By Dr Christopher G, Okojie.
The entire social structure is based on KINSHIP. The smallest social unit being UELEN which consists of a man, his wives, children, junior brothers, his yet unmarried sisters and any other such persons as his mother and servants. When the junior brothers grow up and get married, they build their own houses round their senior brother's which was their father's house before his death. This man is the king post of the whole structure and I name him outright for easy reference: he is the OMINJIOGBE (AKHEOA in Esan 'B'). As the brothers' own families start to multiply it is easy to see this man's position as head of the family increasing in importance. He speaks for his unit and takes charge of the Ancestral Shrine.
The entire social structure is based on KINSHIP. The smallest social unit being UELEN which consists of a man, his wives, children, junior brothers, his yet unmarried sisters and any other such persons as his mother and servants. When the junior brothers grow up and get married, they build their own houses round their senior brother's which was their father's house before his death. This man is the king post of the whole structure and I name him outright for easy reference: he is the OMINJIOGBE (AKHEOA in Esan 'B'). As the brothers' own families start to multiply it is easy to see this man's position as head of the family increasing in importance. He speaks for his unit and takes charge of the Ancestral Shrine.
Many Egbeles make a village and where they are not members of a single patritineage, marriage is permissible. Strangers cause the greatest complications in this system. They are admitted as residents but not assimilated so that as their own families start to grow within a small unit as Uelen, one might be surprised after all I have said above, to find members of an Idunmun marrying each other. On close study however, it will be seen that the marrying sets are not patrons. The standing law is that NO COUPLE WHO CAN TRACE ANY RELATIONSHIP PATERNALLY OR MATERNALLY TO AN OMINJIOGBE CAN MARRY despite the loose talk 'that things are not forbidden towards a mother's origin'.
The head of the village is the ODIONWELE, the oldest man in the village. This needs qualification. If a stranger comes to settle in a village and in his life time comes to be the oldest man in that village he could not be the Odionwele. His family must have existed long enough in that village to lose all the identities of a stranger which is even culturally undesirable. This has caused some commotion and disruption since the abolition of slave trade dating from 1900. In pure ESAN CUSTOM NO STRANGER CAN BECOME AN ODIONWELE. What is more, such a long-staying stranger cannot handle the village OKPO or Shrine Worship. The Odionwele needs not be an Ominjiogbe.
In a typical Esan village the social system tries to regulate, sometimes in a manner which to a stranger may appear puzzling, the physical and spiritual needs of the whole community. An Esan person is more of a part of the whole and less a mere member.
1. (a) Age Grades and Sets:
Under the Odionwele is a tripartite division of the male members of the village. These are:-
(i) The EDION (The Elders) - these are men over 45 in ages.
(ii) IGENE - men of 25 - 45. In some parts this age is known as IGBAMA or OBOIGBAOTO or OKUOKHIMIOTO or OKHIRARE or OKHIRENATA. All these names appropriately mean that this grade consists of men beyond the age of being frightened, but not too old to be physically handicapped by senility: in other words they were the men of war. Appropriately since they fully support and protect the Edion grade, in many areas they go by the name UJIAGBEDION.
(iii) EGBONUGHELE - males of 12 - 25.
A political group - the Ekhaemon or men given titles by the Enijie, was in the senior grade, but in the village they have no direct voice at the Edion's deliberation.
The Odionwele is the supreme head, socially and religiously in all matters affecting the -village. He with the next three Edion form EDIONENEN. Meetings affecting the elders alone are held in the Odionwele's house usually, but bigger meetings are held in the village square at the OKOUGHELE (village hut).
|Iwaegbe Iyoriobhe Patrick –|
The oldest man in Equare Ewohimi, although fully QUALIFY to be the present “ODIONWELE OF EWOHIMI 2018 – a position he refuse to exercise the ceremony due to his Christian faith and Principles. Unbelievably agile, 1906 – 2018, 110 years.
Here in his Iwaegbe Family Compound, Ogbe Equare Ewohimi.
Although it is not possible to say who is the oldest man in Esan land, some examples are worthy of note: John Ogbeide of Ebhoakhuala Ekpoma, who had become the Odionwele of all Uhiele that had a 1953 population of nearly 4000 died on Sunday, 18th January 1987. He was a retired Civil Servant aged 118.
The Edion or elders form the village council dealing with crimes involving native laws and custom e.g. adultery, bad medicines, dis-obedience likely to disrupt the village etc. Serious offences like stealing, murder, rape etc. are sent onto the Onojie through the Okhaemon (plural Ekhaemon). The Edion have messengers (Uko-Odion - plural Iko-Edion) and spokesmen. The spokesmen, usually two, are usually selected from the brightest in their grade; while the two Ito (messengers) may be selected from Igene, and from then on, attend all Edion meetings. These may also serve as EGHAIMIN - responsible for sharing gifts or booties accruing from fines, seizures etc. All the elders have big walking sticks called OKPO but it is usually the Odionwele's and those of the senior three, that is the Edionenen, that are more correctly referred to as Okpo (plural Ikpo). Persons suspected of wrong doing can be cleared by swearing on the Edionenen's Ikpo. All who have entered this senior grade in the official way, that is, by proper entrance known as ILODION can be buried respectfully. All Edion are exempted from public duties such as communal labour. Irrespective of age, an Ominjiogbe who has performed the burial ceremony of his father and adults who have performed the expensive Clothing Ceremony are in this senior grade. So too are the Juju Priests.
The Igene grade is normally not called for public duties unless such duties are beyond the next lower grade. Its members head such major works as house building or roofing and are really the dare-devils of the village community - being called upon when there is a serious matter or incident like outbreak of fire, night burglary etc. hence the very suitable Ekpoma name OKHIRENANTA (not yielding to settlement or yielding place to none). They bury the dead and head the junior grade in digging ponds. Appropriately, since they fully support and protect the Edion, in many areas they go by the name UJIAGBEDlON which can also mean the most Senior Igene.
EGBONUGHELE (Street Sweepers) are the carriers of water and the hewers of wood for the village. Their most well known job is that of cleaning and sweeping the village square (UGHELE), which is usually done-once in four days. They clean the roads half way to the next village, that is, to the common OKOVEN. They are responsible for a major part of communal labour in the village and only get help from the Igene when the job is really too much for them; this is usually on appeal to the Edion who instruct the Igene to go to their assistance. Boys join this grade as soon as they are strong enough, usually from ten to twelve (10 -12) years of age and leave it at about 25 years. Increased educational opportunities leading to rural - urban migration is having a telling effect on this age grade and hence the entrance to the Egbonughele grade in particular has been slowly dropping. The Igene grade has been severely affected as most able bodied youths have deserted their villages in search of education or work. Thus most villages are now inhabited by school children and elderly men, breaking down the communal assistance arrangement and making life unattractive.
A pathetic end-product of this assault on our social system is that many elderly people too old to farm are dying not from old age or disease per see, but from malnutrition or falling victims to inter current diseases. Where the wife is too old to go to the farm or market, there is no food to cook and one finds in the villages now, husband and wife starving to death.
Each grade has its own meetings and even where a matter is so serious as to merit a general meeting, each grade sits and deliberates apart. The Iko or messengers of each grade make reports to the senior grade. Thus in a big village meeting the Edion and all those entitled to sit with them like Ekhaemon and Ominjiogbe, sit together - but neither the Okhaemon nor Ominjiogbe who is there merely by virtue of his family importance only, can initiate a discussion. The Igene sit apart from the Egbonughele. The Edion then give their decision after everybody has had the liberty of shouting himself hoarse or until believed; this decision is conveyed by the Iko to the Igene, who, in turn, give their own decision based on that received from the senior grade to the street sweepers. These may revolt against the Igene if they feel unfairly treated and report the matter to the Edion for a final ruling.
Each grade maintains discipline amongst its members by fines and seizures of fowls. The Edion, in their dignity, seize goats. No other grade in the village has the power of going as far as seizing or making any offender pays the equivalent of a goat. Whatever is thus seized can be redeemed by begging or payment of an amount not necessarily up to the cost of what had been seized. Where the reason given for the omission or commission is cogent and a sincere apology rendered, both fines and the animal seized can be foregone.
The tripartite age grade is the easiest and most universal in Esan, but there are other organisational structures which for strangers are so complicated that it is better they have died out. I will mention them for the purpose of history only.
OTU: In every village all over ESAN, there is an age set called OTU to which every man belongs. It takes three Esan years (which is really two years since Esan people do not talk of two years ago, but 'last year', then three years ago' etc), to organize an Otu: this means that all children born within a period of TWO YEARS belong to the same Otu. Thus Egbonughele may consist of six Otu or age sets.
This Otu or age set is quite different from what used to be called INOTU. This consisted of all the strong able-bodied and courageous elements of the town and were called upon when there was murder, or fatal accidents like a wall falling on people, the lintels of the wall being 'arrested' by the Inotu and carried to the Onojie as they would do to a murderer.
Another form of organizational grouping died out with the tribal wars. These represented in order of seniority, the centre, right and left flanks of the Army:-
(i) (a) OKHIODE
If a man was in Okhiode group, his first son would join him there while his second son goes to Oberuan and the third son to Obiyon. By the grouping the fourth son would be in Okhiode and would thus be in a senior set to his brothers who really are his elders at home. The three sets, Okhiode, Oberuan and Obiyon together were called OBOIGBATO. Remember that in the tripartite groupings a man is still Egbonughele until he is about twenty-five by which time he will be having children; thus it is possible for men to have their sons sweeping the streets with them.
In 1986 when I went round rechecking some of the customs I recorded in 1953, everywhere I went Edion who were perhaps Egbonughele in the fifties told me it was impossible for a man to be an Egbonughele with his sons. Some Igenes in Ugboha, Ekpoma, Ewohimi etc. said emphatically, "that does not happen" and my spirit sank and I began to wonder how elders could have deceived me in 1953! Further field work proved those early elders right for in 1987 I found several supporting evidence:
(a) In Ebboakbuala, Ekpoma, Ikeramere Eimuan who was then Senior Egbonughele had four of his children sweeping the village street with him. They were Cora, Matthew, Idemudia and Christopher.
