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Forgotten Heroines Of The Benin Kingdom

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By EKAIWE IGINUA OSEMWEKHA {Update 09/10/ 2017}

IN retrospect, the ancient Kingdom of Benin had been blessed with heroines. Some of these historical characters are Idia and Emotan an elderly Benin woman in the days of Okoro Ogun who later became Oba Ewuare the great in about 1440 A.D., This senior citizen was a petty trader in sit opposite the Oba market.

To be frank, this soft headed individual was instrumental to the successful enthronement of Okoro Ogun as Oba Ewuare in Benin Kingdom because she was sympathetic with Okoro Ogun who was banished from the Kingdom by his subjects. Despite the fact that he was the heir apparent to his ancestral throne.

His banishment prevented him from becoming the King for some period of time.
According to my research findings Okoro Ogun sent his younger brother Uwaifiokun who was equally banished with him to the city from their hideout for sight seeing and to come back with the situation report of current events.

Regrettably, Okoro Uwaifiokun decided to usurpe the cherished throne with the aid of senior chiefs Eghavbonare and consequently planned out a scheme of a total annihilation of his elder brother despite this clandestine motive of Okoro Uwaifiokun and the senior chiefs Ogun was later crown Oba Ewuare Ogidigan of Benin Empire (signifying Ewuare the Great King of Benin Kingdom).

It is worth mentioning here that these two women of high esteem in the ancient Benin Kingdom have been immortalized as both have schools named after them in the City centre. The statue of Emotan at Ibiwe Opposite the Oba market where she was buried is now a tourist attraction. In addition, it also benefit from the homage of every titled chief in the Kingdom as well as that of all noble Benin person during the funeral of their demised parents.

Comparatively, Queen Idia also has a secondary school named after her and she is also known to have created the Ekasso royal dances. This dance now features prominently in the funeral ceremony of a demise Oba “of a broken chalk” she is the primary queen mother to be vested as Iyoba nu Uselu with her private chiefs in her royal palace at Uselu.

After her migration to Uselu as the traditional head of that community. It became compulsory for every other successive queen mother who by virtue of her status is the mother of a reigning king in Benin Kingdom must be so esteemed with the Iyoba title and given her own palace at Uselu neighbourhood.

Imaguero is another woman of historical significance in Benin Kingdom. She was the wife of Chief Oliha. During the reign of Oba Esigie. She was used by his majesty to attest to the fact that women can be unfaithful at critical period as she succumbed to the passes of Oba’s porter, named Uke who deceived or entice her with some coral beads only to end up in sexual activities.

Although one might cast aspersion on her actions of derogatory to good matrimonial behaviour still her character is outstanding as a proof of life reality in the belief of a royal predecessor in the kingdom, that women can be very flexible and their decision can be turned around at any given circumstances.

This unfaithful wife of Chief Oliha has been given pride of place in the scheme of Benin cultural heritage for the purpose of historical antecedents. Consequently, a teacher training college was named after her. Today, the teachers training has been turned to a secondary school.

In trying to review the contributions of women to the ancient kingdom of Benin, the story will be grossly understated without reference to Queen Iden the beloved wife of Oba Ewakpe the great. She was the pride of femine gender: in her days as a Benin Royal Queen who stood behind her husband in a turbulent period. And to be able to brace up to the challenges the king found himself when the Benins revolted against Oba Ewuakpe was no small fear.

Ewuakpe became king in the ancient kingdom in about 1700 A.D. and was the 26th monarch of the hereditary title of Benin dynasty.

He reigned for about 12 years which was characterized with series of set backs during the early period to the extent that all subjects in the kingdom revolted against him.

The fundamental cause of grouse was to protest against the monarche high handedness and his flagrant disrespect of human lives which culminated in the mass killing of his subjects at Uselu during the funeral of his demised mother Queen Ewebonoza in about 17.15 A.D when it became apparent that the elders and the citizens of the Kingdom could no longer accommodate the excesses of the King they were compelled to sever their disreputable connections. This uprising also affected all his wives (Iloi) the royal slaves (ovien) and other palace attendants.

