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THE ORIGIN OF IGUE FESTIVAL

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THE ORIGIN OF IGUE FESTIVAL

In Ẹdo land, the Ẹdo speaking people (Binis) have a very popular annual festival called IGUẸ FESTIVAL which comes up at the late part of December. This festival has a very clear origin. During the reign of Ọba Ẹwuare I about 1440 AD, there lived on the Benin-Ughọton road a chief called Ọgiẹka who had three (3) beautiful daughters: Ubi, Ẹwerẹ and Ọyọyọ. This news of the beauty of these three (3) sisters constantly reached the ears of the Ọba in the palace. Ẹwuare therefore asked Ọgiẹka to marry his eldest daughter Ubi to him. Ọgiẹka replied that the Ọba could not marry Ubi because she was too shrewish, disobedient and disrespectful.

Nevertheless, the Ọba insisted, though Ubi was reluctant. Willing or unwilling the Ọgiẹka sent her to the Ọba. When she got to the harem in the palace, Ubi refused all connection or sexual intercourse with the Ọba, and she was unfriendly to all the women and maids in the harem. Ọba Ẹwuare did all in his power to tame Ubi from her shrewishness but she could not be tamed. So that she might be sent away from the harem she began to pass urine in the house, which was rigidly forbidden by the Benin people because it was contrary to their custom. The Ọba then angrily ordered her to be sent away from the harem in disgrace and she was accordingly driven out by the maids who struck her with burning brands crying Ubi ire, Ubi rie, Ubi rie, meaning ‘Ubi, is going, Ubi is going, Ubi is going, Ubi is going’’.

Three days after this, Ẹwuare asked Ọgiẹka to send his second daughter to him in place of Ubi the shrewed. Ọgiẹka agreed. According to the advice of an oracle, on the day Ẹwerẹ was being brought to the harem, the Ọba ordered the Ihogbe to escort her and the Osuma to wait on her and honour her entry into the palace. Ẹwerẹ was led by the Ihogbe, dancing and on entering the palace they sang the following:

                        Ẹwerẹ de, kie n’Ẹwerẹ

                        Ẹwerẹ de, kie n’ Ẹwerẹ

                        Ẹwerẹ de, kie n’ Ẹwerẹ

Meaning:         ‘Ẹwerẹ is coming… open for Ẹwerẹ’

                        Gha kie o, odibo gha ki aza

                        Gha kie o, odibo gha ki aza

                        Nu gha kie, odibo gha ki aza

Meaning:         ‘Open the store…steward, open the store’

The women in the harem danced for joy and the whole city was in a festive mood. Gifts of all kinds were poured on Ẹwerẹ like a torrent from all parts of the City, and more valuable gifts were sent to the Ọba from all parts of the country in the weeks following the marriage.

Unlike Ubi, Ẹwerẹ acted humbly, respectfully and honourably. Peace, love, concord, health and prosperity prevailed in the harem and the whole palace. The Ọba, the women and the maids in the harem therefore loved Ẹwerẹ more than any being on earth. About a week after Ẹwerẹ entered the harem she began to think of her sister Ọyọyọ, and she cried every day because she was longing to see her. So Ọba Ẹwuare sent once more to Ọgiẹka, asking him to allow Ọyọyọ to visit her sister in the royal harem because she was so anxious to see her. This request was promptly granted by Ọgiẹka. At Ọyọyọ’s entry into the harem the women and maids began to sing the following song:

                        A rhi Ẹwerẹ gi Omo vb’ ugh o, Ẹwerẹ gh’ Ọyọyọ

Ẹwerẹ gh’ ovbi-erha, Ẹwerẹ gh’ Ọyọyọ

Ẹwerẹ gh’ ovbi-erha, Ẹwerẹ gh’ Ọyọyọ

Ẹwerẹ, Ẹwerẹ, Gh’ Ọyọyọ

Ẹwerẹ, Ẹwerẹ, Gh’ Ọyọyọ

Meaning:

                        Ẹwerẹ was taken to the Ọba in the palace

                        Ẹwerẹ look at Ọyọyọ.

                        Ẹwerẹ look at your father’s child

                        Ẹwerẹ look at Ọyọyọ

                        Ẹwerẹ look at your mother’s child

                        Ẹwerẹ, look at Ọyọyọ etc.

Ẹwerẹ was very pleased to see her sister and they chatted and laughed together. But Ẹwere was very unwilling to let her sister return home, so Ẹwuare decided to marry her as well. So the two sisters, Ẹwerẹ and Ọyọyọ became wives of the Ọba.

When Ọyọyọ became pregnant the Ọba sent her to the Ihama at Idumwihogbe for proper care and there she gave birth to a daughter and both she and the child were healthy and strong. In token of his gratitude the Ọba awarded the Ihama odigbokofo (a large collar made entirely of red beads) and gave the Ihama’s wives the right to dress their hair in the ukpọkhọkhọ style, like the Ọba’s own wives. Odigbokofo has been worn by the Ihama at every Ugie-Ẹwerẹ ceremony up to the present time.

Throughout his reign, every year, the Ọba celebrated the anniversary of his happy and prosperous marriage to Ẹwerẹ at the Iguẹ festival, by sacrificing goats, cows, leopards and other victims and offering kola nuts and coconuts to his head, that is to his Good Luck, and in this the chiefs and people of Benin used to take part. Four days after this, everyone would celebrate his own Iguẹ in his own house. Ugiẹ-Ẹwerẹ would take place on the fifth day at the palace. This has been kept up by every reigning Ọba to the present day. At Ugiẹ-Ẹwerẹ, people dance with ebe-Ẹwerẹ, ‘Ẹwerẹ’ lucky leaves’. And since that time it has been the prayer of the Binis not to make a journey on Ubi day, but only on Ẹwerẹ day, so that the journey might be as happy and prosperous as that of Ẹwerẹ, ‘Ọkhiẹn-Ẹwerẹ’ they say.

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