(b) In Imule Illeh, Ebhodaghe Atebata who was then the Odion Egbonughele was there with three of his children - Godwin and Saturday, I was able to identify.
(c) Ehizenaga Ovienmoada of Ukhiodo Illeh had a son. Samuel in Egbonughele grade with him.
(ii) From the Oboigbato another group was selected and went by the name of OTUNEA: they were the hot-heads of the village and maintained all the Marshal Laws. Once a man had been selected to this group he ceased to be Egbonughele.
(iii) Igene and Edion with their ancillary arms - Ekhaemon, Ominjiogbe, and Priests form the third arm of this grouping dictated by war needs Either for simplicity or because the other complicated groupings were necessary for wars, the tripartite group of Edion, Igene and Egbonughele has stuck on and is readily understood by everyone in ESAN.
There’s no formal entrance of becoming Egbonughele which is troublesome and labourious age group. The boy is just sent for the Edion Egbonughele and asks to come with his broom! When people feel that the Edion Egbonughele who is an important figure in the village, ought to yield place to another, and he successfully appeal to the Edion for promotion, he is retired with those who his Otu (same age set). That is, if he is 25, those say 23-25 are keep upstairs that year to become Igene. In fact, their leaving is not loss Egbonughele because some upper segment people have been for years just overseers! Their leave give room for the next set of seniors to enjoy supervisory capacities. A simple ceremony usually follows their leaving the group. They cook food with plenty of meat and with kolanuts, feast the Igene who are going to join.
The position of Edion is that of honour and responsibility, one leaves Igene grade to join them either by doing something important in the village, e.g. performing the expensive Clothing Ceremony, or burying his father with a cow as he must do if he is an Ominjiogbe or inheriting the priesthood of one of the village deities. But the most universal method in Esan Custom is for the men to join the senior grade of Edion formally: by a special ceremony. On the day he performs this ceremony known as ILODION, the applicant takes a large basket of coconuts, two big chalked calabashes of palm wine, a large number of kolanuts and Elamen ea (2,800 cowries). At the Okoughele, if his gifts are accepted, he kneels and he is blessed by the Edion who cover his body with chalk. The Odionwele or his representative calls him seven times but he does not answer until the seventh time when he gets up; he is then given the laws of dignity and responsibility, e.g. :-
(i) From now on it is your duty to uphold all the dignity of man, no defecation anywhere else besides a latrine, 'count ten' before you curse and in fact, it is derogatory to allow your hair to stand on end in public etc.
(ii) It is your unqualified duty to settle any dispute between man and wife.
(iii) Idleness is a sin for it is the idle man who lies and commits adultery while all the men are away in the farms.
(iv) You must not side-track any branch you find falling across the farm path etc.
In jubilation the new entrant goes home to make merry amidst shooting of guns: he has cause to be, for he is now one of the rulers and most respected members of the village. The coconuts are shared by the Edion as follows: thirty for the Edion, twenty for Igene and their underlings – the Egbonughele, and seven for the Eghaemin.
In many parts of Esan promotion by age set is the more common custom. Once the senior set of Egbonugbele had approached the Edion for promotion and this had been approved, about two or three age-sets are blessed at the Okoughele and they then join the Igene. This necessitates upward movement of the Igene too to Edion grade.
My own personal experience is instructive. In Ugboha initiation of upward movement comes from Emuado the senior village of Ugboha. Five days after Emuado did their promotions it was the turn of Eguare, our own central village. On the appointed day my age set that had been the Ujiagbedion were blessed at the Okougbele by the Edion who we had entertained with kolanuts, drinks and snuff - a very popular habit in the area. We were seven so promoted to the Edion grade. I at 66, in 1986, was number three in my age set. My group now made the Edion grade of Eguare, eleven with me as number seven. Our Odionwele I would put at about 72, a young age for an Odionwele in bigger Esan villages than our Eguare that had a 1963 population of 595. This type of promotion occurs once every seven years.
Actual promotion of the next age set took place in February 1993. A motherless son is, my junior brother then 68 (1992) would not be due for promotion till 1993 when he would be 69. Thus, although I had said Edion grade consists of men above 45, entrance is certainly at sixty or more.
4. Women Association:
Without self-deceit Esan people in every sphere of life maintain that there is no place for the woman in society. Thus women have no recognized associations. Even if there is a meeting of women in the village only the recognized married women attend. To be recognized as a wife in the village (Okhuo - Idunmun) on arrival in the village she must have other women in the compound perform the ceremony of getting her cooking place “registered'. The women, after a simple feasting, make the new wife (Obhioha) cook in a newly built cooking place (Eriu - u), and the ceremony in Ekpoma area is called IREKE (To prop up your cooking pot). After this, any new wife coming to the village, whether she is grown up already or not, is junior to this woman. Thus the seniority of women in the community is not by birth age, not even by age of arrival in the village but by the order in which they performed the Ireke ceremony.
Should a woman lose her husband by death and she should re-marry by inheritance in the same village she loses her rank. Even if she was the most senior she now becomes the most junior woman of the village, thus satisfying the idea in Esan Custom that it is the sacred duty of every woman to ensure that her husband lives as long as possible: while praying for long life she does not pray that her husband should die before her!
Women usually meet to plan the digging of the village pond, to punish an adulterous woman or to curse round the town usually with the name of their genitals, when there is an epidemic or frequent deaths particularly of children. The use of this part of the body to curse someone is very much dreaded and is strictly forbidden for a woman to direct such a curse to her husband.
The cursing of the people who may have hands in the spread of diseases and deaths is done at night with all married women of the village stripped naked and all the men shut up in their houses. After hearing the songs and noises of the women any man foolish enough to be caught outside must jump into the bush to let the women pass. No man has any business outside when he hears the loud and sonorous refrain - EKPELEGBE – EE!
A Bevy of Esan Princesses showing Original Esan Women's way of Dressing
5. Chiefs (Ekhaemon):
To this political group belong the intermediary men between the Onojie's Eguare and the village. They are much respected and hence rank with the Edion. This is really a mark of courtesy for apart from delivering messages from Eguare, they cannot initiate a discussion; they talk when their opinion is sought. In matters outside the village, however, like matters leading to or coming from the Onojie, the Odionwele yields place to the Okhaemon. This I think is a better way to explain the comparative influence of Odionwele and the village Chief than to say outright that the Chief is the greater person or answer as any old men often answered me when I put the question, "In the olden days who really was the boss of the village, the Odionwele or the Okhaemon?" Invariably the elders retorted" Ah, my boy! Odion creates Onojie and Onojie creates Okhaemon!"
There were two main types of Chiefs: Hereditary and those that were merely political 'THANK YOU' by the Onojie, to those that had helped him when he was a prince or during succession strife. Many, particularly in more recent times, were overtly created to make money from the recipients. There was a subsidiary type of titles, referred to as PERSONAL TITLES, these referred to the person of the Onojie and had the life span of the Onojie who conferred them. The best well known in this personal title were EGBE (body) and EHI (Guarding Angel). They all died with the Onojie. On the day the Onojie died, the Egbe was killed and used to line the bottom of the royal grave; the dead Onojie was then lowered into it and the Ehi, after being beheaded was used to seal the grave. The holders of these wonderful titles had freedom limited only by the Onojie himself and were understandably respectfully treated at Eguare.
It is pathetic that in one of the 1979 Declaration of "Customary Laws Regulating Succession to Traditional Ruler Title", the Egbe is said to inform the Oniha immediately upon the demise of the Onojie (sic)!
The hereditary titles were patterned on the line of the UZAMA NIHIRON of Benin, but local custom, and in many cases sheer autocracy and corruption, brought some differences so that some of the titles that are not hereditary in Benin are so in ESAN. The worst that has befallen this class of Chiefs is that Esan Enijie dealt with them as the white man first dealt with the Oba and later, themselves: amputation of power by decentralization! These titled men, who obtained and held their posts by right of birth rather than at the pleasure of the Onojie tended to give sounder advice without fear of losing office, as could otherwise have happened when sometimes the Onojie took their advice and attitude as an open challenge to his authority and pride.
Notwithstanding all the observations above, let it be known that some of the hereditary title holders have villages attached to them; in such villages, such a Chief is comparatively like the Onojie in Eguare. Although they have not the customary means of controlling the grass-root members of the village community like the Edion who control the Igene and Egbonughele, they do command a lot of respect and do enjoy a lot of perquisites of office. Secondly, in Eguare where the Onojie sits and all he beholds are his, there can be no other Chiefs because since Eguare is made up in the main, of Princes who form the Kingmakers, these hereditary chiefs are found in villages outside Eguare.
In many areas the Enijie created their own Chiefs, non-hereditary but armed with judicial powers. Esan people, like other ethnic groups, respect only the men with judicial power and so came to fear these political appointees more than the hereditary titled men sweating under executive functions. This broke the power of these hitherto influential Chiefs and in many cases, the titles lapsed. By the time they were resuscitated people have either forgotten or became hazy not only about the privileges attached to the office, but in what quarter or family the titles used to be held.
The Enigie struck another crushing blow at these titles, this time, at their order of merit. The order of merit, when people loved and respected the order of traditions, was stable and well known, but in most recent times, cashing – it on the ignorance of the general public, the old order is often deliberately confused or arranged according to how friendly or influential the holders art from the Onojie's point of view. The result is today, the holder themselves, torn by the unsteady and unreliable weather-vane of the Onojie's recognition, are as ignorant as any enquirer, about their rights, privilege and order of seniority.
As things stood before these onslaughts by the greedy and jealous Enijie the order of precedence used to be as follows:-
2. IYASELE (Bini - lyase)
6. ELO (ERO)
The Oshodin, though of a lesser rank these days, by his peculiar duties in the Onijie's harem, which he supervised, came to be elevated into that category. The Eholo - Nire, which in our City of origin is a high man, in Esan unimportant because he has no particular job assigned to him similarly the Esogban, Eson and Osuman (lhama), while being regarded high positions in certain parts of Esan, are non - hereditary and their rank inflated as the Onojie who creates them pleases. The Ihaza's position in the Community came to be enhanced by the fact that in the olden days he has the responsibility of collecting all the tributes that had to be sent to the village whose prerogative it was to purify the ground (Oto).
