Ezomo N’ Ogun
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Written by Ekhaguosa Aisien (Last Update April 9, 2022)

The story of Ezomo n’ Ogun (or Ezomo n’ Igun or Ezomo na’Igun) perhaps the fourth Ezomo of Benin, has fortunately been recorded for posterity by J. U. Egharevba The story appears in his little book, Some Stories of Ancient Benin which he published in 1950. On page 42 of the pamphlet, under the long and rather obscure title of: What is the cause of the Rejoicing of These People over the Fragment Called Life? Egharevba recorded an important episode in the life of this early Ezomo. Ezomo n’Ogun was the first personage in the remembered history of Benin to have used the largest land animal a live elephant as a sacrificial offering in the propitiation of his own Head that is the Spirit of his Good Fortune or of his Self-worth. Since three hundred and fifty years ago when this larger-than-life demonstration of self- worship took place in the Uzebu Quarters there have been only two repeats of it in Benin land. Ohenmwen the Iyase achieved it about one hundred and seventy years ago. And in the fourth decade of the 20thcentury, in February 1936 Oba Akenzua II became the third personage to pull off the feat.

Ezomo n’Ogun sent his servants into the forest for a live elephant and within fourteen day they were back with one. And the propitiation took place. But it did not pass without a rap on the chieftain’s knuckles. This rap of disapproval was delivered by an old Uzebu citizen when the citizen saw the live elephant, richly garlanded and restrained with stout ropes being led in a triumphant procession through the streets of Uzebu. The old citizen gazed at the scene from the doorway of his house. He was not impressed by the prodigality of the wealth and power being demonstrated by the Ezomo. He was in fact offended by the ostentation .He made his famous comment what is the cause of the rejoicing of these people over the fragment called life?

Expressed in other words the elderly citizen was echoing the words in the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible which says: Vanity of vanities all is vanity.

Dragged before the Ezomo for his perceived impertinence the citizen with all due deference to his lord explained the reason for his words. In the words of Dr. Egharevba the old man said: All I said is:
“What is the cause of the rejoicing of these people over the fragment called life? Because it is impossible to get an elephant killed from Benin City to the bank of the river Ovia from the beginning to the days of Ezomo Agban”.

What the old man was telling Ezomo n’ Ogun was that the cause of the rejoicing of the people viz the capture of a live elephant in the jungle so near to the Uzebu Quarters ought in reality to be a source of sorrow to them because the feat was conclusive proof that the Benin Kingdom was shrinking from de-population. From the beginning of time, said the old citizen right into the days of Ezomo Agban a predecessor of Ezomo ‘ Ogun the huge area of territory between Benin City and  the banks of the Ovia river to the west was one large suburban extension of the City with many towns and villages filled with huge populations. Now the populations were no more and the numberless towns and villages had disappeared and their place taken over by the jungle, jungle now so thick  as to provide habitation for the elephants so near to the Uzebu outskirts of the City.

What had happened, the old man was silently asking to the labouring food-growing wealth-creating populations of the land. The land was impoverished by sundry scarcities and by hunger. It was denuded in the unremitting battle with the jungle keeping the jungle at bay and so enlarging the available living space for human-kind the only people who were comfortable with the present circumstances were the warlords the soldiers with the means of expropriating from others their wealth, and even their liberty.

The Ezomo n’Ogun saw the point being made by the citizen and thoughtfully he concurred with it. Rather than chastisement for it had been decided that the old man was to be sacrificed to the god of war, the Ezomo rewarded him with gifts for the contrary but salutary opinion he had expressed.
The great de-population of the Benin kingdom which the old Uzebu citizen had noted with such distress was very probably due to the effects of the overseas Slave Trade which, at that period in history had been going on for more than one hundred years.

Not that the sale of slaves to European merchants had ever been popular in Benin. This trade the overseas export of human beings, and the resulting de-population of the country had from the very beginning, seemed silly in Benin. At first the commerce was restricted to only the sale of female slaves. The export of the productive fighting male was disallowed by the kingdom. Alan Ryder reports on page 59 of his seminal work Benin and the Europeans, the experience of the Portuguese merchant Machin Fernandes in Benin as early in the history of the Slave Trade as August 1522. ie only thirty years after Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas of the whole cargo of 83 slaves bought by Machim Fernandes only two were males and it is quite possible that these were acquired outside the Oba’s territory despite a whole month (at Ughoton) spent in vain attempts to have a market opened for male slaves. The 81 females female, mostly between ten and twenty years of age were purchased in Benin City between 25 June and 8 August at the rate of one two or three a day.
As the centuries wore on Benin stopped cooperating with the overseas traders in this business of the overseas traders in the business of the exportation of humans On page 201 of Benin and the Europeans Alan Ryder records the experiences of yet another European merchant the French trader and Captain called Landolphe  in Benin in February 1778 This trader recorded that:
The Ezomo was the richest man in Benin owning more than 10,000 slaves noon of them was ever sold.

The author then commented:
This (the Ezomo’s) supposed refusal to sell any of his slaves is also noteworthy for the light it sheds upon the attitude of powerful Edo chiefs towards the slave trade: however numerous they might be a great man did not sell his slaves.

Said the Edos.
Vbo ghi da Oba
No na mu ovionren khien
“What need does the Oba want to satisfy by putting out his slave for sale?”

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