Encyclopedia Womannica

Mavericks & Legends: Efunroye Tinubu

Episode Summary

Efunroye Tinubu (c. 1805-1887) was a Nigerian businesswoman and kingmaker who amassed enormous economic power throughout Western Africa.

Episode Notes

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Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

If you’re just tuning in, here’s the deal. Each weekday, we’re telling the stories of women from throughout history who you may not know about, but definitely should. Each month has a theme. 

For the month of May, we’re talking about Mavericks and Legends, highlighting women who went against prescribed gender norms to make a name for themselves -- for better or for worse. Some of these women did incredible things for society and should be celebrated, others had a big impact that was not quite so rosy. The collection of women we’ve featured this month is complex and nuanced, much like all women are. 

Today’s Maverick was a Nigerian businesswoman and kingmaker who amassed enormous economic power throughout Western Africa. Let’s talk about Efunroye Tinubu.   

Efunroye was born around 1805 in Western Nigeria. She grew up with parents adept in trading, and eventually picked up the skill from her mother and grandmother. 

In 1830, Efunroye’s life was disrupted when war displaced her family, and her first husband died shortly thereafter. She became a widow with two children, and immersed herself in trade. 

In 1833, she charmed Adele, the exiled king of Lagos. They married and moved to the coastal city of Badagry. Tragedy struck again when her sons died of malaria. But Efunroye soldiered on and used her husband’s networks to accumulate power and wealth. She soon built a successful business, trading tobacco, salt, and slaves. 

In 1835, Adele was restored to the throne and Efunroye moved with him to Lagos, where she expanded her businesses. Two years later, Adele died, and Efunroye supported her stepson Oluwole’s claim to the throne. When he was installed as king, Efunroye married his military advisor. 

By this time, Efunroye had expanded her trade network and dealt in arms and ammunition. She created a monopoly in the slave trade and the palm oil business, and established Palm Wine trading routes with Europe, Brazil, and Portugal. 

In 1841 Oluwole died and Efunroye supported her brother-in-law Akitoye’s bid for kingship. Akitoye thanked her by granting her a large tract of land, Tinubu Square, which is still named after her today. Efunroye built herself a large house and was rumored to own more than 360 personal slaves. But in 1845, Akitoye lost the throne to his political rival Kosoko and Efunroye fled back to Badagry. In Badagry, she used her influence to rally Akitoye’s supporters. 

In 1845, Europe was starting to denounce slavery, so Efunroye turned to commercial crops, such as coconut oil and cotton. She established connections with politicians, military leaders, and foreign trade officials, and was a critical resource for European merchants and traders. 

In 1851, Britain bombarded Lagos under the pretext of ending the slave trade, dislodging Kosoko and replacing him with Akitoye. When he returned to the throne, Efuronye’s power and influence flourished. And though the slave trade was officially abolished, she continued to trade with Brazil and Portugal. 

It’s greatly disputed whether Efunroye ever repented her role in the slave trade. Some historians have claimed she stopped when she realized that locally practiced slavery was different from the chattel slavery of North and South America. Other sources say that Efunroye was profit-focused and had no such realization.

It’s hard to know the truth about Efunroye as the British resented her for her economic influence. Therefore, they may have painted a more negative picture of her dealings. 

When Akitoye died, Efunroye helped a man named Dosunmu succeed him, though Efunroye was regarded as the true power behind the throne. She’d amassed a private army and was using them to perform orders usually given by the king. 

In 1855, Dosunmu welcomed deported Yoruba slaves back to Lagos, a move supported by the British. Efunroye led a rebellion against the returnees, and British Consul Benjamin Campbell asked Dosunmu to exile her. From exile in Abeokuta, Efunroye challenged British rule, publicly railed against Campbell, and organized a failed plot to remove him.

Even in exile, Efunroye’s business continued. She supplied Abeokuta with munitions for a war against a rival state. In return, she was named Iyalode of Egbaland, a highly honorific chieftaincy which she held for 23 years. She continued kingmaking and was an economic powerhouse throughout the rest of her life until her death in 1887. 

Efunroye is considered to be one of the most influential figures in Nigerian history. She is remembered as an astute business woman and politician.  

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator, and special thanks to all the Womanniacs out there. To join our brand new membership program go to glow.fm/womannica. It really means a lot to us. You’ll be supporting the work that goes into Encyclopedia Womannica and you’ll get special access to biweekly live events and you’ll be able to help shape future content. 

Talk to you tomorrow!