In the heartland of Nigeria, amidst the ancient city of Ife, where history and legend intertwine like the roots of the mighty Iroko tree, there was a woman of indomitable spirit and undeniable grace. She was Queen Lúwo Gbàgìdá, the first and only female Ooni of Ife, a symbol of empowerment in a world steeped in tradition. Her ascent to the throne, her reign, and her legacy are nothing short of extraordinary.
Queen Lúwo Gbàgìdá’s story begins not in the grandeur of a palace but in the humble setting of a small village in Osun State, Nigeria. Born as Olufunmilayo Ademilua, her journey to royalty was far from ordinary. Raised in a family of strong-willed individuals, she imbibed the values of hard work, resilience, and community from an early age.
According to oral tradition, she was married to Chief Ọbalọran of Ilode and became the mother of Adekola Telu, the founder of Iwo town. The marriage marked the beginning of a love story that would change the course of history. Their union, a testament to love transcending societal norms, eventually led to her coronation as Queen Lúwo Gbàgìdá, making her the first female Ooni in the history of the ancient city. In some records, she is called the Lúwo Gbàgìdá, an offspring of Otaataa from Owode compound, Okerewe.
Queen Lúwo’s ascendancy to the throne was met with mixed reactions. Traditionalists questioned the legitimacy of her rule, arguing that it went against centuries-old customs. However, she stood unwavering, determined to rewrite the narrative for women not only in Ife but across the globe.
As history would have it, she was a woman of enormous beauty, who derived great joy from her good looks. Although, history has not been kind to her because it was thought that men had always occupied the esteemed stool. This is due to the fact that Nigerian history is passed down orally which can lead to negation in the list of Oonis’.
After the demise of Ooni Giesi, she was the first and only female to take up the crown as Ooni. Ooni Luwo being a beautiful woman and deriving great joy in her physical appearance and that of her surroundings kept the townspeople i.e. men and women of Ife on their toes by ensuring they partook in keeping their environment well groomed and serene.
Due to the fact she did not enjoy walking on bare soil, she commissioned the creation of uncommon pavements (now owned by the Ife Museum) and various open-air courtyards paved with shreds of pottery to adorn her environment and any other Yoruba town she paid a visit to.
This was also used to punish law breakers as the paved the streets of Ile-Ife with quartz pebbles and broken pottery.
The miscreants were commanded to bake the clay, and later on use their bare hands to break it into pieces and afterwards lay it on the floor for the queen to walk on.
Among all these, she was also said to be filled with terror and feared especially by the men. She was known to dislike lazy men who broke her laws and was a nightmare to slackers.
There was no difference between slave and “child.” Everyone was treated the same way. The elders of the land saw her as being “uncontrollable” and “high-handed.”
As a result of this, when her reign had ended, the council of Obas had a meeting and promised never to make a woman the Ooni of Ife ever again.
Ooni Luwoo though given negative labels by her council of chiefs still assisted her son Adekola Tolu to create the city of Iwo, which resulted in making him the first Oluwo of Iwo
Queen Lúwo Gbàgìdá’s reign was characterized by her ability to strike a balance between tradition and progress. She embraced the cultural richness of Ife while championing gender equality and women’s rights. Her commitment to inclusivity extended beyond gender; she also worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between Ife and the broader Nigerian society.
Under her leadership, Ife became a center for cultural exchange, welcoming people from all walks of life to experience its beauty and history. Festivals, exhibitions, and symposiums flourished, showcasing Ife’s cultural heritage to the world and fostering unity among diverse communities.