WELCOME TO UBIAJA DEVELOPMENT
Ubiaja can be referred to as the political mother-town of the Esan people of Nigeria. From historical development, she was the headquarters of Esan division, which today comprises, Esan South East LGA, Esan Central LGA, Esan North East, Esan West, Owan West, Owan East, Etsako West, Etsako East and Akoko Edo LGA. She shares similarities with the other 34 Esan Villages.
By language and culture Ubiaja fully depict her historical origin. The origin of Ubiaja is in concord with the version of the origin of Esan land. She is of one of the 34 villages in Esan Land and share several characteristics of the Esan people. The Village settlement is the basic political unit. Higher levels of organizations include village-groups, tribes, sub-chiefdoms, chiefdoms and the kingdom itself. Villages consist of
wards and patrilineal family clusters. The Male population is stratified into age-grades - youths, adults and elders. Kinship and lineage is patrilineal and based on primogeniture.
1. LOCATION AND POPULATION
Ubiaja is the one of the oldest headquarters in Edo State. She is presently the headquarters of Esan South East L.GA. Ubiaja has a distance of 114km from Benin City, the capital of Edo State. Ubiaja occupies a land mass of 25 square km, with a population of about 9,898 people according to 1963 census. Ubiaja is bounded in the North by Ugboha, in the South by Ewatto, Okhuesan and Ohordua; the East by Oria and West by Uromi and Udo. Ubiaja is made up of 20 villages namely, Eguare, Oyomon, Ugbenin, Idumu-Owemhen, Ukpaja,Idumu-Ebor, Uhe, Idohanlen, Idumu- Ogho, Upkha, Orhuen, Ogbegor, Iguisi, Idumu-Oshodi, Idumu- Ehan, Ebhuru, Ukhualen, Eko-Oghenyen, Ahia, And Udakpa. These twenty villages are further regrouped into five administrative units; Egbe ni Enen, Oghenyen, Orhuen- Udaye, Ahia, Udakpa.
Ubiaja as constituent of Esan Land has a flat landscape, one lacking in rocks and mountains. The area experiences high temperature, high humidity and heavy down pour of rain. Physically, the whole region is a plateau with relative undulating surface and very fertile soil. (Akinbode, 1983). The fertile soil is the important historic factor that attracted settlers into the area (Omofonmwan, 1995).
3. TRADITION OF ORIGIN
There are various variants about the origin of Esan. The Thirty-four kingdom (villages) have their own oral versions of the origin of Esan. The Agbazilo version states that Esan came into being when one of the children of the Bini Queen Oakha and Ojiso Owodo, Prince Uzia Asokpodudu (Ojiso Owodo’s crown prince and heir apparent) founded Uzea in about 1188 after he fled his father’s palace with his mother queen Oakha and two siblings Oigi and Ozogbo following the death sentence passed on her. The version has it that Ozogbo left him and founded Egbele in the present Uromi while Oigi and Oakha established the settlement known today as Ekperi.
The Ubiaja people are immigrants from the old Bini kingdom. The founder of the town according to history is a man called Edeikholor, who was said to be a onetime treasurer of the Bini Empire during the reign of Ewuare the great. According to his Highness, late Abumere Ebhoje (Onojie, 1958-1988) the name Ubiaja is a modified one for Obiaza, meaning treasurer. Literarily, Obiaza means the founder of a generation of treasurers or one that opens the treasury. By another popular mythology, the name Ubiaja was gotten from Obize, - a type of fish that is said to have helped Edeikholor cross a stream in the course of his migration from Bini to the today Ubiaja.
Edeikholor left Bini after his refusal to be an accomplice to a plot by his brother to embezzle the funds of the Bini Empire. There is another version of the story that claims that Edeikholor actually embezzled the Bini empire funds and had to abscond with his loyal brothers, namely Ijesan and Enowele who later founded Ugboha, Okhuesan and Ohordua who today are Ubiaja neighbouring towns.
