The Benin Chieftaincy Hierarchy
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CHIEF Egharevba in his Short History of Benin mentioned that the “kingmaker of the first period were the same as those of the second dynasty with the example of Oloton who came with Oromiyan from Ife.” He also named the following Chieftaincy titles as being in existence during the Ogiso era: Esagho (a war chief), Aragbua, Eraghohen, Lamolua, Ogiama, Giaghama, Olou, Ogiemwenken, Nirokhen, Ogiodu, Ógiekeke, Ogiogbon and Iraghoghe. Some of these titles like Ogiama, Ogietwenken, Nirokhen, Ogiodu are still retained while others have fallen into disuse. History tells us that the Edaiken (the heir apparent to the Benin throne) was added by Oba Ewuare the Great (1440-1473) to the group of Chiefs who are the “king makers.” Chief Egharevba’s account did not tell us that other Chiefs so named were so king brings us to the conclusion that the king-makers were originally-four in number during the Ogiso era. The basis for this conjecture is that both Oloton and Edaikencame into this group after the restoration of the monarchy in the year 1200 A.D while the Ezomo became an Uzama in 1713 A.D. during the reign of Oba Akenzua I . For the purpose of clarity, Oliha, Edohen, Ero and Eholo N’Ire were the Edion who had their titles (except Ezomo which was reserved for a notable warrior) made hereditary by Eweka I as a reward for their support for the restoration of monarchy. However, the Ezomo title was made hereditary by Oba Akenzua I (1713 - another reward to a military general called Ehenua who successfully led the army to victory during the civil strife generated by Iyase Ode during the century

The Edion who were the “king makers’, treated the Oba as equals or at best regarded him as primus inter pares.

It must be appreciated that Evian and Ogiamien at that time were opposed to the n of the restoration monarchy. They kept the Oba out of the City and in the weak positions early Obas found themselves; they remained at Usama surrounded by the Edion who were their only political supporters at that time. It is pertinent to draw attention to Edion (remember the role of Oliha which eventually convinced Ododuwa to sent Oranmiyan to Benin), which made it possible for the monarchy to be re-established in Benin. The first three Obas namely Eweka I (1200 - 1235), Uwakhuanhen and Ehenmihen who reigned in quick s cession between 1235 - 1255 A.D had to tolerate the inevitable primus inter pares position which remained imposed upon them because of the weak position of the monarchy. As the years wore out, there developed power struggle between the monarchy and the Edion. The situation could no longer be borne by Oba Ewedo (1255-1280 AD) who had an aversion for such a power struggle. The new Oba was therefore determined to alter the political position for two main reasons:

  1. To quit the midst of the Edion who he scornfully referred to as disrespectful

 “Ne I zama omwan”, from which the word “Uzama” was derived. Since then, the group name Edion oecame known ás UZAMA. The expression Edion is still generally applied to Uzama and more emphasis is laid on the term at Ugie ceremonies.

  1. To assert himself as the ruler of the City state vis-a-vis the Benin people v.’herever they were.

The two objectives were achieved. Oba Ewedo succeeded in re—occupying the city, captured the Ancient Ogiso throne (Ekete) and seized powers from Ogiamien who capitulated at the battle of Ekiokpagha in 1255AD. By this feat, Oba Ewedo proceeded to curb the powers of the king-makers. Firstly, he prohibited them from carrying before him their state swords (Ada). Secondly, he compelled all chiefs to stand in rows before him instead of the usual sitting position which custom had hitherto clung to tenaciously. He further decreed that the five Edion (Oliha, Edohen, Ero, Eholo N’Ire and Oloton) should no longer have the privilege of conferring any chieftaincy titles.

As a further counter measure to the power of the Edion (or king-makers), Oba Ewedo created the title of Iyase (I yo na se uwa - meaning “this, I create to be higher than you all which forms the Uzama group titles). The dominant position of the ¡yase title over the Uzama group of titles appears to be personal to the Iyase title alone and not transferable to the general grade of Eghaevbo N’ore to which the Iyase belongs. As if to bring the new position further home to the Edion, Oba Ewedo created, in addition to Iyase title, the following titles:- Esogban (who among other things is in charge’ of the shrine of Elders); Uwangue (the master of the Oba’s wardrobe) Osodin and Uso, (the keepers of the Oba’s harem) and Isekhurhe (the keeper of the Oba’s ancestral staff and the recorder of the Oba’s ancestors). Subsequently the Iyase became the head of a titled group now referred to as Eghaevbo N’Ore or state ‘Executive Council Chief Egharevba puts it. From the chronological events leading to the creation of these titles by Oba Ewedo, there was hardly any doubt that he was determined (and he succeeded too) terminate once and for all, the excesses of the Uzama or kingmakers of those . The position has remained so ever since. Just as the kingmakers (now Uzama) found themselves constant power struggle with the monarch, so also did the Iyase and the group of Eghaevbo N’Ore chiefs. The Eghaevbo N’Ogbe (Palace Chiefs) on the other hand, who at first came in as Oba’s Personal Staff, soon rose to such an enviable positions that they more or less counter-balanced the powers of the Eghaevbo N’Ore chiefs which sometimes became a menace to the monarchy. Among other terms of surrender of Ogiamien (at the Battle of Ekiokpaha) was that his name would thenceforth become a hereditary title. Ogiamien was also to retain his ceremonial leather craftsmanship as Isekpokin; but this later fell into the hands of a new guild during the reign of Oba Esigie (1504 - 1550). However, the throne (or Ekete) is still officially constructed by Ogiamien. At present, Ogiamien belongs to the group of titles known as Uzanua N ‘Ibie.

From what has been discussed, it will be seen that he various titles evolved from historical development. The powers of the Oba have their checks and balances derived from both popular opinion and traditional regard for ancestral rituals and religious observances. Thus, F.H. Marshall in his Intelligence Report remarked that in a sense, the Oba may have been an absolute ruler who was himself ruled by religious observances and rituals which, if neglected, might evoke the wrath of  the gods.”‘ In this context, one can recall what happened during the reign of Oba Esigie when the Uzama refused to carry out a certain ceremony at an Ugie Festival  When an impasse seemed inevitable especially if the ceremony was performed without the Uzama, a way out of the difficulties was devised. A fresh set of Uzama was created and a moat dug for them to cross so as to fulfill the tradition that all members of the Uzama normally lived behind the moat. in due course, even though a reconciliation was reached with the Uzama N’Ihinron yet a new set of titles later known as Uzama N’Ibie or Uzama N’lya bie iran (meaning Uzama used to shelve off the other aside) came into existence. The new sets of Uzarna N’Ibie are seven in number even though they are regarded as junior Uzama. They normally perform the duties of Uzama N’Ihiniün when the later are not around.
Their titles which are hereditary are as follows:



1.Ine N’Igun—eromwon

Oba Oguola (1280-1295 A.D.)

2. Ihama N’Igun-eronmwon

Oba Ewuare (1440-1473 A.D.)

3. Ogiegor

Ogiso (Before 1100 A.D.)

4. Elema

Oba Ewuare (1440-1473 A.D.)

5. Ogiemien

Oba Ewedo (1255-1280 A.D.)

6. Eholo N’ Igbesanmwan

Oba Ewuare (1440-1473 A.D.)

7. Eholo N’ Igieduma

Oba Esigie (1504_1550 AD.)

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