The Origin of the Etsako People

Stan-William Ede


One of the strongest challenges ever faced by any open-minded historian concerned with the origin and historical development of the Etsako people, is situating the starting point, i.e. telling exactly when, where and how it all started, that evolutionary process that has brought about the Etsako people as they are today. At the time of its earliest unfolding, there were no written records, and as such, there is no real authoritative source that can point to the ‘factum realisimum’ (most authentic fact) of the whence of the Etsako people.

All the bits and pieces of historical information about the origin of the Etsako people as we have them today are derived from what was passed across orally through the centuries. One cannot deny the fact that in such a long period of oral transmission of information spanning through generations of people, so much has been lost and much of the story has changed. As it were, the story now varies from one clan to another and from one village to another, each history teller giving a version that gives primacy or premiership to his own distant ancestry, clan or village. Consequently, there are divergent views about the origin of the Etsako people and these views are as many as there are people concerned with telling or writing the origin cum history of the Etsako people.

As the topic largely suggests, this paper will not attempt to present the “panta manta Etsakou”(the whole history of Etsako), nor the process of the evolution of the Etsako race throughout the entire course of her history. Rather, we have limited ourselves to that fundamental question of “origin” – how it all began. Stating it in the form of a question, it asks: “where did we come from?”

There are many myths and legends existing in Etsako folklores that link the origin of the world with Etsakoland. As there are creation myths amongst our people, so there are various oral stories that trace the origin of the Etsako to Benin and their consequent migration to their present abode.

However, there is a leeway, and that is the fact that in spite of the mythical origins as contained in the legends and folklores of the Etsako people, there is a general consensus amongst history writers which also corresponds to numerous oral traditions as related through the ages, that the Etsako people came from the Bini nation (precisely from Benin), having migrated in stages during the reigns of Oba Ewuare and Oba Ozolua in the 14th and 15th Centuries respectively.

As it were, the said migrations had their causes, the causes too had their effects, and the effects as well had their unique and final outcome – the establishment of the Etsako nation. This phenomenon therefore constitutes theraison-d’être of this paper.

Before we proceed, it is imperative to arrive at some terminological certainties with regards to how we refer to our native races. Very often, we find people and writers applying the rules of grammar concerning pluralization of nouns with the letter “s” when referring to our local nations and races in their plurality. Thus it is common to find people say or write, “the Etsakos, “the Binis”, “the Yorubas”, “the Igbos”, “the Hausas”, etc.  This paper does not subscribe to that trend. Rather, this paper takes the nations, tribes and races from the angle of their pluralistic unity, or what we might also call the “collective singular”.Hence we say, and shall write in the course of this paper, “the Etsako, “the Bini”, “the Nupe”, “the Auchi”, “the Uzairue”, “the Weppa-Wanno”, “the Avhainwu”, “the Ibie”, etc. Note that these respective national terminologies refer to the totality of the race, nation, or clan involved.

Also, note that there are a few references to some particular authors and texts consulted in the course of this research with their details given in the ‘Endnotes’. There are a few other authors and text consulted but not cited because their historical accounts very much similar to the ones sighted. One would also observe that there are no specific references to individuals in terms of oral interviews. It must be stated that a large collection of the materials used for this paper also came from oral sources, persons too many to be mentioned individually[1], and there were also ideas drawn from a few internet tips and vast resources of Etsako cultural songs and dances.


Following the general consensus that the Etsako came from Benin, our excursus will not be complete if we do not trace the whence of the Bini themselves; in other words, where did the Bini people come from and why did the Etsako people take leave of their brothers – the Bini? It is pertinent to note here the difference between “Benin” and “Bini”. The people are “the Bini” while their kingdom or town is called “Benin”, also known as “Edo”.

According to the historical accounts of Jacob Egharevba[2], the Bini people came all the way from Egypt and eventually found a more secure shelter in their present abode after a short stay in the Sudan and at Ile-Ife, which the Bini people call UheBefore coming to their present settlement, a band of hunters was sent from Ife to inspect the land and the report they brought back was favourable. Tradition says that they met some people who were in the land before their arrival. These aboriginals were said to have originally come from Nupe and the Sudan in waves.

For over a century, the management of the affairs of the kingdom was carried out under different leaders. The Benin Empire of the first period whose rulers or kings were commonly known as “Ogiso” was founded about 900 A.D. At that time, the kingdom was known as “Igodomigodo”. Misrule and internal squabbles led to the banishment of the last Ogiso, by name Owodo.

Then came the second period marked by a constitutional change and initiated by the coming of Oranmiyan and his party from Ife about the 12thCentury, wherein the king is known as the “Oba”. Prince Oranmiyan, son of Odudua the Great Ooni of Ife, took up his abode in the palace built for him at Usama, married a beautiful Bini lady called Erinmwinde who bore him a son. After some years of residence in Benin, Oranmiyan called a meeting of the people and renounced his office, remarking that the kingdom was a land of vexation (Ile-Ibinu), a name by which the people became known from then onwards –“Bini”, and the land “Benin”. His son was later crowned as Oba Eweka I (c. 1200 A.D.). The right of succession to the throne remained hereditary, and the Oba was accorded a divinized status in which his word was law and every of his action must the accepted with the humblest submission.

During the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great (c. 1440-1473 A.D.) as the overlord of the Benin Empire, his eldest son, Kuoboyuwa who was the Edayi n’Iken of Uselu and the second son, Ezuwarha who was the Ogie of Iyowa loved each other so much that they had the regular practice of  visiting each other and sending each other gifts. But one day, Ezuwarha was very indignant claiming that Kuoboyiwa called him a bushman by sending him a farmer’s tools, axe, hoe and matchet in return for his own present of yams. Thus came hatred and jealousy in place of the love that earlier existed between the two brothers, and at length, they poisoned each other and both died on the same day.

