Analysis of the Uzama Titles
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IN the following discussions, the Benin Chieftaincy Institution is treated in the light of both its 0rigin and its subsequent evolution through the vicissitudes of life. Each group of titles is treated in the order in which it is laid out in the chan. As far as practicable the tit1e are dealt with in the following order; age and precedence.

As previously mentioned, the bulk of them originated from the Ogiso Era when they were simply known as Edion who ruled the state jointly with the Ogiso monarchs whe were more or less in a primus inter pares position with them. (Odion - singular for Elder; and Edion - plural for Elders). At the restoration of monarchy, i.e,, from Oranmiyan to Eweka I (1200 A.D.), the Edion (as they were with the Ogisos) remained the king-makers (in addition to assisting the Oba to govern) by virtue of the fact that they assisted Oranmiyan to come to Benin in the face of Evian’s/Ogiamien’s opposition. As a reward for the role they played in the restoration of monarchy their titles were made hereditary. The original four Edion were Oliha, Edohen, (excluding Ezomo whose title was always conferred on a warrior ad was only made hereditary during the reign of Oba Akenzua I (1713-735), Ero, and Eholo-N’Ire After the installation of Eweka I as Oba, Oloton was included as an Odion and his title made hereditary. It is to be noted that Oloton, who was a relation of Prince Oranrniyan who came from Uhe, brought the number of the Edion to five. These chiefs had their various villages situated outside the main City which remained virtually in the hands of Evian/Ogiamien who ruled the City during the interregnum. The collective name ‘Edion” was changed to “Uzama” by Oba Ewedo (1233 AD.)  The number of the kingmakers (Edion now renamed Uzama) was increased from five to six by the addition of the heir apparent the Edaiken of Uselu, by Oba Ewuare (1440-1473 A.D.) while Ezomo was added to the Uzania by Oba Akenzua I (1713-1735 A.DJ. Ever since, the Uzama have remained seven in number. All Uzama Chiefs have their domains outside the City i.e. behind the City moat. All these titles are hereditary as mentioned above; these titles descend on the eldest surviving Sons after the completion of the burial obsequies of their fathers, Bradbury, in his West African Kingdom, (pp. 15-16), described them in the following terms:

"They were not the Oba’s equals; they could not sit in his presence nor put anyone to death without his consent. Yet in another sense they were his peers. Like the Oba, and unlike the Eghaevbo, they were hereditary territorial rulers in their own right. Their territories consisted only of the villages or hamlets in which they lived with, in some cases, one or more villages, farther afield, but in the internal affairs of these territories the Oba ought not to interfere. Their inhabitants were subjects of Uzama rather than of the Oba. Freemen of Uzebu, for example, were evien-Ezomo rather than evien-oba.’ Ezomo could make direct demands on their services and Confer titles on them, the Oba could not. The Uzama themselves had some of the attributes of kingship.

"They had their own priests to bless their Heads, whereas the Eghaevbo’s Heads were blessed by the Oba’s Priests, Ihogbe. They live in “palaces” which, in principle at least, with associations of retainers bearing titles similar to those conferred by the Oba on his own courtiers. In the nineteenth century most of the Uzama’s courts were more nominal than effective, but some of them, especially Ezomo, were able to keep up impressive establishments.

"The lJzama had not always been set apart from the management of the state, if reliance can be placed on traditions of a prolonged struggle waged by the early kings to assert their supremacy over them. Up to the reign of the sixteenth Oba, Esigie, Oliha is portrayed as the Oba’s main antagonist; but as times goes by this role passes to the Iyase, the leader of the Town Chiefs. Ritual expression is still given to the ancient opposition between the Oba and Uzama, in the iron rite which forms part of the annual festival of the Oba’s Father (Ugie-Erha-Oba). Iron takes the form of a pantomimic battle in which the Uzama, after challenging the Oba by showing him their archaic crowns are defeated by loyal warriors. Then they accept the Oba’s kola nuts and palm wine in token of their submission. This rite, and myths relating how various kings got better of the Uzama, have a continuing social meaning in that they refer, also, to an historical decline in the power of the Uzama, correlated, the evidence suggests; with the rise of the Eghaevbo orders; and with a shift towards a doctrine of automatic primogenitary succession to the kingship.

