THE EKPEYE STORY
EKPEYE ART — A DETAILED MAP OF EKPEYE CARVED ONTO WOOD BY THE LATE GOOD-AMBITION EZEKIEL OF EBIRIBA 1 COMMUNITY. THIS MAP SHOWS ALL 80+ EKPEYE VILLAGES CONTAINED WITHIN EKPEYE’S FOUR REGIONS UBIE, UPATA, AKOH AND IGBUDUYA.
Benin Empire was one of the greatest of the time. They were said to have migrated from Oduduwa Empire of the Yorubas. The Obas had little regards for human beings. They were taken as the ancestors and thereby were honored as gods. At about 1542 AD, during the reign of Oba Awuarre, his atrocities were so severe that his subjects could no longer bear; hence, they planned to assassinate him. The plot was revealed to the Oba who instantly became very hostile to the people. The hostility resulted to a great exodus of people from the Benin Empire for fear of being killed. Amongst the brave soldiers of the Oba and also of the royal family, was a man called Akalaka. He had a son called Ekpeye. He also has a sister who was one of the noble ladies of the palace of the Oba. As was the custom for Oba’s pleasure, beautiful ladies were drawn from noble families in the kingdom to serve in Oba’s palace.
Akalaka was a very close general to the Oba. Incidentally, the Oba suspected that the assassination plan must have been masterminded by his nearest men of which Akalaka was one. The accusation was revealed to Akalaka’s sister. To save the life of her brother, she secretly told him. In order to escape the danger ahead, Akalaka fled to Agbo with his family and there he married a second wife to gain the love and favor of the people. The wife gave birth to a son who he named Ogba. Still at Agbo, the first wife, Ekpeye’s mother, gave birth to another son and he called him Ihruoda (Ikwere).
Akalaka became very prosperous; his warrior’s nature could not be hidden. He was a great hunter and notorious herbalist. After sometime, he was hated by the people for his bold approach to issues which resulted to open confrontations. The Obi of Agbo planned to conscript the able men of the kingdom, for his services, Ekpeye was listed as one of them. Akalaka having had his experience in his home in Benin kingdom, stealthily left Agbo with his family. He moved southwards, following River Niger. After many years of wandering, he came to the Orashi River. Because Akalaka had waxed old in age, Ekpeye then took over the leadership from is father. Along Orashi River, Ekpeye found a creek on the eastern side of the river. They stopped and stayed for a while, that was where Ikodu Ekpeye is situated now. The inhabitants of the area called Ikpachors were very wicked and hostile. Ekpeye and his people planned to move to the hinterland, but the Ikpachors opposed them and this resulted to a war between them. The Ikpachors were aggressively defeated. Those of them that survived fled to the western side of the Orashi River.
Ekpeye and his entourage entered the hinterland through the creek (Utu) and landed at a lake called Odhulle in the swamp between Ula-Ubie and Ogoda villages, and it is now Ude (lake) Ubie. Though dried up, the relics of the creek at Ikodu-Ekpeye can still be seen today, the shrine (Utu) is being worshipped at Ikodu Ekpeye. They settled at the Odhulle lake for a while after which they moved northwards and founded a good arable land where they settled and called the place Ulobe, meaning, a good place for dwelling. At Ulobe, they celebrated the victory over Ikpachors and thanked their gods for their safe arrival to the place. That is the festival of Ogwu-Ukpukpumini, celebrated annually by Ubie community at the beginning of farming season.
THE EKPEYE PEOPLE
AN EKPEYE VILLAGE, EBIRIBA IN AHOADA WEST LGA…
The Ekpeye have long lived in the land bounded by River Orashi in the West and River Sombreiro in the East; starting out at the northern end from about 3000 BC. Archaeological work showed a steady and very consistent southward movement of the Igbo people, resulting in about AD 1000 in a large settlement mainly at the central geographically elevated area now called Akoh (Dry Land) and Egi. The rise and Expansion of the Benin Kingdom in the following centuries, forced Igbo-speaking but Benin culture-bearing populations down the Niger river into then Ekpeyeland. A socio-political crisis resulted.
A minority of the Ekpeye, who sided with the Benin cultured Igbo immigrants, moved away up north and founded what is now Ogba land, whose language plainly bears the inprints of the Ekpeye and Igbo languages. The commonest historical tale in Ogba and Ekpeye today, is that both are “the sons of one father born of different mothers”. At about 1542 AD, during the reign of Oba Awuarre of Benin, when the Benin kingdom was at its most glorious and its culture at its most widespread, Ogba, which majority were Benin-cultured, created the theory that its Progeneitor was a Prince of Benin. They gave his name as ‘Akalaka’, which noticeably, does not match any personality mentioned in Benin Histories. The man known today as the father of Ekpeye and Ogba is now held by some historians to have left Benin kingdom due to infighting within the royal family; to have fled with his family, amidst rumors of his inevitable demise for his disloyalty to the Oba. That they moved southwards, following the River Niger, eventually settling along the Orashi River (in current day Ubie in Ekpeyeland, southeastern Nigeria).
All the time, the Ekpeye lived in towns settled by members of one, some or all the Seven original distinct families of Ekpeye – Imaji, Uchi, Agolo, Uzhi, Ishikoloko, Edyiwulu and Akpa. They practiced full representative democracy. But the challenges of the politics of colonial government forced in changes. First it was a pseudo kingdom established by one Nworisa Odu of Ogbele town who initially successfully challenged British entry into Ekpeye land via the River Sombreiro. He was pacified with recognition as the Eze of Ekpeye. He was later lured away to Degema, a colonial administrative center,where he died later in about 1890.
Eze Ashirim, who became the first Eze Ekpeye Logbo, brought peace, publicity and pomp to the Ekpeye monarchy and with it came recognition by the Nigerian government and additional political influence in the region. Today (2006) the revered monarchy, is occupied by a retired Nigerian Air Force officer, His Royal Highness Eze Robinson O. Robinson, The Eze Ekpeye Logbo II of Ekpeye land. Although many monarchs in the region are usually hereditary, The Ekpeye monarch is one of a few which relies upon a democratic process in the selection of a new King. Every Ekpeye son or daughter can vie for the throne when it becomes vacant.
THE EKPEYE CULTURE
A TYPICAL EKPEYE DISH, WE ALL LOVE THIS!
Ekpeye people are, perhaps, the most dynamic of southern Nigerian peoples. Its culture is a complex mix of Original Ekpeye, neighbouring Ijaw, and influential Igbo cultures. Ekpeye culture is most similar to Igbo culture because their interactions with the Igbo have been the earliest, the most intense, and the longest. Yet the differences are very plain. For example, among the mask traditions of the Ekpeye the Egbukele, which reached Ekpeye from Ijaw via Abua, is the major one, distinctive for the horizontal fish-shaped headdresses and other animal representations, which are quite distinct from Igbo representations. Contrastingly, the Aarungu and the Owu masks exhibit a wide range of forms and imagery, human and animal, many of which are also found in Igbo.