Queen OhonmiQueen Ohonmi

Queen Ohonmi: Mother Of The Giant Prince Aruhanan

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Last Update July 28, 2020

The life of a Benin woman was determined by the traditions and custom of the land, she struggles for survival from the firm grips of religious laws and the men who have continued to ‘lord’ it over her. While the men were allowed to marry so many wives, a good woman is supposed to stay with her husband till the end, no matter the situation. To survive with so many other women in the harem of one man and with the contest for superiority or importance, most women had to seek for supernatural powers. At the harem of the Oba, the tussle for power was indeed very fierce and serious; as most royal wives struggle to promote the candidacy of their son by eliminating potential! Competitors it was in such scenario that Queens Ohonmi and Idia found themselves at the erie of Oba Qzoula. For these two women it was the survival of the fattest. Both women were spiritually endowed and their place in Benin historiography cannot be undermined,

Queen Ohonmi was another powerful woman that lived in the late 15 and early 16 century Benin; she was also one of the Iiloi (wives) of Oba Ozuola, Very little work has been done on her, making it very tasking to put together her history. Her story was quite tragic due to the struggle she went through in the harem of Oba Ozuola, Ohonmi was another brave and beautiful woman that stood and fought for her son From when he was in the womb he fought to give him life and after his birth she also fought to keep him alive and make him the king he was born to be though fate played trick on him, It Is, however, not clear if Oloi Ohonmi was the first wife of Oba Ozual because the mother of Ogidogbo who was the first son of Ozoula was also there. The politics and power tussle at the palace in the sixteenth century was quite spiritual and many strange things began to transpire. According to Benin traditions Queen Ohonmi was pregnant for forty months that was quite abnormal, Many saw this incident as the superstitious altering of physical realities from a supra physical level. This delay of birth is seen as Idia’s or the other women in the harem strategy to stop or prevent Ohonmi from having a son that could become the next heir to the throne. Although Ohonmi was going through a lot she still had to stay at the palace with her husband as she finds lasting solution to the situation of her delayed child bearing It took many ritual activities for Ohonmi to bring forth her child, She is remembered for being able to carry a pregnancy meant for about nine months for almost four years She did not give up although she knew the situation was beyond her, Ohonmi sought for spiritual sanctifications and at the end of forty months she eventually put to birth and this was only the beginning of Ohonmi tragic story.

After many months of waiting for the child to come forth, now the chil4 is born yet he refused to cry. This became another burden, when a child refuse to cry, he is assumed as dead but in ohonmi’s case the child was breathing to prove that he was alive but still did not cry The forces that kept him from being born also prevented him from crying, As a result of this strange occurrence, the palace chiefs (Uwangue, Osodin and others) refused to announce the birth officially to the Oba. It was common in those days for six or even more women to be pregnant at the same period in the palace harem. And in some cases, some of the women also put to birth the same day. The seniority of the child is determined by the one that was born first. This also became the situation in Ohonmi’s story, she gave birth to a son in the morning but the child refused to cry, while Queen Idia also delivered her son in the evening who cried immediately after birth and his birth was officially announced to the monarch making him the second son of the Oba. At last, Ohonmi’s son cried but because Esigie was already announced as the second son it was impossible to change positions and this was the beginning of the longest succession crisis that almost tare the kingdom apart.

Aruhanan, son of Queen Ohonmi, was not an ordinary boy; he was the first Bini giant in the kingdom, He was born with four fingers and four toes on each hand and foot. At the age of fourteen he was nine feet tall. He is fondly remembered for pulling palm tree to sweep his father palace. As a young man, Aruhanan was told of the circumstances surrounding his birth and was made to understand by his mother that he was senior to Esigie; and was the next heir to the throne since their elder brother was disqualified due to his crippled legs. Aruahanna grew up with such orientation and bitterness against his brother, Esígie and was ready to eliminate him as a potential threat to his dream of becoming an Oba.

As a very powerful giant, he fought alongside his father and the Benin soldiers at several expansion expositions. Although he was loved by his father, Oba Ozolua know he could not succeed him because he was very powerful, but lacked wisdom’ or good sense of reasoning Ozoloua felt that if he allowed Aruhanan succeed him, the kingdom would collapse in his hand because he was senseless. In order to save the situation, and appease Aruahanan he sent him to Udo, another large province of the Empire and made him the Duke or Enogie. Ivie Erahon is of the view that it was because Oba Ozolua loved Idia more than Ohonmi that he wanted her son to succeed him and that was why he sent Aruhanan to Udo as Enogie in order to bring peace among the two brothers

The offer was accepted by Aruahanan but he did not give up on his dream of becoming an Oba, and with his mother, Ohonmi, by his side, he was ready to take his rightful mandate. He patiently waited for his father to die and at the demise of his father he demanded that he be made Oba or he will make Udo the capital of the kingdom and destroy Benin City, The elders knowing be was very powerful and could disturb the peace of the kingdom leaving it in a damage state; they decided to bring a lasting solution to the crisis, The Uzarna (king makers) demanded that whosoever buried their father among Esigie and Aruhanan will be made Oba. If they had brought wrestling contest, they knew Aruahanan would have defeated Osawe without any stress, they decided to make it an intelligence or brain contest. Some scholars are of the view that the elders were on the side of Esigie because of his mother, Idia, although Aruhanan also had his own fans or sympathizers, Osawe had more chances of becoming the King.

