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THE Benin Empire as described by Prof. Philip Igbafe in his Benin Under British administration represented “the unwieldy but fluid empire which was made up of a loose conglomeration of various people’s covering from most of present-day Delta and Edo States to Lagos and beyond. In fact, on a Dutch map drawn in 1705, titled A New and Exact map of Guinea and reprinted in 1907 in English by Sir Alfred Jones KCMG- the founder of the Bank of British West Africa – the name BENIN is shown to designate what may today be called Nigeria South of the Niger and Benue. Other contemporary states on the said map-which now stands for West Africa – from the farthest West, are Melli, Grain Coast, Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, and Slave Coast, and immediately to the West of the Niger, only Great Benin, as a large territory, and Awyi ( Warri) are marked.
It should be expected that for a vast community as that, diverse peoples, today’s accounts of its trade dynastic relations, migrations and other bric-a-brac would be different from area to area. However, it remains amazing that certain areas of cultural influence within the old empire remain so strong till today as various ethnic nationalities still talk about them with nostalgic pride: for example, an independent Republic of Dahomey in 1975 decided to change its name to the Republic of Benin; the Itsekiri of Warri , the Igbo of Onitsha and others trace their own highly venerated royal lineages to the Bini link is claimed even as far as the Kalabari Ijaw of Degema in Rivers State.
At the heart of this expansive empire was the old Benin Kingdom. What is remarkable about the Old Benin Kingdom is that it was purely an African state whose growth was not stimulated by either Islam or contact with Europe. Like Benin was at its greatest before any contact with Europe was ever m a de. Under Oba Ewuare, the Great, 1440-1473, the Kingdom of Benin through conquests from Idah to the North, Owo and Akure to Igboland, West of the Niger, had become an Empire. The Oba gave Benin a strong central government that weakened political factions and intrigues of the chiefs. His constitutional reforms strengthened the Oba against the Uzama and the Palace chiefs. A great and shrewd magician, regarded as a semi-divine monarch, Oba Ewuare gave Benin City the look and status of an imperial metropolis. It was during the time of Ewuare’s reign that the first European, Ruy de Sequeira reportedly visited Benin in 1472, although Michael Crowder argues that it is more likely that the first European, Joao Affonso d’ Aviero’, came to Benin in 1486. The Political & Spiritual Purpose of the Holy Land
It can be said here that Benin attained her greatest glory and splendor under Oba Esigie (1504 -1550) , when her progress in the fields of culture, politics, arts and crafts was immeasurably outstanding. The Oba, according to some English visitors could field t wenty thousand warriors in one day, and up to 100,000 men if necessary”. In 1702, a Dutchman, David Van Nyendal described the richness of the Bini people’s diet (beef, mutton or chickens.) And their neat and ornamental mode of dress. Their craftsmen included metal workers, weavers, wood-carvers and brass-smiths. Edo State, the surviving core of the Old Benin Empire, today, arguably though, claims to be the Heart-Beat of modern Nigeria. Outside the Ogiso dynasty, thirty-eight Obas (Kings) have ruled the Kingdom to date.
The legendary fame of the old Benin Empire was widespread and the peoples of Europe heard about, and desired to visit it. Also, it was known before the 15th century that somewhere in the hinterland of the Maghreb, gold was obtained by the Arabs from the Negroes for sale on the European markets.
Thus naturally, Europeans wanted to gain direct access to the source of supply and sideline the Arab middlemen. Also, Portugal and Spain were interested in finding a sea-route to India in o rder to avoid trading for Indian goods through Arab intermediaries. These economic motives, plus a desire to extend geographical knowledge and, then possibly, find a Christian king in tropical Africa as an ally in the struggles against Islam led Prince Henry of Portugal, the navigator, to launch expeditions to sail beyond the West Coast of Africa to discover a new route to India. Aided by the Papal Bulls of the 1450s, which had secured their rights to the African Coasts, the Portuguese had by 1480, completed their exploration of the West Coast and were able to settle down to its fruits “mainly in gold from Mina and peppers from Benin.
As mentioned above, the real motive for the missionary work in tropical Africa was the desire to find a Christian king to become all ally in the struggle against Islam. The crusades (1096 -1453) were undertaken in Europe in order to recapture the Holy Land of Jerusalem from the infield Turks who had occupied it from 7th century. These expedition having failed, most parts of Europe were traumatised, and quite naturally, the Christian nations needed allies outside Europe. Then came the reports about the fame, size and power of the Benin Empire. And if the Portuguese were to make any headway in West Africa, Benin City, the centre of the empire, was to be the take-off point.
Thus Benin became the centre-piece of the missionary strategy of the Portuguese. Unfortunately, their priests rather than settle amongst the Benin people and learn their language and customs were instructed to convert the Oba and make him decree the Catholic Faith as the religion of his realm as Emperor Constantine did in the Fourth Century Roman Empire. But the Oba’s position as head of the cultic life of his people, and one they regarded as divine guaranteed the failure of the Portuguese missionary strategy.
