The Origin Of Okpella

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Last update 03-06-2020) 

The Okpella are Etsako who are descendants of Edo Bini people. They occupy the rocky northern flank of Etsako territory.

The early Okpella were described as having independent and truculent spirit. They were known to have marks on their foreheads known as Ikpo and like their Etsako brethren; the Okpella had the custom of filling teeth, which was then prevalent amongst the women folks.
Like their Bini and Etsako kins the Okpella have the Otu social organization with its own peculiarity.

Okpella language is a dialect of Bini and to a very large extent the language remains the strongest vestige of their Edo Bini legacy and heritage. The name Okpella is said to have been derived from the Bini word Okpea meaning man, and Okpea na means “man run”, or this could also mean “this man”. It is Okpea na that is alleged to have been corrupted to Okpella.
The origin of Okpella people like most African peoples is preserved in oral traditions, largely due to the absence of written records. There have also been no archaeological excavations to authenticate and augment the various accounts of the origins of the people and the territory known as Okpella.

Hence any attempt at tracing the origin of the people will depend largely on oral accounts. These exist in the form of stories, which have been transmitted from generation to generation. The people and indeed the community remain the main archives of the society as they carry their history, traditions and customs in their memories and consciousness.
The problems of oral accounts are that sometimes the accounts are completely lost, or some of the details are often forgotten and cannot be completely recounted. While at times the accounts suffer from deliberate colouring to suit the inherent interest and fancies of the person (s) giving these accounts. Inspire of these problems, oral traditions have been found to  be an indispensable source of reconstructing the history of none literate peoples in the absence of written sources hence this will among others be used in reconstructing the origin and history of Okpella.

Various accounts exist about the origin of Okpella, which have generated a lot of controversies in some quarters as well as vibrancy in its study, amongst which the military origin of Okpella is considered the least favoured in the available accounts on the subject.
One account traces the origin of Okpella to the expansion of Benin Kingdom under Oba Ewuare the great (The Ogidigan). He was described as the great, powerful, courageous and sagacious ruler. He was credited to have captured 201 towns and villages, and expanded the empire from Bonny in the East to Lagos in the West and up to the Niger as well as over running the Etsako region.

There are doubts as to which particular people, Benin under Oba Ewuare conquered in Etsako Region. Hence these questions: Were they the Etsako (Edo - Bini people) of which Okpella is a part or were they the aboriginal population in the Etsako region? These questions become pertinent as it is not clear whether Okpella and in fact the entire Etsako people had already settled in the Etsako region at that time. Or Could it had been that the Okpella and the other Etsako people were part of the Benin troops who attacked the region, and a large number of the troops were said to later become weary of continuous warfare and decided not to return to the fold of the Benin army at home in Benin and thus remained and dominated the region, consequently assimilating the aboriginal populations.

As plausible as this military origin of Okpella and indeed some other Etsako communities may seem, there are no sufficient records or obvious traditions alluding to Okpella military origin.

Even in the other accounts of the people‘s migratory journey to Okpella, no accounts of battles were given on their route from Benin before their arrival at Okpella. Although an account claimed that Okpella fought up to Oguda in the olden days and hence Oguda formed the traditional boundary between Okpella and Ebira Okene people.
The war or battles, which Okpella fought and are discussed or mentioned elsewhere, were fought after Okpella had settled and established itself in the region.

There are overwhelming agreement by writers, traditions and cultural evidence abound that Benin is the ancestral home of the Okpella people.

Temple Charles Lindsay claimed that “Upila (Okpella) tribe lived near Sapele (Now in Delta State) in Southern Nigeria till the beginning of the eighteenth century when they migrated northward in search of fresh hunting country. He further stated that they came to their location in Iddo Hill (now Iddo naafe or Iddo I) where they settled, their principal towns being Komunio (Ukhomunio) and Iddo. They have settlement at Afogania (Afodane) which was allied with Igbira (Ebira) settlement at Soso (Ososo) until a Nupe raid divided them only in the early nineteenth century.

R. E. Bradbury” corroborates Temple C. Lindsay view as he claims that Okpella people represent separate migration from Benin/ Sapele area, the migrants settling along side with some people. (Aborigines) who were already on the site of Ogute. He further claims that the present settlement of Jmiekuri (Okhu) is largely descended from this aboriginal group and that Okpella proliferated into the. Present day settlements, one of which is said to be formed from descendants of a daughter (Ekurl) of Okpella.

Philip Uwukho Ebuatse differs and claims that Okpella people migrated from Benin through the Delta region to its present location. He claims that a man called Ikpomaza was the progenitor of Okpella and Ibie he went further to say that Ogogo was the progenitor of the Ibies.

According to this account, Ikpomaza, Okpella and Ogogo left their home in Benin with their kith and kins to avoid the oppressive reign of the Oba. They migrated southward, where they established a colony called Okpe near Warri in the country of Urhobo Ogogo on the other hand, later moved northeast ward, settled and became prosperous, and that the news of Ogogo prosperity attracted Okpella to move northward and joined Ogogo, thus settling in Okpella and developed into a separate clan as it has become known today. Though this account is the least popular, its value here is perhaps that it brings to the fore a possible stronger relationship between the Okpella and Ibies than may be earlier perceived. And perhaps it also draws our attention to a likely close consanguine association between Okpe (now in Delta state,), and Okpella (now in Edo state), beyond the similarity in name.
Jacob E. Egharevba in his account differs from the historical accounts, which traced Okpella origin to, or through the Delta region as the ones above. Egbarevba claimed that the early Okpera (Okpella) people migrated from Okha in Benin. This account was later to be supported by Oshoma Imoagene, who in one of his works asserted, that “the Etsako (of which Okpella is a part), claim that a single migratory party left Benin during a period of oppression, from which a sub- section proliferated in all directions to establish the nuclei of the numerous towns and villages of Etsako Division”.

