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By Jim Rex-Lawson Moses
History was made once again in the ancient city of Benin, Benin Kingdom, with the emergence of a new Oba on October 20, 2016.
This epoch making event will forever remain notable in the annals of history, as one of the world’s renowned ancient kingdoms celebrated the final coronation rites ceremony of Crown Prince (Amb.) Eheneden Erediauwa, the Edaiken N’Uselu (heir-apparent), as the new and 40th Oba of Benin, after the successful completion of a very rigorous process that is in line with the customs and tradition of this great kingdom, for ascension to the highly revered throne of his forefathers.
The great Benin Kingdom remains one of the most famous kingdoms in the history of Africa and the world. With “Benin” as the name of the kingdom as well as its central city, it is famous for its oral history traditions and highly skilled craftsmanship and arts, especially wood carving, weaving and brass casting. Even more, its social structure is complex and sophisticated, and the territory is well developed with the Oba residing in an extremely well-fortified and masterfully designed palace.
Benin was central to the cultural and pre-colonial political evolution of some contemporary African states, and its glory cannot diminish as long as history provides the bedrock of rational reasoning; this perhaps accounts for the landmark statement by High Priest Osemwengie Ebohon, proclaiming that “Benin is the center of cultural microcosm in Africa”.
Much of Benin’s history is cast in bronze, with past Obas well represented in bronze statues both at Igun and the Royal Palace; brass casting reached a particularly high level of aesthetic and technical sophistication in the sixteenth century, when decorative plaques and sculptures (now known as ‘The Benin bronzes’) were made to decorate the Oba’s palace.
However, a lot more of the kingdom’s history is lost to time, as both folklores and linguistic evidence point to the Benin civilization being ancient indeed. Like six millennia old.
Benin, founded by the Edo people, has a monarchial history that begins with the legendary Ogisos (rulers from the sky); these first rulers claimed direct descent from Osanobua, the almighty God in Edo cosmology, through his youngest son, Idu.
There are varying timelines for the reign of the Ogisos, which the most dominant narrative indicating that they ruled from around 900 AD to the 13th century; an alternative timeline states that they may have ruled from 40 BC.
Fortunately, the line of succession is less fuzzy, and it’s generally accepted that the first Ogiso was Ogiso Igodo, who, with his claim of divine descent, cobbled up a nascent state called Igodomigodo by incorporating autonomous settlements within a complex of large earth walls.
More than 30 Ogisos ruled over the Edo people, expanding the kingdom, and setting up laws.
In the early 13th century, Oronmiyan, the grandson of Ogiso Owodo, the last Ogiso, was proclaimed the first Oba, or king, of the Edo.
Oronmiyan, having been raised in exile, and facing resistance from a regent, didn’t stay long in Igodomigodo, which he left to found the kingdom of Oyo. He left behind an expectant princess, who gave birth to Eweka I, considered by most as the first Oba as his reign was longer. Eweka I also changed the name of his domain from Igodomigodo to Edo.
However, as clarified by the current Oba of Benin, Oronmiyan is indeed the first Oba of Benin.
Benin City, the capital of Edo state, south-south Nigeria, was rapidly transformed into a magnificent city from 1440, during the reign of Ewuare the Great, who greatly expanded the kingdom.
The current Oba is named after Ewuare the Great, and becomes the 40th Oba of the Oronmiyan dynasty. His full title after coronation is:
His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Apkpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, One of Benin.
The Coronation Ceremony
The coronation ceremony of an Oba of Benin usually last about 10 days. It begins from Egua-Edaiken, the traditional residence of the heir-apparent to the Benin Throne. On a day fixed by the Edaiken, he is escorted by his Uselu people on his journey back to Benin City. On the way, he stops at an historical palm tree named “Udinama aimiuwa” (translated to mean “work before pleasure”) which the Edaiken “climbs” symbolically.
This little ceremony dates its origin to the time of Oba Ewuare the Great, whose life as heir apparent to the throne was characterized by long suffering which included periods when he personally had to climb palm trees on this spot to cut the fruits for a living. This act of suffering by the father of the first Edaiken has ever since been re-enacted in a symbolic way by every Edaiken.
From the palm tree, the Edaiken continues his journey to Benin City; but at the first moat ( called Iya-akpan), in the vicinity of where the firm of Mid-Motors Nigeria Limited now stands, the Uselu chiefs in the procession take leave of the Edaiken and return to Uselu while the Edaiken is thereafter escorted into the City by Oredo Chiefs.
The Edaiken enters the City via Iguisi (now Lagos Street) and proceeds to Eko-Ohae (bachelor’s camp) where he stays for three days. After three days at Eko-Ohae, the Edaiken continues his journey to Usama, the venue of the traditional coronation rites. Usama was the site where Oronmiyan, the father of Eweka I, built the first palace, and all succeeding Obas from Eweka I were crowned and lived there, until Oba Ewedo in the 13th century moved the palace to the present site in the center of the town.
