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Published On: Fri, Oct 25th, 2019

How Founder Of Igbe Religion, Ubiesha Attracted Benin Monarch To Urhobo Kingdom

File photos of artifacts of Oba of Benin Kingdom

By Young Erhiurhoro
LAGOS OCTOBER 25TH (URHOBOTODAY)-Since the beginning of the Igbe religion in Uhwokori, Agbon Kingdom in Ethiope East LGA of Delta state by Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo in the 18th century, no doubt, it received a wide reception by first, the Urhobo people and gradually before it spread to other parts of the state and beyond. This was as a result of its numerous miracles performed by the founder of the religion by just using the fired lump of clay (Orhe) to heal different range of sicknesses and diseases prevalent in those days among the people.
Actually the fame of Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo gone beyond the creeks and the seas and this was where the Igbe religion pulled much followership and membership at that time. The potency and the healing power imbued in the ordinary clay soil by the Oghene or Orise (God Almighty) surpassed the understanding of so many people in the then Benin Empire. The news of the miraculous works of Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo fused into the thin air like airwaves of a radio station carried to the palace of the most dreaded monarch in the whole of Benin Province then; Oba Egware 1, Uku Akpololo, Omo’No,Oba, the Oba of Benin. This great news was brought to the attention of the Oba by Benin rich men and women that were converted into the new religion. The above story was artistically woven and told as a song by an Urhobo music meastro, late Chief Ogute Otan of the Udje Songs extraction from Udu Kingdom in Udu LGA of Delta state to corroborate the oral facts of this very story. This song was done in the early 70s.
By this very act, we must know that the Oba of Benin Province then was the only paramount ruler in the province. Every other traditional ruler was under his jurisdiction and authority. In Urhobo for instance, it was widely believed and accepted that the Urhobo people migrated from Benin, may be as a result of inter or intra communal wars among the people or as a result of the autocratic leadership by the Oba then.
According to the Histories of the Urhobo People as written by erudite Professors Sam Oyovwaire, Onigu Otite, Young Michael Nabofa and Peter Ekeh from their different educational disciplines and academic perspectives, it was recorded that the Urhobo people migrated from Benin in the reign of the Ogiso dynasty. The reigns and rules of the Ogisos in Benin were very hectic and didatic. This made so many people to fled the land of Benin to other virgin lands. So it was this time too, that the founders or ancestors of the Urhobo people fled.
Therefore, the Urhobo people till these days still trace their ancestry and origin to the great Benin Kingdom. Secondly, as it were, what is today known as kingdom or clan in Urhoboland started by the conglomerate or coming together of notable leaders in the various communities by sending the most viable and capable leader among the people to Benin, for the Oba to bestow on such persons chieftaincy titles and royal rights to be known as the Ovie or monarch among the people. Without doubt, it’s glaringly clear that virtually all the twenty-four recognized kingdoms in Urhoboland trace their traditional stool and royalty to the ancient Benin Kingdom except few. This therefore made the fame of the Oba of Benin so high in Urhoboland in those days. Another remarkable fact about the fameness of the Oba at that time was that, whenever the Oba wanted to celebrate his annual new-yam (Efa) festival, all his gazetted traditional rulers from Urhoboland and other parts of his empire, must pay homage to him as a practical sign of their allegiance and loyalty to him and his government. It was even said in those days that, any traditional ruler in Urhoboland that couldn’t pay his annual homage to the Oba for at least three consecutive times, such a king would be dethroned and derobed as a traditional ruler.
In other words, it was always a thing of great joy whenever the Oba of Benin says he would pay a visit to a traditional ruler or a notable wealthy man in any community in Urhoboland. The visitation of the Oba was more than a feast and was always attended with great honour by dignitaries. It was like the triumphant entry or visitation of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem in the Bible. The Oba and his entourage would be treated to great honour and fanfare. He must be given a royal or heroic welcome and in most cases, the Oba would not be allowed to even step his feet on our dirty grounds. Both men and women would bring all their most expensive clothes and spread them on the floor for the Oba to march. The Oba of Benin then was in the same shoes and classes of the Ooni of Ife, Alafin of Oyo, Sultan of Sokoto and some others across Nigeria.
Infact, as the news of the new religion founded by Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo in Urhoboland filtered into the palace of the Oba by those close to him and tasted the miraculous breakthroughs of the Igbe religion, the Oba decided to embark on an emergency and fact-finding visit to Prophet Ubiesha and his new Igbe religion. From available oral history of the Igbe religion, it was said that the visitation of the Oba of Benin was communicated to Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo in a dream by the Oba himself.
However, the date and time of the the visit was not revealed to the great man of God. But when Prophet Ubiesha woke up from the dream, he told it to his new wife, Erukanure and the multitude of his followers. He also advised them to always prepare because nobody knew when the Oba would visit. True to his dream and words, the Oba of Benin Kingdom, Egware 1, Uku Akpololo, Omo’No Oba came in the company of some of his servants and disguised as a sickler and infidel (Omokatifi).
