African history is full of legendary figures whose accomplishments not only marked their times, but also shaped entire civilizations. Among these exceptional individuals, Queen Idia of Benin stands out as a figure of resilience, wisdom and power. Warrior, strategist and matriarch, Idia played a crucial role in the rise of the Benin kingdom.

In this article, we’ll explore the life and achievements of this extraordinary queen, featured in my children’s book Learning About My Heritage: 6 African Sovereigns.

Historical context

The period during which Idia lived and exercised her influence was marked by internal conflicts and external threats to the kingdom of Benin. Located in present-day Nigeria, the kingdom was one of the most powerful in the region, known for its artistic and military advances. It was against this backdrop of grandeur and turbulence that Queen Idia emerged as a central figure in Benin’s history.

Idia married Oba Ozolua, one of the most famous kings in the history of the Benin kingdom. The marriage not only strengthened her position, but also enabled her to demonstrate her talents as an advisor and strategist. Together, they had a son, Esigie, who later succeeded his father on the throne. This marriage was a strategic alliance that consolidated her ability to influence the kingdom’s decisions.

Queen Idia, alongside her husband Oba Ozolua and her son Esigie. Illustration from our book Learning About My Heritage: 6 African Sovereigns

Idia’s Crucial Role in The Kingdom of Benin

When Oba Ozolua died, a succession crisis broke out, putting the kingdom in peril. According to oral tradition, Idia played a decisive role in firmly supporting her son Esigie against his half-brother Arhuaran in the fight for the throne. Using her military skills and her gifts as a healer, she ensured her son’s victory and the stability of the kingdom.

In recognition of her extraordinary contributions, Esigie established the title of Iyoba (Queen Mother) in honor of her mother Idia. This title conferred considerable powers and unique advantages. The Iyoba enjoyed great political and administrative authority, in addition to receiving a palace and lands of her own. This role also conferred spiritual influence, as the Iyoba was often consulted for advice and blessings.

The reign of Esigie, supported by Idia, is often considered Benin’s golden age. Under their governance, the kingdom experienced an unprecedented artistic flowering, notably with the development of the famous Benin bronzes. Idia was also behind numerous administrative and military reforms, consolidating the power of the Benin kingdom in the face of external threats. His influence extended far beyond his lifetime, leaving a lasting legacy.

Paire de bustes : Roi (Oba) et Reine, 2006. Edo, Nigeria. Laiton. Weltmuseum Wien, Vienne (184.376 a, b). Source :

Why Idia in “Learning About My Heritage: 6 African Sovereigns?

Queen Idia is a role model, not only for her time, but for all generations. By including her in our children’s book Je Découvre mon Héritage: 6 Souverains Africains, we want to honor her legacy and pass on her story to young readers. Her leadership and dedication to her people show that African women have played essential roles in history, often overlooked or underestimated.

By sharing the story of Queen Idia, we hope to inspire children to explore their own potential, appreciate the richness of their cultural heritage, and understand the importance of resilience and leadership. Idia embodies the power of determination and vision, and her story deserves to be told and celebrated.

Let the children learn about her story!

Online Ressources

  • Adebowale, Oludamola. “The Untold Story Between Oba Esigie and Iyoba Idia of Benin.” The Guardian (Nigeria). 04 June 2019. 
  • Skidmore-Hess, Cathy. ”Njinga, Queen.” Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History, ed. Bonnie G. Smith. 2008., pg. 347
  • Sharkey, Heather J.. “A Famous Queen Mother from Benin.” Expedition Magazine 61, no. 2 (November, 2019): -. Accessed May 31, 2024.
  • “Women Leaders in African History: Idia, First Queen Mother of Benin”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *