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Dances and Songs of Edo Land

By Ekhaguosa Aisien (Last Update July 8, 2020)

Edo land is as famous for its war exploits and its art as she is rich in songs and dances indeed, myths put the number of dances in the land at two hundred and one. As the people say, Iku okpa nya uri‘Osa ya w ‘Edo, literally, this means that God endowed Edo with two hundred and one dances.

Some of the dances and songs are thousands of years old and a few came later Some of the new ones lost popularity very fast, but the old ones, which are indigenous lo the culture, have survived in spite of the sweep of Western influence. A great number of these dances and songs reflect the social and political experiences of the people, as they demonstrate their elegance and artistry. Some are religious, in few royal, and others social, each suited to its purpose. A brief look at some will be appropriate.

Ugho is a dance and it is the most typically Edo amongst the dances of the land. In style, it is the dance that most typifies the temperament and the elegance of the Edo woman and her aversion to clumsiness. In the dance, virtually only the hands and the feet, move in cadence with the rhythm of the music. The arms and the legs contribute little to the dance.

Dances and Songs of Edo Land
An Edo Cultural Group
Ugho is the most danced and watched in the land. It is the dance for all seasons and many who would want a dance of grace and charm will rush to hire Ugho Troupe for festivals such as childbirth, marriages and Eho.
Women take to the floor, while the men play the drums. The audience often prefers to watch than to dance; but hardly anyone can resist the moving songs. The leader of the troupe, usually male, is the vocal soloist. Other members of the troupe and of the audience raise the chorus. Those women who are not out on the floor dancing, play their Ukuse lo support the drums.

Esakpaede is a drum. Men, mostly of the Edion Age-Grade, dance to it and the dance has the nickname Ugh ‘omaen. it is a dance for men; kept alive by chiefs of the Ibiwe palace Society. The Royal Palace uses it, if it considers it appropriate for any festival from time to time

Ohogho is a dance performed sometimes at second burial ceremonies and at Eho. The dancers wear ebuluku and dance in circles around a small bowl alight with burning leaves and splinters of medicinal wood (ukhunrnwun). Ohogho is a religious dance and its troupe belongs to an obo group. Members are of the Eghele and senior Eroghae age groups and are usually strong and healthy. As the Edo often say, No gb ‘ohogho i de vb ‘uke; literally, this means anyone who dances ohogho, can’t fall doing it.

It would appear as if the exponents are now to be found only in the Iyek ‘Ogba District of Oredo Local Government of the State. The dancers are called Igbohogho.

Ugba is a religious dance. The dancers wear akaba round their ankles and move sideways and then round in circles. The troupe dances round a lit clay pot with medicinal roots and  barks burning in it The dance format is similar to the Ohogho  but the steps and costumes are different The iyek ‘Orionrnwon people of Ugboko and Orogho are the exponents of the dance They are called Id ‘Ugba and they dance to songs with powerful lyrics.

Women and men mostly of the Ighele and the Eroghae Age-Grade, do this dance It is among the oldest of the indigenous dances of Edo land The people dance it only seldomly  these days.

This is a dance for old men in which everyone dances as he likes. There is no rhythm to it, so most Edo thinks it is very funny. Ogh ‘omwan agbe vb ‘aleghe., which literally means you dance the way you like in the ileghe, says it all.

It is said that Prince Oronmiyan brought the dance from Uhe at the time of the restoration of the monarchy in Edo land. The people do the dance mostly during ceremonies. And if it is to feature, the family programme it for the third and the seventh days of a seven day burial ceremony.

Orno N’Oba Ehengbuda, the greatest obo of all the Oba that ever ruled Edo land, had thought that he could still walk into erinmwin as in the earliest times after the creation of the world. He had become too old and senile and he wanted death that would not come. Tired of waiting, he left the Palace on the way to erinmwin with the Palace Society in attendance. He arrived in Ughoton, but found no way there to erinmwin; not even when he and his entourage had entered the River Imimikpo. It was in that River that a voice him that he could not walk into heaven any more.

