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 URUWA.
It came to have this name on the arrival of the ruling house. Before this time there were primitive settlements of Akho and the quarter today marked by IDUNEKHAKPOZI. The proud assertive immigrants from Benin settled in Eguare close to the people they found. The domineering attitude of these strangers coupled with the inherent desire to please the new-comers on the part of the aboriginal settlers, made these first settlers move forward to Opoji, leaving a handful of the more virile and stubborn type which is still represented today by
Idunekhakpozi. Remnants of these hardy people have almost been swallowed tip by Uwenujie Eguare, but identifiable are J.he late Eranga Irabo, Akhidue, father of Egbele the palmwine tapper, Aboiralo and Ijiekhumen now in Idumebo.
Where did the founders of the present ruling house come from? I had found several conflicting answers from our elders who tried to convince me. Some, and this constituted the majority, said that the first Onojie was a man called AMILELE, a chieftain, or warrior from IFEKU ISLAND on the Niger. On his way from Benin he had gone to pay homage to the Oba Ohen who gave him his first daughter; IRIOWA in marriage, he espied extra ordinarily large bunch of oil palm nuts. Concluding that a land rich enough to produce such wonderful nuts must be very fertile, he decided to settle on the spot which he named after his wife IRIOWA. The story went on to say that Amilele later went.to help the Oba during the famous Akure War and from there bis people brought the guinea worm to Esan. Another; set of elders told me that lriowa was the Oba's eldest daughter married to one Iyasere who settled in Irma after fighting the Kukuruku War. Others qualified this story by saying that Iriowa could not goon because she was heavy with child and her time was at hand.
I had been unable, after a prolonged research to get anything near a confirmation to these two stories. Holes could easily be picked into the pattern of the first story by anybody who knows Benin history. Amilele a warrior from Ifeku, went to pay his respects to Oba Ohen who ascended the Benin throne about 1330. The same Amilele later went to assist the Oba during the Akure War which was fought in 1818. That would mean this warrior lived for over 500 years! .A less forceful argument against this story is the doubtful nature of an Oba giving his EHAE (FIRST DAUGHTER) to a stranger outside Benin City - however influential or helpful to that Oba. Regarding the second story, I searched hard for an Iyasere of Benin who went to war with his wife, an Oba's first daughter at that, and refused to return to Benin but decided to stay in Esan jungle! If even there was such a woman or Oba's daughter as lriowa, why should she have followed the husband to a dangerous war? If she was pregnant, the more reason why she should have stayed behind in Benin. Above all the Kukurulru War was comparatively a recent affair of 1850, fought long after Irma had become a well known district under the grinding heel of Ogbeide the Terrible! Also Oba Ewuare the Selfish who died about 1473, had travelled during his appeasement moves to Irma which was already well known by that name; here he met and snatched the best magician Irrua had - OGAN - now deified in Ekhuae in Benin. This follower's head with the unmistakable Esan facial marks can be seen at the Museum in Benin today.
What then is the truth about the origin of Irma? No one today can dogmatically say what the exact truth is. From my research both here and in Benin City, I found that the nearest thing to the TRUTH is that there was no daughter of an Oba by name Iriowa given out to a visiting warrior as a wife. True, Amilele headed the founders of Irrua but he was not from Ifeku. Ifeku Island was uninhabited before the Idah War of 1515 - 1516. When the boat less Benin drive was halted by the Niger, they camped on this side of the river and the known nearness of such enemies at Idah's gate made life unbearable. The more easily disheartened ones began to flee from the besieged town. Many of these refuges founded the first settlements on the Ifeku Island. That was some fifty-three (53) years after Irrua had its first Onojie! The Southern part of the Island which is Esan, was founded between 1894 and 1907!
Decidedly there were primitive settlements as I had mentioned, already, existing in present day Irrua, before the time of Ewuare the Selfish. Actually mass exodus of Binis followed his inhuman mourning laws round about 1460. A majority of these fleeing from autocracy and injustice in a disciplined body, found their way to Esan and the first batch, mostly from UGBOKA in Benin City under the leadership of Amilele, settled in Irrua. Helped by their number, their oneness and their domineering spirit, they soon ousted or eclipsed the simple inhabitants they had found. Oba Ewuare, after being repeatedly beaten in attempts to get the recalcitrant subjects to return to Benin, tried body tattooing to make identification of deserters easy; that did not help, as, very soon, everybody in Esan began tattooing his body in an inferiority complexed attempt to be like the superior immigrants: Ewuare then tried diplomatic peaceful methods: he declared a general amnesty followed by begging the leaders (Ekakulo) to return with promises of big rewards. The people, who now had begun to enjoy positions of autonomy and loyalty from their followers, sent back to the Oba with IRIOWA, I DE - E! (We have found a home and we are satisfied with where we are!). That was the word that led in later years to IRIUWA, and much later to URUWA, which had its final metamorphosis when the white men dealt it a final blow, reducing it to IRRUA!
Oba Ewuare finding there was no way to get these people to return, decided to make friends of them at least, and at best, friendly subjects. In 1463 he invited all the leaders to Benin and formally installed them Enijie (Dukes), the paramount rulers of their subjects, owing allegiance only to the
Oba himself. Ewuare beat them in that the hitherto rebellious subjects did not realise that by accepting these titles from the Oba, the recipients were admitting inferiority and the suzerainty of the donor!
Thus the Irrua Ruling Family came directly from Benin. Members of this family and their slaves formed Eguare.
1. EGUARE (1953, 1525)
Eguare is made up of Uwenujie, Idumuabokha, Idumigun, Idumuoton, Oyomon and Ikekogbe. The original followers of Amilele over whom Ekpereijie became the first Onojie, formed the quarters of Uwenujie and Idumuabokha and so their special position in Eguare is unchallenged. The rest of Eguare was made up of the Ojirrua's children (Ibhieran-men), servants, slaves and some people who fled to the patronage of the Onojie. Between Ikhihibhojere the Law-maker and Eromosele the Great, Eguare became depleted by princes who had to repair to Ididigba, Usugbenu, on the death of their fathers. As is customary in every Esan chiefdom, Ikekogbe is where the Onojie's servants and attendants live (behind and close by the Palace). Oyomon is the place set aside for the Crown Prince (Edaiken). When he comes of age, he goes to build his abode and here he and his family live until his father dies.
GROWTH OF THE ROYAL FAMILY FROM
THE TIME OF OGBEIDE, THE TERRIBLE
On become Onojie the houses in Oyomon being made then of nonpermanent materials usually collapse and remain bush until another Edaiken comes. Only once, when Momodu I succeeded Eromosele, a man, Onojietieolemin, was left to look after the place. He put up permanent structures there and later gave Isidaehomen I hell, claiming the Oyomon land! It took the author and some Eguare elders to tell the man to remember the meaning of his own name and to remember what Oyomon means to the royal family!
The tiny quarter of Idumuoton was a large virile part of Eguare. Its original name was Idumuekha. It became a deserted place during the time of one and only Ogbeide the Terrible. Its leader was the sagacious Irii who was a very close confidant of Ogbeide. As a matter of fact no one could believe this feared monarch could have such a strong feeling for a fellow mortal as he had for Irii. Irii could have his ears day and night, could wake him if he was asleep and it got to such a stage that some Iweguae believed if his great jaws were chewing a piece of meat and just before deglutition,
Irii, asked him for it, he would spit it out for him!
One afternoon some daring harem women sneaked out of the Palace to Irii to tell him hell had broken lose in the Palace. Ogbeide's favorite wife for unknown reason had been condemned, tied up already, and waiting for the Osugbe to splash Ugbe on her. lrii gave a yell of surprise and raced to the Palace. He walked into the inner room and saw fire flashing out of those great eyes. Irii, an accomplished psychologist, began raining praises on the Monarch; "the owner of Uruwa non gbe uman, original child of the lion, the man who never ate any food unless it was boiling" - "Sit down", thundered the monarch; "what brought you here this afternoon?" After three to six more rapid praises, enough to make Ogbeide himself begin to wonder if he was after all a mortal, lrii looked over the doorway and saw a beautiful woman tied up "O - oh!" he exclaimed, "Not this afternoon, not in this God blessed Palace!" I must untie her", and so he proceeded to do. With a terrible growl Ogbeide dashed into his room, brought out his great Okodo, did not need to take any aim since though he had never gone a hunting at point blank range he could not miss. He pulled the trigger and the terrible blast, heard all over Eguare, reduced the great Irrii to minced meat! No one again saw the condemned woman since everywhere and everything were plastered with blood. The news spread like wild fire - Ogbeide had destroyed his only and best friend! Eguare could not believe it and the reaction at Idumuekha was spontaneous." If Ogbeide can exterminate Irii who are we to wait for him?" Many did not even have time to pack – they just left Eguare, some fled to Usugbenu, others to Ugbegun, Afuda, and Arue etc.
