The Benin Empire is one of the oldest and best-known centers of civilization in pre-colonial times in Nigeria. Benin is today renowned as a center of culture and art, one of the great centers of ancient African civilization. Benin is famous for its ivory and woodcarvers. Interesting right? But there is something more interesting; It is the Ogiso Dynasty.
Two dynasties have ruled the Benin Empire. They are the Ogiso Dynasty or Era and Oba Dynasty. The Ogisos were the first kings of Benin. There were about 33 Ogisos in Benin and two of then were Female. The female Ogisos were Ogiso Emose and Ogiso Orrorro.
Ogiso dynasty is the Period before the Obas of Benin. Ogiso literarily refers to king of the sky but its connotation deeply means the ordained rulers by God while Igodomigodo was the adopted name of the ancient Benin Empire.
During the reign of Ogiso Owodo, there was widespread misrule compounded by the greed and selfishness of the chiefs and elders. The people rebelled against their King and successfully overthrew the Ogiso dynasty.
List of Ogisos in the Ogiso Era
17. Emose (female)
18. Orrorro (female)
32. Evian (administrator)
33. Irebor Ogiemwen (administrator)
Igodomigodo was the name of the kingdom of Benin given by Ogiso Igodo, the first Ogiso. IGODOMIGODO simply means ‘nation made nation, king made kings, great men made nations, great leaders build nations, wisdom made wise men or great men made great nation’ as the case may be.
Igodo was an ambitious, young, smart, Edionwere, from Idunmwun Ivbioto district, emerged as the Oka’iko. Igodo staged a coup, by abolishing the Ik’edionwere and declaring himself the Ogiso. He set up the Odibo-Ogiso group to help him consolidate his authority. By calling himself Ogiso, he was implying direct lineage to Pa Idu, the youngest son of Osanobua (God) from the sky.
He named his combined territories or sprawling nation-state, Igodomigodo, and set up his capital at Ugbekun. The people of Igodomigodo happily accepted Igodo as their ruler. They saw him as the reincarnation of Pa Idu and accorded him divine qualities.
They transferred all the myths associated with Pa Idu to Igodo, including the God-son creation myth. All Ogisos and Obas of Benin naturally try to strengthen these myths in a variety of ways, including not allowing themselves to be seen eating in public and so suggesting that they can live without food. They are in myth, not mortal but god-kings, with celestial mystique attached to them.
Ogisos of the First Benin Era (Igodomigodo)
The following were the Ogisos who reigned in the Ogiso Dynasty after Igodo…
The following are important things you should know about Ogiso Ere:
- Ogiso Ere was the second Ogiso in the Ogiso Era
- Ogiso Ere, who was Ogiso Igodo’s kinsman who succeeded Igodo to the throne in 16 CE.
- Ogiso Ere transferred the capital of Igodomigodo from Ugbekun to Uhudumwunrun.
- The primogeniture (son succeeding his father) principle was introduced by Ogiso Ere.
- Ogiso Ere, a lover of peace, was also a very resourceful king.
- He brought his kingdom several innovations.
- He was the first to wear a Cowry Crown.
- He introduced the guild system of carpenters and wood carvers.
- Ogiso Ere built the first ever Igodomigodo market, known then as Ogiso market and in modern times as Agbado market.
- Ogiso Ere invented the famous African kingship paraphernalia which includes the Ada (a sword of honor), Eben (a sword for dancing), Ekete (a royal stool), Agba (a rectangular stool), and Epoki (a leather box).
- Ogiso Ere died in 66 CE and was succeeded by his son, Ogiso Orire,
The following are things you should know about Ogiso Orire:
- Ogiso Orire was the son of Ogiso Ere.
- He is credited with greatly expanding the kingdom (Igodomigodo).
- Ogiso Orire had no male child so Igodomigodo was thrown into long and devastating succession battles that lasted for 285 years.
- During that time 19 Odionweres attempted to usurp the position of Ogiso without receiving recognition from the people and the consensus of the Elders’ Council.
