Princess Isiuwa
Bookmark and Share
Last Update April 30, 2021

The story of princess Isiuwa and Iyase Ekpenede is quite intriguing and interesting. It was a tragic experience of another princess who became victim of the customs of the land. This event again proves the relevance or importance of women in pre-coronial Benin. As had been earlier asserted there was a tradition that most Obas give out their first daughters to their reigning Iyase or Oliha depending on who was most powerful or close to the Oba at that period. There was also the tradition of the Oba giving his daughter to anyone who was a potential threat to his authority in the kingdom. This was in order to bring such person under total submission of his authority or send his daughter as a spy to discover his weakness and at the end become a source of his death or downfall, most time the princess might lose her Life in the process of defending her father’s land. In the case of Princess Isiuwa, she was compensation to Iyase in order to reduce his wrath toward the Monarch; she eventually became a source of greater wrath.

Iyase Ekpenede was the Prime Minister of Oba Ehengbuda who reigned in about 1578-1606, while Princess Isiuwa was also the Oba daughter at that period. Oba Ehengbuda was the last Warrior king of Benin, In the earlier part of his life, during a campaign in Akure territories, the Oba had sustained some burns consistently he stopped leading campaign by himself and his warrior responsibilities was transferred to the Iyase, Chief Ekpenede. Elevated lo such position, he persecuted wars in the Yoruba territories, and concluded a treaty with treaty with the head of the opposing Oyo armies. The Iyase also became powerful and wealthy in the kingdom. To ensure that a struggle for the control of Benin City did arise between the Oba and an over-mighty Iyase it was arranged that no Iyase, fresh from military victory would be allowed to return to the City. Instructions were then usually sent to him to move to any town or villages of his choice in Benin kingdom and to live the remaining part of his life peacefully The point is that the Iyase has attained the upper limits of his mightiness and can no longer inhabit the same city with the Oba. The Iyase in his chosen town of habitation enjoyed freedom and power.  With no control from Benin, the Iyase was able to accrue some parts of the tributes meant for Benin into his own personal pocket. Thus he becomes very wealthy No other Iyase was appointed for the City until his demise.

Epenede became domiciled in the Uhunwode distinct of the kingdom He ran the affairs of the area he dwelt in by the name of the Oba. From that distance, he also administers his Benin household, supplying the need of his only son and only surviving child, Idodia. His son, Idodia was a young man left under the guardianship of Oba Ehengbuda, while the Iyase prosecuted wars. At his village, chief Epenede grew very wealthy and powerful; this new fame provoked the jealousy of his fellow Chief in Benin City Then, a tragic accident occurred. Idodia, Ekpenede’s son, was accrued of the capital offence of adultery with one of the Oba’s wives. He was arrested with his co-accused and was kept in chains in the Ewedo, (prison). When this information got to him, Epenede knew he was in big trouble and decided to find a way out, Since custom forbade him from entering into Benin, he decide to send emissaries to the monarch and chiefs in supplication for the life of his only child and heir, the gifts were described by Asien.

"Through these messengers, Epenede sent supplication gifts, For Oba Ehengbuda the Iyase picked out the tallest cocoanut tree in the village as a measure of gifts fit for the king. He opened his store house of beads both coral and continental, and closely invested the whole length trunk of the chosen coconut tree with circlet of these beads. He began from fibrus-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 Epenede stood back and studied the coral coco-nut tree in all its regal magnificence. He decided that coral was enough gift for a king, enough recommence for the crime committed, and enough ranson for the most precious son in the world. He ordered the tree to be stripped of the coral beads which were then package in ekpoki boxes; with not one circle left out a procession of servant carried his treasure to Benin"
As stated above. Chief Epenede invested so much in order to buy back the life of his son. He repeated the same supplicatory again to the chiefs with the supplication message for them to help him carry out a fervent and heartfelt intercession with the Benin palace for the life of his son. When he received confirmation that Uwangue (head of the palace chiefs) had received his supplication gift, he flung open the door of his other stores and sent more gifts with seven virgins. The instructions were that these virgins be delivered by the Uwangue to Chief Osodin, for the enrichment of the royal harem. A simple message accompanied these gifts;

Khien uhwnmwun na nee de no setin
ye ene hia d ‘ode:
Sell this person, this single head, to
the bargainers, who is offering to buy
him at such a price.

Due to jealousy and bitterness against the Iyase from these palace chiefs, they worked together in order to frustrate the plan and supplication of Epenede to buy back the life of his son. Chief Uwangue arranged with Esere and Inneh ‘n Ibiwe head of the two palace societies, to make sure that the law took its full course in Idodia matter. They gave some of the gift meant for the palace to it and kept the remaining ones for themselves. The Uwangue and Oshodin held perfunctory no conclusive discussions with Oba Ehengbuda regarding the crime and the two young offenders already under arrest. They, without further instructions from the Oba or other chiefs went ahead and declared Idodia Ogionba, (Oba‘s enemy), and ordered that he and his partner in crime be executed. The two were hanged on the tree.

The tragic news of the execution of his son got to Ekpenede and he prepared for war. He was no longer interested in obeying the traditions that forbade him from entering Benin, in disobedience he set out for Benin City. When he got to the palace, he requested for the presence of the monarch, the Oba sent a message to him that he should return to his house in Benin, recover from the rigour of the journey and await message from the palace. Ekpenede complied, he went home to his residence which was only a few yard from the palace. After four days, message came to him that he should attend to the Oba at the palace. Getting to the palace, he refused to pay the normal homage to the Oba as other chief did, he laid his complains and demanded to know why his only child was still killed after the regour he went through to please the Monarch and Chiefs. He made the Oba to realise that he actually left Idodia to his care because he went to war in expansion of Benin. Perhaps this tragedy would not have occurred if he had not gone to defend his kingdom. He also made the palace to realised that he had lost his potency as a man and could no longer father children due to accelerated mystical reinforcement, which he continually undergo in the course of defending the land and now his only son and heir to his vast wealth is no more There was silence before the Oba could reply him, Ehengbuda made it clear that he did not order that Idodia be put to death and also denied any knowledge of any supplicatory gifts sent to Benin by Iyase with regard to this matter. The Uwangue sat mute, with his chin on his chest.

