The Ezomo Title:
Up to the time of Oba Akenzua I the EZOMO title had been given at the discretion of the Oba to any notable warrior, it was Oba Akenzua I that now made the title hereditary to the family of Ehenua.
Eweka I was the creator of the councillor of the state of kingmakers afterwards known as “UZAMA NIHINRON” VIZ OLIHA, EZOMO, ERO, EHOLO and OLOTON. Later the EDAIKAN was classified with them by the OBA EWAURE “THE GREAT”. Thus bringing the number to seven. (These titles are all hereditary passing from father to son).
Ewuare re-organized the government by centralizing it and he set up three powerful palace associations of chiefs. The political elite of the kingdom was made up of titled chiefs and members of the royal family. The seven highest-ranking chiefs who were, in fact, descendants of original elders of Benin were constituted into Uzama - with leadership authority next to the king.
THE EZOMO title is in the society of IWEBO the makers and custodians of the Oba’s regalia and wardrobe. This is the first and foremost of all the houses in the royal house. The honour of membership but without duties is conferred on the EDOHEN, EZOMO ERO, EHOLO, EDIAKEN and ESON. All Europeans are also counted as members with the Uwangue as its leader.
THE EZOMO was the generalissimo of the Benin Army. Many of the EZOMO’s have been re-known warriors they delight in warfare as a hungry man delights in his food. The EZOMO and ERO had important executives function but collectively played a smaller part in the day to day running of the state.
The EZOMO in certain respects stands apart from all other Benin chiefs and while not the highest in formal rank; he must in many ways be regarded as next to the Oba in PRESTIGE AND STATUS.
Third in formal order of precedence among the Uzamas the EZOMO had long been the wealthiest and must influential of them when Benin City was captured in1897. He lived in a semi-independent state in his own town of UZEBU just outside the inner wall of Benin City, Where he kept a court, which was smaller, and a simpler version of that of the Oba. He also ruled his subject without interference from above.
Apart from the Oba, Iyoba (Oba’s Mother) and the Edaiken (Oba’s heir) the EZOMO alone is permitted to wear a coronet of beads. His wives like the Oba’s are called Iloi and subject to similar restrictions and rules and roles of conduct. These and other more attributes of kingship set him apart from the other chiefs. On most important ceremonial occasions the EZOMO and Edaiken support the Oba’s arms on each side this group is said to be illustrated in many bronze cast.
The EZOMO’s children were also known as princes and princesses as that of the OBA. Like the OBA the EZOMO is referred to as OMO (Child).
The following privileges were granted: (1) title of the Ezomo made hereditary; (2) the wearing of a coronet of royal beads; (3) the authority to have sword bearers (Emuada) with brass anklet; (4) the wives of the Ezomo to be called Iloi, like the Oba’s wives and subject to similar restrictions and rules of conduct; (5) the conferment of titles in Uzebu village, which was already in practice by other members of the Uzama in their villages. Did the granting of these privileges which equals the Ezomo with the Oba suggests strong evidence of the royal link ennua? Or did the Ezomo Ehennua as a warrior and commander of the loyalist forces forced Oba Akenzua I to compromise some of his powers?
The EZOMO owed his pre-eminence to the fact that he was a supreme war chief, conducting most of more important campaigns on the Oba’s behalf. As a result of these campaigns and the fact that the title was hereditary by primogeniture without any division of property, successive Ezomos were able to accumulate much wealth, especially in forms of slaves. Who were put to work in farms, their wealth and influence were further extended by the fact that the administered a large number of villages and visual chiefdom from which they derived tribute and services in addition to those that they organised and collection from the Oba.
The EZOMO as the regular generalissimo of the state is pictured as in tradition being essentially loyal to the Oba.
Two factors contributed to the emergence of the Ezomo as Head of war commanders: First, although the Iyase n’Ode was living in exile, the war against him by Akenzua I dragged on, and this led to the declaration of a special vigilance on him. The Iyase’s absence from command post of the Benin Army provided the Ezomo Ehennua the opportunity to begin to take over his role as Commander-in-Chief of the army. Second, Akenbo who became the next Iyase after Ode was not a warrior but one of the most successful traders. In theory, the Iyase Akenbo was the Commander-in-Chief of the army, but in practice, the role was taken over by the Ezomo Ehennua and his descendants.
