AVHIANWU CULTURE, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
AVHIANWU is one of the three (3) clans constituting the present Etsako Central Local Government Area of Kilo Stale, others are Ekperi cIan to the South and South Uneme Clan to the South Last.
It occupies the gently undulating land washed from North West to South east by the River One which joins the River Niger through Ekperi to South Uneme Clans. The vegetation varies from semi-tropical to savannah. Once rich in forest resources, indiscriminate and uncontrolled exploitation has reduced the land areas of Avhianwu to mainly grassland savannah with patches of forest along the Obe River Valley. Agriculture has remained the main occupation of the people.
From the 1963 Census for which reliable estimates for the various clans arc available, the population of Avhianwu was 11,994. It is reasonable to assume that the population of the whole of Etsako having more than doubled from 135,135 in the 1963 Census to 274,829 in the 1991 Census, that of Avhianwu is now well over 20,000 1. With the pressure of this largely agrarian population on the restricted land area the productivity of the land is now very much reduced and (here is a struggle for the patches of land (hat still retain their original fertility. It is not surprising therefore that there are now migrant Avhianwu farmers in other Clans and Local Government Areas such as Uzairue, Anwain and Aviele in Etsako West Local Area and Ihievhe and Warrake Clans in Owan East Local Government Area.
The question now arises: who are the Avhianwu people? Like all Nigerian non-literate societies, sources of the early history of Avhianwu people is derived from oral tradition and the records of early European administrators, traders and missionaries.
According to such tradition the ancestor of the Avhianwu people, named ANWU -after whom (he clan is named – came from Benin in the I5lh Century with other refugees. The Uzairues, (he Weppa-Wannos – fleeing from the extortion and oppressions of (he reigning Oba. He first settled in the area now occupied by Apashio in Uzairue Clan. From among the refugees there arose one Ornoa/.ekpe who modeled his demands on that of the Oba from whom they had fled. Anwu and his people revolted against (his new oppression and emigrated eastwards settling at a place called Ukulumhoghie. the nucleus of today’s Fugar. His four sons Unone, Arua, Uralo and Imhakhena founded the four contiguous villages of lvirione, Ivhiarua (Fugar) Ogbona and Uralokhor (Iraokhor) which make up the present day Avhianwu Clan. (Avhianwu is a derivation from Ivhia-Anwu – meaning the children of Anwu).
As (heir early history shows, the Avhianwu possessed the same culture and traditions as the Minis from among whom they emigrated. They had basically the same language, economic, political and social institutions and religion (ancestral worship). For over two centuries after their migration from Benin the Avhianwu maintained tics with their root in Benin and the culture, remained the same save for modifications and enrichments occasioned by their later association with other non-Benin neighbours. The lgala, the Ibo (Ebu from where they introduced the Okhe title system).
Some significant aspects of their culture are:
1.Their political organization based on the Ukpi drum.
2.The Okhe title system.
3.The monthly festivals from which their calendar is based.
4.The Age Group System on which most of their social and military organization is based.
RELIGION AND FESTIVALS
Their Religious organization revolved around the Elder (Odion plural – Edion) of each family group who keeps the family shrine (Adi) and presides over family worship during festivals. The most senior of these elders Itadi in each village presides over meetings of the Itadi. They act as the custodian of the culture, taboos, and tradition of the people and any infringement is reported to them for the exaction of the required penalty. They worship the ancestral spirits on behalf of the people and proclaim the appropriate time for the monthly festivals based on a lunar calendar. They consult the oracle and offer communal sacrifices to solicit and appease the ancestral goods for the welfare of the people. In short the Itadi perform a priestly and judicial function.
According to Avhianwu tradition, Cod created the world in 4 (four) days. Hence an Avhianwu week has 4 (four) days:
Each day is reserved for special activities. Evhia and Elumhi days are generally reserved for farm work while Ewo and Ekhue are reserved as market days, festivities and ceremonial burials. Since Avhianwu months are based on lunar (moon) calendar and not the Gregorian calendar the approximate Avhianwu Calendar is as follows:-
1. January – February – Uki Ukpe.
2. February – March- Uki-Aduikukwa (literally – month for sweeping away
the old years refuse. In short New Year)
3. March – April Ukiava Ukpe
4. April – May Ukialai Ukpe
5. May – June Uki Utu
6. June-July Uki Okhui Ozibo
7. July – August Uki Esi (New Yam Festival)
8. August – September Uki Oghie
9. September – October Uki Aghie
10. October – November Uki Ogbhe
11. November -December – Uki Ughue
12. December – January – Uki Atalimi (month for ceremonial burials)
Some social functions can only be performed during the appropriate months. For example formal marriage ceremony for mature girls is done communally during Uki Ogbhe while ceremonial burials is only allowed during the month of Uki Atalimi. These have since undergone drastic changes due to the inroads of Western European education and culture.