When Oba Ewuare heard the news of the death of his two eldest sons on the same day, he retired into the inner palace and wept bitterly for his sons. He declared that everyone in the kingdom must mourn the death of his two sons with him. Hence he made a strict law that no one in the land should bathe or dress or have sexual intercourse for three years. This law was too stringent for the people to bear and within this time, a large number of the citizens started to migrate in groups out of Benin to establish their own settlements where they would be free from the strict and obnoxious impositions of the monarch as well as from the various other ‘rights-abuse’ circumstances of the kingdom.[3]

Although, Oba Ewuare later rescinded his decision and tried to stop further emigrations from Benin, it was somewhat too late as many of the folks had gone far already.

Worthy of note is the fact that Oba Ewuare changed the name of the kingdom from Benin to “Edo”, in honour of Chief Ogiefa’s slave called ‘Edo’who saved his life while he was on exile from the kingdom before his accession to the throne. However, when the first Europeans to visit Benin arrived in 1472 from Portugal during the reign of the same Oba Ewuare, their leader Ruy de Sequeria did not appear to have known of the new name ‘Edo’, for it was by the old name‘Benin’ that he made the kingdom known to Europe and the rest of the world.

After the death of Oba Ewuare the Great, his eldest surviving son, Ezoti was placed on the throne, but only reigned for fourteen days. His brother, Prince Okpame was sent to Esi to bring Ezoti’s only son and heir, Owere, in order that he might be crowned Oba. But Owere and his mother were both murdered, for Okpame had dug two holes ready where had mother and son buried alive on their way to the city. Prince Okpame reported to the elders that Prince Owere died from natural causes, but when the truth became known to the chiefs and the people, Okpame was banished and he sought refuge in Ora.

After much persuasion, Olua, the second eldest surviving son of Oba Ewuare was made the Oba of Benin. He was a very kind and generous king whose various acts of generosity were however insulted by some members of his kingdom. On the advice of his son, Iginua, Olua dealt deceptive and excruciating deaths to his offenders, an act that was strongly resented by the Bini people who vowed never to let Igbina succeed his father on the throne.

At the death of Oba Olua (1473-1478), a republican form of government was set up to replace the monarchy. This only lasted for about three years, for those in authority were unable to manage the kingdom properly and they were not obeyed. The people from other villages and other alien towns pillaged the city of Benin, so the chiefs and people of Benin invited Prince Okpame, whom they had expelled from the city, to return home to occupy his ancestral throne and defend the kingdom from her invaders. He was warmly welcomed by the people as deliverer and was duly crowned Oba with the title “Ozolua”.

            The first task facing Oba Ozolua had been to redeem the empire from the disintegration of which all existing and prevailing rebellions and hostilities were symptoms. There were no other available means to subdue the rebels and other hostile groups than to resort to force of arms. Thus, the Benin Empire, during this period, witnessed a series of inter-tribal wars, suppression and oppression of subjects, misappropriation of public funds by the ruling aristocracy, ethnic feuds and many social ills that became so unbearable. What followed is what Aha Dokpesi Okhaishie described as a “migration plague”.[4] Consequently, many more people began to escape from Benin to seek settlements in more comfortable places where they could be masters of their own destinies.

            It is on record that during the reign of Oba Ozolua, mass migrations of different tribes and at different times were recorded.

From the foregoing, one cannot actually place at what exact point in time that the Etsako people emigrated from Benin, or whether they all left once or in batches, or in whose specific reign each or all of the groups left. But one thing is sure, that the Etsako people left from Benin and migrated through various courses until they settled in the present abode between the 14th and the 18th Century.

Thus came migration of the Etsako peoples and the actualization of the Etsako nation – the Agbede, the Anwain, the Auchi, the Avhianwu, the Avhiele, the Ekperi, the Ineme, the Jagbe, the North-Ibie, the Okpella, the South-Ibie, the Uzairue, and the Weppa-Wanno, being the different clans of the Etsako division.


The Etsako nation can be broadly grouped into three sub-divisions, and these correspond to the current political groupings of these areas into Etsako-West, Etsako-Central and Etsako-East Local Government Councils.  The Etsako-West Sub-Division consists of the following clans: Agbede, Anwain, Auchi, Aviele, Jagbe, South-Ibie and Uzairue. The Etsako-Central Sub-Divisionconsists of Avhianwu and Ekperi clans as well as some part of the Ineme clan. The Etsako-East Sub-Division consists of the Okpella, South-Ibie and Weppa-Wanno clans as well as some other groupings of the Ineme clan.

A thorough scrutiny and careful analysis of all the materials I collected and gathered together for this paper – numerous oral sources from different people cutting across the three Etsako-subdivisions as well as various written records both published and unpublished, along with quips from the internet – reveal that most history tellers or writers from the clans in each of the three Etsako sub-divisions have always told the story of their origin and history from the perspective of their respective clans-people, thereby resulting in our having various versions of the same story classifiable into three trends as the assumed leader of the emigrating groups suggest. In effect, there is a fundamental connection with regards to the ancestral names and events that somewhat tie the “origin” stories of the different clans in a particular sub-division together as distinct from those of another sub-division.

Consequently, to make this our expose more explicit, I have divided it intoTHREE TREATISES (1, 2, 3) under which the different versions of “the Etsako story” will be presented. Treatise One (1) will present the history from the Etsako-Western Perspective; Treatise Two (2) will present it from the Etsako-Central Perspective; and Treatise Three (3) will present it from the Etsako-Eastern Perspective.  Be it known however, that even though the different versions of “the story”[5] may appear very much inconsistent with one another, they are at the same time interlaced with one another in what I would term ‘mutuality of outcome’, and that outcome is the upspring of the Etsako. What matters the most however, is that the Etsako people have a history, a wonderful one as well, a history which even the attendant obscurities that age-long oral tradition usually casts upon a people’s history could not enshadow or eclipse.

