Edo origin of Ile-ife monarchy

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Compiled by NOWAMAGBE A. OMOIGUI, M.D., MPH, FACC (Last Update June 17, 2021)

I have reproduced below Chapter 3 from "The History of the
Ancient Benin Kingdom and Empire" written by Chief D.N. Oronsaye
(published 1995; printed by Jeromelaiho). The author discusses "Prince
Elaladerhan of Benin who became Imadoduwa (Oduduwa) Obalufon
the Ooni of Ile-Ife: The Edo origin of Ile-Ife monarchy"

Prince Ekaladerhan of Benin who Became Imadoduwa (Oduduwa) Obalufon
the Ooni of Ile-Ife: The Edo Origin of Ile-Ife Monarchy

A subject that has remained contentious in our history is the nature
of relations between the present Benin dynasty and the Ile-Ife
Monarchy as well as the events and processes that led to these
relations. The earliest writing on the subject Samuel Johnson's
History of the Yorubas (Lagos, C.M.S. Bookshop, 1898), trace the
present dynasty to a grandson of Oduduwa, a fugitive fleeing
religious persecution in Mecca. The work did not show the events
that led to this baffling acceptance of Oduduwa's grandson a
"foreigner" as the Oba of Benin, over and above the indigene
Ogiamien. But his admission in the work that some of the narrated
events in the book are legendary give enough grounds to doubt their
authenticity. Chief Jacob Egharevba's A Short History of Benin on the
other hand is conspicuously silent on Prince Ekaladerhan's migration
to Ile-Ife and the events that happened thereafter, in spite of his
undoubted knowledge of these events. This terrible omission by
Egharevba (the cause of my slight quarrel with him in 1945) helped in
no small way to lend credence to the earlier distortions which
foreign writers had earlier introduced into Benin history. It is
this distortion that this chapter sets out to correct by tracing and
relating the events and stories of personalities that led to these
developments in the history of Benin and Ile-Ife. In order to have a
better appreciation of these developments, it is necessary to start
from the political crisis in Igodomigodo also known as Ile (Home)
which was the capital of the migrants from Sudan scattered over the
present west African and central African sub regions.

Ogiso Owodo and the Political Crisis in Igodomigodo (Ile)

