John Odior Anaweokhai, CEO of Paragon Oil Nig. Ltd and Secretary General, Ogbona Elites Forum
John Odior Anaweokhai was born into the Catholic family of Pa Joseph Akhaniamhe Anaweokhai of Ivhiosano kindred, Ivhiochie Quarters and Mrs. Victoria Abike Anaweokhai nee Ikhumhi of Ivhianaga kindred, Okotor quarters both of Ogbona, Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State.
He attended Imhakhena Primary School from 1975 to 1982 and Ogbona Secondary School from 1982 to 1987. He obtained BA Hons English from Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma in 1997, and Post Graduate Diploma in Management, PGDM, University of Calabar in 2002 and Masters in Business Administration MBA, Lagos State University in 2004.
He is married to Engr. Mrs. Esther Anaweokhai and is the Chief Executive Officer of Paragon Oil Nig. Ltd, player in the downstream sector of the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 1)
It was an 8-bed room apartment with a big sitting room which served more as store and passage than parlour. The veranda was long and spacious overlooking layers of mounded blocks. Between the layer of blocks and veranda was a big playground where we did our kindergarten chores. There was no electricity, save for the seasonal brightness of the moon which was always short live, it was always dark at night.is this why the quarter was so named? Sandwiched between Ivhiochie and Okotor quarters, is Iviebi quarter, which means, Children of darkness. Thank God, I’m now a child of light, my first known point of contact with the outside world in the height of the Nigeria civil war. On the left side of our compound was the Ako family. Eramha Ako was tall, huge and spotlessly white with sparkly grey beards to the bargain, a reflection of the image of God I had created in my fictional universe. He had this magical aural that magnetised us to him. He had a deep baritone voice that instilled fear and commanded obedience. Everything about him radiated honour and grandeur. He had a large family and everybody called him Tata. I don’t really know what that means. His grandson, Dairus, was my childhood friend.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 2)
Behind the Ako family was the Anetekhai family. But between them was a small hut inhabited by Mr. Anugho and his family. Anugho was dark in complexion, always taciturn with an intimidating physique. He had this terror inspiring look in his eyes and with all sense of modesty, a bit queer and uncanny in his disposition. Unfortunately, he died at his prime. His first son, Oghie was my friend though we have not seen for over thirty-five years now. The Anetekhai family were proud owner of one of the three upstairs in Iviebi Quarters. Eramha Anetekhai was the head of the family. He was old and lanky but with bad sight. He was always seated in front of the upstairs overlooking the Inaede compound, few metres away from the Agbepue compound. Eramha Anetekhai was a good story teller with an acidic sense of humour. He was reputed to have said that he missed life on both fronts. As a young man he was always counselled to wait for his turn. Then, elders were held in awe and honour. Unfortunately, when he came of age, the educated youths took the front seats with the elders relegated to the background. The Anetekhais had expertise in the meddling of broken bones.one of the children who was based at Ikabigbo made a success of the trade. I have my doubt if any of them still ply the trade at home since the death of his first son, Eramha Momoh. There are two experiences about the family I will take to my grave, namely, my first miracle. There was this Alfa who was treating Eramha Anetekhai for his poor vision. All of a sudden, we had that Eramha Anetekhai had regained his sight and to prove this, he went around the whole village unaided. Again, I saw an empty casket for the first time under the roof of his veranda. On enquiry, we were told that he was once sick at the point of death.in fact, it was concluded he would not survive and the children did not want to be taken unaware and as fate would have it, he survived many years. So, Eramha Anetekhai was one of the few people that had the privilege of seeing their caskets while alive. The last son, Francis Ighiegbai was my class mate and he is also my age mate.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 3)
Behind my father’s bed room was an underground tank with projected cover. Still on the rear side of the main building and directly opposite the exit door of our general parlour was another underground tank. It was a common sight then as water was a very a big issue especially during the dry seasons. There was no borehole anywhere. Ugbadeghie or Ekhaebade streams were the closest sources of water. It was not surprising that everything humanly possible was done to store water but how well that need was met is another issue altogether as most of the water was exhausted in the height of the dry season. On the left side of the second tank was a six-bed room bungalow that also served as kitchen. It shared common boundary with Eramha Basel Alabi’s compound. Eramha Basel lived with his two wives, children and younger brother, Didi. Initially, I thought Didi was his son probably because of the age disparity, though they looked strikingly different both in appearance and substance. While Eramha Basel was brief, vivacious and boisterous with native intelligence, Didi was tall, a bit muscular and somewhat reserved. Ordinary, they lived happily as brothers but with the benefit of insight, they at best, tolerated each other. After some time Didi built His house and relocated with his family. Eramha Basel was jovial and friendly. Then, tongues started wagging among us about his relationship with IBANA masquerade. Ibana masquerade was the most dreaded cult of all the masquerades in the entire ullage especially among women and Children. They were masked in an umbrella-shaped canopy, draped in red and white colours and of course, were rarely seen. They spoke a distinct language that was not intelligible to the uninitiated. Ibana wielded enormous power that assumed spiritual dimension.in fact, they were reputed to have come from the land of dead. They were saddled with the responsibility of enforcing legislations made by the council of elders. I make bold to say herein that long before 1874 when the colonialist introduced the common laws, doctrines of equity and statues of general application into our legal system, Ogbona did not only have a sophisticated system of adjudication there was also a well refined and potent means of maintaining law and order in the society. I have no knowledge of any incident in history where anyone crossed paths unceremoniously with Ibana and went score free. They would visit such a culprit in the dead of the night, condole off the compound and unleash mayhem until such person was produced with the necessary fine paid. Little wonder we grew up in a secured and peaceful environment. However, there was this ceremonial aspect of them, namely, whenever their service was engaged for funeral wake keeping, though a sign that women and children were not welcomed, they were less fierce and more tolerant especially in the morning. Most times, we escorted them on the way to the land of the dead. Ughieda used to be their route but we never went beyond The Eghieyes’ compound. In all honesty, all we heard about Eramha Basel were mere hearsay which were neither confirmed nor denied. His second surviving son, Adomhokhai and I cut our teeth together in primary school.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 4)
Between the neatly arranged mounded blocks in front of our house and the main road was a wide gutter with shallow base, the main erosion channel in central Ogbona. It stretched from the market square down to Eramha Aliu Idegbesor’s compound in Okotor. All the flood right from the market square, by natural design, emptied its contents into the long gutter. The sand was sharp, white and stainless thus contrasting sharply with the strong, mud- red and coarse nature of Ogbona topography, it served as a kind of rendezvous where we hung out and played at night. Before the road and very close to our boundary with The Asekomhes was a flower tree with big trunk. In fact, save for the beautiful flowers, one would easily mistake it for iroko tree. Most times, Iviebi council of elders sat under the tree to TO’KWE that is played local draft among other things. I can see vividly in my mind’s eyes, my father, Eramha Ilegah and sometimes, Eramha Ifaorumhe and other Ikpisai having nice time under its cover. Sometimes, in the evenings while preparing for the evening meals, one would hear OGBONA VHA SOGHUE OOOOO. Regardless of the location or the task at hand, one would standstill and paid attention. Sometimes, we were dispatched to the town Cryer to hear directly and clearly from the horse’s mouth and of course, to relay the message with the exactness and the comprehensiveness of a tape recorder, luckily, our house was very close to one of the strategic spots where he delivered those messages. The T junction linking Okotor-Ivhiochie and Ivhiorevhor quarters together was one of them. The town Cryer was Eramha Amedu Ozoh. He was always businesslike with a stern look on his face. He had a mastery of the rudiments of his trade which he displayed at all times with distinguished sense of competence. He delivered those messages without the aid of a microphone and surprisingly enough, he was audibly heard in every nooks and crannies of the village. The delivery of the message had a format. The first four sentences were introductory while the second to the last was conclusive and the very last one was to himself. The first line OGBONA LISTEN PLEASE OOO was interspersed with about 30 seconds of dead silence ostensibly to arrest everybody’s attention. It was repeated to drive home the point. It was followed by the 3rd line which went thus: EMAIMHE GWIOR VHAI, WHAT I’M ASKED TO TELL YOU PEOPLE, the 4th line stated OVHA KHEI, WHICH SAYS and ended the delivery with THIS IS WHAT I’M DIRECTED TO DELIVER TO YOU. INA’MHE GWIOR VHAI OOOO. We would chorus OOOO. Finally, the town Cryer would murmur to himself. USOAGHIEMHE, AGBAGHIEMHE, AWUAGHIEMHE. I’M a mere messenger. You neither kill nor harm a messenger. Eramha Amedu Ozoh’s son
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 5)
The white sharp sand in front of our house was not only met for kindergarten chores and the likes, it also served as wrestling pitch. Conceded that the trappings of a model day well packaged Wrestling like The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan brands of The World Wrestling Entertainment were lacking; it was no mean a less beauty of entertainment to savor. The excitement went beyond wrestling, it was the final rite of a yearly Ogbhe festival. Of all the festivals in the village as far as I know, Ogbhe festival was the shortest but the most fetish. Everything about it was shrouded in the mysteries of incantations and sacrifices. The celebration never lasted beyond one day, yet a lot went into tithe celebration was preceded with the town Cryer announcing the age group saddled with the responsibility of clearly the two shrines and ensuring that the accessible paths were cleared of stunts and debris. The main Shrine is between the gully site beside Eramha Aliu Idegbesor’s house and Mr. Sunday Imhana’s compound, opposite my maternal family, The Ikhumhis compound in Okotor quarters. The second shrine is in Ivhiochie quarter, right inside the deep forest behind bros Gilbert Odior’s family compound. Both shrines were linked together by a narrow that passed through our house to The Asekomhes’ down to the Illegah compound. All, the same, wrestling matches took place in front of our house. The Okotor shrine is a very small hot of about 3 square meters. The Chief Priest was Eramha Omokhape whose house was between The Okhakumhe and The Oshiomhogho compounds both in Okotor. He was quite elderly and after sometime, he became the oldest man in the village. His dedication to the idol was unparalleled. Though he had Lieutenants, there was no doubting the fact that he was in charge and of course, he enjoyed the loyalty and respect of his subordinates. There were two drums that were constantly being beaten, each with a distinct sound that combined to give a rhythmical beat. It took me awhile before could I master the beating pattern. Though we were allowed into the shrine, we were excused whenever sacrifices were to be offered. There was enough pounded yam with egusi soup and palm wine. Towards evening, the elderly men would carry calabash and earth pots on their heads and filed out in a procession to the second shrine. Activities at the second shrine were much more secretive than the relatively open ones at the main shrine. There were no hot but big trees. We were not allowed to beat drums but to observe proceedings from a far distance. The gulping of cups of palm wine by the elders signified the end of the rituals. They would also file out in a procession right to the front of our house, venue of the entertainment part of the festival which is wrestling. The elders, looking worn out would give a flavour of importance and grandeur to the whole thing by staying for a couple of minutes to watch a few wrestling matches. Please, don’t ask me if I ever succeeded in falling anybody.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 6)