Of the hereditary titles therefore, the ones that combined both executive and judicial power over the ages, were, and still are, the Oniha, the Iyaselle and Ezomon. Each was in charge of a village where his authority could only be questioned by the Onojie in a most cautious manner.
THE ONIHA is next in rank to the Onojie. When the Onojie dies, the Oniha assumes the Onojie's authority until after the burial ceremonies of the dead Onojie and the installation of the new Onojie. Thus, for three months he wields authority equal to that of the Onojie. He is the official announcer and chief mourner at the Onojie's death. There must be no weeping or showing of any sign that a mishap has occurred at the palace until the end of the third month, when the Oniha arrives and performs the ceremonial announcement: in the night the heir leads the Oniha with a lamp into the harem; all the women are shut up in their houses and at each door the Oniha knocks and asks, "Where is my son?" For an answer the woman opens the door just wide enough to hand over OGBOLO (twenty cowries). The Oniha's servant collects the money and the party moves on to the next door; and at the end, apparently not knowing the whereabouts of 'his son' the Onojie, he shouts, "Oh! My son is dead!" This is tile signal for the whole population of the entire harem to join in a terrific and throated wail, since each woman wants everybody to take her as the woman who feels the husband's death most. Eguare now knows that their ruler is dead and can cry. Should anybody cry out before this official ceremony within and without the palace the fine is a goat, payable to the Oniha.
This job done, the Oniha is then given two goats and a young woman as a wife by the heir apparent; he slaughters one of the goats to declare the harem property of the heir and then goes home. He returns at the end of the burial ceremonies to join the Odionwele and the Osukhure and any other, local custom decrees should be present, to install the new Onojie.
THE IYASELE'S traditional office was that of Commander-in-Chief of the warriors. Since it was the bravest man in the community that used to be selected for this post, and bravery is not necessarily a hereditary factor, the post of Iyasele was for life. A warrior such as the Iyasele was, had the opportunity of collecting slaves, affluence and influence. Thus, more than anyone else in the district, he had all the means, courage, wealth, good followership etc., to constitute a challenge to the suzerainty of the Onojie; and this is precisely what has always happened between the Onojie and the Iyasele in practically every district of Esan. As a result of several factors such as these, the masses were always behind the only man who could point a finger at the Onojie, and send him a necessary break to the Onojie's steam-roller's exercise of authority. In most cases the Iyasele wisely succeeded in making his son a man to be reckoned with before he died, so that he had only the Onojie standing between him and his father's title. Invariably with the considerable influence his father had built round his family and the powerful friends he must have made before he died it was a walk-over for the son to succeed his father as Iyasele. Thus, over the years by means of dexterous manoeuvres of the Iyasele, the title came to be hereditary in Esan land.
In many places, blinded by the popularity of the post he holds, that of the head of the common men, the Iyasele has tried to dominate the Onojie and the Oniha – but clearly his post is inferior to both.
As explained above, these were the factors leading to present confusion and business surrounding the official status and traditional nights of the seven chiefs. In most cases the confusion is deliberately created by the Enijie themselves either through vindictiveness or in some cases through true ignorance. During the cross – checking of materials for this section, where I asked an Onojie or a Chief to tell me which title was superior to the other e.g. Iyasele and Oniha, he immediately kept quiet for a moment and rather than look back at history, thought of personalities of the present holders all said Iyasele or Oniha, depending upon which he liked or was more subservient to him. Any enquirer who tries to get information leading to the order of precedence of the titles, from an Onojie or title holders themselves is sure to be trapped!
The Ezomon, during the inter-tribal wars, was second-in-command to Iyasele and took a more active part in leading the warriors, than the Iyasele who was more of a director of operations. With the end of wars his importance gradually became less. The Edohen, Oloton and Elo were members of the Council of State which the Onojie consulted before making major and constitutional decisions. Finding the members of this Council tough for his liking, in every district of Esan, the Onojie turned his back on them and encouraged the lapse of these titles.
The Uwague by the nature of his office as head of the keepers of the Royal Regalia and Wardrobes came to assume extra-ordinary importance in some districts, such as Irrua, where he does what the Oniha does in the rest of Esan. He dresses and undresses the Onojie for ceremonial occasions; with thus he has come to know him in and out; being so personally close succeeded in amassing extra rights and privileges for his office.
THE OSUKHURE was more of a religious leader than anything else; here up till now, is the chief worshipper of the dead Enijie and the keeper of the Ancestral Shrine at the Palace. Since all the traditional rites were tied up with ancestral worship, the Osukhure, as the custodian of all laws, custom and tradition, had come to be the Onojie's trusted and much respected right hand man. He consulted him before undertaking any ceremonies as the recorder of all departed royal ancestors. Before the installation of a new Onojie the new man has to be presented to the departed ancestors and the
Osukhure must perform the rites at the Shrine (ILUOBO) before he was ‘stooled’ by the Odionwele of the Kingmakers quarter and the Oniha. By this ritual supremacy amongst the Kingmakers a great prestige has been built round the Osukhure who thus was of the rank of the seven traditional title holders.
Today the office of the Osukhure is nearly defunct, firstly, because in Esan only people with judicial powers are respected and, secondly, the spread of Christianity and Islam dealt the office, which had been left in a moribund state by the Osenuwegbe cult that came to Esan in twenties, a fatal blow. The importance of Osukhure is remembered today only when there is a succession dispute in a district. Then, by the knowledge which has been handed from one elder to another in the same quarter he reminds the people of the dignity and foresight of our forefathers who knew what tradition meant.
The office of the Osukhure is not hereditary, but is held in the same village of the district. Such a quarter usually belongs to the Kingmakers. The most elderly in the quarter holds the title. In a very few places in Esan the man who performed the rites at the Onojie's ancestral shrine was usually a slave since if he made a mistake, e.g. in reciting the names of past Enijie during an ILUOBO, he was automatically killed. After abolition of the slave trade, the holders in such places came to be head of the Kingmaker's quarter.
Most of the non-hereditary titles are merely used by the Onojie as a source of income. Originally there was a considerable advantage attached to the position of Chiefs, for they were immune from arrests, could not be attacked in war nor were they called upon for communal labour. Even now when many of these advantages no longer exist, titles still sell like hot cakes because of the scrambling to be court members which until recently consisted of Ekhaemon! Secondly in the fifties many politicians were able to wangle their way into House of Chiefs even after failing an election in the House of Assembly - thanks to the Action Group Government of the Western Region! The only titles nobody ever scrambled for were those attached to the Onojie's person: these as explained above were mixed blessings to the holders: they were respected, had all they wanted in the lives but they left the world the day the Onojie who created them died!
2. Forms of Settlement:
Esan people are mostly urban by nature, but the reasons for the comparatively absence of large towns as exist in Ibo and Yoruba areas are excess of land which is free and communal, the comparative tranquillity since the advent of the British, the proud trait of each Esan man wanting to be king in his own house or holding as an inalienable right of each man to go to hell in his own way, and a strong belief in witchcraft. If a man loses one or two children and suspects that someone in his village has been after him, he shifts to a cottage in the bush where he believes he can blossom unseen and without inviting anybody's jealousy. One good result of the armed burglary that swept Esan land in the post-war years of 1949 - 1953, is that many of these isolated cottages were abandoned; the inhabitants forgot their fears for witches and returned to swell the population of the growing towns and villages.
The absence of any big river and any special industry also contributed to the existence of myriads of settlements with far too many Enijie. During the devastating tribal wars each settlement was surrounded by a moat or ditch (lyala), while the actual settlement was situated in a belt of uncleared forest. Such a settlement consisted of several compounds with the men in front and the women's houses built behind and in the compound.
Trade, industry, seats of learning, hospitals etc., will be the dominant factors in bringing the scattered inhabitants of Esan together. Thus in our life-time, we can see the population of Uromi – a trade centre, Ubiaja which since 1906 had been the only administrative centre until the splitting of Esan into Okpebho and Agbzilo and in 1991, becoming a four Local Government Areas; Irrua with a Hospital, a Provincial Farm and a functional town, Ekpoma which since 1975 has had its population boosted as a University town, all rapidly growing.
3. The State:
Esan was divided into more or less water-tight components each dominated by an Onojie. The first profitable association of the Enijie began after the end of the inter-tribal wars. With these wars, dictated by primitive instincts (sic!) raging everywhere, no coming-together was feasible. For instance big markets like present Uromi or Irrua or Illushi markets could not exist and any woman leaving Ekpoma to attend Irrua market, for example, would only succeed in getting herself sold into slavery or beheaded if she resisted. Also, common laws were pointless in that if a man broke them and was having the goodwill of his own Onojie, the offended Onojie had neither the right nor effective means of punishing the criminal. Esan at that time consisted therefore, of entirely separate states.
The system of government fell into the following line. At the top was the ONOJIE, who ruled through the Chiefs or Ekhaemon who were mostly hereditary types like the Oniha, the Iyasele, and the Ezomo etc. These in turn, the village council of Edion (Enedion). Even where the Onojie succeeded breaking the power of these traditional, fearless and most straight – forward hereditary Chief, and replaced them with puppets of his own, the actually administration of the village was in the hands of the elders, the Chiefs behind merely the Onojie's ambassadors.
(i) THE ONOJIE was the supreme head of state; his office being that a constitutional monarch was protected with wisely planned laws governing succession, installation and death of the holder. The Onojie lives in Eguare the administrative headquarters of the district. Each clan in Esan has specially quarters whose elders form the KINGMAKERS. In all cases except Uromi Eguare was one of them, and its Odionwele and the State Osukhure head: the Kingmakers.
(ii) THE LAW OF SUCCESSION - Barring slight variations in eat district, there are seven basic laws governing the selection, succession at installation of aIl Onojie, for which our forefathers, despite the simple way in which they lived, must be commended. Every one of these seven laws has great significance, emphasizing the innate political cunning of the Kingmakers. These laws are:-
1. The constitutional title of Onojie is hereditary, passing from father to son.
2. The first surviving legitimate son succeeds his father.
3. There could be no lawful succession until after the BURIAL CEREMONIES of the late Onojie have been completed, according to native law and custom.
