Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti: Fela’s mother: the lioness who chased a king from his throne
Unlike today’s feminists, who tweet from the safety of their homes, FRK physically squared off with kings, the British colonialists and later the military government
To be an activist in 1940s Nigeria, one required a life insurance and a will.
Life was cheap and black citizens had little to no rights in pre-independent Nigeria. And the British loved it so.
You cannot exploit an empowered people. The massacre of the Aba women in 1929 was intended to protect the status quo and to dissuade any would be activist.
Many were dissuaded but not the late Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti or as fondly called FRK.
Merely describing the "woman the government dreads" as the first woman to drive a car is an insult, not only to her person but to history itself.
A woman whom the British government described as "a big problem to the government of the Nigerian federation, to the powerful Alake of Abeokuta, and to all those who still think that a woman’s place is in the kitchen."
Unlike today’s feminists, who tweet from the safety of their homes, FRK physically squared off with kings, the British colonialists and later the military government.
Her courage was reminiscent of Nigerian women of the time. Women like the ones who partook in the Aba’s Women Riots. Who stared down guns in a bid to liberate themselves and their husbands from the mad taxes imposed on them by the colonialists.
Brave women who simply wanted a better place for their daughters and sons. That was their driving force. And wise men know to stay clear of a woman protecting her children.
Well everyone knew, except the Alake of Egbaland.
The king with support from the British resident officer had increased the flat rate taxes to punish members of the Abeokuta Women’s Union, who led by Olufunmilayo had demanded the abolition of the taxes.
He also issued a verdict demanding that all Abeokuta women who owned property pay income tax.
“Idowu [Alake], for a long time you have used your penis as a mark of authority that you are our husband. Today we shall reverse the order and use our vagina to play the role of husband on you… O you men, vagina’s head will seek vengeance…”
FRK and her 10,000 strong Abeokuta Women’s Union, chanted and danced suggestively in front of the palace of the Alake of Egbaland.
They demanded his removal, the abolition of the taxes and the release of their comrades.
"…when the authorities saw the belligerent air of my women followers, they panicked and ordered my release" FRK boasted, after being arrested for refusing to pay taxes.
The king like most men knew not how to fight a woman and still maintain his dignity.
So, on the 3rd of January, 1949 the Alake of Egbaland, Alake Ademola, a monarch with 89 crowns, in an unprecedented move went on a self-imposed exile.
Chased away from his throne by the Lioness of Lisabi.
The Alake, however, was not the only one who got to feel the brunt of the Lioness. The British government was constantly on the receiving end.
And in 1956, they labeled her a communist for traveling to China to attend a conference on women’s rights and refused to renew her passport.
But activism is a family business for the Kutis. Her great grandmother Sarah Taiwo, an escapee slave, the first Lioness of Lisabi, had stood against the Alake of Egbaland of her time.
Her husband the late Reverend Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti was a founding member of both the Nigeria Union of Teachers and of the Nigerian Union of Students.
Her sons are not left out. Olikoye was an AIDS activist, Beko founded a human rights organisation, the first in Nigeria and Fela the King of Afro Beats was a political activist.
Her grandsons Femi and Seun are carrying on well the legacy their father left behind.
In 1977 "Unknown Soldiers" surrounded Fela’s place, the Kalakuta Republic, and allegedly threw Olufunmilayo Ransome-Kuti from a first-floor window. She died the following year.
"…dem kill my mama, dem kill my mama.." Fela sang in a verse on "Sorrow Tears and Blood". His voice broke as he fought back tears whilst recalling the ordeal he, his mum and several others suffered on that fateful day.
Her death was the tipping point for Fela. The one person whose voice was louder than all his ‘yes men’ and weed induced motivation, had been snatched from him.
The Kraken had been set loose. From that point onwards Fela was on a downward spiral until his death in 1997.
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