{Benin City, Nigeria Local Time}
Bookmark and Share

Written by SOLOMON OGUNROBO (Last Update June 12, 2023)

PREAMBLE, Ekaba festival is celebrated annually in about six towns and villages in Orhionmwon Local Government Area of Edo State. These towns and villages are Urhonigbe the Headquarter and the birthplace of Ekaba, Urhomehe, Ogba N’zagba, Ugoniyekorhionmwon, Evboesi, Evbobemwen, and Orogho. As a matter of fact, Ekaba is synonymous with the Olokun deity. Ekaba festival is not celebrated in any town or village where Olokun deity is not worshiped. Ekaba festival did not become what it is today overnight. It was a systematic and gradual process of events that got it to the present standard. In fact, I can say without mincing words that it was a multiple of events that led to the different segments of the festival. Some people may be surprised to read about the origin of OLOKUN before the origin of EKABA. The reason is simple; no one can solve any problem without knowing the root cause.

A long time ago, a man by the name Usiokun of Idun-olo (Olo Street) in Urhonigbe, went to the bush with his hunting Dog to hunt for Animals. He was a professional hunter selling the Bush Meat to take care of his family. His dog saw a deer and chased after it while he chased after both of them. He eventually lost sight of his dog and started looking for it. He came into a shallow river and went in to check out whether the deer and his dog were there. He incidentally got to the source of Olokun, (Uhuanmen). He turned around and continued the search in the opposite direction. The River continued to get deeper until he got swallowed by the water. He was swept away by the River and eventually found himself in the Abode of the Olokun, the god of the River. He lived with Olokun for three years inside the water while his family at home was searching for him and praying for his safe return as well. They gave up the search after doing so in vain for a long period of time and declared him dead. He was then given a proxy befitting burial according to their custom and tradition. The elders of Idun-olo made a proclamation to henceforth forbid dogs from entering their quarter and the OLOKUN shrine after his burial. They banned the dog believing that, it was responsible for his disappearance. This order is still in place until today.

He miraculously came out of the River after OLOKUN had set him free. He came back home exactly after three years with Ukhere (stool), Ovbiakhe (small Pot) on his head and Ebahe (Ahe leave) in his mouth. Everybody was excited and happy to see him back home. He went straight to Idun-olo’s ancestral shrine (Oguedion) and dropped the Ukhere there then, went further to drop the Ovbiakhe (small pot) at where is now known as the Olokun N’urhonigbe shrine. He made a pronouncement when he broke his silence after seven days that, “This small pot is a symbol of Olokun that must be worshiped by all indigenes of Urhonigbe”. This gave birth to Olokun deity that is now worshiped by many people. He also proclaimed that every sacrifice made at the Idun-olo’s ancestral shrine (Oguedion) must be on the Ukhere, be it kola nuts, drinks or animals. Indigenes of Urhonigbe have the belief that Ukhere (the stool) at Idun-olo’s ancestral shrine has the spiritual powers to settle seniority dispute among their citizens. In the event of any seniority dispute irrespective of any quarter, the elders will take the party involved to Idun-olo’s ancestral shrine (Oguedion). Each of them will be asked to take a turn in sitting on the stool, pick up the kola nut that was broken by the oldest man of Idun-olo after some powerful incantations and eat it. Whoever is guilty of the dispute will have diarrhea that must kill him within three months. They also believe that Olokun deity has the power to give children to anybody in need.

The neighboring towns and villages that now worship Olokun deity and celebrate EKABA festival probably, had their shrine and chief priests installed by the Olokun chief priest from Urhonigbe. The oldest indigene of Urhonigbe automatically becomes an Olokun chief priest as soon as he is pronounced the Okaevbo of Urhonigbe. However, he may appoint an indigene of his choice to perform his duties at the shrine when he becomes too old and weak to do so.

