Edo Civilization, Esan War Machine and the Founding Of Lagos


When I talk about the founding of Lagos, I do not mean the discovery of the geographical space or the topography known as Lagos. I am talking about the establishment of an ancient port by the Edos in a joint venture with the Portuguese in South Western Nigeria. The said port became the matrix cornerstone of the metropolis, known today as Lagos, Nigeria.

The Portuguese visited West Africa at a time the Edos had an empire that was very largely in control of a very part of West Africa. The empire of the Edos spread from today’s Nigeria to Ghana. The Oba of Benin, back then, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Orhogbua was represented in Portugal by an Ambassador and the King of Portugal, back then; King Emmanuel was represented in Edo Empire’s administrative capital Benin city by an Ambassador sent from Portugal. The King of Portugal and the Oba of Benin agreed that international trading ports should be built in some locations along the West African coast where the Oba had influence and control. The international trading ports became the matrix cornerstones for some of today's major cities along the west coast of Africa. Lagos is one of the international trading ports built then as a result of the joint Portuguese- Edo venture. The Edos called the settlement where the port was built Eko, meaning camp in Esan Edo. The Portuguese called the settlement Lagos, which means lakes in Portuguese. Back then, there was already a city in Portugal also known as Lagos.

To have a better understanding of what the Edos did in Lagos, we should consider a modern example, very near home.  There were folks in Abuja and the other settlements that constitute Nigeria's federal capital territory. However, the genesis of the Abuja that we have today is directly traceable to the decision of the federal government of Nigeria under General Murtala Muhammed to relocate Nigeria's federal capital from Lagos to the present location. Thus the founder of Abuja as Nigeria's federal capital territory is the Federal Government of Nigeria. Today, the Federal Government of Nigeria runs Abuja. The Federal Government of Nigeria has broken up Abuja into districts and zones and has named the zones and districts. The Federal Government of Nigeria is running Abuja now.

The above is exactly, the story of the Edo people in Lagos. The Edos and the Portuguese settled on Lagos Island as a choice location to build an international trading port and thereafter, the Edos "possessed" the place. An ancient port was built, and for hundreds of years the Edos developed, controlled and managed Lagos. Thus, the gist of this article is not about who discovered Lagos, but who founded Lagos (Island). The era of the founding of Lagos is over now. This article is not about the ownership of Lagos, based on the Edos past occupation of Lagos. The British came after the Edos, they too have since left the scene. This article is about the aspects of the Edo founding of Lagos that have been forgotten or have been undetected by Historians radar.

The experiment of the Edos and the Portuguese in Lagos (Eko) is reminiscent of the experiments that created New York, Los Angeles, London and Chicago among many other global cities. The above named locations are all cities that were built on the platform of trading ports and exploded around such ports. These cities and many other global cities all grew exponentially as a result of the development or building of ports in such locations. Chicago did not grow into a major city until an inland water-way port was built in Chicago.

Lagos which was initially a camp (Eko) established by the Edos for the development of a trading port, has now grown into a major cosmopolitan settlement. Everyone wants to identify their ethnic group with the founding of Lagos. The desire to identify with Lagos has led to the mutilation of the history of Lagos. The oral version of the founding of Lagos has been so tampered with that the names of places in Lagos today are meaningless in any language whatsoever. These names are only meaningful if reversed back to the language of the original founders of Lagos. On its official web site, the government of Lagos presented its own version of the history of the founding of Lagos Island “Until the coming of the Bini's, Lagos's geographic boundary was what is known now as Lagos Mainland. Lagos Island, the seat of the Oba of Lagos then consisted of a pepper farm and fishing posts. No one lived there though. The name Eko was given to it by its first King Oba Ado during its early history, it also saw periods of rule by the Kingdom of Benin. Eko was the land area now known as Lagos Island where the king's palace was built.”

 In his piece, captioned Brief History of Lagos Island, Michael Uchebuaku, wrote on Yahoo Contributor Network “However, there is another account of Lagos before 1603 that comes from a Western visitor. In 1603, Andreas Joshua Ulsheimer, a German surgeon, aboard a Dutch merchant ship, visited Lagos. According to his accounts, Lagos was a large frontier town surrounded by a strong fence and inhabited by "none but soldiers and four military commanders, who behave in a very stately manner."