Treatise 1: The “Etsako-Western” Perspective

a.)  The Patriach Oluku and his Progeny

One of the foremost and most famous writers of the History of Etsako is Peter Omo-Ananigie[6] who hails from the Etsako-West sub-division of Etsakoland, and who wrote his account of Etsako history as far back as 1946.

In his historical account which is much similar to so many of the oral sources gotten from the people of this sub-division, Omo-Ananigie tells of oneOluku, who had 5 sons, Uzairue, Ekperi, Ayawun, Weppa and Wanno.Uzairue married Azama, and to them were born eight sons of whom Ikpe was the eldest. There was at that time in Benin, a rich and powerful man, though not a chief, but very influential, by name, Adenomo. Adenomo seriously persecuted Oluku’s family, and they all fled from his wrath, and all the five brothers went and settled between the swampy River Olie valley, Okpella and Ibie Hills.

Ikpe, who led the children of Uzairue, settled with his seven brothers inUkutegba between today’s Ikpe and Auchi villages. After three months, rumour came that Adenomo was not to leave them in peace, so they all scattered. Each of the other sons of Oluku moved further apart from Uzairue to establish their respective settlements. In the same vein, each of the Uzairue sons founded his village. At first, the Uzairue sons used to send tributes to Benin, but when they found that the messenger who took it there did not return, they gave up paying tribute and appointed one of them to be their Chief. This was the 4th generation from Ikpe and coincided with the beginning of the Nupe ascendancy, Ogbualo was the first man chosen in the direct line of descent from Ikpe.[7]

Most of the other Etsako clans moved from the citadel of Ukutegba to resettle in their respective abode. Thus from archaeological evidence, the following clannish names are now a household name to every boy and girl in Jattu-Ikpe: Ogwa-Iweppa, Ogwa-Ekperi, Ogwa Avhiawun, Ogwa-Ibie,meaning the first place of habitation for the, Weppa, Ekperi, Avianwun and Ibie respectively.[8]

b.)  The Patriarch Adaobi Emigration and the Lady Ise

A very serious implication arises again from Peter Ananigie’s later story that even after the foundation of a homeland for the Etsako people, there were further emigrations from Benin and the emigrants settled amongst earlier comers into Etsakoland. When this happened, they instituted a kind of constitutional change making so great an impact that today, the origin of some clans is traced to such individuals who championed such moves. Prominent among these is the Weppa-Wanno clan whose premier leader is often said to be Patriarch Adaobi

The story goes that the great Adaobi himself led the major of the Ivio-Adaobi emigrations from Benin City. The chief causes of these major emigrations were partly based on political, economic, ethical and other reasons between the Oba of Benin and the Etsako Emigrant groups. Adaobi and his followers travelled a distance of about 23 miles from Benin City, arrived at a place called Obada, and there settled. Within a few years, there grew up a teeming population. Then the Oba of Benin hearing the news of the populated district of the town of Obada, expressed his desire to come there and crown their Adaobi as their king. The news was received at Obada by the entire inhabitants with joy.

However, when the fateful day arrived, the entire citizens of Obada including the sons of Adaobi, Unuakorbe and Igbokpolor, absented themselves and went about their personal ventures. When the Oba arrived at Obada, he found, to his great disappointment and angst, Adaobi and Lady Adaobi sitting all alone in the forum by their palace, just in contradistinction to the thrilling news which necessitated his coming for the coronation ceremony of Adaobi and Lady Adaobi. Making use of his absolute power, the Oba refused the rite of the coronation to be performed on Adaobi. With the coronation rite and other royal privileges associated with kingship withdrawn, Adaobi now engulfed in intense anger, and with the most provocative language and unequivocal terms, cursed the inhabitants of the town called Obada, particularly his sons, that after him, they should have no king. For, scattered as they did, said the angry leader, so shall they continue to be scattered till the end of time.

At once, Adaobi angrily retired to his secret and private “camp”, and then disappeared. Ever since, the people deified him and resulted to worshipping Adaobi with annual sacrifices and other traditional rites. Legends link the town of IVIARI as the first place where the king was first sighted and a subsequent discovery was made at IVIANOKPODI where a strong mansion is built for the honour and worship of the Patriarch.[9]

Intertwined with the story and deification of Adaobi is the story of theLady Ise, her own deification as well, and her lake known as the Lake Ise.

Various legends are there in respect of Lake Ise: some say that a certain hunter while hunting in the heart of the Etsako forests, suddenly discovered a very beautiful lady all alone, and was spinning threads in her hands. The hunter who was captivated by such a beautiful creature approached the lady to know who she was and how she got there. The lady demanded of the hunter that if she were to follow him home, and bless him with prosperity, whether the hunter would be able to keep a committed secret which she would entrust to him; the hunter replied in the affirmative. Then she followed the hunter home. As soon as they arrived, she used her miraculous powers to change the poor habitation of the hunter to a very beautiful mansion. The hunter, however, divulged the secret, and as a result, the Lady disappeared and the hunter found himself in a state of wretchedness and squalor worse than before. The lady then went back to the same spot in the forest where the hunter first met her. When the hunter and other people got there the following morning, they found a big body of water which the woman had created for herself as her new home. Then they started to worship her and offer sacrifices to her. It is known today as the Lake Ise.

