It is so easy to come across male traditional rulers in Nigeria and Africa at large. They’re very visible figures seen around their local communities and are even known wider, depending on the particular ruler. However, it is almost unusual to hear of female rulers in Nigeria. Often times, they are either wives and put in charge of the ‘domestic affairs’ as heads of women groups. This is a reflection of the patriarchal nature of affairs in the country and laws that women cannot hold such positions in their local communities.
One of the most common outliers, when the topic of female leadership in the traditional society is mentioned, is Orompoto. Orompoto or Orompotoniyun as she’s more commonly referred to as made history as the first and only female Alaafin of Oyo. The Oyo Empire is one of the foremost empires in West Africa and rose through the outstanding organisational and administrative skills of the Yoruba people. Orompoto was responsible for leading the Oyo Empire between the years 1554 to 1562. She was the daughter of Alaafin Ofinran and the grand-daughter of Alaafin Onigbogi, both rulers of the Empire in their own time.
When her father died, her brother, Prince Eguguoju became the next in line to the throne and he succeeded his father. However, he died in his young without a male successor. Her younger brothers, Prince Ajiboyede and Prince Tella were very young and as such couldn’t assume the throne at the time. As a result, Orompoto would leave her role as a regent (one that was instrumental in driving the Nupe from Oyo in 1555 after a protracted battle) to assume the throne. This decision didn’t sit well with the council of chiefs as there had been no female rulers in the history of the kingdom.
The chiefs and elders had started making plans on who to install as the next ruler of the Oyo Empire. For every plan they made, Orompoto was even more strong-willed and insistent that she was the only link to the dynasty and had to sit on the throne. In a bid to defend her family rights, Princess Orompoto summoned the chiefs to discuss plans for her coronation and this met the same negligent response. She then asked to prove to the elders and chiefs that she was a man, seeing as that was the only hindrance to her coronation. The chiefs thought it would be a good way to ridicule her and asked her to prove her masculinity and strip naked at the palace in seven days.
Princess Orompoto started wearing male items of clothing after this meeting and on the D-day, she mounted the podium and removed her cap to reveal her hair which had been cut low. She also went ahead to show her chest and still, the elders were not impressed. She finally removed her trousers and according to oral history, the chiefs not only saw a penis, but they also saw a scrotum sack drooping with two scrotum eggs in the sack. At that point, everyone dropped on their chest in prostration and she got enthroned as Alaafin Orompotoniyun. Orompotoniyun came to be popularly known as Ajiun, the custodian of the vagina that kills evil plots.
Orompoto became Alaafin of Oyo and was reportedly masterfully skilled on horseback, and created a specialised order of cavalry officers within her army that were subject to the Eso Ikoyi. She was also considered a skilful warrior and distinguished herself at the battle of Illayi. She is said to have died in battle, one of the few Alaafins to have died in combat.