Only the dare-devils like Oko, father of the great Elenbesunun, the Iyama and grandfather of Ogedegbe, the recently dead Odionwele of Eguare, Gegemen, Okonofua, Okodugha, Ebhodaghe, Eigbiremon Jen, Agabi, remained. Many were grabbed by Ogbeide and sold. Idumuekha became
deserted but the original important sports were preserved. For example the Alu Urohi is where Edion had to go on entering the grade and since the crown Prince has to join the Edion grade before installation, a new Ojirrua must go there for the ceremony. Ughe Ojie ningbenen, where sasswood used to be administered is still identifiable today. With this shocking experience Idumuekha appropriately became Idumuoton (the village of torture!)
Ogbeide came onto the Irrua throne round about 1840, some one hundred and fifty-two years ago. It is only in the early eighties grandchildren and great grandchildren began to find their way back home. Ikpotokin and "Local Varsity," son of Eigbiremonlen have now returned to join Eguabo, Ijezele, father of Odijie and the late Eigbomian.
2. AKHO (606):
The early founders came from IBIE. They were the first settlers in Irrua. Next came Usenu but after the battle of IDIGBA, as a mark of honour for Usenu's heroism, the latter was given an official recognition as first second only to Eguare. The hereditary chief of Akho is UWAGUE who traditionally acts for the Onojie during the interregnum between the death and succession of an Onojie in Irrua. This custom had its origin from the first Uwague who was an erring first son of the Onojie but was-banished to Akho which was then separated from Eguare by an almost impenetrable forest. The wife and throne trappings which he collects when he steps down for the new Onojie till this day remind people that but for the sins of his ancestor against his father the Onojie, he should have been the Onojie. Christianity, Islam and education in the name of civilazation, had disrupted the simple but orderly life of the Esan communities. What has happened over the past twenty-one years in this traditionally important village of Irrua gives a good example.
Akho consists of three quarters -Akho Osolo, Akho Okpamen and Akho Uwague, the traditional seat of the Uwague of Irrua. When Uwague Esanbhe died, he had three sons of note. Obo was the first but he predeceased his father. The second son Okhilua now became the first and heir, the third son was Iriogbe, a very dutiful son, working in Ondo area as a Chief Linesman in the then Post and Telegraph. He came home and built a big house in which their father and brothers lived like himself when he retired. Okhilua succeeded their father after the burial ceremonies. When he himself died, his son and heir, IBHADOJEMUN was a minor, so his uncle Iriogbe acted for him as Uwague. When lsidaehomen II died on the 22nd of June, 1971, and Prince William Okoeguale was performing the burial ceremonies of his father, Acting Uwague Iriogbe took over the palace in accordance with Irrua custom. At the end he was rewarded with a wife and all other trappings for his office by the new Onojie Momodu II. On getting back to the village, Akho elders assembled and advised lriogbe that the wife automatically belonged to Ibhadojemun, Okhilua's heir. This he refused to acquiesce to; rather than obey his people, he returned the girl to the Ojirrua. This angered Akho people who then sent for Ibhadojemun in Lagos to come and take over his father's title. The community helped him with wherewithal to perform the burial ceremonies of his father and he was made the substantive Uwague. This young man the community had helped to achieve his right, now turned on his uncle and asked him to quit the house, he lriogbe, had built for everybody. Akho now turned on the young man, told him he was doing wrong but he took the matter to court to the consternation of the elders. In the midst of all these, Iriogbe died, and in utter disregard of Akho elders, Ibhadojiemun took Iriogbe's heir, DELE to court. Over this prolonged and vexatious litigation both Ibhadojemun and Dele sold all their land, economic crops of their grandfather, Okhilua and Iriogbe, leaving the Uwague family in ruins. In retaliation Akho elders stopped their customary meetings in Uwague's compound, using the Odionwele's house instead. The village was disorganized and every matter coming before the elders became confused and difficult to settle. Wise Counsel finally prevailed and the elders ruled that before they could again meet in Uwague's place, the new Uwague must appease the spirits and the living elders with the slaughter of a goat and pay other fines; thus peace did not return to Akho Community until February, 1986, fifteen good years of wasteful litigation over a matter, as we say in Esan, the elders "could have cut with nails of the fingers!"
3. USENU (176):
The founders hailed from Uselu in Benin.
4. IDUMEBO: (743):
This village, famous for its native doctors, hence its name – village of doctors, consists often:-
(i) Idumun - Ewakon
(iii) Uwen - Ikhalea
(iv) Uwen - Izako and
(v) Idunegbon from Idumun-nin-ogbon.
The original settlers, Idumun-Bwakon, has an interesting history still remembered today because of our peoples' faith and custom, I had been pleading we should not allow to die. The original founder was the great Arabonikpo ne.ebolob.hahie. This appellation can .be understood from the following event. Arabonikpo, was blessed with twenty-one sons, two of them giving origin to two of the quarters - Idumun-Ikhalea from his second son Ikhalea and Ewakon, the heir who took over the original settlement that came to be known as Idumun-Ewakon.
When Osara came from Benin, he was sent by Osemwede to protect the Ojirrua Ogun who brought him to Idumun-Ewakon where the Osara's own settlement became Odogbe. Here the Osara of Irrua from the original name Osa non oria, is found and he is head of the Ojirrua's Ewase. He had given great importance to the whole of Idumebo by virtue of his importance in Odugha and the whole of Irma, where he has the honour to break the kolanuts in the absence of the Ohen Amese. Thus Odogbe had come to eclipse the original Idumun-Ewakon.
THE UNOKO WORSHIP:
As can be found allover Esan many of the customs and traditions followed real events. Even though the whole of Esan was a dense jungle with early settlements under trees, it was near impossible for two Unoko trees to grow side by side - the roots drawing power of one and the great leafy shade of one would kill the other. In the dense forested area of Idumebo two Iroko trees survived side by side. This fascinated the early settlers who decided to clear round them and the great shade became their village square (Ughele), nobody worshipped these trees but everyone appreciated this beauty of nature. The original deity of Idumebo was Ereido.
The leader of the settlers, Arabonikpo was a renowned native doctor respected allover Esan and beyond. Appropriately when the then Oba of Benin, whose name oral history said was Oba Osemwede, got into serious trouble, one of the native doctors the Oba sought his -assistance, was
Arabonikpo. When I pressed, my informer an intelligent chief who today is the priest of the original Ereido, how it could be Oba Osemwede who reigned from 1816 to 1848 when Idumebo had long been in existence, he countered with "de o iye Ogun Osemwede khe ile Oba" associated with the incident unfolding, I realised it was not because Osemwede as Prince Erediauwa was the best known to Esan people and so his name is easily remembered. Ogun became Ojirrua in 1800 and indeed he went to help Osemwede and the song became popular with ukele dancers! However, the great Arabonikpo was one of the renowned native doctors the Oba sent for. Poor security reasons, every doctor who servedthis Oba he usually killed. When the Binis came for him, this fact was known to him, but he still left with the emissaries. He spent three good years fortifying the Oba till "if the Oba was a pot and you threw him violently onto the ground, there was no way he could break!" Then and then only Arabonikpo informed the Oba his job was done and he wanted to return home. The Oba knowing how such services were rewarded (with death) merely laughed. The doctor persisted and the Oba asked him what he wanted - "a cow; goats, a man, a woman and two of everything else". "That's no problem", the Oba said. He divided the palace into two and gave everything contained in the doctors half to him. The doctor then appointed a date of his leaving. The Oba arranged for seven groups of heavily armed men to guard the roads to Esan land in such a way that there would be no way he could escape death. On the appointed morning the doctor came out to find the palace full. He asked for a day old chick which he skinned to make an ekpa asin-okhunlun which he hung round his neck. He asked for the head of the weightless Apien-pien bird which a kha gbe ukpea a tinJin (Once this bird gives its cry, it flies oft). This he tied round 'his' head. He got a single Okede (the native doctors' drums are usually paired) as he walked to his room after shaking everyone, he was beating the drum. He continued this for so long that the Oba and his chiefs dozed off. When they came to, there was no more sound from his own end of the palace; someone was sent to check him up. The room was empty! Messengers were sent to the seven waiting posts - no one saw anyone pass!
One Edizele Idumebo people heard a strange Okede drumming on top of their temperature cooling Unaka Trees. Perplexed, some advised they too should bring out their Okede drums and they began to play with the song "Obo bhe okhun-eran, ruenre, reuener! (The doctor on the tree - please come down!). Then came a shrill trumpet sound with a loud voice ordering the people to turn their backs on the Unoko trees. All did, except a girl-naked, Esan fashion, with her waist loaded with enticing beads; she was in front of the father's house oblivious of the scene going on at the square. She alone saw the man coming down the high trees! On getting to the ground he began greeting the people assembled - but on realising it was the great Arabonikpo given up as dead, the brothers refrained from doing what others were doing - shake him and throw sand on him - Esan custom for seeing someone return from death! These brothers were frightened to death for they had inherited his wives. The doctor told his wonderful story danced and left for home after leaving his Osunjojo at the Osara, according to the decree made by Osara, their ruler. Halfway home, he exclaimed, turning his heel on the ground (Gbe AkhienJen), "Ewan Jen men han!" (Let my senses not fail me!), he raced back to the Osara's place and pulled his Osunjojo which he took home. Where he used his heel as narrated above is today where Idumebo worship their Ubeke EwanJen, this being second only to Ereido shrine.
