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!
There are few spots in the whole of Esan more controversial, more suspicious and more fiercely clanish than the different districts comprising the old 1950 Southwest Federation. It was my considered opinion in the early fifties, that in another ten years when many of our then elders will have died out, it would be near impossible to write their history fairly correctly. Even then, swayed by the politically conscious younger blood, the elders narrated their history with an eye constantly on possible FUTURE REORGANIZATION! While Okalo claims that when Orhu immigrants arrived they begged for land to settle upon from them, Ogwa claims that the founder of Okalo was a prince of Ogwa. Amahor contends that Ogwa had not had more than five Enijie since it migrated to its present site, which was their own Ogo (farm land)! And so it goes on, leaving the enquirer in a quandry and necessitating a lot of interviews, sifting evidence and reconciling conflicting statements.
Pleas that the facts I wanted were only of historical interest had fallen on deaf ears. A reminder that a humble beginning 200 - 300 years ago could not diminish the stature, grandeur or political importance of any unit today had made not the slightest impression, but instead my efforts earned stories out to prove that while the origin of the speaker was of the ruling class, the neighbouring districts were founded by vassals cringing on their knees for land on which to settle, from the ancestors of the story tellers!
This had taxed my energies and time, with the result that anything near the truth from the area itself is hardly possible, except from places like Benin and surrounding districts like Ewohimi , Ekpoma, Igueben etc., that is, from the origin of the founding fathers and nearby districts With whom they had always had connections . For example in the first edition of Ishan Native Laws and Custom (page 305, first paragraph), I had said, "if (Okalo) 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 led by Ohonsi, the many quarters collected round Izegbo's settlement ... ". His Royal Highness Zaki Ehizojie took unkindly to the phrase "people of Ogwa Ruling Family fled to Ebelle" meaning that where Eguare is today was Ebelle land! Nothing could be further from the truth. What I was referring to appeared on page 314, same edition, describing why Ogwa have to shift a second time to near Ebelle - their present site. The first shift was due to the terrible thing Ogwa did to Ekpoma while the second time was due to the terrible Small Pox Scourge.
The history of Ogwa is closely tied up with that of the second dynasty of the Ekpoma Ruling House. In 1485 when the great Uda returnee to resuscitate the defunct Ekpoma Ruling Family, one of his many followers was an Okakulo named OMI, a native of IDUMU - EWASE in Benin City He settled down in Ekpoma and for his good services to Udah, he was giver one of the princesses in marriage. As he became more prosperous Omi late) went to set up a Cottage of his own near the present Egoro-na-Oka. This was the beginning of Ogwa. As the Omi settlement grew, one of his wive: gave him an heir who was named UDASE, while from the Princess of Ekpoma he got a second son called EKPOMABO.
Apropos to the origin of the father - a man who hailed from the Oba's Ewase, Omi's heir developed a great interest in magic and herbs This practice as a herbalist brought him fame and took him out into distant lands, sometimes for a very long period. While away on one such journey Udase's father died and he; the heir, was nowhere to be found. Hurried messages were sent around, but all attempts to trace him failed. Ekpomabo the second son was instructed by the Egbele to perform the burial ceremony Months after, Udase pottered up laden with cowries, cocks and goats. A few hurried questions soon explained why Ekpomabo was found where his respected father used to be. "Very well", said the native doctor assuming that well known air which invariably is necessary when the herbalist want to impress upon the patient that he, the doctor, has the power of nocturna flights and the devil himself, "Here I am rich in money and goats: we will begin the burial ceremonies at once". Came the shocking answer from the junior, "That was completed three months ago!"
"Well done!" continued Udase, "Tell me the cost and I am rich enough to pay you doubly."
