The Fascinating Life Of Ahebi Ugbabe – Only Female King Of Colonial Nigeria

February 24, 2019

It’s no news that a lot of our history is lost. Especially stories of women like Ahebi Ugbabe whose stories get buried so deep in the trenches of our history, even if you are a historian I bet you had to Google her name when you started reading this article.  But even if you’ve never picked up a history book in your life, you’d know Lord Luggard, because colonizer.

Those who know Ahebi Ugabe know her as the first female colonial king in Nigeria which at that time and even now is a big fucking deal. I mean you know the Alaafin of Oyo and the new wife he picks every year. But we bet you can’t name a single prominent female monarch. And that’s only because there are none.

You might find a female ruler in a town or village here or there but you won’t find any of them making these types of lists. And when you google female Nigerian kings you get posts like this – ‘Which Nigerian king has the prettiest wife’. Revolutionary stuff.

If Ahebi Ugbabe’s reign wasn’t in 1920 but in 2018, you can bet she’d make that list. Get why she’s a big deal now?

Beyond being the only female king in colonial Nigeria, Ahebu Ugbabe’s life is super fascinating. Like the stuff Nollywood movies are made of. But no they’ll rather give us ‘Beyonce Meets Rihanna’ parts 3&4.

She was the only female king to reign in colonial Nigeria.

She was the king of Enugu-Ezike from the mid-1920s till her death in 1948. Before her reign, no one ever thought a woman could become king. But she clearly wasn’t having any of that nonsense.

Before she was king, she was a sex worker. And pretty great at it.

She wasn’t just any kind of sex worker she was a cultured one. So the story goes like this. She was supposed to be married off to a female deity, to atone for her father’s sins. Ahebi was like ‘yeah, I’m not having that’, ran away, became a prostitute and learned to speak three new languages including English. She also used her position as a sex worker to make connections with very important people who helped facilitate her becoming king.

She began her reign just a few months after returning from exile.

Imagine being exiled from home for years, coming back and rising through the ranks to become king in months. She just waltzed into town like ‘look I’m your captain now’. A couple of things facilitated it though, first she was the only person able to converse with the British who had already come to farabale in land that was not their own. She was also kind of the person to lead the British into her hometown. Homegirl had had enough of her exile and was ready to return home by hook or by crook.

She tried to introduce her own masquerade, which was apparently an abominable thing for a woman to do.

Sis just didn’t understand why it was a taboo for women to control masquerades. Like hello, I’m king, what do you mean I don’t get my own masquerade? Even though she got quite the blowback for it she stood her ground because she believed in equality of the sexes. She went as far as showing up at a festival in her own masquerade mask. The woman just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I stan a progressive queen.

She had multiple wives. Because why not?

Many of which had run away from abusive husbands. They were allowed to come and go as they pleased and do whatever they want. Which included having sex with whoever they wanted. And if they had kids the kids bore Ahebi’s name.

She performed her own burial rites before she died.

The masquerade debacle led her to lose the support and respect of many of her constituents but she managed to remain in power till her death. Not willing to risk any man messing it up, she performed her own burial rites just before she died.

Can we get a Nollywood movie on her already?

Stories of this extraordinary woman could fill a book. That’s why it’s pretty great that one exists. Nwando Achebe’s book – The Female King of Colonial Nigeria is a must read. Please don’t go and download it illegally. You can buy it here and support remarkable Nigerian women.

Toketemu Ohwovoriole

Join The Conversation

Bring a friend.

You'll like this

April 12, 2021

As Told To Itohan For a while now, I had been asking people what the most interesting parts about their love life. So, when someone reached out to me and said she fell in love with her Uncle, I wondered if I was reading right. The person in today’s As Told To is *Anna, a […]

November 16, 2020

Having big breasts is like a curse and a blessing. More times, it is problematic asf. From harassment to back pain to bra shopping, these are some of the problems women with big breasts face.

female footballer holding net
September 14, 2021

“In 2019, my mum sent me to Owerri to be a live-in nanny for one woman so I could make money for the family.”

In this article, Stella talks about wanting to be a footballer as a child but not having the resources or the support needed to do so.

Read here:

May 13, 2020

When conversation starts to wane, one of the questions that often comes up with my group of all single friends ironically is ‘what would you do if you found out your partner was cheating’. Over the years the reply to that question has evolved for most of them from ‘dump his ass and burn his […]


Now on Zikoko

Recommended Quizzes

November 19, 2019

Regardless of what society has tried to tell us, enjoying sex is not something to be ashamed of. So, in a bid to celebrate our generation’s sexual agency, we’ve created a quiz that will accurately (again, keep your complaints to yourself) infer how many people you’ve spelt with. Try it out: 11 Quizzes For The […]

November 11, 2019

Today, we are going to be using your taste in music to determine how good you actually are in bed. All you need to do is create the ultimate Nigerian hit — from the lead artist to the producer — and we’ll tell you if all your partners leave satisfied, or if you are just […]

November 20, 2019

Last month, we thoughtfully made a quiz telling you guys exactly when you’ll marry, but some of you claimed that your spouse was nowhere to be found. Well, now we’ve created one that’ll tell you exactly who you’ll be dragging down that aisle. Take and start planning that wedding: 11 Quizzes For Nigerians Who Are […]

October 30, 2019

2010 was a game-changing one for Nollywood, with our movies making serious cash and getting international acclaim. So, which of these hits released between 2010 and 2019 — from the pace-setting The Wedding Party to the divisive Trip To Jamaica — best suits your personality? Well, that’s what this quiz is here to answer:

More from Her

October 13, 2021

The subject of today’s What She Said is an 18-year-old firstborn who has already raised three children. She talks about spending her childhood raising her siblings, her dad’s obvious favouritism towards her brothers, and how she wishes her parents were more involved in raising their children.   Can you tell me the earliest memory of […]

What she said: Biwom
September 29, 2021

The subject of this week’s What She Said is Marytonette ‘Biwom’ Okudare, a 26-year-old singer & songwriter. She talks about growing up as a tomboy, failing at convincing her parents to support her music career & struggling with being taken seriously because of her style.


Trending Videos

Zikoko Originals

December 14, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
November 2, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
October 26, 2020
A collection of videos documenting some of the events of the EndSARS protests.
June 22, 2020
'The Couch' is a Zikoko series featuring real life stories from anonymous people.
June 22, 2020
Hacked is an interesting new series by Zikoko made up of fictional but hilarious chat conversations.
June 4, 2020
What happens when a group of chatty young Nigerians talk about things they're passionate about? You get Nigerians talk. A show that discusses very familiar struggles for the average Nigerian. From relationship deal breakers to sex education with Nigerian parents to leaving Nigeria, be prepared for a ride.
June 2, 2020
Quickie is a video series where everyone featured gets only one minute to rant, review or do absolutely anything.
May 14, 2020
Isolation Diary is a Zikoko series that showcases what isolation is like for one young Nigerian working from home due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
March 12, 2020
Life is already hard. Deciding where to eat and get the best lifestyle experiences, isn't something you should stress about. Let VRSUS do that for you.

Z! Stacks

Here's a rabbit hole of stories to lose yourself in:

Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.