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The Benin-Ife Connection

- The Missing Link -




Prince Edun Akenzua


culled from VANGUARD Sunday May 23, 2004


Nigerian newspapers have been awash with commentaries on the Benin-lfe connection since the public presentation of Omo n�Oba Erediauwa�s Memoirs on April 29. The high and the low; historians, the professionals and the pseudo, even cranks, have had a field day, taking sides with either the Oba�s position or the Ooni�s.

Among the early commentators was the Oba of Lagos. A newspaper report said: "The Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Aremu Aklolu I yesterday joined the ongoing controversy between Oba Okunade Sijuwade Olubuse II and his Benin counterpart, Omo n�Oba Erediauwa, weighing in on the side of the Benin monarch that Qduduwa, the Founder of Yoruba race was an escapee Prince Ekaladrhan from Benin kingdom.�

The Ooni of lfe, felt he was at the receiving end of the Omo n�Oba�s statement and took up the gauntlet. He was described by a newspaper to be �visibly angry� at the Omo n� Oba. He was reported to say: �Last Thursday 29th April, Omonoba the Oba of Benin goofed during the lunching of his book...� The Ooni came down hard on the Oba, saying the Oba made a deliberate attempt� to �re-write� the Yoruba history. He said: �It is just right to allow the entire world to know that the name Ododuwa, the founder of our dynasty can never be corrupted or bastardised by any living being in an attempt to create for himself, an unnecessary distortion of historical fact.�

For good measure, the Ooni added: �Oduduwa the legend, the father of the bigger Yoruba dynasty has no connection whatsoever with Ogiso dynasty in Benin history as portrayed by the Oba of Benin because Oduduwa descended directly from heaven through a chain to where is now known as Ife today in company of 400 deities�.

Even though the Ooni, in anger, used an unelegant word, �goofed,� to describe an action taken by his royal brother, I believe he was earnest and that he made his remarks in good faith. In deed, the Ooni and the Omo n� Oba are both right in their postulations. And they were honest too! They both told the same story but each from his point of knowledge.

 It is like two men standing on the same street, one at the beginning of the street, the other at the middle, both facing the same direction and walking to the end of the street. The man who started at the middle will be able to describe only what he saw on the way, but what the man who started at the beginning will describe will include what the man at the middle did not see. The Ooni and, indeed, the people of Ife tell the story from the time of their contact with Oduduwa.

 The Omo n� Oba and the Benin also from their time of contact.
One of those who commented was Prof. Hakeem Haruna of the University of Lagos. His opinion was among the most objective and scholarly so far. We shall come back to him later.One Dr. Siyan Oyeweso of the Lagos State University also commented. He reported the Omo n�Oba as saying that the Yoruba ancestory was from Benin.

He accused the Oba, whom he said was not �a professional historian,� of making an �attempt to re-write the Yoruba history� which, according to the historian, �is a settled case.� Writing passionately, he said: �I do not believe anybody will claim that the origin of Yoruba people is from Benin. The origin of the Yoruba people, started in Ife, the cradle of Yoruba, the Orisu, the word that cannot be translated, which is believed to be their own Garden of Eden. The identity of Oduduwa is not so much in doubt. It is agreed by historians of all persuasions that the ancestor of the Yoruba is Oduduwa. According to the Yoruba belief system, Oduduwa was sent from Heaven through a chain and landed in Ife�.

The fact that Oduduwa lived is history; that he descended from �heaven� mystically on a chain, is mythology. Most countries or civilizations have their mythology. But �professional historians,� as Dr. Oyeweso acknowledged, know the difference between mythology and history. As Head of History Department of Lagos State University, Dr. Oyeweso, is a �professional historian�.

I have read the Omo n� Oba�s book. I did not find where the Omo n� Oba said the Yoruba people originated from Benin, nor where any stated assertion or theory on the origin of the Yoruba was assaulted. But many of the commentators, especially of Yoruba extraction, took that line. It only shows how readily one can lose focus and deviate from one�s course.

Oyeweso referred to a dispute between the Elepe of Epe and the Akarigbo of Remo in 1903. He said the colonial Governor MacGregor referred the matter to the Alafin of Oyo who, according to Oyeweso, sent the matter back to the colonial authority, with word that he (the Alafin) had an elder brother, the Ooni of Ife who could authoritatively say what the situation was. The matter, apparently, was referred to the Ooni who, incidentally, had travelled out of Ife.