In-view of this misdemeanor it would beholve on queen Iden to single handedly take the bull by the horns. Queen Iden became the only friend of Oba Ewuakpe in that time of need, as she made herself present as the kings only hope in time of great calamity when it became apparent that there was no solution to his predicaments, the king decided to seek refuge amongst his mothers relations at Ikoka village out the monarch was also rejected in his material abode.

In his sad state of mind he came back to Benin City on the arrival of the Oba Queen Iden observed his hopelessness and decided to do something about it by consulting an oraclelist on behalf of her husband Oba Ewuakpe, to seek the oracle instruction on what should be done to ward off the calamity bedeviling the ancient kingdom and its monarch.

After a thorough divination by the oraclist he concluded that all that was needed for the peace of the kingdom and the restoration of its throne was a human sacrifice.

Immediately after finding a solution to the problem from the oraclist, she headed for the palace to give the message of the god to his majesty the King in their empty harem. The message from the diviner seemed to aggravate matters for Oba Ewuakpe because there was no other human being in his palace, free or bonded beside his dear wife Queen Iden who incidentally was the conveyor of this report. Consequently, the possibility of getting some body else for the human sacrifice became remote for the royal couple.

In the absence of any other person Queen Iden in a gesture similar to the Jewish Jesus Christ volunteered to be used as a sacrificial lamb needed by the god for the restoration of the kingdom and his royalty.

As son as Queen Iden suggested to her husband that she submit herself for the supreme price determined by the ancestors Oba Ewuakpe became nervously embittered as he could not comprehend the possibility of himself killing his dear wife, who had stood with him in times of calamity of this magnitude in order to atone for the sins she had not committed. But the determined Queen encouraged the royal hands to shed her blood. If only that will appease the ancestral spirits of the land of Benin. So as to put aside the upheaval in the kingdom.

And as it became glaring on Oba Ewakpe that there was no other way out of the predicament he conceded reluctantly to the pressure mounted by his real lover the Queen and atone the gods with the precious blood of Queen Iden, as he buried her alive on the spot near the Oba market in the heart of Benin metropolice.

Before Queen Iden voluntarily offered her self as an atonement to the gods, she requested for one favour from the king, that he should make sure her grave side is kept clean at all times. In addition, she cautioned against the reality of any person treading on her grave or else such trespasser should be killed on the spot as a mark of respect for her blessed remembrance.

Consequently her desire was strictly adhered to till the invasion of the British forces in 1897. This Queen had paid the ultimate price requested for by the ancestors but she did not know the outcome of her cherished kingdom and the reign of her beloved husband.

As soon as Oba Ewakpe finished the sacrificial rituals, some of the prominent chiefs in the kingdom called for a trace between the throne and it’s aggrieved subjects. Other Benin Chiefs started paying homage to the Benin monarch again and pledge their loyalty to the bereaved Oba Ewakpe.

Then all other Benin’s came in the same spirit to pledge their allegiance to his authority over them as their king. Consequently, the entire kingdom was reconciled back to the king and remained loyal to the royal majesty till the end of his reign.

Since it was necessary to celebrate such re-union, the Benins came together at the palace and rolled out drums to give such occasion a memorable one. During his happy mood the people were taken back to see their own king weeping profusely in the midst of merriment instead of being happy for the reunion of his subjects with him. This made his subjects to find out from the Oba why he was weeping at the time of celebration like this, the Oba replied that the motive behind his tears was because of his desire to mourn the sacrificial demise of his dear wife queen Iden.

He went further to narrate all the ordeal in the palace at the time the kingdom fell apart which resulted in the untimely exit of his best friend and beloved Queen who because of her unfeigned love for the unity of her fatherland, offered herself as a scrape goat to the gods of her pedigree. For the redemption of their intergenetional equity and social cultural heritage.

Retrospectively therefore, in view of what transpired in Benin Kingdom during the reign of Oba Ewuakpe about 500 yeas ago and the role played by a woman in the person for Queen Iden to ensure the continue existence of Benin monarch is a testimony to the fact that she is the greatest heroine of the millennium.

In the light of the above her effort should not be thrown to the wind but should be immortalized and a day should be set aside as Benin National day for the remembrance of Queen Iden across the world

Source: Nigerian Observer
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