The Traditions of Origin of Ora People

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Last up date (October 17, 2018)

Almost 200 years after the departure of the Uokha people, another group left Benin. While the Uokha represented the conquered Ogiso people, Ora emerged from the political establishment of the kingdom. Ora formed a community, a cluster of six villages and numerous wards or quarters. The founder of Ora was Prince Uguan (ca.1504—l536), the son of Oba Ozolua who led Benin during a period of great crisis, expansion, and dispersal of people. If Uokha represents the pre-Eweka political organization, Ora seems to be a replica of dynastic Benin as it had been organized around 1500.

Uguan obviously sought to create miniature chiefdom in Ora after his sojourn in Uokha, where he married the daughter of Akpwewuma. Uguan created the leopard as the “national” totem and a shrine to the leopard for all the citizens of Ora. He had been a prince of Benin and the leopard had been the royal emblem of that kingdom.

An Odionrukpa of Ora
The traditions suggest that when Uguan had been expelled from Benin, he had turned against the leopard. However, when his wife had difficulty in birth, a diviner insisted that the father return to his totemic emblem. He did. The son was named Erhae-Ekpen (OraEkpen), the “fiery leopard.” The fiery leopard had numerous Sons who, according to the community charter, founded the six villages which together made up the Ora community. Since every one of the thirty quarters of Ora revere the leopard, it became the supreme example of a political totem. It does not mean that all the people of Ora descended from the fiery leopard.

Ora-Ekpen married six wives according to tradition and the six villages of Ora descended from their sons. The six villages are listed in Ora in the order of their seniority, on the assumption that the oldest descended from the first son and the sixth from the youngest. A substantial body of evidence challenges this tradition of the community charter. It will be assumed that the order of seniority does reflect the age of the villages that Ohia the most senior had been founded before the others, and that Eme-Ora had been established last. The evidence suggests that all six had been in existence prior to Ora-Ekpen, the fiery leopard, since the tradition suggests that his father, Prince Uguan, had died on the migration and prior to their arrival in Ora. The shrine traditions analyzed, strongly imply that the youngest village, Eme-Ora, had been under female leadership and in existence prior to the royal ¡immigrants. Another tradition makes a similar treatment for the fourth village, Uhonmora. Furthermore, the Otuo tradition suggests that Prince Uguan led twelve age grades  out of Benin, and these still possessed a corporate spirit when they left Ora ca.1632—1664 and migrated to Otuo in protest of political developments. It becomes even more significant that six totemic clans—and only six—in Ora became strangers or incoming migrants from Benin, suggesting that the age grades might have been comprised of single clans or kinship groups. Additionally, the most senior village, Ohia, was an exclusive Boa clan village, usually identified as the snake cult under female leadership. Finality, the unknown place name meanings decrease from 60% in Ohia to 44% ¡n Uhonmora, the fourth village, to 10% in Eme-Ora, the last settled. It seems logical to assume that unknown meanings should increase as one goes back in time.

Of the six villages, all but one possesses village totems. It will be assumed that these preexisted the royal arrivals and that each village consisted of one clan; this frequency was the case in lgbo villages, often the prototype of a cephalous organization. To suggest this is not to suggest that the population was Igbo or Igbo-speaking, but merely that the villages were organized on the principle of one clan or settlement. As table 3 shows, These village totems represent those of the pre-leopard migration.

Village by seniority


Total Wards

Immigrant wards


Boa and ovbe snake








Queen termite








No village







It might be significant that not one of the totems in this table replicated in Otuo. The quarrel remained one among the immigrants in Ora. The table also shows the new wards established in the villages by Benin immigrants. As noted, they represented six totemic clans: five Bushbuck wards in four villages, three Tortoise in one, two Dog in one, and one Antelope, Grasshopper, and Leopard each in one village. Three of the latter totemic groups are also located in Otuo: four Bushbuck wards in three villages, seven Leopards in four and one Antelope in one village.

The single leopard ward in Ora requires some explanation. Where there are both community and village totems, wards with their own unique totem revere a coral of three. Wards which claim no unique totem still possess two. Given that ¡informants do not distinguish between political and kinship totems, since their community charter seeks to portray them as kin, the problem becomes severe. For example, in Eme-Oca five wards claim no unique totem except the community leopard and village goat. One cannot be absolutely sure which wards fall in this category. One ward in Eme-Oca, Ivbiojekpen, meaning “children of the leopard,” is the one case that appears to have been proven. Furthermore, in that same village, Eme-Ora, there is a distinct tradition—the only such one—linking a son of the fiery leopard called Uguanroba or “Uguan the King” as the husband of Ome, the female leader of Eme-Ora. There is a shrine to him signifying a tribute to his unsuccessful! efforts to carry patriarchy to chiefly status, When that effort failed and Ora turned to Ife for titles ca. 1568—1620, the totemic evidence suggests a large exodus of the Leopard clan to Otuo—as the presence of seven Leopard wards in Otuo indicates. Nevertheless, the leopard became the community totem of Ora, binding together the six separate villages which previously had possessed neither unity nor a symbol of it.

here remains the problem of the fifth village, Oke-Ora, which according to R. E. Bradbury once consisted of two wards but had swelled to four as a consequence of Esan strangers. I was given only two wards, Igbale and the ward group Ivbiore, as Bradbury called it. According to him: In Oke village,…there are now four wards, Igbale, Osi, Okpokumu, and Okpotole. Originally there were only two, lgbale and Osi, but the latter was later joined by the founders of the remaining two (Okpokumu and Okpotole) who came from Ishan [Esan]. Osi, Okpokumu, and Okpotole now form a ward group lvbiebiolue (Ivbiore).

In the ward group of Ivbiore, two totems exist: the female sheep and the more traditional bushbuck, probably the totem of the Esan migrants. Bushbuck was also one of those totem groups which followed Prince Uguan and settled with the fiery leopard. The other ward, lgbale, revered the grasshopper. Presumably, this had been the original village totem, one not replicated in Otuo.

Thus, Ora become a community united by reverence for the leopard. It contains four major and early settling clans: Goat (5 wards), Boa (4 wards), Glasscutter (4 wards), and Termite (3 wards). These are politically powerful clans whose totems require respect by others who live in the villages. It seems clear that these four, which also descend from the pre-leopard migration, were powerful enough ca.1600 to command respect and political compromise. Major clans in terms of numbers include the five Bushbuck wards scattered in four villages and the three Tortoise wards concentrated in one settlement. Minor clans include the Dog concentrated in two wards in one village arid the Antelope in one ward. The major clans represent the earliest; the minor clans represent those who came with the prince from Benin. Presumably, the immigrants had been much more numerous before their flight to Otuo in significant numbers. Presently they form a minority claiming thirteen wards out of thirty. When the wards have been divided in this fashion, it becomes significant that eleven of the thirteen place names without meanings in the modern language belong to them. Almost ah of chose coming out of Benin ca. 1500 have names with clear and easy-to-decipher meanings.

Ora are far more typical of the Owan communities than Uokha because all except Uokha came out of Benin after the Eweka dynasty had firmly established its influence. Uokha stands as an example of pre-Eweka Benin, Ora of the Eweka establishment. Uokha formed a single community, Ora a group of villages. Uokha represented snakes and plants of indigenous organization; Ora became dominated exclusively by animals and their type of organization. Uokha remained small scale; Ora demonstrated how a larger scale organization might operate even without hereditary leadership. The community charter creates the myth of distant biological relatedness where all villages descend from the children of one founder. The analysis of the totemic data suggests that partly this is true and partly it reflects how society assimilates stranger elements.

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