It is the time again. May we not forget our history as did the people of ancient SUMER. They are now forgotten in the pages of human history. MERRY XMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYBODY.
The Christians have XMAS, the Muslims have the FEAST OF RAMADAN, the Jews have the HANUKKAH, the African-American have the KWANZAA and the Edos have the IGUE FESTIVAL. If African American can invent and contrived a festival called Kwanzaa, it will be sad were the Edos to desert Igue Festival. Inspite of all out Christian onslaught on IGUE FESTIVAL, it has waxed stronger and stronger over the years. But what is most astonishing and confusing to some christians and non-Edo speaking people ,is the fact that no matter how an Edo man preaches and embraces Islam and Christianity, he does not play with Igue Festival . It carries different names in other Edospeaking areas with the exception of Benin City and its environ.
When an Edo man says he is celebrating IGUE FESTIVAL, what does he mean? Igue festival ushers in the new year for every Edo-speaking man before the incursion of the white man into his life. Igue emhasizes ” the ritual of Head worship ” by every Edo-speaking man. It takes place during this time of year. The Yorubas shares this notion with the Edo people. Bolaji Idowu in his book OLODUMARE , described it this way:
” Ori is the word for the physical head. To the Yoruba, however, the physical , visible Ori is a symbol of Ori-Inu–the internal head, or the inner person. And this is the very essence of personality. In the belief of the Yoruba, it this ori that rules , controls and guides the life and activities of the person………Ori in its totality is an object of worship. There are two reasons for this. First, as it is essence of personality , it must be kept in good condition so that it may be well with the person. Secondly, one must be on good terms with it, so that it may favour one.”
Describing an offering to the Ori, Idowu wrote: ” To make an offering to the ori, the physical ori is the common emblem. Kola-nuts, fish, fowl, or animal victim may be offered. A piece of the kola-nut is stuck on the fore head ” while the blood of the fowl or animal is smeared on it.” Ori means UHUNMWUN in Edo language. When you substitute Ori with Uhunmwun, you are looking at Edo man’s belief about his head. To the Edo man, it is the head that takes you through life journey. The head must be good to perform this life’s journey. Interwoven with this, is the belief of the Edos in EHI-his second self-” The spiritual self that guides and protect the temporal self.”
Igue Festival is also the time the Oba and some chiefs are involved in AGWE ( fasting ). We do not know how fasting came into Edo man’s religious life. But it does takes place and the Oba goes into seclussion, not to be seen by visitors. It may have been a christian/muslim influnce more than 500 years ago. It could have started on its own or earlier.
When the Oba and his chiefs break the fast, they are ready to perform UGIE ERHA OBA-A ceremony honouring the Oba’s ancestors. The Edos believe in ancestral worship and everybody joins the Oba in Ugie Erha Oba. The Edo man’s belief, is in no way different from that of the Jews, when they call on the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The ceremonyof the worship of the head-the real IGUE, of the reigning Oba
takes place openly at this festival. . This is followed by that of the
princes and princesses. This is rounded with up Ugie Edohia and Ugie Ewere
three days later. The Enogies and any traditional ruler in the ancient
kingdom, fixes their own dates in their respective domain after Ugie Ewere.
It is important to note that, it is this central point of the festival that
the christians and some muslims have consistently tried to undermine. If
they understood that their Holy Books emphazised that man is created in the
image of God, they would have understood the Edo man’s belief. There are no
shrines, and no artifacts. It is nothing but an attempt by the Edo man to
thank OSANOBUWA-OSANUDAZI-OGHENE-OGHODUA also identified as the
creator God, the Alpha and the Omega, the Unmoved Mover for GUIDING ” the
through the vicissitudes of life.
The Edos do not use the Gregorian calendar when calculating the year. We
use the moons. From the Igue festival of 1896, you can understand what it
meant. The massacre of British troops at UGBINE on January 4th 1897, took
place at the height of the festival of the year-1896. It is necessary at
this point to explaln the meaning of the word UGIE. It simply means
FESTIVAL. You can now understand that the Igue festival is made up of many
Before Ugie Edohia and Ugie Ewere comes Ugie Iron. This is a celebratory
re-enactment of the conflicts between the Oba of Benin and the seven
hereditary chiefs-the UZAMAS. The royalists were triumphant. Other
historical incidents of the life of the Edos, such as the drowning of Oba
Ehengbuda and the assasination of an Iyase of Benin on the directives of an
Oba of Benin are re-enacted. The Ugie Iron -festival used to be separated
from other festivals by 4 to 14 days. This is Edo history being taught
publicly though songs and re-enactments. One hundred years ago, we had no
school. We did not develop the art of writing. We wrote our history in re-
enactments, songs, carvings and bronzes. The present day Igue festival is a
shadow of its former glory. Between 1897 and 1914, it was not celebrated.
