{Benin City, Nigeria Local Time}
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(Okhuahe Deity)

(Last Update August 4, 2023)

According to tradition, Okhuahe was a great hero and magician who lived during the reign of Oba Ewuare in the first half of the fifteenth century. When still a boy, working in his father’s fields, Okhuahe - who was then called Ogbeide - met Ewuare, who was not yet Oba but on his way to Benin City to fight his youngest brother Uwaifiokun who had usurped the throne. Ewure are thought that he might have use for the boy, and as Okhuahe was a stubborn child and a “heavy load” (Okhuahe means “the load is heavy on my head”), his father gladly gave him away. In his fight against Uwaifiokun, Ewuare was greatly helped by Okhuahe, who among other things brought the Ada state sword to the future Oba. After Ewuare had been crowned Oba of Benin, he duly rewarded Okhuahe by making him Oba of Ikhuen (Oba n’ Ikhuen).
At Ikhuen Okhuahe reined like an Oba in his own realm, and he became very powerful because of his great magical skills. When he died he turned himself into a river (the Okhuahe River) and was subsequently worshipped by his eldest son who built a shrine in his honour.

Okhuahe Deity Today there are Okhuahe shrines in many villages in Benin. The principal shrine is situated in a clearing in the bush in the vicinity of the old village of Ikhuen. Inside the shrine there is an altar in the form of a mud platform on which there are placed various pots, sculptured pieces of chalk, red, axe-shaped ughanvan stones, and a number of 120-200 cm. high ukhurhe stick rattles which are the symbols of Okhuahe. The village of Ikhuen is, however, no longer inhabited. The inhabitants have moved to the village of Evbiekoi about one kilometre from Ikhuen. The chief priest - i.e. the Oba n ‘Ikhuen - also resides in Evbiekoi where he is the village chief as well. He is not, however, an ordinary village chief. He is in fact one of the highest ranking priests of the kingdom, and as such he is entitled to wear an Ada state sword. In the past his power was even so great that he was regarded as a potential threat against the Oba. For that reason he was - and still is - allowed to visit Benin City only during the coronation ceremonies for a new Oba. When the Oba n ‘Ikhuen dies, his eldest son inherits the title but has to get it confirmed by the Oba. Once a year, in August, there is an Okhuahe festival at Evbiekoi. Okhuahe worship is not, however, confined to this festival. Every five days the Oba n ‘Ikhuen makes offerings at a small shrine in his residence.

Okhuahe worship is carried out with dancing and singing to the accompaniment of an instrumental ensemble. The songs performed at the shrine in the residence of the Oba n’ Ikhuen are praise songs for the Oba of Benin and are also sung at ceremonies in the Oba’s palace. They are accompanied by one pegged goblet drum of the Agban type which is decorated with the same patterns as a similar drum in the Oba’s palace, two idan drums and one pair of Elaghalogho clapper-bells
During the August festival music is performed both in the village and at the principal shrine. At the principal shrine the instrumental ensemble used at the shrine of the Oba n Ikhuen is supplemented with three medium-sized, pegged, single membrane cylindrical drums called Orukhurhu, Ulele and Okpegba. These drums, which have been given their names by the Oba, are always kept in the shrine and cannot be removed from there.

In the village several dances are performed the most important of which is the Akaba dance in which the dancers wear akaba waistlets. The Akaba dance is accompanied by Ugomwen songs, which are sung in a shouting manner by the men, while the women clap their hands. When the men pause, the women sing Uke songs, in which both groups stamp their feet as accompaniment. The instrumental ensemble is occasionally supplemented with an emighan which then functions as Iyema . Certain secret performances, called Usa, also form part of the Okhuahe festival. During Usa passers-by are stopped by the sound of the Odoma bullroarer or by messengers.

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