Known by many as Idia ne Iye Esigie, Queen Idia was a renowned Queen warrior not just in Benin but also across the world who shares popularity alongside Queen Nefertiti of Egypt.
She was the mother of Oba Esigie, who ruled Benin kingdom in 1504 -1550. Oba Esigie was the first Oba to speak Portuguese due to the Portuguese merchants that arrived in Benin in 1485. He was the first West African leader to engage in a diplomatic affair with a European nation.
Mother Idia was the first celebrated Queen Mother of Benin Kingdom, called the Iyoba. She went from being a royal queen (the Olori) Oba Ozolua who ruled from 1481 – 1504, and a mystical warrior, to becoming a crowned queen mother. During her husband’s era, Queen Idia, as the wife of the Oba, was a brave warrior who fought for the Benin Kingdom. After the death of Ozolua, her two sons, Esigie and Aruanran, disputed over who would succeed Ozolua as the next Oba. Still, Esigie, who was equipped with warriors by her mother, defeated Aruanran to become the 16th Oba in the Benin dynasty.
After the war between his brother, Oba Esigie also defeated the Igala warriors who sought to dominate the Bini land, and their military strength increased. The Benin Kingdom was among the respected and feared Kingdom. With Queen Idia’s mysticism, and knowledge in the medical field, she played a significant role in most of Esigie’s success during wars, that was when she was given the title Iyoba which means Queen Mother by Oba Esigie – a title that came with political benefits, and an Eguae-Iyoba ( Palace of the Queen Mother) was built for her.
Queen Idia, who has most of her face on museums worldwide, was immortalized to an ivory mask. Her face was being made the emblem for the Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ‘77) in 1977, became very popular. Oba Akenzua II once the Ivory Carvers Guild to recreate two replicas of the looted Ivory mask of Queen Idia.
Although her childhood history remains unknown, the same as her birth and death-day, Queen Idia was born a Bini woman, from Ugieghudu, Eguae. She was a primary key during the Idah war that gave the Benin Kingdom a deserving victory.
Historically, she got the attention of Oba Ozolua during a dance performance in the Bini capital. According to a biographical sketch, she was said to have been ‘medicinally fortified’ by her parents after realizing that she will be made the wife of the Oba to prepare her for the journey she was to face as a female warrior.