Oba Ehengbuda mollified Ekpenede with soothing words. He told him that the palace will make efforts to make up for the loss. He asked him to await message from the palace, For days, there were lots of deliberations on what would prove adequate recompense for a man like Epenede who had lost so much. Then the Oba decided to betroth his eldest daughter, Princess ISIUWA, in marriage to the Iyase. Although the marriage might not be fruitful, the symbolism of the gesture would be powerful enough to give a measure of satisfaction to the very severely emotionally wounded warrior. Princess Isiuwa was eventually sent to Iyase Epenede as a wife.

Princess Isiuwa, Oba Ehengbude’s daughter was a young beautiful maiden who had the whole world at her feet since birth; she is not a very easy person to amuse. Her nickname, Oghiyan, coined from Omonoyan, meaning “spoilt child”. Oghiyan literally means “so spoilt” she rarely smile, any situation which succeeded in making her smile or laugh evoke revulsion or great sadness in others. On one occasion as princess Isiuwa was at the wide verandah of her harem apartment watching a live drama taking place in the courtyard of the Iyase‘s wives harem; then she began to laugh quietly to herself. In the process of her laughter and watching the drama, her husband Chief Ekpenede, walked in, He was surprised to see Princess Isiuwa smiling to herself and demanded to know what led to Princess Isiuwa’s merriment.

The princess answered her husband by pointing him to the drama at the courtyard well. She told him that she has been watching the antic of a cow whose calf fell into the harem-well earlier in the afternoon, the cow had not had a moment of rest since the incident occurred, She had been running round the well, wheeling and circling, nosing into it all in her anxiety to see her calf out. She turned to her husband to make him see that the cow is a mere animal which people look down upon, despising it for lack of finer sensibilities. Yet the harem has known no peace this long afternoon since the cow lost its calf iii the well. But for Ekpen, the Leopard, the Iyase of Benin. The Edo killed your only son and only surviving child and your only reaction which on-lookers noticed was a muted murmuring from you. Followed very quickly, by a tame acceptance of your lot. Oghiyan chuckled and resumed her quiet laughter.

The word of Princess lsiuwa taunted Ekpenede beyond measure, The habit of a soldier putting duty first and self last had, up to this moment enabled the chief rationalise into accepting the execution of his only child. But now, the words of lsiuwa and the analogy she used in making her point have stirred up anger and bitterness in him. He might have accepted the cruel fates that befell him, but he was not obliged to live with it. He decided to remove himself from the scene, but must make sure Benin pay dearly for all the pains they made him go through.

He decided to worship his Ehi (Ehi is the alternative for self of an Edo person and every adult Edo had an alter to worship Ehi) He instructed his household to prepare for the ceremony, in front of the Ehi shrine; he dug a deep pit and covered it with mat. All other articles needed for the worship of Ehi were procured apart from the main sacrificial offering, The Iyase sent for his wife, Princess Oghiyan, to attend to him at the propitiation. The princess dressed up carefully in her finery with her hair, bosom and limbs heavily encrusted in coral beads. In the supplication to his Ehi he presented Princess Oghiyan, daughter of Oba Ehengbuda, as the day propitiatory offering. He ordered her to be thrown into the covered-over pit dug in front of the alter. That was how the princess died a painful, humiliating and mysterious death over an issue that did not directly concern her; she was buried alive at the Ehi shrine of Epenede.

The horror story was brought before Ebengbuda at the palace, he summoned his chiefs and deliberation was made and they concluded that Iyase Epenede should be ostracized from the society. He was banned from entering the royal palace, the citizens were forbidden to have any relationship with him, and they were neither to buy nor sell to Iyase and his household. Iyase Epenede on his own had begun to prepare for his own death but first he turned to the remaining of his great wealth. He decided to destroy it since at his death he had no child to inherit them. After he was satisfied with destroying his wealth, he dispersed his household until he was the only one remaining then at the dead of the night he hanged himself naked.

This tragic story of Iyase and Princess Isiuwa again reveals how women, significant women have lost their lives for the kingdom in the process of being used as tool of diplomacy. That was how princess Amighen lost her life to Oliha, while Isiuwa died a mysterious and painful death in the process of obeying her father, today, the shrine of lyase Epenede is located in his house and has become one of the pilgrimage stations in Benin City, Anyone invested with chieftaincy title will visit the station during the investiture celebration.

To conclude this story, it is pertinent to comprehend that the place of women in the development of the ancient Benin kingdom is beyond the analysis in this story; women have been forerunner in the development of Benin. Idia was a woman who made specific developments and impacts in pre-colonial Benin, Her activities changed the status of an ordinary Benin woman; she was and is a figure to look up to. Her life as a warrior, sorceress, and mother who could do anything for her son and his Kingdom has made her very prominent till this very moment, her bravery and supernatural powers cannot be forgotten in hurry. All other women have one way or the other proved the relevance and place of women in Pre-colonial Benin kingdom. No kingdom co-exists perfectly without peaceful co-existence between men and women. Both men and women were relevant in the formation of the socio-political systems all over the world, thus, men and women should be given equal attention in the reconstruction of African history.

Comment Box is loading comments...
Benin kingdom copy right