Another account, which also claimed that the Etsako hailed from Benin, said that the Etsako, migrated from the present Ovia area of the old Benin Empire.
Other written accounts support the Benin origin of the Okpella people, although they may not all be in agreement on the specific location where Okpella migrated from within Benin.
There are oral accounts that are also in complete agreement with the written accounts as to the Benin origin of Okpella but most of them claim that Ikpoba is the original home of the Okpella in Benin.

However it must be stated here that the most prevalent traditions favour Ikpoba as the specific place in Benin where Okpella hails from and the next favoured place is Okha.
Since earlier written accounts and contemporary interviews confirm Benin as the home of Okpella people, there is need to establish the time this migration from Benin took place. There have been conflicting accounts as to the period when the Etsako moved away from Benin to their present locations. Some writers have suggested dates as recent as the l8th century while others have given period dating back to the twelfth (12th) century.

The difficulty in stating the exact time of this migration has been admitted by many writers. One of such writers however presented the possibility of the migration to any of these periods and times; the twelfth (1 2th) century, or the period between the banishment of the Iwodo the last Ogiso and the reign of Oba Ewuare the great or during the reigns of Oba Ozoluo and Oba Esigie who were involved in military expansion, during which some of the troops refused to return home after some military expeditions and formed settlements like Eho,; Igiedurna and parts of Igueben.

But a more plausible date has been provided by H. B .Harunnah who, not only corroborates the Benin origin of Okpella, but also went further to put the period of migration of the people to the present day Okpella clan at about 1400 AD.

The history of Okpella cardinal cultural festival “Idaeichie Otu” lends support to 1400 AD (or the 15th century) as being the most probable period for the migration. The  “daetchie otu” Festival whose origin is traced to Okpella, the founder  of the clan, has a relatively stable frequency for its occurrence and the total number of the festival ever celebrated was employed to calculate the probable date Okpella was established to be in the 15th century
Okpella tradition and the most prevalent and overwhelming so have it that Okpella people migrated from Benin and trace their Ukpella Origin to a common ancestor called Ikpomaza. He was a Bini man and whom tradition claims migrated with his only son called Okpella (Okpea). It is from him the people and the land later derived their name.

According to tradition, which also was recorded by Jewell Ikpomaza migrated from Benin with his son, Okpella, to avoid the wrath of an Oba who was alleged to have had an eye on his son’s fiancée (Eveva). This meant calamity for Ikpomaza and his family as the Oba could not be challenged nor his wishes and desires denied. In order to avert such calamity Ikpomaza, Okhokho, Okpella and Eveva had to escape from Benin along with relations and other people who were connected to them to avoid the Oba wrath.

The tradition further had it that the Oba on the throne then was maximally oppressive and tyrannical and there was general dissatisfaction as well as great fear of his reign of terror. It was this historic journey from the reign of terror and tyranny that culminated in the emergence of Okpella.

The migratory route from Benin to Okpella, according to accounts passed through the Urhobo area in Delta.

H.B. Harunnah and Imoagene added that Etsako people migrated through Esan land before arriving at their present locations. This corroborates the prevalent tradition among the Okpella, which happen to shed light on the last lap of the journey, the tradition claim that, the place where they (Ikpomaza and entourage) first settled in Okpella land was at Okhe-Okorwa in the Ogute region of the clan Pa. Imosueh in his account revealed that Okpella sojourned through Urna area in Akoko before they moved and founded Okpella clan. The account however did not provide information on Okpella route(s) to Uma.

They were probably lured into settling at Okorwa because of the river there, from which the area derived its name. The river provided them the necessary condition for settlement as there was fresh drinkable water coupled with the relative peace and tranquillity the environment provided them in addition to its strategic location, that gave it an aura of invincibility, and made settlement in the area safe and easy.

Ikpomaza and his entourage met some inhabitants already settled in the area of the Amovi and Okhe-Okorwa valleys. One of these aboriginal groups are known as Okhu and some claim they were not of Benin origin. The other aboriginal group are known as the Igiafodio found around the Ugbemhe lake area, who claim a mythical origin of being created by God who establish them in the place.

It is often argued that the Igiafodio predated the Okhu people in the terrain. A tradition claims that the Igiafodios had earlier inhabited the whole Ogute region before the Okhu people came. At that time the Igiafodios claim they were the ones who gave out fields which the Okhu could utilize for their sustenance. It was also said that at that time farming as an occupation was not as prominent as hunting. These aboriginal populations derived their sustenance from the vast resources of the wild that abound the region, and lived mainly on games which they hunted, and fruits, roots as well as other forest products which they gathered.

Another aboriginal group that also predated the Okpella and appears to be the last to be known by the Okpella, are the Ekpema whose presence was first confirmed by Igiease hunters. The Ekpenia had their settlement between the Ute-Ekpema (around Ukhomunio and the Agbiga (iddo ) axis of Okpella (the part now popularly known as Oteku) region, in the north east flank of the clan.

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