"The successful assertion, by the kings of Benin, of the right to assign major administrative and judicial functions to counselors appointed by themselves gave them considerable power vis-a-vis Uzama. The rule of primogeniture, though is effective in eliminating succession strife, made the Uzania’s role as kingmakers more ceremonial than political. They continued to receive the new king’s installation fees and to inaugurate his identity than did Eghaevbo.”

To clear some points in Bradbury’s description, it must he pointed out that at the investiture ceremony of any Uzama or any Chief for that matter, the Oba usually endows him with certain rights and privileges. For their support for the restoration of monarchy (i.e. the coming of Prince Oranmiyan and thereafter Eweka I 1200), the Uzama were granted such privileges as the Oba not interfering too much with the internal affairs of the Uzama ‘territories” which in themselves form part and parcel of the Oba’s Empire. The reference to evien-Ezomo rather than evien-Oba does not in any way detract from the Oba’s over-lordship over Ezomo and his people. It is merely an appellation identifying the people within the small Uzama enclave of Uzebu over which Ezomo has his way under the entire suzerainty of the Oba of Benin.

The third point in Bradbury’s description is in respect of Ugie-Iron. For those who probably mistake the word Iron’ for the English word iron, it is relevant to draw attention to the fact that the word is a Benin word rather than English. For the rest of the ritual in which iron is preformed, Braclbury’s description is correct. Before the reign of Oba Ewedo, the Uzama had their own courts and conferred their own titles which were similar to those conferred by the Oba but the Uzama titles did not rank with those conferred by the Oba. Oba Ewedo in curbing the powers of Uzama, removed their powers to confer titles. The titles conferred by the Uzama were confined to the Uzama enclaves. Those titles were at best essential for the Uzama to carry out rituals and ceremonies imposed on him by the Oba. However, the exception to the general rule of conferment of title is that of Oloton who is the caretaker of Usama where the Oba is traditionally crowned. It is said that titles in Oloton quarter (of village) are always conferred by the Oba during his stay at Usama at the time of his installation as the Oba. The Edaiken and Ezomo on the other hand, still retain their powers to confer their own titles. Over the years, the titles conferred by the Uzarna are only remembered for their historical values rather than political significance especially as most Edo citizens look forward to being conferred with the Oba’s title which is more national than the Uzama titles which remain within the confines of the villages which are in themselves part and parcel of the old Benin Empire.

The general outline of the Uzama as a group has been spelt out in the previous paragraphs. Below is an’ attempt made to describe the specific functi0flS and attributes of individual Uzama:

(a) Oliha
The Oliha plays the most prominent part in the installation ceremony of the Oba. It is said that he passibd the test of being able to nurse and keep alive a “Iouse” (Ogele’modu). This caused the great Ododuwa to agree to send Prince Oranmiyan to Benin, thus marking the restoration of monarchy in Benin. It is he the (Oliha) who pronounces the Edaiken as Oba after the ceremonial call of the Edaiken’s actual name four times by the Edohen. Oliha is also the Chief Priest of the shrine (Edion Uzama) of the collective ancestors of the Uzama. The shrine is situated in the Oliha’s compound and it is generally the traditional meeting grounds of the Uzama. Both the Oba and the Oliha make special Sacrifices at this shrine before they are installed.

(b) Edohen
During the installation Ceremonies of the Oba it is the Edohen who calls the Edaiken’s actual name four times before Oliha pronounces him Oba.

(c) Ezomo
As mentioned earlier, the title was original conferred on any great warrior and this fact may well explain his importance amongst the Uzama. His position as a war-lord is second to that of the lyase. It was he who took charge of national military campaigns. Though him also, recruitment into the Royal Army was effectively carried out. Most of the special privileges accorded the Ezomo were given to Ezomo Ehennua when Oba Akenzua I (1713- 1735) made the title hereditary.

