If one is to believe the Bible declaration that King Solomon had so many women that he loved and that he married an Egyptian, the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites, then one might be tempted to believe that one of the 700 or 1000 wives he was reported to have married was Birikisu Sungbo, regarded as the Biblical Queen of Sheba.
A site, hidden away in the dense rain forests of south-western Nigeria is believed to be the burial ground of the biblical Queen of Sheba. The small, sleepy village of Oke-Eiri, located on the outskirts of Ijebu Ode, in Ogun State, hosts this burial site of the ancient Queen, and has been the destination of local pilgrims for centuries who come to pay homage to the sleeping legend.
People in Oke Eri village believe Birikisu Sungbo came from Ethiopia, where she was born with her numerous servants and is the first lady to wear a crown in this part of the world as she came with a crown on her head. But there was no means of transport in those days. It was claimed that she travelled in a whirlwind or rode on the back of an eagle.
Queen of Sheba, Arabic Bilqīs, Ethiopian Makeda (flourished 10th century bce), according to Jewish and Islamic traditions, ruler of the kingdom of Saba’ (or Sheba) in southwestern Arabia. In the biblical account of the reign of King Solomon, she visited his court at the head of a camel caravan bearing gold, jewels, and spices. The story provides evidence for the existence of important commercial relations between ancient Israel and Arabia. According to the Bible, the purpose of her visit was to test Solomon’s wisdom by asking him to solve a number of riddles.
The story of Bilqīs, as the Queen of Sheba is known in Islamic tradition, appears in the Qur’an, though she is not mentioned by name, and her story has been embellished by Muslim commentators. The Arabs have also given Bilqīs a southern Arabian genealogy, and she is the subject of a widespread cycle of legends. According to one account, Solomon, having heard from a hoopoe, one of his birds, that Bilqīs and her kingdom worshipped the Sun, sent a letter asking her to worship God. She replied by sending gifts, but, when Solomon proved unreceptive to them, she came to his court herself.
The king’s demons, meanwhile, fearing that he might be tempted into marrying Bilqīs, whispered to him that she had hairy legs and the hooves of an ass. Solomon, being curious about such a peculiar phenomenon, had a glass floor built before his throne, so that Bilqīs, tricked into thinking it was water, raised her skirts to cross it and revealed that her legs were truly hairy. Solomon then ordered his demons to create a depilatory for the queen.
Tradition does not agree as to whether Solomon himself married Bilqīs or gave her in marriage to a Hamdānī tribesman. She did, however, become a believer.
The story of Sheba, which was probably derived from Jewish tradition, also appears among the Persians, where she is considered the daughter of a Chinese king and a peri. According to Ethiopian tradition, Sheba (called Makeda) bore Solomon a son, Menilek I, who founded the royal dynasty of Ethiopia.
Historical and archeological studies revealed that there are many links between the Biblical queen and Bilikisu Sungbo of Ijebu land. The Queen of Sheba is said to be associated with ivory, eunuchs and gold. Ivory and gold are known to be very abundant in Nigeria at the time, while eunuchs were present in ancient West African palaces.
Birikisu of Sungbo was said to be the Queen of Sheba, an Arabian who met and fell in love with King Solomon. Later, the Queen of Sheba in her old age returned to Oke Eri where she died and was buried.
Birikisu was believed to have supernatural powers. She was believed to have dug pits around the village with a mere needle.
These pits could be found throughout Ijebu area and could have been dug to serve either as remembrance of her greatness after her death by her devoted slaves or as a source of water supply in the dry season. The pits are generally called Sungbo Rivers. The Ijebu people had since laid claim to her for more than a thousand years and celebrate the Sungbo Eredo festival annually to commemorate the reign of the powerful queen.
On her tomb no weed has ever been known to grow there and on the spot where she was washed before being buried.
Women, according to the culture of the place, are forbidden access to the real tomb.
It was claimed that a European woman, the wife of Captain Ross, the Resident in Ijebu Ode, who put the taboo to test, died soon after she deliberately stepped on the grave.