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!
Now a word about this territory which Ebelle used to call IDUMUOKALO with a vengeance in the fifties! Although in those days Okalo was regarded as a village within Ebelle, it had never submitted to the suzerainty of Ebelle as far as history goes. Indeed Okalo had been a most protesting vassal since the reorganization of 1934. Between 1934 and 1960 Okalo pressed on fighting for its independence, finally severing the political umbilical cord which had attached it to Ebelle in 1960 (See WRLN 340 of 1960 - The Chiefs Laws, 1957 No. 21, 1, 1957, dated 29th September, 1960) in which the Onojie of Okalo of Central Ishan Council was recognized with effect from 6th February, 1960. USIAHON I was the then Onojie. By the Traditional Rulers and Chiefs Edict, 1979, (1979 No. 16) all Traditional Chiefs used to Ishan were recognized for Okalo.
For the sake of history and researchers I reproduce what I had written in 1953 despite the protest of Okalo people after the first edition of my book.
The present mode of life of the people had been woven on a pattern handed down from generation, and all over, Okalo could be seen to be quite different from Ebelle, and I feel personally that until this is recognized, not only will the people of Okalo form an unhappy and unwilling partner but peace will be impossible between the two districts.
Some fairly disinterested people in Ewohimi, Ewossa, Amahor and Igueben confirmed a story I heard again and again at Okalo in 1953, that the Onojie of Okalo was really the dominant personage in the area until Oba Ovonramwen married IKHAGHE who was known in Benin as EGHAGHE.
Akhilo of Okuta Ebelle was a renowned warrior, famous here in Esan and equally respected in Benin City. Of course when the Oba heard of him, he felt that since the best of everything should be found at the capital, Akhilo should come over to live in Benin, but the warrior who unlike the great Enowe of Ugboha during Oba Ewuare's time, had already got deep roots in Okuta, preferred to remain an Esan man. Ovonramwen attempted to out with him by asking for the hand of his beautiful daughter in marriage, knowing that with his daughter in Benin, Akhilo would frequent the City and gradually he might be grounded there. Thus the Oba married a simple but innocently beautiful Esan damsel, IKHAGHE which in Esan means, "When I behold what the world does, I wonder!" Despite what many members of the Royal House of Iwebo told me at Benin that Auguobasimwi, later Eweka II, had a mother who was the daughter of the Enogie of Ekho in Benin
Division, I found irrefutable evidence here in Esan that Ikhaghe was a native of Okuta Ebelle. There is no shame on speaking the truth which in this case is that Eweka II's mother was no Princess but a girl from a humble home. Appropriately we have an Esan saying, "Ovien bie oba (A slave or a lowly woman is the mother of the great oba!). In 1953 I went round Okuta trying to identify the family of Ikhaghe but I found many of the UIES had fallen and rebuilt many times since early in the 19th century.
All these are by the way - what concerns us in the birth of Aiguobasimwi is the inference that when Ovonramwen married an Ebelle woman the tie between Ebelle and Benin became very strong and when that woman became lye Oba, well, it was a walk over for the Onojie of Ebelle over struggling Okalo!
The inference is wrong because it is unsupported by facts of history. In fact what did happen was the exact opposite of what these friends of Okalo would have us believe. In 1898, Prince Aiguobasimwi, with his father deported to Calabar and he himself, a victim of intrigues amongst
Favour-seeking chiefs in Benin, decided to seek peace and asylum in his mother's home, Ebelle. At Ewossa he was directed to Akhueghu, then Onojie of Ebelle. The Onojie followed him to Okura but to the Prince's chargrin, Okuta and the Onojie, full of suspicion, refused to give him sanctuary. He left Ebelle disappointed and bitter. It would be unimaginable to think that this ill-used Prince on becoming Oba later, would have done much in the way of raising Akhueghu or his successors's status. If anything, he would have supported Ebelle's rivals.
What then is the true position between Ebelle and Okalo? Historically, though Ebelle authorities pretend not to know the exact origin of Okalo, they are aware fully that they Okalo people had no relationship with the people of Orhu or Utagba. With the exception of OLUKUMI quarter of Amahor, Okalo forms the oldest aboriginal settlement in the 1950 federation of which Ebelle was centre piece. Okalo founders under the leadership of ENANATA, were some of the war-weary Binis who left Uzebu during the Esigie-Anuaruan tussle of 1504. It was therefore already in existence when Agbabhoko came from Orhu to found Eguare Ebelle, long before the people of Ogwa Ruling Family fled to Ebelle area, led by Ohonsi, the many quarters collected round Izegbo's settlement which grew into Idumobo Ujiogba during the time of his successors - Ileh, Oyakhlre, Izebhijie etc., and long before Ugun became a flourishing settlement after its population had been boosted by the fleeing Ezen people. In the area where all these districts are, OKALO is indeed the first, and its name just means that! It is untrue that its people got this name because as warriors they were the people Ebelle put forward always to bear the first shock of battle - mere cattle fodder! In fact there was no war in which they fought on the same side as Ebelle. I urged Okalo informers to go deep into memory, sing war songs or stories of wars, perhaps there might be one to show if ever they had been allies at any battle; they could not oblige!
