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!
Igueben is the youngest of the larger districts of Esan land, and until the recent past, its leader was no Onojie but an honoured head of the district who went by the name of OKAIGUN. Igueben is so young that is still retains the mother tongue, BINI.
THE IDAH WAR (1515 - 1516):
About a decade after ESIGIE became Oba of Benin, War broke out between him and the Attah of Idah. At first the audacious Attah marched on, I, Benin where he was tricked and defeated. During his flight home, Oba Esigie, like the son of Ozolua he was, led his army personally and chased the fleeing Idah warriors who he wanted to liquidate. Reaching the Niger the warriors crossed in their canoes, but the Binis who had no canoes, fumed up and down the wrong side of the lordly Niger! Although no physical contact was possible the nearness of the Binis caused the inhabitants of Idah so much insomnia that waves of them fled into the neighbouring country side. At last peace was made and the Binis made the long trek back in 1516.
One of the trusted and daring warriors Esigie had was a man called EBEN. In their long drive to the Niger across jungles, the Binis made several halts. At one spot they stopped for recuperation and later went after the enemy. On their way back, nearly a year after, the body of warriors led by Eben halted again at this particular spot and was astonished to see ordinary bits of yams they had thrown away some months back had grown into thickly leafed yam creepers and on digging them up, tubers of oversized yarns were obtained. The amazed soldiers went into the neighbouring bush to dig up the yams that abounded the original stopping place of the previous year. The thought came forcibly to their leader that yarns which were not planted or tended yielding so much would produce wonderful tubers should they be planted and looked after as in normal farms. Unable to resist the amazing fertility of the soil he sent a message to the Oba that he was remaining at this spot rather than return home, and to convince the Oba of the fertility of the chosen spot, Eben sent Esigie the harvest of an unattended farm.
This settlement founded by Bini warriors under the leadership of the great Eben became known after his name - IGUEBEN. It is not true to say the name came from two words, OGUN and EBEN, meaning "the blacksmith who manufactures the Oba's Eben or State Swords”. Though Eben himself was a native of IDUMU-IGUN Ugboha quarter of Benin City, he was himself no blacksmith, but a famed warrior. It is equally untrue to say that the Eben and Ada the Obas of Benin used in those days were manufactured at Igueben. On the contrary, each Esan Onojie after installation by the Oba in Benin after his formal installation at home in Esan, had as his evidence of recognition by the Oba, Eben, which had to be given him at Benin City. Brass casting was introduced to Benin from Ile Ife round about the 13th century, so that by about the time Igueben was founded, the Binis had already become proficient in brass work of which EBENLEN is one. It would be ridiculous then to suggest that the Oba's Eben and Ada had to be ordered from Esan. Even if the only makers were found in Esanland, what normally could have happened was that the Oba could have sent for and acquired all those in the trade even if it meant wholesale deportation of the village of Igueben
IGUEBEN correctly came from two words. IGUE which is a Bini word for CAMP or village, and EBEN which was the name of the builder of the camp.
During the return of Eben and his party, it is said that the great ENOWE accompanied him from Ugboha (of Esan). When Eben refused to continue his journey to Benin, Enowe had to remain with him and he served Eben so well that on his death, as he had no heir, Eben decreed that all members of the new settlement would become faithful Enowe's heirs. He was accordingly given a royal burial and from then on all Idumigun which was the original settlement founded by Eben, began to worship Enowe. Many elders at Igueben told me that this was the association between Ugboha and Igueben, particularly Eben's Idumigun.
I have narrated this history as it affected Enowe to emphasise the connection between Igueben and Ugboha. There is only one Enowe, the great Enowe, a renowned war leader, the expert blacksmith and the respected phycisian of Benin. In gratitude for the victories he brought Benin he was honoured with deification and has a shrine at Idumu-Igun Ugboha in Benin City. It is unthinkable that such an honoured personality of Benin history would have deserted Benin when the empire cracked up under Ewuare. The party that led the immigrants who founded Ugboha Ruling Family, here in Esan, was headed by Ijiebomen and Enowe's father. Eben himself and most of the warriors who agreed to stay behind with him in the fertile camp were all natives of Idumu-Igun Ugboha - the final home of the great Enowe, Ijiebomen and his junior brother, ONOR of Ugboha. Here then is the association between Igueben and Ugboha: at the ancestral home of their founders, Idumu - Igun Ugboha in Benin City. Thus the deified hero Enowe was honoured in three places, at Benin, Ugboha and Idumigun Igueben. True, Eben had tried to make the great warrior remain with him at his camp or Idumigun, but Enowe had already made Benin City his home and could not stay. Whatever services Enowe must have rendered to Eben must have been during the year-long Idah War, for he died shortly after the victory celebrations of 1516.
