Cultural Wars and National Identity


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Cultural Wars and National Identity

- The Saga of the Yoruba and the Bini-Edo



Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD
Burtonsville, MD, USA

May 19, 2004



Recent discussions about the relationships - or non-relationship - of the Yoruba and the Bini-Edo have been quite interesting, but in some instances pretty disconcerting.

On April 29, 2004 at the Lagos launching of his forty-year-in-the-making autobiography, "I remain, Sir, Your Obedient Servant", the Omo N'Oba N'Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Eradiauwa, threw a stink-bomb onto the Yoruba cultural space by claiming on Page 205 that the Yoruba progenitor Oduduwa was really the run-away prince Ekaladerhan from Igodo (Benin), then being ruled by his father Ogiso Owodo who ascended the throne about 1068.  Ekaladerhan, reportedly born in  1070 and exiled in 1084, the story was that about 70 years later, still without a royal male heir to rule after the death of Owodo, a pleading Bini-land sent off to now Ooni of Ife Oduduwa to be their king.  Pleading old age, he instead sent his (oldest or youngest?) son Oranmiyan (alternatively called Oranyan, and according to the Bini, corrupted from the Bini name "Aigbovo Omonoyan.")  Unable later on  to assert his royal authority despite the invitation, Oranmiyan reportedly left Bini-land in 1163 AD after two years and returned to Ife in anger, but not before re-naming Igodo(migodo)  "Ile-Ibinu" (the land of anger) and sir-ing a son Eweka, who, being born by a Bini princess on Bini soil,  became  accepted as the first Oba of Benin Eweka I around 1180.  [Oranmiyan was by tradition reported to move on to found Oyo - or was it his son Oranyan?]

The dynasty of the Ogisos thereby gave way to the dynasty of the Obas around 1180 AD.

This story has been told before, no doubt, but coming anew in writing from the Omo N'Oba in the year 2004 has been a little too much to bear for the Yoruba.  Certainly, the Ooni of Ife, Alaiyeluwa Oba Okunade Adele Sijuwade (Olubushe II) would hear none of it - and promptly denounced it as he was obliged to as modern-day hagiography -  nor would the eminent Professor of History Jacob F. Ade Ajayi, who has now been commissioned  by the Yoruba Council of Elders (Igbimo Agba Yoruba) to do a scholarly rebuttal  

Mind you, the Oduduwa-Oranmiyan-Eweka connection between Ife and Benin from the side of the Yoruba history is also well-agreed, but to the Yoruba, certainly Oduduwa came from the Eastern Sky on a Chain from Heaven.  In short, the Yoruba are uncertain where he came from,  but he certainly did not come with a Bini twang, breathing heavily with would-be-executioners on his tail.  To make such a claim smacked of both cultural hegemony and imperial arrogance on the part of the Bini-Edo - not to talk of a hint of monarchical superiority - a notion now assigned to a disingenuous attempt to permanently re-write history on the part of the Omo N'Oba.  Whether the mythical Oduduwa-from-the-Sky (in Yoruba creationism) got conflated with a human Oduduwa who later performed political and mystical wonders at Ile-Ife - as speculated by E. Bolaji Idowu - remains a mystery, which the Bini cannot, should not, dare not thereby try to solve for the Yoruba.

The Bini (not the Edos actually) are free to make all kinds of cultural claims, but are not free to annoy the neighboring people around them - the Urhobos, Itsekiri, Etsako, even the Ishan and Owan, or the Yoruba for that matter.   In fact, as some of the discourse has since revealed, some of these neighbors, even those termed "Edoid", have over the years tactically been bailing themselves out of these "neo-colonial" claims. 


The fact of the matter is that otherwise autochtonous but geographically-nearby indigenous people have, over many centuries, received waves and waves of Bini immigrants.  These immigrants were displaced either because of internal oppression within Bini-land (whether as Igodo, or Ile-Ibinu, or Ibini or Ile or Edo), or else assigned as resident overseers after numerous external aggression campaigns during various great empire periods of the Ogisos (ending with Owodo in about 1091) and of the Obas (starting with Eweka I in  about 1180), with an interregnum of non-royal administrators.   This statement is not a reflection on the Bini people but on their monarchs; it is axiomatic that the history of people should not be confused with that of their monarchs, nor should the villainy of the monarchs be confused with that of their often-time victim-subjects.