(d) Ero
He is the guardian of North-Western gate to Benin City and is responsible for the well-being of the Edaiken and the Queen mother (the Iyoba) who lives not too far from his domain (Urubi).

( e) Eholo_N’lre.
He is in charge of the Ire Shrine.

(f) Oloton
Apart from looking after Usama, he is in charge of Azama Shrine. It is at this shrine that sacrifices are made during the special ceremonies performed in honour of the Oba’s eldest son and daughter. The Oloton and Edaiken as junior members of the Uzama convey messages and share out any benefits accruing to the group.

(g) Edaiken
He is the heir-apparent to the throne of Benin. His domain is the whole of Uselu. His Palace is known as Eguae-Edaiken. Incidentally, the Edaiken who is the youngest of the Uzama N’Ihinron, ‘buys” his seniority (at the Edion Uzama Shrine) before he is crowned as the Oba.

Traditionally, the original Uzama N”Ihinron officiate at the coronation of a new Oba. However, Oba Ewuare granted Ihama N’lgun a special right to participate (from the background) at the coronation ceremony. The primary function of Uzama N’Ibie is to perform the functions of the seven Uzama (Uzama N’Ihinron) at any ceremony from which they are absent. Just as the Uzama N’Ihinron have their general and specific duties so also do the Uzama N’Ibie. In much the same way as they remain loyal to their group, they nevertheless remain jealous of their individual functions namely

(a) Ine N’Igun-.eronmwon
He is in charge of the bronze-casters of Idunmwun-Igun In the early days, bronze and brass-casting were specifically for Benin Royalties. Most of the historical records were preserved in these works of Art. Paula Ben-Amos in her book, The Art of Benin, observed that there are over nine hundred known plaques which provide a testimony to the court life at the time of Oba Esigie even though the plaques themselves were considered to be ‘a sort of pictorial record of events in Benin history, an aid to memorizing oral tradition’ It is also the Ine who keeps the shrine of Iguegha who was reputed to have introduced special bronze-casting to the Igun.

(b) Ihama N’ Igun-eronmwon
He is fourth on the list of Igun-eronmwon title holders. He stands in a unique position to the Oba. It is said that during Oba Esigie’s time, the Uzama used the ancestral staff (Ukhurhe) to evoke the spirits of Uzama Edion (departed elders) which brought a lot of pestilence on the Oba. According to the traditional history, Ihama N’Igun-eronmwon devised a way to arrest the situation. He faked a visit to the Uzama who received him very well. During the course of the visit, the Uzama went into the inner chambers of the house to fetch kola nuts and wine to entertain the visitor. In their absence, Ihama quickly hijacked the original staff of Edion Uzama which he presented before Ine-N’Igun-eronmwon who is the head of the Igun-eronmwon guild, in turn, Ine took the staff (Ukhurhe Edion Uzama) to the Oba. After making the required propitiation ceremonies, the Oba was fully relieved of his ailments. At present, the staff is kept in the shrine housed in the Ine-N’Igun-eronmwon’s residence. As a reward for their loyalty, both me N’Iguneronmwon and Ihama N’Igun-eronmwon were appointed to the position of Uzama N’Ibie. It should be noted that all the Uzama N’Ibie were chosen from among people who were loyal and had intimate personal relationship with the Oba or with the monarchy.

(c) Ogie-Egor
He is in charge of Egor village and also a descendant of the maternal grand-father of Eweka I who was the Oba who began the present royal dynasty after the restoration of monarchy about 1200 AD.

(d) Elema
He is a descendant of a daughter to Oba Ewuare (circa 1440 AD).

(e) Ogiarnien
He has the special privilege of making the Ekete (or throne). His forbear was the administrator during the interregnum.

(f) Eholor N’lgbesanmwan
He is the head of the wood and ivory carvers whose services are exclusively for the Oba.

(g) Eholor N’Igieduma
A great diviner, physician, and a warrior.

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