However, Oba Esigie in an effort to spread Christianity in his realm sent Ohen -Okun, the Olokun priest at Ughoton, as an ambassador to the king of Portugal to ask him to send priests to Benin to teach him and his people about the Christian Faith. He also allowed churches to be built in the city at Ogbelaka, Idumwerie and Akpakpava.. The last-named being the Holy Cross Cathedral” site. The Oba and the King of Portugal exchanged valuable gifts and a Portuguese Ambassador was accredited to Benin. The Aruosa church in Benin City remains a survivor from this era.
Michael Crowder in his The Story of Nigeria tells about the Portuguese who in the second half of the fifteenth century built a factory at Ughoton, the port of Benin to handle pepper trade and purchase of slaves. The Oba had a royal monopoly on trade and it was the duty of his high chiefs like Uwangue and the Eribo to transact business on his behalf. Other items trade included Leopard skins, ivory, Benin cloths, wood works, brass works and in exchange for them Portuguese goods like firearms, dresses, glasses, beads and umbrellas were obtained. The introduction of firearms in Benin at this time positively increased its military str ength and played a remarkable role in its imperial expansion in the 11th to 16th century.
It is not disputed that most nationalities in both Edo and Delta States (except perhaps the Izon) have direct or indirect links with Benin origin. The Esan are said to have migrated from Benin, some during the Ogisos and others after. Their first enijies were mostly princes from Benin. So, too are the Oras. The Etsako are Benin migrants.
The Ika (Agbor people) came from Benin in several waves. Other Western Igbo and Onitsha trace their roots to Benin. The Ihoho (Urhobo) were migrants from Benin and Their language is clearly a dialect of Edo language. The Benin monarchy extended its influence to Eko (Lagos – where it set up its dynasty; the first Eleko of Eko), to Itsekiri land (where prince Ginuwa became the first Olu the Itsekiri ) and to Badagry and beyond
URHOBO HISTORICAL SOCIETY
THE UNTOLD STORY OF A NIGERIAN ROYAL FAMILY:
The Urhobo Ruling Clan of Okpe Kingdom
by H.R.H. Prince Joseph O. Asagba, Ph.D.
(Lincoln, NE: Universe, Inc., 2005)
This book presents the story of the Urhobo ruling family of Okpe Kingdom and its political power in Nigeria. It traces the origins and history of the Okpe people and discusses their social and political organization. Topics include:
· The Okpe revolution that led to the assassination of H.R.M. Esezi I in 1779
· British colonial rule of the kingdom during the late 1800s through 1960
· Civil war beween the Okpe and Olomu of Itsekiri in the 1800s and the palm oil trade rivalry
· Urhobo-Itsekiri collaboration in the slave trade, and slavery in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Okpe.
It also examines the political role played by the traditional chiefs, the role of feminists who campaigned for women’s rights to participate in the all-male council of elders, and the effort by H.R.M. Esezi II to promote the democratic system of government within the Okpe council. It concludes with the story of the uncrowned king of Okpe Kingdom, including a brief history of the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-70, the reign of H.R.M. Orohoro I, and the story of the author’s candidacy for Okpe King after the death of Orhoro I. Postscripts include Nigeria oil policy, the Muslim-Christian strife, and human rights abuses.
Available in hardcover and paperback from:
Joseph Obukowho Asagba
When Orhoro I, King of Okpe Kingdom, died in February 2004, a descendant of the Evwreke descent group was eligible for the throne. Joseph, who is also a descendant of the Evwreke lineage through his fathers mother, became a candidate for the position of King. His candidacy was based on his education and experience in leadership. He is a modern prince, highly educated and in touch with the fast-changing world. Prince Joseph is regarded as a moderate among the Okpes and a progressive within the Okpe royal family. He is chiefly known as a member of the Okpe royal distinguished families of Asagba and Omarin.
In his application for the Okpe kingship, Joseph outlined some of his vision for the Okpe people, which includes:
1. To provide economic development, better education, and better health care, and
2. To work with oil companies on environmental issues, working for clean air and clean water standards, so all Okpes can enjoy clean and healthy communities.
Joseph was selected by his ruling house as their best candidate. However, members of the Orhue ruling house of Okpe Kingdom stated that their ruling house was eligible for the throne, not the Evwreke group. After much tension between the members of the two ruling houses, the Orhue descent group were allowed to contest for the throne.
THE ORIGIN AND A BRIEF HISTORY
OF THE URHOBO – OKPE
By Prince Joseph O. Asagba, Ph.D.
The Okpe people are part of the Urhobo ethnic group in the Delta State of Nigeria. Okpe Kingdom encompasses about 200 square miles and has a population of over 240,000. It is the largest kingdom in the Urhobo states. The River Ethiope separates Okpe territory from that of Oghara and Idjerhe. Okpe also shares common boundaries with the Urhobo states of Agbarho, Agbon, Ughienvwe, and Uvwie. Sapele is the second largest city in the Delta State, which belongs to the Okpe people (Asagba, 2005, p. 4).
The power and authority in Okpe Kingdom is derived from the following sources:
1. The Orodje (King)
2. The Otota (Speaker)
3. The Ekakuros (Chiefs)
The Orodje is the head of the kingdom and head of the Udogun Council, which is the supreme council of Okpe. The king is also the head and president of the Okpe Traditional Council.
