Ivie and Ekan are members of the Coral beads family. CORALS ( Phylum coelenterata ) or ( Cnidaria ) are mined from coral stones in oceans and polished as jewelry. EKAN looks like a stone and is grayish in color. IVIE is another specie of coral beads, an important type of jewelry worn by Edo chiefs. This kind is described as precious coral. It has a hard core that can be polished to bring out beautiful red, rose, or pink colors. Precious corals seems to grow in the bush-like formations in the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Japan. Oba Ewuare in the 1400’s A.D. is credited in oral tradition as the man who brought them to Benin when he stole them from the ” goddess of the Sea ” at Ughoton ( Gwatto ).
Since Ughoton was the gateway to Europe in those days, the White man, specifically the Portuguese and the Spaniards may have brought them to Benin. The Portuguese influence on Edo culture is very great especially in the area of costume and clothing. Unfortunately nobody has done extensive work in this area. But if you study the history of costume as I have done in relationship to Theatre and Drama, you will marvel at what it unravels. The use of Ivie and Ekan is controlled by the Oba of Benin. There are some shapes you can not wear without being a chief. Corals beads used in Edo speaking areas are very different from those got from the North of Nigeria, in Yoruba land and the Eastern part of Nigeria.
It is historically documented that some chiefs have been barred by Royal Edict, from wearing any Ivie or Ekan as a punishment. An example is Chief Oliha of Benin. It was a punishment for collaborating with the Attah of Igala in IDAH, about 1500’s A.D when the Idah soldiers invaded Benin City. Oba Esigie and his queen mother IDIA led the Edo soldiers to victory. The Portuguese soldiers fought on the side of Benin. Oba Akenzua II in the 1940’s seized the bearded head gear and most of the beads belonging to Chief Okorotun, the then Iyase of Benin for being disloyal and arrogant. He also took his ADA from him. When an Oba of Benin sends a bead or beads to anybody, it means simply one thing, ” you are being made a chief ” whether you like it or not. To refuse to accept a bead sent to you from the palace is unpardonable sin. You have in one way or another become an ” OGHIAN OBA “-the Oba’s enemy.