- BBC News Africa
Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani wrote for BBC News Africa about a throne that is reserved for the Queen of England in the West African state.
There is a myth among the Efik people of southern Nigeria that one of their 19th century kings was married to Queen Victoria of England.
“I first found out around 2001, when at the museum we a very interesting correspondence between Queen Victoria and King Eyamba“says Donald Duke.
The 60-year-old Duke undertook extensive renovations to the national museum and also established a slave trade museum in the Cross River state capital city of Calabar when he was governor between 1999 and 2007.
“I thought it was important that we document our history, so we did a lot of research,” he said.
King Eyamba V was one of two monarchs based in the coastal city of Calabar, then made up of two sovereign states.
King Eyamba V of Duke Town and King Eyo Honesty II of Creek Town presided over the affairs of the Efik ethnic group in the mid-19th century and controlled trade with Europeans.
Due to their location along the coast, the Efik developed long-lasting relationships with Europeans, which greatly influenced their culture.
They often carry English surnames, such as Duke and Henshaw, and the traditional dress of men and women is similar to British fashion from the Victorian era.
The Efik also dominated the slave trade. They acted as intermediaries between inland African merchants and white ship merchants, mainly from English cities such as Liverpool and Bristol.
They negotiated prices for slaves, then collected royalties from both sellers and buyers. They worked on the docks, loading and unloading ships, and supplying foreigners with food and other provisions.
“The kings got very rich. Families became prominent. They controlled the largest number of slaves coming out of Africa, “Duke said.
Witness account of the slave trade
More than 1.5 million Africans were shipped to what was then called the New World, America, through the port of Calabar at Bight of Bonny, making it one of the largest exit points during the transatlantic trade. .
In 1956 a book was published containing the 18th century diary of an Efik slave trader, written in Pidgin English and discovered in the Scottish mission archives.
Entitled “The Diary of Antera Duke”, is the only eyewitness account de the slave trade by an African merchant who has survived.
“We went down with Tom Cooper and the captain of the Comberbach tender and got on board at 2 o’clock and fixed everything, and he tossed us and Duke 143 barrels of gunpowder and 984 coppers,” reads one entry.
Decades after the abolition of the slave trade in the United Kingdom in 1807, human cargo was still being transported to other countries through Calabar.
“It was important that Queen Victoria had the kings of Calabar on her side,” Duke said.
“She wrote a letter asking that stop trading with people and start trading spices, palm oil, glassware and other things. “
This is where the myth begins.
In her letter to King Eyamba, Queen Victoria offered incentives that included protection for himself and his people.
She then signed as “Queen Victoria, the Queen of England”, which a local interpreter incorrectly translated as “Queen Victoria, the queen of all whites”.
King Eyamba decided that if he was going to accept a woman’s protection then they had to get married. He told you so in his written response, and signed as “King Eyamba, the King of all negros”.
“He was adventurous and dictatorial,” said Charles Effiong Offiong-Obo, an Efik chief who is also the current scribe for the Duke Town clan.
“He wrote to the queen and told her that he wanted to marry her for the two of us to rule the world“.
One can only imagine Queen Victoria’s reaction when reading King Eyamba’s letter. But she did not explicitly decline his offer.
“She appreciated the king’s letter and said she hoped to have good business relations with him,” says Offiong-Obo.
His letter was accompanied by some gifts, including a royal cape, a sword and a Bible, a gesture of goodwill that King Eyamba interpreted as acceptance of his offer of marriage.
Thus, people began to believe that their king had married the queen.
Copies of the correspondence between Queen Victoria and Kings Eyamba and Honesty are on display in the National Museum of Calabar, a building that was once the headquarters of the British colonial administration of southern Nigeria.
Some of the original letters have been sold to an unidentified private collector, a staff member at Between the Covers Rare Books Inc., who handled the sale, told me.
At some point in the 20th century, the Efik people agreed that only one monarch, known as obong, would represent them, thus merging the thrones once occupied by kings Eyamba and Honesty.
The prince’s surprise
In 2017, Prince Michael of Kent was on a short private visit to Calabar when the reigning obong, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, learned that a relative of the people from England was in town.
He celebrated the prince – a member of the British royal family and first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II – and appointed him head with the title agives idagha ke egot eperformed, which means “a person of honor and high level in the Efik Eburutu kingdom”.
Barbara Etim James, an obong-awan, or queen among the efik, recalls being given only two days to plan the grand title ceremony, which took place at the obong palace.
“During Prince Michael’s visit, at every opportunity, they reminded him that he was his relative. Even at the ceremony, they re-told that story,” he said.
“Prince Michael was delighted to hear on the historical ties between go efik and british royalty, and he was honored to deepen those ties with his efik leadership, “he added.
In keeping with the tradition that began after King Eyamba’s “marriage” to Queen Victoria, the coronation of the Obong of Calabar still takes place in two phases.
After the traditional rites in the community are completed, the coronation ceremony continues in a Presbyterian Church (formerly the Church of Scotland), where the obong wears a crown and cape custom-made for the occasion in England.
Two thrones are placed side by side and he sits on one, while the second is left empty for the reina from England absent (sometimes with a Bible placed on it). The name obong wife sits behind him.
“Here we have a union between the Queen of all bLancos and the King of all negrosDuke stated.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.