Who was Emotan of Benin?
Emotan was born between 1380 and 1400; she hailed from Eyaen village, close to the present-day Aduwawa cattle market area, along the Benin-Auchi Road. She was originally named Uwaraye by her parents.
The history of Emotan is a very interesting one. As a young lady, she became a second wife to Chief Azama of the Ihogbe district. She was considered indolent by her husband because she could not cook and conceive. Her husband’s first wife, Arabe, handled the domestic chores and gave birth to all the children of the household. However, due to her incompetence, Uwaraye was nicknamed “Emotan” which means lazy bones.
She had a redeeming feature though; she was good at taking care of the brood of the household. Emotan who could make evbarie (a soup seasoning condiment made from fermented melon seeds) and spin threads from cotton balls, began taking these and some herbal products to sell at a stall in the city market which is the present-day Oba market, as a means of livelihood.
When her husband died, she had nowhere to go because her parents had died of old age earlier on. She then built a hut for herself very close to her stall which is opposite the market place. As the event unfolds, her hut soon became a popular make-shift nursery for the children of families patronizing the market. Emotan attended to the children’s health and other needs selflessly without charging a dime.
With the above, some historians are of the opinion that Emotan of Benin whose real name was Uwaraye was a trader or market woman who took care of little children while their mothers were away buying and selling their wares in oba market. She was identified as the woman who began the first “DAY-CARE CENTRE” in Benin City.
During that period, Prince Uwaifiokun had forcefully taken over the throne of the Benin kingdom, thereby denying his elder brother, Prince Ogun (Oba Ewuare I) his noble right.
Prince Ogun’s (Oba Ewuare I) role in the history of Emotan
Prince Ogun in those times of travail paid secret and nocturnal visits to Benin from his place of exile. After he was removed from power by his younger brother, Prince Ogun (Oba Ewuare I) found his way to the house of this beautiful woman, Emotan, which was opposite the marketplace in the city. Emotan the powerful, mystic and childless woman.
Due to her loving nature, bravery and generosity, Emotan agreed to accommodate Prince Ogun as her guest and most especially help him take back his crown. Besides, due to the many challenges that Ogun faced in the hands of his younger brother, the villagers kept warning him of impending dangers and advised him against interacting with some perfidious chiefs who may reveal his whereabouts to his younger brother.
On one very occasion which, Emotan hid Prince Ogun from Oba Uwaifiokun’s army. She made sure that he sneaked out as soon as the army moved their search from the hut to other areas in the vicinity. Avoiding the path of the army, Prince Ogun headed to the palace where he murdered his usurper and power-drunk brother, Oba Uwaifiokun.
Ordinary citizens of the Benin Kingdom supported his action, insisting that it was Ogun’s right to reclaim his throne. The people expressed their joy as the tragedies of the recent past was put to an end.
OldNaija gathered that Emotan sent word to Ogun to stay put in the palace and consolidate his hold, while she continued the spiritual work from her home. Truly, her love, benevolence and empathy for Prince Ogun cannot be understated.
Within a short period that Ogun return, the Edion’isen had come around to show support to Ogun, while he eventually crowned him as the Omo N´ Oba Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare. His divination title choice of ´Oworuare, was even being questioned by a few in the village, they felt it could not have been more apt because it means, after the heat, the cooling effect of rain.
The death of Emotan
Oba Ewuare appointed Emotan as the Iyeki (leader of the authorized Ekpate guard), tasked with security matters in the market and with enforcing market rules. Not quite long from Ewuare’s ascension to the throne of his forefathers did Emotan die.
The Oba decreed that she should be buried in her hut. Later the grave was marked with an Uruhe tree and her deification as the conscience of justice was ordered by the king.
Every celebratory procession in Benin pays homage to her burial site. The first Uruhe tree (marker) survived for some three hundred years before it fell. The replacement Uruhe tree, survived for about one hundred and fifty years before an Iroko tree was planted to support it. A storm later fell both trees.
In recognition of her impact during her lifetime, Oba Akenzua II, in 1950 and with the collaboration of the British Colonial authorities, commissioned a life-size bronze statue of Emotan of Benin as a young woman.
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