The building facing our house on the other side of the road is the Esue compound. It is a U shape building that faces the T junction linking Okotor-Ivhiorevho and Ivhiochie quarters together. Between the Esues and the T junction was a big sycamore tree, underneath was a bamboo wooden platform where people hung out. Directly opposite the Platform and adjacent to the main road part of the Esue building was a provision store owed by Eramha Tsado Eshiesumua, that’s Stella Mode’s father with Aleghe Oyowhi Ozoh as the sales boy. There I bought goodie goodie for first the time. They also sold big basin plates that were mostly used by women. The T junction was Okotor quarter’s public square. Final burial ceremonies and the likes were conducted there. Iloh and amhi masquerades did entertain people there too. I was surprised how everything has changed going by what I saw the last time I witnessed a burial ceremony at home. Everything is now done in the house of the deceased. Even Iloh masquerade now entertains people in the deceased’s compound. Eramha Ilokhor was the head of the Esue compound. How that came to be I have no idea. Eramha Ilokhor was not just the head of the family, he was the eldest man in the entire village. He was imperially slim but frail with white beards and a frightening set of colored teeth. He rarely came out. As the oldest man in the village, he was the custodian of Ogbona culture and tradition including the Royal Python, ALOKOKO. As children, we had heard myths about ALOKOKO. When we found out how the eldest man in the village was determined, we were told that wherever there was a dispute about the eldest person in the village, which was very rare anyway, all they needed to do was to watch out for the tracks of the Royal Python in the morning. The snake would on its own visit the oldest person in the village at night and resides with him until he passes on. It was not unusual that whenever we had the opportunity to visit that compound, we would strain our eyes to comb everywhere in the compound for The Royal Python. Unfortunately, we never saw anything. The image of his final burial, circa 1979 will remain with me forever. During his final burial, some strange and stationary drums of immense proportion were beaten for few days. On the final day, ITEKWI right, please, I don’t really know how to translate that, was observed. About five strange but well decorated stools were placed on the ground with five barefooted women standing by. The women were obviously ready for business as each of them had extra wrapper tied round her waste and two ushers were attached to each of them too. After some incarnations, the stools were placed on their heads? Before you knew it, some men came out with normal drums and a very strange and distinct pattern of drumming, completely different from that of Agbi or Iloh, began. Everybody came out and the women were dancing towards the market square. Everything changed and assumed a mystical dimension about few metres to the Orokhiyie tree. One of the women started spinning and behaving more like raving mad. All of a sudden, she started running and the ushers that were assigned to her followed her. As we were recovery from the effects of what we were witnessing, the woman said there was a message to be delivered from somebody that had died years ago to his family. From Ivhiochie she would run and stagger to Okotor. Within a short time, the other women followed suit and were all prophesying. The most shocking part of it was that no matter how fast those women ran or staggered, none of the stools fell from their heads. Please don’t ask me if their ministration was under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 7)
On the left side of our compound is the Asekomhe compound, one of the proud owners of the three upstairs in Ivhiebi quarter. Of all the families in Iviebi quarters, we were closest to the Asekomhe family. As a matter of fact, we lived happily like a family. Their house was opened to us anytime any day just as ours was opened to them too. The two families are the only Ivhiochie families in Ivhiebi amidst Okotor families. While we are from Ivhiosano they are from Ivhitse or Ivhiobore both in Ivhiochie Quarter. The head of the family was Eramha Apemheyie. He was a tough man who had a firm grip on his family. It was the most populated family in Ivhiebi. Eramha Apemheyie. He and Eramha Moses had three wives each. Eramha Rafiu and Eramha Achiapere had two wives each. While Eramha Itsabuma and Eramha Vincent had one wife each. Eramha Rafiu’s mother, Uwomha Mami was there too. It was not uncommon to have some misunderstandings every now and then among members of that family. It was always a tug of war between Eramha Rafiu and Eramha Achiapere. While Eramha Rafiu was muscular and always calm, Eramha Achiapere was skinny, gregarious and big mouthed. Most times, he would boast and threatened to bring the heavens down on Eramha Rafiu. He was always full of spectacles and drama with all his braggadocios until one-day Eramha Rafiu decided to join issues with him. A well calculated and wickedly delivered blow with precision landed Eramha Achiapere on top of the tank in front of their house. Everybody thought he was dead going by how he fell from the tank stiffed. I still remember that day very well because it coincided with that of Eramha Ilokhor final burial which included ITEKWI rites.
It was not surprising that when some members of The Asekomhe family, including our dear Evangelist Godwin Asekomhe were to take the OKHEI title, my twin brother and I were selected to assist them in the capacity of AKPAI boys. Akpai is a wooden base basket of 2 feet by 1-foot square with a height of about 1 foot. It is covered with clothes and decorated with fresh palm tree leaves and live fowls tied to all sides of the basket. The duty of the Akpai boy are mere cosmetic compared to the concomitant mystical rites of prospective OKHEI title holders. OKHEI title is a statue symbol among the Ogbonan with the exception of my maternal family, Ivhianaga family in Okotor quarter who have their own special version of the title. Performance of the title entitles one to wear the red cap. It spans over a period of about 8 days culminating in the grand finale of the Ogwa, that is, forest rituals. Akpai boys as uninitiated have no knowledge of the nitty gritty of the OKHEI rites as they are not allowed to go close to Ogwa. On the final day, those to be initiated are kept in separate thatched house each. They have wrapper tied round their wastes with knotted wrappers dropping from the upper loose ends. Their bodies are designed with temporary tattoos, laddered with white chalk. On the left palm is placed a little native earth pot with porridge content. Everything is colorful and ceremonial when going to the Ogwa for initiation. Everybody is involved up to Imhakhena Primary school. It is a different ball game altogether when coming back from Ogwa. The orderliness that precedes the Ogwa mission pales into rowdiness as they all seem to act under the influence of alcohol. Like puppets in the hands of puppeteers, they are swung from one end to the other until they returned to the thatched houses.
Completion of the title confers exclusive rights and privileges on the initiated. The Uninitiated is called Ogbhari. He is at the mercy of the initiated at any public gathering. According to the late musical legend, Gen. Bolivia, an Ogbhari is not qualified to snap photographs. The only steak he’s permitted to eat is snakes. Some would even go further to tell you that at public function, Ogbhari is a junior irrespective of age disparity. In fact, an Ogbhari is to be seen and not to be heard. Oboh that is the titled man is at liberty to use the head of the uninitiated as towel to clean his hand after a meal at public function.
In all honesty, the initiation is not compulsory. Until recently, no member of my family was initiated because of our Christian background. Eramha Eshiemhomoh Anaweokhai who was the Patriarch of the Anaweokhai family was the head Christian/Catechist until his death. No one could convince him on the need to take OKHEI title. To him, it was fetish and a heathen practice, a conviction am not ready to jettison even up till tomorrow.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 8)
One of the memorable games we played on the neat sharp sand in front of our house, is IVHIOKHOR, best translated as fowl children. It was one of our best past times, of course, there were no play stations, computer games, Internet even television is a recent phenomenon. It was a community unencumbered by an iota of model technological advancement. But we enjoyed the use of charcoal iron to press our uniforms and drank chilled water from native pot which was common in every home. Slippers were hardly worn, little wonder our toes were always covered with sores, sometimes, to guide against incessant dashing of our toes against stones we tied black trend round them. Boy, nothing is as painful as bruising unhealed toe against an object. Also competing effectively for pride of place on our toes was ginger. It was a very small pest that attaches itself to one’s toe, apart from occasional scratches, it does not give much cause for concern until after a while when it eats its way deep into the flesh. Removing it was delicate and needed all the dexterity of an expert. If it gets burst as it is being removed, the little eggs quickly develop into new ones. They were mainly associated with pigs. Lice was another battle we constantly fought on our heads. The most tragic thing about lice is that scraping our hair to the skin never put an end to their menace. They grew with the hair too. Lice is a very tiny and ugly pest that lays white eggs. Lice live on the head and survive on human blood. One of the reasons lice proved as difficult nut to crack was because of our communal life style. We did everything together, we ate, slept and played together.
Ivhiokhor was one of the games we played together. IVHIOKHOR game has two versions. IVHIOKHOR NIKEKE, small one and IVHIOKHOR NOKHUA, the big one. The small one is the normal hide and sick game among children. It can be played either in the day or at night by just two children. The big one can only be enacted at night and by a larger number of persons. It has well laid out rules. It starts with children dividing themselves into two groups with a leader each. The first group goes into hiding and it is the responsibility of the second group to comb everywhere and fish them out. Having divided themselves into group, like a football team seeking divine guidance for superlative performance, each group gathers to strategize on how best to outdo the other. As the first group files out into hiding the leader of the group would stay behind to see if the other group was privy to the secret of their chosen place of hiding. After sometimes, he would disappear to join his group. No matter the level of inconvenience we caused the family of our chosen place of hiding, all we needed to do to calm them down was just to mention IVHIOKHOR NOKHUA. If the other group succeeded in fishing us out, we exchanged roles and if otherwise, it continued the following day. However, it was one faithful day while we were enacting the small IVHIOKHOR in front of our house that we saw a long procession of women carrying on their heads every kind of food known in Ogbona in pairs. It attracted the attention of everybody. On enquiry my mother told us it called AKHUKPE NOKHUA. Otherwise known as UKPE NOKHUA. UKPE NOKHUA is a form of title taken by women in Ogbona community. It is a show of wealth and might among Ogbona women. It changes their social standing among women in Ogbona community. It places them above every other woman in the community. It gives Ogbona women the rare privilege to wear elephant tusk on their legs. It is the OKHEI title equivalent among the women folks in Ogbona. It is a display of wealth and splendor. It signposts the distinct nature of Ogbona, nay, Avhianwu culture. It is the reversal of the conventional man/woman role in the family set up in any part of the world. While it is customary for a man to shower his wife with gifts as show of love, the reverse is the case with UKPE NOKHUA. It is the woman’s duty to prove to the man how well she loves not only the husband but his entire family. A woman goes to her family and cooks every edible food known in Avhianwu clan in pairs and add a sizable amount of money and present them to the husband. UKPE NOKHUA is not just a one-day event. It is a culmination of years of preparation. A woman may deny herself of a lot of comfort to perform UKPE NOKHUA. The food prepared by the women is shared not only among the husband’s immediate family, it is shared to the entire quarter. The size of the food prepared may cover half of the husband’s compound depending on the size of the compound. If only our wives can emulate the Ogbona women of yesterday!
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 9)
Even without video games and the likes there was never a dull moment in Ogbona. A lot of other things kept us busy, in fact we never missed those things as they never existed in the first place. Most times, under the brightness of the moon, we sat down to listen to stories. They were mostly fables and folk tales. There was hardly any story without the tortoise phenomenon. He was quite ubiquitous. He’s a trickster with already made solution to every human problem. Also prevalent was Uzogbolimhi, monster, a latter day well packaged dramatic persona in the character of superman. Uzogbolimhi is reputed to possess some extra ordinary power with which he brings things under control with the superb ease of an excellent superman from another planet. He was always depicted as ugly but muscular with a scary personality. It was not out of place to threaten a restive child with Uzogbolimhi to curtain his excesses. Odeto, Mermaid was another character. He was mostly known to reside under ORHAI OCHEI, cherry tree in the afternoons when everyone had gone to farm. She was presented as having long hair with a benevolent spirit. She was known to be sometimes wicked too. For this reason, we were a bit careful when hurting for cherry. We had them in abundance. There was OMHINEWOR, tastier than honey, OCHIE ODAMHA, there was one in front of Eramha Omadimhe’s rice mill before the Primary school fence and another one also inside Imhakhena Primary school. Of all of them, OMHINEWOR was the sweetest. Access to them was not restricted but that of ODAIMHA was closely monitored probably because there was only one access road which passed through Eramha Odaimha’s main compound. The one in primary school was not too tasty but easily accessible provided classes were not on. Climbing ODAIMHA cherry tree was quite tasking as the trunk was without rough edges, long and huge. Fruits could be found on it even off seasons.
Incidents of stealing were not too common but some were reputed to be very good at stealing their mother’s fish. Eating smoked fish meant for cooking earned one the instant name of OLESELHE. Woe betide any OLESELHE who misbehaved at public gathering. Did I ever pitch my mother’s smoked fish? All I know is that nobody ever taunted me with the unsavory appellation of OLESELHE. All the same, it was a closely-knit society were everybody knew everybody. The scholarly minded were well known so were the irresponsible ones. Whenever one’s fowl or goat got missing, they knew were to beam their search light.
