ETHNOGRAPHIC SURVEY OF AFRICA
EDITED BY DARYLL FORDE
THE BENIN KINGDOM
AND THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
OF SOUTH-WESTERN NIGERIA
together with a section on
ETHNOGRAPHIC SURVEY OF AFRICA
EDITED BY DARYLL FORDE
THE BENIN KINGDOM
AND THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
OF SOUTH-WESTERN NIGERIA
R. E. BRADBURY
The Benin Kingdom; the Ishan; the Northern Edo;
the Urhobo and Isoko of the Niger Delta
together with a section on
P. C. LLOYD
INTERNATIONAL AFRICAN INSTITUTE
This study is one section of the Ethnographic
Survey of Africa which the International
African Institute is preparing with the aid of a
grant made by the Secretary of State under the
Colonial Development and Welfare Acts, on the
recommendation of the Colonial Social Science
PRINTED IN ENGLAND BY
HAZELL WATSON & VINEY LTD
LONDON AND AYLESBURY
THE BENIN KINGDOM AND THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES OF SOUTH-WESTERN NIGERIA
The following Corrections should be made:
pi 18 ouiaba should read
p. 21; 67 Ouorau' "
p. 26, 56-7, 99 ouia) "
p. 27 erha u-odede "
iye u-odede "
p. 95, 96, 117-19, 129-51 passim
Ouie (pl.iuie)" "
p. 37 exaE U,exaeU e
p. 96 ouiehego, ouiakpe "
pi 109 (fn) ahiaue "
p, 110 Eke "
Os s. O "
Pi 112 Ekpese "
p. 119 iuialegi "
p. 131 EmeuS "
p. 133 aue "
p. 136 oniou "
3 S13 II I
p. 138 akpoh3-ologu "
p. 140-61 passim ouoouo "
p. 141 osiuie "
p* 149 ouis "
p; 155 ikoua "
p. 160 igbeleue "
p. 162 obueua "
p. 20, 36, 40-1, 44. The title Ogiaue
Ovie (pl. ivie)
is better spelt Ogiamil
p. 28,1.4. Unmarried sons should read married sons
p* 44)1.38. Oil "soil
p.66, fn 8. Last sentence should read: The population density must be
pi 84, table* Each of the Ivbie-Imiom tribes appears to consist of a
single settlement of 3 wards rather than 3 separate
p. 128,L 13. Owerri Province should read Rivers Province,
p. 131, 1.16, Benin-speakers Edo-speakerds
Map between ppo 164-5
Uhobe (Sobe), west of Auchi in Kukuruku Division, should be in the
south-east corner of Owo Division.
The hatching for Etsako should be extended east as far as the Niger:
Ishan south-west to the border of Asaba Division:
Urhobo should cover the area between Idjerhe, Uvbie
Inyelen, south-east of the Ishan area, should be deleted.
THE International African Institute has, since 1945, been engaged on the preparation
and publication of an Ethnographic Survey of Africa, the purpose of which is to
present in a brief and readily comprehensible form a summary of available informa-
tion concerning the different peoples of Africa with respect to location, natural
environment, economy and crafts, social structure, political organization, religious
beliefs and cults. While available published material has provided the basis for the
Survey, a mass of unpublished documents, reports and records in government files
and in the archives of missionary societies, as well as field notes and special com-
munications by anthropologists and others, have been generously made available
and these have been supplemented by personal correspondence and consultation.
The Survey is being published in a number of separate volumes, each of which is
Concerned with one people or a group of related peoples, and contains a comprehen-
\ %ive bibliography and specially drawn map.
S A committee of the Institute was set up under the Chairmanship of Professor
A Radcliffe-Brown to determine the scope and general arrangement and the Director
Sof the Institute undertook the editing of the Survey. The generous collaboration of
a number of research institutions and administrative officers in Europe and in the
% African territories has been secured, as well as the services of senior anthropologists
Swho have been good enough to supervise and amplify the drafts.
S The work of the Survey was initiated with the aid of a grant from the British
SColonial Development and Welfare Funds, on the recommendation of the Social
SScience Research Council, to be applied mainly though not exclusively to work
relating to British territories. A further grant from the Sudan Government has
assisted in the preparation and publication of sections dealing with that territory.
The Ministere de la France d'Outre-Mer and the Institut Frangais d'Afrique
Noire were good enough to express their interest in the project and through their
good offices grants have been received from the Governments of French West Africa
and the French Cameroons for the preparation and publication of sections relating
to those areas. These sections have been for the most part prepared by French
ethnologists with the support and advice of the late Professor M. Griaule of the
Sorbonne, Mme Calame-Griaule, and Professor Th. Monod, Director of I.F.A.N.
The collaboration of the Belgian authorities in this project was first secured by
the good offices of the late Professor de Jonghe, who enlisted the interest of the
Commission d'Ethnologie of the Institut Royal Colonial Belge. The collaboration
Sof the Institut pour la Recherche Scientifique en Afrique Centrale has also been
Readily accorded. Work relating to Belgian territories is being carried out with the
collaboration of Professor Olbrechts at the Centre de Documentation of the Mus6e du
A Congo Belge, Tervuren, where Mile Boone and members of her staff are engaged
Son the assembly and classification of the vast mass of material relating to African
peoples in the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Urundi. They are working in close
collaboration with ethnologists in the field to whom draft manuscripts are submitted
The International African Institute desires to express its grateful thanks to those
official bodies whose generous financial assistance has made the carrying out of this
project possible and to the many scholars, directors of research organizations, admin-
istrative officers, missionaries, and others who have collaborated in the work and,
by granting facilities to our research workers and by correcting and supervising their
M manuscripts, have contributed so largely to whatever merit the various sections may
l Since the unequal value and unsystematic nature of existing material was one
of the reasons for undertaking the Survey, it is obvious that these studies cannot
claim to be complete or definitive; it is hoped, however, that they will present a
clear account of our existing knowledge and indicate where information is lacking
and further research is needed.
It will be apparent from the bibliography of this section that despite the fame
of the sculptural art of Benin and the considerable travel literature on Benin City,
there has hitherto been very little scholarly work and publication on the culture and
social institutions of the kingdom or of the other Edo-speaking peoples. The
present account benefits from the lengthy and intensive field studies of its author
and represents a preliminary outline of the results of his researches so far. Dr.
Bradbury's first fieldwork in the Benin kingdom was undertaken in 1951-2 as a
Horniman Student of the Royal Anthropological Institute and was resumed over
the period 1952-4 as a Research Fellow of this Institute, engaged on a project for
the study of African social and religious values for which finances had been gener-
ously provided by U.N.E.S.C.O.
During these three years, while working most intensively in the capital and in
the villages of the kingdom, he made an ethnographic reconnaissance of the other
Dr. Bradbury has recently been appointed Senior Social Anthropologist on a
further project for research into the history of Benin which is being carried out
under the auspices of the Department of History of the University College of
Mr. P. C. Lloyd's account of the Itsekiri is also based mainly on his own field
investigations among these people in 1955-6 as a Research Officer of the West
African Institute of Social and Economic Research, to whom our thanks are due.
Dr. Bradbury acknowledges with gratitude the help given to him by the Oba of
Benin, Chief J. U. Egharevba, the chiefs and people, in the preparation of the
section dealing with the Benin kingdom, and by informants from the other areas
covered by this Survey. Special thanks are also due to Dr. J. W. Welch who
allowed the use of material from his unpublished thesis on the Isoko, to the Rev.
J. W. Hubbard and Mr. A. Salubi, who supplied additional material and correc-
tions, and to Lieut-Col. A. R. A. de Garston, Fr. J. J. Healy, Mr. A. Hunt-Cooke,
Mr. M. O. Ighrakpata, Mr. J. Macrae Simpson, Dr. Christopher Okojie, Mr. H.
Okiokio, and Dr. Hans Wolff, all of whom kindly assisted in various ways.
A list of sections already published in this Survey will be found on pp. 211-12
of this volume.
International African Institute.
I. THE BENIN KINGDOM
LOCATION AND NOMENCLATURE 18
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT 18
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 19
Extent of the Benin Empire
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY. 23
Agriculture : tree crops ; cash crops
Hunting, gathering and fishing
Markets and trade
Crafts and industries
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM 27
Kinship terminology; domestic and family groupings; agnates and
Village social organization: age grade organization; authority in the
Chiefdoms and village groups
Internal organization of Benin City
The central state organization: Uzama and Eghaevo; the palace associa-
tions; leadership of the palace associations; other title orders; the
Oba's wives; the palace as a political and ceremonial centre
Administration of the Oba's territories
The state council
The military organization
Property and wealth
THE LIFE CYCLE 47
Infancy to adolescence
Age-grade promotion ceremonies
Death and mortuary rites
RELIGION, MAGIC AND WITCHCRAFT 52
Spirits of the departed
Personal spirits and supernatural powers
Other state rituals
II. THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES
LOCATION, NOMENCLATURE AND LANGUAGE 61
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT .61
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY. 62
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 63
Origins; subsequent external and internal relations; Nupe contacts and
the modern period; list of chiefdoms, villages and village-groups;
notes on individual communities
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM 67
Age-grade and age-set organization
Political organization: village and ward; village-groups and districts;
the chiefdoms ; political relations between chiefdoms ; political relations
THE LIFE CYCLE 77
Age-grade promotion ceremonies
Marriage and divorce
Death and mortuary rites
III. THE NORTHERN EDO
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT 81
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY. 82
THE IVBIOSAKON TRIBES
LOCATION AND NOMENCLATURE .84
DEMOGRAPHY AND SETTLEMENT PATTERN. 84
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 85
Origins; subsequent relations with Benin; Yoruba and Nupe raids;
history under British rule; notes on the individual tribes
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM .
Kinship and territorial organization
Age-set and age-grade organization
Law and order
Otwa : age-grades and age-sets; political organization; law and order
THE LIFE CYCLE
Puberty and adolescence
Marriage, exogamy and divorce
Death and mortuary rites
MAGIC AND RELIGION
THE ETSAKO TRIBES
LOCATION AND NOMENCLATURE
DEMOGRAPHY AND SETTLEMENT PATTERN
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY
Origins; Nupe domination; the modem period;
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM .
Kinship and territorial organization
Age-grades and age-sets
Law and order
THE LIFE CYCLE .
Childhood and youth
Death and mortuary rites
RELIGION AND MAGIC
THE NORTH-WEST EDO
LOCATION, NOMENCLATURE AND LANGUAGE
DEMOGRAPHY AND SETTLEMENT PATTERN.
Notes on some of the communities
notes on the individual
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 112
Origins ; Yoruba raids and the Nupe invasion ; history under British rule
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM 114
Kinship and territorial organization
Age-groupings, title associations and political organization:
The northern group
The hill towns
The south-western group
The southern group
The eastern group
Law and order
THE LIFE CYCLE 121
Death and mortuary rites
LOCATION, NOMENCLATURE AND LANGUAGE 123
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY. 123
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 123
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM 124
Kinship and territorial organization
Law and order
LIFE CYCLE 126
IV. THE URHOBO AND ISOKO OF THE NIGER DELTA
LOCATION AND NOMENCLATURE 127
DEMOGRAPHY AND SETTLEMENT PATTERN. 128
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 129
Origins; history; notes on individual tribes
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. 132
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY. 132
Agriculture: the Isoko farming calendar
Hunting and fishing
Markets and trade
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM 136
The rule of descent
Kinship and territorial groupings
Age-grades: men's grades; women's grades
Title associations: the odio association; the Wh3v5re association;
the adje or ade association; other associations
Political organization: determinants of political authority; village and
ward government; tribal government; Isoko-Urhobo; the ovie
Law and order: penalties; procedure; oaths and ordeals; enforcement
of judgements; delegation of judicial powers
THE LIFE CYCLE 152
Death and mortuary rites
RELIGION AND MAGIC 159
The high god
Personal spirits and powers
TRIBAL AND SUB-TRIBAL GROUPINGS AND DEMOGRAPHY 172
LANGUAGE .. 174
PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT. 174
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY. 175
Livestock and hunting
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY 177
The pre-Ginuwa period
The arrival of Ginuwa
The expansion of the kingdom
European trade and the Itsekiri
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM 182
Social organization: the settlement; the patrilineage; descent groups
or "Houses "; kinship terminology; the segmentation of descent
groups; family meetings
Polygyny, marriage and divorce
Political system: the king; the chiefs; village administration; the
MAIN CULTURAL FEATURES 196
The life cycle: birth; youth; marriage; death
RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. 199
The supreme deity
Umale okun and other deities
The Ifa oracle
MAPS : The Edo-speaking peoples Between pp. 164 and 165
The Itsekiri. At end
This volume deals with the Edo-speaking peoples of the Benin, Delta, and Ondo
Provinces of Western Nigeria and the Rivers Province of Eastern Nigeria.' A section
has also been included on the Itsekiri or Jekri2 who, although they speak a Yoruba
dialect, claim descent from an early Dba of Benin, and whose culture owes much to
Bini, Urhobo, and Ijaw influences.
As far as it is possible to judge from the 1952 Census bulletins3 there were about
987,000 Edo-speaking peoples in the Benin, Delta, and Ondo Provinces of Western
Nigeria, with a further 60,000 living in other parts of the Colony and Protectorate.
Their homeland is located in the Benin, Ishan, and Kukuruku Divisions of
Benin Province and the northern half of Delta Province with local extensions into
Ondo Province on the west and Rivers Province on the south-east. Of the 53,000
Edo-speakers in Ondo Province over 43,000 are Urhobo and Isoko, three-quarters of
whom live in the Okitipupa Division. Most of these have taken up temporary or
semi-permanent residence there during the present century in connection with the
exploitation of oil-palm resources.
For descriptive purposes the Edo-speaking peoples can be divided into four main
territorial sections which are distinct from each other in certain linguistic, social,
and other cultural features.
I. The Edo proper (Bini) of the Benin Kingdom, here taken to be broadly
coterminous with the present-day Benin Division. Of a total population of 292,000
for the Division 203,000 are said to speak Edo (possibly including small numbers of
Ishan and Northern Edo-see below) and 22,000 Urhobo-Isoko. The inhabitants
of the villages which make up the Benin Confederation to the west of the Siluko
River in Okitipupa Division speak Edo and are probably most closely connected
with this section of the Edo-speaking peoples.
II. The Ishan, to the north-east of the Benin Kingdom, mainly in Ishan
Division. There are said to be about 183,000 Edo-speakers in this Division with a
further 1,500 Ishan-speakers in the Kukuruku Division.
III. The Northern Edo who form the great bulk of the population of Kukuruku
Division and overlap into the Owo Division of Ondo Province. They are here
divided into four groups:-
A. The Ivbiosakon, in the south-western sector of Kukuruku Division and
including the inhabitants of Sobe and Ijagba in Owo Division. They number about
B. The Etsako (88,000) in the eastern sector of the same Division.
C. The North-West Edo (46,000) in the north-western sector.
D. The Ineme (about 6,000) who live in a number of scattered villages in the
Etsako and North-West Edo areas, and have further settlements east of the Niger.
IV. The Urhobo and Isoko of the Niger Delta in Delta Province with outlying
pockets, probably Isoko in character, in Rivers Province. The Urhobo-Isoko in
Delta Province number about 340,000. According to the Census bulletin for Rivers
Province there were about 5,680 Engenni; these probably represent the bulk of Edo-
The term Edo-speaking peoples appears to have been first used by N. W.
Thomas who carried out ethnographic investigations in Nigeria in the early years of
1 There is no detailed information concerning the Edo-speaking peoples of the Rivers
Province. According to Talbot (The Peoples of Southern Nigeria, vol. IV, pp. 37 and 42, maps)
they occur in four or five small pockets surrounded by Ibo and Ijaw speakers, and speak
Isoko dialects (see below). Dr. Hans Wolff, of the University of Puerto Rico, who carried out
linguistic studies in Nigeria in 1953-4, confirms, in a personal communication, that Edo dialects
are still spoken around Degema.
2 See pp. 172-205.
3 The arbitrary nature of the classification into tribal groups employed in the Census
makes it difficult to estimate populations accurately.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
the century. It is derived from Edo, the vernacular name of Benin City, and is
applied to those who speak either Edo proper (Bini)4-the language of Benin City
and kingdom-or closely related dialects, as a first language. The Edo language
and dialects belong to the Kwa group of Western Sudanic languages.5 There is,
however, no approach to mutual intelligibility between Edo and the neighboring
Kwa languages, Yoruba, Igbira, Igala, Ibo, and Ijaw, though frontier populations
are frequently bilingual.
Dr. Hans Wolff, in a personal communication, has suggested that the Edo
languages and dialects fall into two major divisions:-
I. Edo proper and the Ishan and Northern Edo dialects.
II. The Urhobo and Isoko dialects.
It is possible, however, that some Northern Edo and Urhobo-Isoko dialects have
archaic features in common which are absent from Edo proper. The latter is spoken
throughout the Benin kingdom with only minor variations and on that account is
here termed a language." The remaining dialects are of a more limited distribu-
tion and there appears to be a tendency for the linguistic unit to be co-extensive
with the autonomous or semi-autonomous political unit. Thus among the North-
West Edo where the autonomous group is usually a single settlement there are marked
variations in vocabulary from settlement to settlement. The dialects of Ishan and
the southern part of Ivbiosakon seem most closely akin to Edo proper while mutual
intelligibility with the latter diminishes towards the northern boundaries of Edo-
speaking territory. To the south of the Benin kingdom the dialects of the most
northerly Urhobo tribes are somewhat influenced by Edo proper but generally
speaking the Urhobo-Isoko dialects are quite unintelligible to the people of the Benin
The size of autonomous political units varies over a very wide range, the Benin
kingdom being by far the largest. The present-day Benin Division covers 4,000
square miles and has a population of just under 300,000 Edo and non-Edo. Before
1897, when Benin City was captured by a British punitive expedition, the rule of
the Dba of Benin also extended, with varying effectiveness, over most Ishan and
Ivbiosakon communities, parts of the Urhobo-Isoko area and over certain Yoruba
and Ibo populations to the west and east respectively. Thus the present-day king-
dom is only the nucleus of the former Benin empire. No other autonomous group
approaches this size. The Ishan are divided into about 35 independent single- or
multi-village chiefdoms-the typical units-and tribes,6 with populations varying
from about 400 to nearly 37,000. Of the Northern Edo groups the Ivbiosakon
(excluding those in Owo Division) consist of 17 single- or multi-village tribes with
populations of from about 100 to more than 8,000 and the Etsako of nine multi-
village chiefdoms and tribes of from 5,000 to 18,000 people. The North-West Edo
are still further fragmented, comprising 28 independent single- or dual-village settle-
ments with populations of from about 300 to 6,500, while the largest of the 10 scattered
Bini is used by Europeans as an adjective and for the dominant people of the Benin
kingdom and their language.
s See Westermann, 1926.
6 For the purpose of this Survey a chiefdom is defined as an independent or semi-indepen-
dent political unit with a hereditary chief; a tribe is a similar unit without a hereditary chief.
The word independent as used here must be explained. Before 1897 most of Ishan and
some of the Ivbiosakon and Urhobo-Isoko groups recognized the political suzerainty of the
Oba of Benin-as distinct from his spiritual authority which extended over wider areas-to a
greater or lesser degree and during the latter part of the 19th century most of the Northern
Edo came under the rule of the Emir of Bida. The political controls exercised from Benin
and Bida were, however, limited and within the Ishan, Northern Edo, and Urhobo-Isoko areas
there were many autonomous groups which did not recognize the legitimate suzerainty of any
other. At the present day the political authority of the Oba and the Emir is not recognized
over these areas. Independence of chiefdoms and tribes must now, however, be understood
to be relative only to one another within the framework of the Divisional, Provincial, and
Regional government of Nigeria.
Ineme villages has a population of probably not more than 1,500 people. There
are about 35 Urhobo and Isoko chiefdoms and tribes with populations varying from
less than 500 to more than 30,000.
Despite this diversity of political scale, unpublished and published sources, and
especially the works of N. W. Thomas (see bibliography), indicate that, apart from
their linguistic affinities, the Edo-speaking peoples as a whole exhibit many common
and distinctive cultural features. It is impossible to summarize and assess the evidence
for this at this point, but it may be of some value to indicate a few typical features
of Edo social organization.
The compact village settlement is everywhere the basic unit of the political
organization. In many cases, especially among the North-West Edo and Ineme,
single villages constitute autonomous political units. Otherwise they are arranged
in village-groups, tribes, and chiefdoms. The Benin kingdom consists of the capital,
Benin City, and several hundred villages which may either form separate units
vis-i-vis the central authority or be co-ordinated in village-groups or sub-chiefdoms.
Villages everywhere break down into wards, of which there may be several tiers, and
these in turn are made up of one or more extended families with patrilineal nuclei.
The degree to which local groups larger than the extended family are associated with
lineages appears to vary considerably.
A second characteristic feature of Edo social organization is the stratification of
the male population into age-grades organized on a village-wide basis. Almost
everywhere-the North-West Edo and northern Ivbiosakon (where there is a great
elaboration of age-grade and age-set organization) provide the exception-there are
three main grades comprising youths, adult men, and elders; and the corresponding
grades in each section of the Edo-speaking peoples perform similar functions, In
most areas authority within the village is vested very largely in the senior age-grade
(usually called edi5) and, subject to certain qualifications, the oldest man is the
village headman. This pattern of authority is, however, sometimes upset by the
presence of title-associations or of individual titled offices (see below).
Thirdly, the Edo-speaking peoples universally show not only a marked patri-
lineal bias in their kinship and lineage organization, but also an emphasis on primo-
geniture. Almost everywhere the senior surviving son of a dead man is regarded as
the chief heir to his property and the successor to whatever offices, privileges, and
duties he may have had. Hereditary titled offices, where present, pass from the
last incumbent to his senior son. Where rights of other children to a share in their
father's property are recognized, the children of each mother generally form a distinct
group for this purpose.
Other features of Edo social organization are less general. The Etsako and some
of the Ishan, like the Ijaw of the Niger Delta, have a system of differential marriage-
payments. A full marriage-payment secures the affiliation of all children of the
marriage to the husband's lineage while with smaller payments the children either
go to the wife's father's lineage or are divided between the two groups. Further
investigation is necessary to determine to what extent these arrangements modify
the normal patrilineal kinship system of the Edo. Among some North-West Edo
groups there is evidence of a double descent system whereby every individual belongs
both to a localized patrilineage and to a dispersed matrilineal group.
The three-tier age-grade system common to nearly all the Edo has already been
mentioned. Everywhere except the Benin kingdom there are formal age-sets, new
ones being organized at more or less regular intervals, which proceed through the
grades as groups. Among the Urhobo and Isoko there are parallel grades for women.
The age-grade and set system achieves its most extreme development among some
of the Northern Ivbiosakon and North-West Edo where the number of grades is
greater and their political functions and ritual activities are more elaborate. In this
feature these groups show an affinity with neighboring Akoko and North-East
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
The Edo-speaking peoples exhibit a remarkable variety of political structures.
Age-grades, hereditary rulership with its attendant institutions, and title associations
all play an important part in the ascription of political authority. It is possible to
make a conceptual distinction between three main types of political system among
the Edo in each of which one of these three kinds of institutions predominates; though
elements of all three are present in the political structures of most autonomous groups.
The political functions of the senior age-grade at the village level have already
been referred to. Within the Benin kingdom and in other chiefdoms and tribes
authority over a number of villages may be vested in their combined senior age-
grades or in the leaders of those grades. Finally, even at the level of an autonomous
tribe or chiefdom, authority may be vested mainly in the age-grade organization.
This seems to be particularly true of some Northern Ivbiosakon and North-West Edo
groups where the normal Edo age-grade organization is considerably elaborated.
Generally speaking, however, at the level of the independent tribe or chiefdom one
of the other types of authoritative institution becomes significant.
Hereditary rulers are characteristic of the Benin and Ishan sections of the Edo-
speaking peoples and are found among some of the Urhobo, Isoko, and Etsako.
They are absent from the Ivbiosakon and largely so from the rest of the Northern
Edo though there has been a tendency for hereditary chieftainship to appear as a
result of Nupe and British influence during the last hundred years. Where here-
ditary chieftainship is fully developed, that is in the Benin kingdom (both at the
kingdom level and in sub-chiefdoms) and the Ishan chiefdoms, it is accompanied by
a system of state ranks and titles. There may be both hereditary and non-
hereditary titles and these may be organized into a number of corporate groups.
Appointment to non-hereditary titles and succession to hereditary ones must be
confirmed by the king or chief and it is through their holders that he exercises his
authority over his subjects.
This kind of system is found at its most elaborate in the Benin kingdom itself.
The Ishan chiefdoms, some of the sub-chiefdoms within the Benin kingdom, and,
to a lesser extent, some Urhobo and Isoko groups with hereditary rulers, reflect the
Benin pattern in simplified forms and on a smaller scale. It remains arguable
whether Benin represents an extreme elaboration of a pattern already existing among
the Edo-speaking peoples before the first establishment of the Yoruba dynasty at
Benin (35 reigns ago) or whether, on the other hand, this pattern was evolved at
Benin and later copied by neighboring groups. Local traditions, for the most part,
support the latter theory in the sense that the ruling groups of all other chiefdoms
claim Benin origin during the present dynasty. In Benin itself, however, there are
traditions of an elaborate state system preceding the present dynasty and a number
of chiefdoms within the Benin kingdom assert that they were organized as such
before being incorporated into the Benin state. It is true, moreover, that the Benin
political system differs markedly from the organization of the Yoruba kingdoms,
though Yoruba, and particularly Ife, influence was formerly very great. Whatever
the origin of the Benin type of political structure, however, it is clear that it has
served as a continuing model for the Ishan chiefdoms and for the few well-organized
Urhobo chiefdoms as well as for the western Ibo; the title-systems of Onitsha and
Aboh are also clearly of Benin origin.
The term title-association is used here to describe an association which can
be entered by any freeborn male of the community for which it is operative by the
payment of fees to the existing members and by participating in certain rites.
Membership gives certain privileges and duties, including the right to use the title
common to all members. In some of these associations the leading members have
individual titles but the title of the association itself is common property. Title-
associations have many functions. Politically, however, they are most important
where hereditary chieftainship is lacking, that is among the Northern Edo and
Urhobo-Isoko; they are lacking in the Benin kingdom and, for the most part in
Ishan. In the areas where they provide the basis of the political system member-
ship is essential for any person wishing to exercise political authority; seniority is
generally reckoned by "title-age ", that is by relative date of admission to the
association. Title-associations thus serve to modify the tendency, among the Edo-
speaking peoples, for legitimate authority to be concentrated in the hands of the
oldest people, and they provide an alternative to the state" form of organization.
It will be clear that the Benin kingdom is an exceptional feature in the social
organization of the Edo-speaking peoples as a whole. Politically it is comparable
to the Yoruba and Dahomey kingdoms to the west while the remainder of the Edo-
speaking peoples are in their political and social organization more akin to the Ibo
and Ijaw peoples to the east and south. The Edo-speaking peoples, with the sole
exception of Benin City (population 54,000), are a village people in contrast
to the highly urbanized Yoruba. Thus, in terms of social and political organization,
as well as geographically, the Edo-speaking peoples stand in an intermediate position
between the smaller scale societies of eastern Nigeria and the more highly organized
political groups to the west.
NOTE ON ORTHOGRAPHY
In Section I of this volume and wherever possible in other sections, vernacular
names and terms are written phonetically. In Sections II, III, and IV it has not
been possible to obtain the correct pronunciation of all vernacular words, many of
which have been taken from written sources only. In these sections the italicizing
of a word does not necessarily indicate that it is written phonetically.
e represents an open e as in get.
3 represents an open o as in got.
gh represents velar fricative, voiced.
x (or kh) represents velar fricative, unvoiced.
rh represents aspirated r.
v represents bilabial fricative. This phoneme is nasalized when placed
next to a nasal vowel.
1. THE BENIN KINGDOM
LOCATION AND NOMENCLATURE
For the purposes of this Survey the Benin kingdom is regarded as being coter-
minous with the present-day Benin Division, the unit over which the authority of the
Oba (king) was recognized after the restoration of 1914. The Edo of this area repre-
sent the solid core of the old Benin empire and, apart from minor revolts, they have
given allegiance to the Dba over a period of probably not less than 450 years-and
possibly for very much longer.
The total area of the Benin Division is about 4,000 square miles and the popu-
lation, according to the 1952 Census, was about 292,000 of whom 203,000 are
classified as Edo (excluding Urhobo and Isoko). Of the remainder the largest
linguistic groups were Ibo, 49,000-mostly Ika-speakers on the eastern borders of
the kingdom, and Kwale in camps on the river banks; Urhobo-Isoko, 22,000, living
in permanent villages along the southern borders and in semi-permanent and tem-
porary camps along the rivers; and Yoruba, 7,500. In addition there are a number
of permanent Itsekiri settlements in the south and south-west and some Ijaw villages
in the swampy south-west and west. Permanent non-Edo villages stand in much
the same relation to the central authority of the kingdom as do Edo villages. More
temporary settlements are usually attached to Benin villages.
There is no satisfactory vernacular term to designate the Benin kingdom or its
people. Benin City is called Edo by its inhabitants and in certain contexts indi-
viduals from all parts of the kingdom will refer to themselves as oviedo (child of
Edo) or ovioba (Oba's subject). More specifically the same individual speaks of
himself as a child of his village or village-group or of the region of the kingdom
in which he lives. The major regions are defined by the people in terms of the
main rivers; thus, for example, iyek-Dvia (trans-9via), iyek-Orhiomo, and iyek-
Jgba refer to the groups on the farther side of (iyeke-" at the back of ") these
rivers from Benin City. Benin is a non-Edo word of doubtful origin; except
in reference to the Division and Province of that name it will be restricted in this
Survey to the people of the kingdom and their capital.
There is marked uniformity in culture, social organization, and language over
the whole kingdom, derived in part, no doubt, from the overriding centralizing
authority of Benin City.
The Benin country is a low-lying plain covered with porous Benin sand, and
rising to the north to the Ishan plateau. There are no outstanding physical features
and no solid rocks near the surface. The area is drained by a series of deeply-
entrenched rivers and small streams flowing in a general north-south direction. The
Edo villages generally avoid close proximity to these streams though the Urhobo-
Isoko and Kwale build on their banks.
The natural vegetation of the area is high tropical rain forest with a good deal
of swamp vegetation in the south and west. The greater part of the country is now
under secondary bush though there is still an abundance of good timber and nearly
40% of the area is in timber reserves.
THE BENIN KINGDOM
Apart from the capital, Benin City, which to-day has a population of nearly
54,000, the people of the Benin kingdom live in several hundred compact village
settlements ranging in size from 20 or 30 to more than 4,000 inhabitants. Of 637
villages two have more than 4,000 inhabitants, 13 between 2,000 and 4,000,
49 between 1,000 and 2,000, and 571 less than 1,000.1 Many villages are indepen-
dent political units under the central authority; others are grouped into chiefdoms
or into village-groups without hereditary headmen (see p. 33).
The overall population density for Benin Division in 1952 was about 73 per
square mile, but the population is by no means evenly distributed throughout the
area. A high proportion of the country is in forest reserves and thus closed to farm-
ing. On the other hand more than a sixth of the people are concentrated in Benin
City and a high proportion of these are engaged in non-agricultural pursuits. The
lowest densities are to be found in the west and south-west and the central area
while the highest are on the eastern borders of the Division. There is, however, no
serious land shortage in most settled areas.
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY2
In contrast with all other Edo-speaking areas there are many villages in the
Benin kingdom whose inhabitants have no tradition that their ancestors came from
elsewhere. Some informants speak vaguely of a general.nigration-from-the-east
and others .race everything back.to. Ife--a feiWdenc'yj ich may simply.follow from
theifact that-Ife is the-accepted origin of the present.ruling dynasty. In Benin City
certain wards claim to have been on the spot from the beginning" but most of
the remainder say that their founders came from Ife as followers of the father of
the first Oba or at a later date.
According to Edo mythology, the Benin kingdom was founded by the youngest
of the children of Osanobua (the high god). With his senior brothers, who included
the first kings of Ife and other Yoruba kingdoms and the first king of the Euro-
peans," he was sent to live in the world (agb5). Each was allowed to take some-
thing with him. Some chose wealth, material and magical skills or implements
but, on the instructions of a bird, the youngest chose a snail shell. When they
arrived in the world they found it covered with water. The youngest son was told
by the bird to upturn the snail shell and when he did so sand fell from it and spread
out to form the land. So the first Oba of Benin became the owner of the land and
his senior brothers had to come to him and barter their possessions in return
for a place to settle. Hence, though he was the youngest son, he became the
wealthiest and most powerful ruler.
The semi-mythical rulers of the first dynasty are known as ogiso (ogie-ruler,
king; iso-the sky). They feature in many folk tales, talking with personified
animals, plants, and material objects and matching their wits against the trickster
animal, egwi, the tortoise. The names of a number of them, some of them women,
are remembered, as are some of the titles of chiefs of their court, the original site of
which is still pointed out within the walls of the present town. The rule of the ogiso
is said to have been ended by a revolt and for a time Edo, then called Igodomigodo,
had no royal rulers.
x These figures are derived from the 1952 census. In some cases the unit designated
village may not correspond to the definition of a village given on p. 31.
2 It is not practicable to give references for all the sources of information used in this
section. A detailed bibliography is given on pp. 165-6.
zU THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
Finally the chiefs decided to send to the Oni of Ife asking him to provide one
of his sons to rule over them. He sent one Araminya who, however, after staying
at Benin for some time, decided that only a native could rule the Edo. So he
impregnated the daughter of the onogie of Ego, a village about five miles west of
Benin City, and returned to Ife. This woman bore a son who was eventually
installed as the Oba and who is now known as Cweka I. The present Oba, Akfzua
II, is, according to tradition, the 35th of the dynasty whose beginning is variously
dated from the late 12th century to the beginning of the 14th century. The 15th
Oba in the generally accepted list is said to have been reigning when the Portuguese
first visited Benin in 1485.3
The first three kings are said to have lived at Usama, between the two walls on
the western side of Benin City where the installation of a new Oba still takes place
(see p. 40). The fourth, Ewcdo, after a struggle with an independent chief, OgidMv,
established himself on the site of the modern palace; the battle with Ogiavi is
re-enacted at the accession of each Oba and ends with a ritual division of the land
between the two. The next Oba, Oguola, is credited with the building of the main
wall round the city. If this tradition is correct it suggests that Benin was a con-
siderable town even at this early date. There is, however, no historical evidence
as to the area or population over which the early kings ruled. Egharevba (Short
History of Benin, p. 12) says that the main enemy at this time was Udo, a town in
the Benin kingdom about 30 miles west of Benin City. Brass-casting is said to have
been introduced from Ife during this reign.
