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ORDER OF INHERITANCE

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Let it be understood at the onset that it was a basic Esan law and custom that when a man died his property and ah he possessed were inherited by his CHILDREN in the first instance. If he had no children then the right to inherit his property passed to his MATERNAL BROTHER. If he had no such brother then the eldest PATERNAL BROTHER was next in line of inheritance. Failing to have children, maternal brother and paternal brother, the right to inheritance passed to the OMINJIOGBE of the UELEN. This Ominjiogbe might be his uncle or a cousin.

(a) PROPERTY:
Basically the first son inherited the father’s property and shared to any of his junior brothers and sisters AT PLEASURE. It is true that some brothers, particularly the second and third could challenge his unfairness in taking everything to himself and report the matter to the Egbele. In this, the Egbele could only advise, they could not force the first son to part with what has come to him by right. Secondly, no wise brother would inherit what had been relinquished by his senior brother under duress, for soon, as a result of himself, wife or children falling ill, he would have cause to return to his elder brother to sue for peace: peace in this instance would only be possible after due reparation: removing the cause of annoyance on his brother’s side! Thus, no junior brother can inherit any of his father’s property unless with the full consent of his senior brother. Even property such as houses, coconut trees etc, a father gave to the younger children in his lifetime, could be successfully demanded by the first son, unless the deposition was made at the ancestral shrine before the Egbele.

In theory, while the first son would be within his right to inherit everything without sharing to any of his brothers, for the sake of peace and harmony in the family, he and he alone, gave something reasonable so some of his brothers. It also paid him to do so, for during the burial ceremonies of their father, ah those who had received or expected something in the way of inheritance, were bound to assist him with money goats or even cows depending upon the wealth of their dead father and the value of the property hat carne or will come into their possession.

Should the first son be a minor the next of kin, maternal brother, ordinary brother, or Ominjiogbe in that order would be the inheritor, but it would be incumbent on him to take the minor as his ward and treat him exactly as his own child. He had the right to marry out any of the minor’s sisters but it was his duty to marry wives for the boy and his junior brothers when they zone of age. The ever constant fear of the swiftness of action of the departed ancestors over injustice or cheating, made the inheritor particularly honest ¬†and so turned over the non-perishable property he had inherited when the heir grew up; in other words he had held the property in trust. It would he cheating the boy and the spirits, if he willfully sold ah the cows and goats and pocketed the money leaving nothing for him to inherit later. He could sell one or two for himself or sell all to get money to marry for the young man. What really mattered was that he must TREAT THE BOY AS HE WOULD HIS OWN SON AND ALL HE HAD.

(b) WIVES:
The first son inherited all the wives except his own mother who was usually inherited by the uncle or the Ominjiogbe. If neither wanted this woman, any old man in the Uelen would be asked to inherit her since it was against custom for any woman, not a daughter of the family to live as such, after she had become a widow. (El MIEN. QKHUO ILINMIN - Dead men have no wives!). If the man had many wives, the first son at pleasure, and for the sake of harmony, would give some of them to the more senior of his brothers. If one of these wives was an Onojie’s daughter, she went home free, since an Onojie’s daughter by custom was not inheritable. The reason for this was in the olden days when the Onojie was a dignified monarch he took no bride price from his sons-in-law: the princesses married for love. If any of them lost her husband and she did not want to leave her children in that village, whoever was to inherit her, had to re-marry her by going ‘TO SEE’ the Onojie, with the strict understanding that whatever that sight cost, was no bride price.

There is yet another aspect of inheritance of wives. If a man inherited the wife of a brother or of an Ominjiogbe or the wife of any member of that Uelen, when he himself dies; such an inherited woman is not inheritable by the dead man’s heir. The right to inherit that woman passes to the next senior brother of the dead man.

An example is given by the case of Prince Ekute, the son of Olumese of Ugboha, who inherited Oduaki, wife of Udaghe. His first son Ireyokan thereafter began to cohabit with Oduaki, wife his father’s wife and to save the young man from the wrath of the departed spirits, Ekute gave the woman to his son as a wife. This stunned Eguare elders who quoted this law that got Odionwele Ekute into trouble. The furor was so much that Ekute was forced to flee the village where he was leader to Eko; here he died round about 1913. Eguare elders maintained that an inherited woman was not the inheritor’s property that he could pass unto his heir or do what one pleases with. The Eguare interpretation is in accord with Esan native laws and. custom. In 1992 Ekute’s grand-son Eimujede Okoinemen was the Odionwere of Eguare Ugboha.

(c) SISTERS:
All dues on sisters not yet married fell on the first son. He married them out to anybody he liked and accepted the bride price. The yearly dues and services from husbands of sisters -already married also became his right.

(d) BROTHERS:
Those who had become men and shared from the father’s property joined the heir in performing the burial ceremonies according to their means and what they inherited. They usually then after separated to build their own houses around the family house, or where there was friction, they moved out of the family ljiogbe to any other part of the village. The junior brothers who were minors were taken in by the first son who they served as their father. It was his duty to care for them,: pay their dues and taxes to the community and marry wives for them when they came of age.

(e) ECONOMIC TREES:
Kola nut, Dica-nut, coconut, pear and pepper-fruit trees, all formed in heritable property. They all became the property of the heir and if he is minor, the next-of-kin took possession of them. But when the boy grew up the trees were handed over to him. Roofing leaves plantations were “eaten in like manner.

(f) DOMESTIC ANIMALS:
Cows, sheep, goats, pigs and fowls became property of the children. The first son had right over them, but if they were many he shared some of the animals with the more senior of his brothers. In a large family where the heir was wise and peace loving he shared such property ACCORDING TO DOORS, that is he ensured that at least one child of every wife of his father, had a share of what their father left behind. Where the heir was a minor and the animals had been inherited by an uncle, on coming of age, he surviving herds were handed over. Like the products of economic trees he was free to sell or make use of them during the nephew’s minority. As previously noted the uncle, or whoever was acting for the minor owed it to is conscience and the fear of the ever-watching departed ancestors that he had very cogent and fair reasons for selling any of the animals, such as during famine, when he was involved in trouble or if he wanted to do something that would be of benefit of the rightful heir. It would be quite inequitable for him to sell off all the animals because he wanted to buy himself a chieftaincy title.

(g) DEBTS:
Assets and liabilities were in Esan custom inheritable. A man’s unpaid debt passes squarely onto his first son and to no one else. Like property, he must face the consequences of the debt alone with the difference that the of her children of their father helped to pay the debt AT PLEASIRE. There was only one way in Esan custom by which he could avoid inheritance of his father’s debt: if the father died leaving huge debt which the heir did not want to face, ah he did was to renounce his claim TO ALL INHERITANCE
Property, wives and al!! That of course included assets and LIABILITIES Egbonughele then buried the dead man, and since technically, the man had died WITHOUT AN HEIR, the Onojie inherited his property and liabilities; but since no one would go to demand payment of money owed from that feared member of the community, the debt became a BAD DEBT.

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