Culture and cultural relativism of Onitsha group of people is an Interesting Study. While discussing inter-group relations and the founding of communities from Benin, in A Short Story of Benin, Egharevba asserts, amongst others, that Ovio, who was the richest man in Benin in his time during the first period of the Benin Empire (Ogiso Period), emigrated from Benin.
What Culture is Onitsha From
He claims that the man Ovio had many wives and children, slaves and cattle, and a great following. Knowing that he was badly hated by the royal party, Ovio warned his people and followers to take care and took precautions never to offend the royal party in either word or deed or go against their culture, and he strictly restrained himself. Nevertheless he was falsely charged by the royal party with the offence of impersonating the Ogisos in every way, whereas everyone knew this to be a false charge.
Ovio did all in his efforts to make peace with the Ogiso but all proved fruitless and abortive. In order to avoid unnecessary evil war, bloodshed and destruction of property, Ovio ultimately migrated from Benin City with his people and followers and became the founder of a place known by his name, Ovio, or, as it is now called, Obior, in Asaba Division. He was very comfortable there with his people and followers throughout his days and his descendants are still there at the present day.
Cultural values and cultural care of Ovio-Onitsha factor
Okwechime took a cue from Egharevba’s narrative by further asserting that when Ovio settled in his new home, he established administrative machinery similar to that in his ancestral Benin. All Benin social, economic, religious and cultural values and cultural care were upheld and the folktales were reflections of Benin mythology. His farmland was extensive, covering the area today known as Onicha-Ugbo. He discovered the mysterious Mkpitime Lake and planted a number of cash and food crops including the igbodo leaves (akwukwo igbodo) for the roofing of houses and packaging of foods. It is this leaf that gave the name to the space between today’s Obior and Onicha-Ugbo called Igbodo in Ika North East Local Government Area of Delta State.
The migration of this influential Benin Chief to a settlement today called Obior, some distance beyond the then sphere of influence of the Ogiso, could not have been later than 1170 AD. Citing Egharevba, Okwechime further states that according to Benin tradition, the rule of Ogiso kings was abolished with the banishment of Ogiso Owodo in 1170 AD for” maladministration and especially for the commission of ‘kirikuvua’, that is, for ordering the execution of a pregnant woman”.
Igbo settlements have sprouted near Ovio’s new abode between 1100 and 1400 AD, up to a little beyond Agbor. It is therefore, understandable that on settling down in his new environment, his community affected his new neighbors in some ways and these neighbors, in turn, had tremendous social and cultural effects on his community.
Ovio established a flourishing kingdom in Obior and many generations of his children and followers lived in the town for centuries after him. Through economic and social interaction, particularly trade and marriage with their neighbors with Igbo ancestry namely Asaba, Ibusa, Ogwashi-Uku and Ubulu clans, their ancestral Benin Language became adulterated and gradually gave way to a dialect of Igbo since all interactions with Benin had been halted for centuries. Their kings became known as Eze or Obi. They began to bear a mixture of Benin and Igbo names and acquired some religious practices from itinerant ritual specialist from Nri (Nshi – the ancestral home of most Igbo migrants into the West Niger Area) who traveled “through much of east and west Igbo land, purifying communities from abominations” (Isichei, 1976, p. 10)
They, however, retained some of the customs, institutions, style of dress and religious practices of Benin including the worship of the gods. And the legendary Ogiso continued (even to this day) to feature in their folktales, a reflection of the era of Ovio’s domicile in the ancient kingdom of the Ogiso – Benin (Idu). But through contact with Igbo culture, Ovio’s descendants acquired such Nri customs as Ozo title taking and absorbed the consultation of Afa and some other Igbo religious practices.
Thus, their religion became a blend of Benin and Nri modes. The names of their deities are in part of Benin origin and in part of Igbo origin. However, the chieftaincy system of and the hereditary monarchical system are definitely relics of the Benin origin of the original settlers – the ruling family. Ovio, according to Okwechime, was indeed of Benin extraction.
Eze Chime Kingship
Eze Chime founding father of Onitsha, who ruled over Ovio people at the time of the Benin invasion of Ubulu kingdom and the subsequent exodus from Obior, had thus become the starting point and centre of a new epoch in the life of the people. It is no surprise, therefore, that the communities, which evolved as a result of the exodus from Obior, were and have continued to be known as Umu-Eze-Chime — the children of Eze Chime (children of King Chime). Eze Chime was therefore, as has now become evident, of Benin ancestry. But, according to Okwechime, he was not the one who led the flight from Benin. The exodus from Benin took place no less than five centuries before his time.
Afigbo, on the other hand, claims that “a tradition has recently come to light that Chima, the legendary ancestor of the Onitsha people, who the latter believed to have been a Benin refugee, was an Aro oracle agent and slave dealer. Chima is a name encountered mostly among the Aro, but this tradition just referred to require further detailed and critical investigation”.
However, Afigbo believes that Eze Chime was in terms of culture neither a Benin warrior as some traditions claim nor a priest-king as were the kings Nri. He was also not a great traditional medicine man or diviner as were Ezemu of Ubulu kingdom and Eze Okwunye of Idumuje kingdom. If he were, present day diviners would probably still be invoking his departed spirit in their divination rites as they still do to the spirits of Ezemu and Eze Okwunye. Rather, like his ancestors before him, Eze Chime was a descendant of Ovio and a peaceful wealthy and industrious king who ruled and reigned in a magnanimous fashion and taught his children the virtues of healthy communal life and filial love.
The Emigration Connection
Nevertheless, one should not brush aside emigrations, which as earlier noted by Egharevba, were very common in those days because of the atrocious hearts of the people.
For example, during Ozolua’s time (about 1481 AD) there were many migrations from Benin. The Ora people are descendants of Uguan, one of the sons of Ozolua whom he left behind when he returned from exile. Sobe (Uhobe), Ijagba and Uhie were founded after Ozolua’s death by some of the soldiers who went with him to the Uzea war. Ifon was founded by the soldiers of Ozolua and eight people who migrated from Yoruba-land. The Ishans are early Benin people and their Enigie or Enije were mostly princes of Benin, sent there as chiefs by various Obas.
It is also instructive that as a result of emigrations attendant to wars, many towns and communities were founded by emigrants from Benin. For instance, after the defeat of Arhuanran (Arhuanran was actually born first before Osawe, who later became Oba Esigie, but his birth was not reported to the Oba until many hours after the announcement of the birth of Osawe, so Arhuanran was regarded as the junior according to custom) by Oba Esigie (Osawe) in the fiercest battle of Okuo-Ukpoba (Battle of Blood) in which Oni-oni, the only son of Arhuanran, was killed, and to avoid being taken prisoner, Arhuanran drowned himself in the lake Odighi n‘Udo.