lBy Ekhaguosa Aisien
Edo land is as famous for its war exploits and its art as she is rich in songs and dances indeed, myths put the number of dances in the land at two hundred and one. As the people say, Iku okpa nya uri‘Osa ya w ‘Edo, literally, this means that God endowed Edo with two hundred and one dances.
Some of the dances and songs are thousands of years old and a few came later Some of the new ones lost popularity very fast, but the old ones, which are indigenous lo the culture, have survived in spite of the sweep of Western influence. A great number of these dances and songs reflect the social and political experiences of the people, as they demonstrate their elegance and artistry. Some are religious, in few royal, and others social, each suited to its purpose. A brief look at some will be appropriate.
Ugho is the most danced and watched in the land. It is the dance for all seasons and many who would want a dance of grace and charm will rush to hire Ugho Troupe for festivals such as childbirth, marriages and Eho.
It would appear as if the exponents are now to be found only in the Iyek ‘Ogba District of Oredo Local Government of the State. The dancers are called Igbohogho.
It is said that Prince Oronmiyan brought the dance from Uhe at the time of the restoration of the monarchy in Edo land. The people do the dance mostly during ceremonies. And if it is to feature, the family programme it for the third and the seventh days of a seven day burial ceremony.
He returned to the Palace with his team and member of the Iweho taught their Iweguae Palace Society counterparts the dance — mimicking hands raised above heads as they did, wading through River Imimikpo towards heaven.
Childless, Emokpolo’s life was one long series of crises For the most part; these crises had to do with her husband Emokpaogbe. In these crises, she played pivotal roles. The first in the series was uhunmwuno ‘va (ill—health), which led the Enogie to the court of the Obi of Ubulu-Ukn accompanied by Emokpolo. The second was a war between Benin and Ubulu-Uku in which Emokpaogbe was one of the Benin invading generals. The third was a civil war between Benin and Ugo N’Iyrekorhiomnwon and the Enogie, Emokpaogbe, was, this time, the enemy of Benin City.
Emokpolo had helped her husband’s war efforts with the beauty and the potency of the Eghughu agba song and dance, but try as she could this time, a fight against his motherland was too much for her and her husband. Two of the songs would be appropriate here. She had wandered through the forest to the war front. Emokpaogbe her husband saw her and was greatly shocked. He waved her away from danger as he ate wild sugar cane. She cried and in tears sang this famous song:
Emokpaogbe rnwen no yan Ugo (twice) — Emokpaogbe, lord of Ugo (twice)
Akon nu we ya ri esi ri ede yl — Those teeth that once ate boar and ede
Om ‘orieman ughu yae ‘valo o— Now bite into wild sugar cane
No mu ‘odo mwen mu gunmwen — whoever has my lord bring him back to me
A Iren vbe ‘bo gha se — Before the charms begin to work
The song reverberated with great power throughout the forest. It touched former colleagues of Emokpaogbe the great warrior but they had become his enemies and they knew that they stopped fighting only at their own peril. They did not relent so, the war gained in fury. Surprised at the tenacity of the enemy, Emokpolo sang this next song:
Ogi ‘obo no kpe n ‘Ugo eee — The chief of the charm makers of Ugo
Ughu gie ‘bo se n ‘Ugo eee — May the charms work for Ugo
The charms did not do enough for Emokpolo and the Edo Army conquered Ugo N’Iyek’Orhionmwon. Chief Ogbomnwan, the first Ologbose of Benin, and Edo generals in the war, took Emokpolo and her troupe to the City.
In Benin, the Ugo N’Iyek’Orhionmwon women captives were kept among the royal wives in the harem of the king. There, Emokpolo taught the wives the song-and dance step s of the Eghughuagba
After the royal wives had attained a degree of proficiency, Ernokpolo and her dance moved to the harem of the Iyase, the foremost soldier and general of the realm. They ‘did the same with his wives and moved after to the harem of the Ezorno, the second-ranking soldier of the Kingdom They taught his wives before they ended up in the harem of the Ologbose, the fourth in rank among soldiers of the kingdom.
Emokpolo’s farnous Ukuse called the Oriokho, featured in many of the Eghughuagba songs. It is kept to this day in the home of Ologbose of Benin, along Akpakpava Road .Emokpolo herself presented it to Chief Ogbonmwan. The Ukuse sits to this day in a special place on an altar in that household. No hands may touch it except those of women who have attained the age of menopause.
Little is known of the origin of the dance, but Esigie is now thought to have invented it as part of ‘n elaborate deception of Idubo, his brother, somewhere in the Udo forests. Prince Idubo was the Enogie of udo., and given the dispute as to who was the older between him and Esigie he might have stopped Esigies safe passage to Benin with the body of their father Ozolua, Oba of Benin. The Qba had fallen in the Uzea military campaign. After this sad occurrence Edo decided during the reign of Oba Ehengbuda, that no Oba should again lead the people’s army into war. That duty then passed on to the Iyase, the first soldier and the general of the people’s army. The responsibility for military campaigns then, passed to the lyase after that proclamation.
Ekasa is an unusual dance full of voices. The dancers wear mirrors on their outfit and hold aloft gaily-coloured strips of cloths, mounted on staves. As the dance progresses the people speak their minds on issues, often of the rulers. An example of this was when the colonial administration created Forest Reserves in Edo land about one hundred years ago. It was unpopular with the people because of the restrictions it placed on them, and one which they never before experienced. it limited the freedom they had always enjoyed in the exploitation of the forest resources of their land. Therefore at the Ekasa outing for Oba Ovonrarnwen’s funeral in 1914, one of the songs addressed to Eweka II, the new Oba, dealt with this problem.
A ¡ gh ‘okherhe, a i gb ‘udin — Touch not the old or the young palm tree
Vbua we ni ya gha koko Omo , Omo? — Omo’N oba. how do I feed my young?
A i gb ‘okherhe, a i gb ‘udin — Touch not the old or the young palm tree
Vbua we ni ya gha koko omo omo o O — Omo ‘N oba how do I feed my young?
Imitation of the yearly carnivals staged in those South American Countries. It is now rarely danced if at all
(Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisen is a retired civil servant and consultant surgeon.Read medicine at king college university of London.)
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