Heroines Of Ancient Benin Kingdom
The daunting contributions and sacrifices made by some outstanding women, men, leaders and warlords make Benin Empire rose to the height of its glory. Most of them laid down their lives for the advancement of our great kingdom.
Queen Iden was the faithful and beloved wife of Oba Ewuakpe the great of Benin Kingdom. She was the pride and embodiment of love, strength, courage, brevity, African beauty and femininity, who as a Queen, stood behind her husband Oba Ewuakpe, as he faced a turbulent period, when the Benins revolted against him.
Ewuakpe became Oba (king) in the ancient Benin kingdom in about 1700 A.D. and was the 26th monarch of the hereditary title of Benin dynasty. He reigned for about 12 years which was characterized with series of setbacks during the early period to the extent that all subjects in the kingdom revolted against him.
The fundamental cause of the revolt was to protest against the monarch’s high handedness and his flagrant disrespect of human lives, which culminated in the mass killing of his subjects at Uselu during the funeral of his demised mother Queen Ewebonoza in about 17.15 A.D. When it became apparent that the elders and the citizens of the Kingdom could no longer accommodate the excesses of the King, they were compelled to sever their disreputable connections. This uprising also affected all his wives (Iloi) the royal slaves (ovien) and other palace attendants, who all left. The Oba was left alone except for Queen Iden, who demonstrated her loyalty and love for her husband and stayed with him.
In this devastating and isolating period, Queen Iden became the only friend and comforter of Oba Ewuakpe, as she made herself present as the kings only hope in time of great calamity. When it became apparent that there was no solution to his predicaments, the king decided to seek refuge amongst his mother’s relations at a village called Ikoka. To the amazement of the Oba and Queen Iden, the Oba was out rightly disrespected and rejected in his material abode. In his sad state of mind, he came back to Benin City.
In her quest to find a solution to her husband’s debacle, Queen Iden decided to do something about it, by consulting an oracle on behalf of her husband Oba Ewuakpe. She believed that the oracle would give instructions and a solution on what should be done about the calamity facing the ancient kingdom and its monarch.
After a thorough divination by the oracle, he concluded and told Queen Iden that all that was needed for the peace of the kingdom and the restoration of Oba Ewuakpe’s throne was a human being as a sacrificial lamb to appease the gods.
Immediately after finding a solution to the problem from the oracle, she headed for the palace to give the message of the gods to his majesty the King in their empty harem. The message from the diviner seemed to aggravate matters for Oba Ewuakpe because there was no other human being in his palace, free or bonded beside his dear wife Queen Iden, who incidentally was the conveyor of this report.
Consequently, the possibility of getting somebody else for the human sacrifice became remote for the royal couple.
In the absence of any other person Queen Iden in a gesture similar to the Jewish Jesus Christ, volunteered to be used as the sacrificial lamb needed by the gods for the restoration of the kingdom and his royalty.
As soon as Queen Iden suggested to her husband that she submit herself for the supreme price determined by the ancestors, Oba Ewuakpe became nervously bitter, as he could not comprehend the possibility of himself killing his dear wife, who had stood with him in times of trouble, in order to atone for the sins she had not committed. But the determined Queen encouraged the royal hands to shed her blood, if only that will appease the ancestral spirits of the land of Benin, so as to put aside the upheaval in the kingdom.
And as it became glaring on Oba Ewuakpe that there was no other way out of the predicament he conceded reluctantly to the pressure mounted by his real lover the Queen and atone the gods with the precious blood of Queen Iden, as he buried her alive on the spot near the Oba market in the heart of Benin metropolis.
Before Queen Iden voluntarily offered herself as an atonement to the gods, she requested for one favour from the king, that he should make sure her grave side is kept clean at all times. In addition, she cautioned against the reality of any person treading on her grave or else such trespasser should be killed on the spot as a mark of respect for her blessed remembrance.
Consequently her desire was strictly adhered to, till the invasion of the British forces in 1897. Queen Iden was therefore a woman of faithful worthiness, faithful to give her life and died for her husband Oba Ewuakpe to thrive and for Benin Kingdom to regain peace and unity.
This Queen had paid the ultimate price requested for by the ancestors, but she did not know or enjoy the outcome of her cherished kingdom and the reign of her beloved husband.
