The Origin Of The Igbinoko People Of Benin Kingdom

The origin of the Egbi-noko (Igbinoko) Kingdom, the aboriginal people of present day Imiegba community, is still a subject of argument among modern historians. It is generally agreed in the oral tradition that there were Igbinoko people found in the territory that is today known as Imiegba community in the Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State.

What has been a point of disagreement is whether they were autochthonous to this region or emigrated either from the ancient Benin Kingdom or from Ghana historians are still searching. Either owing to political or population pressure, or both, the ancestors of the Igbinoko entered the forest area of the present day Imiegba community earlier than hitherto supposed. Some Igbinoko elders narrated orally that the Igbinoko people had lived in the area for years (some have argued in favor of a century or more) before the rest of the Ivie people began to migrate to the territories.

One question that is still unclear to some people in the Imiegba community is: “What brought about the emergence of Imiegba community?” The Answer to this question may already have been provided in oral tradition that some of the Igbinoko people appear to have spread across the forest in different settlements that made them a majority in ancient Igbinoko Kingdom, while some have postulated other views for the emergence of Imiegba community in the Igbinoko land. This piece of work sets out to answer this question following meticulous research of notable events in history.  Our take-off point shall be to look at the Igbinoko people from their origin to their final settlement.


Migration Of The Ancient Igbinoko People

The Igbinoko are the aboriginal natives of all the areas now called North Ibie extending from Igodor through to Ukholo in the tropical forest of present-day Edo State. They are peace-loving foresighted and very accommodating people. Their foresightedness is rooted in their origin which has to do with the Igbinoko tribe’s migration from the present-day Benin (i.e. Benin Kingdom) shortly after the then king’s stool was relocated from Usama to the present-day Oba Palace of Benin Kingdom by Oba Ewedo, who reigned around 1255 – 1280 AD.

The story is told that Oba Ewedo became king and his ascension was followed by power tussle in Usama. To avoid further power tussle, Oba Ewedo decided to move the seat of power from Usama to its present domain where the capital is now located. It was based on this drastic decision by Oba Ewedo that the Igbinoko through their foresight, foresaw that the reign of Oba Ewedo was going to be tumultuous and that it would  lead  to violence, persecution and wars because of his decision to relocate the traditional seat of power (Government) to   where it is today in Benin kingdom. Based on the expected unsafe environment the Igbinoko took the decision to migrate Northwards of the Benin kingdom. True to this revelation, the tension of violence and war became obvious and imminent.

But Oba Ewedo, as a known disciplinarian curtailed the looming violence and war. In the effort to curtail the war he built the first prison in Benin.  Also, Oba Ewedo is today credited as the architect of key administrative reforms in the Benin kingdom. He also fought several expansionist wars to extend the boundaries of the Benin Kingdom to as far as Owo and Akure. When the Igbinoko migrated from Benin Northwards, after all the odds and challenges encountered on their journey, they arrived at a place called Ujiokpa where they deemed fit and safe to settle, which they did as approved by the oracle. At this Ujiokpa the Igbinoko established their shrine and a village square which up till today still exists and serves as a tourist attraction. They expanded their territory to as far as Ukholo during the time the Okhilie people where forced on exile. The Igbinoko deforested Uchoke, Obodo and Apata, and turned them into unprecedented farmlands and a settlement.


The Origin Of The Igbinoko People Of Benin Kingdom
Igbinoko community – image credit: google

However, there was an alleged recurring river blindness disease that most farmers in the area often suffered from which caused the first abandonment of the Uchoke, Obodo farmlands a settlements area. In fact, the foresight of the Igbinoko is still very relevant today, because their movement Northwards of Benin Kingdom to the ancient Igbinoko Kingdom is a great proof of their accurate premonition of unforeseen disaster before it would come to pass

The migration of Igbinoko might have been assumed to have started from the Benin Kingdom to the ancient Igbi-noko Kingdom; but the fact is that assumption is very myopic because the Igbinoko earlier migration started long ago before they temporarily settled in Benin Kingdom. In fact, oral legend has it that when the ancient Igbinoko people left Ghana’s territory from a place called Abinji, they arrived at a temporary settlement called Usama on the outskirts of Benin from where the seat of power was relocated to the present place of the Benin Kingdom. Although not much is known about the people of Igbionoko as at that time, it can be agreed that they are both unique and distinguished by nature.


The Origin Of The Igbinoko People Of Benin Kingdom
Google map of Igbinoko – image credit: google

The Igbinoko people are located in the Northern part of Edo State, Nigeria, and are related to many neighboring communities like the Okpella and the Apana people because of the great affinity and similarities they share. However, with reflection on the tales of oral tradition, it is convincing to agree with Robert Mckeon’s statement, inter-alia, that the North Ibie people are probably the indigenous natives from whom most small tribes of the Agbelo people descended.    Although, much emphasis has not been placed on this claim but it is believed that it is the early settlement of the ancient Igbinoko in the North Ibie area that had led to the emergence of sub-villages such as Imiakebu and Itsukwi. The Okpekpe people have been assumed to have a different migration history which started from another direction and base on this believe that made them to have a different clan from the Ivie people. Though some legend oral tradition claims that the Okpekpe people are descendants of the Awori people in Ile Ife.

After all, Talbot suggests that by 7000BC permanent settlements of some of the ethnic groups in North Ibie land had already begun and that the Ibie language is probably the most ancient of all the semi-Agbelo speaking dialects that originated from the Twi languages of the Akan people.  This is strongly evidently supported by their similarities of culture, tradition, and language. It is also interesting to note that the present homeland of the Igbinoko people is not their original base.  Available evidence suggests that Abinji (Akan) in Ghana is their original homeland.


The Origin Of The Igbinoko People Of Benin Kingdom
HRH Mallam Ali Sulayman (The Atoma I of Imiegba) – image credit: google

Oral tradition had it that, when the Igbinoko people left the Ghana territory, they arrived at Benin where they settled briefly before they migrated to their present location now called Imiegba community.  They followed two major directions to get to their present abode. One group reached Nigeria through an overland route and settled at Usama (Benin).  There they erected the famous shrine now known as the Coronation Shrine.  From Benin, some of the Igbinoko people migrated to Ughoton (a village near Benin) while the others migrated further southwards and to other areas.

The migration of the Igbinoko people was a peaceful one and a calculated movement with constant consultations of the oracle that led them out of Usama till they arrived at a place they named as Ogbe but now called ‘Obe’ in the present day Imiegba (Ogbe was Originated from Benin).

The Igbinoko settled at Ogbe due to the good nature of the place.  Ogbe land was like the Benin Moat which served as protection against any advancing enemies. They left this place after discovering a potable water stream in the deep forest running through the hills.  Hence, they left Ogbe to a place later to become known as Ujiokpha.  They settled Ujiokpha under some shading trees closed to an Iroko tree.  So, they named the place “Egbi-noko (meaning close to Iroko tree) where they dwelled as their permanent abode. This decision to take Egbi-noko as permanent abode was informed by the fact that the oracle confirmed that there was a powerful stream with spiritual force around the area that was capable of protecting them against enemies and other evil spirits.

The three (3) Most Recognized First Known People To Settle At The Present Day Imiegba Were: 

  •    Omomwe
  •     Ekhagbor
  •    Okhelie

These groups of people stand as kindred in the history of ancient Igbinoko kingdom.