By DR.CHRISTOPHER.G. OKOJIE, OFR, DSc (Hon)
It will serve a useful purpose to remember right at the onset that there are two parts to every Esan district: the royal family and the common people. They were quite distinct, for nearly all the ancient ruling houses came from Benin City or its suburbs. The head of the ruling houses was and still is, the ONOJIE, who with his family, servants and brothers inhabited EGUARE, the administrative CAPITAL of the district. Another important thing an enquirer must take notice of is the use of the word BROTHER by Esan people. It can mean anything from a male blood relation to a very good friend. Secondly OBA's SON can mean a BINI and, in fact, it was recently, a common thing for any Bini, outside the city, to describe himself as the OBA's SON!
The correct name is EGHOLO.
In collecting material for this work one of the things that struck me again and again, was the readiness with which some people could build up a story to suit a name, particularly when that name was derogatory and the informant was a non-native of the place. Outside Egoro a few respectable men told me with infinite relish, that the founders of Egoro were slaves being hawked about. The great Uda of Ekpoma bought them and gave them a place to live. In support of this story they reminded me of the meaning of the Esan word, EGORO, from the word EGHOLO (To sell or to hawk). The story is plausible but far from the facts.
In 1485, the great Uda returning from Benin, was accompanied by followers, many of whom were trusted medicine men, warriors or bodyguards, some were admirers and many were servants and slaves. Two of the' followers, proficient in medicine and famous for their courage, were OMI founder of Ogwa and OWELE, founder of Egholo. Owele himself was a native of Idumebo of Benin City. He and his immediate family founded Egholo round about 1490. This settlement grew fast to form a large village. Partly to satisfy his precocious and wealthy second son called ALALA, and partly to prevent future headaches for his heir, OJIEKHERE from his two younger brothers, Alala and OJIENODIAESAN, Uda moved Alala to Egoro to be the ruler of Owele's settlement. That was about twenty years after the resuscitation of the Ekpoma Ruling House and about ten years before Uda's death.
While Owele was founder of the settlement, he was himself not an Onojie. The first Onojie was ALALA UDA. At an interview in 1953, OGBEBOR MOMO (1935 - 64), while not disputing that the first Onojie was Uda's second son, insisted that he was not born in Ekpoma, but that the three brothers, Ojieikhere, Alala and Ojienoadiaesan were already born at Benin before the arrival of Uda. This, to me, was just splitting hairs. Furthermore this argument does not help the present trend of disowning blood relations, particularly when that relative has been over-shadowing the
258 other for years. Whether Alala and Ojienodiaesan were born here or in Benin, the fact remains that the three ruling houses of Ekpoma, Egoro and Opoji were Uda descendants with Ekpoma, of course, being the senior. Until the advent of the Whiteman, this close blood relationship was maintained at the ceremony of ORO yearly festival. While the hearts of animals slaughtered at ALU-UDA were given to the first son of the Onojie of Ekpoma, the heart of the cow killed at ALU-UESAN was given to the Onojie of Egoro. During this worship the Enijie of Egoro and Opoji brought kolanuts which were used in order of their seniority - Egoro, then Opoji. Unfortunately this is another example of the cementing effect of our worships and respective shrines. The Alu-Ijesan yearly worship was one such yearly re-union and a good reminder of the people's history. Since Esan say OJIE KHE-BHO (The Onojie is the people), the struggle for supremacy among the Enijie was projected to equate to a struggle among the various communities. For many years (from 1920 to 1931) Imadojiemun of Opoji eclipsed the whole of the Ekpoma - Egoro - Opoji axis making the British administration constantly believe at no time from time immemorial, Opoji had ever held an inferior position to Ekpoma.
The truth is today, no Onojie is inferior to any other, but that should not make us deny our origin and our blood relationship.
One word more about the history of Egoro; the name Egholo came about from the origin and habits of the founder, Owele, who as a medicine man from Benin spent much time making herbs and worshipping gods he created. Worship in Esan is UGHOLOMI. Ogholo is singular meaning he is worshipping while Egholo is plural (they are worshipping)!
Before the fifties, the population of Egholo was small. So alarming had been the decline in population that Aisugbeihien (1911 - 1935) made the law supported by slaughtering a goat at the common ancestral shrine that inhabitants of Eguare could inter-marry. This depopulation of-an area by prolific people was brought about by mass emigration following revolts against autocracy, civil wars and a desire to live a life of one's choice . As a result of these Egoro people were scattered all over the district: today they are to be found in Ujielu of Ewossa, Idumu-Egoro of Agadaga, Izumen in Ewohimi, Egoro near Obadan in Benin, Egoro in Ebhoran and across the map with the whole breadth of Ekpoma between; is EGORO-NA-0KA!
The following villages constitute modem Egoro:
The original settlement of Owele is today marked by IDUMUGHEKPE. The change from Idumughekpe to the present Eguare took place after the death of the unlucky OSAWELE, an only son who died without an heir himself. Towards the latter part of his reign. Osawele developed leprosy with the result that all his subjects deserted him. Fortunately he had a godson, who regardless of his own person, did everything to make his god-father's last days less miserable. When he died, this godson performed the burial ceremonies and according to Esan laws and custom, succeeded as Onojie. He then brought all the paraphernalia of office to his own quarter in the present Eguare.
