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 OKHUODUA from Okhuele - Odua. During the breakup of the great Benin City in 1460, while men were escaping in quest of freedom and peace one warrior was more troubled with love. He had fallen in love with Oba Ewuare the Selfish's daughter called ELONMON, but there was no way of consumating that burning love as a result of the strict mourning laws the Oba had clamped upon the inhabitants of the City. The warrior whose name was OKHIRARE, decided to flee the City with his treasure, following the same direction as the large body of deserters who founded many of the districts of Esan Country. Okhirare and his chosen woman, Elonmon wandered on until they came to the southern bank of the UTO Stream, where they set up a lowly hamlet, with the offspring’s of their secret dealings at Benin and other deserters from the City.
Okhirare and Elonmon had several sons, the two most important ones being Erakpe the first and Oriomon, the second. In 1463 when Ewuare sent for all the leaders of various communities for settlement of the long standing bitterness, Okhirare, feeling that he had specialIy offended the Oba, would not risk his neck, so he sent his heir, Odua. He returned to be the first Onojie of Okhuodua and like the first Onojie of each district, he was not only deified, but the original Erakpe - Elonmon settlement got named after him. This needs some explanation for looking at the genealogical tree of Ohordua, Okhirare's first son and heir was Erakpe. Okhirare certainly was afraid of returning to Benin knowing Oba Ewuare for what he was. No man would willingly send his first son and heir to where he himself was afraid of a sure death - so he did the next best thing – sent his young grandson - Odua.
As explained already this settlement was at first close by the stream at a place called OMEDE. Here the Onojie was until the Ohordua – Ewatto War which culminated in the shifting of Ohordua people for tactical reasons, into the jungle. The first Onojie to live in the present Eguare was UZAGBO.
I. EGUARE (1953 - 840; 1963 - 1,119):
This is the seat of the Onojie which had to be moved from Omede for fear of terrible retaliations of the warriors of Ewatto.
2. UWOKUEN: (1953 - 842; 1963 - 1,160):
This was the original settlement of ULO, the third son of Erakpe. He was made the first Oniha. The people of Uwokuen with Ologua dance the traditional Fire Dance of Ohordua.
3. OZENYEN (1953 - 659; 1963 - 615):
This place was founded by the insubordinate servant of Erakpe called AKHIBHO. They are thus not related by blood to the descendants of Erakpe. Here is the traditional home of the Iyasele, the title which the cantankerous servant was given.
4. ORE"KH.E - OBIDE. (1953 - 455; 1963 -510): Obhiele was one of the vivacious sons Erakpe had after he had settled in Esan land; he founded this quarter.
5. IBHIEDU (1953 ·947; 1963 - 1,184):
Edu was first a member of Orekhe-Obhie. He moved out of the quarter to found a place of his own, which came to bear his name.
6. ORIWA (1953 - 466; 1963 - 415):
When Erakpe was at Omede, some cottages were growing deeper inside the area. But when the Onojie shifted inwards, the people he had found in the present Eguare who had to move out for the superior comers, were the founders of URIWA.
7. OWGUA (1953 - 397; 1963 • 594):
This place was an extension from Eguare and got its name from OLE-EGUARE. They are the chief worshippers of OBIAVA, the much respected guiding juju of all Ohordua.
8. EKABUMERE (1953 - 111; 1963 - 232):
This is the rapidly growing cottage founded by Abumere from Eguare.
9. AKPOZA (1953):
One of the junior sons of Erakpe, called IYANRU, founded this quarter.
II. NON-AGGRESSION PACTS:
Ohordua was forbidden the sight of blood of any inhabitants of:-
(a) Okhuesan founded by Olu, father of Esan half-brother Erakpe.
(b) Emu founded by Oriomon, junior brother of Erakpe.
(c) Ugboha said to be because of Ugboha and Ohordua were 'Brothers'. I have found no evidence of consanguinity between Ugboha and Ohordua OJUgboha and Emu. The only connection which might have strengthened the bond of friendship, sufficient to eschew all conducts likely to lead (bloodshed, between Ohordua and Ugboha, might be the marriage of one Elonmon's daughters to ABULU, third Onojie of Ugboha. Second Ugboha people talk of blood relationship with Emu but I have no evidence of such relationship. If Ugboha can feel so close to Emu, I can see is transference to Ohordua remembering that Erakpe of Ohordua is brother (Oriomon of Emu.