Politically, the Iyase was ‘the highest title of the state,’ and had not been made hereditary in any family. He was the only chief that had the right to argue with or censure the Oba in public. In tradition, he was portrayed as the focus of opposition to the power of the Oba. The importance of his office is demonstrated by the fact that all state chiefs were inducted by the Iyase on the instructions of the Oba. The Iyase had the privilege of marrying the Oba’s eldest daughter. On the other hand, the Ezomo was third in the rank of the Uzama, and only in the nineteenth century did the military position of the Ezomo began to be equated with that of the Iyase.In restructuring the command structure of the army, several factors were involved: Personal, political, and strategic factors combined to influence the change, and possibly, avoid the concentration of military offices in one order of chiefs. The choice of the second-in -command to each of the chief war commander was also based on considerations that were political or personal rather than strategic. The aim was to maintain a balance between competing groups and individuals.
All war commanders, except the Ezomo, were subordinate to the Iyase, who himself was practically independent of the Ezomo. The Iyase was generally despatched on important campaigns. If the Iyase had to go to war, he left the walls of Benin City as the head of the military force. He could become ‘possessed of full powers and could put to death any one he chose, even the Oba’s personal servants.’ Whether successful or unsuccessful, he rarely returned to Benin, but stayed to rule the conquered territories, ‘although he could be sent on further expeditions at the Oba’s will.’ In Benin politics, the Iyase was a strong factor in deciding political coalitions, a factor which was also reflected in his military power.
The top four military officers in Benin Army were the Iyase, the Ezomo, the Edogun and the Ologbosere. Three were all hereditary positions except the Iyase whose role in the state was first political. This meant that apart from the Iyase, the others were not appointed by or entirely dependent on the Oba. Within their ranks, the Oba could not foster competition for his favours. Though the Oba had considerable room for manoeuvre in exercising his prerogatives for the appointment of the Iyase, the loyalty of the Iyase was not guaranteed. ‘In tradition, the Iyase’, argues Bradbury, ‘was regularly portrayed as the focus of opposition to the Oba’s power.’ As a result, political factions tended to gather round the Oba and the Iyase.
As an Uzama Nihinron tradition identifies the Uzamas as with the elders whose request resulted in Oranmiyan being sent from Ife to found the Benin dynasty (strictly speaking this refers to the first five titles). As the elders of the State they take up the position of greatest honour at palace rituals, directly facing the Oba. In ceremonial salutations through which all chiefs reaffirm their loyalty, the Uzamas are last to make obeisance and the first to receive the Oba’s kolanut and palm wine.
Prior to the time that Ehenua was made Ezomo, the title was conferred by the Oba of Benin on any re-known Benin warrior, but it was AKENZUA I that gave Ehenua the title and made it hereditary to his family. The new Ezomo then moved from central Benin to Uzebu.
Towards the end of the 17th century and in the time of OBA EWAKPE, a baby boy was born into the royal house of Benin. This boy was named IDOVA, his mother; IGO by name was a big trader, selling kaun-wood at the “Oba market” (hence any prince or princess of the Ezomo family is styled the child of the wood seller).
At the age of twelve Ehenua lived with the Iyase n’ode. A diviner had predicted that Ehenua would eventually kill Iyase n’ode. He Iyase n’ode then planned to have Ehenua sacrificed to his Ehi. Ehenua had a hint of Iyase n’ode’s plan; so he ran away from Benin to EVBURU in the ISHAN District. At EVBURU, Ehenua moved from EVBURU to Isi District an Area to the North East of Benin Division. From Isi, Ehenua led a group of young men bring tribute to the Oba of Benin, who at this time was AKENZUA I (son of Ewuakpe). On arrival at Benin, OBA AKENZUA l detained him acting on a diviner‘s advice.
At this period Oba Akenzua I was badly served by his people and Ehenua was ashamed to see him sending to the market to buy food for his wives and other household servants. Ehenua then asked the Oba for some strong men and he proceeded to make war on rebellious villages sparing them only if they promised to send tribute to the Oba of Benin.
In appreciation of these services the Oba made Ehenua, the Ezomo and eventually agreed to Ehenua request that the title should be hereditary in his line. Other privileges granted to the Ezomo were: -
v Wearing a coronet of coral beads
v His wives like the Oba’s wives to be called ILOI and they are subject to similar restrictions and rules of conduct.
v The male house helps to be called Emadas (Sword bearers)
v His son and daughters be called prince and princesses
v And some other minor royal privileges.