Oyeweso wrote: �It was in 1903 that, for the first time in Yoruba history, the Ooni travelled out of the traditional territory to lbadan. All the Yoruba Obas, including the Oba of Benin stayed outside the Palace, signifying that it was forbidden for them to stay in the Palace. They insisted that until he returned, they wouldn�t go back to their palaces.� Dr. Oyeweso, had introduced this point obviously to illustrate the paramountcy of the Ooni of lfe over the Alafin of Oyo and �all the Yoruba Obas, including the Oba of Benin.�

It is not the intention of this writer to dabble into the hierarchy of Yoruba Obas who, I believe, know their positions in their own history. But attention must be drawn to a false statement contained in that account. He said �all the Yoruba Obas including the Oba of Benin� were present at the Ife parley in 1903. The Oba of Benin was NOT there. The Oba of Benin, in 1903, was Omo n�Oba Ovonramwen. He was in Calabar from 1897 to 1914.

Reference to the Alafin of Oyo in that context brings to mind the Benin oral tradition account of the connection between the Alafin and the Oba of Benin. The account has it that when Oranmiyan left Benin, he returned to lfe. But he met that his father had passed on. The house or estate was being looked after by an old aide, a priest. Oranmiyan�s followers wanted to eject the old man but Oranmiyan prevailed on them to leave him alone as he was too old and had no where else to go. Oranmiyan and his followers then moved further north and settled in a place which became known as Oyo.

As they left, some of his followers pointed at the old priest who they perceived as a sit-tighter who did not want to vacate the palace for the rightful owner and told him, derisively: �Ee-fiIe, ooni Afin� and, pointing at their master, they said: �Alafin re�. Since Oramiyan fathered Owomika (Eweka I) the founder of the so-called Second Dynasty of Benin monarchy and went ahead to found Oyo, it follows that the Oba of Benin and the Alafin of Oyo are blood relations and only related fondly to lfe as a place where their progenitor had settled and Oramiyan was born. It is instructive that you have Benin kingdom and Empire, Oyo Kingdom and Empire but not lfe Kingdom or Empire.

Oduduwa was not more than a myth until around 1948 or so when the sage, Obafemi Awolowo, used his name as the clarion call to galvanize the Yoruba into a group, Egbe Omo Oduduwa, which metamorphosed into Action Group to challenge NCNC and perceived lbo domination.

The internationally respected historian and academic, Prof Ado Ajayi in commenting also fell into the same trap and became victim of Yoruba ethnic chauvinism. He wondered what the Omo n� Oba studied to give him the competence to say what he said. Rather than ask for the Omo n� Oba�s source of information, he dismissed him outright, because, according to him, the Oba had no evidence to �back it up�.

He took up the Omo n�Oba on his assessment of the celebrated historian, the late Jacob U. Egharevba. Hear him: �I think what the Oba is trying to say is that a Bini historian, Jacob Egharevah (sic) wrote a book and he says that the fourth edition of the book was edited in Ibadan.

So there is no contradiction between the first and the fourth editions of the book. But Oba of Benin says he is dismissing Egharevah (sic) because Akoko-Edo blood in him, Egharevah (sic), made him favour the Yorubas. He didn�t say the man is a Yoruba man but that he had Akoko-Edo blood in him.

�Akoko-Edo people are no longer under Edo State. I think the Oba of Benin has been saying things like this before. He just wanted to use the opportunity of this book to provoke a controversy and I think he is getting that already. He did not cite any evidence.

At least those said who that Benin tradition agree with Ife tradition quote Egharevah (sic) who was a Benin chief, who actually did a lot of research not only on Benin but on Akure and surrounding areas, Urhobo and Itsekiri. He even wrote a book entitled a short history of Benin. And any day, I will rather follow that book than follow what an Oba who is not an expert in the field and whose only interest in the matter is to be able to assert his own opinion.�

But the Omo n� Oba never said Egharevba was from Akoko-Edo. On pages 205 and 206 of his book where Egharevba was mentioned, the Omo n�Oba wrote: �I must comment here, in passing, that I personally have never accepted the account of our late illustrious historian, Jacob U. Egharevba when he wrote in the very first edition of his now authoritative book A short History of Benin, the following: �Many many years ago, Oduo (Oduduwa) of Uhe (lle-lfe) the father and progenitor of the Yoruba kings sent his eldest son Obagodo - who took the title of Ogiso - with a large retinue all the way from Uhe to found a kingdom in this part of the world.�
And in the fourth (and now current) edition of the book, the late author wrote:

�Many, many years, the Binis came all the way from Egypt to found a more secure shelter in this part of the world, after a short stay in the Sudan and at lle-Ife, which the Benin people call Uhe... The rulers or kings were commonly known as �Ogiso� before the arrival of Oduduwa and his party at Ife in Yorubaland, about the 12th century of the Christian era.�

�It is the fourth edition of the book, which historians in the University of lbadan assisted to re-write and was printed by the lbadan University Press, that earned the late illustrious historian, the �doctorate� from that University.