Another legend identifies Ise as a lady carrying some load and as a stranger looking for a place for lodging. Someone however, granted her some place for lodging. The host soon found Ise too troublesome to live comfortably with men. The host then took the lady to a culvert around a big tree where there was a collection of water, there he left her and there the lady Ise lived from that day. This place was subsequently visited by Ivio-Adaobi, and found it to be a big Lake which is known as the Lake Ise today. In fact, it is generally believed that the Lady Ise was the wife of the Patriarch Adaobi; for the king left and disappeared very mysteriously in his “Camp” and was last sighted as Iviari and this place is very near where the Lake Ise is now situated.

c.)  The Minor Emigrations of the Etsako People

            Peter Omo-ananigie also made allusions to many other emigrations from Benin City. Notable among these minor emigrations, was that headed by Omoazeand his son Okpisa who were accompanied by Omoaze’s brother Otsomokhae, a priest named Oiwa, and a traveler, Amadi. Having travelled for a considerable number of miles, they met an outcast from the human society, a very young girl, by name Achigia, and having had compassion on her, they received her into their society and subsequently adopted her as a daughter. Omoaze and his band of followers arrived at a place called “Epa” or “Weppa-Na-Pe” and known as the“Ape-Wanno” and a spot named Akieppa, and there settled in these places respectively.[10]

            It may be of interest to note here, however, that these emigrant groups from their mother city, Benin City, did not wish to cut adrift from the mother country, but to make their new home, where they might live as a small or miniature Benin City. This is correctly demonstrated by Omoaze, their leader. It so happened that Omaoze, their leader killed a tiger and as custom had it, he must appear before the Oba of Benin with the tiger’s skin and did homage as appertaining to the times. No sooner had Omoaze left their new-found home that the emigrants began to despair of his return for “one never cooks and awaits a visitor to Benin City”. When the girl Achighia reached the age of puberty, Otsomokare found himself in very trying circumstances. In short, Otsomokhare married Achighia. Thus he begot a son named Okpodi, and his descendants are known and called Ivia-Okpodi On account of the great devotion and marked reverence that Ivia-Okpodi and his brothers first showed to their great Patriarch Adaobi, they are today, called, Ivio-Adaobi, and occupying a place now called“Egoi”[11]

            But Amadi and Oiwa, presumably for economic reasons settled on a large Savanna Forests situated between Ibie on the South-East and Ekperi on the extreme East, and bordering on the Basin of the River Niger, named by them as “Ape-Wanno” which they called and is known today as Weppa.

            Another legend has it that after a long absence from his clan’s people, Omoaze returned from Benin City. With a view to securing a better shelter, clothing and freedom from further Oba’s interference, and by way of a speedy execution of his loyal duty and obligation, Omaoze took his son, Okpisa, and encamped him at “Akieppa” and his descendants are today known and called“Ivio-Okpisa”.

d.)  The Emigration of “Ofugar” Anwun from the Citadel of Ukutegba, Jattu-Ikpe.

Anwu, also called “Ofugar” was once living in a quarter called “Uzora” in Benin City. Under the leadership of Omoazikpe, the entire quarter of “Uzora” set out to find a new home whereby they could comfortably live and be free from the persecutions of their “over-mighty oppressor”, the Oba of Benin at that time. After having spent several tedious years in their quest for better shelter, food and clothing, they arrived at a place called Ikpe, so-named in memory of their leader, Omoazikpe.

            Omoazikpe, the protem leader of the emigrant groups from Benin City ordered his followers to knead moulds with palm oil instead of water for building his palace at their new-found home Ikpe, now Jattu. When they started to execute the project of forming moulds with Palm Oil instead of water, they ran short of palm oil which was a scarce commodity and could not adjust themselves to the demands of building the palace and its adjoining rooms.

            Knowing their leader very well, and fearing what fate their inability to fulfill his command might bring upon them, they set out from Ikpe stealthily under the leadership of Anwun and found a new home again, where they could live without fear of, and with freedom from, the new over-mighty lord, Omoazikpe. These emigrants settled in a place which they named after their leader, Anwun (Avhianwu) now called Fugar.

e.)  The Upspring Of The Auchi, The Okpella And The Ibie Clans

            According to Peter Omo-Ananigie, the Auchi are supposed to have descended from a great a powerful leader called UCHI. But some affirmed that they were more or less immigrants with Nupe and Kogi ancestry, who were named and called “Auchi” by the Etsako palm-wine tappers of that time who had their most productive palm trees around the area the Auchi occupy today. In accordance with the terminology of the Etsako, the word for palm wine tapping is“Ayun Uchi”, and this has been developed in the course of time to “Auchi”.

            That notwithstanding, the current and most general acceptation is that UCHI was their leader and they are the Ivhiauchi (the children of Uchi), now shortened to Auchi.

Also derivable from the oral sources of some other people from the expansive Etsako-West sub-division are the stories regarding the origin of the Auchi and their neigbouring communities. These views bear a lot of similarities with the written accounts of Theodore Annany[12], who in his write-up on The Real Story of Auchi Town, presents a version of the origin of the people of Auchi, a story that is indeed not far-fetched. According to him, owing to the arguments and confusion about the origin of the people of Auchi, it is necessary to give a clear explanation about the origin and subsequent islamization of the town. Auchi existed long before the arrival of the Nupe. The inordinate ambition of many people to become rich by trafficking human beings had inspired the Nupe and the Hausa to go abroad for new economic advantages. However it is noted till date that they (the Nupe) played a major role in the islamization of Auchi town which still exists till date.

In Annany’s submission, Auchi was founded by a man called Uchi who migrated from Udo near Benin City about 14th Century A.D. definitely before the reign of Oba Ewuare of Benin. The coming of Uchi, his family and followers to this Guinea Savannah belt know today as Etsakoland was as a result of internecine wars, acts of brutality, intimidation and dehumanization which the proud people of Auchi and their likes could not perpetually stomach.

Most of the sources of Etsako history, says Annany, were first documented by European explorers, missionaries and colonial officers. In the case of Auchi, the oldest record available is the mention of Auchi and a few other Etsako towns and villages by Kweller, a European writer in a work he published in 1850. In the work, the author interviewed freed slaves in Freetown and asked them to mention their places of origin. That was in the 1820s. A particular ex-slave named Agbodo or George Cole of Campbell town claimed that he was of lslam origin fromIwieta (Ewatto) whence he was sold into slavery at the age of 18 and taken to Sierra Leone in 1827. When he was asked to mention the towns and villages in his area of origin, he mentioned AWITSI (Auchi) among a few others. The conclusion however is that, at least by 1820, i.e. before the coming of the Nupe, Auchi was firmly in existence. This is contrary to the belief that Auchi people migrated from Hausa Land.

