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The Igue Festival

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By Nosakhare Isekhurhe

The Edo will propitiate their uhunmwun (head), for a variety of reasons. They believe that the human head is the centre of human person and the symbol of both the sacredness of the creator and His Spirit entity in man. It is by that force reason, the direct representation of the Oghene Osa or Osanobua in mankind. So, when event  take  which  human need to celebrate, the head serves as the focal point of anointing  in many Edo religious rites The spiritualist among  them  would say, Uhunmwun ara ‘bo na Literally, this means that it is to the head you raise your hands, in respect and adoration.

The desire to make his physical and spiritual experiences sacred inspired Omo N’Oba Eware’ N’Ogidigan, to institute and then to decree Igue as a Spiritual thanksgiving to the Person of the Spirit or Godhead that the human head represents. The Edo will often say, Uhunmwun osu omwan. This means the head leads mankind, literally. Igue therefore celebrates the human head in a family festival And the Edo have found the festival a solid platform on which to rebuild the family and to enhance its spirituality.

But what events and experiences moved Ewuare to act as he did? Omo N’Oba Ohen, his father, had four sons, Egbeka and Orobiru, the two older ones, reigned one each, as the Oba on the death of their father When Oba Orobiru died, some of the people did not want the third son Ogun to succeed him to the throne.

This crisis was the result of the subterfuge of the elite within the rank of the noble chiefs and republicans of Benin, They feared Ogun and wanted Uwaifiokun, his younger brother as ruler, but Prince Ogun did not know that the elders preferred Uwaifiokun They had stopped him from succeeding to the throne and for his safety, he had fled into the bush and Uwaifiokun had gone with him.

Three years of moving from place to place took its toll yet; Ogun felt the desire to know the feelings of the people on the issue of the vacant throne. He thought he needed to send a spy to the City so he sent Uwaifiokun and asked him to report back to him in seven days.

Prince Uwaifiokun left their place of hiding for Ore Nokhua (City Centre) from their place of hiding when he arrived; the Ihama of ihogbe escorted him to the Edion, at that time called the Uzama. They welcomed him; asked for his elder brother Ogun and he lied that he had not seen him for a very long time.
The elders told him that they would gladly have him as he Omo N’Oba in place of Ogun. He quickly accepted the offer thus betraying the mission and the trust of his brother. The elders and the people crowned Uwaifiokun the Omo .N’Oba.

News of the event reached Ogun where he hides and he felt betrayed. He worked on various strategies to regain the throne and to avenge his brother’s betrayal .Prince Ogun went to Uhunmwun ldumwun in the eastern outskirts of Benin City to see Azuwa, his relative. Not knowing who he was, the people he met told him that Azuwa had gone to his farm. He pleaded with them to take him to the farm, but they would only show him the path to the farm. They told him that Azuwa had many servants working in the farm.

No sooner had he arrived at the entrance to the big farm than some servants on the lookout for possible intruders, saw him Fascinated by what they saw, they ran to Azuwa to tell him of the presence of a man they thought was unusual Azuwa thought in a trice that anyone that could be so described had to be his relative Ogun the fugitive

Azuwa was out of his hut in a flash to see who the stranger was. He found that he was indeed Ogun He welcomed him with joy soon, the servants had arranged a befitting place to make the Prince’s stay in the farm comfortable

Azuwa thought that his cousin’s mission had to be serious. He sent his workers away, with the word that he and his special visitor had something important to do in the farm.

Ogun had a restful night In the morning, he told Azuwa why he had come to his farm. He had to seek word from a Diviner’s Iha as to how he might get on the throne of his father. Azuwa was himself an Ob ‘oguega, but his divining tool was at home However, he quickly improvised and  started the task of looking into Ogun’s life and future. Ogun sought to know if he could still gain the throne of his father  which his brother Uwaifiokun  wrongfully occupied. And what might he do to stem the hatred of the Uzama, of the Ihama and of all who had plotted for his exile?

Iha revealed that the Edo longed for him, although they had presumed him dead. Royal ancestors and the gods of the land were angry over the way he had been treated. As a consequence of the anger, there was a spate of early deaths among the people. Many had become apprehensive and had started to flee the city, the Iha said. It prophesied that Ogun will be victorious in the end; a pregnant woman, an aged woman who lives opposite a market place and a hunter Ogun will meet in a forest; will I all talk to Ogun at some point and each will influence his fate.