The Lagos visited by Ulsheimer and his trading colleagues nearly four centuries ago was in many ways highly developed. Each day its four commanders came together as a court and each day two envoys were dispatched to take decisions back to their ruler in Benin. To do so, Ulsheimer wrote, was a common practice in all towns under the suzerainty of Benin…

Ulsheimer's accounts seem to confirm Benin oral traditions of conquest and occupation of Lagos during the sixteenth century. How Oba Orhogbua of Benin (1550-1578) occupied the island of Lagos, established a military camp there and from that base waged wars on some people described as rebels against his authority, in the immediate interior. Ulsheimer  gives the first account, documenting the transformation of Lagos from fishing camp to a trading centre, and from an autonomous settlement to a Benin tributary. Lagos Lagoon was known to European traders by 1485, when it first appeared on maps, but the town of Lagos was not included.”

 “If Ulsheimer's account is correct, then it appears that the daily gathering of Lagos governors was one of military commanders from Benin, and not heads of local settlement. Gradually, however, additions were made to that body. The vehicle via which accretion took place eventually was called Ose Iga a ceremonious meeting of Lagos held at the palace every seventeen days.”

OSE-IGA as recorded by the ancient German Surgeon Andreas Joshua Ulsheimer, after his 1603 visit to Lagos is clearly ESAN EDO. OSE from OSENOBULUA, which is ESAN EDO. BINI EDO would be Osa(lobua). IGA means worship in Esan Edo. IGA is in contradistinction to EGUA (PALACE in Esan Edo) [Yorubanized in Lagos to IGA]. OSE-IGA as written by  Andreas Joshua Ulsheimer, the 1603 German Surgeon visitor to Lagos means  (WORSHIP OF GOD) / CHURCH in Esan Edo.

In a piece captioned Erelu Kuti : A Series Of Excerpts From The Oral Records Of Lagos, the author wrote “While Akinsemoyin was ruling, Erelu Kuti married Alagba, the high priest that had predicted that her brother would become Oba”

 To properly understand the story of Lagos, one must try to understand the meaning of all the prominent names of the key persons, events and quarters (places) in ancient Lagos. These names make no sense and are meaningless in any language, even the Yoruba language which has now become very dominant in Lagos, Awori dialect or even the Bini dialect of the Edo language. The names that have survived adulteration or pronunciation corruption indicate that the names were originally Esan Edo names. The Portuguese were the international trading partners of the Edos. A trading camp for the exchange of goods was founded and called Esale Eko (Camp of the Esans) after the Esan Edo soldiers that founded the camp. The Portuguese called the camp Lagos (meaning settlement by lakes). The Esan Edo soldiers broke up the whole area into territorial sub-divisions or quarters called Idumus, Idus, Ekos and Idis (Idumota) (Idumagbo) in the Esan Edo dialect. Till this day, Lagos is still broken up into Eko, Idumus, Idus and Idis. Till this day, Esanland, Edo state Nigeria is still broken up into Ekos, Idumus, Idus and Idis.

 To have a better understanding of the military co-operation between the Esans and the Binis, that probably led the ancient Esan army to Lagos; this little snippet of history culled from the declassified colonial British intelligence report on the Esan people would be relevant.

“In 1485 during the reign of Oba Ozolua, Joan Alfonso D'aveiro, a Portuguese became the first European to reach Benin. He reported that during this time the Oba of Benin was having a great deal of trouble with his outlying districts. In fact Oba Ozolua was killed in a war against the Uzia, one of the smaller Ishan towns. On another occasion when the Oba of Benin went to war against Akure in present-day Ondo State, some Onogies in Ishan contributed warriors though some years later, during a war of succession in Benin Ishan Onogies were divided between the two combatant camps. The constant feuds among the various Ishan chiefdoms most probably created favorable opportunities for the Oba of Benin to impose his suzerainty over them and, this the chiefdoms either singly or collectively would cast off when the opportunity offered itself to reassert their independence.”