Truly they were warriors, avid warriors and as far as Ebelle was concerned, they were terrible warriors! From the time Ebelle came, and not satisfied with eclipsing them altogether, the indigenous settlers of Okalo had given the new but superior comers, constant headache, and not even the long years of exchange of daughters in marriage has been able to lower the fever of Okalo - Ebelle hatred.
Fewer in number-and out to avoid the dominating attitude of Ebelle, they moved further into the jungle and their original UGRE, just behind the present Ebelle market, is marked today by their Edion or Okhirare. Look at some of the vital ceremonies connected with the highest institution in
Ebelle - that of the Onojie tradition or custom is what has been handed down from generation to generation amongst a growing community. If that be so, then one can easily see that Okalo has never been anything but an unwilling, numerically inferior being coerced under the tutelage of Ebelle by their in articulation and lack of forceful leadership, even under the British Administration.
It is the custom of Ebelle for the new successor to perform the IHEVIE ceremony before the inheritance is legal. That is vitally important to the institution of Onojie in Ebelle. The traditionally important Emedion consists of Osugbema each for the Edion of Eguare, Igene and Edan or married Eguare daughters, then one Osugba of foufou each for Idumowu, Okuta, Okpuje and Oleghe. TO OKALO ARE SENT YAMS AND RAW MEAT! Why this exception? Before the Ebelle Onojie sets out on looting tour of the district there is Ikhio dance staged by Eguare, Idurnov Okuta, Okpuje and Oleghe, with OKALO CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT If Okalo was really a part of Ebelle by tradition, custom could not had prescribed different treatment for her. The answer to the question about supports my contention. Okalo would never eat food cooked or sent from Ebelle - their traditional enemy who ousted them from their ancestral is as a sign of good faith the yams and meat were sent raw to allay to suspicious minds about poisoning.
In support of the above is the fact that over the ages and particular after the arrival of the British when disputes ceased being settled by it tribal wars, Okalo had made several futile bids for freedom, but the brightness of the Onojie of Ebelle had been such that the Governance in whose hands a redress was sought, saw and heard only from Ebelle leaving Okalo, humbled and defeated in the shadow of inferior numbers, the misfortune of having no articulate leader.
The result then is that the suffocating influence Ebelle could entrench Okalo by sheer weight of numbers was further enhanced when the powerful Native Court was established in Ebelle in 1927 where the Onojie of Ebelle waxed in grandeur and recognition as Sole Native Authority wisdom compelled the struggling people of Okalo to lie low lest the exterminated altogether. For quite a long time therefore, they lived their Onojie more of a respected Elder than a Ruler, and remain inwardly tormenting subjects or IDUMU of Ebelle.
This, in addition to the senile EHIREMEN who had been since 1892 and did not die until 1957 (that is one Onojie in a period 'Years) also explains the fewness of the Enijie that had ruled as such kingdom of Okalo. I have narrated the facts of history as they appeared to me less concerned with whether Okalo people are now numerically capable living as a distinct group under the customary Esan head – ONOJIE of history are such that we cannot reasonably just dismiss the existence the place as a separate chiefdom before the arrival of the white Saliently are :-
I. When Enanata's refugees left Uzebu round about 1504 were only two settlements - AMAHO and EZEN in the 1950 South Federation. These settlements were founded during the mass exodus of Binis during Oba Ewuare's time. Ezen was then in an area situated between present Ebelle and Igueben. The incessant expeditions of Prince Aruaruan which were more of slave raids than actual wars on definite enemies, caused the first shift of Ezen to an area today lying between Amahor and Ugun. That was about 1500. Thus when Enanata's party arrived in 1504, the land they settled on was the original Ezen territory.
II. The friction between Ebelle, the large body of new comers and Okalo, the simple living people they found, led to such bitterness and war that IDEAMOLUA, who became Onojie of Okalo about 1790 during the reign of Oba Akengbuda, decided to put some distance between the two communities, and so Okalo shifted further into the jungle to their present site, about 1795. IDUMOHEN which they left behind is now swallowered up by Idumowu of Ebelle.
III. When Eredia-Uwa sought protection under the great Odia of Ewohimi in 1816, all Esan Enijie supported his claim and Ideamolua's services were particularly remembered by Eredia-Uwa when he became Oba Osemwede. When the same Oba needed the help of his faithful Esan Enijie, Ideamolua, flanked by warriors like EBEWE, AKPAN, OBHIORA, ENAIHO and a host of Ekakulo which Okalo had in abundance, himself took part in the Akure War.
IV. Okalo has always had its own Eguare and titles like Oniha, Iyasele, Ezomo etc. which it could not have had were it an Idumu in Ebelle. Also supporting Okalo as a partner and against its being a customary vassal is the appointment of UKEKI (Market Chief) of Ebelle market. There were always two such chiefs - one from Ebelle and the other from Okalo. Until the retirement of aged ODE of Okalo, this was so. Ode had acted in this capacity with Ikhile and Ogun of Ebelle in the fifties.
