Chief Nana Olomu – Africa’s 19th century millionaire

Don’t want to read? Listen to the audio.

Who knew there were millionaires in Africa in the 19th century? Enter Chief Nana Olomu.

Living large with an impressive fleet of 200 trade canoes, 100 war canoes, that’s right, a war canoe! And he had 20,000 men at his disposal which was needed to fire off the canons and pistols he had at his disposal.

Palm wine was a lucrative trade back then, and if you were the connect, then you became the main man. Enter the chief.

After inheriting money from his father, he was able to multiply it through hard work and determination, making him a very wealthy and influential man in the process.

What I love about reading his story are the references to his character. He worked hard to avoid being exploited by the British, which is surprising. We often read about people in positions of power being ready to sell out in return for more riches.

The Chief

Taken from

Not Nana, he used his wealth and influence to look after his people, and in return they were willing to fight for his kingdom.

Nana lived near the mouth of Benin river. There he built a fortress so he could monitor the comings and goings through the river. Thus enabling his monopoly of the palm wine trade to expand. Not only that, but his people built him a palace which looks beautiful too.

His empire knew no bounds once he started to trade with the British. There is even evidence of him exchanging letters with Queen Victoria. Not a bad pen pal to have.

From liaising with the Europeans for some time, Nana began to learn and understand their languages.

Through this knowledge of their languages, he was able to read through treaties and remove clauses that were not favourable to his people.

How many times do we hear about business deals going bad because one party didn’t read their contract properly?

The downfall

Things were not always so rosy for Chief Nana, and there would be conflict during his reign. Britain and Benin had originally signed a contract which allowed trade between the two countries.

But once Britain acquired African land through the scramble for Africa, this treaty was no longer needed. Why would Britain deal with Nana after acquiring a country or two?

Following this episode, relations between the Chief and the British began to deteriorate. The British started to use trade routes through their newly acquired land, meaning there was less use for the Benin river. Meaning less money for Chief Nana and his people. Mainly Nana tho!

Our Chief did not take this very well, and attacked a close by village of Urhobo who were dealing with the British. His people captured one of the chiefs wifes and 14 other village people.

This was not a good look for our chief, leaving the nearby chiefs to sign a new treaty with the British. Eventually led to the capture of Chief Nana.

He should’ve stayed in his own lane and not rock the boat, or canoe.

BUT one does not make chief by being unassertive. Unfortunately for him, his plan backfired and he was banished to Ghana.

There is more to this Chief’s story, but we can save that for another day. Any of y’all know about Chief Nana Olomu? Or visited the palace which is now the museum?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *