Urhonigbe is part of the Southern continuation of the Great Edo plan which extends to West wards into the sea. Changes in the sea level in remote time and erosion by rivers eating away the plateaus edge in the Eastern part in area of Agbor, Uromi, Asaba and Auchi Igarra hiIls in the North, created the flat lowlands.
The river Niger valley forms a sharp divide between the East and West .flowing to the South to form a Delta while river Ethiope (Olokun) took its source at the base of the Edo great plain near Urhonigbe. The Ethiope flows on the west wards the Atlantic Ocean
Urhonighe town is not all than plain but undulating. During the rainy season there are gullies formed by rain water from the hillsides down to Ethiope (Olokun) river. Geologically, it stands upon the South West ward extension of low and acid sands which rises to the North East away from Niger (Ohimwin) which bears some of the heaviest population densities in Edo State.
Urhonigbe in ancient times was a town dominated and ruled by warriors. The town was so large, that it had ten gates. Some said that it derived its name urho - means gate. ‘Igbe’ means -Ten. It is a compound word urho ‘Ten Gates’-Urhonigbe (Usonigbe)
The ten gates were heavily guarded by soldiers and ekaokuo (War leaders) each assigned with the responsibility of protecting the city.
Urhonigbe in this early history of Edo had maintained their independence under their ekaokuo and ekaevbo. They had accepted the suzerainty of the earlier Ogiso (Igodo, Ere and Orire), but have maintained their. Independence since Orriagba’s reign. They were left, Odoligie reign provided opportunity to bring them back under the rule of Igodomigodo.
The early history of Urhonigbe has been characterized by continuous war with the neighbouring Oru (Kwale) arid lgho immigrants in search of farmlands. Or the purpose of defending the city, Urhonigbe had four warriors namely Okanighan Ogo,Ehen and Akpoko.
The Oru (Kwale) occupies the South Eastern part of Igodornigodo. On a broad linguistic basis, the inhabitants of the whole of Kwale used to be regarded as Edo speaking people.
In fact till recently most of them traced their origin to Benin City-. They were called the borderline semi-Edo.
Their major town Aboh was entirely founded by Ogiso Orire who posted an enogie who is now the Obi in that town. The Obi there still traces his ancestor to Benin City. He was one of the princes sent from Benin to found the town Aboh.
The Olokun or Ethiope River is the central river that runs through the land of Urhonigbe while Ohinmwin - River Niger was the boundary river. Whenever they wanted to make sacrifices at the boundary river, materials would be taken to Aboh for this. Aboh town in the East of Igodomigodo was like Ughoton (Gwato) in those days for the people of Urhonigbe. It was a port town and very important too. Great annual sea festivals were performed by the people of Aboh for Igodomigodo.
The influx of Ibos from across the Niger seeking for land for many years resulted in the dominance of Ibo language in the area. The Ogiso Edionwere’s weak government’ which led to the independence of the distinct Edo people made the Oru themselves lose contact with Benin. They still speak their language mixed Ibo dialect linguistically With Oru to solve the land hunger which developed with large Igbo migrations. The Oru started attacking Urhonighe having gained the support of the people of Ibo across the Niger and riverine areas of the Delta.
Urhonigbe responded by making four of their people war leaders to repel Oru attacks namely Ogo Okanighon, Ehen and Akpoko. Okanigbon and other war leaders of Urhonigbe decided to punish the foreign invaders and extend or recover land from them. The boundary of Igodornigodo and Eastern Ibo was the River Niger (Ohimwin) and Aboh was the head quarters of these Edo speaking peoples in this early period. Urhonigbe do not indulge in fighting for its sake but their numerous wars and battles with the Oru had been forced on them by need to survive and keep their land intact from the incursion of Oru and Igbo alliances.
Initially, Urhonigbe adopted a wise and gentle policy towards Oru by allowing those who wanted land for farming because of the fertility and the productivity of food in the area. They were also in return pay tributes. But the Oru people always reneged o these agreements and encroached on more land instead. This led to quarrels and even battles. Each time Oru people were defeated in these series of wars. They would submit and offered their allegiance to the people of Urhonigbe as their overlord by paving annual tributes of yams and other food crops in recognition of the Urhbnighe people as owners of the land.
These wars made Urhonigbe maintain a standing army which was used for fighting the Oru incursion into the area as well as depredations. Pillaging and devastating the towns, villages in the whole areas.
Ogiso Ere and Orire has also given Urhonigbe the task of overseeing the land up to River Niger which the Benin’s call Ohinmwin.