On getting home to find all his.wives inherited, he was not angry, since no doctor had ever served Oba Osemwede to return to tell the tale; he killed a goat at the ancestral shrine to re-inherit the women. The next Edizele (rest day) all Idumebo assembled to hear the full story from Arabonikpo, who summoned the naked girl that saw it all, danced beautifully with her to the extent that the whole village decided to go and show their joy to the Ojirrua. This is commemorated with the yearly worship of the Unoko and the traditional Inukpukpe with all Idumebo damsels going naked to show their innocence and joy to the Ojirrua. I had demonstrated under the ethnographic notes on Esan people, that there is a lot to learn from our moonlight stories, songs and shrines; all of which represent actual events. The Esan Ukele dance with the song – De O iyi Ogun Osemwede khe Ie Oba, tied up Ojirrua Ogun who became Onojie of Irrua in 1800 with Osemwede who ascended the Benin throne in 1816. Esan native doctors whether Obo Ewawa or Obo Oguega do open their divination with Ara Obo nan Arabonikpo, ne ebolo bha hie! (Let us honour Arabonikpo who never met disgrace with his divination!).
The place of the first settlement in Idumebo, Idumun - Ewakon is immortalized with Ereido, whose chief priest today is Chief Inegbenedion (Itepu) Aikhomu, senior brother of Admiral Augustus Akhabue Aikhomu, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Culturally, it will be easy to see the relationship in Idumebo, Idumun-Ewakon and Idumun-Ikhelea descended from two brothers, cannot intermarry and keeping lovers is forbidden. Uwen-Izako descended from Osara's Odogbe and so intermarriage is forbidden according to Esan Native Laws and Custom. The only exotic settlement is that of Idunegbon – that came from Obeidu. Anybody in Idumebo can marry from there and they can marry from any of the other four groups. When development came with the main road and the people rushed to the main road, deserting the old settlements, it appeared to strangers that Idumebo people can marry from the next door!
5. IDUMABI (447):
There were two main groups of settlers. Some came from Ujagben while others came from Urohi.
6. USUGBENU (2611, 1963 - 30S5):
This is the second largest single unit in Irrua. A good number of the early founders came from Benin. It consists of:-
b. UHAEKPEN those first settlers originated from UHAEKPEN in Benin City.
c. UGHENOKHUA, a majority of the first inhabitants’ came from Ighanlan (lgalla).
d. UZEBU founders came from Uzebu in Benin.
e. IDIDIGBA: This was founded by Princes - sons of Enijie between IKHIHIBHOJERE who became Ojirrua in 1720 and Ogbeide the Terrible (1840 - 1864), a period of one hundred and twenty years. Until the time of Eromosele the Great who had only three brothers - Akeme, Edoro,
Omokhoa and Okojie that died without any heir, all princes had to go to Ididigba on the death of their father. This practice stopped with the ascension of Eromosele who needed the support of his brothers, he himself being an only child of his mother, Queen Ebuade. The Uwenlen-Edo part of Ididigba was founded by some Binis.
f. EMANOGHO was an extension of Uwenlen - Edo.
7. EIDENU (1474 - 3099);
This place was founded by three great warriors called UNOBI, AIGHE and OMORUARE. Omoruare was one of the fugitives that fled Emaudo, Ekpoma same time as the people of Idunwele Ewu, and hence UDOWO and Uwenlen-ILE of Idunwele have the same origin. As a result of Emaudo, which was founded by the Nupes, being the source of origin of Omoruare, many people in Eidenu talk of their ancestral home as being from Ifeku Island.
The original settlement of Unobi became mUNOBI, that of Aighe became Eidenu-na-ato while that of Omoruare grew into the present Udowo. All the three warriors were deified and are remembered (worshipped) during the yearly festival of Eidenu.
The worshipper of OTO in Irrua is in IDUMUN-OGBEBO of OGBAKHA, Udowo. This prerogative was actually Akho's but Ogbebo, the Ominjogbe in charge, ran away from Akho during Ogbeide the Terrible's reign to an Arebhoa he was in love with. After he left Akho Okpeaifo was deputizing from Akho village for him. The Ominjogbe of Ogbebo family in the fifties was UGHULU EITEOBHO. His son and heir, Obhiebo took over from him.
8. AGWA (515 - 589):
Although many elders in Agwa maintain Agwa was founded by an erring OBA'S SON who was banished but given the OBIENMEN juju for protection, I have found no corroborative evidence for this story, but quarters by quarter, Agwa which came from the Esan word OGWA (Mixture), consists of:-
a) IDUMUEGUALE which was founded by immigrants from Ugboha under the leadership of IHIENLONMON.
b) IDUMUN-ABQKHA which was founded by refugees that left Emuado, Ekpoma same time as founders of Idunwele Ewu followed by Omoruare's Udowo, Irrua.
c) EGBELUALELOMON which was founded by immigrants from Ujamen in Benin. And what a mixture - Ugboha, Emaudo Ekpoma and Ujamen Benin!
9. UGBOKHARE: Is closely related to the founders of Eidenu and its components, although, one should not forget the song - Ugbokhare, Ibhole re non (Ugbokhare used to be Ibore).
10. UNEA (5127 - 5762):
This is the generic name for the virile group of people who inhabit IBORE, ATUAGBO and UGBALO. It was founded by UNEA, grandson of ASUKPODUDU of Uzea. He was one of the immigrants who deserted OTUA after a misunderstanding between the Egbonughele age grade and the elders who made unreasonable demands during their group Iruen ceremony. The embittered age grade left Otua in protest and scattered all around. Unea and his immediate family actually searching for his kith and kins in Uzea, got to Akho where they stayed.
The custom of the newcomers was so vastly different from that of those they had found, that each step they took was a mistake in the eyes of those who gave them sanctuary. The last straw came when they insisted on going to pay their respects to the Onojie with any animal killed. In Esan custom, animals like leopard, bush-cow, pig, Rhinoceros and eagle must be reported killed by the hunter, and a leg (except in the case of the leopard, when all the carcass had to be sent) must be sent to the Onojie. Taught by the Tyranny of their ruler at Otua, Unea people went with a war dance to the Onojie if they killed a snake or even found partridge eggs, to the utter astonishment of the Uwague under whom they were living at Akho, and to the disgust of the Onojie they had gone to serve. On one occasion, one amongst them killed a leopard, which rightly they ceremoniously carried to the Ojirrua. They were given the traditional reward and were advised to bury the King of animals according to Esan custom but they insisted on eating the flesh. This was too much for the Ojirrua, who fearing one of these days these strange people might perpetrate a forbidden Esan act, asked them to withdraw from near Eguare, so they went to settle at a spot which was first called AFE-QKHUARIA but later assuming the name of the progenitor - UNEA. This was about 1846 during the reign of Ogbeide the Terrible. Unea had three sons, IBHOLE, AGBO and IGBALO in that order of seniority. These children founded:
(ii) Atuagbo; and
Which together make Unea group today. One of the followers of Unea founded OBIABI. The quarter in Ibore called UGBEGUN is the reminder of the migration of Ugbegun people who leaving Iruekpen andIDUMUKHUA of Ekpoma first settled in Irrua only to be kept moving by the war-like nature of Irrua people. Some of them fled to Ibore and founded this quarter which still traces its relatives to UMELEN in Ugbegun.
11. UNOGBO (389):
Most of the common people of Unogbo came from Ohe or Uhe in Benin, via Egaure Irrua. Ekpereijie, the first Onojie of Irrua had two sons of note. The first was ETAGHAIFI who later succeeded him. The second son AMESE from OMESE (a devillish son), was really the very devil incarnate; outside he was a terror, and at home, he made the Onojie, his father, cursed the day he was born. He was the living embodiment of anything ugly and evil. He was as slippery as a fish and certainly drank like one. Since he took no notice of the existence of his father, the Onojie, Ekpereijie was sure anarchy would follow his death, so he decided to take precautions in favour of his dutiful first son, Etaghaifi. He called Amese and told him he wanted to create him a Duke with a territory of his own with no interference from mere mortals like himself let alone, his senior brother. This very much pleased Amese, who was duly given he Swords of Office, Ada and Ebelen, loaded with riches and slaves and given a site where he settled far from Eguare. That site today is UNOGBO and the direct descendant of that terror of a Prince, today is Chief Ativie, the present Ohen Amese. Amese had to be deified not because of the good he did in his life time but in appreciation of his timely death which gave his senior brother a breathing space. The blood association is still in evidence today in that wherever the Onojie goes he must take the Ohen Amese as his right hand man.
