Benin 1st And 2nd Intertribal War Of 15th To 16th Century.

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Great war of benin 15th century
Great war of benin 15th century

​                          Many wars were fought by various kingdoms in precolonial Nigeria. Many led to the total defeat and anhilation of smaller kingdoms and the growth and prestige of others. One of such wars was the Benin – Idah war of the 15th century. There are many accounts of the wars and what led to it, but most of these were gotten from oral sources. First i would be starting from Benin, where HRM Oba Esigie the Son of the Oba Ozolua and grandson of Oba Ewuare I ( Oba Ogidigan ) had just defeated his brother Arhuan N’udo, the Duke of Udo in a fierce battle for his disrespect to the crown. Arhuan was the older brother by right and was suppose to be king, but circumstances made him lose out in the race for the throne, thanks to one of the greatest women in Benin History, Queen Idia, the mother of Oba Esigie. It was about 1515 CE, 7 years after the Udo war and one of the member of the Uzama, the oliha had just married a new bride. Her name was Imaguero, she was so pretty and young. A young blood to service the old engines of the oliha. Oliha was so proud of his achivements of securing such a beautiful bride that he talked aboutit in the palace. He bragged about her faithfulnes to him and an arguement came up, it was other chiefs against the Oliha, women were not to be trusted. The young King Oba Esigie was to be the final judge and he did stood against the oliha this time. Oba Esigie even wanted to prove to his Old chief that he the king was right. So the Oba aranged for his cripple servant to seduce imaguero. Oba Ewuare had just started trading with the portuguese few years back and one of the things they brought for trade was coral beads. Coral beads were the latest sensation in Benin. They were so rare that only the palace and very few privileged chiefs had them in thier possession. The Oba monopolized almost anything that gave him prestige over his subjects. Oba Esigie had acquired lots of these corals when he became king, and he was also highly favoured by the Europeans so more corals and other goods were given to him. It is on record that Oba Esigie spoke portuguese. Some people even beleived he was groomed by priests in Sao Tome and Principe before returning to take the crown. Oba Esigie gave his crippled servants lots of coral beads to entice the young imaguero. The king made sure even though his servant was crippled he looked likea noble from one of the outer provinces. Finally theservant struck gold, he had achieved his goal and he immediately went back to tell his Lord. Oba Esigie was pleased and on a faithful day when all chiefs gathered, it was the young king who raised the issue of women and infidelity. He told the old Oliha that his faithful imaguero had been cheating on him with one of his servants, not just any of them, but a cripple one for that matter. The servant was called to testify and he did just that in front of all. He narrated how he started and how it ended, the Oliha could not walk out of the palace, no one walks out of the Oba, not even the mighty Oliha. The Oliha had to stand there and listen to every bit of the story. His pride was hurt, He was the Leader of the Uzama. His ancestors have beenin this kingdom for long. He had seen the reign of two great and war loving Obas before this one who was helped to get the throne by his mother. He made a decision in his heart to deal with all those who had stepped on his pride, all the culprits including HRM the Oba.Oliha was swift with judgement, he had Imaguero executed immediately he got home. He stretched his hands towards the servant and he wanted to teach the Oba a lesson. North of Benin across the Niger was a kingdom rising fast and growing in strenght. That kingdom was Idah. The source of itskingship is still been disputed, because some claim it has Benin roots and others claim it has Jukun roots. We will never truly know the source of its kingship. I would like to assume that as at the time of the war, the monarchy of the kingdom of Idah was of Benin descent or ife linked. The Jukun i think later comes into the picture after the Benin-idah war as the current monarchy is more Jukun linked. The chiefs of Benin were the eyes and ears of the Oba, they had numerous spies planted all over the empire and Oliha was a very wealthy chiefs. He had so many of these spies dotted across the empire and beyond. The fact that Oliha picked Idah as a match to Benin shows the fact that the Kingdom of Idah was a very powerful and brutal force and only she could rival Benin at that point. She was already wrecking havock on the northern igbo territories of mordern day Enugu and Ebonyi states. Her naval power was said to have gotten to the present day kingdom of Aboh in Ndokwa LGA of Delta state. Her sailors constantly stopped at present day Asaba and Onitsha and you can find igala heritage among these people. Infact the Kingdom of Idah controlled the Niger. I believed both kingdoms had a wonderful trade in many items especially clothes and raw materials for metal works which was very vital for the palace in Benin. Whatever the servants of Oliha told the authorities in Idah, it made them fully war ready and they marched on Benin. Benin was a jewel in the rainforest, she had monopolised the trade with the Europeans even though they were many middlemen in the trade sometimes, they all payed tributaries to the Benin monarch and this was one of the cause for the British invasion of Benin.