The 15th and 16th centuries were apparently the period of greatest expansion
and it was during this time that the great warrior kings, Ewuare, Jzolua, Esigie,
Jrhogbua, and EhEgbuda reigned. D'Aveiro, who visited Benin City in 1485,
reported that the accession of a new Jba had to be approved by a king Ogane (pre-
sumably the Oni of Ife whom the Edo still call Oghene) who lived far away in the
interior. D'Aveiro returned to Portugal with the chief of Ughot5 (Gwatto), the
village which was to become the port of Benin, as the Oba's ambassador, then
went back to Benin to establish a trading factory at Ughot5.'
Catholic missions were established by the Portuguese early in the 16th century.
Firearms were introduced about the same time and seem to have led to an increase
in warfare whose purpose was the capture of slaves for export. Esigie, in about
1515, was accompanied by Portuguese missionaries in a campaign which drove the
marauders from Idah to the north back across the Niger.5 Local traditions say that
this Oba also dealt successfully with the attempt of his brother Arhuard to set up
a rival kingdom with its centre at Udo to the west of the Ovia (Osse) River.
Churches were built by the Portuguese in Benin City. In 1516 in the month
of August, the King ordered his son and two of his greatest noblemen to become
Christians and built a church in Benin and they learnt how to read and did it very
well"; (from Portuguese MSS. quoted by Ling Roth, p. 6). This appears to agree
with Egharevba's statement that Esigie's son who succeeded him with the name
Drhogbua was educated by the Portuguese (Short History, p. 31). The Portuguese
remained the most influential power in the area until the second half of the 17th
S There have been several attempts to assign dates to the kings whose names are remem-
bered in Benin. Egharevba (A Short History of Benin) places Cweka I at about A.D. 1200,
Talbot (The Peoples of Southern Nigeria) about A.D. 1300. These dates, however, appear to
be somewhat arbitrary. The first documented date is 1485 in which year the Portuguese,
d'Aveiro, visited Benin City. According to Benin traditions the 15th Oba, Ozolua, was then
reigning. A Portuguese document of 1516 states that Missionaries went with the King to
the war and remained a whole year." There is a Benin tradition that the war referred to
was conducted by Oba Esigie, the son of Ozolua. However, none of the European chroniclers
who visited Benin between the 15th and 19th centuries mention the name of the reigning Oba
so that the dating of successive reigns is dependent very largely upon oral traditions.
See Ling Roth, 1903, pp. 4-5. Egharevba (1953, p. 28) says that it was Esigie who
sent this ambassador.
s See Ling Roth, op. cit., p. 6, and Egharevba, op. cit., pp. 29 ff.
THE BENIN KINGDOM Z1
century though English and Dutch traders had begun to visit Ughot5 and Benin
City long before this. The Portuguese trading posts and missions were probably
abandoned in the 1660s. There were missionaries in Benin about 1688 but they
were apparently based at Warri (Churchill, vol. II, p. 676).
In 1668 Dapper gave an interesting account of Benin City which he described
as having 30 straight streets about 120 feet broad with intersecting streets at right
angles to them. He reported that the Oba of the day could bring 20,000 warriors to
the field in a day and 80,000 to 100,000 if necessary. At this time Benin was export-
ing slaves, leopard skins, pepper, and coral."'
By 1702, however, the town had been depopulated and laid waste by a civil
war (Nyandael in Bosman-see bibliography), and from this time forward written
accounts of Benin describe periods of fluctuating power and prosperity disturbed by -
civil wars which appear to have been caused by disputes over the succession to the
kingship. According to local traditions Dba Swuakpe (c. 1700) decreed that the
Oba should henceforth be succeeded by his eldest son but this did not end wars of
succession for there were still disputes as to which son was, in fact, the eldest.
Between periods of dissension the kingdom seems to have shown remarkable powers
of recovery and in the late 18th and early 19th centuries there was renewed expan-
sion which led to the reconquest of the Yoruba town Akure and the Ekiti country.
The history of Benin, then, is one of alternating periods of territorial expansion and,
contraction in accordance with the degree of power and authority at the centre.
The British gradually replaced the Dutch as the main trading power in the
western half of the Niger Delta. In 1888 the Oba Ovoradv succeeded his father
Adolo. Fearing the increasing influence of the Europeans in the Delta, he forbade
all external trade. The British made several representations to the Oba to refrain
from human sacrifices and to allow trade with Europeans and in 1892 he signed a
treaty with the Deputy Commissioner and Vice-Consul of the Oil Rivers Protec-
torate, agreeing to accept British Protection, to refer disputes with traders and with
other tribes to consular officials, to tolerate missionaries and to allow his subjects
to trade freely. (See Ling Roth, Appendix I). He did not, however, adhere to this
treaty and after the massacre of members of a British trade mission in 1897 British
troops attacked the captured Benin City. (See Boisragon, The Benin Massacre,
Bacon, The City of Blood, and Ling Roth, Great Benin). Ovordvf was deported to
Calabar where he remained till his death in 1914. His son was then installed as
eweka II and he in turn was succeeded in 1933 by his son, Akgzua II, the present
Oba. The Dba's official sphere of authority was limited in 1914 to what had then
become the Benin Division.
EXTENT OF THE BENIN EMPIRE
It is impossible at the present time to determine the extent of the Benin empire
at any particular period in the past. As noted above, the frontiers were continually
expanding and contracting as new conquests were made and as vassals on the
borders rebelled and were reconquered. It is clear, however, that sentimental
attachment to Benin and recognition of the Dba's temporal and spiritual authority
did not necessarily depend on his ability to subdue a vassal by force of arms. Thus,
for example, Lagos continued to pay tribute after it became a British Colony in 1861
(see Talbot, vol. I, p. 62) and in the reign of Cweka II (1914-33) chiefs in Ondo
Province appealed for the Oba's ruling in disputes over land and succession.
On the west, Benin rule undoubtedly extended, at least from the 16th century,
to Lagos, Badagry, and Wydah. According to Edo traditions Lagos itself was
founded by a Benin army and Oba Drhogbua is said to have made it his headquarters
about the middle of the 16th century (see Egharevba, Short History, p. 31); his son,
left there to rule on his behalf, is claimed to have been the founder of the Lagos
For further details of early trade with Benin see Ling Roth, op. cit., chap. XIII,
pp. 131 ff.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
ruling dynasty and this is confirmed to some extent by Lagos traditions (adminis-
trative sources). Lander, who visited Badagry in 1830, reported that the corpse
of the late chief of that town had been sent to Benin and Landolphe reported that
Wydah (Juda) was tributary to Benin in his day. (Landolphe, 1823, vol. II,
On the north-east, Akure, the Ekiti country, Owo and much of what is now Owo
Division were, though intermittently, tributary:to Benin; the reconquest of this area
was attempted, with some success, during the early part of the 19th century. It
appears from Edo traditions that Edo influence in this area dates back to the late
16th century; it is said that in the reign of EhEgbuda the armies of the Oba of Benin
and the Alafin of Oyo planted trees at Otun in the Ekiti country to demarcate the
respective spheres of influence of the two empires. (See Egharevba, op. cit., p.. 34).
On the north the Usokha tribe of the Ivbiosakon group is said to have been
founded by a son of the first Oba, Eweka, but the connection of the remainder of the
Ivbiosakon tribes with Benin traditionally dates back to the 15th century. (See
Section III of this report, pp. 85-8.) Both this and the neighboring Etsako area
(Section III, p. .101, below) remain nominally subject to the Oba but it is not
clear to what extent his rule was ever enforced over them. (See Section III for
further details.) The Ora tribe seems to have retained close associations with Benin
but a military expedition was sent against the southern Ivbiosakon by the Oba
shortly before the British conquest of 1897.
If local traditions are reliable, the expansion of the Benin empire to the north-
west was at its height in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Ozolua, who was prob-
ably reigning at the end of the 15th century, is said to have died at Uzia (see Section
II, p. 63-4 below), while fighting against the Ishan chiefdom, Uromi. His son
Esigie, as noted above, is believed to have defeated the Idah armies in about 1515.
There is some evidence that about 1840 the Uwepa-Uwano tribe, on the Niger
opposite Idah, still regarded itself as tributary to Benin. (See Talbot, p. 173.) All
except the extreme eastern part of the Ishan area (see Section II below) remained
tributary to Benin.
To the east the Niger appears to have been the ultimate effective boundary of
Benin rule though early Portuguese maps extend the frontier as far as Bonny.
Onitsha on the eastern bank of the Niger has Benin titles and a ruling family which
claims Benin origins and the same is true of Aboh in the extreme south; a disputed
succession at the latter town is said to have been referred to the Oba in the first half
of the 18th century (see Egharevba, op. cit., p. 46). Edo traditions appear to date
the first conquests of the Ibo west of the Niger to the reign of Swuare (mid-15th
century). The ruling dynasties of most of the Western Ibo chiefdoms claim Benin
origins and their title systems are on the Benin model. Politically they stood in
much the same relation to Benin as the Ishan chiefdoms (see Section II, below);
their rulers (obi) had to be confirmed in office by the Oba. Benin control over the
area appears never to have been complete for long, however, and the Oba had con-
tinually to reassert his suzerainty.
The relations between the Kwale Ibo, Isoko, Urhobo, and some Ijaw groups to
the south and Benin were complicated, but some Isoko and Urhobo tribes which had
hereditary chiefs had the same kinds of connections with the Oba as the Ishan
chiefdoms. Much of this area was unsuited to the movements of Benin armies,
however. (See Section IV, below.) After its foundation the Itsekiri kingdom became
to all intents and purposes independent of the Oba (see Itsekiri section, below).
Benin, in its turn, recognized the spiritual suzerainty of Ife. According to
Egharevba the remains of every third Oba were taken to Ife but this custom seems
to have been abandoned before the British conquest. In recent centuries the recog-
nition of the Oni of Ife's spiritual seniority over the Oba appears to have had no
THE BENIN KINGDOM
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY
The yam is the basis of the subsistence economy on which the villages depend /
and the activities associated with its cultivation determine the pattern of the agricul-
In January adult men who intend to make yam farms look around for promising
sites, taking into account the length of time that has passed since a particular piece
of land was last cultivated and the height and luxuriance of the covering vegetation.
Land is rarely brought back into cultivation until it has been fallow for at least
seven or eight years and the period may be as long as 15-20 years. When a plot
is chosen its position is marked by crossed sticks placed by the side of an adjoining
path and once a claim has been established in this way it may not be disputed.
Generally speaking there is an abundance of farming land and disputes over par-
ticular sites are rare.
It is the common practice to make two farms, a large one which may be at a
considerable walking distance and a smaller one closer to the village. Young men
with few dependents often make only one farm, however, and older men who
command a large labour supply may cultivate more than two. The size of the yam
plots depends both on the available labour supply7 and on the quantity of seed-yams
which the farmer has stored up or can afford to buy.
Clearing of the plots begins in February or early March. After the under-
growth has been cut down with matchets it is allowed to dry before being burnt.
The taller trunks are then cut down-the largest may be left standing-and suitable
branches are selected and stacked for later use as supports for the growing vines;
the rest are burnt. This is usually completed by the end of March and is followed
by the tilling of the ground. Small heaps of soil are hoed up in rows at regular
intervals apart. About the same time the seed-yams, which have been stored in
the houses, are split into sections suitable for planting. Planting begins in April
and often continues into the early part of May. The seed yams are pressed into the
sides of the holes from which the earth has been removed and the loose soil is pushed
back over the top of them.
Then follows a relatively inactive period during which the yams sprout.
Towards the end of May it is necessary to insert poles to support the growing vines.
Further poles are planted later to support the ropes around which the tendrils
will be coiled. Considerable time is spent in the period before the vines die off in
inducing the tendrils to cling to these ropes. In the meantime the farm is weeded
twice, once in July and a second time immediately before the harvest.
The Edo recognize three main varieties of yam, white, red, and water yam "
which mature in that order over a period stretching from mid-September to November
and sometimes, in the case of the water yam, continuing into January.8 The white
yam is usually quickly consumed. The main crop is the red yam which is harder
and more suitable for storing. All the yams are sorted out into sizes and tied indi-
vidually to vertical racks in the farm and in the houses.
Yam farming is essentially men's work though the women usually assist in weed-
ing and planting and the whole labour supply is mobilized for the harvest. If there
is a large crop the farmer may set aside some yams, usually the largest, to be sold
by his wives on his behalf. The rest he divides between his wives, if he has more
than one, to feed himself and his children and to sell if there is a surplus.
Corn is generally planted in rows between the yams and plantains; cocoyam, ;
ocro, rice, groundnuts, peppers, melons, gourds, beans, and other vegetables are
7 The organization of labour for agriculture will be discussed below, p. 28.
8 The early yams are harvested much sooner in the neighboring Ibo and Northern Edo
areas and there is a considerable import from these areas in the two months before the local
Z4 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
distributed round the tree stumps left in the farm, along the boundaries and in
other spaces. These crops are generally owned and always planted, tended, and
harvested by the women, though some men give their wives seeds to plant for their
own profit. From her own subsidiary crops a wife is expected to supply the needs
of her husband and children, but she is free to dispose of any surplus to her own
When the yam harvest has been reaped the farm is usually replanted with corn
and cassava. These and other crops, such as plantain, which may still be growing
on the old farm, are gathered as they become ripe and the plot gradually reverts
Some of the above subsidiary crops, especially plantains, corn, ocro, cocoyams,
and rice are also grown on separate plots by both men and women, to supplement
household food supplies and for sale in the local markets. Young men who are still
working on their fathers' yam farms sometimes earn a personal income in this way.
The most important tree crops of long standing are the kola and the oil and
coconut palms. Kola trees and coconut palms are planted, owned, and inherited by
individuals. All men and some women have kola trees, which are often placed along
the main paths; their fruit is essential to hospitality and an indispensable ingredient
of every ritual offering. Coconut palms are generally located close to the houses and
most adult men have at least one or two. Other fruit trees-orange, lemon, grape-
fruit, banana, avocado, etc.-are owned individually but are rare.
Oil-palms, on the other hand, are held collectively by the village community
and any member of the village may reap their fruit or tap them for wine. The only
exception to this rule is when a tree is growing on land under cultivation, in which
case the farmer's permission is necessary for its exploitation. Close periods are
declared at intervals to allow the trees to recuperate and these are usually followed
by a general assault on the fruit. Otherwise the Edo engage only desultorily in the
palm-produce industry (except where they own large plantations) which is mainly
in the hands of immigrants, especially Urhobo, Isoko, and Kwale Ibo. Most house-
holds find it necessary to buy palm-oil to eke out what they produce themselves.
The main sources of monetary income to-day are rubber and cocoa, which are
grown on small-holdings as well as in plantations, palm products from plantations,
Most Edo householders own a few hundred rubber trees which are tapped each
morning by adolescent boys and young men and even by women when the market
price is high. The rubber is smoked in ovens and made into sheets in presses which
are owned individually by one or two persons in each village to whom the rest pay
small fees for their use. Cocoa is less universal though most adult men have one or
more plots. Often, however, little attention is paid to it and the yield is not high.
Extensive plantations of rubber, cocoa, coconuts, oil-palms, and, in one case,
coffee, are owned by individuals-mainly wealthy and titled men in Benin City-
who employ paid labour. A considerable proportion of the labour force is of Ibo
The commercial extraction of timber, for which much capital and a highly
organized labour force is required, is mainly in the hands of European firms and a
few local individual and family concerns, though associations are sometimes formed
for the purpose of cutting, sawing, and selling timber locally. There is one African-
owned sawmill in Benin City and a certain amount of the timber production is used
THE BENIN KINGDOM
locally for building purposes, but the great bulk is exported to Europe and America
from the Sapele River ports to which it is transported by river and on lorries.
HUNTING, GATHERING, AND FISHING
The hunting of bush-pig, various kinds of buck, and other small animals is
universal. All men set traps on their farms and in the bush for the protection of
their crops and to supplement the food supply. Most have guns, many of which are
of local manufacture. In the denser forest areas there are part-time specialist hunters
who employ dogs and guns. Elephant hunters too are specialists and the dba
formerly had his own band of elephant hunters located at Oregbeni, a village just
outside Benin City. Another group, in the capital, had the duty of catching and
keeping leopards for sacrifice, and a third group was responsible for providing fish-
eagles for the same purpose.9
The collection of wild bush products, and of the snails and tortoises which form
an important part of the protein diet, is in the hands of women. They and the
children are responsible for supplying the household with wood and water though
a man will often carry home a log he finds lying about.
The Edo play little part in the exploitation of the rivers, depending largely
upon the Urhobo, Ijaw, and Itsekiri for their fish. Formerly, however, certain
villages were responsible for providing the Oba's court with fish, a service which
was organized by Dgwa, one of the minor title-holders in Benin City.
Goats, sheep, dogs, and fowls are ubiquitous and are all important as sacrificial
offerings as well as for meat; they are indeed rarely killed except for sacrificial
In some villages there are a few dwarf cattle which graze on grassy patches
round the settlements. For the most part they are owned by the Oba and other
chiefs and wealthy men in Benin City. Arrangements are made with the villagers,
who look after them and receive a proportion of the increase. Similar arrangements
are made in respect of goats and sheep by commoners. Cows are killed only as
sacrificial offerings during important rites. The members of certain ward-guilds in
Benin City and elsewhere were responsible for the care of the Oba's leopards, horses,
cows, dogs, and sheep.10
MARKETS AND TRADE
Most villages have markets which belong exclusively to them or are shared with
one or more neighboring villages. There are, in addition, a number of large
:feeder-markets which supply the capital and other large towns outside the kingdom
with foodstuffs. Benin City itself has two large markets. All markets are held
every four days so that in the capital there is a market every alternate day. Women .," .
handle all kinds of foodstuffs and other native products while both sexes engage in
the modern trade in imported goods. Cash crops are sold by middle-men or women
or by the producers themselves to European and native exporters.
Before European rule, trade with visiting ships at the port of UghotO (Gwatto
or Ughoton) was closely controlled by the state. The Oba had a monopoly of the
export of slaves, ivory, palm-kernels, and pepper. Special officials led by the
Unwagwe and Cribo, the senior chiefs of the Iwebo palace association (see p. 37),
visited the ships on his behalf and not until his business was complete were other
chiefs and commoners allowed to trade on their own behalf, and then only with
the Oba's permission.
O See The internal organization of Benin City," pp. 34-5 below.
ZO THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
CRAFTS AND INDUSTRIES
Most of the important indigenous crafts of the Benin kingdom were in the hands
of special ward-guilds in Benin City. There were guilds of blacksmiths and brass-
smiths, wood and ivory carvers (one group), leather workers, weavers of special
embroidered cloths, drum-makers, locksmiths, etc., and some of these still function.
Brass-casting was confined to the Igucr3v5 ward of Benin City whose members
mostly claim descent from Iguoghae who is said to have introduced the craft from
Ife in the time of Dba DhE. There has been much speculation as to where the Edo
learnt this art and while it is now generally accepted that Ife is the immediate source
its ultimate origin is still in question. A detailed bibliography of the subject is given
on p. 168. Almost the whole production of the brass-smiths was at the command of
the palace and it consisted very largely of ritual and ceremonial objects (see p. 35
Wood-carving and ivory carving, too,; are almost non-existent outside the
capital, where they are the concern of the Igbesdvd ward and of certain functionaries
within the palace. The carved staves (uxurhe) which are the symbols of the deities
worshipped by village communities (see p. 56) are produced in the Igbesdvd ward
on the instructions of the Oba. Important title-holders in the capital and hereditary
village chiefs could, however, apparently obtain uxurhe and wooden heads as altar
decorations and other ritual and ceremonial objects directly. The Oba had control
over all ivory in the kingdom and nearly all ivory carvings appear to have been
for his personal use.
Carpenters (onwina) who produced mortars, door-frames, roofing beams, drum-
parts, etc., for the Oba's court formed a special group located in a number of
scattered villages outside Benin City. They were under the control of a title-holder
in the capital who, when their services were required, summoned them and sent them
to any village where suitable timber was available. The inhabitants of that village
were responsible for feeding and lodging them while they carried out their work.
The Onwina N'ido ward of Benin City produce a special kind of cloth worn by
the Oba and, in the form of pennants tied at the waist, by important title-holders.
This cloth is woven on large frames, both at the palace and in the ward, and is
embroidered with patterns representing the Oba and certain ritual symbols.
In the past it is probable that the Igi!ward of Benin City had a monopoly of
iron-smithing but at the present day smiths from that ward and from Awka (Ibo) and
Ineme (Northern Edo-see pp. 123-6 below) are to be found in most villages.
Pottery" for both ceremonial and utilitarian purposes was formerly produced by
only two villages, Use to the west of Benin City and Utekon to the north. At the
present day pots are being produced in the brass-smiths' ward and some other parts
of the capital. Potters' clay is obtained from a village near the Ovia River.
Apart from the ceremonial cloth mentioned above there is very little weaving
in the central area of the kingdom. In the north and east women weave rough cloths
on upright looms. Mats and baskets are made in a number of villages but the
greater part of the supply is to-day imported from outside the area.
" See Thomas, 1910 (3).
THE BENIN KINGDOM
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL
The basic kinship terms used in reference are as follows (with first person
erha vE my father
iye v9 my mother
ovi v9 (pl. ivi) my child
ovi-erha vE my sibling (same F.)
ov-iye vE my sibling (same M.)
erha v-odede or erha vE noxwa (big) my grandfather
iye v-odede or iye vE noxwa my grandmother
ovoxa v9 my wife
odafE vE or 3d3 vE my husband
otE vE my sibling and consanguineal
oruag vE my relative-in-law
The term otE is used, in the first place, to denote sibling, but is extended to
collateral kin, usually but not necessarily of one's own generation, on both the
maternal and paternal sides. Where more specific reference is required, combina-
tions of the basic terms are employed. Thus, a half-sibling is ovi erha (father's
child) or oviye (mother's child). The latter term usually denotes full siblingship
but if further confirmation is necessary ovi-erha-oviye may be used. To distinguish
between paternal and maternal grandparents the terms erh-erha and iy-erha (father's
father and mother) and erh-iye and iy-iye (mother's father and mother) are used.
A father's sibling is ovi-erh-erha (child of the father's father) or ovi-iy-erha (child
of the mother's father), and a mother's sibling ovi-erh-iye or ovi-iy-iye. This
method may be extended to any category of consanguineal relatives but, since it
quickly becomes a clumsy mode of reference, circumlocutions are usually employed.
There are no special terms for mother's brother or father's sister. Precise relation-
ships with affines may be denoted by combinations of the words for husband and
wife with those for father, mother, and child. Where the sex is not clear, the terms
okpia (male) and oxuo (female) are affixed, coming after the personal pronoun.
The term ovoxa (which also means servant or dependent ") is used only
with pronouns; otherwise the word for wife is avg. Ddaft is used only with pro-
nouns while od3 is of general application.
The terms iwu, eye, ihiEhiE, sakparg-ghodi, and ghabiona denote descendants
from the first to the fifth generation; they are, however, rarely used to refer to
In address the terms iye and evava or ebaba (father) are used for all relatives
of ascending generations, while the very old are addressed respectfully as odede
(old person). Kin of the same generation address each other as atf, ovi-erha, and/or
oviye, while ovi is used for those of a descending generation. No limits are set to
the use of these terms and all may be applied affectionately to non-kin. A man
may refer to or address his son's or brother's wife as my wife." Equals and
junior relatives of all categories may be addressed by their personal names. Where
there is an element of doubt teknonymy is frequently employed.
DOMESTIC AND FAMILY GROUPINGS
In the villages outside Benin City households vary in size from a single (usually
impotent) man to a joint family of some 20 souls. The following types of family
can be recognized:-
1. The nuclear or compound family consisting of a man and his wife or wives
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
and their children, who may occupy a house or be located in rooms in the house of
the man's father or senior brother.
2. The joint family consisting of an elderly man with his wives and unmarried
children, together with one or more unmarried sons with their wives and children
and, in some cases, younger married brothers. Most married men prefer to move
out of their father's house before or soon after the latter's death. Recently married
sons may, however, stay under the authority of their senior brother (who inherits the
house) for a time, especially if they have no children, and unmarried sons will stay
there until they are married and have children.
3. The extended family, occupying several, usually neighboring houses, made
up of a man and his married brothers and sons with their wives and children, and,
possibly, the sons and unmarried daughters of his deceased elder brothers) with the
letters' wives and children.
To any of these groupings may be added divorced and widowed mothers,
sisters, and daughters of the male (and sometimes the female) members together
with other categories of kin, servants and, formerly, slaves.
Residence, after marriage, is virilocal. A man brings his first wife to live in
his father's house and remains there until the birth of one or more children. An
only son may remain with his father until the latter's death, when he inherits the
house. If, on account of witchcraft, quarrelling, or for some other reason a man
should wish to move out of his own village he will generally go to one where he
has paternal or maternal relatives or even friends but very rarely to his wife's
village,12 where he will stand in a servant relationship towards his parents-in-law
without the benefit of the backing of his own kin.
None of the types of family listed above necessarily corresponds to an economic
unit, for either production or consumption. An only son who remains in his father's
house may continue to farm jointly with his father during the latter's lifetime. On
the other hand when a man has a number of sons, the senior ones may begin to farm
on their own even while living in the same house as their father. A son who does
this may farm a piece of land adjoining that of his father and continue to assist the
latter or he and a brother, relative, affine, or friend may assist each other in culti-
.vating adjoining but separate tracts. Alternatively he may clear and work his land
quite independently." In order to farm satisfactorily a man requires the assistance
of one or more women, for it is they who plant and care for subsidiary crops. The
unmarried son of a widow or a divorced woman who chooses to remain with his
mother may co-operate with her in farming a piece of land. Similarly a widow or
divorce may enter into an arrangement with her brother for this purpose. The
most common farming unit, however, consists of a man and his wife or wives and
any children who are old enough to assist. If a man has two or more women
dependent upon him (two or more wives, a wife or wives and a mother or sister,
etc.) he divides his farm into sections on which each will plant her own subsidiary
crops independently. The units of consumption and production correspond to each
The following economic arrangements were observed in a typical large joint
family. The headman was assisted in his farm by his two wives, two unmarried
sons, and the widowed daughter of a deceased daughter. A married son living with
him farmed separately with his two wives (their three children being too young to
help). A third unit was formed by the son of one of the headman's wives by a
12 The kin of husband and wife may live in the same village in which case this does not
'1 In the Benin kingdom there is no permanent ownership of tracts of farm land by either
individuals or kin groups. The land is owned jointly by the whole village (in some cases
there is no boundary between villages) and any man may farm anywhere on village land
subject to the approval of the chief and elders. Thus a young man is not dependent upon
his father or senior brother or any other relative for obtaining land to cultivate.
THE BENIN KINGDOM Z
former husband and his mother (who thus had sections of two farms), and a fourth
by a widowed daughter of the headman and her unmarried son and daughter.
Another married son lived independently in Benin as a rubber buyer and two others
(unmarried) worked there as carpenters.
This joint family formed part of an extended family, under the same headman,
which included two other adjacent households. The first consisted of the headman's
junior brother and his wife, an adult son and his wife and a number of younger
children; the second of the headman's senior son and his wife and unmarried
children. Thus the extended family comprised six producing and consuming units
(excluding the absent members) four of which occupied one household and the other
two separate households.
Each of the types of family listed above is a quasi-political unit in that its
members are under the immediate control, for certain purposes, of the oldest male
who can apply sanctions against them. The three kinds of family form a hierarchy
in so far as the head of the nuclear or compound family may be under the authority
of the head of a joint family who may in turn be subject to the head of his extended
family. This situation is realized in the extended family described above where the
junior brother of the headman is the head of a joint family which includes the
nuclear family headed by his own son. The headmen of the various kinds of families
settle disputes between their dependents and punish them for misdemeanours. The
headmen of joint and extended families, as members of the senior age-grade with
an effective voice in the village council (see below), represent their dependents
vis-a-vis the village community and can be held responsible for their behaviour.
A family head has the right to apply physical sanctions against those under his
authority though he would not attempt to beat his adult sons or brothers. The main
support for such authority, however, lies in the relation between the living and the
deceased patrilineal ancestors of the family head. The situation is complicated by
the rule of primogeniture. When a man dies his senior son sets up an altar at which
to communicate with him or, if his father was himself a senior son, takes over the
altar at which the latter worshipped his ancestors. The welfare of the senior son
and his siblings and the wives and agnatic descendants of himself and his brothers
is believed to depend upon the goodwill of the deceased father and his lineal
ancestors, who punish wrongdoing with sickness, death, and other catastrophes.
As the intermediary with these ancestors the senior son thus has access to powerful
supernatural sanctions. His authority is not complete, however, so long as any of
his dead father's junior brothers survive for, since they themselves, as junior sons,
do not have ancestor shrines, they must be represented at his. The senior among
them thus occupies the role of a second priest and headman; the actual balance of
power between the two depends upon their relative ages and personalities, and their
economic and political statuses.
The rights and obligations consequent upon common membership of domestic
and family groupings are conceived of in terms of a master-servant relationship. In
relation to the family head or the household head all his dependants are servants.
The term ovoxi which means, in the first instance, wife may be applied to
any member, male or female, of this group in emphasizing his or her dependence
upon the headman. Its effective plural ibiska also carries an overtone of subservi-
ence and covers all those, kin or non-kin, under the authority of a family head.
Children are thought of as the servants of their father, wives of their husbands,
junior brothers of their seniors, and younger of older women. Thus in each house-
hold or family there is a series of hierarchies which determines the moral rights and
obligations of the members towards each other.
At the present day family groupings in Benin City do not differ markedly from
those in the villages. In the past, however, the households of important title-holders
were considerably larger. The chiefs themselves had more wives and children and
to these were added slaves and servants, the latter frequently given by their own
U0 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
parents in return for the patronage of the title-holder. It is probable, too, that
married men stayed in their fathers' and senior brothers' compounds for much
longer periods and were subject to a stricter and more effective discipline than now
exists. Thus the households of high-ranking and wealthy chiefs probably contained
several hundred people, though many of these would live and be employed from
time to time on their masters' farms in the villages. To-day few households have
more than 30 inhabitants.
AGNATES AND OTHER KIN
It will be clear from what has been said above that the rule of descent is patri-
lineal. Children are affiliated to the lineage of their pater (that is, the person to
whom their mother is married or betrothed) from whom they inherit and to whose
title, if any, the eldest surviving son succeeds. An exception to this rule is found
in some cases where the holder of a title has daughters but no sons. By arrange-
ment with the senior daughter's husband, one of her sons may be adopted by her
father and made his heir and successor. This is not, however, universal, for in many
instances the title passes, in the absence of sons, to a brother or more remote agnate
of the deceased holder. It is, however, a common practice for sons-in-law who
have a number of sons to send one of them to their wife's father to be brought up
by him and to act as his servant but this does not usually affect his affiliation to
his father's lineage.
The widest effective patrilineage is usually that which corresponds to the
extended family and is thus, as will be seen from the above, only two or three
generations in depth. Beyond this level precise relationships may be traced for
several generations but the degree of corporateness of lineages of greater depth and
span depends largely upon political factors, that is, upon the prestige and material
advantages of belonging to the lineage of a hereditary village chief or of a title-
holder in Benin City. Such advantages depended in the past upon the efficacy of
the patronage of the title-holder and at the present day they have largely disappeared.
There remains only the prestige of belonging to a lineage which possesses a hereditary
title (to which, unless the direct line fails, only the holder's sons can aspire) or to
one whose members have held important non-hereditary titles.
The poor development of the lineage system in marked contrast with that of,
for example, the neighboring Yoruba, appears to be correlated with a number of
economic and political factors:-
1. A system of land tenure in which kin groups do not lay claim to tracts of
land. Each adult male is dependent upon the village community as a whole, rather
than upon his own kin group, for land on which to farm or build. (See p. 44 below.)
2. The unitary character of the village community in general, which is expressed
Sin the three-tier age-grade system that cuts across kin groups and makes age, rather
than lineage affiliation, the criterion of authority. The unity of the village is illus-
trated by the fact that a man who wishes to build a house calls upon the village as
a whole rather than his own kinsmen to assist him. (See p. 31 ff.)
3. Low marriage-payments. In order to obtain his first wife a man is depen-
dent only'upon his father and possibly his paternal grandfather, while the acquiring
of subsequent wives is his own responsibility. Similarly the marriage-payments
are distributed among an equally restricted circle of the bride's kin.
4. The rule of primogeniture by which a senior son inherits his father's house
and most of his property and, where applicable, his title; thus the benefits of inheri-
tance are restricted within the narrowest limits. In accordance with this principle
the system of ancestor worship is such that there is a tendency for a new set of
shrines to be set up in each generation so that there is a constant hiving-off of
ancestor-worshipping units, i.e., of ritually and politically effective corporate
THE BENIN KINGDOM 61
5. A title-system in which titles are either hereditary by primogeniture or are
not hereditary m any sense. This is in marked contrast with the Yoruba situation
where most titles are associated with lineages and may be aspired to by any male
Agnation, then, determines the line of inheritance and succession, membership
of wider domestic and family groupings, of a village community and (see pp. 37-9
ff.) nominally, at least, of one of the palace associations. In Benin City, and a few
villages outside, it determines membership of ward-guilds which carry out certain
crafts and hold ceremonial and ritual offices. Finally it determines membership of
the dispersed clans or quasi-clans to one of which every Edo belongs. There are
about 35 of these each with its own morning salutation and taboos. With few
exceptions each clan is nominally headed by a hereditary village chief or hereditary
title-holder in Benin City. In the past they had a political aspect in so far as slaves
and servants as well as descendants of members and their wives took on the saluta-
tion and taboos of their masters. One of the clans is headed by the .yase whose
title is non-hereditary and, therefore, can be acquired by a member of any clan who,
thereupon, with his followers, takes on the appropriate salutation and taboos. The
clan greeting is addressed by inferiors to their superiors on first meeting them in the
morning. The Oba's clan is further distinguished by the semi-circular shape of its
members' ancestor altars.
Non-agnatic kinship does not give rise to corporate groups or to membership
of any social groupings. Strong ties of affection exist between a person and his
or her maternal kin. It is to them that a man naturally turns for help in any under-
taking should his agnates fail him, and if he decides to leave his father's village
he is most likely to seek a home in that of his mother. Within the compound family
stronger ties usually exist between full siblings than between those who have different
mothers--a fact which is explicitly recognized in certain Edo proverbs; full brothers
are more likely to assist each other in farming and other enterprises and they inherit
their father's property as a unit (see p. 46 below).
Affinal relations are discussed in the section on marriage (see p. 48).
VILLAGE SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
The village is the basic political unit of the Benin kingdom. Generally speak-
ing-though there are exceptions to all these generalizations-it is the widest unit for
age-grade organization, the minimal land-holding unit, the smallest group which can
have a hereditary chief, the smallest tribute unit, and also the co-operative unit for
house building; most villages unite in worship of a common deity (see p. 56).
Each village is a compact settlement though most are divided into wards
(idivi) which may be separated from each other by small patches of bush. There
are two kinds of village plan. In the first type each ward consists of a cluster of
houses round a central open space or short street; in the other all the houses in the
village are arranged along one or both sides of a single street. Both types appear
to be traditional but the second has become predominant with the movement of
villages to the main roads in recent years.