In those days, it was believed that the Oba of Benin was a super human being infused with much spiritual powers. He could change from a normal human being to an insane or a sick person. He could equally change from a man to a woman. In addition to this, the Oba of Benin was also surrounded by chains of medicine men in his palace. It was believed that those medicine men always prepared for him charms and protective medicines to protect him from unxepected attacks by enemies within or outside his kingdom. Also, these powerful medicine men always accompanied him whenever he was embarking on a visit within or outside his kingdom. On this note, the Oba was very proud of himself and brutal on disobedient servants in the palace and even among his subjects as well.
On that fateful day of the visit, Prophet Ubiesha put on his usual white clothes, which is today the accepted uniform of the religion all over the world. Prophet Ubiesha was offering prayers to God Almighty in his worship hall when suddenly he saw this sickler of a person. Ordinarily, no one would want that kind of person, smelling badly with sores over his body to come near his dwelling. But as soon as Prophet Ubiesha saw the sickler, God told him that, the sickler was the great Oba of Benin that promised to pay him a visit.
Without hesitation and to the surprise of his followers, Prophet Ubiesha happily ran to the sickler at the entrance of his palatial compound and welcomed him to the compound. He took the sickler to his worship hall and allowed him to sit on his personal chair. Indeed, it was a great honour done to a sickler. Thereafter, he brought kola nuts, drinks and money and presented to his august visitor in the disguised of a sickler. To his numerous followers, Prophet Ubiesha was acting like an insane by bringing close such a smelling person but to Prophet Ubiesha himself, it was a great honour done him for the most dreaded monarch to pay him such an august visit. The sickler and his people stayed till the following day and told Prophet Ubiesha that he would like to go back home. That was how the Oba of Benin left Uhwokori to Benin again.
However, when the Oba got home, he called those that brought the news of the new religion and how it was making waves to him and told them that, the news was real and that he went on a sudden visit, even in the disguise of a sickler to deceived and confused Prophet Ubiesha. But yet, he was able to get him and he equally confirmed the potency of the holy chalk. Having said this to the people, he decided to physically send invitation message to Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo. On the D-day, he invited all his chiefs and other notable personalities in Benin to accompany him to visit Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo in Urhoboland. It was during this visit, that Prophet Ubiesha told his followers that the sickler that visited him some time ago was the same Oba of Benin and was truly confirmed by the Oba to the admiration of the people.
During this visit, the great Oba of Benin Kingdom, with his large empire sharing boundaries with the Yorubas to the north and the Ijaws and Calabari to the south, knelt down before Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo, the founder of Igbe religion and begged him to bestow on him, the highest hierarchical position of the Igbe religion known as “Uku”. To Igbe advocates, the “Uku” position is synonymous to a bishop or general overseer of a church. For this great honour, Prophet Ubiesha happily bestowed on the Oba that title of “Uku” as a confirmed and recognized member of Igbe religion. From that very day of the installation and even till this present day, the Oba of Benin started bearing and added the title of “Uku Akpololo” to his numerous titles to tell his successors and heir apparents to the throne about his relationship with the founder of Igbe religion, Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo and the religion itself. As a full member of the Igbe religion, he established a worship hall in his palace and started preaching Igbe religion in his kingdom. During the reign of this very Oba in Benin, so many people became members of this religion. And to the amazement of members and non-members of the religion especially the indigenes of his Uhwokori community, during annual Igbe festivals, the Oba of Benin must pay his homage to Prophet Ubiesha as the religious practice of the Igbe religion.
Without doubt, the relationship between the Oba of Benin Kingdom and the founder of the Igbe religion is today unique and symbolic. It’s unique in that, Igbe advocates call God Almighty “Orise” and “Oweya”. These two names for God are Benin words which literally mean “God Almighty” in the Edo language. Since the Oba was a unique personality, these two names became popular as he used them to appreciate God during his services in the Igbe religion. Today, most prayers in the Igbe religion are said in the name of “Orise or Oweya” which means God Almighty in Edo language. Secondly, the relationship is symbolic as the Oba of Benin even till today still uses the holy chalk, a fired lump of clay soil (Orhe) that he took from Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo as instrument and property of worship in his numerous shrines and worship halls surrounding his palace. Like the words of the Holy Bible, ” Solomon in all his glory and wealth, was never honoured like the son of God.” This is clearly the relationship between the Oba of Benin, Egware 1, Uku Akpololo, Omo’No Oba and Prophet Ubiesha Etarakpo, the founder of Igbe religion in Urhoboland.

Young Erhiurhoro;Kjc is a reporter and a member of the Urhobo Historical Society.

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