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!
At the time I collected materials for this work in 1953 Ebelle consisted of:-
(1) EGUARE (893):
The ruling family quarter was founded by Agbabhoko, to incorrigible first son of the ruler of Orhu, the Benin nomenclature for Kwale, near the present Utagba Uno. His cup of sins got overflowing when he seized his father's wife, an abomination in the land. The elders had hurried meeting and to save his life, he was handed an empty palm wine calabash the traditional way of saying, "May your shadow never darken on doorway again! Get lost." It was banishment and he had to choose that sure death; he wandered into the jungle across Benin to reach the present she of Eguare. Soon people began to flock to him when his friends in Orhu heard of his whereabouts. He later went to Benin to be created Onojie of the new settlement.
This Agbabhoko settlement was founded about 1510, a few yea before the Idah Was but well after the founding of the settlements at Irrua Uromi , Ekpoma, Ubiaja etc - well known Esan Communities. The first waves of rebels who deserted Benin City between 1460 and 1463 include the founding fathers of Kwale from where a Prince came to start settlement in the present Ebelle area. This was after Kwale itself had grown into an orderly settlement with its own ruler - a recognized unit in the Benin Empire.
One great leader called Ebo was sent from Orhu to recall Agbabhoko who had by now begun to enjoy a peaceful rule of his follower Instead he convinced Ebo to remain and this man founded IDUMEB quarter. Agbabhoko's enthusiastic ejaculation to the men of goodwill sent to convince him to return, "Ebene maka!" gave origin to this settlement EBENE, corrupted by the British as Ebelle. In Ebelle the Iyasele and to Uwangue are found in Eguare.
(ii) IDUMUOWU (1,038):
Idumuowu was founded by some Benin Princes who came via Use on the Benin - Siluko road, and the descendants are still greeted today with IBHIOBA N' USE! (Oba's children of Use, Hail!)
One quarter of this village did not trace its origin from Benin; LDUMUOKHUE founders migrated from Ohordua and came to form. The immediate bond of friendship between Ohordua and Ebelle. Another reminder of the princely origin of the founders of Idunmowu is the custom of the women still, greeting with LAMOGUN. This village is the traditional home of EZOMO OLOGHO.
Idumuowu in 1991 had scored a first for Ebelle and all Esan. It produced the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) in the person of the brilliant lawyer Chief Christopher Ihensekhien.
(iii) OKUTA (940):
One of the early quarters that grew around Agbabhoko's settlement was Okuta. The incesant unrest in Benin that got to its fiercest during the succession strife of 1505 - between Esigie who a year before had ascended the Benin throne and his colossus of a brother, Aruaruan, made a large body of Binis leave the city in quest of peace. They founded a settlement in Onitsha. Reaching there some found to their horror that those of them who left Benin preaching republicanism as it were only a short while back, were in the new settlement surpassing the Oba in atrocities and nepotism. So they sacked their belongings and headed for the jungle to found scattered settlements. A good part of these rebels amongst rebels got to Ebelle via Onitsha Olona, and were the founders of Okuta. The Oniha is found in this village.
(iv) OKPUJE (933):
This village was founded in the main by visiting strangers and traders to Ebelle hence their inclusive name of IDUMU-EKHEN. Two of the well known traders to settle here first were ONA and EGBO. Many of these traders were Binis travelling to such places as Amahor, Ewohimi,
Ohordua etc, for exchange of goods.
(v) OLOGHE (488):
This was the expanded Idumebo founded by Ebo, the co Ambassador from Orhu. This is the traditional home of EZOMO N
(vi) IDUMU-OKALO (946):
According to Ebelle when I was collecting materials for this Okalo was an Idumu (a village) of Ebelle and they further clan founders of Okalo came to find Ebelle people in their present classify the people of Okalo with Idumuekhe with whom they common Odion and Iluobo at their Okhirare. They perform their ceremonies for the same Ebelle. They topped their argument by define name OKALO (literarily, as the man in front) as a name that arose for the habit of putting the Okalo founders always in front when Ebelle was war path. They merited this 'honour' because they were all dare warriors ideal for testing the strength and ferocity of the enemy!
But today in 1993, this history has become academic and wrong. Okalo is no Idumun of anywhere but had grown into an individual chiefdom of its own.