When the Nupe over-ran the area along with Kabba, Ebira and other Afenmai territories, the worship of idols was not discarded. The Nupe warriors were primarily interested in collecting tributes from their subjects. Such tributes included slaves and foodstuff. They were not interested in Islamic propagation in the area as that would have defeated their goal of economic exploitation. Nonetheless, their presence in large numbers in Auchi, Aviele and other towns sparked off an Islamic revolution with the passage of time. It is interesting to note that towards the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, when the British dislodged the Nupe from Afenmai, interest in Islam had already started to take root on the part of the people. This was the case at Agbede, Auchi, Okpella, South Ibie and Uzairue for instance.

Before the birth of Momoh, Islam was mostly practised in Auchi by strangers who were mainly of Nupe, Hausa, Fulani, and Yoruba origins. A few indigenes of Auchi particularly at Aibotse and Igbei also embraced Islam. It should be noted that the Nupe and Hausa settlers lived mainly at Aibotse. This perhaps is the reason why the praying ground lies in Aibotse till this day. It has never been shifted from that area since the inception of Islam in Auchi.[13]

In spite of the fact that the Nupe did not directly Islamize Auchi, the fact remains that interest in Islam and the islamic revolution which took place in the area subsequently were the result of their conquest and sociopolitical interaction with the people of Etsako.

Prince Osiogbhele Idaeo was born in the second half of the 19th century to Otaru ldaeo, son of Ikelebe I. As a child, Osioghbele exhibited extraordinary inteligence, sound moral and magnetic friendliness. He was often found in the company of Nupe and Hausa Mallams whose Islamic practices he cherished. He embraced Islam at a time when very few Auchi indigenes were Muslim. He adopted the Islamic name Muhammad, which is locally pronounced as Momoh, Momodu, or Modu. It happened to be the name of the Hausa Mallam who taught him how to read the Qur’an in Arabic. Momoh, as he came to be known, also employed the services of a private teacher to teach him English. The intelligence report of the colonialists confirmed the fact that he could communicate in English.

According to Chief Abudah Idaeo, the younger brother of Momoh and chief chronicler of the Ikelebe Ruling Family, Momoh had his first child by I903. This suggests that by 1900 he was already in his early twenties at least. By 1914 when Momoh declared an Islamic revolution as the unchallenged heir-apparent of Auchi, he was already about thirty-five years old, and a visionary mallam who had great plans for Auchi. It is true that Momoh ascended the throne as the Otaru of Auchi in 1919, but the fact remains that he sought permission from the then Otaru of Auchi, H.R.H. Ikharo, son of Ikelebe I, and declared Islam the state religion of Auchi, an act which was to have tremendous consequences for Auchi as a town and an institution. It signified a resolve to part ways with the many unpleasant aspects of Edo culture and a resolution to turn towards the north and merge with the Nupe and Hausa in faith as well as aspects of culture and politics.

Theodore Annany concludes his story by noting that because of the islamization process carried out from 1914 to 1944 by Momoh in Auchi, some Nigerians have been misled to think that Auchi people are of Hausa origin. This, according to him, is not true. The Auchi like all the other Etsako clans migrated from Benin City and are a full-blooded Etsako nation. Auchi and many other Etsako communities adopted the Islamic faith and Hausa culture to a large extent as a matter of choice. The ancestry, behavior and language proximity between the people of Auchi and the neighbouring towns confirms this.[14]

The Okpella clan, the Agbede, the Jagbe, the Anwain, as well as theNorthern and Southern Ibie clans have a history very much similar to the story of Auchi Clan. They have their respective stories which all allude to their separate and collective emigrations under their different great and powerful leaders. And like the Auchi clan, a great number of their members adopted the Islamic religion during the course of time.

Treatise 2: The “Etsako-Central” Perspective

According to the account written by an author from the East-Central sub-division of Etsakoland, Aha Idokpesi Okhaishie n’Avhianwu[15], and similar to the oral sources from the people of this sub-division, Azama is the Great Ancestral and Foster Father of the peoples who today form two-thirds of the Etsako. He was a Bini by birth. It is still not clear exactly where in Benin Kingdom Azama had come from. What is known is that he had not lived to see the migration of his children.

Azama married his first wife Ughiosomhe for whom he had four sons. They were Imekeyo, Omoazekpe, Anwu and Ikpemhi. Azama married another woman Etso for whom he had two sons, Epa and Ano. The marriage with Azama had been Etso’s second. Her first son, Uneme, was from her first marriage. Etso married for the third time after Azama’s death. She had her fourth son, Ekperifrom her third marriage. All parents lived happily together with all sons (Imekeyo, Ikpemhi, Anwu, Omoazekpe, Epa, Ano, Uneme, and Ekperi) in Benin at the time and all was well with them.

During the emigrations that followed the cruel rulership of Oba Ozolua, all the children of Azama and their step brothers, who today comprise the Ivhieracommunities, migrated with their families from Benin and became the founders and the progenitors of the clans that make up Etsako. Imekeyo, Ikpemhi and Omoazekpe became the Great Patriarchs of most of the Uzairue clan. Anwu, the third son of Azama, founded the Avhianwu clan while Eppa and Ano, the fourth and fifth sons of Azama, became the Great Ancestral Patriarchs of the clan known today as Weppa-Wanno. Their step-brothers, Uneme and Ekperi founded theIneme and Ekperi clans respectively.

In Okhaishie n’Avhianwu’s view, all these brothers from Azama’s stock did not live Benin at the same time. Some had left before Anwu and his family who still left some others behind. Anwu had earlier in Benin, married a woman called Aleukoko for whom he had seven sons. These were Unone, Arua, Egwienabo, Okpolimhi, Adaeso (Adachi), Iraokhor and Imhakena (Ogbona). Anwu and his family left Benin in the company of his half brothers Uneme and Ekperi and their families about the late 15th Century (between 1481 and 1485), during the reign of Oba Ozolua. They left Benin via the wilderness of what is present-day Owan in search of a homeland. They might have taken this route working on the description they had been given by Anwu’s brothers, Imhekeyo, Ikpemhi and Omoazikpe, who had left Benin earlier as later events had proved.