While Oba Esigie was busy trying to make more palace chiefs see reason to become baptised, an army of the Igalas was sailing down the Niger. The reason why i believe they sailed down the Niger was because it was the fastest route, the trade route and at least the route that would cut of the numerous spies of other chiefs in the northern part of mordern Edo land. The igala settlements of Illushi is a proof to this. The igalas were tactical, they avoided any contact with the dukedoms of Uzea and Uromi and other esan dukedoms and made thier way through the forest to the doorstepsof the Benins. For the first time an invading force that wasnt Edo was attacking Benin. To most people in Benin, the Igalas were savages, they were blood thirsty people and they were lovers of war. The city’s defenses took the first wave of attack, it was massive, but they held on and the igalas pressed on. News was coming in from the war front, people were disturbed one could imagine the numerous sacrifices that the palace and citizens of Benin made as the war went on. One person who was more worried was the IYOBA of Benin, Queen Idia. She knew quite well that Esigie was not like his father Ozolua, he was more of a technocrat. He had fallen apart with the people of Udo already, he couldnt ask for the help of his ancestral brother’s kingdom UGU in the Ohrionmwon territories. His father Ozolua had caused some troubles when he destoyed the ruling houses of the dukedom of ekpoma and waged a bitter war with Uzea. The newly establised kingdom of warri down the coast was still fighting for survival against the imperial hands of Benin trying to strangle her. Queen Idia was not going to let the empire crumble in the hands of her son. She sent her personal guards to war, the young men of Uselu were summonded to battle. The Village of Esi and Uteh just along the ikpoba river had to stand for the throne. Esigie had to seek the help of the portuguese in this war, they helped him before in securing the throne, they needed to help again in keeping it if they really wanted to remain in Benin under his blessings. It was probably in this attack amidst heavy figting that the Igalas captured the mask Ebute Eje which the Attah of Igala wears on his neck. This particular mask though similar in artistic style with that of the Festac mask, there is slight difference. While the festac mask is more feminine and the one the Igalas took is more masculine. The Benins also did not make bronze images of peoples head, commisioning them and using them for ceremonies or battles while they were alive. The Ebute eje mask definitely wasnt forIdia, she was still alive then. That mask could either have been for Oba Ozolua or Ewuare I. A replica which was made in honour (festac mask) of Idia was used in replacing the one that fell into the hands of the Igalas after all to Esigie, his mother was warlike and the best candidate to replace whoever’s face that was on that captured mask. Guns played a key role in repelling the valiant warriors of Idah who had to fight against superior technology, this would later turn against the Benins in the war with the british.Finally Benin was celebrating, the invaders had been defeated just at the banks of the ikpoba river.Sacrifices were offered to Olokun, Ogun and many more. Oba Esigie did not allow his mother join him on the battle field but she was determined to go after those who wanted to destroy her son. Esigie wanted to end this once and for all, if the Igalas could bring war to his door step, he also was capable of bringing war into thier rooms. He was the representative of God on earth, he owned all the lands, while Olokun owned the sea, that was the agreement. He was going to teach the igalas a lesson of thier life. He was going to tell them that he was the son of Oba Ozolua the warrior King and grandson of Ewuare N’ogidigan.


