Queen Iden: Selfless intercessor
Iden, a queen consort, was an epitome of love, beauty, courage, support and faithfulness. She was one of the wives (Oloris) of Idova, crowned Oba of Benin with the titular name of Ewuakpe.
Oba Ewuakpe, the 26th Oba of Benin Kingdom, reigned for 12 years from about 1700 to 1712. Iden sacrificed her life so that her husband could live and for Benin Kingdom to be at peace.
Iden, a lady in her mid-20s, was born in Oka village, currently part of the Upper Sokponba Road, Benin City.
Ewuakpe was very young and lacked the tact of governance, which made the early part of his reign turbulent. The crown was passed over to him because his father, Akiennuzama, declined to be the Oba, as he was too advanced in age to be belaboured with community services. Ewuakpe ascended the throne and was insensible to his people’s plight.
The Oba’s hard-heartedness and disrespect for human lives were challenged. The people, beginning from the Royal Slaves (Ovien) and other palace attendants, the chiefs to traders deserted the palace, leaving it for the Oba and his numerous wives. As a result of this, economic and social activities were grounded and the Oba was troubled.
As a way out of his predicament, Ewuakpe visited his mother’s town, Ikoka, where he was treated with disdain. In anger, he placed a curse on the people and the town and returned to Benin. During this period, all his wives but Queen Iden left him. She became his only companion and comforter. The situation humbled the king and he began to look for ways to solve the problem.
Knowing that her husband had made mistakes and was regretted his actions, Iden consulted the oracle and was told that human sacrifice would be needed to appease the gods and restore peace and unity in the kingdom. Queen Iden offered herself as the sacrificial lamb.
Iden requested that her grave, which was at the Oba Market be kept clean at all times. She also cautioned against treading on it as a mark of respect for her sacrifice.
As soon as Oba Ewuakpe finished the sacrifice, some of the prominent chiefs that had deserted him returned and called for a truce between the king and his subjects. Not long after, other Benin chiefs started paying him homage again and pledged their loyalty.
Peace, unity and prosperity returned to the kingdom. The entire kingdom was at peace till the end of Ewuakpe’s reign.
To honour Iden for her belief in oneness and love for the Benin Kingdom, the descendants of the kingdom dedicated February 14, every year to celebrate her.
• Compiled By Omiko Awa