As soon as Oba Ewuakpe finished the sacrificial rituals, some of the prominent chiefs in the kingdom called for a truce between the throne and its aggrieved subjects. Other Benin Chiefs started paying homage to the Benin monarch again and pledge their loyalty to the bereaved Oba Ewuakpe. And truly when peace, unity and prosperity returned to the kingdom, she was never a part of it. What a true demonstration of true love!
Then all other Benin’s came in the same spirit to pledge their allegiance to his authority over them as their king. Consequently, the entire kingdom was reconciled back to the king and remained loyal to the royal majesty till the end of his reign.
Since it was necessary to celebrate such re-union, the Benins came together at the palace and rolled out drums to give such occasion a memorable one. During his happy mood the people were taken back to see their own king weeping profusely in the midst of merriment instead of being happy for the reunion of his subjects with him. This made his subjects to find out from the Oba why he was weeping at the time of celebration like this, the Oba replied that the motive behind his tears was because of his desire to mourn the sacrificial demise of his dear wife Queen Iden.
He went further to narrate all the ordeal in the palace at the time the kingdom fell apart which resulted in the untimely exit of his best friend and beloved Queen, who because of her unfeigned love for the unity of her fatherland, offered herself as a sacrificial lamb to the gods of the Kingdom. For the redemption of their intergenerational equity and social cultural heritage.
Queen Iden is the only person, be it man or woman, born of a human father and mother, who has demonstrated true love for her husband and for her kingdom to achieve peace, unity and above all the restoration of the Benin throne, which is the pride of all Benin people and indeed all Edo people today.
Queen Iden was and is today a true heroine. She was a Great, Wife, Queen and an embodiment of true and unconditional love, whom we gladly celebrate today.
She has shown to all women, through her example that true and genuine love knows no bounds because love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast, is not arrogant and that we should show love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith for each other, even in the face of persecution. She also brought the word of God from the holy book to life, by showing that “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friend”, and that Queen Iden did.
Retrospectively therefore, in view of what transpired in Benin Kingdom during the reign of Oba Ewuakpe about 500 years ago and the role played by a woman in the person of Queen Iden to ensure the continued existence of Benin Kingdom and monarch is a testimony to the fact that she is the greatest heroine of all time.
In the light of the above, her effort should not be thrown to the wind but should be immortalized and a day should be set aside as Benin National day for the remembrance of Queen Iden across the world
BENIN KINGDOM MOST OUTSTANDING HEROINE – AN EPILOGUE OF MOTHER OF LOVE
The Story of Oba Ewuakpe and his wife, Queen Iden has been engagingly told in J. U Egharevba’s Short History of Benin. When this Oba became the ruler of the Empire he was saddled with two disadvantages which made him at first unable to handle and manage absolute power, to his own advantage and the good of the people. He was young and so lacked the constraints and patience of age. Secondly he was not born an Oba. He was thrust into the throne by his father AKENNUZAMA who declined to be Oba when he was offered the crown in his old age. The IHOGBE had decided the Akennuzama would be the next Oba of Benin when ORE – OGHENE died. Akiennuzama let the honour, and the responsibility, pass over to his son IDOVA who was then hurriedly named EHENNEGHA, rightly so because of the prophecy of Oba Ewuare Two and a half century before this episode. As Ehennegha he was presented by the Ihogbe to the UZAMA and crowned the Oba of Benin with the titular name of EWUAKPE.
In the course of time EWEBONOZA the Queen Mother died at Uselu. To provide for his mother in the other world all the material comforts she had been accustomed to while alive, Oba Ewuakpe made a human sacrifice, this human sacrifice angered the people and they rebelled against him, which torn the entire kingdom into shreds
Ewuakpe’s other wives, numbered in the hundreds, abandoned the royal Harem after the people had rejected their husband as King and flung open for them the gates of the Harem. But one of them, called IDEN clung to her husband, for she knew that her husband made a grave mistake which he regretted. She refused to return home to her parents in OKA village, now part of the Upper Sokponba Road, Benin City, where she hailed from.