The original Igue of Eben by immigration soon grew into a large village with spreading quarter’s and today there are six big quarters in all.
(a) EGUARE (1,409):
This was the original Igue founded by Eben and up to this day, is known by the name of the ancestral home of its founder, IDUMIGUN from IDUMU - IGUN. OLAIGELE shifted to the present site of ODUGHA in Igueben and hence the Onojie quarter is sometimes referred to as IDUMU - OLAIGELE. Right up to the early thirties, Idumugun was the name by which the administrative centre of Igueben was known and its head was OKAIGUN, but in modern times with the tendency not to be outdone by those who head their people and go by the name of Onojie, the Okaigun, though much preferred by the late Imadojiemun, began its regretfully sure journey to oblivion with Idumigun itself fading away into the shadow of the better known word, EGUARE. Understandably the strict adherence to the title Okaigun could have become embarrassing for the head of Igueben in recent times, since the recognized constitutional head of any district group in Esan is ONOJIE.
IDUMUOMON quarter was founded by one of the sons of OZUALOKUN, but a large body of Ora traders joined the new quarter round about 1910 during the reign of Okaigun ILOGHIOBA. Another son of Ozualokun founded IDUMUOTUTU (331). The Idumu-Edo portion was founded by a native doctor from Benin City.
(b) IDUMEKA (1953 - 1,196):
This consists of several quarters: Idumuokpe was founded by a Bini called Okpe while Iweken was founded by another Bini from Udo.
(c) UHE (1953 - 618):
The larger part of this village was founded mainly by men from the original Eben settlement who were joined later by fresh comers from Benin. Some immigrants who came from Agbor founded Idumagbor.
(d) IDUMOKA has several quarters all founded by men from different places. The first settlement here was a camp built by an Awka man. Idumu - Igbiki was founded by an Ora man called Igbiki. IdumuOdugbe (304) was founded by immigrants from Idumebo in Ubiaja.
(c) AFUDA (986):
This is one of the earliest settlements that grew round Eben's original Idumigun. Like most Igueben villages, many of the founding fathers hail form Benin direct. Ogbeni was one such Benin man, an elephant hunter who founded Idumugbeni. Many of the early settlers who founded Igbeka were natives of Eka in Agbor area.
(e) IDUMUOGO was the over-all name of the outlying hamlets that grew round Eben's settlement. Many of the newcomers were Binis. One Akure trader called Olubunmi founded the quarter called IDUMU OLUKUMI
EKO - UBADIN (454):
This village was developed by the hard working and wealthy farmer - UBADIN, a native of Idumu- Esogban in Ebhoyi Uromi. Although Ubadin deservedly gave his name to the place, before his arrival there was a small settlement inhabited by an Igueben man called Isibo and his family. Ubadin who arrived about 1912 over-shadowd him by sheer force of a prolific family, his industry and avid interest in farming which directed all hungry eyes to the village from all the neighbouring areas of Esan during the famine season. All seeking yams to buy were directed to Ubadin and it was quite logical for him to dominate the village in name and importance.
II. IMMEDIATE PAST ONOJIE:
IMADOJIEMUN, II who up to his father's death on the 17th of October, 1953 was Prince David EILUOERIO, was a grandson of Eromosele the Great of Irrua and was a first cousin to Isidaehomen II. After his education he entered the Nurses Training School, Ibadan and qualified as a Government Nurse but on the eve of his taking up appointment under the Government at the General Hospital, Lagos, he received the sad note of his great father's death. He returned home for the necessary respects was his late father but pressure had to be brought to bear on the young Prince who preferred the godly work of a Nurse to the life of pomp and noisy politics. His experienced relative, the late Chief S.O. Esangbedo, the Oloton of Igueben, impressed upon the young Prince that it was a responsibility line could not shirk whether he liked it or not; finally he succumbed to such arguments and had to forego the job for which he had such a burning interest. On the 27th of October, 1953, he was installed Onojie at the innocent age of 18. He died on Sunday, 16th June, 1985.
III PRESENT ONOJIE:
IS EHIZOJIEEILUOJERIO who as a Prince was knownas Johnbull Ehizojie. Bornon 10th December, 1954, he started his primary school at St John's Anglican at Ugbeka Grammar School, Evboeghae, Urhiomwon Lock Government Area finishing at Eghosa Grammar School where he got his Grade I School Certificate in 1978. In 1979, he proceeded to AUCHI Polytechnic to study Business administration; he got his .H.N.D. in 1983 and secured a Job at Vani Holdings Limited as a Budget/Finances Officer in March, 1984. He was recalled home on June 17, 1985, a day after the passing away of his illustrious father on June, 16, 1985. Burial ceremonies began on the 31st of October, 1985, after which he was installed Onojie Igueben according to Native Laws and Custom as EHIZOJIEEILUOJERIO. He got the ceremonial staff of office from the Bendel State Government on the 1st of March, 1986.
