Iyase Ekpenede

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Written By Ekhaguosa Aisien Last Update (February 14, 2022)

Ekpenede was the Iyase of Benin four hundred years ago. Therefore he was a fairly modern Benin historical personage. Well before his time the Portuguese had already interacted with Benin, to the greatest extent of their abilities. The ATTA War against IDAH had been fought and won Four Roman Catholic Churches were functioning fitfully in the City Benin had already occupied Lagos and created a dukedom on that Island Oba EHENGBUDA was on the Benin throne, and Ekpenede was the Iyase.

Ekpenede’s premises were vast in extent. The homesteads were situated along the length of the Unu Abehe Street parallel to the back of the Oba market. The frontage where was situated the Ogbore, the fore-court, of the premises, where the IWEBO street portion of the Shrine is at present situated, against the rear fence of the Oredo Local Government Secretariat compound. The rear of the premises crossed the present-day Ekpenede Street and end at the Ogbe Moat, by the YANGA Fish Market. Chief Ekpenede’s private suite, at the rear of the premises is where the main portion of his shrine is at present situated. The compound had been laid out as a defensive bastion shielding the Oba palace, in that all human traffic approaching the palace, especially from the IGUISI (Lagos Street) IBIWE and UZEBU area of the town was obliged to pass by Ekpenede’s Ogbore to one of the public gates of the palace.

The Empire building efforts of the Oba of Benin began with EWURE in the middle decades of the Fifteenth Century and ended one and a half centuries later in the reign of Oba Ehengbuda, the last warrior Oba. While his father Oba ORHOGBUA was a fighting sailor who left his permanent imprint on the Lagoon territories of Lagos and beyond westwards. Ehengbuda was a land lubber who roamed the territories of the near- Yoruba areas, though he still died a sailor’s death in Epe/Lekki waterways, in the evening of his life, on his way to visit his colony of Lagos.

In the earlier part of Ehengbuda’s reign, in a campaign in the AKURE territories the Oba had sustained some burns, which healed to leave the scars which were later systematised in the IWU, the body marking of the adult Benin citizen the acquisition of which made participation in the court life of the kingdom possible.

Consequent upon this accident the warrior responsibilities of the Oba were transferred to his IYASE Chief Ekpenede. Elevated to the position of the first soldier of the kingdom Ekpenede prosecuted the wars in the Yoruba territories and concluded a Treaty with the head of the opposing OYO armies, which determined the boundary between the spheres of influence of these two African Powers at OTUN town in northern EKITI.

It was said that at the ceremony of the marking of the territorial boundary between the two Powers, the ceremony which brought the hostilities between them to an end. Ekpenede the Commander of the Benin armies stood his back towards Benin his home, and his face towards OYO, the erstwhile enemy. He planted an Ikhinmwin tree at the agreed spot of demarcation. It was the turn of the Commander of the OYO armies also to mark the spot He likewise stood, with his back toward Oyo his home, and his face towards Benin. He panted an Ewanmwen Erinmwin tree by Ekpenede’s Ikhinmwin tree

Ewanmwen Erinmwin tree literally translates is Palm Tree of the Spirit World. This meant that the Palm tree was a type which was unknown in Benin in land. The tree was probably a high-savannah type of Palm like the Date Palm. The plant was probably what the Oyo Empire employed in the demarcation of boundaries between the principalities of that Empire, in the same manner in which Benin used the lkhinmwin tree in the area of the world which she controlled.

The posturing of the two Commanders during the boundary demarcation ceremony was probably in obedience to the military ethos of never turning one’s back to the enemy.

To ensure that a struggle for the control of Benin City did not arise between the Oba and an over-mighty Iyase, it was arranged that no Iyase, fresh from a great military victory, would be allowed to return to the City instructions were then usually sent o him to move into any town or village of his choice in the Benin Kingdom, and there to live out the rest of his life.

Iyase s ‘okhuen;
el ghi gu Oba di evbo ya.

“The Iyase has attained the upper limits of mightiness;
He can no longer inhabit the same city with the

This observation was then re-iterated:

Iyase gha s’okhuen,
a ghi giere ode ekhuarha

“When the Iyase reaches the limits of mightiness he is sent along the ekhuarha way”

Ode ekhuarha probably means voluntary exile.

