The Benin-Ife Connection

May 2004
      It is during the preparation for his coronation that the future Oba chooses the title or name he is to be known as at his coronation.

      How and where this is done began with the arrival from Ile-Ife of Prince Oranmiyan, the son of Oduduwa of Uhe, about 1170 years ago according to modem historians. Briefly, this is the account. Before the advent of Qranmiyan, the "kings" that ruled the people that came to be known as Edo or Benin were called "Ogiso". The title is said (by local tradition) to have derived (and
abbreviated) from the description Ogie n 'oriso (meaning King in Heaven) and it originated from the "wisdom" in managing the "affairs of state" especially settling disputes as demonstrated by the first and second of the earliest rulers known as "Igodo" and "Ere."

      I must comment here, in passing, that I personally have never accepted the account of our late illustrious historian, Jacob U. Egharevba when he wrote in the very first edition of his now authoritative book A Short History of Benin, the following:

      Many, many years ago, Odua (Oduduwa) of Uhe (Ile-Ife) the father and progenitor of the Yoruba kings sent his eldest son Obagodo - who took the title of Ogiso - with a large retinue all the way from Uhe to found a Kingdom in this part of the world. And in the fourth (and now current) edition of the book, the late author wrote:

      Many many years ago, the Binis came all the way from Egypt to found a more secure shelter in this part of the world, after a short stay in the Sudan and at Ile Ife. which the Benin people call Uhe.

      The rulers or kings were commonly known as 'Ogiso" before the arrival of Oduduwa and his party at Ife in Yoruba land, about the 12th Century of the Christian era.

      It is this fourth edition of the book, which historians in the University of Ibadan assisted to re-write and was printed by the Ibadan University Press, that earned the late illustrious historian the "doctorate" from that university.

      It is not the intention here to discredit Jacob U. Egharevba, an illustrious historian (and traditional chief), but since this write-up will bring in the historical link between Ife and Benin, it is impossible not to point out errors or contradictions in the extracts quoted. There are contradictions between the first edition and the fourth edition of the man's books. Apart from the fact that the Edo n 'ekue (Edo-Akure-.partly Benin partly Yoruba by birth) blood in the man manifested itself, the experts in the Ibadan University contributed to the contradictions.

      Confining ourselves for now to the extracts quoted, it is necessary to point out that it is historically wrong to describe Odua or Oduduwa as the "father and progenitor of the Yoruba kings." The knowledgeable (and one may add, the honest ones) among Yoruba traditional historians know only too well that the person who came to be known as Odua or Oduduwa had only seven children with Oranyan (or Oranmiyan) as the last and youngest. It is also a known historical fact that by the time Oduduwa emerged in Ife, "from the east" as modem Yoruba historians usually put it, there were many Yoruba communities in existence and who had their leaders or "kings". So Odua or Oduduwa could not have been the father of Yoruba kings.

      The mistake that modem historians (including Yoruba) made, as I have found from my own studies, is that they confused Oduduwa with Qrunmila, the bringer of Ifa divination. It was Orunmila who, according to traditional account, had sixteen children, each of whom he sent to rule over each of sixteen communities in his own world, among which were Ife and Ado (Benin).

      Furthermore, Oduduwa could not have been the founder of Yoruba kings because, of his seven children, one became lame, one developed hunchback, and another "turned to a river" leaving four able-bodied ones. Every babalawo (whom love of money has not tainted!) knows these accounts. Still on the extract quoted above, it is also a known traditional historical fact that it was not his eldest son, but the youngest that Oduduwa sent to the Benin people.

      That Oduduwa could not have been the father of Yoruba kings, or founder of "Yoruba race" as modem Yoruba historians now put it, is also borne out of the fact that the Ife account itself has it that there were five "rulers" in Ife before the advent of Oduduwa and this makes the reference to the "12th Century" in Jacob U. Egharevba's fourth edition relevant.

      Some apology for that rather lengthy digression; but it is necessary because of what follows here.

      This is a convenient point to return to the issue I began this section with, which is where and how the future Oba of Benin chooses the title - name by which he is to be known at his coronation. As stated above, it all began with the arrival of Prince Oranmiyan from Ife. We have stated that the earliest rulers or kings in what is today Edo or Benin were known as "Ogiso." The first was known as Ogiso Igodo and the last (of the thirty-one or so of them) was Ogiso Owodo.