The Igueben method is that of THE THRONE NEVER BEING VACANT. Although most Esan Ruling Houses are trying to adopt this method in an attempt to obviate strife, the truth must be said that it -is not Esan custom. Before the Europeans came it was unheard of that a king died and without the customary honour of a burial, his heir went scrambling for property and title. According to Esan Native Laws and Custom no one, be he a commoner, not to speak of a successor to the title of Onojie, dreamt of inheritance until he had performed the burial ceremonies of his father Indeed it would be bastardy for any son to create the impression of being more interested in inheritance than first rendering the services custom places upon the shoulders of every true son - BURIAL CEREMONY.
However, in modern Igueben, like most Esan districts where there is NO LIKELIHOOD OF A SUCCESSION DISPUTE, as soon as the Onojie dies, his body is interred ceremoniously and expeditiously, animals now replacing the human beings used, since the abolition of the slave trade.
The undisputed heir is dressed in Ivie and cap, flanked by Ada and Ebelen attendants. The Osukhure then presents him to the spirits of the departed ancestors at the ancestral shrine. He is then taken to main inner Ojukhuo (throne) and the Odionwele of Idumigun count him, on the Ojukhuo making him take his seat on the eleventh count. He then gives the salutation of OMON KHE BHO (May you, my Lord, Live forever!).
The people now come forward to acknowledge him as the new Onojie in order of precedence. After the elders of the Kingmakers, then come the seven traditional chiefs before the other hereditary title holders. Knowing that he as yet has no legal claim to the family property and the title the new Onojie must start the burial ceremonies at once. These vital ceremonies last from seven to fourteen days after which the shrine of the late Onojie can then be shifted from the outside to join the long line of ancestors at the ancestral shrine, within the palace. Then and then only has he secured for himself and his children full right to inheritance. The ceremonies that follow for the next three months are merely for rejoicing as the new Onojie and to recoup himself by way of presents from new favour and friendship seekers.
But what followed the death of Imadojemun II on Sunday, 16th June, shows the danger Esan Native Laws and Custom faces in the name of modernization. Deciding on an elaborate preparation for a BEFITTING BURIAL for the dead King, Igueben elites and the silent Community had fixed the burial ceremonies for the 30th of October, 1985, over four full months after the Onojie had joined his ancestors. If the Kingmakers either through intimidation or inability to assert themselves, allow this type of thing to happen, would they be able to absolve themselves of the consequences of such delay? The young heir was readily available, prepared to obey the instructions of the princely elders and therefore quite innocent; let me refer them to what happened to Prince Ozigue of Okhuesan round about 1910. His son and heir, lSI died within nine days of the father (Ozigue) passing away. lsi had actually started the burial ceremonies. The Kingmakers rightly called upon Ataimen, Ozigue's second son who performed the burial ceremonies and ascended the Okhuesan throne. In recent times what happened in Okalo is an eye opener; When UsiahonI (1957) - 1973) died on 1st August, 1973 his eldest son Jonathan Izebhekhae ascended the throne a very sick man. He had not been able to perform the burial ceremonies of his father when after only six months he died on 27th January, 1974 with many sons of his own; the Kingmakers ignored these and called upon the next brother Andrew Ilenbarenemen to perform the burial of their father Usiahon I. He did and he is sitting on Okalo throne today as Usiahon III.
As if this was not enough affront on our custom, on Tuesday October 29, 1985 the following appeared in the Nigerian Observer under Legal Notice:
In the High Court of Justice, Bendel State of Nigeria, probate Registry, Benin City.
Name of Deceased:
H.R.H. Imadojemu Eiluojerior
Late of Igueben, Okpebho
Local Government Area who died on the 16th June, 1985 at Igueben.
Applicant for Grant:
Eiluojerior of Royal Palce,
P.O. Box 1,
Igueben, the son of the deceased.
As a tradionalist, I found this distasteful and unpardonable. Our Enijie, Chiefs and elders are custodians of our laws and custom. Our kingmakers are particularly important in that they must see that not only our laws and custom are not polluted but are obeyed. By this publication it would appear to non-Esan that the Prince was trying to safe-guard his inheritance. The Kingmakers and Igueen Community know no one disputes inheritance with the Onojie's accredited son and heir. Everything in the Palace, haram and Ughe Eguae (the King's square) belongs to him absolutely. What is more despicable about this publication was the late Onojie was yet to be buried - as far as this publication knows - and the heir,who ought to be closely monitored by the Oniha and the Kingmakers, was already thinking of inheritance.
FIRST THING FIRST!