The Otota is the spokesman in Okpe. In the event of the death of the Orodje, the most important spokesman in Okpe Kingdom is the Speaker. In fact, his position is similar to that of a Prime Minister (Asagba, 2005, p. 70).
The Chiefs are the representatives of the people and are members of the four ruling houses in Council (Asagba, 2005, p. 79).
Igboze (b. ca. late sixteenth century)
Prince Igboze is the founding father of the royal family of the Urhobo Okpe people. He was the son of an Oba (king) of Benin Empire. In the middle of the seventeenth century, he noticed the decline of the power of the Empire and, fearing for its future, determined to found his own kingdom. For this purpose he obtained his title of Ovie (king) from his second cousin, Oba Ahenzae of Benin, who was then on the throne (1640-1661). He left Benin Empire in the middle of the seventeenth century with his wives, family, and a number of followers (slaves) and set out southwards from Benin.
He arrived at his new territory of Orere-Olomu. After a decade or so, when Igboze’s new kingdom was well established, he was later visited by an Ibo named Olomu. Olomu lived with Igboze for a long time and succeeded in winning the confidence of Igboze to such an extent that Igboze declared him his heir. Igboze, who had obtained the royal title of Ovie (king) to rule his new territory, was at the height of his power when he died. Upon Igboze’s death, Olomu took the title of Ovie. This caused a rift, because Igboze’s son, Okpe, quarreled with Olomu about who should succeed as king (Bradbury, 1957, p. 131; Hubbard, 1948, pp. 237-8; Asagba, 2005, p. 7). Okpe and his followers later left the territory and settled in the Agbarho quarters of the Isoko Okpe. Okpe lived and died in Isoko Okpe. Before his death, Okpe had four sons: Orhue, Orhoro, Evwreke, and Esezi. The descendants of those four sons are the royal members of the Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe (Otite, 1973 and Asagba, 2005).
Okpe, Prince (b. 1664 – d. 1740)
Prince Okpe was the son of Prince Igboze, who was the son of an Oba (king) of the Benin Empire.
Orhue, Prince (b. 1694 – d. 1772)
The First Son of Prince Okpe
Prince Orhue was a political leader and a hunter who searched for food and a fertile region for settlement. Orhue lived in Agbarho, and later crossed the nearby stream and founded Orerokpe, the present capital of Okpe Kingdom. His three brothers, Orhoro, Evwreke, and Esezi, came and settled with him at Orerokpe, where they started the royal monarchy of Okpe.
Orhoro, Prince (b. 1709 – d. 1781)
The Second Son of Prince Okpe
Evwreke, Prince (b. 1712 – d. 1780)
The Third Son of Prince Okpe
Both Orhoro and Evwreke became senior political leaders under the regime of their brother, H.R.M. Esezi I.
H.R.M. Esezi I, King of Okpe
The Fourth Son of Prince Okpe
Reigned 1770-1779 (18th century)
According to the 1947 Okpe Chiefs statement on the traditional history of the kingship of Okpe, the Okpe people wanted to have a king to rule their domain so as to maintain peace, equity, and order in their traditional land, so Esezi, the son of Prince Okpe, was appointed as the Orodje of Okpe. He was installed by his senior brother, Orhue (Okpe State Document, 1947). He installed Esezi because he was too old to rule and because there was a quarrel between the two other brothers Orhoro and Evwreke. Esezi ascended the throne as Esezi I, the Orodje of Okpe.
Esezi I’s installation caused controversy within the Okpes who felt he was not the right royal family member to be crowned. During his regime, Esezi I ordered his people to cut down large palm trees in order to see them crushed by the weight of the trees. He also ordered members of the ruling houses to break a huge bar of iron, and when they failed, ordered them killed. He was a ruler who violated his people’s human rights and did only as he wished.
In 1779, the Okpe people, tired of his brutal treatment of them, vowed to kill him. The people of Okpe secretly dug a pit, covered the pit with sticks and mats, and placed the king’s chair over the pit. They also prepared a pot of boiling palm oil. When they were ready, they called a meeting. When Esezi I sat on the chair, he fell into the pit. The people poured the boiling oil and water over him, and he died in agony, cursing the Okpes that they “will never be reunited under an Orodje” (Mebitaghan, 2001, p.6; Asagba, 2005). Esezi I was killed for undermining the Okpe constitution and failing to work within its framework (Ikoyo-Eweto, 2005). He also failed to embody the hopes and symbols of unity and happiness which formed the basis of the monarchial government of the Okpe people (Asagba, 2005).
After his death, the Esezi family were unhappy over the assassination of their leader, and there was great unrest in the state capital city of Orerokpe. The capital was set on fire, and a consuming blaze swept through the city of Orerokpe. There was bloodshed and disunity between his descent group and supporters and the rest of the Okpes. The King’s relatives and supporters fled the capital city. Those who could not escape were either killed or driven from the city (Kerr, 1929).