After the death and deification of Amese people came to respect him as much as they dreaded him when he was alive. Many people, particularly Princes within and outside IRRUA came to worship him. He became the god of storms that wrecked indiscriminately not only his enemies but houses and farms of innocent people alike.
THE POSITION OF OHEN AMESE IN IRRUA AND ESAN:
After the deification of Amese, the god of stormy weather, his heir became his chief priest - Ohen Amese - a title which has been handed down from father to son. When an Ohen dies, his first son performs the burial ceremonies at the end of which he is ready for the title and inheritance of his father's property. AU the edion of Unogbo assemble and the Ukhure Amese (the wooden representation of the original Amese) is counted in the hands of the new successor. While any of the Ohen's children and all male members of the Amese family can touch this Ukhure, the heir must never touch it until his father's death and until he had performed the burial ceremonies.
OHEN AMESE'S ROLE BEFORE INSTALLATION IN IRRUA:
To become a lawful Onojie in Irrua, the new man must go through the vital burial ceremonies which alone entitles him to the family property and title of Onoj ie. Towards the end of these ceremonies in the olden days, the heir had to come to Unogbo for blessings at the Amese Shrine in the bush. For this, ground chalk and salt with cowries and kolanuts were used by the Ohen Amese. The seven slaves for the burial ceremonies were brought before the Ohen and in turn, were told what messages they should convey to the spirits of the FOURTEEN DEAD ENUIE: Sample: A new man is succeeding them; they should make his way straight in this world and drive off untimely death for him. The slave nodded that he understood what message he had to carry to the next world. Then his head was touched with UKEBO, the symbol of Amese, followed immediately by a stroke with the Ebelen which beheaded the slave. The seven slaves were so sent on different errands to the departed spirits. This done, the heir in gratitude, gave a cow, a goat and cowries to the Ohen Amese and proceeded to the final ceremony that confirmed his claim on the throne: OGBE.
Sometime before the actual date of this final ceremony the hen: sent two of his wives with two bales of cotton to the Ojie Ohen, the other name for Ohen Amese, and the two women within three months spurn the thread for the AGBO Cloth to be used on the Ogbe day. On the appointed day the heir came to Unogbo bringing along two slaves, male and female. The Ohen Amese chose one of the slaves whose life was then spared to sweep round the Amese shrine for the rest of his life. All Unogbo followed the heir and the Ohen to the outer shrine with Ikhio (war dance) and at the shrine the condemned slave was beheaded to complete the Ogbe ceremony and thus ended the strenuous and expensive but vital pre-installation and pre- inheritance duties of a successor. He was then after, master of all in the palace.
It is therefore obvious that for successful completion of these important ceremonies the Ojie-Ohen Amese had a leading role in Irrua, a fact which mis-directed intelligence officers nearly used in the early thirties to bring the Ohen Amese on head-on collision with the then Ojirrua, Momodu I (1921-1941).
As the custodian of the shrine of Amese, the Ohen Amese was considered to possess considerable spiritual powers and some Enijie like that of Ewohimi honoured Amese but outside Unogbo, he the Ohen Amese, scarcely wields any secular authority.
12. UJABHOLE: (1199 - 1966):
The founders were immigrants from Uhe in Benin. They first settled; in lvue but finding no peace they moved on to Awo and Onewa in Uromi district. They still did not find the peace and quiet which they sought from Benin, so they moved forward until they got to their present site which was; Irrua land. They came to ask the Ojirrua for permission to settle there and this granted, they formed one of the out-lying districts of Irrua. Ujabhole has been the home of the Iyasele of Irrua from time immemorial. It is hereditary to the Iyasele family although just as the British administration; was set up, one Igenegbale of Ujabhole lay claim to the title leading to a lot of bad blood that finally led to his being killed. The date and enquiry that followed led to a lot of confusion too. Two of the early men to be literate in Irrua, the late Ogbewele of Usugbenu and meticulous Mr. Abiode Osara of Idumebo gave me the date as 25th September, 1905 while other informers gave the date as 1906. The story was that one morning Igenegbale was passing through Ibhiolulu where he found the elders in a meeting at the Okoughele. Bluffingly he spat at them, an abomination in Esan. He was set upon and killed on the spot. Ibhiolulu people had tried to hang the crime on Eromosele, far away in Eguare. At the trial that followed in Benin, ' the allegation was dispproved and Odalo of Ibhiolulu was hanged.
13. UDOMI (805 -893):
In 1463, when Ewuare the selfish invited all Esan leaders to Benin City, Oghu of Ivue asked his son to deputize for him. The son called Oghala, an equally and assertive man like his father, refused point blank to run such an errand for his ailing father. The trouble that broke out as a result of this refusal was so much that Oghala, Oghu's son and heir was banished from Ivue. He and a large number of admirers first settled in Onewa, then Awo and finally founded a settlement of his own, which came to be known as Udomi.
14. EKOMOJOUDU (758 -655):
This place was founded by a group of Binis from Uhe in Benin, under the leadership of Omojoudu, This camp which has grown into a big settlement is still known today as Obe.
15. IBHIOLULU (966-770):
The founders came from AVBIELE now Agbede.
16. IDUMUOGHODO (273) is closely related to the people of Ibhiolulu.
17. AFUDA (823-959):
This settlement was founded by men from Eguare, Irrua.
18. IDUMU-OZA (599-745):
The founders were related to the people of Ujabhole. Actually the place was originally the farming area of the first settlers of the whole place, the people of Ujabhole. Idumu-oza is the seat of Oniha of Irma.
Politically all the various villages of Irrua are divided up into FOUR GROUPS:-
(a) OTOURUWA consisting of Eguare, Usenu, Akho, Idumebo, Iduma and Usugbenu making 6 villages.
(b) IKEKATO is made up of Eidenu (with Eko-Iyobhebhe), Agwa and Ugbokhare making 3 villages.
(c) UNEA consisting of Ibore, Atuagbo and Ugbalo making villages.
(d) UWESAN is made of Unogbo, Ujabhole, Ibhiolulu, Idumu-Oghodo, Udomi, Afuda, Idumu-oza and Ekomojoudu making 8 villages all making 20 villages of Irrua, Uwesan means the centre of Esan or deep Esan. At that time Irrua was the headquarters of Esan in the Greater Benin Empire. Benin people thus talked of Esan and Irrua as if they were synonymous. The result then was that the most outlying district of Irrua came to be referred to as DEEP ESAN hence UWESAN.
2. IMMEDIATE PAST ONOJIE:
Was the stately ISIDAEHOMEN II. He was Amedu as the Edaiken. Born in 1905, he was one of the early pupils of the Government school, Ekpoma, opened in 1910, from where he went to Government school, Uromi which had been opened in 1906. In 1921 he attended the Mohammedan school Agbede and in 1925 he was appointed Court Clerk serving at Irrua, Ewohimi, Ubiaja and Uromi. On coming home he was installed the Edaiken and he moved to the official site of the Crown Prince at Oyomo. On the death of his father in October, 1941, he became the Onojie after due funeral rites on November 7, 1941. He did a course of study in Native Administration at the Benin Native Administration before he assumed full reins of office.
Isidaehomen II was noted for his eloquence and his free handedness and his motto: GENEROSITY HAS NEVER BEEN KNOWN TO MAKE A MAN POOR, won him myriads of friends in and outside Esan. Much happened during his rule. The town grew tremendously in size and importance and in the field of development. First a Native Administration Maternity was built near the N.A. Dispensary. Then in March, 1950, Dr. Okojie opened the Zuma Memorial Hospital which two years after, became a Grade Two Midwifery school, attracting many students from all over the country to the town. In 1953 the provincial farm at Ogba, Benin was transferred to Irma, and thus Irma became the agricultural headquarters for Benin Province, with an Agricultural Officer, Me. Makinde, stationed in the town. Towards the later part of 1953, work on telecommunication extending from Ubiaja to Ekpoma and Ekpoma to Auchi was begun with Irma's importance as a junctional town emphasized. A community centre consisting of a Town Hall, a library and playing fields were also erected in 1953. On December 8, 1953, the Oba, Akenzua II, paid an official visit to Esan, passing a night in Irrua - something quite unprecedented. Then in January, 1955, the first Secondary School, the Annunciation Catholic College in Esan was opened. Unfortunately his first son and heir - Prince Abdulahi died prematurely in January, 1959.