Warrior from Idah under the leadership of:
As Stated already the camp Eben founded was known generally as Idumigun and his successors as OKAIGUN. Even up to Imadojiemun I who died in 1953, the rulers had stuck to this title which meant "the owner of Idumigun", the administrative headquarters of Igueben.
(i) ILOGHIOBA THE EFEGANBHUDU was famous for his sympathy and bravery as the Okaigun. It was during his reign that Igueben became a distinct district. His sympathy for one of Oba Osemwede's sons nearly made him revert the meaning of his name "Am no Oba's enemy"!
THE AMAHOR WAR:
EGHORI was an Igueben damsel who got married to Oba Osemwede while a Prince in exile at Ewohimi. She soon became pregnant and gave birth to a plump son but through superstitious fear hid the happy tidings from the Oba. Later in the day another woman gave birth to a son from the Oba's harem and this was promptly reported to the Oba with jubilation. This second son which according to the report that got to the Palace, was the Oba's son and heir, was named ODIN-OVBA. A few days after, stupid Eghori got a message through to the Oba that her son arrived a few days previously. But according to Benin custom the Oba had heard of the birth of Odin-Ovba first and so he was rightly given first position. Eghori protested that it was the people of Ogbe that had advised her not to publisize the birth of this son who it was believed had been running a shuttle-cock race between this world and the next, in quick succession, for fear of the baby dying again. "You were stupid and your advisers in Ogbe were foolish", said Oba Osemwede, and commemorated this foolish action by giving the unlucky boy the name OGBEWEKON. When the two boys grew up there was no love lost between them and by the time their father died the enmity between them was such that they were no longer on "seeing terms!"
When Odin-Ovba was crowned Oba it was only logical that his enemies should be headed by Ogbewekon who felt that Odin-Ovba was a usurper. He returned to his mother's home in Igueben, and asked the Okaigun, Iloghioba, to help him regain what he missed through his mother's foolishness.
Warriors were gathered from Igueben and Ogbewekon made several attempts to beat his brother, who became. Oba ADOLO, five years; previously. Several bloody battles were fought, the' warriors meeting half- way with the inhabitants of EZEN and Amabor bearing the brunt of the war
depredaton. It was these incessant ravages of war that made the people of Ezen migrate to Agbor district while others found sanctuary round present day Ugun; and so Ezen as an Esan district became extinct. The final decisive battles were fought at Amabor and Ogbewekon's forces were so humiliated that he returned to Igueben, leaving Oba Adolo in peace at Benin City.
(ii) IMADOJIEMUN I, 1921- 1953:
He was the one man who had done so much under such a difficult period to place the name of Igueben on the political map of Esan. He was industrious, gentle, kept his head when all around him lost theirs under trying times, full of wisdom and with his death went a wealth of knowledge of Esan Native Laws and Custom. As if he knew he would soon die when I asked for an hour's interview, he granted four and poured out stories many of which were supported with dates which despite efforts to disprove, I found to be as correct as was possible in those difficult days of few records. His sense of humour blended so well with his regal carriage and comportment which he maintained without the Idigba which Kings had to wear so that they never looked down but always straight down on those appearing before them! I was completely dumb-founded when I came to
genealogical tree of Igueben Royal Family. He had no book to refer to and he did not ask for opportunity to consult the elders - the names poured out of his mouth and never for once referred to Ijiekhijie - forgotten names. Till this day there is no tree in the whole of Esan between 1463 and 1993 that is as long and thorough as that of Igueben - thanks to an erudite monarchical. The average number in most Esan Clans is sixteen to twenty.
By the time Imadojiemu I fell ill he was one of the most respected and loved Enijie, outside Igueben.
His father Omozejiele died in 1917 when Imadojiemun I was a
minor. IHONWA became the Regent and held the fort until he came of age
in 1921, becoming the Okaigun at the age of 18. He lay low, concentrating
on honest means of becoming wealthy in Esan - farming, on which he
prided himself until his dying day. From 1921 to 1931, the administrative
and judicial court of Igueben was in the hands of OKOJIE, then District
Head in charge of Ugboha, Ubiaja, Igueben, and Emu up to Ebu. It was after Okojie's death on 14th February, 1931, Imadojiemun I came on his own. Though he much preferred the Okaigun title as a man of tradition, the rapidly changing political condition of the then Ishan Division made it wise for him to use the term understandable to Esan people as symbols of near absolute authority - ONOJIE, his head quarters , idumigun becoming Eguare.
His last few years were made unhappy because of the political agitation that spread as a general warning all over Esan, his political tormentors could have succeeded in their design to withdraw recognition from him as Onojie. During his protracted illness, he kept attention from himself and cheered all around his sick bed with witty conversations and humour. He died on Saturday, October 17, 1953 at the age of about 50.