It was the Egbele that answered that: "As embarrassing as this case is, we are very sorry that the great Omi's position made it impossible for us to postpone his burial indefinitely. Your able brother has performed the vital ceremonies and we are afraid, that's that!" Udase-was not going to give in like that: he went and told his mother's people and a civil war broke out, with Ekpomabo and his supporters having the worst of it. An urgent request for help was despatched to Ekpoma, Ekpomabo's mother's home. Early one morning when the children of Omi's settlement were scampering along after flying termites which in Esan make delicious delicacies when fried, Ekpoma warriors swooped on the village massacring many of the innocent children and carrying off many more as war booties. This incensed all Ogwa, no matter what side they had originally belonged and like one man, they came out with one purpose, revenge on a grand scale. The issue was no longer UDASE - EKPOMABO affair but Ogwa – Ekpoma tussle. A few days passed and one morning when Ekpoma Egbonughe were sweeping the Eguare Street, Omi's people let hell lose on the young men. Heads dropped everywhere and a few lucky ones were kidnapped.
These retaliatory skirmishes went on for a time until Ogwa emissaries went to Ekpoma to tell them how horrified Ogwa elders were over the bloodshed then on between such kindreds. They talked Ekpoma into a truce and invited them to a parley which was to be held near IYANLOTQMI. But before the arrival of the Ekpoma people Ogwa had dug a large pit and cleverly covered it up. When all Ekpoma warriors had arrived and squatted on the Ogwa side of the trap, Ogwa fell on the defenceless and astonished Ekpoma. They just had to run but in so doing they dropped headlong into the pit. There was mass burial of Ogwa enemies with much UGOMINI (rejoicing!).
As an afterthought Ogwa elders realised that Uda's Ekpoma was a large district whose warriors would fight Ogwa until every Ogwa man was dead. They ruled that discretion being the better part of valour, Ogwa must make a dignified retreat, seeking sanctuary in the effacing bossom of the jungle. Ogwa then shifted to a spot near Ugbegun N’Ebudin. Here they were until the great scourge of Small Pox that nearly wiped out the entire settlement during the time of Ohonsi. He collected most of the survivors and for the second time, Ogwa shifted, this time, to near Ebelle – their present site. Those they left behind, the hardy ones who would not move - became IZOGEN or OGWA NA UWA.
Where Ukpogo is now was the original farmlands of Okalo and Ebelle. Thus, Ogwa did not come to its present site until about 1815, a year before Osemwede became Oba of Benin. When Ogwa arrived the 1950 Southwest Federation area, Ijiekhuemen the Magician was the Onojie of Amahor, Ogun, the Onojie of Ebelle and Ideamolua, Onojie of Okalo.
Ohonsi's final settlement became Eguare (1953 - 798; 1963 - 1,953). The IYEKOGBE part of Eguare was an extension of the original Omi's family while IDIBHUIE portion was founded by one of Omi's male descendants. Idumebo quarter was founded by immigrants from Ekpoma,
2. UKPOGO (1,324) was founded by Ogbole, Isibo and Ikhimin, all descendants of Omi.
3. IZOGEN (1953 -774; 1963 - 2,361) Marks today as already explained OGWA NA UWA (the original Ogwa). IDUMUOMON was founded by immigrants from Irrua.
4. EHA (199) was founded by descendants of Omi's followers and are thus not related by blood to members of the Ruling Family.
The village deity, particularly of Ukpogo, is OGHU, a lake or Odighili, Ede hia le rio okun, odighili we Ien i1ae!) Meaning all rivers flow to the sea but Odighili refused to have an outlet! It has been worshipped ever since it was discovered by a hunter, Ogbole.One of its famous priests (Ohen) was Eranogua.
Strictly speaking until 1815, Ogwa had Ekakulo as head of the Community. The first real Onojie of whom the late IMARALU, who ruled from 1951 to 1971 and his successor Prince Joseph Ehizojie, are direct descendants, was OHONSI who became Onojie a year before Eredia – Uwa was recalled to Benin to become Oba Osemwede who had known all Esan leaders, and was too willing to reward the services rendered by all, with Ogwa being no exception. In 1816 Ohonsi went to Benin and was installed Onojie, getting his Ada and Ebelen from the Oba.