Ubiaja, an agrarian community belongs to the rainforest region with an average of 1800 to 2000 millimetres of rainfall. As a rainforest region with an agriculturally suitable red soil and a copious farmland, Ubiaja people are predominantly farmers. They cultivate food crops such as yam, cassava and beans. Though not so substantial, they also cultivate cash crops; mainly oil palm, cocoa and rubber. They are also largely into hunting. Apart from these areas of farming, the Ubiaja people in those days were reputable makers of clothes and soap. Though today, majority of the inhabitants are employed in one sector or the other, the people have continued to hold strongly to their age long occupation (farming) even though at subsistence level. The predominant livestock produced in this region are Goats, Sheep, Poultry, Duck and pigs.
For Ubiaja, the entire populations rely on farming, sculpture works, fishing, tailoring, blacksmith, trading among others. Men, women, and children all members of the society were engaged in agricultural production. Enough food was produced to feed the population. Surplus production was traded away in the market that was held every four days.
5.0 FORMS OF SETTLEMENT
There are varied form of settlements such as hamlets, village etc. Ubiaja originally had loosely connected settlements, each having the palace as the focus with most residents close by. Originally, buildings in Ubiaja were of multiple unit system of housing made of thatch roof, and mud walls. Floors were left uncommented and some furniture like beds and benches were of mud. Great changes has occurred since the nineteenth century, there is distortion multiple unit system of extended family to one-unit system of flats and apartments, building houses with of cement and corrugated iron roofing sheets.
Villages in Ubiaja express physical and social structure of the group of people living in them. Just as the individual household population increased in multiple households setting, the need to expand the physical structure also arose to meet the human requirement. The usual arrangement of buildings is that each compound consists of many separate apartments and buildings. The main apartment of building called “Oduwa” belongs to the head of the family and every other male in the family. The female, apartments behind the main one, is usually arranged to have a closed inward looking courtyard. The housewife’s apartment is usually a room doubled into a sitting. The inner room serves as the kitchen while the first one is a dual purpose space; living and sleeping room (Ahianba, 2009).
The advert of Christianity in 1906 into Ubiaja changed the face of African Traditional Religion; the worship of almighty God (Osenobula), creator of all things on earth; through intermediary gods such as ancestral, deified heros and heroines as well as tree worship. Sacrifices were often made to these gods, who were believed to be closer to man and closer to osenobula. In Ubiaja prior to the arrival of Christianity, there were various forms of traditional worship and popular among these was the worship of Ohue and Oghogbon, and Ikhio was embedded in the belief system of this worship. Ikhio as part of the Ibi festival had ritual link. (Ibi festival was in honour of Ohue and Oghogbon who were husband and wife who fought and died for Ubiaja and were subsequently deified and worshipped). Seven days before the climax of Ikhio the chief priest of Ohue and Oghobgon in company of his acolytes would be going round using white chalk to bless the community and pray for forgiveness for whatever ills they may have committed.
The history of Ikhio according to oral history dates back to as early as the origin of the town in the 15th century. Ikhio is a social art and was an aspect of Ubiaja culture until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Annually the various villages that make up Ubiaja are drawn up in groups to rehearse songs and dances; and through this medium of songs and dances ridicule satirize certain persons or ills in the communities that constitute the opposing group as a way of appeasing the gods. It was believed there would be poor harvest if the gods were angry, so it was essential to portray to the gods the communities’ disapproval of these ills. The first Ikhio dance of the year was usually in April and it was so timed to commence before the planting season. Ikhio was entirely women’s affairs and all the men did was help keep the village centre “ughele” clean. There were the choric leaders who were usually very talented artistically. These women during the weeks of rehearsals would compose the songs and the dance choreography. Songs used in a particular year could not be repeated and whatever level of criticism a song applied, it was not actionable in court. The only musical instrument used was the “azuzu” hand clappers.
The belief system of Ubiaja people also embraces the alimhin cult (spirit cult). Membership of this cult was restricted to initiated adult male and some very distinguished elderly married women. It was a secret cult and oath of secrecy and loyalty was taken at ilobhalimhin (initiation to spirit world). The cult has three categories, the alimhin ni ene (senior spirit), alimhin ni khere (junior spirit) and okpodu- which was classified as the female counterpart.
