Imaguero And The Idah War

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Last Update July 29, 2020

Imaguero was the beautiful and faithful wife of Chief Oliha. She was a beauty to behold and the pride of her husband. Her integrity and steadfastness made her husband to boast firmly about her in public and even at the council of elders. Imaguero also lived in the 15th ceutury Benin and this was during the reign of Oba Esigie, it was her beauty that almost cost the kingdom its peace and unity.

According to oral tradition and written records, Chief Oliha had many wives including princess Arnighen, who was Oba Esigie’s daughter and the most senior wife of OIiha but Oliha loved Imaguero more although she had no child for him. He did not mind that he was married to the Oba‘s daughter. He went to the palace in the mind of elders and continually boasts of his wife, Imaguero. He claimed she was the most faithful woman in the kingdom despite her beauty and intelligence This, however became insulting to the Oba, who for two major reasons did not like OIiha’s boast, One Oba Esigie had a mother he valued so much and felt she should be the most honoured and regarded as the most faithful woman of the Kingdom and not one wife of a chief. Secondly, it would have also been acceptable if the woman Oliha boasted of was the Princess, his daughter. But this was not so and Esigie was provoked to prove him wrong by all means. He eventually did, oral traditions and written records has two versions of the story on how he humiliated Oliha.

According to J. U Eharevba, Oba Esigie told Chief Oliha that women were not to be trusted, and to prove that imaguero was no exception the Oba asked one of his porters (uke) to go with some coral beads and agate beads and entice her. On receiving the beads, the woman not only committed adultery but also obtained a leave of her husband to reside in her father’s house where the portal had free and easy access to her, After several weeks, the Oba summoned a meeting, and asked Oliha to repeat what he had said about his wife, Oliha again, without the slightest suspicion, said that his wife, Imaguero was the most faithful woman in the whole kingdom. Uke was presented before the assembly and was told to confess what transpired between him and Imaguero. He related he had been able to win her with only few beads. This was humiliating and insulting to Oliha and this was the beginning of the Benin-Idah

However, in the second version of the story, that which was told by Imaguero herself to her husband revealed by Ogie Evbinnia in his work titled Imaguero it was Oba Esigie himself that actually engaged in the act with Imaguero This part is not always told because of the need to protect the personality of the Oba. The people see the Oba as a god and he can do any wrong, his actions towards Oliha’s wife was a big taboo that must not be spoken of even after many years. This was in order to protect the Oba image and personality. His fault and weaknesses must be covered by his loyal subject. However, facts are very important in the process of reconstruction history. From available sources, Oba Esigie was also interested in Imaguero. He sent his servant Uke with a gift of coral beads and agate with a message that he wanted to be her lover. Although she was tempted at first, she later sent the servant back with a fitting message of rebuff and hoped the matter would die there. But that was only the beginning of the problem as his royal Majesty, sent a massage of threat to Imaguero that he will kill her parents and relatives, if within few days she does not succumb to his love advances towards her, This became a great burden for Imaguero as she was a nobody but the beautiful daughter of a commoner who fell into the hand of a senior chief because of her beauty and now the same beauty and her husband constant boast of her is almost costing her the lives of her parents.

Imaguero decided to plead with her husband to release her in order for her to visit her parent as she claimed to be home sick. When she got there, she then explained to her parents the intriguing situation she was going through, they advised her to give in to the Oba because it was a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the Oba who could make lives miserable in the empire if his wishes were not granted. That was the beginning of the illicit love affair between Oba Esigie and Imaguero which almost brought down the dignity of the ancient Empire of Benin. Then, the Oba began to tell people that it was foolish for Oliha to trust any woman and that no woman is worth any form of trust or love from her husband. This continuous accusation of the Oba became offensive to Oliha who now confronted him and asked the Oba If he was actually in love with maguero or was it because he was married to his daughter that he will not have peace. The Oba now asked to bring his complains before the eiders at the council of elders; It was in this council Oba Esigie actually told the first version of the story which contends that it was like that actually bad love affair with Imaguero, this was told in order to humiliate and embarrass Oliha before the council of elders. This version has been accepted by most people and writers because it does not defile the personality of the Oba However, from further research, it became clear that Imaguero actually had a love affair with Oba Esigie. According Ebvima Ogie, he claimed that though the confession made by Imaguero to her husband, Olíha, before she drank the poison that led to her death, she bid her husband how she was threatened by Esigie before she gave in to him. This was what provoked the Oliha and made him to vow that Oba Esigie had to pay for the pains and humiliation he brought to his family in order to prove a point. The point is that women were not supposed to be trusted.

These events eventually culminated into the Benin-Idah war  Chief Oliha was greatly worried aral grieved by the trick played on him by Oba Esigie, He immediately embarked on a surreptitious plan to cause trouble for the Oba. He sent his faithful servant Algbovoleghe to go to Attah of Idah kingdom warning him that the Oba is bringing war to his domain, The same Aigbovoleghe came to Benin and told the Oba that the Attah of Idah was bringing war on Benin, But for the prompt response of Queen Idia the Benin soldiers and the use of superior firepower and War stratagem of using Emue-mue (dummies made to look like Benin soldiers) as a decoy to deceive the invading Attah army, Benin stood the chance of suffering  humiliating defeat in the hands of one of one of its former colonies. The Igalla were seriously beaten and was driven to the bank of river Niger, Imaguero’s infidelity was responsible for this unprovoked attack on Benin, but the sweet victory of Benin over Attah and his people re-enforced Benin’s position as unassailable and indomitable in the part of the then known world. It also helped to expand Benin’s influence to new lands including Onitsha and adjoining territories.

The dilemma that began with a woman was also resolved by another woman. This again proves the relevance and place of women in pre-colonial Benin, II’ women were actually unimportant as the Benin custom and traditions claimed, the issue of Imaguero relationship with Oba Esigle would not have resulted to war. The point is, women were and have remained important instrument in the development of socio-political culture in pre-colonial Benin Behind every successful kingdom, there is a woman, the life of Imaguero and Benin-Idah war once again re-affirms the place and relevance of women in Pre-colonial Benin Empire.

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