EDO EMPIRE AND CIVILIZATION
By Naiwu Osahon
TABLE OF CONTENT CHAPTER ONE Edo Cosmological Account of the Universe CHAPTER TWO Edo Mysteries CHAPTER THREE The Aruosa CHAPTER FOUR Ethos and Social Engineering CHAPTER FIVE The Ogiso Dynasty CHAPTER SIX First Edo King's Dynasty Second Edo King's Dynasty CHAPTER SEVEN THE ODUDUWA CONTROVERSY • When did Oduduwa reign in Ife? • Where did Oduduwa come from in Yoruba myth? • Who was Oduduwa in Yoruba myth? • The God-son origin claim by Oduduwa • Religion as a tool for unraveling Oduduwa’s origin • Language in aid Of history About Author
CHAPTER ONE EDO COSMOLOGICAL ACCOUNT OF THE UNIVERSE The Edo cosmological account of the universe draws significantly from the Egyptian one. The Egyptian version, which later formed the basis of Genesis in the Bible, is that the universe was created from chaos and primaeval (or ancient) ocean. After a hill (called ta-tjenen) arose from the bottom of the ocean, a son-god (Godâ€™s child or baby god) called Atom, (which is the Sun without which life on earth is impossible), appeared on the land created by the hill. The songod or Atom then created eight other gods, which together with himself made nine gods. These nine gods are presumed by modern science to be symbolized by the nine major planets of the universe. The Edo version is that, in the beginning, Osanobua (God, Oghene-Osa, Tu-SoS), decided to populate the world so He asked His four sons in Erinmwin (Heaven), to choose whatever gift of nature each fancied. The oldest chose wealth, the next in age chose wisdom, the third chose mysticism (spiritual energy), and as the youngest was about to announce his choice, Owonwon (the Toucan) cried out to him to settle for a snail shell. This did not make sense to him but he settled for it all the same. The brothers laughed at his stupid choice but Osanobua said it was a wise choice. That when they get to the middle of the water where He was sending them, the youngest son should turn his snail shell facing the water. There was no land only water every where and the four sons were in a canoe, sailing, drifting, propelled by the power of eziza (wind). In the middle of the water stood a tree on top of which lived (Owonwon) the toucan. The importance of the emergence of the tree before man on earth is not lost on modern science, which recognizes that without the tree manufacturing oxygen, life on earth would have been impossible. Modern science has also confirmed the Edo cosmology that birds, insects etc preceded man to earth. The Edo myth of creation was earth based in scope. When the children got to the middle of the water, the youngest son turned his snail shell upside down resulting in an explosion from the bottom of the water that forced volumes and volumes of sand to gush out of the water and fill up space around them for as far as the eyes could see. With the explosion, the four elements of creation, amen (water), eziza (air), arhen (fire) and oto (sand or land) were in place. Land was every where but the kids did not know what it was. They were afraid to climb out of the canoe to step on the land, so they sent the Chameleon to test its firmness. That is why the Chameleon walks with hesitation. The youngest son of Osanobua was the only spirit out of the four sons who could have the physical human body attribute on stepping on the land, because that was the advantage of the physical or material choice he made. It was put in his hand from heaven. The other sons were deities. The youngest son, the ruler of the earth, represents innocence and so is susceptible to the powers of the deities, his brothers. These same weak and strong, good and evil, physical and spiritual, influences form the basic elements of all modern religions, with man endowed with the power to make choices. Junior wanted his older spirit brothers to remain with him on his land. The oldest brother chose to take his spirit gift and live in what was left of the water. The other two brothers accepted juniorâ€™s invitation and deposited their spirit selves and gifts on the land as soon as they stepped on it from the canoe. Junior stepped on his land gingerly at first, then vigorously, stamping hard and repeatedly on it, running and rolling over it. He looked around and felt good and happy
with his enormous gift. He called his land agbon (earth), and himself, Idu, meaning the first human on earth. He decided to walk around and explore the extent and nature of his gift. It had trees, shrubs, birds, animals, insects, which all came out of water with the land, and the land sprawled endlessly. After walking for a while pushing through shrubs; almost stepping on insects, ants and crawlers; talking to birds that appeared to be serenading him and animals that came close or ran from him, he was tired. He sat on the stump of a tree to rest, later lying on the ground to sleep. While asleep, Osanobua came down with a chain from heaven, looked around to ensure that everything was in place, including the Sun and the Moon that were to regulate day and night and the seasons. When Idu woke up, he was excited to find himself in the presence of a huge, soothing illumination, surrounded by darkness. The earth was dark. He knew he was in the presence of the ‘Almighty’ and did not want to look directly at the illumination. He went down humbly and quickly on his knees to thank Osanobua for the immense earth gift bestowed on him. “You are happy then?” Osanobua asked Idu. “Very, very,” Idu said, adding humbly, “but I am hungry. I have not eaten since I arrived here? What do I do for food?” Osanobua said, “Stretch your hand up above your head; the sky would respond by coming close to your hand. Pluck what ever you need from the sky. Don’t pluck more than you need to eat to satisfy your hunger at any one time though.” ”I won’t, I won’t,” Idu said eagerly, stretching his right hand right away to pluck a mouthful of food from the sky. As he munched away happily, eyes and head rolling to show joy and satisfaction, he managed to mumble, “it tastes very nice, I love it.” “What else do you need?” Osanobua asked Idu. “Dad, I could do with a human companion. I am lonely. My brothers are spirits and I can no longer relate with them,” Idu said. Osanobua said, “You are not flesh and blood alone. You are part spirit too. Your spirit brothers are not far away. Experience would teach you how to harness wisdom, one of your spirit brothers, which would teach you how to combine your physical and spiritual energies to cultivate wealth and spiritual fulfillment, your other two spirit brothers.” Osanobua gave the oldest son control of the waters. The Edo call this son, Olokun (meaning the god of the waters). Olokun represents aspects of life such as good health, long life, good luck, prosperity and happiness, to which man may appeal through ritual purity. The other spirit sons were allowed the freedom to use their magical powers to balance out the negative and positive forces of nature. To shorten the process of acquiring spiritual wisdom, Osanobua strengthened the mystical energy with three new forces: Oguega, Ominigbon and Iha, to provide humans with spiritual guidance to differentiate rights from wrongs. Osanobua then told Idu to take sand with both palms from the ground and stretch his hands close together in front of him. As soon as Idu did as he was told, Osanobua called forth a female person, pointing His staff where she appeared in front of Idu. “Whao,” Idu exclaimed on beholding the beautiful female person standing in front of him. She smiled happily and went down on her knees to greet Osanobua, looking at Idu who she also greeted. Idu held her hands in response and hugged her. Osanobua said, “She is Eteghohi (a woman) and you are Etebite, (a man). In marriage you would multiply to ensure there is no shortage of hands in the management of the earth’s resources.” As Osanobua was making to leave, Idu politely asked: “what if we have other problems and want to reach our creator quickly?” Osanobua said, “you can individually live for up to five hundred years, but you can come to me at will through your individual spirit self, ehi, whose double is permanently with me in heaven. All you would need to do is climb the Alubode hill and you are with ehi in heaven, who would bring you to me.” As Osanobua left to his abode where the earth, water, and the sky meet, darkness was lifted from the earth. Life was sweet and easy and before long, Idu and his wife, Eteghohi, were making babies. As the years rolled by, generations of extended Idu’s family began to spread out in all directions, setting up communities, villages and towns. The different communities farthest from base spoke variations of Idu language and knew that they came from one common ancestor, Papa Idu, the ancestor of all mankind. Everything went well for thousands of years until one day when Emose, a pregnant woman, out of greed, cut more food than she needed to eat at once, from the sky. There was an immediate explosion and the sky began receding from human
reach. Direct interaction with Osanobua from then on became difficult because humans could no longer walk in and out of heaven at will. Emose’s greed destroyed the age of innocence and brought into human affairs, two new spirits, Esun and Idodo, both representing obstacles humans must now overcome to reach heaven. Idodo is the spirit ‘police’ that ensures that natural or divine laws are obeyed. Idodo seeks to ensure we repent and atone for our sins. Esun is the ‘servant’ spirit or angel that takes genuine human pleas, performed in the purity of heart, before Osanobua. Emose’s greed also brought a lot of suffering and pains to humans. Forests were soon depleted of their natural food supply, so humans began to toil hard clearing forests, burning bushes, tilling the land, planting, weeding, nurturing, threshing and harvesting. It was not easy. Before long, the lazy began to die like fowls in the desert. Farming activities began to take their toll on the ecological balance of the earth too, causing droughts, unpredictable seasons, and environmental degradation. The soil began to suffer and die from over use, yielding less and less food despite the use of excrement as manure, which in turn caused its peculiar illness, pains and deaths. Two new spiritual forces of nature were now evident and critical to human survival. They were Uwu (death), the harbinger of death, and Ogi’uwu (the spirit of death), representing mourning, evil omen, and diseases. Ogi’uwu owns the blood of all living things. Uwu and Ogi’uwu were causing havoc among humans. Humans who could live before for ukpo iyisen-iyisen vb’ iyisen (five hundred years) at a stretch, were now dying prematurely. Death was ready to take life at any time, and Ogi’uwu was sending every one who disobeyed Osanobua (or nodiyi-Osa) to death, regardless of age. To convince Idodo to prevail on Uwu and Ogi’uwu to temper justice with mercy and get Esun to take our pleas to Osanobua to control the forces, required the services of our own individual spirit called ‘ehi.’ Ehi could no longer go directly to Osanobua because of Emose’s sin, except at the point before our birth. The Edo say there are two aspects of man. One half is ehi, which is the spirit essence, and the other half is the okpa, which is the physical person. Before birth, ehi, (the spirit essence) of the individual, humbly goes before Osanobua to request endorsement of the kind of life the individual would wish to live on earth (agbon). The request is obviously made with a baby’s sense of innocence about rights and wrongs, and the weight of the karmic debt and credit baggage of the individual from previous life cycles and styles. However, the choice of the new life style is patently and entirely the individual’s, and could be any of one or a combination of scenarios. The individual may want to be a powerful spiritualist, a rich business man or farmer, a great warrior or soldier, a happy or unhappy family man, a wimp or beggar, a revered medicine man, a famous chief, politician, or popular king, and even a notorious or very successful thief. The request process is called ‘hi’ and leads to Osanobua stamping his sacred staff on the floor to seal the wish. The approved secret wish is only known to ehi, who is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that his second half, okpa, (the physical human self), keeps to the promises made before Osanobua. Ehi is the spiritual counterpart of okpa in heaven. Half of ehi comes with okpa to earth to ensure permanent link with ehi in heaven. That half is called orhion. When okpa dies, orhion stays close to okpa until okpa is properly buried and all rites are completed. Orhion, cleansed of sins, returns to heaven to be one with ehi. Ehi and okpa may come back 7 times each, making a total of fourteen times in all. Each return, known as reincarnation, provides the opportunity to atone for the sins committed in previous life times. When cleansing is complete, ehi takes its proper place in Eguae Osanobua vb’ Erinmwin (heavenly paradise).
CHAPTER TWO Edo Mysteries Every thing discussed so far is encapsulated in the Idu (Edo) Mysteries. Idu mystics are known as Oboihoi abbreviated generally as Obo. They say, ‘emwin agbon nat ’ole okhiokhi,’ meaning, events on earth move in cycles. They insist that ‘one should live for the benefit of other things.’ Idu Mystery priests or Oboihoi, are vast in miracles and magic. Initiation ceremonies still retain some of the ancient Egyptian enigma, such as the shaving of the head, and peculiarly include spending some days alone in the forest. No one returns from the sojourn and not be a changed personality. Initiates study several means of divination, the main ones being: Iha, Oguega and Ominigbon. All three divinities are repositories of the history, philosophy, culture and traditions of the Idu (Bini). The central figures, like in other mysteries with their saints, deities, and spiritual icons, include: Okhuaihe, Oravan, Ogun, Olokun, etc, who are intermediaries and can be imaged, unlike Osanobua who is imageless.
The divinities are oral, secretive and thrive on the words of wisdom from the obvious to the proverbial, the mystical to the esoteric. Both the Idu (Edo) and Egyptian Mysteries use myths, parables, proverbs, symbols; magic and numbers to conceal truth and knowledge from the noninitiate.
Iha, for instance, is a gigantic memory bank of words, ideas, anecdotes on all sorts of events on earth and under the heavens. No issue is too trivial to preserve, and the information bank’s subjects range from births to deaths of the lowly and the kings, wars, evolutions of great and small empires, nations, journeys, marriages, quarrels etc. Every incidence imaginable is carefully catalogued, itemized, and stored away, ready to be accessed by the trained mind at will. The knowledge bank is constantly being replenished and updated to make it ever fresh, relevant contemporary and comprehensive. Initiates go through long, tedious periods of training where teaching is memorized rather than written down. Progress between grades is slow and laborious, subjecting initiates to memory and bodily ordeals and tests. Only the physically fit, tough, and determined, can last that long, complete the training and graduate. Many fall by the way side. Those who qualify, become Oboihoi, abbreviated as Obo. The mavens among them are gods in their own rights and can do anything. The Idu people, like other Africans, have only one Osanobua and several intermediaries in form of saints, gods, deities, because Osanobua became remote to humans as a result of Emose’s sin. With pains and suffering on earth refusing to abate after Emose’s sin and Osanobua’s anger by taking the sky (therefore food), too far out of human reach, Idu people started praying for abundant rainfall and sunshine all year round to replace the droughts they were experiencing. The intermediary gods and deities were expected to intercede on their behalf before Osanobua over the relentless suffering on earth, and Ogi‘uwu’s merciless execution of the mandate of death. At their individual, family, and community shrines, Idu people plead their cases through their individual ehi to the deities to take their pleas to Osanobua. After a while they began to feel that the response to their pleas was too slow or inadequate and began yearning for the opportunity to continue to visit heaven at will and plead directly before Osanobua as it was in the beginning. They felt they could maximize their chances by combining their efforts to reach Osanobua through their ehi and deities, with direct plea. This happened thousands of years before the Christian era. In fact, the Christian creation ideas about Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the Son-ofGod, appear to have been taken verbatim from the Idu (Edo) corpus. But the Idu (direct interaction concept) is superior to the Christian one because, while Christians rely on an intermediary or a Messiah to reach the Supreme God, Idu people go directly, collectively. They have a human saint too who died for their collective well-being, but they believe every human must account individually for his or her deeds. No Messiah can cleanse your sins for you because we each have our individual covenant with Osanobua through our ehi, on the day before our birth on earth.
CHAPTER THREE The Aruosa
Leaders and priests of all the Idu deities agreed that while they should continue with their various individual efforts to reach Osanobua, they should also come together regularly to plead and pray with one voice for Osanobua’s direct intervention and blessings in their lives. They each first went through self purification processes such as fasting and spiritual cleansing, and collectively cleansed the place chosen for the prayer gathering. The prayer sessions at the gathering point, went on regularly for a long while without any noticeable change in their plight, so one day, one of them, a powerful spiritual leader and priest by the name Okhuaihe, offered to take the people’s prayers and pleas to Osanobua in heaven. That meant dying for the uplift of his people, of course. The Idu people reluctantly agreed with him and promised to continue to pray at the chosen spot until he returned, or forever if he failed to return. They continued praying at the same spot regularly for years and still Okhuaihe did not return and there was no visible change in their circumstance. Droughts were still ravaging the earth and many were dying helplessly from hunger and diseases. To mark the prayer spot, they planted the Uwerhien ‘otan tree, and heaped earth at its base to create a shrine to Osanobua. This was the only spot where direct prayers were offered to God in Idu land. At every other shrine, whether at home or in communal settings, they prayed through their ehi and deities. Still, Okhuaihe did not come back but one day, darkness fell on earth at noon. A huge ball of fire descended from the sky and with it came a thunderous voice confirming the presence of Osanobua and suggesting that Okhuaihe’s mission had not been in vain. The voice said: “Okhuaihe delivered your message to me, but your wishes are against my creative will and I will not grant them.” A while after the voice spoke, another ball of fire descended from the sky through the darkness and fell on earth to lift the darkness. Idu people were expecting Okhuaihe to return with the lifting of darkness but he didn’t, so they declared that: Aimi ‘ose no ye ‘rinmwin.” Meaning life after death is beyond understanding. Idu people, however, consoled themselves with the thought that the new ball of fire from the sky must have brought a message from Osanobua. They organized a search party to locate where it fell and what it was. At the spot where the ball of fire fell, at the junction of Igbesanwman and today’s Aruosa Street, they found a strange huge black stone. The unique black stone, which looks alien to our world, is one of the relics the British took away during their sacking and burning of Benin City in 1897. Idu people named the stone ‘Aruosa,’ meaning the Eye of Osanobua (God) watching over His creation. It is a symbol of Idu people’s direct experience of God. They built a proper house of worship at the spot where they had always gone to pray to Osanobua. This happened over 3000 years ago. The ancient site is at a place known today as Akpakpava Road. Therefore, nobody can teach Idu (Edo) people anything about how to worship God. They knew and heard directly from God, thousands of years before the Christian era. Aruosa doctrine is described as Godianism, meaning, direct one-on-one interaction with God. It requires no intermediaries, Messiahs or Redeemers. Aruosa’s body of beliefs, teaching and practices have not changed in thousands of years. Their preaching is pre-occupied with what they describe as the saga of creation by Osanobua. In worship, they invoke the presence of God with songs and by cleansing and sanctifying themselves. Ihonmwen ‘egbe n’ Osa mwen, meaning, “I purify myself for my God.” They pray and dance to their songs, using traditional musical instruments, including drums and the ukuse, to produce their music. They believe the sounds of drums, songs and dance help to invoke the spirit of God. Prayers are rendered in songs and a typical one goes like this:
“We believe in God and we serve Him because we abhor quarrels bitterness, sickness, death and poverty.” A popular closing song goes like this: “God, we have made time to serve you, Give us the time and blessing to achieve our goals.” Worship is on Sundays (the African veneration day), from 10 am to 12 noon. Aruosa is ruled by a Council of Elders under a Chairman who is the ‘Ohen Osa Nokhua,’ (Chief priest/ Pope). The current Ohen Osa is Col. Paul Osakpamwen Ogbebor (Rt.). The patron of the Aruosa is the Oba of Benin. The Aruosa’s Ohen Osa led a delegation of Aruosa priests to Portugal in 1462, during the reign of Oba Ewuare. The Aruosa priests picked up a few ideas about mode of dressing which they adapted. They were surprised that baptism and confirmation in the Catholic Church played similar roles as the Aruosa initiation rites into the lower and upper sanctum of the Aruosa faith. Initiation at the level of baptism in Aruosa is not with water as in the Catholic faith, but with the white chalk (orhue), which is the symbol of cleanliness, purity, joy, and success. The equivalence to confirmation initiation rites in Aruosa, use palm fronds (igborhe), which is the symbol of renewal of life, multiplicity and endlessness. Christians use palm fronds in their Palm Sunday rituals as a symbol of renewal of life but deride Africans they copied from, as primitive and savage for using them. The British, after conquering and burning Benin City, banned the worship of the Supreme God at Aruosa, describing the practice, which is not only superior to their concept and mode of worship, but older by thousands of years, and from which they took their religious bearing, as barbaric. Oba Akenzua II, defied the British ban in 1945, by building the first Aruosa Cathedral on the ancient Aruosa site at Akpakpava Road, which the Roman Catholic Church had usurped before that time to erect their Cathedral. Akenzua II set up 12 Aruosa schools in Benin City, Urora and other places, to spread the teaching of the faith. Through his influence Aruosa houses of worship were built in Onitsha, Umuahia, and Port-Harcourt, as well as in Cotonou in Benin Republic. The Nigerian civil war truncated the gains made by Aruosa during Akenzua’s reign. The military regime seized all mission schools, including the Aruosa’s, and ran them aground.
Igun Street – Benin City 2010
CHAPTER FOUR Ethos and Social Engineering The success of Idu society may have been due in part to their belief that the sin of one of them affects the fortunes of every one else in the society. Every member of the society pays for Emose’s greed and must attempt to atone for it and cleanse it by working together with others as one family. I don’t know if this was unique to Idu society but it ensured that everyone was everyone else’s keeper. They looked out for the welfare of the others and so created a large family of achievers and an extended family that worked like one mind. To the Idu people, Obo (hand) is human’s principal means of fulfillment, achievement and power. It symbolizes his ability and willingness to tame his environment, and supports the notion of reciprocity. A clenched fist, the Edo say, cannot take more than it is holding. To reap profit and abundance, one must be prepared to give or let go. They believed that events on earth move in cycles and that one should live for the benefit of other things. These are the critical concepts that helped Idu society to achieve the tremendous level of social sophistication, civilization and excellence in the arts, administration, conquests and social engineering envied today by modern society. Man in Idu society was not perceived as a loner but as a member of a vibrant group with his or her individual uniqueness in skills and expertise recognized and encouraged to flourish. The Idu person was expected to contribute his or her individual uniqueness in talents, knowledge and skills to help build, sustain, and enhance the quality of life of the family, community and society. Obligations and activities were performed generally through age grade groups and guilds. Solidarity to the whole was emphasized above individual rights and loyalties, thereby encouraging the individual involved to develop a sense of duty and obligation to live, work, and if necessary die for the group or community. Broadly, while the junior age grades performed basic or elementary tasks such as clearing paths, caring for public buildings, middle grades adult males handled the more difficult tasks of roofing houses and administrative and executive functions for the community councils.
Even the Idu nuclear family was not restricted to the husband, wife and child notion. It embraced an expanding cycle of cousins, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, grand parents, grand uncles, grand aunts and so on. There was usually a head or father figure or ultimate authority known as Okaegbee, recognized by all, and whose words were final in family matters. He was not a dictator, but arrived at decisions through exhaustive consultation, counseling and when necessary, divination. Most times, he was the oldest on the extended family tree and old age was generally considered to be synonymous with wisdom. In the same way that each extended family had an Okaegbee, or leader, each ward, community, village, town, dukedom, had an Odionwere, who more often than not was the oldest person in the society. The community, village, town, or dukedom, organized itself into Otu (age) groups and guilds. Each Otu had seven divisions. The idea of seven started when a group of seven, known as the ‘Ominigie,’ was set up during the Ogiso era. Ominigie was a militant or warrior group that went to war for the society. According to myths, the group accompanied their war activities with music and dance and when they were eventually vanquished, it was said that they danced their way to heaven. Another group of seven was promptly set up after their demise and the rhythm of seven has prevailed since.
Each of the seven divisions of the Otu (age groups) represents special ethos translating roughly as follows: (a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (f) (g)
Vigilance Oba’s tax collectors Community publicity officers Task masters or enforcers Self help gurus Pacifiers/judges Enforcers of loyalty and patriotism to the land and kingdom.
Otu age groups divide as follows: 5 – 15 (Emwin-rhoba-evbo); 16 – 30 (Eroghae); 30 – 50 (Eghele); 50+ (Odion). The oldest male in the community was on his own and was known as the Odionwere. Membership of each group was for life and group members moved into new age groups together. Elevation into the 50+ age group was only by merit, based on a measurable quality of character, achievement, and demonstrable level of wisdom. Therefore, a child who is hard working and precautious could move through the ranks to meet his father. Only one person moves from Odion to Odionwere (leader of the society or community), when the Odionwere’s position is vacant.
