Benin-city and Issele-Uku are historic places in former Bendel State of Nigeria. Benin city was the capital of the state while Issele-Uku is a town in Aniocha Local Government Area. The distance between the two towns is about 90 kilometres – 54 miles.
Right from the 13th Century Isi-Ile-Uku (Issele-Uku) has had connections with Benin “Bini” and the Umuezechima. Oba Esigie in giving the royal broze mask to Obi Oligbo on his enthronement at Benin-city in the early 16th century, re-emphasized that Issele-Uku was the Oba’s representative on the Eastern extremity of the Benin Empire.
This was testified to by his Royal Highness Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Akenzua II on the 11th of February, 1976. when he said;
The Bronze mask was given out by Oba Esigie to Obio Oligbo of Issele – Uku to symbolize his position as the Oba’s authoritative representative in the Eastern extremities of the former Benin Empire. The bronze Mask is the face of Oba Esigie, while the festac Ivory Mask still in London, is the face of Queen Mother Idia of Beinin.1
Historically, it is said that as far back as the 13th century, the Oba of Benin, Oba Eweka I appointed the first Ogie “king” of Isi-Ile-Uke (Issele-Uku) kingdom to take charge of the Eastern extremities of the former Benin Empire, to ward off any suprice attack from enemies and check foreign invasion from across the River Niger – (Ohim), and also establish Edo’ presence in the area. Oba Eweka I is said to have crowned Ogie Uwadiei and sent him along with other group of Edos to rule Issele-Uku. There were warriors, statesmen and women, including their children, wards and servants from Ogbe Enaekpan, Ogbe Eribo, Ugbeka, Idumu Inele Ibiwe, Idumu Igun, Idumu Iken of Uselu, Idumu Oliha, Idumu Ezemo Nuzebu.2
The quarters they occupied are still existing in Issele-Uku till this present day, and they are known as: Ogbeofu, Ishiekpe, Ogboli, Ogbidibo, Idumuinei, Idumuzu, Idumu Ozoma and Idumu-Onishe.
At the same time, the Binis came along with their ways of life; – Culture, Religion and Worship, Administration, kingship system and BiniArt. The influence is still very evident in the language of Issele Uku-people.
The Issele-Uku people speak a language that is very close to that of the Igbos. And what has not been understood by so many people outside and even the Issele-Uku people, is how the Ibo language gained dominance among the Edo-people of Issele Uku.
This research work will clear the air on this issue. In the literal life of the Issele-Uku people, the community is very conscious of its Kith and kin both in Benin and others scattered in other lands. Since the first exodus from the kingdom led by Prince Ohneze across the River Niger to found Onitsha mili and other subsequent immigrations the Issele-Uku people are always remembered in Benin in their prayers and rituals, which is still in practice in Benin, and they say things such as,
Ndu Umu Isina Umu I ye or lle” meaning for the health of the Children of Isi-Ile-Uku and the children of Ile Ighodomigbo (Benin). “Umum no Olu, Umum no Igbo” meaning my children that are in Oluland along het bank of the River Niger and Igboland – those other Issele-Uku people of Ikem – Nnado.
THE PEOPLE OF ISSELE – UKU KINGDOM
Just like it has been said above, the people of Issele – Uku migrated from the Benin-empire, which means that they are Binis. They are like an extension of the Benin kingdom in the eastern extremities.
They share similarities in culture with the Issele –Uku people. The people of Issele-Uku have similar events, such as festivals, land tenures systems and even societies with the Binis.
The Issele-Uku people speak the Ika-Ibo language, which we call the “Enuani”. The Enuani has more similarities with the Ibo language, than it does with the Benin language, but this does not mean that we have any thing to do with the Ibos. As we all know, the Ibos in their adventurous nature, in the ancient days established friendly contacts with the people of Issele-Uku kingdom more especially the Anams and the Aguleris, mainly through trade and commerce.
…The constancy of the association with the Ibos helped and influenced the change of Edo language among the Issele-Uku people to the present day – Ibo – Issele – Uku language of Enuain or the Ika-Ibo dialect, which is still full of Benin words.4
Thus, though the Issele-Uku community still speak the Ibo language, but they cannot and will never refer to themselves as Igbos because they are very conscious of their Edo-Benin ancestoral origin.
