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IGUE - AFRICAN FESTIVAL

by

Ademola Iyi-eweka, Ph.D

e-mail : aiyiewek@facstaff.wisc.edu

 

The Christians have CHRISTMAS, the Muslims have the FEAST OF RAMADAN, the Jews have the HANUKKAH, the African-American have the KWANZAA and the Edos have the IGUE FESTIVAL. If African-American can invent and contrived a festival called Kwanzaa, it will be sad day were the Edos to desert Igue Festival. In spite of all out Christian onslaught on IGUE FESTIVAL, it has waxed stronger and stronger over the years. But what is most astonishing and confusing to some Christians and non-Edo speaking people , is the fact that no matter how an Edo man preaches and embraces Islam and Christianity, he does not play with Igue Festival . It carries different names in other Edo-speaking areas with the exception of Benin City and its environ. When an Edo man says he is celebrating IGUE FESTIVAL, what does he mean? Igue festival ushers in the new year for every Edo-speaking man before the incursion of the white man into our life. Igue emphasizes the " the ritual of Head worship " by every Edo-speaking man. It takes place during this time of year. 

 

There are two reasons for this. First, as it is essence of personality , it must be kept in good condition so that it may be well with the person. Secondly, one must be on good terms with it, so that it may favor one." Describing an offering to the Uhunmwun. it is the head that takes you through life journey. The head must be good to perform this life's journey. Interwoven with this, is the belief of the Edos in EHI-his second self-" The spiritual self that guides and protect the temporal self." Igue Festival is also the time the Oba and some chiefs are involved in AGWE (fasting). We do not know how fasting came into Edo man's religious life. But it does takes place and the Oba goes into seclusion, not to be seen by visitors. It may have been a Christian/Muslim influence more than 500 years ago. It could have started on its own. When the Oba and his chiefs break the fast, they are ready to perform UGIE ERHA OBA-A ceremony honoring the oba's ancestors. The Edos believe in ancestral worship and everybody joins the Oba in Ugie Erha Oba. The Edo man's belief is in no way different from that of the Jews, when they call on the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The ceremony of the worship of the head-the real IGUE, of the reigning Oba takes place openly at this festival. . This is followed by that of the princes and princesses.

This is rounded with up Ugie Edohia and Ugie Ewere three days later. The Enogies and any traditional ruler in the ancient kingdom, fixes their own dates in their respective domain after Ugie Ewere. It is important to note that, it is this central point of the festival that the Christians and some Muslims have consistently tried to undermine. If they understood that their Holy Books emphasized that man is created in the image of God, they would have understood the Edo man's belief. There are no shrine, and no artifacts. It is nothing but an attempt by the Edo man to thank OSANOBUWA-OSANUDAZI-OGHENE-OGHODUA also identified as the creator God, the alpha and the Omega, the unmoved mover for GUIDING “the MAN “through the vicissitudes of life. The Edos do not use the Gregorian calendar when calculating the year. We use the moons. From the Igue festival of 1896, you can understand what it meant. The massacre of British troops at UGBINE on January 4th 1897, took place at the height of the festival of the year-1896. It is necessary at this point to explain the meaning of the word UGIE. It simply means FESTIVAL.

You can now understand that the Igue festival is made up of many festivals. Before Ugie Edohia and Ugie Ewere comes Ugie Iron. This is celebratory reenactments of the conflicts between the Oba of Benin and the seven hereditary chiefs-the UZAMAS. The royalist was triumphant. Other historical incidents of the life of the Edos, such as the drowning of Oba Ehengbuda and the assassination of an Iyase of Benin on the directives of an Oba of Benin. The Ugie Iron -festival used to be separated from other festivals by 4 to 14 days. This is Edo history being taught publicly through songs and reenactments. One hundred years ago, we had no school. We did not develop the art of writing. We wrote our history in reenactments, songs, carvings and bronzes. The present day Igue festival is a shadow of its former glory. Between 1897 and 1914, it was not celebrated. Oba Ovonramwen was entombed by human security network of the British agent, Sir Ralph Moor at Calabar. At this time in 1899, Iyase OKIZI was the defacto Oba of Benin and not Chief Agho Obaseki. General Ologbose have been captured and executed by the British soldiers. The guerrilla warfare led by General Ologbose had lost steam after the battle of Okemue. The crown Prince Aiguobasimwin, later Oba Eweka II, was on the run with his own military battalion.