Aboh was still made a port town of Benin kingdom when Europeans first visited in the l5th century. It was also a slave market for the Obas of Benin during slave trade in I5th—l6th and l7th centuries.
The Olokun River (Ethiope) was another central place for worship of the god of the sea and the river was to the Urhonigbe what the River Nile was to the Egyptians. Olokun River has always remained the heart .and the centre of the religion of the peopie of Urhonigbe. Likewise the economic development and the civilization of the people of Urhonigbe depended largely on the river Ethiope or Olokun. Thus their own philosophy of life was based on Olokun, god of the sea the source of political, social, progress, as well as economic well being of the people. Olokun River has influenced the religious life of both Binis and the Kwale peope of the then Benin Empire. Even up till now people still go to Olokun River for sacrifices and worship.
No religious history of Edo people could be correctly written without the mention of Olokun worships. Olokun religion originated from Urhonigbe. The town itself was once known as the land of spirits, where visitors or the dead from all parts of kingdom could be seen. Mysterious stories, myths or legends had been woven round the town of Urhonigbe from time immemorial
As already shown, after the defeat of Iguabode, Odoligie became determined to bring all towns and villages in this part of Iyekorhiqnmwon particularly Urhonigbe into his kingdom. The City of Urhonigbe had a standing army or a regiment for fighting against the troublesome Oru (Kwale) people. The war with the Oru was regarded by the Urhonigbe people as external or foreign threat to their existence and this gave them a sense of unity and strengthened the central authority in Urhonigbe. The Odoligie was confronting a united people with an experienced standing army which could not be pushed easily either by foreign or internal aggression, depending partly, on the strength and duration of the external pressures. Urhonigbe’s problem with Odoligie arose from their disrespect for Orriagba when they appointed their Okakuo and Ekaevbo without the approval and confirmation by Ogiso Orriagba. Odohigie wanted to avenge this disrespect for his father. He provoked Urhonigbe into war by not following the custom of sending emissary to the leader or the Okaokuo of the town. He had reached Urhomehe, few kilometres to the town of Urhonigbe from the West before his message reached Urhonigbe requesting Urhonigbe to recognize his over lordship and submit to his rule or face total war
Urhonigbe seen his message as tyranny and viewed his action as very unfriendly because he was sending this message six years after his enthronement as Ogiso of godomigodo..
The message naturally provoked the anger of Urhonigbe Odoiigie had resolved to make all the former land of Igodomigodo the Oru (Kwale) subject to his rule. He had made ready for another great expedition. His preparation and army was as great if not greater than that which had been sent against Udo and Iguahode.
Urhomehe is a town near Urhonigbe and only a few kilometres to Urhonigbe. But since Urhonigbe’s wars with Oru in the South East, Urhornehe had stood aloof from all struggles as if it was not her concern. Urhornehe was the first town that was conquered in the area by Odoligie troops. The people were held captive. Many of them mostly women and children escaped to Urhonigbe. They were not treated as refugees because Urhonigbe saw Urhornehe as a part of itself especially as they shared the same religions. Those who could not escape were forced to, join Odoligie army of conquest
After the conquest of Urhomehe, Odoligie decided to rest He fell asleep and after a short while he was woken up because of the terrible dream he had in the day time He hastily summoned his council of warriors and told them that he dreamt that he was swimming inside a big pot in a river There were many snakes surrounding him, but did not harm him. He could not understand the meaning of the dream. He had never been afraid of dreams neither had he had any believe in dreams as a warrior.
One of the Urhomehe captives explained the dream by saying that “You have seen Olokun Spirit and had come to tell you not to fight the people of Urhonigbe but be friendly with thern. They do not hate you. They love you. The king replied I do not believe in the efficacy of dreams. Lazy men believe in dreams I will fight them”
The next day the soldiers moved towards Urhonighe town, another sign was seen by all. Of all the tales and mysteries which they had experienced since four years the war started from Udo, Iguahode, the snakes and the bees attack at Iguabode, none perhaps was attractive to Odoligie, Iken, Olou and Esagho than the experience in Urhonigbe war.