Oba Ovonramwen was entombed by human security network of the British agent,
Sir Ralph Moor at Calabar. At this time in 1899, Iyase OKIZI was the de
facto Oba of Benin and not Chief Agho Obaseki. General Ologbosere have been
captured and executed by the Biritish soldiers. The guerrilla warfare led
by General Ologbosere had lost steam after the battle of Okemue. The
crown Prince Aiguobasimwin, later Oba Eweka II, was on the run with his own
military batallion. The Esans (Ishan) were still resisting British rule
especailly Irrua and Uromi. The Enogie of Uromi had made it known to the
British Resident that, he had not sufficiently explained to him, what they
have done to Oba Ovonramwen.
Iyase Okizi, was an Edo patriot and soldier, who organised the defence of
Ekiti land against the Ibadans. At his defence in 1897 trial after Benin
fell, he was more concerned with Yoruba soldiers fighting on the side of
the British. Some of these soldiers he had trained in the art of warfare
while he was in Yoruba land. He did not deny his involvement in the
massacre of
1897. In fact, he gave the order to General Ologbosere, to use all means
possible to prevent the white man, from making it to Benin through Ughoton.
When the British soldiers showed their faces, he gave the order to attack.
Since he was not physically on the scene of battle, the British agent could
not convict him. On him then rested the organisation of a civil
administration. He became the leader of the Native Administration. He
started building a new palace for himself, having been told Oba Ovonramwen
was not coming back. He soon got involved in a running battle with other
chiefs especially the royalist and the Briitish agents. He died suddenly inhis sleep in the early days of 1900 without spending one night in his new
Igue festival came back with the restoration of the monarchy in 1914. Chief
Agho Obaseki, the right hand man of Oba Ovonramwen was now the Iyase of
Benin. The Christians quickly moved in on both of them. Chief Agho was
converted to Christianity. Oba Eweka II refused to celebrate Igue festival
of 1916/17. Then Influenza epidemic struck in 1918 in the after math of the
WORLD WAR 1. Thousands of Edo-speaking people died as a result
of the epidemic. The Edos blamed it on the non-observance of Igue festival
. Law and order almost broke down in Benin City as the common man went
rioting. The Governor had to send troops down to Benin to restore order.
The Governor was furious and was bent on punishing Oba Eweka II for causing
such a disturbance. A Commission of Inquiry was set up ostensibly
aimed at Oba Eweka II.
At the hearing, Oba Eweka II turned the table on the British
Administration. He laid the blame of non-observance of Igue Festival on the
three people:
a) The Resident for supporting and encouraging Chief Agho Obaseki to
convert to Christianity
b) The Christians for converting his Iyase-the Prime Minister.
c) Chief Agho Obaseki for converting to an alien faith while holding on the
highest traditional office in Edo land.
” I can not celebrate Igue Festival without my Iyase. When you took my
Iyase away, you took Igue festival with him,” Oba Eweka II was reported to
have told the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission, in view of other
complaints, many of them false, recommended that Chief Agho Obaseki be
stripped of his titles and office. It was leaked to the old man, who had
gathered a lot of enemies since 1897, when Oba Ovonramwen was taken into
captivity from chief Agho Obaseki’s house. The very night the report left
Benin en route to the Governor in Lagos, Chief Agho Obaseki died. THAT IS
The present format of Igue festival is very different from that of 1896.
The Igue itself-where the Oba perform the head worshipping ritual used to
be hidden from the public. When the Christians and the enemies of the
mornachy continued to accuse Oba Eweka II of human sacrifices, he decided
to open it to the public. Some of the walls at Ugha Ozolua were pulled
Oba Akenzua II reorganised it into a fourteen day period. That is what we
have today.
We do not know when Igue festival started. It has been celebrated
continously for the past 600 years. We do know that European travellers
and missionaries have written about it from 1600’s. According to Alan Ryder
in his book, ” Benin and the Europeans”, the Spanish Capuchin Missionaries
were in Benin City, on August 10, 1651 and had problem having an audience
with the Oba. They came during the Igue festival of 1651. Here is how
Father Felipe de Hijar’s described what he saw:
” The chief men of the city who, the natives say , number more than two
thousand , were entering the palace, all wearing the various costume
appropriate to the ceremony. They went in until they filled the four
courtyards of the palace., and as it was now one o’clock and the palace was
crowded and we entered the first court yard. Among those who were watching
us was a venerable old man who, by outward appearance , seemed veritable
St. Peter. He made a sign that we should follow him. We were amazed becausewe had never seen him before that moment, and also because the negroes had
always taken care that we should not see the sacrifices. In the end we went
with the old man from one court yard to another until we reached the last
one where, of his own accord, he told us to stand under the gallery of the
courtyard. In the middle of the gallery we found a table on which lay the
scimitars that were used to decapitate five men and five animals of every
species found in that country. They performed their ceremonies, finished
their cries; then the great men started to dance; and the King with them,
making a turn of the courtyard so that they caught sight of us.”