In his chosen village of habitation the Iyase enjoyed untrammelled powers, with no controls whatsoever from Benin Even tributes meant for the Benin Palace, and which emanated from and beyond the territories of the Iyase’s new domicile were intercepted at will, and disposed off at the whim of the chief The Iyase decided, in his absolute discretion, which portions of these tributes to let through to Benin, and which portions he should appropriate to himself.

No other Iyase was appointed for the City and the kingdom until the demise of the Iyase in his virtual exile. The Esogban acted for him during Palace ceremonies.

This policy was in support of an effort to ensure that no coups d’etar were contemplated in Benin In ancient Rome the victorious General had a Palace functionary intoning in his ears as he rode into the City triumphant in a victory parade:

"Remember that thou art only a man”

The Caesar, the monarch of Ancient Rome, was regarded as a god. All other Romans were mere mortals.

The two lyases in Benin history who are very well remembered to have been sent on the “ode ekhuarha on their return from great victorious campaigns were Ekpenede of Oba Ehengbuda’s reign, and ODE whose period extended from the reign of Oba Ewuakpe into that of Akenzua I, three hundred years ago. The ode ekhuarha which they each chose to reside in and spend the rest of their lives was the Uhunmwode district. The Iyase n’ Ode chose UGHA village near Ehor town as his new place of domicile His premises in town were along the present-day Lagos Street, at the crossroads intersection which today bears his name: Ada n ‘Ode: “Ode Crossroads” at the OKEMOLE Quarters.

The Uhunmwode district of the kingdom seemed to have been the favourite choice of domicile by the few Iyases of Benin who attained the ‘okhuen ‘status. What probably accounted for this geographical preference was because the Uhunmwode district was the main gateway of old Benin to the wider world of Africa to Yoruba land through IDANRE, to IDAH and the famous markets of IDOMA-land through ETSAKOR, and to Nupe-land through UKPILLA and the INEME territories The repeated presence in Uhunmwode of an okhuen - status lyase of Benin probably gave rise to the Edo saying:

Oba ero rodion vbe Uhunmwode Okieke era ze emwin enren:
“The Oba is supreme in Uhunmwode, but his due is considered last “

With his successful completion of his campaign in the EKITI territories Ekpenede made his way home with his citizen - army through Akure, Idanre and northern Edo it was decided in Benin that this conqueror of many foreign kings had attained the “Okhuen “ status, and massages to that effect were accordingly despatched to him. He demobilised his citizen - army and settled down in a village in the UHUNMWODE district of the kingdom. In the name of the Oba he ran the affairs of that portion of Uhunmwode, and from that distance administered his Benin City household, supplying it with all its needs in materials and personnel for the comfort of his son and only surviving child IDODIA.
IDODIA was a young man. He had been left under the guardianship of Oba Ehengbuda by Ekpenede while the Iyase persecuted the wars. He supervised his father’s Benin City household.

In his village of domicile the Iyase Ekpenede grew even richer than he had earlier been. This fact, coupled with the near monarchical powers which he wielded in his Uhunmwode village provoked the jealousy of his fellow chiefs in the City The UWANGUE OSOKHIRHIKPA, the head of the IWEBO Royal Society, and leader of the Eghaevbo n’ Ogbe group of chiefs was the most severely afflicted with this malady. Ekpenede was living the life of a “harlot” of a “woman without a husband”, in Uhunmwode it was said. The Iyase retained all the powers of the foremost chief in the realm, while at the same time excused the burden of his daily responsibilities at the Palace, and therefore the share of his Iabour in the governance of the land. Why a stint of successful general-ship should sulked the Uwangue, confer so much perpetual advantage on any citizen?

Then a tragic accident occurred. Idodia, Ekpenede’s son was accused of the capital offence of adultery with one of the Oba’s wives. He was arrested, along with his co-accused, and kept in chains in the Ewedo, the Palace Prison which was situated in a portion of the grounds today occupied by the Benin Federal Prison.

When this piece of information got to him in Uhunmwode Ekpenede knew at once that a calamity of the gravest proportions had befallen him. He resolved to find a way of surviving the catastrophe.