4. He who performs these burial ceremonies inherits the family property, which is not shared, and succeeds to the title. The burial ceremonies have the greatest significance with Esan law inheritance, and hence this fourth law is of overriding importance.
5. Once an Onojie, always an Onojie, so that once a man has be duly installed as aIl Onojie according to native law and custom nothing but death removes him.
6. The title, being that of a constitutional monarch, which is held trust for the community, cannot be willed or voluntarily relinquished in favour of any son, brother, uncle or a trusted friend.
7. The official burial place of an Onojie is at a special spot or location in EGUARE.
(iii) ANNOTATION: Where these laws have been correctly interpreted and strictly adhered to, succession strife are rare and if they do occur, are short – lived.
LAW 1. Ensures that a son succeeds to the property of his father and a single line of inheritance is maintained, this being changed only when the Onojie dies without any male child. If this happens, the right to succession passes to the Onojie's surviving most senior brother. If he has no brother, the right passes to his eldest uncle.
LAW 2. Satisfied the uniform Esan law that the first son inherits the father's worldly belongings. If an Onojie has several sons and the first dies leaving sons of his own, the right to succession falls on the second son who will, of course, then be the FIRST SON when the father dies. The children of the initial first son have no claim whatsoever to the title as long as their uncles are alive and healthy. Two examples will show how decisively this law operates. Round about 1905, Ozigue of Okhuesan died and within nine days of his father's death lsi, the heir apparent, also died. It was the second son, Ataimen that performed the burial ceremonies of his father Ozigue and succeeded to the throne. On the 20th of September, 1920, he died leaving a son, EHIDIAMEN who was a minor. lsi's first son EIGBOKHAN, who was of age, had no right to the title and so a regent, Oobo, Ehidiamen's most senior uncle was appointed to administer the district till 1933 when Ehidiamen overcame his minority and succeeded to the throne after performing his father's burial ceremonies. It is of note that Ataimen as Onojie of Okhuesan was appointed a member of Ubiaja Native Court on 28th of April, 1920. (See SSPA of 21st April, 1920, BP 214120).
Another example is given by that of USIAHON I of OKALO. Usiahon succeeded his long reigning father EHIRENMEN or EIREMEN (1892 1956), after performing the burial ceremonies of his father in 1957. On the 1st of August, 1973 he died leaving his son and heir JONATHAN IZEBHOKHAE a sick man. Izebhokhae succeeded him hoping he would be able to do his traditional duty to his father and fatherland. Unfortunately on the 27th of January, 1974 he died without being able to validate his right to the title. It is immaterial whether he had sons or not. Strictly according to Esan custom, the Odionwele and IBHIJIE OF OKALO (Kingmakers) called upon the next oldest surviving son of Usiahon I - PRINCE ANDREW ILENBARENEMEN to perform the burial ceremonies of their father USIAHON I. This he did and succeeded to the Okalo throne on the 9th of February, 1974. This succession was appropriately approved on the 28th of March, 1978 (See BSL No. 11 of 1978, Bendel State Gazette No. 20, Vol. 5 of 13th April, 1978).
The son must be legitimate; children from lovers (Omon Osho) or from an Arebhoa of ESAN 'B' have no claim on the title.
LAW 3. Ensures that the excitement over property and love of office does not prevent the heir apparent from paying his dues to his dead father as a ruler by giving him the traditional respect, which consists of seven days intensive and expensive ceremonies and a total of three months feasting. Even in some parts of Esan where the standing law is THE THRONE IS NEVER VACANT (Ei se bhe Eguale abha mien ojie), immediately the Onojie dies, the heir selected by the Kingmakers, is installed as Onojie and he must begin the vital and qualifying burial ceremonies AT ONCE, for should a man so installed die WITHOUT PERFORMING OR BEFORE HE COMPLETES these ceremonies the right to succession and inheritance of the palace property does not pass to his own heir but to his next senior brother. This emphasizes the fact that no man is legally an Onojie until he has performed the burial ceremonies of his late father. The case of Emovuon of Ebelle (1907 -1910) well illustrated this point. In Ebelle as soon as the dead Onojie is interred, the Royal Family of Ebelle install the heir at once and he must start the Burial Ceremonies, the first stage, IHEVIE, being the most vital part of the whole show; being so, custom and prudence dictate that the Ihevie part should NEVER be postponed. Omovuon was so cocksure of his claim and hold on to the title that he performed part of the Ihevie but failed to end it traditionally with EMA EDION (The Elders' Feasting). Then death struck at the palace, Omovuon died without completing even part one of the Ceremonies; in the eyes of the vigilant Kingmakers of Ebelle he was as good as a Usurper and so the right of succession passed from his son to his immediate brother, Prince Igbinijie (1910 -1971).
In addition to this real danger of "missing the throne" which in Esan, is termed (O re Okpu or Uwedin fi Ukhuo don), after this type of hasty installation which is designed to prevent the throne ever being empty, the new man does not exercise any authority. Until the burial ceremonies are completed, the Oniba administers the State.
LAW 4: Is perhaps the most important and most decisive law governing inheritance in Esan. It affects commoners and the Ruling Houses alike since "Onon luogbe ole na bhe ogbe (he who performs the burial ceremonies owns the house and all there-in). The law is based on the necessity to bury the dead Onojie and bring him in harmony with and association of the spirits of the departed Enijie. It is believed that the spirit of the newly dead Onoji merely hangs about in the next world with no abode or respect until he has been buried according to native law and custom.
Even among the living, until the dead Onojie has been so buried an animal slaughtered for his departed spirit is killed outside and not yet at the ancestral shrine. Therefore the burial ceremonies cannot be postponed. If the first son is away from home, say outside Esan, he must be sent for immediately. It is the first legitimate son that is entitled to perform these decisive ceremonies. Since succession depends upon who performs them, grave responsibility rests upon the shoulders of the Kingmakers in allowing or accepting ANY OTHER NOT THE FIRST SURVIVING SON. The reason for which they could ask the second son to perform the funeral ceremonies of his father must be such that technically, the second son is the 'first surviving son'. For example, when the whereabouts of the first SON have been unknown and there is no way to get a message to him, he is alive but quite incapable of performing these intensive ceremonies, as for example, when he is suffering from madness or imbecility or is a victim of an incurable, infectious, contagious and mutilating disease like Leprosy etc. In the latter case, in the olden days, such a victim had to be sent away to live in the bush where he would live and die, since there was no cure.) man suffering from any of the above diseases was so handicapped that he could not perform the burial ceremonies, and since they could not shelved, the second son would be called upon by the Kingmakers to perform them and having done so, and all rights of inheritance pass to him indisputably. There can be no equivocation about this law in Esan and therefore the collorary is that no one can perform them for another. Anybody suggesting, that for a relative only wants to trap him since these vital ceremonies decided unquestionably who the next Onojie would be.
Since this law is so very important it is the duty of the entire community to see that the reasons for the Kingmakers to allow anyone else besides the first son to perform the burial ceremonies are cogent and satisfactory. They have the right therefore to challenge the Kingmakers since the Onojie funeral ceremonies are FOR THE WHOLE COMMUNITY; this challenge must be such that the ceremonies are not proceeded with, for once the Kingmakers Egbele have accepted the ceremonies, it is futile raising help afterwards!
The story of Ojiefo of Ewu illustrates what I mean. Ehiemuan the Terrible, of Ewu had a first son that equalled him in being atrocious. When Ehiemuan died the whereabouts of Abhulimen was of course unknown and no one knew if he was even still alive. The first surviving son therefore technically, was Ojiefo, the second son. The kingmakers then asked him to go ahead with the funeral ceremonies after which he was duly installed. Some five years after Ojiefo who was a maternal brother of Abhulimen, felt ashamed that while he was a ruler with slaves of his own, his own senior brother was somewhere, perhaps still alive, the slave of another man. He therefore instituted a search party which found Abhulimen humiliated and sober, he was redeemed and brought home with his joyous brother building a house and marrying a wife for him. Then evil men began to pump the ex-slave that he should have been the man to be where Ojiefo was then, had he not been sold. That led to a bitter and unfortunate chieftaincy dispute which was later decided on LAW 4: he who performed the burial ceremonies owns the house.
Amongst commoners, an older uncle could perform the burial ceremonies for a nephew who is a minor; he then inherits the property which he holds in trust until the boy overcomes his minority. In the case of an Onojie, however, if the heir is a minor an AKHEOA (Regent) is appointed; traditionally this is the boy’s oldest uncle. He is not allowed, under any circumstances, to perform the burial ceremonies, and in any case, he could not perform them on his dead brother. When the boy comes of age, he goes through the ceremonies himself and succeeds to his father's title. Thus any alteration of the line of succession by trick is avoided. Under Ekpoma a good example is given; after the death of Ikeakhe the Unlucky, succession came to be by seniority amongst the male members of the Royal Family. Onojie Udawe had six sons, the famous six princes of Ekpoma. When it was the turn of the fourth brother, the sixth through hatred, advised him, (the Fourth) to perform the vital burial ceremonies including OGBE. This the fourth did and God's retributive justice descended squarely on the head of the cunning Sixth: the fifth brother predeceased the fourth so that the next in line of succession came to be the sixth. But when the fourth died, the sixth found that he had tricked himself. The fourth by performing the Ogbe ceremony had perpetuated the right to succession for himself and his own heirs and thus his own brother; the sixth had been entirely cut out: deservedly he lost! All these go to prove that easily, when there is a dispute over succession, the dominant question for the Kingmakers is: “Who performed the burial ceremonies"
LAW 5: It requires death alone to remove a man, who being known to have performed the burial ceremonies, has been installed by the Kingmakers according to native laws and custom from the office of ONOJIE. He might be stricken helpless by a terrible disease like paralysis or even madness all that would happen is that his functions would be performed by an Akheoa, usually his first son, if he is grown up, or the Onojie's immediate brother if otherwise. To everybody such a man is Akheoa, pure and simple. The substantive holder's death does not make a full Onojie of him. When the Onojie dies, the regent continues to act if the heir is still a minor: if not he must step down for him as soon as he has complete the burial ceremonies. Only corrupt and jelly-like kingmakers to whom tradition means nothing talk of allowing the Akheoa to continue until he dies. That practice is the richest manure on which the strife of perennial succession grows.