The Omo n� Oba said it was not his intention to discredit the late illustrious historian (and traditional chief) but since that write-up would bring in the historical link between Ife and Benin, �It is impossible not to bring out errors or contradiction in the extracts quoted.�

He said there were contradictions between the first edition and the fourth edition of the man�s book. He added: �Apart from the fact that the Edo n�Ekue (Edo-Akure partly-Benin-partly Yoruba by birth) blood in the man manifested itself, the experts in Ibadan University contributed to the contradiction�.

That Ajayi repeatedly quoted the Omo n� Oba as referring to Akoko-Edo as Egharevba�s birth-place suggests that he probably did not read the book before he joined the melee.

On the Omo n� Oba�s contention that O duduwa could not have been the father of Yoruba kings, he said: �Yes, on what evidence? You don�t say something without evidence to back it up. The Yoruba say Oduduwa came from the Far East, others say he descended from heaven like Johnson wrote. What did the Oba of Benin study? Did he study Egharevah (sic)? Did he study historians of Ife who had written about Ife, the cradle of Yoruba and so on�?�
But neither the Ooni nor the Yoruba presented evidence of Ododuwa�s descent from heaven or coming from the Far East.

In this matter, those of us who are not academics may enjoy the indulgence of selecting who to believe or follow. To the academic, the scholar, it goes beyond an article of faith or mere whimsical belief. But Ajayi allowed himself to be dragged down by tribal chauvinism into an abyss, an abode for non-academics. But, like a flash in the pan, and true to his brilliant, scholarly reputation, he also said: �There is no certainty in history, you go by probability.� Yet, he and others had spoken with finality on the issue.

It should also be said, for the purpose of putting the issue straight, that Omo n�Oba Akenzua II, the father of Omo n�Oba Erediauwa did not attend meetings of Yoruba Obas but of Obas in the old colonial Western Provinces, where the withdrawing colonial authorities had lumped Benin. Those meetings later became meetings of the Western House of Chiefs. It was a political arrangement and since Benin was part of Western Region, the Oba and the people of Benin had to participate in the political process of the time.

Since the debate had become free-for-all, one Michael lsede who claimed to be grand son of the last Ogiso of Benin also wrote. If Isede was a descendant of Ogiso he would therefore be a member of the Royal Family. He would know that the last of the Ogisos, by the name of Owodo, died since 960 AD and that Owodo�s only child was Ekaladerhan. No grandchild to any of the Ogisos is alive today.

The least that one may say about the piece he wrote is that it was full of disorderly logic, half-truths and facts on their heads. He wrote like someone with many half-information and disinformation running riot in his head and who was eager to disgorge them and relieve the tempest. if Isede is a member of the Royal Family he should do himself a favour and properly trace his ancestory.

Now, let us get back to Professor Hakeem Haruna. He wrote: The position by the Oba of Benin to me poses a challenge to all professional historians interested in subject of origins and migration of our people to go into the field and do further research on the subject along the subject articulated by the Oba of Benin to see whether there exists similar evidence in Benin and lfe-tie that will corroborate what the Oba has said as well find out if there are evidences that controvert the new position. Or that which may dismiss the subsisting theory of lfe Origin of the Benin dynasty and then assert and propagate the new position on the subject by the Oba of Benin. Until such a research is done, It may be difficult for any historian to take a position on the subject.�

Prof Ajayi said a similar thing although with tongue in cheek. And on May 9, the widely read columnist of the Sunday Vanguard, KoIa Animasaun, wrote:
�The keeper of the soul of the Yoruba nation, Ooni, the Oluaye said his ancestors descended from heaven. Not many of us believe that tale. No one descends from heaven but angels and you cannot see them. Is he (the Ooni) in the proper position to authenticate Yoruba history? I do not think so. Only the Sons of Oduduwa are competent so to do. Foremost among them being the Alafin of Oyo. Until he does that I would keep my fingers crossed.�

The Yoruba Elders Council seemed to take a cue from Haruna. It mandated Prof. Ajayi to set up a Committee to carry out more research into the origin of the Yoruba. By giving that mandate to Ajayi, members of the Council have behaved, true to their name, as elders, and demonstrated their wisdom. They realize that even in science you do not speak with finality. Room is always left for new discoveries, new finds. Afterall, there was a time when even scientists regarded the atom as the smallest particle of matter. But years later, they split it. So it is with history. What is held as gospel today will be modified or altered in the face of new archeological finds.