- The issue was finally resolved with the compromise choice of Ogiso Odia in 385 CE.
The following are important things you should know about Ogiso Orire:
- Ogiso Odia was an Odionwere with occultic gift of prophecy and prediction.
- The ascension of Ogiso Odia introduced the system of gerontocracy
- Gerontocracy means the oldest person in the community rules
- After the death of the twenty-second Ogiso, the primogeniture system was restored.
- Ogiso Ighido succeeded Ogiso Odia.
- Ighido was a successful blacksmith producing knives, chains, hoes and cutlasses
- Ogiso Ighido was the oldest citizen around at the time
- Ogiso Evbuobo was very old when he was chosen to be the Ogiso.
- He died at the age of 110 years.
- Ogiso Ogbeide was from Ugbague quarters.
- He was a proud king.
- He died on Ugie Day.
- Ogiso Emehe was one of Edo’s greatest diviners.
- He was an oguega oraclist from the Emehe quarters.
- Ogiso Ekpigho was a money lender before he became king.
- He was heartless and merciless in the business of managing money.
- Even his name suggests his trade, ‘bag of money.’
- Ogiso Akuankhuan was an economist and trader
- Akhuankuan specialized in the textile trade before he was chosen king.
- Ogiso Efeseke was very wealthy before becoming Ogiso.
- He came from the Urubi quarters.
- He had large herds of cows and goats.
- The period of Ogiso Irudia was not considered eventful in any way.
- Ogiso Orria was a great hunter who specialized in killing or capturing and training elephants.
- He hailed from Oregbeni quarters.
- Ogiso Imarhan had a thriving business in terracotta, making pots before becoming king.
- He was from Oka quarters.
- Ogiso Etebowe was a powerful boxer and wrestler from Oroghotodin quarters.
- He wasn’t a giant in size but had the reputation of ‘destroyer of leopards.’
Ogiso Odion: Was a renowned hunter, fairy and folktales teller, intelligent singer, dancer, and a moralist.
- Emose Was a posthumous child.
- He inherited the mother’s wealth.
- He loved beautiful things.
- At his coronation, he took the mother’s name ‘Emose,’ and so earned the reputation of being regarded as a woman Ogiso.
- Ogiso Ororo was brought up as a blacksmith at Eyanugie.
- He traveled far and wide as a trader in Ogisodom before becoming Ogiso.
- Ogiso Erebo was a fisherman and canoe carver, chosen from Okhorho quarters.
- He had a repertoire of stories about sea animals such as mermaids, sharks, crocodiles.
- Ogiso Ogbomo was chosen from Ugbowo quarters.
- He was a nurse or doctor, treating venereal diseases, arthritis, epilepsy and pregnant women.
- Ogiso Agbonzeke was a philosopher, historian and a great poet with a rich range of songs and proverbs.
- He interpreted native laws and customs well and had the reputation of telling truth from lies.
- Ogiso Ediae was the last Odionwere Ogiso.
- A great carver and sculptor.
- He died at the age of 115 years.
- Ogiso Orriagba ascended the throne of his father, Ogiso Ediae, under the primogeniture system, and was determined to introduce stability to the succession process.
- He was not happy with the gerontocratic system that tended to produce very old Ogisos counting their days to the grave.
- He felt that the son taking over from his father system, would bring young blood to the throne, so he canvassed seriously for the process and backed it with the Oba’s next of kin taking over in a situation where the Oba left no son.
- He invoked the spirit of Erinmwindu, and the ancestors of the land, to support his efforts and positively influence members of the Royal Council.
- Ogiso Odoligie was a soldier.
- He defeated Udo, Iguabode, and Urhonigbe towns; united and enlarged his kingdom.
- He used tamed elephants to prosecute his wars.
- Ogiso Uwa inherited a rich kingdom.
- A luxury lover, extravagant and a gambler,
- He introduced brass work to Igodomigodo.
- Eheneden like his father inherited an expanded kingdom and wealth.