Before Ohonsi there were great and respected leaders, all descendants of Omi, but they were not Enijie. At that time Ogwa was more correctly an appendage of Ekpoma, and so directed all its services to the Onojie of Ekpoma. The break came during the Udase - Ekpomabo fight which spread into an inter-clan war. It was the rash action of Ekpoma that robbed Ekpomabo of his chance, and with all Ogwa swinging unto Udase's side, Ekpomabo lost the fight for leadership which should have been his virtue of his burial credits.
This fact of the comparatively recent conferment of Onojie title upon Ogwa leaders does not subtract one inch from the dignity of the present holders of the title as long as they were truly and properly created so by the Oba.
2. EKHIMERE was as great a man as any ruler of his people. After the break with Ekpoma, of course, Ogwa found itself free and could live as it pleases under its own leader - but to be an Onojie, that leader had to have the title conferred on him by the Oba (OBA MAN 01lE). Ekhimere's story illustrates my point. This great and wealthy leader assumed the leadership of Ogwa about 1705, a few years before Akenzua I ascended the Benin throne. He became so rich that he was able to obtain a house QKANIVIE (a coral bead carver).
One day one of the Benin traders trying to win the love of one of his daughters promised her one big coral bead, and dis-dainfully she retorted, "I am above the girl you can win with an offer of Ivie. My own father has Okanivie - so try another line!" So saying she waved the man to the door. Humiliated the Bini went to the Oba, with a ready story of vengeance. He told Akenzua I that there was a man in Ogwa in Esan who kept an Okanivie in his house. Akenzua dispatched an emissary at once to Esan asking Ekhimere to remember that OVIEN IMON ADA, KHA RE KHA BIEN OKANIVIE! (A commoner has no state sword let alone a coral bead carver!) And therefore he should dispatch the craftman with all the beads he had already manufactured. Ekhimere said he had received the message and advised the messenger to go. After some time the Oba sent again, still with no result. So the Oba sent warriors to bring not the bead carver but Ekhimere's head. Ekhimere is remembered today as the great man who disappeared whereas what he did was to commit suicide by digging a deep ditch into which he, the Okanivie and all the beads fell rather than the Oba reaping where he did not sow! Sounds silly but the act has carved his name on the record book of Ogwa after nearly three hundred years.
The point of concern in this story is the crime which this great Esan leader was said to have committed - he, anon-royalty, was keeping a bead carver in his house! And that is a direct descendant of the great OMI!
IV. PRESENT ONOJIE:
The present ruler of Ogwa is Ehizojie who as a Crown Prince was known as Joseph Ehizojie Imaralu. Born on the 16th June, 1936, he attended Primary School, Ogwa from 1945 to 1952, and S1. Patrick's College, Asaba (1954 - 1959) and had his University education at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka from 1963 to 1966 graduating B.Sc (Accountancy). He had passed up to Part I Final of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries (C.I.S) through private studies. He joined the Audit Department of the then Midwestern State of Nigeria in October, 1966, successfully completing six months in-service-training on Public Accounts and Audit in London in 1968. He headed the Audit Department Branch Offices at Ward from 1970 to 1973 and Agbor from 1974 to 1976. He retired as a Deputy Chief Auditor of the State after fifteen years service on 1st January, 1982.
When his father joined his ancestors on the 30th April, 1971, he had agreed with the State Government and his people on a system of internal administration as the system in Ogwa states the throne is never vacant; (Ojie ifo bhe Eguare); he ascended the throne on 1st May, 1971 and proceeded with the vital burial ceremonies which he completed on 11th November, 1974, assuming the new name of ZAIKI EHIZOGIE, ONOJIE OF OGWA.1982.
Anybody listening to HRH Ehizogie speaking cannot fail impressed by history dating back nearly 180 years since Ohunsi (18 1845). The full break from Ekpoma came in his time. Despite this I period, listen to Ogwa people speak - I am not exaggerating when I HRH Ehizogie speaks a better Ekpoma dialect than HRH Akhimien II, custodian of that language.