In the article “THE ISHANS (Irrua and Evbohimwin Connection); the author Professor Ademola Iyi-Eweka wrote: “Of the Edo-speaking group. Ishan/Esan is the closest to "BINI" ie the dialect of those who live in and around Benin City. In fact, when the people of Benin sneezes, those in Ishan/Esan develop hiccups, then and now. Riots that erupts in Benin politically, often reverbarates in Ishan/Esan land. Before 1897, the Ishans/Esans were the most avid defender of the Edo monarchy. It is not surprising, because Ishan/Esan women have produced most of Obas of Benin. Eheniuan, the first Ezomo of Benin, who later became the commander of the Benin/Edo Royal army is of Ishan descent.”

“Prince Erediauwa marched into Benin City, ahead of an Ishan/Esan dominated military. He was crowned Oba Osemwende of Benin in 1816. It was Oba Osewende who granted to the Enogie of Uromi, the right to inherit the estate of any person who died childless within Uromi district. This was his reward for supplying men and material in the war to reconquer Akure in
1818-20 rebellion and the battle in defence of the Ekitis against the Ibadans.”

The Esan Edo soldiers who were invited by Emperor Orhogbua to help overcome the Awori military opposition in the area now called Eko, came with their war god called Agba and his priest was the Chief Priest of Agba. Alua-Agba means the altar of Agba. The prominence of Chief Priest Alagba in the oral accounts of the founding of Lagos as corroborated by the name in the article Erelu Kuti : A Series Of Excerpts From The Oral Records Of Lagos  proves this fact. The name of Chief Priest Alagba is a latter day yorubanisation of the Uromi war god Agba. Alu-Agba in Uromi Esan means the shrine of Agba. Agba was the Uromi King that fought Oba Ozolua of Benin for about seven years till their tired and frustrated soldiers conspired to kill both the Oba and the Onojie to put an end to the war. Some historians believed King Agba of Uromi did not die immediately and that was the reason for the war between Idah and Bini under Oba Esigie. Onojie (King Agba) was deified as a God of war by the Uromi Army. The presence of Alua Agba in Eko (Lagos) is a confirmation of the fact that the ancient Uromi war machine, as an integral part of the ancient Edo empire military campaigns, played a prominent role in the founding of Lagos. Alua Agba is unique to Uromi. Based on the uniqueness of Alu-Agba deity to Uromi (god of war); it is certain that Uromi warriors were part of the reason Lagos Island acquired the name Esale Eko (Camp of the Esans) This development was the genesis of the founding of Lagos] The Uromi army had previously helped the Oba to re-conquer Akure. Esan soldiers had also previously helped the Oba to subdue and rule Ondo and gave Ondo town the title Osemawe of Ondo. Osemawe in Esan, means It is God that installed you.

It is important that we realize that the early history of Lagos Island can be very easily deciphered by an accurate understanding of the names that have remained in Lagos from the time of the founding of Lagos. Eko is not a general Edo word. Eko and Idumu as in Idumota and Idumagbo and all the Idis and Idus are all specifically Esan Edo names. They are not Bini Edo nor Afemai Edo. The Benin alternative for Idumu is Idunmwun. In Lagos we have Idumu as in Idumu-Ota and Idumu-Agbo. Thus Lagos was originally founded by the Esan Edos. However, we should recognize that while the Esan soldiers were founding Eko under the auspices of the Edo army; the Bini army was contemporaneously founding Etin Osa, Iddo, Oshodi et al. (All Bini Edo names).  Without a doubt, the Esans were in Lagos on the invitation of Emperor Orhogbua.

