Queen Iden
Queen Iden Of Benin
{Wife of Oba Ewuakpe 1700AD-1712AD}
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Love they say is blind for the love of a woman to sustain the unity of a whole nation is not an issue to be pushed aside. Very few women in our contemporary, period could lay down their Iives for the unity and peace of their nation, Iden was a woman of great beauty and special qualities. Due to her selfless nature and sacrificial life, she can never be forgotten in the history of the Benin kingdom. To me, he is supposed to have been recognized as the most honoured woman in Benin kingdom. Queen Iden is arguably the most remarkable woman the remembered history of Benin City, She represents Love and Loyalty, and her personality could be described with some few words such as, courageous selflessness, humility and loyalty.

Iden Nokpokhuo (Iden the great woman) was taken royal bride and beauty Queen of Oba Ewuakpe. She lived in the first decade of tbe eighteen century’(c 1700 A.D). She was said to have hailed from Oka village, now part of the present day Upper Sokponba in Ikpoba Okha local government. Born from a humble background, later became one of the dearest wives of Oba Ewauakpe. Her life depicts loyalty, commitment and dedication to the Kingdom and her husband; she became relevant and honoured in Benin Kingdom due to the sacrifice she made for her husband and the empire.

Oba Ewuakpe was the twenty-seventh Oba of Benin, According to Asien, when Ewuakpe became Oba, he was saddled with two major disadvantages which made him unable to handle and manage absolute power to his own advantage and that of his subjects He was young and lacked patience that goes with age; some scholars describe him as a very hot tempered man, Secondly, he was not born an 0ba. He was thrust into the office by his father, Akennuzama, who declined to be Oba when he was offered the crown, by selection. This was because he was already very old Oba Ore-Oghene died without child and the lhoghe decided that Akennuzama his cousin would be next Oba, Akennuzama on the other hand passed the responsibility and honour to his son, Idova, who vas hurriedly re-named Enennegha. During the reign of Oba Ewuare, he prophesied that when an Oba named Idova becomes Oba, he will make some drastic change in the kingdom either for good or bad in the people. As a Ehennegha he was presented by the Ihogbe to the Uzarna and crowned the Oba of Benin with the titular name Ewuakpe.

At the beginning of his reign, for the first time an Oba of Benin had a living father. As soon as Ewuakpe began to reign he started to manifest highhandedness and making antipeople Iaws His mother constantly warned him to reduce his hardness toward his subject so that they would not rebel against his authority and command. She also made him understand that there was something about his destiny that was not too good and that was why they had to change his name before he was made Oba in order to avert his ill fate He did not listen to his mother’s plea and warnings.

The whole sag that brought Iden to limelight began when Oba Ewuakpe lost his mother, Ewebonoza. The death of the Queen mother at Uselu brought so much sorrow to Ewuakpe who had very deep love and commitment to her She was actually his guide against misrule and the misfortune that would have long befalling him. Queen Ewebonoza was from Ikoka village in Ugolo quarters and her people truly mourned her for seven days due to her contribution to the development of Ikoka.  No soothing word could calm the Oba It is said that at her funeral, he made great number of human scarifies to escort the soul of his mother home This notorious history of human sacrifice in Benin can be traced to Oba Ewuare who is said to have introduced it. He introduced the sacrifice of twelve human beings at the annual! propitiation of the Qbas ancestor. This disdainful and extravagant expenditure of resources of such priceless worth as human being was calculated by him, to further enhance the awe in which the palace was held by the peopIe.