Every evening we met at the primary school to play ball. Our brand of football was a special one, there was no referee. The pitch was not marked. Off side was nonexistence. The rule of the thumb held sway. Anyone who owned football was almost worshipped. He could determine who was qualified to play or otherwise, too bad if you ever had issues with him. We never knew one could build up a carrier in football as we only played for fun. Of all of us, there were too boys that stood out. I have no doubt that given the right environment, they would have given Jay Jay Okocha and Sunday Oliseh a good run for their money. Anthony Odior who was better known as Jehovah was very deadly with his left. Sango Abaike Ilegah had good ball control with mesmerizing dribbling skills. He combined speed with accuracy. He rarely wasted pass. His confidence on the ball was beyond the ordinary hence he was nicknamed Aghaghamhi, that’s centipede. Unfortunately, he died in a ghastly motor accident in Lagos at his prime. May his soul rest in peace.
It was while we were preparing to listen to stories in the evening that we heard of the phenomenon called television for the first time. It was a small funny box which contrasted sharply with the projectors we were used to. OMO and MILO wholesalers used to come to the village with projectors to show us films and used the opportunity to promote their products. The television was a different ball game altogether. It was Eramha Vincent Asekomhe who retired from the army that brought television to the village. It was powered by motor battery whose duration was very short. There was only one channel, NTA Enugu. The programs were mainly Igbo pronged, we never bothered as we neither understood Igbo nor English. We were interested in seeing ACTOR who never died. I remember an elderly woman who seeing television for the first time shouted GHUO YAI. See somebody. OMHE, he talks. After sometimes, there was another one owned by Eramha Kemhi Obeakemhe, we used to watch through the window. We were only interested in watching films, 9 O clock news never meant anything to us then, in fact, and we hated news with passion.
The advent of television and the establishment of Ogbona secondary were two phenomena that changed our lives forever in the Ogbona.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 10)
Among the Etsako people, regardless of the slight cultural differences and language variations, there is a common ground on one exclamatory word and the relish with which it is spoken irrespective of age and sex is ineffable. the North Ibies, Okpellas and Unemes have taken the expression beyond the realm of exclamation to the abyss of common refrain.is the first word a non-native understands among the Etsako people. It was not surprising when a German displayed a mastery of the expression at Okpellas during the construction of BUA cement factory some years ago. Is a word that best describes and summarizes in concise form the anatomy of a female homo sapiens. How that word came to be notorious among our people defiles any rational explanation but thank God yours sincerely is not given to vulgarity. I do remember like yesterday that one day, as a little boy, I saw my mother splitting firewood but somehow, the axe head missed its target and smashed against the wood and she unconsciously released the word. Within a short time, she was able to fix the axe head and as she raised the axe to split, I quickly interjected by repeating the word and I got a curtly but motherly look of innocence from her. Soon afterwards, my elder Adolphus, obviously alarmed at what had transpired and with the full knowledge of my innocence, took me aside and gave me a well-timed tutorial. Thus, he ignited the fire of curiosity in me. There were many things far beyond my understanding and answers were not handy, for example, how were babies born? Why do people get married? As nature would have it, it was very close to the marriage period
Marriage in Ogbona has at least, three versions. There is the arrangee type. This happened when there was opposition to a proposed marriage and it was not uncommon for the woman to arrange for her adoption. The plot was always well planned and executed with able bodied men planted in strategic places where the woman frequented and as soon as she arrived, they would pick her up on the shoulders and conveyed her straightaway to her husband. The woman would naturally protest to set herself free but she would be overpowered. It was not unusual for the woman’s family to mobilize and stormed the place to release their daughter but all to no avail. Sometimes police were involved but once the woman consented to the marriage, there was little or nothing anyone could do.
There were also instances when a woman would on her own volition left the father’s house and parked in with her lover. This was very rare because of the moral implication. Any woman who forced herself on any man without being properly courted was always a butt of laughter and jokes among her in laws. There were occasions when a girl was put in the family way and such acts were considered sacrilegious and the only way out was to organize an emergency marriage for the one responsible for the pregnancy.
The most ceremonial of all the marriages was the type where women were taken to their husbands naked, yes naked. Preparations for formal marriage followed a sequence of events. The first noticeable sign of marriage readiness among the men folks was the change of one’s wardrobe and the giving of facelift to one’s place of abode.it was not out of the ordinary for a young man to ask for his own plot of land to cultivate yam, sometimes, the father would give him some seedlings to get him off on a good start. He would start mingling with married men and shelved all forms of youthful exuberances. In the evenings and in company of friends, he would visit young eligible girls. A marriageable girl was also known by her genial disposition, especially the courteous treatment of people that came her way. She’s dressed well with a beautiful hairdo. Boyfriend and girlfriend were nonexistent. Girls were strictly raised by their parents to be respectful and hardworking but once a girl was ripe for marriage the rules were loosely applied. Whenever suitors came calling, the once over bearing, protective and belligerent father turned to vegetable and would feign ignorance of happenings around him. Depending on the reputation of the suitor involved, he may be given a cold shoulder welcome. All the same, the girl would relocate the visitors to secluded place and offered them seats of big plates.
Marriage steps shall be discussed in another episode of this series. On the day of marriage proper, drummers have their hands full as they have to escort all the young girls to their new homes. As soon as all the necessary obligations and rites were performed, the girl would be handed over to a member of the husband’s family naked. This was the most exiting aspect of the ceremony as we had to snap make believe photographs. Some parents were not comfortable with the sight of their naked daughter and such they would insist she put on a loosely tied wrapper but the case was different once she stepped out of her father’s compound. The pride of every woman then was coming to her husband’s house naked with all the cleavages and contours in place. As soon as she arrived, she would be given a cold shower and ushered into her absentee husband’s apartment.
One other thing we relished on that faithful day was the use of our hands to feel the chest endowments of the opposite sex. This had to be executed with the perfection of an excellent marks man. Woe betide you if you were ever caught in the act. Vulgarity and that immoral word freely used among the Etsako people are freely on display that very day too.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 11)
Growing up in Ogbona was quite interesting and if the truth be told challenging too. All the same, we enjoyed the communal life style. Everybody was his brother’s keeper. We knew one another to the letter hence it was not that possible for anyone to spring a surprise. There are things you would tell me about Emmanuel Oshiokhane Adamu in Okotor I would never believe just as Richard Ayeni in Ivhiochie would out rightly deny certain allegations against yours sincerely. The good, the bad and the ugly ones among us were well known. Above all, we were taught to be hard working and to love humanity including strangers.
One mystery I have not been able to unravel about Ogbona is the preferential treatment non-indigenes enjoyed over us. Though it sounds ridiculous, it is the undoubted truth. Beside the Asekomhe family, our next-door neighbor is the Ilegah family. Ilegah family was a fairly large family with Eramha Ilegah as the head. He was quite elderly and dark in complexion. The family was host to an Igbo blacksmith called Ibom. We were told Ibom came to Ogbona in the height of the Nigerian civil war looking famished, despondent and unkept and was taken in by Eramha Ilegah. He was given a comfortable apartment of room and parlour without rent. With time, he brought his family to Ogbona and He quickly got integrated into Ogbona culture by joining a particular age group just like his wife too. Nobody could subject them to any form of harassment or intimidation on ground of being a nonnative. The wife and all the children including Ebele, Chukwuemeka and others spoke our language fluently. It was not surprising that when Eramha Ilegah who was fondly called Tarta died in 1980, Ibom performed all the rites of a biological son just as the wife performed those of a daughter in law. The relationship between Ibom and Ivhiebi quarter nay Ogbona transcended the conventional circumscription between natives and nonnatives. He was properly an Ogbonan save for his poor mastery of our dialect. If he wanted to take OKHEI title, I have no doubt in my mind he would have been obliged. With old age and family demands, he relocated to his home town of Awka, Anambra State in 1987.
Also, well integrated into Ogbona culture and tradition was Boji Boji who was a bricklayer. How he came to Ogbona was not known to me perhaps the need never arose. He was staying in Longman, Eramha Ighiegwe Osigbemhe’s house in Okotor. Boji Boji’s marriage to a certain Fugar woman cemented his place in Ogbona. His first son, Dele had no semblance of Yoruba in form or in character. He was a proper Ogbona boy like any one of us. Without mincing words, the hospitality of Ogbona people and their concern for the well-being of outsiders is a trait I have not seen replicated anywhere in my peregrinations through the length and breadth of this country.
Regardless of his openness and frankness, the Ogbona man believes in fairness, equity and justice. When a particular tribe combined such virtues with braveness and a bit of stubbornness, your guess is as good as mine of what will follow if you decide to test their will. Infact, the founder of Ogbona is called IMHAKHENA, which means the dreaded ones. This perhaps, formed the basis of the tribal war between Ogbona and Imiava in 1989. The land presently occupied by Ineme is said to be owned by Ogbona but somehow, Ineme settled there and they were not subjected to payment of any rent. How this came to be, I have no idea. If my memory is serving me right, sometime in 1986 a meeting moderated by Eramha Patrick Obeakemhe was held at Imhakhena primary School and top on the agenda was the sale of Ogbona land to one Akhagbosu by Ineme. Everybody was surprised and anger was quite palpable on all faces that day. People expressed different opinions but the general consensus was that the sale of the land must not stand. I remember one elderly man who out of anger opined that they should mobilized straightway to drive Ineme out of the land. At the end it was resolved that a committee be set up to coordinate all efforts to ensure that the land was not occupied by anybody because it was alleged that Akhagbosu had already surveyed the land for mechanized farming. How the whole thing snowballed into a full-scale war I cannot tell as I had left the village before the war broke out. It was a war that cost Ogbona lives and fortune though no live was lost on the battle ground. I reliably gathered that a formidable army was raised within the shortest possible time and what followed was beyond the ordinary. People were given native bullet proofs with which they repelled flying live bullets. It was a war where the true enemies of Ogbona were known. It was as if the whole world had risen in unison against Ogbona no thanks to the careless state by Col. Tunde Ogbeha, the then military governor of the old Bendel State that Ogbona was the aggressor without getting details of the remote cause of the war. It was not surprising when a panel of enquiry was eventually set up by the Governor to look into the issue, Ogbona expressed her lack of faith in the enquiry as the position of the Governor on the issue was well known. Of course, the battle line was drawn. Bar. Okpoko (SAN) was the leading council ably supported by Ogbonan legal luminaries of that time made up of Bars. Ekhasemomhe, Enaimhegbai and Ferdinand Orbih (SAN). At the first instance some people were sent free while Eramha J.I Odior was condemned to death but was discharged and acquitted on Appeal. It was a case that generated a lot of interest as who was who in Ogbona was arrested. I never missed any of the court sittings at Auchi High Court. It was a case that tested the will, patience, resilience and the ability of to overcome trials, temptation and the worst form of conspiracy theory at the highest level of state petty politics but at the end Ogbona came out victorious with her head high up in the sky.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 12)
There were certain idiocrasies one took for granted while growing up in Ogbona. One didn’t need any formal lecture to know about the four days that make up a week. Evhia, Eomhi, Ewor and Ekhue are the days. No matter how indifferent one was, the activities imbedded in each day soon prompted one into action. Evhia is like Monday in the conventional Oyibo calendar. It is the first working day of the week. No matter, how lazy one was he must not be seen idle at home, he should be in the farm. Ogbona used to be very quiet on this particular day as virtually everybody would be in the farm. But if you think as a thief you would have a field day, you would be highly disappointed as the Ogbona man is always on guide. Age groups were appointed on every Evhia and Eomhi days to provide security for the entire village when others had gone to farm and this duty was discharged with professional expertise. They would divide themselves into groups and combed the nooks and crannies of the entire village although there were rare cases of robbery. Any age group member that defaulted was always visited and made to pay a fine or alternatively had his property confiscated until the stipulated fine was paid.