The question of an Akheoa becoming an Onojie after the death of the substantive holder is a new one. How it began is unclear, why, is plain. Administrative officers called upon to adjudge chieftaincy disputes involving almost sacred traditions, had to find reasons for whichever way they passed judgement. In many cases such judgements were at variance with Esan laws and custom with the kingmakers confused and divided. To anyone who knows our custom, the line of action in these matters is simple: no new Onojie could be installed until after the burial ceremonies of the last one, and since the Akheoa cannot bury his brother nor can these ceremonies be performed for a living person, plainly, no other man can be installed Onojie; thus weather the real Onojie is living or dead an AKHEOA IS AKHEOA, a Caretaker, a regent. Under Ugboha, the reader would see how this new explanation had been used by some administrative officers. The late Okojie (1906 - 1931) of Ugboha was said to be Akheoa for the late Udage who was imprisoned about 1906. Udage served his term and returned to Ugboha about 1908. Okojie continued as a Regent until the death of Udage in 1924 when he (Okojie) became FULL ONOJIE!!!
Even in modem times when allegiance to the Oba had been transferred to the white men, an Onojie might be imprisoned. During his absence an Akheoa takes over and on the Onojie's return all authorities return to the substantive title holder. Also even while government denies him executive and judicial powers, as a punishment, during this time of denial, he is still ZAKI to his people! There can be no other until death parts him from his lawful inheritance. The same thing would happen if an Onojie was deported: a regent would be appointed and if the Onojie returned alive, that regent must step down for him. If through the instruction of the government he is not allowed to assume the office again, no new Onojie can be appointed, at least not according to Esan law and custom, until that Onojie dies. Again where the subjects actually revolt against their Onojie, as often happened at Irrua, for instance ISOTE, no new one can be installed. He regains his full prestige after settlements of the dispute. An example in Uromi, 1918, the late Okojie (Ogbidi) (1901 - 1944) was deported to Ibadan. His son Uwagbale (1944 - 9160) became Akheoa and on his return, in 1931, his son stepped down for him. Ogbidi reigned peacefully until his death in 1944. In 1927, the dauntless Asikagbon of Ugbegun (1916 - 1947) was imprisoned for two and half years by the oppressive Ishan Council. He served his term and returned to his office as Onojie, striking awe into his friends and peppering his enemies. Again in 1943 his enemies had the upper hand over him; he went to prison, returning in 1946 to his palace where he ruled till death saved Ugbegun from his hands, in 1949.
Similarly, in 1946 when Isidaehomen II of Irrua (1941 - 1971) was 'suspended' for about a year, this meaning he was shun of his judicial powers, he was still Onojie to his revolting subjects. Yet another example; in 1939 the late Stephen Ukato of Ugboha (1932 -1954) was imprisoned for eighteen months for criminal offences; the modem 'presidency' of the Native Court was given to the Iyasele the third traditional chief of Ugboha, but on Ukato's return, he took over the reigns of office as Onojie. Another example is given by the long-living Imadojemun of Opoji (1909 - 1946) or Omelimen of Ewatto (died in 1953), who had become so senile that in each case, the first son deputised for the father until he died before the son became Onojie. One could go on and on giving examples in Esan which go to prove the consistent law that only death can remove an Onojie from his office.
LAW 6: The attitude of every Onojie or every rich man for that matter is that his first son is forever anxious for his early death so that he can step in! An interesting example is given by Obanosa (1804 - 1816), who as the aged Edaiken (Crown Prince) used to pluck his hairs which he sent to his father Akengbuda to show that he was getting quite old and would like to taste of the glory of being an Oba before he died. His father Oba Akengbuda (1705 -1804), a man with a high sense of humour, would send in return the sweet-tasting mixture of chalk and salt, as a sigh that the world, so full of woes was still so sweet to him that he could not leave it then.
Because of this feeling between father and son all over, it is not surprising that there is often open enmity between an Onojie and his heir: the terrible Eimuan of Ewu actually sold his heir, Abhulimen, to slave traders; it was painful but it gave him peace of mind! In Irrua the feud between the Onojie at Eguare and the Edaiken at Oyomon was proverbial. The situation therefore was, were it possible, the Onojie could have gladly done anything that would make his hated first son predecease him or make it impossible for him to succeed him. But for the wisdom of our illiterate forebears, it could have been frequent occurrence for the Enijie to will the right of succession to their invariably more loved second sons or to his brother where he has no sons. The title is not his, and therefore he cannot do as he pleases with it.
If on the death of the Onojie the rightful heir, for some reasons which must be so rare and genuine as to convince the kingmakers, were to decline to succeed his father, which must also mean REFUSAL TO INHERIT HIS FATHER'S PROPERTY, including wives, the question of who was next in line of succession was the prerogative of the Kingmakers, and the kingmakers alone. He cannot say for instance, "I, Prince 'A ', voluntarily relinquish my claim to this title for myself and my descendants, IN FAVOUR OF MY BROTHER 'B' OR MY UNCLE 'C'. That would be a sin crying to the high heavens against Esan custom.
I would here mention a complication is bound to arise, where a set of kingmakers either through ignorance or sheer corruption, allows this type of thing to happen. Suppose in order to be able to inherit property and wives only, the heir performed the burial ceremonies before he renounced his claim to the Onojie title in favour of anybody else, he is only trapping that person and that person's descendants; for by performing these ceremonies he has established irrevocable claim to the title not only for himself but for his own offspring. Thus, after the death of himself and the person who benefitted from his renunciation, his own children and not the children of the recently dead Onojie, have the right to succession.
The Kingmakers are fully aware of these complications; hence they have adhered rigidly to these laws. Short of stark lunacy or a disease so incapacitating that the man is not responsible for his actions, it will be difficult for a normal man to refuse the inheritance his birth has brought to him.
LAW 7: No matter where an Onojie dies, in or outside his domain, his remains must be brought to Eguare to be interred in the official place. The corollary also stands: no one who is not an Onojie, be he a great warrior or a popular Okhaemon, can be buried on these sacred grounds. In 1931, the late Chief Okojie of Ugboha (1906-1931) died at the Enijie's Rest House at Ubiaja while standing trial at the hands of his royal colleagues, over Osenuwegbe cult; his body was brought to Eguare Ugboha for burial. In 1941, Momodu I (Osobase, Akpakpa) (1921-1941) of Irrua, died and his remains was brought from Agbor to Eguare-Irrua.
In the case of Ubiaja, the traditional ground is not Eguare but AHIA. Two reasons
brought this about: Under Ubiaja it will be seen that the original home of the early rulers of Ubiaja was at Ahia. Secondly, going far into the district to lay the Onojie to rest in his traditional home was an attempt to outwit some kleptomaniacs desecrating the Royal Vault at Eguare and making off with all or parts of the Onojie's body, particularly the head. Thus came the understandable custom of a secret spot at Ahia via a tortuous route for burial, and as an extra precaution, the head which was the most valued trophy for enemies, was buried apart after decapitation.
(iii) SELECTION AND INSTALLATION OF AN ONOJIE:-
Though the Onojie has several wives with several children, the sons, particularly the first to the third, are generally well known. The first son is not only well known but is closely watched right from his early childhood to adult age, by the Iweguae (Ibie Eguare). These, in Esan, are servants, attendants, the Osukhure (who frequents the palace due to functions at the ancestral shrine), and Eguare favourites in close contact with the day to day happenings at Odugha (palace). This recognized first son must be legitimate and must -not be an issue from a lover or an Arebhoa. His position is daily confirmed as the recognized son and heir, by the custom of his eating all the – hearts of animals slaughtered at the ancestral shrine in the palace. Thus, by) the time his father dies, he is already so well known that the kingmakers – have no trouble in making a selection, which is really a formal invitation for him to step forward.
Very wisely in some districts like Irrua and Uromi, the heir is recognized officially by making him live at OYOMON with his immediate family, so that by the time his father dies he is already enjoying some state privileges like a Chief.
(v) FORMS OF INSTALLATION: In pure ESAN custom there is only one form of installation: succession after the last Onojie has been duly buried. Since the coming of the white man and the "civilization" however, a second form gradually took shape on the assumption of the 'Throne is never vacant' (Ojie ifo bhe Eguale). With this in view as soon as the Onojie dies, his first son is sent for (often he turns up hastily, more concerned with inheritance than with the spirit of his departed father!). As happens in places like Ewohimi and Igueben the old official paraphernalia, like cap, beads, rings, charms etc, always worn by the Onojie when he was alive, are removed from him and put on the son then, blessed by the Osukhure at the ancestral shrine, and with the Odionwele, in the presence of the elders of the kingmakers, he is installed. This is only in name, for he is forbidden any outing and in any case he is, for the next three months, so engrossed with the intensive burial ceremonies, that nothing else concerns him. The authority of the Onojie is then temporarily wielded by the Oniha. Starting the burial ceremonies AT ONCE is imperative both in his own account and the interest of the State, because though he has been installed Onojie, should he die before he begins or completes the ceremonies, succession and inheritance of the palace property, including the hastily acquired accoutrements, pass not to his own heir but to his own brother, that is the heir's uncle. To get full claim to his father's property and the –throne for himself and his descendants; he must start and complete these ceremonies with the least delay. For the kingmakers too, they are equally anxious for these ceremonies to be undertaken without delay to avoid complications and succession strife’s. Thus without the burial ceremonies, no inheritance of property or title is recognized or lawful. Where then is the import of the throne is never vacant when the man put there has no legal standing?
(vi) THE BURIAL CEREMONIES: As said above the original and valid Esan custom makes no pretence at succession until the heir has completed all the ceremonies entitling him to inheritance of property and title. As the father dies, he comes to the palace, takes over the keys from the ODIBO (chief Steward), and after the ceremonies surrounding the mortuary' rites, the Egbele of the kingmakers appoint a day when the burial ceremonies begin. It is misleading and dangerous as seen above, to say if the heir has no materials yet for the ceremonies, they could be postponed. Anyone who understands the position of the Onojie in Esan history will understand that it was near impossible for anyone else in the district to be richer than the Onojie: he could loot and plunder at will, so that by the time he died, practically every cow in the street of Eguare was his. Yams, money, oil abounded in the harem. All these were for the first son to make a good start in life. It is preposterous therefore to suggest that the burial of an Onojie could be postponed for lack of means, unless the son wanted to bury his father with an elephant!
