ARO EMOTAN (The Emotan Shrine)

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Last Update April 14, 2021

SITUATED AT THE ORE-NOKHUA side of the Oba Market Road, near its junction with Ibiwe Street, is the EMOTAN Shrine. The Shrine is about five and a half centuries old, erected by Oba EWUARE the Great. It was erected in honour of, and over the grave of another female. Her name was EMOTAN. Her dwelling place was where the Shrine is situated, in front of the Oba Market. There she died and was buried.

The Emotan is the best known Shrine in Benin City, visited and given honour to, not only by all newly ennobled citizens, but also by the children of deceased citizens during the ISOTON portion of the funeral obsequies of their late parents. A visitor who spends a few days in Benin City is likely to run into one or more of these Isoton processions as the processions wend their way to and from the Emotan Shrine late in the evening. The only period of the year when the Emotan Shrine is not visited by the City citizens is during the annual IGUE Festival which lasts for a fortnight, to usher in the Edo New Year. During this festival no burial ceremonies take place in the kingdom. The dead are meanwhile interred, to await their formal burial obsequies when the Igue festival ends.
Emotan is depicted in history as a not too successful personal in her life-time. She lived in the Benin City of the Fifteenth Century, in the reigns of Oba OHEN and his children. She died when Ewuare was on the throne. She made no success of wife-hood, and was not known to have been blessed with the responsibility of mother-hood. She even failed to be re-accommodated by the family extended system of her village community when her marriage to her Benin City husband came to an end with his death.

Emotan was born in EYAEN village, not far from the present-day ADUWAWA Cattle Market on the Benin-Auchi road. Her name at birth was UWARAYE. When she grew up she was married off to a Benin City Chief, AZAMA of IHOGEBE district. She was the second wife to the Chief.
AZAMA’s first wife was a lady called ARABE. Arabe was a capable personality in all the departments of wife-hood. She was the one who gave birth to all the children of the household. Her husband heavily depended on her for the good management of the home.

Young Uwaraye on the other hand, did not make much of an impression on her husband; She failed to become pregnant, contenting herself with helping to tend the growing children of Arabe. She was also rather slow in the kitchen, forcing her husband to nickname her EMITAN: “Lazy-Bones!” the nickname stuck, and in the course of time metamorphosed into the word “EMOTAN”.
Emotan was good though at some other chores. She was an expert in the preparation of evbarie, the soup pot seasoning prepared from fermented melon seeds. She was also a notable spinner, spinning the sheerest cotton threads from the cotton bolls which came from the farm.

As Arabe’s children grew up and lent helping hands to the two wives regarding the household’s domestic chores Emotan was able to devote time to her trading activities at the OBA Market. When her husband Azama died Emotan was left with no other life than her already well-developed trading life. Her parents had long since died and she could not return to Eyaen village. She moved with her wares to the Oba Market, and there, opposite the market created an abode for herself.
In addition to the evbarie condiment which she produced and sold she also became a dealer in the kemwin-kemwin merchandise, keeping an ‘ODDS and ENDS” mart where were to be found all sorts of saleable items, ordinary and esoteric, including red parrots’ feathers, dried python heads, fat from boa constrictors, and stones from the gall- bladders of elephants.

Mothers who came to the Oba Market with their young would frequently ask Emotan for her child-minding services while they did their buying and selling in the market. Emotan would usually oblige them. Occasionally such a child under her day-care would take ill. Emotan would thereupon become an emergency Pediatrician until the loudly grateful mother would surface from the recesses of the market.

It was there, in her abode by the Oba Market that history caught up with Emotan, in the person of Prince OGUN, later Oba EWUARE the Great. She provided succour and shelter for Ogun during the period of the Prince’s pre-succession travails. Her abode became a listening post where Ogun gauged the prevailing public opinion in the town, in his efforts to gain (he throne of his father. It was in this house by the Market that the conspiracy to ropple the usurper- Oba, UWAIFIOKUN, from power was hatched by Ogun and Emotan. From there the Prince sallied forth to meet Oba Uwaifiokun who was in a procession to the Oba Market. Ogun slew his junior brother the Oba, a deed which cleared the path for him to take over the throne of Oba OHEN their father. The killing ended the crisis of succession to the kingship of the kingdom and Ogun marked it by giving himself the titular name: EWUARE: “The Heat Has Abated”.

Emotan died soon after Oba Ewuare’s accession. As a childless woman her chattels were inherited by the Oba, who buried her in her house by the Oba Market. Later the king marked her grave by planting an Uruhe tree over it. The King ordained that honour be done at the site, to her memory, by any celebratory procession in the City.

The processions which do honour to Emotan, there at the Oba Market include those of the ennobled citizens, and the isoton procession of the funeral obsequies of a deceased citizen, obsequies by which his or her offspring transform their dead parent from a mere mortal to a god. Complete with an altar in the home where he or she is henceforth worshipped and propitiated.
The AIKAERONMWON, the Royal Jester, is the personage at present in charge of the Emotan Shrine, and to him belong the gifts made at the Shrine by the celebrants who call visiting.
The Uruhe tree which Oba Ewuare planted over Emotan’s grave lived for over three hundred and fifty years. Fell with age during the reign of Oba OSEMWENDE. Osemwende replaced the fallen tree with another Uruhe tree, about one hundred and fifty years ago, and supported the new tree with a companion Iroko tree. These two trees flourished at the Shrine for one hundred years until they both fell, during a severe storm.

Oba AKENZUA II, with the cooperation of the British Colonial authorities replaced the fallen trees with a life-sized bronze statue of a young woman, moulded after a miniature model cast in IGUN Street, Benin City. The life-size figure was cast in Britain, and financed by the British Council. It was erected over EMOTAN’S grave in 1954.

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