The Edaiken remains in Usama for 7 days performing all the rituals and ceremonies of the Oba. Before the expiration of 7 days, he visits a village a few kilometers outside Benin, where he performs the ceremony for choosing the name he will answer to as the Oba of Benin. This tradition started during the period of Oba Eweka I, whose maternal grandfather, Ogie-Egor, lived in the next door village of Egor. When Prince Oronmiyan left Benin, he left behind his Bini wife who was pregnant in the care of her father the Ogie of Egor. The woman delivered a male child who was dumb from birth.
The maternal grand-father then sent him to Use, the mother’s village for treatment, but when he grew up and still could not talk, words were sent to his father at Uhe. His father sent 7 magical akhue with which the dumb Prince participated in the popular village game known as akhue. With only one seed remaining on the ground and every player having failed to strike it. The young Prince used the magical akhue from his father and succeeded in striking down the remaining seed.
Excited by this feat, he spoke for the first time, exclaiming in Yoruba, Owimika (my hand has struck it). He later assumed this expression for a title which became corrupted to Eweka.
Having picked a name to use, the Edaiken returns to Usama where the crowning ceremony is performed by the Oliha. The leader of the Uzama and proclaims Edaiken in his newly acquired name as the Oba of Benin. It is significant to note that until the ceremony at Use, the Edaiken never knows beforehand what name he is going to be crowned with. From this moment also, the Edaiken ceases to use his personal names and he is henceforth known by the new name of an Oba.
Also significant is the fact that both at Egor and Use, there still exist almost in their original form the shrines established by the diviners and the native doctors who brought the magical akhue seeds from Uhe. After the crowning ceremony the new Oba then leaves Usama on the 7th day for the town center to be proclaimed and presented to the people.
On his way to the City, he stops at Isekherhe to perform the ceremonial crossing of a bridge, a reminder of the day Oba Ewedo, on a similar journey, erected a bridge to enable him pass Isekherhe territory without stepping on the ground. After crossing the bridge, the Oba and his entourage engage in a mock battle with Ogiamien and his followers.
The resistance of Ogiamien forces collapses while the Oba and his entourage proceed to Urho-Okpota (the gate of Okpota), which dates back to the era of Oba Ozolua (15th century), and is the area now known as “Ring Road”, including where Exhibition Center and the Local Government Secretariat now stand.
Okpota was a powerful native doctor who prepared a good luck charm for the Oba. It is said that the charm which was buried at the gate of the palace brought prosperity to the Kingdom. The Oba lodged Okpota in a house near the palace in the area of the present day Exhibition Centre. The verandah to his house soon became a meeting place for the elders, even for the Oba, and Urhokpota has ever since remained a center for meeting and useful deliberations.
The ceremony at Urhokpota completed, the new Oba then moves into the palace as the Oba of Benin. But he still has Ogiamien’s challenge to meet; and so, 7 days after, he assembles his troops and proceeds to Ekiokpagha where he engages in a mock battle with Ogiamien, a reminder of the real battle between Oba Ewedo and Ogiamien in the 13th century when the latter attempted to prevent the former from entering the city from Usama. By the treaty between the two, Ogiamien surrendered his claim to the ownership of land to the Oba.
THE NEW OBA
HRM Ewuare II, formerly his His Royal Highness Crown Prince (Amb.) Eheneden Erediauwa, Edaiken N’ Uselu, is the eldest son of HRM, Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa, Uku Akpolokpolo, (the translated) Oba of Benin, the possessor and custodian of this unbridled heritage which had gone way back into thousands of years.
Born in 1953, HRM Ewuare II is a former Nigerian Ambassador to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Angola, Italy and Albania.
He attended Edo College, Benin City, from 1965 to 1967, and Immaculate Conception College (I.C.C), Benin City, from 1968 to 1970, where he obtained his Secondary School Leaving Certificate.
After obtaining his Secondary School Leaving Certificate in 1970, His Royal Highness proceeded to England, and studied from 1971 to 1972 at South Thames College, South West London, for the General Certificate for Education (G.C.E. Advance Level).
As a result of the Crown Prince’s love for education, he quickly applied for tertiary education and secured admission at the University of Wales in 1973, and graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree in Economics in June 1977.
He followed this up with a Masters in Public Administration from Rutgers Graduate School in 1981.
It may interest you to know that His Royal Highness also enrolled for a Doctorate degree in International Administration at the University of London, but had to suspend his thesis due to family commitments.
Worthy of note about this well read and outstanding Oba of one of the world’s greatest and oldest kingdoms on earth, is that he also served the compulsory one year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos, which he is currently a member of; and participated in the Graduate Internship at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, U.S.A., as part of a postgraduate training in international administration.
Since 1987, HRM Oba Ewuare II has been active in leading positions within the Nigerian business community, especially in the oil and gas industry, and prior to his diplomatic assignments as a Nigerian ambassador, he served on the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and many other company boards.
From all this, it is very clear that this new Oba of Benin is well armed with education and experience to take his kingdom and the entire people of Edo state to enviable heights. Without any iota of doubt, this marks a new dawn in Benin Kingdom.
As he ascends this highly revered throne of his forefathers, we wish him good health and a happy peaceful reign.
OBA GHA TO KPERE… ISEE!!