Such newly promoted Odionwere, who usually is the oldest person in the community, appoints two new Odions on merit to do the administration and running around for him because of his old age. The same scenario is repeated in the Otu groups that bring neighbouring villages, towns, dukedoms and communities together. Their special responsibilities at the inter community level include military and security services, administering spiritual needs, serving as think tanks and as apex groups known as the Elders Council. Beyond the Elders council is the Enogie, who principally is the head Chief of the group of communities, and is appointed by the Oba who he represents. The title of Enogie entitles the holder to wear coral beads.
Parallel with the Otu groups, which are largely concerned with administrative and security matters, are the guilds. The guilds are set up around professions, and are more or less like modern day trade unions, with a leader or head who is a chief and is appointed by the Oba. The guilds represent all facets of human endeavours. The Iwowa guild, for instance, is led by Chief Ogua and is responsible specifically for the digging of the underground burial chambers of a transited Oba. The Iwowa group is a branch of the Ihogbe, the monarch’s family group that takes care of his ancestral shrine, which includes the original Idu deity, and represents the ancestors of the kings.
Other guilds included the goldsmiths, brass smiths and black smiths; olopa (police); public health workers (including medical personnel, and nurses); warriors and peace maintenance or security; market men and women; sewers (fashion designers/producers, weavers); variety of sporting and games groups (such as wrestlers, chess players); farmers; wood carvers, ivory carvers; town criers; barbers; spiritual leaders (such as ‘Obo,’ oguega, (diviners); artistes (drummers, theatrical groups, singers, dancers, clowns, jesters, story tellers); builders, interior decorators etc; Each group lived largely in a specially designated section of town and had its own chiefs appointed by the Oba, and its festivals.
Idu people had days for work, play and rest. They observed a four day week, the fourth day, called ‘eken,’ was the rest day, and was reserved for sporting activities, games and all sorts of
community programmes. They adopted the lunar calendar of 13 months in a year and 28 days in the month. The thirteenth month of every year was reserved for rest of humans and tools of work. Festivals and ceremonies were devoted to the period to propitiate and bless the tools and workers, and prepare them for another year. There were festivals such as Igue and Ague to celebrate the blessings of the out going year and to usher in the New Year. Other festivals included ones for elders, ancestors, facilities of trade or market days, single deities (such as Eho, Enorho) and Ikpoleki, for sweeping the market, which was more regular. Their primary food stuff consists of yam, cocoyam, plantain, cassava, corn, beans, peppers, okro, mellon tomatoes and other vegetables. Fish and rice came from neighbouring communities. Hunting bush meat is an industry, so they have plenty of antelopes, foxes, hares and snails. They rare cows, goats, sheep, fowls… Industry thrived and involved brass casting, wood carving, leather working, cloth weaving, including ceremonial ones and traditional craft. Idu civilization was involved in the smelting of iron, or what is today known as metallurgy, hundreds of years before the advent of whites in their midst. The Idu guild of iron-workers got their raw materials from Ineme territory in Akoko Edo, an iron bearing area extending to Itakpa hills in Kogi state from where the modern Ajaokuta steel complex is expecting to get a portion of its raw materials. Idu people called the raw steel from Ineme, Akpadan urigho, meaning two hundred cowries worth of precious metal. This was to emphasize the value Idu people attached to the material which they melted by separating the pure metal from the slag to produce works of art, jewelry, ornaments, pots and pans, knives, cutlasses, blades, hoes, chains, hundreds of years before they began receiving 100% pure metal from Europe some 500 years ago. While Portugal and England traded largely in tinsel with Benin as recently as some 500 years ago, Holland brought in large quantities of iron bars, flint-lock guns, dane guns and ovbiosegba (or pistols). The Idu guild of iron-workers copied and produced the guns, and this industry is still very strong today in Benin. But Idu (Bini) people could not make gun powder, which in the end contributed to their conquest by the British. Edo people relied on the West for their supply of gun powder. The West only needed to dry the source and the guns became useless. Idu people weaved their clothes, created world class masterpieces in art; built beautiful homes with intricately decorated red mud, eighteen inches or more thick, finished with neat thatched roofs. The palaces of the monarchs, nobles and chiefs, consisted of a series of atriums (ikuns), linked internally by corridors, with rooms surrounding each of the trapped rectangular space (oteghodo or impluvium), open to the sky. Their streets in the capital were wide, straight, with the principal ones radiating from a circular or ring road around the Oba’s palace, like a spider’s web. The streets were swept daily, as was every compound in the city. Every citizen who could work, had a job, there was no room for unemployment. Idu people have some of the most engaging, elaborate, colourful, exciting, ennobling, courtship, engagement, wedding, pregnancy, successful delivery, naming the child, burial, memorial or anniversary, honouring etc, ceremonies in the world, incorporating singing, dancing, feasting, and lavishly making merry. They wean a child for two to three years and insist on breastfeeding to bond the child to the mother and ensure discipline and good behaviour in the child. Their mode of salutation in the early morning hours, is based on traditions of family trees. Although marriages across family groups have broadened the family tree structure, every Idu person can generally use their family mode of salutation or greetings in the morning to trace their family trees, hundreds if not thousands of years back. This author’s family, for instance, principally came from the lagiesa, lamogun and lavhieze family trees. Idu inheritance laws favour the oldest son, unless there is a will. Myths put the number of dances by the Idu people at 201. There is a special dance, at least,
for every occasion and dances range from ligho, ileghe, edakpaese, ohogho (for second burial), ugba (religious), izabede, (man and woman dance), oyingin (social dance), eghughu agba (no rhythm, every one dances as he or she likes), ekpo (masquerade) dance, olude and so on. The olude dance, came about when Omo N’ Oba Ehengbuda, the greatest mystic of all Benin Oba’s, thought he could still walk into heaven as it was in the beginning of time in Idu history. He was very old and senile but death was refusing to relieve him of his discomfort. One day, he assembled members of the palace society and led them to Ughoton, hoping to find the way to heaven there. Waddling, rather than swim, mid way into the Imimikpo River from the shallow side with members of his group in toe, a voice told him it was no longer possible to walk straight from earth to heaven. Disappointed, he returned to the palace where the palace ‘Iwebo society’ developed the waddling dance with raised hands above the head to mimic the monarch and his group’s efforts to engage death through River Imimikpo. The palace house keepers, known as the ‘Iweguae society,’ learnt the dance to rejoice that the monarch came back. Olude dance is performed in memory of that event yearly. The Idu people evolved a very complex, elaborate, detailed and efficient machinery of government based upon a monarchical type of administration with spiritual and temporal authority. The head of government, who is like a modern day prime minister, is Chief Iyase, a hereditary title passed from father to the eldest son. To speak for the king or on behalf of the people to the king, are the Ekhaemwen. Each Ekhaemwen is like a modern day minister of government with specifically assigned duties in the palace and the land. Benin chiefs are distinctly decked out in rich flowing white garbs with precious (ivie) coral beads around the necks and wrists; special hair cut that stands them out uniquely and with dignity, and are heralded always with their sword of honour. In fact, the hair style of Edo chiefs is similar to Pharaoh Ramses II’s famous helmet, while the small circles on the helmet appear also on many Edo bronzes. Edo Queens wear the world famous ‘okuku’ hairstyle resembling a packed high Afro, embellished with expensive (ivie) coral beads. Edo Queens’ hairstyles are identical to that of Pharaoh Mycerinus (Fourth-Dynasty), and Pharaoh Sesostris I (Twelfth Dynasty). Edo kings had immense political powers, as ultimate judges in court matters, the deliverers of death penalty, the receivers of taxes and tributes, the regulators of trade, the nominal owners of the land of the kingdom, chief executives and lawmakers, and principal custodians of customs and traditions. Their powers were, however, hedged with checks and balances to prevent excesses. A retinue of advisers, Elders’ councils and taboos guide their utterances and actions. Their powers are held in trust for the entire community and cannot be exercised without consultation with other levels of authority, such as the kingmakers. Edo monarchs demonstrate strong affinity with ancient Egyptian Gods and Pharaohs, with which they share identical authority, grandeur and a great deal of reverence from their subjects. Like the Pharaohs, Idu (Edo) monarchs are God-kings. Because they are God-kings and God-sons, they are considered divine and worshipped by their subjects, who speak to them always with great reverence, at a distance, and on bended knees. Great ceremonies surround every action of the Edo king. The kings of Benin (Bini) also adopt grand Osirian titles of the ‘Open Eye,’ signifying omniscience and omnipotence. Edo monarchs, when they transit to the beyond, are, like the Egyptian Pharaohs, set up in state, in a linked series of underground chambers, surrounded with their paraphernalia of power, and all of the items they would require for their comfortable sojourn in the ethereal world. The Ada, another evidence of link with the Pharaohs of Egypt, is a scimitar or sword with a single cutting edge, like a machete curved at its broadest tip, used in desert battles. Edo use the Ada along with the Eben, another sword of battle, with double cutting edge, native to them, as conjoined emblem of state authority, in the manner the Egyptian Pharaohs used the ‘Double Crown,’ as symbol of authority and the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.
CHAPTER FIVE The Ogiso Dynasty
What is today known as Edo or Benin City was originally known as Idu. It started out with one man who sired the human race. His family initially grew into groups of small farm settlements linked with footpaths. Over time, the settlements grew bigger, turning into villages and towns hundreds and perhaps thousands of years later. As each settlement got bigger and farms moved further away, new settlements sprang up around the new farms until the Idu family spread all over the earth. The immediate Idu family that could trace their ancestry to Pa Idu, grew after hundreds and thousands of years, into large communities and towns such as Udo, Abudu, Iguobazuwa, Urhonigbe and so on. Each of the Pa Idu’s immediate extended family communities, villages and towns, had its own Edionwere. The Idus initially, naturally, married each other from within close family ties, then across their communities, villages and towns. They had quality family get-togethers; skirmishes, of course, particularly over farm land boundaries; and fought some wars with distant neighbours together. At some point, deep in the BCE era, all the Edionweres of Idu communities, villages and towns, decided to come together and set up a Council of Edionweres, to take decisions on their behalf and settle differences between communities. The first inter community Council they set up was called Ik’edionwere and it brought together the Edionweres of all the different communities, towns and villages of Idu people who recognized themselves as coming from the one original Pa Idu ancestry and speaking the same Idu language. They were related to one another as brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, aunts etc, who happened to have set up settlements near or far from one another. The Ik’edionwere members selected one from among their members, usually the oldest in age, to lead them. Often he was very old, so he nominated a much younger member of the council as his Oka’iko, a helping hand. This was how what became known as the Edo kingdom evolved. It was by no means a perfect arrangement from day one, but it worked for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years, solving some problems, creating others, with occasional damaging fights for supremacy among the council members.
A) Ogiso Igodo (40 BCE – 16 CE). In 40 BCE, ‘Igodo,’ an ambitious, young, smart, Edionwere, from Idunmwun Ivbioto district, emerged as the Oka’iko. Igodo staged a coup, by abolishing the Ik’edionwere and declaring himself the Ogiso. He set up the Odibo-Ogiso group to help him consolidate his authority. Ogiso means ruler from the sky. By calling himself Ogiso, he was implying direct lineage to Pa Idu, the youngest son of Osanobua from the sky. He named his combined territories or sprawling nation state, Igodomigodo, and set up his capital at Ugbekun. The people of Igodomigodo enthusiastically accepted him as their ruler. They saw him as the reincarnation of Pa Idu and accorded him divine qualities. They transferred to him, all the myths associated with Pa Idu, including the God-son creation myth. All Ogisos and Obas of Benin naturally try to strengthen these myths in a variety of ways, including not allowing themselves to be seen eating in public and so suggesting that they can live without food. They are in myth, not mortal but god-kings, with celestial mystique attached to them. Ogiso Igodo, after consolidating his hold on power, set up a Royal Council which included members of the disbanded Ik’edionwere Council and the Odibo-Ogiso group. He toyed with the idea of his succession by heredity and recommended in the alternative, succession by a close relative, who is mature, wise, and acceptable to the Royal Council. Ogiso Igodo died in 16 CE. None of his sons was able to succeed him to the throne.
B) Ogiso Ere (16 - 66 CE). Ogiso Ere, who was Ogiso Igodo’s kinsman, succeeded Igodo to the throne in 16 CE. Ogiso Ere transferred the capital of Igodomigodo from Ugbekun to Uhudumwunrun. This implies that Igodomigodo was a sprawling kingdom with more than a few large gathering points rather than a series of small hamlets. It was a very sophisticated kingdom too from that far back in history. Ogiso Ere, a lover of peace, was also a very resourceful king. He brought his kingdom several innovations. He was the first to wear a Cowry Crown. He introduced the guild system of carpenters and wood carvers, which eventually developed into the world’s celebrated wood works and bronze casting factories of today’s Igun Street in Benin City. Ogiso Ere built the first ever Igodomigodo market, known then as Ogiso market and in modern times as Agbado market. Ogiso Ere, invented the famous African kingship paraphernalia which includes the Ada (a sword of honour), Eben (a sword for dancing), Ekete (a royal stool), Agba (a rectangular stool), and Epoki (a leather box). These still serve today as the symbols of Obaship authority in many West African countries that experienced Edo control and or influence. The Ada with one cutting edge is sometimes described as the senior sword of state, and the Ebe, with its double cutting edge, is the thrusting sword, (or the sword for dancing), trilled four times in thanksgiving and in self-identification, to the spirits of the ancestors. It must not fall when being trilled. While the Ada is believed to link the Edo with Egypt where a similar sword was used in battles, the Eben is linked with the Bronze Age, which the Edo may have used to fight their way through the desert and bush path to reach their present location. All Benin chiefs have the authority to use the Eben but only a few among them are allowed to possess the Ada. The Ada chiefs include, Enogies, the Ovies in Urhobo land, who can pronounce death sentence on citizens, and the Uzama nobles (Oliha, Edohen, Ero, Eholorn’ire etc), during the Ogiso era. None of these chiefs is allowed, however, to carry the Ada into palace grounds. Only their Eben can go in with them.
C) Ogiso Orire (66 – 100 CE). Ogiso Ere died in 66 CE and was succeeded by his son, Ogiso Erire, introducing the primogeniture (son succeeding his father) principle. He is credited with greatly expanding the kingdom. He had no male child so Igodomigodo was thrown into a long and devastating succession battles that lasted for 285 years. During that time 19 Odionweres attempted to usurp the position of Ogiso without receiving recognition from the people, and the consensus of the Elders’ Council. The issue was finally resolved with the compromise choice of Ogiso Odia in 385 CE.
D) Ogiso Odia (385 – 400 CE), was an Odionwere with ocultic gift of prophesy and prediction. His ascension introduced the system of gerontocracy (i.e. the oldest person in the community rules), until the death of the twenty-second Ogiso when the primogeniture system was restored.
E) Ogiso Ighido (400 CE – 414 CE), succeeded Ogiso Odia. Ighido was a successful blacksmith producing knives, chains, hoes and cutlasses when he was oracularly chosen to be the Ogiso. He was the oldest citizen around at the time anyway, an Odionwere. Ogiso Evbuobo (414 -432 CE), was very old when he was chosen to be the Ogiso. He died at the age of 110 years. Ogiso Ogbeide (432 – 447 CE), was from Ugbague quarters. A proud king. He died on Ugie Day. F) Ogiso Emehe (447 – 466 CE), was one of Edo’s greatest diviners. He was an oguega oraclist from the Emehe quarters. Ogiso Ekpigho (466 – 482 CE), was a money lender before he became king. He was heartless and merciless in the business of managing money. Even his name suggests his trade, ‘bag of money.’ Ogiso Akhuankhuan (482 – 494 CE), was an economist and trader who specialized in the textile trade before he was chosen king. Ogiso Efeseke (494– 508 CE), was very wealthy before becoming Ogiso. He came from the Urubi quarters. He had large herds of cows and goats.
G) Ogiso Irudia (508– 522 CE). His period was not considered eventful in anyway. Ogiso Orria (522– 537 CE), was a great hunter who specialized in killing or capturing and training elephants. He hailed from Oregbeni quarters. Ogiso Imarhan (537– 548 CE) had a thriving business in terracotta, making pots before becoming king. He was from Oka quarters. Ogiso Etebowe (548– 567 CE), was a powerful boxer and wrestler from Oroghotodin quarters. He wasn’t a giant in size but had the reputation of ‘destroyer of leopards.’ Ogiso Odion (567– 584 CE), was a renowned hunter, fairy and folktales teller, intelligent singer, dancer and a moralist. Ogiso Emose (584– 600 CE), was a posthumous child. He inherited the mother’s wealth. He loved beautiful things. At his coronation, he took the mother’s name ‘Emose,’ and so earned the reputation of being regarded as a woman Ogiso.
H) Ogiso Ororo (600– 618 CE), was brought up as a blacksmith at Eyanugie. He travelled far and wide as a trader in Ogisodom before becoming Ogiso. Ogiso Erebo (618– 632 CE), was a fisherman and canoe carver, chosen from Okhorho quarters. He had a repertoire of stories about sea animals such as mermaids, sharks, crocodiles etc. Ogiso Ogbomo (632 –647 CE), was chosen from Ugbowo quarters. He was a nurse or doctor, treating venereal diseases, arthritis, epilepsy and pregnant women. Ogiso Agbonzeke (647–665 CE), was a philosopher, historian and a great poet with a rich range of songs and proverbs. He interpreted native laws and customs well and had the reputation of telling truth from lies. Ogiso Ediae (665– 685 CE), was the last Odionwere Ogiso. A great carver and sculptor. He died at the age of 115 years. I) Ogiso Orriagba (685– 712 CE) ascended the throne of his father, Ogiso Ediae, under the primogeniture system, and was determined to introduce stability to the succession process. He was not happy with the gerontocratic system that tended to produce very old Ogisos counting their days to the grave. He felt that the son taking over from his father system, would bring young blood to the throne, so he canvassed seriously for the process and backed it with the Oba’s next of kin taking over in a situation where the Oba left no son. He invoked the spirit of Erinmwindu, and the ancestors of the land, to support his efforts and positively influence members of the Royal Council. The Edion‘isen, (Royal Council, later known as the Seven Uzama, and which included chiefs Oliha, Edohen, Ero, Ezomo and Eholo-Nire), after long deliberations adopted the system of primogeniture and swore on the shrine of Erinmwindu to uphold it at all times both for the monarch and themselves. The rule was extended to their properties, duties, and debts, when they die.
J) Ogiso Odoligie (712– 767 CE), was a soldier. He defeated Udo, Iguabode, and Urhonigbe towns; united and enlarged his kingdom. He used tamed elephants to prosecute his wars. Ogiso Uwa (767– 821 CE) inherited a rich kingdom. A luxury lover, extravagant and a gambler, he introduced brass work to Igodomigodo. Ogiso Eheneden (821–871 CE), like his father, inherited an expanded kingdom and wealth. He introduced innovations that improved the arts and crafts and the practice of agriculture. Ogiso Ohuede (871– 917 CE), introduced the UKO (or ministerial system of government), and developed the guild system. He was considered a weak king. Ogiso Oduwa (917– 967 CE), experienced serious rebellion during his reign. He could not control the large kingdom.
K) Ogiso Obioye (967– 1012 CE), was a resourceful king. He introduced the use of cowry as currency to Igodomigodo. His reign witnessed fire outbreak, severe inflation, food scarcity and immigration. Ogiso Arigho (1012– 1059 CE), was a great merchant. He introduced the double payments system, a bank, and the slave labour culture to Igodomigodo.
L) Ogiso Owodo (1059-1100 CE), was the thirty-first and last Ogiso of Igodomigodo. He freed the slaves. He was considered a weak king because he could not handle Osogan who was a thorn in his flesh during his reign. Ogiso Owodo had only one son, called Ekaladerhan, despite having many wives. In attempt to unravel the cause of his wives not being able to bear children, he sent his first wife Esagho and three male messengers, namely Osaghae, Osagiede and a fourth person to consult an oracle. Details of what happened have been preserved for centuries in palace folklore and practice and who better to provide this than an illustrious Edo prince soaked in the tradition. According to the book, Ekaladerhan, written by His Royal Highness, Ovbia Oba Edun Agharese Akenzua, the Ogie-Obazuwa, published by Ukhege Heights, Benin City, 2008, Odionmwan and his aids, Omokpaomwan and Osifo were summoned to appear at noon before Ogiso Owodo, because there was a job for the executioners. The prison cells were empty, so they did not know who was going to be executed. They brought out their whetstone, some lime and ash and began to sharpen and polish their swords. A stranger in his mid 50s approached them and said he wanted to share something with them but that they had to take an oath with him before he could reveal it. They wondered why they should take an oath with the stranger and tried to dismiss him. He insisted that he would not leave until they took the oath and heard him out. With the swords put together, the intruder untied an edge of his cloth to bring out a kolanut and some ehien-edo (alligator pepper). He incised his arm with the tip of the sword and asked the others to do likewise. He plucked a cocoyam leaf to collect the blood from the four of them, broke the kolanut, dipped the pieces in the blood and placed them on the sword. Then, he added three ehien-edo seeds. The three men placed their hands on the sword and swore not to divulge the information they were about to receive. Each of them took a piece of the kolanut and one seed of the ehien-edo and chewed them with a sip of water. Then the intruder began to speak: “I was one of the four persons sent by the Ogiso to the oracle to find out why his wives could not bear children. Esagho was one of us. The Obiro revealed that a sorceress had cast the spell on Ogiso’s wives to prevent them from bearing children. The sorceress must be destroyed and her blood sprinkled on the shrine of Olode. She is an evil woman, I can see her face. She is trying to hide but can’t. Her name is Esagho, Ogiso’s wife. “On the way home, in stormy whether, Esagho ripped off cloth from her waist.” Seeing the nakedness of an Ogiso’s wife carried the death penalty. “We lowered our gaze and screamed, what is this? She accused us of removing her cloth to rape her. Rape you, we screamed. One of us tried to strangle her for lying but the rest of us restrained him. We fell on our bellies, buried our faces in the mud and pleaded with her but she would not bulge. She insisted we agree to say that the oracle fingered Ekaladerhan and not her. We knew that no one would believe our story against hers so, to save our necks, we gave in. On arrival at the palace,
Esagho told Ogiso that the oracle declared Ekaladerhan as the Alagbode. That the Alagbode passed over the bridge and burnt it, so he must be sacrificed to the gods for Owodo’s wives to bear him children. This is the genesis of what you are about to do now.” The executioners could not believe their ears. They asked for the names of the other messengers and the stranger said they were Osaghae and Osagiede and that “they could not live with the treachery so, they drank poison one after the other these last two years. “I have waited for this day to tell what I know. Now that I have done so, I am ready to die,” he said. The executioners debated the issue and decided they would save the life of the prince. They would not want to soil their hands with the blood of the innocent. They would tell the prince what happened and let him escape. The messenger was happy with their decision and asked them to tell the prince the truth at the time of the execution. They took oath again, swearing not to divulge their decision not to execute Ekaladerhan. “If I do, may I become victim of the sword; my body food for the birds; my branches obliterated from the surface of the earth.” Ekaladerhan had just finished his meal and his best friend and play mate, Okpomwan, was clearing the plates. “Hurry,” Ekaladerhan said, “let’s continue our hunting. The sun has already climbed high. We have to get more lizards for the cats.” There was a knock on the door. Okpomwan answered it. “Greetings from your father,” the leader of the three visitors said. “It is his wish that you accompany us on a journey. He sent you this agba as proof that we act on his authority. Wear it on your right arm.” It was too large for his young slim arm so they cut it and pressed its ends together. Okpomwan wanted to go with the prince but they would not let him. It was a journey for the prince alone. The kids sensed something sinister but were helpless and too young to resist. It was the first time Ekaladerhan was going anywhere without his friend. They walked and walked. The sun was at the centre of the sky, scorching the earth. The prince was extremely tired. He threatened several times that he could not continue. Eventually at Igo forest, they came face to face with the man who took the oath with the executioners. The executioners and the prince were surprised and the executioners exchanged greetings with the man. He appeared to have materialized by magic and they joked about his mysterious powers. “Who is this man?” The prince asked. The messenger said: “the sun is there but it has no heat. This is the day of the sun without sunshine; the clouds that bear no rain. A strange phenomenon! No wonder, the glory of the land is about to depart.” Odionmwan, leader of the executioners said, “this is the end of the journey.” Then he began slowly to tell Ekaladerhan the reason for the journey, but that they didn’t want the blood of an innocent person on their hands. “What would you do to me then?” The prince asked. “Leave you here to find your way. Do not return because you will be executed,” Odionmwan said. “Find my way? To where?” The prince said with tears rolling down his cheeks. As the executioners were leaving, he begged them not to leave and asked to be killed instead. He clung to one of them. Odionmwan said to him, “Ekaladerhan, the son of Ogiso, your father ordered that you be executed. We will not spill the blood of the innocent. So wander into the jungles beyond. Do not look back; do not return. Fate may layout pain and sorrow for you, but we layout hope and prayers.” They gave him a hunter’s knife, a bag with some survival items, a cross-bow and arrows, and told him these were all they had to give him along with their hope and prayers. “Go now with Osanobua. Go, good spirits will go with you and guide you.” Odionmwan brought out a cock from his bag, cut its neck and smeared their swords with its blood. “It would be the evidence that the deed has been done,” he said. The messenger said, “this place shall henceforth be known as Urhu Okhokho or Aghi de ere yi.” He brought out a short stem of Ikhinmwin from his bag and planted it at the spot to commemorate the event. Then, they freed the man from Ekaladerhan’s grip and headed for home. He ran after them for a while, sobbing, pleading, but it was of no use. He flung himself to the ground, sobbing. Exhausted from sobbing, he did not know when he drifted into sleep. He slept for a long time and woke up refreshed. He realised he was alone in the bowel of the jungle and it was getting dark. He lifted himself slowly from the ground and emboldened by despair, began his journey into the unknown, with the Odionmwan’s parting words ringing in his ears: “do not look back, do not return,” as he kept walking, running and trotting. Light was failing, his legs got tangled in ropes and shrubs now and again. He thought he was being followed. He looked back; saw no one, as he continued running. When it got too dark, he took shelter under a large tree but was too frightened to shut his eyes. He took off the next day, trotting. He had turned his back on the land of his birth, forever. He had been running for three days.
