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Nation of people who are mostly located in the Midwestern part of Nigeria, Western  Africa.


A Rejoinder To Dr. Ekeh's Lecture: Ogiso Times And Eweka Times: A Preliminary History Of The Edoid Complex Of Cultures

By Hilary Evbayiro

Anyone who reads Dr. Peter Ekeh's lecture, " OGISO TIMES AND EWEKA TIMES: A PRELIMINARY HISTORY OF THE EDOID COMPLEX OF CULTURES," delivered on the occasion of the Fourth Chief Jacob Egharevba Memorial, under the aegis of the Institute for Benin Studies on December 14, 2001 at the Oba Akenzua Cultural Centre in Benin City, will admit, without a shadow of doubt, that it is irrefutably interesting and curiously fascinating. In short, Dr. Ekeh's accounts and analysis of the historical and cultural development of the Benin people provide another dimension for understanding the history of the Benin people. In the lecture, he analyzes and evaluates many aspects of the Benin culture and history and attempts to reach conclusions, which no true Edo or Benin person will embrace unhesitatingly. Albeit the lecture is very lengthy, about twenty-something or so pages in all, it is well put together, written, and structured. As a matter of candor, it is quite an interesting lecture. Rich in historical facts and perhaps authoritative references and documentation, it is a very good piece that is easy to read and understand.

Before dilating any further, it is proper to add that no attempt will be made to give undue praise to the lecture, nor will it be subjected to the scrutiny and objurgation of an unfriendly vein. While one must admit that the analysis of the history and culture of the Benin people by Dr. Ekeh is very germane to one's understanding and appreciation of the historical past of the Benin people, it is also very necessary and compelling to subject some parts of the lecture to a vivid and rational "syncrisis" in order to put things in the right and more valid perspective. Though the lecture is quite lengthy, it is arranged into parts. To make the discussion in this piece more manageable, only the parts relevant to the purpose and objective of this critique will receive any attention or focus. Albeit Dr. Ekeh examines many areas of the early history and culture of the Benin people in the lecture, the parts that concern "OGISOS AND THEIR TIMES" and "TRANSFORMATIONS IN BENIN CULTURE AND SOCIETY UNDER THE OBAS OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF EWEKA" actually form the soul and gist of the wholesome historical analysis. The other parts, though no less important, include the introductory section, the part laying the groundwork to guide the lecture, and the usual exploration of past events and citation of assertions made by other authorities to give a level of depth and credence to the work. Before proceeding to examine Dr. Ekeh's presentations with respect to "Ogisos and their times," it is worth noting, at this juncture, that Dr. Ekeh must have nurtured inherent love or benign preoccupation for the historical and cultural development of the Benin people for him to provide the audience and readers with a scintillating historical analysis.

While the level of analysis of the history and culture of the Benin people in the lecture is strictly academic, it is proper to begin examining the lecture by first pointing out that it is every bit difficult to reconcile the seemingly contradicting assertions anent how the Ogisos started to rule over the people they controlled during their era. If one is to assume, as Dr. Ekeh states early in the lecture, that "the people who lived under the Ogisos and the people of Benin who have lived under the Obas of the House of Eweka were never conquered by any of their kings," how was it possible for the very first Ogiso to bring the "various clans and villages under the control of a ruling family" without some measures of force, whether through warfare or otherwise?

There is a pronounced shortcoming in the lecture that needs to be pointed out, and this concerns his exploration and examination of the "Ogisos and their times." Without doubt, Dr. Ekeh veers off course from the purpose of his analysis. Instead of using the systematic study and analysis of the history and culture of the Benin people to show or parade the common historical tie between the Urhobos and the Benin people, he puts more emphasis on which of the two people (Urhobos or Benin people) comes closer to exhibiting any known vestiges of the Ogiso era culture. As a matter of fact, this is the only aspect of the lecture that may be accorded a thumb-down, if at all there should be any.

To properly understand Dr. Ekeh's analysis of the history of the Benin people, who they are, and how they are relate to their neighbors, it is necessary to ask some questions about their neighbors to the southwest, the Urhobos. Who are the Urhobos? What and where is their historical origin? The above questions, though simple, may never be satisfactory answered considering Dr. Ekeh's statements, "Ogisos were ruling when many communities left these lands, which later became known as Benin, to sojourn southeastwards to establish new communities or else to join indigenous people who were already established in the western Niger Delta." Other meaningful questions that may follow the above statement are - are the Urhobos the same people or communities who migrated from the lands now called Edo or the indigenous people who were already settled in the place they now occupy? If the former, are the Urhobos, therefore, not Edo or Benin people? One must be reminded here that the people who remained in the land of the Ogisos did not change either by being conquered or through extermination or anything like that. What probably changed is the name by which they used to be known, which Dr. Ekeh almost certainly says is AKA. Now, let's draw a simple analogy to this from the same situation facing the Nigerians in the Diaspora. Suppose the Nigerians at home today decide to change the name by which we are all now known from "NIGERIA" to say BENUE, will the Nigerians in the Diaspora refuse to be known and called BENUE people just because they were already out of Nigeria before the introduction of the new name? The truth of the matter here is Dr. Ekeh's admits that the Urhobos are parts of the descendants of the people once ruled by the Ogisos but he falls short of admitting or saying that Urhobos and Edos are one and the same people. That is the sad thing in the whole story.

