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The origin of Benin Monarchy

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What came to be known as the Benin kingdom did not being its existence as a kingdom in the sense of it being headed by a king or a traditional ruler, as it is known today. It really began as a conglomeration of villages each of which was headed by the oldest man in the community who is referred to as the Odionwere or village head. As time went on, these village united for the purpose of security against external aggression or for commerce, and the most powerful of the old people was said to have automatically assumed the supreme headship which eventual metamorphosed into what was known as king or Oba in Edo language.

Omo N’ Oba Erediauwa in his lecture on The Evolution of Traditional Rulership in Nigeria.Given under the auspices of the university of Ibadan, Institute of Africa studies on 11th September, 1984 said that in Benin, the first to emerge as such a leader almost immediately assumed the position of a king, for by the wisdom he was described as being from heaven {Oyevbegie No Riso.This is the origin of the title Ogiso which came to be the title of the earliest Benin kings, before the advent of Oromiyan

There were 31 Ogisos. Even though some historians think that the Ogiso era began about the year 900 yet the age of the Edo people's settlement in the kingdom is over 6000 years. Judging from the long history of the people it is reasonable to suggest that the development of their kingship is much longer than the 900 AD. The much revered position of the Benin Monarchy tends to suggest that the people found themselves inseparable from their monarchy which is regarded as the embodiment of custom and culture. The long existence of their king make it unintelligible as to who came first, the people or the king? Thus it is the belief of the Edo people the God sent them to the world along with their kings. Kings are therefore assumed to be born and not created, "Aise Agbon Rio Oba". Coming back to the Ogisos, We have thirty one of them who have been named as follows:-

1. Igodo (or Obagodo) 12. Iredia 23. Oriagba
2. Ere 13. Etebewe 24. Odoligie
3. Orire 14. Odion 25. Uwa
4. Odia 15. Imarhan 26. Eheneden
5. Ighido 16. Orria 27. Ohuede
6. Evbobo 17. Emore {female} 28. Oduwa
7. Ogbeide 18. Orrorio {female} 29. Obioye
8. Emenhen 19. Irrebo 30. Arigho
9. Akhuankhuan 20. Ogbomo 31. Owodo
10. Ekpigho 21. Agbonzeke  
11. Efeseke 22. Ediae  

The peculiar features of the early Ogisos are:-

Founding of the kingdom: Igodo or Obagodo established the kingdom in the sense that it was during his period the components of Benin were united and formed into a central Administrative Unit.

Establishment of good government and the guild system: His successor Ere (who incidentally was a grandson brought in good laws and established the guild system for which the Edo people are still known.It is to his credit that the palace system was organized and established from which its present form has evolved.

Primogeniture law: Orire brought about the primogeniture law which lasted more than one century. During ogiso Ighido, this law broke down as a result of palace rivalries. It got into a chaotic situation at a time and this gave rise to the saying that "ogiso will only summon the council meeting whenever there is trouble" (Ogiso mamie Emwen Ei Fiagba"). This situation remained for nearly two centuries when Ogiso Oriagba re-established the primogeniture laws. This brought stability once more to state. The guild system was re-established and all the arms of the government were re-kindled.

Establishment of Benin Army: The stable situation of the state brought about the formation of the Benin Army during the reign of Ogiso Odoligie. A class of people known as "Iyokuo"-the warriors-- was established.

Inflation and subsequent currency reforms: During the reign of Ogiso Ohuede, there was serious inflation. There were other pestilences which followed. People counterfeited the coins of the realm by bringing illegal money into the country. What really happened was that people suddenly discovered a large quantity of cowries (which was the then known coin or money in use) and there after flooded the country with it. The attendant result was inflation. When Ogiso Obioye came in as ruler, he harnessed the whole currency by nationalizing cowries wherever they were in private hands or with the state. This money became scarce and its value restored. It is this state of affairs which gave rise to the expression "a valuable article purchased with Obioye's Coin". Ogiso Obioye therefore was the first king who reformed the currency.

The plight of Ikaladerhan: The last Ogiso (Owodo) brought a lot of stresses and hardship on the nation he was incompetent. He more or less fell back to the habit of not summoning the state council meeting unless there was trouble. He was preoccupied wit the primogeniture law especially as he had only one son who he thought might die before him which might leave him without a successor. This obsession drove him to consult the oracle as to how he might have more male children who might succeed him. In the end, the tragic episode of Ikaladerhan's banishment came into our history. However, Ikaladerhan by a change of fortune eventually emerged at Uhe (or Ife) as a king with the appellation Ododuwa derived from the Benin word "Imaghidoduwa or Imadoduwa" which is an exclamatory word "I have not missed the path to prosperity" a reminiscence of his surprise at his emerging as a king in a strange land after having left as a refugee.

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