Evhia is generally revered by Oboh, that’s the OKHEI title holder, the small Ogwa and the big Ogwa rites are performed on Evhia. Though the small Ogwa is not as elaborate as the big Ogwa, both rites are performed on two different Evhia days.in those days, whenever an Oboh died on Evhia day, he was not buried until the next day. Special sacrifice would be offered to propitiate the gods and for the expiation of the evil effects of dying on Evhia day. As a matter of fact, Evhia belonged to Oboh. Nonetheless, uninitiated like us had our own fair share of fun that day too. On the way to big Ogwa, Ebo, the initiates have a stopover at Imhakhena primary where all the women and Ogbaris are excused.in short, one does not need to be told where to draw the line. There, we would wait for Alamanegbe who had a disjointed and swollen knee cap that made his movement awkward and he was epileptic too. He was always full of life on that particular day as his countenance radiated the mien and statue symbol of OKHEI. He used to wear one long red cap mostly wore by Oghiebo. Actually, we learnt he was initiated as a child, so one could understand his arrogance. As soon as he emerged, we would shout ELEBIO, OLUKOBO DEVHO GIVHEALE, the one the purchased children kola nut, a kind of local fruit, with one kobo. Another person would say, OKPELEKHE IKPISIA, the adult that puked like a child. That was enough to disorganize him for the rest of the day. Like a loosed cannon, he would charge and rushed at us. He would throw stones, in fact whatever he could lay his hands upon at us. He would visit the house of each and everyone us to threaten and insult our parents. He was quite dreadful as stories of the high and mighty he had dealt with abound. He really had nothing to lose as he rightly told everyone who cared to listen. He was not married neither were plans in the pipeline for him to start a family of his own. Regardless of his rantings and belligerence, our primary objective was always achieved, namely to bruise his ego and to ensure he never went to Ogwa. Alamanegbe was never caught off guide as he was always prepared for any eventuality. He had a bag where he kept his armor of spear. In that bag too were his palm wine cup, spoon and plate. At public function because of his health challenge, nobody shared palm wine cup with him hence he had everything handy to curtain any emergency.
Eomhi was also observed like Evhia. It is a typical working day like Tuesday. Burial wake keeping was always slated for Eomhi and it is also the first day of Esi, new yam festival.
Ewor, though a farm day, was more a preparatory day for the following day that is the market day. The residual fatigue of the previous days would be taking their toll too.it was a day woman fried garri to be sold the next day. Farming activity was not really not intense. It is the day that final burial ceremony commenced. It is the day New Year, aduikwu Kwa is celebrated in the month of February. Please, permit my use of February here as all the 12 calendar months have their names or are named after season or events in Ogbona. There is uki uruamhi, Uki Esi, uki Ughue, Uki Ogbhe etc.
Ekhue is the last day of the month and it is the market day. There was little or no farm activity on this day as everything is market centered. It is the day a new pot of soup was prepared. It was also the day of hunger as the soup that was prepared the previous market day would have be exhausted the previous day or on Ekhue morning. The interval between when the last soup was consumed and when the new was prepared was quite dreadful. Even when I rushed to my grandmother the story was always the same, at best she would give me money to buy moi moi which I ate with garri. As I grew matured, I perfected a trick as I would keep 20 kobo aside to buy a tin of moi moi every market day, especially in the afternoons. Every mother seemed to realize this very well as they hardly returned from the market empty handed without native snacks like akara, moi moi, ekor etc.
Whenever my mother was cooking, we would file round her as we expected a piece of fish before everything was emptied into the pot of soup, a habit that has remained with me till date as I always hang round my wife whenever she’s cooking to give me a piece of the action before food is ready. I can’t remember my mother cooking stew on market day. Rice was an occasional meal mostly eaten during Christmas. Most times, one would eat eba three times a day but the pots of soup varied. there were ekeke soghosoghor, Omhi akpee, Omhi avhiokha, Omhi kpuneko, Omhi uvhavha, Omhi ukpusaghue, Omhi ukhea, Omhi oboyea, Omhi afuemhi, Omhi ukpoka, Omhi efie just to mention but a few. Boiled yam was a common delicacy too. If one was lucky, he ate it with red oil otherwise, he ate it alone.
There were two markets that were operated alternatively. The one at Ugheagbai was very far from us but more spacious than the one inside town that was closer to us. Anything one could not buy on market day, would have to wait till the next market day. Though things like soap, goody goody and matches were readily available at Eramha Ororo Edogamhe’s shop, he never sold items like slippers, needle and thread.
Market day had some spiritual undertone. Just as the village looked deserted on Evhia day, so were the farms on market day. Perhaps, the gods preferred the solitude of the farm environment on market day to attend to the numerous demands of nature. Drought was mainly blamed on people’s engagement in farming on market days. Sometimes, it would be announced that no one must go to farm on market days and Ibana were sent after defaulters. I must say here that palm wine tappers and those who went on the rounds to check on their traps were generally exempted.
Why the Ugheagbai market was closed I have no idea up till today but whenever I pass through that empty spot, with a deep sense of nostalgia, I remember how my father used to take us to Steamer, the dumb Barber who stays behind the market square. I remember his manual clipper, the concomitant pains and the heavy knock he used to unleash on our heads whenever we provoked him. All the same, we enjoyed his swivel chair as he always swung us after a haircut. He smiles whenever he sees me now as he tries to taunt me with my youthful exuberances.
Growing up in Ogbona was fun and Ekhue day was special to me. It was quite ceremonial but the realization of the fact that the next day was Evhia when one would have to go to farm especially when school was not in session, cut one’s excitement short.Top of Form
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 13)
One of the ideocracies we took for granted while growing up in Ogbona is our common cultural heritage called Orokhiyie tree. One did not need to be taught about the mysteries of the tree in the annals of our existence as a people. As one grows up, he comes across the tree and he’s stuck by its awe and wonder. The British monarch may trace its ancestral stool to some 900 years back which is quite fascinating and historical. They may bore you with the battle of Hasting that led to the Nomad conquest of 1064AD. One may have read of great empires like Songhai, Ghana, Mali and what have you but nobody can give the history of Orokhiyie tree. Orokhiyie means I have come and I will never go back. In a nutshell, it means immortality. Nobody can tell you anything concrete about the origin of the tree. Not really because writing, one of the relics of colonial encounters in Nigeria was not brought to the village then, simply because nobody knows the history of the tree. At least, there are oral versions of the origin of Ogbona, in fact, Orokhiyie is part of that great story, the tree, and we are told, provided a place of abode for Imhakhena when he migrated from Benin to found Ogbona. My grand Father, Anaweokhai who died circa 1919 could not tell my father who lived from 1906 to 1973, anything about the origin of the totem. One may be tempted to fault my dates here which I quite understand quite well. The truth is my grandfather’s last daughter, Uwomha Mary Gbuague Anyiador who died in 2000 at over 80 years was not even born when her father, that’s my grandfather, died.
The tree is like no other tree seen anywhere in the world. It has no known specie of any kind. It is not Obechie, Iroko or mahogany. It is a tall tree with big trunks. Parts of the roots are visible on the surface. Some people had argued that the real tree died a long time ago while others argued otherwise as the tree is known to be immortal. One undisputed fact is that there is a semblance of leguminous plant that engulfs the real Orokhiyie with its ever-green leaves. All the above submissions seem justifiable as the tree seems to be two in one. However, whatever one says about Orokhiyie is just an academic exercise that cannot be verified. Nonetheless, if one is not fascinated by the great tree and its dark green leaves, the eerie feeling one gets as he approaches it breaks one’s walls of defense…
In all honesty, Orokhiyie tree was not the only place that sent chill down our spines then. There was this place in the new Ivhiorevhor quarters that was dreadful as well. Between Where Eramha Tony Ikhane, the great flutter now built his house and the T junction that leads to Idagwa and Ekperi was another terrible place. though there was a rubber plantation in that place, the pervasive sense of gothic feeling that enveloped one as he approached that place was quite telling. As one passed through the forest with the eyes popping from their sockets in anticipation of some alien creatures from nowhere, he was quickly jotted by the cracking sounds of rubber seeds that broke out naturally from their shells. The T junction was a sore.it was the den of sacrifices offered to idols.
Perhaps, the ancestors gathered there albeit invisibly to collect sacrificial items which they never consumed from dedicated worshippers. There were items of different kinds like eggs, Yam porridge, Coins, melons and others valuable items. Do you know what? As twins, we were the only ones that could go there and picked the money offered as sacrifice to idols without being challenged by anybody. It was generally believed that twins were special breeds that maintained close affinity with the gods. We were held in awe and reverence. We enjoyed the attention and the special privilege conferred on us by being born twins. Whenever my twin brother and I had the opportunity to pass through that place, we would stop by to pick the coins sacrificed to idol. Perhaps, the gods needed a physical representative here on mother earth to help them spend the money offered to them as sacrifice and we did a great job in that regard. I must have confessed herein that when I gave my life to Christ, I had to be delivered of the residual effects of picking money offered to idols.
Again, the Iraokhor road was another hot sport that frightened the hell out of us. When as a dashing, vivacious and life exuding young man I got attracted to the opposite sex, my first point of call was Iraokhor. Sometimes, my friend, Johnson Aleghe Odior would go with me but most times, I went alone and of course, my movements were nocturnal. Coming back from Iraokhor at night was really scary, especially between Eramha Kiel’s house and the main gate to the primary school beside the cemetery. Boy! It was frightening. I always had my heart in my hands as I have heard numerous stories of strange happenings on that road. Some people had complained of seeing flames of fires on trees without the leaves being consumed. There were other stories of ghosts standing by the road sides looking for who to accompanying them to the great beyond. Another version spoke of mermaids who would try to draw your attention but your saving grace was not turning to their direction if only to avoid a hot slap that would lead to instant blindness. Thank God, I never encountered any strange being or occurrence throughout my escapades. All the same, it was a thick forest were dead people who died mostly from questionable circumstances were buried.
The above two scenarios above were child’s play compared to the impact Orokhiyie had on us. Passing under the tree at night was like visiting the cemetery at the dead of the night. The quietness, darkness, the occasional chipping sounds of birds all combined to give an air of mystery to the great tree. One hardly saw children playing round the tree. Throughout my childhood, I never for once saw anybody attempting to climb the Orokhiyie tree. There is this sense of personal consciousness about whatever somebody did or said about the tree. If Ibana were going to enforce an order on a particular night, they made a frightening sound with the base of Orokhiyie tree and combining that chilling sound with the conventional DEMEE warning sound of Ibana were strong enough to dispatch one into the abyss of nightmare.
Orokhiyie was not all that about fear and mystery, Orokhiyie tree is a pseudonym for Ogbona. As matter of fact, differentiating between Orokhiyie and Ogbona is like differentiating between six and half a dozen. It occupies a central position in the heart of every Ogbonan. It is a symbol of our unity. All-important meeting is held under Orokhiyie tree. Part of the age group initiations rituals are carried out there.
I remember as a little boy one Dada who used to come from Apana and whenever he was around, Orokhiyie used to be his crusade ground. He had his own band but his dreadlocks and the red long gown he wore did not help matter about his faith. He used to dance like someone under the influence of alcohol. I can remember him telling Chief Oboarekpe that Ogbona was going to be opened and more developed. He was more of a spiritualist than pastor but he had the ears of everybody.