In Oba Ewuakpe’s case, he did not only sacrifice slaves with his mother, he also murdered titled chiefs who came to mourn with him during his mothers burial He claimed that they were spotted on white while coming to the palace to mourn his dearly beloved mother. To him, they should have worn black to show they were really mourning. During the massacre, some chiefs, however, escaped for their lives and told the others the situation at the palace. Ewuakpe did not stop there, some emissaries were sent to him from Ikoka, his mother’s village to mourn with him and represent Ikoka at the final burial of his mother. Oba Ewuakpe asked his guides to slaughter them because they were on white instead of black, which was the official colour for mourning the dead in Benin. He forgot that there was a law that prohibit people from entering the palace on white, he was said to have left one of the men sent from Ikoka with half leg to return to lkoka and tell the sad story to his people, These unfortunate incidents resulted to anger and bitterness towards the Oba from Benin and Ikoka.

In Benin, the unfortunate Incident culminated into outright rebellion of the people toward the Oba. The leader of the rebellion was chief lyase, and Esogban other principal chiefs Iike the Esogban and Uwangue who were Iucky to survive, the massacre at the palace. They called all other senior and low class chief into a meeting where they all took oath and sworn that they will never pay homage to the palace gain. They also instigated the people into total rejection of the authority of the Oba. The people, who were already tired of Ewukpe tyranny, gladly accepted and became loyal to the Iyase in rejection of the 0ba.

During the rebellion, Ewtapke was on a journey to Uselu to perform some sacrifice at his mothe?s shrine, before he returned from Uselu disaster was awaiting him at the palace. The lyase and other member of his cabinet went with both young and old to the palace and drove away all the remaining loyal servants of the monarch. His numerous wives and children were also given the freedom to leave the palace. They all gladly left due to the already sad situation at the palace as the people had rejected the Oba. Only Queen Iden remained at the place, though she was persuaded by the Iyase to leave as the other had done, she refused saying that once one is married to the Oba, she never returns home.

According to the story told by Peddle Okao, The Iyase was actually in love with Iden before she became one of the wives of Ewuakpe. Iden asked him to go and pay her bride price and he continued to delay it and when he was now ready to pay, the Oba had already seen Iden and he immediately married her. This incident that took place many years earlier, led to inbuilt bitterness in the Iyase toward Ewuakpe. He vowed to make sure Oba Ewuakpe pay for the way he took Iden from him. This is the reason he gladly used the rebellion of the people as an opportunity to pay Ewuakpe back for taking his beloved Iden.

At the return of Ewuakpe, he met an empty place with only Iden waiting for him she welcomed him and narrated the atrocity committed by the Iyase and his cohort against the monarch. This was the beginning of Ewuakpe s suffering and agony. The Oba became a mere man as the people that made him king had total rejected his lordship. They refused him food, clothing, homage and labour. He suffered from so much humiliation and rejection. A story was told by Egharevba on how, he climbed up one rainy day to put right a place in the roof that was bad. He fell and was injured, though he cried no one came to rescue him. Throughout this period Queen Iden whose life depicts loyalty and courage remained the only one who stood by Oba Ewuakpe in his trying moments.

Iden remained loyal and continued to encourage him that things will get better, he remained in this condition for so long and when he could no longer bear it he decided to visit Ikoka his mother’s village to get assistance from the people. This journey was, however, a big mistake, instead of being received with joy he was unkindly treated and rejected. The people claimed that if he needed assistance he has to be useful to the town first by joining the young men in clearing the roads, digglng wells and mending roofs. They did not even offer him water or food to eat, his only remaining servant his omada (sword bearer) was very hungry yet Ikoka did not show mercy.  This was due to the way he had treated the emissaries sent from lkoka to the place during his mother’s funeral. He got angry at the demands of lkoka, how could they ask an Oba who had the power of life and death to stoop low and begin to do menial jobs. In range at the humiliating way he was treated by llcoka, Ewuakpe placed a curse on them. He said no great man will ever come out of Ikoka except for women because of his mother, Ewebonoza, who might come back to life again through Ikoka village. Up till this very day, there is no great man in Ikoka, the women are the wealthy while the men are poor and useless to the society.