It was the excitement, jubilations, merriment and dancing over the safe return home of Usiokun by Idun-olo community that gave birth to the modern-day Ekaba festival. People of Idun-olo were very happy to see him back home. They picked up any two objects they could find and turned them into a musical instrument as they followed him to where he dropped the pot which eventually became the Olokun deity and shrine. He kept mute even though he had removed the Ebahe that was in his mouth. All he could say was HmmmHmmmHmmmmmmm. This is why there is no song associated with Ekaba dance. He broke his silence after seven days, told his family about his ordeals in the bush and sojourn in the abode of Olokun (the god of the River). Olokun according to Usiokun fed him with Orhue (native chalk) for the three years he lived with him inside the water.

Idun-olo continued to celebrate the safe return home of their son (Usiokun) annually. They always started by sending some native doctors and those who could see beyond natural to where Usiokun was said to have gotten lost with some nocturnal food (Obobo) for the men of the spiritual world. They called on them to come and rejoice with them on the anniversary of the safe return home of their son. It is believed that many ghosts from the spiritual world will follow them back home even though they are not visible to the mortals. This is why it is advisable not to date a stranger during EKABA festival because you may end up with a ghost on your bed. People at home wait anxiously and praying for their safe return as well, just like they did when Usiokun was missing. They jubilate, rejoice and dance as soon as they arrived home. This dancing and jubilation usually continued into the night and end at the Olokun shrine. It went on like that for some time until the Ighele age group of the three-quarters EKA, EHEN, and OGO decided to join in the celebration. This is how Ekabason started. It continued that way until the elders of the three quarters as stated above also became interested and decided to make it formal with good preparations. They finally made it mandatory that each street had to donate a cow, making it a total of three cows to be killed for the celebration. This is how the killing of the cow for the Olokun deity started. The cow is normally killed on the eve of the Eken market day while the feast, (eating, and drinking) is on the Eken day.

IDUOLO community still maintains the tradition of organizing a miniature Ekaba dance in their street that usually ends at the Oguedion. This is done to commemorate the dropping of the UKHERE there. They do this as soon as the new moon shows up in the sky in the month of December when Ekaba festival is always celebrated. I can, therefore, conclude that Usiokun’s safe return home was in December but the year is unknown.