Ogiso Owodo who became the last Ogiso of Igodomigodo ascended the
throne about 1068 following the death of Ogiso Arigho his father.
Owodo had some physical defects which affected his personality and
behavior. He was a hermaphrodite with fully developed male and
female organs, which gave him conflicting emotions. (There are other
known cases in history and their behaviors brought crisis and
disaster to their people. Examples are Emperor Nero of Rome and King
Henry VIII of England (1491 - 1547). Even before his installation he
was known to have an erratic character. He had murdered his mother
and because of this known problem, his father Ogiso Arigho covered it
up. He had a secret wife Imade who bore his only son Ekaladerhan,
and did not take her into his harem until he was persuaded to do so.
He had a strong passion for his late father's senior wife Esagho and
fell under her influence. Esagho was known to be a huge woman
believed to be a witch who practiced lesbianism. In addition to
Esagho, he married ten of his father's wives, murdered two and sent
the rest packing from the palace. He also married many other women
into his harem. Owodo also committed a lot of political blunders
because of his erratic ways. From the beginning of his reign, he
failed to cultivate the required loyalty and support of the Edion
Uzama led by the Oliha. He bypassed and overruled them in the
performance of the many ritual ceremonies connected with his
installation. This made some of these ceremonies incomplete. A
glaring example was his neglect and refusal to consult the Iso
Temple. The Oliha and Edion Uzama's various attempts at bringing
Owodo into line were met with rebuff and physical assault. In one of
his fits, he is reported to have spat on the Oliha's face, though he
apologized later. The biggest problem of Owodo was the failure of his
numerous wives to bear children for him. This caused a lot of
quarrels between the wives and Owodo, before he was persuaded to
consult the oracle. Owodo sent Esagho and three men to consult on
his behalf. After consultation, the Obiro instructed that Esagho
should be executed. But Esagho bribed the three men to report that
Owodo's only child Ekaladerhan was the cause of the problem and he
should be executed. But Ekaladerhan was a powerful mystic who was
destined for greater things and could not be so easily killed. This
was known to Esagho and she secretly advised Owodo to banish
Ekaladerhan and his mother instead. Moreso, Ekaladerhan was known to
have a lot of strong allies who could destabilise Owodo's
administration. Prince Ekaladerhan and his mother were taken into
the forest and banished about 1084 A.D. But the Edion Uzama led by
the Oliha did not leave matters entirely in the hands of Ogiso Owodo,
as they were doing other things to safeguard the throne for
Ekaladerhan. For so many years after the wives of Ogiso Owodo
remained barren. He sent another team to the Obiro about 1087. This
team found out that Esagho was the cause and should be executed,
while the Ogiso should consult the Obiro. Owodo ordered the
execution of Esagho which was done, but he failed to consult Obiro as
was instructed. Due to this failure to consult the Obiro, Owodo
could not be instructed on how to atone for the abominable adulterous
acts of lesbianism coupled with sapphism which the executed Esagho
had practiced with her co-wives. Since the wives of Owodo did not
perform the atonement at the Iso temple with a bearded she-goat and
other items to the spirit of Owodo's father, they remained barren.
This greatly distressed Owodo, especially after he realised that he
has been misled into banishing his only child. He then sent soldiers
to capture and bring back Ekaladerhan from Ughoton. But the soldiers
did not return. These developments further worsened Owodo's condition
as he was always having abnormal fits. He started executing people,
especially women at random. In one of his fits in about 1091, he
executed a pregnant woman, an abominable act known as Kirikuvua.
This led to the peoples rebellion against Ogiso Owodo. They invaded
his palace, drove him out and banished him from Ile - the capital of
Igodomigodo. He fled to the village of Ihinmwirin with only three of
his old wives and nobody knows where he died in misery as a farmer.

The Role of Oliha and Evian in the Conduct of the Affairs of
Igodomigodo During Owodo's Misrule.

The Oliha as the head of the Edion Uzama Council, had the
responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of the kingdom through his
control of the various religious activities especially the Iso
Temple. The Oliha title holder tried to live up to his
responsibilities during the misrule of Ogiso Owodo. Having failed in
their attempt to bring Ogiso Owodo under control, the Oliha and other
members of the Edion Uzama tried to find a solution to the crisis.
They were aware of the problems in the Ogiso's palace and the
banishment of Prince Ekaladerhan. They could neither help Prince
Ekaladerhan nor bring him into their plans for the resolution of the
problems because of his tender age. The Oliha, other members of the
Edion Uzama and the Ohen Iso then sent their relations and supporters
to join and help Prince Ekaladerhan in Ughoton. They consulted the
oracle of Iso temple and used their mystic powers to invoke Belial to
send one beast herbivore or Osogan which was put at their service.
The Osagan was capable of eating up mighty trees and clear space in
the thick forest. The Osagan was directed into the forest in a
North-Westerly direction where he cleared a large area which was to
be known as Ile-Ife about 1075. The beast then started moving from
place to place to capture and transport people to settle in Ile-Ife.
One place the beast visited regularly was a market in Ile called
Agbayo-Aigbare (meaning we go together, but we don't return
together) so named because of the activities of Osogan. This market
which was mainly used by women was the place where the Osogan
selected and seized people for transportation to Ile-Ife. The Osogan
was capable of carrying as much as twenty people in its open mouth at
a time. The Oliha and the Edion Uzama selected some people and sent
to the market for transportation by the beast to Ile-Ife. The people
carried away by the beast were not killed as earlier believed. If
they were being killed, people would have stopped attending the
market. But the market held regularly in spite of the Osogan's
activities. Soon craftsmen and physicians joined in the strange kind
of migration to Ile-Ife. These people carried by the Osogan
increased in population and formed a populous and commercial town
known as Ile-Ife. It soon started attracting people from other
places who went there to trade. This was how Ile-Ife came into
existence in about 1075 A.D., though it had no king yet. Osigo Owodo
paid no attention to the dwindling population of his headquarters.
He was too busy with his personal problems. But the problem of
disappearance of people from the market as a result of the activities
of Osogan, started to disturb other notable personalities who were
not party to the Oliha's plans. This problem led to the emergence of
community leaders in Ile, who were concerned about finding a solution
to this problem. These leaders had no access to Ogiso Owodo. They
decided to find solutions to the problem on their own. Once such
community leader who emerged during this period was Evian. Before
this crisis he was already an important personality in Ile. His
family came from Mede and were renowned diviners. Evian himself had
acquired this trade from his forebears and had the five powers of a
Magi. Through this power he was able to know of the activities of
the Oliha. But since he was not consulted by Owodo and the Oliha, he
joined the other community leaders in solving the problem. Later he
was driven by his personal ambition of wanting to become king. He
therefore invoked his power for control of malevolent spirits after
which he went to the market of Agbayo-Aigbare to await the coming of
Osogan. When the Osogan arrived, he waved his magical wand across
the face and the Osogan fled the market into the Iso forest. This
defeat of the Osogan was hailed by the people of Ile and it helped to
enlarge the stature of Evian. This finally established him as a
foremost community leader who was consulted regularly in the
administration of Ile and other parts of Igodomigodo kingdom. Oliha
and the Edion Uzama members on the other hand continued with the
control of Osogan and its activities. The Osogan soon started to
operate from the Iso temple in the Ugbeku bush. It was also directed
to Ughoton to carry away the troops sent by Owodo to capture his heir
Prince Ekaladerhan. In addition they continued to monitor the
activities and movement of Prince Ekaladerhan in preparation for his
installation after the exit of Owodo.

