Foreign Religions in Avhianwu – By Aha Idokpesi Okhaishe N’ Avhianwu
(a) Islam in Avhianwu
Muhammed, the founder of Islam was born of ‘Abdallah and Aminah between 570 and 580 A. D. Islam, the religion founded and taught by Muhammed, is said to be the religion of Peace and literally y means’ Absolute submission to Allah.’ Islam began about 610 A. D. when Muhammad claimed to have received a vision through Angel Gabriel to preach Islam to the world. The Qur’an, the book of Islam, is said to have been brought from heaven to Muhammad by an angel.
Islam was introduced to West Africa from North Africa and the Jihad of Uthman danFoIio of 1804 gave impetus to the spread of Islam in Nigeria. As no religion will, under any pretense, encourage slavery, the Nupes and the Hausas did not have, no doubt, the spread of Islam in mind during their slave-raiding expeditions in Kukuruku land. They did, however, carry the Islamic religion with them during the expeditions.
Although no one would align oneself with the religion of brigands, slave raiders and traffickers in humans at the time of their presence, the Nupes and the Hausas did however have some successes as they had opened the way for Islam in Avhianwu. Those Avhianwu people who later had the opportunity to cross the River Niger to Idah and beyond were converted to the Islamic religion. Ogie Aduku Etsemobor who ruled Ivhiarua from 1908 to 1911 was known to have practiced the Islamic religion long before he ascended the throne and until his death.
The impact of the Islamic religion was not however felt in Avhianwu until about 1925 when Chief Momoh Idaeo, then the Otaru and District Head of Auchi, sought to impose his religion-Islam-on all the people in Auchi District. Chief Momoh in 1925 sent a team of Mallams to Avhianwu with a mandate to destroy all shrines and declare a general worship of Allah. He also abolished Okhe Cult in Avhianwu and stationed Mallams in the Courts of the traditional rulers to teach the doctrines of Islam. Warrant Chief Alemoh ruled all Avhianwu at the time. His contemporary traditional rulers in Avhianwu had been Itsueli Atua, Imiegbha and Okozi who ruled Ivhiarua, Ivhiraokhor and Ogbona respectively. No doubt, Chief Momoh idaeo had sought to follow the footsteps of his predecessor, Chief Momodu Ikharo, who in 1914 burnt all the idols in Auchi and ordered a campaign for Allah worship.
One Mallam Ismaila, popularly known in Avhianwu as Mallam Ayomoga (Ayomoga was the name of his wife), was a devout propagator and responsible for the spread of Islam in Avhianwu. He converted many to the Islamic faith. Many of the Islamic converts did not however keep long to the faith as most of them reverted to traditional religion and others were converted to Christianity. It does not however matter how many there are in the Islamic faith today; suffice it to say that Islam has come to stay in Avhianwu.
(b) Christianity in Avhianwu
(i) Roman Catholic Church
Christianity in general was unknown in Etsako until the last decade of the 19th century when European missionaries under the leadership of Father Carlo Zappa arrived Etsako from Asaba. Their first place of stop was Agenegbode from where they established contacts with other Etsako towns and villages. They had come in a bid to propagate Jesus and his teachings.
The white missionaries had a bleak beginning in matters of evangelization. The people did not welcome the new religion as its teachings and practices are diametrically opposed to their way of life. Christianity was a religion, unlike the Islamic religion, that attacked and sought to wipe off the beliefs, customs and practices of the people. The first followers of the missionaries had been the slaves they had acquired from slave owners in exchange for ransoms. The slaves were caused to live in mission houses. They were assured by their white missionary masters that they would be free as long as they accepted and professed Christianity and Catholism. In this way were they made to escape from one form of slavery into another. They exchanged black masters for white masters. What a high price (mental and religious slavery) to pay for freedom (from social disability). But then it had been a giant step, and in the right direction, towards total mental and religious emancipation. The missionaries however had thus introduced Christianity to Weppa-Wano and was being practiced. New areas were sought for evangelization drive and one obvious choice was Avhianwu, a close door neighbour of Weppa-Wano, whose people had hitherto known only Traditional Religion which was, as a matter of course, the life they lived out.
The introduction in Avhianwu of the Catholic faith in particular and Christianity in general and its consequent acceptance dates back to the first decade of the 20th century. White Roman Catholic Missionaries arrived Avhianwu for any meaningful evangelization for the first time as early as about 1908. Those who came to Avhianwu came from Ivhianokpodi. The new faith survived with time and had grown by leaps and bounds. The white missionaries made up for the deficiencies in Western Education first introduced by their colleagues, the British colonial masters.
The first Roman Catholic resident religious minister had been Father Aselm Ojierua, a Nigerian. Father Ojiefua (now Late Abbot Abraham Ojierua, a monk) had come primarily to lay the foundation of a Secondary Grammar School at Fugar in 1961.
School house always served as Church house until 1968 when Father (now Bishop) Anthony A. Gbuji built the first separate house for the Church.