One other factor that influenced the change in language from the pure Bini language to the Ibo-Bini (Enuani) or (Ika-Ibo) language was marriage: through trade, the Ibos settled in Issele-Uku kingdom. Our own people could not swim across the River Niger, so only the Ibos could swim across, so they came and settle and then married from the Issele-Uku people.
The people of Issele-Uku, are still very conscious of the Sacred nature of the River Niger and its banks (ubom), hence the yams cultivated on the banks of the great river “Ji ani olu or ji Anam” do not require any further purification before they are eaten ‘Nso adiasolu ubom”, neither were they used for the rituals of the new yam festivals which is part of the ceremonies of the Ine festival in Issele-Uku rather, the yams cultivated in the heaterland (Ji enu ani) were used for the rituals of the new yam festivals.
ISI-ILE-UKU “ISSELE –UKU” KINGDOM. (LAND)
ISI-ILE-UKU, which was the original name from Benin; but because of the change in language is now referred to as Issele – Uku kingdom was founded by the Binis in about 1230 AD by Oba Eweka I of Benin Empire and first Ogie of the new kingdom, was prince Uwadiaie who was the second son of Oba Eweka I.
The original name of this kingdom that was carried out of Benin Empire – “ISI-ILE-UKU”, signifies relationship with the Benins and Oba of Benin-city “Uku Akpolokpolo omonoba n’edo’5
When Oba Eweka I created the new Benin outpost of Isi- lle- Uku, now pronounced Issele-Uku, his main objective was to check and stop the influx of people from East of the River Niger, and people from Igala land into the Edo land West of the River Niger, for farming and fishing operations. Also, to use Isi-Iie-Uku the new out post and kingdom as a defence out post to the Benin Empire and more over, for expansion purposes.
Isi-Ile-Uku was also to re-enforce the other Bini-Yorubas, of Ukwu – Nzu “Olukwum” people and town founded by Oba Oranmiyan on his return to rule Benin from Ile-Ife “Utte”. He was the father of Oba Eweka I of Benin. Infact, it was at Ukwunzu that Oba Oranmiyan of Benin installed his Yoruba deity – ORISHA – AKODI now called Onicha – Kodi by the people of Nkwunzu and the environs and he instituted an OHEN now called Ohene: high priest to worship and maintain the deity.6
Today the Olukwumis are bi-linguals, speaking the same type of Yoruba –bini with their Itsekiris and user their kith and kin, along with Issele-Uku, Ika-Ibo language up-till present, the Olukwumis call strangers ISILE. This goes to confirm that the first strangers the people of Ohakwuni came to associate with in this area, were the people of Isi-Ile-Uku.
Prince Uwadiaie the second son of Oba Eweka I was crowned Ogie ‘king’, by his father Oba Eweka I of Benin Empire about 1230 AD. and sent to rule the Bini new kingdom of ISI-ILE-UKU in company of warriors, a group of administrators, chief other princes of the royal family of Benin from Ogbe. Ehaekpen, Idumu inaleibiwe, Idumu Igun, Idumu Iken, Idumu Eribo, Idumu Ezemo, Idumu Oliha, Idumu Ihamu, Idumu Isama, and Idumu Ugboka. Members of the royal families of Benin were settled at Ehaekpen of Issele-Uku.
This Benin quarters are still in existence in Issele-Uku, but the name have been tilted, due to the change in language, and they are now called: Ogbe and Idumu; Ishieakpe, Ogbidibo, Idumu – Inele Ebigwe, Idumu Uzu, Idumu IKem, Idumu Ozonma,, Iduma, Idumu Onishe, Idumu Ihama, Idumu Isana and Idumy Edemoka “Umu-edumoka” at Ogboli.
The land is very historic, Issele-Uku, is sited in the former Bendel State of Nigeria. Benin city was the state capital, while Issele Uku was in Aniocha, now Aniocha North Local Government Area. The distance between Benin and Issele-Uku is about 90 kilometers.7
Names of most Issele Uku people, especially in the ancient days were in Edo or Benin names, this goes to show the ties between the Issele-Uku people and the Edo-Benin people. i.e. Ogiwe, Osakwe, Osiegbu, Osubo, Osu, Osegbovu, Omofoma, Usiofo, Idia Afumata, Ofomata, Ikhimi etc.