(d) Ebelle - a bond of friendship akin to kindred followed the migration of people from Ohordua to Ebelle to found quarter called IDUMU-OKHUE of Ebelle.
THE OBIAVA WORSHIP:
Though all Ohordua worship this juju, two villages take part in the ceremonies that crown this yearly festival: UWOKHUEN and OLOGUA This final act consist of the unbelievable FIRE DANCE. Only the male members of these two villages and any males whose mothers come from there can take part in the dance which is done at night preferably in the dark. The music is supplied by elderly men using the herbalists ' twin drum - OKEDE, which consists of two one-ended drums with snake hide. The songs and dance really are IYOLO-Ebo - the medicine men's kind of dance.
It is easier for one who has not seen the dance to believe the description than for one who has actually witnessed it - for it surpass scientific explanation. Each dancer wears a short Ubunuku and is army with two red hot glowing torches. Each torch is a piece of dry wood usually VBONO, IHIONMEN or AMENMEN - fired at one end. The dancer holds the other end and when he rubs the glowing ends together fine hot sparks are thrown around. These seen in the dark, present the same picture as seen in fireworks. With occasional shouts HE - YO! or SHI - HEI! or a terrifying HEI! each dancer makes a shuffling or fast movements with his feet or burning sticks in accordance with the rhythm of the drums. As the burning pieces of wood are rubbed together, flaming hot sparks are spread, on the head, body and clothing of the dancers. Some of the dancers fan the fire until it is glowing hot and then they pluck at the fire in the way Esan eat roasted corn. As the lips come in contact with the glowing fire the onlooker 'feels' the sizzling sensation, but no, again and again, the dancer chews the fire, sometimes opening his mouth and making expiratory movements to fan the red hot coke that could be seen glowing in the mouth. Others hold the burning charcoal between the teeth or the lips apparently without suffering any burn. This must be so for, I, a Doctor, watched this dance with my eyes popping out for two hours, taking particular notice of some dancers who I saw throughout giving the same performance with impunity. Yet it was real fire! Some of the sparks falling on the table in front of me to prevent some of the onlookers being burnt, actually burnt holes on the wooden tables. All over the ground were burning bits of charcoal and upon these the dancers tramped unconcerned, unhurried and apparently enjoying themselves. The smoke was sufficient to choke a stoker and the glowing heat from the burning wood was so much that the bare bodies of the dancers with expressionless faces were soon covered with perspiration.
This wonderful dance surrounded with inexplicable mysticism, is I staged during the months of Obiava worship - from December to February. I Out of a great honour for me His Royal Highness Burns Inegbenehi; Eikpaojie Oribhabo II gave permission for a performance NOT in Ohordua but in Irrua during the burial ceremony of my mother in 1987. Visitors from all parts of Nigeria saw the black man's powers science is unable to explain - at least all doctors were as dumfounded in 1987 as I was when I first saw the display in 1952.
I. The Okhudua - Ewatto War:
A few years after the death of the great OSOAH of Ewohimi a great enmity grew between the people of Okhuodua and Ewatto.
One of the earlier settlers of Okede in Ewohimi name IBHIGBODE was a maternal relative of Okhirare. This man was deified a yearly, Okhuodua went to honour him at his shrine. That meant frequently going and coming through Ewatto. Soon a friction developed between 1 two districts and they resorted to the only means of settling such disputes those days - their matchets! War leader ALOGUN, founder of ILIGUN IDUMU-UGBALOGUN in Uwokhuen, lead one battle against Ewatto in a desperate disregard for his personal safety, got within the Onojie Ewatto's proximity and recklessly beheaded him. To add insult to injury, came home with the head as a trophy, to the astonishment of all Okhuodua. That was too much. When a single common head fell in Ewatto to Okhuodua man's matchet Ewatto strained all nerves to retaliate dropping two heads at Okhuodua, and now their own Onojie's head I been brought home to Okhuodua! Knowing that Ewatto's blood would be boiling and their reprisal would know no limit, Okhuodua decided to discretion was the better part of valour: the whole settlement and to Onojie Uzagbo made a dignified and strategic withdrawal into inaccessible jungle. This was about 1810. Being the ruling class the not comers soon began to bring pressure upon the people who where they had shifted to. Unable to stand their arrogance any longer, URIWA people left their original settlement for a safer distance. Peace never made with Ewatto until the time of UWAIFO the peace-maker.