Custom forbade him to set foot in the City, so he carefully chose the emissaries which he sent to the monarch and to the chiefs, in supplication for the life of his only child and heir.

Through these messengers Ekpenede sent supplicatory gifts. For Oba Ehengbuda the Iyase picked out the tallest coco-nut tree in the village, as a measure of the worth of gifts fit for a king. He opened his storehouse of beads, both coral and continental, and closely invested the whole length of the trunk of the chosen coco- nut tree with circlets of these beads. He began from the fibrous- root anchorage of the tree, and went up the sheer smoothness of the lofty trunk to its crown of foliage and fruits.

When this had been done Ekpenede stood back and studied he coral coco-nut tree in all its regal magnificence He decided that the size of the incalculable wealth represented by all that coral was enough gift for a king, enough recompence for the crime committed, and enough ransom for the life of the most precious son in the world.

An Ekpoki Box held aloft by palace functionary

He ordered the tree stripped of the coral beads, which were then packaged in ekpoki boxes, with not one circlet left out. A procession of servants carried this treasure to Benin. The gift, the Imuohan meant for the Palace, was routed through Chief Osokhirhikpa, the Uwangue of Benin.

Ekpenede repeated the performance re-investing the same coco-nut tree with fresh supply of coral bead necklace.  Beginning at the tree’s fibrous-root anchorage the Iyase on this occasion stopped the investment half-way up the height of the trunk of the tree. This consignment was gathered together as another series of Ekpoki loads and sent to all the principal chiefs of Benin and yet again routed though the Uwangue.

The supplication which accompanied this second train of messengers to Benin was a request to the chiefs to carry out a fervent and heart-felt intercession with the Benin palace, on behalf of their fellow chief in dist for the life of an only child.

When Ekpenede received confirmation that all the coral wealth, both for Oba Palace and for the chiefs had been received by the Uwangue he flung open the doors of his other AZA, the store-house of riches, Elephant tusks numbered in their twenties were brought out. Multiples of twenties of bags of money, in cowries’ currency, were hauled out, followed by bales of red linen of European manufacture, which the Edos call ododo. Added to these were sprinkling of pieces of assembled for the journey to Benin.

A large number of men-servants in the prime of their young adult-hood were detailed to get this wealth, by head porterage, to the City. On arrival at the Palace, through the Uwangue of Benin they were to regard themselves as also integral parts of the imuohan items they had each brought.
To cap the sumptuousness of these supplicatory gifts Ekpenede added seven maidens as comely as Uhunmwode could produce them, and all virgins, to the train of gifts which went to Benin. The instructions were that these seven virgins be delivered by the Uwangue to Chief OSODIN, for the enrichment of the royal Harem.

A simple message to the Palace accompanied these gifts. Ekpenede’s exact were:

Khien Uhunmwun na nee de,

No setin ye enu hia d ‘ode

“Sell this person, this single head, to the bargainer, Who is offering to buy him at such a price!”
But the Uwangue had already arranged with the ESERE and the INNEH N’IBIWE, the heads of the other two Palace Societies of the IWEGUAE and the IBIWE which with the IWEBO are responsible for the daily administration of the Palace that the law would, as usual, be allowed to take its course in this Idodia matter. Nobody would be allowed to cuckold the Oba of Benin and not pay for the crime with his life. An agreement was reached between these three great Chancellors of State that the Oba be kept as much as possible out of the picture so that their hands were not stayed by instructions from above.

The three chiefs disposed of the supplicatory wealth from Uhunmwode, taking to the Palace all the items meant for the Monarch, as spelt out by Ekpenede. But they rigorously kept from the king the knowledge of the arrival of the largesse, and its bountifulness.

The Uwangue, with the OSODIN in tow, held a perfunctory, non-conclusive discussion with Oba Ehengbuda regarding the crime and the two young offenders already under arrest. Then without any further consultations the chiefs declared Idodia an oghionba an Oba’s Enemy, and ordered that he and his partner in crime be executed.

The two were handed to Chief EKEGBIAN, and the ISIENMWENRO took them, with Idodia in chains, across the Ovbiyeneva Moat. There, at the beginning of Upper Sokponba Road they were hanged on the branches of the famous 0kha tree called Okha Nisi Ohue, situated near the junction of the present St. Saviour’s Road.