If the Urhobos are the indigenous people that were already established in the area, then the cultural elements the people or communities took with them when they migrated from among the people now known as Edos may have been profoundly corrupted or adulterated by their undeniable mixing with those of the indigenous people. If this thinking can hold, one must query whether the Urhobos or the descendants of the people who migrated from the lands ruled by the Ogiso have valid claims as the true or perhaps sole custodian of any known remnants of the culture of Ogiso era.

To expand more on the cultural transplantation, if that may be an acceptable term to describe what actually took place, there are reasons to scrutinize Dr. Ekeh's statements, "it was most probable that these migrations were serial. Rather than taking place in one fell swoop, they probably covered a course of several centuries in the first millennium of the Christian calendar." Again, considering the preceding statements and taking into account that no culture at any time in its evolution or development is static, how is it possible to sustain the claim that what the Urhobos took with them in their migration from Benin, which probably happened over many centuries, during the era of the Ogisos are the right cultural remnant of the original people?

Furthering his argument that the modern Urhobo is more than likely to be the custodian of any semblance of the Ogiso era culture than the modern Benin, Dr. Ekeh writes, "There is little doubt that the shades of the Ogisos would be much more comfortable among the modern Urhobo than with the modern Benin. There certainly would be greater mutual respect and understanding between the Urhobo and the shades of the Ogisos than anything the Ogisos could expect from modern Benin." To employ the same analogy of the Nigerian name change situation above, one must again query whether Dr. Ekeh is trying to say that if people like Balewa, Ironsi, Awo, Azikiwe, and the rest were to be resurrected today, that they will respect or identify more with the Nigerian in the Diaspora than those at home.

The language of the people is another cultural element Dr. Ekeh uses to tie the Urhobos more to the Ogiso era than he does modern Benin. To make his point more palpable, he states, "Any of the Ogisos might also have difficulties understanding modern Benin language." Recognizing that languages do change, it is possible to say that the language spoken in modern Benin may be somewhat different from the one spoken during the time of the Ogisos. Truly, there should be no disputation as to whether the language of the modern Benin people has lost its originality, but the question is - did anything happen to the language of the people who migrated from the place now called Edo to the western part pf the Niger Delta? Is Dr. Ekeh saying that their language was able to withstand the almost likely obliteration or definite adulteration due to the obvious mixing with that or those of the indigenous people with whom they had to settle? Did it stay unchanged by defying the natural force of change in language evolution? Taking all these into consideration and bearing in mind that there are no written records or documentation to attest to the veracity of most of the historical claims, how valid can one posit that the language spoken by the modern Urhobo is closer to or resembles the one spoken during the time of the Ogisos?

Another area in which Dr. Ekeh places the Urhobos closer to the Ogiso era culture than he does the modern Benin people is in the societal and cultural organization. While painting the societal and cultural organization of the Urhobos as the paradigm of clan grouping within a larger group of people or community, he portrays clan organization among the Benin people as weak What one must realize is that there are needs to look beyond what is obtained within the geographical precinct of Benin City or Oredo to understand and perhaps appreciate what societal and cultural organization among the Benin people really entails. Truly, one's knowledge or understanding of the societal and cultural organization of the denizens of Benin City alone is, evidently, not enough to enable one to pass an informed ruling on the totality of the pattern and manner of grouping among the entire Edo or Benin people.

Since Dr. Ekeh provides no clue as to whether the people who migrated from the place now called Benin or Edo during the time of the Ogiso are the present day Urhobos or the indigenous people among whom the migrants from the Ogiso land had to settle, how is it possible for one to suggest that "the Ogiso political system was closer to the Urhobo pattern," when there are obvious and pathetic lack of written records and documentation of our historical and cultural past? Such suggestion, if at all taken seriously, is more a self-pleasing work of educated conjecture than a reasoned one, thus leaving room for outright rejection.