He got to a brook and stopped. The clear water rippled slowly southwards. According to Edun Akenzua’s book, Ekaladerhan: “the bank was full of brightly coloured flowers, some red, others yellow, blue and green. The grass was luscious and equal in height, rising in even progression from the river bank towards the bush. All was neatly arranged as if by a horticulturist, but then, nature is the greatest horticulturist of all. He went down to the brook, stretched his legs out into it and let them bathe in the cool water. It felt good. He scooped some of the water to wash face and drink. Finally, he put his clothes aside and plunged into the shallow water and bathed his entire body. With the birds singing, the butterflies dancing, oblivious of his presence, the trees, the animals for companion and the beautiful brook all to himself, he felt a special bond and decided to settle there. After taking his bath he stretched out on his back on dried leaves for a nap.” In those days, groups of hunters would go on safaris in the jungle, sometimes for several weeks at a time. Their wives would accompany them. They would pitch camp and from there the men would hunt at night. In the morning, the women would disembowel the game brought from the hunt, clean and stack them up on racks above fire to dehydrate the animals and prevent them from rot. At the end of the expedition, they would take large quantities of dehydrated animal home for family needs and the rest to trade by barter. One day, a band of hunters on a safari got to a piece of land slopping gently into a slow-running brook. The brook was clear and a bush of bamboo trees was near-by. They liked the topography and decided to set up camp there. They cleared the ground and used the bamboo sticks to build their tents while the women cooked yams brought from home. They spent that first night in the camp hoping to start their hunt the following evening. That night one of the men needed to ease himself and asked the man sleeping next to him to accompany him. He too needed to answer the call of nature. “They picked up their akare and walked some distance away from their camp to squat and empty their bowels a few meters from each other. One suddenly thought he was hearing heavy breathing from under a near-by shrub. He listened attentively and was convinced his ears were not deceiving him. He could trace a form under the shrub in the moonless night. The form moved slightly. He whispered to his colleague that there was something near-by. He raised his hand to train his akare at the form but his friend exclaimed that he should hold it, that it was a man not an animal. A man here in the jungle? What the hell is he doing here by himself? Ekaladerhan recognized them at once as people from Igodomigodo. He joined their camp, told his story and impressed the hunters with his agility and hunting prowess. It was his first human contact since his banishment.” They called him a man, so he must have been there by him self for three or more years because he could not have been much more than 15 years of age when he was taken from home. They thoroughly enjoyed each others company. After they had packed their things and left for home, he too packed his kits and left. “He was sure that the hunters would take the news of their encounter home and his father would send troops after him. He resumed his running to get as far away from the area as possible. The news quickly spread in Igodomigodo that Ekaladerha was alive. The hunters were brought before Ogiso Owodo. “You saw Ekaladerhan?” He asked. “Yes my Lord,” they said. “You saw the dead among the living?’ “He is not dead. We saw him.” “Shut up! Do you mean you saw a ghost? Can’t you tell the living from the dead? We gave Ekaladerhan to the gods. Does anyone ever return from the great beyond? Answer fools!” The king was in rage. The hunters were subjected to rigorous interrogation. They stood by their story. Finally, they were made to take an oath to attest to the veracity of their story. In Igodo, statements made on oath were held to be true because perjurers died within three years. Owodo sent for the Okaokuo. Get your men, go with these men and bring Ekaladerhan back home. Go at once. You have three moons in which you must bring him back. Turning to another aid, he said: “You go and bring the Okao-Odionmwan here to explain how the man he executed came alive again. Keep him in the dungeon until they bring Ekaladerhan back.” They trooped out of Ogiso’s presence. They had reached the end of the road. They were in a quandary. If they failed to bring Ekaladerhan back they would die and if they succeeded, they would still die because they would not want his death on their conscience. On their way out of the palace arguing and blaming each other for the mess they had put themselves into by reporting their find, one of the hunters suggested that when they leave, he would not come back. He would find a settlement elsewhere. They all agreed, including members of the king’s troops assigned to go with them, that that was what they would all do.
Okpomwan now in his late teenage, was coming from his farm when he came upon a crowd of people moving down the road, talking loudly, some giggling excitedly, some quarrelling. Okpomwan recognized an elder among them and asked what the commotion was about. “So you haven’t heard that Ekaladerhan has been found?” “Ekaladerhan? Where?” Okpomwan screamed, unable to contain himself. They told him how they found him in the forest and that Ogiso had ordered them to go and bring him. They are going home to get ready for the journey. “I will go with you sir. I’ll run to the palace to seek Ogiso’s permission and meet you at home,” Okpomwan said. Ogiso read Okpomwan’s mind and asked him if he had heard that they found his friend in the forest and whether he believed them? “I have asked them to go and bring him even if it is a ghost,” Ogiso said. Okpomwan said “I ran into Okaokuo on the way, he told me the story. May I go with them?” “He will be glad to see you. Go,” the Ogiso said. “Thank you my Lord.” Soon as Okpomwan arrived at Okaokuo’s home, the other members of the team began arriving with their belongings, wives and children. He soon learnt that the team was going for good and would not return to Igodomigodo. He too said he was prepared to go with them for good. Okaokuo’s wife prepared one last major meal of pounded yam for the entire team before they left.
When they eventually reached where the hunters had camped and encountered Ekaladerhan, it was deserted and the huts had been taken over by shrubs. For three days, they searched far and wide, calling out Ekaladerhan’s name; the only response they got was the echo of their voices. The leader of the party then assembled them and said: “we are far from home, yet we have found a home. A home free from fear, uncertainty and treachery. God protect us here. This settlement besides this brook shall be known henceforth as Iguekaladerhan in memory of the prince. Through here, the glory of Igodomigodo departed; by the same route shall it return.” He planted the ikhinmwin stem. “It is the first tree on earth; it was planted by God as the forerunner of all trees. Wherever man has established a settlement, Ikhinmwin is planted to sanctify the land. I plant it here now. It shall consecrate this land and bear testimony that man has chosen this place as home.” After that ceremony, the men began to build their homes and prepare the ground for farming. A new settlement had begun.
Ekaladerhan in the meantime had been running for several days, crossing rivers after rivers, to get as far away from Igodo as he possibly could. He did not want the troops he expected his father to send after him, to catch him. One afternoon, tired of running, he sat under a tree to rest and soon slept off. When he woke up, he saw two Eghodin birds in the air. Eghodin birds fly where there is smoke and fire. He wondered if he had run all this far only to be back to Igodo. The bush was clean around the near-by pond and cocoyam plants littered the place. He tried to pull one out of the ground but the stem broke so he got a piece of stick to dig the yam out of the ground. As he was doing that, a man came out of the bush, holding a bow in his left hand and a bag was slung across his shoulder. He was very dark in complexion, unlike the men of Igodomigodo. The man moved with caution towards him and it suddenly dawned on Ekaladerhan that there were other humans on earth. The intruder too was puzzled. He had never seen a man as huge and muscular. Was the giant a god or a spirit? He thought. Ekaladerhan sensed his confusion and decided to take advantage of it. He spoke to him but he did not understand. The man too spoke and Ekaladerhan did not understand. He began to move away but Ekaladerhan beckoned that he should follow him. After walking a short distance, Ekaladerhan stopped suddenly; placed a finger to his lips, to suggest that the man should be quiet and indicated that the man should wait; then he moved stealthily alone into the woods. The stranger was afraid of happenings and even more scared to run away. Ekaladerhan soon returned with a live antelope slung on his shoulders, to the hunter’s surprise. Ekaladerhan presented the animal he apparently caught with bare hands to the man and motioned to him to take it home. The man gratefully carried his gift and hurried away but soon returned with another man. They both prostrated, muttering words, which seemed to be of gratitude for the antelope. Back home, the hunters recounted their encounter in the forest. News spread that the god of the forest had arrived as was predicted long time ago by their oracles. People began to visit the forest to catch a glimpse of the friendly god.
One day, a young lad accompanying his father to hunt gave a piglet a chase not knowing that the mother was near-by and watching. The mother pig charged at him and dug its teeth into his calf. The lad’s father chased away the pig. His son’s leg was bleeding profusely so he carried him on his back and as he was heading home, Ekaladerhan stopped them, plucked some leaves, chewed them into a pulp to paste on the wound. The bleeding stopped immediately, then he peeled the skin of cocoyam to bandage the wound. When the bandage was removed a week later, the wound, as if by magic, had completely healed. They concluded that the forest god was not only a master-hunter, he was an herbalist too. From then on, they brought their sick to him for treatment. Their friendship blossomed. They brought him food, clothing and other gifts and as the moons rolled by Ekaladerhan began to pick a few words of their language. Three harvests later, the people gathered at their village square to discuss their relationship with their god-friend. Agbonmiregun, the priest, said at the gathering: “Dear citizens, I welcome you. We are here to jointly express our thanks to God for hearing our prayers. For a long time we prayed to Him to send us a leader. The oracles foretold that God would send the leader from the land of the Rising Sun. I thought it would not happen in my life-time. Now the leader has come. He has come down to teach our young ones the technique of hunting. Since his advent, our sons have become brave and accomplished hunters; farmers now have plentiful harvest. The barns are full; no more hunger. Disease and sickness have been reduced. With a single leaf, he cures yaws, guinea worm and scabies; just one leaf and mortality rate has been reduced. Should a personage of that statue continue to live there, in the forest? I say no! And I know I speak for all of you. I propose that we invite him to live among us. We should build a house for him, and give him our daughters to marry to beget his kind and perpetuate his line in our country. I call on you to give me the mandate to send a delegation to invite him down.” “Go on, Agbonmiregun; send a delegation to him,” the people shouted unanimously.” Agbonmiregun then turned to Ilowa, “take with you as many persons as you consider necessary and go to him. Come over and collect wearing apparels and a staff for him. Ogun, Eshindale and Obameri will go with you. Go and tell him it is our wish that he comes and lives among us. Go and prepare. You set out on the seventh day from today.”
Ilowa and his delegation meet Ekaladerhan in the forest. “Greetings, god of the forest. My name is Ilowa. I am the custodian of records for our people. This is Ogun, Eshindale, Obameri….. They are elders in our country. We bring you greetings from our people. The oracles foretold your coming a long time ago. We did not know it would be in our life-time. We are happy that our eyes have seen you. Glory be to Olodumare. Your coming has liberated us from hunger and from diseases. We thank you for the wonderful things you have done in our lives. We have been mandated to bring you these gifts and to invite you to come and live with us. We will build a home for you on the highest peak in town and give our daughters to you in marriage.” Ekaladerhan after thanking them profusely said among other things, “…..I am overwhelmed by your warmth, friendship and generosity…..but I cannot accept this kindness. I pray, friends, do not be offended.” “Son of the forest, do not turn down our invitation, we beg of you. Olodumare himself sent you to us; otherwise you would not have been here. We thank Him. For His sake, do not turn your back on us. The trees and the animals and birds are always here. You can visit them whenever you wish,” Ilowa pleaded, but to no avail. Ekaladerhan was tempted to explain that he was not a spirit, but decided it was more beneficial to let them think he was one. Disappointed, the delegation returned home. Three harvests passed before they tried again. This time, their friendship with Ekaladerhan had grown tremendously and Ekaladerhan had performed several more of what seemed to them like miracles in their lives. Ekaladerhan accepted their invitation and gifts, then asked for permission and disappeared into the forest. Moments later, he was back with a bush pig. “Let us celebrate with this,” he said. The men excitedly lit a fire and soon they were feasting. After they had left, Ekaladerhan could not sleep that night. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he ruminated on his life. He knelt down and thanked Osanobua. Then he told him self that from that day on: “my name shall be IzeOdo’uwa.” Meaning I have chosen the path of glory. The following morning, town criers took to the streets before the first light, beating the drums, summoning citizens to the village square. A large crowd assembled including all the leaders: Agbonmiregun, Ilowa, Obameri, Eshindale, Ogun….. Agbonmiregun mounted the rostrum and welcomed everyone to the gathering. “I will not waste time,” he said. “I have good news, but a song is sweeter in the mouth of the minstrel. The minstrel today in Ilowa. I shall now invite him to step forward and sing the song.” Ilowa on the rostrum, after greeting formalities, said: “it is now over six harvests since a man appeared in our forest and has been living there. The oracle had foretold of his coming and we have been expecting his arrival. Since he came, our land now yields great harvests. Our hunters no longer come home without a game. Our sons are now accomplished hunters and sharp-shooters. Generally, we are now used to a better life. Olodumare sent him to bring bounty to our land. You are witnesses to the miracles this great teacher, hunter and physician has performed. Lest we become like the blind man who does not see the beauty of day and the glory of the sun, the elders and your good selves decided that the Forest-god be persuaded to come and live amongst us. “A delegation led by this speaker and including Ogun, Eshindale and Obameri, was sent to invite him. It took 39 moons (three harvests), to persuade him to accept the invitation. It is now my joy and privilege to break the good news that he has agreed to come and live with us.” A thunderous ovation greeted the announcement. The people burst into spontaneous songs of joy, promising to build a house for the Forest-god at the highest peak of town and reveling in the prospect of the god ushering in the cradle of their New World. When they asked him, “Baba, we do not know what to call you,” he said “my name is IZE-OD’UWA n’ovbie Ogiso. It is a long name. You may simply call me Ize’oduwa. My father’s name is Ogiso.” He looked skywards as he called his father’s name. Ogiso Owodo, apart from the domestic problem of his wives not being able to bare children, was not a very popular king and his execution of a pregnant woman for some minor misdemeanor, proved to be one offence too many for his subjects and his frontline chiefs, who banished Owodo from his throne. Owodo took refuge at a place called Uhinwinirin.
During the period of Owodo’s banishment, a monster snake that appeared to be coming out of the Ikpoba River, (although the Igodomigodos believed it was coming from the sky), bit people now and again at the Ogiso market and many died from the attack. The Igodomigodos as a result, nicknamed the Ogiso market, “Agbado Aigbare,” (meaning we go there together we never return together), which is how Ogiso market acquired its current name of Agbado market. Every effort to tackle the monster snake, including spiritual means failed until Evian, kindred of the Ogiso royal family, succeeded in throwing a fire-hot iron rod into the mouth of the monster snake. The feat appeared to have sent the monster snake to its eventual death. It endeared Evian to his people, because the monster snake never bothered the people of Igodomigodo again. The death of Ogiso Owodo at that same time, created leadership vacuum for the first time since the re-introduction of the son succeeding his father to the throne in Igodomigodo’s history. There was confusion and anarchy in the land with powerful chiefs jostling for the throne. The Edion’isen, after long deliberations, installed a temporary administrator, the hero, Evian, an old man at the time, to oversee the affairs of Igodomigodo. He turned out to be a very popular administrator. He invented the acrobatic dance called Amufi and the traditional dance called Emeghute. He ruled until very old age and before his death, nominated his oldest son, Irebor, to succeed him. Many of the people of Igodomigodo and the Edion’isen would not have this. They rejected Irebor on the ground that his father, Evian, was not an Ogiso and, therefore, lacked the divine authority to bequeath kingship (Ogisoship), to his heir. Leadership vacuum was again created in Igodomigodo. The Edion’isen (Royal Council, made up of Chiefs Oliha, Edohen and Eholo-Nire), whose ancestors had sworn during the reign of Ogiso Orriagba (685– 712 CE), on the shrine of Erinmwindu to uphold the primogeniture system for the monarch and themselves, was in a fix. Apart from the fear of the ‘Erinmwindu curse,’ the Chiefs were not prepared to countenance a mere mortal from a non-Ogiso lineage ruling them. It had to be the God-son’s first son or nothing. It was during this period of bewilderment and uncertainty that the Edion’isen, decided to send a delegation into the forest to look for their son, Prince Ekaladerhan.
Oliha assembled a team of six men and two maids. Edohen, Eholo and two other nobles volunteered to join the party and also assembled their own teams. Oliha, as leader of the search group, invited four experienced hunters to join them making thirty-one persons in all who set out from Urhu-Okhokho the next day, heading westwards in the bush. They camped early on that first day and kept moving deeper and deeper into the forest as the days mounted. It was not an easy assignment, and before long, they had lost two members, one to a snake bite and the other through drowning. After four moons in the woods without trace of Ekaladerhan, they were running out of food and frustration had begun to set in. They sat down to discuss terminating the mission and decided to sleep over it and let Oliha decide the following day, when before evening to pack and begin to head back home. In the meantime, Izoduwa whose name was initially corrupted to Ijoduwa, called his new community Uhe (re-birth) and his new home ‘Ilefé,’ (successful escape), which his subjects corrupted to Ile-Ife. He had acquired the Yoruba title of Ooni, and his subjects were according him great reverence as their ancestor because they believed he was a deity and the direct descendant of Olodumare. This notion was strengthened because Izoduwa looked skywards on the rare occasions when he had to mention his father’s name, Ogiso. They assumed he came directly from the sky, so, his banishment link with his God-son Igodomigodo lineage never had to be raised or revealed to his Yoruba subjects. As his fame spread among the Yoruba communities far and wide as the spiritual leader of the Ifa divinity, his name was corrupted to Oduduwa. Izoduwa had eight children and his first was a son by a Yoruba woman called Okanbi. This son was called Omonoyan (meaning precious child),’ which the Yoruba corrupted to ‘Oronmiyan.’ The Ifa myth of creation draws significantly from the Edo and Egyptian corpus. It claims that Olodumare sent his son, Orunmila, (another name for Oduduwa), from heaven on a chain, carrying a five-legged cockerel, a palm-nut and a handful of earth. Before then, the entire earth surface was covered with water. Oduduwa scattered the earth on water; the cockerel scattered it with its claws so that it became dry land. The palm-nut grew into a tree representing the eight crowned rulers of Yoruba land. Oduduwa had eight children who later
dispersed to found and rule other Yoruba communities. The Yoruba myth of creation is community based, confirming lineal relationship with it’s (earth based Bini, and universe based Egyptian), mother sources. In the morning after the Oliha search party had decided to terminate their mission, two young females in the camp, Osayi and Emoze, talked two young males in the camp, Sokpunwu and Idiaghe to go a-hunting for the youths to prepare a lavish returning home party for the elders. The young men were arrested in the forest by a crowd of hunters who did not understand their language and assumed they were enemies planning evil. The captives’ hands were tied as they were being led to the place the youths were gesturing they came from in the woods. Oliha, Eholo and Edohen were surprised when the hunters descended on them and arrested every one in the camp. They were taken to meet Oduduwa, the Ooni of the community. Oduduwa suspected they were Igodo people but he did not know any of them. The leaders of the captives too, felt that there was something familiar about Oduduwa. He looked like his father, huge, fair in complexion and masculine. Oduduwa instructed Ilowa and the others to treat their captives well. “Let them have their bath, give them food and let them rest for the night. I want to see their leaders again in the morning. I want to interrogate them.” In the morning, the village elders were surprised that Oduduwa could converse with the captives and concluded that gods are capable of anything. “Men of Igodo,” Oduduwa said presently in Igodo language, “we meet again but at a strange place and in a strange circumstance. Welcome to our sanctuary. Now who are you? What do you want? How did you get here?” His manner of address and the mention of Igodo convinced the captives that they were indeed in the presence of Ekaladerhan. Thus persuaded, Oliha felt at ease to speak. “Hail, noble One, you are right. We are men of Igodo. I am Oliha. This here is Edohen and the next is Eholo. We left home some four moons ago in search of Ekaladerhan n’ovbie Ogiso. Now our eyes behold him that we seek.” “Why do you seek him,” Oduduwa interjected rather sternly. Oliha took his time to explain what had happened in Igodo since Ekaladerhan’s father died and said that they had been in search of him to invite him to his father’s vacant throne. That since the father died, anarchy, hunger and diseases had become the order of the day in Igodo, with powerful chiefs fighting each other to occupy the throne. That an old man, Evian, took over but he died and his son wants to succeed him. That Evian was not of royal blood; only the son of Ogiso succeeds Ogiso. Oduduwa, after listening attentively said: “I will not dwell too long on contemplation before responding to your request. My age and this new situation prevent me from going back with you. But I will not desert Igodo in her hour of need. I will give my son to you, if you wish. After all, he is my blood. He is, therefore, of the royal line of Owodo, your last Ogiso. But before I release my son to you, you will have to submit yourselves to a test. If you pass, it will be proof that you will be able to look after him. I will present your matter to my people tomorrow and after that you will take the test.” For the test, he gave the three leaders, a louse each to nurture for three moons. If they bring them back healthy, “I will be convinced that you will take care of my son,” Oduduwa said and turned to Ilowa, Eshindale and Obameri, “separate them into three groups and each of you take a group home for the three moons they would be with us for the test. Give them good accommodation and hospitality. None of their groups is to meet with the other until they come back here in three moons’ time.” Oliha’s group went with Ilowa to his house and one of Oliha’s boys wrapped the louse in a cocoyam leaf and put it under a water pot. Eholo’s group followed Eshindale home and after racking brains with his men, decided to keep the louse in a gourd. Oliha, who followed Obameri home, decided that his Odemwigie would keep the louse in his bushy hair. “Do not have a bath or a hair-cut until further notice,” he told him. In the meantime, Oranmiyan was protesting against being sent to the strange land with the strange people. “Why not send someone else dad?” The father decided to tell him his secret and insisted he kept it to him self. “It is not a strange land, it is our ancestral land, he concluded.” Oranmiyan was pleased to be taken into confidence by his father and promised to do honour to the family name in Igodo.