The news of the execution of his son got to Ekpenede in Uhumwode and he prepared for war He set out for Benin City, in disobedience of the usages of the land.

On his head was the Erhu Ugbogie “the King-Slayer hat” This was the head-gear he wore in battle when it had been decided that, for one reason or the other, the ruler of the enemy town he was attacking had to die.

He crossed the Ikpoba town river, the final and irrevocable art of rebellion. He arrived in Benin City and went straight to the palace. At the OKEGBUDU forecourt of the palace he ordered his retainers to proceed no farther. He himself proceeds deeper into the palace and stopped at the IWORI quadrangle. There he requested an audience with the Monarch.

A long interval elapsed, and then a message was sent to Ekpenede, there at the IWORI
Ne Iyase khian s’Ogbe ne:

"The Iyase is advised to repair meantime to his town house, recover from the rigous of his journey and await a message from the palace”

Ekpenede complied. He went home to his City residence, only a few yards from the palace, and there await the pleasure of the Oba.

Four days passed, and then the massage came that he should attend the Oba at the palace. He was instructed to dress in his chiefly robes for the audience and not to dress as if for battle.

Ekpenede acquiesced. Dresses in simply chiefly attire the Iyase walked down Iwebo Street into the palace. He proceeded into the UGHA OZOLUA, the palace main auditorium which also housed the Ancestor-worship alter of Oba OZOLUA.

Ehengbuda came to the Ugha OZOLUA though the IWEGIE, the department of the palace controlled by the EWAISE, the guild which protects and reinforces the Oba’s Physical well-being and supernatural potency.

All the chiefs, except Ekpenede got up when the Oba entered the Hall and moved toward his throne. They crowed in front of now seated Monarch and give the Royal salute “IGIE” they chorused in unison, and then resumed their seats, in their order of precedence.

The Iyase remained seated while all this was going on. He got up only after the chiefs had sat down, and without any other formalities addressed the Oba. “I have been informed that my only child and heir, Idodia, your ward has been put to death It was said that he consorted with an OIoi or Ovbi-Oloi Knowing the seriousness of such an offence, and fue usual sanction which it attracts, I sought to buy the life of the offender for a price which has never been offered for any other other life since the world began.

“You know that my life, my health and my comfort have been expended for the good of this land. I cannot now beget another child because as you know, I have become virtually impotent. My impotency has been encouraged and accelerated the mystical re-enforcing which I continually had to undergo, in the course of the defence of this land, as the head-soldier of the Kingdom.
“It is well-known that I did father a reasonable number of children in my young adulthood, but they all died, leaving me with only this Youngman in who came to be invested all of my future, in this life and beyond. Idodia was the son who was to give me to eat and to drink, at my shrine, after I was dead.

"Furthermore, and for the good of Benin City I had to abandon my house in town, leave for the bush, and there to dwell. The law of the land asked this of me why? Because I conquered some great kingdoms for the Oba. Had I been allowed to remain in town, after my struggles for the City and the Kingdom, this tragedy would perhaps not have occurred.

"When I was informed about the accusation against my son I said I would implore the Oba to spare the Youngman’s life as a gesture, an ikihun a royal gift, to me. I invested an ologan, the tallest coco Nut tree in my village, from root to crown, with coral beads and then sent the beads as an imuohan. a gift from a subject to his monarch, in anticipation of the ikihun which the Palace would make to me. I accompanied this with numberless bags of money, a room-full of elephant tusks and a store-house of bales of ukpenbo, European textiles. Bringing all these to Benin and told to regard themselves as a part of the tribute, was a whole “town” of human beings, men and women.
“All these I sent, through the UWANGUE, to the Palace. Similar presents, appropriately scaled down, were sent to my fellow - chiefs.

''With all these gifts came a strong piece of advice from me: that the Palace should allow the sale of this single human being, to the buyer, to whom the soul was so dear.

“And yet my son was killed... have come to ask the monarch: why, in spite of all that I did to try to save the Youngman was Idodia killed?”

There was a long pause. Then the Oba replied, saying that he did not instruct that Ekpenede’s son be put to death. He moreover denied any knowledge of any Supplication gifts sent to Benin by the Iyase with regard to this matter.