Each ward consists of one or more extended families living in close proximity
and recognizing the authority of the oldest man or, in exceptional cases, of a heredi-
tary chief. Wards consisting of a single extended family are typical and the ward
per se is not usually an exogamous unit. In large villages the wards take on some
or all of the features listed above as typical of the village and the line between the
concept of village and ward becomes difficult to draw in functional terms. In small
villages, on the other hand, the ward organization tends to be submerged in the life
of the village community as a whole and there is little corporate activity at the ward
level. Order of precedence between wards is recognized on the basis of antiquity
and other factors.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
In the Benin villages the male population14 at any given time is horizontally
stratified into three age-grades, viz.:-
1. Iroghae-entered by boys in their early teens, that is, as soon as they are
considered strong enough to take part in the communal tasks of the grade. These
V include the clearing of paths to farms, streams, and other villages and the care and
repair of shrines and other public buildings. "Most men stay in this grade for from
15 to 20 years.
2. Ighele15-the grade of adult men who perform the heavier and more skilled
communal tasks. They were formerly the executive arm of political and judicial
authority within the village and the potential fighting force.
3. Edi3 (sing. odi3)-the elders who are exempt from communal labour and who
form the village council for political and judicial purposes. (In other contexts the
term edi3 refers to the collective dead of a village or other corporate group).16
There are no formal age-sets and no fixed intervals for entry and promotion
which are effected as they become expedient. Men are usually promoted in groups
whose members develop an esprit de corps which is demonstrated in mutual affection
and assistance. Individual promotions may be made, however, as, for instance,
when a man has been absent from his village at the time when he would normally
have been elevated to the next grade.
Ideally, seniority and order of promotion are strictly according to age but other
factors may intervene to upset this, especially the custom prevailing in some villages
of inviting an adult senior son to become odi5 on the death of his father. In certain
circumstances the status of odi3 can be honorarily conferred on young boys. Thus,
in one village people may apply to have their children made odi5 during the burial
of an odi5 or the installation of an onogie (hereditary chief) or odi3were (see below).
Honorary odi3 status does not, however, exempt the child from taking his place with
the lower grades when he grows up; it merely reduces the expenses involved in pro-
motion to the odi3 grade proper. A man who is made a member of the odi3 or odafE
grade of one of the palace associations (see below, p. 37) automatically becomes
odi3 in his own village.
The two lower grades each have two leaders or ikao (sing. okao)-ikairoghae
and ikaighele. They are chosen on the basis of seniority, qualities of leadership,
and ward precedence. Their task is to direct the communal activities of their grades
and to act as the intermediary between the grades and the odi3were and, where
present, the onogie. They discipline their fellows with the permission of the
The odi3were, subject to certain qualifications (ward precedence, sanity, being
a native of the village, etc.) is the oldest man in the village, or, in some cases, the
first of the surviving elders to have been made odi3. Where there is no hereditary
chief he is the sole village headman. In any case he controls age-grade activities
and as the priest of the collective ancestor spirits (edi5) and of the earth (oto) he
commands powerful supernatural sanctions; he is the repository of village traditions
and the recognized authority on customary law.
The oldest man in each ward is regarded as the odi3were of the ward. Where
the ward has a separate edi5 shrine he is its custodian and he directs age-grade
activities within the ward.
In some villages the first four edi5 (edi5nene) or the first seven (edi3ihir5) are
accorded a special status.
Age-grade promotion ceremonies are described elsewhere (see p. 49 below).
14 There are no age-grades for women.
1i At the present day there is a tendency, in some villages, for this grade to disappear.
Individuals and groups then pass directly from iroghae to ediM.
See p. 56.
THE BENIN KINGDOM 33
Authority in the Village
There are two kinds of village headman, hereditary and non-hereditary. The
non-hereditary headman (odizwere) is found in all villages and age is the principle
factor in his appointment (see above).
Not all villages have an hereditary headman or onogie (pl. enigie) and, on the
other hand, the holder of such an office may rule over a number of villages which
thus constitute a chiefdom; conversely a ward within a village may have its own
onogie. The office ideally passes from eldest son to eldest son like all other hereditary
offices in the Benin kingdom. Some enigie claim descent from chiefs who ruled
before the founding of the present Benin dynasty or before the village or chiefdom
in question was incorporated in the Benin state. Others are descended from followers
of previous kings who were appointed in recognition of their services. The majority,
however, trace their descent to junior sons of past 3ba who were made enigie on
the accession of their senior brother-a practice which still persists. In some other
cases the hereditary chief is the priest (ohE) of a deity worshipped by the village
community on behalf of the state."1
The heir to a hereditary headmanship must validate his succession by organizing
and playing a major part in the mortuary rites of his deceased father. If he is still
a minor when his father dies some other member of his father's lineage is chosen to
act for him as edayi (dayi = to uphold, support). Failing a male heir the succession
may pass to a brother or more remote agnate of the deceased though in some villages
it is the custom for the son of the latter's senior daughter to succeed (see p. 30).
Disputed succession is decided by the Oba of Benin.
In villages without enigie meetings of the village council take place either at
the house of the odi3were or in a special meeting-house, ogwedi5, which contains the
shrine of the collective dead (edi3) of the village (see p. 56). Every village has an
agwedi5 located in a cleared space at the entrance to or in the middle of the village.
In villages with a hereditary headman meetings are convened at his house. In
such cases there is, in effect, a dual headmanship and the pattern of authority which
emerges varies considerably, depending upon the relative following, influence and
personality of the two incumbents. In so far as there is any consistent division of
functions the odi3were concerns himself with age-grade organisation and the internal
affairs of the village while the onogie is the community's representative vis-a-vis
other villages and the central authority of the kingdom. Where he is the ruler of a
petty chiefdom he co-ordinates the activities of its component villages. In practice,
however, the powers of the two headmen tend to overlap; a strong onogie gives
orders to the lower age-grades while a weak one may submit his disputes with
commoners to the decisions of the odi5were. The wealthier and more powerful enigie
live in houses similar in plan, size, and decoration to those of important title-holders
in Benin City. They confer titles on their followers and formerly received tribute
and other services from them. On the other hand, the households of the less influ-
ential enigie are indistinguishable from those of their subjects.
The village council is made up of the onogie (where present), the odiSwere and
the members of the edi5 age-grade. Where a particular joint or extended family has
no odi3 a younger man may be invited to sit on the council. Meetings are held in
public and non-members, male and female, may be asked to give their opinions
though they do not usually initiate discussion except in presenting matters which
concern them personally. Apart from its judicial functions the council discusses such
topics as the collection of tribute (formerly), or, nowadays, of tax; the organization "/
of collective tasks and of cult festivals; the performance of sacrifices for the good
of the community and the delegation of representatives to consult diviners on behalf
of the community or individuals within it; relations with and instructions from the
central authority; contributions to funds both for public purposes and to assist mem-
17 See Hero-deities, p. 56, below.
013 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
bers of the village who are in difficulties; and, at the present day, the building and
upkeep of schools, etc. After a free discussion the odi3were or the onogie announces
the council's decision and gives orders for its implementation.
Executive functions are performed by the lower age-grades under their leaders
and supervised by the edi5. In so far as the women are concerned the older ones in
the village or from each ward are summoned and informed of what is expected of
CHIEFDOMS AND VILLAGE-GROUPS
Petty chiefdoms consisting of two or more villages owing allegiance to a heredi-
tary chief are found in most parts of the kingdom but are most characteristic of its
eastern region. In the centre, north, and west there is a tendency for villages to be
independent of each other and to deal as separate units with the central authority
in Benin City. East of the Orhiomo River the local groupings are very similar to
those of the Ishan chiefdoms.'8 Villages, some of which themselves have hereditary
chiefs, are grouped into chiefdoms each under an onogie who is responsible for the
group to the central authority in Benin. He formerly organized the collection of
tribute and the provision of.labour for the Oba. He settles disputes between mem-
bers of the different villages under his control, calls meetings of delegates from all
the villages to discuss matters concerning the group as a whole and stations title-
holders (exaevg) in all the villages.
Village-groups without hereditary chiefs are found in some parts of the kingdom.
Joint meetings of the councils of such groups are presided over by the senior
odiswere, chosen according to age or in conformity with the precedence of certain
villages over others. The villages of such groups commonly had, in the past,
arrangements for peaceably settling disputes between their respective members.
Ties of friendship and mutual co-operation in limited respects obtain between
other groups of villages on the basis of such factors as the alleged common descent
of their founders, joint exploitation of farming and hunting territory, common
markets, and common possession of the same cult. In the past the central authority
of the kingdom created certain groups for the purpose of tribute collection.
At the present day there is a tendency for hereditary chiefs to lose their auth-
ority in villages which were tributary to them, and for each village to become an
autonomous unit within the kingdom.
THE INTERNAL ORGANIZATION OF BENIN CITY
Benin City is divided into two halves by a broad street. In one half (Ogbe) live
the Oba and his court and the palace chiefs and in the other (Ore n'oxwa) the town
The two halves are further sub-divided into more than 40 wards the members
of each of which have special duties to perform for the Oba." They include craft
specialists such as blacksmiths and brass-smiths, leather workers, wood and ivory
carvers, tapestry weavers, drum-makers, hunters, leopard-keepers, cow-herds, and
builders; many different groups of priests, doctors," diviners, ordeal adminis-
trators; minstrels and other ceremonial functionaries; and other palace officials such
as store-keepers and harem-attendants.
Within each ward the male population is stratified in grades roughly parallel to
those in the villages but with differences in the details of organization and in the
names given to the grades. Qualification for the higher grades may take into account
proficiency in the special skills of the group.
Leadership within the ward is ascribed on a variety of principles. Some have
edi5were chosen in the same way as those in the villages, others are headed by heredi-
18 See Section II of this Survey, pp. 61-80.
THE BENIN KINGDOM 35
tary or non-hereditary title-holders or by leaders (ikao) appointed by or with the
approval of the Oba.
Each ward-guild is affiliated to one of the palace associations through whose
leaders it makes contacts with the Oba and receives orders from him; the leaders of
some of the more important wards, however, have the right of direct access to the
The bronzes for which Benin has become famous are produced by the brass-
smiths' guild Iguer5v5 which is headed by a number of hereditary chiefs of whom
the senior is entitled Ine. Bronzes were produced and distributed only on the orders
of the Oba and any other person wishing to obtain a casting would have to apply
through him. The production of bronzes for the decoration of the altar of a deceased
Oba was a ritual affair which formed part of the installation ceremonies of his-
successor. Heads and other figures were cast on a special piece of ground used for
no other purpose, the new Oba himself pouring the first crucible of molten bronze
and other senior chiefs following him. The Oba rewarded the smiths with slaves,
money, and other gifts.
Where the earnings of a guild were insufficient its members had farms in the
villages, worked by their dependents and slaves.
THE CENTRAL STATE ORGANIZATION
The most important political and ceremonial offices in the Benin kingdom are
linked with chiefly titles (egie) of which there are a very large number, organized o
into a complex system of grades and ranks.
Uzama and Eghaevo
Three orders of chiefs stand out from the rest in terms of rank and degree of
authority. They are:-
1. The Uzama n'Ihir3-the Seven Uzama-whose titles, in order of rank, are
Oliha, EdohE, Ezomo, Cro, Eholo n'Ire, Olot5, and EdaikE. The Uzama are the
most ancient and highest ranking order of chiefs in the state, though for a long
period prior to British rule they had as a body probably been less influential than
the Eghaevo (see below).
The first five titles are generally ascribed to the period preceding the present
dynasty; it was their holders who sent to the Oni of Ife for a king. The first 9lot5
was a brother" of Araminya who accompanied him from Ife and stayed in Benin
to help look after the interests of the young Sweka (see p. 20, above) who later
attached him to the Uzama. The seventh title, EdaikE, is held by the senior son of
the reigning Oba. ewuare, the 12th Oba, is believed to have been the first to confer
this title on his son and make him an Uzama.
All seven titles are hereditary; the first six descend on the death of the holder
to his eldest surviving son who must, however, be ceremonially installed at the Oba's
palace. The EdaikE title becomes vacant when the holder is installed as Oba and
remains so until his senior son is considered mature enough to take his place.
All the Uzama have their own settlements outside the inner wall on the western
side of Benin City. Of these Uzebu, Urubi, and Uselu, belonging to the Ezomo,
Cro, and Edaikg, respectively, are considerable villages, Idumwoloton (Idilvoit5) is
a ward of Benin City, while Idumwoliha (Idilvoliha), Idumwedohen (Idilvedo3h),
and Idumweholo (Idiiveho3) consist of little more than the immediate dependents
of the chief. Each Uzama enjoys a large degree of independence in his own village.
He keeps a court with palace associations organized on similar lines to those of the
Oba (see below), though on a smaller scale, and he can confer titles on his own
subjects. This does not apply to DOot, however; titles at Idumwoloton are conferred
by the Oba at the time of his installation. There and at Uzebu, Urubi, and Uselu,
some titles are still held but the palace societies have ceased to function.
.50 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
Apart from their political functions (see below), the chief duty of the Uzama
as a body is the installation of a new Oba.19 The EdaikE is pronounced Oba by the
Oliha. Dlt3 is in charge of the site at Usama where the installation takes place and
of the arrangements for the ceremony. The senority of the Uzama over other chiefly
groups is recognized in the position which they take up at this and other state
Other functions of individual Uzama are as follows. The Ezomo was the senior
warrior chief who waged all major campaigns on the Oba's behalf. In the past he
was undoubtedly the wealthiest and most influential of the Uzama. Like the Oba
he is referred to as 3Om (child). His wives are known as iloi and, like the Oba's
wives, are subject to strict limitations in their contacts with other men; he alone,
apart from the Oba, is allowed to wear a coronet of coral beads. Ero was the
guardian of the north-western gateway to Benin City and had some responsibility
for the EdaikE and the Queen-mother, near whose court his own village is situated.
Olt3 is the keeper of the shrine of Azama at which special sacrifices take place at
the naming of the Oba's eldest son and on other occasions. He and the EdaikE, as
the junior members, convey messages and share out any benefits which accrue to
The Uzama meet together at Oliha's compound where the shrine of their collec-
tive ancestors (edi3-Uzama) is located. The Oba and the Uzama make special
sacrifices there on their accession, Oliha being the chief priest.
Two other hereditary titles are sometimes associated with the Uzama, though
their holders are not generally recognized as members of the group. Elema, who
claims an origin similar to that of Olt5, has a village outside the south-western
gate of the city. Ogiavg is the descendant of the ruler of the land on which the
Oba's palace now stands before Araminya came from Ife. On his accession each
Oba fights a mock battle with Ogiavg for possession of the land (see p. 20).
2. The Eghaevo n'Ore are the town chiefs as distinct from the palace
chiefs" (Eghaevo n'Ogbe). Benin City is divided into two parts separated by a
broad street. The smaller south-western part which contains the Dba's compound
(eguae-oba) is called Ogbe, the rest Ore n'axwa (literally the big town ").
There are 19 Eghaevo n'Ore titles, of which the most important, in order of
seniority, are lyase, Esogbd, Es3, and Osuma, sometimes known as ekadal'enE
edo, the four pillars of Benin."
Oba Ewuare is said to be the founder of the order, which at first con-
sisted of the four titles named above, though an lyase is named in the reign of his
father, Ohg. Later Oba added more titles and with one exception they all rank in
order of their antiquity.
Before British rule only one town title-Ologbose-was hereditary. The remain-
ing titles were theoretically open to free competition. Qualifications for and manner
of appointment to these titles and their position in the political organization will be
described below. There are now two more hereditary titles, Osula and Obaruyiedo;
the latter created by the present Oba is included in both the "town" and "palace"
orders, though held by one man.
The lyase, who together with the Ezomo (see above) was one of the two senior
warrior chiefs, is the leader and spokesman of the Eghaevo n'Ore. Ologbose, who
was second-in-command to the Ezomo, and Imara are the other war captains. The
Esogba is known as odiowere edo and is the priest of the Edo people to whom
sacrifies are made by the Eghaevo in times of national catastrophe. He is also
the lyasc's deputy in the latter's absence.
It is the Eghaevo n'Ore who, on behalf of and in the presence of the Oba, confers
19 The Uzama resemble in some respects the groups of chiefs known as kingmakers "
among the Yoruba but, unlike the latter, they do not elect the Oba, succession being by
THE BENIN KINGDOM
titles on all chiefs other than the Jba himself. The lyase or the senior Eghaevo
n'Ore present makes the actual pronouncement.
Town chiefs should not live in Ogbe. If resident there when the title is bestowed
upon them, they should remove to Ore n'oxwa.
For some purposes the lyaba, who is the actual mother of the reigning Dba,
is ranked fifth among the town chiefs; she has her own court at the village Uselu,
just outside Benin City, where the EdaikE also resides.
3. The Eghaevo n'Ogbe or palace chiefs are the senior officials of the Oba's
household. There are 29 of these titles and, with the exception of Obaruyiedo,
none is hereditary. They are divided up between the three palace associations which
must be described before the position of the Eghaevo n'Ogbe can be understood.
The Palace Associations
The three palace associations (otu-eguae) are, in order of seniority, Iwebo,
Iweguae, and Ibiwe. Each has special duties which its members perform in the
royal household. The members of Iwebo are in charge of the Oba's wardrobe and
the state regalia, and make and repair the coral bead garments and ornaments which
are the mark of high rank. Iweguae provides the Dba's personal and domestic
servants and the Ibiwe are the caretakers of the Erie or harem, that is, of the Oba's
wives and children.
Each otu has its own section of the palace which members of the others are not
allowed to enter. The Oba's own living and sleeping quarters are in Iweguae.
Membership or affiliation to the otu-eguae is to be understood in two senses.
First, any Benin man in the capital or the villages will claim to belong to one or other
otu and to have inherited this affiliation from his father. This does not, however,
imply participation in the society's activities or even the right to enter its apartments
which is only obtained by an initiation ceremony.
Each otu has two senior grades, in which the members have individual titles,
and three untitled grades.
Iwebo Iweguae Ibiwe
cited grades Eghaevo n'Ogbe Eghaevo n'Ogbe Eghaevo n'Ogbe
titled grades ExaevE uko n'Iwebo Exarve uko n'lweguae Exaeve uko n'Uherie
r Uko n'lwebo Uko n'lweguae Uko n'Uherie
Untitled grades OdafE Odaf! 3di5
Ibitrugha Ibierugha Ibierugha
Admission into an otu-eguae and promotion through its grades are at the
discretion of the Dba and the Eghaevo n'Ogbe of that otu. At each stage the candi-
date must pay fees and entertain his fellows and seniors. When he is being enrolled
as an ibierugha a young man spends seven days in the palace at the end of which
he is led home in procession by the other ibierugha. He then becomes liable to
perform menial duties and to deliver messages for the Oba and chiefs of his otu. In
the past the ibierugha were organized into companies which spent a few days on
duty in the palace in rotation.
By promotion to adafr or 9di5 the individual gains more freedom and no longer
sleeps at the eguae (palace). In Iwebo this grade provides the enisE who are skilled
in stringing coral beads and who are in charge of the palace stores. The imuokpa,
bearers of sacrificial offerings at state ceremonies, are chosen from the edafg and
edi5 of Iwebo and Ibiwe. Others supervise the work of the ibierugha. The enobore,
who support the Oba's arms when he is standing or walking, are selected from the
best physical specimens among the edafE and ibierugha of Iwebo and Iweguae. The
emada (sing. omada), the royal sword-bearers, who are presented to the Dba when
children by their fathers, are attached to Iweguae.
The uko rank is a preliminary to the achievement of an individual title. Its
holders perform important services for the Dba, such as presenting a village chief
o0 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
to his subjects, and they are the official royal messengers; they do not live in the
palace. They are distinguished from lower ranks by a hair-style which they share
with all men of higher rank.
When a man has reached the rank of uko he becomes eligible for an individual
title, either among the Exaeve or Eghaevo n'Ogbe of any otu or among the Eghaevo
n'Ore. Whenever one of these titles becomes vacant through the death of the
previous holder any uko may ask the Dba to bestow it upon him. It is the Oba's
prerogative to confer the title upon whom he pleases, though he normally consults
the members of the association or order to which it belongs. Once the title has
been awarded the candidate must pay fees (formerly in cowries-now in currency)
to the Oba and both grades of Eghaevo and individually to a long list of chiefs before
the title can be ceremonially conferred upon him at the eguae.
It is normal to hold one or more junior titles before securing one of the highest
rank. An individual who acquires prominence and wealth through war, trade,
medicine," or some other pursuit, however, or attracts the Dba's favour by some
other means, may be given a higher title even though he has not been initiated into
any of the societies. Qualifications of this nature are more characteristic of aspirants
to town titles. In such instances the candidate is allowed to pay the fees aid
complete the ceremonial qualifications for passing through all the grades immediately.
With the exception of initiated members of Iweguae (i.e., those who have
become Ibierugha, see p. 37), an individual may transfer from one otu to another
in search of advancement. An otu member who becomes an Eghaevo n'Ore retains
membership but he no longer plays an active part in its activities. Most of the
Eghaevo n'Ore titles can be held by members of any society but Osuma cannot
belong to Ibiwe, nor Es3 to Iweguae and Obobaifo and the three hereditary titles
(see above) are associated with Iweguae. The Uzama, except for Oht5 who belongs
to Iweguae, are formally admitted to Iwebo.
It is customary for the sons of an initiated and especially a titled member of an
otu-eguae to be distributed between the three otu, a majority, including the senior
son, entering their father's otu. Distribution may take place before or after the
father's death, the Dba having the final decision in the latter case. The senior son
of a prominent man might immediately be raised to adafE on the death of his father
without going through the ibierugha stage.
The system is not a closed one, however. Any freeborn Edo can enter the
palace as ibierugha if he can afford the necessary expenses of initiation and most
Edo villages contain a few individuals who have reached the uko grade. In particu-
lar hereditary village chiefs (enigie) must be initiated into one of the otu before taking
up their titles and in the past this applied to vassal rulers farther afield. There are
thus hundreds of initiated members of each association.
Leadership of the Palace Associations
The Eghaevo n'Ogbe are the leaders of the otu-eguae. There are 10 titles in
Iwebo, nine in Iweguae, and 12 in Ibiwe. The members of Iwebo are grouped into
nine apartments (ugha), seven of which are headed by Eghaevo, n'Ogbe and
the other two by ExaEvE uko n'Iwebo. Each apartment is responsible for some
portion of the palace stores and formerly had its own rooms where the stores were
kept and where its members could meet. Ibiwe is divided into two branches, Ibiwe
proper, with eight titles and Eruerie with four.
Within each otu the Eghaevo titles rank roughly according to their supposed
antiquity. However, any Oba has the recognized right to create a new title and
advance it in the hierarchy, provided he does not disturb the first two titles in each
list. The holders of these six titles, together with Osord, the head of Eruerie (see
above) are the most important Eghaevo n'Ogbe. They are:-
Iwebo Iweguae Ibiwe
Unwagwe Esere Ine Osodi
Eribo Obazelu Obazuaye
THE BENIN KINGDOM
UnwagwE as the senior title-holder of this order plays a leading role in state
rituals and during the interregnum between the death of one Oba and the succession
of his son he is the leading personage in the palace. Osodi, known as the father
of the Oba," has jurisdiction over all matters concerning the Oba's wives (iloi)20
while Ine has responsibility for the princes (okoro).
The title-holders of Iwebo and Iweguae formerly resided in the Ogbe half of
the town but since only the Oba could be buried there they usually built a second
house in Ore n'oxwa. The Ibiwe chiefs, on the other hand, had their own ward in
Other Title Orders
Apart from the Uzama and Eghaevo there are three subsidiary orders of state
titles. Two of these are associated with the palace associations while the third has
closer connections with the town chiefs.
ExaZvg (or egie uko n'Iwebo, etc.). There are about 60 of these titles divided
between Iwebo, Iweguae, and Ibiwe proper. With the exceptions of a few priestly
titles (egie-Ebo) they are non-hereditary and are acquired in the same manner as
Eghaevo titles, though with smaller fees. Their holders perform household, admin-
istrative, and ceremonial functions and some of them are closely associated with the
duties of ward-guilds in Benin City. Of special interest are the body-titles "
(egie-egbe), most of which belong to this order. The holders of these titles repre-
sent different parts and qualities of the Oba's person such as his torso (erhalonye),
head (oh3ba), feet (ehana), belly (esa), longevity (otsvg), sense or judgment (EnwaE),
and eyes (aro). They form a kind of bodyguard for the king and are present on
ritual occasions when they are anointed with sacrificial blood and treated with
medicines in the same way as the Dba himself. In the past some of these title-
holders were killed when the Oba died and if the OtovE (longevity) died before his
master his body was walled up in a standing position until the king's death.
Urhoehakpa: this order, in which there are 10 titles, draws its members from
the Iwebo and Iweguae associations. Eight of the titles are held in Iwebo, one in
Iwebo or Iweguae and the remaining one in Iweguae. The senior body-title,"
Ehioba, representing the Oba's personal counterpart in the spirit world (see p. 58)
belongs to this order but the head of Urhoehakpa is entitled Ihaza. The latter's
status in Ogbe is similar to the lyase's in Ore n'oxwa and he is sometimes called
lyase n'Ogbe. The Urhoehakpa are closely connected with the Ogbelaka ward of
Ogbe which provides musicians for state ceremonials and some of the titles may be
taken by men from that ward.
Ibiwe n'exwa: these titles stand in much the same relation as the ExaEvg to
the Eghaevo n'Ogbe but the head of the order is a hereditary warrior chief ranking
,after the Ezomo and lyase and equal in rank to the Ologbose; he formerly acted as
second-in-command in campaigns waged by the lyase. Most of the other titles are
taken by descendants, through males of daughters of the Oba though they are not
hereditary in any strict sense. They are an alternative to ExaEvS titles as a stepping-
stone to the EghaEvo n'Ore titles.
The Oba's Wives
The most senior of the Oba's wives (iloi) have titles (egie-iloi) which fall into
two groups, Eghaevo, headed by the senior wife, Es5, and egie-egbe (body-titles),
headed by ehioba.21 They do not, however, play any overt role in the affairs of the
kingdom outside certain ritual contexts.
20 Past Oba had hundreds of wives who were presented to them by vassal rulers and
commoners throughout their dominions.
21 This title, it will be noted, is also held by a male chief. All the iloi titles, in fact,
duplicate Eghasvo and body titles.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
The Palace as a Political and Ceremonial Centre
The Dba's palace (eguae-Dba), which before the British conquest covered several
acres of ground, was the centre of the political and ceremonial life of the Benin
people. As will be clear from the above its internal organization was complex and
its population large, consisting as it did of the Oba and his multifarious attendants
and his numerous wives and children and their servants. Persons who had reached
the rank of uko in one of the palace organizations and, a fortiori, all chiefs with
individual titles, did not live within the palace, however. They had their own
houses distributed throughout the City and in the villages, where they were in touch
with the commoner population. Each village or chiefdom and each ward in the
capital had its own political organization but the dominating influence of the central
political organization was such that any person of high rank living within one of
these units would have considerable authority there.
Political deliberations at the palace were attended only by those of chiefly rank
but the public rituals which took place in its outer courtyards or in the shrines of
the past kings were open to commoners and the most important of them were
attended by large numbers from the capital and the villages. Moreover, many of
the wards of the capital and some villages outside had indispensable parts to play
in these rituals. Finally, the fact that every man in the kingdom had a nominal
affiliation to one of the palace associations helped to maintain sentiments of attach-
ment to this focal centre of the state.
The sacred kingship is the focal point of the Benin political system. As the
latest in the line of kings descending from 6weka I, and the reincarnation of one of
them, the Oba has his own divinity. His person is surrounded with mystery. Before
the coming of British rule he left the palace only on important ceremonial occasions.
It is forbidden (formerly under penalty of death) to say that he dies, sleeps, eats,
or washes, all these ideas being expressed through metaphorical circumlocutions.
The Oba is credited with all kinds of magical powers and the members of certain
wards in Benin City are expressly concerned with maintaining these.
Formerly most of his time was taken up in state rituals, of which the most
important were the annual sacrifices to his ancestors and to his own head. His
head is equated with Ti'h ood or bad fortune and with the well-being of the king-
dom, and the sacrifices to it are followed by the treatment of all parts of his body
with medicines designed to strengthen him against the coming year. The procedure
at state rituals dramatizes the order of precedence between and within chiefly and
other ranks in the state; groups and individuals make obeisance to the king in order
of rank and seniority. He himself is set apart from and above the rest on a raised
dais occupied only by himself, his wives and children and the Ihogbe who are priests
of his ancestors and his own head.
Apart from the state rituals in Benin City the Oba maintains control over the
cults of hero deities, performed by many village communities ostensibly on his
behalf (see p. 56). These cults are directed to the spirits of former heroes in the
state and in a few cases to particular aspects of past kings. The dates of annual
festivals in their honour must be approved by the Oba, who frequently provides
/ regalia and sacrificial offerings and in the case of the more important ones sends
someone to represent him. He fixes, too, the dates for the performance of the
annual rites in connection with domestic cults at all of which the final prayer is for
the Oba himself.
Succession to the kingship is by primogeniture, the senior son validating his
claim by performing his father's mortuary rites and having himself installed by the
Uzama at the site of the palace of Cweka I. Installation is followed by a mock
battle between the Oba's followers and the supporters of Ogidvg, the alleged descen-
dant of the ruler of Benin at the time when Oba ewedo took possession of Benin City
THE BENIN KINGDOM 41
and went to live at the site of the present palace. At the end of this battle he ritually
divides the land with OgiavZ (see p. 20). The Oba, once installed, cannot in principle
be deposed. Wars of succession that occurred in the past are explained in terms of
uncertainty as to which of the deceased Oba's sons was the senior. It is the custom
for each new Oba to make two or three of his immediately junior brothers the
hereditary chiefs of villages within or (formerly) outside the kingdom. In the
absence of sons the Oba may be succeeded by a brother.
The Oba's court was formerly most elaborate, with hundreds of retainers living
in the palace. One section of it is devoted to the king's wives, iloi, who, in the past,
are said to have numbered several hundred. The harem, eric, has its own entrance,
guarded by cripples. The wives are kept in strict seclusion except when they are
sent outside to be cared for when ill or during pregnancy. They leave the palace
only at night, under strict guard, and great care is taken to prevent them coming
into contact with any man or even passing between two men. The Oba could claim
any woman as his wife without marriage-payment, though it was customary for him
to make presents to the parents. Men seeking the king's favours betrothed their
daughters to him, that is gave .him the right to marry them himself or to give them
in marriage to any other person. Marriages with the daughters of vassal chiefs were
arranged as a political measure.
Economic support for the palace organization and state rituals came from a
variety of sources. Regular tribute of foodstuffs was levied twice yearly on all
villages in the kingdom and in tributary areas and the Dba could call upon any
village to provide labour for such tasks as building and repairing the palace. In
addition special levies were made upon villages and on chiefs in Benin City when
circumstances demanded sacrifices for the good of the nation. Apart from the
regular collection of tribute through chiefs in Benin City, the Oba could send his
own palace officials directly to the villages to make special levies. Each of the
seven gates leading into the capital was guarded by a titled chief whose servants
collected tolls from all persons entering and exacted from persons coming to trade
there customary dues in proportion to the amount of produce they carried. In the
trade with Europeans the Oba had a monopoly of certain exports and he maintained
a rigid control over all transactions. Fees from prospective title-holders were a
further source of income and court fines were another. Theoretically all slaves
captured in war were the Oba's property, though it was customary for him to dis-
tribute most of them to the warriors and to others whom he wished to favour.
Directly, and through the palace associations, the Oba maintained control over the
craft guilds in Benin City and had first call on their services; these he rewarded with
gifts in slaves, kind, and money. Finally fresh wealth could be obtained through
the sacking by the national armies of rebellious or unconquered towns and villages.22
Apart from his ritual and economic prerogatives there are certain well-defined
mechanisms through which the Oba maintains or maintained his position as political
head of state. At his succession each Oba, in the past, sent pieces of chalk to all--"
vassal chiefs and village headmen. Refusal to accept this was construed as rebellion
and would lead in time to an attempt at reconquest. The heir of an onogie could
succeed only with the Oba's approval which was signified by royal assent to the
performance of his predecessor's mortuary rites. In most cases the heir was then
summoned to Benin to spend a period in the palace where he was instructed in his
duties as the Oba's agent. When the Oba delegated to a chief powers of life and
death over his own subjects this was marked by the presentation to him of the
ceremonial sword, ada. This right was not given to all enigie, especially within the
A strong Oba had ample opportunities for manipulating the state title system.
As has been noted above most of the important state titles are non-hereditary and
within the Oba's gift. He has the prerogative of creating new titles and, within
22 At the present day the Oba receives a salary from the Native Administration funds.
I4 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
certain limits, of determining their rank and the extent of authority that goes with
them. Moreover, in the past, he had the right of redistributing tribute-collecting
units (see below) associated with titles and was thus a main source of opportunity
to acquire wealth. His economic backing, too, was such as to make his favour
worthwhile, His goodwill was the surest path to influence and prosperity.
On the other hand, limits are set to the exercise of royal power. Any attempt,
on the king's behalf, to override national traditions, as, for example, by abolishing
an important title or institution, is liable to meet with strong opposition even at the
present day. The three main groups of title-holders-especially the town chiefs
who tend to represent the independently wealthy and influential section of the
population-can exert pressure on the Oba. The actual power enjoyed by any
particular Jba depends on his ability to balance the powerful groups in the state
and to draw influential individuals into his own service. It is traditional for the
king to marry daughters to a number of the most important title-holders. Thus a
brother-in-law relation, with all it implies in terms of obligations of assistance and
support, is created between him and them.
The Oba was formerly the official source of all legislation and state policy; he
alone could take the decision to prosecute a war and all national campaigns were
carried out in his name. The warrior chiefs were responsible directly to him and
historical traditions assert that, with the occasional exception of the lyase, they
were remarkably loyal. The Oba in consultation with the most important title-
holders was court of appeal for the whole kingdom. Theoretically any subject could
bring his case to the king's notice though his actual ability to do so seems to have
depended to a large extent on his gaining the support of an influential title-holder
-or palace official. Over most of the kingdom the right toapplythe death penalty
was reserved to the Oba himself and where this waS no so it was expresslyde gated
-to his agent.
In the last analysis the basis of the Oba's power appears to lie in the traditional
mystical values attaching to the sacred institution of kingship and to the eguae
(palace). The latter is the hub of the nation. Individuals all over the kingdom
/claim to belong to one or other of the palace associations and the highest position
to which anyone can aspire is to be next to the Oba," a claim which is made, with
some degree of truth, by, and on behalf of, the heads of many groups within the
state. Over a wide area outside the kingdom the ultimate validation of authority
or of an institution or custom is that we brought it from Benin or that the
Oba gave it to us."
