Aruosa n’Akpakpava  {The Osa N’Akpakpava Shrine} (The Holy Aruosa Cathedral) 
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By Ekhaguosa Aisien {Last Update July 24, 2022}

Standing opposite the T-Junction made by the IGBESANMWAN Street with AKPAKPAVA Road is the HOLY ARUOSA CATHEDRAL. This Temple was founded in 1946 by Oba AKENZUA II Oba of Benin on the then four hundred and fifty year old site of the Roman Catholic Cathedral built by the Portuguese during the reign of Oba ESIGIE

The Holy Aruosa Cathedral which no occupies the site is not a Christian edifice. It is a Temple proclaiming the Doctrine of GODIANISM, the doctrine of the one to one mutual interaction between God and Man or to lead man to God Godianism lets go of the helping hand and the guiding the footsteps of a Jesus Christ or a Mohammed and brings man directly the sublimity of the fatherless of God the OSANOBUA NOGHODUA.

Jesus Christ Himself was a Godian. The Jews the racial stock from which He arose have been Godian since the days of their ancient leader Moses.  To the Jews not to be Godian is the unforgiveable sin idolatry a transgression of their First Commandment which says that man must have no other gods apart from GOD Himself. This is an offence which they strongly suspect the Christians of being guilty of. The Old Testament of the Holy Bible is a Celebration of the Godian religion
Oba Akenzua provided the Aruosa doctrine with a written liturgy and he created for the Faith a non hereditary Priesthood.

When the Benin-ldah War ended the Europeans in Benin were greatly relieved. This was because they were thereby able to turn their energies to what really was of interest to them in the kingdom the conversion of the people to Christianity instead of their being obliged to help out in Oba Esigie’s tedious series of warfare since the succeeded Ozolua his father to the throne. The letter written in Benin City by DUARTE PIRES to DOM MANUEL the King of Portugal on the 20th October 1516 and reproduced in J. U Egharevba’s Short History of Benin page 28 paints a vivid picture of the Benin City of Oba Esigie soon after IDAH war ended.

The letter said that:
* Peace had returned to the kingdom.

* The Europeans even though Priests o God had been away with Esigie to IDAH for a whole year and had helped Benin to defeat the Igalas

* The preaching of the Gospel; the Great Mystery and the conversion of the Benin people to Christianity which had been shelved because of the total commitment of the kingdom to the war effort was now possible now that the war was over.

* The effort to convert the pagan kingdom to Christianity had begun in earnest. Already Oba Esigie had built a church, {presumably the cathedral along Akpakpava Road}

* Esigie had ordered those closest to him the Crown Prince ORHOGBUA and two important palace Chiefs to become Christians.

*The spark of literacy the magic of being able to read and write had been introduced into Benin, amongst the royals and nobles and those persons had proved proficient in it.  (This aspect of the Portuguese effort at Christianizing the kingdom was presumably later institutionalized in the schools created at Ogbelaka and presumably also at Ugbague.

The Holy Aruosa cathedral
The Holy Aruosa cathedral Akpakpava Road Benin City

DUARTE PIRES letter a veritable Rosetta Stone a key in the understanding of the early years of the Portugal in Benin also explain very satisfactorily why in spite of the unchallengeable military advantage which Esigie possessed at that time over all the West Africa the IDAH war proved to be the last major campaign of the reign of this Oba. The energies the ruler-ship were now directed inwards towards changing the society and coping with internal opposition engendered by these changes was. The European power which sponsored these changes was happy that there would be no more external distraction which might hamper the successful unraveling of the Grent Mystery to and its acceptance by the generality of the Benin people as had already been done with regard to the palace.
For the greater portion of the thirty four years which remained to him after that war Esigie devoted his energies to building churches in town and in the suburbs. The sites of the four town churches are known, three of them very well, the fourth not so well known. This fourth is the ARUOSA N’UGBAGUE, located at No.3 IDAHOSA Street, Ugbague Quarters.