Some have also postulated that as we gathered under the Orokhiyie for important discussions in the day time, it also served as rendezvous in the realm of the spirit at night.
All said and done, Orokhiyie strikes a chord in the heart of every Ogbonan who is sentimentally attached to it. The tree, from oral tradition, is older than any living creature in our history.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 14)
Chief Patrick Oboarekpe was occupying the highest seat in the land when we were growing up but embroiled in litigation with Chief Ikhanoba from Ivhiorevhor over the throne and Ogbona was divided in stiff oppositions depending on whose side one pitched his tent. The effects of the dispute transcended the confines of the immediate and extended families of the two parties involved in the imbroglio. It affected every facet of life of the community. Hitherto friendship bonds which had taken years to build were sacrificed on the altar of power tussle. Men put their lives on the line and did things unimaginable all because of the Throne. I remember one particular incidence where Eramha Okpokpo Itsani and Eramha Izagidi went to Ivhiorevhor in broad day light to purloin Chief Ikhanoba’s Ukpi that is the symbol of authority. How a heinous act of that magnitude was plotted and executed with such success remains a mystery till this day though some people have countered that the traditional power of invincibility otherwise known as Ebiko was put to use. It was a suicidal mission that no man in his right senses would ever contemplate but after a while, Chief Ikhanoba passed on. The legal fireworks between Chief Ikhanoba and Chief Oboarekpe pales into insignificance when compared to what transpired between Chief Vincent Omadimhe and Chief P. A. Oboarekpe over the same throne. It was a war of a sort that divided the four quarters in Ogbona into two factions. Ivhiorevhor was in solidarity with Okotor while Ivhiochie and Ivhido were on the same page over the issue. This is not to disparage the pocket of oppositions that existed within each side too. Chief Oboarekpe was a tobacco farmer while Chief Omadimhe was a saw miller and a transporter. By all standard, Chief Omadimhe was a successful local businessman who made a fortune for himself while his peers were still struggling to meet up with their daily expenses in the village. I remember his rice mill factory, the two Lorries, Obayaye and Ozoghor of blessed memory. At the end, both Chief Oboarekpe who was a teacher before he became the Okphe Ukpi in 1955 and Chief Omadimhe extended a considerable amount of their fortunes in court cases over the throne.
Though the community was evenly divided along those lines, issues that bothered on the wellbeing of the community were jointly handled. I remember when Ogbona had issue with Ekperi over a piece of land where gravel is mined. In unison, Ogbona went there in broad day light, chased out Ekperi people with little or no resistance, took over the land, sold off the gravels and returned home with all their mining tools.
The war between Ogbona and Imiava was succinctly dealt with on the 12th episode of this series. All the same, every Ogbonan was involved and affected directly or otherwise by the impacts of the war. The most unifying incidence I can remember without hitches was the construction of Ogbona Secondary School premier class room and staff room buildings between 1979 and 1980.It was a project that brought out the best in Ogbona. It put to rest permanently in my mind the question of the existence of a contrary power against the potent power of unity inherent in a community when brought to the fore. It proved to me as young lad that there is no limit to what the power of togetherness can achieve when plainly explained and properly harnessed for the common good of the people. No one was left out. Even as a primary four pupils, one boy and I were made to carry 2*2 sawed wood from Imhakhena Primary School along the main road to the school under construction. All the artisans in Ogbona were involved. Even non-artisans were involved as laborers. The women were not left out as they also helped in the concrete works. Ogbona people levied themselves heavily to ensure the school was completed in time. It was gratifying to note that regardless on which side one was over the throne legal fireworks, there were always red tapes.
It is appalling and disappointedly so that despite the potential danger posed to the wellbeing of the community by the dispute over the Throne, we never bothered to find out about the procedures or steps to the Royal Stool of Ogbona kingdom. Steps to the throne are well spelt out.in fact, there should be no shadow of doubt or disagreement on who should be the legitimate Okphe Ukpi of Ogbona. But before we proceed further, who is qualified to be The Okphe Ukpi of Ogbona?
Every male child of Ogbona is qualified to aspire for the highest seat in the land because like The Other Four Villages of Ivhiarua, Ivhinone, Uralo and Ogbona that make up Avhianwu clan, kingship is not by primogeniture. In other words, kingship is monopolized by one family and there is no perpetual heir to the throne from a particular family or quarter. It is rotated among the various quarters that make Ogbona. It must be posited herein that the taking of OKHEI title is sine qua non to one’s eligibility to contest for the Royal Stool.
Ogbona is divided into two ruling houses. And as such, The Ukpi rotates between the two ruling houses of Ivhiokhua and Ivhiomierele. Those two names should bring to our minds how age group rites are performed among the male folks. I heard of Ivhiokhua for the first time during my age group initiation. All positions are shared between the two houses.
Ivhiokhua is made up of Ivhiorevhor, Ivhitse, Ivhiobore, Ivhiosano, Ivhiobiri and Ivhitse while Ivhiomierele-Okotor is made up of Ivhiozima, Ivhioroke, Ivhiovhaghua and Ivhioverah
The other subordinate Chieftaincy titles rotate among the following kindred
3: UTOKHO UKPI NAIVHO
4: UTOKHO. UKPI NA’PE.
At any given time, two of these four titles fall to either Ivhiokhua or Ivhiomierele
At any given time also, if UKPI is in Ivhiokhua, The EGBUESE goes to the other house.
EGBUEIKPISE is on the same side with UKPI
UTOKHO UKPI NAIVHO is on the same side with EGBUESE.
UTOKHO UKPI NA’PE though silence, is on the same side with UKPI.
The following people have ruled Ogbona from the two ruling houses as far as oral tradition can be relied upon.
From Ivhitse : Chief Osigbemhe, Chief Ototo and Chief Oboarekpe
From Ivhiobore: Chief Izah, and another Chief Izah though one of them had a shorter reign., Chief Odior who ruled without Ukpi because he was a warrant Chief and all efforts by his son to succeed him were thwarted
From Ivhiosano: Chief Atsegwasi whose reign was very short.
From Okotor-Ivhiosua/Ivhioroke: Chief Aleghe, Chief Okozi.
From Ivhiozima/ Ivhiagua: Chief T.A Osigbemhe
From Ivhioverah: Chief Akpabeghie
From Ivhioverah : Chief Iyevhe, Chief Akpabeghie was deputizing for Chief Iyevhe because of his old age.
From Ivhiorevhor: Chief Anyai who was a substantive chief from Ivhiokhua but was sent on exile by the British because of his loyalty to the Germans during the scramble for the partition of Africa by the colonialists, on his way to Exile, Chief Anyai handed over to his kinsman, Chief Ototo of Ivhitse quarter.
Adih forms the bases of Ukpi and other subordinate chieftaincy titles in Ogbona and they are ten in numbers, scattered between the two ruling houses in Ogbona.
It would have been worthwhile to give a cavalcade of all Chiefs that have ruled Ogbona before with dates, unfortunately, save for the recent ones, everything else was handed down orally by people who were not too conversant with the modern system of denoting times and seasons with dates.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 15)
The impacts of Ivhiorevhor alignment with Okotor over the power tussle were far reaching and destabilizing .For one, the long standing shared ties of consanguinity between Ivhiorevhor and their kinsmen of Ivhitse were severed and for another, there was this pervasive fouled air of animosity and insecurity whenever the occasion provided itself for general congregation among all members of the community .There was this acidic feeling of distrust and uneasiness whenever an Ivhiorevhorian was having dealings with either his Ivhiochiean or Ivhidoan counterpart. It was a period steeped in suspicions and distrusts. In fact, the darkest page in the annals of the history of the community. Nonetheless, as gory as the above scenarios may seem, Ivhiorevhor had at least three exports to the other parts of the community which were quite endearing. Almost everybody loves these products and seemed to have dwarfed any grievance anyone may have harbored against them. Needless to say, these exports were enough atonement for any perceived sin of omission and commission on their part.
To forestall any form of rigmarole, the question is immediately propelled: who is Ivhiorevhor? Ivhiorevhor is part of the four villages that make up Ogbona. On the north side, they share boundary with the Oghena and the Esue families, on the west, they are bounded by the Eleta and Anyiador families. On the east and south, they are scattered and sandwiched between Okotor and Ivhido quarters. It must be pointed out here that I have only deployed my elementary knowledge of geography into use herein. I strongly believe the geographers among us will do a better job. All the same, this is a good starting point of departure for ethnological and geographical probing.
Ivhiorevhor is made up of the two families of Ikhane and Ape Odegbe.
Ape Odegbe is made of The Ikhanoba family, The Okhaimera family, The Ayalomhe family, The Igonor family and a few others. Of all the families, The Ikhane family, arguably, makes up half of the entire population of Ivhiorevhor community. It was the largest family in Ogbona as I was growing up in terms of nucleus settlement. There was this statue of Eramha Ikhane who was permanently seated by the road side and if am not mistaking, it was my first encounter with a statue as a child. If I decide to forget about the numerous houses, the old upstairs and the lorry owned by Eramha Iyakubu, there is this experience about the Ikhane’s family I will live to remember for the rest of my life, namely, the spirit of hospitality inherent in every Ogbonan. One of Eramha Ikhane’s wives is from North Ibie, fondly called mama Gowon and she is a good friend of my mother till date. Gowon was not her biological son but brought from her Ibie village to live with her. The unrestricted access Gowon, popularly called Tsuobe had to the Ikhane’s Orchard across the main road was beyond the ordinary. Gowon was fully integrated into the Ikhane’s family like one of the Ikhanes. But for his nick name, Tsuobe, which gave away his identity, one would hardly believe he was not the son of the soil. He had gone to the field to play ball as we did in the evenings and instead of saying pass me the ball or reamhe, in our local language, he delved into the repertoire of his native Ibie language and said TSUOBE and of course you trust the Ogbona boys, he immediately earned himself a name that stuck with him throughout his stay in Ogbona. They had one pear tree called Udenamhisor which means, it falls to jar the ear lobes of the dead because of the massive size of its fruit and Gowon would take us to the orchard, limb and plough the pears and other fruits without being molested by anybody.
I cannot say with precision who the head of the Ikhane was. There was Eramha Odia who had a great personality that disseminated power and radiated affluence in his hail days but got afflicted with a strange ailment that almost reduce him to vegetable before he eventually died. There was also Eramha Iyakubu That is Bros Bernard Ikhane’s Father who was more or less a rebel in Ivhiorevhor as he pitched camp with Ivhiochie which obviously strained his relationship with some of his brothers including Eramha Odia.
One of the valuables Ivhiorevhor exported to other parts of the community was Eramha Utu Lekeland. He was generally loved by parents but hated by children as he was a terror to all of us. The last word we wanted to hear then especially when we were being mischievous was Utu Lekeland. Eramha Utu Lekeland lived beside the big wooden platform under a big sycamore tree at the centre of the quarter, directly opposite Eramha Moses Akpi who was a palm wine seller. Eramha Utu Lekeland was very handsome man with dark greasy and frightening bears all over his face. He always folded his right hand as if clutching something untoward. He seemed to move from one house to another looking for mischievous children to discipline. In all honesty, I never saw him discipline any child but his sight alone sent shiver down our spines. He was a terror to us as children and unfortunately, he died in that terrible accident that happened in front of the secondary school on May 11th 1981 on his way to work as security personnel in the school.
If Eramha Utu Lekeland was a terror to us, Iloh Ivhiorevhor provided us succor in form of entertainment.