Okhaishie n’Avhianwu continues his account saying that Anwu and his family wandered through the plains, hills, vales, woods and meadows, until they reached a place called Okotegba at what is present-day Ikpe (Jattu). Like the others, they stopped here and settled at first. There, Imhekeyo and Ikpemhi had settled down and so Anwu and his brothers thought they would definitely find a home here in the midst of their kinsmen. That place where Anwu and his family settled in present day Jattu (Ikpe) is still called Usomh’Avhianwu to this day.[16]

Later, Anwu and his family moved eastward to a spot more conducive, which is present day Afashio. Anwu lived with his children and died in their hands at Afashio Uzairue. He was at his death, survived by his wife, Mother Aleukoko, his children, and children’s children. He was buried at Usomh’Avhianwu, the place they first settled on arrival at Uzairue. Although the exact spot may not be known, the location of Usomh’Anwu (for short) is said to be in the neighbourhood of the ancestral place called Okotegba at Jattu-Uzairue.

The population of the children of Anwu who were still living at Uzairue at that time, grew through the years to such an extent that there was born at Afashio-Uzairue two settlements founded on the names of Unone and Arua, the first and second sons of Anwu respectively (hence, Ivhiunone and Ivhiarua). Ivhianwu (the children of Anwu) would have made Afashio a permanent home, but for what they had called a flagrant violation of their fundamental human rights.

Omoazekpe, the second son of Azama and their uncle had become the headman at Afashio-Uzairue in about the second half of the 16th Century, and he turned out to be despotic a ruler. Oghie Omoazikpe had embarked on his long meditated project of building a palace for himself. He imposed forced labour on his subjects, insisting that the mud bricks for the building of the palace must be knead with palm oil instead of the usual water that was used. Omoazekpe forced his subjects to provide palm oil for the job and this was a scarce commodity. The subjects complied and tried hard until they could no longer give in to Omoazekpe’s demand. Some families (probably the Irekpa, Ugbeno andIkabigbo groups) moved out and pitched tents around the River Ogio, some five kilometers off Afashio, yet they were still within the reach of Ogie Omoazekpe.

However, the families of Anwu, Ano and Epa who had all settled at Afashio, had to take off and moved further east, beyond the reach of the despotic ruler, until they arrived at the present-day Fugar where they settled. The children of Imhakena (Ogbona) and Iraokhor later left their brothers Unone and Arua, to establish their separate new settlements mainly for reasons of space.

When the children of Anwu got to this point, their present-day abode they settled down and concluded that they had reached their destination. But the children of Epa and Ano who had come with them did not however share this vision of having reached the promised land with their kinsmen as later events showed. Okhaishie n’Avhianwu says that they had lived a common life with the children of Anwu. They all shared one homeland, one culture, one religion, one government and above all where united as one people under Azama.

Though history is silent as to how long Ivhieppa (the children of Epa)and Ivhianno (the children of Ano) lived with Ivhianwu (the children of Anwu), there came a time when as population grew, the need for more settlements arose. Thus Ivhieppa and Ivhianno migrated further in what happened to be their third migration to the place that is today called Ovao. According to Okhaishie n’Avhianwu, it is pertinent to note that the names Weppa and Wanno(as the clans are known today) are corrupted from Ivhieppa (Uweppa) and Ivhianno (Uwanno) respectively.[17]

Amadi, the eldest son of Eppa, son of Azama, led the move and his brothers (other children of Eppa) and cousins (the children of Ano) followed, in the late 16th Century. Their new settlement at Ovao could not however hold all the children of Eppa and Ano together for long. The children of Ano who felt they needed some autonomy and a more spacious area moved further until they settled in their present homelands. The movement of those who today inhabit the area bothering on the shores of the River Niger was checked by the River itself. When they saw the River Niger, they declared “Age n’egb’ode ana” meaning “There is no going beyond each other here”. Thus they settled there and the name today is known and called Agenebode, a contraction of the declaration “Age n’egb’ode ana”.

Eppa’s other children also separated from their brother Amadi, and founded villages named either after them or after some unique events in their lives.[18]

Treatise 3: The “Etsako-Eastern” Perspective

            More about the story of the Etsako people’s migration from Benin is drawn from the oral sources of people who hail from the Etsako-East subdivision of Etsakoland. A resumé of this story is to be found in the written evidence of two historians cum authors who both hail from the Etsako-East subdivision: Rev. A. O. Anaemhomhe[19] of Ovao and Jane Onuku Itseuwa[20] of Ivioghe.

According to Rev. A. O. Anaemhomhe, the Etsako people emigrated from Edo (Benin) a very long time ago, about the 13th and the 14th Century. At that time in Edo, the powers of the Oba of Benin were invoked at random in passing laws and bringing about living conditions that were unbearable for the people. At times, the sons and daughters of the citizens were even seized as a penalty or fine for any contravention of the word of the Oba.

One day, a terrible news was proclaimed in the Kingdom of Edo that the Oba had ordered that no other person in the kingdom was allowed to pound anything like yam or cocoyam, except only in the household of the Oba. Earlier, before that time, there had been many other obnoxious laws which were very difficult to keep, yet anyone who dared to contravene the law of the Oba was either executed, or tortured or sent on exile into the unknown wild or forests. Many people became fed up with their daily experience of hardships and bondage in the land of Benin. Such disenchantments caused many of the inhabitants to take a strong decision of departure from the land of Edo.

