Difference between revisions of "Omu Okwei"
Latest revision as of 21:10, 10 August 2008
Omu Okwei was a successful female trader from Osomari who achieved success as a merchant princess and was crowned Omu the queen of Osomari in 1935. She is considered by many to be among a breed of merchant queens and princesses who transformed their wealth into social and political capital.
Okwei was born in Osomari, a port town located on the lower reaches of River Niger. Her father, Osuna Afubeho was a prince and a wealthy man of repute in the town and her mother also descended from royalty in Abo. She learned the art of trading at an early age; her mother embraced Okwei's apprenticeship because of various factors including the fact that she had no surviving male who could lay claim to her husband's property and Ibo women who were good in trading were sought after by men and also it would help her daughter to support herself in the future.
Okwei's mentor was her maternal aunt who lived in Igala country. Okwei started trading in food products and learned Igala language, one of the major trading languages along the Niger river. When her father died, she and her mother went to the town of Atani, there she briefly met and married Joseph Allagoa, a trader from Brass. While at Atani, she met many African traders and Europeans who gave her imported goods to trade on credit. Okwei then took the goods to the local markets to exchange with locally produced goods which she traded with the African agents and European traders. The stiff competition provided by the Niger company at Atani drove Allagoa back to Nembe but Okwei stayed behind.
In 1895, Okwei married a man from Abo and within a year decided to move to Onitsha which then had recovered from a bombardment in 1879. She started trading in Onitsha with her mother in law and by 1904, she had enough capital to set up an independent business on her own. She traded with the Royal Niger Company selling palm oil to the firm. During the time, it was pertinent for both the African and European traders to have access to the local producers who were usually located far from the port cities. To gain advantage many traders enticed the producer with gifts of bribery. Okwei's mechanism was affording the groups access to some of her girls as mistresses. A lonely and forlorn situation for white traders was eased with the intimacy provided by Okwei and for her resulted in easing restrictions which may have been placed on credit or trading rights.
Later in her career, she became a more sophisticated trader with the ability to adapt to market conditions, as an example, during the first World War when palm oil became a less profitable business, she quickly switched to trading in more expensive products such as gunpowder and alcohol. She also imported directly from England.