As mentioned earlier, gradually the Ibo language became more dominant, but it was the culture of the Binis – pegan worship, chieftaincy, kingship tradition and craft that triumphed. But linguistically, Issele-Uku Ika-Ibo dialect is today full of words, names and titles that are of Benin origin.
Issele-Uku dynasties were of the Benin origin from the first to the present the first being Ogie (king) Uwadie who started the Issele-Uku kingdom, ruled from about 1230 to 1290 A.D. which was the first era. From thence the Issele – Uku people have had 19 other kings which is now called Obi.9
The most prominent and famous of them all was the last before the present who is Obi (King) Osemene III. He schooled at Port Harcourt, and college in Asaba. He worked with a host of companies, including the ministries in Ibadan. He was a sportsman, played football from his high school days in Port Harcourt, college in Asaba, Ize also played for the Western Rovers of Ibadan, also played for Oba Akenzua II football club, Benin city, he also played for the Benin eleven and also the Nigerian Green Eagles. He played in the western royal team that played against the English touring team of 1958 and the Nigeria Ghana matches.
He pulled down the old relics of his father’s building which were near to ruins and they were dilapidating, and he mounted a new modern building which is still standing till present day. He was a member of the mid-western house of Chiefs – 1964 to 1966 before the civil war broke out, and he is a life member of the common – Wealth British overseas leagues.
The Nigerian-Biafra war sent him on a temporary self exile to live in Biafra. He left his place at Issele –Uku, but returned at the end of the war in 1970 to continue his reign on the throne.
Most importantly, during the FESTAC 77, which was famous for its wide recognition, and which caught int’l attention. He went to Lagos where he presented the famous Oba Esigie of Benin’s royal Bronze mask, which was given as a royal gift by Oba Esigie to Obi Oligbo of Issele Uku kingdom. He was invited by the Nigerian government with the mask, to be displayed in FESTAC 77, after Oba Akenzua II of Benin had confirmed the historic nature and value of the royal mask at Issele-Uku palace. The mask was returned to Obi Osemene III at the end of the FESTAC 77, in Lagos.
SOME OF THE UMUEZE CHIMA TOWNS
Division started with Princess Obio the eldest child of Eze Ikhimi (Chima), Prince Ohaeze grand son of Eze Chima and eldest son of Prince Orisha (Onicha) who was the eldest son of Eze-Chima, but Oricha had died while his father was still alive and reigning on the throne of Issele-Uku.10
The history of Ezechima clan the Umu Ezechima was as a result of a bitter quarrel between the direct descendants of King Chima and his grand children at the King’s death at Issele – Uku. Over who should bury the dead King Chima, and thereafter inherit the ancient throne of Issele-Uku kingdom. This happened in 1505 and the quarrel later generated in disintegration of Issele-Uku kingdom which was originally created by Oba Eweka I of Benin in about 1230 AD.
Eze Chima was the fifth King of Issele Uku kingdom and he reigned after his father Eze Ise, who had substituted the word Ogie meaning king, to Eze which means king in Edo also. The struggle for Issele – Uku kingdom was between, Princess Obio, first daughter of Eze Chima. Prince Oligbo, who became the only direct son after the death of his elder brother Onicha-abo, but he was the second, and had an elder sister. The 3rd person in contention was the surviving son of late Prince Onicha-abo; the first son of Eze-Chima, (dead): who is a grandson of Eze Chima, Prince Ohaeze. Prince Oligbo who was the only direct son won the case in Benin, but the rest were compensated.
UMU-EZE CHIMA COMMUNITIES
The following towns will be listed in their order of importance.
ISI-ILE-UKU KINGDOM: (Issele-Uku) this is the original home of the children of Eze-Chima.
Obamkpa: was formed by Obakpa who was a native doctor, but the land was later invaded by Issele-Uku people and ruled by Prince Anagba the Second son of Eze-Ise.
Onitsha – Milli: Founded by Prince Ohaeze, the son of the late first son of Eze Chima who lost to Oligbo in Benin.11
Obio Town: Founded by Princes Obio and her husband Chief Akogwu Ukpali of Issele-Uku, in a about 1507.
Onicha Olona Town: This was the first town, Prince Ohaezo founded on Olulu – Mkpitime deity, in 1502 before his final flight to settle permanently at Onitsha Milli across the great River Niger in about 1q507 A.D which is now located in Onitsha, Anambra State.
