The coronation of the King or Oba of Benin is an event that gives a wonderful purview into the rich culture and history of the Benin people. In times past between 40 BCE and 1100 CE, the rulers of Benin were called Ogiso until Oba Eweka I instituted the Eweka dynasty around 1180 where the kingdom is ruled by the Oba. This article is on the coronation ceremonies of the Oba of Benin.
Benin Kingdom operates a strict hereditary succession system where an Oba can only be replaced in death by his first son, the crown prince known as Edaiken. The heir apparent who is known from the day of his birth is crowned Edaiken at a time chosen by the reigning Oba, but before he is made Edaiken, he is first initiated into the Iwebo palace society which is the most senior of the palace societies which is responsible for the royal wardrobe and regalia, beads and ornaments worn by the Oba during important ceremonies. The crown prince must attain the rank of Uko N’Iwebo before he can be made Edaiken.
In a situation where for any reason the Oba is not able to crown his Edaiken, some appropriate palace chiefs will take up the responsibility because no one can become an Oba except he has been crowned as Edaiken first. The Edaiken’s palace is located at Uselu in Egor local government area of Edo State.
The demise of an Oba can only be officially announced to the people of the kingdom at the Ugha – Ozolua in the palace, by the Iyase of Benin using the quote “Orhue Oghe Oba Brurun” meaning “the Oba’s chalk is broken”
The coronation of an Edaiken as Oba is an elaborate ceremony which lasts for about 10 days. It consists of series of rituals, ceremonies and symbolic depictions of historical events which are of significance to the people and the Eweka dynasty.
The events that mark the coronation of the Oba kicks off at the traditional residence of the Edaiken at Uselu. In local dialect, this residence is called the Egua – Edaiken. Edaiken begins his journey to Benin escorted by the Uselu chiefs and people. During the journey to Benin, the Edaiken makes several symbolic stops, first of which is at a historical palm tree named Udin ama-meisan aimiuwa which translates to “work before pleasure”. The Oba symbolically climbs this tree to depict the long suffering and challenges that were faced by Oba Ewuare the Great during his time as Edaiken. He had to climb palm trees and cut palm fruits to make a living hence the selection of the palm tree to illustrate this lesson of perseverance and long suffering.
After concluding the ritual of the palm tree, the Edaiken continues on his journey towards Benin. On arrival at the Iyi – akpan which is the first moat, the Uselu chiefs then hand over the Edaiken to the Oredo chiefs.
After the handing over to the Oredo chiefs has taken place, they accompany the Edaiken on his journey towards Benin. He passes through Iguisi (present day Lagos Street) and heads towards Eko – Ohae where he will stay for the next three days. After his three day stay, the Edaiken then heads for his next destination at Usama. On getting there, he goes to the location where the first palace of the Eweka dynasty was built by Oba Eweka I.
This palace was the place of abode for all the Obas from Eweka I until Oba Ewedo who relocated the palace to its present location. However this place still serves as the point where the coronation of all successive Obas are done.
The Edaiken spends a total of 7 days at Usama where he performs series of rituals and ceremonies as well as trainings to prepare him for the massive task of leading the kingdom.
During this time at Usama, the Oba visits a village called Use, where he performs the ceremony for selecting the name to be used by him during his reign as Oba. It is only after the performance of this ceremony that the Edaiken can choose a name he will answer when he becomes Oba. This tradition can be traced back to the time of Oba Eweka I.
After the return of Edaiken from Use, the leader of the Uzama chiefs called Oliha performs the crowning and also pronounces the Edaiken as Oba in his new name.
After the crowning ceremony, the Oba departs Usama, 7 days after he first came into the town and proceeds to the city centre where he will be publicly proclaimed and presented to the Benin people.
As the Oba heads towards the City, he is still required to make some stops. His initial stop is at Isekhere were he performs the ceremonial crossing of a bridge in remembrance of the day that Oba Ewedo constructed a bridge to enable him pass Isekhere territory without his feet touching the ground. After going through Isekhere, the Oba and his entourage then encounters Ogiamien and his men. Both sides engage in a ceremonial mock battle as a reminder of the time when Oba Ewedo moved the seat of power from Uzama to build his palace in Benin, but was strongly resisted by the Ogiamien who held sway in Benin at the time.
The mock battle ends with the Ogiamien’s forces falling apart, securing victory for the Oba and his men. The Ogiamien then signs a treaty ceding all ownership of land to the Oba. The Oba then proceeds to Urho Okpota, in present day Ring Road, around the Oredo local government secretariat. Urho Okpota which means Okpota’s gate dates back to the 15th century. It is named after Okpota who was a power medicine man that made good luck charms for the Oba. The Okpota gate was for a long time a meeting place for high calibre decision making which sometimes involved the Oba. This lead Oba Eweka II to pick the spot for the building of the Native Court, later renamed Exhibition Centre.
The Oba is then crowned publicly by the Oliha, and the Isekhure (chief priest) offers prayers for the Oba’s protection and wellbeing. After the conclusion of ceremonies at Urhokpota, the new Oba then proceeds to the palace for the very first time as Oba.
The various activities that are conducted during the coronation ceremonies of the Oba are intended to prepare him physically, spiritually and otherwise to successfully ascend the throne of his ancestors, and to bring peace and prosperity to the entire Benin kingdom.