Many centuries ago, at the time when Benin was called Igodomingodo, that geographical area now known as Benin, was the hob of a conglomeration of little towns that developed or spread into most of the areas of modern Bendel State. Throughout that period, lgodomingodo made steady progress especially in the areas of spiritual, philosophical and administrative development. Its efforts were largely concentrated on the arrangement of human order so that by the time Europeans made contact with the people of Benin in the 15th century, they had already established an administrative system which, till this day, baffled the Europeans and earned for the Capital of this “far flung” African country, the appellation “City”. The nucleus of this great civilization was the monarchy which the Binis perfected around the 18th century when, after a series of experimentation with the Ogiso, and some of the past-Ogiso Obas, they introduced a monarchical system that is based on the principle of primogeniture, beginning with Ewuakpe, about 1712 A. D.
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. Shifting slowly, sometimes uneasily, under the pressures or demands of modernity, Benin recognizes that all living organisms (including states and cities) change. That change has reduced to mere historical fact the political influence Benin exercised over places such as Eko (Lagos) which she founded at the time of Oba Orhogbua (about 1550 A.D.) Ghana, Dahomey, both across the borders of modern Nigeria; Onitsha on the Niger and many other places such as Asaba, Agbor, lssele-Uku, Warri, ldah etc. Many of these towns actually owe their corporate existence to Benin. Since inter-action between African kingdoms began around the 14th century, Benin found herself in a unique geographic position by occupying mid -way between what the early Europeans referred to as the “Yoruba country” and the “lbo country”. This proximity to the two areas no doubt broadened the outlook of the Binis in later years.
Quite tolerant and receptive of other ideas and norms, it is no wonder that today both the Eastern and ‘Western neighbors of Benin have exercised a considerable influence on her socio-political life. The influence of the Yoruba is more felt. This is so because after about 800 years of intercourse both cultures had to rub off on each other. Thus, while the Binis have accepted many Yoruba gods, the Yoruba on the other hand accepted several of the socio-political reforms introduced by the Binis.
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. Hitherto, neither Ekaladerhan, nor the people on whom he stumbled were aware of the existence of other people on earth than those that belonged to their immediate environment. To the people therefore, Ekaladerhan must be a god, a forest god; especially as they discovered him in the jungle. He was adept in hunting and he understood the habits of animals to an astonishing degree. These facts, no doubt put mystique on his being and his personality. By a twist of Fate, Ekaladerhan who was banished by his own people had been accepted by a people who stumbled on him in the forest. He was brought into town where he married one of them and lived to a ripe old age.
When his father Owodo was himself banished for ordering the execution of a pregnant woman, Evian was appointed 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 Erediauwa, is the 38th king of the Edo by this direct line of succession from Eweka the first.
The history of Benin Monarchy dates back to the Ogiso era which has been traced to about the 10th century. Although it is not possible in this brief note to give a full account of all the Ogisos, it is believed that there were thirty-one of them before the arrival of Prince Oromiyan from Ife (called Uhe by the Binis). The first Ogiso was Obagodo who handed in an effective system of administration. The last Ogiso, Owodo, was said to have been banished from the Kingdom for misadministration.
At the time of his banishment, Owodo had no successor because his only son and heir-apparent, Ekaladerhan, had earlier left for an unknown destination after having been secretly granted freedom by those sent by his father, Owodo, to execute him as sacrifice to the gods to enable him have male children. Record has it that Ekaladerhan founded Ughoton which was, in fact, called IGUEKALADERHAN (the land of Ekaladerhan). It is believed that Ekaladerhan first settled at a place now called Ughoton after several months of wandering in the jungles. Hunters from Benin stumbled on him in the forest and after their return to Benin, he packed up his tent and left because he was afraid that the hunters would tell of his existence and his father would give fresh order for his arrest and execution. As he feared, the hunters reported their discovery whereupon his father sent soldiers along with them to go and arrest him. But by the time they arrived, Ekaladerhan had gone! Afraid that Owodo would not believe that they did not meet him (after all was Owodo not once deceived that Ekaladerhan was executed when, in fact, his life was secretly spared?), soldiers and hunters stayed put. It was they who, in fact, founded Ughoton and named it after Ekaladerhan. His chance arrival at Uhe changed his fortunes. His adopted name, Izoduwa (later corrupted, but meaning literally in the Edo language “I have chosen the path to prosperity) is symbolic and has obvious reference to the story of his life just in the same way as Oronmiyan, the name of his eldest son.
It was the search for Ekaladerhan that took the Binis to Uhe; when he was located and his identity became known to the search party, Izoduwa refused to return with them because of his old-age. But after testing the sincerity of their intention, he sent one of his sons, Oronmiyan to accompany them to Benin. Perhaps the nearest account of the antecedent of Oduduwa to the Bini oral tradition narrated here is the version written by T. A. Osae and S. N. Nwabara in “A Short History of West Africa A.D. 1000 to 1800” that “the name of the much revered legendary ancestral hero of the Yoruba is Oduduwa.. He is portrayed in several variants of the legend as an eastern Prince who, driven out of his kingdom in the east, finally entered Nigeria after a long march with his followers.” When it is realized that Benin is to the east of lfe, the version of the Benin oral tradition is further strengthened by that account.
Irrespective of the divergence of the versions of the account of how Oronmiyan came to Benin, there are certain common facts; namely, that Oronmiyan was the son of lzoduwa (Oduduwa) and the father of Eweka 1. Ekaladerhan is said to be a tall handsome Prince, endowed with great physical strength and an adept swordsman. His sudden appearance among the Yoruba people of Uhe may well be an explanation for the mysticism surrounding the personality of Oduduwa of lfe. Oronmiyan’s son, Eweka 1, became the Oba of Benin In about 1200 A.D. According to the Benin version, Eweka I therefore established no new dynasty. He was the great-grand-son of the Benin Monarch Ogiso Owodo. From Eweka I who ruled up to the middle half of the thirteenth century to Oba Akenzua II, who reigned from 1933 to 1978, a total of thirty-seven Obas have ruled in Benin. In most cases, the period of each Oba witnessed self sacrifice, effective administration, innovation in the cultural pattern of the environment, territorial expansion, and socioeconomic development of the kingdom.