Iloh is a native dance owned by each of the four quarters in Ogbona. It is a masquerade of a sort with a sole dancer. It is mainly toes dance coupled with a lot of acrobatic displays. Ogbona has carved a niche for herself with Iloh masquerade. There was this healthy competition between Iloh Ivhiorevhor and that of Ivhiochie when it comes to dancing. It is not possible to say in strict technical sense which of them was better. It takes us back to the age long contention of which came first, egg or chicken? Much as it is not possible to say in concrete form which was better, the question of who had been more handsomely rewarded could never be disputed. There is this authentic story of the Ologbo of Iloh Ivhiochie who got a wife as reward for his dancing prowess. They had gone to North Ibie for a show when he mesmerized everybody including a young girl with his acrobatics displays. In fact, the young girl was swept off her feet. At the end, the young girl demanded a former meeting with the masquerade and she was obliged, as fate would have it, the Ologbo was still a bachelor and he came home with a beautiful bride. Though it is against our tradition to unmask the Ologbo, that singular incidence stood custom and tradition on its head and the man behind the mask was revealed. Though Iloh Ivhiorevhor may not have been so lucky, he still earned the respect and admiration of everybody as he was a spectacle to watch. He was tall and stoutly built with a frightening set of large eye balls that were visible front the loose cover on his face. Fortunately, his huge size never interfered with his acrobatic displays.
Of all the exports from Ivhiorevhor, Amhi Ivhiorevhor took the cake. It is arguably the only institution that was not tainted by the concomitant effects of the Ivhiochie/Okotor dichotomy over the power tussle that had polarized Ogbona. Structurally, Amhi Ivhiorevhor was a United Nation of a sort, comprising every quarter in the village. The Okhaimera family home was their known place of congregation. They were said to be spirits whose identity must not be revealed though they had no power to enforce legislative pronouncement like Ibana as they were merely for ceremonial purposes. They maintained some elements of affinity with Ibo tradition going by the names with which most of the individual masquerade were known… They had such Ibo names as Okpeneke, Ojeika, Idu, Odogwu and many more. They used to have women dancers who never wore masks anyway. They had colorful customs which were quite entertaining. Of all the masquerades and drummers, Eramha Anthony Ikhane was the most popular owning to his skillful mastery of the flute. His dexterity with the flute was thrilling. With the flute he could control the temple of drumming and dancing. The group Amhi dance was a kind of choreography that was very colourful and a splendor to savor. There was the mother masquerade called Odogwu whose customs were quite different from the rest. There was also the Avhia ‘ mhi, baby masquerade was who always the cynosure of all eyes.
My first encounter with Ivhiorevhor as far as I can remember dates back to the early 1970s when tax collectors were on rampage in the village. In fact, they were demi gods. All tax defaulters were arrested and kept under the big sycamore tree in front of the Okhaimera family compound. Sometimes, those who could not pay tax abandoned their bicycles and ran into the bush. Tax collectors were dreaded in those days and Ivhiorevhor used to be their prison house.
Mike Kadiri The Okotor -Ivhiochie dichotomy was not only fought in Ogbona. It was extended beyond the Niger too far away place like Kaduna. Even as a growing up kid in Kaduna, we were aware of the obvious balkanization of the town along the two major quarters.
Albert Ikhane The piece has ignited my interests. I want to know you better. I stay at Ijebu Ode. Thank you for feeding me with historical background of Ogbona.
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THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 16)
Christmas invokes deep memories of my formative years in Ogbona. Most times, I find myself on a ceaseless roller coaster ride of emotional rectitude while reminiscing albeit sentimentally on those fond memories of yesterday. Matters are less decided by the herculean task of emancipating myself from the mental enslavement of such deep reveries. What’s more, the imageries loom largely in every facet of my perceptive capability. It is like a still but loud voice that refuses to be stifled in the face of apparent life-threatening danger. Thank God everything has finally found physical expression in the Ogbona that flows in my veins. With a deep sense of nostalgia, I remember the countless visits to our tailor, Eramha Oghie Ako, to ensure everything was on track for the D- day. I cannot forget in a hurry, the plastic wrist watches and plastic eye glasses, the visits to long forgotten aunts and relations, the cringing sound of coins amassed from our expeditions and the exciting feeling that the new year like a ripe maiden waiting to be courted, was just few days away, waiting to be celebrated too. It is a moment I play over in my mind eyes repeatedly without getting bored. Too bad most of those my relations who used to grease my palms with coins are no longer alive to receive Christmas presents, at least, as a token of my appreciation for those treasured coins.
The uniqueness of Christmas and New Year celebrations to say the least, bore down mainly to the rice and stew delicacies but it beats my memory if chicken was ever part of it. Please don’t ask me if the oil used for the stew was bleached. No matter what, rice was a sure bet during Christmas and New Year but we were seriously warned never to taste it outside the confines of our home. Christmas, no doubt, as a Christian, religion affairs was tied to different denominations. They had various ways of celebrating though very few in number then. As far as I can remember, we had only one Pentecostal church that was pastored, so to speak by Eramha Adomhere. He was a very vibrant Pentecostal adherent but I cannot say with precision the name of his denomination. His zeal for the work of The Lord was incontestable. He was genuinely committed to the work of The Lord. Perhaps, he had organizational problem as he lacked the aesthetic touch of our model day Pentecostal pastors. Perhaps, he was much more concerned with soul winning at the manifest detriment of the branding aspect of church administration. Most times, he used his house as church venue and from the countenances of the numerous visitors he had which included Oyibos, they were sort of disappointed. The chairs were very few and sparsely arranged and with the benefit of insight, I can say without mincing word that he did a shabby job as a church administrator. All the same, he was committed to his calling and did a yeoman job in propagating Pentecostalism in the village. Most time, his visitors were taken to Imhakhena Primary School as his church venue and we enjoyed the tracts they gave to us though we could barely read them. Unlike the formalized system of worship prevalent in the Orthodox Church like the sign of the cross and Hail Mary, Eramha Adomhere’s approach was completely devoid of such rituals. Frankly speaking, I have no idea of how Christmas was celebrated in his church but he did celebrate too. He resided at the intersection between Ivhido and Ivhiorevhor in Ivhiorevhor right opposite The Ikhanes.
Also worthy of note was the Church of God in Christ Mennonite, very close to the boundary between Ogbona and Iraokhor along Iraokhor road. It was more or less Oyibo kind of Church that was peopled mainly by Ukpeko faithfuls and those along the Ogbona/Iraokhor road axis. The Oyibo pastors were very ascetic and parsimonious and were not really bothered by the transiently possessions of this sinful world. I remember one Saturday evening how my elder bros, Sir Romanus Anaweokhai and my cousin, Austin Anaweokhai took me to the church to do some coloring.
Anglican Church was very prominent in those days but more ubiquitous during Easter Celebration. They were very flamboyant with their celebration Easter as they had a miniature Galilee at the Aki Ugheagbai Junction by the main road. They added colour and glamour to Easter as they escorted Eramha Okolo Osigbemhe that is Gen. Bolivia’s father to his house in Okotor. Eramha Okolo seemed to be a high-ranking Member of the church. He could read the Yoruba version of the Bible very clearly. I cannot say the same thing about their Christmas celebration compare to their elaborate celebration of Easter.
With all sense of modesty, I make bold to say that the Christmas Eve celebration we had in Ivhiebi quarter never existed anywhere else in the entire village. Our next-door neighbor, The Asekomhe family were unarguably the custodian of The Adventist Church brand in Ogbona just as our family was wholly associated with Catholic Church, remember Eramha Cletus Eshiemhomoh Anaweokhai was The Head Christian cum catechist. The competition between both families when it came to our different denominations was very healthy. Sometime we laughed Mrs. Mabel Ezunya née Asekomhe to scorn over the dilapidated state of their church building compare to our big cathedral. Some time, we attended their church services on Saturdays but I doubt if they ever attended ours. Christmas Eve was a very unique moment. The nights were very cold because of the harmattan and we did keep ourselves warm with the fire we set up in front of our compound with the hope of staying awake till the following morning. As catholic, we attended Christmas Eve mass just as the Adventist attended theirs but before midnight, we gathered round the fire for our special watch night service. Around 3: am or there about, Adventists would move from one house of their members to the other singing special Christmas carols. We used to call them Uka Apemheyie. We hadn’t the luxury of knock outs but we improvised with carbide to give us similar effects. I remember one incidence where my twin brother kept awake till the early hours of the morning only to wake up on Christmas Day very late. He almost missed the fun. There was morning mass on Christmas Day mornings which we always missed and no thanks to the hangovers of the previous night. There was nothing like imported rice. We enjoyed the native rice with big grains. It was only on rare occasions we ate Uncle Ben’s rice which was spotlessly white with smaller grains. It was as if we were begging everything to be accelerated to the part where we put on our new dresses so as to comb everywhere for our long-forgotten relations. The evenings were very soberly as we contented with the reality of the inevitable end of our celebration. We would watch before our very eye how all the hypes and preparation for Christmas were suddenly coming to an end. We consoled ourselves with the fact that the New Year was just a few days away… New Year was not as exciting as Christmas. It was only on few occasions we had different clothes for Christmas and New Year. The excitement of wearing new clothe was not there. Nothing is as demoralizing as not putting on new clothes and shoes on Christmas day. It was far, far better to go hungry than not to put on new clothes. Moreover, it was not rewarding to visit the same aunties and uncles that had given us money a few days earlier. Nonetheless, we still tried our luck and sometimes our luck shone. Everything changed when I entered secondary school and it robbed me the fun of Christmas. As I grew older, I started spending the holidays including Christmas’ with my elder sister, Pastor Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru. A Muslim home it was, we nonetheless celebrated Christmas like being in a Christian home as Alhaji Inu Umoru was not a religion fanatic. He was not bothered neither did he impose his religion beliefs on any of us. Though we celebrated Christmas with the best money could buy, I still missed the raw and undiluted home-grown excitement of Christmas that could not be replicated anywhere else in the world. That my elder sister later became a pastor was not surprising at all. Because even as a Muslim, every new year eve, she would gather us together for intensive prayers in the name of Jesus Christ from around 11;30 pm till early in the morning before greeting one another happy new year, of course, with more than enough to eat and drink.
Julie Inu-Umoru I appreciate God daily for your life @ John Odior Anaweokhai. You have always been a blessing. My greatest joy now is that the seed of those prayers in those early. Days of innocence is producing giants for the Lord Jesus. Lord I am very grateful.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 17)
Christmas and New Years were not only the seasons we celebrated with pump and pageantry. We celebrated new yam, Esi festival and new year too. Yes, New Year that is very distinct from that of the first of January. It is known as Aduikwu Kwa. It is celebrated in the month of February in the height of the harmattan season.
One striking thing about this festival is the level of prayers. Everybody prays on this very day. The greetings centre on prayers and pronouncement of blessings. It is generally believed that enmity must not exceed this day as those who hadn’t been in good terms all through the year are enjoyed to meld fences. There must be no carry over of anything untoward. It is a moment elders pronounce blessings on the younger ones. In fact, as you wake up, the first thing you hear in the morning is ONOTSE ONOTSE LO which translates, it is blessing upon blessing. ADUIKWE ‘BE LA KWA. Meaning, we clean ourselves of every stains of dirt. The surroundings are swept and kept clean to usher in the New Year. One is of the thoughtful conviction that the level of the consciousness of the efficacy of prayer on this particular day can be harped upon by the believers among us to do something novel and win souls massively for Christ. Everybody is spiritually minded as the canine instincts in man are verbally exorcised and chased into the abyss. There is this general consciousness of the evanescence of earthly possessions and the limited impacts of individualism as everything gears towards interdependence and spiritual retrospection. It was very exciting as eligible boys and girls would go to the streams amidst sounding of metal gong otherwise known as Akpo gege. It is the season of velvet tamarin as it seen in abundance on the way to the stream. Frankly speaking, I have no idea of the essence of the stream visit as water was not fetched on the way back. nonetheless, I never saw any fetish undertaken during or after the stream visitation. I wouldn’t know if some incantations were made with libations poured before such visits but if the evidence of my eye is anything go by, everything was pure and clean though I learnt it was customary for girls to do the stream visit unclad in the olden days. It is celebrated on Ewor day with Omhi akpee.