2. EGORO - AMEDE (1963, 2330)
This consists of Idumu-Iyasele, Ikido, Ighoidogun and Ibhioniha. The first settlement was founded by one of Owele's sons. He was made Oniha and here has remained the seat of the Oniha ever since. The Iyasele lives in Idumu - Iyasele part. Some of the early inhabitants of Amede were
Obonobhokhan and Ikhatenmen.
This was founded by Onofua, the third son of Oghale's famous servant, Uase. From Ihonmidumun Ekpoma, Ikhideu migrated to Egoro. The Uwenlen-Oibo part was founded by a native doctor from lruekpen.
This place was founded by some of Owele's followers and hence are same as Eguare in custom.
5. EGORO-NA-OKA (1320, 1963)
Was founded by a group of Egoro - Amede headed by Ikhatenmen who could never see eye to eye with Izuagbo, the fourth Onojie of Egoro. Though' the Onojie was unable to crush him" his life was made so uncomfortable that he fled south to Oka jungle. This was about the time Ehengbuda was sitting on the Benin throne (He ascended the Benin throne in 1578). Nostalgically he kept up regular communications with his home, keeping the usual worship and all cultural practices with the people they had 260 left behind. This trait has kept this colony in the jungle intact for the Onojie of Egoro, onto this date. When Ikhatenmen fled Egoro, he and his followers first settled on the Ekpoma side of Urhoi area. Constant friction with Ekpoma people and their Onojie made them shift further into "the jungle. The remnant of that settlement is today Urhohi-Naeghoro.
Members of Egbele - Ibhieranmen of Eguare form the kingmakers.
Until after the burial ceremonies of the late Onojie, the Oniha acted in all matters. The actual installation was performed by the Odionwele of Ikido in Egoro-Amede and the Odionwele of Idumughekpe. To the latter the heir sent a piece of white cloth and a he-goat which was slaughtered at Edion-Ughele of the old Eguare. This done, the two Edionwele came for the installation at Odugha after the blessing at the ancestral shrine by the Osukhure who lived in Ikokogbe. Ikido's importance in installation ceremonies dated from the origin of the village which migrated from
Eguare. They were up till now responsible for the burial rites of the Onojie.
IV. Present Onojie:
Thomas Osoba Ogbebo II who ascended the Egoro throne in 1965 died in January 1992 and was succeeded by his heir who after completing the burial ceremonies of his late father was installed.
Death struck through a motor accident on 3rd May 1992 with his son and heir - Ibhadojiemun - only a year old; his second son is Ailuojierio. This has left a vacuum in the Egoro Royal Family.
From the time Uda's son ALALA became Onojie of Owele's original settlement, up to the time of ODEKHIAN (1866 - 1884) there had been no record of succession strife. There were two reasons for the scourge that ravaged Egoro after Odekhian's death. The first was unfortunate and the second was the direct influence from external sources; this second reasons enhanced the consequence of the first. ODEKHIAN (1866 - 1884) had many sons. On his death in 1884, OMOIGBERALE the first son and an epileptic, was so handicapped by his disgraceful affliction that he shunned all public appearances; he could never tell when the next seizure would come with all its humiliating after-effects. Thus no one was surprised and the Egbele was much relieved when he was unable to perform the burial ceremonies of his father. The second son, UDIGBILI thereupon began performing these vital ceremonies. Knowing the consequences of these ceremonies, OKAISABO (OKAN) who was the fourth son, protested vehemently arguing that since Omoigberale was not dead or so incapacitated as not to know what he did, or what he was doing was wrong, he should be assisted to perform these ceremonies and thus keep what-was his divine right. The great question was one of native laws and custom: "Can one perform these vital functions for another?" In answering this important question the Egbele was divided, as usual, because of ad hoc interpretations to suit their candidate. To add to their confusion, the impasse created by poor Ikeakhe's colourless life at Ekpoma which had a rather over-riding influence on Opoji and Egoro, gave many elders sharp points with which they poked holes into Esan laws and custom irrespective of the fact that unfortunate circumstances led Ekpoma Ruling House into its then unenviable plight. Quoting from Ekpoma history, these elders concluded that if Omoigberale could not perform the burial ceremonies the next brother, Udigbili should do so, since it would have been his tum after his senior brother anyway!
With the Egbele divided amongst themselves, the way was open for civil war. This was so devastating that both claimants fled Eguare: Udugbili to Iruekpen and Okaisabo to first Oraede and later to Oke in Benin district - two foolish goats each wanting to cross the bridge first until no one could! Then death struck, bringing momentary peace to Egoro. Udugbili, overcome by anxiety, died and the kingmakers sent for Okaisabo (OKAN) who then performed the burial ceremonies before ascending the throne in 1886.