Traditions have it that two coffins were placed before the two sons to choose from, the first coffin was well decorated with large funeral dance group and people, while the second one was shabbily made with few people following it. Aruhanan chased after the beautiful coffin and claimed it, one of his advisers told him to go for the dirty coffin that be perceived the king will likely be in that one. But Aruhanan refused, insulting him that how his father, the king, can be in such a low profile coffin and funeral group. He celebrated back to Udo that he has claimed his father and was ready to bury him. When be eventually opened the coffin, he saw that he has been fooled; the coffin was loaded with stones and some rubbish, Osawe on the other hand got his father’s corpse and buried him before his brother came to Benin and was therefore made the Oba before Aruhanan could get to Benin.

This was very insulting and painful to Anihanan who felt he has been humiliated by the elders. Queen Ohonmi again stirred him up that he is born to be Oba and should not allow his younger brother who would have been years younger to him if not for the circumstances of his birth take what was his right. After being stirred up by his mother, Aruhanan made countless assassination attempts at Esigie but couldn’t succeed due to Idia’s  skills in magical arts and he knew he was a formidable opponent he had to overcome. Realizing he had to acquire supernatural powers if he wanted to take on Idia who was the spiritual protector of her son, Oral tradition recount that Aruhanan retreated to Uroho village to learn the art of black magic from an old sorceress. yenurobo. That he chose a woman as his teacher shows that he recognized that a woman was his opponent and that he had to learn the way of women’s mystical powers to be assured victory. This was the beginning of another form of succession tussle between two brothers and two wives,

Aruhanan refusing to accept his defeat retreated to Udo, his kingdom, fifteen miles from Benin, from where he attacked the capital with his army and deployed his newly acquired magical prowess against Esigie. This is reflected in the rite of Emobo ceremony Aruhanan placed spell on the coronation beads which drove Esigie mad, causing him to sing irrationally and loudly, and to play a double bell once he wore them. But for his astute mothers’ followers and slaves, Oba Esigie insanity would have nullified his candidacy. When two elephants fight the round suffers; indeed the ground is the one that suffers the most. This is a clear explanation of the succession crisis between Aruhanan and Esigie.
From the above analysis, it is clear that the crisis or tussle between two brothers was not actually battle between men but women. Osawe might have allowed Aruhanan to be king if not for his mother pressure and manipulations, while Aruhanan on the other hand would have also accepted his fate as Enogie at Udo if not for his mother, who must have constant]y reminded him that he was a born to be king. These two women were the source of the longest succession crisis in the history of Benin kingdom. Until the fall of one of the elephants, there was no peace in the kingdom. This again proves the relevance of women in the kingdom; they could manipulate their way to bring about their desire.

Tradition has it that at the last battle between two brothers, Aruhanan was losing ground and his men were retreating from the battle field back to Udo. He was said to have also lost his only son during the course of the war. His mother, Ohomni, after awaiting Aruhanan’s return for a long period but did not see him went and drowned herself at the Odighi stream because she felt he was dead. Aruhanan who finally retreated at the death of his one and only child got to Udo to be told his mother had entered into Odighi stream. He also decided join her as life was meaningless without his mother and son. Mother and son became a great mystics, it has been said that their presence is still felt by inhabitants and visitors to the village to this day and there is also a tradition that Aruhanan still comes out of the river after the playing of a particular spiritual guitar during one of the people’s festival to this very day. The demise of Queen Ohonmi brought to an end the longest succession crisis in the Benin kingdom, although Arhuanan successor, one of his war generals, continued the fight against Benin even after the exit of his master until he too was finally subdued.

The place and relevance of women in Benin kingdom is very evident in the life of Queen Ohonini, She cannot be forgotten because of her bravery and patience which brought. Forth the greatest royal giant that ever lived in pre-colonial Benin. He was very powerful, but lacked good reasoning; Aruhanan was the pride of the kingdom as his might and strength scared invaders away from Benin. Although Ohonrni never became lyoba her personality cannot be forgotten as she was the only woman recorded in Benin History to have carried a pregnancy for good forty months and succeeded in given birth to the child. This mystery behind Ohonmi’s life cannot be forgotten in haste. The presence of Ohonmi and her son at Udo brought lots of developments to the community that it almost became as developed as Benin. Udo had always refused to recognize Benin as her lord but after the defeat of Aruhanan and his immediate successor, Udo now finally submitted to the lordship of Benin. This succession crisis between these two women helped to correct the political imbalance in Benin Kingdom and set the Oba‘s feet again as the lord of the whole empire.

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