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Isiokuo Festivals Of Ancient Benin Culture

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With Ambrose Ekhosuehi {Last update 25/092017}

Isiokuo festivals are a re-enactment of ancient Benin warfare, to commemorate the god of war. Procession of warriors headed by Shield bearers move through the streets to fight a mock battle.

Relics of war implements of Ake Nisi, a great archer, his bows and arrows were kept and members from Ilobi people who specialized in the archer use the bows and arrows invented by Ake nisi are some relics used during the Isiokuo festival.

The festival ends up with the “Amufi” (acrobatic games) performing the special tree top acrobats as a mark of the spiritual and mystical powers involved in the destruction of the man eating monster-osogan.

Isiokuo festival is no longer celebrated in Great Benin but at the countryside. Although Isiokuo festival might have been celebrated in some areas of the ancient Benin Kingdom, Evboesi people of Iyekeorhionmwon Local Government Council area of Edo State do this in specific manner to re-enact how Ekpen Elegbe a general warlord and hero defended the territory and kept the people safe from the invading warriors, paraded the streets in true demonstration of ancient Benin warfare carrying swords-Oloko, dane guns, cutlasses, charms, pestles (ovbiodo) and clubs-ukpokpo.

Elaghalogho, pellet bells are worn, by specialist physicians while some women shook the gingling clapper bellseroro to invoke the good spirits and at the same time scare the evil spirits.

Isiokuo means to draw-war and in case there is war, the sword shall be used like this, like that, thus is the practice. This practice of wielding the sword-gban okpia1is also done in other towns of ugu district during the Izeki festival.

Isiokuo, is a cultural heritage and is nowadays celebrated at every four years during the month of August. Elegbe in those days trained his followers in various aspect of war tactics, just to defeat impostors. The most beautiful scene in this war tricks were some men adorning themselves in women attires, and some women too putting on men dresses.

There is modernity in the present day isiokuo warfare. The shields are not as frightful as they were in olden days. Ancient war implements are almost far from the scene. The cross bows- Ekpeide, the archers-bows and arrows and the native guns, instruments of ancient Benin warfare are almost not preserved.

Physicians — ebo in their trails, hawkers of ill fated meals as well as women in travails were some of the scene in Isiokuo festival, depicting in reality the panic situations in a war time situation.

In certain aspects pestles, brooms, and cudgels were used as defence and to charm the weather hence the showering of rain to strengthen the warriors. Ovbiodo-pestle, Atete-tray were some of magical implements to encourage the infantry, (ovbiodo gha yo Igbina te o yon owa. Atete ghi wi yi gho) but nowadays the use of knock out and some exaggerated mode of uniforms replaced the ancient vegetation body colours in disguise to resemble Tiger skins which is the animal for brevity, strength, and courage.

Each quarters is a commandery whose infantry file past, parading through the streets indicating their readiness to defend the territory, especially at the battle fields.

This warming up campaign spurn the warriors to fight at the battle field where the whole battalions show skills of preparedness and when the Duke arrives solidarity campaign are further strengthened. The victorious commanders are appraised at the end of the conflict.

At the end1 Isekhae dance is performed for the ancestors before the assembly of the elders in council at the court yard of Ekpen Elegbe shrine.

The earliest battles in history were tribal affairs, frequently conducted over territorial conflicts, and in the history of warfare, it has often happened that one community has envied the better living conditions of another and has attempted to drive the inhabitants away.

Civilized communities were threatened by wandering barbarians and from time to time their towns were destroyed and people put to flight.

Elaborate precautions had to be taken against potential invaders, such as the moats and walls of Great Benin Kingdom.

It was soon found that a small, highly organized force could defeat a much larger untrained rabble.
Ancient Benin civilization spread largely by defeating other communities in battle. They relied heavily on their infantry and developed Calvary warfare.

Calvary — horse fight played important part in ancient warfare and Great Benin fought a large number of battle, using swords- oloko, cross bows— Ekpede and archer — uhanbo, bows and arrows.

Benin warfare consisted largely of laying siege to starve the defenders into submission, and with the invention of gun powder, armies tended to be slow moving because it gave the attacker a means of breaching, hence the technique of the Benin armies to move extremely quickly as might be observed at battle field-Egbala-scene, of Isiokuo festival in Evboesi town.

Also in Ancient Benin war trenches (iya) were dug at boundaries to forestall invaders and to hold back enemies during conflicts. “A gha gben ode se ughu a ghi weriegbe” children, after the Isiokuo festival had their own Aghada’ wooden sword practice during the period.

Isiokuo festival of nowadays as cultural heritage should be preserved for posterity in the form of civil defence or a para-military orgnaisation of a modern set up. Such works can be sanctified competently and honestly with the aim of loving God, ancestors and serving others.

The ancient and olden days military weapons could be preserved in Museums, while Isiokuo festival itself as heritage is re-directed as a subject matter for students and tourists of art and culture.

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