Igue festival is a celebration with its origin in the Benin Empire. It was originally celebrated as a festival to renew Oba Ewuare’s magical powers. One tradition state that the festival date coincided with the marriage of Ewuare to a wife named Ewere. Celebrated between Christmas and New Year, the festival includes the Oba’s blessing of the land and his people. During the Igue ritual season, the Oba is prohibited from being in the presence of any non-native person.
Oba, Bini mark end of year Igue festival
About a week after Ewere entered the harem, she began to think of her sister, Oyoyo, and she cried every day. Oba Ewuare again sent a message to Ogieka, asking him to allow Oyoyo to visit her sister.
This request was promptly granted by Ogieka, and Ewere was very pleased to see her sister, but on arrival Oyoyo decided to marry as well. So the two sisters became wives of the Oba.
When Oyoyo became pregnant, the Oba sent her to the Ihama at Idunmwihogbe for proper care and there she gave birth to a daughter.
As a token of his gratitude, the Oba awarded the Ihama the Odibokofo (a large collar made entirely of red beads) and gave his wives the right to dress their hair in the Ukpokhokho style, like the Oba’s wives. This elevated the Ihama to a higher position than ever before, and the Odibokofo has been worn by every Ihama at every Ugie-Ewere ceremony till date.
Throughout his reign, every year the Oba celebrated Ugie Ewere, that is the anniversary of his happy and prosperous marriage to Ewere at the Igue festival. Here the Ihogbes present symbolic Ewere leaves to the Oba.
The Bini have a long lineage of Obas, and Igue is also an occasion to celebrate Ugie-Evhoba among other occasions. During this period, the anniversary of their deaths is celebrated by the Bini, and for seven days propitiations are made to the spirits of the departed Obas. This is done to invoke their blessing on the reigning monarch and their family and subjects.
The Igue festival, which is a period for offering thanks to the gods for sparing their lives and to ask for blessings, is also used for offering sacrifices to some shrines in the palace. During this period, chieftaincy title holders display their Eben emblem in the Ugie dance as they appear in their traditional attire, according to the type of dress the Oba bestowed on individual chiefs during the conferment of title, while the Oba seats majestically in the royal chamber (Ogiukpo).
Confirmation and conferring of titles on deserving citizens by the Oba are carried out during the festival, although this could be done any time the Oba deems fit. While it is also a period to drive away evil spirits (Ubi) and bring blessings (Ewere) to every home in the kingdom, it is a period traditionally set aside by the Bini to thank the gods for blessings on the Oba, his palace, harem and subjects. Ancestral gods are worshipped for protection and propitiation done in the various palace societies. The shrines are considered holy and therefore defied traditionally. The Oba pays homage at the shrines and he is accompanied by some of his chiefs. Indeed, it is a period of merriment, rituals and dancing.
During the seven days of elaborate traditional and cultural activities, Bini chiefs are seen in their enviable traditional regalia, including the Iloi (Queens) in their Okuku (hairdo). It is a rare occasion of their public appearance, where the Oba’s stalwarts (Ifietes) are seen in active service. Traditional dances like Esakpaide, Ohogho and above all the display of Eben by the chiefs while dancing and paying homage to the Oba in Ogiukpe at Ugha Oba or the Oba’s chamber.
During the festival, Ugie dance is performed by all important chiefs, including the Iyase, leader of Eghaevbonore. When Chief Esoghan dances with the Eben, the Iyase follows with the Eben. After homage to the Oba as leader of his subjects or Eghaevbonore, nobody else dances with the Eben as homage to the Oba on that particular day.
The Ugie dance as typified is a ceremonial palace dance performed during the annual festival in honour of the Oba. It is also an ancestral dance by chiefs who perform sacrificial and priestly functions in the shrines at the end of a successful year while soliciting for a happy new year.
As the chiefs dance with the decorative Eben symbol of authority, they chorus incantations, and using Edo proverbs they communicate wisdom, pay homage and answer questions through gesticulations during the Ugie dance at the palace.
It is difficult for anyone who does not belong to any of the palace societies to understand.
The symbolic moments go into great conflicting details about the ritual dialogue between the dancing chief at the ceremony and the Oba. The monarch is seated majestically at Ugha Ozolua and arrayed in ceremonial robes amidst his retinue of chiefs in Ughozolua, as he receives homage from his chiefs in the dance, which reassures him of their loyalty.
During the dance with the Eben by each chief, every effort is made to prevent its falling down during display. If it falls, there is a heavy penalty involving sacrifices to some shrines at the palace for profanity.
After it is publicly announced by the town criers, the festival kicks off with Otue, meaning greetings. Members of the Ihogbe (a palace society) together with important Edo chiefs pay tribute to the Oba, who presents a bowl of kolanuts. With the kolanuts, the chiefs bless the Oba and his family.
After this, there is a social gathering in the palace, during which members of the various palace societies and the public entertain the Oba with different dances. The Oba himself takes part in the dance. In other words, he entertains his guests lavishly.
The second day is for rituals. The Oba, dressed in ceremonial attire with all his wives and his young children assemble in the royal chamber. He is sanctified by the Efas (priests of blessings). After this, the Oba offers prayers before handing the sacrificial items to the Isekhure, who offers the last benediction before the Ehondor slaughters the animals.
Chief Isekhure anoints the Oba in the presence of Chief Ihama, other chiefs and members of the various palace societies. After the sacrifice, the chiefs dance to the Oba and his family with the Eben.
Every chief scheduled for Ugie dance leaves his home dancing with his followers. He dresses in his traditional regalia permitted by the Oba or granted him on the day of conferment of his title. No chief dresses in a manner or attire not permitted him by the Oba. As a chief moves from home to the palace, he dances with two men beside him among others holding his hand to and from the palace.
On the last day of the festival, that is, the seventh day, Chief Osuma of Benin collects the Ewere and then hands it over to the Ihogbe, who in turn hands Ebewere to the Oba in a dance procession and melodious traditional songs about Ewere.
The Igue festival has however endured and continues to retain its main features despite modernisation in all aspects of political, economic, sociological and technological development. The Bini Kingdom still pays so much attention to traditional matters because, according to the Iyase of Benin, Chief Sam Igbe, tradition is supreme.
Before this year’s event, the Iyase had appealed to all Bini chiefs, Enigie Edionwere, Igiohen and all elders and leaders to encourage and organise youths to enable them take more interest in the Ugie-Ewere celebration. He also appealed to motorists to respect the celebrants on the roads, stressing that, “this festival is a way of expressing our love, joy and goodwill to our people.”
This year’s event was, however, marred by serious security problem in the state capital. “The security situation has so deteriorated, with the increasing incidence of policemen and civilians being mowed down by armed robbers,” the Oba lamented, adding, “we and our chiefs are very disturbed by this development, and we have been deliberating on the situation for quite sometime now.”
Expressing sympathy with families that lost members and property, Omo N’Oba Erediauwa prayed God to grant peaceful repose to the souls of those who died, and quick recovery to those receiving treatment in the hospitals.
It on record that it was during the Igue festival that the British on trade expedition turned down the advise of Benin chiefs not to defy the tradition of the people by insisting on seeing Oba Ovenranwen Nogbaisi. The spontaneous reaction of the chiefs ended the life of Consul Philips and his team. This resulted in the Benin Expedition of 1897, which created room for the looting of Benin historical relics including the FESTAC symbol yet to be returned to the ancient city of Benin.