Iyare Iyare ! Umogun Ghato Okpere Ise !
Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare Ogidigan II.
If you’re been following the news lately (both traditional or otherwise), then you’ll know that Benin has been in the spotlight as they coronated a new Oba. It has been tagged a historic coronation.
This had most traditional rulers in the country, diplomats, political rulers and all other big wigs on its roll call.
The fascinating thing about it was how tradition from about 300 years ago was followed to a ‘T’. The people of Benin truly showed the world that they were proud of their culture and reinforced that there was nothing to fear with regards to their tradition fading away. People of Benin, both home and abroad were proud to see their culture on display to the world.
Notice the resemblance – It is the king being held by his bodyguards.
We will look at the Benin kingdom and its culture starting with the coronation of the Oba of Benin.
There is no secret that there is a bit of a tussle between the Yoruba kingdom and the Benin kingdom which is why there are similarities. Did Oramiyan rule Benin because there were originally from there? Was he exiled? All these and many more.
When coronating a new Oba in Benin, 10 days are put aside for the festivities and traditional rites.
It all starts from Egua-Edaiken (Edaiken means heir apparent) which has been designated as the traditional residence of the the heir apparent. The Edaiken then chooses the day he wishes to begin his journey back to Benin-City while accompanied by his Uselu people. During this journey, various stops and rites will be performed.
His first stop is at a palm tree of historical significance named ‘Udinama aimiuwa’ (meaning work before pleasure). The Edaiken then climbs it as it symbolises the suffering of Oba Ewuare who climbed palm trees at that exact location to cut the fruits for a living. His life was characterised by suffering and has been re-enacted till date by every Edaiken.
After the re-enaction at the palm tree, the Edaiken carries on to Benin-City. He gets to a moat called Iya-Akpan and then the Uselu chiefs who had been accompanying him return back to Uselu while the Oredo chiefs take over.
His journey then continues through Igwuisi to Eko Ohae (Bachelor’s Camp) where the oba rests for 3 days. You would think that after all this trekking, he would be halfway through. Nope. He then has to head to Usama where the traditional rites are to be held. This is where it gets interesting. Usama is said to be the site where Oramiyan (a yoruba deity) the father of Eweka I built the first palace where all Obas from Eweka have lived till Oba Ewedo moved the palace to the town centre.
7 days of rituals and ceremonies take place in between which the Edaiken visits the village of Use where he picks his name as the Oba – Ewuare II !!! The name is chosen after the Edaiken defeats Edigin N’Use in the traditional Akhue game( marble seeds). Best believe behind everything the people of Benin do, there’s a reason.
Rumor has it this is started when Oba Eweka I’s maternal grandfather lived Ogie-Egor lived in the village of Egor. Ogie-Egor was left in charge of Prince Oranmiyan’s pregnant wife when he was leaving Benin. The princess gave birth to a boy who couldn’t speak and so sent him to Use for treatment which still didn’t work. His father was in Uhe and after hearing his son couldn’t speak sent him 7 magical akhue which the dumb boy used to participate in the popular village game. While playing, there was one seed left which every player failed to strike. The young prince decided to use his magical akhue and stuck down the last seed. In his excitement, he said his first word Owomika which is Yoruba for ‘my hand struck it’. He took this expression as a title and converted it to the Benin word ‘Eweka’.
After going through the trouble of picking a name, he returns to Usama where a crowning ceremony is held by the leader of the Uzama, Oliha who proclaims Edaiken with his new title as the Oba of Benin. From that moment henceforth, he is no longer known by his personal name. He then leaves for the town centre where he is presented to the people of Benin as the new Oba.
Back in the day, Oba Ewedo had a bridge erected for him to pass Isekherhe territory as his feet was not to touch the ground. This must be re enacted by the new Oba.
Once the bridge is crossed, a mock battle takes place between the Oba/his entourage and the Ogiamien/his followers. After winning this battle, the Oba and his entourage carry on to Urho-Okpota. Urho Okpota also known as the gate of Okpota dates. Okpota was a powerful native doctor who made good luck charms for the Oba. This charm is apparently buried at the gate of the palace and continues to bring prosperity to the kingdom.
Urho-Okpota has made its name as the meeting place for useful deliberations because many years ago, he Oba lodged Okpota in a house near his palace and the balcony was the meeting place for elders and the Oba.
One would believe that after all these rites and moving into the palace, the Oba can now face ruling his kingdom. Unfortunately, he still has an Ogiamien to challenge 7 days after. So a troop will be assembled and they will head to Ekiokagha where he will engage in another mock battle with Ogiamien which mimicks the original battle between Oba Ewedo and Ogiamien in the 13th century. This battle occureed because Oba Ewedo attempted to stop the Ogiamien from entering the city from Usama. However a treaty was signed between the two and the Ogiamien surrendered his claim to owning the land to the Oba.
Some of the things I hear are forbidden during the coronation are
- Burial rites
- Whistling in the palace (as you’ll be calling deities)
- You can’t carry palm kernels on your head.
- You can’t point at the Oba and Chiefs (I believe this continues even after coronation)
- You can’t wear black
Did you follow the coronation? What were your thoughts?