Crowning the Oba of Benin Kingdom: tradition 700 years old

Editor’s Note: Ed Keazor is an historian, writer and documentary film-maker, on the subject of African history. He is the author of the work ’120 great Nigerians we never knew’, ‘The Lagos-Hamburg line.’

Story highlights

Oba Erediauwa is the 40th Oba of the Benin kingdom

The Oba is seen as next only to the creator

CNN  — 

Thousands of colorfully dressed people marched through the ancient streets of the proud city of Benin.

Streets that had for almost a millennium been trodden by illustrious ancestors and unwelcome intruders alike.

Warriors clad in black, royalty, chiefs and noblemen, clad in red and white, and ordinary citizens, in all colors, joined a teeming, powerful procession.

At the front of the throng was the man previously referred to as Prince Eheneden Erediauwa, the Edaiken n’Uselu.

At either side of him stood two chiefs, who gently led him along by his arms to the sacred site of his coronation, across the Omi River.

Tradition, 700 years old

For the people of Benin this ceremony is of the utmost importance, as they see the king or “oba,” as next only to the creator.

Kingship as an institution is much more than a ceremony hence the kingdom’s strict and largely uncompromising adherence to ancient customs and traditions.

This is symbolized by the fact that many of these ancient ceremonies have been passed down from generation to generations of kings for almost 700 years.

Although there have been minor changes the coronation of Prince Ehenden Erediauwa could have taken place 500 years ago.

The prince’s journey to the throne started several months earlier, when he started ‘emwin n’ekhua’- the traditional process of ascension after hearing of his father’s passing, but the final phase began twelve days prior at the prince’s palace.

Performing sacred rites

During a series of both ceremonies spanning twelve days, ancient sacred rites were performed as the prince journeyed across the kingdom, mostly on foot.

One of the most important stops on this journey was to Use village, where one of the most important ceremonies took place– the choosing of the name or title of the new king.

After this, the coronation ceremony was performed by the High Chief Oliha, the head of the Benin chiefs.

The final part of the journey led the prince to the ancient town of Isekhere, the procession crossed the Omi River Bridge, sacred rituals were performed and the prince made the short journey to the final station at the the Urho-okpota Hall. It was here that Oba Ewuare II, ascended to the throne of Benin.

As is customary with coronations there was a glittering array of dignitaries ranging from the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, to traditional rulers such as the Ooni of Ife, but for the thousands of fiercely loyal and proud citizens of the ancient city, there was only one focus- their newly crowned king.