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(Esu in Benin cosmology)

Written By Leo Oronsaye (Last Update June 16, 2023)

Esu in Benin cosmology, is not figured among the pantheon of the Benin' gods but rather an 'Okaighele'( Youthleader) of the ' Ighel'erhinmwins'(The Youths of the spirit world) And the Ighel'erhinmwins are virtually the most dangerously malevolent entities in the realm of the spiritual and in the physical! They are the unburied dead or the unincorporated spirit, that's, those of whom the benefits of obsequies were not accorded! Obsequies are taken with all solemnities by the Benin, because they are what ensures that the dead journeys unhindered to the hall of the Dead, where the revered Ancestors are resting blissfully! Obsequies too, are what sanctifys the dead absolving them of all their past open and secret misdeeds, while they were living, as it accords them the worthiness or the honour to share the 'Odion' status with the honoured Ancestors in the spirit world!

Among the Benin the ultimate achievement of every living person is the attainment of the 'Odion' status! A position of respect as an honoured elder among the revered elders in a given society, a position that involves exemption from obligations that are binding on the Youth and all other ordinary persons or commoners in a given society! A position that enables one to participate as an honoured elder among the committee of the revered elders( Edion evbo) at the 'OguEdion' , that's the meeting hall of the revered elders of the community! And attaining this ultimate status involves a growth movement through a gradation of Age groups statuses, called 'Otu' starting from the period of one's birth, through toddlerhood, adolescence, adulthood to Elderhood! A process assisted by relevant 'Rites of passages'!

The Benin, believes that, this same order, is a copy of what transpires in the spirit realm! And just as the living are assisted by these rites of passage for growth in statuses so also must the dead be assisted grow in statuses through Obsequies!

And as for the dead that left unburied, missing out in these obsequies, they are believed by the Benin to be unhappy, harbouring resentments against the living, because they're left hovering in the 'Ad'Agbon ad'Erhinmwin' that's the junction between the World of living and World of the dead, because the relevant obsequies that would have enabled them to advance in their statuses of 'Ighele'( Youthhood) to the 'Odion'(Elderhood) level, a necessary prerequisite for resting blissfully with the revered Ancestors, is missing in their spirit life And now feeling abandoned and trapped perpetually in the Ighele status, they become restless, begin to roam aimlessly away, to places like the wilderness, lonely farm road or paths, pathway to streams, junctions, marketplaces and even wandering to their former abodes while formerly alive, looking for who to harm! And as the Benin say, " Ogho y'ogho re vb'ohinmwin na ma he" meaning '" milling around aimlessly like an unburied dead" ! And it's for this reason the Benin occasionally offer sacrifices in the likely haunts of these malevolent Ighel'erhinmwins aimed are appeasing them!

And these angry and restless spirits becoming willing recruits in the hands of Esu who himself incidentally because of his mischief had never graduated to the'Odion'(Elderhood) status in Erhinmwin', from the period of his creation by Osanobua, Esu creates a marauding army of angry spirits, the Ighel'erhinmwins, which he heads!
And as the Benin say "Esu no ri'Oka'Ighele no ma ri'Odion" meaning, " the Devil who only attained the position of a 'youth leader' but never the exalted position of an elder!

It's for this reason too, that appeasement offering are made to Esu as a particular occasion demands! As the Benin say "ta gho'Esu" meaning, "One appease or make concession to Esu"

Incidentally, there are Benins steeped in the exoteric arts, adept in harnessing the potency inherent in the malevolence of Esu, which they embody in an image made in the likeness of what their concept of Esu entails! This they place in a platform outside of their houses, strategically positioned to face the street, ostensibly to ward off sorcery attacks of from potentially dangerous adversaries! Be that as it may, it's believed by the Benin that radiation from the presence and proximity of Esu image in a compound is potentially dangerous and harmful to residents, especially toddlers, hence the Benin saying, "Ak' Esu, amu er'aro da orhe, oye gbel'emo, akpa we ta mue aro da Owa vbo" meaning, "One plants Esu in a platform facing the street, toddlers still die mysteriously, one wonders what would have happened if the platform was positioned to face the home"

The strong belief by the Benin about the negative disposition of Esu's character especially his proclivity for mischief against the living, stems from their myth of the creation of humans by 'Osanobua'( God the creator) And the principal motive of this mischief, is to prevent one from actualizing the objectives of one's destiny! According to Benin cosmology, when Osanobua(God) creates everyone of us, we are first all sculpted in clay images by him and these images are in pairs! Then Osanobua strikes one of the pair, with an Umwenriotan cane, this striking causes the image to emit a powerful sneeze that brings it to life! And when this living image opens it eyes, what meets its gaze, is a splitting replica of itself facing it in the opposite direction! Osanobua now commands the living image to make resolutions of its aspirations when it eventually get to the physical world in human form, to its replica image! And as the Benin say, " Osanobua ghi we nu hi man ren" meaning, " God commands your make your aspirations resolutions known to this your replica"! Meanwhile as you're making these resolutions, that are normally positively inclined, that's towards getting the best out of life, that's being successful in all life's endeavours, while on Earth, Esu stands close by, recording every detail of your resolutions!

The living image is you yourself, your resolutions('Hi') becomes your destiny, while your replica become your 'Ehi' because it holds and guards your 'Hi' which is your destiny, following you about as your guardian angel in form of your 'Aghonghon'(shadow)! And Esu who's witness to your making these resolutions swings into action, immediately employing all contrivances aimed at thwarting the actualization one's destiny, right from the moment of one's conception in one's mother's womb! And it's for this reason that the Benin, when the physical changes associated with pregnancy becomes apparent in a woman's body, all the relevant precautionary measures are put into gear, antenatal rites and rituals are employed aimed at the appeasement or checkmating the diabolical machinations of Esu, while the pregnancy last and immediately after a successful birthing, for the sake of the safety, of child and mother the relevant postnatal rites and rituals are immediately carried out, with all solemnity, meticulously, adhering to the dictates predicated on the customs and traditions of the Enikaros( Ancestors)!

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