The biggest of the four churches built in town, and the Headquarters of the Benin Christian Mission was the Cathedral on Akpakpava Road. Recent evidence has confirmed that the site was once the Seat of a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church. The Church of Benin City, published in 1997 by the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin, it is written that the British Colonizers on the conquest of Benin in 1897
“… discovered on arrival in Benin City that the Portuguese had in fact built a church in the City which was probably the Seat of a Bishop as evidenced by the discovery of an Episcopal Cross.”
The discovery of the Episcopal Cross in Benin in the early years of the 20th century an artifact which could only be found in association with the presence of an officer of the Church not below the rank of a Bishop is good evidence of the Cathedral status of the church built in Akpakpava by Oba Esigie. There is yet another available piece of evidence which corroborate the trustworthiness of this chance finding. The evidence is in the famous FESTAC MASK, the carved ivory hip pendant of the face of a noble persiflage in the Benin world of Oba Esigíe.

The UGUAKPATA chiefly hair-do of this well-known artifact consists of a row of the repetitively carved head of a European Roman Catholic Bishop, eleven replications of the head all told .The long hair and the flowing heard identity the head as that of a European. The Skull-Cap, the zucchetto, on his head identifies him as a Prince of the Church that is a Bishop, an Archbishop, a Cardinal or the pope himself.

The skull-cap worn only by priests not below the rank of a Bishop testifies that the wearer will be steadfast and faithful to Christianity at all time in all circumstances, unflinching in the face of any threat to the religion even unto death. The wearer of the zucchetto is a walking martyr of the faith. Other might run away even priests in the face of cataclysmic religious danger but the skull-cap wearer serenely stays his ground. Having been completely assimilated in and identified with the faith he cannot run away for to run away from himself.

The use of the skull-cap was said to have arisen in the early Monasteries of the Christian Church when Novitiates. on admission into the Order of the Priesthood were obliged to shave bare a rounded portion of their scalps usually over the vertex of the scalp or over the occiput and to keep this feature permanently as a distinguishing mark of their priesthood Whenever in life the priest attained the giddy heights of a Bishop he adopted the zucchetto article of adornment and of rank. The zucchetto was henceforth used to cover up the round naked portion of his pate. But when celebrating the Feast of the Holy Communion at the altar the Bishop sheds even this modest head covering this little article of vanity in the presence of the awesomeness of the sacrificial ritual he is taking part in.

The repetitively carved head which makes up the Uguakpata hair-do of the Festac Mask was the carver’s representation of the head of the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Benin City of Oba Esigie.
If it was argued that the Church in the Benin City of Oba Esigie could not have been important enough to accommodate the office of a Bishop then the least that could be suggested would be that the Portuguese Roman Catholic Bishop of the Bishopric of Nigerian off-shore island of SAO TOME paid a pastoral visit to the Benin Church and the artist adopted the august  visitor as  his subject for the UGUAKPATA adornment Of representation of the face of a Benin royal personage which he carving in ivory

The artist who created this work of art was very probably an Omada a Sword-Bearer in the royal palace, rather than an ivory carver in Igbesanmwan Street. It could only have been a middle-aged Omada, living the monistic life of Palace service, with all his physical needs met and with no worldly responsibilities as for a wife and children who could have put in so much love, time, attention artistic clarity - and beauty, into a length of elephant tusk.

The Ivory Mask has been identified as depicting the face of IDIA the Queen Mother of Oba Esigie. The Queen Mother was the only female in the Kingdom who as of right would sport an Uguakpaia chiefly hair-do. This is because in status the Iyoba is a member of the prestigious Eghaevbo- Nore group of chiefs whose leader is the Iyase. She occupies the fifth position in the hierarchy of the group after the Osuma and before the Esama.

The Akpakpava Cathedral built by Oba Esigie was of a large size Its frontage was on Akpakpava Road, and its rear on Ehondor Street Cathedral and Castle-builders from Portugal probably constructed the edifice, but the more likely scenario was that the resident Priests themselves did the supervising, with the artisan guilds of the city put at their disposal by Esigie doing most of the constructing.

Some twenty years before Esigie became Oba castle-builders led by the Master-Builder DIOGO d’AZAMBUJA had been sent from Portugal by King John II the monarch of that country to construct a more substantial  and enduring edifice on the soil of West Africa . This was the ELMINA Castle now in GHANA Built on the sea-shore the building materials were brought by sea from Europe The Castle has survived the vicissitudes of time and of history and stands there today as a monument to the great outpouring of energy by that pioneering European country during those early years of the sea-borne exploration of the world by Europe.