II IMMEDIATE PAST ONOJIE:
Was Igbinijie who was Akhimie's second son, luck brought Ebelle throne when his senior brother, Omovuon triffled with Esan Laws and Custom. He was installed Onojie as a young man in 1910 till his death in 1971 a period of sixty-one years. He was an unassuming but calculating man, this later characteristic making impossible ever to get a direct answer from him on any matter. Before he became the Onojie, Ebelle was famous for its being the judicial central of Igueben, Ugbegun, Ewossa, Ekpon, Ewatto and Ewohimi, practical seizing the central piece of Ishan ' B' from the latter, when this court opened in 1910. Feeling that with court go litigations and unrest noiseless ruler himself, worked actively towards the closure of the Court in 1912, finally voting enthusiastically for the shifting of this central court of troubles to Ewohimi later in 1918 and then, in Igbinijie's own way "Ebhokimi da men ghi Ibomendin!" (Ewohimi made me face hell on Every movement of the quiet Igbinijie was a breach of the white man which, of course, he did not know, and could not know if and when, being accused falsely. Fines! They came from right, left and centre all calculated to humiliate him! That broke the Onojie's spirits and down went Ebelle's original fame. Ebelle's loss became Ewohimi's gain! Ebelle did not get a Court again until 1927!
He started regaining his lost ground as decentralisation progressed, the Ebelle by 1950, had severed all connections with Ewohimi and had become, and in fact, the administrative centre for Ebelle, Amahor, Ogwa, Ugun and Ujiogba Federation. Igbinijie diedon Friday, 23rdJuly, 1971, after 61 years on the Ebelle throne.
III PRESENT ONOJIE:
Is Prince Imadojiemun who after performing all the burial rites less according to custom succeeded his aged father as Imadojiemun Igbinijie II in 1971 by the time he ascended the throne he was a mature man. The gazette approving his ascension was issued on 22nd September, 1972.
The elders of Idumu-Ibhijie of Eguare or the Egbele of Ruling Family constitute Ebelle Kingmakers. Though Idumebo of Oleghe came to install the Odion in Eguare and Eguare does the same thing in that village, then when it comes to matters of the Onojie title, Idumebo is not concerned.
The method of installation at Ebelle goes to prove the uniformity in ear importance of the Burial Ceremonies as a legal step to inheritance in Esanland. Though the method is that of the throne never being vacant, as for soon as the Onojie dies the Idumuibhijie quickly assemble and the Illy undisputed heir is entrusted with the care of the Palace. After the dead vas Onojie has been traditionally washed and interred in the official EGUN or his Agaah, the first and most vital part of the Burial rites must be started AT ONCE. This stage is called IHEVIE - the UTARE of most parts of Esan. Though the rest of the rites can be postponed in Ebelle, (in fact in the olden when there was not so much fear of strifes over the title), it was customary in Ebelle to begin the rest of the Burial Ceremonies after three years), only a FOOL tried to put off the all important ceremony of IHEVIE. Without it neither the throne nor the palace property is the heir's and if he dies, all rights to both pass from his own children to his brother.
THE CEREMONY OF IHEVIE:
It is in two parts and the whole ceremony is valueless unless bottom parts are completed. The first part consists of slaughtering two cows for the Idumuibhijie and the second part called EMEDION (Edion's Foufou consists of feasting all the edions of Ebelle. Two cows are used for the second part and a highly respected Osugba with plenty of beef is prepare for Idumowu, Olcuta, Okpujie and Oleghe. One Osugba each is for the Edion, Igene and Edan (Ikhuian) of Eguare. For Idumu-Okalo (when it was an unwilling associate of Ebelle), raw yams and meat replaced the Foufou which the other villagers and quarters of Ebelle customarily receive. In the own case the yams and meat were sent on to them at home.
With the Ihevie done the vital stage of the burial ceremonies completed. In essence the Ihevie is equivalent to the concentrated rites which are over in 5 - 7 days of the rest of Esan. The heir is now full Onojie or should he die, the right to succession remains with his own line.
The new Onojie now prepares for the other parts which though are essential, are not of such over-riding importance. This is the equivalent (three months feasting and rejoicing in the rest of Esan land. In Ebelle afu the Ihevie, the next three years are used to prepare for this grand feasting on successful assumption of the title. This preparation in the olden days consisted often:-
(a) IKHIO or war dance by Eguare, Idumowu, Dkuta, Okpujeand Oleghe followed by
(b) Touring of the villages - looting and plundering.
Anywhere the Onojie saw a beautiful girl, he snatched her as a wife and handsome boy was taken home to become one of the royal EMUADA (State Sword bearers). The ceremony leading to the seizure of a girl or woman was simple - just by placing one of his Coral Bead necklaces round girl's neck seals the marriage!
