How did Ovio migrate from Benin leading to the Origin of Onitsha
How did Ovio migrate from the Benin Kingdon
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. 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, 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.
The establishment of administrative machinery by Ovio
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 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 Obior settlements established by Ovio
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”.
There were already Igbo settlements 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.
The blending of cultures from the west and the east
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.