Descanting the "TRANSFORMATIONS IN BENIN CULTURE AND SOCIETY UNDER THE OBAS OF THE ROYAL HOUSE OF EWEKA," Dr. Ekeh asserts that the deeply entrenched system of primogeniture for ascending to the Benin throne may have had it origin or root in the Ogiso era. He injects that the system is "probably as strong among the Urhobo as among the Benin," yet another palpable protestation and admission that the Urhobos and Benin people have common historical ancestors. However, Dr. Ekeh tries to argue that the Urhobo, having migrated from Benin during the eras of the Ogisos, may command more preponderance to the Benin people in relation to the availability of any known or perceived remains of the culture of the Ogiso time. But history has it that the known system of ascension to the Benin throne was not strictly maintained or enforced during the Ogiso era as the Benin people are particularly famed under the Oba dynasty, which is still practiced today. To present that the system of primogeniture was not truly ingrained in the rulership succession of the Ogiso era, history has it that the system, if at all present at that time, was broken when Ogiso Owodo, the last Ogiso who reigned, ordered that Ekaladeran, his own first and only male child, be put to death to enable him have more children.

While Dr. Ekeh's accounts and analysis of our history are interestingly profound, his assertions of how and why the people of Benin sent for Oduduwa divulges little lack of true historical conversance with the antecedents and events that led to the second dynasty in the Benin rulership history. The Benin people did not go to Oduduwa to ask for a Prince or ruler; they went to Oduduwa to request him to return home and assume his endowed role in Benin. In short, Oduduwa was the same Ekaladeran who went to Ile-Ife and later became Oduduwa, having had his life spared by his father's executioners. It is worth noting here that Okorho Edun Akenzua, Okorho (Prof.) Ademola Iyi-Eweka, and many others have written extensively about the Benin Prince, Ekaladeran, who became Oduduwa.

The most noticeable cultural features for which Dr. Ekeh gives Benin people credit and respect is the idea of the ritual separation of the Oba and the heir apparent to the throne and the enforced denial of free socialization of the Oba and the heir apparent. Although he tries to provide explanations for the practices, his explanation fails to reach the mark because of his obvious lack of conversance with the Benin customs and traditions, which he admits by warning to make it absolutely clear that he does not possess adequate understanding of the Benin "folkways" and "royal legacies." To assist in the provision of clues to the cultural puzzle, it should be told that the events surrounding the experience of the Benin people with respect to the last Ogiso, that is Ogiso Owodo in his cruel order that Ekaladeran be put to death to enable him (Ogiso Owodo) have other children, may account for the necessity for the strictly enforced ritual separation of the Oba and the heir apparent.

A likely plausible explanation to the enforced separation between the Oba and the heir apparent is that the Edo or Benin people see the title or position of the Oba as one that is conferred in heaven or wherever humans come from by God Almighty. To the Benin people, the Oba can only be Oba by birth through the strictly enforced system of male primogeniture. That is the only way Oba is Oba and can become Oba. There is no mistaken the truth about it; the Edo or Benin people know who their Oba is right from when he is born. When a heir to the Oba is born and the ritual making him to be able to ascend the throne is performed, the heir has to be separated from the Oba because, right from that time, there is technically two Obas - the reigning Oba, the father, and the one in the making, the son. Since the Edo or Benin tradition allows or has a place for only one Oba at the same time, the reason they have to be kept apart becomes less difficult to understand.

Another reasoned explanation is that any overzealous heir apparent could facilitate the process of his becoming Oba by possibly attempting the unthinkable. The heir can only go through coronation and become Oba when his father, the reigning Oba, is called by God Almighty to join his ancestors. To ensure that the natural order of things are followed with respect to the Obaship in the Edo or Benin Kingdom, the heir has to be separated from the father because once the ritual to make the heir to be able to become Oba is performed, nothing can stop him from becoming Oba. That is the way it is. This part of the Benin history is not in any history book. It is just something the Benin people know and understand, and this is the very reason that there are no questions as to who the Oba is or will be in any given time. Dr. Ekeh, by my objective assessment of the content of this particular part of his lecture, accords the Benin people the right amount of credit in relation to their true ability to ensure peace and equanimity in the ascension to the Oba throne.

In conclusion, one must applaud the interest and authority that Dr. Ekeh exudes in the lecture, but suffice to point out too that he veers off course and starts to compare Benin culture to Urhobo culture, with the aim of determining which is more akin to those of the Ogiso era. Sincerely speaking, Dr. Ekeh could have used the occasion and opportunity to show and tell the world about the common ancestral origin or bond the Benin people share with the Urhobos. Instead, he devotes too much part of the lecture to show how the Urhobos are superior in relation to their affinity with the Ogisos than the Benin people because he believes the Urhobos evince more of the cultural leftovers of the Ogiso era than the Benin people. Without inducing any jaundiced sentiment, the supposed analysis of the Benin history and culture turns more into a comparison of the Urhobo and Benin culture to draw out which still has any residue, if at all there are any, of the Ogiso era culture. In all the comparisons or where he has to make pronouncement, it was always the Urhobo culture that comes closer to or has more verisimilitude to the culture of the Ogiso time.

editor's note: see the original article by Prof. Ekeh

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