According to Otite (1973), “the death of Esezi I occurred 150 years before 1929, that is, in about 1779” (p. 61). Fellows (1928) confirmed that Esezi I was killed in the year 1779 (p. 6). After the assassination of Esezi I, four chiefs—Odorume of Orhue ruling house, Owhere of Orhoro ruling house, and Eruohwo and Ogoni, both of Evwreke ruling house—dominated Okpe government and politics, and redivided the whole kingdom, leaving no portion for the Esezi ruling house (Otite, 1973, p. 67; Asagba, 2005, chapter 2). This period was known as the Okpe Revolution (Asagba, 2005, chapter 2).
The assassination of Esezi I in 1779 and the revolution that followed prompted a split in the family and the migration of its branches to different towns and villages throughout Okpe Kingdom (Asagba, 2005, chapter 2). Okpe Kingdom remained without a king for 166 years after the assassination of Esezi I. The kingdom was under the leadership of political representatives from the four ruling houses until the selection of H.R.M. Esezi II in 1945.
Chief Odorume (b. 1729 – d. 1796)
Son of Prince Orhue
He was a political leader from Orhue ruling house and a revolutionary.
Chief Owhere (b. 1742 – d. 1805)
Son of Prince Orhoro
He was a political leader from the Orhoro ruling house and a revolutionary.
Chief Eruohwo (b. 1740 – d. 1802)
Son of Prince Evwreke
He was a political leader from the Evwreke ruling house and a revolutionary.
Chief Ogoni (b. 1745 – d. 1810)
Son of Prince Evwreke
He was a political leader from the Evwreke ruling house and a revolutionary.
H.R.M. Esezi II, King of Okpe
(b. 1902 – d. 1966)
Reigned 1945-1966 (20th century)
Esezi II was born John Deveno to the royal family of Mebitaghan of the Esezi family of Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe. In 1940, with the British indirect rule of the kingdom, the Okpe Union saw the urgent need to fill the vacancy created by the death of Esezi I. But the installation of Esezi II to the throne had to wait because the British Colonial government opposed his selection and refused to recognize him as the Okpe king. However, the Okpe people installed Esezi II as their king in January 1945, but it was not until June 1948 that the Colonial government declared that they would recognize him as the Okpe king and that the Okpe people were free to regard and treat the king as their leader.
British rule marked the reign (1945-1966) of Esezi II. He was the first Okpe king to rule under the British indirect government. During his reign, Esezi II worked to make the Okpe kingship a democratic and constitutional monarchy. On March 16, 1957, Esezi II approved and signed into law the Okpe Tradition and Constitution, which enabled the democratic processes to begin functioning within the Okpe Traditional Council headed by the king.
When Nigerians began seeking their independence from Great Britain, Esezi II was among the Nigerian delegates of traditional kings who participated in the 1957 Lyttelton Conference that was held in London to help seek Nigerian independence.
During his reign, Esezi II and his council of chiefs became members of the House of Chiefs under the Western region of Nigeria. In 1956, Esezi II was chosen to represent the Urhobo division in the regional House of Chiefs and retained his position until 1960.
Esezi II is remembered by the Okpes as a ruler who brought his ideology of social equality to the Okpe monarchy by introducing a democratic system of government and as the first Okpe ruler to work with the British Colonial officers. Esezi II died in 1966 at the age of sixty-four (Otite, 1973; Asagba, 2005).
Following the death of Esezi II, and in accordance with the rotational system to the throne among the four ruling houses, the Orhoro ruling house was asked to present the successor to Esezi II. Prince Koyima Asagba of the Orhoro ruling house was selected to be the next king, but the Udogun Okpe Council rejected his nomination because his mother was an Itsekiri native. Following his rejection, Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba, a cousin to Koyima who was also from the Orhoro ruling house (and his mother’s father, Chief Omarin, was a member of the Evwreke ruling house) was nominated by the Asagba family. He had to turn down the nomination because of a split vote in the Asagba family. This action allowed Prince Domingo Amujaine Ejinyere to be appointed King of Okpe in 1972 after a six-year interregnum (Asagba, 2005).
Asagba, Koyima G. (b. 1920 – d. 1974)
Prince Koyima G. Asagba was the son of Prince Gbabune Asagba and the grandson of Chief Asagba of the royal family of Asagba of the Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe.
Asagba, Vann Etietsola (b. 1923 – d. 1997)
Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba was the son of Prince Joseph Etietsola Asagba, grandson of Prince Eyeyan Asagba, and the great-grandson of Chief Asagba, born to the royal family of Asagba of the Orhoro ruling house of Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe. His mother was Princess Alberta Aduviere Omarin (b. 1900 – d. 1968), daughter of Chief Omarin Etajeme of the royal family of the Evwreke ruling house and of the Ogoni family of Okpe Kingdom. He was a member of both the Orhoro and Evwreke ruling houses of Okpe Kingdom.