Oba Esigie gathered the fiercest of warriors from allover the Empire, the Enogie of Agbon ( Agbor ) and Ovbi Isse ( Obi of Issele Ukwu ) who he had just recently made king after a dispute with his lateelder brother son ( Orisha, corrupted to Onitsha)over the dukedom’s crown were to play a vital role in contribution of men and resources to the war. The Esan war machines were set into motion once again…from all over the empire came boys and diviners employed by both King and Queen Mother.Idia was going to war, nothing would stop her, not even Esigie this time. The Attah of the Kingdom of Idah had heard of the defeat, he knew what was coming for him. He knew war was coming and a massive one. The igalas were not scared of war, they were born of war, they had survived horsemen and numerous raids from the kwararafa confederation and had developed thier own raiders. The Attah Ameh Oboni was not going to chicken out, he was going to give the Benins a run for thier money. The Attah had all his fighters from all over the kingdom gather at idah the capital, one could imagine the military build up at the Ega water side in mordern idah town. Boys from Ugwolawo, Ajaka, Ogbogbo, Dekina, Ayegba and many more villages all packed up in Idah. The air was tense, the Imperial Benin army choosed to camp at what we call Agenebode today. Agenebode is a town on the other side of the river niger just facing Idah. It was from this camp that the Benin’s launched thier series of attack against the Igalas. The war would have started on the banks of the river Niger at Ega were the igala forces had set up thier defences. The fighting was heavy and the casualties great on both side, but with Queen Idia spear heading Benin forces, she would not relent until she saw idah burn. Life was getting harder for ordinary igalas, they could not go to thier farms anymore, the Benins was constantly attacking them everywhere.Idah did not have fortifications like Benin did, the moats of Benin were very important in that city’s defence. The walls of Idah were her brave young men who fell on the beaches of ega. Ameh Oboni the Attah who might have thought that holding of and prolonging the war would make the Benin forces run out of supplies was wrong. The Benin’s came fully prepared, the camp at Agenebode was thriving on its own as slave labour was used in growing food and bringing in war supplies from the northern part of edo land especially weapons. It became a siege and the igalas were getting weaker. The Attah saw this and he consulted with his diviners. 

A sacrifice was needed to end the war, a human sacrifice from the Attah’s own household. The gods choosed no other person  than his beloved INIKPI. She was described by the Igalas as a true definition of beauty, she was the Attah’s daughter and probably his favorite. Inikpi was willing ti help her father as that was the only alternative to end the war. Queen Idia was not ready for a truce, she wanted idah to burn and her desire for this mearnt more and frequent attacks on both armed and unarmed igalas. She had captured lots of war slaves of igala natives, but all she wanted was her prize. Inikpi was sacrificed at Ega water side, just very close to the market at a hill top facing Agenebode. The sacrifice was potent, the Benin’s saw Idah in flames from Agenebode. The war was over, Queen Idia would march home a proud and accomplised woman and mother. The Ekasa dance that is performed by sertain sects for the Oba of Benin is an igala dance that the igala slaves had to dance before Oba Esigie. Till date, their descendants are the only ones who perform this dance in the palace.The war was over, but it left behind many tales and legends for many communities scattered across Edo, Delta and Kogi states. Many towns were formed by warriors who could’nt return home after the war. The Benins came out of that war better organized and equipped. They saw the advantages of guns and tried very hard to make sure they had enough of it and others did not. This was to enable them remain on top for a long time. The adverse effect of the war was also strong on the Igalas as thier hunger for imperial glories and taste of the atlantic coast was never actualized. Agenebode was a constant check and reminder to them that the Oba of Benin was not going to share in his monopoly of trade along the coast with anybody that would not accept him as overlord. The war also prepared the Igalas for further attacks from their northern neighbours. After the war, Agenebode and Idah became sister towns. Today, they intermarry and share many things in common. Their market days differ by a day or two and they have this agreement that on Idah market day, Only the ferry men from Agenebode would work and transport goods and passengers accross the Niger and the reverse is the same on Agenebode market days. indeed culture is shared, culture is beautiful. God bless the Oba of Benin andHis Brother the Attah of Igala Land. God bless Benin, God bless Idah.

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