When the life of a King without subjects proved too difficult to sustain in Benin, Ewuakpe, in his own turn, tried the abandonment of the City and the people. He journeyed to the UGOLO Quarters in IKOKA, his mother’s village: on the other side of the Ovia river crossing at the UNUAME waterside settlement. He had expected from his mother’s relatives some sympathy as well as due recognition of his status as the Oba of Benin, but there in the village he was confronted with the immutable fact of life that people place great value on the services they give. They give service when there is a promise of profit, material, emotional, or spiritual, attending the effort. The people of Ikoka village spurned Ewuakpe because in the circumstances in which he came to meet them he had nothing to offer them except an increase of their burden. Ewuakpe cursed Ikoka village for putting him through this piece of bitter basic education and returned to Benin City, to the empty Benin palace, now overgrown with weeds and leaking from a thousand roof vents.
Iden took the few articles of vanity she still possessed to the Oba Market and sold them. With the money in hand she went to UGBOR village and brought a diviner to the palace. Ewuakpe asked the Oracle what he must do to bring to and 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 the Palace by the people had been called off, and that the people had already resumed their loyal and obligatory service to the institution. The general idea was to announce the possession of a blessing before the blessing was actually received.
Iden paid off the Seer, then she and her husband set out to procure the necessary sacrificial items as prescribed by the Oracle. She went to the Oba Market at dusk and collected all the pieces of broken calabashes she could get , especially those which had been used to bring palm oil to the market for sale. Plus all the cast- away head pads, both of leaves and of old calico, with which traders had brought their wares to the market and abandoned at the end of the day’s business. She then went into Ogo n-erhie, gathered a lot of green shrubbery and elaborated a still greater turn went about in his city-size Palace grounds stripping down the dried fronds from the many palm trees which dotted the premises. These dried palm faggots he tied up into multiples of torches, such as might be required on a night journey by a way-faring multitude.
When these other prescribed articles had been obtained the couple turned their attention to the problem of where to obtain the human sacrificial component of the prescription. Abduction was not worthy even of consideration, because of detection would further strain the already broken ties.
To safe her husband’s high office, the kingdom in totality and to preserve him for it Iden talked Ewuakpe into accepting her as the human sacrificial offering.
Night fell and Ewuakpe lighted the torches of dried palm fronds, and while they burned scattered them haphazardly over the wide expanse of the Unuogua, the large open space in front of the Palace occupied at the present time by the Ring Road/National Museum Complex.
Iden smeared the gathered pieces of broken calabashes with palm oil and scattered them in like manner. She followed the same procedure with the numerous head pads she had gathered, as well as those she had elaborated by herself, amongst the burnt-out torches.
With all these articles deployed as convincingly as possible all over the approaches to the Palace Iden garbed herself in the little finery she still possessedand she and her husband walked in the dark , down Iwebo Street. They passed the Ekpenede ogbore shrine and got to the outskirts of the Oba Market, near where the Iwebo Street opens on to the Uroghotodin. There Iden chose the site of her grave. Oba Ewuakpe set to, and began the excavation of the final resting place of his wife.
Iden climbed down into the grave, helped by her husband and tried it for size. With the length and depth judged satisfactory the young woman lay down in the pit, and on her side facing the Palace, in such a manner that the flying clods of earth would not get into her eyes. She told Ewuakpe to fill up the chasm.
Ewuakpe began filling up the grave from the feet – end, postponing the asphyxiation of his wife by the red earth till the very end.
Realizing what it meant to be buried in a market place, as was happening to her, Iden had requested of her husband that in the event that purposes of the sacrifice were indeed attained, and the Edo people came round to re-accept the Palace, then she must be protected, where she lay, from all the insults of the Market-place.
A young lady, probably in her mid-20’s, born in a village of OKA with no stake in the future of the empire as she had no child of her own yet sacrificed her life for the future of her Kingdom and to restore the dignity of the exalted throne of her husband, the Oba. No wonder history called “NOKPOKHUO” as age never limited her courage, sacrifice and above all her timeless fairest love for her people, to me she is the greatest heroine of the Benin history and a model that we must teach our children of her uncommon character. Great Benin Descendants remember her today and dedicate February 14th every year to remind ourselves of what we must do to make Great Benin Great again.
Excerpt from Dr. Aisien Ekhaguosa book “THE BENIN CITY PILGRIMAGE STATIONS”