The Akpakpava Road Cathedral was not destined to enjoy the robustness of the construction which Elmina Castle enjoyed Benin City was too far overland from Ughoton and Ughoton was too far by boat from the open Atlantic for appropriate building materials to have been brought from Europe for the Cathedral construction. And durable building materials especially stone were not available in the alluvial soil of the Benin Kingdom an area which was once part of the deep Atlantic Sea bed but reclaimed over millions of years by the silt deposited on the sea-bed by the waters of the River Niger a process which is still on-going making the Niger Delta land-mass bigger by the day. The best material which the builders could have had for the walls of the edifice was the kneaded mud. All Benin houses and palaces have been constructed of this material since time immemorial.

Akpakpava Road. ca which the Cathedral stood was said to have been constructed by Oba Ewuare Esigie’s grandfather but it was the Portuguese in Benin who gave the road the name by which it is now known. It’s conjectured that these Europeans called the thoroughfare “PAPAVER” “POPPY” Road Papaver is the Latin name of the poppy plant. The road led from the City-centre to the Ikpoba River from where old Benin obtained her river-water supply. On a walk down this road to the Ikpoba River the Portuguese Priests probable noticed some poppy or poppy like shrubs growing by the bush-path and this must have been a source of tremendous excitement to them.

The Portuguese priests of five hundred years ago were keenly aware of the importance of the poppy plants. In Europe of that period the poppy was a sub-tropical plant it grew naturally in Turkey, Persia, India and China. The white sticky juice obtained from its stalk was the Opium latex of the old medical world Tincture made from this latex like Laudanum were effective pain-killers and anti-diarrhoeal agents, and they survived in the pharmacy shelves of the Western world until modern times.

The active medicinal agents in the papaver latex are Morphine Codeine and papaverine the last named after the plant itself Codeine Co, partly obtained from the latex has only recently been supplanted in the popular imagination by panadol as an all purpose pain-relieving agent
Much of the opium latex which kept medieval European medical practice going was obtained from the Middle East, Asia Minor and the countries of East. Then in 1453 the City of Constantinople the first Christian City in the world and the gateway of Europe to the East fell to the Moslem Ottoman Turks under the leadership of the twenty-nine year old MEHMET. The Sultan Mehment re-named Constantinople ISTANBUL. The supplies of Asian medicament to Europe amongst other forms of traffic were disrupted.

Oba Ewuare was on the throne of Benin.
A strong feeling of being encircled and hemmed in took hold of Europe because the Moslems and hemmed occupation of the whole of African shore-line of the Mediterranean Sea as far west as the Atlantic shore They were for good measure still occupying portions of Spain at this period. Europe had to outflank Islam in order to re-establish contact with the other portion of the then known wt to being world with India and the world of the East or submit to being slowly swallowed up by the Moslems. 

This was why Portugal came to Benin. This was the reason for the out-pouring of the prodigious amount of energy by that little European country a little of which touched the Benin kingdom as the energy wave swept along the coasts of Africa rounded the bottom of the continent and crossed the Indian Ocean until it reconnected Europe with Asia.

It must at first have greatly raised the expectations of the Portuguese Priests to discover that the poppy grew in Benin and that supply of opium latex to Europe might be affected from these near parts of the world but as things turned out those expectations regarding the enrichment of the pharmacological stories of Europe with products from Benin failed to materialize. But the Ikpoba river road still bears the poppy’s name. And since nouns in Edo do not usually begin with consonant the road has been known to the City people as “(A)KPAKPAVA” since the last five hundred years.

A hundred years after this unfulfilled pharmacological hope in Benin some Roman Catholic Priests in LIMA PERU in South America introduced Quinine into Europe in form of the dried barks of the Cinchona tree a plant native to the south American continent. The pharmacy shelves of Europe were greatly enriched by this new medicament. The priest of the JESUIT Order in particular ensured that supplies of the Cinchona bark to Europe never flagged and so the medicament came to be known as the JESUIT Bark. The bark brewed or powdered contained Quinine and it was the first effective drug against European Malaria the ague as mentioned in some Shakespeare’s Plays. The drug also made it possible for Europeans henceforth to live safely for extended periods on the West Coast of Africa.

The Europeans were therefore able to keep the transatlantic Slave Trade going for three centuries. A century ago they were able to replace the Slave Trade with the successful colonization of Africa still aided by the protection provided by Quinine.

