Royal families have existed, all around the world, for as long as man had begun to live in collective communities. Africa had many idile oba (royal families), who ruled their tribal nations, for hundreds of years. Traditionally, each tribe had their own royal leaders.
Sometimes, especially in West Africa, it was a Queen, and not a King who led the tribe.
And, believe it or not, for a brief time, the African tribes on New Providence, had a royal family as well.
Once upon a time, in the year 1884, in a faraway city called Nassau, a new African royal family was born. A new legacy began when a Queen was given her crown, and appointed important duties by the people, her loyal subjects.
The Queen’s name was Ophelia.
Ophelia’s job was to be ologbon (the wise one). She would settle disputes, impart knowledge and keep Africa alive in the heart of Grant’s Town, Carmichael, Fox Hill and Adelaide. Queen Ophelia was to mentor a new generation of young African boys in Nassau. Using her wisdom and knowledge, Queen Ophelia, the Queen of the South, was to guide a new generation of African boys, successfully, into manhood.
An imagined image of Queen Ophelia, Queen of the South.
1884 NASSAU – AFRICAN-BRITISH-BAHAMIANS SEEKING THEIR ROOTS
There was something special about the year 1884, which made the African Societies of the Bahamas rejoice. Their race had survived and thrived despite many obstacles. The marking of 50 years of liberation in the Bahama islands was cause for great joy.
The Yoruba, Egba, Congo and other communities were different from other blacks in the Bahamas. They were not emancipated British slaves like the majority of negro people in Grant’s Town, Fox Hill, Carmichael and Adelaide on New Providence.
The members of the African societies came to Bahamas, as captured Africans, liberated from slave ships bound for Cuba, America and other non-British slave colonies.
For them, half a century had now passed. The wise old generation of these African tribes were dying. It was the old generation, the ones who had emerged from the holds of slave ships in a new country, who were now closing their eyes in the dust of foreign soil. Now a new generation of Africans, with English names, and the English tongue, knowing nothing of the past, were trying to hold on to some traditions, in honour of their ancestors.
By 1884, African societies in the Bahamas were struggling to maintain some semblance of their identity, their native traditions, and their customs.
One very important West African tradition, was the appointment of a Queen, an important female leader, who held great power in the community. She would be wise, merciful, and the community gatekeeper of ancient African traditions and knowledge. The Queen would become Monarch and her family, a Royal Family.
In 1884, a new Royal Family was born within the African tribes of the Bahamas.
Nassau, Saturday 9th, 1884
The Young Men’s Cooperative Society, consisting of the Yoruba, Egba, and other connecting tribes having the same name.
On the 9th of September last was the day set apart for the Coronation of one OPHELIA RUTHERFORD, we have chosen to be our Queen for the governing of the young men of the above Society.
At half past 11 o’clock a. m., the Advisors, Companions, and Members assembled at the Hall of the Yoruba Friendly Society. The Life Guard and the Band of the Grant’s Town Friendly Society were in attendance.
At half-past 12 o’clock the Queen appeared at the Hall, accompanied by Mr. President (G. W. Wood), and her Private Secretary (Samuel C. Lightbourn), and three of her companions.
A Royal salute was fired by the Life Guard, and the National Anthem was played as she entered the Hall and ascended the Throne.
The meeting was then called to order, a prayer being offered by the Secretary, John Ashford. A Speech was given by her Private Secretary, and the Secretary of the Ebo Association.
Precisely at 1:00 PM she was crowned by the president. A Royal Salute of 20 guns was fired, and the National Anthem played by the band.
From the hall the Queen proceeded to the Royal Banquet, a band in front, followed by Her Majesty and the President, the Life Guard in the rear; then followed her companions, her advisors and her subjects. The feast was made ready for the reception of the Queen and all her subjects.
NASSAU, 9th Sept., 1884
To the Queen of the South.
MAY IT PLEASE YOUR MAJESTY.
To-day at this Banquet it is desirable by many by what means, can we revive the most ancient and time honoured custom of our progenitors, we shall in a very small figure show not only its partial realisation at this auspicious celebrity anniversary, but venture a little farther the ultimate success which awaits our determination.
Nearly half a century has elapsed since our fathers set their feet on Providence soil. Their first custom, manners and amalgamation won for them the highest regard, esteem, and position among the former settler and their lofty movements gained for them such advantages of the other tribes that it caused the unbiased and unprejudiced tribes and brethren to seek refuge and patronise their custom. Their form of governing themselves saved them from the judiciary officers of the Crown, and we may respectfully say they were truly independent.
After an elapse of thirty years or more of their arrival in this Colony, this most unrivalled and ostentatious custom began slowly to fade away until at this time it is almost blotted in oblivion or chaos. A few of us having a knowledge of their past happiness and pleasure discussing on its merits, thought as the flame of feelings is not entirely extinguished to rekindle and ignite the once illuminated fire, so that largely attracted, the aliens of our race.
A meeting was called selfishly for those with in the precincts of the race, pointing most particularly to those who first through their native breath in the Bahamas.
Scarcely was the words spoken when they rushed in with such magnanimity and began at once, the work of their forefathers, the cause was so ably espoused and set on foot that some whose broken friendship long in existence was soon restored, contributions raised, rules adopted for its internal as well as its external management. This is the success we breathed out at the beginning of our address and according to our bye laws, and discipline, greater success and good, awaits us in the future.
Permit me dear members in fraternity to congratulate you for so robust like a beginning trusting with strict observance the same will be perpetuated to generations yet unborn.
But before I draw these preliminary remarks to a close allow me to give a few words of advice to the members, her Majesty and audience.
The ability of this Institution depends upon Morality, Chastity and Virtue. The Divine Father has in the Gospel promised to bless all our efforts when put forward in the right direction, no one who labors unfaithful expects to share the inheritance of the righteous, so we may be determined to keep out of our midst and society, every unjust habit, all illegal custom and practice, discountenance every vice, immorality and unchaste life and obduracy; punishing every offence that signally comes to our knowledge and notice that stains which seemingly in the past may not corrupt the future progress of our race and people.
In conclusion we hope and pray that the Father of all mercies and goodness will shower down upon us the continual drops of his blessings so that his name be honoured and adored by Africa’s Sons of Liberty throughout eternal ages.
GEORGE W. WOOD, Pres.
JOHN ASHFORD, Secty.
SAMUEL C. LIGHTBOURN, Private Secty. to Queen.
JOSEPH W. PATTON, Treas.
JOHN BUTLER, Messenger.
And many others.
QUEEN OPHELIA SPEAKS TO HER SUBJECTS