Politically each village Ls divided into kindreds (Groups of families descended from a common ancestor). The political head of each village is the Okphe-Ukpi who holds the traditional drum, Ukpi with which he summons meetings of the village. The Okphe Ukpi is chosen in rotation from among the ruling houses in each kindred, usually a capable man that is not yet old enough to be an Otadi or Elder. When the four village heads meet the oldest of the Okphe Ikpi presides. This was before the introduction of Clan Headship System.
The Okphe Ukpi presides over a council of subordinate Chiefs and Elders. When matters dealing with culture and tradition such as adultery, inter kindred quarrels etc. are under discussion the most elderly of the Itadi presides. The subordinate Chiefs were selected from each Adi and were usually in the hierarchy leading to the Okphe Ukpi. After the Nupe invasion of Avhianwu Clan such Chiefs were given the name Daudu.
A division of labour in the exercise of authority is exemplified during the period of war. Although only the Okphe Ukpi and his Chiefs can take a decision on whether or not to go to war, only the Itadi can decide when actual hostilities can begin, after consulting the oracle.
AGE GROUP SYSTEM
The social organization that knit Avhianwu (Ian into an organic whole more than any other institution is the Age Group Systems. Age stratification of male and female is an important feature of Avhianwu society and attained a high degree of complexity and sophistication, too elaborate for this short address. So well developed was it that it could manage the affairs of any village in the event of breakdown of the political organization.
The age group system determines the most elderly man in the village or the Otadi of the kindred or Adi. It is used to determine the order of seniority at every gathering, who assumes the position of leadership in war or peace time.
The male population is divided into three categories:
1.The Ekpe and Iwogo or uninitiated adolescents 1-18 years.
2.The Initiated adults 20 – 50 years
3.The Elders (Edio) 50 years and above.
There is division of labour among the categories. The Ekpe and Iwogo are responsible for the menial communal duties such as sweeping the village squares and (he shrines. The initiated adults perform the more difficult communal duties; building and maintaining inter village roads, taking active part in war and communal farming. The Elders take charge of administration. Eldership is not a function of age only. A male adult can become an elder above his age group if by accident he becomes the oldest male adult in his Adi or Kindred.
In Avhianwu cIan males are initiated into age groups every other year while the girls are initiated into woman hood every year. Each male age group with their female counterpart initiated with them bear a distinctive name throughout the cIan by which they recognize themselves whenever and wherever they meet. The initiation is done centrally in the original spot where Anwu settled, and so it was easy for all male adults of the same group in Avhianwu cIan to known themselves intimately. It was customary for children born within one age group initiation and another to be initiated into the same age group.
Each age group has its own father or guardian. The ceremonies are elaborate and the taboos numerous. No child brought up under the system can be undisciplined, immoral or unorganized. So thorough were the norms and order of precedence inculcated that they stamp themselves indelibly on the character of every Avhianwu man. As a character building institution, Western Education is a mere sham beside Avhianwu Age Croup System. The year of initiation is usually the year the initiates get married and it was usual for the male initiates and their fiancée to be in the same age group. This provides the opportunity of initiating both of them into the values, taboos norms and history of the clan together, a shared knowledge that will make for family understanding and stability.
Education was informal. Children accompanied their parents in all their economic activities and learn on the job. The age group initiation terminates the learning process for the young adult.
Before the coming of the Whiteman economic activities in Avhianwu were not specialized. Each family produced most of the goods and services they needed directly. Most of their food they produced in their farms and forests. Fish was obtained by barter from the neighbouring Clans of Ekperi and Weppa-Wanno. They built their houses by themselves while the woman planted cotton, spun and wove them into cloths for (heir use. Cowries’ shells were used as money in the few transaction where barter would be cumbersome and unsuitable.
Trade was carried on with neighbouring clans in specialized goods: pots from North Ibie, fish and agricultural implements from Ekperi and Weppa-Wanno and sleeping mat from Uzairue. These were obtained by baiter with yams and other foodstuffs. This trade was carried on mostly by women and the Iwogo who accompany them. It was always done as a sideline to the main occupation of farming.
THE OKHE TITLE:
One important institution the Avhianwu embraced through their contact with Ebu people on the Niger is the Okhe Title system. Like the age group system it provided one bond of unity for all the people of the Clan; at least in the form it was originally practiced.