He returned to the Palace with his team and member of the Iweho taught their Iweguae Palace Society counterparts the dance — mimicking hands raised above heads as they did, wading through River Imimikpo towards heaven.
The Iweguae Palace Society, the official housekeeper, of ah Omo N’ Oba were thrilled that the monarch was back so; they did this dance in joy and continued to do it, in memory of the event. That is why the Edo now say, Emwin gha ma ‘na gb ‘oludo. This means, you dance the Oludo  if all is well.
Omo N’Oba  Ehengbuda asked the Iweguae Palace Society  to do its best to preserve the dance and it has preserved it to this day

Just as the Ugho, Oyigin is a social dance for all occasions the people of Igun Eronmwon, the Brass Casters Guild of Igun Street, in Benin City, are the exponents of the dance One could hire the song and dance troupe for a fee to entertain during burial ceremonies such as at the Izakhue

Ekpo is one of two forms of masquerade known in Edo land. The major group is the Ekp ‘Ovia. It wears palm fronds decorated with strips of cloth and mirrors for the outfit Young boys across the land sometimes dress as masquerades too, and play for fun .Then they want to be on their own without the control of elders, but this time, without mirrors and cloths to decorate their palm fronds. The oldest member of the group called Ohen Ekpo is the leader of the group
In Ovia area of Edo land, young men of Ekpo group tend to leave the group at the age of fifteen. In Urhonigbe, men may remain in the group until they are 35 or 40 years

Eghughu Agba
Eghughu  Agba is a song and dance ensemble, which is some two hundred and fifty years old Created by a remarkable woman called Emokpolo, it had the power to help her hisband, Emokpaogbe, through the wars he fought and the travails of his life. Emokpolo was also an obo respected by all who knew her. A native of Ugboko village in lyek’Orhionmwon, she married the Enogie of a town called Ugo N’lyek’Orhionmwon.

Childless, Emokpolo’s life was one long series of crises For the most part; these crises had to do with her husband Emokpaogbe. In these crises, she played pivotal roles. The first in the series was uhunmwuno ‘va (ill—health), which led the Enogie to the court of the Obi of Ubulu-Ukn accompanied by Emokpolo. The second was a war between Benin and Ubulu-Uku in which Emokpaogbe was one of the Benin invading generals. The third was a civil war between Benin and Ugo N’Iyrekorhiomnwon and the Enogie, Emokpaogbe, was, this time, the enemy of Benin City.

Emokpolo had helped her husband’s war efforts with the beauty and the potency of the Eghughu agba song and dance, but try as she could this time, a fight against his motherland was too much for her and her husband. Two of the songs would be appropriate here. She had wandered through the forest to the war front. Emokpaogbe her husband saw her and was greatly shocked. He waved her away from danger as he ate wild sugar cane. She cried and in tears sang this famous song:

Emokpaogbe rnwen no yan Ugo (twice) — Emokpaogbe, lord of Ugo (twice)

Akon nu we ya ri esi ri ede yl  — Those teeth that once ate boar and ede

Om ‘orieman ughu yae ‘valo o— Now bite into wild sugar cane

No mu ‘odo mwen mu gunmwen — whoever has my lord bring him back to me

A Iren vbe ‘bo gha se — Before the charms begin to work

The song reverberated with great power throughout the forest. It touched former colleagues of Emokpaogbe the great warrior but they had become his enemies and they knew that they stopped fighting only at their own peril. They did not relent so, the war gained in fury. Surprised at the tenacity of the enemy, Emokpolo sang this next song:

O  ye ‘khian (twice)—Still, on he goes (twice)

Ogi ‘obo no kpe n ‘Ugo eee — The chief of the charm makers of Ugo

Ughu  gie ‘bo se n ‘Ugo eee — May the charms work for Ugo

The charms did not do enough for Emokpolo and the Edo Army conquered Ugo N’Iyek’Orhionmwon. Chief Ogbomnwan, the first Ologbose of Benin, and Edo generals in the war, took Emokpolo and her troupe to the City.