 

The Esans (Ishan) were still resisting British rule especially Irrua and Uromi. The Enogie of Uromi had made it known to the British Resident that, he had not sufficiently explained to him, what they have done to Oba Ovonramwen. Iyase Okizi, was an Edo patriot and soldier, who organized the defence of Ekiti land against the Ibadans. At his defence in 1897 trial after Benin fell, he was more concerned with Yoruba soldiers fighting on the side of the British. Some of these soldiers he had trained in the art of warfare while he was in Yoruba land. He did not deny his involment in the massacre of 1897. In fact, he gave the order to General Ologbose, to use all means possible to prevent the white man, from making it to Benin through Ughoton. When the British soldiers showed their faces, he gave the order to attack. Since he was not physically on the scene of battle, the British agent could not convict him. On him then rested the organization of a civil administration. He became the leader of the Native Administration. He started building a new palace for himself, having been told Oba Ovonramwen was not coming back. He soon got involved in a running battle with other chiefs especially the royalist and the British agents. He died suddenly in his sleep in the early days of 1900 without spending one night in his new palace. Igue festival came back with the restoration of the monarchy in 1914. Chief Agho Obaseki, the right hand man of Oba Ovonramwen was now the Iyase of Benin. The Christians quickly moved in on both of them. Chief Agho was converted to Christianity. Oba Eweka II refused to celebrate Igue festival of 1916/17. Then Influenza epidemic struck in 1918 in the after math of the WORLD WAR 1.

 

Thousands of Edo-speaking people died as a result of the epidemic. The Edos blamed it on the non-observance of Igue festival . Law and order almost broke down in Benin City as the common man went rioting. The Governor had to send troops down to Benin to restore order. The Governor was furious and was bent on punishing Oba Eweka II for causing such a disturbance. A Commission of Inquiry was set up ostensibly aimed at Oba Eweka II. At the hearing, Oba Eweka II turned the table on the British Administration. He laid the blame of non-observance of Igue Festival on the three people: a) The Resident for supporting and encouraging Chief Agho Obaseki to convert to Christianity b) The Christians for converting his Iyase-the Prime Minister. c) Chief Agho Obaseki for converting to an alien faith while holding on the most highest traditional office in Edo land. " I cannot celebrate Igue Festival without my Iyase. When you took my Iyase away, you took Igue festival with him," Oba Eweka II was reported to have told the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission, in view of other complaints, many of them false, recommended that Chief Agho Obaseki be stripped of his titles and office. It was leaked to the old man, who had gathered a lot enemy since 1897, when Oba Ovonramwen was taken into captivity from Chief Agho Obaseki's house. The very night the report left Benin enroots to the Governor in Lagos, Chief Agho Obaseki died. THAT IS THE POWER OF IGUE FESTIVAL ON THE EDO PEOPLE. .

The present format of Igue festival is very different from that of 1896. The Igue itself-where the Oba perform the head worshipping ritual used to be hidden from the public. When the Christians and the enemies of the monarchy continued to accuse Oba of Eweka II of human sacrifices, he decided to open it to the public. Some of the walls at Ugha Ozolua were pulled down. Oba Akenzua II reorganized it into a fourteen day period. That is what we have today. We do not know when Igue festival started. It has been celebrated continuously for the past 500 years we do know that European travelers and missionaries have written about it from 1600's. According to Alan Ryder in his book, " Benin and the Europeans", the Spanish Capuchin Missionaries were in Benin City, on August 10, 1651 and had problem having an audience with the Oba. They came during the Igue festival of 1651. Here is how Father Felipe de Hijar's described what he saw: " The chief men of the city who, the natives say , number more than two thousand , were entering the palace, all wearing the various costume appropriate to the ceremony.