ADMINISTRATION OF THE Oba's TERRITORIES
The whole territory ruled by the Oba both inside and outside the Benin king-
dom was formerly divided into a large number of tribute units. These generally,
but not invariably, corresponded to local territorial groupings. A chiefdom, village-
group, village, ward, and any combination of these and even collections of indi-
viduals dispersed between the different wards of a village23 might constitute a single
Each unit was under the control of a person at Benin City, in most cases the
holder of a title. From the point of view of the village this person was he who
salutes the Oba for the village," that is, he acted as the intermediary between the
people and their king and, in particular, between the latter and the village headman.
As such he transmitted the Oba's orders and it was his duty to bring the wishes of
the villagers to the Oba's notice. Thus appeals to the Oba's court were made through
him. Theoretically, according to most accounts, he had no right to settle these on
his own account though it is clear that he often did so. His main duty, however,
was to organize the yearly or twice-yearly tribute of yams, palm-oil, meat, livestock,
23 An example of this is provided by the onwina, the king's carpenters, who were scattered
in various villages and who were under the control of the holder of the Arase title.
THE BENIN KINGDOM to
and other foodstuffs to the Oba. When this became due he informed the village
headman who directed the collection of the dues from each household. These were
then carried by the iroghae to the house of the agent in Benin whose duty it was to
conduct them or to send one of his servants to conduct them to the palace. Accord-
ing to different accounts he himself kept back a portion of the tribute or tribute was
paid separately to him.
These agents were mainly the holders of Eghacvo titles and the EdaikE (heir-
apparent) and lyaba (queen-mother). Some of the Uzama (especially the
Ezomo), the holders of minor titles and even non-titled palace officials, however,
also performed this function. While the heir-apparent and queen-mother acted
as the Oba's agents in respect of some villages, it appears likely that others were
assigned to them exclusively for the upkeep of their courts, though this did not
affect the political allegiance of those villages to the Oba. The same may have been
true of some villages attached to Uzama titles. Any chief or non-titled man of
Benin City could, in addition, have personal slaves farming for him in village-areas,
the produce of the farms belonging to him exclusively. Such slaves were usually
attached to a particular village in which case they also became responsible for con-
tributing to the village tribute.
Certain features of this system appear to have been designed to prevent high-
ranking title-holders from acquiring too much power or establishing private domains.
The agents were not expected to make regular visits to the areas under their control
but to stay in Benin City where they received deputations and conducted them to
the Dba. They sent their servants out to the villages and sometimes stationed them
there permanently. Secondly, the tribute units associated with a particular title or
office were dispersed and any agent might be responsible for villages in all parts of
the kingdom. Moreover, most of the titles and offices were non-hereditary so that
there was little tendency for particular villages to become permanently associated
with particular noble families in Benin. Then, again, the Oba had the right of
redistributing tribute units either as a means of preventing the accumulation of
influence or so as to be able to reward some other person. Finally, the king himself
had messengers whom he sent out to report to him directly and in some cases he
stationed his own agents permanently in tributary towns and villages.
The traditional administrative system is now defunct, though in the few cases
where tribute units were associated with hereditary titles some ties of loyalty remain.
THE STATE COUNCIL
In the past most of the day-to-day administration of the kingdom appears to
have been conducted by private consultation and negotiation between the Oba and
the senior title-holders. For more important matters, such as the promulgation of
new laws, the decision to conduct wars, the fixing of the dates of important festivals,
the creation of new titles, the raising of special levies, and the taking of ritual
measures to prevent epidemics, etc., a full state council was called. This consisted
of the Uzama, both groups of Eghaevo, and, in a subsidiary capacity, the minor
ranks of title-holders. When the Oba intended to announce an important decision
he summoned this council and put his views before it. Each group met separately
to discuss its attitude, then a second meeting was called at which the leaders of each
group expressed its views.
Generally speaking the Eghaevo n'Ogbe. and, in particular, their six senior
members, appear to have been the Oba's closest advisers. They were the group
who had the closest ties with the palace and who depended most on the Oba's
patronage. The Eghaevo n'Ore, on the other hand, included a proportion of men
who had achieved prosperity and influence independently of the palace and, in a
sense, they formed an opposition group. Their leader, the lyase, frequently appears
in opposition to the Oba in Edo historical traditions and his office was undoubtedly
the most influential in the state, after the kingship. Traditionally the Oba wields
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
over the lyase the sanction of sending him to war, in which case he is not expected
to return but to settle down at some distance from Benin City. The Uzama, as a
group, do not appear to have had great political power immediately before the
British conquest though the Ezomo, Ero, and D3t3 all had considerable influence.
The Ezomo as the regular generalissimo of the state is pictured in Edo traditions as
being essentially loyal to the Oba and appears to have supported the latter in
opposition to the lyase.
THE MILITARY ORGANIZATION
Military campaigns were regularly undertaken to effect conquest and more par-
ticularly, in the last two centuries, to reconquer rebellious vassals. Each campaign
was preceded by an elaborate ceremony in Benin City and a prolonged period of
magical preparations. The more important campaigns are said to have taken many
The warrior chiefs belonged to the Uzama, Eghaevo, and Ekaiwe groups. Most
of the major campaigns were directed by the Ezomo with the Ologbose as second-in-
command. The latter appears to have played a tactical and the former a strategical
role. Each of the warrior chiefs had a select core of warriors attached to his house-
hold. The remainder of the force was recruited from the followers of other chiefs
and from the villages. The members of the Ibiwe palace association, in particular,
were noted as warriors and certain villages had strong warrior traditions. Arms
were provided by the warriors themselves, by the chiefs who recruited them, and by
the state. The Ezomo had a number of European cannon in his charge.
For long campaigns the warriors built camps within striking distance of the
enemy. They were fed by crops which they grew themselves, by levies on subject
villages, and with the loot captured in successful attacks. Many villages within the
kingdom and outside are said to have been founded by warriors who did not return
home after fighting a campaign.
On the outskirts of the kingdom there are a number of settlements founded for
the purpose of repelling raiders. They are recognizable from the title, okakuo (okao,
leader; okuo, war), borne by their headmen, or by other individuals.
When a community submitted or was conquered its headman might be con-
firmed in his position or replaced by a local or Benin man. It was then assigned as
a tribute unit to some title- or office-holder in Benin City.
All the land of the Benin kingdom is said, by the Edo, to belong to the Oba.
Such statements refer primarily to his position as the political ruler of the territory
rather than to his actual control over the use of land. The land is vested in him as
trustee for the whole people and his ownership of it in this sense is symbolized
at the installation of each new Dba when after a mock battle to capture the city
Chief OgidvE puts oil into his palm. As the actual controller of particular blocs of
territory he emerges, as far as the native Edo are concerned, only with reference to
the allocation of building sites in Benin City. To-day, as the president of the Native
Authority, he exercises control over the occupation and use of land and resources in
Benin Division by strangers.
Outside Benin City the village is the typical land-holding unit, though in many
cases no boundaries between the territories of different villages are recognized.
Within the village no smaller group is recognized to have permanent rights over any
tract of land. A native of a village may farm anywhere on village land without
seeking permission from anyone, so long as the piece of land he chooses is not occu-
pied by another's crops. The only exception to this rule occurs where an individual
intimates his intention to clear land progressively in a given direction over a period
of years, in which case no other person should obstruct him by making a farm across
THE BENIN KINGDOM 45
his intended path. If disputes arise as a result of this kind of situation they are
settled by the village council, though in fact they are very rare. Indeed, litigation
over the ownership of land as such is non-existent outside Benin City except in a
political context where, for example, two enigie dispute their common boundaries.
Litigation which at first sight appears to involve disputed land rights proves invari-
ably to refer to the ownership of permanent crops, such as rubber and cocoa, rather
than the land itself.
No rights in fallow land are recognized. Once a man has cleared land, planted
it over two or three years and then let it go fallow, it reverts to the community
though it is not likely to be re-cleared till some years later. In fact some individuals
return to the same piece of land after a period of years but they do not thereby
establish any additional claim to it.
An Edo who wishes to farm on the land of a village other than his own must
seek the permission of the onogie or odi3were to do so. He presents gifts to them in
kind or cash, which they should share with the edi5, and must continue to do so each
year unless he settles in the village permanently. In the latter case he is accepted
on equal terms with other villagers and may even be given two or three years'
exemption from the tasks appropriate to his age-grade in order to establish himself.
Freemen of Benin City claim that they had the right, in the past, to farm any-
where on the Oba's land. In practice, farms appear to have been established in two
main ways. In the first case they could make an arrangement with the headman
of an existing village to station their farm-workers there and to farm on the village
land. These dependents usually cultivated their own farms as well as working for
their masters and they or their descendants would eventually become absorbed in
the village community. Alternatively a wealthy chief with many slaves might clear
virgin forest outside the control of any village and establish a camp there to house
his slaves and other dependents. They too were allowed to cultivate on their own
behalf. The slaves or their children would eventually purchase their emancipation
and the camp develop into a village with the usual type of village social organization.
The cultivation of permanent crops has brought about some changes in the
traditional pattern of land rights though, theoretically, it has not resulted in indi-
vidual ownership of the land. After the British captured Benin City and deposed
the Oba the most prominent chiefs and other influential men were encouraged to
make rubber and oil-palm plantations. Many acquired de facto rights in consider-
able tracts of land. Village headmen have continued to allow prominent natives
from the capital to acquire land which they have planted with cash and food crops
worked by their dependents and hired labourers, often of non-Edo origin. A number
of individuals possess several hundred acres of such plantations.
Villages were encouraged by the Administration to establish communal labour
plantations but these were eventually converted to individual ownership. It became
the custom for each farmer to plant rubber and cocoa on land going out of food-
production and despite the more recent efforts of the Native Authority to halt the
wholesale conversion of land from food production to cash crops, this still goes on
to some extent.
Once planted, permanent crops can be alienated by the owner by sale, pledge,
or mortgage, though, in theory, the land on which they are grown is not involved in
Before 1897 the only non-Edo in a position to exploit the resources of the king-
dom were those who settled in villages and became absorbed into the village com-
munity. After that date there was an influx of members of neighboring tribes
seeking land for farming and residence and the right to fish and collect palm-
produce. Various regulations have been drawn up for controlling the rights of non-
Edo in land-use, forest and river resources, and house sites, and fixed annual charges
are made for each type of activity.24
24 For details see Rowling.
46 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
The allocation of house sites in Benin City was traditionally in the hands of the
Oba, who would, however, usually consult the chiefs or elders of the ward in which
the proposed building was to take place. The site was inspected and approved and
its boundaries demarcated on the Oba's behalf by a special ward-guild known as
Aviogbe which also provided the town criers and performed some ceremonial
At the present day an Edo who wishes to acquire a site must seek the recom-
mendation of the elders of the ward in which it is located after having it surveyed
and a plan made by the N.A. Surveyor. This plan, once accepted and certified,
becomes, in effect, a title deed and its owner may, in practice, dispose of it in what-
ever way he desires. There is considerable speculation in both houses and house
sites and a number of individuals are building houses for lease, especially to European
employees of commercial firms.
PROPERTY AND WEALTH
Before the coming of British rule the non-perishable material property which
could be owned by individuals included, principally, houses, household utensils,
tools and weapons, cloths and other garments, beads and ornaments, and slaves.
All these could be bought and sold or otherwise alienated by their owners and were
inherited individually by the latter's heirs on his death. The larger bronzes whose
production and distribution was theoretically controlled by the Oba, were limited
to persons of high rank and do not appear to have been regularly transferred.
Certain kinds of red stone beads were in the gift of the Dba and could only be
acquired and worn as a privilege conferred by him; they were returnable to his
treasury on the death of the person to whom they were awarded.
Internal exchange was conducted through the medium of cowrie shells though
brass bracelets known as manillas were in use at an earlier period. There was an
elaborate accounting system for cowrie shells which were stored in large bags, the
traditional value of each of which is 6s. 6d. For trade with Europeans prices were
fixed in terms of a unit known as a pawn or pagne," the former word being
probably derived from the Edo ukp5, a cloth.25
Apart from their export in earlier times, slaves were kept, by those who could
afford them, for labouring duties in the household and on farms. Those captured
in warfare were distributed by the Oba to his subjects in return for services rendered
to him; the brass-smiths, for example, might be paid in slaves for the larger bronzes
which they produced. Alternatively slaves could be acquired by purchase. Children
born to slave women were the property of their mother's master and all slaves were
inherited by their owners' heirs. Apart from their duties to their owners they were
allowed to farm and trade on their own account and many eventually became inde-
pendent enough to secure their emancipation by making payments in cash or kind
or by purchasing replacements for themselves; some slaves themselves owned slaves.
Children could be pledged for debt, being returnable to their parents when the
debt was redeemed.
At the present day there are additional forms of property apart from funds of
currency. Among the more important of these are bicycles, cars and commercial
vehicles, sewing machines and capital equipment for the exploitation of timber.
The rules of inheritance vary to some extent from area to area. Generally
speaking a man's food and cash crops, movable goods and wealth are divided in
diminishing proportions between the senior sons of each of his wives who are expected
to make gifts out of them to their own full brothers. Should he wish, a man may
arrange the division before his death in which case oaths are sworn to ensure that
25 See Ling Roth, 1903, chap. XIII.
THE BENIN KINGDOM
his wishes are adhered to; he has, however, no right to disinherit totally any of his
heirs. Otherwise the distribution is supervised after his death by the head of the
The house in which the father lived passes to his senior son who must, how-
ever, validate his claim to pass it on to his own son by organizing and bearing the
greater part of the cost of his father's mortuary rites. Even so he has no moral
right to debar his brothers from living in the house and, at the present day, his right
to dispose of it without their consent is sometimes successfully challenged in the
courts. If he already has a house of his own he may remain there and allow his
younger brothers to occupy their father's house.
Widows who have living children are generally free to return to their families
or to marry whom they choose. Those without issue are inherited in the same way
as movable property and the senior son inherits his father's rights as a suitor. The
wives of the Oba or some other hereditary chiefs, who have borne children, should
not remarry or have sexual relations with any other man and in some cases the
widows of enigie should not enter into any kind of sexual relations with one of the
Where there are no sons a man's junior brothers become his heirs. It is the
custom that no man inherits from his junior. If the sons are all minors the brother
may take charge of the property and use it for his own benefit, though in doing so
he takes upon himself the obligation to care for them and to provide them with
A woman's property is inherited in the same way except that her daughters may
receive a share in her household utensils, cloths, etc. If she has no children, her
brothers and sisters are her heirs.
THE LIFE CYCLE26
For the birth of her first child a woman often returns to her mother and she may
do so for subsequent ones. When she is known to have conceived her husband may
offer sacrifices to her father's and his own ancestors and to other spirits or deities
under whose protection the child is believed to be. The woman is treated with certain
medicines, wears special amulets, and dresses her hair in appropriate patterns. The
customs attending the actual birth vary considerably. Generally there is no stipu-
lation as to the place of birth or as to who should be present. The child is washed
with sand and palm-oil-to ensure that it will not smell when it grows up-and with
water, and the mother herself is washed in the backyard.. When the cord falls from
the child the father plants it in the ground with the seed of a kola or coconut tree
in the hope that the child will grow like the tree; in some cases the tree becomes the
child's property. The placenta is buried inside or outside the house and great care
is taken to make the hole big enough for it to spread out evenly. This ensures both
that the child will go through life smoothly and that the woman's womb will be
About three months after the birth the woman washes, puts fine clothes on her-
self and the baby, and takes it to market for the first time. There she makes offer-
ings to the edi3 of the market, that is to the spirits of women who have traded there
in the past, and receives gifts from the market women. Shortly afterwards she takes
the child to the river and makes offerings to the deity associated with it. Hence-
forth the child can accompany her to either place.
26 The information in this section relates mainly to commoners. It is not possible to
enumerate here the differences of detail sometimes found between commoners and persons of
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
The rites accompanying the naming of a child (izomo) vary considerably, but
normally take place on the seventh day after the birth. In the morning the father
or his father or senior brother presents the child to his ancestors, making offerings
and praying that it will grow up safely. The baby is usually lowered a number of
times over the altar of the ancestor. In some cases a special medicine is prepared
some of which is rubbed on the child and the rest included in an amulet which it
will wear throughout its life. The father then counts the child into its mother's
arms, charging her to take care of it for him. In many families the women of the
household call in their neighbours to hold a dance the same evening. The dances
imitate the series of events that bring about the making of a child and there are
special songs expressing the hope that the child will grow safely and be a credit to
its parents and the joy that a successful birth evokes. The senior woman present
prays to the collective ancestor spirits for the child's well-being and its head is
touched to the ground seven times in token of its submission to them. Names are
given by the father and by anyone else who cares to do so. Yams which were placed
by the child's head on the bed on the day of birth are divided between the women
present, the head of one of them being reserved to the woman who first washed it.
To these the father adds meat, wine, kola, and coconut, all of which are shared out
in order of seniority.
INFANCY TO ADOLESCENCE
Babies are continually nursed by their mothers, grandmothers, and elder sib-
lings, and their fathers and grandfathers frequently fondle them. Weaning takes
place at from two to three years or earlier if the mother bears another child.
Up to the age of six or seven boys and girls play together. At seven or eight
the boys begin to accompany their fathers regularly to the farm and gradually learn
male skills. Girls go with their mothers and elder sisters to the farm, to fetch wood
and water and to market; they quickly learn to carry small loads on their heads.
The circumcision of boys and clitoridectomy of girls takes place in infancy or
early childhood; it is performed without ceremony by specialists from Benin City.
There are no puberty rites for either sex.
In the old days most girls were betrothed to their future husbands in infancy
or childhood and in the villages this practice is still common though there is a grow-
ing tendency to allow both boys and girls a voice in choosing their own partners.
The traditional process of marriage is as follows. When a baby girl is born
, suitors may begin to approach her parents for her hand, sending to them a log of
wood and a bundle of yams; this is known as ivu-ama, asking for the child."
Ideally a man should obtain a first wife for each of his sons and it is common for
men to have girls betrothed to themselves with the object of securing them for sons
who are still minors. When the father of the girl, with the approval of his own
father or senior brother, has chosen a suitable man, he informs him of the date of
the formal betrothal. The suitor prepares gifts which in some villages consist of a
jar of palm-wine, two trays of sliced coconut with two kola-nuts on each and 2s.
These are taken to the altar of the girl's patrilineal ancestors to notify them of the
betrothal. The suitor kneels before the girl's father who says We give the child
Henceforth the suitor should give service (ugldv) to his prospective parents-
in-law, giving presents of yams to the father and mother each year, helping the
former on his farm, providing the mother with firewood, etc. To-day these services
are not always performed but good sons-in-law make periodical gifts of money,
THE BENIN KINGDOM 49
When the girl has passed puberty the father informs the suitor that the time for
him to claim her is approaching. When a date has been fixed the latter prepares
more gifts of wine, kola, and coconut as further offerings to the ancestors of the girl
to notify them that the marriage is about to take place and to ask their help in
making it a fruitful and prosperous one. It is at this stage that the groom or his
father makes the marriage-payment of 12 to the girl's father, together with gifts
for the mother and for the people in the house." The marriage contract is sealed
by the payment of 2s. which is called anyo-imiom--" the wine of receiving the
child "; this represents the price, in the old days, of a bottle of gin. Some of the
coconut and kola is given to the groom to take back as a presentation to his own
A day is then fixed for the ceremony of irhioharie, "taking the bride to her
husband." The latter's relatives and friends gather at his house to dance and sing.
Meanwhile the girl is conducted by her brothers, sisters, and friends, carrying her
property, to the husband's house. Her father and mother do not come for, it is
said, they are too sorrowful at losing a daughter and this should be a joyful occasion.
On arrival the bride, feigning shyness, is placed in her husband's lap by her brother.
The husband's sehior wife, if he has one, or some other woman in the house brings
a bowl of water in which money or cowries have been placed and washes the bride's
hands. This rite symbolizes the acceptance of her into the household and the money
expresses the hope that the marriage will be a fruitful one. She is then led away to
be bathed and to eat a solitary meal. The husband then entertains the bride's party
and makes gifts to them, some for themselves and some to take back to his parents-
in-law. The bridal party leaves and the husband continues to entertain his own
people with feasting and dancing.
About two days later the husband goes to thank the parents of his bride and is
entertained by them. A few days later the father pays a return visit. On the
seventh day after the bride's arrival her mother comes to see her, and to demand
the cloth on which the pair slept on the first night. If the girl proved to be a virgin
the cloth is given to the mother and she receives presents in cash and is entertained
by the husband.
The same day the bride cleans the walls of the husband's ancestor shrine and
prayers are said for her. It is on this day too that she enters the kitchen and cooks
for the first time. About three months later she pays her first visit to her parents.
At first the girl is put to live with another of the husband's wives or with his
mother or some other woman in the house and may remain with them until she has
borne her first child. Then she is given a room of her own.
At the present day a woman can divorce her husband simply by repaying the
marriage-payment in the Native Court or by finding a lover who is willing to pay it
for her. The husband usually makes a claim for refund of the additional money
that he has spent on her. A man can send away his wife at will but if he does so
he loses all that he has spent on her.
AGE-GRADE PROMOTION CEREMONIES27
In most villages there is no ceremonial at the appointment of new iroghae or at
promotion to ighele, though in some there may be small payments on the latter
occasion. The candidates are simply called before the onogie, where present, and
odi5were, informed of their new duties, told who their leaders will be, and advised
to be obedient to them. The leaders themselves are taken to the shrine of the
collective ancestors of the village where the odi3were makes prayers on their behalf,
asking that no-one will seek to harm them in revenge for the orders they give or the
penalties they inflict.
7 This section applies only to the villages.
5U THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
When a man wishes to become odi5 he visits the onogie and all the edi3 twice,
seeking their support. In one village he pays 12s. to the onogie, Is. and a bundle
of yams to the odi5were and a bundle of yams to each of the other three ediSnene.
On the day before elevation to the new status he performs some task such as sweep-
ing round the edi3 shrine or clearing a path. Any elder whom he has fought in the
past may request that he should be fined for the offence; the onogie and odi3were
decide whether the charge is true and if so order him to pay the fine.
On the appointed day the candidate takes a tray of sliced coconut on which
he places four kola-nuts, two jars of palm-wine, and 2s. to the edi5 shrine. There
he kneels before the altar with the tray in his hands, prays for himself, the edi5, the
onogie, the village, and the Oba. The odi5were prays for him, too, then calls his
name four times. At the fourth call he replies and the odi5were says The Oba
makes you odi3, the village makes you odi3, the onogie makes you odi5; may you
live long, may you stay a long time with us." He is then lowered on to the altar
four times. In villages where there is an onogie a similar rite is performed at the
shrine of the past enigie.
When a new odi5were is appointed he visits every household in the village asking
the people to come and dance for him. The dance lasts throughout the night and
the candidate provides as much refreshment as he can afford for all the people. At
daybreak he takes a goat, a cock, and a tortoise to the edi5 shrine, together with a
tray of coconut on which four kola-nuts are placed. The goat is sacrificed to the
edi5 spirits, the tortoise at the nearby shrine of the earth (oto), and the cock at the
shrine to the high god (Osanobua) which is located at the edi5 shrine.
The sacrificial meat is used as the basis of a feast in which the whole village
takes part, portions being set aside for the odiSwere himself, the onogie, the age-
grades, and the women.
DEATH AND MORTUARY RITES
Mortuary rites differ according to clan, locality, and the status and rank of the
deceased. For the Edo the ideal is that parents should predecease their children and
senior siblings their juniors. Children of the deceased should perform the mortuary
rites, with the senior son playing the leading role, and no person plays an active
part in the funeral rites for someone junior to himself. Children and childless adults
are buried unceremoniously by the ighele or iroghae in the villages and by their
equivalents in Benin City. In the villages household heads and others who die
leaving children are buried inside the house or, occasionally, under the eaves. Other
senior and respected adults may be buried there, too, but usually their graves are
in the bush. In Benin City, at the present day, most burials take place in the public
cemeteries and only very prominent people may be buried, with the Oba's per-
mission, in their houses. No person other than the Oba may be buried in the Ogbe
section of the town.
J' When full mortuary rites are accorded they take seven days in the case of
ordinary people and 14 for the Oba and some important chiefs. They may be
performed immediately after the decease or, if the senior son is too young or cannot
afford the necessary expense, be delayed indefinitely; thus some funerals take place
as much as 20 years after interment. The following is a description of the main
stages of the mortuary rites for an ordinary adult man with sons.
Immediately after the death lamentation is forbidden for a few hours for the
soul of the deceased may be lurking round the house and it is hoped that it will
return to the body. When it is clear that death is final the people in the house and
other relatives and friends begin to weep and wail. The body is taken outside and
washed, then laid on a bed inside the house. The hair and nails are cut and, if the
funeral rites are not to take place immediately, preserved by the senior son, usually
in a block of chalk." A goat is sacrificed and the body anointed with the blood.
The corpse is then adorned with bracelets of cowries and a white cloth and a feather
THE BENIN KINGDOM 51
is stuck into the hair. Formerly it was laid on a frame of bamboo and the whole
wrapped in a mat but at the present day coffins are commonly used. Meanwhile the
ighele have dug the grave. If the grave is in the cemetery the children of the deceased
go there in procession with the corpse, singing seven special burial songs and scatter-
ing chalk, salt, and cowries on the way. As the body is lowered into the grave the
senior son, then the other children, throw in bristles from a broom, accompanying
each with prayers to the effect that in the next incarnation the deceased may not
meet with the misfortunes that troubled him in the last. Finally a hen is killed and
its blood used to wash from the feet of the mourners those impurities and ritual
dangers associated with the grave. It is taken away to be eaten by the grave-diggers
who also wash, with water, the feet with which they entered the grave, the arms
with which they dug it, and the face with which they looked on the corpse."
If the full mortuary rites are to be performed immediately these rites constitute
the first day. Otherwise the seven-day funeral begins with the rite of laying out
the corpse (iwaorivi) at which only members of the deceased's lineage are allowed
to be present. The nails and hair which have been preserved from the dead man
are tied, with chalk, salt, and cowries, in a white cloth into which a white feather is
inserted. Over this bundle, which represents the corpse, a goat is slaughtered. The
seven burial songs are sung and the body is interred.
During the following days goats, fowls, and other offerings provided by the
male descendants and sons-in-law of the deceased are sacrificed in the courtyard of
the house. The burial songs are repeated night and morning.
On the third day there is a procession known as izaxwe. The senior son
slaughters a cow or goat on the threshold of the house for the edi5 spirits of the
family. Then he and each of his brothers and brothers-in-law and, sometimes, his
adult sons and daughters or their husbands, place themselves at the head of groups
of dependents and friends which march round the town in order of seniority of their
leaders, to the accompaniment of burial and other songs in honour of the deceased.
On the fifth day there is another procession (isot5) organized in the same way.
This time the leader of each group is accompanied by a box (oki) decorated with a
red cloth and brass adornments which represents the prosperity of the deceased and
the respect accorded to him; the oki~ is not always used in village burials. The
leader takes with him offerings (yt5) the main components of which are a goat, a
calabash of oil, basket of coconuts, seven kola-nuts, a mat, and a white cloth. On
the return of the procession to the house each leading mourner presents his 3t5 to
the assembled elders of the lineage who inspect them to see if they are complete; if
not a sum of money is offered in compensation. When they are satisfied a mortar
is fired and the followers of the mourner dance as a sign of rejoicing that they have
not been disgraced. The senior son retains his 3t3 while those of other mourners
are afterwards divided between the elders and the heirs.
A dance (ikpowia) begins on the evening of the following day and will continue
until daybreak. A person, chosen by divination, is dressed up in fine clothes to
represent the deceased. He or she is known as onodierhayi-" he .(she) that repre-
sents the father." On no account must this person sleep during the night; if he does
so it is believed that he will dream of the deceased and will himself shortly die.
During the night he sits on a bench in the house while all his descendants come,
in order of seniority, to salute him, bringing monetary offerings and receiving kola
and, through a spokesman, blessings and an assurance that he will continue to look
after them from eriv! (the spirit world) as he has done on earth. This done the
father dances with his children for the last time.
At dawn the people, led by the father," go in procession to a nearby area of
bush where a framework of sticks, covered with a cloth, has been erected. The
father pretends to sit on these, then the other mourners do likewise. Finally
the structure collapses and its components are thrown away. This rite, known as
isuerhafua (" throwing away the sticks "), symbolizes the final disposal of the
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
remains of the deceased and the casting off of ritual impurities associated with death
from the mourners. The subsequent state of ritual purity is expressed in the song
" it is cool like the bush near the river which accompanies the homeward pro-
cession. As the mourners reach the house a mortar is fired to induce the father's "
spirit to come home and his representative traces a line with powdered chalk to
the shrine where he will be worshipped.
A few hours later the senior son and his father's senior surviving brother
perform the rite known as uk5vg, "planting," in which carved staffs, uxurhE, are
placed upright on the altar of the deceased. A goat is sacrificed and other offerings
made and the father" is asked to continue to come there and eat with his
" children who come in their turn to pray for themselves, their spouses, and their
Apart from these mortuary rites which are the concern of the deceased's siblings
and descendants his membership of other kinds of groups is also signified after his
death. Thus a goat must be presented by the senior son to the people of the village
for sacrifice for the edi5 spirits (see below) and to the members of any cult-group or
title-association or order of which he was a member. An onogie's son must present
goats to each of the villages of which his father was the ruler, to his palace-associa-
The funeral rites of the Dba follow the same general pattern but are too elaborate
to be described here.
RELIGION, MAGIC AND WITCHCRAFT
The Edo of the Benin kingdom think of the universe as being divided into two
parts, agb3, the actual visible world in which men live, and erivi the invisible abode
of numerous deities, spirits, and supernatural powers. For the purposes of this
Survey these supernatural beings and entities are classified into four main groups:-
1. Deities who have never been incarnated as human beings.
2. Spirits of the departed.
3. Hero-deities associated with natural features of the environment.
4. Personal spirts and powers.
All Edo believe in a high god, Osanobua or Osa, the creator of all things and
beings in agb5 and erivi. In the mythology he is pictured as a king, living in
splendour with many wives and children; among his children are other deities and
the first kings of Ife, Benin, and other Yoruba towns and of the Europeans."
Any person may pray to Osa for health, children, and other benefits. Normally he
or she makes a small heap of sand into which is inserted a stick adorned with a
strip of white cloth. There offerings of kola, chalk, and a fluted gourd, which is
said to represent a cow, are placed; actual blood sacrifices are unusual. In a few
villages, however, Osa is the object of a special cult conducted by a recognized priest;
sometimes he is represented by a mud figure in the garb and regalia of an 3ba. In
Benin City there are three shrines of Osanobua which are sometimes said to be on
the sites of churches built by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Their guardian,
the OhEsa, is reported to have worn a cross. Otherwise it is difficult to discover
what the worship of Osanobua owes to Portuguese influence. A few years ago the
Oba reorganized the worship of Osanobua, founded The Church of Holy Aruosa "
(aru, shrine), and appointed a chief priest with assistants. Services are held each
Sunday and their procedure is based to some extent on that of Christian churches.
Use is made, however, of traditional Edo symbols and music and a creed and scrip-
tures which are based on Benin traditions and written by the Oba himself.
The cult of Olokii who, in the mythology, is the senior son of Osanobua, plays
a greater role in Benin religious life. Olokfi is identified with the sea (oki), that is
THE BENIN KINGDOM 53
with the great waters of the earth which are said to have their source in the Ethiope
(Olokii) River. Into this river, which rises near the town of Urhonigbe in the south-
east corner of the kingdom, all the rivers of the world are believed to flow; its imme-
diate tributaries are identified in the mythology as Olokii's wives. At Urhonigbe,
which is the main centre of the cult, there is a large temple in which are housed life-
size clay figures of Olokii, represented as an Dba, with his retinue and wives. The
cult is directed by a priestess, who has other women to help her, and a priest who
is the village headman. The whole town engages in an annual festival of worship
(ugie) of a kind more characteristic of the cults of hero-deities in other Benin villages.
In a few other villages, too (including Ughoton, the old port of Benin), Olokii
worship is a community affair. Elsewhere it is a domestic cult. Every household
has its Olokil altars, constructed out of mud and painted white, and some chiefly
houses have special rooms dedicated to the deity with images similar to those at
Urhonigbe. Every woman in the house has her own small altar and there is some-
times a central one at which the household head himself worships. The women's
altars are installed usually just before or just after marriage. In a sense all women
who have had altars installed are priestesses of Olokil. Some, however, are recog-
nized to have more influence with the deity than others; there are one or two of these
oholokil in most villages. The most important are those who have obtained some
object from the Urhonigbe shrine to put on their own altars. Women who desire
children or whose children die in infancy seek the help of these priestesses and it is
the latter who officiate at the installation of domestic Olokil shrines, a rite which
involves the sacrifice of a goat, and dancing, during which the initiate frequently
goes into a possession trance. Some of the oholokil hold annual ceremonies (ugie)
which are attended by women who believe they have borne healthy children as a
result of the priestess's intercession and by the children themselves.
Oloki is associated primarily with human fertility; he is the bringer of
children." This is consistent with the Edo conception of the universe. They
envisage the land as being surrounded by water into which all the rivers flow. The
path to erivi lies through or across this water and it is this way that human souls
pass on their way to be born and after death. Olokii is worshipped, too, as the god
of wealth," an association which undoubtedly owes something to the coming of
European trading ships across the sea.
Generally speaking Olokil is more clearly envisaged and more frequently wor-
shipped than Osanobua. Some Edo speak of him as having surpassed his father,
whose image, indeed, sometimes occupies a subsidiary place in Olokii shrines.
Ogil, the god of iron (or, more strictly, of metal), which the Edo have in
common with the Yoruba, is worshipped especially by iron- and brass-smiths and-
under the name Efae-by warriors and specialist hunters. There is an Ogil altar
in every forge where the smith makes offerings for success in producing metal objects.
Hunters and warriors, too, have special Ogil shrines where they perform sacrifices
before undertaking expeditions and on which they place the skulls of their victims.
Apart from this, however, most pagan households have altars dedicated to Ogil
and decorated with all kinds of scrap-iron objects; these are generally associated with
the ancestor (erha) altar. Some individuals who are not smiths, hunters, or warriors
are recognized as priests of Ogil with powers extending beyond their own households;
their altars are installed by smith priests. They are believed to have more influence
with the deity than other men and outsiders come to them with requests for special
prayers and curses. A curse in the name of Ogil is believed to be particularly effec-
tive-non-Christians take oaths over metal objects in the courts-and the deity is
believed to kill in a violent fashion. The appropriate sacrifices are dog, tortoise,
snail, and palm-oil.
Osil is the god of medicine," whose assistance must be sought to ensure the
effective use of all medicines," curative or otherwise. It is worshipped especially
by the professional doctors (ewaise) in Benin City and elsewhere. The ewaise
54 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
wards of Benin City have an annual festival (ehosi) in honour of Osi during which
all their medicines are believed to be strengthened. Some villages have community
Osu shrines with recognized priests and so do some of the mutual-aid associations
which have sprung up in recent years. Like Oloki and Ogi, however, Os! is also
the object of domestic cults. Most household heads have their Osi shrines usually
in a special room where their medicines are kept and some perform an annual rite
(ihud-osfi) at which new yam is offered to Osui and the individual medicines.