After three moons, Izoduwa, surprised at the level of preservation and development of the lice, concluded that if the Edion’isen could so adequately take care of the lice, his son was likely to be in good hands. In the meantime, many ordinary people in Igodomigodo were not excited about the prospect of an Ife prince ruling them and also did not consider the Igodomigodo’s stool vacant. Irebor was on the throne and he was warning the people of Igodomigodo against what he described as (Ogie a mie, aimie Oba, meaning it is an Ogie that rules Igodomigodo and not an Oba), in protest against the intrusion of the Ife prince. The word Ogieamie then became the nickname of Irebor and subsequently the hereditary title of the ruler of Irebor’s Igodomigodo. Oronmiyan’s intervention in Igodomigodo was around 1170 CE. Ogieamie Irebor prevented Prince Oronmiyan from entering the heart of Igodomigodo kingdom. The Edion’isen built a palace for Prince Oronmiyan at Usama. The Yoruba prince refused to fight Ogieamie. Unable to bear the animosity for too long, Oronmiyan renounced his office and called Igodomigodo, Ile Ibinu, (meaning a land of annoyance and vexation). He declared that only a child of the soil, educated in the culture and traditions of Igodomigodo could rule the kingdom. Prince Oronmiyan, on his way home to Ife, stopped briefly at Egor, where he pregnated Princess Erimwinde, the daughter of the Enogie of Egor. Enogieship was created by the Ogiso dynasty. Egor was a dukedom and the Enogies of dukedoms were usually relatives and siblings of Igodomigodo monarchs. Many members of the guild of royal drummers whose ancestral home was at Ikpema quarters in Benin City, where allowed to settle in Ovia territory of Egor by the Enogie on the instructions of the Igodomigodo monarch at the time. Therefore, Oronmiyan’s choice of the Enogie of Egor’s daughter, on his way out of Igodomigodo, could not have been a casual decision and may have been arrived at through divination, and with the connivance of the Edion’isen. There was a strong link with the Igodomigodo royal family. Oronmiyan left three of his chiefs behind to take care of the pregnant princess. The three chiefs were Ihama, Letema and Legema. Judging by Oronmiyan’s understanding of the intricacies of Igodomigodo traditions and culture, it is very likely that the ancestors of the three chiefs, like his own, were soaked in Igodomigodo mores. Ihama, the leader of the chiefs was definitely an Edo chieftaincy title. Oronmiyan, after his Igodomigodo experience, went on to establish the first Alaafin dynasty in Oyo. Apart from the seed he sowed in Benin, he eventually fathered two younger sons, Ajaka and Shango, who succeeded him in turn as the Alaafins of Oyo. Ihama and the two other Oronmiyan chiefs in Ile-Ibinu, successfully supervised Princess Erimwinde’s pregnancy and her eventual delivery of a baby boy who was speechless at birth, but who from early years loved playing the game of marble. When the Alaafin was informed by his chiefs in Ile-Ibinu about his son’s predicament, he sent seven ‘akhue’ seeds to the boy through Chief Ehendiwo. Children throw the seeds against targets on the ground in the marble game. While playing the marble game with other children, one of Oronmiyan son’s throws hit the target and in the excitement he screamed: ‘Owomika,’ (meaning I have hit the target). This is how his title of Oba Eweka was derived.
CHAPTER SIX First Edo King's Dynasty OBA DYNASTY
Oba Eweka I (1200 CE), ruled over Usama, renamed Ile-Ibinu, outside Igodomigodo. In the meantime, Ogieamie Irebor who ruled Igodomigodo had been succeeded by Ogieamie Ubi, by the time of Oba Eweka’s reign in Ile-Ibinu. Oba Eweka’s reign was not particularly eventful. He was succeeded by his two sons, Oba Ewakhuahen and Oba Ehenmihen in quick succession. Neither of them made any impact on Ile-Ibinu as well.
Oba Ewedo (1255-1280 CE), succeeded Oba Ehenmihe. He changed the name Ile-Ibinu to UEdo and moved his palace from Usama to its original Ogiso site in the heart of Igodomigodo. The relocation of the palace site from Usama to the urban heart of the kingdom caused a bitter war between Oba Ewedo of UEdo and the Ogieamie Ode who was the ruler of Igodomigodo at the time. The fight was considered purely a family matter by the people of Igodomigodo and the Edion’isen. To prevent it leading to the loss of too many innocent lives, the Edion’isen prevailed on the adversaries to settle their quarrel amicably. Oba Ewedo requested Ogieamie Ode to sell Igodomigodo land to him. A treaty was struck requiring Ogieamie, as the traditional landlord of Igodomigodo kingdom, to sell Igodomigodo land to the Oba at the coronation of every successive Oba. The Oba elect first had to present gifts to the Ogieamie, which include two male and two female servants, a royal stool, a wooden staff, a rectangular stool and a round leather box. The Oba-in-waiting and the Ogieamie would then meet at their common boundary called ‘Ekiokpagha,’ where the Ogieamie would take sand from the ground and put it in the hand of the Oba and say: “I have sold this part of Benin land to you but not to your son and when you pass away your son will buy the land from me as you have done.” The Ogieamie’s dormain in Benin kingdom is known as Utantan where he has chiefs assisting him in his traditional duties. The present Ogieamie of Utantan-Benin is Ogieamie Osarobo Okuonghae, a graduate of history from the University of Benin. The relocation by Oba Ewedo to the heart of his kingdom, Ubini, also created immense difficulties for the Ihogbe. The three chiefs, who supervised the birth of Eweka, became known as the Ihogbe (meaning relatives of the Oba). Ihama and Letema titles became hereditary
because the two chiefs had male heirs. Legema did not have a male child, so his title became non-hereditary. In the Ihogbe, the idea that the oldest man becomes the leader does not apply. Leadership is determined by the rule of who has served the longest as an Ihogbe, regardless of age. Such a person becomes the Enila before the title becomes vacant through death of the occupier when the Enila takes over as the new Owere Enila or Odionwere or Okaegbee of the Ihogbe. The Ihogbe, as the official family of Eweka and, therefore, of the Oba dynasty generally, has the responsibility of taking care of the ancestral or royal shrine at Usama. The Okaegbee of Ihogbe, in particular, performs sanctification and purification rites frequently at the palace and officiates during the Oba’s propitiation ceremonies. The Okaegbee Ihogbe, who usually was not a young man, could handle palace responsibilities when the Oba’s palace at Usama UEdo was within a walking distance of less than 500 meters from the Ihogbe’ s ‘Ukhurhe’ ancestral shrine. The journey to the new palace site was perilous, long and messy, even for a young man. It traversed a walk during the dry season, through an extensive marshland created by the crossing of each other of rivers Omi and Oteghele at Isekherhe. The rivers are now extinct. During the rains at the time, Ediagbonya, the second son of Okaegbee Ihama of the Ihogbe, made a living ferrying people and goods across the river in his canoe. Okaegbee, Ihama’s first son, could not be relocated to the heart of UEdo because he was the custodian heir of the Ukhurhe, the totem representing the royal ancestral spirits at Usama. Ediagbonya, the second son, was relocated to Ubini, to take over palace ancestral responsibilities, with the title of Isekhurhe. He built his house at Utantan High Street not far from Ewedo’s new palace. Isekhurhe is a hereditary title, and the current holder is a graduate of American Universities. He succeeded to his father’s title in 1981 at the age of 30 years. The Esogban title, created by Oba Ewedo, may have been derived from the Yoruba word, Asogbon, meaning the source of wise counsel. Oba Ewedo spent some time in the Yoruba riverine area of Ugbo/Ilaje as a young man. Esogban ranks second in hierarchy to the Iyase who is the prime minister of the kingdom. Esogban heads the ‘Think Tank’ that weighs options for the Oba, so he is usually a man of sound and reliable judgment and often a blood relative of the Oba. As the premier mystic or warlock of the kingdom, the Esogban monitors activities in the mystical realm, and people accused of sorcery are regulated and punished by him. He is also the priest of the Orhie day, the second week-day of the kingdom after the Eken rest day. He tends the day to ensure it brings peace and prosperity to the Oba and the land.
Oba Oguola (1280–1295 CE), succeeded Oba Ewedo as the fifth Oba of Ubini. He dug the protective moat around UEdo during his reign. The city of Benin, like ancient Egyptian cities walled against predators, has a giant protective moat dug around it without using mechanical equipment. The engineering feet still marvels in modern times. The Benin moat is described in the Guinness Book of Records as second in magnitude only to the Great China wall. Oba Oguola was succeeded in turn by his three sons.
Oba Edoni (1295-1299 CE), and Oba Udagbedo (1299-1334 CE), made no impact on Ubini. Oba Ohen (1334-1370 CE), whose murder of his Iyase, the traditional prime minister of UEdo land, led to a rebellion that brought his reign to an end with his stoning to death. Oba Ohen was succeeded in turn by four of his sons. Oba Egbeka 1370 CE, Oba Orobiru, Oba Uwaifioku and Oba Ewuare the Great who consolidated, developed, and expanded the kingdom through innovative leadership ideas, closely knit, disciplined community organization, warfare, and conquests. He ushered in the period of warrior kings, which lasted into the 16th century CE, traversing the reigns of Obas Ozolua, Esigie, Orhogbua and Ehengbuda.
EMPEROR EWUARE (THE GREAT)
Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473 CE), was himself forced into exile and nearly would not have ascended to the throne. When Oba Orobiru died, members of the Edion’isen where uncomfortable with Oba Ohen’s third son’s strong and independent streak and did not want him (Prince Ogun), to become the Oba. When the hostilities building against him over his right to the throne was getting unbearable, with death penalty hanging on his head, he fled into the woods to save his life, taking his junior brother, Uwaifiokun, along with him. He did not know at the time that the Edion’isen favoured Uwaifiokun over him to rule. After three years of living wild and aimlessly, with the toll beginning to tell on him, he decided to send Uwaifiokun to the city to discreetly find out what the feelings were about the UEdo throne that had been vacant since he and his brother escaped into the forest. When Uwaifiokun arrived at Chief Ihama of Ihogbe’s home, the chief excitedly rushed him to meet with the Edion’isen who enthusiastically received him. Asked about his elder brother, Prince Ogun, Uwaifiokun lied that he had not seen him for a long while. The king makers then offered him the throne which he quickly accepted, thus betraying his brother’s trust. Prince Ogun was upset by the betrayal and started plotting to take the throne from his junior brother. Ogun’s relative, Azuwa, living in Uhunmwun Idumwun in the eastern outskirts of Benin, using the Iha divination, told Prince Ogun that he would win his throne. He listed what Prince Ogun had to do to reverse the animosity of the Edion’isen because ordinary UEdo people were routing for him, although thinking he was already dead. Royal ancestors and the gods of the land were angry over the injustice done to him, and many people had begun to leave the city in fear of the wrath of the gods. Prince Ogun was told that he would meet a pregnant woman, a hunter, and finally an old woman living opposite the market place, who would each influence the process of his gaining the throne. He promised Azuwa great reward if Iha’s predictions came through. News of his visit to Uhunmwun Idunmwun soon reached the UEdo monarch who quickly dispatched troops to the area to try to capture him. Prince Ogun escaped through Ikpe territory, deep into the hinterland. At Igogogin bush, where he retired to spend the night, he heard the moaning of someone that appeared to be in pains. Obviously, he was dreaming, but it was very vivid. He was shocked that he was not alone in the forest. On investigation, he found that the moaning person (a tree), required help to relieve it of worms ravaging its trunk. Ogun wasted no time in doing just that and as reward, the tree asked him to make a request because he, the tree, was the spirit of Ase that could grant anything. The spirit placed an object at Ogun’s feet and asked him to pick it up and make a demand of it. Ogun, unbelieving, playfully asked the object to make the tree bothering him, to shed its leaves and die. The tree promptly shed its leaves and died. Ogun woke up and found the object by his feet, and that he had reclined against a tree that had shed its leaves and died. The tree was full of life when he chose to recline on it for the night, he thought. He picked up the object and asked another tree near-by to shed its leaves and die. The tree promptly did.
He went to Ekae village where he lived for a while and gave birth to the Evbo Aigbogun people, then he moved on. In the meantime, the monarch’s troops, acting on reports of sightings, were raiding villages around him. They almost caught him when they trooped past him in a forest were he was hiding. He plucked a large green leaf and put it in his mouth, and in demand of his ‘Ase charm,’ the leaf rendered him invisible, (or looking like a shrub), to the troops. Hours later, when the danger had subsided, he called the leaf that saved his life, Ebe Ewere. At the base of the tree where he had spent the night, blood had dropped all over him. When he carefully looked up, a leopard was snoozing up a branch of the tree after eating its prey. He killed the leopard with one arrow shot. On the ground by the tree where he had slept, he found he had laid his head on a snake coiled up neatly as his pillow through out the night. He killed the snake too. A little while later, at a blind corner along the bush path near where he had slept, a pregnant woman was approaching him, going to her farm, not knowing someone was there. She struck her toe against a stump and screamed in lamentation, “what bad omen is this? The spirits are angry, ancestors are taking lives. Ogun the rightful heir to the throne must be found to ascend the throne before peace can return to the land.” The sudden manifestation of Prince Ogun on the bush path startled the woman who did not recognize the prince. After Ogun had introduced himself, she was happy to repeat herself, thus re-assuring Ogun that he was loved by the ordinary people of UEdo who were hoping he was not dead yet. Ogun was delighted with what he heard and promised to declare the area where the woman farmed at Ugbekun, Royal farm land in her honour, with all the labour she would need provided by the state from season to season. Ogun then decided to head for Ubini. Close to Umelu junction, he heard a hunter who was resting under a tree shade, talking aloud to himself: “I am going home with these killings, but with no one to share them with. O! Ihama and the five Edion, you have put our land in great peril. The ancestors visit the sins of your hatred of Prince Ogun on our people. What shall we do?” Ogun surprised the hunter with his presence, introduced himself, and thanked the hunter for his comments. He named the tree the hunter was sheltering under, the Okha n’Ohue. Source of good omen. Remembering Iha’s predictions about his encounters on the way to the throne, which appeared to be coming true, Ogun decided to head through stealthy paths for the market place in the city. At Unueru quarters, the Royal army almost caught up with him. He hid and resisted using his ‘Ase charm’ to destroy the army because he reasoned they were his people, his future subjects. Later that night, he retired to Chief Ogieva Nomuekpo’s home, hoping to find respite there from the troops haunting him. The chief expressed fear of the troops and hid Ogun in a dry well in his compound. The chief covered the mouth of the well with leaves and in betrayal left to alert the Royal army about his catch. While Ogieva was on his way to invite the Royal army to come and arrest Prince Ogun, Edo, the head servant of Ogieva’s household, alerted Prince Ogun about his master’s diabolical plan and helped the prince to escape from the well with a ladder. Ogieva returned with the Royal troops to find that Edo had helped Ogun escape. The troops killed Edo on the spot. Prince Ogun in the meantime, had found his way to the hut of the old woman opposite the market place in the city. She was a powerful mystic, poor, old and childless. She hailed from Eyaen village in the present day Oduwawa cattle market area on the Benin-Auchi Road. The name her parents gave her was Uwaraye. As a young woman, during the reign of Oba Ohen, Prince Ogun’s father, she married Chief Azama of Ihogbe district, as his second wife. Uwaraye was considered indolent by her husband because she could not cook. She could not get pregnant either. Azama’s first wife, Arabe, handled the domestic chores and gave birth to all the children of the household. Azama soon nicknamed Uwaraye, Eke’Emitan, corrupted to Emotan, meaning lazy bones. She had a redeeming feature, though. She was good at helping to (nurse) or take care of the brood of the household. As the children of the household reached the age when they no longer required close supervision by adults, Emotan who could make ‘evbarie’ (a soup seasoning condiment made from fermented melon seeds), and spin threads from cotton bolls, began taking these plus some herbal products to sell at a stall opposite the city market. When her husband died and
she could not return to her parent’s home because they too had died in old age earlier on, she set up a hut to live in at her trading post opposite the market place. Her hut soon became a popular make-shift nursery for the children of families patronizing the market. She attended to the children’s health and other needs flawlessly without charging fees and the kids’ parents soon could not have enough of her services. It was in her nature, therefore, to agree to have Prince Ogun as her guest and to help him take his throne. During Prince Ogun’s first night at the hut, the Royal army raided the market neighbourhood, searching possible hideouts, including Emotan’s hut. He was invisible again. As soon as the army moved their search from the hut to other areas in the vicinity, Ogun sneaked out, avoiding the path of the army, and headed straight for the palace where he killed his brother, Oba Uwaifiokun. The news of his action soon spread around the city. Ordinary citizens were supportive of his action, insisting that it was Ogun’s right to do what he did and expressing joy and hope that the tragedies of the recent past would soon end because justice had prevailed. Emotan sent word to Ogun to stay put in the palace and consolidate his hold while she continued spiritual work outside to win empathy and love for Ogun. Within a few days, the Edion’isen had come round in support of Ogun, eventually crowning him as the Omo N’ Oba Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare. Iha divination’s title choice of ‘Oworuare,’ alias Ewuare, could not have been more apt because it means, after the heat, the cooling effect of rain. Oba Ewuare appointed Emotan as the Iyeki (that is the leader of the authorized Ekpate guild), tasked with security matters in the market and with enforcing market rules. Emotan died not too long after Ewuare’s ascension, so the Oba decreed that she should be buried in her hut. Later the grave was marked with an Uruhe tree and her deification as the conscience of justice was ordered by the king. Every celebratory procession in Benin pays homage to the burial site. The first Uruhe tree (marker) survived for some three hundred years before it fell. The replacement Uruhe tree survived for about one hundred and fifty years before an Iroko tree was planted to support it. A severe storm fell both trees on their, around one hundred years’ anniversary together. Oba Akenzua II, in cooperation with the British Colonial authorities commissioned in 1954, a life size bronze statue of Emotan as a young woman, sculpted by Mr. John A. Danford, in his Chelsea, London, studio in 1951, from a miniature model cast by Igun Street artists. Oba Ewuare, in continuation of the fulfillment of the promises he made to reward those who helped him win the throne, installed Azuwa as the ‘Iha man mwen’ of Igun, meaning the Ihama of Igun. Oba Ewuare bought the corpse of Edo from Ogieva and had it exhumed. He gave the servant posthumous freedom and ordered his reburial underneath the altar of Ukhurhe Edion at the Aro Edun, the entrance to the palace’s inner tower, an ultimate place of honour. Then he invited the people of UEdo to join him in honouring a bondsman who gave his life for him to live. He changed the name of the city, language and kingdom, to Edo. This was later expanded to Edo O’Evbo Ahire, meaning Edo the city of love, in appreciation of Edo’s love that saved young Prince Ogun’s life and gave Edo kingdom her greatest king. The present day elegant ceremonial costumes of the kings and chiefs of Benin originated from Ewuare’s reign. Ewuare restored the annual cycle of royal ceremonies, the most important ones being Ugie Erha Oba, in honour of royal ancestors and Igue, to strengthen the mystical powers of the king. Oba Ewuare’s vow to propitiate his head and give thanks to his ancestors with a major spiritual event if he gained the throne, is the genesis of the Igue festival, which started three years into his reign. The Igue festival is the leading spiritual festival of the Edo. It is a two week long thanksgiving festival to the head, as the focal point of anointing and the centre of the human person. The head symbolizes both the sacredness of creation and of the spirit entity in man. To quote the Isekhurhe, “it is to the head you raise your hands, in respect and adoration.” The Oba goes into seclusion for spiritual purification during the period. Igue activities include Igue ivbioba, Igue edohia, Ugie ewere, Otue igue Oba (chiefs paying homage to the Oba), Igue Oba and Ugie emobo (when the Oba comes out of seclusion). The incantations used at the Igue festival were developed by the Ihogbe family. During the festival, Edo people say prayers, cleanse themselves of their sins, bring members of their extended family together to bond, share gifts and blessings, feeding on the food of atonement and thanksgiving. The Ewere leaf that saved Ewuare’s life in the bush when he was nearly caught by the Royal troops, has its day
of lavish use, with the leaves taken by youths from home to home around the city. They tear pieces of the leaves and paste them on the heads, particularly the foreheads of people, to show joy. At that moment of sharing, the salutation is ‘Ise Logbe’ (Happy New Year), and the reply or response is ‘Ogbe man vbe dia re’ (Many happy returns). Oba Ewuare the great, was the most dynamic, innovative and successful Oba in the history of Edo kingdom. Under him, Edo was completely transformed religiously, politically, socially, physically and militarily. Ewuare re-organized the government of Edo by centralizing it and he set up three powerful palace associations of chiefs. The political elite of the kingdom was made up of titled chiefs and members of the royal family. The seven highest-ranking chiefs, who were, in fact, descendants of original elders of Edo, were constituted into Uzama with leadership authority next to the king. The brothers of the king who tended to be potential rivals were sent as hereditary rulers (Enogies) of administrative districts. The mother of the king was given the title of Queen mother and set up in her own palace in the town of Uselu just outside the city. The palace, which did not have a permanent site in previous reigns, was constructed on a massive scale covering several acres of land at its present location and turned into a beehive of activities as the political and spiritual nerve centre of the vast kingdom. The Edo have a saying that in the Oba’s palace there is never silence. The complex includes shrine areas, meeting chambers for a variety of groups of chiefs, work spaces for ritual professionals, royal artists and craftsmen, storehouses, a large wing called Ogbe Ewuare, residential sections for the Oba’s numerous wives, children and servants. While the expansion activities in the palace was going on, the civil engineering work to dig the City’s inner moat was embarked upon. Oba Oguola’s outer moat, hugging the Ogbe river valley, kilometers away from Okoo village, left the palace rear exposed. Ewuare’s moat was less than a kilometer from the palace’s rear and so provided additional security for the palace. A seventeenth century Dutch engraving from Olfert Dapper’s Nauwkeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaansche Gewesten, published in Amsterdam in 1668, described the palace thus: “The king’s palace or court is a square, and is as large as the town of Haarlem and entirely surrounded by a special wall, like that which encircles the town. It is divided into many magnificent palaces, houses, and apartments of the courtiers, and comprises beautiful and long square galleries, about as large as the Exchange at Amsterdam, but one larger than another, resting on wooden pillars, from top to bottom covered with cast copper, on which are engraved the pictures of their war exploits and battles, and are kept very clean. Most palaces and houses of the king are covered with palm leaves instead of square pieces of wood, and every roof is decorated with a small turret ending in a point, on which birds are standing, birds cast in copper with outspread wings, cleverly made after living models.” The city’s houses originally built with poles or palm ribs and padded with mud were rebuilt with packed mud. The city was re-planned and neatly laid out, with roads radiating from the center. It was divided into two distinct segments with Ore ne Okhua, constituting the public sector, and the Oba’s sector (Ogbe), the other. The population of Ore ne Okhua was organized into wards with each specializing in a peculiar craft or ritual services in allegiance to the king. My grandfather’s home shared fence with the palace at a point in ogbe. He must have had a significant role in the palace to warrant his living so close. I have not investigated this. I am his reincarnation The arts, particularly brass casting, flourished during Oba Ewuare’s reign. He set up a war machine that extended Edo notion of kingship, objects, aesthetic, ideas and power, across the West Coast of Africa and through dominance lent their name to the Bight of Benin. At its height, the Edo controlled vast Yoruba land with populations several times larger than that of Edo. The kingdom extended in the West to Lagos, where the Edo set up a military camp of occupation which they called Eko; in the North-east to Ekiti, Owo, Ondo, most of Delta state and all of the North-west to the River Niger . It also exerted considerable influence on eastern Yorubaland and maintained trading connection with Oyo. The kingdom’s dominance reached all the way to Togo and present day Ghana. The Edo have very close affinity, particularly in the area of traditions and culture, with the Ashantis of Ghana and are considered of similar or common stock. The Edo spread their culture and traditions, particularly their Obaship ideology and system, by sending royal brothers to rule over tributaries, or holding hostage, sons of conquered chiefs to
be trained in Edo, or by sponsoring candidates for thrones of conquered territories. Objects such as Ada and brass masks, were introduced to vassal lords as emblems of their authority, and these symbols have endured in virtually all the territories that experienced Edo control. Even in places outside direct Edo influence, such as parts of the Niger Delta area, the reputation of the Oba of Edo was such that leadership disputes were brought to him for arbitration and the winners took back home, Edo regalia to form part of their leadership traditions. However, the frontiers of the Edo Empire were constantly expanding and contrasting as new conquests were made and as vassals on the borders, rebelled only to be re-conquered. It was towards the tail end of Oba Ewuare’s reign that the Portuguese first made their visit to West Africa in 1472. Oba Ewuare the great died in 1473. At the actuaries on the bank of what is today known as the Bight of Benin, the local people the Portuguese met there, when asked about the kingdom in the interior, told the Portuguese it was called Ubini. The Portuguese abbreviated this to Benin/Edo because they could not properly pronounce Ubini. When the Portuguese arrived in the kingdom of Benin, they were stunned by what they found on the ground in terms of level of administrative sophistication, social engineering and military activities. They found a monarchy dating back many centuries, with complex structure of chiefs and palace officials presiding over a kingdom that was expanding in all directions and a highly developed kingdom with unique and very sophisticated political, artistic, linguistic, economic, cultural and military traditions in the process of territorial conquests. Edo kingdom was in the throes of great conquests and had healthy, disciplined citizens; well planned and laid out streets, a palace extending over kilometers of territory and a king and his nobles, civilized to their bones. The Portuguese felt honoured to be accepted by the Edo and quickly entered into treaties of cooperation with Oba Ewuare, exchanging emissaries and trying to trade. There is a hint that they tried to preach Christianity to the monarch but were not rewarded with favourable response. It was taboo to talk about alien Gods in a civilization ruled by vibrant African Gods. It was during Oba Ewuare’s reign, however, that an Aruosa delegation visited Portugal in 1472. A British adventurer called Ling Roth, was the first to refer to Benin as great, a tribute not only to the extent of the Benin Empire but also to the elaborate, detailed and efficient administrative machinery the people had evolved. One of the military commanders who made strong impact in Ewuare’s expansion conquests and maintenance of vassal territories to the West and across the Niger to the East was a formidable personage by the name Ezuku. He was probably Ibo, judging by his praise-name: Ogogobiaga. He was merciless, fearless and impartial in dishing out punishment and miseries to opponents. He was set up in camp at Ogan, the village across Orhionmwon River from Abudu town, facing Ika vassal territories. From there he monitored activities including possible rebellion and commercial traffic from eastern flanks and beyond, of the Edo Empire. When Ezuku died, he was deified. Another very successful military commander of the Edo army at the time was Iken. He was probably more successful than Ezuku, but was never acknowledged, honoured, or rewarded for his valor by the monarch. His problem at that early stage of Edo’s conquest of foreign lands was probably because he was a son of the soil. Here was a native son vanquishing and beheading alien kings, signing treaties, and turning kingdoms into vassal territories of his monarch. His feats were enough to propel him to the top of leadership in his native land, if not immediately as king, at least, as an alternative voice or a strong contender, challenger, aspirant to the throne, in the eyes of the people. His feats were definitely enough to make him the Iyase, (i.e. leader of all the chiefs, second in command to the Oba) and prime minister of Edo land. His spiritual prowess, intimidating aura of success, abundant confidence, pride and bravado, were too strong for the chiefs, scared that he would not only be too powerful if made the leading chief or even just a chief, both of which he had earned in war exploits and trophies, but that his influence would almost totally eclipse theirs. The chiefs did not have this problem with Ezuku because Edo people do not give their chieftaincy titles to non-indigenes. Shoving Ezuku to the outskirts of the kingdom with dignity and respect was enough to keep Ezuku happy and in check.