In Uromi and other Esan towns, Idumu Idis, Idus and Eko are still in vogue. Till this day in Uromi there is still Idumu Okojie, and Eko Imiokolo. In Uromi, there is Idumu Eka, Ukoni, Uromi. That is, the quarters of immigrants from Ika. In Uromi, there is Idisaba, that is the quarters of  immigrants from Asaba. In Uromi, there is Idumu Oshodi, that is the quarters of Oshodi family members that immigrated to ancient Uromi from Benin. In Uromi, there is Aga - Ausa (Hausa) quarters of Hausa immigrants. In Uromi there is Agi-Igbo (Quarters of Igbo immigrants. Agi-Yo-Oba (Aga-Azanama) (Quarters of the Yoruba immigrants). Aga is used here like Idu, Idi or Eko i.e Aga-(Enegbode) Ga Aga Accra, Ghana; which was equally founded by the Edos.

At the time Lagos was founded by the Portuguese and the Edos, the Yorubas were in Oyo Empire. Based on historical remains i.e. names of settlements as in Oshodi , Iddo and Etin Osa (all Bini names) one can safely conclude that the Bini Edo army were in the afore-mentioned places.

 Based on the written account of the ancient German Surgeon Joshua Ulshamer who visited Lagos in 1603, aboard a Dutch ship; there was a regular ceremonial meeting known as OSE-IGA (Worship of God-Church) Which is clearly Esan Edo; and the name CHIEF PRIEST OF ALUAGBA  (CHIEF PRIEST OF AGBA SHRINE) from the oral accounts of the founding of Lagos, which said name has now found its way to the internet in recently memorialized historical articles on the history of Lagos; it is now abundantly clear that the Edo army that was invited to take, possess, found and secure Lagos included the Uromi, Esan, Edo army. As earlier stated the Uromi Esan Edo army had previously helped the Bini Edo Oba to re-conquer Akure. Esan Edo army had also previously helped the Oba to subdue and rule Ondo and gave Ondo town the name Osemawe of Ondo. (God that installed you in Esan Edo). The presence of the High Priest of Agba in early Lagos, is a confirmation that Uromi Esan Edo war machine was involved in the Esan army invited by Emperor Orhogbua to help secure Lagos for the development of a port facility.

Another version of the founding of Lagos that claimed that the High Priest of Alua Agba was an Ijesha man is not logical nor reasonable. The CHIEF PRIEST OF ALUA-AGBA at the very time the Edos founded Lagos could not have been an Ijesha man. Re-writing history and stating that the Chief Priest of ALUA AGBA was an Ijesha man at the very time Lagos was founded, would be tantamount to saying that the Chief Chaplain of the American military in Afghanistan is a Pakistani or an Iranian. That could not have happened then for obvious reasons; just as it cannot happen now for obvious national security reasons.

If the Chief Priest of ALUA-AGBA back then when the UROMIRES (UROMI IMMIGRANTS) (Yorubanized to AROMIRES) as part of the Esan military contingent invited by Oba Orhogbua to help secure Lagos Island and build a trading port in partnership with the Portuguese, had  only just landed and battling enemy combatants and securing their ESALE EKO (CAMP OF THE ESANS) and breaking up the land into IDUMUS, IDIS AND IDUS (Esan Edo for Quarters or territorial sub-division); the last thing that could occur then would be for anybody not directly from Uromi to be the Chief Priest of Alua-Agba. ALUA-AGBA is unique to Uromi.
Based on the writings of early European visitors to Lagos i.e the ancient German Surgeon Andreas Joshua Ulsheimer, after his 1603 visit to Lagos, and the admission of the Lagos state government on its website that the Edos founded Lagos; and the fact that these authorities are unanimous in their narratives that Lagos Island was a virgin land before the arrival of the Edos; it is safe, accurate and a statement of fact, to state that the people who came from Esan Edo to de-forest and help build a military camp and trade port on Lagos Island, announced their presence by identifying themselves as UROMIRE (Uromi immigrants) , later yorubanized to AROMIRE. We must realize that the Yorubas were not part of early Lagos. At the time Lagos was founded, the Yorubas were in Oyo kingdom.