It is of historical significance to record the last days of Isidaehomen II. About April, 1970, Chief Isidaehomen suffered a stroke/He was later taken to Lagos University Teaching Hospital and after his return on 19th June, 1971, he developed complications for which he .was admitted into Zuma Memorial Hospital. At about mid-way of the 21st of June he went into coma. While in the throes of death, there was a drama unfolding in Prince Shaka Momodu's sawmill where the princes and princesses of Irrua had gathered, having a kingmakers' meeting. During his life time, Isidaehomen had made Prince EKALUMELE his Edaiken, turbaning him with pomp, but the Royal Family let him know that custom forbade him from picking and choosing which of his sons should be his first son; the first son and heir the family knew was OKOEGUALE and not EKALUMELE. On this day with the Ojirrua in coma and in no position to influence who succeeded him, the royal family summoned the two princes - Okoeguale and Ekalumele and told them, "Elinmim yi iyi Qbe, Egbele khuanle olea" (The dead makes bad laws but the family elders are left to see that the law does not operate). Ekalumele was wild ready to fight and created a scene in the side-ward where the father lay dying. Thus, while Isidaehomen lay dying, his sons were fighting over the palace. It is pathetic, he was indeed reaping on his death bed the seed of confusion he had sowed in his time. The members of the royal family took firm control of the palace and at 1.47 a.m. on the 22nd of June, 1971, Isidaehomen was removed to the palace where he passed away at 1.30 in the afternoon. With the kingmakers and the people who ought to know having warned Isidaehomen II over what he was trying to do out of hatred, sticking to Esan Native laws and customs, the Uwague, took over the palace and WILLIAM OKOEGUALE began the burial ceremonies of his father, and on Thursday 15th July, 1971, was crowned what available records show as the 16th Ojirrua with the name of MOMODU II, on the 15th July, 1971.
3. PRESENT ONOJIE:
Is Alhaji WILLIAM OKOEGUALE MOMODU n. He ascended the throne after all the customary rites on the 15th of July, 1971 as the 16th Ojirrua. He had taken to the Nursing Profession.
On the 30th of November, 1983, twelve years after he had been on Irrua throne, Prince Vincent Ekalumele Isidaehomen backed by Prince Alfred Onobhamiokhonlen Isidaehomen and Prince Stephenson Ojeabulu Momodu went to a Benin High Court presided over by no less a personality than Hon. Justice E.A. Ekeruche, Chief Judge, Bendel State to:-
1. Declare that Alhaji Momodu II's installation and recognition as the Ojirrua after the death on June 2, 1971 of Isidaehomen II was contrary to law and the customary tradition of Irrua clan of the Edo people and is null and void and of no legal effect.
2. That he, Prince Vincent Isidaehomen having been installed Edaiken of Irrua on January 12, 1967 by his late father as his eldest son and heir apparent to the Irrua throne is the person entitled to the said throne of Irrua;
3. An order that the Governor of Bendel State should withdraw recognition as Ojirrua of Irrua in compliance with the Chieftaincy Declaration law of 1975 of Bendel State".
There has never been any chieftaincy dispute surrounding selection, appointment and installation of the Onojie of Irrua in history and so what Ekalumele and some of his brothers and an uncle had done caused a lot of anxious moments and anger not only in the Irrua Royal Family but in all Irrua. On Friday, 26th of October, 1984 the Chief Judge said he was satisfied from the evidence before him that the plaintiff had filed the suit against Alhaji Momodu II "USING HIS HAVING BEEN WRONGLY INSTALLED. EDAIKEN BY THE LATE ISIDAEHOMEN II AS A LAUNCHING PAD".
This really was the crux of the case and it was a relief when he ruled that His Highness Alhaji Momodu II alias Okoeguale is the rightful Onojie of Irrua. This is in accord with law 6 under- Laws of Inheritance. All other cases in various courts suffered the same fate after a lot of vexations, waste of money - though the Chiefs, Kingmakers and people of Irrua gave the Ojirrua solid backing. The painful end of this story is that Prince Ekalumele died shortly after these cases.
The kingmakers of Irrua are the Princes and elders of Eguare with particular reference to UWENUJIE, as its name implies. The Crown Prince or Edaiken, on coming of age, removes to OYOMO, close to Uwenujie. If the houses in Oyomo have fallen, he rebuilds them and lives there until his father dies. Thus ever before the Onojie dies in Irrua the rightful successor has been already officially recognized as the future Onojie, thus cutting out unnecessary strife. In fact" where the feud between an Onojie and his heir is not too personal, the Edaiken is already taking part in State affairs long before he actuallycomes to the palace. The late Onojie, Isidaehomen II was already a Court member before Momodu I died.
On the death of the Onojie, the Edaiken, who has been under the care of Uwenujie, is presented formally by that quarter on the morning of installation, to IDUMUABOKHA who in turn, presents him to UWAGUE, the caretaker of the throne.
After the publication of the first edition, there were arguments as regards the elders of Eguare being kingmakers, some vociferously stating that the Osara is the kingmaker and that because of the situation in Eguare, its elders were not in a position by custom to have a say in the selection and installation of the Ojirrua. This matter, though now delicate (slavery was abolished in 1900!), after 1914 when the British forcibly freed all incarcerated women in the harem and all those who came to live in Eguare under duress, needs explanation to set the records straight.
It is the claim of Idumebo that the Osara was not only head of the Ewase but bad the important function of announcing the demise of an Onojie. He then sends for the Uwague. First, allover Esan the correct person for this functions is the Oniha. There are many reasons for the seeming confusion in Irrua. Even the all important title, Oniha, which is next in rank to the Onojie, in Irrua, is in a state of flux. As of today there is anOniha in Idumebo (the last holder being Ibbaluza Oboh, Head Road Overseer who nominated Oamen to deputize for him). There is an Oniha in Afuda and the Oniba enjoying official recognition today is Ebosele of Ughenokhua, Usugbenu! Coming back to the Archives, intelligence Report showed "Uliha" title in Afuda and "Uniha" in Idumoza - under such a confused state who will be surprised at the fact that no one knows the real functions of this hereditary title and hence when to call him! The Ojirrua, Momodu II, explained it simply, "we do not follow Benin custom!"
Secondly to answer critics who say inhabitants of Eguare were "alien" and so could not be Kingmakers, were they and their descendants’ non-Princes before Ikhihibojere made the law for-bidding Princes to reside in Eguare on the death of their father?
When Ikhihihbhojere who ascended the throne about 1720, about the same time as Qbo of Opoji, Ekhimere of Ogwa, made the law that made him famous, that law was binding only on his brothers, not his uncles and their descendants who in Irrua phrase, were already Gbe nieen oea (waxing strong in a way only princes could!). Even during and after his reign these descendants were accredited Kingmakers. 1 was irritated by the heated arguments in support of the allegation that inhabitants of Eguare were not free born and so could not be Kingmakers. After Eromosele annulled the law his brothers Akeme, Edoro and Omokhoa (Okojie had died) and their descendants today amply represented by the large Ikhifa family, these Princes continued to live and multiply as kingmakers. For one thing the much criticised Declaration of Customary Law Regulating succession in Traditional Ruler title for Irrua states.
Immediately upon the demise of an Ojirrna the ELDERS inform the Osara who in turn informs the Uwague". Elders of where? Elders said to be alien? La ebe ri men bhe unun a-holo!
Thirdly some critics said the Ojie-Ohen-Amese is one of the kingmakers. The new man ascending the Irma throne towards the end of the burial ceremonies that validate his inheritance has certain ceremonies to be performed at the Amese Shrine. The Ohen blesses the new man with chalk, salt, cowries and kolanuts. All the other ceremonies cannot now be implemented as they are against modern law. After this comes the Ogbe ceremony now combined with the Burial ceremonies. The important thing to note is the activities required of the Ohen Amese are that he had no hands in the selection of the man to ascend the Irrua throne. He blesses whoever the kingmakers in their customary judgement send to him - otherwise he would not be allowed to start the all important ITOLINMIN.
On the death of the Onojie, the Uwague comes to take charge of the Palace at once. He is the acting Onojie and he is actually greeted with DO OMO while the Edaiken still in Oyomo continues to be respected with NELAMAN! (Greetings Oh! Prince!) . The Edaiken begins the burial ceremonies at once; these ceremonies are for the Ruling Family Egbele in particular and for the four groups of Irrua generally. Although the burial ceremonies for an Onojie lasts three months, the vital stages are over in seven to fourteen days. These are crowned with Ogbe ceremony, presided over by the Ohen Amese.
As soon as these ceremonies have been disposed of, the Edaiken is ready for installation. First he must be made to taste of lowly life: he is made to pass a night in a hut built outside Uwenujie. On the next morning he is presented to Idumuabokha who then presents him to the Uwague; he is then taken to the ancestral shrine where the Osukhure blesses him. At the inner throne he is counted on the throne by the Uwaue and at the 11th count he takes his seat with U KHATO UKPELE, AGBON SE OBOE KHA MEN: U KHA LE U NON OMON! (Long may you reign, May the world be good in your time; May you be succeeded by your son!). Having performed the vital ceremonies and thus installed he can now touch the Sword of state - EBENLEN the Uwague then steps down for the new man acclaiming him as the new Monarch with DO OMON: The elders of Eguare follow suit. After this, the new Onojie is presented to the public, outside.
The Uwague's task is now at an end and he is rewarded with a wife and all the throne trappings are rolled up and handed over to him before he leaves.