The worship of two other important deities, ObiEvE and Ogiuwu, now appears
to have fallen into abeyance. Formerly there was a shrine to Obilvg in Benin City
to which the Dba appointed a priest. The deity appears to have been associated
mainly with human fertility. Ogiuwu (literally the king of death ") was wor-
shipped at a special shrine in the centre of Benin City by members of the Oba's
retinue known as ukebo. It was believed that Ogiuwu came to take away people
when it was time for them to die. Sacrifices were made to him-mainly, apparently,
by the Oba-to induce him to delay. The main sacrifices were a man and a woman,
a goat, a cow, and a ram or he-goat. In contrast with sacrifices to all other spirits
and deities the victims were not eaten but simply allowed to rot away. Ogiuwu was
believed to have a messenger ofoe whose duty was to call the dead to Erivi at the
instance of his master. He is represented in brass images and wood and ivory carv-
ings by a head with legs and arms growing out of it. According to some informants
the Oba used to send out these images as a warning to people with whom he was
The Yoruba divining god, Dr3mila (Ifa) is widely worshipped. When members
of the Oba's lineage wish to acquire an Dr5mila shrine special palm-kernels from
Ife are required; a store of these is kept at the palace.
SPIRITS OF THE DEPARTED
The word erivl which has already been referred to as the name of the spirit world
is also used to denote the spirits of people who once lived in the world; its singular
form is orivi, meaning a corpse." It is necessary to distinguish between two kinds
of eriv~: (a) individual named ancestors with specific genealogical reference and
(b) collective unnamed ancestors or predecessors of the members of a corporate group.
(a) It is the individual genealogically defined ancestors who are the object of
the domestic ancestor cult. When a man dies his senior son, after performing the
mortuary rites (see p. 50), sets up an altar in his honour, or, if the dead father was
himself a senior son, adds carved staves to the existing altar. This altar (aru-erha
from aru, altar and erha, father) consists of a mud-built platform on which are
placed carved staves (uxurhe) and one or more brass bells and, in the case of people
of high rank, wooden or brass heads, ceremonial swords, and other objects. The
senior son is the priest of his father (erha), interceding with him on behalf of all
the latter's patrilineal descendants and, through him, with his lineal male ancestors
as far back as he can remember. There is, however, a second priest, ideally the
senior surviving brother of the deceased, who must be present at all important
sacrifices and prayers to represent himself and his descendants in the male line, his
brothers and their descendants, and his sisters. It will be noted that, in accordance
with the rule of primogeniture, and since ideally every man should have a senior
son, there is a likelihood of fission of the ancestor-worshipping group in each genera-
tion. The effective ancestor-worshipping unit, therefore, including the youngest
children and the surviving brothers and sisters of the erha, is from two to four
generations in depth, though more remote collaterals may be present at sacrifices
and prayers may be made for them.
The dead father is conceived of as standing in much the same relation to his
descendants and their dependents as does the head of an extended family in this
world. He punishes such offences as incest, Ithe adultery of wives, quarrelling and
stealing within the group, bringing sickness and even death upon the offender and
THE BENIN KINGDOM
his close kin. Members suspected of wrongdoing are frequently asked to take oaths
upon erha to prove their truthfulness. Offerings including kola, palm-wine, chalk,
and pounded yam are made regularly and are accompanied by prayers for the
welfare of members of the family. In times of sickness and other catastrophes goats
and fowls are sacrificed. Finally there is an annual festival (eho) at which all the
patrilineal descendants of erha and his father, and their wives, kneel one-by-one
before the altar, present kola-nuts and other offerings and pray for the well-being
of themselves and their husbands, wives, and children. Married daughters return
home to take part in eho. Patrilineal collaterals and other cognates may be present
but they do not kneel before the altar. The kola-nuts are divided between the wor-
shippers who break off small pieces and scatter them on the altar while praying for
themselves. The senior son of erha then sacrifices a goat (or a cow if his wealth
and rank justify it) and a cock which are cooked and eaten the following day.
Where there is a hereditary title (and succession to such titles is by primo-
geniture) the previous owners of the title are worshipped separately, though fre-
quently at the same shrine as the erha of the living title-holder. Ideally they should
be identical with the latter's lineal ancestors but, in fact, as a consequence of devia-
tion from the rule of succession the two sets of names may show differences. The
worship of past title-holders frequently has significance beyond the chief's lineage.
Offerings to past village-chiefs are made, for example, during the promotion of
individuals to the senior age-grade. In some cases, too, the founder of a political
unit-a village, for example, or a ward of Benin City-is worshipped separately.
Thus, in the brass-smith's ward of Benin City the hereditary chief, Ine, makes
sacrifices to the founder of the ward, on behalf of all its members, on the day that
he holds his eho in honour of his own father. His co-worshippers before the founder's
shrine-i.e., those who actually make offerings-are the title-holders and the
3di3were of the ward rather than his closest agnates.
In the same way the ancestors of the Oba have significance for the whole nation.
In the past all the famous Oba of the past had separate altars, each housed in a large
walled compound. In 1897 there were about 15 of these compounds (ugha) but
to-day there is only one which contains separate altars for the last three Jba and a
collective one for the rest; outside the palace courtyard there are separate altars for
three famous warrior kings of the past. In the past there were two separate annual
series of rites (ugiors and ugigi) at which sacrifices to individual 9ba were performed
on every fifth day. Each series was brought to a close with a public festival in
honour of the reigning Oba's own father (ugie-erhoba) at which 12 human beings,
chosen from the prison (ewedo) in Benin City where the worst criminals were con-
fined, were sacrificed. After the ugie-erhoba which terminated ugigii the lyase
performed his eho, then all other eho rites had to be completed within seven days.
To-day ugior3 and ugigil are no longer performed but regular sacrifices are still made
at the shrines of the last three Oba.
The actual rites in honour of the past Oba are directed by special priests from
the group known as Ihogbe who also officiate at the annual sacrifices to the reigning
Dba's own head (see below). The Ihogbe, whose ancestors are believed to have
followed Araminya from Ife, are known as the Oba's family," in virtue of their
function as royal ancestor priests, though no genealogical connection is in fact traced.
They are divided into two local groups in Benin City, headed by chiefs Ihama and
Esexurhe who are the senior priests. They and the other Ihogbe title-holders are
the only people who are allowed to stand on the dais where the Oba and his wives
and children sit during state ceremonies.
In some households, particularly those of people of high rank, there is an altar
to the mothers of the living and past household heads, decorated with uxurhe and
wooden images of fowls. Separate shrines are erected to the mothers of the Oba in
the village, Uselu, where they have their court.
00 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
(b) The collective ancestors or predecessors of a group are known as edi5, which,
it will be noted, is the name of the senior age-grade in Benin villages. The edi5
spirits are thought of both as the original occupiers of the village land and as all the
edi3 who have since lived and been buried there. All villages have edi5 shrines
(sgwedi3) which contain an altar decorated with uxurhe; some are large buildings in
which meetings of the village council are held. The odi5were, as the priest of the
edi, makes regular offerings there, and his influence with the edi5 spirits is a power-
ful sanction, particularly with reference to his control of ihe age-grades. Promotions
through the latter are made in the ogwedi3 and the odi3were himself is invested there.
The earth (ot3) is worshipped in close association with the edi5 spirits with the
odiSwere as priest. It is conceived as the ground in which the founders and elders
are buried rather than as a fertility spirit.
The concept edi5 is not, however, confined to the collective ancestors of a village
community. In some villages each ward has its own ogwedi5. The family and
household has its edi5 too, for whom a cow or goat is sacrificed during mortuary
rites and to whom libations of palm-wine and pieces of kola-nut are often offered.
In most community shrines of hero and other deities there are subsidiary altars to
the edi5, that is to the past worshippers of the deity. The palace associations, too,
have their edi3 altars at which offerings are made regularly, at promotions and the
investiture of new title-holders, etc. The Uzama have their edi5 altar housed in the
compound of their leader, Oliha. Finally there are the edi5 of the whole Benin
nation (edi5-Cdo), represented by a carved staff which is in the keeping of the
Esagbd, the second-ranking Eghaevo n'Ore who is also known as odi3were-Edo;
sacrifices are made to edi5-Edo in times of national catastrophe.
The hero-deities are mythical or semi-mythical figures of the past most of whom
are believed to have turned themselves into natural features, especially rivers and
ponds. Some are male, some female, and one was a dog belonging to Jba ewuare.
Several of the more important ones are believed to have been men of exceptional
magical powers who lived in the time of Cwuare.
The rites associated with the various cults differ considerably and it is impossible
to summarize them here. They have, however, for the most part, certain features
in common. The worshipping group is usually village-wide, though in most cases
the same deity is worshipped by different villages which may be scattered or con-
tiguous; there is occasionally some co-operation between villages in the sense that
the priests or other representatives from one village will visit another village with
the same cult when a festival (ugie) is in progress. In most of the cults there is a
division of ritual labour between the sexes and there are often rites which are kept
secret from women. The male worshippers are themselves frequently graded and
the higher grades possess secrets hidden from the members of the lower. There are
commonly two priests of the cult in each village; succession to these offices may be
hereditary (in which case the priest is frequently the village chief) or by seniority
or possession. Each village has a cult festival either annually or at less frequent
intervals in which there is public dancing and special sacrifices accompanied by
prayers and curses. The Oba maintains some measure of control over all the cults
in that he should be informed when an ugie is going to be performed and he may
send offerings and regalia to be used by the worshippers. Except in one or two
cases where worshippers visit the palace all these cults are banned from Benin City
One of the most widespread hero-deity cults is that associated with Ov)ia,. the
mythical wife of a king who melted into a river out of grief at being accused by her
co-wives of bringing sickness upon her husband. Dvia is the name of the largest
river in the Benin kingdom though many of the villages practising the cult have no
particular connection with it.
THE BENIN KINGDOM 57
Some of the Dvia-worshipping villages perform an ugie every year, others much
less regularly. At this time most of the men in the village go into seclusion in the
groves around the Dvia shrine for periods varying from a week to two or three
months. Every second day they emerge, completely masked except for their feet,
to dance. These masked figures are known as Erivl-via; that is, they represent the
spirits of past worshippers of Dvia and each impersonates his most lately-deceased
patrilineal ancestor. The first dance is held before the shrine of the Dvia spirits,
the second and third in front of the houses of the two Dvia priests and the rest for
the village as a whole or in other villages to which they have been invited. Affer
the dance the masked figures go from house to house receiving small gifts; the
spectators take the opportunity of securing their assistance in making prayers for
children, health, and prosperity, and in cursing their enemies; a curse laid during the
ugie is said to be incapable of revocation until the next ugie is being performed.
The male worshippers are graded along lines similar to those of the village age-
grades though the personnel of the corresponding secular and ritual grades is not
necessarily identical. Except on two occasions all women are barred from the Dvia
groves; their duty is to keep the men well fed and to sing night and morning for
their safety, for they are believed to be on the threshold between agb5 and Erivl
and, therefore, in great ritual danger. It is the women who finally kill off the
Crivi by throwing cloths over their heads, thus ensuring the return of the men to
the real world. After this they are taken to the groves where they are made to under-
line curses upon those who seek to harm members of the village by physical or super-
natural means, on women who seek to harm their husbands, etc. The festival is
brought to an end by a rite of reconciliation between the sexes.
The symbolism and the content of the prayers and curses spoken during the
festival might be held to have reference mainly to three categories of social relations.
1. It expresses the solidarity of the village as a whole as against other villages
and against individuals within it and outside who seek to harm its members. Much
care is taken to make the public ceremonies as attractive as possible so that the
fame of the village will be spread abroad. The period of the festival is thought of
as one in which all enmities and ill-will are dispersed or made ineffective-all quarrel-
ling at this time is a great sin-and as an opportunity for individuals to acquire
2. It expresses the dichotomy between the sexes; a great many of the rites are
kept secret from women, the men use a secret language which the women do not
understand, and there is a total ban on sexual intercourse. At the same time it
underlines the necessity for co-operation between the sexes for the perpetuation of
the group by the production and successful upbringing of good children.
3. It reinforces the authority of the old men over the young. Again secrecy
plays an important role and, in a period which is believed to be fraught with ritual
dangers, the young men are reluctant to quarrel with or disobey their elders.
Dvia-worship is not, however, confined to the periodic ugie. Every fifth day
the priests go to the shrine to make offerings. Individuals go to them with requests
that they make special prayers and, in particular, women who desire children seek
their aid in making offerings to Dvia with promises to provide further sacrifices if
their prayers meet with success.
PERSONAL SPIRITS AND SUPERNATURAL POWERS
Under this heading certain spirits or powers associated with individuals are
dealt with. Three of these are particularly important.
1. Chi. Every individual is thought of as consisting of two parts, the living ,/
" person in this world and the spiritual counterpart ehi which is in Eriv; some
informants say that the two alternate at each incarnation. According to the common
belief when a person is going to be born in agb5 he goes before Osanobua (or Olokii)
tells him what he plans to do with his life on earth and requests the material and
spiritual facilities for accomplishing this; this act is expressed in the infinitive hi."
If a man is unsuccessful in the world he is said to have done this badly or to be
fighting against the fate which he has determined for himself and when people
are being buried the mourners call after them to hi well next time. Chi's task
is to stand behind his counterpart when the latter is making his request to the
creator and to ensure that his counterpart does not forget anything. Unsucessful
individuals sometimes make offerings to their Ehi to secure its intercession with the
creator. The Oba's ehi is of particular significance. On state occasions he wears
an image of his ehi, in the form of a beaded doll, at his waist and the title Chioba
is held by a male chief and by one of his wives. In state rituals these individuals
(and others who represent other parts of the Dba's body, etc., see p. 39 above) are
anointed with the blood of sacrifices and rubbed with medicines in the same way as
the king himself; in the past they were killed when the Oba died.
2. Uhiivi--the head. The head, which is recognized to be the seat of judg-
ment and will as well as of most of the senses, is associated with a person's luck ".
A man is spoken of as having a good head or a bad head according to his
fortunes in life. Sacrifices and offerings are accordingly made to the head, particu-
larly after a piece of good fortune such as the birth of a healthy child, the winning
of a court case, or a safe return from the Dvia bush. Special sacrifices to the head
(igwe) are made annually to celebrate the successful completion of one year ana
the beginning of another; this is supposed to be a time of rejoicing. The Oba's igwe
is the occasion of one of the major public state rituals, the only one which is still
regularly carried out. Formerly this was an occasion for human sacrifices but to-day
cows, goats, and other animals are used. During the same ceremony the Oba is
rubbed with medicines prepared by the group of priests known as ogiefa to strengthen
him for the coming year.
The Dba and other people of high rank have altars dedicated to their heads.
3. Obo-the arm. The arm is recognized to be the seat of the power of accom-
plishing things (eti); its worship is particularly characteristic of warriors but is also
practised by other wealthy and high-ranking people. The Oba and other people of
high rank have special altars of the hand (ikWgobo) which take the form of sculp-
tured cylindrical objects in wood, or, occasionally, brass. The ob3 was formerly
worshipped before and after special undertakings to ensure and give thanks for
Some difficulty arises in determining what, in the case of uhiivii and obo, is the
actual object of worship. In practice the Edo act as though making offerings tb
their actual heads and arms though when questioned more closely some informants
will aver that the actual entities served" are in crivi, the spirit world.
OTHER STATE RITUALS
Before the coming of British rule there were many annual state rituals most
of which are no longer performed. The sacrifices to the royal ancestors and to-The
Oba's he-diave i-already been mentioned. Among the more important of the others
1. Isiokuo-a war ritual in honour of the god of iron (Ogi). It involved a pro-
cession of warriors through Benin City, an acrobatic dance by men suspended from
trees which recalled a mythical war against the sky," and human and other
S 2. Agwe-a ceremony in which offerings of new yam were made at all the
altars in the palace. This was the occasion for a masquerade called ododua in which
the performers wore bronze masks. Agwe was followed by ihud, the offering of new
yams at all the altars in individual households.
3. Eghute-a series of rites designed to protect pregnant women and to ensure
successful birth for the whole nation. The women were all sent out of Benin City
THE BENIN KINGDOM
and the priest Osud and others masqueraded as pregnant women. A rite known as
ububd was performed by Osud in which a man was pinned to a stool by a stake
driven through the top of his head. This took place in every alternate year.
4. Ixurhe-a rite to ensure the fertility of the land (otoe) performed by the
5. Ugie-ivie-a ceremony in which the Dba's beads (ivie) and other regalia were
laid out in the shrine of Oba Ewuare by the Iwebo and a human being sacrificed
6. Ugie-ewere. In the morning just before dawn children take burning brands
from the fire and chase all evil things out of Benin City to the junction of roads
leading out of the town. They then gather leaves of joy (eb-twere) which on
their return they present to their parents and other adults. In the evening the Ihogbe
(priests of the past kings) present similar leaves to the Dba.
Of these only the last is regularly performed; it takes place as part of the new
year (igwe) rites on the sixth day after the sacrifices to the Oba's head.
There are certain other state gods not all of which can be mentioned here.
Among them are Unwe and Ora whose priests are respectively the chiefs Osud and
Osa. Before 1897 the Oba used to send one human being to each of these gods for
sacrifice after which the priests made a show of sucking the blood from their severed
heads; these sacrifices may have been connected with isiokuo. The god Azama has
as its priest the Uzama, Obt3; its worship was connected with the well-being of the
In the old days human beings were crucified on special trees as a measure
to hasten the beginning or the end of the rains.
All magical practitioners can be subsumed under the rubric obo (pl. ebo),
usually translated doctor." Though all heads of extended families and many
other individuals possess magical skills to some degree the name ebo is generally
reserved for those who are believed to be especially proficient. These are usually
specialists in some branch of magical activities such as curing, divining, combating
witches, administering ordeals, etc., though most practise a number or all of these
The curing doctor (ob-odi) prepares medicines which are given to the patient
to drink, rubbed on his body or inserted in talismans which he carries on his person.
Among them may be classed the uxegie, professional bone-setters who come from a
particular ward in Benin City.
The "witch-doctor" (abo noy'ada-" doctor who goes to the road-junction ",
i.e., where sacrifices to witches are made) possesses certain medicines and imple-
ments which enable him to recognize and combat witchcraft. His aid is sought in
making sacrifices to the witches to persuade them to desist from their evil-doing.
The ordeals administered by ib-ita are of various kinds. They include the pick-
ing of cowries or seeds out of boiling palm-oil; the insertion of a feather through
the tongue which, if the suspected person is innocent, should be easy to withdraw;
and the drinking of sasswood. The last was administered only upon the Oba's
orders by the members of a certain ward in Benin City. All these methods have
now been abandoned.
There are several kinds of divining each with its own practitioners. The most
common is ogwega, the interpretation of patterns into which four strings of four
shells, each with a concave and a convex side, fall. Many individuals in all villages
can divine by this method but when an important decision is at stake the tendency
is to seek out a diviner at a considerable distance from one's home. The ewawa
diviner works by casting a number of small figures of human beings, animals, and
inanimate objects on to a platter, interpreting the answer according to the pattern
in which they fall. This method is practised especially by the ewaise who inhabit
60 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
a number of wards in Benin City. They are among the Oba's official doctors "
and are skilful in preparing and administering curative medicines and in making
charms. Other diviners use the Yoruba method of divining with palm-kernels and
Olokii priests practise divining with cowries and by the akpele method which is
similar to ewawa.
Medicine can be used to harm others as well as to cure and protect oneself
and one's patients. A person who has a reputation for harmful medicines is known
as ob-erhia, spoiling doctor."
Certain "strong doctors are credited with abnormal powers and special
medicines which permit them to fly through the air, to transform themselves into
animals or to disappear when in danger.
The Edo concept of witchcraft is well defined. A witch (azZ) is any person who
has the ability to detach his or her life-essence (orhi3) from the body for the
purpose of capturing and killing the orhi5 of another; the witch's orhi5 is generally
said to turn into an owl and the victim's is transformed into a goat or antelope or
some other animal that is easy to kill. Any person of any age or of either sex can
be a witch but female witches are believed to be the stronger and accusations are, in
fact, more commonly made against women.
Witches are believed to kill because they are under an obligation to the other
witches to provide food, in their turn. Their status in the secret meeting of witches
(oro) is believed to depend on the number of victims they have killed. The witches
are said to be organized along lines parallel to the territorial divisions of the Benin
kingdom. Each village has its tree in which the witches of the village are said to
meet at night. There are larger meetings for the more powerful witches of the major
geographical areas of the kingdom and finally a central meeting which is attended
only by the most powerful witches from the Benin kingdom and outside. The
precise locations of all these supposed meetings are well known.
Witchcraft is frequently said to be inherited. Closer questioning, however,
reveals a belief that a pregnant witch may give witchcraft food to the child she is
carrying; the child of a witch is, therefore, more likely to be suspected than others.
New witches can be recruited by putting the same substance, which is invisible,
into a person's food. All witches are believed to have full knowledge of their powers
and the ability to recognize their fellows and to communicate with them without
others hearing or understanding what they are saying.
It seems to be generally accepted that witches can kill only at close quarters.
The Edo say that witches usually attack their own and their co-wives' children before
attempting to kill other people; this is because they know more about them and
therefore risk less harm to themselves. They recognize, too, the likelihood of jealousy
and conflicts between co-wives and the internal conflict of loyalty in a woman who
is the mother of a senior son and who may be suspected of seeking to harm her
husband so that her son may inherit. In practice, however, accusations along these
lines seem rarely to occur. Most recorded instances of witchcraft accusations involved
people who were not close kinsmen. Where the situation seemed ripe for the ideal
kind of accusation there was a tendency to shift the blame for the actual witchcraft
aggression over to some unknown or unnamed witch. The relative on whom the
accusation might have been expected to fall was regarded as having disturbed the
unity of the kin-group, thus making it vulnerable to witchcraft attack.
Witches are propitiated by sacrifices and offerings, usually placed at road
junctions. It is the duty of a village headman to defend the community by estab-
lishing good relations with the body of witches associated with the village.
II. THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES
LOCATION, NOMENCLATURE, AND LANGUAGE
The chiefdoms, tribes, and independent villages which make up the Ishan
section of the Edo-speaking peoples are located to the north-east of the Benin
kingdom. With the exception of the Anwain tribe and the independent village of
Ujagbe,' they are contained within the boundaries of the Ishan Division of Benin
Province, and are bounded on the north-west and north by the Ivbiosakon and
Etsako sections of the Northern Edo, on the west and south-west by the Benin
kingdom, on the south and south-east by the Western Ibo, and on the east by the
River Niger and the Igala people. There is some linguistic and cultural overlapping
on each of these frontiers.2
The word Ishan is a corruption of esa, which is said to be derived from
esdfua, meaning those who fled." Many of the Ishan communities and immigrant
elements within them claim to have been founded by people who left the Benin
kingdom to evade justice or escape oppression.
The Ishan people are distinguishable in their name, language, and in certain
cultural and social characteristics, from neighboring sections of the Edo-speaking
peoples. They speak a series of closely-related dialects, not far removed from the
language of the Benin kingdom, which shade off into Edo, Etsako, and Ivbiosakon
dialects on the borders with these groups and probably show some Ibo and Igala
influence in the east and south.
With few exceptions the Ishan communities are very uniform in social structure
and especially in their political framework, which is, however, similar to that of
many chiefdoms particularly in the eastern part of the Benin kingdom. On the other
hand, in its emphasis on hereditary chieftainship and individual titles and in the
general absence of title associations Ishan contrasts markedly with the Northern
Edo peoples (described in Section III, pp. 81-126).
All the Ishan communities live in the area of the Ishan Plateau whose general
level is over 400 ft. The plateau rises from the Orhiomo River in the south-west to
an east-west ridge along the northern borders of Ishan Division on which are
situated the chiefdoms of Irua and Ekpoma. Egoro, Ukhun, Idua, and Ewu lie on
the northern slopes of this ridge, which is drained by small streams flowing north
then east to the Niger. Ujagbe is on a spur projecting to the north.
The largest chiefdom, Uromi, occupies a high ridge in the centre of the plateau
from which the land falls gradually away to the south-east and east. These slopes
are drained by the Orle, Orbu, and Uto Rivers which flow to the Niger. Okpoji,
Igueben, and Ugbegun lie on the undulating surface of the plateau whose height
decreases to the south-west to the level of the Orhiomo River and its tributaries.
1 In the Kukuruku Division.
2 The villages of Idua and Ujagbe and the small chiefdom of Ukhun in the north are
reported to have historical and cultural connections with the Ivbiosakon people. Urohi, in
the west, has close connections with its neighbours in the Benin kingdom; its people regard
themselves as Edo rather than Ishan and, like Igueben, speak a dialect which is probably
closer to Edo than to the other Ishan dialects. In the south-east Ebu (in Asaba Division)
and Inyelen (now a part of Urho chiefdom) have sometimes been reported as Ishan com-
munities. They claim, for the most part, Edo and Ishan origins but speak a dialect of Igala
with an admixture of Edo vocabulary. Their social organisation exhibits Ibo and Igala
characteristics but most of their cults are clearly of Edo origin. In the Urho chiefdom Ishan
and Igala communities live side by side, each retaining its own culture and social organiza-
tion; most of the people speak both Ishan and Igala. Igala is spoken as a second language
in Urowa and Ugboha chiefdoms.
z2 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
The Orhiomo flows south-west to join the Benin River. All the southern slopes of
the plateau are considerably broken up by deeply entrenched streams.
The natural vegetation of most of the area is high tropical forest with an
abundance of good timber. There are areas of orchard bush in the north-eastern
part of Ukhun, in Ujagbe, Northern Uzia, Egoronokhua, and the adjoining south-
western part of Ekpoma, and patches of orchard bush and elephant grass on the
surface of the plateau, especially in the more densely populated areas where the
forest cover has been removed. The eastern, south-eastern, and south-western
sectors, where the population density is low, are heavily forested. Oil-palms grow
abundantly on the higher parts of the plateau but are said to be deficient in the east
The surface rocks of the area are porous Benin Sands and there is a very low
water-table, especially in the higher regions. The Ishan build away from the widely-
spaced streams and many villages have to carry water several miles. Pits are dug
to collect water in the rainy season but these supplies do not generally last through-
out the dry half of the year.
The area of the Ishan Division (i.e., excluding Anwain and Ujagbe) is 1,162
square miles. Its population, according to the 1952 Census, is 192,194, of whom
183,149 are described as Edo "; this figure presumably includes the Ishan people
and Edo and Northern Edo peoples living in Ishan, but not Urhobo and Isoko. Of
the other strangers the largest groups are Ibo, 4,717 (including 1,578 Kwale Ibo
mainly engaged in the production and marketing of palm-oil and kernels), Urhobo-
Isoko, 880 (similarly engaged), and Yoruba, 762.
The overall population density is 165 per square mile but the population is very
unevenly distributed. The highest densities are found in the northern, central, and
south-eastern parts of the area. Uromi has 621 persons per square mile, Irua 374,
and Ekpoma, Ewu, Ugbegun, Igueben, and the Ewohimi group of chiefdoms 200
or more. Okpoji, Ubiaja, and Ekpon have between 100 and 150 persons per square
mile and the remaining communities less.3 The swampy and heavily forested areas
in the eastern and south-western sectors are most sparsely inhabited.
The Ishan people live in compact settlements built in clearings in the forest and
bush, away from the streams. Formerly the houses, which are of mud with wooden
door and window-frames and leaf or palm-mat roofs, were clustered round one or
more open spaces (ughele) which contain shrines, meeting-houses, etc. To-day there
is usually a village street with houses built along one or both sides. It is not clear
how old this form of settlement is but it has undoubtedly been encouraged by the
building of roads through the area; there is a general tendency towards ribbon
development along the roads.
The houses are similar in pattern to those found in Benin villages. New
imported materials-cement and corrugated sheets-are now being used and the
wealthier people are building two-storey houses in some settlements.
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY
There is little to distinguish the economy of Ishan from that of the Benin
kingdom. The great majority of the population is engaged in agriculture, mainly
for subsistence. The food crops do not differ greatly from those common to the
Benin kingdom but cotton is grown much more extensively, especially in the higher
The area exports surplus food to Sapele, Benin, Warri, and towns farther
afield. Farm and palm products are sold in the local markets and at the trading
3 Individual figures for the chiefdoms of the South-West Federation are not available
but their overall density is 89.
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES
stations on the Niger, the most considerable of which is Illushi, an evacuation point
for much produce from Ishan and Southern Kukuruku. Most villages of any size
have markets every four days and the larger ones-Uromi, for example-are visited
by traders from considerable distances who hire lorries for the purpose. Ebele, an
important market at the junction of many roads, is said to have been founded, in
the first place, as a market for chiefs' wives only. The markets deal in imported
cloth, petty articles, cigarettes, kerosene, etc., which are travelling in the opposite
direction for consumption in Ishan.
Of the cash crops introduced since the British conquest rubber is the most
important. As in Benin it is grown both on a peasant basis and in plantations of
considerable size and is sold either to middlemen or directly to the agents of export-
ing firms. Timber is extracted by European companies and independent African
operators who employ local and immigrant, largely Ibo, labour.
Hunting and, where possible, fishing are subsidiary economic pursuits. Amaru,
a fishing and trading village on Alagbetta Creek which was founded from Ugboha;
has a considerable trade in dried fish which is transported as far as Ewu and Agbor
on the bicycles of Ibo traders.
There are a few herds of dwarf cattle which graze on grassy patches in and
around settlements. Fowls, goats, and sheep are ubiquitous.
The principal crafts are weaving and smithing. Women weave cloth on very
simple upright broad looms, using both local and European thread. A large quantity
of cloth finds its way out of the Ishan area for consumption. Most communities
have iron-smiths who generally trace their origins either to the smiths' ward of Benin
City or to the Ineme people of Kukuruku. Igueben is notable for having supplied
the Oba of Benin with the ceremonial swords, ada and eb; its onogie has the title
Okaigil, "leader of the smiths ".
There is some wood-carving by part-time specialists who produce ritual objects
for the decoration of shrines and the houses of chiefs. The house of the Onogie of
Uromi, for example, has a number of carved pillars. Carpentry has become more
important with the introduction of wooden window-frames and other components
of modern house-building.
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY
There are a few references in Ishan tradition to aboriginal peoples who lived in
the area before the migrations which resulted in the founding of the present-day
communities. Some elements in the population of Egoro, Okpoji, Ewu, Uromi, and
Ewohimi claim to be descended from ancestors who dropped from the sky or
who emerged from the ground or from rivers. Ewu traditions, for example, tell
of an ancestor who fell from the sky and was conquered by the Oba of Benin who
gave him a wife and followers and sent him back with the title onogie.
Most traditions, however, are concerned with the origins and growth of the
chiefdoms, villages, and village-groups that claim to have been founded directly or
indirectly from Benin or by natives of other areas (especially Ife and Ifeku Island)
who were absorbed, peacefully or by conquest, into the Benin empire. Emigrants
from Benin are said to have fled from justice or oppression though a few enigie were
apparently deliberately placed by the Dba to look after shrines or to guard his
interests in the area. Among these latter were the first Onogie of Urohi and Okaigiu
of Igueben. Some of the chiefdoms were undoubtedly offshoots of others already
established and their enigie did not, perhaps, in all cases, secure the Oba's
It is impossible to date satisfactorily the founding of the chiefdoms though the
traditions of Igueben and Urohi say that they were founded by warriors who
followed the Oba to the war against the Ata of Idah, presumably the one which is
64 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
said to have taken place early in the 16th century (see Section I, p. 20). The 26
chiefdoms for which information is available can recall the names of from six to
16 enigie, with the exception of Igueben which names 26 ekaigii. Sixteen chiefdoms
list a succession of between 12 and 16 enigie but in a number of cases the lists are
said to be incomplete, some names having been forgotten.
All the chiefdoms appear to have grown by the addition of immigrants of widely
diverse Edo-speaking and non-Edo origins, who accepted the authority of the onogie
in whose territory they settled. The result is that nearly all the chiefdoms are of
very heterogeneous composition. Most of the people claim descent from people who
emigrated from the Benin kingdom for widely varying reasons. They included
warriors who did not return to Benin after fighting campaigns (e.g., against Idah
and Uzia); relatives of the Oba and others who offended him; individuals placed by
the Oba to guard shrines; craft, trading, and ritual specialists who came to seek
their fortunes or were invited by the enigie; slaves or servants sent down to farm
for chiefs in Benin who were responsible to the Oba for the administration of Ishan,
etc. The enigie often encouraged settlers by giving them titles and other honours
and privileges. Within Ishan itself there was much migration from chiefdom to
chiefdom and many shifts of allegiance from one onogie to another.
SUBSEQUENT EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL RELATIONS
The greater part of Ishan apparently remained within the Benin empire down
to the British conquest though there were periodical defections and reconquests in
which some of the Ishan chiefdoms sided with Benin against others. The Oba
Ozolua who was reigning in 1485 is said to have been killed in a war with Uzia
but it is not clear whether this was a war of conquest or the suppression of a revolt.
Some enigie provided warriors for the Benin armies, as for instance in the war
which brought Akure (Ondo Province) back under the Oba's rule in the early part
of the last century. On at least one occasion in the last century chiefdoms took
opposing sides in a war of succession to the Benin kingship.
Internally the history of Ishan is one of wars and alliances between chiefdoms.
Ubiaja is said to have dominated much of eastern Ishan during the 19th century.
Warfare was carried on, in addition, against neighboring non-Ishan peoples; Egoro,
for example, fought Ozala, an Ivbiosakon tribe.
NUPE CONTACTS AND THE MODERN PERIOD
The Nupe who, during the latter half of the last century, gained control over
most of what is now Kukuruku Division raided the northern borders of Ishan but
did not penetrate deeply into the forest. Ujagbe, Ewu, Ukhun, and Irua were most
affected and it is reported that raids were made as far as Ugboha. Ewu land is
said originally to have stretched to the Igedion River north of the present site of
Agbede. Its boundaries were pushed south to the foot of the Ishan Plateau by the
Nupe and the Oba of Agbede whom they supported, but in the forest country the
Ewu people defended themselves successfully; some, however, fled to Uromi where
their descendants remain. Ujagbe, which was formerly under the Onogie of Ewu,
came under the influence of the Oba of Agbede about 1895 and the people are now
virtually all Muslims. Emando Village, Ekpoma, is said to have been founded by
a small band of marauders from the north whom the Onogie of Ekpoma employed
as mercenaries; they continued to pay tribute of palm-oil, goats, and cowries to
Bida. Traces of Nupe influence remain in the spread of Islam, particularly to Ewu
and Irua, and the adoption by the men of northern styles of dress.
Europeans began to visit Ishan in the years immediately following the Benin
Expedition of 1897 but the area was not finally brought under control until a military
force was sent against Uromi and the Uniya and Edenu village-groups of Irua in the
spring of 1901. Uromi was defeated only after hard fighting.