On the eve of the appointed day the booming of guns begins and for the next seven days the cannonading is terrific and deafening, this being the chief feature of burial ceremonies in Esan. Cows, goats etc. are slaughtered for the dead Onojie at the shrine, yet consisting of a hole dug in the quadrangle of the palace, until after burial ceremonies before he is considered worthy of taking his place amongst the departed Enijie at the shrine usually called ALU-IJESAN. But uniform is the fact that there is intense feasting for the kingmakers Egbele in particular and the whole town in general. Most of the expenses are borne by the heir, but any of the well-to-do sons like the second to the fourth sons may help by slaughtering a cow each.
Though the Onojie's burial ceremonies last up to three months the essential customary ceremonies, which are a MUST are completed in SEVEN TO FOURTEEN days, and the rest of the period is used by the chief celebrant in rejoicing over his assured inheritance and trying to recoup himself for his expenses from yams and other presents people send him from the time of the death to the end of the burial ceremonies which is THREE MONTHS.
When the vital ceremonies are over, that is seven to fourteen days, the elders of the kingmakers gather at the palace, led by Osukhure and the Odionwele. The heir is now dressed with several coils or strings of coral beads, and wearing UBUNUKU. He is taken before the ancestral shrine where the spirits of all the past Enijie are now “assembled”. A goat is slaughtered to appease them and the Osukhure presents and blesses him in their name - reciting the genealogical tree ending with ljie-khi-Ijie, meaning, all those he could not remember. The heir is then taken to the OJIUKHUO (main throne) which is close to the shrine, and he is installed by the Osukhure, the Odionwele of the kingmakers Egbele and the Oniha holding him up in both hands he is COUNTED ON THE THRONE, making him take his seat on the ELEVENTH COUNT. He sits squarely and in comfort MONARCH of all he surveys! During the actual counting the three men are blessing him repeating, UKHATO UKPELE, ALE RE NON OMON (Long may you reign and when your reign comes to a great end, may you be succeeded by your own son). The men now step back and give him the first salutation as Onojie with DO OMON, which is replaced in modem times with ZAKI! This is the signal for all the kingmakers to come forward to do homage to their new Ruler. Then follows the booming of guns, and he moves on now to the outer Ojiukhuo where he is presented to the rest of Eguare and the general public. All now come forward to honour and acknowledge him with DO OMON, in order of precedence.
Though he is now the lawful Onojie and has full claim to the title and all in the palace, no outing is allowed and the administration is carried on till after three months, when the Oniha or in the case of Irrua, the UWAGUE has been thanked for his services in the traditional way. The next thing is the outing: this is not only essential for the spread of
Good will amongst his districts and subjects but it is quite lucrative. He visits all the powerful sub-Chiefs as a sign of friendship and they, like the commoners, give him presents of money and in kind. This step is very necessary where there has been some trouble like ISOTE. (Revolt) in Irrua, before the late Onojie died.
The question of selection and installation of a new Onojie is as easy as described above where there is no dispute, but where there is one, the Kingmakers task is arduous and here the ripe knowledge of the Osukhure as custodian of all the rites and tradition in the palace comes useful. If the succession strife is a result of paternity, that is, the second son challenging the supposed first son on the ground of legitimacy, it is the Osukhure who must be the final arbiter. For example, at every ILUOBO (worship at Ancestral Shrine), it is the man recognized by the Onojie and Egbele as the first son that is given the heart to eat. The son who the Onojie has persistently given the hearts to eat is of course the acknowledge FIRST SON. If he was wrongfully giving the hearts to another son, it was there the challenge should have come and the Egbele should have known about it. Thus the giving of hearts to a son is a public testimony that this is my son and heir!
If the dispute over succession came on long after the Onojie died, the view burial ceremonies come prominently into the picture. "Who performed the burial ceremonies?" There is no one more qualified to answer that than the Osukhure. During the burial ceremonies all the cows and goats slaughter for the late Onojie are used for worshipping on behalf of the heir by the Osukhure. No man who is not entitled to inheritance will be allowed to perform the burial ceremonies, hence the elders of the kingmakers and the Osukhure must be the supreme body entrusted with the responsible duty making a selection before installation. If the strife is a result of an argument over whose forefathers reigned as Enijie, the Osukhure as the recorder the departed Enijie, again looms into respected significance, because every Iluobo or worshipping rite, he recites the names of the past Enijie. The next Odion in the kingmakers' quarters, who takes over the post where the old Osukhure dies, knows the order from what he had repeatedly heard his predecessor say at each rite.
Here is a convenient place to talk of developments since the advent of the British and carelessness of the Edion and kingmakers all over Esan. Some particularly the Christians and educated ones do not hide their feelings had with the advent of the third tier of government the local councils, the position of the Enijie will soon be irrelevant, but at the highest tier government in Nigeria, the Federal Government, there is no illusion over or where to go when trouble threatens - the traditional Rulers!
In an attempt to document the laws and custom governing selection a installation of these poorly recognised arms of administration, the Benefited Government set up a Commission that resulted in Bendel State of Nigel Gazette No. 51.vo1.16 of 28th September, 1979 known as Declaration Customary Law Regulating Succession to Traditional Ruler Title. It’s obvious that at each Community Centre the Onojie was left in the main recite what these laws are and in many cases what the Commission put down, is not just ridiculous but pathetic. Let me cite two, each of which in simplicity summarizes the seven laws governing succession in Esanland.
1- UROMI: BSLN 47 OF 1979
1. There is only one Ruling House in Uromi known Egbeimierhamen
2. Succession is by primogenitor and females are absolutely barred. Should an Onojie die without a surviving male issue, succession passes to his eldest surviving brother and his heirs.
3. If the heir-apparent is a minor at his father's death, his eldest surviving paternal uncle acts as Regent until he attains majority.
4. The heir-apparent summons a meeting of the elders (Edion) and closest members of the Ruling House to announce the death of the deceased Onojie and thereafter proceeds with performance of the burial rites that is to say firstly "Ukhoha", secondly "Itolimhin" and finally "Iluogbe".
5. The Oniha installs the heir-apparent as Onojie in the presence of the Ruling House (Egbeimierhamen) traditional chiefs and general public.
11- EWOHIMI: BSLN 49 OF 1979:
1. There is only one Ruling House in Ewohimi known as Uhaikpen.
2. Succession is by primogeniture and females are absolutely barred. Should an Onojie die without surviving male issue, succession passes to his oldest surviving brother and his heirs.
3. If the heir-apparent is a minor at his father's death, his eldest surviving paternal uncle acts as Regent until he attains majority.
4. Immediately upon the demise of an Onojie and, where practicable before interment the heir-apparent is symbolically placed on the throne by the Chief priest (Osukhure) and proclaimed Onojie designate. Thereafter the Onojie - designate proceeds with the burial ceremonies of the deceased Onojie which will span a period of three months.
5. The burial ceremonies having been completed, the Osukhure assisted by the Oniha and the Odionwele formally installs the Onojie-designate in the presence of the royal family, traditional chiefs and the general public.
I will now cite a few surprises:
A - UBIAJA BSLN 49 OF 1979:
1. There is only one Ruling House in Ubiaja known as Odughanone.
2. Succession is by primogeniture and females are absolutely barred. Should an Onojie die without a surviving male issue, succession passes to his eldest surviving brother and his heirs.
3. If the heir-apparent (i.e the Edaiken) is a minor at his father's death his eldest surviving paternal uncle acts as a Regent until he attains majority.
4. The Egbe informs the Oniha immediately upon the demise of the Onojie. The Oniha then sends for the Edaiken and also sends the Egbe to inform the people of Ahia.
5. The heir-apparent then moves to the Palace. The people of Ahia come to the Palace and secretly carry away the corpse at night to Ahia for interment.
6. The heir-apparent then proceeds within seven days from the demise to perform the most significant burial ceremonies, particularly the "Igbehen" ceremony. On or about the seventh day the demise of the Onojie will be heralded by the firing of canons followed by an announcement by the Oniha. On completion of all the installation ceremonies also within the seven days the heir apparent proceeds to the palace where he will be proclaimed on the seventh day as Onojie-designate by the Oniha in the presence of members of the Ruling House, traditional chiefs and the general public.
7. After the proclamation the Onojie-designate will now with the concurrence of the people of Ahia proceed to complete the rest of the burial ceremonies for the deceased Onojie, that is to say, Itolimhin and ending with the "Ogbe" ceremony.
Failure to perform "Ogbe" disqualifies his son from succession. What constitutes a surprise under what is now going as correct legal declaration governing the Onojie title in Ubiaja? Apart from the hereditary chiefs and "Thank-you Chiefs" there was a subsidiary type known as personal titles which referred to the person of the Onojie – the most consistently appointed by every Onojie being the EGBE (body) and Ehi (Guardian Angel). They all lived and died with the Onojie who appointed them. When the Onojie died the Egbe was killed and used to line the royal grave and after the monarch had been lowered into the grave the Ehi was used to seal the grave. Whoever gave this information under paragraph 4 must be unaware of what this title meant in Esanland!
B- EWATTO BSLN 51 OF 1979:
1. There is only one Ruling House in Ewatto known as Ikokogbe Eguale.
2. Succession is by primogeniture and females are absolutely barred. Should an Onojie die without a surviving male issue, succession passes to his elder surviving brother and his heirs.
3. If the heir-apparent is a minor at his father's death his surviving paternal uncle acts as a Regent until he attains majority.
4. Immediately upon the demise of an Onojie and before interment, the heir-apparent provided he had performed the age group rites of "Iruen" and "Oro" and is of full age is proclaimed as Onojie designate by the eldest member (Odionwele) of the Ruling House assisted by the elders of the Ruling House (Iwebo) and the relatives of the Onojie (Iwegua) in the presence of members of the Ruling House.