Iken was not only deprived of honour and respect for his military victories for Edo people, he was relatively poor compared to the chiefs, and he had only one wife who unfortunately could not give him a child. The Oba, who routinely dished out lavish gifts, titles, and his daughters in marriage to lesser achievers in the society, appeared not to reckon with Iken, perhaps because no one, not any of the chiefs, would put in a good word for him in such matters in the palace. If anything, they played the devil’s advocate at every opportunity against Iken. Iken gradually began to worry more and more about how he was being treated by the society he had served so well and was ready to die for. One day, he decided he had had enough. He would no longer go to war for Edo people, socialize with them and their chiefs, or even visit the palace for whatever reason. He began rebuffing invitations from the palace, ignoring entreaties and visits by emissaries, regardless of the quarters from which they came. This was happening at a time when the vassal kings of Akure and Ekiti were refusing to continue to pay due tributes to the Edo monarch, and were even threatening war. The palace needed Iken to deal with the two rebelling vassal kings so the palace began pestering Iken with messages, invitations, and visits by respectable emissaries, until he succumbed, visited the palace, and agreed to take on the rebelling vassal monarchs. By the time he was ready to go to war, Ekiti Oba had withdrawn his threat and returned to being a loyal vassal to the Edo monarch. As soon as he left Edo with his troops for Akure, Edo chiefs immersed themselves in extensive wizardry, intended to prevent Iken from returning to Edo alive, even if he succeeded in the war against Akure. Akure battle, laced copiously with witchcraft, was tough. Several lives were lost before Iken could subdue the Akure army. After beheading their king and sending trophies of his triumph to the Edo monarch, he embarked on an inspection tour of his conquered territory, Akure. At the Akure palace, a pretty daughter of the Akure king played on his libido, offering him favours right there and then, and pretending to want to serve as war booty and the nucleus of a new harem. He fell for the bait but had to remove his clothes, including his spiritual war regalia responsible for his invincibility in war, to be able to get down with the princess. As he was about to climb on the bed naked with the princess, her accomplices pounced on him to machete him to death. When the news reached the Edo monarch, and he found out the role his chiefs had played in the matter, he was sorry. He then created the title of Edaiken (Eda-iken) (meaning holding forth for Iken, or looking after Iken’s household, affairs, and interests), until he returns, as the title for the Crown Prince and Oba in-waiting of Edo kingdom. Oba Ewuare initially considered adopting the Ogiso succession format of first son inheriting the throne so, he made his first son, Prince Kuoboyuwa, the Edaiken, and appointed his second son, Prince Ezuwarha, the Duke (Enogie) of Iyowa. Ezuwarha was not happy about not being allowed to aspire to rule after his senior brother’s turn. After all, that was how his father became king, he reasoned. In a quarrel over the issue, the two brothers died on the same day. After a prolonged mourning period, accompanied with elaborate rites for the two dead sons were called off, Oba Ewuare consulted the oracle and was advised to blend the bloodlines of the Obas with that of the Ogisos, to ensure stability in the succession issue. The search for a maiden of marriageable age and descending directly from the last Ogiso, produced Omuwa from Udo town in Ovia. She gave Oba Ewuare, two sons, Ezoti and Okpame. Oba Ewuare had another son, Olua, by a different mother from Omuwa’s children. Oba Ewuare asked his chiefs to do a personality assessment of who would make the best Oba from among his three sons. The chiefs could not recommend any of the children for the throne. They described Ezoti, the oldest of the three sons, as stingy and likely to plunge the kingdom into prolonged hunger if he became Oba. Olua, the second in line, was described as a spend thrift (okpetu kporozo), who would take less than three lunar months to squander the Oba’s wealth, built up over a number of centuries, on silly and irrelevant programmes just to look good in the eye of the public. As for Okpame, they believed he would plunge the kingdom into endless warfare because his only passion, and things that gave him happiness, had to do
with the sword. Oba Ewuare, perplexed that none of his sons would make a good Oba, decided to stop bothering with innovations and return the kingdom to the “equality of siblings” process, which would guarantee the three sons, ruling in turn. Oba Ezoti (1473 CE), succeeded his father to the throne in 1473 and reigned for only 14 days when he died from injuries inflicted on him in attempted regicide on coronation day. Oba Olua (1473-1481CE), ascended the throne after the assassination of his brother, Oba Ezoti, who had a son, Prince Owere, claiming legitimacy to the throne at the time. Prince Okpame quietly murdered his nephew, Prince Owere, in defense of Oba Ewuare’s injunction that first generation princes had first claim to the throne. Okpame escaped into northern Edo territories as a fugitive on the run, to avoid punishment when the murder was discovered. There in the wilds, he acquired a knight’s amour of Byzantine origin from North Africa, thus making himself look fearsome and unassailable. His bizarre adventure led him to some battles in the jungle. He fathered the Ora people of today. The death of Prince Owere, coupled with the continuing war like antics of Prince Okpame, obviously influenced Oba Olua to keep his son, Prince Iginua, out of possible harms’ way. Oba Olua arranged for his son, Prince Iginua, to travel south to the riverine area, bedecked in the appurtenance of kingly power and authority, with a large retinue of officers and servants at his beck and call. Iginua became the Olu of the Itsekiris.
EMPEROR OZOLUA Oba Ozolua (1481-1504 CE). After the death of Oba Olua, Okpame was invited to ascend the throne and he took the title of Oba Ozolua. Two of Ozolua’s sons were kidnapped (oduomomu, meaning thieves of children) during that period of the slave trade. Oba Ozolua reintroduced the process of first son succeeding to the throne, with Dukedoms carved out for the other princes. The older of his two remaining sons, after he had lost two sons to the slave trade, was Osawe, who was named the Edaiken (Oba-in-waiting). Idubor, the junior to Osawe, was appointed the Duke of Udo, the home town of Oba Ozolua’s mother, and the second largest and most important town in the kingdom at the time. Idubor, known as Arhuanran n’Udo (the giant of Udo), was not happy about playing second fiddle to his senior brother, Prince Osawe. Ozolua, as predicted by the king makers before he became king, was aggressive and war-like. In a feud between him and a powerful mystic called Elekighidi of Ogbelaka quarters, he enticed Elekighidi’s wife, Eyowo, to betray her husband and then married her after his triumph over Elekighidi. Then Oba Ozolua beheaded Eyowo out of fear that she could betray him too in future. The Portuguese made strong efforts to convert Oba Ozolua to Christianity with preachments. He had no respect for white gods and deities and even for the Portuguese items of trade, which were being offered to build close links between the kingdom and Portugal. He was, however, impressed with their guns, a weapon strange to warfare in the West African region at that time. Oba Ozolua introduced bronze casting to Benin. He did it through Iguehae, a great bronze caster, whose descendants have continued the tradition through the guild of bronze casters at the present day Igun Street in Benin City.
Oba Esigie (1504-1550 CE). Oba Ozolua’s first son, Prince Osawe succeeded him to the throne and took the title of Oba Esigie. The feud between Oba Esigie and his brother, the Duke of Udo had been building up from the day of their birth. They were products of two of the wives of Oba Ozolua. Idia, the subject of the famous FESTAC mask, was the mother of Osawe, while Ohonmin was Idubors’s mother. Ohonmin gave birth to Idubor, a few hours before Osawe arrived, but because Idubor did not immediately cry at birth, Osawe who did, was reported first to the king, according to tradition. By the time Idubor cried, to enable the mother report his birth, the king had performed the proclamation rites of Osawe as first son.
OBA ESIGIE OF THE EDO EMPIRE Idubor, while growing up was very bitter about his treatment. He more than on one occasion asked his mother if his father was his true father to be so callous as to take away his birthright in such a mean fashion. As the Duke (Enogie) of Udo, Idubor refused to accept subordinate role to his brother, Oba Esigie, and at first tried to make Udo the capital of Benin kingdom with himself as king. It didn’t take too long before the two brothers went to war. The war was difficult, bitter, and long drawn out. It was not until the third campaign that Udo was defeated. The third campaign was timed to coincide with the planting season when Udo citizen-soldiers, who were mainly farmers, would be busy on their farms. The Enogie’s only son, Oni-Oni, died in the battles. Even after that defeat, Udo’s Iyase and commander of their troops, returned to the offensive and after his defeat, the people of Udo escaped to found Ondo town deep in Yoruba territory. The Enogie of Udo committed suicide by drowning at the Udo lake after his defeat. He did not want to be captured prisoner and taken back to Benin. Before jumping into the lake, he left his ‘Ivie necklace,’ the precious bead necklace symbol of authority in Benin land, dangling from a tree branch were it could be easily found. Only the Oba could inherit such trophies of dead or conquered leaders and nobles, so, out of excitement over his victory, he tried on his neck for size, his brother’s humble surrender necklace symbol. He became mentally disoriented immediately he put the necklace on his neck. Removing the necklace from his neck did not make any difference, so he was rushed back to Benin City in that hopeless state. His mother, Idia, immediately located a Yoruba Babalawo (mystic) at Ugbo/Ilaje, in the riverine area, and brought him to Benin to work on the king’s spiritual ailment. He cured the Oba of his ailment, and the Queen after rewarding him generously, prevailed on him, (the Yoruba Awo), to settle permanently in Benin to continue to render his services. He set up home at Ogbelaka quarters where his descendants have thrived until this day.
Idia, the Queen mother of Oba Esigie, commands a special place of honour in Benin history. She was a noted administrator and a great Amazon and influence on her son, Oba Esigie. She was personally involved in many of the wars of conquest by the Oba and even led some of them herself. Her image is eloquently captured in the famous Ivory mask, which served as the logo of the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), held in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria. The exquisite craftsmanship of the mask bears testimony to the quality of life and superlative level of civilization of the Benin people prior to their colonization. Three hundred and ninety-three years later, when the British invaded Benin kingdom and carted away their Ivory and bronze works before burning the city down, they described Edo works of art as symbols of barbarism and human sacrifice. The Portuguese, a major European power at the time, happily negotiated and established diplomatic and trade relations with Oba Esigie and his kingdom, Benin. One of the numerous elite palace associations was assigned the responsibility of conducting affairs with the Portuguese. Until this day, a secret language, which some claim is derived from a mixture of Portuguese and Edo languages, is spoken by members of the association. Portuguese mercenaries fought along side the Edo in many territorial wars after the treaty. Trade between the Portuguese and Benin was mainly in coral beads, cloths for ceremonial attire, and great quantities of brass manilas, which Edo craftsmen melted for casting. In exchange for Portuguese goods, the Edo offered tobacco, spices, colanuts, ivory, earthenware, jewelry, artifacts, woven cotton materials, etc. Benin City is where Christianity was first preached in Nigeria. The Portuguese failed to persuade Oba Ewuare and Oba Ozolua but made their first break through with Oba Esigie, to the shock and disbelief of the Uzama nobles and Benin people generally. With the Oba’s determination to have his way and replace Benin practices and faith with Christian ones, the Uzama nobles ostracized him. He retaliated by creating a parallel Uzama, headed by chief Inneh of Igun Street. His new Uzama was called Uzama N’ Ibie and had, apart from their leader, Chiefs Ogieamien, Elema, Ogiehor and three others. The original Uzama mocked the new one to no end for breaking with tradition by living with the monarch in inner Benin. The new Uzama tried to gloss over the inconsistencies with ineffective symbolic projects and gestures until the conflict escalated into war between the two Uzama groups. Oba’s army took side with their Uzama, of course, and they eventually defeated the original Uzama nobles. The battle is commemorated at the palace yearly as the Igie Iron. The original Uzama, led by Oliha, decided that a change of Oba was necessary, and recruited the Atta of Igalla for the job. According to Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s River Niger Exploratory report 1854, “The first Atta of Idah was an Ado (Edo) man, a tribe which the Aboh people call Idu. He was a hunter who settled on Idah in Igarra. A quarrel arose and he drove Igarra king of Idah away and became the king of the place. Oyingbo, who was the Atta during Esigie’s time, assured of fifth columnists’ support inside Benin, welcomed the opportunity to invade and subdue the almighty Benin. He left his capital, Idah, with a large army and after crossing the River Niger, began merciless pillaging of communities on his way to Benin and meeting with no resistance of any sort on the way. At Ahor town with a large population and ten Dukedoms, on the opposite side of Ikpoba River, which he had to cross to enter Benin City, Atta sacked and destroyed nine of the principalities. The one that miraculously escaped his archers and swordsmen is the Abor community, and the only one in existence today. After Ahor, he swept furiously through Oregbeni village to begin his descend of Ikpoba hill still meeting with no resistance so far in his campaign, trailed with a great deal of wreckage and deaths. As he prepared to ascend Ikpoba slope to enter Benin City, guns concealed in the lush forest around the valley, manned by Portuguese missionaries and traders, opened fire on Atta’s
army from all sides. Such fire power was strange at the time to the Igallas and the Edo people. In the twinkling of an eye, hundreds of the invading army had fallen, so what was left of them fled back up the valley, pursued by Benin army, all the way to Idah across the River Niger. The defeated Atta then became a vassal of Benin. Encouraged by the victory, Oba Esigie turned his full attention and energy on promoting Christianity. He built a Cathedral on the Aruosa site at Akpakpava Road and a chapel each, perhaps intended to serve as schools, at Erie, Ugbague and Ogbelaka quarters. Christian rituals, including morning mass, were introduced into palace usage, and Christian motifs, such as the cross of four equal arms, which was the form of cross the Portuguese first introduced to Benin, were reproduced on the Ada, Eben, and the regalia of the Oba and his chiefs. Oba Esigie’s first son and Oba-in-waiting, Edaiken Prince Orhogbua, was given to the Portuguese to train as a Catholic priest. He became the most highly educated in western education, of the Benin princes until Oba Akenzua II in 1933 CE. The Portuguese appeared to have first trained Orhogbua at the Bishopric of Sao Tome before transferring him to Lisbon to continue his education. When his father died in 1550 CE, he was still overseas. He was seen by Edo people as a Portuguese, and of course, he spoke perfect Portuguese. European slave trade in West Africa started with the acquisition of domestic servants in 1522, and warrior kingdoms like Benin had plenty of them captured as war booties, but would not sell them. The slave trade was very unpopular with the Edo people. They thought it was silly to sell fellow human beings. Their Obas and nobles were vehemently opposed to the business of slave trade and to the export of the productive fighting male. The Edo, of course, could not control the day to day happenings of the slave merchants, who apparently largely acted under cover at first in the vast territories under Edo hegemony. However, it was forbidden to sell or take a native Edo into slavery and so elaborate identification marks on faces and chests were eventually contrived. The Bini, therefore, were hardly ever captured by Arabs or Europeans into slavery.
Alan Ryder, writing on this in his book: Benin and the European, narrated the experience of the Portuguese merchant, Machin Fernandes in Benin as early as 1522: That was during the reign of Oba Esigie. “Of the whole cargo of 83 slaves bought by Machin Fernandes, only two were males – and it is quite possible that these were acquired outside the Oba’s territory – despite a whole month (at Ughoton) spent in vain attempts to have a market opened for male slaves. The 81 females, mostly between ten and twenty years of age, were purchased in Benin City between 25 June and 8 August at the rate of one, two or three a day.” None of the 83 slaves was an Edo person, according to Ryder, and no Edo person could have been involved in the sales. It was taboo in Edo culture. Edo Empire was vast, with a great concentration of people from different ethnic backgrounds, Yoruba, Ibo, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Urhobo, Igalla etc, making a living in the lucrative Ughoton route that was the main centre of commercial activities in the southern area at the time, of what later became Nigeria. Alan Ryder, recording the experiences of yet another European merchant, the French trader and Captain called Landolphe, in Benin in February 1778, said, “the Ezomo was the richest man in Benin, owning more than 10,000 slaves, none of whom was ever sold.” The author then commented: “His (the Ezomo’s) refusal to sell any of his slaves is also noteworthy for the light it
sheds upon the attitude of powerful Edo chiefs towards the slave trade: however numerous they might be, a great man did not sell his slaves.” Says Edo people: “vbo ghi da Oba no na mu ovionren khien?” Meaning, “what need does the Oba want to satisfy by putting out his slave for sale?” Oba Esigie contrived his own death as an atonement or sacrifice for his spiritual shortcomings. He allowed himself to be mistakenly killed by his own security guards while feigning to be an intruder into the palace grounds, with his head covered with calico hood, and thrusting it through a hole he made in the security fence. The intruder had played the trick two times earlier and was third time unlucky. It all happened within a couple of days and security guards where at full alert and prepared for the intruder that third time, almost severing the head off, only to discover they had killed their king.