As the situation grew worse each day, the ancestors of the Ishan kindred and of Ika-Ibo emigrated from Edo. One day, one of the Generals of the Oba named “Adaobi” called all his brethren together and told them to prepare for a departure within five days. Very early on the fifth day before the appearance of daylight, a group of people led by Gen. Adaobi migrated from Benin and made their way towards the northern part of the kingdom, but out of the reach of the Oba.

After a day’s journey, the people settled at a place named Obada andOkpiaghamhe, twenty-three miles aways from Benin. But when the Oba heard about the departure of General Adaobi and his brothers and about their settlement at Obada Okpiaghamhe, he decided to hold out a strong hand against them. When General Adaobi and his brothers heard the news, they felt they were still under the umbrella of the Oba, so they decided to take a longer step further. Early the next day, they continued their journey towards the north for several days until when they reached a place then named “AYERE” shortened from “Mha khe ye re ana” meaning “we have settled here”. The Ayere settlement later turned to a town called Avhiele today. According to A. O. Anaemhomhe, all those people that Gen. Adaobi led away from Benin are the Etsako of today and some of the other Afemai tribes.  After several months, General Adaobi and his men felt they were free from the invasion of the Oba, so he allowed some of the men to extend their farm and family camps wider and far around the Ayere settlements but not too far away. General Adaobi then made his shrine-hut in a place known today as“Ukwe Adaobi” in Ivbiaro village. That very position of his shrine-hut at Ivbiaro is believed to be a habitation for the ghosts of the dead in Afemailand till date.[21]

Anaemhomhe also presented a slightly modified story of the attempt by the Oba to crown Adaobi as king over his people some years later. Just as we have earlier mentioned, Adaobi’s own people disappointed him with their absence on the appointed day and so the coronation attempt failed. Adaobi gathered all the people together thereafter; he cursed them and then dismissed them to return to their homes, while he left and went all by himself to his shrine-house. That was the last anyone ever saw of him. The people searched everywhere for him and when after a long time he was not found, they all returned to their camps. At sunset, they all gathered together and danced around a certain shrine they had named Ikhuthe shrine, and seriously demonstrated around the Ayere main settlement.

With the sudden disappearance of General Adaobi, there was confusion everywhere among the different kindred who were still living at Ayere. Each kindred started to depart to different directions with their respective families. A certain blacksmith named Agbedo went southwards with a group of people and settled at a place known today as Agbede, named after their founder. The Uzairuekindred settled at Ikpe also called Jattu. The Ibie kindred made their own way elsewhere likewise the Ineme kindred. The Epa kindred, the Avhainwu kindred and the Ekperi kindred went together and settled very close to one another because the three men who headed each of the kindred (Epa, Avhainwu and Ekperi) were born of the same woman. However, there were some remnants of the people who remained at Ayere.

Because they were so few, they were later called “Avhiele” meaning“settlement of few people”. That was how Ayere turned to the Avhiele of today.[22]

Jane Onuku Itseuwa whose story very much centres around the Weppa-Wanno clan began her own version by first submitting that there are different and divergent views about the origin of the Weppa-Wanno (Uwepa-Uwano) on the one hand and the Etsako people at large on the other hand, and how they came to live in their present abode. The information consists of legends and stories told by word of mouth from generation to generation, though inconsistent, compliment each other. One common denominator among the different views is that the people migrated from ancient Benin hundreds of years ago. They were among the migrants that left the Benin Kingdom during the reign of the then oppressive Oba of Benin, a period which was characterized by heavy taxation, high-handedness and oppression.

            The Etsako people left Benin, led by ADAOBI who settled at Aviele. They had to later leave Aviele because they heard that the Oba of Benin was planning reprisals against them. Some of them finally settled in their present abode as we have today while others moved further north led by Okpisa. This group referred to those in the immediate settlement before theirs as “Uwepa”which means “where we rested and cut off”. The earlier group referred to the later group as “Uwa-Uno” meaning people who are “mouthy” and not necessarily ‘talkative’ as some people would misinterpret it to mean.

            Another story had it that the children of Epa (Egori) and Agiere left Benin during the period of mass exodus of people from Benin kingdom. They moved to the north-east towards the bank of the River Niger in search of better settlement. With time, a group under Omoaze and Otsomokhale moved northwards also in search of good land for settlement. They all settled in the present places they occupy today. The children of Omoaze and Otsomokhale came in contact with the fulanis and copied their habits of piercing nose and lips, and were nick-named Iwanino – now known as Wanno.

            It is a taboo for men to go near the women while the women were under “Ughieto” menstruation. The women had to pierce a tiny hole in their upper lip and place a tiny stick in it whenever they were in that condition. With time, the practice began to die down among some of the settlers. Those who continued with the lip-piercing were referred to as ‘Iwanino’ meaning those who pierce holes in their lips, while others that discontinued it where referred to as ‘Iviepa’ i.e. children of Epa.

In her book, Jane Itseuwa makes reference to the version which had it that a man named OLUKU had to flee from Benin with his five children namelyUzairue, Ibie, Weppa-Wanno, Avianwu and Ekperi because they were being persecuted by Adenomo – a giant and powerful Benin warrior. They settled in a land between Orle valley and Ibie hills and had to part ways shortly because of the quarrel that ensured among them. Those that left with Weppa-Wanno moved towards the River Niger and settled at a place which they called “Age n’egbode” (now Agenebode) meaning “we will not overtake each other again”.[23]

According to Itseuwa, Historians had not been able to really come up with the exact dates of the migrations from Benin Kingdom, but pieces of records put together pointed to the period of the reign of Oba Ewuare popularly known as Erua-Nokemeji (c.1440)and that of Oba Ozolua (c. 1481), which were characterized by turbulence, oppression, unrest, incessant wars, rebellions and mass movement from Benin. Those that migrated first were the ancestors of Akoko-Edo, followed by Owan and Etsako. Ishan were the last to migrate. These groups – Akoko Edo, Etsako and Owan became Afemai. She note strongly that, “Amidst all these views, there is, in spite of claims to Benin ancestry, the possibility of initial aboriginals and/or migrants from other places to whom the descent of the people of Etsako could be traced[24].