V. To come to modern history, when the Native Court was established in Uromi in 1903 (the first in Esan) Ehiremen who had already been 11 years Onojie of Okalo, Akhimien of Ebelle and Izebhijie of Amaho were some of the Enijie who attended from the 1950 Federation. From Uromi, they switched to Ekpoma, then Ewohimi Native Court in 1918, and in 1927 when Ebelle became the judicial headquarters of the area, poor Okalo faced a slow but definite downward motion of attrition under the grinding heels of Ebelle majority.
We can now consider in detail OKALO as a unit with more patience and sympathy, for as we say in Esan, Uu bha gbe idiabo o ki ruen Igbe (if death does not kill the shoulder, it will wear the toga!)
Okalo consists of:-
(a) EGUARE which was founded by the original Enanata P.
(b) UHAEKPEN was founded by people from Uhaekpen in Uzebu in Benin.
(c) OMEN which was founded by two men, Omen, Obunugu, both being later arrivals from Uzebu.
(d) IDUMUOSAWELE which was founded by Osawele Izeg a descendant of one of the Benin leaders.
(e) IDUMUIKHILE was founded by an Ezen man called Ikhile He was married to an Okalo woman, but when Ezen have last blow and was scattered, Ikhile and his wife fled Okalo.
(t) IDUMUOGO arose from a farm house started by OZU one of the Uzebu settlers.
(g) IDUMUISE which was founded by Imowele, one Enanata’s followers.
Okalo had the same origin and hence the same egbele as Okpuje Ebelle and Idumuohen of Idumowu; with Okpuje, the collective name EGBE - EKHEN. They celebrate their yearly festival called IKUEKE together and perform burial ceremonies as one egbele.
The Odion title is taken at the Edion or Okhirare.
These are made up of the Odionwele of Eguare who also is Okalo Osukhure and the IBHIJIE or Princes, who in the main, form Palace Chiefs.
Immediately the Onojie dies (described as Okhin osun that is khian Alu Osun), the Uwague immediately informs the Oniha who are and assumes care of the Palace. The heir, after performing the mourning rites and seeing his father respectfully interred in the customary Egun starts the burial ceremonies of Ihevie which are complete in seven days though celebrations continue for three months. In the olden days the Oniha did not vacate the Palace till the end of the period.
Once again LAW 3 governing selection, succession and installation of an Onojie in Esan has been amply emphasised by what happened in ancient Okalo in 1974. Because of Ehiremen's longevity, his son and heir USIAHON, was only seven years on the throne before he died as an old man on 1st of August, 1973. As is common with so called civilized advisers, ignorant of Esan Native Laws and Custom, Usiahon's heir, JONATHAN IZEBHEKHAE, a chronic invalid, was advised to ascend the throne without performing the Ihevie or burial ceremonies which he could not undertake because of ill-health. He was honoured as USIAHON II. On January 27, 1974 death struck at the Palace; Jonathan Izebhekhae who went by USIAHON II died without performing the vital burial ceremonies. Even though he had children of his own, the Kingmakers called upon his immediate brother - a mature brother - ANDREW ILEBARENEMEN, to perform these ceremonies. These he duly performed and on the 9th of February, 1974, the kingmakers installed him as the next Onojie of Okalo according to the dictate of Esan Native Laws and Custom. He took the name
Since we are now in modem times these wise men of Okalo wrote to the Secretary - Treasurer, Eastern Ishan District Council at Ewohimi:-
....the new Onojie elect, Prince Andrew Ilenbarenemen Usiahon III of Okalo of whom we appointed on the 9th of February, 1974 is the immediate junior brother of the late ONOGIE - ELECT Prince Jonathan Izebhijie Usiahon II whose appointment was not approved by the Midwest Government before his death on 27th January, 1974. The immediate junior brother of the Onojie always reign after the death of the reigning Onojie IF HE COULD NOT PERFORM THE BURIAL CEREMONY OF HIS FATHER WHEN ALIVE. The late Jonathan IzebhokhaeUsiahon II DID NOT perform the burial ceremony of his father hence Prince Andrew Ilebarenemen Usiahon III who performed the burial ceremony of Chief Usiahon I was appointed to be the Onojie according - TO OUR NATIVE LAW AND CUSTOM (emphasis. mine)
By B.S.L.N. II of 1978, Prince Andrew Ilenbarnemen Usiahon III was approved as the Onojie of Okalo in Okpebho Local Government Area with effects from 9th February, 1974, the day Okalo Kingmakers took their correct decision.
But in mid-1991, he same Government set up the Iredia Commission into the ascension of Usiahon III because agents of Jonathan Usiahon II's heir had petitioned the Government. By the 16th of August 1992 the Iredia Commission was yet to sit. This is June, 1993 and there has been no news; I think the matter went into the cooler when Okpebho Local Government got split into Esan West and Esan Central Local Government Areas, I was sub-poenaed to appear before this Commission and I had considered it would be time well spent to congratulate OkaIo Community in upholding our age old custom.