The New Year celebration was also a moment age mates, especially, the women folks took stock of their financial year. This was actually done a day before the new year as they always met to share what accrued to them from their investments.
It must be acknowledged here that Aduikwu kwa provided apple opportunity for the council of elders in conjunction with The Okphe Ukpi to reflect on the preceding year in relation to culture and traditions, to do an exegetical evaluation and review some parts of the culture that are obsolete or that need restructuring. It is also a moment to review the constitution of the village. There was no need for new dress as the celebration was short lived and it was not as elaborate as Christmas or Esi.
If we had some restrictions on wild celebration of New Year in February, August was very different. It is the month of Esi, new yam festival. It was not just a celebration it was our Oyibo version of Christmas as far as elaborate celebrations were concerned. The most exciting thing about Esi was the preparations. It is celebrated with melon soup and draw soup both with pounded yam. Melon is a leguminous crop grown by women between ridges and heaps. There is a native melon known as Irere that is spotlessly white with very tiny seeds whose leaves are riddled with thistles compare to the fresh and smooth leaves of the conventional melon. Working amidst Irere leaves in the farm could be very challenging because of the thistles. The good thing about it is that one is never mindful of stepping on snakes or any other deadly reptile. Its shells are not breakable as they are pounded along with the seeds for that touch of roughness and sizable lumps when mixed with real melon to get the local delicacy of Ekeke soghosoghor. Everything about melon cultivation is feminine unlike yam farming that requires the ingenuity, raw power and good sense of judgement that are generally considered as natural endowment of the men folks. The size of a man’s yam farm tells much about his strength. Though yam cultivation is the exclusive preserve of the men, woman have their roles to play too. After the clearing and digging of heaps, it is the duty of women to plant the yam and wind the farm. One of the grievous crimes a woman could commit then was to leave the yam farm windy. This was very rare as the elders would wade in and give such a woman serious tongue lash.in all honesty, such acts of laziness were generally not condoled. Moreover, the woman is in charge of other ancillary crops in the farm. The case was totally different when the man had more than one wife. Compartmentalizing yam farm into parts according to the number of wives was very demanding as there were always accusations and counter accusations of favoritism. It was always a tug of war among Eramha Emperor Ifaorumhe three wives as the issue never ended in the farm. He later devised a strategy of neutrality by entrusting the task of partitioning to one of his elder sisters. I cannot say conclusively that the strategy proffered a permanent antidote to that problem as there were still residual skirmishes. The importance of yam to Esi celebration cannot be over emphasized as it is considered a taboo to celebrated Esi with Eba. From its cultivation, it is calculated to coincide with Esi festival. It was not uncommon to see men doing everything humanly possible to ensure it was planted before February ending. Between August and February, yam is a staple food and commonly eaten but its incipient scarcity is mostly noticeable from March. A real farmer is known between May and July when it becomes a scarce commodity. Woman are spared of the task of regular pounding as an average Ogbonan like yours sincerely is perpetually hooked by the alluring sight and taste of pounded yam. Great farmers had bans where they staked their yam. It must be stated that the size of a man’s ban was indicative of his farming prowess and a snap expression of his financial status. Again, the first person to commence new yam harvest was highly regarded and within my immediate environment, as far as can remember, Eramha Imhana Odior, alias Igagagugu used to blaze the trail. He farmed at the back of their family orchard, behind Eramha Longman, Ighiegwe Osigbemhe’s compound. He used to wear black rain boots and exhibited an air of arrogance with his swags, clutching a cutlass in his hand behind his wife carrying the neatly arranged tubers of yam on her head. He seemed to enjoy the attention he drew to himself by his new yam harvest phenomenon. Igagagugu was a very lively old man to be with them. He had a good knowledge of the bible as he knew everything about the birth and death of Jesus Christ but always twisted the story to suit his narrative.
The preceding Evhia day was to get everything, especially yam ready for the celebration. As customary, we would go for haircut and we had the options of either being barbed by Steamer or Ayia. Steamer was good but intolerant of our zanies compare to the humane approach adopted by Ayia.
The first day of Esi is Eomhi and Ekeke soghosoghor is the main soup with pounded yam. There were instances where pounded yam had a mini layer, an indication that sacrifice was going to be offered to idol. The second, Ewor day is a ceremonial day with Omhi Akpee as the traditional soup. Ekhue is also the day for entertainment. We enjoyed the food and the new clothes too. We also visited our relations who gave us coins. Esi’s celebration was the closest to Christmas excitement. The next Evhia is very important. It is believed the blessed hands of Esi must be utilize for something worthwhile.it was not out of place to see everybody rushing to farm on that day.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 18)
One did not need any formal lesson to know that Ivhido is one of the four quarters that make up Ogbona. It is one of the smallest quarters in Ogbona. I cannot say precisely if Ivhido is bigger than Ivhiorevhor or vice versa. Ivhido is sandwiched between Ivhiochie and Ivhiorevhor. On the northern part, they are separated from Ivhiochie by the old road. On the west, they share boundary with The Ayeni’s and Abu families on the east, they are surrounded by The Akpabor and Adomhere families and they inter live with Ivhiochie and Ivhiorevhor on the southern part of Ogbona across the main road. Ivhido originated from two families of Ivhietso and Ivhiobiri and the two Adi from Ivhido are so named. The notable families from Ivhido are the Anyiador, Aikabeli, Dunia, Igbadumhe, Ezuyia, Aimiekhamhe, Eleta and Orbih. The Orbih family occupies about 35 % of the landmass.
Growing up in Ogbona was very fascinating because of the intrigues and power play. Though Ivhiochie is the largest quarter and the ruling quarter then, it was a common knowledge that the real power resided in Ivhido. It was generally acknowledged that but for the Ivhido power house, Chief Oboarekpe would not have survived the financial muscles of Chief Vincent Omadimhe if he survived that of Chief Ikhanoba in the first place.
The way Ogbona was planned and structured either consciously or unconsciously was very fascinating as the four quarters were neatly linked together by a major road. Wherever there was a burial or any other ceremony, it was customary to go around the village in a procession. That of final burial ceremony was very colorful especially among the women folks. It is traditional for a woman to participate in every aspect of both the father and mother in law final burial just as she would observe for her biological parents. With a horse tail wangling in her hand, the woman’s age mates would queue up behind her in long procession on a route that cuts across the four quarters. Men did go around the whole village but never on a procession. It was worst where in laws were concerned. With just two people and a drummer, the man would go around the village like somebody running for his dear life on the battle field. Perhaps, the architect of our socio-cultural polity realized the fact that everything boils down to the man as it would be a duplication of duty if both were to perform similar rites for the departed souls. A lot of importance was attached to funeral procession especially during final burial ceremony as it was a display of splendour, wealth and power. Most family would deliberately refuse to have more than one member in a particular age mate as it would reduce the number of people that would go on procession whenever the need arose. I know a lot of people who found themselves in age grade far below their real age because of this issue. All the same, procession was treasured in those days and it was the duty of both the man and woman to embark on a procession round the route that linked the four quarters that make up Ogbona including Ivhido together.
Ivhido had Iloh like the other quarters in Ogbona but it was not as spectacular as that of either Ivhiorevhor or Ivhiochie but they carved a niche for themselves with drumming. Whatever they lacked with the conventional Iloh acrobatic displays and toes dance, they made up for in drumming. It was a common practice then to organize waking keeping for young girls preparing to get married. In the mornings, the dance band would go around the whole village. It was a spectacle whenever Elue Ivhido went around the village.it should be noted here that on such occasions the Iloh masquerade was never involved as the drummers were the only ones for the morning processions. Throughout the night of the wake keeping one didn’t need to be told that Elue Ivhido was on display, even a tired horse would be jotted from its deep sleep by the distinctiveness of the drumming that was led by Chief Jacob Orbih. He was to Elue Ivhido what the server is to a computer network. He was really gifted as he led the band with the all passion in the world.
Apart from Elue, Agbi dance was another great export from Ivhido. Though it was generally called Agbi Ivhido, one will not be out of place to conclude that the group was peopled mainly by Ivhiochie. This was not an issue as Ivhido was seen as an extension of Ivhiochie. Agbi dance is a pride to Ogbona. They were two in number, there was the Okotor Agbi and that of Ivhido. Apart from Agenebode where a certain Akpanube had a semblance of the Agbi, it was not close to that of Ogbonas’. Akpanubes’ hadn’t the distinctive rhythmical beat like that of Ogbonas’. Moreover, Akpanube’s Agbi was not as panegyric as ours as he was hurling insults at people. Ogbona Agbi was very unique and well branded and well organized. It is not a common dance that one’s sees every day. It is seen on rare occasions. Gen Bolivia Osigbemhe of blessed memory explored the Agbi genre to its fullest as it formed the myth around which every other musical instrument danced attendance. Apart from its enchanting drumming, the rhythm was danced to with measured steps. Agbi singers sing about the exploits of great men and women just as it is used to make commentary on social issues too. Chief Jacob was their chairman and became known to everybody as chairman. I don’t need to bore you with the details of his drumming prowess with the Agbi dance. He introduced the bass guitar unfortunately he was not as musically savvy as Gen. Bolivia.
Ivhido also had Uke dance that was mainly a women affair. My paternal aunt, Uwomha Mary Anyiador was one of their women leaders. I remember drumming for them on one occasion having learnt the skills from Uke Okotor which my grandmother, Uwomha Iwulavhor Eradi Ikhumhi owed. Beating Uke drum for Ivhido did not happen by chance as I always frequented my Aunt’s house… We used to call Uwomha Mary Anyiador Inene nae Ivhido. We were not just going there alone to consume food as we also helped her out with her farm works.
My first knowledge of Ivhido will ever remain green in my memory. I was a little child when all of a sudden on a certain market day I saw my grandmother and my mother crying. They said somebody died in a terrible accident. Soon afterwards my mother would drop my twin brother and I with a woman that looked like her and that also took care of us like her too. Behold, it was our aunt, Uwomha Adomheli who was mourning the death of her husband, Eramha Anthony Isah Orbih.
The Orbih family house is a masterpiece of architectural design with flashes of the 19th century European castles. It overlooked the Catholic Church cemetery surrounded by the Amiekhamhe family on the left and the Ayeni family on the right. It has a wooden floor and wooden staircase. My aunt lived on the left part of the building as soon as one climbed into the main building. She had a lady sewing machine. The kitchen was behind the main where sisters Angela and Rebecca cooked for us. On the left part of the compound before the Amiekhamhe family was a zinc house where Eramha Onikhena operated his kerosene business. He had a calibrated bottle with which he sold kerosene. We were fascinated whenever a hand pump was used to fill the big bottle with kerosene for buyers. There was a barbwire that separated the kerosene sales outlet from the big pear tree which my cousins, Anselm, Ubald and I patronized regularly. My aunt used to give us avocado pear that was found in abundance in front of the main building. In fact, there were a lot of fruits in front of the compound. The Christmas trees were a beauty to behold. I can recollect only two elderly men who always sat in front of the house. On the left side was Eramha Aleghe who was always quiet and hardly talked to anyone, contrasting sharply with Eramha Zoget who always sat at the centre and full of life. I never saw Philip Oshiokpekhai. Perhaps, he was just a toddler. After a while, my aunt died too and ended our frequent visit to that part of Ivhido. I never had the opportunity to enjoy the echoing sound of the wooden staircase again until January 1995 when bros Tom Orbih was brought home for burial. In All honesty, I never heard the name, Chief. MCK until later in life when I was showed a very tall man in a white Peugeot 404 car.