Itseuwa also vividly explains that the name “Weppa-Wanno” is an almagamation of two sub-clans – Weppa and Wanno as reflected in the report made by Mr. Blair – a British Resident Officer in his note of March 11, 1935 when he said that the Weppa-Wanno clans have one principal ukpi drum. The District Officer Mr. Cary on June 7th, 1939 further said that a single head for both sub-clans of Weppa and Wanno was not part of their indigenous custom which was to have one head each. He went on to say that each clan was now united as a single entity, two sub-clan heads were undesirable, and request to have one clan head had been made by the entire Weppa and Wanno sub-clans.[25]

The Etsako as a whole are a large family group who left Benin kingdom many centuries ago to establish their new home but had to further spread out for reasons of space, hence the various villages and towns that today make up Etsakoland.


What has been said so far in this short write-up does not and cannotclaim to be a conclusive fact of how the Etsako people came to be, and to say thatthe story is still far from conclusion is to state the obvious, because the different accounts of the same history presented in this paper tell us that there is still much work to do for the Etsako chroniclers, historians and authors. As I said in the introduction of this paper, it is not an attempt to examine the holistic history of the Etsako people but mainly about their origin. Be that as it may, we all need to be challenged, all of us the Etsako – story-tellers, teachers, historians, socio-cultural chroniclers, authors and sundry – to take up the task ahead, the task of harmonizing the various oral traditions and written accounts available, into a unifying corpus that can best summarize in unequivocal terms, the whence and thence of the Etsako nation.

At this point, it is pertinent to state that the origin of the Etsako cannot be written without due mention of an event that took place later in their history and effected tremendous consequences into the process evolution of the Etsako race and emergent existential structure of the Etsako nation as we have it till date – theNupe Invasion. As history has it, and as some of the authors cited in this paper expressly showed in their works, the Nupe lived around the confluence of the Niger and Kaduna Rivers and were considered as one of the seven Hausa Banza Bakwai – “the bastard seven”. They were vassals of the Igala Kingdom before the 15th Century, but by the mid 16th-Century, they had established a kingdom with its sovereign ruler titled Etsu Nupe. The Kingdom which was overthrown by the Jihad of Uthman Dan Fodio later became part of Sokoto Caliphate. They were expected to pay regular tributes to the Caliph. Driven by this expectation and the desire to collect tributes and booties, they unleashed terror on the weaker nations on a regular basis. With the Nupe’s numerical strength, superior weapon and more sophisticated military tactics, the Etsako fell prey to their predatory assaults. They were notorious for slave-raiding activities in the land.

The Etsako people were victims of the Nupe constant raids and terrorism and had to flee their homelands from time to time. They devised a warning sound to inform themselves of the invading Nupe army that was better organized and had superior weapons. The shout was uku-ku-ku” in addition to they are coming again. This shout was corrupted by the Nupe as “kukuruku” and thus they described the Etsako as “Kukuruku Banza”. That became the origin of the appellation “Kukuruku”, a name by which the area is still popularly referred to by many geographers, historians and chroniclers all over the world.

As the Nupe overran the place and used agents to collect tributes from the people which in most cases were in form of slaves, they also started to settle in bits in some part of the land. Consequently, Nupe influence started to permeate the land as Nupe titles like Chaba, Serkin Pawa, Kasuwa and Daudu were now being used. Youths started to acquire in addition to their names, a social name known as “Isamai”. Women started bearing in addition to their native names such names as Awawo, Alimatu, Asana, Ayina, etc. The Islamic religion became largely embraced by many of the towns and villages and till date we have the strong presence and impact of Mohammedan followers in such towns as Auchi, Jattu, Ibie, Okpella, Agbede, etc.

In conclusion, I must state that the Etsako people are a unique race – blessed with great minds, splendid talents, arable land, natural resources and a rich socio-cultural heritage. They are also a very highly hospitable people, peace-loving, amiable, warm and generous. The Etsako people are beautiful both in body and mind. The best of these people is yet to come; it lies ahead and will be borne out of unity of mind and purpose (cor unum et anima una) by all the Etsako in their living and working together as ONE via the will and testament to make Etsakoland “the dream world” for all, a home where every man or woman all over the world would aspire to inhabit.


[1] Opinions and views were sought from various people, both old and young from over 24 different communities in Etsakoland in both formal and non-formal kinds of interview as well as discussion inter-exchanges in trying to know what our people think and know about their origin and history.

[2] cf. J. U. Egharevba, A Short History of Benin (5th Ed), Ibadan: University Press, 1966, cf. pp. 1

[3] Ibid., p.16

[4] A. I. Okhaishie n’Avhianwu, The Descent of Avianwu, Ibadan: Stirling-Horden Publishers Ltd., 1999, pp. 8-9

[5] Although there are many versions, they are all different statements of one and the same story – “The Etsako-Story”. It is the one story of the origin of the Etsako family.

[6] P. Omo-Ananigie, A Brief History of Etsakor, 1946, pp. 12ff

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 14

[9] Ibid., pp. 15-16

[10] Ibid., p. 20

[11] Ibid., p. 21

[12] Theodore Annany, “The Real Story of Auchi”, An article posted on “The Afemai Group” Discussion Board on

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] A. I. Okhaishie n’Avhianwu, Ibid., pp. 8ff

[16] Ibid., p. 12ff

[17] Ibid., p. 22

[18] Ibid., p. 23

[19] A. O. Anaemhomhe, The History of Etsako, 1981, pp. 1ff

[20] J. O. Itseuwa, Weppa-Wanno “Ukpi” Symbol of Unity and Authority, Abuja: Impression Prints Ltd, 2008, pp. 1ff

[21] A. O. Anaemhomhe, pp. 2-3

[22] cf. Ibid., p. 5

[23] cf. J. O. Itseuwa. pp. 2-3

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., p. 5