Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa by Tam Fiofori; Sun Art: BEP, Lagos; 2011
The Benin Monarchy is a major Nigerian treasure. The respect accorded the Oba of Benin is legendary. The acclaimed photographer, journalist and filmmaker Tam Fiofori who hails from Okrika in Rivers State actually qualifies as a “Benin boy” on account of the many years he spent in the ancient city while growing up under the tutelage of his teacher-cum-civil-servant father. The book, A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa by Tam Fiofori, paints a poetically enchanting picture of the March 1979 crowning ceremonies of Oba Erediauwa as the 38th Oba of the Benin Kingdom. The book was originally slated for publication in March 2004 as a part of the 25th Anniversary of the coronation. Fiofori’s offering is essentially a print documentary and a photo book with explanatory notes. According to Fiofori, “The book’s journalistic format has technically provided for 84 pages of photography featuring about 150 original photographs, accompanied by 72 pages of text; all about the Benin City Coronation ceremonies of Oba Erediauwa as the 38th Oba of the Benin Kingdom, from March 23 to 30, 1979.”
Chief S.O.U. Igbe, the Iyase of Benin, who wrote the foreword to A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa reveals that the author’s father, Emmanuel Fiofori, taught him English in the famous Edo College, Benin City and equally served as the House Master of Esigie House where he coined the House Motto as “The Best or Nothing”. The Iyase who knew the author from when he was a mere tot writes: “Tam, or Sonny, as the small boy was called in those days, would fill a lot of us Benin people with a sense of inadequacy with this expression of his knowledge of Benin history and his seemingly endless but sincere current of love for the Benin culture. Read his paragraphs on the Benin traditional dances, but especially the section on the Ekasa dance, savour his glowing flow of descriptive narrative, and you will realize that these outpourings cannot but be from down his heart. His account of Omo N’Oba’s coronation activities, and the description of the street decorations around Ring Road for the coronation celebrations are simply breathtaking for their beauty and clarity.”
Tam Fiofori starts his account with fond memories of growing up in Benin City, attending Government School Benin City and wondering at the nearby Oba Market and the sacred Emotan Shrine. Tam’s father recalls that back in 1947, while at Edo College, he had been given some notes by “some slim fellow from town” which he edited as the play “The Lamentations of Oba Ovonramwen.” The author undertakes a very insightful rendering of the dynasties of the Benin Kingdom and gives an elaborate account of the 45-year reign of Oba Akenzua II which started on April 5, 1933.
Prince Solomon Igbioghodua Aisiokuoba Akenzua, Edaiken of Uselu, was ten years old when his father, Prince G.E.B Eweka, ascended the Benin throne as Oba Akenzua II in 1933. Educated at Cambridge University in England, he distinguished himself as a Federal Permanent Secretary before being crowned Oba Erediauwa in 1979. Oba Erediauwa made his first public appearance in Benin on March 23, 1979.
Fiofori limns his mastery of symbols of Benin culture, depicting Oba Erediauwa’s March 23, 1979 mid-morning symbolic crossing of the bridge over Rivers Omi and Oteghele. A particularly enthralling chapter is entitled “A New Oba For Old Benin”. The historical duel of Ogiamen and the Oba leads up to the depiction of the armies of the Benin Kingdom and the epochal battle of Eki Okpagha.
In 2004, some 25 years after the coronation, Fiofori adds an Epilogue that portrays vividly the Silver Anniversary: “From a commemorative football tournament to a thanksgiving service to poetry rendition by a grand-daughter to cultural performances by the young and the old, male and female, the Benin people March 20 to March 27, indeed demonstrated their love for their monarch, Omo N’Oba, N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo Oba Erediauwa, in celebration of his 25 years of peaceful reign as the 38th Oba of the Benin Kingdom.”
As the 18th Iyase (Prime Minister) of the Benin Kingdom, Chief SOU Igbe would have it, “Twenty-five years is a long time and we, the Benin people, are happy about a king whose reign has from the very beginning signified peace and plenty for us. Our Oba has been one who has combined knowledge and tradition of his people, with a desire to forge their progress through actual hard work, to ensure that our illustrious cultural heritage is maintained.”
Tam Fiofori has through his groundbreaking book, A Benin Coronation: Oba Erediauwa, given Nigeria and the rest of the world a timeless study in lofty heritage. The Benin example deserves emulation across civilizations, and Tam Fiofori memorializes it all before our very eyes in bold print and eternal black and white photographs. The recent demise of Oba Erediauwa makes this book a once-in-a-lifetime collector’s item. It is my fervent prayer that Tam Fiofori should have enough copies to go round!