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The Origin of the Oliha Title in Ebelle

The Origin of the Oliha Title in Ebelle
15th October, 2022

Gabriel Akhabue Iruobe

Following the debate about the status of the Oliha and the role he plays in Ebelle Traditional Order, I write to present this summary gathered from well meaning Ebelle elders at home and the diaspora as to how the title came about.
But first, I like to begin with a disclaimer of the insinuations in some minds that an Oliha is an Assistant Enogie. For there is no known record, oral or documentary, of an Oliha being an Assistant but as “right-hand-man”, otherwise, he should immediately assume Office as the Enogie as soon as an incumbent Enogie transits.

However, from research, and from reports gathered, partly at Ebelle and partly at the Ebelle Consultative Forum (a high power Advisory Body of the Enogie, an Ebelle indigenous group meeting in Benin City, Nigeria), the Oliha Post is such a lofty one attracting honour and respect. His major day-to-day task is that he is positioned to lead other chiefs of Ebelle kingdom in reverence to the king, whether of the one directly bequeathing the honour or the one succeeding him – the incumbent.

*What is the Origin of the Oliha title?*

It has been revealed how the title came about and why it had to be an Okuta man bearing it since inception. There is the tact belief or claim that it can change from being an Okuta man bearing the title. But until there is a reason to do so, the Oliha remain Okuta’s lot and transmittable through the lineage of the Oliha. Thus, unlike most Chiefs who bear titles for their proven record to the service of humanity/Ebelle, or as mark of respect for a good representation in notable service to the nation, or as a distinctive Royal Recognition by any incumbent King; the Oliha title is hereditary. Therefore, no matter the age, just like that of a king, on the demise of an Oliha, his son (heir apparent) takes on the title.

However, the beginning of the title of Oliha being domiciled in Okuta Ebelle came about as an honour to a certain Princess who married an Okuta man.
This princess was the “first-born-child” of one of the kings of Ebelle. But because she could not be made “Lady Enogie” due to the patriarchal system practiced all over Africa, in order to compensate her for the opportunity missed culturally, her husband was decorated with the lofty title of being “first amongst equals” (with special reference to the other chiefs). Therefore, the Oliha in Eguare is often referred to as “Omon-Okhuo”, meaning he (literally) is “the girl-child). Thus, the Oliha is assumed to be a “Princess of Eguare”. The husband of this princess is therefore riding on the honour bequeated to the wife. He is the one literally enjoying the lofty status of the wife who is a princess from Eguare.

It must also be stressed that, had the princess whose husband was made an Oliha not “the child that opens the womb”, that is, “first-born”, this honor given to her husband mightn’t be.

In other words, the precedent that was set at the time has not received any review nor any alteration. Perhaps, alone the lineage of the Ebelle kings, it is possible that such “firstborn princesses” exit. The question is, is it possible to compensate their husbands with some chieftaincy titles? *Perhaps also, that the resort to compensate the husband of the “firstborn princess with the Oliha title was simply heuristic and not a statutory order.
With the passage of time, the palace itself could have had no need to continue to “compensate” ” firstborn princesses” whose younger brother was to become king in the demise of their father.
We are all conversant with what obtains in the European countries. A woman can become the King, and labelled Queen, for her feminine status.
But in the African Customs and Tradition, women don’t enjoy that status. Compensating their husbands therefore is ideal.
Male-preference primogeniture prevalent in Africa that prevented the endorsement of Princesses as heir apparent needed so to enjoy some privileges, directly or indirectly.
Maybe there are other ways to compensate “firstborn princesses” now, both contemplatively and in factuality; but not within our immediate knowledge.

But, are we going to continue to push the female folks to the level where they don’t matter? Only time will tell.
However, it is noteworthy that at least a compensation was contemplated for, (permit me to assume) “Princess Oliha”. Her son’s generation were to carry on with the honour as she was the supposed king; just that this is Africa where women endure a lower status than the men.
Just like in the average family setup where ” firstborn girls” are denied inheritance from their fathers” even if several princesses are senior to a male in the royal family, that “small boy” is the one who is culturally viewed as the “heir apparent”.
The day that ” girls become “heir apparent” is the day that Kingdoms become “Queendoms”.
Britain was a “Queendom” for years under Queen Victoria and lately, Queen Elizabeth, even though it retained the label of a Kingdom.
The husband just felt like the Eson of our dear king.

But thanks to Ebelle for the little respect given to “Princess Oliha” who could not become the Queen of Ebelle. But in style, she enjoyed the aura and respect given to her husband by his junior brother who ascended the throne. And to his junior brother, she would still say : Zaiki Enogie!

One notable tradition surrounding the Oliha is that he must participate in the burial of the king of Ebelle like that of a son. Thus, whereas the son to the transited king arranges for burial rites elaborately, the Oliha must still play his role as a “princesses” along that line. Whilst other chiefs (strangers) are freed literary (with a minimal requirement) from the task of providing for the various ceremonies, the Oliha is not so. He is either paying or ” just appreciating visitors ” . therefore, the Oliha is not a guest at the palace. Other chiefs are.

In playing the role of “a princess” there is no difference between him and the kingmakers (Idibhigies) as harmony between them are often expected by all.

When we were to bury my mother, there was no difference between my brother and my in-laws; we planned out everything together knowing fully well it was a task for us all to perform. Failure on any aspect was the failure of us all. Therefore, the Oliha had remained a perpetual in-law who must continue to “dance and dine” with the palace.

Since he is given to customary privilege to be the statutory announcer of the kings demise and the one to perform the role of a “chief mourner”, since the “new king on transit to the throne” “cannot mourn “, he becomes metaphorically “the father of the king” .
So, at some point, the Oliha is ‘a princesses”, “a son”, and “a father”, depending on the angle you want to view his role.

This is about the little gathered so far about the origin and role of the Oliha in Ebelle Kingdom. Lack of documented materials often contribute to confussion about customary ideals. We are in an age where oral tradition must give way to documentary evidence, for the sake of posterity. This has nothing to do with Okuta’s position in Ebelle.

About Gabriel Iruobe

I have a background in Sociology from the University of Ibadan. Although, an industrial sociologist, my interest in rural societies have grown over the years. The sociological insight gained in my school days have had me define development in a fashion slightly different from an orthodox orientation. Studying or researching on rural life is quite easy for me since I spent my early life in a rural setting, viewing all the attractions often overlooked by the urban elites. If the rule of sustainable development is to be followed, no aspect of the world's cultural heritage is to be ignore or neglected. This is my obsession.

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