Princess AdeleyoPrincess Edeleyo


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Last Update July 28, 2020

Princess Edeleyo was the eldest daughter of Oba Ewuare and eldest sister to prince Oduwa who later became Oba Olua. Edeleyo was the most famous Princess in Benin kingdom: she was very wealth and popular among the people. The decision taken by the Uzama Nobles in 1473 A.D to crown her as Oba was unusual. This was because no woman has ever been chosen for the crown of Benin kingdom. She became the first woman to be chosen for the position of  Oba in Benin history. Although some historians have claimed that women had ruled as Ogiso during the first period of Benin Kingdom, it has already been stated that this assertion was a mistaken identity. Edeleyo was the closest woman to the throne of ancient Benin; she is the first and last woman to be made Ediaken (heir apparent) and was also prepared for coronation. However, this plan or arrangement was truncated by the nature of a woman

It is cogent to comprehend that unusual things happen to unusual people. Princess Edeleyo was an extra-ordinary woman, she was not the first princess to ever live in Benin, but she stood out in her activities and influence in the empire. She was very brave and industrious that she was almost as powerful as an Oba. Thus, her personality was what gave the Nobles the impression that she would be a good ruler. Like the saying goes, ‘what a man can do a woman can do better’. Edeleyo’s early life was a peculiar one; she was born and brought up at Ozigono by a Bini woman who was domiciled in ozigono. Edeleyo was one of the numerous children Prince Ogun had during his exile escape. When Ewuare settled in Edoland and, he called for his child and the mother came with her, but when he finally settled at the palace he handed her over to Eson Ugiagbe who took care of her thereafter

The reign of Oba Ewuare is credited for so many reforms and transformation of the socio-political culture in Benin Kingdom. He succeeded in expanding the kingdom to a very vast Empire. Although Ewuare achieved a lot, he was, however, not in the good book of the nobles (uzama) whom he almost reduced to mere puppets as regard their powers and administration in Benin. He created new title orders (the Eghaerborbo n ore and Egharebo n ‘ogbe), whose function and importance supersedes that of Uzama he also created the position of Ediaken, heir apparent, in order to reduce secession conflicts and to also reduce the influence of the Uzama in the making of a king. It has been inferred that the tragedy that followed Ewuare’s reign was as a result of the hatred of the Uzama toward him.

First and foremost, his two most eldest Sons died during his reign the same day, this happened when he went on pilgrim to Uhe. They both poisoned themselves, that is, Koubuyuwa and Ezuwarhe. Kouboyuwa who was already made Ediaken, he did not, however, live to be enthroned. The tragedy that followed Ewuare’s household continued even after his demise. His eldest son, Ezoti, is said to have been killed by poisonous arrow of a young boy, fourteen (14) days after his coronation. After Ezoti’s death, Prince Okpame, his brother was sent to Esi to bring home Ezoti’s only son and heir, Owere, in order that he might be crowned Oba, but Okpame murdered both child and mother on their way to the city. He reported to the nobles that prince Owere died a natural death, but the truth was later discovered and that was how he was banished from the town. The mantle now fell on Prince Oduwa who out of fear refused to be made Oba. He told the Uzama Nobles that he was horrified by the intents of his brother, Okpame. If Okpame could heartlessly murder Owere, his own blood brother’s son, then there is no one that he could kill for the throne. He, therefore, suggested that his Elder sister, princess Edeleyo be crowned as Oba. This was due to her bravery and influence in the kingdom. Edeleyo, though a woman was not carried away by the military might of prince Okpame, she was ready to face him by taking over her father’s throne. Where prince Oduwa failed to stand, a woman was ready to face the consequences of daring a ruthless brother like Okpame.

The nobles would not have agreed to this unusual arrangement of crowning a woman if not that they knew she was capable, they only agreed based on the capability of Edeleyo. The Uzama came to understand that some women could be very useful to the society if given the right opportunity. Though they had never crowned a woman before, they decided to start by crowning Edeleyo. They started by installing her as Ediaken by making her one of the Uzama nobles and as they proceeded for the final coronation, the unusual happened. According to O.S.B. Omorehes the nature of a. woman made it impossible for her to attain such a position as that of an ‘Oba’ in Benin kingdom. Tradition has it that her menstrual circle started on that day of her final coronation, but Ryder claimed she contracted an incurable disease after accepting the position of Ediaken. The incurable disease as posited by Ryder might also be the same as the menstruation because the traditions on the fact that it was menstruation are more viable in Benin tradition.

Be that as it may, a Bini woman in her red day is not even allowed to cook for her husband, nor allowed to perform any rituals to her own deity, not to talk about the family deity The Oba of Benin is supposed to, be a mediator between the people and their gods; the throne was very sacred with a lot of ritualistic activities surrounding it. The coronation of an Oba also entails the performance of so many ritual activities. These rituals could not be performed on a woman who was on her menstruation. Thus, the coronation was, cancelled. The uzama, therefore, enacted a law that no woman should be allowed to reign as Oba in future. This is because a woman’s menstruation was a great taboo to the people; they could not imagine a ruler who could not access the gods at a particular time in every month of the year. For Benin, a society suffused with male ethos, this attribute of a female ruler was unacceptable. It is said that the bleeding of the Princess lasted for so many years after the supposed coronation, she was said to have turned to her mother at Ozighono where she lived for the rest of her days. The important point is that Edeleyo, though a woman was found worthy to be crowned as an Oba. She was bold when her own brother had a chicken heart, if not for the unusual that happened she would have also ruled as an Oba. The spot where the incident took place has become a sacred shrine to worship the spirit of princess Edeleyo. Every Ediaken is supposed to visit this spot on his way to Uselu and perform a ceremony in the sacred shrine to the spirit of princess Edeleyo .

The Benin monarchy or political institution evolved, not only through the wisdom and political prowess of male leaders. The women were silent labourers in the process of the formation of this great institution of monarchy. Although their efforts in pre-colonial Benin have not been dually recognized; the above analysis of the heroines of Benin and their impact in the state formation process, have proved that Benin women were indeed very much involved in the process of building the Benin nation and monarchy.

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