Her Royal Majesty Obi Martha Dunkwu is the reigning Omu of the Anioma people of Nigeria’s Delta State.
An Omu, or queen mother, is a leader of women, custodian of the market, a spiritual guide to the community, and the traditional ruler – a role that goes back more than 820 years and one that was greatly reduced by colonial rule. This important institution, with its ceremonial practices, comes with its challenges but remains a significant part of holding communities together.
In the Al-Jazeera documentary filmed by Chisom Ifeakandu, which opened with praise singers citing the eulogy of the Queen, Omu Dunkwu took us back to life before she became the queen and after.
The Omu Anioma who has been on the throne for over 20 years, studied in England and America after which she came to Nigeria 38 years ago.
According to her, when she became the Omu she met only 5 elderly women who told her that the title of the Omu was going into extinction.
The Omu also known as Queen is a traditional leader of the Anioma people who the Igbo speaking people spread across Delta State and Number 1.8 million. The Omu is presently the only female member of the traditional council.
In her words, the Omu said our forefathers set up a throne for a woman 823 years ago. This was to enable the woman leader who will be the spiritual guide to have her personal palace and chiefs and attendants.
Even though Western civilization started including women in leadership about 100 years ago, traditional inclusion started 822 years ago.
According to Omu Dunkwu, what truncated the development of women in Africa, Nigeria, Igbo land and Anioma is the coming of the Europeans.
Europeans came with the Ideology and told our people that culture is bad and our people did the wholesale acceptance of foreign ideas. Our forefathers saw women as complementary. Meaning that they were women-friendly.
She noted that the wise old men in their wisdom come up with the institution whereby in every Anioma community, there has to be an institution with the Omu as the mother who is in charge of the women, female youth, and the custodian of the market.
The spiritual guidance of the Anioma community has also been bestowed upon the Omu. The rationale behind this decision is that men reason in straight jacket form while women reason in multiple ways.
By tradition, the Omu on her coronation is bestowed male rights meaning “she becomes a man and a woman put together.” This right enables her to wield the elephant tusk. Ordinarily, a woman is forbidden from holding an elephant tusk. Her title also enables her to wear the red hat and other forms of dressing styles not meant for women.
The Omu stressed the importance of giving to the land we came from. According to her, “If you organize the land, the land will organize you.”
Omu Anioma noted that being an Omu leaves her with no friends or family because of the nature of her duty. The title of an Omu is a highly revered institution.
According to the queen, when she became the Omu, people around her were worried because of the intricacies of her title. She revealed that some people were even worried that she would die; perhaps she may not be able to keep up with the requirements of the title. She noted that people reacted to her being the Omu differently. She has been referred to as being Westernized and too conservative to be the Omu.
The fact that the Omus are not paid is one of the challenges faced by the institution even though the market was bestowed upon the Omu to manage but the Local Government collects revenue from the market leaving the Omu with nothing.
Omu Anioma revealed that Omu’s palace was built by her from the proceeds she made from her 38 years as a businesswoman.
During her tour around the palace, the Queen noted that the door to a shrine or a traditional structure is built lower than a normal door. The implicature of this is to force anyone who wants to enter to bend over because human beings by nature are proud.
70% of the Omu’s duty is spiritual, while the remaining 30% is for taking care of the women, the community, and dispute resolution.
According to Omu Dunkwu, the Omu traditional institution is about 822 years old and nobody knew about it until she came on board.