He decided to return home, On his way back to Benin, his one and only sword bearer died of starvation. The Oba had to humble himself and carried the state sword on his own. It was in this bitterness he laid curse en Ikoka again and also on Benin that the people shall never in their lives work in absolute unity like the one they had that led to his humiliation and rejection at lkoka, When he returned home to the palace in Benin he met his beloved wife Iden still waiting for him He asked her why she has not left like the others so that she can start a new life knowing that she actually did not even have a child for him, Iden refused to leave; she told her husband that no one was worthy to climb the tree the viper has climbed. for her, she can never give herself to any other man because she was owned by the 0ba.

Queen iden’s life depicts true love and Loyalty of a woman to her husband and her nation. Though he was persuaded by her to leave and move on with her life, she refused knowing how miserable the Oba will be without anyone to look unto, Iden took the nipper she had and went to the Oba market and sold them for seven cowries. With the money, she travele4 to Ugbor village and brought a diviner to the palace, Ewuakpe asked the oracle-what he must do to bring to an end this rejection of his rule by his people, the oracle told Ewuakpe to stage a make believe scenario which would suggest to the observer that the rejection of his rule by the people has been called off, and that the people already resumed their loyal and obligatory service to the Oba. But what would make the plan work was the sacrifice of a human being. Queen Iden paid the seer and she set out with her husband to procure the necessary sacrificial items as prescribed by the oracle, She went to the Oba market at dusk to collect all pieces of broken calabashes she could get especially those which were used to bring palm oil to the market for sale. And all cast-away pads, both of leaves and old calico, with which traders had brought thelr wares to the market and abandoned at the end of the day’s business. She then went to Ugo n-erhie, gathered a lot of green shrubbery and elaborated a still greater number of these head pads, Ewuakpe also went into the palace and gathered palm tree which dotted the premises

When these other prescribed sacrificial articles were ready,the couple now turned their attention to the problem at hand, which was where to the human sacrifice, As accounted by Peddie Okao, the diviner and Oba Ewuakpe began to search for human sacrifice; they search for days and could not lay their hands on anyone for the sacrifice, The diviner also gave instructions that if the sacrifice elapse twelve mid nights on that day it will no longer be potent or effective for the Oba. In this situation Ewuakpe was hopeless, it was already close to mid-night still there was no human sacrifice, Ewuakpe decided to accept his ill fate and pleaded with Queen Iden to return to her parent so that he would find solution to his life alone.

Iden, a woman of courage and love, came up with the human sacrifice she told her husband not to give up because the gods have provided the human sacrifice he needed. As Ewuakpe demanded for the sacrifice she told her husband that she would offer herself for the king and the kingdom to work again in unity and harmony. Oba Ewuakpe was amazed at the love and loyalty of this woman. He refused her offer and said he could never be so ungrateful to treat such a kind woman that had stood by him in the time of his need like that. But Queen Iden insisted, she persuade him that this was her destiny, nothing will ever make her happy than to see the monarch come back again to his full glory and splendor. The unity and peace of the kingdom of her husband and fathers land was worth her life.

Queen Iden talked the Oba into accepting her as the sacrifice in order to save her husband’s high office, One version of the. story say she was buried alive by her husband at her present grave side in the Oba market while the other version claimed she was banded over to the native doctor who used her for the sacrifice at the spot where her grave lies at the Oba market: whether she was buried alive or not is not really Important, the cogent point is, she was willing to offer her life as a sacrifice for love and unity. Asien contends that she chose the spot. to be buried and before was she used for the sacrifice, she made one request from her husband Iden realizing what it meant to be buried in a market place, requested of her husband that in the event that the purpose of the sacrifice was indeed attained, and to Edo people came back to accept the Lordship of the palace and monarch, then she must be protected, in her grave from in insults of the market place. That anyone who steps on her grave must be put to death. This request was fully carried out until 1897 when Benin was taken over by the British.