- He introduced innovations that improved the arts and crafts and the practice of agriculture.
- Ohuede introduced the UKO (or ministerial system of government),
- developed the guild system.
- He was considered a weak king.
Ogiso Oduwa: experienced serious rebellion during his reign. He could not control the large kingdom.
- Obioye was a resourceful king.
- He introduced the use of cowry as currency to Igodomigodo.
- His reign witnessed fire outbreak, severe inflation, food scarcity and immigration.
- Arigho was a great merchant.
- He introduced the double payments system, a bank, and the slave labour culture to Igodomigodo.
- Owodo was the thirty-first and last Ogiso of Igodomigodo.
- He freed the slaves.
- He was considered a weak king because he could not handle Osogan who was a thorn in his flesh during his reign.
- Ogiso Owodo had only one son, called Ekaladerhan, despite having many wives.
From the days of Owodo until now, the system of direct ascension has endured making the Benin Royal family one of the oldest families in Africa. It’s history spans more than 800 years. Benin City remains today as conservative as it ever was.
Contact with the Yoruba was made quite accidentally by Ekaladerhan, the son of the last Ogiso, who was banished in the 12th century. After wandering in the jungles for several years, he showed up in a town.
Owodo was himself banished for ordering the execution of a pregnant woman, Evian was appointed an administrator. But he sought to appoint Ogiamien his son as his successor. The move was resisted by the Bini and that gave rise to political strife and anarchy.
A search party was then sent to look for the long-banished Prince and the trail inevitably ended at Uhe where Ekaladerhan had established. Alas, He was a very old man. So, even if he wished to grant the delegation’s plea to return home, he was not physically capable of undertaking such a hazardous journey. But he allowed his son Oronmiyan, who had volunteered, to go with the delegation. Oronmiyan arrived around 1200 A.D. He fathered Eweka the first Oba of Benin.
After a series of events that led to the death of Ogiso Owodo, the departure of Ekaladerhan(heir apparent) and the emergence of Evian as the temporary head or Ogie of Igodomigodo , the kingdom was going through tough time ranging from the struggle for power amongst different groups . The Kingdom was plagued with famine, sickness and diseases. There was exodus of people from Igodo. The people attributed these to the anger of the gods as regard the injustice done to Ekaladerhan and the activities going on then. This made Oliha to lead a party to bring back Ekaladerhan who was rumoured to be alive in Uhe(Ife). Oliha and is party technically succeeded by bringing back Oranmiyan who was one of the Sons of Ekaladerhan (Oduduwa) to Igodomigodo.
Oranmiyan met strong resistance from Ogiamien and his supporters. He relocated back to the land he was used to since he wasn’t able to cope with the ongoing turmoil in his fatherland and left behind a child he had with the daughter of Enogie of Ogida, Eweka.
After Eweka became of age to assume the throne of his forefathers, he was still being challenged by Ogiamien and his supporters. Many wars were fought between them to enforce their authority as the sole head of the Igodomigodo Kingdom. After several years of warfare, Ogiemien finally conceded the head of the Kingdom to Eweka.
Note that during the reign of Ogiamien as the head of the Kingdom, The name Oba was already being used to refer to Eweka by his supporters as ‘omo no do baa n’Igodo’ or ‘Omo n’obaa n’Igodo’ meaning ‘the child that came to shine for Igodomigo ‘ or ‘the child that shines for Igodomigodo’. Then he has not yet adopted the name Eweka as his Kingship name.
Some simply referred to him as ‘Omo’ in a short form. So, after the truce reached between him and Ogiemien, the people still referred to him as the child that have come to shine for the Kingdom and brought peace and prosperity to the Land and felt he should adopt the name as his title. The name was finally adopted as his Title for the King of Igodomigodo considering the events that led to his emergence. (omo n’obaa n’Igodomigodo in Edo language and the short form, Oba).
In view of the above, it is logical to say the word Oba was first used to describe the new king to be by those around him and the people of Igodomigodo.
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