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The Origin of Benin Tributary Communities

Evidence gathered during this research point to the fact that political institutions found in most south-central communities such as Ishan, Afenmai, Ika-Igbo, Urhobo, etc, couldn’t have been imposed by imperial Benin force, but rather as a result of the very origin of the founders of those tributary towns and communities indeed originating from Benin – their ancestral home. People could only claim foreign origin for a while but not forever or for all the time more so as centuries have passed since the end of wars and colonialism to enable the people free to rehash their hidden origin from other authentic sources. Nobody, in contemporary history, had ever disputed the origin of Onitsha from Benin. Onitsha, having prospered over the years in trade and commerce, produced the best educated in Igbo land, amongst whom was the first President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, could have produced any evidence at their disposal to point or remind us of any other origin legend other than from Benin. The only seeming contestation had been whether Eze Chima was of Igbo or Benin extraction. The Onitsha custodians of history and most line historians believe he is of Benin extraction. The Onitsha people seem to be comfortable, and rightly proud of their source – Benin – despite over 500 years of their founding.
The researcher is in total alliance with those who claim that no comprehensive study (ies) has yet been carried out by historians and anthropologists in respect of the relationships which could have existed amongst crowned kings in the pre-1880 period in the south-central region including Onitsha. Not until this is done, can we actually hypothesize on the contacts, links and connections that impelled them to periodically confer with Benin on settlement of kingship disputes and even on the crowning of their kings. The entire pre-colonial political matrix of that region couldn’t have been a shared common heritage of all the peoples living in that region or occurring simultaneously but rather must have had “its fons et origo” from Benin, which apart from being the only Empire at that time in that region but must have been the actual origin of most of the towns and communities bordering Benin. This position is akin to the fact that the first king of Benin, Oba Eweka I, whose regalia came from the Yoruba City of Ife and whose body after death was interred there, are primarily pointers to the linkages existing between Benin and Ife. So also must have been the linkages between most south-central communities and Onitsha to warrant them confer with Benin on kingship ceremonies, rituals, and rights. More archaeological studies are required in this respect because as Andah puts it “the historian of the narrow school relies solely on written records, whereas the historian less restricted in the sources he consults, considers unwritten sources equally vital, wherever such is available”. This is most apt because “it has been repeatedly demonstrated that traditional historical investigations based on written documents are very inadequate for the tasks facing historians”.
The orthodoxy of the Benin Empire were not largely based on Benin traditions but also on the traditions of the people in Onitsha and the Ika-Igbo environs where, for example, the Obi of Onitsha and his historical custodian strongly believe that their origin was from Benin even though with elements of Igala and Nri influence. How else or otherwise can their own side of the history be told!?. Even in Obior, their own side of the story was narrated in favor of Benin as their source of origin.
From all the debates on the subject-matter of the origins of the people of Onitsha, it is indisputable that out of Benin must have sprouted Onitsha and even most of the towns and villages in the south-central region. This could had been through emigrations arising from wars or disputes over kingship rights.
The different narratives by authors and researchers of Edo people originating from the Middle East all, in the opinion of the researcher, fall within the ambit of factoids, which repeated over time have become make-beliefs which in no way are supported in Benin or elsewhere by any evidence. Had this been so, artifacts from Benin, their language, elements of their culture, tradition and religion could have had a tinge of some semblance. They seem to be attempts to link the African tribes to the biblical Adam and Eve. When one looks at, or studies the artifacts from Egypt and Benin, one would be convinced that they stand and remain unique on their own and share nothing in common in terms of aesthetics or form.
It is the opinion of the researcher that there could have been a wave of movement as a result of Osawe’s (Oba Esigie’s) and Arhuanran’s imbroglio at Udo, which some researchers believe might probably have been the reason Ehime (Chima) left Udo with his retinue to found another land.
One could also readily deduce that the wave of movement during the reign of Oba Ewuare, was attendant to a decree issued in his reign – as a result of the loss of two of his sons (Kuoboyuwa and Ezuwarha), after poisoning themselves on the same day – “forbidding anyone in the land of either sex to wash and dress up, or have carnal intercourse for three years108. This law, however, caused great confusion, for a large number of the citizens migrated to various places. The Oba, seeing the country was gradually being depopulated, revoked his law on the advice of an aged man known as Omaen n’Erokhin (Old Man Chameleon). But this had no effect because the emigrants refused to return home. To prevent any further desertion, Ewuare sent word to all rulers of neighbouring states to give no refuge to his deserting subjects, and he began to tatoo their bodies so that they might easily be known and identified amongst the people or other tribes”.