OSOKHIRHIKPA the Uwazigue sat mute, with his chin on his chest, and his head between his legs.
Ehengbuda mollified Ekpenede with soothing words; He told him that the Palace would make efforts to make the loss up to the Iyase, as far as it was still possible to go. He asked him to await messages from the Palace.

For the next few days there were lots of deliberations regarding what would prove an adequate recompense for a man like Ekpenede who had lost so much. Then the Oba decided to betrothed his eldest daughter, Princess ISIUWA, in marriage to the Iyase. Taking Ekpenede’s testimony into account the marriage would be childless, probably even unconsummated. But the symbolism of the gesture would be powerful enough to give a measure of satisfaction to the very severely emotionally wounded warrior, and make the acceptance of his late a little bit easier for him.

The decision was effected, and Princess ISIUWA, who was more popularly known as OGHIYAN was sent to the Iyase as a wife. Ekpenede accepted with some contentment this royal gesture of shared sorrow. He settled down in his City residence, there in UNU ABEHE Street. and haltingly picked up the threads of his life once more. He made efforts, in his continued service to the Palace, to remain a model Iyase, and a useful son-in-law to his king.

ISIUWA, Oba Ehengbuda’s daughter, was a young maiden who, with the whole world at her feet since birth was, expectedly, not a very easy person to amuse. Her nickname OGHIYAN was the shortened rendering of the word OMONOYAN “a Spoiled Child”. “OGHIYANM literally means: “So spoilt she rarely smiled or laughed. Any circumstance which succeeded in coaxing a smile or some laughter from Oghiyan was usually that which would evoke revulsion or great sadness in others it was said of her:

Emwín no rhiae
e re Oghiyan gie yi:

“Oghiyan discerns merriment
Only in things disagreeable”.

She settled down in Ekpenede’s Harem, surrounded by her numerous female retainers, and did her best to uphold her own end of the marital arrangement, as a wife.

One morning the Iyase Ekpenede as was his wont went to the Palace for his chiefly duties. Princess Oghiyan sat in the wide veranda of her harem apartment watching a live drama taking place in the large courtyard around which the harem dwelling of the Iyase’s wives were built. In the middle of this open courtyard was a well which provided muddy-brown water for the harem- dwellers. The well-water was used to augment supplies of clear river water obtained from the Ikpoba River by dependants each large harem in Benin usually had its own well. There were quite a few of this water-cisterns- wells and ponds also in the Harem of the Benin Palace. The most famous of them was called the OKUWU which was so deep that falling into it was liable to result in the death of the victim, hence the name: the ‘Death Gateway '

A young calf of Ekpenede’s had fallen into the harem-well, and was struggling valiantly in the water to save itself from drowning. The mother-cow, distraught with anxiety had spent the whole of the afternoon jogging round the well, mooing in distress, with eyes rolling, in an appeal for assistance. Whenever the calf, half-buried in the mud at the bottom of the well, cried out in fear and helplessness its mother’s canter quickened into a galloping, loping gait. She wheeled round and circled the well, clockwise, then anti-clockwise, stopping momentarily to peer into it, and at its distressed baby, with a gaze full of sorrow. With fore-legs spread apart, her great head, carried by the great neck, swung from side to side, communicating its anguish to its young one drowning in the well.

The harrowing scene went on; there in the courtyard of Ekpenede’s harem for much of the afternoon not for one moment did the mother-cow cease from her exertions with respect to obtaining the necessary attention which might save her calf, Princess Oghiyan, from the vantage point of the veranda of her apartments watched this drama of life and death as it unfolded before her eyes.
And then she began to laugh quietly to herself. She was still chuckling and smiling to herself when her husband arrived home from the Palace, and went straight to his harem to preen himself before his Princess and his other wives.

Princess Oghiyan is laughing again exclaimed Ekpenede. “What on God’s earth might be responsible, this time, for my Princess’ merriment?”, the Iyase asked jocularly. The Princess gave her husband the greetings of welcome fit for the Iyase of Benin Then in answer to his cheery query she replied:

“I have been laughing because I have been amused, watching the antics of a cow which calf fell into the harem-well earlier in the afternoon. The cow has not had a moment of rest since the incident occurred. She has been running round the well. Wheeling and circling, then nosing into it, all in her anxiety to see her calf got out.