The alimhin ni ene, as ancestral agents were charged with the responsibility of forewarning the community of impending danger or epidemic as well as make public, decisions reached at the king’s palace. The alimhin ni khere are mainly involved in the entertainment aspect of the cult. These junior spirits are seen more often, they will be accompanied by the cult members with gongs and drum, clapping and drumming, while the spirits dance to entertain. This dance involves a lot of acrobatics and is referred to as ikhilen alimhin (dance of the spirits). The okpodu (masquerade) unit aside entertainment is charged with the function of barring non-initiates from watching the activities of the cult. So strong was the secrecy of the cult before the arrival of Christianity that it was believed that anyone who broke the oath of secrecy of the cult would loose a vital part of the body, usually the nose. Following the widespread acceptance of Christianity in the community, this cult has lost its religious overtone and it is today used as a medium of entertainment at social functions. It is of note that Ubiaja is now now largely a Christian community.
7.0 KINGSHIP/SOCIAL ORGANISATION
The family units vary in sizes and composition. Members of the same family had the tendency to settle close to each other because of the bond of love existing between them. All members of one clan could settle in a clearly defined manner. In Esan, elders exercised a general control over the people. The laws that governed Esan communities were based on the customs and traditions of the people, which the elders were the main repositories of power (Okojie, 1960: p.76). Webster (1990) defined rule of elders, gerontocracy was a form of social organization in which a group of old men or a council of elders dominates decisions by exercising some form of control.
Ubiaja is organised into 20 villages, each village rested on the division of the male population into age sets namely Egbonughele (Sweepers) regarded as the youngest male members of the society. Igene (Scavengers) were the next in the age ladder while the Edion were made up of the eldest male in the society.
Usually the head of the village was the Odionwele who presided over its affairs. Each of the 20 villages has an Odionwele. The Odionwele was regarded as the pivot around whom all activities revolved. He presided over all meetings and took decisions with his executives. Apart from the administrative function of the elders, they also arbitrated religious issues. For instance, the Odionwele was not the chief priest of the village but the custodian of the ancestral shrine. The religious aspect of village life rested on both the chief priest and the Odionwele. In fact, he was the custodian of the village land which he held in trust for the living members of his village, the dead and the yet unborn. Before any new settler acquired land the Odionwele must give approval (Oral Interview: Abhulimen, 2002).
The Igene – grade was next to the Edion. They were usually not called for public duties unless such duties were beyond the competence of the lower grade. The Egbonughele or street sweepers were the last in the age group. Their known jobs were mostly the sweeping of streets, clearing of marked places, farm paths, streams etc. The Egbonughele or street sweepers were the last in the age group. Their known jobs were mostly the sweeping of streets, clearing of marked places, farm paths, streams etc.
The kingship system known as Onojie dates back to 1463. The Onojie as the ruler of the corporate entity derived his position by right of being the first son in the royal lineage. The Onojie remained as the head of native justice and the final court of appeal at the level of the Chiefdom while the Odionwele and his elders continued to administer life in the villages (Aveling et al., 1923).
8.0 LAND TENURE
The land tenure system vests the ownership of land on the community. Any member of the community that needs land for any purpose is allotted land by the community. This can be bought out rightly or utilized for a period of time.
The practice of inheritance is an evident practice in Ubiaja. Inheritance is hereditary; the first sons of the family inherit the wealth of the family at the death of their parents. Females are not entitles to any form of inheritance from the family.
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Ubiaja is a community in the Esan South-East Local Government Area (LGA), Edo State, Nigeria. It is at an altitude of 221 m. Most of the people belong to the Esan tribe, one of the major ethnic groups in Edo State.
Ubiaja is in a rain forest region, with 1,800 millimetres (71 in) to 2,000 millimetres (79 in) of rainfall each year. The red soil is fertile and many of the people farm crops such as yam, cassava and beans, or cash crops including oil palm, cocoa and rubber. The date of Ubiaja's founding is not known, but the kingdom of which it was the capital was founded in 1463 by immigrants from the Benin Empire. The town is said to have been founded by a man called Edeikholor, treasurer of the Bini empire during the reign of Ewuare the Great. The name may be a variant of "obiaza", meaning treasurer, or may come from "obize", a type of fish that helped Edeikholor cross a stream, a fish which the people of Ubiaja still abstain from eating