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES
LIST OF CHIEFDOMS, VILLAGES AND VILLAGE GROUPS
Administrative Village or
Designation Village group
1. Ekpoma (Ek'ma) Ch.
2. Egoro (Egholo) Ch.
Ivie-Uda-Esaba 3. Okpoji (Ukpozi) Ch.
Federation 4. Urohi (Uroi) Ch.
5. Ukhun (Uxi) Ch.
6. Idua (Idoa) V.
Irua N.A. 7. Irua (Urua) Ch.
Ewu N.A. 8. Ewu (Cilu) Ch.
Etsako Dt. ( 9. Ujagbe V.
(Kukuruku Div.) (10. Anwain
Uromi-Uzia N.A. 11. Uzia (Uzeea) V.G.
12. Uromi (Urhsmu) Ch.
13. Ubiaja 6 (Ubiaza) Ch.
14. Udo (Udo) Ch.
North-East 15. Oria (Oria) Ch.
Federation 16. Onogolo (Onogholo) Ch.
17. Illushi or Ozigolo (Ozigono)
Ifeku Is. V.G.
18. Ugboha (Owaha) Ch.
19. Ebele (Ebene) Ch.
South-West 20. Ogwa (Ogwa) Ch.
Federation 21. Amaho (Amaha) Ch.
22. Ugun (Ugl) Ch.
23. Ujogba (Ujogba) Ch.
Igueben N.A. 24. Igueben (Iguebf) Ch.
Ugbegun N.A. 25. Ugbegun (Ugbegiu) Ch.
26. Emu (Emunu) Ch.
South-East 27. Ohodua (Ohodua) Ch.
Federation 28. Okhuesan (Oxuesa) Ch.
29. Urowa (Orowa) Ch.
30. Urho (Urho) Ch.
Ekpon N.A. 31. Ekpon (Ekps) Ch.
32. Ewohimi (Evoixivi or
Ewohimi Orixfvi) Ch.
Federation 33. Ewatto (Evoato) Ch.
34. Ewossa (Evoosa) Ch.
SThe phonetic spellings in parentheses are taken from the speech of Dr. Okojie, a native
of Irua and Ugboha. In the text the spellings most commonly employed, with some modifi-
cations, are used.
5 This column is based on the names of villages given in Administrative Reports and does
not include temporary or recent camps distinguishable by the prefixes eko or ago, which
may or may not have the social organization and social status of villages. The numbers of
villages do not coincide with those given in the 1952 Census report where the term village is
apparently not used in the same sense or consistently. In any case it is probable that the
same criteria for distinguishing villages from wards on the one hand and village groups on
the other have not been used in all our sources.
6 Some villages have been variously reported as being in Ubiaja and Udo chiefdoms.
Combined figures for area and population density are given here.
For footnotes 7 and 8 see overleaf.
00 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
NOTES ON INDIVIDUAL COMMUNITIES9
1. The founder of Ekpoma came from Ifeku Island and later visited Ife and
Benin. His grandson secured the title Onogie from the Oba. Later immigrants
from the Benin kingdom, Agbor (Asaba Division), Kukuruku, other Ishan
2. The first Onogie came from Benin with the founder of Ekpoma. Two
villages are descended from aboriginals, another was founded by a man from
3. Founded at the same time as Ekpoma and Egoro. Aboriginals and
immigrants from Benin and Ekpon.
4. Founded by a Benin warrior returning from the war against Idah. Later
immigrations from the Benin Kingdom.
5. The founder of Ukhun came from Benin via what is now Ekpoma, married
a wife from Uzeba (Ivbiosakon). Social organization suggests affinities with
6. Founder a son of mythical founder of Ivi-Ada-Obi group, Ivbiosakon.
Another version makes him a half-brother (same mother) of founders of Ukhun
and Era (Ivbiosakon).
7. Traditions tell of an original migration from Ife to Ifeku Island before the
founder visited Benin married Oba's daughter and acquired title Onogie. Immi-
grants from Agbede and Otwa (Kukuruku) and Uromi and Ifeku (Ishan).
8. Founder "descended from the sky," was conquered by the Oba, made
Onogie. Immigrants from Benin kingdom, Ora (Ivbiosakon) and Ekpoma.
9. An original connection with Ora and Urole (Ivbiosakon). The people fled
to Ewu, were given land by Onogie, later seceded, came under Agbede about 1895.
10. The Anwain claim to have come from Benin indirectly, some groups via
Ishan and others via certain Northern Edo communities.
11. Founded by the son of a half-sister of the Oba and her lover who fled to the
12. Founded, according to different stories, from Benin or Uzia. Aboriginals
and immigrants from Benin kingdom, Uzia, Irua, Ewohimi, Ewu, Emu, Agbor,
13. Founded from the Benin kingdom. Immigrants include a group from
14. Founded by the brother of the first Onogie of Ubiaja. Three villages
founded from Uromi.
15. Founded from Benin.
16. Founded by a son of the first Onogie of Oria.
17. Very mixed population-Ishan, Igala, Nupe, Yoruba, Kakanda. The
Ishan elements in Ifeku Island are mainly from Ugboha.
18. The first Onogie a son of the Oba of Benin and brother of the first Onogie
of Uromi. Benin, Uromi, and Ineme immigrants.
19. Founder from Urhonigbe area of Benin kingdom. Immigrants of Benin
and Western Ibo origin. The three villages called Idumokaro have their own
Onogie, claim to constitute a separate chiefdom and to have been the first settlement
in the neighbourhood; were founded from Uzebu, the Ezomo's village at Benin.
20. Founded from Benin. Immigrants from Benin, Irua, and Ekpoma.
7 The figures given in the 1952 Census for Ozigolo have been included in Illushi and
Ifeku Island for which group Origolo is sometimes used as an alternative name. The Census
lists two other settlements in the North-East Federation, Ehilanwhen (322) and Ogbeide (231),
which cannot be traced in other sources.
It is not clear whether the areas of the villages of Ekekhelen (Ekexele) and Eko-Ibadin
(ekubade) are included in this figure. If not, the population must be somewhat lower.
9 The numbers refer to those against the names of communities in the list on p. 65. A
considerable proportion of the population of all communities claims descent from the founder
and his followers. Traditions are given without comment.
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES oi
21. Founded from Benin. Elements of Western Ibo and Ivbiosakon origin.
22. Ugun was founded by a son of an Onogie of Ogwa. Uromi, Ekpoma,
Agbor, and Urhobo immigrants.
23. Founded by a son of Dba OsEvide of Benin (early 19th century). Western
Ibo, Ekpoma, Ebele, Urohi, Urhobo, and Benin immigrants.
24. Igueben founded by a Benin warrior of the Idah campaign. Later immi-
grants from Benin, Akure (Ondo Province), Awka (Onitsha Province), Ora,
Agbor, and other Ishan chiefdoms. Ekekhelen (population 1,213) is an Edo-
speaking village founded in the time of Jba Ovordv! as a rest-camp for Benin
traders. Eko-Ibade (population 454) founded in this century from Uromi.
25. Founder from Benin. Immigrants from Uromi and Kukuruku.
26. Founder and later immigrations from Benin kingdom.
27. The founder came from Benin and apart from recent farm camps the
population claims descent from him.
28. Founded from Benin. Immigrants from Ogwa and Okpoji.
29.. Founded from Irua.
30. Founded from Benin or Ohodua, but with a very mixed population of
Ishan, Igala, Ibo, and Yoruba origins. Includes Igala-speaking village,
31. Founded from Ekpoma. Immigrants from Warri.
32. 33. 34. Three chiefdoms founded by three sons of an Oba of Benin.
Ewhohimi claims aboriginal, Agbor and later Benin elements. Ewatto has
descendants of slaves of the 6zomo of Benin. Ewossa has immigrants from Egoro,
Ewatto, and Agbor.
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL
The characteristic independent10 political unit of Ishan society is the chiefdom,
ruled over by a hereditary chief onogie or onoje." The following appear to be the
only exception to this rule:-Ujagbe and Idua12 are single independent villages
and Anwain a group of four villages, all without hereditary chiefs; Uzia is a federa-
tion of five villages; Illushi and Ifeku Island consist of a few small settlements of
very mixed origins. The head of the Ishan community in Urho claims the title
Onoje, while the head of the Igala community is known as the Igwe.
In each chiefdom the ultimate unifying factor is allegiance to the onogie on the
part of the people occupying the territory which is vested in him. With the
exception of Egoro and Ugbegun, each of which has one village cut off from the
rest, each chiefdom, village, or village group occupies a compact bloc of territory.
The chiefdoms have from one to about 20 villages. Where there is a plurality of
villages the one containing the onogie's court is invariably called Egware or Egwale
(cf. Edo eguae used in the same sense and for the Oba's palace at Benin) and the
other villages are collectively called igule (Edo igue, a village).
10 The word independent must be qualified in three senses. First, most of these com-
munities admit or admitted some degree of allegiance to the Oba of Benin. Secondly, some
chiefdoms were subordinate to others, either permanently or from time to time, in certain
limited respects. Thirdly, there are, or were, special arrangements between pairs or groups
of chiefdoms for the settling of disputes and the punishment of crimes. There are, in addition,
ties of a ceremonial nature and other non-political ties between certain chiefdoms. The word
independent as used here is intended to indicate that the community so described rules
itself in most respects and traditionally admits no general subordination to a larger group
"1 The title is usually combined with the name of the chiefdom; thus the Onogie of Irua
is called Ogirua and the Onoje of Ubiaja Ojeubiaza.
12 Idua is now federated with the village-chiefdom" of Ukhun.
05 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
Villages are normally divided into a number of wards13 or idilvil, each of
which consists of a number of houses grouped round a central clearing (ughele) or
street. In some cases wards of the same village are clustered together, while in
others they are separated by small stretches of bush; a ward may, in fact, be nearer
to wards of other villages than to another ward of its own village. Recent move-
ments to the roads have in many cases blurred the separation between wards and
even between villages.
Each village lies within its own compact bloc of territory, which includes
farming land and usually a zone of high forest. The boundaries between villages in
the forest were not always clearly defined in the past.
Within some of the larger chiefdoms there are groupings of villages on the
basis of historical and kinship ties and political and judicial considerations. In
Uromi there are three and, in Irua, two, "districts" which function as units in
political and judicial contexts. One of the districts of Irua comprises the main
body of people who claim descent from the founder and his followers, while the
other contains mainly later immigrants. The three districts of Uromi-oberhud,
obinud, and oxiode-are named after the right and left wings and the centre of
a military force. These same names are given to companies which cut across the
age-group organization in the Ivbiosakon and Etsako country.
Ishan kinship organization has a strong patrilineal bias associated with virilocal
marriage but the presence of the arhewa or area form of marriage (see p. 80) in
at least some of the chiefdoms must lead to some extent, to bilateral descent groups.
There is considerable variation in the degree of correspondence between kinship
units and the territorial organization. Thus, in the Ewohimi group of chiefdoms
and in Ekpon, Ukhun, Idua, Oria, Onogolo, and Ohodua wards, villages and the
chiefdom or village-group have stronger lineage nuclei than elsewhere. In
Ukhun the wards and, in Oria and Onogolo, the villages, are very small and to a
large extent comprise single descent groups. Idua contains four pairs of descent
groups, each pair tracing its descent to a common ancestor.
Elsewhere the ward commonly has a nucleus of the descendants of the
founder, but in most cases there are other immigrant descent groups which may be
of equal or greater size. In a few cases the prefix ivi, meaning "children of," is
found in the ward name, but to a much lesser extent than in some of the Northern
Edo communities. In most cases the ward and the village (and often the chiefdom)
are named after the founder, but some bear the name of the latter's place of origin
or of the senior oxafva title held there (see below).
In some chiefdoms-e.g., Ewohimi, Ekpon, Ohodua, Oria-the component
wards of most villages are linked by (putative) patrilineal kinship ties between their
founders. In the Ewohimi and Ekpon groups the village headman (see pp. 73-4)
is usually the direct descendant of the founder in the senior male line, but it is not
clear what proportion of the population actually claims descent from him. In
some chiefdoms certain villages have one dominant descent group, while others
are more heterogeneous. In Ebele, for instance, the three wards of Egware claim
to be descended from three "sons" of the first onogie. Idumogo village was
founded by a Benin man whose descendants occupy one ward, while two others
were founded by descendants of the Dba of Benin, and a fourth from the black-
is The distinction between a ward and a village is not always easy to make. Thus the
word idfviv often appears as a prefix in the name of a village which itself contains a number
of wards and in some cases these may be further divided into smaller idiivii. As in Benin
the prefix evo or ewo is sometimes used in the names of larger settlements but also of chief-
doms-for example, evoixivi, the place of the ixivi tree," and evoato, the place of the
grassland." In general, a village is distinguished from a ward by its size and inclusiveness,
its spatial isolation and more particularly by the fact that it is often the largest unit which
recognizes a single odiuwere and which combines for age-grade activities.
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES
smiths' ward of Benin. The two wards of Ologele village claim descent from
immigrants from Urhonigbe in the Benin kingdom and the Ivbiosakon area respec-
tively. Okuta village contains three wards founded from Onicha-Alona, Asaba
Division, while Okpuje has four wards descended from an immigrant from
Uzebum, the Ezomo's ward at Benin, and a fifth which is an offshoot of one of
the wards of Ologele.
Finally, in some chiefdoms-e.g., Ekpoma and Uromi-most villages are of
very heterogeneous descent.
The village-groups within Ekpoma chiefdom, which co-operate in judicial and
age-grade activities, are of heterogeneous descent. The village-groups of Irua have
a basis of common descent or at least of common origin.
Kinship relations are traced between the founders of various chiefdoms, though
there are often different versions of the nature of the relationships. Most of these
putative links are patrilineal, but it is said at Emu that the enigie of Emu,
Okhuesan, and Ohodua are descended from one woman who married the first
onogie of each of these chiefdoms in turn. The Ubiaja people extend this story
to include the enigie of Ugboha and Ubiaja.
Wards are frequently but not invariably reported to be exogamous units, but
it may be that the marriage regulations apply to the dominant descent group in
the ward rather than to the local group as such. Whole villages are rarely
exogamous and in some cases where several ward-descent groups claim common
descent the exogamic bond has been ritually severed. On the other hand, groups
of wards from the same and from different villages are sometimes reported to
constitute single exogamous groups, while in Okpoji marriage is forbidden between
members of the villages of Iki and Ikiewan. Communities related through their
founders retain ritual ties, in some cases, even when they are allowed to intermarry.
A system of dispersed clans is reported at Uromi. Six principal clans are named,
each one being called after its founder. Members of any one clan are found in
two or more villages, that to which the onogie belongs being most widely dispersed.
ExaEva titles are apparently held within the clans. Elsewhere in Ishan some of the
morning greetings characteristic of the dispersed clans of Benin are in common use.
AGE-GRADE AND AGE-SET ORGANIZATION
The male population of all Ishan villages (except in Illushi) is organized on an
age-grade basis very similar to that of the Benin kingdom. There are, in most
communities, three main age-grades or otu, the commonest names for which are:--
1. egbonughele,14 (izaevolo in Uzia).
2. ighele (igele, igeni) or igbama; elarhuE in Uzia.
3. edi3; (ikpixai in Uzia).
The middle age-grade is called igbama in the Ewohimi group and some other
chiefdoms in the south-east but in Ekpoma and some neighboring communities
the word is used for the junior edi who have performed the ceremony necessary
to free themselves from communal labour but who are not considered ready for full
participation in village meetings. In Okpoji, according to Butcher, the name is
given to people who have special judicial functions.
In the Ewohimi group named15 age-sets are formed every one to three years,
at Uzia every three years and at Idua every five years and they take their place in
the egbonughele grade. They are probably present elsewhere but in some communi-
ities appointments and promotions are said to take place when the need arises."6 In
14 The name seems to refer to the traditional task of sweeping the ughele, the central
clearing of the village.
15 The same names are said to be given in Uromi, Ekpoma and Egoro, to companies to
which members of the egbonughele or ighele grades are assigned. It is not clear whether these
are sub-grades or whether they cut across age groupings.
18 Butcher reports a ceremony at Okpoji in which 20 men were promoted from the lower
to the middle grade, the last promotion having taken place about three years previously.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
Ewu, Ukhun, and Idua there are reported to be sub-divisions of this grade, ranked
according to seniority. The egbonughele are equivalent to the iroghae of Edo
villages. Their activities include, in various communities, clearing and sweeping
paths, streets, clearings, and meeting-places, cleaning and repairing shrines and
carrying wood and water and mixing mud for building purposes.
The normal age of promotion to the ighele grade is said to vary between the early
twenties and middle thirties. In some communities the grade is divided into three
sub-grades the senior of which is called otuneha or otuniha.17 In Ewu, Idua, and
Ukhun selection for this grade is said to depend on ability as well as age; its
members are the leaders of the two lower grades and they have a right to settle
disputes and punish offences which arise in connection with age-grade activities.
The head of the ighele grade in ward or village is called odi3igeni at Irua and
odi3idiivii in some of the Uromi villages. The grade as a whole is responsible for
maintaining law and order within the community and provides warriors for
defence and attack vis-a-vis other communities. Its members also take part
in the heavier communal tasks and in some communities play an advisory or
executive role in village or ward meetings. Executive officials such as egale
and inotu are recruited from the ighele. At Uromi special tasks accorded to
the named companies (see footnote 17) are the enforcement of regulations against
the spreading of disease and the driving out of witches.
As among other Edo-speaking peoples the edi3, led by the odiSwere, are the
main repository of custom and authority within the village though in some chief-
doms they may be overshadowed by the title-holders. They are exempt from
manual labour for the community. Their political and judicial functions will be
The age-grades seem generally to be organised on a village-wide basis in respect
of appointments, promotions, and communal activities though they sometimes
function at the ward level, and it is reported that in one or two cases a number of
villages may co-operate for initiation and promotion ceremonies.
Entrance into the lowest grade generally involves little ceremony. Promotion
to the other grades depends to a large extent upon age, but other factors are
involved. These include such qualifications as the proper obsequies for one's father,
marriage, and the begetting of a child, payments to the edi3, and sometimes to the
onogie and title-holders, the provision of feasts and the undergoing of ceremonies
of qualification and promotion. Some of these will be described below.
With a few exceptions'8 the autonomous political communities of Ishan are
ruled over by hereditary chiefs called enigie (sing. onogie).19 The onogie invariably
occupies the village called Cgware or Egwale. (See above, p. 67.)
In each case the origin of the onogie title is traced to the founder of the com-
munity or his "son." Some founders are said to have received their titles from
the Oba before leaving Benin. Others fled but later submitted and were given
titles in return for allegiance. Some were conquered and treated in the same way.
17 Otuneha means, literally, the three otu." Butcher, in his study of the otu system
of Ekpoma, Egoro, Okpoji, Uromi, and Ewohimi, reports that otuneha is sometimes said
to be an intermediate grade between the two lower grades. He seems to identify the term
with the three sections of a fighting force, oxiode, oberhud, and obinud, which are also found
among the Ivbiosakon and Etsako and suggests that they may be recruited from among the
two lower grades.
is Uzia has four enigie for five villages but none of these is regarded as the head of the
whole village group; the fifth village is headed by the senior man in one of two families who
exercise the right of appointment alternately. Two of the four wards of Ujagbe have enigie
but the headman of the village is the senior odiSwere. Idua and Illushi have no enigie.
1 The hereditary chief of Igueben is called okaig--leader of the smiths. The name refers
to the traditional task of the Igueben smiths to make the ceremonial swords, ebE, for the
3ba of Benin.
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES /I
A few titles may have been copied from other Ishan chiefdoms without reference to
Benin and without the Oba's confirmation.
In the great majority of cases the title is hereditary, the deceased onogie
being succeed by his eldest surviving son. Ukhun, where the succession passes
collaterally, is an exception to this rule. In order to be fully recognized an onogie
must have his title confirmed by the Oba of Benin.20 At Ekpoma when the onogie
dies his heir sends a message to the Oba who, if he approves the succession, sends
back a white cloth as a sign that the heir may proceed with his father's mortuary
rites, thus validating his right to the title. When the rites have been completed
he sends again to the Oba for the swords ada and ebE; the former signifies the
Oba's delegation to him of the right of life and death over his people. At Okpoji,
where the custom is similar, this request is said to have been accompanied by a
gift of seven slaves and it might be one to three years before the swords arrived,
accompanied by two Benin chiefs and many followers. In other chiefdoms it
seems to have been necessary for the heir himself to travel to Benin. The Oba
settled disputes which arose in connection with the succession.
The most important article of regalia conferred by the Dba on an onogie was
the ada, for reasons stated above. In a few cases it is doubtful whether the onogie
received this. The Onogie of Ewatto, for example, has only an eb6, his title being
confirmed by the Onogie of Ewohimi, who is himself subject to the Oba. An
onogie who receives the ada is called ojeada. This title is apparently not applicable
to some of the enigie of chiefdoms, to those of the villages of Uzia, the wards of
Ujagbe or to those heads of villages within other chiefdoms who claim the title
onogie. Other regalia owned by enigie and claimed to be gifts from the Oba
include a brass helmet (at Ukhun), an execution sword, a band of beads worn
round the forehead (odigba) and special drums.
The full-scale onogie is the nominal owner of the land of the chiefdom. In
virtue of this he has the same kind of political, judicial, economic, and spiritual
rights over its people as the Oba exercises in the Benin kingdom. He has the right
to create exaEvd titles and to confer them on his subjects and his approval is
necessary for succession to those titles. The title-holders are his representatives in
the villages and his courtiers. His political and judicial roles are described below.
The enigie have well-defined rights over property, persons, and services which,
however, vary from chiefdom to chiefdom. Economic rights everywhere include a
regular tribute of foodstuffs such as yams, kola-nuts, palm-oil, and palm-wine.
At Ewohimi this tribute is paid in connection with certain annual rites. The enigie
can call on their subjects to provide labour for house-building and for farming at
the clearing and harvesting seasons. On such occasions it is their duty to feed the
labourers. In some villages of Uromi the onogie is said to receive the property of
any person who dies without heirs.
The enigie have certain rights over game and domestic animals. Leopards
and pythons are said to belong to them and in return for their carcases or skins
they make gifts to the hunters. They can also claim fixed portions of big game
such as bush-pig and bush-cow. Rights over domestic animals include the
following:-In several chiefdoms when a cow bears twin calves all three must be
presented to the onogie, who gives a wife to the owner. A similar rule applies to
goats and sheep which produce four kids or lambs. Freak animals, animals falling
into latrines and animals killed by others of the same species are among others to
which he has a right.
In various chiefdoms the onigie is reported as having a variety of rights over
persons. In many cases cases criminals become his slaves. At Ekpoma falling into
a latrine would make a man liable to become the onogie's slave. All war captives
belong to the onogie and at Uromi any person found wandering about without good
reason might be enslaved by him. At Ebele, the onogie, on his succession, could
2d This is no longer necessary though the practice is still carried on to some extent.
1/ THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
claim any man as his servant and in some chiefdoms it was necessary for any person
taking a title to give a boy to the onogie.
Many rights over women are reported. At Ekpoma, Uromi, and Ebele the
onogie can make any woman his wife by hanging a string of coral beads round her
neck, while at Ugbegun the chief need pay only two cowries to secure a girl. When
the igbd oath is pronounced in respect of any woman by herself or any man she
immediately becomes the onogie's wife and, as in Benin, this oath may be revoked
only by the holder of the Oshodi title. In some chiefdoms men are said to send
refractory wives to the onigie who may, if he wishes, replace them or return them
after a period of corrective punishment at Egware. At Irua, Ekpoma, and Uromi a
woman who sits on the chief's throne immediately becomes his wife and some
women apparently used the throne as a sanctuary to avoid punishment for an
offence. When an Uromi woman bore triplets the onogie presented her with a slave
in return for which one of the children became his wife when grown up. A person
taking the ogbe title at Ubiaja should present a boy and a girl to the onogie, the
latter to become his wife or to be betrothed by him to another person.
Individual titles of the Benin type are found throughout Ishan with the
exception of Idua, Uzia, Ujagbe, and Illushi. Ukhun has a title-association,
probably of the Ivbiosakon type, but in recent years individual titles have been
adopted as a result of contact with other Ishan groups. The actual titles are, in
most cases, copied directly from Benin. lyase, Edogun, Ez3mo, Oliha, Oshodi, and
other similar titles figure prominently in most chiefdoms. Their holders are
called, collectively exavod (sing. oxaEv6).
In each chiefdom the onogie has the sole right to create and confer titles. The
enigie of Uromi are said to have given titles in the past as a reward for services, to
persuade strangers to settle down under their rule and to provide themselves with a
chiefly retinue. In applying for a title a man would distribute cattle and cowries
to existing title-holders and would on his appointment present the onogie with his
son to act as sword-bearer (omada). When the son grew up the onogie gave him a
wife and sent him back home. At Ugbegun a new title-holder should betroth a
daughter to his chief.
On his death an oxaEv5 is normally succeeded by his eldest surviving son. In
most chiefdoms, however, he is expected to make payments in cash or kind to the
onogie before the latter will recognize him. The correct performance of the
mortuary rites of the deceased title-holder is a pre-requisite for his son's valid
succession and these cannot be carried out without the onogie's permission. At
Okpoji the onogie should first go to the deceased's farm, sacrifice a fowl and take
away some yams. At Ebele the heir should present the onogie with one or two
cows to be used in a feast in his honour, and gifts are due to the onogie and edi5.
It is reported that at Urohi a man cannot have full axaEv5 status until he is a
member of the senior age-grade. The failure of the heir to fulfil the qualifications
necessary to take over his father's title has apparently led in some cases to its being
awarded to another person. A member of the family which first held the title
then usually claims it as its own and there is apparent duplication. It may, how-
ever, be possible for titles to be duplicated in other circumstances; in Ekpoma
each of the titles Esogban, Osuma, and Czoms are found in three separate villages.
The title system appears to perform three sets of functions:-
1. It provides the onogie with a set of private councillors, an aristocratic
retinue and officials to fill ritual and secular state offices. Titles associated with
particular duties tend to be concentrated in Egware though this is not invariably
the case. Titles often carry the same duties and privileges as their counterparts at
Benin. Thus, at Irua, the Unwagwe occupies the onogie's throne during the inter-
regnum between the death of the chief and the accession of his successor and the
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES 73
lyase, as in many chiefdoms, is the senior war-captain. A third title-holder, the
Osara, is responsible for the burial of the onogie and the installation of his
successor. The title Eyehi, corresponding to 8hioba at Benin, is current in a
number of chiefdoms and is held by both a man and a woman, the latter probably
the onogie's wife. Both had to die when the onogie died. At Uromi there are
titles corresponding to the offices of sacrificial executioner, guardian of the queen-
mother's shrine, keeper of the onogie's farm, harem, etc.
2. The exalvo who live in the igule villages play an important part in the
administration of the chiefdom as the onogie's representatives. Together with the
court officials they form the state council and the highest-ranking among them are
sometimes members of an inner council. At Ewohimi and Ekpon, where villages
are more closely associated with descent groups, the senior oxaEv5 of the village is
usually its headman and keeper of the founder's shrine. In Uromi and Irua certain
title-holders are the governors of districts.
3. Many titles were apparently taken in the past merely to enhance status and
prestige and secure the favours of the onogie. Taking a title was a means of acquir-
ing wealth, and it conferred benefits such as exemption from communal labour and
from seizure of property for debt, compensation, etc.
Titles are said to be ranked in both village and chiefdom though the correct
order is not always agreed upon.
At the present day many titles are vacant, their functions having largely dis-
appeared. During the period of British administration the main reason for title-
taking has been the hope of acquiring Native Court membership.
The political organization of most Ishan communities is compounded of three
main elements-the age-grade organization, the title-system, and hereditary
Village and Ward
In most chiefdoms authority at the ward and village level is achieved through
the age-grade organization. Each ward has its odiswere, the oldest man (subject to
certain qualifications which vary from community to community). The senior
odi3were21 is the village headman and he has the right to summon meetings of the
village council whose core, in all cases, is the edi3 age-grade. In some cases priests
of important shrines, the leaders of the lower age-grades and other officials may
attend, but they are not generally expected to initiate discussion or to take decisions.
In the igule villages of most chiefdoms the exagvd function mainly as the
representatives of the onogie. In some chiefdoms such as Ekpoma, Egoro, and
Okpoji exagvo are said to have no special status outside the age-grade to which they
belong except in so far as they speak for the onogie. Their role in particular meetings
may depend on the topics under consideration. If the meeting concerns matters
of interest to the village alone they take part only by virtue of their age-grade status.
On the other hand, if the object of the meeting is to convey the onogie's messages
or instructions they may take on more authority. It is reported that at Ewu, for
example, in these circumstances the senior oxaEvo of the village speaks first, putting
forward the onogie's orders and consulting the edi5 as to the manner in which they
should be carried out, but it is the odi3were who issues the final instructions through
a spokesman who is, in many cases, the oxaEv6 himself.
At Ekpon and in the Ewohimi group the title-holders appear to have greater
authority within the village than elsewhere. As noted above, wards and villages in
these chiefdoms are more closely associated with particular descent groups. The
senior oxaEv8 is the direct descendant of the village founder, the head of the senior
21 At Ekpoma and Egoro he is the senior man by age, ward affiliation being irrelevant,
but this may not be universally so.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
descent group and the village headman. At Ekpon it is he who approves pro-
motions to the senior age-grade and who summons village meetings, the odi3were's
main tasks being to assist him with advice and support and to supervise the age-
grades. The same is true of those villages of Ewohimi which have an oxaEv&.
There is evidence that in some other chiefdoms, too, the senior oxaEvd may be
accorded a special status in the internal organization of the village. In two Uromi
villages the senior title-holders are ranked as third and fourth edi3 respectively,
but apparently there are many exaEvo titles which do not, in themselves, carry any
political authority. The actual powers of title-holders in any Ishan community
must depend considerably upon the power, recognition, and support of the onogie
and on their own abilities, personalities, and circumstances.
Among the special executive roles within the village that of agale or agare
(pl. egale, egare; probably from Edo ghae, to divide or share out) seems most wide-
spread. The egale distribute the age-grade promotion fees, gifts, food at feasts or
sacrifices, and fines among the edi5 and others who may have a right to share. Their
ability to do so depends on a knowledge of precedence in the village. They act,
too, in the capacity of messengers of the village council, being responsible, in some
cases, for the attendance of individuals required to be present. The manner of their
appointment varies. In different Ekpoma villages it is said variously that the third
odi5 may hold the appointment, that the egale may be selected by the odi3were
from among the igbama (junior edi3) or that an ighele may be chosen who will keep
the position until he becomes odi3were. At Okpoji there is an agale from each
ward, while at Irua there are from two to six, depending on the size of the village,
the senior one usually being an odi3; here the position is occasionally an hereditary
one. At Urohi the office is said not to exist, its function being performed by any
At Irua the odi3were (here called odi3egbere) has a spokesman to whom he
entrusts his staff of office (okbo) and who can deputise for him at village or inter-
village meetings. In some other communities exagva are said to act as spokesmen,
and orders for the execution of the decisions of the edi3 may be issued through them.
Generally speaking, however, the orders of the village councils are carried out by the
members of the two lower age-grades, supervised by their own leaders or by edi5
appointed for the purpose in hand.
Village-Groups and Districts
Groups of villages within some of the larger chiefdoms are said to hold joint
meetings but there is no information as to the contexts in which these occur. They
may have existed primarily for the settling of disputes between members of the
Irua and Uromi have better defined "districts." The Otoruwa district of Irua
holds special meetings in the senior ward of Egware, presided over by the senior
odi5egbere. The Uwesa district has a meeting at Igiauwo, presided over by the
lyase. Meetings are, however, said to be infrequent. They are attended by
delegations from the various villages, the delegates being, in some villages, the
inotu, who are said to form an intermediate grade between igeni and edi5.
The three districts of Uromi undoubtedly have a military origin. They bear the
names of the three sections of a fighting force and each has its own inotu organiza-
tion which formerly supplied warriors and dealt with serious offences on the onogie's
behalf. Each district is governed by an okakuo or war-captain who is always the
The focus of the unity of each chiefdom is the onogie and his court. In theory
he was an autocrat with the power of life and death over his subjects and extensive
economic, political, judicial, and spiritual rights. The centralization of authority
is achieved to a large extent through the exaev5 who reside in the igule villages.
There they represent the onogie's interests, organizing the collection of tribute, the
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES
provision of services, military and otherwise, and passing on the chief's instructions
to the odiSwere and edi3. They are responsible to the onogie for the well-being,
peace, and loyalty of the villages. On the other hand they lead delegations of
edi3 from the villages to the onogie. Where there are a number of exaEvA in a
village it may only be the senior ones among them who play this political role.
Where there are none, the onogie's instructions are carried by his messengers directly
to the odi3were.
It is reported that in some chiefdoms there was formerly a state council com-
posed of all the edi3 and exaevU of the chiefdom. It seems probable, however,
that its meetings were generally attended only by the exaev5 or by small delega-
tions of edi3. The Onogie of Uromi has an inner council consisting of the seven
most senior title-holders, six of whom come from villages other than Egware. It
seems probable that where there is a well-organized court the onogie's household
officers are his closest advisers and supporters.
There are no details available of the functioning of the state councils or the
topics which they discuss. One report suggests that at Uromi they met only in
connection with the organization of warfare and for ritual purposes.
Political relations between chiefdoms : there is little information concerning
the political relations which existed between the Ishan chiefdoms prior to British
rule. Certain enigie claim seniority over others and the Onogie of Irua claims the
title Ogiesd-Onogie of Ishan. A former Onogie of the large chiefdom of Irua said
that all other enigie should lower their swords in his presence, that sword-bearers
were sent to him from all over Ishan and that he alone had jurisdiction in murder
trials. None of this is confirmed from other sources and the last claim appears
Certain chiefdoms claim that others which were originally offshoots of them
continued to pay tribute or make regular gifts to their enigie. This, however, is
usually denied by the chiefdoms held to be subordinate.
Arrangements existed between a few chiefdoms in respect of the punishment of
certain offences (see p. 68). The most closely related chiefdoms appear to have
been those of the Ewohimi group, Ewossa and Ewatto being offshoots of Ewohimi;
the Onogie of Ewatto was confirmed in his title by the Onogie of Ewohimi, who also
reserved the right to sentence to death anyone who committed adultery with a wife
of either of the other two enigie.
Some chiefdoms claim superiority over others as a result of special privileges
conferred by the Oba of Benin. The Onogie of Ebele claims to have had a super-
visory authority over a number of neighouring communities and the Okaigil of
Igueben claims that only he could present the enigie of eastern Ishan to the Oba, a
favour for which he required the gift of a cow.
The internal political system of Ishan as a whole appears to have been a
complex of friendly and hostile relations between chiefdoms and loosely-associated
alliances of chiefdoms. Some of these may have reached a considerable degree of
permanence. The Ekpoma-Egoro-Okpoji group, for instance, were always
friendly while they were continually at war with Irua which was, in turn, in alliance
with Uromi. The main purpose of warfare seems to have been the capture of
slaves rather than territory. It also arose through the abduction of wives, and
other offences and disputes involving members of different chiefdoms. In some
cases oaths of friendship forbidding the shedding of blood were sworn between
Political Relations with Benin
Only the people of the extreme eastern borders of Ishan--Oria, Onogolo, and
Illushi-do not regard themselves as in some sense subjects of the Oba of Benin.