The IHEMAN age group is charged with the responsibility of clearing, sweeping the streets and taking the food items to the Oba of the Benin Kingdom for the annual homage, while IGHELE age group members are the supervisors and overseers. Iheman age group members in their various quarters have to gather themselves as soon as the date of the commencement of Ekaba festival is announced by the elders. They have to clear and sweep the streets in preparation for the festival while Ighele age group assesses their performances at the end. Most cases, they give them unsatisfactory score in other to punish them. They will then be given a fine that they cannot afford. They normally give them two options, pay the fine or risk being beaten. Traditionally, they do not pay the fine but get ready for the torture. They at this moment suspend all outdoor activities to avoid the beating. It may have been modified but this is how the beating of the Iheman age group by the Ighele age group started.
Nevertheless, some of the IGHELE members may still visit any IHEMAN member’s home to beat him up. Sometimes, they lay down their canes in his compound and ask him to come out and pay the fine now that they have brought OLOKUN to his house. This is done only if they respect or love him, otherwise; they will burst into his house, drag him out and beat the hell out of him. Normally, the father of the young man will appeal to his son to come out and offer them something to avoid getting beaten. The father usually reminds his son to co-operate with them, noting that he will become an IGHELE age group member in no time. This embarrassment and torture end as soon as the food is being taken to the OLOKUN shrine for consumption. This practice is still in place until date but at a much-reduced rate because of civilization.
The cow is killed, slaughtered and shared among the elders of the three major quarters. Some of the elders of each quarter are mandated to cook food with the cow meat. IDUN-OLO, however, is a part of IDUN-EHEN. This food is served at the Olokun shrine on the Eken market day. The Ighele age group must stop wiping the Iheman age group the very moment the food is being brought out and taking to the Olokun shrine for the merriment. Iheman age group is now free to go about their normal daily activities. They rejoice in the street saying, “We are now the owners of the street”. This freedom was always celebrated with dancing and jubilation by the Iheman age group members of the three quarters. They danced into the night of Eken market day and retired home, but only to continue on the next morning in a bigger way. Celebrants of the three quarters, dance from their quarters and converge at Idun-isegho (Isegho Street) in the morning then, continued the dancing together along the streets of the three quarters and finally ends it all at the Olokun shrine. This led to the modern-day IGBALEGBE dance by the youths.
This went on for some years until the elders of the three quarters became interested and joined in the celebration. This led to the present day full-blown out of the modern-day Ekaba festival. They crafted special drums and rhythms, dress code for the dancers, dancing moves and chose some men to represent each quarter for the dance. Each quarter has to dance twice starting with EKA Street being the senior, followed by EHEN and OGO Streets. They take turns until each street dances twice. The second and last EKA’s Ekaba dance is called Ekabowie because; it usually starts earlier than others to compensate for the delay in the first one that was caused by the youth IGBALEGBE.
Everyone resumes his/her daily activities immediately after the last EKABA dance. Nevertheless, those powerful men that went to invite those people of the spiritual world to come and rejoice with them at the anniversary of Usiokun’s safe return home will also go and bid them farewell after seven days of the end of EBABA festival, the same way they were invited. This is known as ISUERANFUA.
The meaning of the word IGBALEGBE is what I do not know. No elder seems to know either. However, after looking at it closely, I found out that removing the first “G” will change the word to IBALEGBE, meaning, annoyance, anger, and pain. The IGHELE age group members were annoyed and angry with the IHEMAN age group members for not paying the fine imposed on them, while the IHEMAN age group members received the pain meted on them with the cane by the IGHELE age group. I am therefore inclined to have a singular opinion that the word should be “IBALEGBE and not IGBALEGBE”.
I want to seize this opportunity to thank all sons and daughters of Urhonigbe community, home and Diaspora for making this documentary a success. It was actually PA. AIREN SAMSON that did a bulk of the work. He sat me down in New York City, USA, told the story of how EKABA FESTIVAL started, exactly how it was handed over to him by his forefathers. Generations yet unborn will remember him as one of the greatest custodians of Urhonigbe custom and tradition. Nevertheless, I must not forget to recognize and appreciate Mr. JOHN ODIASE for his wonderful contributions to the success of this project. I cannot mention all names, but I thank each and every one of you that contributed in any meaningful way to the completion of this documentary. I am only a secretary and a messenger who had been privileged to deliver their story to the world.

I am an indigene of OGBA N’ZAGBA but with close ties to Urhonigbe community. Some of you may wonder why an indigene of OGBA N’ZAGBA will be interested in documenting what started in Urhonigbe. This is true, but what many people do not know is that my maternal grandmother the late Ogbonmwan Odigie and my beautiful wife, Patience Ogunrobo (nee Enogieru) are indigenes of Urhonigbe, (Ogo quarter to be specific). I actually set out to document the origin of EKABA in OGBA N’ZAGBA, but only to found out that it originated at Urhonigbe. I had no other option than to continue in that direction. I am therefore calling on all sons and daughters of all the towns and villages where EKABA FESTIVAL is be celebrated to help me out with how Ekaba festival got to their villages from Urhonigbe, OGBA N’ZAGBA my village inclusive. My update continues as information comes in. I am very proud to be an indigene of OGBA N’ZAGBA but humbled to identify with Urhonigbe community.

This story is ongoing, it is not complete yet neither is it perfect or even near perfection. I am hereby calling on all Urhonigbe elites, scholars, and academicians to read it, review, make corrections and recommendations to make it better. I am making a clarion call on all sons and daughters of Urhonigbe to come out with their findings and ideas about this project. I want to work with you please, let us work together and get this documentary near perfection for our children and generations yet unborn.

I expect some criticisms, but criticisms without corrections and positive recommendations will be regarded as an act of a bully, to say the least. Nevertheless, anyone who is ashamed of making mistakes or be criticized cannot embark on this kind of journey. I love to be criticized, especially when it is polite, civil, corrective, educative, informative and without prejudice but with positive recommendations. Criticism emboldens me, makes me work harder to make my work better.

This little piece of history is dedicated to GOD Almighty, my maternal grandmother, my beautiful wife, and PA. Samson Airen.
I thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedule to read this short documentary.

May GOD bless you all in Jesus name Amen.

Comment Box is loading comments...