One of the reactions I received over last week’s column was from Prince Adeyemi of the Ogboru Royal Dynasty of Ile–Ife, to which the last Ooni, Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II (1980 – 2015) belonged, who phoned through GSM number 080 – 3564 – 2462 and said that the Binis are Yorubas. His proof being that in ancient times Benin kings were brought to Ile–Ife for burial in a place that still exists till today, known as Orun Oba Ado, Yoruba words which translate as the heaven (orun) or final place of rest for the king (oba) of Ado (Benin). Ado is the way the Yorubas refer to Edo, the ethnic name of the Binis.
As I told Prince Adeyemi the burying of Benin monarchs in Ile–Ife in ancient times is not an evidence that the Binis originated from Ile–Ife. This must have been because Eweka I, the first king after the collapse of the Ogiso dynasty, was the son of Oranmiyan, the son of Oduduwa and the sixth Ooni of Ife on the official list of Ife traditional rulers, coming after his dad, Osangangan Obamakin, Ogun, Obalufon Ogbogbodirin (Obalufon I) and Obalufon Alayemore (Obalufon II).
It is on record that after the collapse of the Ogiso dynasty and republican administration of some non–royal leaders, when the Ifes decided to bring back the monarchial system, that they sent to Oduduwa to make available to them someone from Ife to be their king. He chose Oranmiyan, but because of opposition to a foreigner ruling them he could not be installed as king and as a result, he returned to Ile-Ife three months after he arrived. But during his stay, he impregnated a Benin woman and the son she gave birth to became Eweka I, the first post – Ogiso dynasty king of Benin.
Although there is no foolproof evidence, there are two indications that Benin might have been founded by a son of Oduduwa, who, the Yorubas, say came from Mecca in Saudi Arabia through Egypt and the Sudan to settle in Ile–Ife, and who acquired a Yoruba name and who since then has been regarded by members of the ethnic nationality as their ancestor. But who the Binis say was their prince, who several decades after their forebear arrived in Benin from Egypt moved to settle in Ile–Ife.
The first indication that Benin might have been founded by a son of Oduduwa is the story in the book: A Short History of Benin, published in 1953 by Benin–born Chief Jacob U. Egharevba, the first curator of the Benin Museum which was established in 1944, who in his book, had this sentence in one of the chapters: “Many many years ago, Odua (another way Oduduwa is written) of Uhe (as the Binis in their dialect refer to Ife), the father and progenitor of Yoruba kings, sent his eldest son, Obagodo, who took the title of Ogiso, with a large retinue all the way from Uhe to found a kingdom in this part of the world.” Meaning that the title of Ogiso used by all the 31 rulers of that dynasty was probably coined from the last four letters of Obagodo’s name, if the word Ogiso, does not have a meaning in the Edo language of the Binis.
But in the fourth edition of his 1953 book released in the 1970s, Egharevba repudiated his story that Benin was founded by Obagodo, Oduduwa’s son. Instead, he said the Binis were a different people who migrated from Egypt to Benin after short stays in the Sudan and Ile – Ife.
The other indication that Benin might have been founded by a son of Oduduwa or people from Ile – Ife, is the story by indigenous authors of the history of Akure that the founder of their town, Prince Omoremi Ekun (alias Asodeboyede), a grandson of Oduduwa and those who established Benin left Ile – Ife at the same time. But it is not clear if this was reference to Obagodo or another person and his team.
The biography of Egharevba, who was born in 1893, which I read on the internet, showed that it was in 1914, when he was 21 years old, that he began interviewing for his book published in 1953, elderly people, probably those who were born between 1830 and 50 and were aged between 64 and 84 years. In other words, he carried out his research over a period of 39 years. For him therefore to have come out to disown his story on Obagodo, suggests that he did so as a result of opposition from Benin elites, particularly Oba Akenzua II, who ruled for 45 years from 1933 – 78 and who was the father of his successor, Oba Erediauwa. They must have told Egharevba that he had made the Binis secondary or inferior to the Yorubas.
But even if Obagodo was truly the first king of the Ogiso dynasty, that did not make him the founder of Benin as he must have met some people there, as was the case when Oduduwa, his father, arrived in Ile–Ife. Like his old man, it just meant that Obagodo had superior weapons and was either able to conquer the indigenous people of Ife or to intimidate them into accepting him their monarch.
I am making this point to show that while the traditional rulers of the Ogiso dynasty and those after them who have been reigning in Benin from 1180 to date (a period of 836 years), were the descendants of Oduduwa, that this does not make the Binis to be Yorubas. Except proof can be provided that Benin was not occupied by people when Obagodo and his entourage arrived, or that he came with people who were doubled the size or more of those they met in Ile – Ife.
Although the Benin language, like the other Kwa language people of Africa, have some words that are similar, they are not Yorubas because they have a different language and do not bear Yoruba names, except the Edo – Akures among them whose father and mother come from either Akure or Benin. They are unlike the Itsekiris of Delta State who migrated from Ijebu land or parts of Ondo State, who till today bear Yoruba names, though spelt differently and whose language is very close or similar to Yoruba in words and tonal rendition.
The Benin version of Oduduwa’s origin which made him a Benin prince called Ekhaladeran, who migrated to Ile – Ife and changed his name to a Yoruba one which came up in the 1980s was made popular by Oba Erediauwa who succeeded his dad in 1979. He did this in his autobiography published in 2004 with the title “I Remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant” in an effort to counter the Yorubas who said as a descendant of Oduduwa he was the third – in – rank after the Ooni of Ife and the Alaafin of Oyo in the hierarchy of Yoruba obas world – wide.
The Oba Erediauwa came up with the Benin version in his book because the late Oba Okunade Sijuwade, Olubuse II, the Ooni of Ife from December 1980 – July, 2015, who in 1981 or 82 styled himself as His Imperial Majesty, on occasions made reference to Benin connection with the Yorubas in public statements. So, Oba Erediauwa had to present Oduduwa as a Benin prince to portray the Yorubas as Benin people who migrated to Ile – Ife and other parts of Yoruba land and that Benin kings were not Yorubas and so cannot be classified among Yoruba obas, let alone placing him in number three position.
•For continuation next week Wednesday