The new Onojie can now continue the rest of the burial ceremonies which really consists of rejoicing and trying to recoup himself. He does not start taking part in public business until the end of the third month. In strict Irma custom the Uwague had to live in the Palace during the three months interregnum between the death of one Onojie and the succession of another. But in recent times, owing to a combination of anxiety, perfunctory respect for custom and the over-riding influence of the white man's government, the Uwague's actual stay in the Palace has been reduced to the seven days it takes to complete the vital ceremonies. His traditional reward of a male and female slaves, of course, has been replaced with a wife. On the Uwague's part too, he no longer goes into the expense of using a COW to bury the late Onojie.
Until the time of Eromosele the Great, as soon as a new Onojie had come to the throne, all his brothers had to leave Eguare for their official residence at IDIDIGBA USUGBENU. Eromosele who only had three brothers and was only a youth when he became head of Irma, could not stand separation from his brothers so he rescinded the law Ikhihibhojere made round about 1720.
Amilele, the leader of the immigrants who deserted Benin City in 1460 was already dead before Ewuare installed the first Enijie. Till this day members of the Ruling Family are sometimes referred to as IBHIAMILELE. The first Onojie was EKPEREUIE (corrupted from Ekpenijie) who was one of the leaders that feU'victim to the diplomatic stroke of Ewuare the Selfish in 1463. He was deified and ALU-EKPEREUIE is still a respected spot in Irrua today.
The proper title of the Onojie of IRRUA is OJURUWA now corrupted to Ojirrua. Upon the Ojirrua Oba Akenzua I conferred the title of OKAUESAN about 1723. The first man to bear the title was
IKHIHIHOJERE, the LAWMAKER. He came to the throne as a very young man about 1720. As most of his brothers were nearly of the same age, the trouble he got from them was so much that he decreed that from then on as .soon as an Onojie died his other sons must move away from Eguare leaving the first son to rule in peace.
THE ORIGIN OF THE OKAIJESAN TITLE
During the reign of Oba Akenzua I, all Esan Enijie for the first time met at a special meeting convened by the Oba. Apart from each Onojie trying to show that he was the richest and most important by way of costly dresses and a large number of followers, there was cordiality amongst them until the Oba's Uko arrived with their meal which consisted of pounded yams. According to custom bits of the foufou had to be thrown out on the floor for the departed spirits, a ceremony usually reserved for the most senior in a gathering of eaters. At this particular gathering of Enijie, the embarrassing question arose; who was the most senior amongst these rulers, each of whom was lord supreme in his own corner of Esan? The answer to this question brought sharp and acrimonious arguments which caused the foufou to remain untouched on the floor. The Ojirrua, a very young man only three years an Onojie, sat unconcerned at a corner while all the wizened Enijie were tearing at one another's throats over seniority. Then someone invited the well composed young man to perform the ceremony and save the bickering elders from disgracing themselves. That young man was Ikhihibhojere; he went through with the cutting of the foufou and peace returned to the august gathering. Then they repaired to the Palace where the Oba presented kolanuts, which as we have seen under Esan custom, are invariably followed with arguments as to who should rightly break the nuts. On this occasion, but for the Oba's awe-inspiring presence there could have been blows; still, angry Esan words were freely exchanged! Astonished Oba Akenzua I quietly asked, "But you have already taken your meal?" They answered yes. "Someone must have uncovered the foufou and made the customary oblation to our respected ancestors; which of you elders did that?" continued the Oba. Then came the astonishing answer that it was the Ojirrua, the youngest of the lot! "Then bring the kolanuts respectfully before him - he is your luck - appointed leader!"
This again is the type of story that I have consistently come across as built up to suit a case. What have we got to support it from history? Indeed Irma has many events to support its ascendancy in the Esan country. Long before this time Irma had already been known as the headquarters in Esan in the Greater Benin Empire just as Agbede was for the old Kukuruku district. In addition, the very first batch of deserters from the City were the founders of Irma; they left Benin at the same time as the great OZA so that the Onojie of Irma had the advantage of age and political importance of his domain when the question of precedence came up before Akenzua I. No matter the correct story, until partisan politics so thoroughly divided Esan people, the precedence accorded Irrua after Benin, had been factual. Proverbs, idioms and oral history are useful props in history. If this be so, what is the significance of the Esan proverb URUWA GBE UMA!
The British were wary in legitimizing the Okaijesan title particularly as they spent the first fifteen years in Esan district, clipping the autocratic' wings of the OJirma who as E.G. Hawkesworth wrote of in 1931 - "the' Ojirrua of Irrua who was RIGHTLY RECOGNIZED as the SENIOR' ONOJIE made known his desire to the British Administration to be: recognized as the Paramount Chief of Ishan. Since the other chiefs would' not grant him the status the administration ignored his request". What is" important is the fact that before the British Administration, the Ojirrua had' been recognized as the senior Onojie. Senior or paramount over this matter: is the same side of the coin!
From time immemorial, Irrua has been a difficult place to live in; Difficult for the ruler and difficult for the ruled. Its people have always been politically conscious up to the degree of being republicans, but their Enijie ruled them as if they were the greatest worshippers of monarchy in the world. The result has been an unending feud between the subjects whose political boiling point soared on the slightest provocation, and the Onojie who maintained that he was born to rule and proceeded to do so in a way Nero could have envied! Thus, in the history of Esan the reign of every Ojirrua has been famous for one thing or another, but iron-handedness had been a regular feature. Another feature worthy of note is that despite this wonderful relationship between the monarch and his subjects, the ruling house of Irma has been a perfect line. The only deflection only confirmed a straight genealogical line made possible by strict adherence to native laws and custom. This deflection was due to the premature death of Prince Uwabor. On his death Isidaehomen I became the heir of Ogbeide the Terrible.
Once and once only since 1460, the nearest thing to a succession strife nearly occurred. That was round about 1866 when the good Isidaehomen I died with his heir Eromosele, a minor of about five. EGBIREMONLEN, an influential man in Eguare was chosen to act as a regent during Eromosele's minority. EBUADE the fearless mother of the minor would not have it. This woman's courage was rather unbelievable when one remembers that in those days there was no place for a woman in Esan community. Shew as to be seen and married and not to be heard. Yet Ebuade was resolutein her single-handed challenge to the kingmakers. She maintained that even if Egbiremolen was a relative (which he was not) there was bound to be succession trouble later, either when her son Eromosele had come of age or between Eromosele's heir and Egbiremonlen's children; there was only one person capable of looking after her son's throne with Jove and sincerity: that person was EBUADE. The kingmakers gasped! But Ebuade was so brave and forceful that everybody acquiesced, giving only one important proviso. She must from then on be a man and abstain from all sexual relations. Ebuade made the promise and made history in Esan by ascending the throne as Queen. The Uwague had to perform the yearly rites where the use of the State Sword was necessary as custom fore bade a woman touching it. She ruled wisely, guided her son's growth jealously and tenderly but enemies dogged her day and night for Ebuade was a beautiful stately woman of under thirty. Soon one of Oba Adolo's uko (personal representative) called AGHEDO, then in Irrua, after fruitless attempts to conquer the straight Ebuade, made an allegation that she had broken her sacred vow and was secretly going with men. That brought all the Otouruwa elders together for an inquisition on this proud woman who wanted to do the job of men. Ebuade stoutly denied the charge and the elders asked her to face trial by ordeal. Sasswood poison was chosen.
Being Queen, she was allowed to stand the trial by proxy. The terms of reference were if she, since she lost her husband, had cohabited with any man or had satisfied herself sexually by any other means, the poison should do its work; The Queen put her hand on the proxy's shoulder and she drank the whole bowl of potion for fear of making the angry elders feel the great Ebuade was afraid.
Providentially, the woman developed immediate and severe vomiting, emptying all the poison in her stomach before being absorbed, and recovered. What Ebuade said in her rejoicing is now embodied in one of our folklores and songs with a chorus which ends with AGHEDO OKAN
KI NE! (The shame is now on Aghedo). Ebuade was once again passed fit to rule men and she continued until her son was about fifteen before she stepped down in his favour.
But for the courage, sagacity and influence of this woman, the history of the ruling house of Irrua might have been otherwise.
As I have said already one good feature about Irrua is that genealogical tree has been so pruned by strict adherence to traditions that has grown straight. This was not due to the people's love for their ruler or because of the Ojirrua's love for the Irrua or Esan unwritten but definite constitution but it was a result of balance of power. The word ISOTE is practically an Irrua word for REBELLION. In the long line of rulers few had not been driven from home or suffered years of rebellion. The Ojirrua had a hereditary belief that subjects, like women, should be struck on the head occasionally like a gong, to drum sense and respect into them! That frogs even recognized the log for what it was - a dud! Normal Esan people have no respect for a dud, let alone the rather hardened people of Irrual for them, it was either a Nero, or he could not stay on their throne for.