It should be remembered that in the rest of Esan, after ascension the new Onojie used the following three months going round the village showing off himself and recouping himself. At the end of the third year under the Ebelle custom, the new Onojie had now enriched himself considerably from his unabashed plundering during this period too, official mourning is kept for the late Onojie. All ceremonial body tattoo is stopped and anyone whose wife had come of age during this period, must take her out of Ebelle to perform her body tattoo (Isekele), for should he perform this ceremony in Ebelle during this forbidden period, his bride automatically became the Onojie's wife. No house building was allowed during this period; similarly all feasts that fell during this period had to pass uncelebrated.
Strangers and researchers tend to view these regulations as oppressive and barbaric but I would like to remind them that for all laws simple, illiterate Esan Communities make, there is rhyme and reason. Because of these regulations every member of the Ebelle Community intending husbands, farmers, those who want to own houses of their own during this period, important celebrations due in some villages etc. pray for the long life of the Onojie and would not wish him any harm. Is the voice of the people not the voice of God!
The"actual ceremonies in this second part lasts nine days. The Onojie uses two cows and his immediate brothers particularly the second and third, may use a Cow each if they can afford it. The rest of the grown up sons use a goat each. The ceremonies are all designed to enable the new
Monarch to collect more booties from the subjects only too anxious to be in the good books of the new tyrant!
This is performed by the most senior of the Idumuibhijie, and in Ebelle custom he is the Onojie's Osukhure. After the blessings at the ancestral shrine he is counted on the inner Ojukhuo (throne) by this leader.
VI GENEALOGICAL TREE:
(i) OGUN, 1800· 1849:
Ogun like his immediate two successors, was a noted warrior. In 1818 when Oba Osemwede was involved in the Akure War, the cry for help reached Ebelle and Ogun jumped at the chance to have plenty of fighting a fitting desire in view of his name OGUN (Iron man of War). Some women prisoners were brought home from that campaign, for example, the late mother of AMU, Ogune the mother of Asa and Egumedia. They lived, married and died in Ebelle and have appropriately gone down in history.
(ii) OGBEIDE, 1849 - 1880:
This Onojie's name is best known in connection with the Amahor War of 1853 - 1854. Ogbeide had thrown his weight on Ogbewekon's side like Igueben - but a majority of Esan Enijie, supporting their overlord, Oba Adolo, Ogbeide soon found himself alone. The forces of Ogbewekon were routed and the Onojie of Ebelle and his Eguare were sacked – Ogbeide fleeing to Oza near Ogada in Benin.
(iii) AKHUEGHU: 1880 - 1899: AND THE OGWA WAR 1884:
The Onojie is today remembered mainly because of the Ogwa War which was rought a few years after he became ruler of Ebelle. The cause of this war was the seizure of his maternal sister, Eihe, by the people of Ogwa. The woman was however returned to Akhueghu, but soon after, some Ogwa people passing through Eguare Ebelle to Okuta began to sing taunting songs in which the refrain was EI GBE ENIN ODE (No one has ever successfully stepped an elephant on its path!) -Eguare informants took this to mean that despite the fact that Ogwa had seized a woman from Eguare, they could still pass in and out as they pleased. They worked up the Onojie's temper and soon he was on the war path. To Okuta he went and attacked the singers. There was a bitter fighting in which Ogbebo of Eguare Ebelle was killed and several Ogwa minstrels found themselves slaves at Ebelle.
Akhueghu was the Onojie when Ebelle humiliated Prince Aiguobasimwi, by refusing him sanctuary when he was at his bitterest resents in 1898.
(iv) AKHIMIEN, 1899 - 1907:
His contemporaries in the rest of Esan were Eromosele of Irrua Imadojiemun of Opoji, Ediale of Ekpoma, Obomese of Ewohimi and Ela I of Ubiaja. He died in 1907 after only eight years on the Ebelle throne.
(v) OMOVUON, 1907 - 1910:
On the death of Akhimien, his heir, the carefree OMOVUON, installed Onojie; he began the all important IHEVIE at once, but like careless man he was, he completed part one of the ceremony and forgot about the second part: he did not prepare EMEDION! Three years after death struck unexpectedly. In the eyes of the vigilant Ebelle Kingmaker Omovuon had been nothing but a caretaker of the Palace since he did perform the vital First Stage of the Burial Ceremonies. The right inheritance of the family property and the claim to the Onojie title pass NOT TO OMOVUON'S HEIR BUT TO OMOVUON'S NEXT BROTHER - IGBINUIE. Wisely Igbinijie, whom luck brought into prominence, quickly set about the important ceremonies and the right to succession pass forever from Omovuon's line. This was the reason he named his son heir IMADOJIEMUN (I did not steal the Onojie title).