All male adults who have the means take this title. Their fathers can make it for them or their mother’s family can make it for them where the father lacks the means to do so. In the latter case the man becomes a member of his mother’s family from where he can inherit property or rank. In this sense it is true to say that Avhianwu Clan practiced the form of patrilineal as well as matrilineal form of family inheritance. Elaborate initiation rites lasting one Avhianwu week were performed in the shrine of one Obotsu – the most senior Okhe title holder in the Clan or kindred. Okhe title holders are distinguished by their red caps.
Non initiates are never allowed to wear this cap in the Clan. Any Avhianwu adult male who aspires to any political position must be an Oboh – an Okhe title holder. It is a symbol of a symbol of authority and wealth.
In recent years the Obotsu shrines have become so fragmented to the extent that every family group or kindred now performs its own Okhe title. This has seriously eroded its original worth and value. It is worthy of note that with the exception of Weppa-Wanno Clan who introduced the title from Avhianwu Clan, the Okhe title is a distinguishing cultural practice which marks Avhianwu out as a distinct group among other Etsako Clans.
INFLUENCE OF NUPE INCURSION:
The cultural practices sketched above received their first major jolt about 1830 when the Nupe carried the Fulani Jihad into Etsako land and invaded Avhianwu Clan. Intelligence reports written by early European visitors have it (hat when the Nupe invasion struck through North Ibie the people of Avhianwu lied and sought refuge with their neighbours of Weppa-Wanno. Later they returned, after accepting the demands of the Nupe, especially the supply of slaves, and re-occupied (heir villages. The Nupe invasion did not influence the hard core of Avhianwu culture to any significant extent. They introduced the religion of Islam and tried to impose it on the people especially the Chiefs. But so strong was Avhianwu culture that it resisted the Islamic influence. The extent of this resistance is very visible today for unlike Auchi, and Aviele Clans that have almost completely lost their indigenous culture to Islamic influence Avhianwu has retained its own almost totally intact. Today Avhianwu dances and songs, even in their modernized forms have become the universally recognized Etsako tunes. Its musicians – Bolivia Osigbemhe, Benji Igbadumhe and others have raised the traditional Avhianwu Agbi Dance to national fame.
However, Nupe invasion did introduce some innovations into the traditional scene. Avhianwu people began to wear the babariga and Sokoto of the Hausas. Even those who did not adopt Islam as a religion found it convenient and a sign of the new civilization to adopt Moslem dress and names. They have remained as family names in Avhianwu. The Momohs, Musas, Momodus, Sameatus, Salius, Ahmeds, the Alius and Almhakars etc. are all relics of the Nupe invasion.
Politically the Nupe tried to change the system by changing the order of rotation in the Chieftaincy system to primogeniture. Though they were partially successful in some places like Uzairue, Aviele and Auchi, they failed in Avhianwu Clan. The coming of the Nupe introduced new nomenclatures and practices at Chiefs palaces e.g. the habit of drumming in palaces especially on Fridays. The use of the term Daudu as a title for addressing subordinate Chiefs, and Zaiki (a corruption of the Hausa word ‘Seriki’ for Chief) to address the village Chiefs. It is not often remembered that the word ‘ama’ meaning ‘but1 is not an indigenous Avhianwu word. Ancient Benin Chieftaincy titles like lyase gave way to their Nupe equivalent like “Chaba” Yamah etc. The Nupe invasion cut off all contact between Avhianwu and its ancestral home, Benin City, turning its attention and world view to the Muslim emirates of the North with its Islamic way of life and education.
In 1897 when the British invaded Bida, (lie capital of Nupe and captured it, The Nupe invaders of Avhianwu withdraw (o defend their homes. The British emancipated the large army of slaves they found in Bida, some of whom were young Avhianwu adults. One such returnee at Ogbona lived to a grand old age becoming the most senior elder in the village before his death in the 1970s.
It would appear that the Nupe did not stay long enough to stamp (heir influence indelibly on the culture of Avhianwu. Ancestral worship, initiation into age groups taking Okhe titles etc. continued unhindered in Avhianwu.
The coming of the British followed on the heels of Nupe withdrawal. The British, with their knack for reorganization and adaptation, were to make a more permanent mark on the culture of Avhianwu, a process that is still continuing. This period 1897 to the present day can conveniently be regarded as the present modern period of Avhianwu Culture. When we speak of British influence we must remember (hat it came through three sources. (The Christian missionaries, Traders and British Administrative Officers – (Government). Except in the case of administration (he British did not force (heir culture on the Avhianwu except where the indigenous Institutions involve inhuman practices. It however introduced Western education, which is one of the most dynamic agents for societal changes in the modern world. They encouraged Christianity and allowed these two agents to assail the traditional culture making it more dynamic and adaptable.
