Whilst the Christians have CHRISTMAS, the Muslims have the FEAST OF RAMADAN, the Jews have the HANUKKAH, the African-American have the KWANZAA and the Edos have the IGUE FESTIVAL. Igue festival ushers in the new year for every Edo-speaking man before the incursion of the white man. Igue emhasizes the " the ritual of Head worship " by every Edo-speaking man.
The massacre of British troops at UGBINE on January 4th 1897, took place at the height of the festival of the year-1896.
The present day Igue festival is a shadow of its former glory. Between 1897 and 1914, it was not celebrated. Oba Ovonramwen was entombed by human security network of the British agent, Sir Ralph Moor at Calabar. At this time in 1899, Iyase OKIZI was the defacto Oba of Benin and not Chief Agho Obaseki. General Ologbose have been captured and executed by the Biritish soldiers. The guerrilla warfare led by General Ologbose had lost steam after the battle of Okemue. The crown Prince Aiguobasimwin, later Oba Eweka II, was on the run with his own military batallion. The Esans (Ishan) were still resisting British rule especailly Irrua and Uromi. The Enogie of Uromi had made it known to the British Resident that, he had not sufficiently explained to him, what they have done to Oba Ovonramwen.
Oba Ovonramwen of Benin Kingdom in exile
Iyase Okizi, was an Edo patriot and soldier, who organised the defence of Ekiti land against the Ibadans. At his defence in 1897 trial after Benin fell, he was more concerned with yoruba soldiers fighting on the side of the British. Some of these soldiers he had trained in the art of warfare while he was in Yoruba land. He did not deny his involment in the massacre of 1897. In fact, he gave the order to General Ologbose, to use all means possble to prevent the white man, from making it to Benin through Ughoton. When the British soldiers showed their faces, he gave the order to attack. Since he was not physically on the scene of battle, the British agent could not convict him. On him then rested the organisation of a civil administration. He became the leader of the the Native Administration. He started building a new palace for himself, having been told Oba Ovonramwen was not coming back. He soon got involved in a running battle with other chiefs especially the royalist and the Briitish agents. He died suddenly in his sleep in the early days of 1900 without spending one night in his new palace.
Igue festival came back with the restoration of the monarchy in 1914. Chief Agho Obaseki, the right hand man of Oba Ovonramwen was now the Iyase of Benin. The christians quickly moved in on both of them. Chief Agho was converted to christianity. Oba Eweka II refused to celebrate Igue festival of 1916/17. Then Influenza epidemic struck in 1918 in the after math of the WORLD WAR 1. Thousands of Edo-speaking people died as a result of the epidemic. The Edos blamed it on the non-observance of Igue festival. Law and order almost broke down in Benin City as the common man went rioting. The Governor had to send troops down to Benin to restore order. The Governor was furious and was bent on punishing Oba Eweka II for causing such a disturbance. A Commission of Inquiry was set up ostensibly aimed at Oba Eweka II. At the hearing, Oba Eweka II turned the table on the British Administration.
He laid the blame of non-observance of Igue Festival on the three people:
a) The Resident for supporting and encouraging Chief Agho Obaseki to convert to christianity b) The christians for converting his Iyase-the Prime Minister. c) Chief Agho Obaseki for converting to an alien faith while holding on the most highest traditional office in Edo land.
I can not celebrate Igue Festival without my Iyase. When you took my Iyase away, you took Igue festival with him," Oba Eweka II was reported to have told the Commission of Inquiry.
The Commission, in view of other complaints, many of them false, recommended that Chief Agho Obaseki be stripped of his titles and office. It was leaked to the old man, who had gathered a lot enemies since 1897, when Oba Ovonramwen was taken into captivity from chief Agho Obaseki's house. The very night the report left Benin enroute to the Governor in Lagos, Chief Agho Obaseki died. THAT IS THE POWER OF IGUE FESTIVAL ON THE EDO PEOPLE. The present format of Igue festival is very different from that of 1896. The Igue itself-where the Oba perform the head worshipping ritual used to be hidden from the public. When the Christians and the enemies of the mornachy continued to accused Oba of Eweka II of human sacrifices, he decided to open it to the public. Some of the walls at Ugha Ozolua were pulled down. Oba Akenzua II reorganised it into a fourteen day period. That is what we have today.
Igue festival has been celebrated continously for the past 500 years. Not much is known about what European travellers and missionaries have written about it from 1600's.
According to Alan Ryder in his book, " Benin and the Europeans",
'...the Spanish Capuchin Missionaries were in Benin City, on August 10, 1651 and had problem having an audience with the Oba. They came during the Igue festival of 1651. Here is how Father Felipe de Hijar's described what he saw: The chief men of the city who, the natives say , number more than two thousand , were entering the palace, all wearing the various costume appropriate to the ceremony. They went in until they filled the four courtyards of the palace., and as it was now one o'clock and the palace was crowded and we entered the first court yard. Among those who were watching us was a venerable old man who, by outward appearance , seemed a veritable St. Peter. He made a sign that we should follow him. We were amazed because we had never seen him before that moment, and also because the negroes had always taken care that we should not see the sacrifices. In the end we went with the old man from one court yard to another until we reached the last one where, of his own accord, he told us to stand under the gallery of the courtyard. In the middle of the gallery we found a table on which lay the scimitars that were used to decapitate five men and five animals of every species found in that country. They performed their ceremonies, finished their cries; then the great men started to dance; and the King with them, making a turn of the courtyard so that they caught sight of us...'
The Oba of Benin referred to here is probably Oba Ahenzae (ca1641-1661A.D), the Oba who refused to see any white man, on the ground that an oracle had predicted that , a Benin Oba would die in the hands of the white man. The Spanish Capuchin Missionaries were promptly expelled from Benin City, for seeing what they were not supposed to have seen. They were dumped at Warrigi ( modern Warri) and warned never to return to Benin City.