Having been conferred with the Ezomo title, Ehenua moved to Uzebu and chose the present site, which is centrally sandwiched between the three quarters that make up UZEBU – namely EHAEKPEN, OGBEWASE and OGBEIWEBO. Ehenua next, proceeded to defeat and kill prince Ovbiozuere (brother of the Oba) who was giving trouble on the support of Iyase n’ode his maternal relative.
Finally Ehenua defeated the powerful Iyase n’ ode who had been the main obstacle to the Oba’s full control of the kingdom.
Ehenua conquered the following townsand villages.
Igieduma – Irhuekpen – Owa – Ogisi – Egho – Oria – Oghoha – Ologho – Ozalla.
To mark his reign Ehenua planted the IROKO TREE at Unoga Ezomo as well as the IKHIMI TREE near where the Texaco petrol station is cited. The IROKO TREE fell on the 25th of July 1951.
Altar to the Hand (Ikegobo) of Ezomo Ehenua,
In the kingdom of Benin, ikegobo, or "altars to the hand," celebrate the accomplishments of exceptional individuals. The hand is associated with action and productivity, and is considered the source of wealth, status, and success for all those who depend on manual skill and physical strength. Altars of this kind are commissioned in terracotta, wood, or brass, depending on the status of the patron.
This ikegobo is an important historical document associated with the reign of Akenzua I. In the early eighteenth century, rebellious chiefs challenged Akenzua's leadership and threatened the unity and stability of the kingdom. Ehenua, Akenzua's ezomo or military commander, played a central role in defeating these forces and restoring order to the kingdom. In recognition of his heroism and service, Akenzua presented Ehenua with an ikegobo illustrating his military triumph.
The artist who created this work, composed of a series of units, used costume, scale, and composition to denote the relative status of the figures depicted on the frieze. A monumental image of Ehenua, dressed in full military regalia and clutching trophies of war, appears at the center of a group of diminutive soldiers, attendants, and priests. Two rows of musketeers above the frieze include Portuguese soldiers, an indication of the degree to which European powers were engaged in the support of Benin's leadership at this time. A separately cast sculptural group sitting in front of these soldiers portrays Oba Akenzua in the act of performing sacrifices to his ancestors so that Ehenua will prevail and triumph over his adversaries. Finally, a carved ivory tusk, now missing, was fitted onto the brass peg between the soldiers.
While most Benin art left the kingdom as a result of the British Punitive Expedition of 1897, Ehenua's ikegobo remained in Benin in the possession of his descendants, who inherited the ezomo title. Its regular use across generations is a testament to its continued relevance and vitality.
Ezomo Odia succeeded his father Ezomo Ehenua. A story is told that when he was still a prince, while walking towards Ehaekpen playing the native harp a leopard sprung on his shoulder. He shook it off and continued on his way; but the leopard sprang again and this time Prince Odia hit hard with his elbow and killed it. Like his father Ezomo Odia was a great warrior and the followings are among the villages he conquered – Agbor – Opanam – Ise –Ebo – Oguashi – Obo Uka – Obo-Okiti – Akumaze – Ute Ezomwon - Ute Owegie – Owere – Owere – Obior –Igbodo – Umunede.
On the death of Ezomo Odia his first son Ekeneza succeeded him as Ezomo.
There were no wars during his reign. He was a big trader and was wealthy.
He was the father of Erebo who succeeded him as Ezomo, princess Omozogie (mother of prince Erediauwa who took the title of Oba Osewende) – Ogie (who was made Uwangue by Oba Osewende).
Erebo succeed his father Ekeneza as Ezomo. This was towards the end of the eightieth century. At this time prince Ogbebor Nomaza usurped the royal throne of Benin and force his brother Erediauwa to flee to Ishan district, Ogbebor knowing that the Ezomo was an uncle to Erediauwa force Erebo Ezomo to take A SPECIAL OATH of loyalty to him. Things soon changed and event overtook things. Ezomo Erebo cunningly revoked the oath he had taken. This made Ogbebor to commit suicide and Oba Osewmende was recalled from Ishan to take up the royal throne of Benin.
During Oba Osemwende’s reign, Akure revolted and Ezomo as general of the Benin army went against the Udezi (Deji) of Akure in war. After a very fierce battle, Akure was subdue: Deji of Akure was beheaded and the head sent to the Oba of Benin through Osifo who was also asked to function as Ezomo by his father on the eve of hid departure to Akure. Apart from Akure the Benin army under the command of Ezomo Erebo subdue the following towns in Akure District – Ugbara – Ijero – Uza – Agaaye – Ado – Otun (WHERE HE PANTED AN IKHIMI TREE AS A MARK OF BOUNDARY BETWEEN THE OBA OF BENIN AND THE ALAFIN OF OYO)
Ezomo Erebo did not return to Benin. He died at a place near Akure, and was buried by the Imaran and Ezabayo his head servant.
