this period.

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