The Benin Kingdom is one of the ancient empires to have existed on earth. A force to be reckoned with, thrown into chaos and malice by the white invaders became a tale by the older generation.
The Benin clan is differentiated by its glamourous use of beads and ornaments.
One began to wonder the reason behind such décor as everything we know as its monumental value.
History tells us that Oba Ewuare in the 1400’s A.D. is accredited as the man who brought some of these beads to Benin, collected from the “goddess of the Sea’’ at Ughoton ( Gwatto ) Benin River.
Ughoton, was the gateway used by the Europeans those years ago. The White man, specifically the Portuguese and the Spaniards may have also used some of these special beads as presents to Oba. Their trade and relationship were influential, especially in the area of costume and clothing.
There are two types of beads commonly used by the Edo people and they are called the Ivie and Ekan. These two belong to the Coral family.
These Corals are made from Phylum coelenterate or Cnidarian mined from coral stones in oceans and polished as jewellery. Ekan looks like a stone and is greyish in colour. Ivie on the other hand is very important to the Edo people. It is worn by chiefs and described as precious coral. It has a hardcore that can be polished to bring out beautiful red, rose, or pink colours.
A precious coral has been known to grow in the bush-like formations in The Mediterranean and The Japanese Sea.
The use of Ivie and Ekan were controlled by the Oba of Benin. There are some shapes you cannot wear without being a chief. Coral beads used in Edo speaking areas are very peculiar compared to those from the North of Nigeria.
It is historically documented that some chiefs have been barred by Royal Edict, from wearing any Ivie or Ekan as a punishment. An example is Chief Oliha of Benin. It was a punishment for collaborating with the Attah of Igala in Idah when the Idah soldiers invaded Benin City and Oba Esigie and his queen mother Idia led the Edo soldiers to victory.
Oba Akenzua II in the 1940s seized the beaded headgear and most of the beads belonging to Chief Okorotun, the then Iyase of Benin for being disloyal and arrogant. He also took his Ada from him.
When an Oba of Benin sends a bead or beads to anybody, it means simply one thing, “You are being made a chief” whether you like it or not. To refuse to accept a bead sent to you from the palace is an inexcusable sin. You have in one way or another become an “Oghian Oba’’ meaning the Oba’s enemy.
This is why we see Edo couples make use of these luxurious beads on their special day. It connotes chiefly persona and distinction from those who have been invited meaning the bride and her groom is the most important on this day.
Some of the information used was retrieved from the Oko’o Ademola Iyi Eweka article of a similar title.