It is the view of this researcher that, firstly, it is not impossible that the name ‘Onicha (Onitsha)’ could have also been derived from the name ‘Oni-Oni’, who, according to Belo-Osagie, was the only son of Arhuanran who died in the fiercest battle of Okuo-Ukpoba (battle of blood) between Oba Esigie’s and Arhuanran’s troops. Arhuanran, it will be recalled, was the brother to Oba Esigie, as earlier mentioned above, and lived in Udo – a rival city in the southern part of present day Benin and from whence the Onitsha people believe their progenitor – Eze Chima – must have migrated with his people. Perhaps after this epic battle, He as well decided to name their new found land after the name of Arhuanran’s only son. Secondly, it would have been risky for Eze Chima and his followers to have passed through Benin Kingdom in the course of their migration due to the conflict between Oba Esigie and the people of Udo. It is possible that the Onitsha people got their name from the Bini word “Onisan” which means “South”. It is noteworthy to say that Udo where these people migrated from is situated in the present day Ovia-South West of Edo State. These people must have migrated southwards, passing through a safe route before getting to Agbor. It is possible, that as they journeyed, they must have addressed themselves as “The people from the South” as they did not have a name during the period of their migration. Along the line, the name “Onisan” stuck, which was eventually corrupted to “Onicha”.
From the foregoing, the researcher is also of the candid opinion that what must have spurred Chima and his followers or kindred to have left their homeland in Benin Kingdom must have been of such monumental importance related to their lives or livelihood such as a struggle that could have culminated in a bloody battle, if they decided to remain.
The researcher accepts the postulation that Eze Chima must have passed through Agbor to Obior, where he died and was buried and disagrees with the Agbor school of thought that portrays Chima coming back to the west to found Agbor after getting to Obior, where he died. This, to the researcher is not plausible. The likelihood is that Chima must have settled in various locations, and founded communities along his peripatetic sojourn until he, and his kindred, finally got to Onitsha. There is no doubt that Chima hailed from Benin despite his Igbo name, which must have been corrupted as he moved along strange lands with various languages and dialects.
The incumbent Obi of Onitsha, Obi Achebe himself, has wrapped up this postulation when in the interview conducted by the National Standard, he stated, inter alia:
It is a historical fact that our founding father, Eze Chima, led his people on a migration eastward from Benin and they eventually settled in Onitsha. Eze Chima never made it to Onitsha as he passed away on the way but his children eventually settled in Onitsha. The reasons for the migration remains unclear as there are different versions but it would appear there was a misunderstanding within the royal court house and Chima decided to leave with those with him and they settled at Onitsha. And because we migrated from Benin, there is a direct cultural link between us and Benin.
The researcher strongly aligns with this affirmative declaration from the Obi of Onitsha especially as corroborated by the majority of the researchers, historians and contributors to this research.
There seem to be a thin line between folklore and factoids of history. But facts of history remain facts particularly when affirmed by the custodian of the people’s legend origin. It is on this premise that the researcher strongly believes in the origin of Onitsha as having arisen from Benin. Could the Udo Shrine, where Eze Chima’s remains (locks of hair and nails) were interred, and which till this day is the site of the coronation of the Obi of Onitsha had been derived from the source of the Onitsha origin in Udo near present day Benin?
Could this have been a coincidence of names?. If so, what a coincidence!. It definitely must have been derived in remembrance of their source of origin-Udo. One should also not forget that the Benin crown their Kings at Uzama- the site where Oranmiyan resided while in Benin- in remembrance of their progenitor Oba- Oranmiyan.
Historians may have to dissect this new view by Oba Ewuare II as being the 40th Oba of Benin in the future as certain questions seem imminent. Are there historical records to affirm that Oranmiyan was crowned an Oba in Benin, when he arrived here circa 12th Century? On the one hand, Oba Erediauwa, the father of the incumbent reigning Oba of Benin had stated earlier above that “the first incumbent was a native born of Edo. It should be noted also that the dynasty had Ife antecedents but it was rooted on Benin soil”. The Oba further underscores these conclusions by stating that “One can safely conclude from the evidence available that Eweka was the first Oba to rule in Benin, and that he had a Bini mother. The precise date of his reign is not absolutely certain, because Egharevba gives the date as 1200 AD, and Talbot and Bradbury around 1300 AD”. On the other hand, Igbafe posits that Benin traditions are not unanimous on whether Oranminyan or Eweka, his son by a Benin woman, first ruled in Benin as Oba of the new dynasty. The balance of evidence favors Eweka. The new dynasty therefore had Ife antecedents, though rooted on Benin soil. Oranmiyan could have been an administrator and not an Oba in Benin.

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