Abor Town: Founded by the second son of Prince Onitsha, the late, first son of Eze Chima, who accompanied his elder brother on his flight from Issele-Uku to Onisha-MIlli but still wanted his own separate abode.
Ezitown: This was found by the grandson of Onicha, who was the father of Ohaeze. The great grand son of Eze Chima.
Onicha – Ugbo: Founded by Prince Agba, the first son of Prince Ohaeze, who was driven from Onitsha – Milli, at the death of his father.
Ugute or Ogute: founded by immigrant from Ogboli, from Issele Uku in about 1507.
Idunmuje Towns: Founded by immigrants from Idumu – Ojeogalanya, part of Ukpai quarter.
Onicha-Ukwu: founded by immigrants from Onicha – Olona and they settled near Ukwu Nzu town.
Issele-Azagba: Founded by Immigrants from Ogbe-ani, Ogbe-Onicha of Ogbe utu quarter, and Idumu Ikem of Idumu – Inei quarter, of Issele –Uku in about 1731 during the reign of Obi Diei.
Issele –Mkpitime: Founded by Immigrants from, Ogbe-Owelle, Idumu –Inei and Ogbeofu quarters of Issele-Uku. The are strictly regarded as off shoots of Issele – Uku and must always be treated as one
Atuma – Town: Founded by immigrants from Idumu Igwe of Idumunei quarter of Issele-Uku. Ani-Nwalo Town, Ute clan in Agbor land and some others are land founded by immigrants from Issele – Uku from one period to another.
They were other immigrants from Issele Uku stocked in different part of Delta State and Anambra State presently such as: Asaba, Umunede, Ogwashi – Uku, Illah, Ibusa, Nsukka, Orlu, Imo State, etc. Issele-Uku is a town that covers approximately sixty (60) square kilometers. Issele-Uku is bounded by the East by Ubulou-Okity and Issele-Mkpitime, to the West by Onicha Ugbo, to the South by Onicha-Ukwu and Idumuje Unor and by the north by Ubulu – Uku.
TRADITIONAL ADMINISTRATION SYSTEM OF ISSELE-UKU
Issele – Uku is made up of ten (10) quarters these quarters make up Issele Uku kingdom and they have chiefs, as the head. These chiefs are subject to the Obi of Issele Uku. The quarters are as follows:
Ogbe –Owelle, Ogbe – Utu, Ukpai, Ogbe – Ofu, Ogboli, Idumuinei, Isheakpe, Ogbidibo, Ogbe-Ntiobi, and Idumu Ahaba. These different quarters share every thing in common with other quarters within Issele –Uku.
The head of these quarters are the oldest titled man and they are called Diokpa. The Diokpa is a very important personality in the community. The Diokpa is the chief spokes man of his quarter (Ogbe), and he presides over all meetings.
The Obi of Issele-Uku is the traditional custodian of the land, Obi means king. He is regarded as the ancestral father and divine ruler of the kingdom and community. His authority must not be challenged and his right is absolute and divine.
The Issele Uku people are people with rich cultural heritage with a historic origin. The land is a very vast land, very rich for Agriculture.
Issele-Uku, a distant land and kingdom away from home (Benin Kingdom). There are still many unique similarities between Issele-Uku and Benin, with regards to customs and tradition. Even though the Issele-Uku speaks Ika-Ibo, (Enuani) language nowadays, it is still full of Edo words and even culture.
1 C. A. Akeh-Osu “The History of Great Issele-Ukukingdom” (Onitsha: Etukokwu press Ltd, 1992) pp. 6-8.
2 Ibid .
3 Ibid .
4 Personal Communication with Chief Ego. A Chidi, 40+ Former Traditional Personal Assistant to the Obi of Issele Uku; from Ogbutu quarters in Issele –Uku, Delta State. April 4, 2007.
5 Ibid .
6 C. A. Akeh – Osu “The History of Great Issele – Uku Kingdom” pp. 10
7 N. L. Onwochei, Enweonwu L. Nigerian Leadership and National Development A paper presented at the Nigeria Sociological and Anthropological Students Association Annual General Conference held at the University of Calabar from the 22nd – 23rd January, 1988.
8 C. A. Akeh – Osu “The History of Great Issele Uku Kingdom” pp. 48