(ii) Anglican Church
The Church of England, commonly known as the Anglican Church or Church Missionary Society (C.M.S.) as the evangelization group was called, was not denied entry in Avhianwu either. The new Christian denomination was dogged by an educational institution which certainly served as a useful tool for the propagation of the Anglican faith.
In the case of the Anglican Church it was not a white missionary that came to Avhianwu for the introduction and spread of the faith. It was a son of the soil. That man was Henry Oyosomhi Iyemheake.
Oyosomhi, who hailed from Ivhiokhile-Ivhiarua, came in contact with the Church Missionary Society while he served as a Clerk to the Oni Imeri of Imeri, the then paramount ruler of Imeri. Oyosomhi retired from the service of the Oni in 1932. But it was not until 1934 that Oyosomhi brought the new Christian denomination – the Anglican Faith – to Fugar in particular and to Avhianwu in general.
In 1938, the Church Missionary Society under the leadership of Reverend Oyebode, sent one P. H. Uandemhevho as a Catechist to assist Oyosomhi. Assisted by Uandemhevho, Henry Oyosomhi Iyemheake worked tirelessly to make the Anglican Church another religious community in Avhianwu.
The Origin and Meaning of the Name ‘Fugar’ – By Aha Idokpesi Okhaishe N’ Avhianwu
The name ‘FUGAR’ is a colonial casualty. Fugar is the name collectively borne today by two of the four villages comprising Avhianwu clan. The two villages which occupied, and still occupy, an area once called, simply, Avhianwu, are Ivhiarua and lvhiunone. They were and still are one in social, cultural, traditional, religious, political and above all ancestral matters with the sister villages: Ogbona (Ivhimhakhena) and Ivhiraokhor. Until the advent of the British and their subsequent occupation of Avhianwu per se, the word ‘FUGAR’ was unknown to the people of Avhianwu and their neighbours. The etymons of the word ‘FUGAR’ are ‘FULL’ and ‘GIRL’.
The colonialists – the Whiteman – had come at a time when girls of marriageable ages really deserved to be told: ‘You are matured.’ Girls, were, indeed, giants in heights and second to none in bust. They were correspondingly beautiful. They went about nude; wore coral beads, several of them, around their waists; and in some cases a girl would adorn her body with beads from waist to chest. For this reason they were called beautiful. They were ready baits to any man, irrespective of race, given to sensual pleasures.
The British colonialists and administrators, who at first administered what later became the then Kukuruku Division and its environs from Idah, had large and many areas of operation. This had posed the problem of having to remember the names of all the places. In delivering a written speech, for example, the Whiteman had the names of the places on paper but in casual and verbal speeches he (the Whiteman) being foreign to the culture, required some striking marks for easy identification of places, and hence the names required a formula. And the required formula the Whiteman found in imagery.
The Whiteman would not regard the girls in Kukuruku Division as matured girls but FULL GIRLS. They were indeed full and complete. Applying the principle of imagery, the Whiteman styled Kukuruku Division: ‘Area of Full Girls.’ The word ‘OFUGA’ is a derivative of the adjectival phrase ‘Of Full Girls.’ The Whiteman’s intonation and accent had deceived the blackman into thinking and believing that ‘Of Full Girls’ stood for OFUGA. Ofuga was later anglicized to read FUGAR after being metamorphosed from OFUGA through OFUGAR, FUGA to FUGAR. That is OFUGA – OFUGAR – FUGA – FUGAR. What a complete lingual metamorphosis!
The first Native Court in the area was established in Avhianwu in 1904 and was located at a place today called Fugar. And Fugar was by 1918 the Divisional Headquarters of an area comprising Okpe, Otuo, Ibilo, Igarra, Usomorika, Imeri, Warrake, Sabon-gida-Ora, Sebe, Agbede, Ughiagbede, all Inemes, Weppa-Wano, all Ibies, all Ekperis, Auchi, Ukpilla, Uzairue, Avhianwu and so on. The area which is today called Fugar, a town in the present day Avhianwu Clan, monopolized ‘the Area of Full Girls’ and hence FUGAR, its derivative, because it was then an area much frequented by the British Colonial Administrators. Fugar was the meeting point for ALL, being first a Judicial Headquarters and later a Divisional Headquarters and seat of the Colonial Government.
To the Avhianwu community of today, the name FUGAR no longer stands for FULL GIRL. FUGAR is today the acronym of what the people of Avhianwu believe in. They believe that Full Unity Gathers All Riches. But the fact remains that the name Fugar is a by-product of and a monument to both the British occupation of the then Kukuruku Division and colonialism.
It is not true that ‘FUGAR’ was a name given to Avhianwu by the Nupes. Supporters of this claim hold that FUGAR has its origin from the words: ‘Okekeke fayi Ofuga’ which they interpreted to mean ‘Okekeke should go too far.’ They asserted that Okekeke were the sons of Aigba who was an Ineme man living at Fugar until he ran to Ishan (Uromi Idumoja).
Note that no argument would establish a connection between the Nupes asking the children of an Aigba to go too far and the name given to the very community that was purported to have hosted the Aigba.