In 1903, death that had brought peace seventeen years ago, struck again at the royal family, this time it had a civil war in its wake! Okan died and OKOISE Odekhian's seventh son and now the most senior surviving son, reared up his head, on the ground that since Odekhian, their father, had performed Burial and Ogbe Ceremonies on behalf of all his children, he and not AISUGBEIHIEN, Okan's heir, was the rightful claimant to the title of course he had Ekpoma to quote profusely! Asuegbeihien (IHIEN), stood solidly on native laws and custom contending that what obtained at that time in Ekpoma was a by-product of omissions! Since he had performed the burial ceremonies of his father, both the property and title were his. In 1904 the matter came up at the Native Court in Uromi and the finding was in favour of Okoise. Unsatisfied, Ihien fought relentlessly. In 1905, Mr. Crewe Reade, Assistant District Commissioner, was posted to Agbede the then capital of the then Kukuruku District, from where he was sent to Ubiaja that had become Headquarters of waterless Esan in 1906. Ihien went up to Agbede in 1906 before this all powerful British Officer moved to Esan to put his case before him.
Mr. Reade was not the type of man to stand arguments; he declared Ihien an enemy of peace in Egoro, tried him and found him guilty. He asked him to stop fighting for the title or go to gaol. Hard boiled Asuegbeihien preferred the latter and so Crewe Reade sentenced him to a year's imprisonment. He was sent to Benin, the only place there was a prison then. After six months of languish, Ihien was unrepentant, maintaining that the Egoro Onojie title was his and no one else's. He was released and he returned home to give Okoise the works! What happened in Ekpoma after Ediale became Onojie was no longer helpful to those who allowed Ekpoma politics to influence their judgement. Ediale who had suffered similar troubles was openly in favour of Okan's heir.
THE IRRUA - EKPOMA SKIRMISH, 1908:
Reading the handwriting on the wall Okoise sought more powerful allies. He went to Irrua and pledged his Egoro to Eromosele the Great of Irrua. Eromosele who till his dying day had maintained that the white man at Ubiaja only had a nuisance value, took a personal interest in the matter. Followed by about 100 armed men and the best singers in his harem, and on his horse-back himself, he decided to go and see his new domain. Unabashed and with a fanfare he went through Eguare Ekpoma. After he had passed the more vocal members of Eguare assembled and harassed
Ediale as to why he allowed this discourteous behaviour which was not only on himself but on all Ekpoma. Poor Ediale who only overcame his own troubles, and then not quite fully, ten years previously, would rather let sleeping dogs lie, but his more truculent brothers under the leadership of Asuelinmen were disposed otherwise. On the third day, heralded by trumpeters and drummers, Eromosele's approach on his way home was quick to bring all the he-men of Ekpoma out to challenge his passage. When the party had got into Eguare Street, Asuelinmen wanted to know from one of Eromosele's men why they had to treat Ekpoma in the way they did. For an answer, the man dealt proud Asuelinmen a slap; that was enough for the people of Eguare and a fight broke out. The great Eromosele mustering as much dignity as was possible under the circumstance, took shelter at Mr. Ihaza's house, situated in the present Court premises. But for the darkness and prompt action of the District Commissioner at Ubiaja, inter-district war could have resulted; in the affray
IHEN-RU, the bride Okoise had given Eromosele when leaving Egoro, was seized at Ekpoma and one more slave was freed!
In 1911, Okoise died and Aisuegbeihien came on his own. A year previously Ediale of Ekpoma had died and his son, Akhimien, known to some as Uzaka, succeeded him despite the protest of "Brother Succession" protagonists. That was much in favour of Ihien and when he died in 1935, his son Ogbebor had little difficulty in overpowering AGIDIGBI an uncle who wanted to repeat the whole disgraceful strife again.
OGBEBO I (1935 • 1964)
Ogbebo became Momo when he was converted into Islam. He had worked as a Warder coming home in 1935 on the death of his father AISUGBEIHIEN. He was installed Onojie after performing the burial ceremonies with Ogbe. A very intelligent man, Egoro had benefitted much from his broader and mature outlook. Helped by the peace that came to Egoro after he became Onojie, he had brought dignity and almost complete independence to the town which until 1935 was more correctly a vassal of Ekpoma.
OGBEBO II was Thomas Osoba as a Prince. He was born in 1932. When the great Ogbebo died on the 22nd of November. 1964. Prince Osoba came to perform the full burial ceremonies of his father and was installed Onojie. Because of some encumbrances with his employer. C.M.S. (Nig.)
Bookshop he had to return to his job leaving his junior brother Prince David Ogbebo to act as a Regent with a document which read:
"AN AGREEMENT FOR APPOINTMENT OF EGORO REGENT. 30th August. 1965 between Chief Thomas Osoba Ogbebo II. Onojie of Egoro and his brother David Momodu Ogbebo. To hold the throne of my chieftaincy title affairs for me until when I finish serving the C.M.S. (Nig.)
Bookshop Bond I sign to cover the shortage I substain.
Copy:- Oba of Benin, Abumere, Onojie of Ekpoma, Ministry of Chieftaincy Affairs, Pa Enaboifo of Ekpoma, Chief Obamogie of Ugiamen, Ivie-Uda-Esaba District Council. District Authority. Ubiaja, Hon. A.A. Osunbor".