Nigeria: Celebrating Babajide Olatunji's Painting of Efunsetan Aniwura in UK Black History Month

Nigerian artist Babajide Olatunji's latest masterpiece Efunsetan Aniwura: Iyalode of Ibadan is currently exhibited at the Contemporary African Art Fair at the Somerset House. Who was Efunsetan Aniwura and why is she prominent in Yoruba history?

Babajide Olatunji's latest masterpiece is a painting of Efunsetan Adekemi Aniwura, the second Iyalode of Ibadan (Iyalode is a high-ranking female chieftain title). The painting itself, 250cm by 300cm is painted with acrylic on primed linen. The painting is part of a series 'Jide is working on, The History of the Yorubas.

The painting, currently exhibited at Somerset House has been the highlight of some of the visitors. Efunsetan Aniwura, was one of the wealthiest Yoruba women that ever lived. Her power extended around the political, military, economic and religious sphere of Ibadan.

In his painting, Babajide "describes a hypothetical visit to Efunsetan, by emissaries from Latosisa, the Aare Ona Kakanfo (Field Marshall) of the Ibadan army. The purpose of their visit is to take inventory of war supplies, for one of his expeditions, from the Iyalode (female chieftain of the highest rank)". The painting, steeped in Yoruba history, captures a period when different towns were at war with each other.

Efunsetan's major trade was in tobacco and slave trading. It is said she had over 2, 000 slaves. Efunsetan's father, and Egba man, and mother, an Ife woman, brought her up in Abeokuta, in present day Ogun State, Nigeria. Around 1860, Efunsetan moved to Ibadan despite the enemity between the Egba and Ibadan. Ibadan's many opportunities were one of the reasons why she moved. But it was also the presence of her cousin, a ruler in one of the towns in Ibadan, Basorun Oluyole, that made her moving easier.

Efunsetan's trading exploits saw her export some of her manufactured goods like mats, and traditional cosmetics to America. Ibadan was mainly a warring town full of soldiers, and due to Efunsetan's involvement in agriculture, the city depended on her for food. However, this was not the only major contribution Efusetan brought to the city of Ibadan, she was a huge trader in weapons and ammunition. She had a custom of selling arms and ammunition to Ibadan chiefs on credit. Her influence also extended to the church and she became a patron of the Anglican Church.

In Babajide's painting he foretells the future betrayal and future woes of Efunsetan with a painting of a palm tree and fronds that appear to point at Efunsetan. Babajide's suggestion comes from the Yoruba proverb, 'Opekete n'dagba, inu omo adamu'n baje,' which means "As the palm tree grows, the palm wine tapper becomes sadder".

After Efunsetan refuses to give more ammunition to Latosisa, because of how deeply she is owed, he organises for her to be killed. Some argue that Efunsetan was not fully accepted into Ibadan despite all she did for the city. Other suggest that her gender played a role in her fall, in a patriarchal city like Ibadan.

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