Osifo was the only son of Ezomo Erebo, and he assumed fully the title of Ezomo after his father’s death. He had no battle to fight and did not live to an old age. He was blessed with many sons and daughters, to name a few of his descendant are; Ezomo Uzama, the Uwaifo’s the Guobadias, the Elaihos, the Omo- Osagie, the Esekhures, the Asemotas and the sister Aghayisi .
Uzama succeeded his father Ezomo Osifo about the year 1850. He had no battle to fight and he reigned during the time of Oba Adolo.
Many son and daughters survived him, namely: Osarogiabon – Izerbihen – Igiewe – Igiebor – Ebomonyi – Erhunse – Ogiekhevbo – Ohenbor – Omigie (sons) – Akese - Akonze – Isiokhere.
Osarogiagbon succeeded his father Ezomo Uzama about 1875. In 1881 Ezomo Osarogiagbon left Benin with his warriors to conquer the following towns and villages – OGBAGBA – NHOBE – UMORU – UZOGBA – IFON –UHIE-OKE- UKARE –UZEBA –OVBIOLO. The Ezomo had to come back to Benin in 1888 to play his part during the coronation of Oba Ovouramwon. Ezomo Osarogiagbon was blessed with many children many children namely (males) – OHOMINA – OMORUYI – NEHIZENA –SOKPANWU – IYEKEKPOLO – ERINVBIONHAE – OMOREGIE (females) ONYEMEWNSE – UWARAYE AIMIOKUNUBIVBIE – OSEMUENKUAE – UKINEBO – IZEGBUWA – EYOTOR – EHENDIA – IGBINERE – EGYEN.
The strategic thought and plan of operations of Benin, in defence of the empire against British invasion was not as elaborate as that of the British. This was due to several factors. First, Benin military leaders had to contend with differences among members of the statecouncil. The action of the Ologbosere, a war commander and second -in-command to the Ezomo, which led to the disaster at Ugbine created misunderstandings and quarrels among thechiefs. For many of the chiefs, there was lack of enthusiasm in military build-up of the army as the instrument of war in the Benin resistance. Those chiefs who supported the attack on Consul Phillips and his party at Ugbine accepted the task of proper preparation for the military operation. The Ezomo, a chief war commander, who supported Ovonramwen’s point of view not to attack the Phillips’ party, did not seem to have made any contribution in terms of strategy and tactics, nor the logistics for the war. In fact, among the chiefs, opinions were divided on what should be done.66 The strongest advocate of war was the Iyase, the chief war commander of the Benin army, who did not make meaningful contribution to the Benin war effort. Perhaps, he “hoped to see the power of the Oba and his court curbed by a confrontation with the British.” On the other hand, the Ezomo, another chief war commander of the Benin army, ‘decided that the war would be a bad one and withdrew to his compound for the duration.’
But for HIS WISDOM DURING THE BENIN EXPENDITURE IN 1897 HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ONE OF those deported. There is a story that Ezomo Ehenua predicted the happenings in 1897 and that he said he would re-carnate and be on the Ezomo throne at that time. Hence Osarogiagbon is said to be re-carnation of Ezomo Ehenua. It is not a miracle that from 1472 – 1496 European visitors to Benin travel to the city through Uzebu but when the British army invaded Benin, the soldiers came through Ologbo river...ALSO IT WAS THE OTHER CHIEFS THAT REPORTED THE EZOMO – HE SHOULD NOT BRING “PALAVER” TO THEM AND HE SHOULD SAY WHERE IN HIS QUARTERS - UZEBU OVONRAMVEN WAS HIDING.
IT IS ALSO KNOWN THAT THE EZOMO WHEN ASKED ABOUT THE RIGHT TO BE KING SAID; THAT IF THE WHITE MAN WANTED A WOMAN, SO BE IT- THIS WAS BECAUSE HE WAS THINKING ABOUT THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND (QUEEN VICTORIA) AND THE TRAGEDY OF THE INVASION WHICH HAD ALREADY FALLEN ON BENIN.
EZOMO OSAROGIAGBON LIVED TO AND OLD age and died peacefully on 29th of October (1914).
