Increasing the Oba’s Power: Institutions of the Eghaevbo n’Ore, the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, and the position of the Edaiken

There were two dynasties of Benin monarch: the first is the Ogiso dynasty and second is the era of the Oba. I will focus solely on the second dynasty, more specifically on the reign of Oba Ewuare. During the 15th century under Oba Ewuare’s rulership, the Kingdom of Benin was reorganized to physically and politically separate the oba’s palace from the town to strategically increase the oba’s power. The physical separation consisted of the construction of a wall around the palace reinforcing private and public space—the Ogbe, or the palace (private) and the Orenokhua (public). More significantly the physical separation symbolized the distinction between the superiority of the oba and the regality of his space and the inferiority of his subjects. As for the political separation, Oba Ewuare utilized institutions such as: the Eghaevbo n’Ore, or the town chiefs, the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, or the palace chiefs, and the position of Edaiken which provided a more systematic method of rulership for the kingdom and a service class devoted to the oba. Furthermore, Oba Ewuare instituted primogeniture which made the power of the oba hereditary. This gradually diminished the power of the Uzama, or village chiefs, who previously held authority over the selection of the oba. Both methods of separation ensured and secured the oba’s power which provided him control over the military and guided Benin into the Golden Age. In this essay, I will focus on the systems of political power (Eghaevbo n’Ore, Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, and the Edaiken) utilized by Oba Ewuare that strengthened the oba’s imperium and transformed the small kingdom into a large expansionistic empire while safeguarding the kingdom’s advancement into the Golden Age.[1]

The Eghaevbo n’ore represented the state’s civil authority. Although they ranked lower than the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, the oba still consulted them for solutions regarding their sector of influence, the public sphere.[2] The Eghaevbo n’Ore were accountable for the management and supervision of the kingdom provinces. Moreover, they were speakers on behalf of the people who were appointed based on personalized merit and accomplishments as opposed to inheritance.[3]  The Eghaevbo n’Ore had their own sphere of influence called fiefs, which they ruled indirectly through representatives– members of the household, servants, slaves who settled permanently within the fief—who participated in the local government.[4] According to Jacob Egharevba’s A Short History of Benin, the Eghaevbo n’ore, during Oba Ewuare’s reign, was made up the Iyase, Esogban, Eson, and Osuma. The Iyase acted at the leader or head of the Eghaevbo n’ore.[5] The Iyase position was that of great importance because along with being the head of the Eghaevbo n’Ore he was the General Commander, the supreme commander of all the armies in the state of Benin. This did not mean that he was forced to go to war, however. The oba lead his troops into war, the Iyase was responsible for the army and matters concerning defense and security of the state. The Esogban, Eson, and Osuma are other town chiefs who rank in hierarchical order under the Iyase. The Esogban’s job was to provide protection to the oba during warfare, act as Benin City’s political leader, and he was also responsible for the Edion Edo Shrine, or the shrine of the ancestors of Benin. The Eson’s role was that of the edayi Commander-in-Chief when the position of Iyase is vacant. However, this did not mean that the Eson took the position of the Iyase as he was still the 3rd ranking chief. During the time that he is the edayi, he is in charge of organizing the army unit commanders’ activities. The Osuma does not maintain a command position; however, he is responsible for the organization of “military intelligence and surveillance” which makes him the leader of the Ogbe (palace) quarter. His job is to gather strategic information that will be beneficial to military. Being that he is the leader of the Ogbe quarter, he is responsible for security of the oba. [6]

The allocation of powers to the four members of the Eghaevbo n’Ore is based on a pre-rationalized system that prevents one of the Eghaevbo n’Ore from seizing too much power. It centralized the oba as the supreme power while at the same time allotting a restricted amount of power to the members of the Eghaevbo n’Ore. Under the Iyase, the Esogban, Eson, and Osuma held important positions essential to the protection of the kingdom, its provinces, and the royal sphere; however, they held non-command positions. Even the Iyase, who held the most power under the oba, did  not lead the troops into battle – that was the job of the oba. During Oba Ewuare’s reign, the acting Iyase was an emancipated slave who, due to his position, became a prominent member of Benin society.[7] This is a prime example of the power of the oba, he held the power of one’s worth within the society in his hands and he made sure that it remained solely with him through these structures of political power.