H.R.M. Orhoro I, Orodje (King) of Okpe (b. 1921 – d. 2004)
Reigned 1972-2004 (20th-21st centuries)
His Royal Majesty Orhoro I was born in Orerokpe in 1921. His Majesty’s father, the late Chief Ejinyere Edjere, was of the Ibobo family on the paternal side and of the Owhere family on the maternal side. His Majesty’s mother, the late Princess Btadievu Erhobor, was from the Owhere family. It is instructive to note that both the Ibobo family and the Owhere family are sub-branches of the Orhoro ruling house.
HRM Orhoro I received his early education at the Holy Cross Catholic School in Lagos. Upon completing high school, he then joined the Nigeria Police Force from 1940 through 1952. He later proceeded to the United Kingdom in 1956, where he studied business administration and received a diploma. Upon his return from the United Kingdom, His Royal Majesty took a chieftaincy title and established a business. He was appointed president of the Customary Court in 1963.
In 1964, His Royal Majesty, along with his brother, Chief J. E. Odiete, jointly established an industrial company known as The New Africa Industries Limited. He held the positions of Director and General Manager of the company until his appointment as Orodje of Okpe in 1972.
Since the installation of His Royal Majesty Orhoro I, the Orodje had brought tremendous peace and stability to his people and also in the relationship between the Okpe people and their neighbors. He had reigned successfully and instilled relative peace, discipline and dignity in Okpe Kingdom. Under the leadership of Orhoro I, the kingdom acquired the notable life-image as a first class ethnic nationality in Nigeria. The monarchy had truly achieved success in the modern life of the Okpe people. When Orhoro I was crowned in 1972, the Nigerian government was under military rule and most traditional governments had only limited constitutional power. However, the Okpe monarchy remained a constitutional institution because of the Okpe Tradition and Constitution that was passed into law on March 16, 1957 by the late Esezi II.
During his reign, he was the First Vice Chairman of the (then) Midwest Council of Traditional Rulers (1973-1977); Deputy Chairman of the (then) Bendel State Traditional Rulers Forum (1977-1991); member of the National Council of States (1992); first and pioneer Chairman of the Delta State Council of Traditional Rulers (1993); Chairman, Southern Delta Traditional Rulers Forum and Chairman of the Traditional Rulers of Oil Mineral Producing Communities in the Delta State. He was also the life president of the Okpe Traditional Council. During his lifetime, His Royal Majesty won a Medal of Honor during the war of 1939-1945; he received a commendation from the Police Command in 1950; and in 1978, he became a Justice of the Peace.
He received the Merit Award for the Development and Upliftment of Okpe Culture by the National Association of Okpe Students at the University of Benin/University of Benin Teaching Hospital in 1998. His Royal Majesty was also a Grand Patron to the National Union of Urhobo Students and received a Merit Award from the Union. In 1998, he was awarded the Distinguished Community Leadership Award by the Institute of Corporate Administration of Nigeria; and, in 2003, the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, honored him with the Officer of the Order of the Niger.
His Royal Majesty Orhoro I passed away in February 2004 at the age of 82. During the Orodje’s burial, several kings and chiefs who are members of the Nigeria Traditional Council came to pay their last respects. Among the prominent Nigerians who attended his burial ceremony were the former Nigeria Head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, and the current governor of the Delta State, James Ibori (Eghagha, 2004).
The Orodje of Okpe Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Major Gen. Felix Mujakperuo (Rtd).
Asagba, Joseph O. The Untold Story of a Nigerian Royal Family: The Urhobo Ruling Clan of Okpe Kingdom. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2005.
Bradbury, R. E. The Benin Kingdom and the Edo-Speaking People of Southwestern Nigeria (London: International African Institute, 1957).
Eghagha, Hope. “Celebrating the life and time of HRM Orhoro I, JP, the Orodje of Okpe Kingdom” in Vanguard, Lagos. Friday, April 9, 2004.
Fellows, L. E. H. “Report on the Ukpe Sobo Clan” in file C.S.O. 22/6/3/2/1943. National Archives, Ibadan, 1928.
Ikoyo-Eweto, Isaac P. “Cultural Development in Okpe Kingdom.” Lecture presented at the Okpe National Conference held at the Orodje’s Palace, Orerokpe, January 2-3, 2005, p. 6.
Kerr, R. B. Ukpe Sobo Assessment Report in file C.S.O. 22/6/3/2/1943. National Archives, Ibadan, 1928, p. 6.
Mebitaghan, Isaac S. A Brief History of Okpe Kingdom. Ughelli: New Era Publications, 2001.
Okpe State Document: Traditional History of the Orodje of Okpe Clan. Western Urhobo District Council Office, Orereokpe. September 23, 1947.
Otite, O. Autonomy and Dependence: The Urhobo Kingdom of Okpe in Modern Nigeria. London: C. Hurst and Company, 1973.
Portraits of Princes Igboze, Okpe, Orhue, Orhoro, and Evwreke; Chiefs Odorume, Owhere, Eruohwo and Ogoni; and H.R.M. Esezi I are artist’s conceptions by James J. Johnson, Jr., Ed.D., professor emeritus, The University of North Texas, Denton, Texas.
Photos of H.R.M. Esezi II and H.R.M. Orhoro I courtesy of the collection of the Okpe Traditional Council.