Omoruyi the second son of Ezomo Osarogiagbon succeeded his father as Ezomo, because his elder brother Ohomina died before their father’s death on the 29th October 1914.
During the Benin City expedition of 1897, the British soldiers burnt down the Ezomo’s palace. When Ezomo Omoruyi ascended his father’s throne, his first assignment was to rebuild the palace. Corrugated iron sheets were first used in the palace in 1920, and the carpenter was the late Pa Oviasu.
Omoruyi the Ezomo though deprived from emulating the military achievement of his fathers nevertheless added great distinction to his honour by his long period of judicial services in the distractive and judicial spheres.
v 1916: Ezomo Omoruyi joined the native administration and became a senior quarter chief.
v 1918: He was promoted district head, responsible to the Benin Divisional Council. He was assigned to the 1st District with Oghada as headquarters.
v 1920: Towards the end of that year he was transferred to Iyekovia district with Siluko as head.
v 1925: He was transferred to Iyeke Orhiomwon District with Urheme as headquarters. He later moved the headquarter to Urhonigbe.
v 1931: He moved to Ehor District.
v 1936: The District Head system was abolished. Ezomo Omoruyi moved to Benin Divisional Council. He was the president of the Oba’s Court of Appeal from 1944 - 1953 and continued to be member till 1958.
CERTIFICATE OF HONOUR
On June 8 1950 Ezomo Omoruyi was awarded “Certificate of Honour” by his Majesty King George VI on the recommendation of the Governor of Nigeria, Sir John McPherson. In the book “Benin Studies” by Dr. R. E. BRADBURY, a chapter is devoted to EZOMO’S IKEGOBO AND THE BENIN CULT of the hand.
Dr. Bradbury had this to say about Ezomo Omoruyi “This article is intended as a tribute to Chief Omoruyi the late Ezomo, whose house guest I was in 1953-1954, A MAN OF GREAT DIGINITY AND KINDNESS AND OF AN INFINITE GENTLENESS WHICH SEEN TO BELIE HIS WARLIKE ANCESTRY. HE WAS YET FILLED WITH PRIDE IN DTHE DEEDS OF HIS FOREFATHERS. HE WAS A GREAT PATRON OF THE BENIN BRONZE CASTER”.
Ezomo Omoruyi was blessed with children –
Males: ASEMOTA – OGBEMUDIA – EVBINGHARE – ESEMUEDE
Females: OSAWARU –ISINVBENKPEN – OHONMI – EHIGIALIE.
Ezomo Omoruyi lived to the age of over 90; he died peacefully in September 1960.
With the passing away of Ezomo Omoruyi the Ezomo chieftaincy mantle fell on this first son Asemota it is painful in that Ezomo Asemota did not live long to play hid part like his forefathers. On the 5th of December 1961 the cold hand of death removed him from earth. Several children survived him namely:
Male: Aiweragbon – Ovbansorban – Evbaruobrkhanre – Ayanbaeze
Females: Izoduwa – Imakpekpowan – Noyogiere – Onaragbon – Eniye – Taiwo –Omorotionwan.
Aiweragbon, the first son of Ezomo Asemota became the 10th Ezomo since Ehenua’s time after the death of his father Asemota.
Is the present Ezomo of Uzebu.
Complied By: Omoruyi Umweni– Great-grandson of Ezomo Omoruyi and grandson to Prince (Engr.) Edward Ogbemudia Ojomo MFR.
Once in a while, historical bronzes do pop up on the market that complicate the researcher's condemnations of casters' infidelities and agents' duplicities. The altar to the hand studied by Bradbury is an on-the-radar bronze and an incontrovertible example. But off radar: owned by Chief Ezomo, one of the hereditary kingmakers, it was stolen in the 1980s by one of the Ezomo's many sons by one of his many wives who buried it in his mom's compound. The police recovered and returned it. Blackmun saw it during her mid-1970s fieldwork, kept on the Ezomo's paternal shrine, and I saw the casting a decade later, after its return. After the Ezomo died, the altar to the hand became part of the estate. Then it disappeared again, to reappear in New Orleans. Charles Davis “legitimately” acquired it from the inheritors and offered it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, where it now resides, and again at the Met. Another example, a hip mask, circa sixteenth century, photographed by Fagg (Fagg & Plass 1964) and me (Nevadomsky 1997), is in a Benin City bank vault, with a horde of honest dealers growling at the gate. (Dealers are all honest, just as kids are always bright.)