The Oba of Benin referred to here is probably Oba Ahenzae (1641-1661A.D),
the Oba who refused to see any white man, on the ground that an oracle had
predicted that, a Benin Oba would die in the hands of the white man. The
Spanish Capuchin Missionaries were promptly expelled from Benin City, for
seeing what they were not supposed to have seen. They were dumped at
Warrigi ( modern Warri) and warned never to return to Benin City
The Dutch traders have also left some documents for us. Alan Ryder again
quotes , A Raems writing to H Hertog on October 22 1736. Both of them were
members of the Dutch Trading Company based in Benin. Raems was reported to
have ” witnessed a parade of Oba’s wives, which pleased him far more than
the spectacle of the ceremonies performed for Oba’s father ( Ugie-Erhoba )”
Ugie Erhoba is Edo man’s equivalent of a memorial/remembrance service of
the western world. The Oba on the throne at this time is probably Oba
Akenzua I( ca 1713-1735 A.D) Igue Festival have been here for about a
years. It will be here for many years. It is heart and soul of Edo
The rituals for celebrating Igue, varies from place to place within the
Edo-speaking world. The economic status of the individual also play a role
into what is used or how it is done.
Basically, the following are a MUST no matter your status:
a) Kolanuts: This is easy to get even in USA.
b) Coconut- all split, washed up and salted-arranged in a bowl-easy to get
in USA. The juice is saved in a cup.
c) A live animal-a chicken (rooster), a goat or a cow. ( Where a live
animal is not available, use an already prepared one from the grocery
store). Blood is the essential requirement in this ritual and because it
will be difficult to get a live animal in the USA, just invoke the presence of
blood when you say your prayers. For example, you can say the
“Almighty God of creation, the God of our fathers and mothers, we have
before you the following (name them one by one). These cooked animals
once had blood. It has been shed when they were being prepared for
food. Then thank God for keeping your head on top of your neck in the
midst of all the travails of life. Beg Him for good luck for the New Year.
OGHENE( by the Edos) Olodumare, Chineke, Allah etc.
d) Some smoked-dried-fish.
e) Palm Wine, or just plain wine, spirits-gin, whiskey, rum or just SODA
f) A piece of WHITE CHALK
1) For the free Edo man or citizen, the chief priest for this ritual is the
head of the family or the oldest in the group, if it is a group ritual. The
royal family has priests performing this ritual. They are headed by the
CHIEF ISEKHURE OF BENIN. He touches his forehead and that of other
members of his family or friends, who have gathered to observe the
ceremony with him, invoking the name of the Almighty God.
2) He prays with all the items present kola nuts, coconuts etc putting a
small piece of each item on the floor marked by a white circular mark.
This white circular mark symbolizes the presence of the CREATOR GOD in
the midst of those gathered-that the Almighty God is as clean and
transparent as a white chalk.
3) He touches his forehead, his chest , shoulders and that of others
present with white chalk and blood ( If available by slaughtering a live
animal there and then). It is the presence of live animals and blood that
have led some IGNORANT and CONFUSED Christians into believing that
Satan is being worshipped. It is important to note that the PRESENCE OF
BLOOD is CENTRAL to all known religious faith in the world. In
Christianity, salvation is anchored on the shedding of the BLOOD OF
JESUS CHRIST AT CALVARY. The sound of IGUE AWENYEN is heard from
every throat as the prayers are said. It becomes a song:
“Awenyen Awenyen
Igue awenye O
Igue Awenye O
Igue Awenye O
Igue Aweyen O
Awenyen Awenyen
4) Kola nuts and coconuts are now passed round. Individuals are allowed
to say personal prayers if they wish to, at this point as they give their tiny
pieces of the kola nuts and coconuts back to the performing priest, when
their prayers are done. These little pieces are put on the floor, in the
white circular mark.. .a piece of meat, fish or a sprinkled wine is also put
there. THAT IS FOOD FOR THE ALMIGHTY GOD. Since we do not know the
abode of the Almighty, everlasting and all knowing God, we just put thefood on the floor. Some tiny pieces are taken out and thrown outside to the keep evil spirits away from the house . The Almighty God has to eat first and the rampaging evil spirits have to be kept at bay. Individuals can now eat their pieces of kola nuts and coconuts, drink wine, eat snacks or what ever is put out there.
5) Story telling and songs now take over form here. Family tales are told and retold. Laughter reverberates everywhere. Exploits, conquests, defeats and good news are reported. THE NEW YEAR HAS COME!!!
ISELOGBE, EDO!!!! Ademola Iyi-Eweka owner of copy right.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s