As soon as he heard what the Iha had to say, Prince Ogun left Azuwa with the promise that he would reward him greatly if the predictions proved true. Meanwhile,, Azuwa’s servants had spread the word that Ogun was in Azuwa’s farm to the people of Uhunmwun Idunmwun. Those words soon reached the Palace in Benin City and Uwaifiokun sent a contingent of troops to hunt and to capture his brother, the Prince. With luck, Ogun had left through Ikpe to the hinterland and the Royal Army could not get him.

Prince Ogun wandered to many places. He fled to safety in a bush at Igogogin village when the Royal Army launched an attack on him. At night, in the bush where he hid, he heard a wail as of a pain. Ogun was shocked. He went searching and he had walked past a tree when he heard it wail again. He walked back and stood close to it. And the tree spoke to him, “1 wish that someone could stop the pain by removing the worms that are sucking me dry”.

Prince Ogun replied and said, “Weep not, O tree. We are two of a kind I shall remove the worms and I hope that you will help me with the problems that trouble my Soul”
And the tree said, “Are you not Ogun the son of Ohen ?  you were banished from the City. if you are, I know of your problems. If you can remove these vicious worms from my body, I will help you achieve that which you prize most dearly.”

Prince Ogun set to work on the tree. He took out an agbori from his bag and started to remove the worms one by one. The last of the worms was deep in the stem of the tree yet; he removed it and relieved the tree of its burden of pain. The tree was over joy.

And the tree said to Ogun, “Thank you, O great Prince what do you want that I do for you?”
And Ogun said, “I want ase so that what I say must come to pass.”

The tree responded and said,  “I grant you the power called Evba we na ni no mwan I will infuse that power in an object, which, if you would point it at anything, will do whatever you ask.  Wait here, it will be ready for you at dawn” .
And Ogun went to sleep at the foot of the tree. The tree did not sleep at least not before it had done what it promised. A spirit entity in its own right, the tree conjured up the object and placed it at its foot Prince Ogun woke in the morning and saw it. The tree asked him to pick it up and he did.

He was looking at it when the tree said, “Charge it spiritually and make demands on it when you will Curious, Ogun asked if the object really had the powers to do his will. The tree answered affirming as follows, “what you hold in your hands is Evba we na ru no mwan What You ask is what it will do “

Prince Ogun asked if he could test it to prove its power it’s yours to use,” the tree said And Prince Ogun pointed it  at the tree and asked that it shed its leaves and die at once .And the tree shed its leaves and died as fast as Prince Ogun  asked.

The Prince was full of remorse. Yet, was he happy!! he had the power to conquer his enemies Prince Ogun had destroyed the powerful tree because he did not want  other mortals to acquire the same ase as he had With that magical power  in his hand and with his physical strength, he  went back to Oka in the south-eastern outskirts of Benin City. Later he went to Ekae and founded Evbo Aigbogun.

After a long time living in villages, Prince Ogun started his advance on Benin City. The Intelligence of the Royal Army found out and sent troops to raid the villages they could not find him, but in pursuit they came close to getting him a few times. Once, the prince escaped into a bush behind some broad lush green leaves. He had cut one of the leaves and put it in his mouth. The soldiers waited in the area to see if anything moved. But not a leaf stirred. After several hours, the soldiers left. And Ogun owed his life to the leaf he had in his mouth; so, he called it Ebe Ewere

That night, he slept under a tree and some  liquid dropped on his head, as he slept He opened his eyes, looked  around and found that it was no ram It felt heavier  than  water and the smell was of blood, he thought. It dropped all over him from the treetop. At dawn he looked closely and found a leopard snoozing it had eaten its prey up the tree: He aimed his arrow at it shot and killed it. Then he returned to where he had laid down and found that he had his head on a coiled python and he killed the snake too.

No sooner had these events taken place than a pregnant woman on her way to the farm struck her toe against a stump by the side of the bush path She screamed and said in Edo, what is this It is a bad omen Ogun the rightful heir to the throne must be found to ascend the throne of his father That’s the way to save the lives of innocent citizens who now die, killed by the spirits of angry ancestors.