These indigenous peoples have naturally been influenced by both Bini language and culture, only later to be described as "Edoid" by foreign linguists seeking patterns of language, much to the chagrin to those who know, but strangely welcomed by some of them who are ignorant of their own hi-story,.  Sometimes "high-story" has thereby turned into "low-story."  To have what has been classified an "Edoid" language does not make you "Edo" just as to have a "Germanic" language does not make you German, or "Slavic" language make you - a Slave!  :-)

The Etsako language and the Bini language are for example mutually unintelligible, but they are both classified "Edoid" because fragments of Bini language and culture can be found in Etsako-land (Afenmai)!  The very Bini language description "Ivbiosakon" ("The people who file their teeth") from which "Etsako" is purportedly derived is either the complimentary appellation of a commendable hygienic practice, or else the derogotary characterization of a primitive engagement.

On the other hand, the Urhobo appear to trace their migrant relationship to the Bini to the Ogiso period that is notoriously remembered in their folklore. In fact, to them there is this one single proverbial "Ogiso" whose first wife was the troublesome "Inarhe", making all troublesome Urbobo women "Inarhes" according to Urhobo men.  Whether this Ogiso was Iwodo whose "amazon" wife Esagho tried to get her stepson and heir to the throne,  the 14-year-old Ekaladerhan, killed on wrong accusation of infanticidal witchcraft is unknown and unknowable - or is really one of two female Ogisos (out of a total of 31) - is purely my speculation!

My point is that the Bini to many of these people are like what the English are to say Wales, Scotland and (Northern) Ireland.  Outside the UK or Great Britain, "British" or "English" are virtually the same, to the unknowing or to the careless or carefree.  For example, many of the British colonialists were Welsh and Scotsmen, but who cared?  They were all "Oyibo" to many a Yoruba, although "Geesi" became "English" as the Yoruba got wiser to their antics. But call a "Welsh" person "English", and watch out: he might just punch you out!


In all my cyberspace contributions on this interesting saga - which predate this latest Ooni/OmoN"Oba royal spat -  I have borne in mind my own proud triple heritage as an Ekiti-Yoruba (on my father's side, from Ode), Western Ijaw (on my mother's father's side; from Ikoro) and an Owan-Edo (from my mother's mother's side; from Arokho).  My maternal grandfather's mother was Itsekiri and his first two wives were Itsekiri before he married my Owan grandmother, so the Itsekiri culture is strong, almost overwhelming in my mother's family.  My first four years in life were spent at Ekpoma (Ishan-land), ward of my grandmother while my parents went abroad to seek the "golden fleece".  So I spoke Esan before I could speak a single word of Yoruba.  

Consequentaly, my abiding principle has been simple: any cultural people can make all kinds of INTERNAL CLAIMS that they want, however fantastic, including their progenitor climbing down a chain from Heaven (as the Yoruba claim Oduduwa to have done).  However, they must be VERY CAREFUL to be sensitive when such claims cross their own cultural borders and intersect the history of others, else they degenerate into claims of superiority or inferiority, which are the first bus stop to hatred and wars, which we really cannot afford.

For example, I cannot prove or disprove whether Oduduwa and Ekaladerhan are the same person or not. But for the Bini, particularly a high person like the Omo N'Oba, to make such an assertion without being able to prove it - and to make it so positively - is to invite major angst, which will not go away very soon.

We should all remain vigilant, and confront with class and civility any attempts at cultural hegemony and revanchist internal re-colonization.  All of these have some bearings on what it really means to be at the same time both a local indigene AND a national citizen of Nigeria with inalienable rights.  It is the lack of resolution of these knotty issues that has had some disastrous consequences in Ife-Modakeke, Aguleri-Umuleri, Warri (among the Urhobos, the Itsekiris and the Ijaws), in Ogoni-land, in Zaki-Biam as well as in Yelwa-Shendam, just to name a few ethnic hotspots in Nigeria,

By the way, in closing, I am not a monarchist, and would not miss a moment of sleep if the Obas and Emirs and Obi/Ezes etc. all walked away from their thrones and shed their bejewelled crowns.  But that should be the democratic choice of their "subjects" who currently tolerate them, not mass regicide by decree.

Best wishes always, and farewell to these particular arms.


The Benin-Ife Connection - Oba Erediauwa
April 29, 2005
Ooni Faults Omo N'Oba's Claim on Oduduwa
How the Oba of Benin Goofed - by the Ooni of Ife
May 2, 2004
"You Can't Just Wake Up and Say Oduduwa was a Benin Prince " - Prof. J. F. Ade Ajayi
May 16, 2004
"Ogiso Times and Eweka Times: A Prelim History of Edoid Complex of Cultures (I)"
By Peter Ekeh  [Fourth Chief Jacob U. Egharevba Memorial Lecture, under the auspices
of the Institute for Benin Studies, 14 December, 2001]
The "Ile-Ibinu" Question by Nowa Omoigui

"Olodumare:  God in Yoruba Belief", E. Bolaji Idowu (1994; Wazobia Press.) First published in 1962


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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.