The Story of Prince Ekaladerhan who Became Imadoduwa Obalufon the
First Ooni of Ile-Ife.

After the establishment of Ile-Ife in 1075 A.D., the town started to
attract migrants who came to practice their trade as well as settle
in the place. It became populous and specialised trades and services
began to develop. Also because of its increasing population the
administration of the town started to become problematic. But the
town was destined and foreseen by mystics for higher things as the
abode of a great king, whose descendants would establish dynasties in
many places. One of such mystics was the Babalawo
Osamienmwinaisetinru known as Setinru who had transformed the Edo Iha
divination system into Ifa during his sojourn in Ado-Ekiti. He had
received mystic messages that a prince would soon established his
kingdom with his followers in Ile-Ife. About 1080 A.D., Setinru
shifted his divination business to Ile-Ife. He became a foremost
Babalawo whose presence attracted a lot of people to Ile-Ife who came
to consult him and to learn the divination system. Thus Ile-Ife
became a spiritual centre as well. Sentinru was to play an important
role in the installation of Prince Ekaladerhan as the first Ooni of
Ile-Ife. Prince Ekaladerhan, as already indicated, was the only child
of Ogiso Owodo. He was born about 1070 A.D. by Imade, the secret
wife of Ogiso Owodo. Because he was a mystic destined for great
things, the attempts by Queen Esagho to use witchcraft to terminate
the pregnancy failed. He grew up a tall, handsome and obedient
prince in Ogiso's palace. He had a large circle of friends who were
to form the core of his allies in exile. He developed interest in
the religious practices in the kingdom. The mystical aura
surrounding his person was well known. Due to the intrigues of Queen
Esagho, he was taken to the forest and banished along with Imade, his
mother. Ekaladerhan was joined by his friends and moved further near
the sea where they built a new town called Ughoton. Due to the
distance from Iso temple in Ugbeku, he decided to built a temple for
worship in Ughoton. Since life in Ughoton revolved around the sea,
he used water and sea creatures as symbols, while retaining virtually
all the ritual practices of Zoroastrianism associated with Iso
temple. This new temple was known as Olokun temple and thus was the
origin of Olokun worship which was to spread far and wide. He
appointed a priest for the temple who followed him to Ile-Ife, but
later returned to Ughoton where his descendants continued as
custodians of the temple. (Two of his descendants Chief D.O. Omuemu
and Dr. A.O. Izevbigie have provided evidence for this and it is
shown in Appendix). The obstruction and capture of his father's
soldiers by the Osogan made him realise that he was a fugitive wanted
in Ile. This made him abandon Ughoton for the forest, moving in a
north westerly direction along with allies, supporters and subjects.
In the course of this escape, he changed his name to Imadoduwa (a
reaffirmation of his destiny which means "I did not buy my way to
prosperity") to conceal his fugitive identity. Driven on by some
mystical forces, they arrived in Ile-Ife which was in dire need of a
king to rule over the town. The people of Ile-Ife assembled at the
house of Setinru, the supreme Babalawo to find a solution to this
problem. It was at this time that (Prince Ekaladerhan) Imadoduwa and
his followers entered the town. The people recognised him as the
awaited king and started pointing at his direction. While some of
the people were pointing him out and describing him in Yoruba
language, Babalawo Setinru was asking them in Edo language whether
they were referring to Ooni? Which in Edo language was a question
meaning "this one?" The people now replied Ooni in unison after him.
They proclaimed king with the title Ooni and renamed Oba Olufon
Imadoduwa, the Ooni of Ile-Ife. Since that time in about 1090 A.D.
all the rulers of Ile-Ife adopted the title of Ooni of Ile-Ife. All
the elders and leaders of the people of Ile-Ife accepted him as king,
and paid homage to him by kneeling and bowing to him as a mark of
respect. The coronation took place immediately after. The name
Obalufon was given by the Ifa-Olodumare through the supreme Babalawo
Setinru who became Babalawo to Imadoduwa Obalufon the first Ooni of
Ile-Ife. After his coronation, he established a large pantheon at the
side of his house. There he housed the various deities he had known
and worshipped in Ile the headquarters of Igodomigodo. Amongst them
were the Iso temple, Olokun (or water) temple, Ogun temple, and so
on. In addition he established a large garden continuing every known
plant. He also kept a large forest behind the garden which was home
to both benevolent and malevolent spirits as well as animals
associated with these temples like swallows, locusts and so on. He
was surrounded in his palace by many practising diviners, physicians
and medicine men. He married his first and other wives in Ile-Ife.
They had many children for him. At the time of his mother Imade's
death about 1140 A.D., he was already blessed with twenty seven sons
and seventeen daughters from five of his wives. In accordance with
the tradition of his forebears in Igodomigodo, he started to send out
the sons to various parts of Yoruba land like Ekiti, Ijebu, Ijesa,
Egba, Ondo and so on. They were installed as Obas (king) over these
people. The eldest son Aigbovo whose pet name was Omonoyan (given by
his grandmother Imade) was designated as the successor to the Ooni.
But certain developments and circumstances in Ile (Igodomigodo) made
his father Imadoduwa Obalufon the Ooni of Ile-Ife to send Aigbovo to
Ile as king. These developments and events are the issues we shall
discuss in the next section.


I have gone this length to show and establish the origins of Ile-Ife,
its Monarch and the Ooni title and her connections with Benin. This
is to provide a basis for understanding Benin's later request for an
Ife Prince to rule over her. This Benin request for a seeming
"foreigner" to rule over her, has continued to baffle a lot of
people, who have never been able to understand and appreciate such a
development. But this problem is not unconnected with the manner the
issue had previously been presented by earlier writers, for instance,
the late Chief (Dr) J.U. Egharevba in treating the subject in A short
history of Benin wrote:

"It was some years after Evian's victory over Osogan that Owodo was
banished for misrule by the angry people, who then appointed Evian as
administrator of the government of the country because of his past
services to the people. When Evian was stricken by old age he
nominated his eldest son, Ogiemwen as his successor, but the people
refused him. They said he was not the Ogiso and they could not accept
his son as his successor, because as he himself knew, it had been
arranged to set up a republican form of government. This he was now
selfishly trying to alter.