Oba Orhogbua (1550-1578 CE). When his father, Oba Esigie died, Orhogbua was in Europe. On arrival from Europe, the Edo insisted that he choose between being a Catholic priest and an Oba because he can not be both. The popular saying in Benin at the time was: “Ai wo Oba, wo ebo,” meaning you cannot be king and be priest to a deity. Orhogbua chose to become Oba. The Edo had always considered their riverine territories the Iyekowa (backyard) of Benin land and for hundreds of years they controlled the entire area. It was the route through Ughoton water side that the land locked kingdom reached out or was reached from abroad, and increasingly so from Oba Ewuare’s era. The Edo called the route: “ode ame (the riverine route, and would sometimes add: “emwin n’omo yaru omo ode ame erokerhe,” (meaning: the underpinnings of the authority and prestige of the Oba of Benin, came through the riverine route). It was the revenue route from the outside world to Benin. Active trading with the Portuguese started in 1553, with the Edo offering ivory, palm oil, pepper, cloth, beads directly and slaves brought into her Ughoton port from surrounding territories under Edo Empire. The first guns came into Benin through this route, as did iron bars from Holland for the five blacksmith guilds, and the manila currency melted into raw materials for the exquisite Benin bronze masterpieces in all the leading museums of the world today. The cowry currency also came through the route to facilitate Edo’s economic buoyancy. The Ijebu towns all the way to Ikorodu, on the route, provided Benin with woven cloth, which became the major item of trading on the route with European traders, who re-traded the cloth at ports on the West African coast and the Congo, in exchange for slaves and gold. Of course, the Roman Catholic fathers brought the Bible with one hand and enslaved the natives with the other through the route. Oba Orhogbua enforced tribute payments from all parts of his Empire and in the 1550s conquered all the coastal lands, up to Lagos where he left a permanent garrison. The Benin maritime army was borne on river-craft flotillas. Orhogbua’s conquering expedition recognized the importance of Lagos Island, both as a military defense point, and a look-out post for traffic from around the world, intending to explore the interior of Africa from the West African coastline break that allows water to flow from the Benin River into the Atlantic Ocean. Ships from the outside world could penetrate into the bowels of Africa from there so the Island entry point was considered the perfect place to monitor and control the trade. Orhogbua occupied the Island, which he called Eko (meaning camp), by setting up the first human settlement there. Oba Orhogbua’s son was the first Eleko (Oba) of Lagos. From Lagos, Orhogbua explored the lagoon system to its farthest points through Dahomey, Togo, to the Volta River and Basin in today’s Ghana. Until the Biafran Civil War, it was believed even by opponents in war, that the Benin person was immune from drowning in the River Niger because of a covenant the Spirit of the river, (known by the Edo as Ohinmwin, and by the western Ibos, as Oshimili), had with Oba Ewuare. The Spirit always threw the drowning Edo person out of the water. Not servicing the covenant for hundreds of years, may have got the Spirit angry in modern times. The lagoon expedition introduced common salt (umwen) for the first time to Benin, displacing eventually, odoo, which was the Benin traditional salt. The sample salt acquired the name ‘umwen’ because an Ishan servant of Chief Osague, asked to taste the salt, said in tasting it, that it was “Obhen,” meaning, all right.
Ekenika played a prominent role in Oba Orhogbua’s military campaigns that brought the Lagoon lands all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where it is known as the Bight of Benin, under the control of Benin. He was a commander in Orhogbua’s maritime army, and the first person to step on the uninhabited Island of Lagos. He beat back Aworis’ counter attacks from the mainland. The Aworis had noticed some discarded ebieba leaves, (used in wrapping food by the Benin soldiers), floating on the water. They were tropical forest leaves strange to the brackish mangrove swamplands of the lagoon so, they knew they had strangers in their midst and attacked from the direction the leaves were coming. Ekenika was rewarded with the title of Ezomo of Benin. The first person in Benin history to bear the title. Ekenika was set up at Uzebu quarters in Benin City by Oba Orhogbua, to closely monitor Benin’s most important route, territories and population, and to provide regular backing for the Lagos camp. Both Lagos and Uzebu habitations, therefore, came on stream at the same time. Uzebu was at the western outskirt of Benin, straddling the city’s gateway to the sea through Ughoton, the lagoon territories and people, under the control of Benin from that area, and opened Edo to Europe and the world. The Uzebu quarters served as training ground and store of weapons for the soldiers of the lagoon campaigns. The Portuguese would have lent a hand, particularly in the training and use of fire arms and cannons. Oba Orhogbua was virtually a Portuguese anyway. A very close relationship existed between Benin and Portugal at his time. Ezomo’s permanent residence or palace was at the heart of Uzebu quarters, as the commander of the Uzebu military camp. Ekenika’s Uzebu activities and campaigns triggered and influenced the development, origin and background of the controlling elite and names, of towns and cities along the Benin riverine route: Ijebu Ode, Ijebu-Mushin, Ijebu-Ife, Ijebu-Ugbo, Ijebu-Remo, Ijebu-Oro, Ijebu-Ijesha in Ijesha land, Ijebu-Owo in Owo land. There are strong family links between Ekenika and the nobles in all the territories of the Benin riverine route. The traditional head of Owo town for instance, bears the name Ojomo, the full title being Ojomo-Olude. The Obazuaye family in Benin descends from Ekenika and the Lagos branch of the family are the Bajulaiyes. The prominent Olisa clan in Ikorodu and Ijebu Ode are related to the Oliha, the head of the Uzama group in Benin. There are many more of such links with Benin around West Africa. The Ijaw kingdom of Ogba in Bayelsa state has a concentration of the descendants of the Ekenika's, particularly in the village of Akabuka. The title, Alare Ezomo, was conferred on a prominent son of Uzebu quarters in Benin, in the 1930s, by Oba Akenzua II, emphasizing the strong family ties of Edo people with the Ijebus. All Ijebu Ode natives, describe themselves as Omo Alare. That is, the descendants of Alare. Alare is the ancestral deity of the Ijebu race and it is claimed that every thing an Ijebu person owns, money, land, property, belongs to Alare. This is the secret of the Ijebus’ relative ease at accumulating wealth. He can accumulate wealth but has no right to part with what belongs, in totality, to Alare.
Oba Ehengbuda (1578 – 1604 CE). Ehengbuda ascended his father’s throne in 1578 CE. While his father, Oba Orhogbua, might be considered a water warrior who made his greatest impact in the lagoon territories, Oba Ehengbuda campaigned mainly on land in the Yoruba areas. All the warrior Obas, most times, personally led their troops to war. Oba Ehengbuda, while prosecuting his military activities in the Akure area, sustained burns which healed to leave scars on his body. This was systematized in the Iwu body marks which every Edo adult had to acquire to be able to participate in royal and court activities of the land. The markings also served to identify the Edo person for protection during the slave trade. Strong efforts were made to prevent Edo people from being sold into slavery. Edo people openly and actively encouraged and facilitated the escape of slaves from the holding centres in the kingdom and particularly from the Ughoton port. As a result of Oba Ehengbuda’s accident, the responsibility for leading the army in war was delegated to the Iyase. Chief Ekpenede, who was the Iyase at the time, became the number one commandant of the Edo army. He prosecuted several successful campaigns in Yoruba territories and concluded many treaties, including a major one with the Onakakanfo (the
commandant) of Oyo, which demarcated the boundary in Yoruba territories at Otun town in northern Ekiti between the Edo and Oyo powers. At the ceremony marking the boundary, the two commanders stood at the boundary with backs turned by each, to their respective homeland directions, Benin and Oyo. The Edo General planted an ikhinmwin tree, and the Oyo General planted a palm tree of the spirit world, a high savannah date palm, unfamiliar to the Edo at the time. Because of the military feats of Iyase Ekpenede, and particularly with the conclusion of the Edo/Oyo treaty, which carried significant value, it was thought that Iyase could begin to habour ideas of his own, and could stage a coup against the monarch if allowed to return and live in the city with the Oba. The Iyase was, therefore, instructed to move to any town of his choice and not to return to Benin City. In the town he moved into, the Iyase enjoyed untrammeled power. Even tributes earmarked for the monarch ended up being hijacked by the Iyase, and as long as he was alive, no other Iyase was appointed in his place. Agban was the second Ezomo to be appointed after the demise of the first one, Ekenika. Agban’s reign straddled that of Oba Orhogbua and his son Oba Ehengbuda. His exploits were mainly in western Ibo land. The area was brought under Edo suzerainty from Oba Ewuare’s expansion of Edo kingdom’s era. Ezomo Agban’s military campaigns ran into difficulties at Ika town of Ogidi but he triumphed in the end and named the town ‘Agbor,’ a corruption of Agban. His success and pacification efforts in the western Ibo territories were so impressive, he was almost being treated as the Emperor of the area by the Edo. He did not participate in the successful Ubulu-Uku war, however. That was left to Chief Imasan, the Enogie of Emokpaogbe to prosecute because it was triggered by the killing of Imasan’s daughter by the Oboros. On one occasion, while verbally presenting a war report to Oba Ehengbuda, thunder claps interrupted Chief Agban. Offended by the temerity, he decided to teach thunder a lesson. He arranged for a tall scaffold with a wide base, and reaching far into the sky, to be erected. He tied hundreds of calabashes filled with palm oil on the rungs of the scaffold from the base to the far flung tip and set the scaffold on fire with the intention of smoking the thunder deity out of hiding. Before the scaffold crumbled and fell, Benin City was visited by a hail of showers, followed by rain of large frozen ice blocks, and the mournful sounds, like the wailing of thunderstorm in distress, in the sky. Whatever was responsible, it was some consolation for a people that believe nothing is impossible to achieve. That in a nutshell propelled the stupendous height that Edo people reached in almost every field of human endeavour. In the Epe/Lekki waterways, while Oba Ehengbuda was two days away from an eight days journey through the lagoon to visit his Dukedom and military camp, Eko (Lagos), a freak storm hit the lagoon and capsized many of the river-craft in the royal float, including that bearing the monarch, and he died. Oba Ohuan (1604 1641 CE), was Oba Ehengbuda’s son. He ended the Eweka dynastic lineage. Powerful rebel chiefs established private power bases and selected Obas from among themselves. The selection process took the format of the Ihogbe picking an Oba from among their ranks and presenting him to the Uzama for crowning. This process produced a series of Obas, seven of them, with doubtful claims to legitimacy, thus seriously weakening the Edo monarchy. By the mid 17th century and extending well over the period of confusion about who reigns in Benin, the Portuguese, Dutch, English, French and other Europeans, had expanded the slave trade in the area so much that they were calling it the Slave Coast. The slave trade remained high in the area until 1840. The slaves were mainly war captives and were drawn from the entire area controlled by Benin all the way to the communities near the coast and to northern peoples such as the Bariba. The Atlantic slave trade had a destructive impact in Benin area, causing devastating depopulation around Benin and greatly militarizing the area.
Oba Ohenzae (1641 -1661 CE), was the first of the seven Obas with doubtful legitimacy. His Ezomo was called Ezomo N’Ogun. Ezomo N’Ogun was the first person in the history of Benin to propitiate his own head, (that is to give thanks to the spirit of good fortune), with a live elephant. The incidence helps to demonstrate the demoralizing effect the slave trade had on African communities through deaths, kidnappings, sacking and disappearance of towns and villages, and the truncation of African progress and civilization. Only two other Edo personages
have achieved Ezomo N’ Ogun’s feat of using live elephant in rites. Iyase Ohenmwen achieved it some 170 years ago and Oba Akenzua II pulled it off in February 1936. Servants sent by Ezomo N’Ogun to capture a live elephant, took 14 days to come home with one. While the richly garlanded elephant, restrained with strong ropes to the legs, arms and body, was being led in procession through the streets to the ritual site, an elderly man, watching from the safety of the verandah of his home remarked rather loudly: “What is the cause of the rejoicing of these people over the fragment called life?” Dragged before the Ezomo for his impertinence, he pleaded to be allowed to explain himself and when allowed said: “My Lord, what I mean is, what is the cause of the rejoicing of these people over the fragment called life when it is possible to capture an elephant within 14 days in the jungle between Benin City and the bank of River Ovia? A feat that would have been impossible within such a short time during the time of Ezomo Agban.” The slave trade had gone on for about two hundred years at the time and had taken its toll on the populations and communities around the city of Benin, turning once lively and sprawling towns and villages during Ezomo Agban’s time, into a long stretch of thick jungle. The jungle was in fact, so close, it was within 14 days return journey from the Ezomo N’Ogun’s backyard in Edo kingdom. Elephants and wild lives were now the close neighbours of the Edo people who were not allowing themselves to be enslaved. Instead of punishing the old man as his persecutors had hoped, Ezomo N’Ogun thanked and rewarded him generously for his wisdom. The other six colourless Obas with questionable claims to the throne were Oba Ekenzae (1661 -1669 CE); Oba Akengboi (1669 -1675 CE); Oba Akenkpaye (1675 – 1684 CE); Oba Akengbedo (1684 -1689 CE); Oba Ore-Oghene (1689 – 1700 CE), and Oba Ewuakpe.
Oba Ewuakpe (1700 – 1712 CE), was thrust into office by his father, Akenuzama, who had declined the offer to be king on the grounds of old age. The offer had been made to Akenuzam by the Ihogbe, after the death of his cousin, Oba Ore-Oghene, who had no heir. Oba Ewuakpe, whose birth name was Idova, but was hurriedly re-named Ehennegha by oracular directive before the Ihogbe presented him to the Uzama nobles for crowning, was too young, inexperienced and impatient. These led to a series of problems for him. His first problem was that he could not offer propitiatory rites at the Oba’s ancestral shrine as required by tradition because his father was still alive and not an ancestor yet. Then his mother, Ewebonoya, died at her Uselu palace, soon into his reign. To provide her with the level of comfort she had become accustomed to as Queen mother, he sacrificed humans, a great number of them, to continue to attend to her needs in the ethereal world. Edo people, appalled by the human sacrifice and blood letting, rebelled and laid siege on the palace, flinging its gates open. The palace staff and his hundreds of wives took flight excepting Iden, one of his wives, who refused to return to her parent's home at Oka village. When the siege became too unbearable, the Oba escaped with Iden to his mother’s village, Ugolo quarters at Ikoka, by the side of Ovia River. His mother’s relatives spawned him and didn’t want him in their midst. The humiliation was so much, he cursed the people of Ikoka village and returned to his palace. The palace was leaking badly from neglect, and weeds and crawlers had taken residence. He cleared some space for his wife and himself to stay to think of what to do next and lay their heads for the night. The following morning, Iden took the few articles of vanity she had, and sold them at the near-by Oba’s market. She used the money she raised, to travel to Agbor to recruit a reputable seer. The oracle recommended a make-believe ceremony and human sacrifice. Since they were not in a state to capture any human for the sacrifice, Iden talked her
husband into allowing her to give her life to save the throne, as long as her grave would not be jeered at by passers-by and market women. Iden went to the market after closing hours, to collect discarded broken calabashes that had been used in selling oil, and thrown away leaves’ head pads. She collected dried shrubbery from the bush near-by. In the mean time, the husband was stripping the palace garden’s palm trees bare of dry husks and fronds, which with faggots, he tied into torches. The following night a huge scaffold of the palm fronds, torches and calabashes, soaring into the sky, was assembled and set on fire, with its embers and arches allowed to litter the palace grounds. The leaves’ head pads were strewed from the palace gates deep into the palace grounds, to give the impression that a lot of people had come to make deliveries at the palace. The aftermath of the ceremony was that it left the setting looking like a big event and merry making had taken place involving many people. The fireworks would have been noticed from far and near. For the final ritual, Iden wore what was left of her finery, and hand-in-hand with her husband, they walked quietly down Iwebo Street to the spot she had chosen as her final resting place. After Ewuakpe had tearfully and painfully dug the grave, she climbed gracefully into it helped by her husband, and laid down facing the direction of the palace. All along, he was crying and trying to talk her out of the project. She was adamant. To fill the chasm with sand, as he was asked to do by his wife, was the hardest task he had ever faced in his life. He started filling it slowly from the feet side, saving her asphyxiation till the very end when he would cover her face with sand. After the did was done, he crashed on the grave, crying bitterly like a child, over what he had done.
Esogban had noticed the fireworks in the night and in the early morning hours, sneaked around the palace grounds to see what had happened. He found the palace compound littered with head pads etc, and felt betrayed that the king had won back favour, and people were providing services to the palace behind his back. He rushed home, threw his wealth chess open and assembled choice items that would please his king, and with servants included, he headed for the palace with his peace offering. In response to his solicitous voice at the entrance to the palace’s first vestibule, a lone voice from behind a slightly opened door reassured him that he was in good standing with the palace and that he was not an enemy of the Oba. Esogban left his offering where he was told to, and
returned home happy with himself. When the Iyase heard about Esogban’s visit to the palace, he too rushed to make peace with the Oba. That was how Oba Ewuakpe regained his throne and the trust of Edo people. Iden’s grave is one of the stations procession ceremonies in Benin City pay homage to today. To ensure that what happened to him would not happen again to another Oba, he decided to put in place a sound succession process. He felt that a period of tutelage was necessary before one becomes an Oba, and that the best way to guarantee this was the principle of first son succeeding his father to the throne. His chiefs’ bargaining chip, was that the principle should be extended to their own first sons and that the Oba should surrender his traditional inheritance right to their estate, to their own first sons. Ewuakpe agreed, and the principle has held again since, with minor skirmishes. Iyase N’Ode was Oba Ewuakpe’s Iyase. His military campaigns outside the kingdom were all successful. Iyase N’Ode is remembered in Benin oral history as a threatening foe and a very powerful magician, who could transform himself into an elephant in war or at will. He conquered many kings in Yoruba land to achieve for himself the status of ‘Okhuen.’ There have been only two Iyase’s in the history of Edo kingdom who attained the status of ‘Okhuen,’ (meaning conqueror of many kings). The other was Ekpenede during the reign of Oba Ehenghuda. With that status, they could no longer live in the city of Benin with the Oba for fear of their nursing the idea of coup. Both these Iyases who could no longer live in Benin City, chose to spend the rest of their lives in Uhunmwode district, close to Ode Ekhuarha, the gateway to the territories they had conquered and or were monitoring. It included Etsakor, through to Yoruba land of Ado Ekiti, Akure, Idanre, to Idah and Idoma, and Nupe-land in the north and Ukpilla and Ineme, where raw iron-ore materials were coming from. After Oba Ewuakpe’s death, a strong dispute broke out over whom was the senior of his two sons, Prince Ozuere and Prince Akenzua, born of different mothers. The Iyase N’Ode backed Prince Akenzua for the throne, but Prince Ozuere succeeded in gaining it. Oba Ozuere (1712 – 1713 CE), was only able to serve for about a year because Iyase’ N’Ode’s candidate, Prince Akenzua, became Oba Oba Akenzua I (1713 - 1735 CE). Ehenua played a crucial role along side Iyase N’Ode in the fight to install Prince Akenzua as king. Oba Akenzua I, rewarded Ehenua with the title of Ezomo and made the title hereditary for the first time. He also for the first time promoted Ezomo to the rank of Uzama, the seven kingmakers of the kingdom, whose most junior member is the Edaiken. Other members of the Uzama are the Iyase, Oliha, Ero, Eholor N’ire and Edohen. Ezomo was the last title to join the group of nobles; most of the others had been members since the Ogiso era. Oba Eresoyen (1735 – 1750 CE), had only just ascended to his father’s throne when trouble came calling. Commandant Willem Hogg, the resident Manager of the Dutch Trading Station in Ughoton, had for nearly a year been pleading with Eresoyen’s father, Oba Akenzua I, to prevail on the Benin Chiefs owing the Ughoton Dutch Trading Station, unsupplied goods on which they had received credit lines. Also, Holland wanted to be allowed to participate in the Ivory trade and break the monopoly the monarch had granted the British and Portuguese ships calling at Ughoton. Traders of the two countries were offering better prices for the commodity. The palace had seemed to Willem Hogg, unwilling to help the Dutch company recapture slaves who had escaped from the Dutch company’s dungeons at Ughoton while awaiting their evacuation ship from Elmina Castle on the Gold Coast, to arrive. Half-hearted promises had been extracted from the palace over the issue of the runaway slaves, against the overriding feeling at the palace that it was the responsibility of the Dutch to secure their purchases after taking delivery. These were the problems weighing on Willem Hogg’s mind when he decided to visit the palace to once more seek the help of Oba Oresoyen. In the presence of the Oba and chiefs, while discussing the issues that brought him to the palace, argument developed, leading to the loss of temper. The Dutchman got up from his seat, pulled out his pistol and shot at the monarch who was quickly shielded by his omada (sword bearer). The omada took the bullet intended for the monarch and died on the spot. Regicide had been attempted and murder committed, and
in the confusion that ensured, Willem Hogg sneaked out of the palace. This incidence explains the reluctance of the Obas of Benin to be exposed to European visitors and why the British Capt. Henry L. Gallwey, Vice Consul for the Benin River District of the Niger Coast Protectorate and his delegation, suffered frustration and delays in March 1892, when they requested to meet with Oba Ovonramwen, to conclude a ‘Treaty of Protection’ with Benin kingdom. It was the responsibility of the Ezomo to take remedial action against the Dutchman because security matters for Ughoton gateway were under his portfolio. Ezomo Odia was not at the meeting. He had sequestered on his farm for a little while because of misunderstanding with the palace over the issue of the runaway slaves who had mostly taken refuge at his farm. Most of the other runaway slaves were with other chiefs. This was why progress was not possible on the matter. Since the chiefs do not sell slaves, they did not feel it was their business rallying runaway slaves for the Dutch? That sums up the popular refrain on all lips at the time. To get Ezomo Odia to return to town, the oracle prescribed that all the princesses of the realm should pay a courtesy visit to Ezomo Odia. The princesses, on being told that Ezomo Odia was at his farm, when they arrived at Okhokhugbo village, braced up for the long journey through shrubs and narrow bush paths. At the farm, they met Ezomo Odia tending his yam crops. Before the Ezomo could ask, to what he owed the honour, all the princesses were down on their knees, between the yam heaps, to greet him and respectfully invite him back to the city. Ezomo Odia after making peace with the monarch at the palace went to Ughoton to arrest Commandant Hogg, who was brought to the palace grounds in a mouth-gag, with waist manacles. He was executed at the Ozolua Quadrangle. The two Dutchmen subordinate officers to Willem Hogg at the Dutch Ughoton station were not molested in any way. Six months after Commandant Hogg’s execution, on instructions from Elmina Castle, the senior of the two officers at the Dutch Ughoton station, one Herr Van Marken, who had taken over leadership of the station, visited the palace to make peace and facilitate the resumption of business between Benin and Holland. Oba Akengbuda (1750 – 1804 CE), inherited the throne of his father, Oba Eresonyen. Oba Obanosa (1804 – 1816 CE), was Prince Osifo and Oba Akengbuda’s son. There was a great commotion known as the ‘Okpughe’ during Prince Osifo’s reign as Oba Obanosa. Prince Osifo was a handsome dandy who, before he was crowned king, felt he had a rival whose name was Osopakharha. The prince hated Osopakharha for his popularity, guts, flamboyance, and for what the prince described as his pretensions. The problem really was that they were look-alike young men, competing for influence and space in public esteem. Osopakharha was the son of the Esogban of Benin. The family lived at Ugbague quarters and there was nothing special about that. Osopakharha was the warlock of a witches coven known as Eniwanren-Aso (the Elders of the night). The prince’s parents were the patron and matron respectively of the coven. Even after the death of the prince’s father, Oba Akengbuda, the prince’s mother, Iyoba Ose, remained the matron of the coven. Osopakharha hated the prince for hating him, and for trying to clip his wings as if he was his slave or underling. Before becoming Oba, and against the strong advise of his parents, (the king and queen), the prince kept threatening Osopakharha publicly that he would order Osopakharha’s death on becoming king. Most people took the prince’s threats against Osopakharha as unworthy of the prince and expected him to out grow it. The prince was generally highly regarded even by his elders who saw him as intelligent, wise, and with great promise, and nicknamed him Obanosa, (Oba with the wisdom and attributes of God). He chose his nickname as his official royal name at his coronation. Not to be outdone, and perhaps to further provoke the king, Osopakharha immediately chose to be called Oba Aso, (meaning the king of the night). The king of the night continued to match the Oba in flair and grandeur in social space, and to make things worse, became the lover of Iyoba Ose, (the Queen Mother), and was frequently at her palace at Uselu. The order to kill Oba Aso led to heavy street fighting, accompanied by a great deal of public posturing and bravado on both sides. Five thousand people died and all the streets adjoining Ugbague quarters were sacked, and for decades permanently deserted. Oba Obanosa took ill
immediately after Oba Aso’s death and the source was oracularly traced to Iyoba Ose. Obanosa ordered that the Iyoba Ose be stoned to death with molded bricks of esorhue (sea chalk), at her Uselu palace in public view. Obanosa then rushed the minimum traditional burial rites required of him as the first son, to enable the mother’s soul rest in peace. A few days after burying his mother, he too died, as Osopakharha, the king of the night, had repeatedly warned would happen in these words: “obo no biekhu, kevbe ekhu, era gba yowa.” Meaning, ‘the hand that opens a door goes with the door in the direction the door takes.’ Oba Ogbebo (1816 CE). There was a strong tussle for the throne between the two sons of Oba Obanosa, Prince Ogbebor and Prince Osemwende, over who was the senior. Prince Ogbebor triumphed but ruled for less than a year. Oba Osemwende (1816 – 1848 CE), who took over the throne from his brother, died in 1848, leaving his two sons, Prince Ogbewekon and Prince Adolor, with the problem of who was the oldest to serve as Oba. Oba Adolor (1848 – 1888 CE), Prince Adolor won the battle and ruled until 1888. The leadership tussle surfaced again between the two sons of Oba Adolor, Prince Ovokhorhor and Prince Ovonramwen. This time, the battle was not as acrimonious as in previous times and was resolved in favour of Ovonramwen.
