It is likely that the people called ITSEKIRI today did not have a common origin. They represent different migrant groups on which a monarchy was superimposed.
Who were theses migrant groups and when did they occupy the Warri, Forcados and Benin Rivers?
We are told that the people of Ugborodo, Omadino and Ureju migrated from Ode in Ijebu. This explain some affinity between the Itsekiri language and Ijebu. The people of Ugborodo and Ogidigben still describe themselves as descendants of their immortalized ancestor named Olaja-Oriwu. Those of Omadino claim to be descendants of Lenuwa, the title of the Ruler of Ode.
While Yoruba settlements were maturing along the Escravos and Benin Rivers, the Children of one Ijenekun called Fifan, Wandobo and ITSEKIRI were migrating from Kerenmu to Ijalosan and later from Ijalosan to Okoyitemi.
ITSEKIRI led the migration to Okoyitemi (Okotomu). He was thus the Head of the settlement of Okotomu when the migrants from Benin arrived.
The account of this Ginuwa affair is that related by the Itsekiri historian, William Moore, corroborated in some particulars by the Benin historian, Jacob Egharevba.
According to this story, at some time in the Fifteenth Century, there lived and ruled over the Kingdom of Benin an Oba called OLUA whose mother had been beheaded on the instructions of the ruling King because of some wrong-doing in the harem. Her offence was so serious that it was decided that there should be none of the funeral rites to which every Oba’s wife was normally entitled.
When her son OLUA became the Oba, he considered that his mother had been disgracefully treated and, in spite of warnings that the action might jeopardize his throne, he made the necessary arrangements for the final obsequies to be performed.
The people of Benin over whom he ruled were horrified and thereafter trouble dogged the foot-steps of the King. He had moreover an atrocious temper which made his rule particularly irksome to his subjects.
Oba Olua had many sons and he had the constitutional right to appoint one of them heir to the throne (Edaiken). By Benin tradition the heir was often the eldest son. In practice, however, this was not always the case as the King retained the prerogative of choice.
To ensure that the reigning King did not bias his son against any of the Chiefs it was the custom for the son who was chosen Edaiken to live outside the Capital among the hereditary Chiefs to whose ranks he belonged.
OLUA’S eldest son was a self-willed and hot-tempered young man called GINUWA, who was impatient of the taboos and conventions of the times. Like his father, he intended to remove traditional restraints and, leading a gang of young hot-heads, he terrorized the Chiefs and their supporters.
So incensed were the Chiefs by the behaviour of the young Prince and his associates that a meeting presided over by the Chief Minister (Iyase) was summoned at which it was decided to do away with GINUWA.
The Chiefs may have thought their action was secret, but it did not fail to come to the notice of the King who consulted his Chief Priest (Ogiefa) about what must be done to save his Son’s life.
The Priest, having consulted his oracle, suggested an ingenious method of smuggling the Prince out of the Kingdom. He ordered a Ship or Ark of Iroko Wood to be hastily constructed, big enough to convey the Prince and the eldest Sons of the Seventy Chiefs of Benin to a distant land where they might settle.
When the Ship or Ark was finished the King summoned a meeting of the Central Council at which he informed the Chiefs that it was his intention to send his Son and the eldest Son of each of them to the Shrine of Looking (the god of the Sea) for the annual sacrifices.
The Council made no objection and on the appointed day the Ark was carried by slaves through the dense forest of trees towering to a height of 200 feet along the present day route to SAPELE.
The great trees provided shade from the fierce Sun during the day, obscured the glory of the Moon at night. Dark and damp, reeking with the smell of rotten vegetation, the paths along which they passed were hostile and unfamiliar.
Between them and safety lay the OLOGBO.
We are not told how they crossed this river, now spanned by a beautiful bridge, but somehow the passage was achieved and, after three days of struggling through swamp and marsh, the party arrived at UGHAREGIN.
It is ironical to note that the route by which the Prince (Edaiken) made his escape was that which the ‘British Expeditionary Force’ used for the invasion of Benin in 1897.
Arriving at the low banks of the Ethiope River the carriers lowered the Iroko Ark or Ship into the sparkling water of the river.
Behind them was the thick forest; before them now lay the serene stream of a broader river than any that they had so far seen. And here GINUWA came out, dressed himself like a King and asserted his position accordingly.
END OF PART ONE