To assist Prof Ajayi�s committee, I reproduce hereunder the preface of this writer�s yet-to-be published book entitled EKALADERHAN. It could provide food for thought for those who wish to approach the issue in a scholarly manner.
�About one thousand years ago, the people of lgodomigodo were embraI1ed in a political  turmoil brought about by the loss of their king, they reasoned that the first step towards normality was - the restoration of kingship. They decided to have another king. Indeed, monarchism was the only system of government they had known. It was the quintessence of their life.

They sent a delegation to Uhe and requested the people of that country to give them a king. A request for help or favour from one nation to another is a frequent occurrence in present-day diplomacy. But in the days of old, when there was no intercourse between nations, such a straight-forward and apparently friendly gesture was inconceivable. In the particular case of Igodomigodo and Uhe, questions are raised to which no objective or rational answers have been adduced. For instance, why did the people of Igodomigodo choose Uhe, instead of another country, which is perhaps nearer, to go and request for a king? The more one ponders over that question, the more intriguing it seems.

In the tenth century when the event took place, Uhe had no record of a ruler, let alone a famous one, from whom neighbouring countries could make such a request. But there is evidence in both lgodomigodo and Uhe that the request was made. That simple fact has become the origin of a puzzle and, perhaps, of the oldest poser in inter-state relations in the African history.

The question is not about whether or not the relationship between the two African countries existed; its existence has been proved beyond a doubt by anthropological and folkloric evidence. Songs and rituals are performed in both countries today which eulogize the link with nostalgia, relish and pride. The question is, how is it possible for a country to seek succour from another about whose existence it does not know?.

lgodomigodo is present-day Benin; Uhe, lle-lfe or simply, lfe.
No wonder, the Ooni of Ife, while receiving the Oba of Benin who paid him a state visit at lfe on November 11, 1982, described the Oba�s visit as a �short home-coming.� The Ooni spoke with the pride of a father receiving a son who had made good abroad.

He said: �We welcome Your Royal Highness most heartily back to lle-lfe, the cradle of our common culture, the origin of your dynasty and ours... Today is really a very good day for us in Ife and its environs because since you left in 891 AD we have come to know that your dynasty has performed wonderfully well.

�As we have mentioned briefly during our historic visit to your domain not too long ago, we said that we were there to pat you on the back for a job well done... Your present visit we regard as a short home-coming where you will have an opportunity to commune with those deities you left behind... Now, my son and brother, long may you reign.�
The address made a clear and unequivocal allusion to the root of the controversy: the suggestion that the people of Benin or, at least, the Royal Family, owe their origin to lle-lfe.

In the prelude of his response to Ooni of lfe�s welcome address, the Oba of Benin tacitly rebutted the submission. The Oba said: �If the Ooni of lfe calls the Oba of Benin his son and the Oba of Benin calls the Ooni of Ife his son, they are both right.�
The Oba did not elaborate. But in the womb of that innocuous assertion is the foetus of a story which had never been told� in full.

In both Benin and Uhe, the story is told with varying details. But all the variants have one constant theme: Benin did go to lfe to request for a King. Now, as if to further compound the issue, the Oba of Benin says the Ooni of lfe may call him his son and he may call the Ooni his own son and that both of them would be right. How can two persons call each other son and they both be right? An answer to this question may also answer other questions and give scholars an insight into the full story.

In writing the story, I did not set out deliberately to seek that answer. I simply attempted to narrate an event which formed the base of several stories we were told as youngsters in Benin City. Although I did not go searching for the answer to the intriguing question, the book seems to provide it. The events narrated in this story significantly changed the way of life of the people of Benin and had a stupendous impact on their history.

The hypothesis postulated in Ekaladerhan will rattle many an established thesis or legend. Assessors and curators who have hung on to some primordial beliefs may find that those beliefs are challenged. I make no apologies. I believe that the time has come when chroniclers must tell stories about Africa dispassionately if African history is to survive the hard and harsh scrutiny of modern researchers and assessors.

Ekaladerhan is not the first time the Benin-lfe connection has been discussed. But it may be the first time it has been discussed, as narrated in this book, in a manner, removed from the realm of mythology, esoterica and magic. If Ekaladerhan has helped in placing this event into focus, it shall have contributed its bit to man�s knowledge and understanding of his world�.

Professor Ajayi�s committee, I hope will attempt to answer the questions above dispassionately, devoid of emotion, dogmatism and mythology.
�Prince Akenzua wrote in from Benin City.


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