BENIN CITY – OVONRAMEN SQUARE
Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi
Oba Ovonramwen (1888 â€“ 1914 CE). Oba Ovonramwen Nogbaisi was on the throne during the British invasion of Benin City in 1897. To prepare the grounds before the invasion, the British first sneaked military spies into Benin, to infiltrate the nationâ€™s security system during the Igue festival, a period of acute spiritual sensitivity for Edo people, when their monarch goes into seclusion for two weeks for spiritual cleansing and cannot receive visitors. The spies were eliminated for their hostile acts. Some while after this, the British sent a delegation to Benin in
March 1892. The delegation was led by Capt. Henry L. Gallwey, the Vice Consul for the Benin River District of the Niger Coast Protectorate, supposedly to conclude a Treaty of Protection with Oba Ovonramwen of Benin. The British had deceived King Dosumu of Lagos to sign a similar treaty that ceded Lagos to the British in 1861. They forced the same kind of treaty on the Jaja of Opopo in 1887 to gain access and economic control of the eastern coast of Nigeria. Quoting Capt. Henry Gallwey, who after retirement became Sir Henry Gallwey, in a report on the 1892 visit to Benin, for the Journal of the African Society of April 1930, under the title: Nigeria in the (Eighteen) Nineties, he wrote in part: “Any idea I may have had of being received by the king the day I arrived was very soon dispelled. After being kept waiting for three days, I sent word to say that I could wait no longer. To support my threat, every half-hour, I sent a carrier away with a load I did not require, telling them where to wait for me. This artifice rather worried the king, and he sent word to me asking me “not to be vexed,” as my interpreters put it. However, that afternoon, it was arranged for me to have audience with the king. I accordingly donned my uniform and sallied out with my companions into the burning heat of the afternoon, a most unreasonable time of day at which to hold a palaver. “I am afraid, however, that the kings of Benin were never renowned for their reasonable natures. In spite of these pinpricks, it was all very interesting and amusing, and I never gave a thought to the discomfort of being encased in a dress intended to be won at levees and such functions in temperate climes…….” After attempting to compromise the nation’s security earlier on, the British delegation could not be received by the Oba of Benin immediately they arrived because of the need to check out their real mission. When the Oba signaled readiness to receive the delegates, they were in “encased dress intended to be worn at levees,” to the palace. In other words, they were in military uniform to the palace of an Oba who was weary of visits of Europeans. After the incidence of the Dutchman, Commandant Willem Hogg, who pulled a pistol and shot at Oba Oresoyen in 1735, while on a courtesy visit to the palace to discuss business matters with the Oba and his chiefs, Benin Obas became a little more careful about granting direct audience to European visitors. This is the genesis of the difficulties experienced by Capt. Gallwey while trying to have an audience with the Oba in 1892. At the palace, the disposition and mannerisms of the visitors had to be carefully studied and analyzed before the Oba could receive them, since they were in military uniform. Capt. Gallwey said the Oba was “unreasonable” and then generalized “… as all Benin Obas are wont to be.” He had made up his mind before the visit and was looking for excuses to set up Benin kingdom for British invasion. To emphasize that Benin was a special case to crack, the British rushed to force treaties on neighbouring territories. They attacked the Nana of Itsekiri, in their ‘palm oil war’ in 1894 and exiled Nana to Ghana; attacked the Koko of Nembe in 1895, and the Ashanti Prempeh of Ashanti in 1896, to produce duress inspired spurious treaties to take control of the kings' respective areas of influence.
The British accused Oba Ovonramwen of lack of cooperation, and to look good in the eyes of the rest of the world, added “human sacrifice,” as their reasons for launching their full-scale war on Benin in January 1897. The real reason for the British Expedition was that the British viewed the Benin kingdom as the main obstacle in their expansion drive into the agricultural interior of the West African coast from the River Niger. The war lasted for eight days from January to early February 1897, and went in their favour because of their big guns and cannons, which the Edo army did not have. After capturing the ancient city of Benin and slaughtering thousands of the natives in cold blood, to grossly depopulate the city, and the few survivors had escaped to farms and villages, the British ransacked the palace of the Oba, homes of nobles and chiefs, artistes' workshops, and shrines, to rescue “pagan art” and relieve Benin of the “evil.” Then the British burnt the entire city down to the last house.
The palace of the Oba of Benin, according to Joshua Utzheimer, 1603, was about the size of the German City of Tubingen.” This was razed down by fire by the British invading force, claiming to be on a civilizing mission. Is razing cities after the surviving few victims of their assault have surrendered, not the epitome of barbarism? Can any thing be more callous than this? Oba Ovonramwen who could not be captured but who surrendered to the British in August, 1897, was exiled to Calabar (in south-east Nigeria), where he died in January, 1914. From accounts of members of the British army that invaded Benin City in 1897, we learn that the floors, lintels, and rafters of the council chambers and the king’s residence in the palace were lined with sheets of repoussé, decorated brass covered with royal geometric designs and figures of men and leopards. Ornamental ivory locks sealed the doors and carved ivory figurines surmounted anterior. A brass snake, observed for the first time by a European in the early eighteenth century, was still to be seen on the roof of the council chamber house. All of these, along with other invaluables, including precious works of arts, the invading British stole in the name of their king and country. What they could not steal or burn, they destroyed, including invaluable records of the Edo scintillating civilization, to allow their historians to falsify human history and African contributions. According to Prof. Akin Ibidapo-Obe in: A Synthesis of African law, “the British stripped Benin of its pagan art treasure…..almost 2,500 of the famous Benin bronzes, valuable works of art such as the magnificent carved doors in the palace, were carried off to Europe for sale. Today, almost every museum of the world possesses an art treasure from Benin. It is important to relate the account of British brigandage and deliberate and wanton stealing of Africa’s invaluable art treasures to show that our culture was great and was envied. The tradition and way of life that spawned such great achievement was deliberately destroyed and history was falsified to justify the introduction of their obnoxious laws, some of which purported to forbid our traditional religion.” This is how Prof. Felix Van Luschan, a former official of the Berlin Museum for Volkerhunde, described what the British deviously called Pagan art of Benin; “these works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Celini could not have cast them better, nor could any one else before or after him. Technically, these Bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.” Only a highly civilized nation could have borne the expenditure and facilities of such marvelous works of art, some of the best masterpieces in the history of mankind.
When the Nigerian government requested to loan a replica of the Idia Ivory mask for use during the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC), held in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria, from the British Museum of Mankind, the British authorities insisted on the Nigerian government depositing a sum of three million dollars before collecting the loaned copy. A 17th century Benin bronze head (nine inches high) stolen from the palace of Oba Ovonramwen, by the British invaders in 1897, was auctioned by Sotheby, New York, for US$550,000 in July, 2007. Despite the British abuse of Edo culture and marginalization of Edo history, the splendour of Edo civilization continues to this day to astound and excite the world. Benin artifacts are
among the most exquisite and coveted in world’s history, and the kingdom of Benin remains famous for its sophistication in social engineering and organization. The Edo Obaship institution is still one of the world’s most revered apart from being one of the most ancient. Benin was incorporated into what the British called the Niger Coast Protectorate, later known as the Southern Protectorate, and after annexing Arochukwu (igboland) in 1902, and Hausa Fulani emirates in 1903, merged what they called Southern and Northern Protectorates in 1914 to form what in now Nigeria.
Second Edo King's Dynasty Oba Eweka II (1914 – 1933 CE), ascended his father’s throne in 1914 and when he died, his son, Oba Akenzua II (1933 – 1979 CE), took over. Between them, they restored a great deal of the tradition and dignity of Benin Obaship, and rebuilt, although on a smaller scale than the Ewuare palace, the grandeur, triumph, and supremacy, of Edo traditions. Large walled areas have now replaced the numerous compounds of former kings, with enclosed individual altars for each of the three immediate predecessors, and one general altar for the rest. Decorated sheets of brass adorn the rafters and lintels, and terra-cotta plaques recount the exploits of former kings. The current king of this great African kingdom and one of the most vibrant, colourful, and enlightened ancient civilizations in the history of the world, is Oba Erediauwa, Uku Akpolo Kpolo, the Omo N’Oba N’Edo (1979 CE –).
CHAPTER SEVEN THE ODUDUWA CONTROVERSY
A lot of dust was raised in the press in 2004 over the Oduduwa issue. The controversies on Oduduwa are finally put to rest in this write-up. All students of history must carefully preserve this historical record as a reference point. Oduduwa is Prince Ekaladerhan of Edo and he entered Yoruba life about 900 years ago and that is categorical and final. The Yoruba/Edo collaborative evidence follow. The first most telling revelation about Oduduwa’s ancestry is from Oduduwa himself. He, in his lifetime, reserved a special seat in his Ife palace for his ancestors. The seat remains reserved until this day for the Edo monarch only. No one else, not even the reigning Ooni, or Oronmiyan (Alaafin) in Oyo, or any of the Obalades of Yorubaland can sit on the seat. So, if Edo is not the wellspring of Ife, why is it that no member of the Alaafin, or Ife Ooni dynasties (or siblings), can use the seat? Besides, the most sacred name for Ife is ‘Uhe’ a (non-Yoruba), deep and strong Edo word, meaning virgin or vagina depending on how it is pronounced, and is interpreted in myth as ‘innocence,’ ‘the birth canal,’ or ‘the source of life.’ Also, no major Ifa ritual or ceremony in Ife even now is considered authentic, blessed by or acceptable to the gods and ancestors, without the presence and involvement of relevant Edo traditional faith custodians. The dress culture of Ife chiefs and priests is from Edo court. Professor Ade Ajayi’s comment that the Edo are trying to re-write history and that the motivation for this is political is ridiculous to say the least, unless professors are not supposed to have some responsibility for truth and scholarship. Ajayi’s comment influenced less-informed commentators who accused the Oba of Edo of possible political bias at the age of 80, in an interview published in The News of 28 June 2004. The age of the Edo monarch bellies the silly accusation. No Edo historian, including Omo N’oba Erediauwa has said that a rebel king migrated from Benin to father Oduduwa in Ile-Ife. The Yoruba historians peddling this falsehood should take time off to read this specially packaged report on Oduduwa because it puts the Oduduwa controversy to rest once and for all. Perhaps the most childish comment on the Oduduwa issue so far was the one in an article published in the Sunday Sun of June 27, 2004. The writer is upset over the antics of Edo prostitutes in Italy but ignores the Yoruba credit card schemers, painting the USA and Europe red with their notoriety? He says and I quote: “The Edo position on Oduduwa is motivated by imperial politics, a dose of envy and irrepressible ego. It is part of an agenda to hijack the enviable fame of Yoruba dynasty and superimpose it on the subdued ego of the Edo people who have lost the glory of their once powerful Edo Empire to the greater might of the British colonial masters.” I was expecting the writer to say ‘Yoruba masters’ instead of ‘British masters’ in his erroneous statement. As far as I know, there is no record of the Yoruba ever once conquering or colonizing even an inch of Biniland. Rather, the Edo colonized, dominated and enslaved large tracks of Yorubaland and people until British colonialism liberated the Yoruba, so who should be envying who? Besides, the Yoruba were colonized along side the Edo and we all gained our ‘flag’ independence from the British on the same day, which was the 1st of October 1960. Black collective plight as the most wretched people in the world has not changed since ‘flag’ independence, so what is there in the Yoruba to make the Edo or anyone jealous? The writer is proud that there are Yoruba enclaves in Brazil and so on. But they got there as slaves and they are still slaves, (second-class citizens), in the Diaspora right now. The Edo were never enslaved, (the Edo kept hordes of Yoruba and other slaves from their conquests and shielded them from the slave trade), so you would not find slave colonies of the native Edo extraction anywhere in the Diaspora. What greater honour could anyone have than that?
No Yoruba commentator or expert so far has provided concrete evidence or credible story on Oduduwa. Some that have attempted to do so, have quoted spurious speculations from racist, paternalistic and condescending British historians like Basil Davidson, because that was what they passed their exams on. Prof. Siyan Oyeweso of the LASU History Department, goes further to swear by some 1950s – 60s researchers, such as Philip Igbafe, R. E. Bradbury, Alan Ryder and G.A. Akinola, who quoted profusely from each other, and largely relied on the ‘white god’ Davidson’s story for authenticity. What right do we have to expect these ‘experts’ to transcend the infantile bias of their day that Oduduwa was God incarnate, who as the Yoruba progenitor, descended with a rope from the sky? Could the historians have said Oduduwa was not God at a time of Yoruba political dominance in the region? Could they have set off on a limb and expect their books to be recommended reading by the West African Examination Council (WAEC)? The overwhelming counter argument by the Yoruba so far, weighs heavily on why the Edo have only just come out now with their Oduduwa story? It is wrong for anyone to claim that the Edo origin of Oduduwa story is a recent creation. Prof Siyan Oyeweso even tried to put a 1971 date on when Edo people invented the Oduduwa story. He provides no evidence of his assertion other than that we should take his words for it because he is a professor. And if he were allowed to get away with his blatant distortion of history, it would become the history that students pass their exams on. That is how the Davidsons and Bradburys became the authorities on African history. I have discovered serious laxity on the part of some of our supposed African professors. They accept any rubbish put out by the dishonest, ill-informed Basil Davidsons of the white world as the gospel truth requiring no further investigation. No black intellectual outside Africa today relies on racist whites as sources of knowledge about themselves because such whites lie about the African contributions. They claim that we were nothing until slavery. That we were worse than wild animals before they intervened in our lives and that we are still less than animals now. Racists whites do not want us challenging their lies and upsetting the applecart. But the greatest thing about truth is that until it triumphs, it allows lie no peace. It does not matter when the truth comes out? If a researcher comes out with the true identity of God today (as I have now done in this book), billions of years into the creation story, does that make the truth less true? The world continues to stumble on new ‘truths’ everyday because original researchers did not have the accumulated knowledge and tools now available to modern research work. Ovbia Oba Edun Agharese Akenzua, in his book: Ekaladerhan, tells us that while the Oba of Benin was visiting Ife on November 11, 1982, the Ooni said in part……”As we have mentioned briefly during our historic visit to your domain not too long ago, we said that we were there to pat you on the back for a job well done. Your present visit we regard as a short homecoming, where you will have an opportunity to commune with those deities you left behind. Now my son and brother, long may you reign.” “The address suggested that the people of Benin, or at least, the Royal Family, owe their origin to Ile-Ife. In the prelude of his response to the Ooni’s welcome address, the Oba of Benin tacitly rebutted the submission.” “The Oba said: If the Ooni of Ife calls the Oba of Benin his son and the Oba of Benin calls the Ooni of Ife his son, they are both right.” “The Oba did not elaborate, but in the womb of that innocuous assertion is the fetus of a story, which had never been told in full. In both Benin and Uhe, the story is told with varying details.” Six years ago, I sent the Edo story on Oduduwa to Adeniji, the Arts Editor of ThisDay newspaper at the time. I phoned and he said I should send it but he never used the story. I understand that the Daily Independent of Friday May 14, 2004, published a version of the article in my name with my original title. I have not read it but I suspect it is the same article I sent to ThisDay two years earlier that the Daily Independent newspaper published when the controversy was raging. Whatever it is, am I to blame for the story not being used earlier? I don’t own a newspaper or magazine. I can only try and reach out through facilitators, hoping that they and everyone else would be interested in the unraveling of truth. Edo historians have written volumes on the Oduduwa story. My parents told me the story in my early teens. They too were told the story in their teens as are every Edo child regardless of what they are taught at school for WAEC exams. I wrote about it in the Sunday Guardian and the Post Express some twelve to fifteen years ago. Five years back, I put the story all over the
Internet, and a few years earlier I produced a book on Oduduwa in my Obobo book series for children. Four years ago, I did a four-part series on Edo history in my Daily Sun’s weekly column, which was lost on the public until the Oba of Bini’s book reviews woke up our pseudo authorities on Oduduwa. The Yoruba professors who put a workshop together on Oduduwa history at the EKO FM Multi-purpose Hall in Lagos on Thursday October 7, 2004, were not aware that my write-up preceded the Edo monarch’s book reviews, and yet they pretend to be knowledgeable on what is written and when about Oduduwa. So, there is a time, place and opportunity for everything. Prof Isola Olomola of the OAU’s History Dept. claims that Oduduwa could not have been a Benin man. Olomola would not accept such history anyway and his reason is very simple indeed, Olomola is a professor and a Yoruba. He puts no argument forward to buttress his position; instead, he allows his tribal pride to becloud his better judgment. That is not scholarship but an attempt to write history by ‘ugboju’ or terror tactics. Prof. Siyan Oyeweso beats his chest that Oduduwa is not Ekaladerhan and that Oduduwa dropped from the sky. The works of such professors litter library shelves around our country, distorting our history and keeping us ill informed. To move forward on the Oduduwa issue, Yoruba historians must let go on their two fallacious preoccupations: (a) that Oduduwa dropped from the sky at the beginning of time, and (b) that Oduduwa was the Yoruba progenitor. The Edo do not claim to be the Yoruba progenitors and as Prof. Isola Olomola suggested at the October 7, 2004, workshop on Oduduwa, skeletal remains of a stone-age man has been found at Iwo Eleru, near Isarun in Ondo state, with similar sites also discovered in Ife, Owo, and Asejire. Dating of the sites may need more vigorous investigation and coupled with the facilities of an open mind, we could begin to move forward on the Oduduwa issue. This is what this article on Oduduwa tries to do by asking questions and providing available knowledge in a systematic, comprehensive, and simplified way, to solve the controversy and carry even non-scholars along. My most potent weapon in this regard, is the unraveling of the date of the Oduduwa experience.
When did Oduduwa reign in Ife?
If we can establish the date and time of Oduduwa’s interregnum in Ife, most of the mysteries about who he was would be laid to rest. I have solved the problem of date in this article to finally put the Oduduwa controversy to rest. The Yoruba do not know the time of his reign in Ife beyond the speculation that his name was synonymous with Ifa, and that the Ifa divinity was there from the beginning of time. In other words that Oduduwa is as old as time itself. The idea that he was here at the beginning of time is too vague for serious minded people to consider. The Universe is some 10 to 20 billion years old and the Earth 4.6 billion years. Humans are the late comers on Earth and have evolved over a period of 13 million years albeit as members of the chimpanzee family. We only started looking as we do now (i.e. Homo sapiens) 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. 15,000 years ago to be specific, the human race was still very primitive. The stirring of civilization started in earnest from Black Egypt less than 10,000 years ago. All races of the world originated from the African (Black), and moved to occupy the rest of the earth from Africa. Even when original African settlers all over the world had begun to change in skin colour due to climatic differences and had forgotten their African origins, new waves of Africans continued to invade their old colonies to assert their authority and teach new knowledge. From the Osirian reign in Egypt in 4100 BCE, Africans began to teach the rest of mankind farming, industrialization, commerce, and how to organize cities and nation states, while the African religion, the Mystery System, (which is the mother of all the religions of the world), began its uninterrupted supremacy until about 2000 years ago. Africans from Egypt colonized Mesopotamia and Elam in 4000 BCE to teach the rudiments of civilization and introduce African religion (spirituality), which with emphasis on Nimrod, carved from the image of Ausar (Osiris), went through several phases to become Zoroastrianism. The African religion also gave birth to the Islamic religion in Persia, 1000 years before the birth of Muhammad. The Dravidians from Ethiopia took Hinduism to India in 3200 BCE. In 1640 BCE,
70 Hebrews entered Egypt but some 3,154,000 African-Hebrews left Egypt in 1230 BCE, under the leadership of the African prince called Moses. Moses trained in the Mystery System as a prince for 40 years and adapted its laws for his followers. Arabs are a hybrid of Africans and Caucasians. Muhammad was born in 570 CE and he adopted the Babylonian (African) religion that was already 1000 years old from Persia during his time. The reverse dispassion of blacks from the Nile Valley began seriously as a result of the over population of the Valley, then as a consequence of social upheavals, and finally due to Persian 525 BCE, Greek 332 BCE, and Roman 55 BCE invasions of the black race Egypt. The civilizations that emerged from the Egyptian disturbances in the West African sub-region, not in any special order, where Ghana, Chad, Mali, Benin and Songhai, with some dating back to 1500 BCE, at least. The Edo so far trace their history to perhaps hundreds or thousands of years before 40 BCE when they where called Idu and to 40 BCE specifically, when the Ogiso dynasty began. Thirtyone Ogisos ruled Idu (called Igodomigodo), between 40 BCE and about 1200 CE. The first Ogiso (king) was called Ogiso Igodo and his capital was at Ugbekun. Ogiso Igodo’s successor, Ogiso Ere, transferred the capital from Ugbekun to Uhudumwunirin. The last of the Ogiso kings was called Owodo. He reigned in the early 11th century CE and had only one child, a son, despite having many wives. That child, Ekaladerhan, is Oduduwa. All Oduduwa’s telltale links with Edo are still there open to investigation. The non-mortal aura of Edo God-son kings since 40 BCE. The sacrosanct first son succeeding father traditional law. The, around 1200 CE, Ogiso succession problems because heir apparent, Ekhaladerha, escaped to Yorubaland. The emergence of Ogieamie chiefdom to sell Edo land at every coronation to Edo Oba elect since 1200 CE. By the above account, Edo historians are saying that Oduduwa’s reign in Ife ended around 1200 CE. Yoruba historians confirm that Oduduwa’s first child and son was Oronmiyan and that Oronmiyan was the first Alaafin of Oyo. Yoruba historians deliberately avoid discussing the date Oronmiyan ascended the Alaafin throne obviously because that would destroy their myth about when Oduduwa intervened in their lives. The Edo say the Alaafin’s dynasty in Oyo began around 1200 CE. Oronmiyan was in Igodomigodo in 1170 CE, and it was after his sojourn in Igodomigodo that he set up his Oyo dynasty. This date is not difficult for Yoruba historians to verify and if it is true, Oduduwa was alive during his son’s sojourn in Igodomigodo and also when the Oyo dynasty came into being. Therefore, the Ife stool could not have become vacant until about 1200 CE. This is not really debatable because Yoruba historians confirm that 37 Oonis reigned in Ife before Akinmoyero in (1770-1800), and that 13 more have reigned since. This enables us to prove the 1200 CE date mathematically. If from 1800 CE to 2004 CE (i.e. a period of 204 years), produced 13 Oonis on the average, how many Oonis could have reigned from 1200 CE to 1800 CE (i.e. a period of 600 years)? The answer is 38 Oonis. The Ife history of the Ooni dynasty confirms 38 Oonis, including Akinmoyero (1770 – 1800). Here are their names in the ascending order of the period of their reign: Ogun, Osangangan, Obamakin, Ogbogbodirin, Obalufon, Oronmiyan, Ayetise, Lajamisan, Lajodogun, Lafogido, Odidimode Regbesin, Aworokolokun, Ekun, Ajimuda, Gboo-Nijio, Okinlajosin, Adegbalu, Osinkola, Ogbooru, Giesi, Luwoo (female), Lumobi, Agbedegbede, Ojee-Lokunbirin, Lagunja, Larunka, Ademilu, Omogbogbo, Ajila-Oorun, Adejinle, Olojo, Okiti, Lugbade, Aribiwoso, Osinlade, Adagba, Ojigidiri (Lumbua), Akinmoyero (1770 – 1800), Gbanlare (1800 –1823), Gbegbaaja (1823 –1835), Wunmonije (1835 –1839), Adegunle Abewelo (1839 –1849), Degbinsokun (1849 – 1878), Oranyigba (1878 – 1880), Derin Ologbenla (1880 –1894), Adelekan Olubuse I (1894 –1910), Adekola (1910), Ademiluyi Ajagun (1910 –1930), Adesoji Aderemi (1930 – 1970), and the current Ooni Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II, whose reign dates from 1980. Obviously, Oronmiyan, the first child and son of Oduduwa, did not inherit his father’s throne, which is the genesis of the quarrel between the true Oduduwa’s heirs and the Ooni’s dynasty. Oduduwa’s eight children (as claimed by Yoruba historians), are known as the Obalades or crowned chiefs of Yorubaland. The argument is that not all Yoruba Obas have genuine crowns; only the Obalades are the exception and consist of the Alaafin of Oyo, the Oregun of Ile Ila, the Alake of Egbaland, the Owaoboku of Ijeshaland, the Alaketu of Ketu, the Owa of Ilesa and two Obas in the Republic of Benin as follows: the Onipopo of Popo and the Onisabe of Sabe. What this means in effect is that Yoruba civilization did not start in earnest until the reign of Oduduwa and his sons. All leading Yoruba historians agree on this.