In Benin, the Ugo N’Iyek’Orhionmwon women captives were kept among the royal wives in the harem of the king. There, Emokpolo taught the wives the song-and dance step s of the Eghughuagba

After the royal wives had attained a degree of proficiency, Ernokpolo and her dance moved to the harem of the Iyase, the foremost soldier and general of the realm. They ‘did the same with his wives and moved after to the harem of the Ezorno, the second-ranking soldier of the Kingdom They  taught his wives before they ended up in the harem of the Ologbose, the fourth in rank among soldiers of the kingdom.

Emokpolo’s farnous Ukuse called the Oriokho, featured in many of the Eghughuagba songs. It is kept to this day in the home of Ologbose of Benin, along Akpakpava Road .Emokpolo herself presented it to Chief Ogbonmwan. The Ukuse sits to this day in a special place on an altar in that household. No hands may touch it except those of women who have attained the age of menopause.

Akaba is a yearly festival which takes place in some of the Iyek’Orhionrnwon villages and townships such Urhonigbe, Evboesi, Umoghunrnwun-Nokhua, Urnoghunmwun-Uzuagbo, Orogho and Urhemehe. The dance is organised as part of the celebration of the annual Ugie Olokun  one of the primal deities of Edo land.

Ikpoleki is an annual festival of a revered ancestor called Okhuaihe. It is as the Eho of other ancestors and Akaba is the dance of that festival. The dancers tie akaba bells round their waists and sing the ugomwen songs, which accompany the dance. The head dancers sing the ugomwen, while the women clap their hands. When the lead-dancers stop, the women sing uke songs, and the men and women gb ‘uke that is, stamp their feet to the uke songs.

Ekasa is a funereal dance staged by the three guilds at Ogbelaka, Eguadase and Eben as part of the royal burial of an Oba, and of an Iy’oba. The dance is some five hundred years old having been staged for the first time at the burial of the Iy’oba Idia, the mother of Omo N’Oba Esigie.

Little is known of the origin of the dance, but  Esigie is now thought to have invented it as part of ‘n elaborate deception of Idubo, his brother, somewhere in the Udo forests. Prince Idubo was the Enogie of udo., and given the dispute as to who was the older between him and Esigie he might have stopped Esigies safe passage to Benin with the body of their father Ozolua, Oba of Benin. The Qba had fallen in the Uzea military campaign. After this sad occurrence Edo decided during the reign of Oba Ehengbuda, that no Oba should again lead the people’s army into war. That duty then passed on to the Iyase, the first soldier and the general of the people’s army. The responsibility for military campaigns then, passed to the lyase after that proclamation.

Ekasa is an unusual dance full of voices. The dancers wear mirrors on their outfit and hold aloft gaily-coloured strips of cloths, mounted on staves. As the dance progresses the people speak their minds on issues, often of the rulers. An example of this was when the colonial administration created Forest Reserves in Edo land about one hundred years ago. It was unpopular with the people because of the restrictions it placed on them, and one which they never before experienced. it limited the freedom they had always enjoyed in the exploitation of the forest resources of their land. Therefore at the Ekasa outing for Oba Ovonrarnwen’s funeral in 1914, one of the songs addressed to Eweka II, the new Oba, dealt with this problem.

A ¡ gh ‘okherhe, a i gb ‘udin — Touch not the old or the young palm tree

Vbua  we ni ya gha koko Omo , Omo? — Omo’N oba. how do I feed my young?

A i gb ‘okherhe, a i gb ‘udin — Touch not the old or the young palm tree

Vbua we ni ya gha koko omo omo o O — Omo ‘N oba how do I feed my young?

Imitation of the yearly carnivals staged in those South American Countries. It is now rarely danced if at all
Igbeziken is a palace dance now known to be extinct. So also are some creative dances like kokoma, Alubogie and Nobuezomo that the people enjoyed when they were in vogue. If they still exit somewhere in the land, they no longer have the acclaim they once had.

(Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisen is a retired civil servant and consultant surgeon.Read medicine at king college university of London.)

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