This heroic action of Queen Iden was not in vain. By the next day, it was already producing fruits. While Oba Ewuakpe sat down at the palace mourning the death of his dearly beloved wife, Iden, he regretted why he allowed her persuade him to offer her a sacrifice, now he is all by himself. He did not realise that the sacrifice was already working outside the palace,

It was the Esogban, in his residence at the semi-official site of the Ogbe-Eguanran who, on looking at the Unuogua, first saw the burnt-out torches, the broken calabashes of oil and the bead pads, abandoned as it seemed, by multitude of people. The articles all constituted the tell-tale evidence that the Benin people had resumed their long abandoned service to their king. He felt betrayed and left in the lurch. The Esogban quarrelling loudly about the perfidy or deceit of the Edo he went to the storehouse of his wealth, both in men and material, and carted an appreciable portion of it across to the palace. There, be pleaded for the forgiveness and endorsement of the palace. The Oba answered Esogban with a lone voice reassuring him from a half closed door that the Esogban was not the Oba’s Enemy’. The chief returned home happy knowing that he has reconciled with the Oba and he is no longer in a disadvantaged position with his peers.

The Iyase got information that his hierarchical subordinate, the Esogban had made peace with the Palace and he was astonished. He blamed himself for his over trusting nature; people were always taking one advantage or the other of him leaving him to carry the can of worm. He too also opened the store house of his wealth and went to the palace to declare his allegiance; a little apprehensive about whether his declaration would be accepted by the king or not. The slaves who were part of Esogban‘s earlier gifts now received the Iyase and his gift of allegiance, It was they who assured him that he was not the ‘Oba’s Enemy’. Words of the happenings at ignored and the weedy palace spread round the whole city and the other chiefs followed the example of the two senior Eghaevho-nore Chiefs, Villages came to Benin and retrieved the palace from the creeping jungle it his almost become. The gifts which they brought soon repopulated the palace, the royal harem vas re-constituted with choice damsels from all over the kingdom.

This was bow Oba Ewuakpe was restored and rehabilitated by a woman’s love, which involved her sacrifice unto death. The sacrifice saved the Obaship, and re-positioned it on a stabile keel. And for the last three hundred years there has not occurred similar circumstances when there took place a complete breakdown in relationship between the people and the palace. This is due to the constitutional changes made by Oba Ewuakpe towards the end of his life

Ewuakpe now understood that there was a need for guidance or coaching before anyone is allowed to handle absolute power. To him learning on the Job had its many hazards. These hazards were acceptable when the power is to be wielded was retrained power, or shared powers. But the safe use of absolute power required to be born into it. The temptation to explore the limit of absolute power was usually absent when one is born into it. He introduced the system of primogeniture; he put his ideas on the chiefs that hence forth succession to the throne of Benin would be by first son only.
This principle of primogeniture which has become the most stabilizing factor of the political institution of Benin was introduced as a result of the sacrifice of a woman. This again proves the relevance of women in pre-colonial Benin, the sacrifice of Queen Iden did not only produce unity and peace, it brought stability to the political institution of Benin kingdom. If not for the ultimate sacrifice made by Iden, the Benin Monarchy would have been long forgotten: This is why the activities of Iden must be brought to light; she is a woman who is indeed worthy of honour  for her selfless sacrifice to the kingdom of Benin.

The Benin monarchy is the pride of its citizens today due to the activities of ¡den and many other great women who gave their lives for the development and sustenance of the Monarchy. The principle of primogeniture which is still practiced up till today in Benin was as a result of the sacrifice of one woman indeed the place of women in the evolution and development of socio-political culture in Pre colonial Benin cannot be overemphasized.

Queen Iden, woman of great beauty, loyalty, love, courage and honour who made her life nothing for the unity of the Benin kingdom must not be forgotten in a hurry. Without Iden, there will be no Benin Monarchy today. As rightly asserted by Chief Obazouwa of Benin. “Iden brought peace and tranquility to the Benin Kingdom

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