The Eghaevbo n’Ogbe were non-hereditary palace chiefs that acted as the intermediary between the people and the oba—the public and the private spaces. They were ranked higher in position to the Eghaevbo n’Ore. Though established in the middle 13th century by Oba Ewedo, they was utilized to their full potential by Oba Ewuare.[8] The positions of the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe were separated into three palace societies(otu): Iwebo, Iweguae, and Ibiwe.[9] The otu was a derivative of the traditionalistic societal Bini age-sets.[10] These fee reserving service providers were in charge of the royal court and took part in the government. Each member of the three otu were constricted to their otu of initiation with the exception of  “a court in Iwebo” which was a common for the chiefs of all three otu to participate. The otu was known for their court duties as it was their essential function.

The Iwebo was the first highest ranking otu, they were responsible for state regalia of the oba. The leader of the Iwebo, Uwangue, was the leader of the organization of the palace which was considered a highly prestigious position. The Iweguae was the next highest ranking otu, it included the “private apartments” of the oba which was made up of his “swordbearers” and “household officers.” They took care of palace errands and were his eyes and ears around the palace. The arranged his audience with the people who needed to speak with him outside the palace; in that regard, they often sidestepped the Eghaevbo n’Ore. Furthermore, they ensured the wellbeing of the oba. The Ibiwe was the third ranking otu as they cared for the wives and children of the oba. Their duty was to uphold discipline; therefore, they handled disagreements between the wives, took care of them when they were pregnant or ill, looked after the oba’s sons, and notified the oba of their “conduct and condition.” As a whole the responsibility of the three otu were to uphold certain “political functions” such as: drafting and training people for particular governmental tasks, remaining organized into convoluted systems of hierarchy that provoked power competition, and maintaining the centralization of the oba’s power and the state’s stability.[11]

The Edaiken is an official member of the Uzama which is, unlike the Eghaevbo n’Ore and Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, a hereditary position. This title was created by Oba Ewuare after institutionalizing primogeniture which supersedes the Uzama’s authority on the selection of the oba by directly placing the Edaiken, or crown prince, as the successor to the throne. The Edaiken was added as the seventh Uzama member which places him at the lowest rank in the council; however, as a member of the Uzama  he was a part of the “highest-ranking order out chieftaincy” in the Benin Empire.[12] Moreover, the creation of the Edaiken upholds the succession pattern of the Ogiso dynasty. [13] The role of the Edaiken, also called Uzama n’Ihinron (seventh Uzama), was that of the “elder of state” as well as someone who appoints important positions. This was partially due to their role in the monarchial restoration of the Ogiso dynasty. [14]

The Edaiken position benefited the Oba in that his eldest son would retain the central power of the kingdom after the oba passes on. Moreover, the Edaiken is positioned amongst the Uzama, the highest ranked chieftaincy, to maintain his power and connections to the acting oba. The power of the Uzama is diminished because their responsibility to the kingdom is reduced to being officiants of the oba’s coronation rather than kingmakers as they previously were.[15]

The Eghaevbo n’Ore, Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, and the Edaiken, or the seventh member of the Uzama were political institutions supported by the oba in order to promote continuity and stability within the empire and centralize the oba’s power making him the supreme ruler. These institutions initiated Benin into the “new age” while altering Benin’s political culture. The separation of the private (Ogbe) and the public (Orenokhua) sphere was significant in that it placed the oba in a different political environment than his subjects while constructing somewhat of a checks and balance system amongst the chieftaincy. This paved a way for the formation of the military system that initiated Benin’s imperialistic campaigns for the sake of expansion. The effectiveness of the oba’s reforms exemplifies his ability to consolidate his imperium through the collective power of the chieftaincy.[16] Oba Ewuare is accredited for Benin’s transition into the Golden Age because of his reorganization of the political structures that existed in the kingdom of Benin and the creation of new political structures that counterbalanced the older systems. Moreover, the centralization of the oba’s power gave him the ability to utilize military power in order to integrate more territory into the empire.[17]