5. Thereafter the Onojie-designate proceed with the burial ceremonies for the deceased Onojie and there is mourning for seven days. On the seventh day the Oniha announces publicly the death of the deceased Onojie.
I am prepared to be lenient with acts that do no harm to our laws and custom but when government is setting down what is going to be used in our law courts, it has to be infinitely careful and not just record what some interested individuals told investigation committee. No one should ridicule what our respected fathers and elders proclaimed as their custom years ago. There is nothing quite like the burial of an Onojie however humble he might have been in his life time. He is buried (in Esan expression) Ne oto yi oIe eho, that is, the burial is so noisy, so deafening that even the ground goes deaf! Yet item 5 under Ewatto says the Onojie-designate proceeds with the burial ceremonies for the deceased Onojie AND THERE IS GENERAL MOURNING FOR SEVEN DAYS. ON THE SEVENTH DAY THE ONIHA ANNOUNCES PUBLICLY THE DEATH OF THE DECEASED ONOJIE.
How can anyone be mourning during a burial ceremony when everywhere is dancing, cannonading, eating and merriment? Secondly those who know Esan custom will decide the Oniha after SEVEN DAYS of fantastic burial ceremonies mounting the rostrum to announce the death of which Onojie, the incoming one or THE ONE JUST HONORED WITH AN EAR-SPLITTING BURIAL!
Let me end by saying there are several caricatures of Esan Native Laws and Custom by those ignorant of them informing those who cannot separate wheat from the chaff. Secondly Onojie designate is NOT ESAN. What ESAN know is the HEIR who knows until he has performed these important burial ceremonies the THRONE IS NOT HIS. The earlier he performs them the better for him and his own children. That is why he must complete these vital ceremonies in seven to fourteen days. Burial lasting THREE MONTHS is an avenue for the new Onojie to recoup himself.
I am inviting readers, researchers and those interested in authentic Esan tradition to compare what our forefathers handed down from the fifteen century with the mediocre rehash the defunct Bendel Government wants us accept as Declaration of Customary Law Regulating succession to traditional ruler title.
The government of the capital, EGUARE, was that of the State as well since lesser chiefs, like the Oniha, Iyasele, Ezomon etc, repeated the pattern of the Onojie, subject to control only in matters affecting the whole state or district, neighbour relations, revenue collection, raising of military forces, dispensation of justice over capital offences as murder, stealing, adultery with the Onojie's wife etc; and appeals which were very rare, to the court of the Onojie. The villages similarly controlled their own affairs with these same limitations. The intermediaries between the council of Elders in the villages and the Onojie were the Ekhaemon.
In the village itself the Edion were the rulers and the Ekhaemon had little voice-at village meetings, but the power and influence on matters outside the village were exercised by the Ekhaemon. Since the Onojie was Lord supreme of all he surveyed in his domain and the Ekhaemon were his agents in the village, in practice, outside spiritual matters, the Odionwele was nothing compared with Ekhaemon; in fact in the olden days, the Ekhaemon could loot and humiliate the Odionwele in the name of the Onojie and get away with it!
The Onojie with his chiefs to a lesser extent combined legislative, executive and judicial functions and hence was all powerful. The Onojie, the titular head of many associations in the land, was an institution of his own, and his power was limited only by the courage, avarice and the sensitivity of the conscience of the holder of the title. When major decisions had to be taken there was one body that was nearly as supreme as the Onojie – the INOTU. Their strength was unity and in most parts of Esan they could stage trials, punish, loot or sell an accused, but only after fair trial. Still in places like Irrua and Uromi that had always had extra brave and autocratic Enijie, the nearest thing to the truth was that the Onojie was above the law. He killed his enemies and that included those who dared oppose any measure however atrocious, and it was no murder, but merely removing a clog in his grinding wheel; for example Ikenoa of Uromi (ascended Uromi throne circa 1504), roasted his royal brothers alive and was not killed by the Inotu. The Onojie could loot and plunder a whole village and the charge of stealing could not lie! He could seize another's wife and it was no adultery.
The towns and districts under the big titled chiefs particularly the hereditary ones were largely autonomous. What really made them appear as one unit under one Onojie consisted of the tributes these chiefs and their subjects paid to the Onojie, external relations which were controlled by the government at the capital- Eguare, and the fact that the Onojie had to install them when the old ones died. The functions of these titled chiefs were repeated on a smaller scale in towns, villages and even Uelen (family unit).Thus the people in an Uelen paid yearly tribute of yams and animals slaughtered or killed while hunting, to the Omijiogbe, who was head or ruler of that family!
Following the above, the Omijiogbe was the bottom rung in the rulers of state. Young or old his inheritance made him head of all those who had a common ancestry with his own father. As custodian of their own ancestral shrine all his brothers, uncles and cousins came to him when they had to appease the spirits of their departed forefathers. Once a year they paid tribute consisting of yams (usually seven yams to a bundle) and a calabash of palm wine. When they killed any animal in the bush or slaughtered a domestic animal like a goat, one of the hind legs had to be sent to the Omijiogbe, so that in a big family he was quite a comfortable man. Similarly the first daughters of his immediate brothers were to be married out by him and he accepted the bride price.
Higher up in the administrative hierarchy was the village Okhaemon, to whom yams, palm wine, kola nuts etc, were sent either to seek favour or show respect. To the Onojie there was compulsory tribute to be paid by all in his territory apart from the usual free labour in his farm and houses, gift of yams, kolanuts and palm wine galore. No one in the whole village or district might kill in hunting any animal like bush-cow, pig, deer etc, without sending the hind leg to the Onojie. Failing to do this was not just disrespect but was an offence against native law and custom. The leopard as a ruler of the jungle was in another category altogether. No one could kill one and proceed to quarter it. In Esan it is not really edible, but a man killing it had by that act become a hero (Okhae) in the district, and followed by a war dance, the animal carried on the head was taken to Eguare. The hunter was publicly acknowledged a hero by the Onojie who blessed him and gave him the bead of valour, the EKAN. He was not a titled man, but from then on he ranked with the elders and chiefs, with extra privileges such as exemptions from forced labour at Eguare and the right to stage the yearly war dance in his house or to Onojie's palace.
The Onojie maintained a quarter in Eguare which had the duty of butchering the leopard, not for eating but for preserving certain vitals like the head, whiskers and heart for medicines. The hide was used as a mat by the Onojie and the rest of the royal carcass was given a fitting burial! Esan people believe in allergic manifestation following touch or swallowing parts of such animals like the cat and the leopard; they also believe that by a careful introduction of parts of these animals to the body untoward consequences could be avoided. Thus, in the olden days before the rest of the carcass was buried, bits of the flesh were distributed to children and youngsters who had not tasted it before, to eat. Having eaten it severe manifestations that could follow a desperate hunter quenching his thirst in a water hole from which a leopard might have drunk water were rendered less severe or prevented altogether.
IX - MILITARY ORGANISATION
There was no standing army amongst Esan people. Every able-bodied man from Igene upwards or all members of Inotu, where that association existed, were ready source for military recruitment.
Every man capable of bearing arms had to fight when the village was attacked or when the village had to take reprisals against seizure of a wife, killing of a man etc. The leader of the warriors was the Okakulo who was not only a physically strong man but a feared medicine man. Recruitment came in the main from the special set of Igene called
Here is a convenient place to say a few words of the devastating TRIBAL WARS. Though our forefathers were primitive, each war had a cause and was not just the savages' thirst for blood. Wars in Esan were fought either to avenge wrongs by a neighbouring clan, for example, the seizure of a wife or a man, or for arson which was overt declaration of war, killing of a man of one clan in another's territory or rivalry following succession to the throne - the contestant running usually to his mother's people who came to war with the man then occupying Odugha and his people. Inter-tribal or more correctly in Esan, inter-clannish wars rarely had slave trade as an incentive. Slaves were made of captives, true, but these were merely by products of war. More often the warriors rejoiced with heads of well-known people amongst the enemies rather than take their owners home as slaves. Such rejoicing went on for seven days and on the seventh day, to still the nerves of the warriors, the braver ones assembled at the village square for the ceremonial scalping. The toughest excelled others by eating fried corn with the left hand while harking away with the right! When scalped, the skull was used to adorn the ancestral shrine or kept as a trophy in some conspicuous part of the house.
The Idumebo - Usugbenu War, 1902:
This is a sordid example of what war has always been all over the world: to settle a score over greed, avarice, treachery, selfishness, political vengeance and naked show of power.
To be able to follow, let us identify important characters. A typical Esan woman called Imanlenfo had ten children in Uwenloghidi Imule, llleh. Then she came to Idumebo Irrua to marry Ohunyon, a typical Idumebo leader: She had a boy called Ikhalo. When Ohonyon died, Imanlenfo found another husband in Enogban llleh, where she had her twelfth child called Aikhomun – something modern doctors and educated people think is highly lethal and hence the shout from the roof top to advocate Family Planning!
Ikhalo from childhood was soon recognised as a child of destiny. Shortly after adolescence he became a wealthy farmer with a compound teeming with wives and children. He was the object of envy in Idumebo so he moved unto a man whose fame alone enjoined with an appropriate name OFEINMUN (the fearless one!). A woman who had an opportunity to get close to this giant of a man described each thigh as the trunk of a tree! No one however brave dared go near his abode. Under his protection Ikhalo waxed fat begetting famous children like Egbele, Eirewele, Ehikhametalo, EBAIDE, the future Doda of Eromosele's great harem, who Princess Ebaje nicknamed ASHA. Ofeinmum had graciously betrothed Ebaide to a man in Usugbenu but growing up she went to marry one of Ojemen's sons in Eko Ewu called Alende. She had two children that did not survive childhood and so becoming remorseful, she returned to her guardian Ofeinmun, penitent and opted to go back to the Ofeinmun chosen husband in Usugbenu. There Ebaide did not find the happiness let alone the respect and dignity she expected and in desperation, she "TONOLI" and in Esan expression, "OKHUO KHA TONOLI, OKIJN OKHUO OJIE", that is, when a woman has declared herself property of the Onojie, she becomes the Onojie's wife and no other man would dare touch her again! And to Eromosele's harem went Ebaide where her stately nature soon brought her to the fore.