When Ogun heard the lamentation, he quickly emerged from the bush .He went to the pregnant woman and asked, what did you say, woman?”

He had startled the pregnant woman However, she repeated what she had said to the Prince Ogun revealed who he was to her and told her that he appreciated her concern He prayed that she would deliver her child safely and promised that he would declare the area where she farmed a Royal Farmland, if he became the Oba of Edo land..The land at Ugbekun did become Ugbo Oba when at last gun ascended the throne. And Chiefs provided the labour for the land in honour of the woman, at the start of each farming season.

Prince Ogun then moved on Benin City Close to Umelu Junction, he heard a man talking stealthily; he went close and saw a hunter resting under a tree. He watched and listened. The hunter appeared to be returning from his hunt was deep in lamentation. Ogun heard the following words.

“I am going home with these killing, but with no one to share them with me O, Ihama and the five Edion. You have put our land in great peril. The ancestor visits the sins of your hatred of prince Ogun on our people what shall we do?

Prince Ogun heard the perceptive lament and came out of hiding. Again, he introduced himself and thanked the hunter. After that, he named the tree under which the hunter rested Okha n ‘Ohue.

Prince Ogun remembered what Azuwa’s Iha had said. Two of the predictions have come to pass His mind was the third as he set out after the encounter with the hunter.  His mind sought for a market place as he made his way to the City through the bush. He had reached Unueru Quarters. When again, the Royal Army came after him. And he fled as he was wont for, he did not want to charm the Royal Army into destruction.After all they were his people and his future subjects.

Later that night, Ogun found himself at the home Chief Ogiefa. Afraid that the Royal Army would accuse him of treason, the Chief asked Prince Ogun to hide in a well in his courtyard. Ogun did yet, Chief Ogiefa betrayed him lo the Army. Edo, Ogiefa’s servant knew of the betrayal and quickly alerted the Prince. Then Edo put a ladder in the well and assisted the escape of the Prince. When the troops raided the compound, Ogun was not there. In anger, they killed Edo, when they learnt that he had helped his escape.

When that was happening, Ogun had found his way into a hut near the market. An old woman by the name Oka’Emitan lived in it. Barren, old and poor, she had been the wife of Azama of Isekhere. The other wives had sent her out of the harem because they had alleged that she was lazy and arrogant. But she was a powerful obo who cared for the young, the poor and the needy. Her real name was Uwaraye and her new name Emotan, was a corruption of Oka ‘emitan an alias the harem had given her. Prince Ogun told her who he was and asked for her help. Azuwa’s Iha had earlier warned that he must seek the woman’s consent to hide in her hut and to attack the palace from her house

Emotan agreed with the Prince and she hid him in her hut her. Happy to stay on Ogun vowed that he would never forget her, if he gained the throne.

She prepared a place for the Prince and made a periapt which she asked the Prince to wear on his arm to help his success. On the first night in the hut, the Royal Army learnt that Ogun was in the neighbourhood of the market. They raided suspected hideouts including Emotan’s hut, but they could not find him. They had left Emotan’s hut when Prince Ogun sneaked out and headed for the Palace There, he killed Uwaifiokun. The news soon reached the people and many thought that Prince Ogun had done it to assert his right to the throne of his fathers.

The prince sent word to Emotan that the plan had worked and that he needed to consolidate the victory. She was thrilled. She prepared a potion that would have all eyes that saw Ogun fall in love and empathise with him. She sent word back to the Prince to stay in the Palace and that no one would ever again revolt against him.

Within a few days, the elders came round to support Ogun, the man they had rejected, as the rightful heir to the throne. Subsequently, they crowned him Omo N ‘Oba Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare. The Iha could not have chosen a title more apt than Oworuane, alias Ewuare. After heat, the rain and all had cooled, the name says.

Oba Ewuare quickly fulfilled his promise. He appointed Emotan as Iyeki and head of the Ekpate, an authorised guild whose task was to protect and enforce market rules. He decreed that upon the death of Emotan, she should be buried on the same spot as the hut and he deified as a goddess of the people Emotan had become a national figure, and the conscience of justice in Edo land.

