The incredible story of how the Queen of Britain married the king of the ZulusPictolic
In the 19th century, a small mistake in translation led to the fact that the Nigerian king for many years began to consider the British Queen Victoria as his wife.
Since ancient times, the Efik people have lived in the south-eastern part of Africa, mainly on the territory of Nigeria. Representatives of the Efik people live mainly in the Cross River basin, in the territory of the province of Calabar. Its capital, Calabar, is the main city of this ancient people.
Initially, the Efik lived in small tribes under the leadership of numerous chiefs and kings, until they united around a single king, who still rules today and is known by the title Obong Kalabara.
The Efik once lived off fishing, but in the 19th century they became actively engaged in trade. European ships came to their docks and exchanged their goods for slaves and palm oil products. Over time, the Efik people became intermediaries between slave traders from Liverpool and Bristol and slave suppliers from mainland Africa.
The Efix people were enthusiastic about European culture and actively assimilated it, mixing it with their own culture. Already in the 19th century, they dressed in European clothes and even professed Christianity thanks to the work of missionaries, primarily the famous Mary Slessor in Calabar.
The cultural influence was so strong that the Efik people even began to adopt English surnames instead of their traditional African ones. Thus, families named Donald, Henshaw, Duke, and Clark appeared throughout the kingdom.
During the reign of Queen Victoria, there were two kings in Calabar: King Eyamba V of Duke and King Ayo Hasti II of Creek City. At that time, Calabar was an important source of palm oil for the British industry. In addition, although the slave trade was outlawed by British law in 1807, it continued to exist unofficially in many British territories.
It is estimated that between 1720 and 1830, about a million slaves left Calabar on British ships. In an effort to strengthen trade ties with this African kingdom, Queen Victoria wrote directly to King Eyamba. She promised him support and protection if they remained trading partners, although she indicated that she was not interested in trading human cargo. Instead, the queen pointed out, she wanted spices, palm oil, and glassware.
Queen Victoria signed her letters as "Queen Victoria, Queen of England". Unfortunately, the translator misinterpreted this when reading a letter to King Eyamba, and proclaimed her the "Queen of All White Men". Such a venerable title attracted the attention of King Eyamba and made him think.
King Eyamba informed his elders that if he agreed to accept protection from a woman, it would be right for the woman to be his wife. So he wrote back with an offer of marriage and signed his letter as "King Eyamba, King of all the black people".
According to the chronicle of Charles Effiong Ofiong-Obo, one of the leaders of the Efik people and a scribe of the Duke clan, Eyamba "wrote to the queen and said that he wanted to marry her so that the two of them could rule the world." Earlier in his notes, he referred to Eyamba as an "adventurer and dictator".
It would be logical to think that British diplomats quickly corrected this misunderstanding. But, surprisingly, the story turned out differently. Queen Victoria confirmed the receipt of Eyamba's letter, saying she looked forward to a future trade relationship. She also sent him several gifts, including a royal cloak, a sword, and a Bible. Although the Queen did not say anything about whether she accepted his offer, the king interpreted the sending of gifts as an implicit consent.
Accordingly, he arranged a separate seat next to his throne, ready for his new bride, the Queen of England. After that, the two monarchs continued to correspond. Some of their letters are now on display in the National Museum in Calabar.
However, at some point, an anonymous buyer bought up almost all the messages in the museum. Many believe that this was done at the request of the British royal family, who thus tried to destroy evidence of an epistolary affair between the Nigerian king and the British queen.
Even today, the coronation of Obong Calabar takes place with an eye on this royal "marriage". There are always two thrones at the ceremony – one for Obong, the other for the Queen of England. In her absence, a Bible is placed on the chair. Obong's real wife is sitting behind him. And with the start of the second part of the coronation, which takes place in the local Presbyterian church, Obong puts on a crown and a cloak that was once made for his predecessor by special order in England.
The story was unearthed by Donald Duke, governor of Calabar from 1999 to 2007.
In 2017, His Royal Highness Prince Michael of Kent, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, visited Calabar. The reigning Obong, Kalabara Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, when receiving the prince, told him the story of the royal marriage and even called Michael of Kent "his son-in-law".
According to witnesses, the prince, with the true professionalism of a diplomat, expressed joy over this story and the possible connection between the two kingdoms. He was appointed chief and given the title of Ada Idaga Ke Efik Eburutu, which means "a man of honor and high position in the Kingdom of Efik Eburutu".