Photo of Prince Koyima G. Asagba and courtesy of Dr. Austin O. Asagba; photo of Prince Vann Etietsola Asagba courtesy of the private collection of the Asagba family.
Now, we may first try to describe the Itsekiri peopl e whose kingdom is Warri. As already pointed out, the Dutch map of 1705 referred to above, marks their homeland as Awyri which over time had variously been spelt Iwere, Ouere, Oere, Warree, Wari. and now Warri. The Edo and the Yoruba call them Iwere. The people who constitute the Itsekiri tribe have diverse origins: early settlers from Ijebu, some from Igala and Aboh came to settle in various communities such as Omadino, Ureju, Ugborodo , Inroin, etc at various times out of human memory . Then a party from the Benin Royal family about the end of the 15th century set up a monarchy which constituted these erstwhile autonomous mini-communities into a nationality which it is today.
Prof. P. C Lloyd says that “in the English literature they are known as Warri or Jekri, though in the 19th century they were often referred to as Benin since contacts with them were first made on the banks of the Benin River”. Here was a Kingdom founded by the royal party from Benin, but by the early sixteenth century through th e seventeenth, it had done so much overseas trade to match or exceed that of the mother – kingdom; the reason being its advantageous position within the empire on the rim of the Atlantic. The Itsekiri speak a Yoruba dialect whose vocabulary has been widened by the infusion of a large number of Portuguese, Bini and English words.
As an introduction of the influence of the Bini culture in Itsekiri land, it is pertinent to recall part of the address presented to Prince Solomon I.A Akenzua, then Edaiken of Uselu (now His majesty the Oba of Benin by the Itsekiri community in Benin) by the Itsekiri community in Benin on the occasion of his retirement from public service and return home in 1973.
We would like to recall the special historical relationships that bind your people and ours. Both Bini and Itsekiri histories agree that Ginuwa, a prince, as your goodself, left this great city to found the Iwerre (Warri) Kingdom about 1480. In the 15th and 16th centuries, these two kingdoms emerged as a civi l izing force in this part of the world and provided great splendour which attracted European adventurers, missionaries and merchants alike. The visit of D’ Aviero of Portugal of Benin City in 1485 and the establishment of a Catholic Mission in Benin about 1515 AD were great historical developments that have had their parallels only in Iwerreland. At the beginning of the 17th century, a son of a reigning Olu went to Portugal for ten years (as the Oba’s ambassador went to Portugal between 1481 and 1495 to be educated in the best schools and returned with a Portuguese lady of a high birth as his wife, their son , Antonio Domingo was Olu of Warri in the 1640s. The site of the Catholic Cathedral (St. Anthony) built in Ode-Itsekiri.. is still called (Satoni)… we have proud similar chieftaincy titles-Iyatsere as Iyase; Ologbotsere as Ologhosere; Uwangue as Uwanguel Otsodi as oshodin and many other… Even your present esteemed title of Edaiken compares with “Daniken”, the last ceremonial stage of the Olu-Elect bef ore coronation. And, our Itselu means “sacred quarters” of the Olu’s mother as Uselu in Benin. Aslo, our war songs, lyrics and burial songs have common roots with Bini ceremonial songs.
Truly, these cultural bonds span the vast areas of royalty, chieftnancy, language, music and dancing, rituals to dynastic ties.
The Warri throne, being a direct off-shoot of the Benin monarchy, bears all its attributes. Historically, the Olu of Warri, like the Oba, is the personal focus of the people’s loyalty and affection. The crown, highly glamorised, is the symbol of supreme authority in both kingdoms. The Olu, like the Oba (aiguobasinwin) does no wrong and can not be queried or challenged (Afo massin; Afo were tse were); he is the keeper of the corporate conscience of his people. The Oba is titled Uku-Akpolokpolo, which literally means high and extremely very large. In essence, it means next to God, divine and infinite. He is also addressed: Ogie N’Ogbomwan be edge uwuikomwam; i.e king who can confer life a n d death. A similar title of the Olu of Warri is Ogie-uwu i.e , king over death. The Oba is also addressed: Ekpen N’uwa i.e the tiger at home. In spite of the contemporary societal forces which have constrained the practical meanings of these titles, in the nitty-gritty of the norms of Benin and Warri societies, these mind-bending titles, theoretical as they are, still do provide the pillars and sign-posts that guide most traditional activities. These titles remain stilted and honorific.
Examining some royal titles in Benin and Warri, one would be amazed at the striking oneness of their roots. Even in some cases, Warri tended religiously to follow Benin titles every sixty years on the average. The fourth Olu of Warri, Ojoluwa who ascended the throne in 1550 assumed the title of the fifteenth Oba of Benin Ozolua who reigned in 1483; the fifth Olu Esigie who became king in 1570 bore the title Esigie, the sixteenth Oba of Benin who came to the throne in 1504. And the thirteenth Olu Akengboye (1710) took t he title of the twenty-second Oba Akengboi (1669). Others who followed were the fortheeenth Olu Atogbwua (1735) who bore the title Orhogbua, the seventeenth Oba (1550). And the sixteenth Olu Akengbuwa (1807) took the title of the thirtieth Oba Akengbuda (1750). Even Erejuwa in Warri and erediauwa in Benin sound alike. In both cultures, part from the crown, and other high-profile symbols of royalty are swords and scarlet cloth. The Itsekiri have derived the names of these items from Bini.