As they were moving steadily to take positions, they saw a great wave of water rising and falling water like sea waves and there was no river on the spot. It rose to a height of about ten feet. Suddenly, they heard a mystical sound of horn (ekpere) being blown and other sound of Olokun festival inside the water. Iken asked the Urhomehe soldier With them what that could be. “It is omen of some great disaster” said the soldier. If the water bends to the West and East it signifies peril which would be dangerous for Odohigie warriors”. “If it bends to the North and South, it will be indecisive war. Neither when they moved to the very sport, they found nothing neither water nor river. It was amazing to them. Odoligie concluded that it was fake and magical” “It is ruse performed to put fears into my men” said Odoligie. “But by all means we will fight Urhonigbe if they refuse to surrender.. We will fight even the grass and the domestic animals in the town. 1 will turn the town into a shadow of itself. It is my land and the land of my forefathers”
Then Odoligie broke his soldiers into four groups to approach the town from West, East, North and South each led by his war commanders.
Mean while, the Urhonigbe had consulted their great oracle and the Olokun, the god of the sea, which advised them to fight the invaders because the fight will not end in the battle field, but elsewhere outside Urhonigbe. It was a most confusing advise, but they decided to obey and fight. They likewise positioned themselves at the four cardinal points in Urhonigbe led by a warrior. The South headed by Akpoko, the North by Ehen, the West hy Okanighon and the East by Ogo.
Among the four war lords of Urhonigbe. Okanigbpn outclassed the rest according to an account about him. He seemed to have been naturally a peaceable an even gentle soul. He was described by those who told his story as a man who vas rather below average size and had rather a pleasing and soft countenance. He was exceedingly and diligently affable in his manners. His Voice was soft and feminine and cheerfulness radiated in him. He was a good dancer and played flutes (ekpere) more than anyone else and it vas said that he once played it in the night and (spirits) some strange men and women came out to dance to the tunes He was said to be athletic and largely abstained from most vices except smoking of Atamukara He was slow, calculative and hardly yielded to pressure He was a born leader and warrior who was fearless and kept his head under any circumstance. This made it possible for him to adopt and change tactics with ease in battle situation His favourite weapon was the club which he learnt to use while growing up with his maternal relation the Enogie ot Avbavbo (Abavo) He was said to be savage with the clubs and because of that he was nicknamed Okanigbn His real name was Amadinaiyangbon a narne that enabled him to hear the loss of his father at an early age.
THE EASTERN FRONT
On the Eastern front lead by Iken Odoligie’s forces made very slow progress. They over powered the Urhonigbe forces and pushed them back with both sides losing few men. Many of them were however wounded. Even Akpoko the Urhonigbe war leader in this Eastern front was shot on the right thigh, hut was quickly treated with anti arrow poison. He continued to fight inspite of the wound and accompanying tiredness with unimpaired devotion to his fatherland. Odoligie troops that approached from the Eastern route stopped in me out skirts of the town because the Urhonigbe forces had mounted a very stiff resistance there. They harassed Odoligie soldiers on all sides with archers. They lured and set fire around them because it was a harmattan period. This caused clouds of dust and smoke to arise from the burning bush and blur the vision of Odoligie’s forces. Urhonigbe forces then pushed, pursued and defeated Odoligie in Eastern front. This battle was known as ‘fire and smoke battle’‘Okuo erhen vbe Ighogho -. Odoligie’ s troops having been beaten hollow retreated from this .front to their base.
THE WESTERN FRONT
Odoligie army which had occupied a strategic position in the hilly side of the town sloping into river Ethiope (Olokun) In the Western side had tried to penetrate through a narrow moat (Iya) to consolidate their position to launch an attack on the town in the morning.
Urhonigbe troops who had been watching carefully allowed them to enter the moat before attack. It was the greatest blunder for Odoligie’s troops. They were surrounded and annihilated by the Urhonigbe soldiers under Okanigbon the warrior. It was said that more than 2,000 Odoligie soldiers were slaughtered in this moat, while Urhonigbe lost only 200 men.The, valley was named the “valley of death (Iyi Okuwu) Odoligie had suffered in fronts. This had reduced the prestige of Odoligie without seriously impairing his strength because’ more soldiers had been brought from Iguabode front and Adanako Camp all numbering about 60,000 well trained and drilled soldiers.
They were prepared for full scaled war with Urhonigbe. They abandoned the Western front and moved their reinforcement to the Eastern and Northern routes where they now concentrated their attack.
Odoligie found allies in the Oru who blockaded the Southern route with their troops and this divided Urhonigbe’s attention and forces. The Oru ‘(Kwale) had sent emissary to Odoligie recognizing his over lordship as they king, to prevent him from invading them. News had reached them that after defeating Urhonigbe, Odoligie will march on the Oru.