Azuwa had made the correct predictions when he worked his Iha. Ogun installed him the Iha man mwen  of Igun, which title he shortened to Ihama of Igun Oba Eware honoured Edo, the servant of Ogiefa killed by the Royal  Army when he had saved him. He was Prince Ogun at that time .Then the Oba changed the name of his kingdom from Benin to Edo.

Oba Ewiiare N’ogidigan had vowed that he would propitiate his head with the blood of animals. if he ever  gained the throne of his father Three years after he ascended the throne, he did so in a festival, which he called Igue The Ihogbe Family, which constitutes the paternal arm of the Benin Royal Family, developed the incantations they still use today at the Igue festival.

Oba Ewuare married  Ubi, the daughter of the Ogie of Ekae It was a turbulent affair because Ubi behaved with less than the dignity expected of a queen in a royal harem, She violated many harem rules and Oba Ewuare sent word to her father. But he still wanted a spouse from among the children of the Enogie. Ubi had let her father down. To show goodwill to the Oba, the Enogie sent word to him that another daughter by the name Ewere would replace Ubi. The Ihogbe will receive Ewere and take her to the Palace.

A few days before the event, the Oba sent Ubi to her father. Ubi lost everything including the good name and the respect due to a queen. It was a sad day for her as she left lo go back to her father. From that day on, she became the symbol of the bad, the ugly and the wretched in Edo land.

The day came and the Ihogbe took Ewere to the Palace. Chief Osuma waited on her and showed her into the harem. there was jubilation and fanfare. Things in the harem soon changed for the better. Ewere was kind, respectful of elders and well disposed to the rules of the Palace. She brought respect and comfort to the Oba and calm to the harem and the Palace. The other wives and denizens of the harem loved her and she responded in the same manner.

Even in her happiness, Ewere missed her younger sister yoyo and she had her always in her thoughts. They had been fond of each other and Ewere had to plead with the Oba to let Oyoyo visit the harem. Oba Ewuare agreed and Oyoyo visited her sister in the harem. Ewere was pleased but did not let her go back home instead, Ewere wooed her for the Oba and Oyoyo joined her as one of the wives of Oba Ewuare

He sent Oyoyo to one of the extensions to his harem in the care of the Ihama of Ihogbe. Oyoyo had a baby and Chief lhama sent word to the Palace The harem was in great joy Oba Ewuare rewarded Ihama with the Odigba Okofo a bead which the chief wears yearly to this day, during the Ugie Ewere festival.

Igue is therefore a celebration of a difficult, but a Successful life. That life today echoes the joy of a man grateful for his fate Ogun’s spirit helped him fight a great battle that lasted about twenty years. In that time, he suffered greatly, but he escaped death on several occasions .At the end, he overcame his enemies and gained the throne. Moved by fate, he thought he needed things to remind him of earlier travails. He saw a palm tree he had climbed for food and named it Aman mi ‘eson aimi ‘uwa. He decreed that all heirs to the throne after him must climb that palm tree before ascending the throne. The symbolising is evident for, without hard work and suffering there can hardly be But Oba Ewuare was not done with symbols

He recalled his great escape when the Royal Army trapped him in the wild A leaf he called Ewere had hidden and saved his life. What better way to immortalise it than to make it a part of a yearly festival?

By coincidence, he also married a woman named Ewere, and she brought him great joy. Given then the contrasts of his life of war and peace, of poverty and wealth, Oba Ewuare ruled that Igue should be a festival to be celebrated by all Edo each year. In doing so, he thought that his subjects will learn and benefit from his life experiences.

Oba Ewuare asked that Igue Festival should take place at the end of each year. That way, it ended the old and ushered in the New Year. So, when the Edo take part in the festival each year they remember the Ewuare story and spirit. What acute vision and sharp focus Ewuare had! And the Igue festival has been a worthy annual celebration of this great human story.

The Edo regards the head as the temple of the human spirit. As the mind, the soul controls the human person, so the head directs its destiny. The Edo believe therefore, that the oblation done in the Igue festival is a return to the transcendental - the Ehe.