The main Itsekiri chieftaincy titles are derivatives of Bini titles. Some are Iyatsere (Iyase), Ologbotsere (Ologbosere), Uwangue (Uwangue), Olisan (Oliha), Otsodi (Oshodin), Osula (Osula), Ojomo (Ezomo) and Ero (Ero). In both kingdoms, chiefs perform palace rituals and, in the olden days, assisted their monarchs to rule in-council.
According to Igbafe the custom was for the Oba’s eldest son, on reaching maturity to b e shown round to the people and installed as the Edaiken, or heir to the throne. He was then sent to live in Uselu, a village which was outside the walls of the town but is now incorporated in Benin City , to be trained in the dignity and responsibilities of kingship” Today, the Edaiken is one of the seven Uzama chiefs (Uzama nihairon) – a distinct branch of the Bini traditional government. In Warri, Daniken is the three lunar- month period of restriction imposed on an Olu-Elect during which, as in Benin he gets trained in the dignity and responsibilities of kingship. The title in Warri, as shown, refers not to a person but to a period. Meaning hold with care, Daniken in Warri could not have related to a person (Olu’s eldest son), because Igiuna left Benin with no son to take from him. However, he married and had children during his long journey to Warri. Rather, it would seem that at the time of his demise in Ijala (Warri), his retinue, while installing his son Ijijen a the Olu, cautioned him to hold with c are his new responsibilities.
As soon as the Edaiken leaves Uselu to ascend the throne, his mother becomes known as Iyoba, and goes to live in Uselu. As head of the village, she has her court, like the other Uzamas, and confers titles. Thus in Benin, the Iyoba has some political functions, to perform. In Warri, Omoneukarin says, “tradition is somewhat silent as regards the political activities of any previous Iyolu.. (Olu’s mother), the first Olu did not come from Benin with his mother.. (and) and the custom of investing the Oba’s mother at Benin with the title of the Iye-Oba (Queen mother) did not exist at Benin before Prince Iginua left about 1480 and until the reign of Oba Esigie about 1504″. However, in Warri kingdom, Itselu (Uselu) is regarded as the quarters of the Olu’s mother and is beyond any attacks by the Olu himself. There is this saying in Itsekiri: “Aja te je oba jija reje Itselu” meaning the town that the Olu can never attack is Itselu (Uselu).
In royalty and chieftaincy areas vast numbers of Itsekiri words as already shown above are coined or borrowed from Bini. Other words such as Ugbo (forest) Idimi (quarters), Ighele (adult man), Odibo (steward) have Bini roots. Others are Ugha (compound), ekete (throne) and Igedu (timber).
Music and Dancing
All Ibiogbe dance songs are in Bini language. Ibiogbe is a kind of military dance generally performed at all Itsekiri funerals, and come after Ukpukpe, another military funeral dance. During Ibiogbe dance, seven songs are generally rendered.
Benin and Warri developed vast overseas trade, which made them prosperous and famous. Both experienced slave trade, welcomed overseas missionary workers, dealt with foreign kings and their ambassadors, exchanged correspondences with them, but at the end of the nineteenth century, suffered unwarranted humiliating defea ts in the hands of British Imperialism. These events in both Benin and Warri had their appropriate ripple effects in the neighbouring communities.
It will not be out of place to refer to a British merchant, George William Neville, who seemed not to see justice on the side of his own Government in the way the Old Benin Kingdom was sacked in 1879.
He was the first Lagos manager of the Bank of British West Africa and a good friend of Nanna, whose own deposition he had also condemned. Believing that Consul Phillips was high-handed in his treatment of Oba Ovonramwen and his kingdom, Nevilla wrote.
“I contend that we have no more right to ride roughshod over the susceptibilities of subject races than we have to storm the tabernacles and tear down the banners of the Salvation Army”.
And on the exaggerated tales of human sacrifices in Benin circulating in Europe: he opined:.
“The motive ( of wholesale human sacrifice) is not blood lust but a deep – seated belief in the principle of propitiation, for which authority is not wanting in the Old Testament”.
“In judging the African”, Neville wrote, let us not forget that, almost within living memory, we Englishmen hanged men for sheep-stealing and exhibited heads on Temple Bar, and I question whether any atrocities in Africa – now things of the past – have ever approached in magnitude the massacres under Cross and Crescent in modern times”. Neville died in 1929. Being excerpts of paper titled March of Edo civilisation and its effects on the neighboring communities
The Isokos are a unique and delightful people, a distinct ethnic group made of seventeen (17) clans with a total of about 500,000 people. Isoko occupies a space of land south east of Delta State of Nigeria; bounded by Kwale to the North, Urhobos to the West, Ndosimili/Aboh to the East; and the Ijaws to the South. The Isokos are a peaceful people as there are no records or history of conflicts or wars between them and their neighbors in the past.