While this was still in dispute the people indignantly sent an
ambassador to the Ooni Oduduwa, the great and wisest rule of Ife,
asking him to send one of his sons to be their ruler, for things were
getting from bad to worse and the people saw that there was need for
a capable ruler.

This passage quoted above did not show that Ekaladerhan went to
Ile-Ife and became Imadoduwa who became the Ooni of Ife. There is no
doubt that Chief (Dr). Egharevba knew everything about Ekaladerhan's
departure to Ile-Ife but became silent on it. This seemingly
deliberate omission obviously created some of the aforementioned
difficulties in understanding the Benin-Ile-Ife connection.
Having shown and established the connections between Benin and
Ile-Ife, it is now necessary to narrate the events that led to the
request for a king from Ile-Ife and the founding of the present
dynasty in Benin. The seeming complacence of Oliha and Edion Uzama
during Owodo's misrule seem to have worked against them after the
banishment of Owodo. None of them was called upon to rule over the
people. Rather the people of Ile chose one of their community
leaders Evian. He was appointed as an administrator about 1091.
Evian's rule was peaceful, but he had his own ambition to perpetuate
his family in office. In short, he wanted to establish his own
dynasty. When he became old, his administration started to weaken
and problems started to develop. The people then started agitating
for a new rule. During this period, too, the Oliha during Owodo's
misrule died and he was succeeded by his young son. Evian took
advantage of his situation to nominate his eldest son Ogiemwen and
proceeded to enthrone him. The people of Ile led by the young Oliha
did not accept this arrangement. Moreover, they were aware that
Ekaladerhan the rightful heir was still alive and ruling in Ile-Ife.
The Oliha and the other four members of the Edion Uzama decided to
go to Ekaladerhan Imadoduwa the Ooni of Ife to beg him to return to
Ile to assume his throne in 1153. The Ooni received them, but he was
not happy with them. After the preliminary quarrels, the Ooni told
them that he was not prepared to return to Ile for two reasons namely
that his new kingdom Ile-Ife was too big to be abandoned and that he
had become too old to embark on such a journey. In addition he was
still bitter and had not forgotten about the way the former Oliha had
neglected and abandoned him. But due to the persistent pleading of
the delegation, the Ooni agreed to help them on the condition , they
underwent some tests. They agreed. He gave them some lice to take
home and return with them back to Ile-Ife after three years. Three
years later about 1150, the Oliha and his team returned to Ile-Ife
with the lice. The Ooni was happy with them for having been able to
take care of insects as small as lice. He then concluded that since
they have been able to take care of lice, they would be able to take
care of his son. The Ooni called his eldest son Prince Aigbovo
(alias Omonoyan who had been appointed as successor to the Ooni) to
follow them to Ile to establish an administration. Prince Aigbovo
Omonoyan obeyed his father's instructions and left Ile-Ife with some
allies among whom was the Oloton who was made the sixth member of the
Edion Uzama about 1100 A.D. he stayed in a palace built for him at
Usama and became friendly with Erinmwinde the beautiful daughter of
the Enogie of Egor. She soon became pregnant. But he did not seem
to be receiving full cooperation from the people of Ile after two
years of staying in Usama. It was because of this that he started
calling the town Ile-Ibinu. He abdicated about 1163 A.D. and left
some of his allies to look after his son. He instructed the people
to enthrone his son as the next Oba, before he left for Ile-Ife.
From there Omonoyan proceeded to Oyo where he had another son Oranyan
who later became the Alafin of Oyo. Omonoyan returned to Ile-Ife
about 1167 and succeeded his father as the second Ooni of Ile-Ife.
The instructions he left behind that his child from Erinmwinde should
be enthroned as the king of Oba of Benin was adhered to. This child
was male and was crowned Oba Eweka I. He founded the present
dynasty. What happened was not really the founding of a new dynasty
as such. It was rather the reestablishment of the dynastic line
started by the Theba
n Prince Ogiso Igodo.

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