Meet Her Royal Highness, Omu Juliana, the Omu (Queen Mother and Matriarch) of Issele-Ukwu (Issele Uku), an Igbo community in modern-day Delta State. In addition to being a successful female entrepreneur and captain of industry, as the Omu, she serves as the traditional head of an elite society of wealthy and eminent women who exert tremendous influence over communal politics.
Being several centuries old, the office of the Omu is peculiar to Igbo communities along and west of the River Niger. In places such as Ahaba (Asaba) and Igbuzo (Ibusa), the post is not bound by the constricts of matrilineal primogeniture, but is elective; whereas in other places such as Ubulu-Ukwu (Ubulu-Uku), it is hereditary and shared amongst the ruling clan. Since her title is derived from the term “Nne omumu” (meaning “she who bears children”), the Omu rightfully presides over meetings of local married women, and being the female counterpart of the Obi (king), she possesses the rights to organize her own traditional council of advisors and confer upon them titles as she sees fit.
In addition to being responsible for various matters involving the welfare of women, among the duties of the Omu is to protect the economic interests of women as well as to serve as a priestess of trade, performing intricate rituals and ceremonies to various deities in order to cleanse and sanctify markets and centers of commerce to ward off evil spirits, disasters and plagues, and promote peaceful exchange.
Being a vital administrator and pillar of the community, the Omu is regarded extremely highly, and over the years, presiders of the office in various communities have accrued and enjoyed various powers, rights and privileges. In Onicha-Ugbo (in Delta), the Omu is an Ozo title holder and member of the female Ozo society, while in Onitsha (in Anambra) she enjoys the privilege of possessing the sacred Ofo—a primordial symbol of authority believed to possess tremendous spiritual and cosmic powers. In the past among the Ossamari people of Ogbaru (in Anambra), the war canoe of the Omu, which was believed to be invincible, led the community’s fleet in its naval wars and campaigns.#igbohistory