Nigerian King married Queen Victoria, or so goes the myth among the Efik people of southern Nigeria is that one of their 19th century kings was married to Queen Victoria of England.

     King Eyamba V was one of two monarchs based in the coastal town of Calabar, each the head of a sovereign state. 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 commerce with European merchants, including slave traders. Those relationships greatly influenced their culture.

     The people of Duke Town and Creek Town often bear English surnames, such as Duke and Henshaw, and the traditional clothing of the men and women is similar to British fashions of the Victorian era.

     The Efik also dominated the slave trade. They acted as middlemen between the African traders from the hinterlands, and the white merchants on ships, mostly from English cities such as Liverpool and Bristol. They negotiated prices for slaves, then collected royalties from both the sellers and buyers. They worked on the docks, loading and offloading ships, and supplied the foreigners with food and other provisions. The kings became very wealthy.

     More than 1.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World – the Americas – through the port of Calabar, in the Bight of Bony, making it one of the largest points of exit of the transatlantic slave trade.

     Decades after the slave trade was abolished in Britain in 1807, human cargo was still transported to other countries through Calabar.

     It was important that Queen Victoria had the kings of Calabar on her side in her commitment to the abolition of slavery. She wrote a letter to them asking that they stop trading in people, and start trading in spices, palm oil, glassware, and other things.

     This is where the myth begins.

     In her letter to King Eyamba, Queen Victoria offered inducements that included protection to him and his people. She signed the letter “Queen Victoria, The Queen of England”, which a local Nigerian interpreter incorrectly relayed as “Queen Victoria, The Queen of All White Men”.

     King Eyamba decided that if he was going to accept protection from a woman, then they had to get married. He told her so in his written reply, which he signed, “King Eyamba, the King of All Black Men”. In the letter he said he wanted to marry her so that the two of them would rule the world. Presumably the King and Queen of all black and white men.

     One can only imagine Queen Victoria’s reaction on reading King Eyamba’s letter. But she did not explicitly decline his offer. She acknowledged the king’s letter, and said she looked forward to having good trade relations with him. Her letter was accompanied by some gifts – including a royal cape, a sword, and a Bible – a goodwill gesture that King Eyamba interpreted as acceptance of his marriage offer.

     Copies of the correspondence between Queen Victoria and Kings Eyamba and Honesty are on display at the National Museum in Calabar.

     Sometime in the 20th Century, the Efik people agreed that only one monarch, known as an Obong, would represent them, thus merging the thrones once occupied by Kings Eyamba and Honesty.

     In keeping with the tradition that began following King Eyamba’s “marriage” to Queen Victoria, the coronation of the Obong of Calabar still takes place in two phases. Two thrones are set, side by side. The Obong sits on one. The other one is left empty for the absent Queen of England. The Obong’s wife sits behind him.

     After the traditional rites are concluded in the community, 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.

     The Efik believe that the ceremony celebrates a union between the Queen of all White Men and the King of all Black Men. An interesting concept in our racially divided world!

     I wonder if Queen Elizabeth II knows that a Nigerian King married Queen Victoria, and also knows about her resulting extended family?

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    1. connectingthedotsauthor

      Thanks Howie. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction. Eddie Murphy is made for that role.

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