This blockade of three fronts into Urhonigbe by Oru and Odoligie’s troops created siege situation in Urhonigbe. The civilian started taken refuge in the swamps of Ethiope or Olokun River. It was during the dry season with extreme heat which made the air foul and life difficult. Many of the soldiers who died could not be buried. It was a depressing situation and many people evacuated to the South East of the town, which had also been packed full and congested. This led to an outbreak of plague and reduced the population greatly. Odoligie took advantage of this and personally led forces through the North by a roundabout road on a moonless night and suddenly attacked Urhonigbe camp at dawn the ensuing fight caused panic in the town. Simultaneously another attack was launched from the West and East. It was a total war against Urhonihe. The town was under a siege and Odoligie’s forces were closing in when people sued for peace on behalf of Urhonighe.
This peace move was made by various Enigie, Edionwere, Ekaevbo, Ekaokuo of Ughoton, Ugieghudu, Umoghumwun, Evbuegbe, Okhuokhuo, Oben, Ugo Oheze, Esi, Isi, Oghada, Evbohighae, Eso, Avbiarna, Uvbee, Ebue, Obadan, Iguogbe, Ekhua and many other towns and villages appealing that Odoligie should stop the war immediately. They had heard of the death of 2,000 soldiers in the “Valley of death” the plague in Urhonigbe camp, the destruction of farms and food crops and more men were expected to die in the encounter. So they contacted Odoligie and appealed to Urhonigbe side who, were then under siege as well to stop the war.
Odoligie seemed poised to win the war of supremacy which Urhonigbe seemed to be losing after three months of resistance in the face of plague in the town and encirclement. They were bound to more hardship and starvation. That would have ended the collapse of Urhonighe resistance.
THE PEACE OF UMAGBAE
Odoligie and Urhonigbe war leaders were all summoned to Umagbae at Ugboko Numagbae under cotton’ tree (Okha). The enigie, edionwere okaevbo of towns and villages were concerned with the wars and the destruction of properties and human lives, particularly at Udo, Iguabode and then al Urhonige. Most large towns had been reduced to mere villages or camps. Most of their people had fled to other lands and Igodomigodo population had been drastically reduced.
They viewed the situation with fear and horror. They preferred simpler and more egalitarian social system than what existed in Igodomigodo since Odoligie ascended the throne. They have had years of raids invasion and formidable conquests. It had been bloody encounter upon encounter attacks upon attacks. The cities as fanatical programme and genocide they called for a review of the state of affairs in the kingdom. They endeavoured to bring about settlement lest more cities would be destroyed alongside human beings. They then wanted restoration of peaceful situation and economic change. Large numbers of farms had been devastated many people had become poorer as a result of war. Many women lost their husbands, children had become fatherless, and women between ages of thirty to forty years old were not married because most men who would have married them were at the war fronts or have died there.
They saw reasons with Odoligie and his mission to bring the whole people under a united kingdom and pleaded their loyalty. The people expected him as their king and appreciated, the way in which he maintained discipline in his army and prevented his troops for looting and raping the conquered people. After much praises and pleading with Odoligie, he was persuaded to accept peace. He then decreed that all towns and villages in Igodomigodo land including Urhonigbe, Oru, Isi, Ika down to (Ohimwin) along River Niger must pay annual tributes to the Ogiso.
All towns and villages in Igodomhodo, in Iyekovia, Iyekorhionmwon, the present Uhunmwode, Ika, Isi, would as from now be paying taxes in quota. In this., the whole kingdom from River Oha to Ofosu, Ohimwin, the Delta area would be divided into groups. An Uko would be in charge of certain areas.
The area that failed to pay their taxes should be reported to the palace. The erring area would be punished.
JURISDICTION OF IGODOMIGODO
All disputes in towns and villages would be settled by the Odionwere, Enigie Okaevho in such a town or village. But cases of arson, murder, treason. \Witchcraft and boundary disputes would be brought to Ogiso in the capital. It is the king himself that would have power to impose death sentence if any citizen was found guilty.
COUNCIL OF ENIGIE
All enigie, ekaevbo and ekaokuo in all towns and villages in Igodomigodo would meet quarterly in the City (Benin City). If anyone fails to attend such a meeting, he would be declared a rebel and would be punished.
APPOINTMENT OF CHIEFS
No enigie or ekaevbo have power to create any chieftaincy title without the approval of Ogiso.
They all agreed and accepted this decree and it was passed all over the land of Igodomigodo so that no one had then excuse himself from it.
This was a great moment in Igodornigodo history. Odohigie had re-established the kingdom on a solid foundation. The war’ has come to an end. Urhonigbe surrendered her independence, the Ika, Oru, Esan were all brought under Igodomigodo.
Odoligie was an administrator and a warrior who died after ruling for 55 years.