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WHEN AN OBA OF BENIN KINGDOM PASSES TO THE GREAT BEYOND

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Compiled by Osamede Osunde (Last update 25-09-2017)

“Evbo Osorhue Bunrun” is the cry that met the ears of the Benins on that fateful day. When Iyase or the Esongban as the case maybe, with the white chalk breaks into bits in front of the Ughe Ozolua situated in the palace grounds. Where the demise of an Oba is formally announced with a cry in the palace language “Evbo Osorhue Bunrun” which means “the chalk of the Oba is broken”. (In the general language means the Oba has gone to join his ancestors) .This is done in the present of the crown prince, his brothers, sisters, palace chiefs and other members of the royal family etc. What then happens when the pillar of chalk is broken? The earth is taken from under the feet of the people. So it is on the day it is announced that an Oba of Benin kingdom has gone to join his ancestors. The Announcement automatically threw the Benins indeed, the whole of Benin Nation into a state of mourning.
(The Esongban of Benin, Chief Ize- Iyamu (with chalk in hand) makes the announcement of the passing away of Oba Akenzua II on his left is the Isekhure of Benin Chief Igiebor)

Immediately after the announcement of the passing away of an Oba the royal funeral rites known as emwin n’ ekhua, meaning “the big things” will start off. The funeral rites last sometimes (at times three months) the elaborate ceremony are performed partly in secret and the open. Part of the ceremony is performed at the traditional palace ground of the Edaiken N’ Uselu, and other in the Oba palace as custom demands. As tradition of the Benins demands, all markets in Benin are closed buying and selling are carried out on verandas and side-street in order to minimize the hardship that the closure of market would bring on the people.

The ancient city of Benin has long been respected (even beyond the time of the British Expedition) for its tradition and culture and as such, when its illustrious ruler passed to the great beyond, it is expected that there would be traditional rites accompanying the ceremony. The inhabitants of Benin both (indigenes and non indigenes) shall not be disappointed in their expectation.

On the evening of the fateful day after the Iyase or the Esogban had announced to the heir apparent to the throne of the Benin kingdom who is also the Edaiken of Uselu,that his father had gone to join his ancestors, the Edaiken would go on air to intimate the citizens of the city with the “dos and don’ts’ associated with the customs, They had to be reminded or told what obtains when an Oba of the Benins passes to the great beyond..

During the period, not only must markets be closed right from the moment of announcement, custom also demands that there shall be no dancing and drumming associated with any other burials until further notice. In the past the ban lasted for the period of the funeral ceremony and for three years thereafter further, some songs and ceremonial dresses used during the period are not to be seen used by anyone outside the period of the ceremony. For one day in the course of the ceremonies there should be no cooking with open fire- this means anything that brings out flames,

As the Edaiken would explain to the people, there is a Benins adage that says; “He who does not die in the course of royal funeral rites; ends up having his hair shaved” (“Nemwinekhua magbe oghi zoreto)”. On one of the days during these rites all adult male in the length and breadth of Benin Kingdom must have skin-heads, i.e., have their hair shaved as mark of respect for the departed Oba. This also includes both the princes and princesses. On the day in question no cap must be worn, and the women are not allowed to cover their heads

(The white chalk breaks into bits in front of the Ughe Ozolua situated in the palace grounds- aperriod of mourning declared)

Most of the ceremonies of Emwinekhua are performed secretly and journalists are warned not to show unnecessary curiosity in write-ups and the taking of photographs

It is a period in which children had the opportunity to see their fathers and mothers at home because some traditional ceremonies are being performed at night which was not meant for every member of the public to see. Of all known curfews in the world, none was as effective as the voluntary traditional curfews which operated at this period.

The preparation of the Oba’s grave, which has several chambers used to occupy a period of about three months.

As tradition demands the Oba is buried in a sitting position enthroned in state, in olden days, large number courtiers, male and female were buried alive with him to attend to him in the other world.

At that time also countless human sacrifices were required for the funeral rites but for the funeral ceremonies of Oba Ovonramwen ,  Oba Ewaka II, his son  Oba Akenzua II the tradition was changed. Bullocks, dogs, sheep goats and fowls etc were used instead.
It is worth mentioning that condemned prisoners were kept in Ewedo (prison) where opportunities for appeals were made available.

But the condemned prisoners were often used for human sacrifices to appease the departed ancestors; it is therefore fallacious to say human sacrifice was made of innocent or weak citizens or non natives.

But nowadays animals such as cows and dogs are used.
Those who stumbled over Benin history still entertain the fear and nurse the idea that human sacrifices are still carried out especially when there is a big occasion such royal funeral. This is not true.

Any act or funeral rites that involved anything incriminating have been dropped, reorganized or scraped.

Gone are the days when human beings were used for sacrifices, Animals have conveniently replaced this.

Oba Ewaka II enemies often accused him of human sacrifice, every  reports of its kind was vigorously investigated, by searching the whole Oba palace and other secrets places nothing incriminating  were  ever found.  E.g. a woman left Benin and the British were informed that she was a victim of ritual murder. Oba Eweka II was accused, it was certain he would be vindicated and he was vindicated. The woman was discovered bale and sound in Urhobo land.

Osamede Osunde is the founder and the owner of www.edoworld.net
He can be reach on info@edoworld.net or osunde@edoworld.net

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