In this report, HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE navigates the ancient palace of the Ogiamen dynasty in Edo, highlighting the rich history locked away within the palace.
Originally, it was the Ogiso (king of the sky in Benin) who held the reins of power in Igodomigodo as Benin was then called. They needed a seat of government from which they could administer the vast territory. Built in the 12th century AD, several Ogiso ruled the land from the palace of Ogiamien until the end of the Ogiso dynasty and the ascension of Oba Eweka 1 in 1170.
In the pantheon of legendary sky kings, 32 Ogisos ruled over Benin starting with Ogiso Igodo who ruled from 900 to 925 and ending with Ogiso Erhebor in 1170. One of the few surviving structures from the invasion of Benin in 1897, the historic Palais Ogiamien dates back more than 1000 years. While nearly every house, including the majestic Oba Palace, was razed to the ground and Oba Ovonramwen deposed, unexpectedly the centuries-old Ogiamian Palace was spared the wrath of the invaders.
Even with the end of the Ogiso dynasty and the signing of the Ekiokpagha Treaty between Ogiso Erhebor and Oranminyan’s son, Oba Eweka 1 which ended the civil war, the Ogiamians and their palace continue to play an important role in the very interesting history and culture. of Greater Benin.
A descendant of Ogiamien, Chief Roland Ogiamien said the palace is one of the few places the Oba of Benin visits who is usually done at night through an impromptu door carved into the wall, the door of the spirit. which must be rebuilt immediately after the departure of the night visitor.
It was in recognition of the important role it played in the history of the Benin Empire that the colonial government, in 1959, declared the palace a national monument. While Ogiamians were still allowed to live inside, the house was placed under the guard of officials from the National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
Located on Sakponba Road, less than a kilometer from downtown Ring Road, the edifice was constructed with red earth. The masterpiece of Beninese architecture undoubtedly represents the power and glory of Greater Benin. Surrounded by modern buildings, the monument with its ancient walls, rusty brown zinc sheet roof and ten courtyards in its bowels is enchanting.
Again with the many artifacts, some dating back almost a millennium, a stroll through the Magic Palace conjures up imagery of life in Benin in the 12th century. Acting as a tour guide, the Ogiamian chef said there used to be almost 24 courses but added that due to non-maintenance and inactivity they have been reduced to less than ten. According to him, the courtyard which is called Ikhunire in Benin was where the Oguedion was located and was where the elders sat with Ogiamien, the spiritual leader of the family.
Pointing to the ancestral shrine, the Ogiamian chief explained that this is where the head of the family worships every morning, noting that during the feast of Ague which Christians call Lent, every Ogiamian is encouraged to fast and pray. at the family altar three times a day, just like their great ancestor, Ogiamien.
In another courtyard with lots of artifacts, the Grand Chief explained that the place is for singing and dancing. He said that only recently the wall fell down and there was a big hole, requiring a lot of renovations.
He continued, “We had to remove all the artifacts from the Ohedian House, but we will be bringing them back very soon once the renovations are complete.”
Showing a stool, the former Ogiamian noted that, as is customary for every Beninese monarch during his initiation rites, he was introduced by the immediate past Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba Erediauwa.
He added: “If Ogiamien wants to do something, he sits on this stool. Each Oba must present a stool when he is about to be crowned. This is part of the installation ceremonies of a new Oba. Some of the stools have been stolen and vandalized. He continued: “There is a sick treatment room, a traditional hospital. If someone was sick, they would set fire and lay that person on a mat, regardless of the illness, the person was better. There is a native bank where Ogiamien kept his money. He covered it with a mat so no one would know there is treasure buried there.
“There is also the Olokun Shrine and all the drums we use for the ceremony are kept there. There’s a store and a prison there to hold the bad guys. Over there is the sign of his ownership of the land. There is the kitchen where the woman cooked and walked across a walkway to serve food to the Ogiamians. This is the room where he kept all his pearls and chose anyone to adorn whenever he went out.
The Ogiamian chief pointed out that only three people pass through the mysterious “Gate of the Spirit” which is broken and must be sealed the next morning. The revered traditional ruler passes through the entrance during his coronation. The wall is broken for the Oba to pass through and is sealed the next morning after the ceremony.
“Again, it is opened during the burial ceremony of an elderly person. We have what is called eruan when someone is dressed very spiritually. He is usually the oldest person in the family and the only person who passes during the funeral rites. He must be covered within 24 hours,” he said.
He explained the importance of Ogiamien in the history of Benin. “It was the palace of the Ogisos, founders of the Kingdom of Benin. When the Ogisos ceased to rule, that’s when the Obas came in. They still existed side by side with the Obas. Ogiamien’s father was Ogiso. It was during his time that Benin was invaded but the Ogiamien in search of peace agreed to coexist. Benin was divided. This is where we are. Ogiamien Erebo is the one who signed the peace treaty,” he said.
He lamented that a quarter of a century ago the head of the House of Ogiamien had disappeared and had not been seen since and since nature abhors a vacuum, the family had had to install another Ogiamian, Ogiamien Arisco after a long wait.
While expressing hope that before the end of the year many good things would happen at the palace, he assured that the artifacts that had been removed for safekeeping would be brought back.
The Deputy Director, Heritage, National Museum, Mr. Akponana Avwerukeruwe, said that when the house was declared a national monument, the museum, in its attempt to keep its laws in force, sent security, maintenance and heritage on site to look after the property.
He added: “It was meant to be a joint management strategy in which the Ogiamien family members and the museum manage it together since they live there.”
He explained that the genesis of the problem dates back to 1998 when the Ogiamien, Chief Osarobo Ogiamien left and has not been seen since he handed over control of the building to his younger sister. The curator went on to say that the lady rented the place out to lumber vendors, sawmills, carpenters, craftsmen and all sorts of businesses that thrived inside the building against the law’s position that says that No structure should be erected within 50 feet of the monument.
“We told the sister what she was doing was degrading, but she chased the museum away and took us to court. We didn’t know who to talk to. In an attempt by the museum to invoke the law, they sued us claiming that the federal government had not paid them any compensation and therefore should not interfere in the management of their property. The problem, as I told you, is that the Ogiamien has been gone since 1998 and has not returned. No one has heard from him since. In 2015, however, the family installed another Ogiamian, His Imperial Majesty, Ogiamien Arisco,” he said.
He assured that once the case is removed from court, the museum will deploy its experts so that they can intervene and restore the palace.
Solemnly swearing that the Ogiamien house will not fall, a prominent member of the family, Prince Michelin Ogiamien, however assured that the resolution of the legal case was in sight as the Ogiamians have since decided to withdraw the case from court. .
He said: “We held a series of meetings to resolve all the issues that were tearing us apart. As you can see, we are currently renovating the palace ourselves. We’re taking the case out of court. We are together again as one big happy old family. Ogiamien is one.