"Now remember, my husband, that the cow is a mere animal which people look down upon, despising it for a lack of me finer sensibilities Yet your harem has known no peace this long afternoon since that cow lost its calf in the well.

"You are EKPEN, the Leopard, and the Iyase of Benin. The Edos did your son and only surviving child in, and the only reaction which on-lookers noticed was muted murmuring from you, followed quickly very quickly, by a tame acceptance of your lot.”

Oghiyan chuckled again, and resumed her quiet laughter.

The words of the woman, quietly said, and dripping with piteous derision, taunted Ekpenede beyond measure. The well-learned habits of a soldier putting duty first and self last had up to this moment enabled the chief to rationalise into acceptance the calamity represented by the execution of his only child. He had accepted it as one more privation to endure for the good of the Kingdom, and especially for the upholding of his laws.

But the words of this woman, and the analogy which was used to support the words, seared into Ekpenede’s mind - and scalded it. He might already have accepted the cruel fate which befell him, but he was not obliged to live with it. Removing himself from the scene was the only option he could see, to the unsatisfactory state of affairs he was now forced to cope with. This was what he would do, and he would do it with a loud cry of pain He would die, and in dying take revenge on a society which he had served all his life, and which turned its back on him on the only occasion when he let out a loud cry for its help.

Ekpenede summoned the men-folk into the harem and gave instructions that the calf be taken out of the well. Then he left his wife and walked pensively into his private quarters.

The following day, at the Palace Ekpenede informed Ehengbuda about his intention to carry out a ceremony, propitiatory in nature, in honour of his Ehi. The Oba gave his blessings.

The EHI is the alternate self of an Edo person. It inhabits the alternate world whence all beings come, and to where they return at death. Every adult Edo had an altar in his home devoted to the worship of his or her Ehi. On the altar was a lump of white chalk the shape of an American basket-baII. This white chalk represented the Ehi deity It was buried with the corpse of the owner of the shrine at his death, since the worship of this deity was not transferrable to one’s children.

Arriving home Ekpenede gave instructions that the household prepare for the ceremony. In front of his Ehi Shrine, at the third Ikun, that is the third impluvium-complex of the house, he had a deep pit dug covered with matting. All the other articles needed for the Ehi worship were procured, but regarding the main sacrificial offering Ekpenede kept his own Counsel.

The Ceremony began late in the afternoon. The Iyase sent to his wife Princess Oghiyan to attend him at the propitiation The Princess dressed up carefully in her finery, with her hair bosom and limbs heavily encrusted with coral beads. Igholoye brass ornaments danced golden dances in her hair amongst the redness of the coral. Her figure was draped in damask of the most exquisite hue. She arrived with her attendants at the Ehi Shrine and sat down.

In Ekpenede’s supplication to his Ehi he presented Oghiyan, daughter of Oba Ehengbuda Princess of the realm and wife of the Iyase of Benin, as the day’s propitiatory offering. He then ordered her to be thrown into the covered - over pit, dug in front of the altar Strong arms seized the Princess, and amidst the wailings of her attendants she was thrown violently into the chasm. The back of her head impacted against the edge of the pit as she went in. and she was mercifully concussed into unconsciousness before she hit the bottom. The pit was filled in while, even though unconscious she yet breathed.

The horror story was brought to Oba Ehengbuda in the Palace only a short distance away. He summoned the principal chiefs of the realm to the Palace, and a policy of frontal confrontation with the Iyase was decided against instead one of compete ostracism of the chief was adopted. The citizens of the realm were forbidden to have any relationship whatsoever with the lyase and his household. They were neither to buy from him nor to sell to him. A message was sent to him, formally barring him from the royal Palace.

Ekpenede began preparing for his own death He turned his attention first to what remained of his great wealth. He decided to destroy it since at his death there would be no offspring of his loins to inherit it in that case the wealth, by custom would be inherited by the Palace.

He began with his store of coral beads. The beads, from the sea-bed of the Mediterranean and purchased from the European traders with chattel slaves and whole ware-house of African manufactured cloths brought down mainly from the Yoruba and Idoma hinterland countries were brought out by the basin-ruls Servants reduced the beads to coral powder by breaking them up on grindstones. The coral powder was handed to the harem-women, and with it they prepared the great delicacy pepper-soup known to the Edos as Olomuda.