In this essay, I focused on the political institutions utilized by Oba Ewuare that supported the centralization and consolidation of the oba’s power: the Eghaevbo n’Ore, Eghaevbo n’Ogbe, and the creation of the Edaiken. The Eghaevbo n’Ore and the Eghaevbo n’Ogbe were two councils of chiefs that institutionalized the oba’s power from the public (Orenokhua) and private (Ogbe) spaces. Though occupying different realms of political power, the influence of both made the oba’s power stronger as they acted as a checks and balance system to the empire allowing it to maintain its stability. The Edaiken was created to attenuate the Uzama’s power over the selection of the oba and allocate more power to the oba. Moreover, to reestablish the primogeniture institution and revitalize the monarchial structure of the Ogiso dynasty. These structures allowed for the oba to expand the Benin Empire while safeguarding its transition into the Golden Age.

Bibliography

[1] Historian’s View of Ancient  Benin. Edo Friends of British Columbia Association Inc., accessed November 18, 2014, http://www.vcn.bc.ca/edo/ancient.php

[2] Osarhieme Benson Osadolor, M.A. The Military System of Benin Kingdom, c. 1440-1897. Department of Philosophy and History. University of Hamburg, accessed November 18, 2014, http://ediss.sub.uni-hamburg.de/volltexte/2001/544/pdf/Disse.pdf, 97-99

[3] Benin: an African Kingdom. Learning and Information Department. The British Museum, accessed November 18, 2014, http://www.britishmuseum.org/PDF/british_museum_benin_art.pdf

[4] Osadolor, M.A. The Military System of Benin Kingdom, c. 1440-1897.

[5] J. Egharebva. A Short History of Benin. (Nigeria: Ibadan University Press, 1968), 17

[6] Osadolor, M.A. The Military System of Benin Kingdom, c. 1440-1897., 145-148

[7] Ibid., 87

[8] Dmitri M. Bondarenko. A Homoarchic Alternative to the Homoarchic State: Benin Kingdom of the 13th – 19th Centuries*., accessed November 19, 2014, http://old.uchitel-izd.ru/data/SEH/Vol.4.2/02%20Bondarenko.pdf, 28

[9] R. E. Bradbury. Benin Studies. (London: The Camelot Press Ltd.,1973), 60

[10] D.M. Bondarenko., A Homoarchic Alternative to the Homoarchic State: Benin Kingdom of the 13th – 19th Centuries*., 9

[11] Bradbury. Benin Studies., 60-62

[12] Osadolor, M.A. The Military System of Benin Kingdom, c. 1440-1897., 89

[13] Naiwu Osahon. The Oba of the Benin Dynasty., accessed November 19, 2014, http://www.edofolks.com/html/osahon_oba_dynasty.htm

[14] Osadolor, M.A. The Military System of Benin Kingdom, c. 1440-1897, 2

[15] Victor Osaro Edo. The Changing Phases of Power and Civil Administration in Benin: From Inception to 1987., accessed November 19, 2014,  http://nobleworld.biz/images/Edo2.pdf., 170

[16] Osadolor, M.A. The Military System of Benin Kingdom, c. 1440-1897., 89-90

[17] K.A. Agbontaen. An Assessment of Four Centuries (15th-19th) of Benin Art Production in Evaluating The Role of the Craft Guild System in Benin Polity., accessed November 19, 2014, http://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/68151/1/ASM_18_45.pdf

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