In fact, we know that it was from early twelfth century that Ife grew into a large city surrounded by walls, inhabited mostly by farmers and some skilled craftsmen who created great works of arts respected around the world today. The famous Ife bronze, terracotta works, statues in baked clay, some representing the Ooni dressed in full regalia, are among the world’s greatest works of art. Some of the terracotta were so large and complex, it is impossible to bake them today even with modern technology. All these date back to the eleventh century CE. Because Ogun, the first Ooni after the demise of Oduduwa, was not Oduduwa’s child, he was not considered an Obalade by Yoruba tradition and elite. Ogun was a chief with spiritual responsibilities. He usurped the Ife throne because the true heirs to the throne were busy else where at the time of their father’s death. Ogun out maneuvered the children of Oduduwa over the Ife throne with his superior knowledge of the inner working of the Ooni’s palace, and his spiritual prowess as the head of the Ogun shrine. Oduduwa’s true heirs have been smarting over this ever since. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the Premier of the Western Region of Nigeria in the early sixties, strengthened the hands of the Oonis, and facilitated their prominence in Yorubaland by appointing Oba Adesoji Aderemi, the Ooni of Ife at the time, as the first Governor of the now defunct Western Region of Nigeria. Oba Adesoji Aderemi’s ascendance was consolidated with his Chairmanship of the Western Region’s Council of Obas that at the time entrapped the Edo Oba. With such immense political power of his own, and the political influence and authority of Awolowo as the leader of the Yoruba, no one could raise a finger against the supposed illegitimacy of the Ooni’s dynasty in Yorubaland. The Bini, of course, were worst hit as a voiceless minority in Awolowo’s Western Region’s politics of tribal exclusion and domination. The Oduduwa lineage tried to fight back by identifying with the NPN in opposition to the UPN. Awolowo accentuated the schism by promoting the emergence of Bode Thomas, a young and dynamic lawyer from Oyo. Bode, with Awolowo’s clout, wielded considerable political power in Oyo to the point of being rude to the Alaafin, who was alleged to have put a curse on him. Bode became mad to the chagrin of Awolowo, who promptly banished the Alaafin from his Oyo throne. Just as the Oduduwa’s legitimate heirs and the Yoruba elite generally, have always known and concealed the quarrel over the Ife throne, the Edo have always known their history and borne the pains of not being able to act on it because Chief Awolowo was unassailable and had turned the Ooni dynasty into a colossus to cow all opposition. Another way of confirming Oduduwa’s 1200 CE demise date in Ife, is to look into the famous account of valour during Oduduwa’s reign when an external invasion by the Igbos from the East took place. The record can easily be traced and Moremi’s courage came to the fore at the time for sacrificing her life for the safety of her people. From 1200 CE to 2004 CE is only 804 years, so the Yoruba should stop deceiving themselves that Oduduwa dropped from the skies at the beginning of time or that Ife is the ‘source’ of the universe. Ife is ‘Uhe,’ meaning Oduduwa’s rebirth, or successful re-location from Edo land of his ancestors.
Where did Oduduwa come from in Yoruba myth?
The Yoruba story about Oduduwa is extremely thin on substance. What we have is wrapped largely in myths, parables, and folktales. In fact, the most generous way to describe the story is that the Yoruba do not know anything about their highly revered progenitor. Oduduwa himself left a tell tale evidence of his ancestry in his lifetime. He reserved a special seat in his palace for his ancestors, which only the Edo monarch can sit on even now. No other human, whether Arab, Eskimo, Alaafin, Ooni, or Yoruba, (bleached or not), can sit on the seat. Despite this vivid evidence that has survived through the centuries, some Yoruba historians still claim that he was from somewhere in Arabia.
Any place from Egypt to Lebanon to Iraq to Saudi Arabia has been mentioned, and the Yoruba professors’ strongest proof of Oduduwa’s Arabian ancestry so far is that he was light in complexion. This may have influenced some heirs of Oduduwa, who have been accused of serious attempt at bleaching. The ‘light’ in complexion argument could place Oduduwa’s origin any where in the world from Edo, to China, to Britain, to Mexico, but who dares fault our professors who passed their exams on European history? The Saudi Arabian origin theory is not popular with the Ijebus who erroneously claim Wadai as their roots. Those linking Oduduwa with Iraq claim that he descended from Lamurudu (the Nimrod of Babylon’s myth). Nimrod was not an historical figure but a myth constructed from the life image of Ausar, the god of the Chaldeans, who invaded and colonized Persia from 4000 BCE. In any case, is it not dishonest to try to link 6000-year-old ancestry with 900-year-old personalities, without authentic and verifiable historical documents or DNA test? You can deceive the illiterate with myths but Nigerians are becoming more and more educated now. There is another school of thought among some Yoruba historians claiming that Oduduwa came from the East. Some Yoruba historians are more specific and claim that Oduduwa first settled on a hill East of the valley over-looking the native Yoruba settlements. If he settled first in the Eastern side of the hamlet, isn’t there a good chance that he may have come from that side too? Edo would appear to be more East of Yorubaland than any Arabian country. The argument that the native Yoruba people probably did not know their East from their North is not tenable because the same people told us that the Igbos attacked them from the East in Moremi’s story, and both the Edo and the Igbos are East of Yorubaland.
Who was Oduduwa in Yoruba myth?
There is a measure of agreement between the Yoruba and Edo historians about who Oduduwa was. The Edo say he was their prince. All Yoruba historians agree that Oduduwa was a noble and some say he is a god. Many settle for a prince with impeccable royal blood and immense spiritual powers. The Yoruba historians tell us that Oduduwa was the first ruler of the Yoruba people. There is no mention in any Arabian historical records of a prince of such illustrious ancestry who abandoned his privileged ranks at home and moved several hundreds of miles through bush paths to live in the West African jungle. Such incidents do not happen casually or without clear excuse such as a jihad or war of conquest, and when it did, all tribes along their routes felt their impact one way or the other. In the case of Oduduwa, mum is the word from the Northern flanks of Yorubaland all the way through the jungle to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.
The God-son origin claim by Oduduwa
Oduduwa’s claim to uniqueness loses its enigma when traced to its Edo source because Edo history precedes Oduduwa’s intervention in Ife by some 1240 years. Arabs do not make such a claim, not even for Muhammad. The Edo version is that Osanobua decided to populate the Earth, so, Osanobua sent four sons, each with a choice of peculiar gift. The oldest three of the sons were spirits. The first chose to have wealth, the next chose wisdom and the third chose magical skills. As the fourth and youngest was about to make his choice known, Owonwon cried out to him to settle for a snail shell. This he did. When the canoe the four children were travelling in reached the middle of the waters, the youngest son turned his snail shell upside down to release endless stream of sand resulting in the emergence of land from the waters. The four sons at first were afraid to
step on the land from the canoe. To test the firmness of the land, they sent the Chameleon, which is why Chameleons walk with hesitation. On stepping on the land, only the youngest son turned human, the others remained spirits. Osanobua came down with a chain from the sky, to allocate responsibilities. Osanobua gave the oldest son control of the waters. The Edo call this son, Olokun (meaning the god of the river). The other two children had spirit freedom to balance out the negative and positive forces of nature. Osanobua appointed the youngest son as ruler of the earth. The son called the earth (agbon), and promptly set up his headquarters at Idu which later became Igodomigodo. Osanobua then settled in the realm of the spirit world across the waters, where the sky and the earth meet. The Ifa myth of creation draws significantly from the Edo and Egyptian corpus. It claims that Olodumare sent his son, Orunmila, (another name for Oduduwa), from heaven on a chain, carrying a five-legged cockerel, a palm-nut and a handful of earth. Before then, the entire earth surface was covered with water. Oduduwa scattered the earth on water; the cockerel scattered it with its claws so that it became dry land. The palm-nut grew into a tree representing the eight crowned rulers of Yoruba land. Oduduwa had eight children who later dispersed to found and rule other Yoruba communities. The Yoruba myth of creation is community based, confirming lineal relationship with it’s (earth based Bini, and universe based Egyptian), mother sources.
Religion as a tool for unraveling Oduduwa’s origin
No Yoruba historian has been able to prove yet, Oduduwa’s Arab names. As an illustrious Arabian prince, Oduduwa must have been a staunch Moslem, but Yoruba historians have failed to enlighten us so far about how he adjusted so easily to the Ifa mysteries. Oduduwa did not invent Ifa but appears to have been a strong adherent and custodian of it so effortlessly. For a Moslem with possible jihadist credentials, Oduduwa’s easy conversion to Ifa must have been a great feat considering Muhammad’s open rage against what he called, serving more than one God. To try to overcome this observation, some Yoruba historians claim that Oduduwa was an idol worshipper who escaped from persecution during Arabian antiquity. Well, Muhammad’s era does not equate with the beginning of time. It was less than 1500 years ago, 700 years before the demise of Oduduwa, and encompassing a period of rather modern documentation of history. There is no record so far from the Yoruba tribe or outside it, at least, about an illustrious Arabian prince, who escaped persecution at home to surface in Yoruba West Africa in the last 800 years because he was an idol worshipper. That would have been headline news anywhere in the world, wouldn’t it? No Ifa major ritual or ceremony is considered genuine or acceptable to the gods or ancestors without being wrapped in Edo traditions and involving a typical Edo traditional faith custodian, from Oduduwa’s time until now. This is because both Ifa and Edo traditional faiths have a strong common source, which explains Oduduwa’s easy assimilation into the Ifa traditions. Oduduwa was the spiritual leader of Ifa divinity. The Yoruba (who call Tu-SoS, Olodumare), saw Oduduwa as a direct descendant. His banishment link with the God-son (Ogisos) was kept a secret from the Yoruba. In fact, the Yoruba believed he was a deity from the sky and accorded him great reverence as their leading ancestor and spiritual icon. The Edo say there are two aspects of man. One half is ehi, which is the spirit essence and the other half is the omwa, which is the physical person. The two interchange existences seven times each, to produce in totality the fourteen phases of human existence. Before birth, the ehi (the spirit essence) of the individual humbly goes before Osanobua (Tu-SoS), to ask for the kind of life he wishes to live on earth (agbon). The requests obviously are made with a baby’s innocence of rights and wrongs and the weight of the karmic debit and credit baggage of the individual from previous life styles. However, the choice of the new life style is patently and entirely the individual’s, and could be any or a combination of scenarios. He may want to be a
powerful magician, a rich businessman or farmer, a great warrior, a happy or unhappy family man, a wimp or beggar, a revered medicine man, a famous chief or popular king and even a notorious thief. The request process is called hi and leads to Osanobua stamping his sacred staff on the floor to seal the wishes. The secret wishes are only known to ehi who is entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that his second half (omwa) keeps to the promises made before Osanobua. The Bini, however, believe that their ancestors can intercede on their behalf, when faced with failure in life. This apparently is in contradiction of the popular notion of destiny being immutable but then, what is a man’s life worth without hope? In Yoruba mythology, Olodumare is the Almighty Tu-SoS whose sixteen ministers serve as intermediaries between Tu-SoS and mortals because (Tu-SoS) Olodumare is too great and remote. The ministers include Orunmila, the God of wisdom, Obatala, the God of creativity, Ogun, the God of Iron and Shango (Jakuta), the God of lightening, just like the attributes of the Sefiroth of the Jews. Obatala has the responsibility of creating human forms, while Orunmila endows the forms with sense. Obatala was revered as a great artist and yet deformities continued to smear his record in creating perfect human images. He rushed back to Olodumare to request for the power to mould only perfect human forms. Ajalorun, the gatekeeper to heaven, laughed and put Obatala through a learning process to demonstrate that humans choose what they would look like or become, before birth, and not even Obatala could change that. In other words, failure or success in life depends on ones chosen destiny, says the Yoruba. Destiny is chosen by ori or ori-inu (the inside of ones head or inner essence. Therefore, ori-inu alone, and no one else, knows the content of the chosen destiny. Ori is the spiritual essence of man and precedes him to life, sheds part to animate and monitor the physical self on earth while the other part stays behind with the Creator. The part that animates life returns to the other half on the death of the animated physical body on earth. This, of course, means that there are two sides to man. The ori-inu, which is identified by the Yoruba with the head, and the eniyan (which is identified with the heart) and includes aspirations, desires, feelings and thoughts. When aspirations fail to tally with immutable destiny, the head and the heart are said to be in conflict and to minimize or prevent this tendency the Yoruba have developed prayerful songs to extol the ori-inu to harmonize with eniyan while on earth. This peculiar song is translated by Prof. E.D. Babatunde to English (published in ’Edo and Yoruba Notions of Human Personality’ the ‘Substance of African Philosophy, edited by C.S. Momoh, African Philosophy Projects Publications, Auchi, Nigeria, 2000). My inner self, steer me to a good course, My director, allocate a good place for me, I look up to you. My inner self, do not spoil my endeavours, Come and make my life successful, Hearken to my call, Because if I want to have money, I ask it from you. If I want many children, I will plead for them through you. My inner self, please do not frustrate my efforts to look up to you. The central figure in Ifa divinity is Orunmila, the God of wisdom who, in Yoruba myth, was witness to earth’s creation. You can’t go further in human history than that. Oduduwa’s link with immortality comes from his sometimes being equated with Orunmila in Yoruba myth. Orunmila uses his special insight as a witness to creation, to guide, help, and teach the 401 spirits sent to earth to organize the world. The spirits include gods of fire, iron, vegetation, thunder, eshu, and goddesses such as, Yemoja the goddess of fertility. These are specialized pockets of karmic or electromagnetic vibrancies, incorporating the spirits of ancestors, who performed incredible feats when alive. They are neither good nor bad, just spiritual energies to tap into for selfish and other ends. ‘Ifa’ sounds like the Edo ‘Iha.’ Both divinations are oral, secretive in dimension and thrive on words of wisdom from the obvious to the proverbial, the mystical to the esoteric. They are gigantic memory banks of words on all sorts of events on earth and under the heavens. No
issue is too trivial to preserve and the information banks’ subjects range from births to deaths of the lowly and the kings, wars, evolution of great and small empires and nations, journeys, marriages, quarrels, etc. Every incidence imaginable is carefully catalogued, itemized and stored away ready to be accessed by the trained mind at will. The knowledge banks are constantly being replenished and updated to make them ever fresh, relevant, and comprehensive. Both Ifa and Iha religious traditions use myths, parables, proverbs, symbols, magic and numbers to conceal truth from the non-initiates. Initiates go through long and tedious periods of training where teachings are memorized rather than written down. Ifa and Iha students start between the ages 7-10. Progress between training grades is slow and laborious, subjecting students to memory and bodily ordeals and tests. Only the very fit, tough, and determined can survive and complete the training and graduate. Many drop by the wayside. Students graduate 12 years later as philosopher-priests, known as Babalawos (or Awos) in Ifa and Obos in Bini. The Ifa library of wisdom is called Odu ifa and consists of 256 verses divided into 16 chapters of 250 minor categories. An Awo, apart from memorizing all these, must be able to recognize and interpret the 16 major signs and the 240 minor ones as they appear or fall in divination.
Language In Aid Of History
Language is a legitimate tool for constructing history and all the names associated with Oduduwa have deeper roots in Edo language than in the Yoruba. The Arabs or the Yoruba, do not have words like ‘Uhe’ (the sacred name for Edo and Ile-Ife, or words ending with ‘duwa,’ ‘noyan’ or ‘miyan,’ which are typical Edo vowels. ‘Uhe’ is perhaps the most powerful and revealing of all the Edo names associated with Ile-Ife because depending on how it is pronounced, it could refer to something sacred or taboo (such as Virgin or Virginity or Vagina), interpreted as innocence, source, birth canal. Oduduwa is not the ancestor of the Yoruba Many Yoruba historians have canvassed the view that Oduduwa was not the Yoruba ancestor and we have now proved it that Oduduwa entered Yoruba history about 900 years ago. There were Yoruba people living in the hamlets Oduduwa stumbled upon. But Oduduwa and his children, the Obalades organized the Yoruba into a nation state and civilized them. Oduduwa was the first ruler in all of Yoruba land and was seen as the Yoruba spiritual progenitor. He introduced them to the idea of rulership. Edo history precedes Oduduwa’s by at least 1,240 years because 31 Ogisos ruled Igodomigodo between 40 BCE – 1200 CE. Those 1,240 years of early Edo history could not have been deliberately constructed to coincide with Oduduwa’s intervention in Ife so that the Edo could claim to have been the progenitors of the Yoruba? It is the Yoruba that are looking to be someone’s progenitors anyway. Edo simply states the fact that between 1100 and 1200 CE, her Prince Ekhaladerha took 1,240 years of illustrious Edo civilization to some remote non-Edo hamlets he named Uhe (re-birth) and his domicile he named Ilefe (successful escape), and woke up the Yoruba race. According to Ovbia Oba Edu Akenzua in his book, Ekaladerhan, “the issue is not about whether or not the relationship between Benin and Ife existed, its existence has been proven beyond doubt by anthropological and folkloric evidence. Songs and rituals are performed in both Benin and Ife today which eulogize the link with nostalgia, relish and pride.” The Yoruba hamlets, Ekhaladarha eventually settled in were obviously no where as sophisticated as Igodomigodo. Yoruba historians attest to the contrast in sophistication between the kingdom Oduduwa was coming from and the Yoruba villages he joined. The question now is, why a people as sophisticated in political and social administration, spanning a period of 1,240 years, would be looking to some unknown alien villages for a king at a time of crisis? Unless through military conquest, such adventure is not normal and the Oduduwa’s hamlets in Yoruba land at the time were not known to have conquered even their neighbours let alone to
have ventured as far away from home as Igodomigodo. Ovbia Oba Edu Akenzua again, “at the time when the event took place, Uhe had no record of a ruler, let alone a famous one, from whom neighbouring countries could make such a request. Why did the people of Igodomigodo choose Uhe, instead of another place, which is perhaps nearer, to go and request for a king? “ The argument that a patently powerful kingdom like Igodomigodo, reached out to her son Ekhaladerha, to plead with him to return home to his father’s throne, is not so outlandish after all. Especially considering that the people of Igodomigodo put a great deal of premium on the first son of their king inheriting the father’s throne. Ogiso by the way means rulers from the sky or God-son kings, which explains why the people of Igodomigodo were averse to mere mortals ruling them. It had to be the Ogiso’s first son and no body else, and that is still the case today. The Oba of Bini’s first son is the heir apparent to the Edo throne. Edo Obaship is one of the most revered institutions in the world because of the way it has sustained its awesome prestige with strict and meticulous attention to ancient traditions of valour, discipline and integrity. Edo chieftaincy titles cannot be bought or conferred on non-indigenes or frivolously. Every Edo chief performs a peculiarly sacred duty and responsibility to the people of Bini. It does not make sense, therefore, to think that a people who would not and have never conferred their chieftaincy titles on non-indigenes, would voluntarily invite, accept, or surrender to nonindigenes as their kings. Due to celestial origins, the Edo monarch cannot eat out and cannot be diverted from full time palace duties to hustle for contracts. In fact, he cannot function outside the palace confines without divine sanction.
OBA EREDIAWA THE OBA OF BENIN
NAIWU OSAHON Hon. Khu Mkuu (Leader, Pan-African Movement world-wide); Ameer Spiritual (Spiritual Prince) of the African race; MSc. (Salford); Dip.M.S; G.I.P.M; Dip. I.A (Liv.); D. Inst. M; G. Inst. M; G.I.W.M; A.M.N.I.M. Awarded: Key to the City of Memphis, Tennessee, USA; Honourary Councilmanship, Memphis City Council; Honourary Citizenship, County of Shelby; Honourary Commissionership, County of Shelby, Tennessee and a silver trophy from Morehouse College, Atlanta, USA for his contributions to the unity and uplift of his race.
This online book was designed and publish by Uwagboe Ogieva with the permission of the author. All right reserved. More papers and articles by Naiwu Osahon can be read online at THE NAIWU OSAHON APPRECIATION SOCIETY" on facebook. @ 2014
Edo monarchs demonstrate strong affinity with ancient Egyptian Gods and Pharaohs, with which they share identical authority, grandeur and a...