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The Ogiamien family in Benin City: about wood and history

Roland Ogiamien in his wood-carving workshop
Roland Ogiamien in his wood-carving workshop
Roland Ogiamien is a renown wood carver. He is now retired in his home town of Benin City and is now in his 80s. We met him in his simple workshop, a barn opened on the surrounding greenery. A part of the studio is used to store wood pieces and make sure they are well dried. He is using a collection of german ustensils to carve and polish the wood. He spent most of his career working out of Lagos before relocating to Benin.
Roland was explaining that the wood he uses today is different from his early days. Ebony has become rare and wood carvers have had to switch to other types of wood. Traditional heritage is a large part of his inspiration which he translates on wood with his own particular style, exploring various techniques for the finish of his pieces.
Roland Ogiamien and two of his favourite masks
Roland Ogiamien and two of his favourite masks
Ogiamien is the name of an important royal family in Benin Kingdom. Towards the end of the Ogiso dynasty (12th century), Ogiso Owodo did not have a son to succeed him, his brother Evian therefore took over after Owodo's death in 1130AD. This interrupted the tradition of primogeniture (in which the elder son succeeds to his father) in the Ogiso's rule. Evian had a son who ruled as Ogiamien Erebo which has a meaning close to "king who rules the land of the Binis". Traditionally, the Ogiamien is the owner of the land in Benin Kingdom and once a year the Oba is traditionally renewing the lease of half of the land.
This is how it happened.
During the rule of Ogiamien Erebo, the Benin Kingdom was at war with the troops of Orumiyan, who was actually the grand-son of Izoduwa, a Benin prince then called Ekaladerhan who had fled the Ogiso's court to settle in Ile Ife in Yorubaland as its ruler. This war was therefore a bini war. Orunmiyan left his son Eweka to continue the fight with the Benin Kingdom and went back to Ile-Ife.
Eweka was successful in mounting pressure on the kingdom of Ogiamien Erebo whose chiefs were starting to warm up to the idea of surrendering to the lead of Eweka.
The Ogiamien organised in his palace a secret meeting with Eweka who was given the opportunity to hear the council of the Ogiamien speak about their plans against Eweka's forces. After that the Ogiamien joined Eweka in the secret room and they agreed that Eweka would walk in the city and be stopped by the Ogiamien forces at the river Omi. Eweka would offer assistance to administrate the city. The Ogiamien would respond by telling him to meet again after 7 days at Ekiokpagha where a treaty of the same name would be agreed.
The Ekiokpagha treaty stipulates that:
- the land of the Benin Kingdom would be shared in two halves based on the Ekiokpagha demarcation line. Eweka was to become the owner of the one halves called Ile Ubinu that would be sold by the Ogiamien to the Oba of Benin during his reign and implying that the successor of the Oba would have to buy it again from the Ogiamien at an agreed price. The other half would be called Utantan Bini
- the warriors of both sides would not raid and confiscate each other's goods
- that houses on each sides would use different thatch for roofing
- that the Oba and Ogiamien families would not inter-marry
- that the Oba should from time to time pay a visit to the Ogiamien, in his palace, in sign of allegiance using a special door reserved for him.
Since the 1970's a feud has started between the Ogiamien and the Oba, as the Oba would use influence to remove the Ogiamien from the government's gazette with the consequence that the Ogiamien would no longer get its monthly stipend from local and federal government. And Benin Traditional Council would even question the existence of the Ekiokpagha treaty.
the inner room of the Ogiamien palace
the inner room of the Ogiamien palace
The mud palace of the Ogiamien was built in 1160 AD and still stands.
picture of a commemoration ceremony of the Ekiokpagha treaty in Chief Ogiamien's house
picture of a commemoration ceremony of the Ekiokpagha treaty in Chief Ogiamien's house


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