The dependence of the enigie on the 3ba for the validity of their titles has been
described above (p. 71). Each new Dba on his accession sends pieces of
70 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
chalk to each onogie. Acceptance of these indicates their willingness to recognize
his suzerainty. Refusal, in the past, would normally have resulted in a punitive
Each chiefdom had as its intermediary with the Oba one of the chiefs in
Benin. The Ewohimi-Ewatto-Ewossa group was under the Czomo of Benin who
is known as Ogiesi; he still maintains close relations with the people of that area.
Ekpon came under the Unwagwe and Ekpoma under the Osuma. Their duty was
to maintain peaceful relations in the area under their control, to introduce visitors
from Ishan to the Oba and to organize the collection of tribute of which they them-
selves claimed a portion. Tribute was in the form of yams, palm-oil, livestock,
etc., and slaves; it seems to have been customary to send recalcitrant slaves and the
worst criminals to the Oba. It is unlikely that Urho, Oria, and Onogolo paid
tribute in recent times, nor did Ugboha after the coming of the Nupe.
Many of the chiefdoms admit that permanent agents of the Oba were stationed
in their towns. It is not clear, however, whether they were responsible to the Oba
directly or through the chiefs in Benin
Some of the Ishan chiefdoms provided warriors on various occasions for the
Oba's army. Ekpoma and neighboring chiefdoms assisted in the reconquest- of
Akure in the early part of the last century. Later on, however, Ishan chiefdoms
joined both sides in a war of succession to the Benin throne.
The onogie is often said to be the owner of the land, but this statement seems
to refer to his political authority over its occupiers and users rather than to actual
control of its use.
The smallest unit with exclusive rights over land is usually the village, though
in some cases it may be the ward. The odi5were holds the land in trust for his
people. Individuals and kin-groups have no permanent rights over particular
tracts except in so far as they may be identified with villages or wards. Land is
plentiful in most areas and disputes over it few. At the present day, however, many
disputes arise over the ownership of permanent crops such as rubber and cocoa.
Any person may clear bush on the land of his village or ward for the purpose
of farming. The usufruct of the cleared land remains his only so long as he
is actually cultivating it or so long as it is occupied by his crops. When
the latter are exhausted it reverts to the community. Farms are usually
planted in two successive years, but the owner may continue to harvest
cassava and plantains for a year or two longer. It is reported that at Irua
rights in fallow may be claimed up to four years after the farm is abandoned, but
there is no evidence that this is the general practice. The fallow period is said to
be seven or eight years in some areas. At Irua no man can be deprived of his
land unless he is expelled from the community for criminal offences.
Within some chiefdoms there are areas of high forest not parcelled out between
villages. These are available to the whole population for gathering and hunting,
and, depending on the political relations between them, certain chiefdoms seem to
have shared these rights. One report states that a village or ward whose land
abuts on a particular area of high forest has a prior right to clear it.
At Irua the selling and pawning of land is forbidden. Strangers must seek
permission from the village elders before making a farm on its territory. Rents are
not payable, but the stranger is expected to make gifts in kind to the elders. He
acquires the same rights of tenure as the natives.
The planting of permanent crops in the present century has brought about
some changes. Any person may plant permanent crops on the land of his ward
or village, and he cannot be disturbed so long as the crops remain there, but
theoretically he acquires no permanent rights in the land itself. Another compli-
cating factor arises from the fact that while the land itself is inalienable the crops on
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES 77
it can be sold, pledged, or mortgaged. They cannot, however, be alienated to
strangers without permission ot the onogie.
A native can Duild anywhere on tne land of his village and an Ishan stranger
can build in any village with permission from the elders. The builder can alienate
his house to another Ishan person, but not to a stranger except with the onogie's
Rights over fishing streams and pools are communal to the village or ward.
Open and closed seasons are observed.
It is reported that at Irua the head of a family usually divided a certain amount
of his property between his heirs before he died. Atter death his property is
inherited within his patrilineage. The eldest surviving son is the principal heir,
but he must validate his claim by properly carrying out his father's funeral cere-
monies. If he fails to do this he still retains the property until his death, but his
brother might step in and perform the rites and take over the property. During a
man's lifetime the heart of any animal sacrificed in his house is eaten by his senior
son. This signifies the latter's status as principal heir.22
In some communities all the property is said to go to the senior son, who may
make gifts to all his brothers or to the senior sons of his father's other wives who
may in turn give shares to their own full brothers. Elsewhere the senior son
takes the largest share, but the rest have a recognized right to some of the property.
The property due to a son who is a minor may be kept in trust for him by his
mother or elder brother.
When all the sons are minors the father's brother takes control of the property.
He is allowed to make use of it,23 but must accept responsibility to care for the
deceased's children and to provide the sons with wives.
If there are no sons the father's brother inherits, though he may be expected
to give shares of the movable property to adult daughters of the deceased. At
Irua, in the absence of sons, the house goes to the father's brother and movable
property to the daughters. In some villages of Uromi the onogie is said to inherit
the property of a man who dies without sons; this seems to apply elsewhere where a
man dies without any heirs.
At Irua, Uromi, and Ubiaja a posthumous son passes to the man who inherits
his mother. According to Thomas he ranks before any subsequent children of this
marriage at Irua in respect of inheritance of property. At Igiauwe this is said
not to apply, though the foster-father is expected to provide him with a wife.
A woman's property, which may include cattle, trees, slaves and, at Ubiaja, a
house as well as household utensils, etc., is normally inherited by her eldest son.
Failing sons, daughters may inherit the household objects and possibly the
remainder, but this sometimes goes to the widower. Thomas states that at Uromi
the property of a woman who dies without sons goes to the onogie's mother.
THE LIFE CYCLE24
At Irua the husband of a pregnant woman provides medicine for her to rub
on her body three months after conception and from the seventh month onwards
she rubs herself with certain leaves dipped in water. She wears a belt studded with
22 Personal communication from Dr. Christopher Okojie.
23 This applies only to a full brother at Irua; a half-brother must account for the property
when the senior son comes of age.
24 See Thomas, 1910 (1), pt. I, Birth Customs ", Burial Customs ".
I0 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
cowries and containing certain "medicines" which is obtained from a woman
Delivery usually takes place at the house of the husband or the wife's mother.
The woman is assisted by the members of the compound, who sometimes purify
her by touching her head and body with a fowl which is then thrown into the road.
The child is washed at the front of the house and the mother at the back where the
placenta is buried. The baby's hair is shaved off and thrown away and the cord
tied in a leaf and hung either in the roof of the house or in a coconut tree.
The father of the house provides seven yams and a large pot of oil which are
shared by the women of the compound except for one yam which is placed at the
head of the bed where the child sleeps. On the seventh day the parents entertain
their relatives and the mother is marked with chalk on her legs and forehead. Three
months later there is a further feast which marks the time for her to loosen and
wash her hair. According to one account it is at this time that the child is named,
"the eldest male relative" throwing it into the air and blowing four times into
At Irua, when a child is born, the first man or woman to enter the house who
is not a close relative becomes the child's guardian (urs) for life. Children of
wealthy parents have more than one guardian. When the guardian dies the child
obtains an uxurhe (carved staff) to represent his spirit and worships him as an
Male children are circumcised at from three months to .10 years of age. It is
reported that in some areas girls undergo a corresponding operation after puberty
but there are no details concerning the procedure.
A rite de passage called irhuE is reported for all parts of Ishan, but it differs
widely in detail and significance. The word means, literally, I put on (cloth)"
and refers to the ritual tying of a cloth on the celebrant.
In a number of chiefdoms irhuz is a necessary qualification for promotion from
one age-grade to another, while in others it is a part of the actual promotion
ceremony. In Egoro, Ewohimi, and Ekpoma a man cannot become an ighele or
in Ekpoma an oxaEv6 without first performing it. Mr. H. L. M. Butcher observed
an irhue ceremony at Ekpoma in 1932, which lasted seven days. On the first day
the candidate presented coconuts, kola-nuts, and palm-wine to the odiSwere of his
village, who tied a cloth round his hips. From then until the sixth day he was
free from all duties. He ate meat at all meals and could expect to receive a gift
at each household he visited. The edi3 made chalk marks on his chest, forehead,
and shoulders as a sign of his ritual status. On the sixth day he provided a cow
for sacrifice, which was cooked by the women of the village. The following even-
ing everyone gathered round the carved staff in the centre of the village which
represents the spirits of past enigie2" and the candidate wrestled with and, by
arrangement, defeated a contemporary who had not performed this ceremony.26
The meat provided by the candidate, together with a large quantity of pounded
yam, was brought forward and examined by the edi5 to see if it was sufficient.
Then, after a sacrifice to the spirits of the enigie, it was divided by the agale between
25 The ceremony observed was at Egware. In any other village it would take place before
the shrine of the edi5 spirits.
21 At Ewohimi he would be further required to lose to one who had previously performed
THE ISHAN CHIEFDOMS AND TRIBES 79
the onogie, edi3, and ighele. Two more pots of fufu, cooked by the candidate's
wife, and a jug of palm-wine, were shared out between the rest of the people to
take to their homes and the candidate continued to entertain the members of his
own age-grade with feasting, drinking, dancing, and gunfire until the morning of
the eighth day.
Irhuz may be performed at Egoro whenever the candidate or his family are
able to afford it.
At Obolo, in Emu chiefdom, a similar rite appears to be performed at pro-
motion both to ighele and to odi5 status, the latter occasion involving more expenses
and lasting nine days. At Okpoji, Egware-Ekpon, and Ujogba it precedes pro-
motion to adi5 only. At Ekpon and probably elsewhere it cannot be performed until
a man has a wife and child.
In several chiefdoms irhu~ is said not to be relevant to age-grade status. At
Ohodua at the birth of a man's first child the edi3 ceremonially tie on his waist
cloth, for which service they receive gifts of coconuts and palm-wine. At Uromi
it is a display of wealth which allows him to carry out his father's mortuary rites
and thus validate his inheritance and which effects the type of burial he will be
given after his own death. Whereas elsewhere it is an affair for the village as a
whole, here it takes place before the celebrant's own family altar.
At Uzia both boys and girls celebrate irhuE at puberty without great expense.
At Igueben, on the other hand, it is the last ritual performance of a man's life and is
so costly that in .1936 only three men had performed it. Feasts must be given to
the celebrant's own family, the village, and the chiefdom. On an appointed day
the candidate is presented to those who have performed the rite and fibre garments
are tied round him. With a following of boys he dances from house to house
exchanging gifts of kola-nut and fufu at each. Seven days later he feasts the
whole chiefdom with a cow, then entertains his own age-mates. The following
morning he wrestles with a contemporary and, to complete the rite, sweeps the
front of his house. He then becomes free from all labours and can be buried in his
house when he dies.
AGE-GRADE PROMOTION CEREMONIES
In some villages of the Emu chiefdom and probably elsewhere irhuE is the main
component of age-grade promotion ceremonies. In five chiefdoms observed by
Butcher, however, the two types of ceremony are distinct. Promotion generally
involves gifts of coconuts, kola-nuts, palm-wine, and fufu to the edi3 and offerings
at the shrine of the edi5 spirits of the village. At Iki village, Okpoji, in 1932, it
was decided that the ighele otu needed replenishing and 20 young men were accepted
for promotion to it. The last similar ceremony had taken place three years
previously. On a day fixed by the odiSwere the egale were sent to summon the edi5
and ighele of the village. Meanwhile the egbonughele danced round carrying
matchets and firing guns charged with powder provided by the candidates.
When the edi3 were assembled the senior candidate, on behalf of the rest, presented
them with the usual gifts. These were used in making offerings to the edi3 spirits and
divided between the edi5, the leaders of the ighele grade, and the egale. The
odi5were then informed the youths of their duties and gave them the name
ugiagbedi3, supporters of the elders ". The youths were blessed by the odi5were
and their foreheads marked with chalk by the senior agale.
At Uromi there is said to be no ceremonial at this stage. Candidates for pro-
motion to odi5 status perform two ceremonies, one before their extended families
and the other a village affair. Neither can be undergone by a man who has not
carried out his father's mortuary rites. At Ewohimi promotion to the middle age-
grade involves only presentation of wine to the senior igbama (ighele) and enter-
taining one's own relatives. When a man wishes to become odi3 he first gives a
calabash of palm-wine and a bundle of yams to the senior descendant of the village-
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
founder. If the latter approves, further gifts are made to each odi3 in turn. If all
agree, he waits till the next festival of worship to the village ancestors, when he gives
wine to the odiSwere who fires a gun to signity that the promotion is made.
Generally speaking, promotions are ettected in groups, though at Ewohimi it is
reported that these rarely contain more than two or three persons.
Among the northern groups studied by Butcher, when an odi3were died he was
succeeded immediately by the next oldest man who performed a ceremony at the
edi3 shrine. At Ewohimi he was replaced by his son until the latter had performed
his mortuary rites.
MARRIAGE AND DIVORCE
A custom known as arhewa or area, apparently similar to the isomi marriage
of Etsako (see p. 108), is reported for some areas of Ishan. Thomas states that at
Igiauwe village, Irua, for example, an unmarried daughter whose father dies
without sons must remain in her father's house where she may be joined by the
latter's brother. If she bears a son he becomes heir to the house. It is not clear
whether such a woman contracts a regular form of marriage with one man, nor
whether the custom is confined to this particular circumstance, nor how widespread
it is. Thomas says that it is not customary at Ubiaja, but it is reported at Urowa,
Ewohimi, and elsewhere.27 An institution closely parallel to isomi marriage is
found at Uzia. Here there are two forms of marriage, ami and osi. In an ami
marriage full bride-price is paid and the children belong to the father's lineage.
In osi marriage the bride-price is reduced and the children are affiliated to the
mother's descent group. Within Uzia itself the latter is apparently the only form
of marriage practised though one report says that Islamic influence has altered this
custom in two villages. Ami marriage obtains in unions contracted with members
of other chiefdoms.
The more general form of residence in Ishan is virilocal and the children
belong to the husband's patrilineage. At Irua the suitor first approaches the
parents through an intermediary, sending yams to the father and the fruit of the
palm-tree to the mother. If accepted he begins to assist them in house-building
and farming, and makes periodic gifts of food and palm-wine. The bride-price at
Irua was formerly the equivalent of 25s. in cowries to the father and a fifth of this
to the mother. After the British conquest it became fixed at 10. The present
value is not available. The girl is eventually delivered to the husband on an
appointed evening by a female relative and friends.
Widows pass to the heirs of the deceased in his patrilineage, generally to his
sons or, failing sons, to his brothers. At Irua the eldest son is said to take all wives
except his own mother who passes to the next senior son by a different mother.
In all cases the heirs become responsible for the care of the deceased's children.
It is reported by Thomas that in some areas wives may be reserved for minor sons
until they are grown up. In the meantime they may take lovers, but any children
they produce "belong" to the sons for whom they are destined.
In the past a man could divorce his wife by sending her to the onogie who,
if he wished, might replace her. At the present day women can obtain divorce
from criminals or men with loathsome diseases or by simply returning the bride-
price through the Native Court.
DEATH AND MORTUARY RITES
Mortuary rites appear to be similar to those of Benin. Thomas gives details
of their variation in a few communities, but it is not possible to summarize this
27 At Urowa an arhewa woman may, on the birth of a grandchild, acquire the status of
Mdi' but this does not give her a right to sit on the village council.
2s Thomas, 1920 (2).
III. THE NORTHERN EDO'
This section deals with the Edo-speaking peoples of the Kukuruku Division of
Benin Province who are estimated to number about 185,000. General features of
the geographical environment, economy and technology of the whole area are
described immediately below, but for a description of their traditions, history, social
organization, and culture the Northern Edo are divided into four groups which are
dealt with separately.
The Kukuruku Division is, for the most part, rolling upland country, rising
from the valleys of the Orle and Edion Rivers towards the north where ridges of
rocky hills outcrop. The hills are of weathered granite, the lower ones covered
with laterite and the higher with massive granite boulders. The Otwa and Ikao
tribes of the Ivbiosakon group, the North Ibie and Ukpila tribes of Etsako and the
Somorika, Onumu, Ogbe, Ijaja, and Ososo North-West Edo communities are situated
in the higher, rocky areas, while the rest occupy lower-lying areas.
The territory of the Ivbiosakon lies in the south-west sector of the Division in
the basins of the Owan and Edion Rivers. The Owan rises in the north-west and
flows in a south-easterly direction to join the Osse (Ovia) River. The Edion rises
on the northern slopes of the north-western watershed and flows east to the
Niger. South and west of the road between Ozala and Uzeba (Iuleha tribe) the
country is low-lying, thickly forested in the west but with the vegetation becoming
sparser towards the east. The high plateau between the two main rivers is covered,
for the most part, with orchard bush, but in its lower reaches the Edion flows
through a well-watered, forested valley .
The Etsako area to the east is bounded by the Niger on the east and the
boundary with the Kabba Province of Northern Nigeria on the north. The
southern part of the area has some high forest which thins out towards the north,
becoming orchard bush in the territory of the northern parts of Avianwu and
The main physical feature of the North-West Edo territory is a high, steep-
sided, boulder-strewn ridge running from east to west, on the top of which stand a
number of settlements. Other communities have descended to the lowlands during
the period of British administration. To the south the country is mainly flat,
though dissected by small steep-sided valleys. To the north, west, and east it is
very undulating and there are some high hills with wooded and rocky slopes.
Many communities lived on the tops of these hills during the period of Yoruba and
Nupe incursions during the last century. The main stream in the area is the
Onyame which flows from the north-east to the south-west corner of the area to
join the Osse system. The natural vegetation is of the orchard bush type, thicker
to the south and in the valleys but becoming sparser in the higher northern areas.
Palm trees grow well in the south but become rarer to the north where corn beer
replaces palm-wine as the main locally-produced alcoholic beverage.
The Ineme live in Niger riverside and lowland villages scattered through the
Etsako and North-West Edo country.
Iron ore is found at Unguyami (Ukpila tribe) and mica is present in small
quantities in the Otwa area of Ivbiosakon.
1 Except where otherwise stated, the information in this section is derived entirely from
government administrative sources, apart from a very brief reconnaissance by the author.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
MAIN FEATURES OF ECONOMY2
The soil of the area is reasonably fertile and there is enough land for the
practice of shifting cultivation. According to one report yams and maize are
cultivated on newly-cleared ground each year. The same land is sometimes planted
with yams in the following year, with groundnuts and beans as the main subsidiary
crops. It is then allowed to remain fallow for a period. Bridges3 gives the normal
rotation as yams in the first year with corn and cassava in the second.
Yams are planted in the dry season in late December and in the unforested
areas the yam heaps are capped with dry grass, apparently to retain moisture.
A second planting takes place after the first rains in April and May. There are
thus two harvest periods, the first about July and the second about November.
Two crops of maize are grown and reaped between the yam harvests. Peas, beans,
groundnuts, and other subsidiary crops are grown by the women. In the drier
areas, approximately north of a line through Auchi, guinea-corn becomes a
Oil-palms do well, especially in the south, and the preparation of oil and the
marketing of kernels is carried on everywhere. In the south-western part of the
Ivbiosakon area there are a considerable number of Yoruba, Benin, and Urhobo
people engaged in the collection, preparation, and marketing of palm-products.
Other tree crops include kola, locust bean, and dica nut.
Cocoa seems not to have been grown on any scale before about 1935. Con-
siderable amounts are now produced in parts of the Ivbiosakon area where the
subsoil is laterite rather than Benin sand, and there are good crops at Okpe in the
Livestock. Dwarf cattle, which are immune from the tsetse fly, pasture near
the settlements but are used only for meat. Goats, sheep, and fowls are ubiquitous.
Domestic guinea-fowl and the Muscovy duck thrive, particularly in the drier parts.
Hunting. Buck are hunted everywhere. Elephant are numerous in the
forested parts of Ivbiosakon.
Fishing is carried out in streams and rivers and especially by the riverside
Little information is available on the nature and value of trade. According
to Temple4 crops are raised for local consumption only, but in fact food markets are
held in most communities every four or eight days and a very large market has
grown up at Jattu (Uzairhue tribe, Etsako), which attracts large numbers of traders
from as far afield as Warri, Asaba, and Lagos who hire lorries to bring in trade
goods and take away food for resale in the large towns. Yams, cassava, other
foodstuffs, livestock and poultry, and raw cotton and locally woven cloth are
among the chief exports.
Spinning and weaving of locally grown cotton is carried out by the women
throughout the area. The cloth is woven on simple upright looms, with heddles
worked by hand, in strips of varying width. The indigenous cloth is either plain
white or with a pattern of blue and white stripes and is of rather coarse texture.
In the North-West Edo area, however, there has been a development of intricate
pattern weaving in both local materials and imported silks and cottons. New
patterns are constantly being evolved and a large proportion of the output is bought
2 No detailed account of the economy of the Northern Edo is available, so that it is
impossible to give more than a bare outline here.
3 See Bridges, 1939.
4 1919, p. 249.
THE NORTHERN EDO 83
in the local markets by Ibo traders who export it to other parts of the country..
This development is probably connected with a similar one at Okene, the main
centre of the Igbira people immediately to the north.
Some pottery is made and the wood of the silk-cotton tree is carved. In the
Etsako area the wood-carving is more akin to Ibo than to Benin and Yoruba
Iron ore was formerly smelted at Unguyami (Ukpila tribe) and near Ineme-
Ekpe. Many of the blacksmiths are Ineme people. Reports of brass-smithing by
certain Ineme groups cannot be substantiated at present.
There are some interesting methods of storing food. In some places yams
are stacked on platforms raised above the ground as protection against vermin and
insects. Corn cobs are tied to high poles and such crops as beans are kept inside
bales of interwoven grass which are suspended from trees.
House types vary in character but compounds are generally speaking larger
than in Benin and Ishan villages. They are mud-built and thatched (except in
the forest areas) with grass, large bundles of which can be seen in the villages in
the dry season. Among the Etsako and in most Ivbiosakon villages the compounds
are rectangular, with rooms ranged round a large open courtyard. There are
usually entrances back and front and the latter is often sheltered by a verandah
supported by mud pillars. In some houses there are additional courtyards. In
many respects these compounds resemble the Yoruba rather than the Benin type.
At Ihievbe (Ivbiosakon area) the characteristic house consists of two long
parallel blocks of rooms separated by a long narrow courtyard which may or may
not be enclosed at the ends. The back block contains women's sleeping-rooms and
Throughout the area there is a sprinkling of single and two-storeyed houses in
which new materials such as concrete and corrugated metal roofing sheets have been
used. In the North-West area, however, two-storeyed houses exist in which only
local materials are used. The ceiling is made of wooden beams between and over
which mud has been beaten down to form the upper floor. These houses often have
verandahs and balconies supported by mud pillars. In some villages the outer
walls of houses are painted with geometric and animal designs.
THE IVBIOSAKON TRIBES
LOCATION AND NOMENCLATURE
"Ivbiosakon" (iviosak5) is the name at present used to designate 17 formerly
autonomous or semi-autonomous tribes located in the south-western part of
Kukuruku Division. These are distinguishable from their Edo-speaking neighbours
by common traditions of origin, dialect, and other cultural and social characteristics
as well as a feeling of unity.1 In general they have retained closer associations
with Benin and a stronger allegiance to the Oba than other Northern Edo groups.
The Ivbiosakon are bounded by the Benin and Ishan peoples on the south and
south-east, the Etsako on the east, the North-West Edo on the north and the
Yoruba of Owo Division on the west. There is considerable Yoruba cultural
influence throughout the area. Yoruba is spoken everywhere as a second language,
and is the medium of instruction in schools and adult education, and Yoruba styles
of dress are very popular for both men and women.
The word "iviosak5 means "(the children of) those who file their teeth"
and refers to a custom formerly common among the Northern Edo of filing the incisor
teeth to a point. It is not clear whether or to whom this name may have been
applied before it was adopted by the administration in the nineteen-thirties but it is
apparently not regarded as satisfactory by all the peoples now included under it.
The name of the Ora tribe was formerly extended by the administration to include
some of the neighboring Ivbiosakon tribes.
DEMOGRAPHY AND SETTLEMENT PATTERN
THE IVBIOSAKON TRIBES2
Approx. area, Approx.
Tribal group Tribe Villages sq. m. Population density
Ora 8 112 8,489 76
Usokha 1 23 1,852 86
luleha 7 113 8,452 75
Emai 8 106 5,683 54
Ozala 1 18 2,138 119
Otwa 12 50),95
Ikao 3 4j 8,965 183
Ivbiaro 4 19)
Ivi-Ada-Obi ..areke 4 61 8,269 35
Ihievbe 7 87
Era 4 70
Urole 3 29 634 23
Ohame 3 13 361 28
Aroko 3 15 818 55
vbie-Imion .. Ikhin 3 13 1,459 112
Ake 3 10 949 95
Iruoke 3 2 122 61
745 48,100 64
SThe villages of Sobe (Uhobe) and Ijagba (Uzagba) in the Owo Division of Ondo Province
probably belong to this branch of the Edo-speaking peoples. They are said to speak a dialect
closely related to that of Ora but there is no further information about them. The Irhue
village group in the extreme north of Benin Division has strong connections with the Southern
Ivbiosakon people. On the other hand Otwa and Ikao, which are included in this section,
seem, in their social structure, to be more akin to neighboring North-West Edo groups
though their sentiments and traditions identify them with the Ivbiosakon. The Igwe village-
THE NORTHERN EDO 85
With the exception of Usokha and Ozala, which are single settlements, each of
the Ivbiosakon tribes consists of from three to 12 compact village settlements. In
some cases villages are so closely placed together as not to be distinguishable
as separate entities, but generally the limits of the village community are easily
discernible. Neighbouring villages of the same tribe may be several miles apart.
Villages are divided into wards which may or may not be spatially separated from
each other. At the present day the tendency is for houses to be strung out along
one or two main streets.
As can be seen from the above table, the tribes vary in population size from
less than 200 persons (in one case only) to more than 8,000. Villages vary from
less than 100 to more than 2,000 persons, but the majority have less than 500.
According to the figures available the population density for the whole area is
about 64 p.s.m. In general densities are highest in the south and south-west,
falling away to the north and east but, if the figures are correct, Otwa and Ikao, in
the valley of the Onyame (Edion) in the extreme north, have the highest density
of all (183 p.s.m.). The majority of settlements appear to be within a short
distance of, though never actually on the banks of, the main rivers. The lowest
densities (Ivi-Ada-Obi, Urole, Ohame) are found mainly on the watershed between
the two main river systems where the vegetation is less dense.
TRADITIONS OF ORIGIN AND HISTORY
With few exceptions the Ivbiosakon tribes say their founders came from Benin,
either directly or indirectly, in the sense that some of the tribes are said to be off-
shoots of others. There is little recorded evidence of an aboriginal population
before the Benin incursions except in the case of Ivbiaro though Ikao and a section
of Usokha claim ultimate Ife origins. It is difficult to date the alleged migrations
from Benin but there is a strong belief that the founder of Ora was a son of Oba
Ozolua who was reigning in 1485 and the founders of several other tribes are said
to have come at the same time. On the other hand some Ora traditions of their
foundation seem to accord more satisfactorily with a somewhat earlier period of
Benin traditional history. For further details of individual tribes see below.
SUBSEQUENT RELATIONS WITH BENIN
In spite of the fact that their founders are said to have left Benin as a result
of quarrels and banishments many of the Ivbiosakon tribes retained friendly
contacts with Benin and some, at least, continued to pay tribute to the Oba.
According to information collected from Uzeba (Iuleha tribe) in 1917 that village
used to send 10 goats, 10 fowls and some game to the Oba each year. It was the
general custom in the area to present the skins of all leopards that were killed to the
Oba. At Uzeba a special house was set aside for the 9ba's messengers and immedi-
ately before the British occupation one "Chief Obanyagboe" of Benin was
responsible to the Oba for Uzeba. No Uzeba man should see the blood of a Benin
man and if the former were to kill a Benin native he would pay four male and five
female slaves in compensation. On the other hand Uzeba informants claimed that
group, included in this Survey among the North-West Edo, comes under the Ivbiosakon
Federal Native Authority and probably has close connections with Otwa and Ikao.
2 The names of the tribal groups and tribes are spelt mainly as in administrative docu-
ments, except where the spelling differs too markedly from the vernacular pronunciation.
Population figures are from the 1952 Census and include strangers in the area who
apparently number less than 2,000. The numbers of villages and the approximate areas of
tribal territories are derived from administrative sources. The units treated as towns "
and villages in the Census bulletin do not always coincide with what have been called
villages for the purpose of this report.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
the town had successfully resisted raids made by Benin armies shortly before the
Benin Expedition of .1897.3
Ora, in particular, retained strong sentiments of attachment to Benin. Benin
and Ora traditions agree that the founder of Ora was of royal descent and some
Ora people claim that on that account they were exempt from tribute. Amu,4
however, says that each year Ora used to send to the Oba a cow, a goat, and some
iron objects which they obtained from the Ilemen (Ineme).
Unlike the Ishan the Ivbiosakon do not have hereditary chiefs recognized by
the Jba. It is said that the founders of Ake, Iki, Aroko, and Iruoke obtained
titles from the Oba but that these lapsed. Four or five generations ago an Ozala
man received an ada (ceremonial sword) and the title onogie but the institution
apparently carried little weight. At the time of the British occupation the son of the
last onogie was too young to take the title.
In some tribes certain wards or villages claim seniority on the basis of connec-
tions with, or privileges conferred by Benin. One village of Otwa tribe claims that
it is descended from a headman appointed by the Oba and therefore has the right
to appoint the sub-tribal headman and at Ora the village of Evbiobe has a
privileged position associated with possession of certain objects presented by the Oba.
The present 9ba of Benin has in recent years awarded Benin titles in some
Ivbiosakon sub-tribes as part of a plan to reunite the Edo-speaking peoples.
YORUBA AND NUPE RAIDS
During the latter half of the .19th century the whole area suffered raids by the
Nupe and Ilorin Yoruba and parts of it were attacked by Ogedegbe of Ilesha.
Many tribes were scattered or forced to move their settlements. The Ora villages,
for example, moved seven miles up the Owan valley to their present sites and Emai
moved into that valley from a site near Usokha. The Otwa people were scattered,
seeking refuge at Owo, Agbede, and Irua. Some remained at Irua but the rest
resettled their own land before the British arrived. Nearly all the Ivi-Ada-Obi
villages were abandoned, the people seeking refuge in the rocky hills near the
present site of Sebe-Ogbe. The Nupe conquered these and other northern Ivbio-
sakon tribes and planted representatives in them to collect regular tribute.. Further
south they were less successful. The Ivbie-Imion group formed a defensive
alliance and avoided paying regular tribute and luleha apparently suffered less than
The Yoruba seem to have limited themselves to raiding, burning houses, and
carrying off slaves and livestock. Otwa fought with Ibadan warriors against its
traditional enemies at Okpe.
HISTORY UNDER BRITISH RULE
The whole area came under nominal British control in 1897 and was first
administered from Ifon. A court was established at Afuze (Emai tribe) in 1905.
The members appointed were usually young men who in certain cases have
continued to exercise considerable authority.
In 1915 the Ifon District was included in the Ishan Division, but some tribes
were transferred to the Kukuruku Division on its formation in 1918. District
Heads were appointed in 1920. Otwa, Ikao, Ake, Ikhin, and Aroko came under
the Olokpe of Okpe and the Ivi-Ada-Obi group under the Dba of Agbede. The
latter was an ally of the Nupe before British rule and had embraced Islam. He
introduced the new religion into the Ivi-Ada-Obi group and replaced the original
title-association system with individual Muslim titles. These titles, which have
persisted until the present day were acquired by performing the ceremony of tying
3 Chief Ezomo of Benin confirms that his father led an army against Uhobe, Uzagba,
Uzeba, and other towns in this area at that time.
Amu, The Ora history book, p. 21.
THE NORTHERN EDO
turban" after paying fees to the District Head. Village headmen were appointed
from among the title-holders.
After administrative enquiries in 1937 the Ivbiosakon tribes were all placed
in the Kukuruku Division. Each became a separate Native Authority and together
they form a federation for the purposes of a common Treasury and Appeal Court.
NOTES ON THE INDIVIDUAL TRIBES5
1. Ora is said to be named after Eranrin-Ekpen or Ora-Ekpen the son of
Uguan, the banished son of Oba Ozolua of Benin. Each of the seven villages is
descended from one or a pair of the 12 remembered sons of Ora-Ekpen. The
hamlet Ebogwan is said to be descended from a priest, the guardian of Uguan's
shrine who, according to one version was a son of Uguan born before the latter's
banishment and according to another was appointed by one of Ora-Ekpen's sons.
Amu says that Irhuekpen, now a part of Ekpoma chiefdom (Ishan) was founded
by another son of Ora-Ekpen. He also claims that there are kinship ties with other
2. The Usokha people claim descent in part from Odion, the eldest son of the
first Oba of Benin who was deprived of the succession, and in part from a Yoruba
priest or "native doctor" who was banished from Benin. One family claims
seniority in the tribe because it is descended from the Yoruba, who was a native
3. The origin of luleha is traced to Usokha and Benin. One version states
that the three major divisions of the tribe are descended from the three sons of a
follower of the Yoruba priest who was banished to Usokha and that he was joined
by Obazua, a follower of Uguan from Benin. Amu says that Obazua was the
founder of luleha and that his "children" form the three main segments.
4. Emai is said to have been founded by Ima (who fled from Benin after com-
mitting a murder) through his son Uzuambi. Another story makes Uzuambi a
follower of Uguan and Amu says that Ima was a maternal uncle of Uguan. The
major territorial segments of the tribe were founded by sons of Uzuambi (see
diagram, p. 90).
5. At Ozala it is claimed that the founder, Uza, was a son of Oba Ozolua who
was banished for committing adultery with his father's wife. Another version
makes Uza the Dba's servant; while at Ora it is claimed that he was a son of one of
Uguan's followers. Amu says he was a son of Uguan who abandoned him because
he was born feet first.
6. Each of the 12 villages of Otwa is said to be descended from one of the 12
companies of servants who accompanied Uguan when he left Benin. They separated
from Ora after a quarrel.
7. The Ikao people claim to be descended from an Ife man who first settled at
Iduani, but they speak the same Edo dialect as Otwa. Another version states that
some Ikao people once removed to Iduani.
8. The four villages of Ivbiaro are said to be descended from the four sons
of a union between a supernatural being, Ada-Obi, and a mortal, Aro. The Uareke
people, however, claim that they are a part of the same migration from Benin as
9. The two village-groups of Uareke claim to be descended from the two wives
of Ake who fled from Benin.
10. Ihievbe is said to have been founded by Obo who was driven away from
Benin. He was related to Uzuambi of Emai.