While the Christian religion and British judicial system made their inroads into (he traditional religious practices, (heir Western education removed the young adults from (heir villages to foreign lands in search of more and more education. The age-group initiation came to receive less emphasis. It is now a mere symbol. Most of the adults initiated nowadays-live abroad and merely come home to know (heir age group. Having not taken part in the various riles and elaborate ceremonies, their significance is lost on them.
It is true that the Okhe Title system stilt maintains its significance. But like the age group system (he various ceremonies and rites, even (he duration, have been drastically reduced and de-emphasized. One good development however is the unintentional abolition of matrilineal inheritance element of the Okhe Title system. Even elderly people who originally made their Okhe Titles in their mother’s families now transfer them to their father’s families, making Avhianwu Clan essentially patrilineal. In spite of these changes and adaptations (he Okhe Title system as a door to recognition and ladder to social and political mobility has survived.
The changes introduced by Western Education have been slow but more subtle and profound. The British built a Primary School at “Ukphabobe’ about 192(1 but it was abandoned before Fugar ceased to be the Headquarters of Kukuruku Division in 1926. It was the Missionaries who built the schools that were to have the greatest and more permanent influence on the culture of Avhianwu. The Catholics followed by the Anglicans established Primary Schools in Fugar, Ogbona and Iraokhor, later a Grammar School in Fugar in I960 and Community built Grammar Schools in Ogbona and Fugar in 1982.
These Schools have provided Avhianwu sons and daughters avenues for cultural and social changes. Products of these schools with others abroad have, by their devotion to modern development altered the cultural landscape. Avhianwu now has a tarred road, electricity in all the four villages, pipe borne water system and modern banking facilities in Fugar.
Politically the British took over the traditional system of village and clan administration and brought it under its supervision and control. Although it retained its structure it reduced its powers. The administration became a mere agent of British colonial government. With independence the Federal Government inherited all the powers of the British colonial government with the result that although the Okphe Ukpi, the Daudus, the Itadi, the Oboetsu are still there their powers, even in matters of culture and tradition, are now circumscribed by the powers of Focal Government Councils, Traditional Courts (where even the Chiefs may not be members) the State Government and the almighty Federal (Government.
With all these developments radical changes and adaptations Avhianwu has now been drawn into the national orbit. Its culture is becoming more and more reflective of the overall Nigerian culture. Most of the functions of its purely traditional Avhianwu culture have been monetized and the national currency is now the means of exchange and store of value. Its economy is no longer purely agricultural. It cannot now produce enough (bod (o feed itself. There is more specialization and with a monetary economy, the people need to produce all their needs directly themselves. Even the old indigenous Avhianwu dialect we use to know is now adulterated with English, Yoruba and words from other Clans. The old proverbs and adages are going out of us. Time there was when an Avhianwu speaker was easily identified by his dialect; his rich idiomatic turn of phrase and proverbs; among other Etsako peoples. It is sad that those are going out of vogue. This is an aspect of our culture that should not be allowed to die. The solution lies in our hands.
From the above there is no doubt that the pristine glory of Avhianwu culture is no more. There is much talk even where in Nigeria today about the need to preserve the rich cultural heritage of Avhianwu (Ian. In 1985 Chief A. A. Itsueli gave an address on this topic to the members of Avhianwu Club in Benin City. He exhorted us to assist the preserving this heritage by writing books in the indigenous language. I am hereby passing on this message and challenge to you.
Culture is a dynamic institution and no people can preserve its culture undiluted. But some aspects of any culture is always worth preserving because it is culture that distinguishes one group of people from another. We arc Avhianwu because we have a distinct culture and those things that make for that distinct personality arc worth preserving.
I am confident that with your awareness of this need, your exposure, and contacts as well as your level of literacy you will accept the challenge to learn the Avhianwu alphabet and orthography, write books in Avhianwu dialect, and so help in your own small way to preserve all that needs preserving in Avhianwu culture. On (his, more than on any other effort depends the future of Avhianwu culture.
Ladies and Gentlemen, members of Ogbona Imhakhena Asama Federated Union thank you for giving me this opportunity of addressing you.
Thanks and God bless.
By CHIEF T. A. OSIGBEMHE (J. P.) THE OKPHE-UKPl OF OGBONA
At the Seminar organized by OGBONA COMMUNITY as part of OGBONA DAY CELEBRATION, – 29th and 30th March 2002