Emotan: Mother Of The Benin Nation

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Last Update July 28, 2020

Although women are generally regarded as weaker vessels, some are gifted with excellent wisdom and bravery. Emotan, the most honoured Bini woman that ever lived can be regarded as a woman that lived above gender limitation and made a distinctive mark during her life time ¡n pre-colonial! Benin. Her life portrays Excellency of wisdom and bravery, she affected every aspect of the people’s life, be it economic, social, and political and even the family. She is referred to as “mother of the Benín nation.” Some other scholars described her as The “childless mother” while Oba Akenzua II also described her as The soul of the nation.’ These different descriptions represent several aspects of her personally in their ancient kingdom of Benin. She was truly the mother of the nation.

Emotan lived in the fifteenth century Benin City; she lived during the reign of Oba Ohen and his sons, But became very famous in the country during Oba Ewuare’s reign. Her life exemplifies that of a woman who knows what she was destined for and carefully worked hard to realize her purpose in life. But in the eye of the ordinary man, she was regarded as not successful in her life time. This is because she made no success in wife-hood, and had no biological children of her own. To the Bini, a woman is regarded as successful when she succeeds in her home and ha children who are also useful to the society.

Emotan was born into the family of Ovbieyean of Iyean village, she was not born into the royal family; but she was the only child of her mother and her source of joy. Her name at birth was Uwarraye. The mother’s joy turned sorrow as Uwarraye refused to marry when she was of age.
 She married Chief Azama of Ihogbe district, as his second wife. 

Uwaraye was considered indolent by her husband because she could not cook. She could not get pregnant either.  Azama’s first wife, Arabe, handled the domestic chores and gave birth to all the children of the household. Azama soon nicknamed Uwarraye, Eke Emitan, corrupted to Emotan, meaning lazy bones.  

was also a place of refuge to prince Ogun during the period of his succession Emotan is said to have been very industrious, she was very good at making evbarie (a soup seasoning prepared from  fermented melon), and this she made to become the finest trade in the land. She also was a notable spinner, spinning the sheerest cotton thread from bolls to which came from the farm. In addition to this, she was also a dealer in kemwin kemwin merchandise, (keeping ‘odd and end). Tradition has it that it was through her, Oba market which used to be very dry and dull became full of life and ativities. Women frorm all over the city and beyond began to troop in to the market either to buy or sell commodities of different kinds, This led to rapid expansion that culminated into increased economic value of the market.

A very significant character that also brought Emotan to limelight was her love for children. Although Emotan did not have her own biological children; she had many foster children who called her mother. Asien opines that mothers who came to the Oba market with their children would frequently ask Emotan for her childminding service, while they went about their business in the market. This was how she started a foster home for children. At a very tender age some parents would bring their children to live with Emotan and learn some trade from her, after some years the children returned back to their parents. Apart from these set of’ children, she also kept orphan children whom she trained to adulthood before they left the home. These children became industrious and useful to the society; most of them became expert in the making of evbairie and also developed skills in the spinning of wool

Emotan became very famous through the role she played during Oba Ewuare’s pre-succession travail. After the death of Oba Orobiru, the throne became vacant because the rightful heir, Ogun, was banished from the city with his younger brother, Uwaifiokun. It is said that Prince Ogun sent his younger brother, Uwaifiokun, to the city to find out from the nobles if they would want him to return or not. Uwaifiokun, however, betrayed his brother when he got to the city. He told the elders that since their departure from Benin, he had not seen prince Ogun and convinced them to make him Oba thereby usurping the throne. Prince Ogun after waiting for his brother who never returned to him again came to spy on the city one night and found out his brother’s betrayer; his return to the city became a threat to Uwaifiokun and the nobles who were enjoying the benefit of an inexperienced king like Uwaifiokun. This brought tension in the state. It was in such a chaotic state that Emotan rose to save the situation. She became an eye to Prince Ogun who was now hiding from his younger brother who sought to kill him in order to retain the throne. She provided succor and shelter for Ogun during this period of his trials. Her abode at Oba market became a listening post where Ogun got prevailing public opinion in the town, in his effort to gain back his rightful mandate. He stayed in a bush hide out behind Emotan’s house during the day, while he sneaks into Emotan small hut at night to sleep. This was the only place of safety for him as the king and his nobles conspired to kill him because they were afraid of what he would do to them due to their betrayer. It was in her hut by the market that the conspiracy to topple the usurper-oba, Uwafiokun, from power was hatched by Ogun and Emotan.