11. The Era people claim to be an offshoot of Ovbiomu village, Emai, which
the founder left after a dispute. All the villages claim descent from him.
5 Local traditions are given, for the most part, without comment. Order as in table, p. 84.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
12. Urole is said to have been founded by a son of Obazua of luleha. He
had three sons who founded the three villages which bear their names.
13. The Ohame people say their founder came from Ugo near Benin but the
Usokha people say they came from Usokha.
14. and .15. Aroko and Ikhin say they were founded by two banished sons of
an Oba of Benin. They settled first near Ifon and later in the Ora area. This may
be another version of Ora traditions.
16. Ake is named after a Benin woman whose son committed adultery with
the Oba's wife thus forcing the family to flee.
17. Iruoke was founded by Oke who fled from Benin and settled between
Aroko and Ikhin. They later fled from the Nupe to the Otwa Hills.
SOCIAL ORGANIZATION AND POLITICAL SYSTEM
KINSHIP AND TERRITORIAL ORGANIZATION
The 17 autonomous and semi-autonomous communities have usually been
referred to as "clans." Each community names one or two founders from whom
a large proportion of the population claims descent, and bonds between communi-
ties and between politico-territorial segments of the same community are frequently
expressed in kinship terms. Not enough is known of the kinship structure, however,
to justify the use of the term "clan" in its technical sense. For the purposes of
this survey, therefore, the local community will be referred to as a "tribe ".
Ozala, Usokha, Urole, Ohame, Aroko, Ikhin, Ake, and Iruoke consist of
single, though sometimes scattered, villages, the remaining tribes of two or more
villages. Villages are divided into territorial segments, here called wards", which
in turn contain one or more localized descent groups, together with dependents of
members of these groups.
The "family" among the Ivbiosakon has been described as "a group
worshipping the spirit of a common grandfather" who is represented by a carved
staff (ekute)6 It seems probable that there is commonly an extended family whose
core is a patrilineage7 of not more than three or four generations in depth and
whose economic, jural, and spiritual head, the. di5 ekute (" elder of the staff") is
the oldest surviving descendant in the male line from a common ancestor.
A number of localized descent groups between whose founders kinship ties
are frequently traced are grouped together to form a ward.8 Wards are in some
cases grouped within the village for political, judicial, and ritual purposes.
Generally the village names a founding ancestor, but in some cases it is evident
that the people recognize themselves to be of diverse origins. In the sub-tribes
which consist of more than one village fraternal links are claimed between village
founders. The village allegedly descended from the senior brother may enjoy a
superior status in certain political and ritual contexts. In some tribes villages are
grouped on a geographical or putative kinship basis and these groups co-operate
for certain political, judicial, and ceremonial purposes (see sections on title-
associations and political organization and diagram p. 90 below).
Ties of common origin and kinship between founders are claimed between pairs
and groups of tribes. A special link between Ora and Usokha is associated with the
Cf. Benin uxurhe.
7 There is no evidence that the Ivbiosakon practise the alternative forms of marriage
found among the Etsako.
8 That the ward cannot always be equated with a single descent group is shown by the
fact that Amekhon ward in Usokha has one descent group descended from the Ife founder
and four others from the Benin founder (see p. 87 above). The same applies a fortiori to
the kinship structure of villages and tribes.
THE NORTHERN EDO 89
legend that the mother of Ora-Ekpen was an Usokha woman. There are two
groups of tribes, Ivbie-Imion, and Ivi-Ada-Obi, the member tribes of which are
closely associated. The Ivbie-Imion tribes, between whom kinship ties are not
claimed, formed a defensive alliance in the past and special relations exist between
them in respect of their title-association (see p. 90 below). The Ivi-Ada-Obi
group are united in worship of a common deity, Ada-Obi.
AGE-SET AND AGE-GRADE ORGANIZATION9
As among other sections of the Edo-speaking peoples age-stratification of the
male population is an important element in the social structure. In most of the
tribes new age-sets (otu) are formed every three years, but in luleha and Aroko the
interval is five years, in Urole and Ikhin four years, in Ihievbe two years, while in
Era a new set is said to be formed whenever enough youths reach the right age.
The age at which a youth joins an age-set is reported to vary from about 15 to 23
years. Each set is given a name which, in the case of Ora, is said to be chosen
from a traditional list.
As elsewhere the age-sets are grouped into three main grades. In Ora and some
other tribes the lowest grade consists of the nine junior or working otu called igbama
in Emai and Usokha and otulesimi (" the nine otu ") in the Ivbie-Imion tribes. The
nine sets are grouped into three companies of a fighting force, viz., obodi5 (those
who fought on the right), oxiode (those who fought in the centre), and agobo10
(those who fought on the left).. At Usokha, however, they are called ainekwono,
ohoikade, and ohogbo.
Among these tribes the senior otu of the three companies make up the middle
age-grade or otuleha (the three otu). They were the leaders of the working otu and
the executive arm of the elders' authority.
There are differences of detail in some of the other tribes. In luleha there
were nine working otu, but the four senior ones took no part in day-to-day
communal tasks; they acted as supervisors. The nine working otu of Ivbiaro are
divided into three junior sets (igbama) and six senior sets (ighele). They are
grouped into three companies as at Ora, each consisting of one igbama and two
ighele sets. The nine warrior otu of Era are known as ighele. In Uareke there are
seven working otu of which the three senior are called igbama; the name ighele here
refers to the middle age-grade. In Ihievbe there are seven "working" otu
(ofiekpude) and seven warrior otu (ighele). At Ozala the four junior sets are
known as egbolughele, the next five as ighele, of which the three senior otu are
called otuleha. This is reminiscent of the Ishan pattern.
The senior age-grade is everywhere called edi3. In Ora the senior otuleha
set is promoted to edi3 status every three years. Its members then become exempt
from communal manual labour and assume a recognized voice in village affairs.
There is no internal grouping of the edi3 but individuals are ranked according to
age. Among the Ivi-Ada-Obi tribes there is a special grade edioma of very old men
who are no longer able to take part in village affairs but are still, nevertheless,
worthy of respect; a man can never be regarded as odioma while any person senior
to him is still odi3. At Uareke the seven oldest men-edi5 ihir3-are accorded a
special position in the village.
As elsewhere among the Edo-speaking peoples the age-set and age-grade
organization appears to function on a village-wide basis. It is not clear whether
there is any correspondence between the initiation and promotion cycles of different
9 The age-grade and age-set organization and the title system and political organization
of Otwa and Ikao differ rather markedly from those of the rest of the Ivbiosakon tribes and
will be dealt with separately below.
10 Literally obodi3 means right hand, agobo left hand, and oxiode the centre.
THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
For some details of initiation and promotion ceremonies and the relation between
age and political authority see below.
Like the Urhobo and some Etsako and Ibo communities the Ivbiosakon, with
the exception of Otwa and Ikao, have well developed title-associations. In all tribes
there are two associations, ejerenoxwa and olokpa. The people themselves claim
that the titles were derived from Ife, but the general character of the institutions
suggest affinities with the peoples mentioned above."
Membership of title-associations is achieved by the payment of fees which are
shared by the existing members. The only available information concerning the
nature and amount of these fees is a statement that in 1947 the olokpa title at Usokha
cost about 15. No details are available of the ritual activities of the associations.
In most, if not all, tribes the ejere title ranks higher than the olokpa and gener-
ally a man must take the former before aspiring to the latter. In some tribes,
however, it is reported that once a man joins one association he remains in it for life.
In Ohame tribe the titles appear to be alternatives and it is said that an eldest son
usually joins the association to which his father did not belong. Membership is
theoretically open to any freeborn member of the tribe provided that certain
conditions, which vary from community to community, are fulfilled. At Urole and
Emai a man could not take the same title as his father or elder full brother during
their lifetimes though he might take the alternative one. At Ozala a man could not
take the olokpa title until all males in his "family" senior to himself had done so
and he was debarred from taking the higher title while his father was alive or
before his senior brother. Almost everywhere it was forbidden for two members of
the same household to hold the same title. To-day most of these restrictions have
disappeared and it is not unusual for a man to "purchase" a title for his infant
son. Since precedence not only in the internal affairs of the associations but also
in the community at large depends on order of entry into the associations the
abandonment of the above qualifications may be correlated with modern economic
and political changes. The general effect of the restrictions would be to limit
membership of the title-associations and to ensure some equality in the representa-
tion of descent groups. The holding of a title is said, in some communities at least,
not to exempt a man from the communal duties appropriate to his age-set.
TITLE-ASSOCIATION BRANCHES IN THE EMAI SUB-TRIBE
The title-association branches are italicized.
The names of wards and families are included only where significant.
Village group Urule
Village Ivbiame Ovbiomu Uwahumi Auze Okpokumu Itieye Okpa Ugboha*
Ward Ivbiodie Obada Ogute Afuga Ivbiakiya Evbiedeye
Extended Family Okpotoafe
Ugboha is a village on the former site of Emai which contains people originating from all
other villages. Ugboha men join title-associations in their villages of origin.
11 Ejere is, in fact, the same as the Benin egie and the Ishan eje, meaning title ";
noxwa is Edo for big." The Ora legend of the origin of this title, as quoted by Amu
(pp. 26-7) is as follows: -The son of the founder of Ora went to Ife and was given a medi-
THE NORTHERN EDO
At luleha there is a third title-association, ugbefo, which co-opts its members
from among those who hold the ejerenoxwa title. A candidate pays fees and
performs certain ceremonies and is then given a staff, ukpaza, as an insignia of his
The territorial segment for which a branch of a title-association is effective and
within which it functions varies from community to community and cuts across
other kinds of grouping. In Ora, each village has its own ejerenoxwa branch and
each ward or ward group its olkpa branch for the purpose of admitting new
members, distributing fees, and determining status and appointments to offices in
the village. In Era, while each village is a separate unit for the lohkpa associa-
tion there is only one ejerenoxwa branch for the village as a whole. In Uareke
three villages have joint associations while a fourth has its own. In Ihievbe three
pairs of villages which are said to be descended from pairs of full brothers have
joint branches while one village has a separate one. The diagram above illus-
trates the relation between title-groups and territorial segments in Emai where the
position seems to be most complicated.
It is reported that in the Ivbie-Imion tribes title-holders from one tribe have
the right to attend the meetings of the title-holders of the others, being accorded
precedence equivalent to that which they hold in their own tribe. A new title-
holder visits the eleje of the other tribes and makes presents to them.
Women are not admitted to the men's title-associations, but in some tribes they
have their own society, oluwa, composed of the senior wives of the members of the
men's associations. At Emai, however, it is said to be the senior sisters rather
than wives who are oluwa. These women are accorded special respect and
privileges and may have some functions in the settlement of disputes involving the
morals of women.
During the period 1920 to 1936 the Ivi-Ada-Obi tribes were placed in the
District of the Muslim Oba of Agbede who tried to destroy the indigenous title
system and replace it by individual Muslim titles, purchased from himself and
validated by the ceremony of "tying turban." The holders of these titles took
over the political functions formerly performed by title-association members.
The significance of the title-associations in the political organization is discussed
Four main factors govern the ascription of statuses conferring political
1. Relative chronological age.
2. Title status. It may, on the one hand, be the mere possession of a title which
is important as when the oldest man is regarded as the head of a territorial segment
provided he has a title; in some tribes an odi3 who has no title receives the oppro-
cine which he was told would profit him (ojere re). He misunderstood the Yoruba words
and when he returned said the medicine would make him ejere. He shared it with his
brothers one of whom, the founder of Evbiobe village, gave some to his relative from Ozala.
The ejerenoxwa title-holders of Evbiobe are said to wear the small cloth that is the usual
insignia of this status in Ora as a sign that they gave away part of the honour. People
from Uzeba came seeking the medicine but could only get a thread from the cloth in which
it was wrapped. This they dipped into the medicine left on the grinding stone; to-day the
eleje (title-holders) of Uzeba (Iuleha tribe) distinguish themselves by wearing a thread. Finally
the Emai people came and took away the grinding stone itself which they still retain.
The Ozala people agree that they obtained the title from Ora but not from Evbiobe.
They got it through an Ozala woman married to an Ora man. Emai claim to have had the
title direct from Ife.
The word olhkpa may derive from the Yoruba olokpa meaning king's staff-bearer, retainer,
9Z THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
brious epithet, ozo. On the other hand, within the body of title-holders political
offices may be ascribed on the basis of "title age ", i.e., the order in which the
title-holders have become members of the association.
3. Inequalities of precedence and privilege among territorial segments of the
same order. In some wards the privilege of supplying the ward headman is
reserved to one or more specified descent groups; in some villages certain wards
are excluded from the right to provide a village headman and in some tribes the
tribal headman must come from one or more specified wards or villages. These
inequalities are attributed to various factors-priority of settlement, seniority
relations between founders, special connections with Benin or Ife, etc.
4. The uks system. Uks is the usual Edo word for "messenger". Among
the Ivbiosakon it carries the meaning "deputy" and refers to the delegation of
powers by one individual or group to another individual or group. The nominal
head of a territorial unit may delegate the right to summon meetings and preside
over them to another individual. The latter normally comes from a different
segment of the same unit and in some cases the segment from which he must
come is specified. At the group level this delegation of powers is normal. That
is, the segment which is privileged to appoint persons in authority always delegates
that authority to another specified segment or one of a number of such segments.
Examples will be given below.
TERRITORIAL AND POLITICAL SEGMENTS OF THE IULEHA SUB-TRIBE
Village Group Auma Okpoji
Village Group Uzeba
I I I I I
Village Eluele Uzeba Ohia Ogbagun Avbiose Ivbiodohen Ivbioleke
I I I I I I I
Wards 3 3 3 2 4 3 4
As stated above a tribe consists of one or a number of villages which may be
grouped at an intermediate level. The diagram illustrates the territorial and
political structure of luleha, one of the more complicated tribes. Councils or meet-
ings take place at each of the levels indicated-ward, village, village group (at two
levels), and tribe. They are summoned and presided over by specified persons,
usually at their own houses, and they direct the political and judicial affairs of
the territorial segment for which they are effective.
A council at any level is normally made up of the edi5 and eleje of the segment,
together, sometimes, with the middle age-grade-otuleha or ighele-who, however,
act mainly as messengers and in other executive capacities. In a majority of com-
munities ward councils are said to be summoned by the oldest man, odi3were. In
other tribes it is the senior title-holder of the ward as a whole or of one or more
specified lineages who performs this function. In some cases the senior title-holder
is recognized as the uko of the odi3were.
Village councils are made up of the joint ward councils. In Emai, Ihievbe,
and Uareke the village headman is normally the oldest man either in the village as
a whole or in a privileged ward or group of wards. In Ovbiomu village, Emai,
however, the village headmanship is said to be divided; the odi3were of one ward is
the priest of the village deity and it is he who summons all meetings concerned with
internal and ritual affairs. The odiuwere of another ward, however, is the village
THE NORTHERN EDO
headman vis-a-vis other villages and summons all meetings concerned with external
affairs. In another Emai village the odi3were of one ward acts as the uko of the
odi3were of another.
In other sub-tribes title status is more significant at the village level. The village
headman in Ora villages is the senior of two odiO-urukpa, so called because they
are in possession of ritual staffs or ukpa. These two staffs are given to the oldest
(by actual age) members of the ejerenoxwa association in the village or in one or
more specified wards. In Oke village, for example, there are now four wards, Igbale,
Osi, Okpokumu, and Okpotole. Originally there were only two, Igbale and Osi, but
the latter was later joined by the founders of the remaining two who came from Ishan.
Osi, Okpokumu, and Okpotole now form a ward group, Ivbiebiolue. The two ukpa
in Oke are held by the oldest eleje in Igbale and Ivbiebiolue respectively. The village
of Evbiobe has two wards each of which provides an odi3-urukpa. One of these is
always regarded as the senior, but the other is his uko and the uko of the tribal head-
man of Ora.
In the villages of Era tribe the odi3were of the village or of one or more specified
wards is the nominal village headman, but in actual fact authority rests largely in
the hands of his uko, the senior eleje. In luleha, where the title factor overrides
the age factor more completely, the senior eleje of the village or of one or more
specified wards is the recognized headman though in at least one case he has an
uko from another ward. In most of the Ivbiaro villages the odeodi5, the senior
eleje of the whole village, is said to be the headman, but he appoints a titled uko
from another ward.
In the single-village tribes the village council is also the tribal council. The
tribal head of Usokha is, in theory, the oldest man, but his functions are performed
by the senior eleje of one group of extended families in one ward. At Ozala the
oldest man is the tribal head, while among the Ivbie-Imion tribes the headman is
the senior title-holder of the tribe or of a specified ward.
In multi-village tribes the village councils join together to form a tribal council,
though in some cases only the title-holders are said to attend. The same factors
affect the ascription of officers as at lower levels. At Emai the odi5were of
Uwahumi village is nominal tribal head, but in practice his authority is delegated
to an uka from Afuze village, probably the odi3were. At Ora the senior odi3-
urukpa of Ohia village is the headman but has as his uko the odiS-urukpa of the
Idumu ward of Evbiobe, who calls the meetings and announces the agenda before
the headman speaks.
In the Ivi-Ada-Obi tribes, from 1920 to 1936, the holders of Muslim titles
formed the village and tribal councils, one of them being appointed headman by
the Oba of Agbede.
Women have little formal part to play in the political organization. A woman
whose opinion is respected or whose advice or testimony is required may, however,
be asked to speak at a meeting.
LAW AND ORDER
All the councils described above formerly acted as judicial bodies in the appro-
priate contexts, that is in respect of offences committed internally by, and disputes
between, members of the territorial segments for which they were effective.
The most serious criminal cases could be settled only by the tribal council or, in
the case of the Ivbie-Imion group, the tribal group council. Such offences as
homicide, robbery-with-violence, witchcraft, slave-dealing, and child-stealing within
the tribe were regarded as offences against the tribe and should be dealt with only
by the tribal council meeting at the village where the crime was committed. None
94 THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
of the Ivbie-Imion tribes could pronounce the death sentence on one of their
members without calling in the other tribes. In this case the judicial body con-
sisted of the title-holders of all the tribes with the otuleha grade as the executive.
Minor criminal cases and civil disputes might be settled at any level. A
family head would adjudicate between members of his own family and two families
of the same ward would attempt to reach agreement in the case of a dispute
between their members. If they failed to do so the village council might be asked
to make a decision. Failure to settle disputes at the village or village-group level
would result in a case being taken before the tribal council. The heads of age-
sets or age-grades settled disputes between their members and punished minor
breaches of age-set or grade regulations.
Except in the Ivbie-Imion group self-help was the only sanction in disputes
between members of different tribes though peaceable settlements might be
The otuleha or middle age-grade summoned offenders to appear before the
councils and carried out the letters' decisions. In minor matters they may have
had some summary jurisdiction. At Ozala it is reported that they could punish
petty thieves or assaulters, probably by forcing them to return stolen goods, or pay
compensation plus a small fine which they shared among themselves. The matter
would have to be reported to the odiSwere of the offender's ward, however.
There is no information as to the procedure adopted for judging cases, though
oaths and ordeals seem commonly to have been resorted to where evidence was
lacking or contradictory.
Murder within the tribe was punishable by death, though whether the sentence
was carried out seems to have depended upon the relative status of the murderer and
his victim and of their kinship groups. A rich man might be able to buy himself off
by paying compensation. On the other hand vengeance was sometimes resorted to.
At Uzeba the death sentence was carried out by hanging in the market place,
though it might be avoided by giving a substitute to the bereaved group. Man-
slaughter was compensated at Ora by the transfer of two persons from the
murderer's descent group to that of his victim. Witchcraft guilt was determined
by the sasswood ordeal, which carried its own penalty.
For lesser offences and in civil disputes compensation and fining were the
principles underlying settlement. At Uzeba a stolen goat would have to be
returned, together with another goat and a fine.12 Fines were shared by the
judicial body. The only other type of punishment which is recorded is the destruc-
tion of a man's house and crops for murder at Ora and of the house of an Uzeba
man who assaulted a girl."
Enforcement of judgments was carried out, where necessary, by the otuleha
(or equivalent group) who were empowered to seize property of the offender or of
members of his ward. At Emai, however, it is reported that these powers were
granted to the victim of the offence who might be allowed to seize the property
belonging to the offender or his family.
Age-grades and Age-sets
The age-grade and age-set organization at Otwa differs markedly from that of
the other Ivbiosakon tribes and has many features in common with that of some
neighboring North-West Edo communities. A series of 11 age-grades is described
through which pass age-sets formed, in the first place, every five years.
1' Thomas, 1910 (1), pt. I, p. 106.
13 Ibid., p. 109.
THE NORTHERN EDO
Years spent Approximate age
Name of grade in grade at joining
" Working grades .. .. Evuwavia 5 15 to 20
Egede 5 20 to 25
Ikansilo 5 25 to 30
Igo 5 30 to 35
" Title grades .. .. Izogan 5 35 to 40
Eghibia 5 or 10 40 to 45
Otunesa 10 45 to 55
" Ruling grades .. f Ikerevbo 9 55 to 65
Imorewe 1 3 64 to 74
Ikeregoki J 12 67 to 77
Elders .. .. .. Ekpase 79 to 89
A group of youths is initiated into the evuwavia grade every five years. At
the same time each of the previously formed sets up to and including that currently
occupying the izogan grade moves up one grade. At the eghibia level two sets fuse,
the senior one remaining in that grade for 10 years. All sets remain in the otunesa
grade for .10 years.
Each set occupies the ikeregoki grade-the ruling grade proper-for 12 years.
During the last three years it is assisted in governmental functions by the members of
the concurrent ikerevbo grade who then become known as imorewe. The latter
might perhaps be better regarded as a sub-grade of ikeregoki, made up of members
of the succeeding set who have begun to perform ikeregoki functions; it is in exist-
ence for only three out of every 12 years. The ekpase are the very old men who
have retired from active life but are still treated with great respect and formally con-
sulted on all important matters.
The political organization of Otwa hinges on the fact that the members of the
ikeregoki grade in any territorial segment are regarded as the rulers of that
segment. The table above shows that they are old men and it may be for this reason
that the succeeding set joins them for their last three years of office.
At the village level councils consist of the members of the "ruling" grades,
the ikeregoki delegating considerable powers to the ikerevbo. At the end of their
period of office the ikeregoki appoint a new village head (onomolen) from among
the in-coming ikeregoki. He must be from the senior of the two sets which earlier
fused at the eghibia level. The onomolen appoints a deputy (ukemi) who will take
over from him should he die during his term of office.
The 12 Otwa villages are divided into six pairs, each pair holding joint meetings
attended by the two onomolen and ukemi and the members of the ruling grades.
Isokha village of the Isokha-Igbira group holds meetings with Olila-Orake because
they were the only three villages left when Otwa was scattered by the Nupe. The
two villages in each group normally take turns to supply the group onomolen
who appoints an ukemi from the other village.
A tribal headman (ovie) is appointed by the retiring ikeregoki grade in con-
sultation with the incoming ikeregoki and he too holds office for 12 years. To-day
tribal headmanship rotates through the villages though there is some indication that
in the past Oluma village alone may have supplied the ovie, and the induction
ceremonies are still held there. Tribal meetings are summoned by the ovie through
his ukemi (who must be from another village) to the market place at Oluma. They
are composed of members of the ruling grades.
All the villages are ranked in order of seniority for purposes of sharing any
benefits, the first five villages coming from different village groups.
Not enough information is available about methods of and qualifications for promotion
to decide whether, in fact, this system does not include title-association as well as age-grade
elements. Cf. some North-West Edo communities described below.
Yo THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
Law and Order
Age-grades have the right to impose fines of livestock on their own members
who do not play their part in age-grade activities. The otunesa (senior title grade)
perform the functions of the otuleha among other Ivbiosakon tribes and can levy
fines for petty offences. The ikerevbo had similar rights in respect of more serious
delicts. The most serious offences which were the same as in the rest of Ivbiosakon
were settled by the tribal council.
The age-grade system of Ikao is similar to that of Otwa, but the fusing of
two sets occurs at the fifth rather than the sixth level. There is no reference to an
inwrewe grade and once a man becomes ikeregoki he stays in that grade for life.
The political organization differs from that of Otwa in that there are two
hereditary titles,"1 Ikao and Olotu, and three non-hereditary titles (oviehego), one
held in each of the three villages. The latter are appointed by the Ikao on the
recommendation of the members of the village concerned, and the candidate must
have reached at least the enezogan grade, which is equivalent to izogan at Otwa.
The Ikao is the head of Uhurele village, the title normally passing from father
to a son who must be the son of a woman of a different tribe. If no such son is
available who has reached the enezogan grade a regent is appointed until his death
when the title reverts to the original line. Village meetings at Uhurele consist of
the two senior age-grades summoned and presided over by the Ikao.
In Uso village meetings are summoned by the headman, Olotu. The holder
of the oviehego title (here called oviakpe) can attend meetings even though not a
member of these grades.
In Ijegbe village the oviehego title-holder (oviamolede) is the village head.
Tribal meetings are summoned by the Ikao to his own village.
According to the information available the village is the smallest land-holding
unit, individuals and families retaining rights in land only so long as it is under
cultivation. Land litigation is very rare, but disputes over the ownership of per-
manent crops, especially cocoa, are becoming more frequent. Land under per-
manent crops remains under the planter's control. The crops themselves may be
sold, pledged, or mortgaged but the land on which they grow is theoretically inalien-
able. Some attempt has been made at Ora to limit the planting of rubber and cocoa
to certain restricted areas.
Among the important tree-crops coconut and kola-nut trees are usually
individual property, while oil-palms are generally communal village property.
Privately planted oil-palms, however, belong to the planter at Otwa.
According to Thomas1 a man's sons fall into three categories in respect of
inheritance of his property:-(1) The first-born surviving son; (2) the senior sons of
other wives and (3) other sons.
The deceased's house is normally inherited by the first-born son who, however,
in some tribes is said not to have the right to evict his brothers, who may bring
their wives to live with them in the house. Frequently brothers continue to farm
together after their father's death.
Widows may be inherited by the sons, brothers, or father's brothers of the
deceased. The eldest son has first choice, though in some cases the wives them-
selves are said to have considerable freedom in choosing their inheritor.
15 Ikao seems to have much in common with Okpe, Olomo and Ijaja among the North-
16 See Rowling, 1948.
17 Thomas, 1910 (1), sect. iv.
THE NORTHERN EDO
The farm and other property are shared out between the eldest sons of the
deceased's wives, who may, in turn, allocate portions to their younger brothers.
In some cases the first-born son gets the first and biggest share while in others there
is equal division. At Afuze (Emai tribe) a daughter by a wife without sons may be
allowed a share and daughters usually inherit yams, cloth, beads, etc., when there
are no male heirs. At Uareke brothers, half-brothers, and the "family head" may
claim a share of movable property, but at Aroko (as in Benin) a man may not
inherit from his junior brother though his son may do so in the absence of a closer
heir The mother of the first-born son may look after the property of an absent
son or the latter may receive something in compensation for it.
At Ivbiaro wives are divided first, then movables, then trees and farms. The
yams are tied into "ropes," two of which go to the father's brotherss. The rest
are to be divided by the sons or kept as common property if they are farming
Thomas reports that when, at Ivbiaro, a person is transferred from one family
to another as the result of a murder he inherits what the dead person would have
received. Posthumous sons born before the property is divided may receive a share,
except, apparently, at Uareke. Illegitimate sons may be formally recognized as
A deceased woman's property is inherited by her sons, daughters, brothers,
and sisters, the senior son taking control, if old enough. At Era, however her
brothers are said to claim all she has made with her own hands. At Ivbiaro, on
the other hand, in the absence of any children the husband may claim all property
that she did not bring from her father's house.
It is common for a man or woman without children to adopt a brother's or
sister's child as an heir.
THE LIFE CYCLE
Customs relating to the birth of children vary considerably from tribe to tribe."
There seems to be no stipulation as to where a birth should occur, but special care
is taken in the disposal of the placenta, the child's end of the umbilical cord, and
the first hairs shaved from its head. At Ivbiaro and Uareke the child is periodic-
ally removed from the house during the first three months while the house is swept
and rubbed down.
Parturition takes place in a squatting position at Otwa. At Uareke the mother
is allowed to leave the house after seven days but should not work on the farm for
a year. At Ivbiaro suckling is said to continue until the mother bears a second
child, though after five months the child begins to take ordinary food.
PUBERTY AND ADOLESCENCE
For girls clitoridectomy is performed after puberty with considerable ceremony,
but no detailed information is available. Boys undergo initiation ceremonies of
varying elaboration in connection with admission to age-sets. These rites gener-
ally involve the tying of a cloth on the initiate," but at Ihievbe and Era this
apparently takes place on admission to warrior status.
MARRIAGE, EXOGAMY, AND DIVORCE
There is no evidence that the Ivbiosakon practise the alternative forms of
marriage found elsewhere among the Northern Edo.2It is reported that among all
I8 See Thomas, 1922, pp. 250-8.
19 Cf. the irhue ceremony in Ishan.
20 An administrative report of 1914, however, states that at Otwa in marriages within the
tribe the children remain in the household and family of their mothers' parents. But Otwa
cannot be regarded as typically Ivbiosakon.
ub THE EDO-SPEAKING PEOPLES
the Edo-speaking peoples a man secures a wife by making payments to, and per-
forming services for, her father. At Ora in 1914 the bride-price was fixed at 12-
10 to the father and 2 to the mother. It was said that prior to British rule the
corresponding figures were the equivalents of 36s. and 8s. in cowries. At Evbiobe
part of the bride-price might not be paid until after the bride had joined her
Service takes the form of assistance on the father-in-law's farm. It may
begin when the girl is still very young and continue after the marriage has been
If a girl's father is dead the right to give her in marriage passes to her own
full brother or, if none is old enough, to her father's brother.
There is little information concerning the range of marriage prohibitions. At
Emai, according to one report, the two villages Afuze and Okpokumu together make
up one exogamous unit. The village of Itieye forms another (see diagram, p. 90).
It is said that at Uzeba the only way for a woman to obtain a divorce in the
past was to acquire a lover who was willing, on the orders of the village headman,
to refund the bride-price to the husband. The woman forfeited any property left
in her husband's house. At Ora the tribal headman could set a woman free, but
if she had children they remained with their father, no bride-price being refunded.
At Ora a woman who commits adultery should report to her husband that
"some people hold my cloth". She should provide a cock for her husband to
sacrifice before beginning to cook for him again.
DEATH AND MORTUARY RITES
Thomas has described mortuary rites among some Ivbiosakon tribes in consider-
able detail.2Though they vary in detail from tribe to tribe they have certain elements
in common. The senior son of the deceased is normally the chief mourner and
officiant, and the rites for adults with children invariably involve the sacrifice of
goats and fowls. All communities apparently set aside special burial grounds for
different categories of persons-chiefs, young men, women, etc. Unmarried people
and people without children are usually buried without ceremony.
On the death of the "head chief" of Uzeba (Iuleha tribe) seven cows should
be killed immediately inside his house. No lamenting is permitted until his successor
has been chosen. The body is placed on a platform surmounting two low walls
which is roofed over, and remains there until preparations for the mortuary rites
have been completed. The corpse is then washed in gin and a temporary grave is
opened. The eldest son of the deceased sacrifices a cow, a cock, a ram, and a goat
to the right hand of the deceased, while the other participants pray:-" We kill
for you; look out for us and do not let us die young. You can help your son to get
When the successor has been chosen the grave is opened and the corpse placed
on a bed with mats, cloths, etc., and a similar sacrifice is performed. Sacrifices are
then made every third day on the threshold of the deceased's house until the ninth
day when the nine "working" age-sets of the town dig the permanent grave.
Before the corpse is finally buried it is laid out in the street where a cow and a dog
are sacrificed, the latter to the right hand of the deceased. The widows are made
to cover their faces and each swears to hand over all the property of her husband
which is in her care to the senior son. The body is then carried to the grave where
a he-goat is sacrificed to its feet before burial.
The burial ground, which is on the site of a former village, is divided into four
sections, for head chiefs, two other ranks of chiefs (presumably members of the title-
associations), and women chiefs. Other people are buried along the road leading
to this site.
21 Thomas, 1920 (2), pp. 19, 20, 21, 24, 25, 29-32; 1910 (1), pt. I.
THE NORTHERN EDO
At Sabongida (Ora) when the head chief dies all the people meet outside,
ringing bells, tiring guns, throwing cowries, dancing, and singing. The sons of the
deceased carry ada (ceremonial swords) round the town, lamenting their father.
At dawn the body is taken outside and a cow is killed. A special otu carry the body
to the grave while the rest of the people dance behind. After the burial there is
mourning for seven days. Then the people shave their heads and the family assemble
to divide the property.
In the same place ordinary people are buried in the bush after being washed
and sewn up in a cloth. A fowl is killed for the deceased's hand and fufu is offered
to the feet. Should a man die away from home chalk is taken and his name called
out on the road along which he departed. The chalk is then buried with the usual
MAGIC AND RELIGION
According to Thomas 22 the high god, Osa, is recognized and worshipped by the
Ivbiosakon as in Benin. Esu is found everywhere in the guise of a mud or wooden
figure placed outside the doors of houses to keep out misfortunes. In folk-tales he
is the door-keeper of rivl, the land of the spirits.
Ancestor worship is practised within lineages of rather shallow depth, the
ancestors being represented by carved staffs as at Benin. The staff is kept by the
senior member of the lineage.
Shrines dedicated to the founders are found in many communities. Thomas
reports that in each ward of Uzeba (Iuleha tribe) there is a shrine to Obazua, the
joint founder of the tribe. The shrine is covered by a cloth, the lifting of which is
strictly forbidden. At Ora there are shrines to the founder, Uguan, and his son,
Ora-Ekpen. The first is at the hamlet Ebogwan, whose hereditary headman is its
priest. The mother of Ora-Ekpen is said to have been an Usokha woman and there-
fore, according to one report, the Ora-Ekpen shrine must always have an Usokha
woman as its priestess.
The Ivi-Ada-Obi tribes are named after Ada-Obi the deity which they have in
common. According to one belief Ada-Obi was the supernatural ancestress of the
Ivbiaro people, but another version is that the worship of Ada-Obi and Akezi was
derived from Emai through a kinship connection. The main Ada-Obi shrine is at
Isogben village, Ivbiaro, and people from the other three tribes come there to
worship. Emai has its own Ada-Obi shrine. Albinos apparently had a special
function in the worship of Akezi at Uareke; neighboring tribes are said to have
sent their albinos there.
According to Thomas, the ovia cult is practised at Otwa, the men who take
part being secluded for a month, during which they must refrain from sexual inter-
At Emai and luleha there are reported to be annual festivals lasting seven
days in honour of mothers who have born male children during the previous year.
Both Christianity and Islam have many converts in the area.
Witchcraft beliefs appear to follow the Benin pattern. The Ivbiosakon area has
been noted in the past for extensive outbreaks of sasswood poisoning in connection
with witchcraft accusations. At Otwa whole families have been known to take
sasswood when one of their members has been accused.
22 1910 (1), pt. II, sect. ii.