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Oba Ewuakpe (1700 ? 1712 CE)
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written By Osahon Naiwu

was thrust into office by his father, Akenuzama, who had declined the offer to be king on the grounds of old age. The offer had been made to Akenuzam by the Ihogbe, after the death of his cousin, Oba Ore-Oghene, who had no heir. Oba Ewuakpe, whose birth name was Idova, but was hurriedly re-named Ehennegha by oracular directive before the Ihogbe presented him to the Uzama nobles for crowning, was too young, inexperienced and impatient. These led to a series of problems for him. His first problem was that he could not offer propitiatory rites at the Oba's ancestral shrine as required by tradition because his father was still alive and not an ancestor yet. Then his mother, Ewebonoya, died at her Uselu palace, soon into his reign.

To provide her with the level of comfort she had become accustomed to as Queen mother, he sacrificed humans,

a great number of them, to continue to attend to her needs in the ethereal world. Edo people, appalled by the human sacrifice and blood letting, rebelled and laid siege on the palace, flinging its gates open. The palace staff and his hundreds of wives took flight excepting Iden, one of his wives, who refused to return to her parent's home at Oka village. When the siege became too unbearable, the Oba escaped with Iden to his mother´s village, Ugolo quarters at Ikoka, by the side of Ovia River. His mother´s relatives spawned him and didn´t want him in their midst. The humiliation was so much, he cursed the people of Ikoka village and sneaked back to his palace. The palace was leaking badly from neglect, and weeds and crawlers had taken residence.

He cleared some space for his wife and himself to stay to think of what to do next and lay their heads for the night. The following morning, Iden took the few articles of vanity she had, and sold them at the near-by Oba's market. She used the money she raised, to travel to Agbor to recruit a reputable seer. The oracle recommended a make-believe ceremony and human sacrifice. Since they were not in a state to capture any human for the sacrifice, Iden talked her husband into allowing her to give her life to save the throne, as long as her grave would not be jeered at by passers-by and market women.

Iden went to the market after closing hours, to collect discarded broken calabashes that had been used in selling oil, and thrown away leaves head pads. She collected dried shrubbery from the bush near-by. In the mean time, the husband was stripping the palace garden's palm trees bare of dry husks and fronds, which with faggots, he tied into torches.

The following night a huge scaffold of the palm fronds, torches and calabashes, soaring into the sky, was assembled and set on fire, with its embers and arches allowed to litter the palace grounds. The leaves head pads were strewed from the palace gates deep into the palace grounds, to give the impression that a lot of people had come to make deliveries at the palace. The aftermath of the ceremony was that it left the setting looking like a big event and merry making had taken place involving many people. The fireworks would have been noticed from far and near.

For the final ritual, Iden wore what was left of her finery, and hand-in-hand with her husband, they walked quietly down Iwebo Street to the spot she had chosen as her final resting place. After Ewuakpe had tearfully and painfully dug the grave, she climbed gracefully into it helped by her husband, and laid down facing the direction of the palace. All along, he was crying and trying to talk her out of the project. She was adamant. To fill the chasm with sand, as he was asked to do by his wife, was the hardest task he had ever faced in his life. He started filling it slowly from the feet side, saving her asphyxiation till the very end when he would cover her face with sand. After the deed was done, he crashed on the grave, crying bitterly like a child, over what he had done.

Esogban had noticed the fireworks in the night and in the early morning hours, sneaked around the palace grounds to see what had happened. He found the palace compound littered with head pads etc., and felt betrayed that the king had won back favour, and people were providing services to the palace behind his back. He rushed home, threw his wealth chess open and assembled choice items that would please his king, and with servants included, he headed for the palace with his peace offering.

In response to his solicitous voice at the entrance to the palace's first vestibule, a lone voice from behind a slightly opened door reassured him that he was in good standing with the palace and that he was not an enemy of the Oba. Esogban left his offering where he was told to, and returned home happy with himself. When the Iyase heard about Esogban's visit to the palace, he too rushed to make peace with the Oba. That was how Oba Ewuakpe regained his throne and the trust of Edo people. Iden's grave is one of the stations, procession ceremonies in Benin City pay homage to today.

To ensure that what happened to him would not happen again to another Oba, he decided to put in place a sound succession process. He felt that a period of tutelage was necessary before one becomes an Oba, and that the best way to guarantee this was the principle of first son succeeding his father to the throne. The bargaining chip of his Chiefs was that the principle should be extended to their own first sons and that the Oba should surrender his traditional inheritance right to their estate, to their own first sons. Ewuakpe agreed, and the principle has held again since, with minor skirmishes.

Iyase N'Ode was Oba Ewuakpe's Iyase. His military campaigns outside the kingdom were all successful. Iyase N´Ode is remembered in Benin oral history as a threatening foe and a very powerful magician, who could transform himself into an elephant in war or at will. He conquered many kings in Yoruba land to achieve for himself the status of Okhuen.´ There have been only two Iyase in the history of Edo kingdom who attained the status of ´Okhuen, (meaning conqueror of many kings). The other was Ekpenede during the reign of Oba Ehenghuda. With that status, they could no longer live in the city of Benin with the Oba for fear of their nursing the idea of coup. Both these Iyases who could no longer live in Benin City, chose to spend the rest of their lives in Uhunmwode district, close to Ode Ekhuarha, the gateway to the territories they had conquered and or were monitoring. It included Etsakor, through to Yoruba land of Ado Ekiti, Akure, Idanre, to Idah and Idoma, and Nupe-land in the north and Ukpilla and Ineme, where raw iron-ore materials were coming from.

After Oba Ewuakpe's death, a strong dispute broke out over whom was the senior of his two sons, Prince Ozuere and Prince Akenzua, born of different mothers. The Iyase N'Ode backed Prince Akenzua for the throne, but Prince Ozuere succeeded in gaining it.

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