Their occupation is farming, trading fishing and teaching. They thirst for education and they are progressing in this area. It is a happy note that today Isokos can be found in most of the professions in Nigeria, e.g. Law, Medicine, Engineering, Accounting, Education, Architecture, Survey, Estate Management, Journalism, Teaching, Business Administration, and general business, to name a few. No doubt, if the trend continues it will have a salutary effect on the development of Isoko in no distant future.
The seventeen clans in Isoko are:
MIGRATION FROM BENIN KINGDOM
Oral history has it that the first group of Isoko ancestors migrated from Benin kingdom in about 1600 AD at the same time as the ancestors of Aboh. The ancestors in this first group were EROWHA (The Senior), UZERE, and OKPE. Isoko oral history also told that the second group led by ancestors of IYEDE left Benin about 1650-1700 AD during the reign of Oba Ozolua, the Oba of Benin. After, a short while the ancestors of Ughelli, Ogor and Agbarha-Otor (3 brothers) in Ughelli North local government area followed the trail of IYEDE ancestors and settled in their present sites.
Between 1600-1700 AD there were many migrations from Benin Kingdom to many parts of the present Edo and Delta states as a result of incessant internecine wars coupled with the unbridled wickedness of the princes of Benin Kingdom.
There were further migrations by some of the first and second groups of migrants to other areas and in some cases their children moved from their parents’ settlements to settle in virgin lands.
The ancestors of Effurun-Otor in Ughelli local government area, LGA, came from ERHOWA in Isoko South LGA whilst Effurun in Uvwie clan migrated from Effurun-Otor. Ekpan and Ugborikoko towns moved from Effurun to settle in their present sites.
Irri came from UZERE whilst Oleh and Agbon clan in Ethiope East LGA migrated from Irri. Agbon consists of Kokori, Okpara, (Inland & Waterside), and Eku towns.
The present Okpe Clan in Urhoboland i.e. in Okpe and Sapele LGAs migrated from OKPE in Isoko along with Ozoro. Ozoro settled in their present site whilst Okpe went further to Orerokpe their present settlement. Ofagbe clan came fro Okpe.
Emevor and Owhe clans migrated from IYEDE; and also Ibrede and Iyede-Ame in Ndokwa LGA are direct descendants of from IYEDE to settle in their present sites. Ellu clan, i.e. Ellu, Aradhe and Ovrode are descendants of Owhe. The ancestors of Aviara migrated from Benin and came to its present settlement through the river Niger. The only Isoko community that migrated from Urhoboland is Olomoro clan which descended from Olomu clan in Ughelli South LGA about 1750-1800 AD.
The ancestors of all the clans in Isoko migrated from Benin with the exception of Igbide, Okpolo/Enwe and Umeh in Isoko South LGA and Evwrheni, now in Ughelli South, which came from east of the river Niger, i.e. the present day Anambra, Bayelsa and Rivers States. They came through the river Niger to Isoko creek (a tributary of river Niger) near Patani, and advanced inland to settle in their present sites. Umeh ancestors came from Onya on the river Niger (opposite river Nun, a tributary of river Niger) and came through Isoko creek near Patani and advanced inward to settle on the banks of Isoko creek where they are at present. There was further movement of Owhawha ancestors from Igbide in Isoko South LGA to settle in Jeremi clan, Ughelli South LGA.
The re-migration of people from Isoko to Urhoboland was due to insufficient choice of land for settlement and also due to constant flooding during rainy season and also due to river Niger overflowing its banks.
Before the advent of the British to the Niger Delta the communities in Isoko were frequently engaged in conflicts between and amongst themselves owing to disagreements resulting from ownership of land and struggle for crude power to have dominion over others. The salutary point however, was that wisdom prevailed in the long run, and as a result the leaders initiated and entered into covenants between themselves to ensure sustainable peace. Some of the covenants are still in existence today and they are respected by the communities that covenanted as they were respected in those days. For example, the covenant between Erhowa, Iyede and Aviara is highly respected and feared. It promotes peace and understanding among the people of these communities; no evil or harm is done to each other under any circumstances. The one between Igbide and Oyede is also highly respected.
THE CREATION OF ISOKO DISTRICT COUNCIL
In 1951, the Richards Constitution came into operation in Nigeria. The Western Region Delimitation Commission created two constituencies from Eastern Urhobo Native Authority, NA, and elections to the Western House of Assembly were conducted by Electoral College system on individual or personal basis, although political parties were behind the candidates. Chief James Ekpre Otobo from Uzere for Isoko; Chief Mowarin for the other side of Eastern Urhobo NA. They both contested and won their elections to the Western House of Assembly, Ibadan. Chief James Otobo for NCNC and Chief Mowarin for Action Group.
At the 1954 general elections, Chief James Otobo again contested, this time under the platform of NCNC party and won and was returned to the Western House of Assembly. In 1957 Isoko was given a modicum of independence by the creation of Isoko District Council from Eastern Urhobo NA. Chief James Otobo influenced the creation during his tenure as a member representing Isoko at the Western House of Assembly, Ibadan.
FLY THE FLAG OF FREEDOM!!!
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