Aggrieved, Usugbenu people took this incidence as an affront and declared war on Idumebo. Idumebo, even today, is still a small village but has always been blessed with men of valour, leaders of men, men who knew the best of herbs and experts in divination. Idumebo means the village of doctors. Their leader the Osara of Irrua is the head of the Ewase, in full control of the Ojirrua in health and in sickness. Every quarter of this village seethes with experienced native doctors, consulted by all in trouble from all parts of Esan. At the declaration of war Idumebo was less than one sixth of Usugbenu which even today, is the largest single village out of the twenty villages making up Irrua. · With he-men like Ofeinmun, the audacious Aikhomu, Ode, Edeawe, Akhurebhu, Omijie etc. Idumebo took on Usugbenu and fought them to a standstill even though it was an open secret that Eromosele secretly supported Usugbenu. Getting overwhelmed, Idumebo called on their brethren in Akho and Usenu. Idumabi promised to protect Idumebo's rear. In Esan there were inter-community customary agreements even in war, regarding the type of instruments permitted – bows and arrows, crossbows, barbed cudgels but not machetes and dane guns.
Usugbenu, realising small Idumebo was decimating their best men, broke the law and resorted to machetes. Edeawe, the father of Okhilua, was macheted on the jaw and the news spread like a wild fire. This "hot war" frightened everybody and Akho and Usenu fled. For some despicable reasons Idumabi sabotaged Idumebo and allowed Usugbenu warriors the massively infiltrate unto Idumebo through its unguarded eastern frank. Within hours, Idumebo was soaked - every house was set ablaze and Usugbenu systematically carted away women, children and domestic animals. Dispirited, Idumebo surrendered and fled to Otoede where during the building of their huts Ehisanebhele, the father of George Bad Omoegbeleghan, discovered chalk in the Otoede soil. That discovery made news that history preserved.
With Idumebo sacked, Irrua's Benin Western flank got dangerously exposed to the charging of Ojirrua Eromosele. He realised the importance of Idumebo and what hostile Ekpoma raiders could do to Irrua. So he went to beg Idumebo to please come back home. After the Usugbenu war and the return of Idumebo in that same year, 1902, dispirited Idumebo assembled in the village square, invited Eromosele who found Ikhalo in the middle of a marked circle. They recounted their grievous losses in wives, children, houses, domestic animals and economic trees. All these were because of EBAIDE, IKHALO'S daughter. Deliberately forgetting that Ebaide "tonoli" and is now back in Eromosele's harem, they accused Ikhalo of giving his daughter to the Onojie who was sitting and listening. Since Ikhalo could not possibly pay for the heavy war losses, they argued, they "Re Ikhalo fi ohan ne Eromosele!"- (Meaning, he, Ikhalo, should become the property of Eromosele) - going to prove the acquisitive propensity of the Enijie – head they win, tail you lose!
Without a word of thanks, Eromosele hissed through his twisted lips with, "Get up, let's go!”. Ikhalo begged that he be allowed to go and prepare. With his entire family - enough to excite the envy of all Irrua, Ikhalo left with Ebuatale, Utunmenmen, Uneemin, Aluehiaghe, Atanegbe, Izinlin, Alenkhe, Ibhagbosoria, Eirewele, Akhibi, Egbele, Ehikhamentalo, Ibharaiyi and Obiagba for Eguare. Ikhide son of Ofeinmun, volunteered to go into exile with Ikhalo. His father in amazement, asked his son, "Ikhide, ue deba ene rie Udo?", to which Ikhide replied, "Aba, Udo ebholo non!", meaning, "Ikhide, you are joining people going to Udo? And the son replied, "Father, those living in Udo, is people!" – Statements which have been immortalized in Esan proverb!
Ikhalo was quartered with Prince Momodu, and troubled over Ikhide who had left his aged father pleaded with him to go back home, which he did after three days in exile with Ikhalo.
Ikhalo continued to attend to his vast farm in Idumebo from Eguare. Ebaide in the harem went to plead with Eromosele not to sell off the father, Ikhalo and suggested he be allowed to buy off himself. Eromosele exploded and asked Ebaide if she knew what that meant. That required seven beads! So Ikhalo gave his daughters Atanegbe who was already married in Idumuewakon Illeh and only came home because of illness, Alenkhe, Izilin and Ibhagbosoria and in gratitude to Prince Momodu who was so nice to him and family, he gave Agborofo as a wife. Atanegbe was sold into slavery, Eromosele married beautiful Izilin, Alenkhe was given to his only half brother Prince Akeme, father of Ikhifa Dawodu who is himself father of the large and respected Ikhifa clan today. Akeme gave Alenkhe to his uncle Omokhuale in Idumabi; he, in tum, gave her to his son, Akhabue.
In 1904, restless Idumebo, sote - rebelled against Eromosele. By this time the whiteman was finding his feet in Esan country. Eromosele who could no longer deal with his subjects as before, reported the matter. He and the whiteman came to Idumebo. Idumebo elders seeing Eromosele with a whiteman, fled from their Okoughele into their houses, leaving audacious Aikhomun and Ebhomien, "Where are the rest!”. Eromosele demanded. "They have gone". Aikhomun fearlessly declared. "You see! Eromosele said to the whiteman, "these two are the fire-eaters and trouble makers in this village!". They were arrested and sent to prison in far away Benin. Even intelligent Aikhomun could not tell how long they were in Benin but one day they heard shouts of "A-K-O-M-U, A-B-O-M-I-E!, why are you still here, months after release?". They were driven out with a cane and months later, they surfaced in Idumebo!
The Idumebo - Usugbenu war of 1902 and its fall-out were still to plague Irrua for in 1914 fearless Ebaide (meaning what you cannot get to buy in the market is expensive:) went before the whiteman to report about her forced stay in Eromosele's harem. A simple matter of ITONOLI between a man and his wife in Usugbenu ended with all the slaves who had become big men in Eguare and the myriads of incarcerated wives in the harem being seen free by the District Commissioner A.E. Hanson to denude Eguare and the harem. No one could say what the truth was in the boast of Irrua Ewase, for
shortly after, on his way home, the very officer was torpedoed on the high seas, in 1914.
After the initial wars by the Obas, immediately following Ewuare that selfish, Esan and its Enijie became vassals of the Binis. Inter – tribal wars stopped or became a limited affair. For example, when a new man because Oba he usually sent round chalk of rejoicing and peaceful intent round that territories awing allegiance to Benin. Any Onojie who refused to accept the chalk, had not only disrespected the new Oba but had publicly refused to admit allegiance to the man then occupying the Benin throne. That was war. Such a war understandably had to be limited to the domain of the Onojie
who threw a challenge to the Oba. In most cases the faithful Esan Enijie fought on the same side as the Oba's forces against the rebellious Onojie For instance, Irrua, Uromi and Ebelle fought on the same side of the Bini during the Akure War of 1818, but during succession civil war between Ogbebo and Eredia-Uwa who became Oba Osemwede (1816-1948), people of Ewohimi to which Prince Eredia-Uwa had fled and that
neighbouring areas, fought against Ogbebo and the Binis. Also during the Odin-Ovba (Adolo 1848 - 1888) and Ogbewekon conflict that culminated the Amahor War of 1853, Igueben, Ebelle, Amahor and Ezen fought against the Binis while the rest of Esan people were for the Oba.
(X) NON-AGGRESSION PACT
With the sincerity that goes with unsophistication, the Esan people have series of non-aggression pacts with neighbouring and distant districts. The pacts were made to be honoured at the pain of incurring the dreaded displeasure of the departed spirits or suffering of a sudden and violent death) These pacts expressed as "WE DO NOT SEE EACH OTHER'S BLOOD came about in these ways: Settlements founded by men of kindred relationship like brothers treated themselves like members of same Egbele and the drawing of blood amongst them was strictly forbidden e.g. Udo and Ubiaja, Emu and Ohordua, Egoro and Opoji etc.
*1 This beauty of Oral History was given by Mr. Esene Aigbomian - a man with
clear, retentive memory, attentive to names, places and dates. The Chief of the dramatised personnel- Ebaide Ikhalo, the Doda of Eromosele's harem, was Esene's aunt and the Author’s grand – mother.
a) Settlements founded by people under the OKOVEN system were under oath to live like brothers even though not related by blood. Though inter-marriage was allowed between them, they could not take each other's wives. Any injury was left for the Okoven oath to settle, and anybody who took up his machete to avenge such wrong was himself committing a bigger crime.
b) Traditional enemies might come to live in peace and all bloodletting was strictly forbidden even though there was no blood affinity and no Okoven. Such followed the marriage of one Onojie's daughter to the Onojie of the enemy clan. That happened when Ediale of Uromi married out one of his many beautiful daughters, Ozedu, to Uabomeri of Opoji. She was the mother of Omokhoa (1835 - 1864). From then on the connection between the ruling houses of Uromi and Opoji led to a mutually appreciated non-aggression pact.
a) Sometimes one powerful and respected figure acted as a connecting rod between two districts which might have been poles apart before. The great warrior, blacksmith and physician, Enowe, was born in Esan, fought hand – in – hand with Eben, founder of Igueben and died in Idumu-Igun, Ugboha in Benin City. The three places, Ugboha in Esan, Igueben and Benin City deified Enowe. The love for a common factor led to a nonaggression pact between Ugboha in Esan and Igueben,
b) Similarly a potent enemy could bring about the cement of friendship. For example, a terrible enemy had been raiding the districts around as happened when Ebohon of Benin was preying on many Esan clans in the second half of the eighteenth century; all who called Ebohon ENEMY regarded themselves as FRIENDS, and so would be helping their common foe by attacking themselves: that type of thing was a good beginning of friendly relations. Fighting Ozolua had done his best to rule Ekpoma out as a nation about 1480. In 1503, the same Ozolua wanted to humiliate Agba of Uromi (1488 - 1504), the desire to extirpate their common object of hate resulted in the proverbial brotherhood between Ekpoma and Uromi ever since.
These are the main reason why two clans that have lived in peace for years come to express their cordial relationship simply as "Because we are BROTHERS." One should be wary, therefore, in accepting non-aggression pacts as evidence of patrilineage.