The Ivory wealth was next to receiving attention. This treasure harvested from the great elephants of the Benin forests and beyond, and worth a whole ship- load of European merchandise at the UGHOTON Port were brought out from the strong room. Many of the ivory had to be lugged out of the store by two servants each; such was their weight and length. Had they already been shipped to Europe they would have been used in the manufacture of the key-boards of the grand pianos in the Opera Houses of the sizzling capitals of that northern Continent. But as it happened they were taken to the many kitchens of Ekpenede’s household, and fed into the fire as fire-wood. The servants roasted their maize and their plantain in the ivory fires.

A bonfire was made in the harem courtyard and the Iyase’s great collection of clothes and cloths, both of European and African manufacture, was fed into it.

The bullion, in the form of bags of money, in the cowries’ currency, proved too onerous to reduce to sea-shell powder. The Iyase had the money buried in deep pits, and swore his attendants to eternal secrecy about the location of the pits.

The Chief next turned his attention to the systematic annihilation of his appreciable herd of livestock. The cows were destroyed, and the goats slaughtered daily for meat.

A beneficiary of this daily surfeit of meat in the Ekpenede household was one OGBOE, of OZA Quarters, off the Utantan High Street, now Sokponba Road. OGBOE was an age-mate and child boy friend of Ekpenede. An affliction of poliomyelitis when young had left him with a partially paralysed leg and a severe limp. He was therefore called an ADOWE, as people with such a deformity were usually called. They were also sometimes referred to as IKE, the Lame”. Ogboe was therefore known as ADOWE N’IKE OZA-ADOWE the Lame of OZA Quarters.

He was the only person in Benin City who disobeyed the stricture of ostracism imposed on Ekpenede.
He limped daily from OZA street to Unu Abehe street, into the Iyase’s house, and there shared with the Iyase his meals and his confidences. He partnered Ekpenede in the game of Ise (Mancala), which other people played with seed-chips, but which the wealthy played with chips of money, or of coral beads.

Frequently Ekpenede remained the Adowe about the risks to his life involved in his running the gauntlet of the general ostracism to do the daily visiting and earnestly advised him henceforth to stay away. But Ogboe reply
Epiakhara ero Khian ya nwen
Ban owa rue:
“I expect to die a sudden violent death;
That is the only happenstance which will keep me from your doors”
At the end of the day he would be given sizeable portions of the goat meat or cow meat slaughtered on that day, and this he would take home.

The day soon came when Ekpenede received satisfaction that his pre—mortem preparation had been completed. He entrusted his last confidences to the Adowe n’ikoza and sent him home. He then dispersed his household until he was absolutely alone.

In the dead of that night the old warrior walked out to the frontage of his house, where his Iwebo street shrine now stands. He threw a rope over the egbaha, the timber lintel of the main door of the house, it hanged himself

Before he took that final action Ekpenede had undressed himself, removed his large processional drums stacked in an alcove by the doorway. These drums had, in happier days led him on innumerable occasions in procession to the palace to do honour to his king. Now they had been rendered unplayable when their leather surfaces were slashed with the sword by the chief.
Therefore as his body swung on the rope over the lintel of his doorway the Iyase of Benin was absolutely naked.

Day broke the first passer-by walking along Iwebo Street that morning happened to have glanced at Ekpenede’s Ogbore and saw the dangling naked body of the Iyase. The passer-by promptly went for one of the newly braided ropes stacked in a heap nearby. He looked around for anything which resembled a cross-bar and tied one end of the rope to it. He tied the other end in a reef knot which on tip-toe, he put over his head- and hanged himself.

Everybody who was unfortunate to walk along Iwebo Street that morning got caught up in the hysteria of self-immolation taking place along that street. And the trigger was the sight of the nakedness of the life-less body of Ekpenede swinging from the lintel of his own doorway
Before the general alarm spread sufficiently though the City many people had died in that location and in that manner.