The star performers in the examples I have in mind are Ekpereiji right on top of the line. A man who could have a son like the unpredictable Amese certainly was fit to head Irrua: he was duly deified. OGUN was not more than five feet tall but the tallest men in Irrua grovelled on their bellies before him. He was so small and impish that his father Eriagbo in his shame wanted to kill him; "Small men have small minds", he used to say, but Irma people refused. Then he made his famous promise: 'Irrua would get a king to serve', and what a hell-cat they got when the dwarf came to the throne about 1810!
Eriagbo, unable to stand the dwarfish appearance of his son drove him from home and he fled to Ekpoma: He proceeded to groom his second son as his heir. He gave him the hearts of all animals slaughtered in the palace but this boy very carefully smoked them and stored them in a basket. When Eriagbo died, this boy was asked to perform the pre-installation ceremonies since he it was who had been eating all the hearts! He refused, but set out to trace his senior brother. He found him in one of the villages of Ekpoma, told him of their father's death and requested him to return
home with him. Ogun, now hardened by his long sufferings, told the boy to go home and meet him half-way the third day. On the appointed day Ogun got a calabash of poisoned palm wine and kolanuts which he at once offered to his brother who did not hide his love for him at all; the boy
accepted the present as they sat on the way, but insisted on showing him all he had before quenching his thirst with the wine; he then-opened the basket (there were now two big baskets full of dried hearts of cows and goats) and said, "These were the hearts our father had given me to eat. I knew it was not my right to do so I stored them for you; here take them with all they signify". Quickly Ogun smashed the calabash of palm wine and threw away the kolanuts: "You are too good to die", he murmured in self reproach. He meekly followed the boy home, was presented to the elders and after duly performing the burial ceremonies he was installed the Onojie. For all his famous name I have found no other occasion, Ogun's mind was that softened!
OGBEIDE The Terrible, 1840 - 1864:
Ogbeide, The touchstone of Esan autocrats, was made the Okaijesan by Oba Osemwede. The length and breadth of Esan, his name till this day is remembered with awe even though he reigned over one hundred and fifty years ago! His name has passed into some Esan proverbs, OGBEIDE GBE AGBON, OLE HE EIHEBHAMEN (Ogbeide, the one man against the world, name his child I AM INNOCENTI). It is only in Uromi had there been any Onojie as tyrannical as Ogbeide. He knew his subjects, particularly as regards their utter dislike for a dud; he was so conscious of this trait in his subjects that once a while he did things to make them conscious that he was much in control of his own side of the world. One morning he saw a man from Usugbenu and he casually asked how were his people: the man with deep respect, answered "All peace and quiet, my lord!" "H'rn!" sniffed the great dictator, "Peace and quiet! Soon they will forget that Ogbeide is not dead!" He dispatched a few men after whispering some instructions into their ears. An hour later bewildered people with their hairs standing on end, came to make a report at Eguare that a few men from hell, must be, and were at work in the village of OKURELE, Usugbenu: the menof the village had all been away to their farms leaving only the women and children at home. Everywhere on the village grounds were heads of women and children! Ogbeide's instructions were that the village should be exterminated, but one woman called OFURE escaped with her head still on her body; this was not because Ogbeide's men from hell suffered from any dereliction of duty or wanted to try their lord's known temper by letting a soul escape when he had asked for the heads of all inhabitants of Okurele; her escape was just a matter of extreme good luck for when heads were falling lucky Ofure was in the latrine ; as she emerged from the bush, she saw heads falling as fast as these hellish men of destruction could swing their arms; so she dived for the thicket!
The Okurele men, hearing of the massacre at home, fled out of Irrua, and OKURELE village of Usugbenu ceased to exist as a unit in Irrua! Surely no descendants of that unfortunate village for the following fifty years, would fail to hear the name OGBEIDE mentioned. It also added to the awe people felt when that name was mentioned. Fame or infamy, Ogbeide the Terrible was not particular - all he was keen about was that all eyes should be on the throne!
On another occasion, all Irrua went to help him in his enormoua farm. When everybody had worked so hard that he was tired and hungry, one man, EHIGBO of Usenu, cut a small bit of sugar-cane which he chewed, but he did not know that an informant had told Ogbeide that all that afternoon Ehigbo had been after his sugar cane Men were despatched to all the farms around to collect sugar-cane at sight! When all the workers returned Ogbeide welcomed them with foufou, but Ehigbo was taken to a corner and shown a pile of sugar-canes as high as a house, with the simple innocuous instruction "EAT-OR-DIE". Ehigbo began to chew sugar-cane until he was full to the throat. Some daring friends whispered to him to stop swallowing the juice and let it flow down his chest. This kept him alive for the next hour but soon there was a flood of sugar-cane juice flowing from his seat! Ehigbo chewed the cane till death parted them!
Ogbeide was as awesome at home as he was dreaded abroad. On one occasion a loved wife came to greet him with her babe. He gave the six-month-old child meat which the thoughtless woman ate there and then. Quietly, Ogbeide asked, "Woman, you heard me say that the meat was for my child?” The woman smiled and said" "Yes my lord - but the baby will have it in my breast!" "Really"? Asked the monarch still as cold as a cucumber. He allowed the woman to finish chewing the meat, and after she had swallowed it, Ogbeide called for a knife and slashed off the breast only to find rich, creamy milk but no meat! But what was that to Ogbeide if one of his myriads of wives bled to death?
On another occasion, and this was purely a family matter, one of the son's wives came in to greet him with a three-month-old baby! Ogbeide was pleased to see them and fondly asked-the mother what the baby's name was. He was told INEGBESE (I have escaped the devil and all its snares).
This was too much for Ogbeide who asked, "Which devil have you escaped from? How do you know you've escaped that devil?" The bewildered woman stood shivering like a leaf, not knowing what she had said to incur the almighty's ire. She had the baby on her shoulder when Ogbeide's command came and of course, there was no disobeying it! "Remove both hands from that baby!" In a second the child went head-long from the mother's shoulder and lay smashed on the cold floor! Ah! Yes! All the harem shook with fear!
Outside the palace and Eguare, people felt his presence and authority in a way that made one wonder if Irrua would not one day go to into spontaneous combustion! He knew very little of agriculture and was not particularly interested in the subject beyond getting big yams from his farm and people each year. Whether for manure or merely through wanton depravity, he planted kolanuts with live human beings!
One could go for ages narrating the more easily remembered atrocious acts of terrifying his subjects, but finally, they too began to look for ways out of hell which Irrua had become. Akho fled to Obeidu; Idumebo fled to Ekpoma, Idumabi to Opoji etc. Still Ogbeide ruled ruthlessly until his oppression got to a stage when the remaining subjects, driven to the wall, were prepared to die. Usugbenu came down with a war dance so terrifying that Ogbeide, finding himself alone, fled to Uwessan. Isidaehomen who had become the first son after the death of Uwabor, wisely refused to follow his father; instead he went and placed himself at the mercy of his father's enemies - Usugbenu. So for some years the palace was vacant. Ogbeide lived in exile until his death in 1864, and then ended twenty-four years of hell - life for a cantankerous people. For Isidaehomen's sake, Usugbenu agreed for the return of Ogbeide's unmourned body. Two gangs of people were sent to Uwessan for the body which had to be buried in Eguare to satisfy custom.
ISIDAEHOMEN I, 1864 - 1866
He was made the Okaijesan by Oba Adolo. His name is mentioned not for his wickedness but for the shortness of his reign. He had seen so much trouble as a Prince that he knew better what to do as an Onojie. He was endlessly tolerant of abuse. Because of his troubles and exile, he could not settle in time with the result that when he became Onojie in 1864, his first son, Eromosele was only three years old. His second son AKEME and the third son, OSAJELE were all much younger. He had only grown up daughters, the first being IHOEGHIAN. After he became Onojie his first and main concern was to get people who had fled from Irrua as a result of his father's atrocious rule, to return. His motto was PEACE and ORDER but as would happen in Irrua, Isidaehomen died after only two years on the throne, and with him went what Irrua had not known for ages, peace and love.
EROMOSELE, the Great, 1876 - 1921
He was made Okaijesan by Oba Ovonramwe. The strife that could have been inevitable was averted by Eromosele being blessed with a courageous mother. For ten years EBUADE held the reins of office. In 1876, at the age of only fifteen the precocious EROMOSELE ascended the throne, but till her death in 1911 Ebuade was still the effective voice behind the throne.
Eromosele's actions and oppressions were not just dictated by hereditary tendencies. Youth worried him. Imagine an impetuous boy of fifteen finding himself lord supreme of all he surveyed in Irrua. His senses of appreciation were blinded by the authority he had and by the time he could think deeper, habit had taken control of his actions. Also he felt he had to be extra harsh to exact respect from his subjects who were only too ready to take the least advantage of his age.
When one studies the life of Eromosele the Great one would come to one conclusion: the white men had not come a minute too soon! In fact but for their coming Eromosele could have succeeded in setting fire to Irrua, during the forty-five years he was master of the district. He had respect for only two beings: The Oba in this world and God through the spirits of his departed ancestors, in the one beyond. Truly,
Of this dead King I could tell
What torment not was to serve him
God grant they love him not in heaven
For then would Heaven be turned to Hell!
