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!
Correctly Oria consists of two small districts -UKHUOLO or ORIA with a population of 1,101 and ONOGHOLO which has a population of 289 by 1963 census. Ukhuolo, the original settlement consists of three quarters: Eguare, Igo and Ugbokpa. The land on which Oria proper settled was
Ugboha but while Ukhuolo paid tributes to the Onojie of Uromi, Onogholo paid to Ubiaja.
There is a version of the history of Oria I refused to accept but perforce, have to record, not because it is highly uncomplimentary to the people of Oria but because I have failed after prolonged research both here and in Benin to get supporting evidence.
It is said after the Idah War of 1516 on the way back, the Oba of Benin PURIFIED his body with some slaves just as it is customarily done in Esanland by women using a few days old chicken. From this the name ORIA is said to have come. (RIA EGBE-A means to cleanse the body). The people thus used, wandered on until they came to Uromi but the Onojie fearing to harbour the people the Oba had used for his person, refused to (give them sanctuary. So they wandered on till they came to Ugboha when the Onojie pitying their condition, went to hide them in the jungle, when they multiplied under the protection of the Onojie of Ugboha.
The only support for this story is the word ORIA, which came to eclipse the original name UKHUOLO. There are two glaring fallacies in the story. First if the Oba used them to cleanse his body he would not want to see them forever and so would not care where they wandered or what ultimately happened to them in this or the next world , just as a woman throws the chick used for purification at the OGBIODIN and let it wander unto its death . Thus any Onojie habouring these unlucky people would be committing no particular offence against the Oba. Secondly all through history right from Agba, the second Onojie of Uromi to modern times there has never been real enthusiastic love between the Oba and the Ruler of Uromi, as exists between the Oba and the Ojirrua, for instance. The attitude of the Onojie of Uromi, the largest single unit in Esanland, has been that of suppressed defiance. Thus the Onojie of Uromi could have had no qualm swelling the number of his subjects by taking in the wanderers' from Benin.
Still I found it of historical interest to probe the history of Oria a b further as it shows the result of interplay of political power and conflicts. Three powerful chiefdoms laid claim to Oria and Onogholo; Ugboha, Ubiaja and Uromi. Ugboha maintained that right from Onojie Abulu who was ruling Ugboha during the reign of Oba Esigie in Benin, the land on which Oria settled belonged to Ugboha. It is said that Oria made overtures to Uromi because of the heat from Ugboha. Onogholo, whose tight for self determination goaded it in the early fifties to pledge itself to Ubiaja, had existed as an unwil1ing outgrowth of Oria. Who could raise his face in Oria and Onogholo before the twenties when Ugbesea was the uncrowned King of Ubiaja? After Isidaehomen, buttressed by Obomoise, had been appointed a member of Ubiaja Court in April, 1920, his actions made Onogholo start to doubt if Onoghoeranlen and Okomekpen were really brothers: it was prepared to do anything to severe any known connections. Events were on the side of Oria and Onogholo.
Sitting on the thrones of Ugboha, Ubiaja and Uromi were Okojie, Elabor I and Okojie Ogbidi respectively. Ogbidi's trouble came first. In 1919 the great Ogbidi was deported and for the next ten years Uwagbale was acting for the father. Uromi was too politically sagacious to bat an eye when an Akheoa demanded attention, so Uromi acted as if they had no ruler. In 1920 Elabor I died. Ebhojie ascended the throne but death struck prematurely; Ebhojie died leaving his son Abumere a minor in 1923. For the next ten years Ubiaja Kingmakers through their shiftiness, played roulette with the Royal Family. Ubiaja became a decerebrate animal to writhe in pain and self-pity. By 1926 Okojie of Ugboha had been appointed District Head, Ubiaja, supervising not only Ugboha but Ubiaja, Emu up to Ebu (then in Ishan), and up to Igueben; he had become so powerful that he became a frankenstein to the British Administration; then came Idubor with his Osenuwegbe in 1928. Okojie, instead of joining the other District Heads - Momodu of Irrua, Ifebhor of Ewohimi, Oribhahor of Ohordua and the great Imadojemun of Opoji, to fight the new religion frightening the day light out of the Enijie, Native doctors and the District Officer alike, he became its advocate. The Ishan Council so humiliated Okojie that he prematurely joined his ancestors in February, 1931. Ugboha got engulfed in an internecine, family disrupting chieftaincy dispute.
Then Oria shoot erupted with no more powerful heavy footed Enijie in Ugboha, Ubiaja and Uromi to crush the young shoot. Thus, when the McCall Constitution came up in 1950, a fifth clan was added to North-East Federation - "Oria-Onogholo"! Neighbouring Ishans began to hear of Oguamelu, Onojie of Oria! In 1951 the Action Group was born at Owl under the idomitable Nigerian leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Chief Anthony Eronsele Enaboro, Adolo of Uromi. It soon took over control of Western Region of which Ishan Division was a part. Onogholo had a Son who was a very vocal leader of the Action Group. His name was Vital Egbele Odili. Only those who did not know the Action Group were surprised when "Chief Ekpeinhin was gazetted Onojie of Onogholo" where people of Ugboha, Ubiaja and Uromi were still looking askance a Oguamelu whose Chief Ekpeinhin was, was unrecognised by anybody a Onojie of Oria! In 1986 Ekpeinhin was still the one and only Onojie of Onogholo. He joined his ancestors on 9th of January, 1989 to be succeed by his son Ehinomen.
Oguamelu himself died on May, 26th 1968 to be succeeded by his heir Ehebhoqria as Oguamelu II.
The correct history of Oria is closely tied up with Uzea which was founded long before 1460, when the Ruling Houses of Uromi, Ugboha and Ubiaja respectively left Idumu-Oza, Idumu-Igun Ugboha and Udo in Benin The first settlers in Oria came from Uzea and not from Benin and were already far from Benin City when Esigie fought the Idab war of 1516.
Eginlin, a grandson of Asukpodudu of Uzea, was the founder of Oria. When Agba challenged the authority of Oba Ozolua in 1503, the find trial of strength did not take place in Benin City or Uromi but in unfortunate Uzea. The Onojie was killed, the Ruling House exterminated, and of course Uzea took to the trees and the jungle. A party led by the worrier Eginline roamed the forest heading south-east via the present Uroh to reach Ugboha. The Onojie Abulu showed them a place a few miles away to live. Some of the more timid ones passed on to found settlement in Ebu area.
Eginlin later had the following sons, who spreading, founded other places. The first son was Okomekpen who later founded UGBOKPA. The second son, ONOGHOERANLEN, founded Onogholo. Another Soil EKPEANE, founded Igo. Eginlin's original settlement, by virtue of the superiority of the founder, became Eguare.
Truth to tell, with powerful grabbers sitting on the thrones of neighbouring districts of Ugboha, Ubiaja and Uromi, Onojie title was unheard of in Oria as could be seen by the interplay of political power and conflicts described above. But today ORIA and ONOGHOLO are acknowledged distinct ESAN communities.
People of aria were strongly forbidden the sight of blood flowing in the veins of inhabitants of Uzea, Uromi, Unea of Irrua, Elchuele or Ekperi and Ebu. It is strictly not ALL Uromi but Ohonsi's or Egbele's Otoegbele. All the places named were descendants of same origin. The peaceful relationship with Ugboha followed Okoven.