During the last 18 years many plays have been performed for dead chiefs, many feasts and dances and processions have taken place either at death or the year’s end, many fathers and even mothers have been “made” but never the Oba’s.
The ceremonies I am trying to describe in very brief outline are the actual funeral rites for the dead Oba and not his Anniversary; and I think it speaks well for the Administration and the loyalty of the Benin chiefs to the Government that not a single untoward incident happened during the whole of the complicated and lengthy ceremonies or any disturbance amongst the people whatsoever.
The Oba elect and his Chiefs moreover declared that native custom had been properly satisfied without the cost of human life.
The play, by special permission of His Excellency the Governor General, Sir Frederick Lugard, actually commenced on May 13th and lasted till June 10th; but previous to this the eldest son of Overami, Chief Agwobasimi, was made Edaikin, i.e., heir to the throne of his father, the ceremonies lasting over a fortnight, and Chief Obaseki was appointed Iyasere, or Prime Minister, owing to the good work he had done for the Government during the past eighteen years.
The funeral ceremonies consisting of sacrifices, salutes, and dances, were officially inaugurated by the Iyasere, assisted by all the hereditary Chiefs of Benin City, announcing in public the death of the late Oba.
The Iyasere, standing in the middle of a large cleared space supposed to have been the reception compound of the late Oba, with all the other big Chiefs forming groups in different parts, sent messengers from one group to another warning them as it were privately of the Oba’s demise.
After a dance called Olodo had been performed, which is only given for an Oba, the Iyasere, carrying a staff called Uhufi Ado, called out in a loud voice, “Udo edo uselu uzebu —ovhre buru,” i.e., addressing all four quarters of the city, Udo, Edo, Uselu, and Uzebu —Behold the chalk is broken— and immediately retired.
Shortly after the Edaikin, with the Ada, a native sword, carried by a naked boy in front of him and without which he can go nowhere, appeared with his followers carrying various emblems and native torches, and passing round the edge of the compound, the middle being forbidden, performed some ceremony in another part of the late Oba’s compound.
W.B. Rumman (District Officer, Benin City)
Journal of the African Society