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The Prophetic Bird Of Edo Culture

(Last Update July 11, 2020)

Written By By Amrose Ekhosuehi

THE Prophetic Bird of Edo Culture is a red bird with long beak, the cry of which is said to be prophetic. If it cries “Oya—O” — disgrace, it portends danger or disaster ahead. If it cries “Oliguegue” - be grateful, it portends good favour, fortune or good luck ahead. If it cries persistently Oyao, Oyao, in front of a person, it is prophesizing that the person should be cautious. The person may not undergo the journey or rather return than continue, but if the bird cries Oliguegue” continuously, the journey would be favorable.

The bird is believed to be a messenger of the spirit World. In 1515 CE, as Oba Esigie passed through the gates of Benin on his way to fight the Ata of Idah, the bird of prophecy, evil and good omen made discouraging sounds overhead — oyao, oyao, that disaster lay ahead.

The Oba ordered the bird to be killed and then went on to win the war. He said, “Whoever wishes to succeed in life should not heed the bird of prophecy (Ne O gha Yin Agbon, ghei daho Ahianmwe notie oya).

On the Oba triumphant return from the battle, he had the brass casters make an image of the bird on a bronze head of a battle standard to remind it that the Oba was not subject to the fate of ordinary spirit.

In former times, ceremonies open and close agricultural cycle but the ceremonies are primarily concerned with the purification and strengthening of the kingdom.

Oba Esigie created Oro festival (Ugie Oro) in remembrance of the great internal and external wars.

Ugie Oro is celebrated every five days for three months. The King and Chiefs dance in procession, in full regalia. It is considered so attractive a festival that in Benin adage, “If a farmer participate in dancing Oro, the farmer will never take care of his farm”.

As part of the ceremony, chiefs dance in a circle beating with a rod the beak of a cast brass bird of prophecy, in remembrance of the prophetic bird, Oba Esigie had killed on his way to success against the Igala people. The chiefs, carry the standard staff and hit the beak with a brass rod in remembrance of its ignominious prophecy hence the name Ahianmwe-Oro, brass staff used during oro festival.

There are indeed parallels between Oba Esigie and Oba Eresonyen, both overcame serious internal oppositions.

In each reign, brass-casting flourished. The emulation of Esigie was clearly an appeal to a time when the kingdom was at its height, led by a successful monarch of undeniably legitimate ancestry.

Just as Oba Esigie had introduced a new rite, Ugie Oro — festival of Oro, into the annual cycle, Oba Eresoyen introduced Ugie Ododua. In contrast, the performers of Ododua wear brass helmet masks.

The bronze head cast of Ahianmwe — Oro, the prophetic bird is a percussion staff idiophone, used only by the Benins. Percussion idiophone are made of brass in the form of a bird with a long beak and struck with a brass beater on the beak.

The bird shaped percussion staff is called Ahianmwe — Oro meaning bird of Oro festival.

Oro festival takes place in May/June, Uki Eghe, lunar Month. And Ahianmwe Oro is used only during the Oro festival — Ugie Oro.

The percussion staff is played only by the Oba and some of the Chiefs. According to tradition, the Ugie Oro was invented by Oba Esigie in the beginning of the sixteenth century.

It is said that a bird of prophesy with a very long beak was crying “Oyao” meaning “disgrace” when Oba Esigie was marching with his army towards Idah.

The Benin Solders thought that the bird was warning against coming defeat but the Oba said, “Ne o yha yin agbon, I danmwe eho ahianmwen no tie oyao” i.e. the person who wants to inhabit this earth does not listen to a bird crying “disgrace”.

Oba Esigie won the war and had the brass smiths to cast the bird with its long beak.

At Ugie Oro — Festival of Oro, Oba Esigie told his chiefs to help him to beat the beak with which he bird was crying disgrace (oyao) in order to deceive him at the war.

The prophetic bird had existed, as some of the old bronze plagues that once decorated the beams of Oba Palace in Benin City represent musicians, chiefs playing the ahianmwe-oro percussion staff Idiophone. (No Ia vbe egogo) sounding like the bell.

A number of very old percussion staffs of Ahianmwe-oro were also found in Benin capital after the British conquest while some looted Ahianmwe-oro brass staffs are in private hands and could be found in Museums - Metropolitan Museum. Apart from percussion staffs, bells and slit-drums are found among the Edo people.

People still listen to prophetic bird of good and bad omen, when it cries Oliguegue — be grateful; but foolish person heeds to the cry of Oyao — disgrace, while wise people are courageous.

The bronze cast prophetic bird is a standard carried by Benin warriors during battles and the beak is beaten in remembrance of its ignominious, disgraceful prophecy during the triumphant victory festival of Oro-Ugie oro, as percussion idiophone in Benin culture.

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