Historical Link: Between Okpella People And Benin

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By ISABEMOEH JAMES ROY (Last update June 3, 2020)

OKPELLA clan is strategically located on the Northern fringes of Edo State bordering Kogi. It is one of the major gateways opening Edo State to the North of Nigeria. Home to several solid minerals industries and several agricultural products, it is the third largest clan in Edo State as recorded in the 2006 population census.

The founder and father of Okpella was a man called Ikponwusa meaning ‘I give thanks to God’. He was said to have migrated from a place called Ekae in Benin during the tyrannical rule of Oba Ozolua. Oral tradition has it that Ikponwusa later corrupted Ikpomaza left Benin with his beautiful wife Eveva who was a twin. His departure was said to have been hastened by attempt by royal forces to take his wife. In another version, he was said to have left Benin to hunt for leopards. It should be recalled that leopard skins were exported by Benin Empire to Portugal in the 15th century. The above accounts strongly suggest that Okpella origin lies in Benin.

Ikpomaza arrived at a place called ok’uviogbe a small stream in Ogute-Okpella. There, he had three children namely rite, Ase (oteku) and Otuma (Ekuri). They also met two aborigine groups which are Okhu at Amori cave and Ekpema also at Ekpema rock. These aborigines’ languages were similar to that of Okpella, indication that they also migrated from Benin at a much more earlier period. It suffice to note that these two groups have been completely absorbed by Okpella today. It need be mentioned that the founder of Okpella was addressed to as Okpea N’kpomaza meaning “the man Ikpomaza. The word Okpella was a corruption of Okpea. This was a consequence of British imperialism in Nigeria of which Okpella was an integral part.

After the earliest settlements in Okpella, continued identity with Benin was maintained. The situation was such that corpses were sent to Benin for burial. This became progressively difficult considering head portage as a means of transportation especially when there were heavy corpses to convey.

Consequently, the system was discouraged. In the same vein, Benin traditional facial marks were also used by the people of Okpella. However the use of tribal marks was halted because it exposed the people as easy targets of attacks by the Yoruba and Northern invaders.

Another area where continued identity and loyalty to the Benin Monarch was pursued could be found in the submission of every leopard skin, killed in Okpella and to him. Up till now, there is a popular say in Okpella which states that “any hunter who kills a leopard has to undertake a compulsory journey to Benin”. This system, was later discontinued because it was bound by loyalty to the Oba of Benin rather than the use of force. Infact, there is no historical record to prove that Okpella was ever subjected to any military attack or conquest by Benin, their ancestral home. The relationship was very cordial and this has survived up to our time.

As a corollary to the above, many Okpella legends, tabes and folklores are highty woven around a mythical personality called the Oba. Besides, some references are being made to the Ogiso period in Benin history and the construction of the Benin Moat.

Linguistic evidence has also proved that Okpella language belong to the Edoid group. Infact there are over a thousand Okpella words that are similar to Benin. It was migrations, new discoveries occasioned by environmental changes that brought differences to bare on Okpella from the parent language.

The Okpella people have semblances in their traditional institutions with those of Benin. The use of coral beads, beaded crowns, the ‘Ikpema’ (music) to celebrate the ‘Ethame’ traditional titles have Benin colouration Similarly the Otu idaetche festival which takes place at about every 20 years was among other reasons, to remember their arrival from Benin. Benin works of art especially wood carving and basket weaving were also carried down to Okpella. It need be pointed out that traces of this works of art survival in Ogiriga and Utegie villages of Okpella today.

It is pertinent to note at this juncture that Okpella was conquered by the Nupe jihadists in about 1850. However, there were series of wars fought with the Nupe to shake of their imperialism. The last was in about 1893 when Okpella defeated the Nupe army. The effort for a revenge by the Nupe was frustrated in 1897 when they fell to the British colonial forces. Consequently, Okpella which was essentially part of Nupe in political rather them geographical and cultural connection was also taken over by the British.

The situation was such that a District office was established in Iddo-Okpella under J.C. Walker between 1911-1917 when Sidney Smith took over. Okpella was known as Kukuraku South of Kabba Division of Northern Nigeria. During this period, the British had to grapple with the problem of tax evasion in Okpella. Thus, a commission of inquiry was instituted to unravel the reasons for tax evasion in Okpella especially as taxation formed a large part of revenue to the British imperialists. The report however revealed that Okpella are Edo speaking people and that taxation is alien to their culture. More over, their culture was a far cry to that of their neighbours in Kabba Division.

Therefore, it was recommended that Okpella should be merged with their Southern Etsako brothers. Thus, they were re-united back to where they rightly belongs and ever since then royalty to the Oba of Benin has never been in doubt. Some sensitive issues affecting the people are sometimes brought to the Oba of Benin for advice and intervention. Infact, the writer led a delegation of Okpella Students Union to the Oba palace to seek royal intervention on the crisis rocking the Bendel Cement Company, Okpella in 1995. There are a plethora of similar cases coming from Okpella to Benin.

Considering the aforesaid, it is safe to assert that the origin of Okpella people is by no means obscured and that there has been a consistent link between Okpella and Benin to the admiration of all. The 30th anniversary of His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Erediauwa (CFR) Oba of Benin, should be used as an avenue to cement the existing relation between Okpella and Benin as this is capable of creating peace, unity, love and the entire development of Edo State.


Subject: Okpella History
Message: I kust correct the impression created by your write up that Okpella had 3 children which is correct but thier names were Ute, Ase and Ekuri.

Ase is Ijiatse and not Oteku as mentioned in your write up, Oteku people are migrants from Ijiatse.

Ogene-Okumoya, Andrew

Subject: Congrats
Message: Roy this is a very nice contribution to knowledge. You gave an indepth and incisive analysis that has inpired me to create time for some linguistic work in a related area.

Abdulmalik Ofemile

Subject: Okpella Origin

Roy well done, my brother nice contribution to knowledge. Please carry out research work the elder are there to give you some light. The Ijiatse's are big brother to oteku. Ogute is the heart beat of Okpella land. Thanks you and God bless Okpella people.

Julius Udukhokhe

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