Oba Ehengbuda was advised that it was only Ogboe who had the answer to the problem facing the City. The Adowe was summoned and promised a royal recompense. His reward, on his successfully bringing the crisis to an end, was his command of the free service of the people of OZA Quarters for the rest of his life.

At the palace end of Iwebo Street, the portion of the Street which skirted the famous AGBODO pond, the Adowe asked to be securely blindfolded. He was then left on his own. With his face towards the Oba palace and his back towards the Oba market he proceeded backwards towards Expenede’s house, feeling his way with a stick as he went along. Whenever he bumped against any swinging body Ogboe would palpate the corpse. Nothing that the body was fully clothed he moved on, with the assurance that the corpse could not be that of Ekpenede.

It was in the early afternoon that Ogboe finally found the Iyase’s body. The corpse was the only one amongst the hundreds which he had palpated which was completely in the nude working with the intimation which the Iyase had shared with him ogboe groped around the swinging body of his friend and chanced upon the slashed Em ‘Ighan drum, on which rested the iyase’s utale Then working methodically by palpation he made the corpse to wear the pair of knickers corpse had and so brought to an end the danger which the sight of the naked corpse had represented.

The Adowe freed himself of the blindfold and looked at the swinging body of his great pal, the conqueror who extended the reach of Benin beyond Akure and Ado Ekiti, and a OTUN turned homewards after the Peace Agreement with the Aare Ona Kankanfo of the Oyo Armies.

He sobbed.

He looked around him, at the unbelievable sight of the multitudes of hanged bodies dangling from their unlikely supports. Then with a shout he sounded the AII Clear.

Ekpenede’s body was cut down, and taken across the Uroghorodin High Street, to the Ore-Nokhua half of the city, in obedience to the customary usages of Benin where no other mortal remains, except those of the monarch are interred in the soil of the OGBE half of the Inner City. There, somewhere in Ore-Nokhua the Iyase’s remains were interred.

Oba Ehengbuda then ordered Ogbe Quarters to give Ekpenede a formal burial in order to restore calm to his restless soul.

Two shrines, dedicated to Ekpenede were set up, at the front and back of his premises. At the shrines especially that which was built in his private kitchen the spirit of Ekpenede has, during these last four hundred years partaken of some nourishment in the offerings presented there by the newly ennobled of the kingdom. This nourishment though from other hands, is in lieu of that which would have been offered at his ancestral shrine by the hands of the son who did not live long enough to bury him.

The account of the mode of dearth of Ekpenede, as told in the last few paragraphs is of course a euphemism for what actually took place during the last twenty four hours of the lyase’s life and also during the first few hours which succeeded his death Dr. J.U. Egharevba’s Short History of Benin minces no word when it states that Ekpenede wholesale massacre of the populace and finally committed suicide by hanging  Ekpenede probably contrived to make a large number of people suffer the same mode of death, that is by hanging which he had chosen for himself, in order to make memorable his passing and also to have fitting Company on his journey to the alternate world.

To go back three hundred years in time, to Ekpenede the Iyase, Oba Ehengbuda’s Palace had greatly felt the heat of the traumatic events which took place in Ekpenede’s household during the Iyase’s last days, events which had unfolded barely five hundred metres from the Palace Walls. With Ekpenede’s death it was decided that the Iyases of Benin should no longer inhabit the OGRE half of the Inner City with the Oba of Benin.

The people of the City rather facilely heaped the blame of the tragedy of Ekpenede’s later life at the feet of Osokhirhikpa the Uwangue, accusing him of jealousy of the Iyase’s successes in life. The jealousy was said to have made him turn his back on a colleague at the moment of (he colleague’s direst need. Ekpenede himself had fully concurred with this assessment, and had, before he died, laid a curse on the Uwangue.

Strange to relate Osokhirhikpa himself later in life committed the same offence for which Idodia, Ekpenede’s son, had been executed the cuckolding of the Oba of Benin. And the mandatory sentence of death was also duly passed on him.

A sequel of the Osokhirhikpa episode was a new law which decreed that thenceforth the Uwangues of Benin were, at all times and in all circumstances, immune from the sanction of capital punishment.
From that time to this day the holder of this non- hereditary title of the Uwangue turns his face away, or hides it behind a fan whenever he happens to be passing by any of the two Ekpenede’s Shrines.

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