And yet he had a form so fair
That HeIl were Heaven were he there!
Indeed he was a handsome tall yellow man with a temper made worse by his handicap in talking: he stammered like a machine-gun! He was very friendly with the Oba and he paid his homage to him regularly, but he did not actually visit Benin for the formal Oba's blessing until 1895, some nineteen years after he had been reigning. Both Adolo and Ovonramwe held him with the greatest esteem, not merely because of his being the Okaijesan, but for his deep respect for their authority. Through marrying Princess Ebaje, daughter of the great Akhigbe of Agbede, he was converted to Islam in 1897; religion however was immaterial in shaping his conduct. Ever after the whitemen came and established the Irrua Native Court and Government School in 1905, Irrua still groaned under his Neronian reign.
The people of Irrua did try to get even with him taking advantage of the awesome presence of the Whiteman in 1906. The influential an; audacious Igenegbale of Ujabhole had usurped the Iyasele title makin] himself unpopular all round; passing through Ibhiolulu one morning, he found the elders at a village meeting when someone sighting him, mad some rude remarks. Igenegbale glared defiantly at the whole gathering am spat at them. He was immediately killed. With law and order almost full established, a patrol was sent to investigate the murder. The Ibhiolulu people pinned the terrible act on Ojirrua Eromosele in faraway Eguare and at the trial in Benin, he was found innocent and ODALO of Ibhiolulu was found guilty and eventually hanged.
THE ILLEH WAR 1895
In this world, after the Oba came Eromosele, if anybody though otherwise that was his affair! He lived and acted with this belief until the Whiteman came. He was bold to the point of recklessness. Once he sacked the village of Imule in Illeh, driving the whole population to Ogidekpe Then he sent messengers to Ihonmidunmun in the same Illeh, to warn them that they were next on his long list of places to be raised to the ground Inter-tribal wars and slave raiding, as normal mortals knew the art, worked on the element of surprise. Without it the raider was either killed or take captive himself if he was lucky. Yet Eromosele sent a message to his enemies that he would be coming to war in five days! The people laughed at this stupid message and took no notice of the messengers. Two days after Eromosele sent his emissaries back to remind Ihonmidunmu of his hostile visit in three days! Headed by a man called ABULU, Ihonmidunmun sent back to say that they got his insulting message and if he came right then it would not be too soon. Eromosele sent back to say he would not alter the date to please them and cockcrow on the morning of the day he had appointed he defied all thoughts of ambush, led his men in and within a few hours, littered Ihonmidunmun village square with heads including that of their spokesman, Abulu!
Esan Native Laws and Custom existed for mortals and Eromosele was not a mere human being. Esan custom forbade any form of sexual relation between a man and any member of his wife's family. If he tried, he forfeited his wife. But Eromosele married this writer's grandmother, Ebaide and her beautiful junior sister Izinlin. The third sister, Agborofo was married to Momodu, Eromosele's heir! He had his own method of dealing with thieves which would confuse an enquirer and make him think Irrua custom was different from that of the rest of Esan. All thieves were sent up to him in Eguare, and he sold, looted or detained them, at pleasure. There was one thing Eromosele lacked: he had no sentiments. Once an informant came to tell him that some cowries were missing from the palace and that he suspected one of the harem women. He did not stop to think for a moment how any genius could discover the loss of a few cowries from the mountain heaped allover Odugha. He gave orders that all his wives' houses should be searched. Gangs of palace strongmen too eager to please their master began a methodical search with the informant leading. They combed the house of the suspect, the Onojie's favourite who the informant wanted to ruin. At long last the cowries were found at the bottom of the drinking pot of the unfortunate woman. It was a big disgrace but everybody knew the extent of Eromosele's love for this woman and hence all were sure he would do nothing that would publicly disgrace her. All the harem women were summoned by the Onojie before he gave his judgement which went into history for its terseness: the beloved, without trial, was hanged before the stunned women!
Murderers! In all the rest of Esan except Uromi which was blessed with a crop of iron-fisted rulers, murderers were dealt with by the Inotu. They had the power to forgive the murderer after he had redeemed himself or substituted a son for his head; they could kill him after a fair trial or sell him to share the proceeds. In Irrua all murderers automatically became the Onojie's property!
Eromosele could be disarmingly nice while planning a ruthless demonstration of power. Once he took unto himself a wife. He became so fond of this new acquisition that he forgot the one hundred and one other women pining away unseen in the harem. He could give anything to please this bride. They spent practically the whole day together. One afternoon as they sat together on the main throne, the girl lay across his lap and stroked his white beard. Gleefully she said "Unbelievable! To think this is the Great Eromosele all Irrua dread!" "M-h'm!" Eromosele smiled bitterly without ever opening his mouth. He gave his bride an extra caress, called his chief steward and whispered into his ears. The romance continued until a few hours after when the steward returned, bowed deeply and murmured, "Thy will has been done, my lord!" Eromosele gave one deep yawn and told the bride that it was time they went in for a nap. They rose and the Onojie anxious to please his beauty stepped back for her to lead. At the door to the inner quadrangle, the wife discovered that what she early stepped upon was a human head. She jumped back inviting the husband to take a look. With "What's that?" he made the young woman take a closer look. She screamed, for the head was that of her father! "Go on" commanded the unruffled monarch. She stepped across and again she nearly put her delicate foot on something on the other side; she looked, and then fainted. Her mother's body lay across the other side of the gate! The Onojie fondly put his arm round the girl's waist and smiled, this time with the beard spread from ear to ear: "That is THE EROMOSELE Irrua knows!"
Although before he became a Muslim in 1897, he was a heathen like all Esan people who lived at the time, he sneeringly referred to his ancestors as 'Goat blood drinking addicts!" He swore on any of his sons who would bring a goat within ten miles of his shrine after he was dead! But before he was dead the white man had become so firmly established in Esan that it was with difficulty his heir got goat flesh to worship him! Why did Eromosele have this reaction to well known method of invoking the spirits of ancestors in Esan? In modern language Eromosele was like a small boy at college wanting to get a message across to his father at home. He could convey the message in a letter and post it - his father was sure to get the message in two to three weeks if NIPOST was involved. If it was an urgent message, he could send a telegram (unfortunately, NIPOST has got so modernized that not all post offices now accept telegrams), and in three to five days, the old man at home would get the message, mutilated, it might be. But if the message was really urgent and the country was the United States of America the boy could radio the message! Going to ask ancestors for approval or blessing of a son's act in this world by way of worship at the ancestral shrine was like sending a letter by NIPOST - at best it was like sending a telegram. Eromosele could not stand that amount of delay: he 'radioed' each time! Thus if he wanted to get his dead father's blessing for any action, he refused to slaughter a goat at the ancestral shrine; all he did was, he got a man, gave him a white kolanut, tied a white piece of cloth round his waist and told him what he wanted to get across to his dead father. Then he was beheaded. What could be quicker!
Eromosele could be brutally frank and just. One afternoon, Sadoh, one of his sons, backing the palace, did not know his father was coming; he was raining abuses upon another young man of his age - "Okele gbe aba bii inenen - en, Qkele gbe aba e bii inenen - en! The young man being cursed was facing the palace and of course, saw the great Eromosele coming; he got transfixed with fear and just stood, hearing abuses on his father and mother. (Loneliness will kill your father and mother!) Eromosele, seeing that the young man could not return the curse, as is usual in Esan, thundered "Tell him Okele gbe abale bii inenonle! (Loneliness will kill his father and mother), for no one stands by while his father and mother are being cursed! Return the curse!" The young man told Sadoh, "Okele gbe abaebii inenen -en! Meaning he was abusing the great Eromosele to his face!
7. NON-AGGRESSION PACTS:
It would be ' surprising if the home of such great mortals like Ogbeide and Eromosele ever had and respected a non-aggression oath with anybody. They respected only distance. Actually it would be correct to say Irma made no such pact with anybody: who would risk his life and limbs trusting them?
Irrua fought Ekpoma as relentlessly as they fought Uromi or Ewu. Opoji and Ugbegun were their mortal enemies. Vaguely Irrua had qualms shedding the blood of an Ugboha man. That was only comparatively a recent affair dating from the time Isidaehomen I had married Queen Ebuade who was an Ugboha woman. Since then the tie has been maintained by marriages. Eromosele (1876 - 1921) and Okojie (1906 - 1931) exchanged daughters - Zuma and Oigbokie. While Princess Zuma Eromosele was given as a wife to Onojie Okojie of Ugboha, Princess Oigbokie, Okojie's Ehale, got married to Eromosele. While Oigbokie got a son Prince Audu in Irrua, Zuma had Princess Iziegbe, Prince Igbelokoto (DR OKOJIE) and two brothers - Idaudu and Obhiose.
The only reason for that of Ubiaja, if ever it was made and kept, must have heen the marriage of Princess Omoaluse, Isidaehomen I’s sister to Ikhine of Ubiaja about the middle of the 19th century.