Prince Ogun was told of his younger brother’s plan to make procession to the ancestral shrine in order to sacrifice to the gods of his father to help him avert his ill fate. This information stirred up Ogun as he was ready to take back the throne of his Father. It was from Emotan’s house that Prince Ogun sailed forth to meet Uwaifiokun who was in a procession to Oba market to sacrifice at the shrine. Ogun came forth and slew his younger brother, the Oba, an act which cleared the path for him to take over the throne of their father. The death of Uwaifiokun ended the crisis of succession to the kingship of the kingdom and Ogun marked it by adopting the title Ewuare (Oworuare) meaning, ‘the heat has abated’ or the trouble has ceased

Soon after Ewuare’s installation as the Oba, Emotan died a happy woman. Before her death, she has always said that she knew that nothing could stop prince Ogun from becoming an Oba, this belief became a reality in her life time. Thus, it can be inferred that she lived a fulfilled life
Her attitude towards life and the people made her an outstanding woman in the society. As a chiIdlss woman, her chattel was inherited by the Oba, who buried her in her house by the Oba market. He ordered that she must not be forgotten and in order to establish this decree, Oba Ewuare deified her by planting Uruhe tree by her grave. He made Aikaeronmwon, the royal jester, her worshiper. Every man invested with a title had to visit her grave and so must all funeral processions, to pay reverence to her spirit.

Thus, Emotan the famous trader and the saviour of Oba Ewuare became the most honoured woman in the kingdom. The Uruhe tree that was planted over her grave lived for more than three hundred years. It fell with age during the reign of Oba Osemwende. The Oba now replaced the tree with another Uruhe tree, about one hundred and fifty years ago, and supported it with an Iroko tree. The  tree, however, was replaced with a bronze statue of a full size woman by the British council in Benin during the reign of Oba Akenzua II in 1954. This was because the last two trees planted on the grave by Oba Osemwende fell off during a very heavy storm, fifty years earlier.

Be that as it may, Benin kingdom was blessed with great woman who lived above their limitations as women. Although in the traditional setting women had a lot of limitation as they were not rated more than mere slaves. But the ability and potential of some of these women distinguished them. Emotan lived her life for the people and the Benin nation; although she had no biological children of her own, she had many children who became very useful to the society through the skills they learnt or developed from her. Emotan changed the situation of Oba market; she was the one that ensured that Oba Ewuare gained his rightful mandate. And Oba Ewuare became one of the greatest Obas that ever ruled over Benin kingdom; his might went beyond the present day territory of Nigeria, he is rated as warrior king who expanded the kingdom to an empire. Oba Ewuare became one of the Obas that initiated lots of reforms in the political institutions of Benin. He reduced the powers of the Uzama and instituted the position of Ediaken (heir apparent) in order to reduce succession crisis, which almost took his own life if not for the intervention of Emotan. It can also be inferred that Mother Emotan influenced most of Ewuare’s political reforms.

A Bini woman right from birth is a traditio-cultural prisoner. She can only be seen in the society, but not heard; she is bound to be dependent despite her abilities. She is a good example of gender limitation. She is caught in the web and clutches of cultural entrapment with no access to some basic rights in the society, although she is supposed to be a freeborn, she is treated like as mere slave and second fiddle, With all these basic limitations on women in ancient Benin, Emotan rose above the societal bounds to make her mark in the kingdom. Her selfless stewardship to the Benin nation has earned her the name ‘Mother of the nation’. Her bravery saved the kingdom from wrong leaders; she is an epitome of justice and unity to the Benin nation. Her reform was economical, social and political. She was indeed part of the process of the formation of one of the greatest monarchs in West Africa.

Ewuare the great is considered the most successful Oba of Benin today because Emotan was there to help him gain his rightful mandate. It can, therefore, be inferred that if there was no Emotan, there would not have been Ewuare. Up till date, she is still being honoured in Benin. To her memory, a secondary school has been named Also; a road even in the prestigious University of Ibadan is named after her to immortalize her name outside the Benin kingdom.

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