Written by Abah Abah (17-07-1215)
Agbor is one of the oldest vibrant towns in Nigeria, but may have been disadvantaged and eclipsed over the years by the world famous city of Benin, which is only 40 miles away and Asaba, two major towns in between which it is located, as they served as terminuses for east-bound ferry travellers. So much was not recorded about Agbor. The History of Agbor Kingdom like those of other African ancient kingdoms, empires and peoples, is based largely on oral tradition. Various oral accounts on the origin of Agbor and Ika people exist but the most credible being that “Ogunagbon” and his followers, who founded Agbor, came from Benin and first settled in “Ominije”, presently located in today’s Agbor-Nta. Following what can best be described as personal crisis between two princes in Benin and subsequent settlement of this dispute as agreed to by the chiefs and elders of Benin determined by casting of lot, led to one of the princes settling in what became known as “Agbon”.
Agbon, like other Anioma towns and communities, was later anglicized by the British who found it difficult to pronounce as “Agbor” the present name of the town. Agbon (Agbor) in Benin means “Earth or “Land”. This alteration in pronunciation was not limited to Agbon; other Anioma communities also had a fair share. For instance, Igbuzo was anglicized as “Ibusa,” Ahaba (Asaba,) Ogwanshi-Ukwu (Ogwashi-Uku) Isei-Ukwu (Issele-Uku) Isei-Mkpitime (Issele-Mkpitime) Okpam (Okpanam) Umuede (Umunede). Notice also that in some cases the name remains the same but the spelling may change as in the case of Onicha (Onitsha) of Anambra state, another Anioma city.
According to an account, by 8,000 BC, early Agbor had already begun to evolve from the ashes of the wandering and individualistic lifestyle that was in vogue in prehistoric times. It was later in this state that Ominije emerged as the first Agbor settlement founded by the original inhabitants with Orhue as its Headquarters. Ominije later became known as Agbon and was anglicised and called Agbor by the colonial masters that found their way to the area much later. Ancient Ominije covered the area which now envelopes the present day quarters of Agbor-Nta, Oki, Ewuru, Aliagwu, and Amalia-the conglomerate that form part of the present town of Otorvbaiye and Idumuwogo settlements in Orhionwon LGA of Edo State.
The people of Agbor have traditionally relied on farming and fishing for their food and commerce. This may have been occasioned by the fact that Agbor, a littoral community, is naturally endowed with balanced ecosystem: fertile soil, buoyant evergreen vegetation, streams, rivers and higher water bodies, healthy sunshine, maximum rainfall, and gentle coastal winds. Living in a naturally conditioned agro-aquatic environment, Agbor can boast of surplus food and fish all year round. In their markets, the sights of locally produced food items such as yam, banana, plantain, fruits and vegetables, etc., are commonplace. However, due to urban drift and nonchalant attitude of the youth and able-bodied men towards agriculture in recent times, one cannot say that the full agricultural potential of the area is being tapped nowadays.
Agbor, like most other African settings, is a patriarchal monarchy, and has had series of rulers since inception. The traditional ruler of Agbor is known as Eze or Obi. The current Obi of Agbor is Benjamin Ikechuku, Keagborekuzi I who goes by Dein, the title of his ruling dynasty, instead of the Obi or Eze. Dein is an Igbo word traditionally used to address older men as a mark of respect. Dein is the dialectal variant of “De” and “Deede” used in other Igbo areas. In Agbor and in many other Igbo communities, the word “Dein” evolved to become a revered title for the oldest man in the community, and by implication, a title meaning the leader of the community. In many areas of Igboland, Umude or Umudei or Umudein means the lineage that produces the King, that is, the descendants of the King.
According to an account, Ogele (an immigrant who came and settled in the area) was the pioneer patriarch of the earliest native inhabitants of Agbor (then Ominije). Tradition has it that his wife being Ika, is the one the conglomerate of clans, including Agbor, owe the current language they speak. Ika’s four children, namely Eken, Orie, Afor, and Nkwor were immortalised as the names of the four market days which form the native week. The journey to establishing the Ogele Dynasty which is regarded as the first dynasty of rulers of Agbor and lasted between 8000BC and 1260 AD, actually started in about late summer of 701 BC. The last Ogele was Ogele XIV (Okwakpor; 1059-1239). The end of the Ogeles’ reign ushered in the reign of Regents. With the passing on of the last regent, Ebogie, the regency period came to an end and monarchy returned, but this time with the kingly title of Dein, beginning with Ebonka as the first Dein of Agbor. That is how the Dein dynasty which is on till date, began in 1260 AD.
The indigenes of Agbor town who are of Ika descent and speak Ika language, with some Bini and little Igbo influence, have a very rich cultural heritage. The various festivals observed by the people provide an opportunity to showcase the various aspects of the people’s culture. Some of this festivals, such as Igbose, which was instituted by Dein Ebonka in 1270 AD to mark God’s appearance to him in Oza Nogogo, is unique to the people of that area while Ihium Imani is observed only by Ewuru people. Festivals which are celebrated by the entire people of Agbor are Igue, Iwagi (New Yam Festival), and the Osiezi. Igue and Iwagi are celebrated annually while Osiezi is celebrated every three years.
Agbor is a farming community where elaborate preparations are made to mark the beginning of a new farming season. These preparations culminate in the celebration of one of the most important festivals-the Igue. The event is marked with food and drinks and special cultural display.
New Yam Festival (Iwa Igi)
Like many other cultures, especially in South-east Nigeria, yam (igi) is regarded as the king of all crops. New Yam Festival is celebrated at the beginning of the harvest season annually. The purpose is to thank God and the spirits of their ancestors for a good harvest throughout the year.
This is a festival instituted by Dein Ebonka (the first modern ruler of Agbor Kingdom), it marks a period of reunion of the living and the spirits of the dead, a period that offers friends and well-wishers the opportunity to share in the hospitality of the Agbors. Its celebration dates back to 1270 AD with the ascension of the Dein to the Agbor’s monarchical throne.
The Chief Celebrant of this fest is the Obi. It began as an annual event and later as a biennual event from 1951. It lasts for a period of two weeks and is usually celebrated during the dry season, beginning from the month of September.