The queen of Sheba was once one of the most powerful leaders in the world but there are few clues left anywhere about this woman who ruled a rich and powerful nation somewhere in Africa – perhaps, as some archeologists maintain, in what is now southwest Nigeria.
Now, in what may be the site of her last home and gravesite, a University of Toronto professor is trying to unearth the queen’s story – partially told in the Old Testament – as well as honouring her in the form of a new Nigerian museum and interpretive centre.
“Each year both Muslim and Christian religious pilgrims come to this site in Ike-Eri, Nigeria, to pray and honour the queen of Sheba (also known as Bilikisu Sungbo to those of the Islamic faith) even though Ethiopia maintains that she is actually buried in their country,” says professor and museologist Lynne Teather of the Museum Studies program at U of T. “Indigenous knowledge and oral traditions maintain that this is the shrine of the queen and through working with the Bilikisu Sungbo Project, we are trying to not only learn more about this fabulous queen, but to establish a feasibility study on how we can marry tourism to this heritage site.”
Teather wants to research how new roads to a planned museum, new employment opportunities and other social pressures associated with making this an attraction will impact on the local population while at the same time trying to uncover the history of this little-known historical figure.
“One of the challenges for archeologists and researchers such as me is that while there may be lots of oral tradition of Bilikisu Sungbo at this location, no one is allowed to excavate anything as it’s a religious site. Therefore we will have to employ other research methods,” says Teather.