The palace of the new king was called Egua (Palace in Esan Edo) later yorubanized to Iga.  Some popular and celebrated names in early Eko i.e AKINSEMONYIN is a likely yorubanization of AKHISEMONJIE (You don't provoke the King's wrath or You do not challenge the King’s word)) ICHOKUN could be a yorubanization of Izokun meaning (I have chosen to Okun (god)

Lagos quickly became a major slave trading port, thus the emergence of names like Igboshere and Oyingbo; which are possibly yorubanized Esan Edo words for House of Slaves - Oaigbon and place for sold slaves- Igbonashelen respectively. (Please not Igbo). APONGBON Lagos is possibly a corruption of the Esan Edo name AGBONGBON, Which means NEW WORLD: That could be indicative of the part of LAGOS/EKO, where the PORTUGUESE (KPOTOKINS- in Esan Edo) set up their abode. AGBON IN Esan Edo means WORLD. OGBON in Esan Edo means NEW. Thus the possibility of the name indicating NEW WORLD connoting NEW PEOPLE, ANOTHER RACE, ANOTHER CIVILIZATION. Caveat: The presence of GBON in APONGBON could alternatively be indicative of a place that had to do with SLAVES; as IGBON (Please not Igbo) means Slaves in Esan Edo.

IKOYI Lagos is possibly a corruption of the Esan Edo words EKO OYI; Which means CAMP OF THIEVES. EKO OYI or IKO OYI (IKOYI) The name would be indicative of a site where an early Prison of sorts was built. Yes, some other Yoruba towns have Ikoyi. Then again, the Edos ruled some other Yoruba towns. Other Yoruba towns could have copied the Lagos Eko-Oyi example; especially as Ikoyi in other Yoruba towns means Quarter of Guards. Thus, whether used to refer to Prison or Prison Guard, Ikoyi is a Yorubanization of the Esan Eko-Oyi.

IKURAMO EKORAMO or KURAMO is possibly a yorubanization of the Esan Edo (EKO AMEN), which means THE CAMP BY THE WATER. OBALENDE is possibly a yorubanization of the Esan Edo (OBANYAN-EDE or OBAYAN-EDE), which means THE OBA OWNS THE RIVER. LEKKI is possibly a yorubanization of the Esan Edo (EKI), which means) MARKET. IDUMU/IDU/IDI/EKO are without doubt exclusively ESAN EDO for Quarter or geo-territory. Bini EDO would be IDUNWUN.

The later day Yorubanization of Esan Edo names in Lagos is as a result of the latter day domination of Lagos by Yoruba speakers.  Many of the names of places and persons that dates back to the era of the founding of Lagos are only meaningful and reasonable when reversed back to Esan Edo. At the time of the founding of Lagos, much of Yorubaland was under the Oyo empire. Back then, folks were not travelling freely because of the fear of Arab and European slave traders.

It is time for Historians and non historians alike, especially Edo folks to begin to research and document the forgotten histories and activities of the Edo Empire era. The Romans were all over ancient Western Europe, even up to North Africa and the whole story is accurately documented. Unfortunately, not much has been done in the area of researching and accurately telling and or documenting the story of Edo civilization vis a vis seaports and inland ports that were built by the Edos in conjunction with the Portuguese, which said ports have now blown into mega cities in many parts of West Africa.  Untold number of Edo men and women travelled to distant places during the era of the Edo Empire for state security assignments and major state projects, and the efforts of those Edo heroes have been largely ignored by Historians.

Names of places and words still used in many places once ruled by the Edos, are still reminders of the Edo presence and activities in such far flung places. Among the Ewe people who live in Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana, the word for COME is VAE. In Uromi, Esan, Edo, which was one of the largest military forts in the defunct Edo Empire, the word for COME is VAE. In Onitsha, where the Edo system of government is still being practiced by the traditional government of Onitsha, the word for mother is NNE and in Uromi, the word for mother is INE. In Onitsha, the children of a deceased person whose life is being celebrated are hailed with OMA TEGETE. In Uromi, Esan, Edo, the children of a deceased person whose life is being celebrated are hailed with OMAE TEGHENE. When an Ewe person is speaking, if you are not close enough to hear the very words being used; you would think the speaker is speaking Esan.

This article was not written with a view to encourage any Edo indigene to lay claim to ownership of Lagos or to help prove that the Edos discovered Lagos. This article was written to accurately state the history of the founding of Lagos.


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