2. THE OKHUODUA - UBIAJA WAR:
The causes of this bloodshed were immediate and remote. An Ubiaja man seduced the wife of the Onojie of Ewohimi - an abomination, but the adulterer was not under the jurisdiction of the Onojie, there was no one to punish him. To cool his frayed temper, he came down to Ubiaja dropped a head - no matter whether the unlucky man had known his exonerated not, what mattered being that an Ubiaja head had rolled on the grass in atonement of his lost wife! This was an overt act of war and skirmishes soon broke out between Ewohimi and Ubiaja. Okhuesan, wedged in-between Ewohimi and Ubiaja, by its position undeservedly suffered during the initial skirmishes; on many occasions Ubiaja dropped heads rather indiscriminately on their way to Ewohimi, and to their chargrin, the heads turned out to belong to Okhuesan farmers! So Okhuesan declared for Ewohimi. Ubiaja then brought its whole weight on Okhuesan, and hearing that their brother was attacked, Okhuodua came to Okhusan's rescue, and swelled the rank of Ewohimi's allies; Ubiaja therefore had the worse of the fight.
III IMMEDIATE PAST ONOJIE:
Was His Highness P.A.O. Edoisa II. He was Eikpaojie as a Prince. He was an able, cautious ruler who one cannot fail to like after one has come to know him well.
He attended several schools R.C.M., Ubiaja, St. Patricks, Enugu, and St. Mathias Lafiaja, R.C.M., Ohordua etc. He joined the then Posts and Telegraphs where he worked until the demise of his father on the 9th of December, 1937 when he was immediately recalled , returning on the 15th of
December, of the same month. Edoisa II died on the 24th of July, 1959 and was succeeded by his heir called Inegbenehi who ruled as ORIBHABO 1.
IV PRESENT ONOJIE:
On the death of Edoisa II who ruled from 1937 to 24th July, 1959, his son and heir Prince Burns Inegbenehi Eikpaojie performed the full burial rights and ascended the Ohordua throne as the 17th Onojie. He took the title of ORIBHABO II in 1959. Oribhabo is an agile, highly intelligent Onojie, works very closely with the elders and their community, getting obedience most modern Esan Enijie find difficult to obtain.
The system in Ohordua is definite and leaves very little room for chieftaincy disputes. Though formal burial of the late Onojie is not begun until after three years, there are vital pre - installation ceremonies which entitles the heir to inherit Odugha and all therein. This is the EI MIEN OJIE
BHE OBHOKHAN Ceremony, consisting of a day - long feasting for the elders and Kingmakers.
The important requirements of the ceremony are Osugba Eman Eva (Two large calabash full of foufou), a large calabash of cured kolanuts and a-large quantity of palm wine, the success of the ceremony depending upon the quantity of left-overs and the numbers of Kingmakers that have been rendered senseless by Bacchus! This ceremony also brings the heir to the rank of the Edion. Then after presentation and blessings at the ancestral shrine by the Osukhure, who in Ohordua, is the most senior of the Egbele-Ibhieranmen, he is installed by the Oniha, in the presence of the Ihaza and of course the Uwague who is responsible for all the regalia. The heir, with an Ubunuku round his waist, and several coils of coral beads round his wrists and ankle, and standing with his out-stretched arms on piles of cowries, with his wife by his side (he must get himself a wife, if he was not already married!), the Oniha counts him on the Ojukhuo; then steps back giving the salutation of OMON KRE BRO, U LE OJIE, U KHAE! (Long live the King, may you be succeeded by your own son!).
Now he is installed Onojie but according to Ohordua custom, he cannot start the remaining part of the burial ceremonies however anxious he may be, before the end of the third year. This indeed is very unfortunate for should he die within this period when he has not yet performed these ceremonies for all Ohordua, the right to the Onojie title passes from his own heir to his next brother, that is the heir's most senior uncle. Similarly the right to inheritance of the royal family property passes from his line to that of his brother.
I have been unable to find any reason or rhyme for Ohordua's variation of this all important Esan law that guides accessions to the people's highest post of honour.