Great Benin Origins Festival And Igue Edo

GREAT BENIN ORIGINS has a very rich tradition of festivals and masquerades through which the people either appease the various gods and goddesses, purification of both the land and individual celebrant,initiate men or women into age-grades or as a traditional get-together. More than one hundred major festivals are celebrated in the state between September and March every year. Those celebrations offer opportunities for re-unions of members of the family and friends, it also offers opportunities to visitors to see and feel the rich cultural heritage of the state.

The Igue festival takes the pre-eminence among festivals celebrated in the state. The most colorful and paramount importance to the people of Benin .It is celebrated every December by the reigning Oba and his subjects to marks the end of the Benins year and to usher in the new year and as a thanksgiving for the outgoing one. The Igue festival attracts visitors from across Nigeria and abroad. Celebrated annually during the ancient time in the month of September .Oba Akenzua II moved it to the month of December to coincide with other series of festivals. No one can say the exact date or when it began. but tradition says that when the ancient Benin man became conscious of his creator and his success in his undertaking, he thanks his head and god.He believed that his head led him through the successful adventures of the year.When Oba Ewuare The great {1440-1473}came to the throne, he made many innovation into Igue festival because of the terrible experience he had in his early life, before he was crowned the Oba of Benin

Most of the Festivals have a yearly cycles and are open to general viewing and sometimes, participation some other like the Obazu festival held among the Aomas of luleha in Owan West Local Government Area the state is strictly restricted to the men folks.

Among the Esan, Ukpe Festival hold annually between December and January in Ewossa,Ewohimi, Ewatto, Ebelle and Ogwa. It is celebrated to appease the gods to bring prosperity.

In Ihievbe, Owan Local Government Area, Iko Festival is held from November to february to initiate girls into womanhood. In Ozalla, Ivbamen festival is held in April to iniate boys into manhood similarly, Irhua is celebrated in Auchi, every two years to initiate youths into manhood

The masquerades in Edo state are generally believed to be earthly representative of some celestial gods, goddesses or ancestors .Masquerades like the Igbabonelimi of Esanland are very popular social entertainers whose secrets and working are only know to initiates who are sworn to utmost secrecy

many masquerades are linked to traditional festivals,while others are only social and have no ritualistic backgrounds or undertones.


by Francis Omoruyi

The significance of IGUE festival/celebration to the Edo people in Nigeria (The descendants of Edo State). Christmas celebration coincides with Igue festival/celebration time, annually. Christmas is relatively recent in the Kingdom of Benin. The Igue festival started in the Kingdom of Benin by the great Oba (King) Ewuare (Ogidigan) meaning Oba (King) Ewuare the mystic, in 1440 AD.

During king Ewuare’s reign, there lived on the Benin-Ughoton road Ogieka (Chief of Eka Ward) who had three beautiful daughters Ubi, Ewere and Oyoyo. The news of these beautiful ladies reached the Oba (King) Ewuare in his palace. Ewuare asked Ogieka to marry his eldest daughter Ubi to him. Ogieka replied that Oba could not marry Ubi because she was too shrewish, disobedient and disrespectful. The chief would not be comfortable allowing Ubi to marry the Oba (king). He suggested that the second daughter Ewere would make a good wife and would earn respect that Queens deserve. The Oba (King) already had a number of queens in the palace.

Nevertheless the Oba (King) insisted that he would marry Ubi because she was the senior daughter and also she was very beautiful. Ubi was relunctant but had no choice. Willing or unwilling the chief of Eka (Ogieka) sent her to the palace to marry the Oba (King).

When she got to the harem in the palace, Ubi refused to cooperate with any one in the palace. She went on hunger strike and would not speak to anyone. The Oba (King) tried to encourage her. Ubi could not be tamed. The Oba (king) angrily ordered her to be sent out by the maids who struck her with burning pieces of firewood from under the cooking pot.

While they were pushing her out of the palace the maids were shouting (Ubi rie, Ubi rie) meaning Ubi leave, Ubi leave the palace.

A few months latter, Oba (King) Ewuare asked Ogieka to marry his second daughter Ewere to him because Ubi was not good to be his Queen. Ogieka agreed. According to the advice of an oracle, on the day Ewere was being escorted to the harem in the palace, the Oba (King) ordered the Ihogbe (the ward next to the palace) to join to escort her and the Osama (the high priests) to wait on her and honour her entry into the palace.

Ewere was led by the Ihogbe, dancing and singing. On entering the palace they sang the following song:-

Ewere de, kie n’Ewere

Ewere de, kie n’Ewere

Ewere de, kie n’Ewere

meaning; Ewere is coming open for Ewere with joy and celebration.

Gha kie o, Odibo gha kia aza

Gha kie o, Odibo gha kia aza

Gha kie o, Odibo gha kia aza

meaning; Who is opening the store? The steward is going to open the store house of gold for the queen

The women in the harem danced for joy and the whole city was in festive mood. Gifts of all kinds were poured on Queen Ewere from all the chiefs and from all parts of the city. A lot of valuable gifts were sent to the Oba (King) from all parts of the kingdom the weeks following the marriage. This was about the end of harvest of new yams and the farmers and the entire kingdom were already in festive mood.

Unlike Ubi, Ewere acted humbly, respectfully and honourably. Peace, love, good health and prosperity prevailed in the harem and in the palace. The Oba (King), the women and the maids in the harem loved Ewere.

Throughout the reign of Oba (King) Ewuare the mystic and the great, every year, he celebrated the anniversary of happy and prosperous marriage to Ewere at the IGUE festival, by inviting people from all walks of life in his kingdom. Sacrificing goats, cows, leopards and few other animals offering kolanuts and coconuts to his head, wishing himself and his kingdom good luck for the following year.

In this celebration the chiefs and the people of Benin take part. Four days after the Oba’s (King’s) Igue festival everyone would celebrate Igue in individual house hold and collectively by ward.

Ugie-Ewere would take place on the fifth day at the palace. Food of all kinds are cooked and some display of supernatural powers are displayed by the high chief to command respect of the people and to show the Oba (king) that they were ready for any eventuality to defend the Benin Kingdom.

Ugie-Ewere, people dance with Ebe-Ewere ( lucky leaves). And since 1440 AD it had been a prayer of the Edos not to go on a journey on Ubi’s day, only on Ewere’s day. Ubi’s day was the day of the week that Ubi was forced out of the palace. It was marked a bad day. Ewere’s day was the day Ewere was escorted into the palace, it was marked a good and happy day. Hence the Edo people would like to travel on Ewere’s day and hopefully travel as Ewere did, flawless and happy (Okhien-Ewere O).

Ugie-Ewere is still one of the most important celebration that the Oba (King) of Benin celebrates annually. The actual date is not fixed. The Oba (King) sets the date and is usually in late December of each year. But it starts on the day of the week when Ewere was escorted to the palace about 1440 AD. If you wish to enjoy this traditional ritual of 1440 AD, visit Benin City in the month of December.

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