      It can be said that Ogiso Owodo's era ended the first period of kingship in our history. His was a long account of an unhappy reign but briefly it was that as a result of these events, which were traced by oracle to his only child and son, Owodo was advised by oracle, so it was said, to have the son executed. Owodo (unaware that he had been tricked about his son) got the Oka odionmwan (public executioner) to perform the act. But the executioner had pity on the son, and on reaching the outskirts of the city, let him off. From there the prince wandered into the world, settling alone first in Ughoton, where the elders gave him hospitality.

      Ogiso Owodo passed away without an heir. In the period of interregnum that followed, powerful community leaders began to strive for the throne. Among the most powerful was one known as Evian. His attempt to usurp the throne was stoutly resisted by the Edion (the elders) of the Benin people. While this was going on, word came in that Ogiso Owodo's son (his name was Ekaladerhan) who was to have been executed was seen alive in Ughoton. Immediately, the elders sent out emissaries to look for him and invite him to come to take his throne.

      When information got to him, he was stricken with fear that they were still after his head. So after consulting with his Ughoton hosts, he fled the village.

      When the Benin emissaries got to Ughoton and reported their mission, the Ughoton elders told the emissaries that Prince Ekaladerhan had been there but had since left. When asked where to, the people said they did not know but that "he went in that direction". The emissaries followed in "that direction" until they arrived at a village where they announced their mission like in the former village the people in this second village also said he was there but had since departed and went in "that direction." And so making enquiry from village to village and following "in that direction" the Benin emissaries emerged in a community they got to know as Uhe.

      The local people, on sighting the strangers got frightened and ran to inform their village head who ordered that the strangers be brought to him. When they appeared before the village head, the Benin emissaries introduced themselves, narrated their mission and whom they were in search of.

      Prince Ekaladerhan, who by this time had assumed new name, Oduduwa, said he was the one they were looking for. To be sure, the emissaries gave him a test by throwing at him some events back home in Benin which, to their surprise, their host recollected vividly and even narrated himself. This, indeed, was Ekaladerhan, and they fell on their knees to greet him.

      The emissaries from Benin, having satisfied themselves of the man's identity, asked the next obvious questions: how had he become the village head of the people with the name they heard the people call him? Ekaladerhan (or Oduduwa) narrated his experience in Benin language thus: When he emerged from the bush into the village, he was led by the local people to their village head to whom he narrated his plight and how he wandered in the bush to get to the village. In answer to question as to his name, he told the village head imado d 'uwa (meaning, "I have not missed the road to good fortune") in allusion to the welcome hospitality he had received since he arrived. The village head then asked what the stranger could do and he replied that he was a hunter and a herbalist. (He had acquired both, art or science, during his wandering through the forest).

      The village head then handed the stranger to one of the local people to house him. (Note that the stranger was led by the local people to their village head, suggesting that the community did have a "head" - "ruler" or "king" - at the time Ekaladerhan who became Oduduwa emerged in their midst). It was while here that he demonstrated his knowledge of herbs: a pregnant woman was in difficulty and after all kinds of treatment had failed, words reached the stranger (Ekaladerhan or Oduduwa) who immediately offered to help.

      He was led to the home of the woman, and after examining her, he went back home, prepared some medicine which he returned to apply to the woman. Soon after, the woman was delivered of her baby, safe and sound. Asked what his fee was, the stranger merely answered it was God's work and no fee. Soon his reputation as a "medicine man" became widely known, and patients were brought to him from within and outside Ife community, all of whom the stranger treated free of charge. This greatly endeared him to all.

      The next episode in Ekaladerhan's (Oduduwa's) arrival in Ife must be very interesting to present-day Ife people as it answers the Benin emissaries' question as to how the stranger became the village head. The account is that a revolt broke out against the original settlers and the village head, who were said to be Ugbo - Ilaje. They were defeated and they fled to their original home in Ugbo. With the popularity Ekaladerhan (or Oduduwa) had established for himself as a powerful "medicine man" it was no difficulty at all for the victors in the revolt to invite him to assume leadership of the community as their new head, a position he accepted with humility. It is an historical fact known.

      I believe, to present-day Ife people, that the original settlers whom Ekaladerhan (Oduduwa) met moved away from Ife to a place called Ugbo,- a very ancient Ilaje town in Okitipupa area. Ife elders, especially the traditional title holders, must know the rest of the Ugbo episode as it affects Ife and Oduduwa because Ife people today perform a ritual festival that re-enacts the events that caused the original settlers including their village head to flee from Ife and Ekaladerhan (or Oduduwa) to become the head of the community. So that is Ekaladerhan (or Oduduwa) in Ife.