 

They went in until they filled the four courtyards of the palace., and as it was now one o'clock and the palace was crowded and we entered the first court yard. Among those who were watching us was a venerable old man who, by outward appearance , seemed a veritable St. Peter. He made a sign that we should follow him. We were amazed because we had never seen him before that moment, and also because the Negroes had always taken care that we should not see the sacrifices. In the end we went with the old man from one court yard to another until we reached the last one where, of his own accord, he told us to stand under the gallery of the courtyard. In the middle of the gallery we found a table on which lay the scimitars that were used to decapitate five men and five animals of every species found in that country. They performed their ceremonies, finished their cries; then the great men started to dance; and the King with them, making a turn of the courtyard so that they caught sight of us." The Oba of Benin referred to here is probably Oba Ahenzae (ca1641-1661A.D), the Oba who refused to see any white man, on the ground that an oracle had predicted that , a Benin Oba would die in the hands of the white man.

The Spanish Capuchin Missionaries were promptly expelled from Benin City, for seeing what they were not supposed to have seen. They were dumped at Warrigi ( modern Warri) and warned never to return to Benin City The Dutch traders have also left some documents for us. Alan Ryder again quotes , A Reams writing to H Hertog on October 22 1736. Both of them were members of the Dutch Trading Company based in Benin. Reams were reported to have " witnessed a parade of Oba's wives, which pleased him far more than the spectacle of the ceremonies performed for Oba's father ( Ugie-erhoba )" Ugie Erhoba is Edo man's equivalent of a memorial/remembrance service of the western world. The Oba on the throne at this time is probably Oba Akenzua I ( ca 1713-1735 A.D) Igue Festival have been here for about a thousand years. It will be here for many years. It is heart and soul of Edo nationalism. ISELOGBE EDO!!!!

 SOURCE http://www.edo-nation.net/igue.htm

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Comment by Otedo News on December 20, 2016 at 1:34am

Comment by Nzingha Shabaka on December 18, 2016 at 4:19am

 I was born and raised in America, my ancestors came from South West Africa, and my ancestors may have been from this area, Benin City. 

The festival could be celebrated here in America I hope, the meaning of the festival really makes me feel good.  The idea of before the white colonizers invaded my continent.

Comment by Kimberley Egonmwan on November 30, 2010 at 9:11pm
Greetings, Doctor-

I am always happy to read about every inch of my history including the Igue Festival. I do not celebrate Kwanzaa personally, but have attended celebrations hosted by others, and have found them to be very lovely. However, just because I don't celebrate Kwanzaa, I would still never go so far as to demean it by calling it "contrived". I notice that you did not use that word or any similar phrase to describe the other holidays you mentioned such as Channukah or Christmas.

Yes, Kwanzaa is a "created" holiday, but you would be hard-pressed to find any holiday that is not "created". They are all (by nature) "created" by man for our enjoyment to honor a significant person or event.

Whether Kwanzaa is "contrived" or not is strictly subjective, but relying solely upon your description of Kwanzaa could lead one to believe that you harbor some resentment toward the celebration of one of the only holidays created by African-Americans. That would be sad if true, and would warrant further discussion.

Although you are entitled to your opinion, I find your assessment of Kwanzaa as "contrived" misplaced and disrespectful to those who enjoy may enjoy it. Demeaning another's traditions may also be counterproductive to your goal of having more people become open to celebrate your festival of choice- the Igue Festival.
Comment by Dr. Patrick Iroegbu on November 27, 2010 at 10:52pm
Hello Dr. Ademola,

I have read your historical account of the origin and colonial challenges and conflicts the Igue Festival faced, including the misconceptions the celebrations in Edoland and across Benin Kingdom had. By reading the account, I now know that personhood in all cultures is a culturally framed way of believing and assigning identity and power. In other words, personality is a vision of life and the celebration of that life. Igue festival therefore resonates with the cultural headship, personality and self imeersion into the things that hold Edo nation unique and exapansive.

Just one correction I have to offer is concerned not with the historical account in itself, but on the phrasing of ritual items such as fowls and animals. In paragraph two of your article, I did not feel comfortable when you listed the items needed for the Igue festival and sacrifice and in the case of animal you said "animal victim". In sacrificace of re-enactment and resonation of personhood and personality, items for offering are not labelled with the word "victim" as it automatically defies the very essence of the ritual and its empowerment aura.

Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the piece and I hope Edo people will learn what it is celebrate their cultural persona and personality of headship within Igue Festival as a philosophy of what makes them thick, adaptable and moving humans from traditionality to modernity.

Dr. Patrick Iroegbu
Author of Healing Insanity: A Study of Igbo Medicine in Contemporary Nigeria (2010).

Contact: patrickiroegbu@yahoo.com

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