The Oba sets the date of the Igue Festival. It is the climax of the many festivals of Ugie that he observes every year. During the Igue festival the Edo says prayers, the cleanse themselves of their sins; they unite their families in spirit, and share gifts and blessings at the same time.

Edo mystics like Oba Ewuare knew that the key to the wellbeing of the whole is in the hands of everyone; that one could ignore experiences and fail to learn from them; that may focus on experiences and learn and direct life to a more positive goal So, Igiie Festival awakens the conscious  self  to the primacy of the human spirit and to the head that represents Osanobua, the immortal Igue thanks the head for what it has done in the past year and appeases it for all sins  done to it .During the ceremony, father mother, siblings, friends and neighbours share blessings and feed on the food for atonement and thanksgiving

The Oba starts the Igue Festival with a ceremony known is Igue Oba. He follows that with that of the extended royal family. The final Igue as the Igue Edo hia In this, the Edo and their families do the oblation in their homes. The ceremony starts from about 7 p.m. and lasts until about 4 a.m with chiefs, the ceremony takes the form of a musical night .There are songs, dances, and stones to tell The people drink and make merry.

Often they stay awake to light up uwerhen (ember) Lit, they flick it about to banish Ubi from their homes at dawn The youths use the uwerhen in a ritual cleansing of nooks and corners, branching Ubi from all streets in the City The youths come from every home to help to force evil from the streets and their lives They do so heartily as they chant words of the song Le ‘Ubi rie.

Azen le ‘Ubi ríe — Witchcraft leaves with Ubi.

Oso le ‘Ubi ríe — The wicked leaves with Ubi

Omwanbabe, le ‘Ubi rie — Evil mind caves with Ubi

Oyi le ‘Ubi ríe — Thieves leave the Ubi

Ubi ríe, le ‘Uhi rie  — Ubi leavcs go away Ubi

The youths, having banished Ubi to the outer moat of [he City, or to other spots outside the City, enter the bushes close by, to cut ewere leaves.They do that and come out singing the following song in joy:

Arhi ‘Ewere gi ‘Orno vb ‘ugha o — Ewere goes to the Oba in palace

Ewere ‘were gh  Oyoyo o Ewere..— were.. see Oyoyo

Ewere odafen, Ewere uyínrnwen o  — Ewere the spouse. the behaved

Ewere de kie n ‘Ewere  — Ewere’s here. Open for Ewere

Close to home, the children go from house to house lo give small pieces of the ewere leaves to those they meet and to receive gifts from them. At this point, their songs have bounce of joy. Some of the songs are —

Arhi ‘Ewere gi ‘Omo vbu ‘gha o. Ewere ‘were gh‘Oyoyo o
A rhi Ewere rie ukpo ghi ‘gbi ‘vbiore
Ewere de kie n ‘Ewere
Ukodo Ewere re ‘mwana

If they thought that a host was unwilling and stingy, they would sing —

Kpoko nyankan, kherhe kherhe emwin

do ‘mwan ‘kherh  khe rhe.

Literally, this means how awful, people ought to be less stingy just a little less.

Those fortunate to have pieces of the leaf, paste them on their foreheads to show their joy. From that moment on, the salutation turns to Ise logbe and the reply Ogbe man vbe dia ru.

The Ewere Festival ends in the afternoon of that day. The omaen ne ‘rokhin represented by Chiefs Ayobahan and Osuma will go to the Palace in a dance procession to pay homage to the Omo N’Oba. The Isekhure and the Ihama will lead the Ihogbe royal family including the Ihogbe chiefs, adults and children to the palace of the Oba to formally present the ewere leaves to him. The Osuma will still play his role of waiting on Ewere (Ogbarogh ‘Ewere). The Ihogbe will sing special ritual songs at the hand-over. The Omo N’ Oba N’ Edo will ask that the leaves be given to members of the audience to wish them Ise logbe. And that will end the year’s festival of renewal.

(Nosakhare Idubo Isekhurhe is the thirty-second Isekhurhe of Benin in an unbroken lineage created (about 1255 AD) .He hold a Master degree in political and public Administration. He is the chief priest of Benin kingdom. By tradition,the isekhurhe is the keeper of the Oba’s ancestral staff and the recorder of his ancestry).

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