      We have again digressed a bit, but the digression was worthwhile in order to show that the person whom the Benin emissaries found in Ife was actually Prince Ekaladerhan, the son of Ogiso Owodo who was banished to be executed but spared by the executioner and wandered into the unknown, from Ughoton. The mission to search for him was to bring him home to ascend the throne and so end the period of interregnum.

      The Benin emissaries delivered their message, but Ekaladerhan replied, as the emissaries reported back to the elders at home, that he was happy where he was and, in any case too old to travel; but he was prepared to send his youngest son if the Benin people would submit to a test that they would take good care of him. This is another lengthy account which we need not go into here. Suffice it to state that the Benin people did submit to and passed Oduduwa's test and so Oranmiyan (or Oranyan in Yoruba) came to Benin as the ruler of the people.

      This is where we come to how and where the choosing of a coronation title by the future Oba of Benin originated, as stated earlier, from the arrival of Oranmiyan in Benin. Benin traditional account has it that Oranmiyan could not live in Benin: he spent only akia (three lunar months) before he packed and left in anger. The annoyance arose from three factors: first, he did not understand the Benin language; second, he found his Yoruba custom different from the Benin; thirdly, and it was this that really did it, he discovered that whenever he and his people from Ife were performing some secret rituals, Benin people, including some elders who had often wondered at the Ife people's secretiveness, used to climb walls to peep at them. Enough was enough and he decided to leave.

      On his way, he stopped at the Enogie of Egor to leave his wife Erinmwinde in her parent's care. She was the daughter of the Enogie and was pregnant. As her pregnancy advanced her father, the Enogie of Egor sent reports to Oduduwa whom the Benin people called Oghene n'Uhe.

      Oduduwa also sent emissaries to monitor his daughter-in-law's progress. As the pregnancy advanced, Ogie Egor decided to send his daughter, Erinmwinde, to Erinmwinde's maternal parents in Use, next door village to Egor, for better "medical" attention and to ensure some degree of privacy for the "King's wife." It was at Use, Erinmwinde (Oranmiyan's wife) put to bed and word was immediately sent to Oghene n'Uhe (Oduduwa) who sent two servants to minister to his daughter-in-law and grandchild. They were known as Olo or Olero, a native medicine man whose task was to counter any evil things; the other was "Adigi" whose task was to fetch firewood for the new mother. The Benin people corrupted "Adigi" to "Edigin" as it is called today; Olo is still Olo. Both are now traditional titles of the Oba of Benin.

      Erinmwinde's son grew but could not speak and word was sent to Uhe (Ife). Oghene n'Uhe (or Oduduwa) then sent a babalawo by name Ehendiwo with seven medicinal "akhue" seeds used in playing a kind of game on the ground by Benin people. The seeds are arranged in lines on the ground with each player throwing his own to knock down the opponent's seed. The young (dumb) Prince was to participate in this game and Ehendiwo was to bring out his own seeds for the dumb Prince to use when all the players had exhausted theirs.

      This was what Ehendiwo did; the Prince threw his medicinal seeds and succeeded in knocking down the opponent's remaining one standing seed, and when he hit it, he exclaimed in his father's tongue "OWOMIKA" (no doubt moved by the power of the medicinal seeds). "OWOMIKA" has been translated to mean "my hand has struck it" and from that moment the young Prince's tongue became loosened and he was then able to speak.

      The Benin people corrupted "OWOMIKA" to "Eweka" and gave it as the title to Oranmiyan's son who thus became known to the Benin people as "Eweka." (Modern historians later made him Eweka 1). It was the ritual performed that gave Oranmiyan's son the title of Eweka that every subsequent Oba-to-be goes to Use to perform to this day.

      Ehendiwo since became the Oba's principal Ifa priest, while Edigin (Adigi) and Olo are Oba's traditionul title holders in Use. It was the same place in Use I went to in February, 1979, to perform the age-old ritual to select the name "Erediauwa" that I now answer, by the Grace of God and my ancestors. I thank God and my ancestors and the functionaries that everything went smoothly and successfully. Having now chosen a name, the next item on the programme was the actual coronation.

Omo N'Oba Erediauwa

0 Response to "The Benin-Ife Connection"

Post a Comment

Search This Blog