The pre-occupation with tropical herbs and medicaments by the early European explorers of the tropical and sub-tropical continents of the world is vividly illustration by an Edo song sung by children and young maidens of old Benin in their moon-light games. The song documents an episode in the many interactions during past centuries between the white visitor in Benin and the ordinary Benin citizen.

I le ema gie ebo
O ye ihieghe ft me;
Ai he emwin owie
I gha he ne ebo:
“ I cooked a meal of pounded yam for the whiteman

He rewarded me with the gift of some herbs.
It  is unlucky to refuse the day’s first gift,
Else I would have rejected the Whiteman’s gift.”

The dried herbs which this European guest in a Benin household had gravely and formally presented to the young woman to whom had been assigned the visitor’s care by the lord of the home, were probably curry leaves brought from some of the ancient civilizations of the sub continent of India. The young lady had probably hoped for a hand-mirror or a necklace of coloured beads from the hand of her European charge. But what the visitor gave out un-appreciated by his hostess was incomparably of greater worth than the tinsel she had hoped for. The gift probably was the commodity of greatest value in the bag of this world-traveller consisting as it was of spices from the East.

The Benin woman equating the dried curry leaves presented to her with the common Edo soup pot herb of the ihiaghe was not in a position to appreciate in the faintest degree whatsoever what it had cost the European world at that time to achieve the miracle of getting an Indian culinary herb into the hands of a kitchen woman in old Benin somewhere along the Guinea Coast of West Africa.

An even more plausible manner of derivation of the name AKPAKPAVA surfaced recently when the subject was discussed with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Benin His Grace Patrick Ebosele EKPU. The story of the construction of the Benin City Cathedral five hundred years ago was told and the word PAPAVER mentioned in association with the Street on which the new Cathedral stood. In a flash the Archbishop exclaimed quietly in Latin PAPA VIA the “POPE’s WAY” or the “POPE ROAD”

It needed the mind of a Roman Catholic Priest to see easily into the working of the mind of those Roman Catholic Priests who labored in the Benin City of five hundred year ago. The most natural things for them to do all the completion of their Cathedral was for the triumphant Priests to name the improved road on which the edifice stood after the Head of the Church the Pope under whose authority sponsorship and encouragement they were laboring in Benin.

For five centuries this Benin City road has borne this Latin name in celebration of the office of the Supreme pontiff the Head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

This supposition as spelt out above is readily acceptable as there is a Twentieth Century parallel to the story. In November 1921 a group of young educated Christians broke away from the Anglican Mission in Benin headquartered at the St. Mathew’s C.M.S Church premises along Sokponba Road. The Church was the only one in existence in Benin at that time at the second coming of Christianity to Benin known to the colonial authorities as the Native Church it was headed during the period by Rev. Kidd an English man assisted by Deacon later Rev. E.E Ohuoba.

The disgruntled group of young Anglicans visited Lagos and approached the Rev. J.A Williams a West Indian and the Pastor in charge of the First Baptist Church Broad Street Lagos He gave them the nod and welcome them into the Baptist fold.

In 1921 mission Road Benin had not come into existence. This can be ascertained in the sketch map of the city made by Lt O’shee of the conquering British Force in March 1897 and also in the two Government Maps of Benin City drawn in 1915 and 1920. An irregular bush path existed in the general lie of the city ended at the Ugbague Quarters. Since the civil commotion known in Benin narrations as OKPUGHE took place at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, occasioned by the existed in the general lie of the City centre end of the present Mission Road. The bush path ended at the Ugbague Quarters. Since the civil commotion known in Benin narrations as OKPUGHE took place at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, occasioned by the struggle between Oba Obanosa and his over-mighty subject Osopakharha of Ugbague Quarters this precursor of the modern Mission Road even at that time only rudimentarily developed had been destroyed by the fighting and the street subsequently taken over by bush as told.

The break-away Anglican Church men now Baptists widened the bush path from the City centre to the Ugbague Junction and then extended it through jungle well beyond the junction. On the left hand side of the jungle so cleared they measured a plot of land five hundred feet in length. The Oba of Benin EWEKA II approved the piece of the land for their new church. His eldest son Crown Prince Edokparhogbuyumwun later Oba AKENZUA II was the Secretary of this committee of dissident young church man. The first Baptist Church in Benin was built. Some of the church members acquired plots of land in this virgin territory around the Mission premises and built their own house.

Four years later in 1925 the Roman Catholic Mission news in Benin was also granted a piece of land along the new road only some yards further on from that of the Baptists. The two Christian Missions were the principal institutions along the new thoroughfare. The road came to be known therefore as MISSION ROAD.

AKPAKPAVA Road before Esigie and the building of the Cathedral was called Ode Agbayo a road with a characteristic which demanded that you had to have company to traverse it safely as explained by Chief Aiyevbekpen the Eribo of Benin. This was probably because the road passed by the Agbado Market which during a dark period of its history in the Ogiso period was call:

Eki agbayo, aigbarhe:
“We might both go to this market together.

But it was possible that we both might not return safely together”
The story was that a huge monster-bird probably a survivor from the dinosaur period used to fly into the AGBADO Market on market days. It would pick up people in its great talons and cart the victim away for food. The monster was called OSOGAN and it was finally killed by citizen EVIAN the Blacksmith. Evian the patriarch of the OGIAMIEN family threw his red-hot AMA his heavy iron mallet into the open mouth of the monster as it descended ponderously from the skies, cackling and making great waves to pick up yet another victim. The monster closed its mouth on the glowing iron mallet, turned in the air in great agitation flew away was never seen again.

Another Twentieth Century example of the change of the name of a major street in Benin due to the presence and influence of the Europeans resident in the City is that of the UTANTAN High street now called SOKPONBA Road. The UTANTAN High Street is more than one and a half thousand years old It bore this name throughout that length of time until a century ago when Benin became a colony of British and the thoroughfare had its name changed to Sokponba Road by the new administration peter HITCHENS the colonial Forest Officer who introduced Forestry as a government activity into Benin and who created the extensive Benin Forest  RESERVES from the Benin equatorial rain forest had established a Forestry Training  camp and REST HOUSE near the Itsekiri occupied  little island of “SOKPONBA” at the headwaters of the IGBAGHON  (Jamieson) river in the Orhionmwon territories. The Utantan High Street led out of Benin City towards peter Hitches creation. The colonial officers administering Benin City frequented the beach resort at week-end to swim and picnic. They labeled the Utantan High Street Sokponba Road after the little island on the Igbaghon River recently occupied by Chief Akpasigha the Itsekiri with the permission of Oba Ovonranmwen. The word Sokponba was a boast by Akpasigha that apart from the fealty which he owed to the Oba of Benin he was the lord of all that he surveyed on his little island.

For two centuries the Christian Church struggled to take root and survive in the soil of Benin. But by the year 1713 Rome had accepted that the Benin conversion effort was a failed enterprise and priests stopped coming to Benin. The Benin church lapped into idolatory which is the native religion of the land. The Native Priest of the Akpakpava Road Cathedral retained his pre-eminent position as the premier Ohensa of Benin land and his ARUOSA as the premier Shrine where the Lord God Almighty was worshipped in the kingdom and the Empire. Here as in all other of the shrines dedicated to Him the Almighty was propitiated with chalk cowries pods of pumpkin and strips of white and red linen.

The Ohensa the successor of the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Sixteenth Century would before the Oba in the palace, holding his Staff of office which represented the Episcopal Cross of the catholic Bishops of the Benin of Oba Esigie. He blessed the Oba just before the Oba came out to meet the populace at the Ugha Ozolua, the hall where public audiences were held in the palace. During this brief encounter between the Oba and his premier Ohensa the Omada the Oba’s Sword Bearer would reverse the Ada the Sword of State so that the tip of the Sceptre pointed downwards in submission to and in acknowledgment of the omnipotence of the Lord God Almighty. The Ada resumed its upright position when the priest of God concluded his ministration to his Monarch.

The priesthood of the Aruosa N’ Akpakpave became like all the other Ohensa titles of the land hereditary. The last of the line of this ancient family was Ohensa Asabor who was the keeper of the Shrine during the early decades of the Twentieth century.

The newly ennobled Chief stand in front of the Holy ARUOSA Temple along AKPAKPAVA Road  and acknowledges with his eben his gratitude to Osanobua Noghodua for the gift of life, and for the honour and the societal status which have been vouchsafed him. He then turn left along AKPAKPAVA Road towards the next and the final Station in his pilgrimage round Benin City.    

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