Romanus Anaweokhai Odior AKA the Strabo of Ogbona thanks a lot for taking me back in Lake and refreshing my memory of the happenings particularly before I left home in March 1971 to live with elder sister Julie Inu -Umoru in Jattu /Auchi. I could recall too the events culminating to the burial of late Mr. Tom Orbih as I was an active participant then. You have done noble!
Philip Oshiokpekhai Orbih John Odior Anaweokhai in as much I appreciate your write ups, you must acknowledge the fact that you don’t have all the facts. Nevertheless well-done. The mere fact that you did not see me in our home in Ogbona at the time you were growing up does not mean I was a toddler. You were not more than a class ahead of me in Ogbona Community Secondary school and we gained admission into Edo State University same year. Does that tell you anything?
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 19)
The impacts of Ogbona Secondary School, founded in 1980, on us was very profound. It reminds me of the topic I loved so much in my History class, THE SCRAMBLE FOR & THE PARTITIONING OF WEST AFRICA AND OTHER PARTS OF THE CONTINENT. My love for history knew no bounds as it unarguably forms the basis of my fondness for documentaries and biographies today. There was this inexplicable inner joy wherever I was preparing for History examination that found physical expression in the excellent grades I obtained in the subject. I was head over shoulders in love with ancient empires like Mali, Ghana, Songhai and great characters like Masa Kankan Musa, Sudiata just to name but a few. My obsession with history earned me the appellation of Susu, a name with which Albert Aigba hails me till date. Why our policy makers decided to obliterate History from Secondary school syllabus beats my imagination, perhaps, everybody must be an engineer or a medical doctor. I was particularly incensed by how the Europeans divided Africa without giving consideration to cultural affinity. Bad as the whole scenario was painted, we were told by Mr. Tsado, our History teacher to see beyond the inherent flaws in the modus operadi of the colonialists and that the dastardly act still carried with it some seeds of its own benefits, a position that shocked us to our marrows. Mr. Tsado told us that printing press and its education precursor are relics of colonial encounter in Africa. Perhaps, our naivety and impressionable minds robbed us of a better or a counter argument as we concurred without demure.
Much as it remains uncontroverted that the benefits of the secondary school far outweigh its ugly side, one could not help but rue the loss and reminiscence over the peaceful and agrarian society we cut our teeth.
Going to primary school was more out of excitement than compulsion as we had no itch of what laid ahead but we were contended with not being bothered with farm works. Those that finished primary school before us patronized the neighboring secondary schools in Fugar, Ayogwiri, Agenebode, Auchi, Agbede and others. They made a lot of impression on us because whenever they were holidaying at home, they congregated at the primary school to read. I remember the heaps of books they carried with pride and the respect and admiration they earned from us. I remember following my elder brother, Sir Romanus Anaweokhai and his friend, Lucky Emuekidi to Imhakhena Primary School to do some reading. With the benefit of hindsight, I can’t help but wonder what they were actually reading for. The seriousness and the energy they invested into reading especially during the holidays contrasted stoutly with what obtained in our time. Nonetheless, we admired them and they served as our role models as they inspired us in no small measure. According to Eramha Gilbert Odior, they were following the precedence set by the likes of Chief Greg Enegwea and Bar. Ekhasemomhe. Coming back from school was not too pleasing especially on farm days. Most times, one would be pulled off his school uniform and headed straight to meet his parents in the farm where lunch was kept for him. It was worst during dry seasons as one would have to go to the streams to fetch water. No stream is less than 7 kilometers away from home and the hills that awaited us on the way back was another story altogether. There were Ekhaebade, Edoghiator, ukpuwaezi, Okokotoko, Aduegbegai, and Olomhe ‘gbe. They were very many but Ugbadeghie was arguably the most popular and patronized. Though a bit closer compare to Ekhaebade, its route is ridden with hills and valleys. Jerry can is a later day occurrence as we happily made do with the calabash gourd. Sometimes on the way back, the calabash would develop leakages but all we needed to do was to get for a broom stick from any available dried palm leaves and stuck it into the tiny hole and that was it. The worst thing that could happen to anyone then was the misfortune of a broken calabash and the resultant spill. Such victims would come back home crying not really because of the spilled water but because of the shame and jeers from peers. Sometime spilled water was the deliberate act of the victim as he would leave the gourd unsupported and unbalanced with hands on the head and would rather fold or dropped them altogether, sometime it was as a result of engaging in such competition with ones’ peers. We had no slipper as the scorching heat of the sun did justice to our bare feet. There was this fruit with thick layers that looked like the sole of shoe we improvised as slippers but was very unreliable. We hardly took our bath in the mornings as we hurriedly washed our legs, hands and face and put on uniform, of course, the collars of our shirts bore the brunt.
We never really had much assignment neither did we do any serious reading at night but somehow, we passed our examinations. Everything changed when the secondary school was founded. The first victim was our nocturnal Ivhiokhor game. some of our playing mates like Benjamin Ako, Oscar Alabi, Anthony Ilegah, my elder brother Adolphus gained admission into secondary and hardly had time for our fooleries any longer as they were either battling with assignments or copying notes. Though seniority was recognized and appreciated in primary school, it was elevated to the level of a deity capable of being worshipped at the secondary school level. Without being told, there was a new social stratification and everyone knew his position on the social cadre.
Of all the casualties of the new social order, AGHIE festival was the worst hit. Aghie season is the period of erotic desires, at least, orally speaking. It is preceded by Ogbhe festival and coincides with the month of marriages. It is the period when caution and decency are thrown to the wind. There is no restriction on what could be done orally as far as immorality is concerned. Young girls are always at the mercy of the young boys as they are orally undressed by them. Amidst opening incantations, young boys vividly, unreservedly and publicly describe the physical makeup of the female anatomy. In the early hours of the night, they would stand in front of the girl’s house, with her name specifically mentioned and she would be undressed before everybody even to the hearing of her parents. Sometimes the daring ones would involve drumming and dancing, all to the admiration of everybody… Married women were exempted. Bold girls are at liberty to subject their male counterparts to such oral harassments too. One of the first practices the principal of the secondary school legislated against was non-participation of student in Aghie celebration and he succeeded greatly in the first two years. Everything took a different dimension the very year I entered secondary school.in the evening of October 1982, Felix Odior, late Sorry and many other people who were not students felt enough was enough and decided to dare Mr. Akeremiokhai, the then principal and I followed them. The Principal was having a see saw movement with one of the female corps members, Miss Oni whom he eventually married… on getting to the Anavhe family house at Okotor where the principal resided, a decision was taken that Aghie incantations were to be chanted in Yoruba to the full intelligibility of both the Principal and Miss Oni who was literally staying with him. The plot was executed as planned but we got the shock of our lives as everybody mobilized and chased us out of that immediate environment. Perhaps, it was a joke taken too far. How I got identified remains a mystery till date as my name was mentioned on the assembly ground the next morning. Though I escaped suspension, I was not that lucky as regards the harsh punishment that was meted out to me, for two good weeks I did not attend class as I had to clear a thick bush covering a wide expanse of land with all the big trees completely uprooted.
Terrible as Aghie may sound, it was well celebrated. I remember sometime in the early 80s when there was a prolong drought, it was revealed after consultation that ALOKOKO was angry with the shabby manner it was celebrated the previous season and immediately UKEDE was declared. The following day, Aghie was celebrated with pump and pageantry. In fact, I heard the word Ukede for first time. It encompasses all the local dances rarely seen on display. To appease ALOKOKO, Aghie was celebrated more than ever before. Elderly women called out their male counterparts amid singing and dancing and surprisingly, before dusk, there was a heavy down pour.
The impacts of Ogbona Secondary school on our lives was quite telling as it affected every facets of our existence. It was like a knife wedged at the heart of the things that held us together. Clearly, remaining a stick in the mud was not a viable option as it would not have broadened perspective in life today. All the same, a part of us was taken away by the new order.
Bernard Ikhane: John the chronicler and revelator par excellence.
Mike Itsuokor Kadiri: OAJ, great job. Sometimes you make us that schooled away from Ogbona feel envious missing the folklore of our esteemed home town Ogbona
De Law of Zion: Another beautiful piece from the master Story teller from Ogbona. Kudooooosss.
Romanus Anaweokhai: Odior AKA Ogbona Strabo, I hail oo. The style and panoramic flow or narrative of your subject matter is rich, very interesting and commendable. You have done noble!
Phillip Orbih: Even when you get under my skin as a brother, when I look at what comes out of You, I am compelled to love and bless you as a true son of Ogbona. God bless you my Brother. May your pen never run dry. Remember all these will be put together and launched in the near future for our Children and Children’s Children.
Julie Inu Umoru: Always on point AOJ. History is in the blood. You are appreciated.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 20)
Okotor is one of the four quarters that make up Ogbona. It means south, or downtown. Okotor is also known with the generic name of Ivhiomhierele which is compartmentalized into two different but integrated quarters of Ivhianaga and Ivhiosua. Ivhianaga is divided into the two houses of Ivhiulaghua and Ivhiovhera while Ivhiosua is divided into Ivhiozima and Ivhioroke sub quarters. Okotor is one of the largest quarters in Ogbona, second only to Ivhiochie. In fact, it is bigger than the two quarters of Ivhido and Ivhiorevhor combined. On the southern part, Okotor shares boundary with Fugar, on the East, you have the Imiava and on the West, they are bounded by Ivhiorevhor. Delineating Okotor boundary from Ivhiochie in the northern part of Ogbona is a bit difficult ostensibly because of the Ivhiochie families of Anaweokhai and Asekomhe both of whom are surrounded by The Illegal and The Eshiesimua families of Okotor. Even the Ifaorumhe family have the Eshiesimua family which shares boundary with the Odior family right behind them. One either takes it from the Odior’s family or the Ako family. Anyhow, the question of arbitrariness remains unanswered. There was really no issue with Ivhiochie/Okotor boundary as we lived peacefully with each other.
There were two bicycle repairers from Okotor. Eramha Obe Ikhanoba whose workshop was right in front of his family compound facing the Agbepue family. He mostly repaired bicycles on market days. Bicycle repairing was a respected trade in those days because it was the general means of transport as cars and motor cycles were very few. I was told the purchase of bicycle called for heavy celebration in days of old. Being able to ride bicycle was not a small feat. It had its rudiments which was broken into four stages. The elementary stage was the monkey level, followed by the stick or ukporai, the seat and ultimately, the carrier stage. Once one mastered the monkey stage, the other three stages were walk overs. The monkey stage is the most difficult and is riddled with series of injuries.in fact, before one could ride bicycle effectively, it was considered conventional for one to fall a countless number of times with sustained injuries to the bargain. Bicycle owners were at the repeated mercy of tax collectors and licensing officers. That of the tax collectors was understandable as their duty was well recognized by all and sundry. Sometimes on market days a lot of bicycles would be arrested and kept under the Orokhiyie tree but before evening something always gave way and they were returned to their respective owners. Perhaps, there were some undertakings. It must be acknowledged here that tax payment was a thorny issue as most people had no money to pay and were mostly rescued by their children, friends and relatives who stayed in the cities. One would not be out of place to conclude herein that this certainly earned Chief M.C.K Orbih the coinage of Ozoganonomhor. How none licensing of bicycle became an offense beats ones Imagination. Nonetheless, licensing officers were really dreaded by our people. Honestly, licensed bicycles were given labels and plate numbers. It was always a beauty seeing Eramha Obe turned bicycle upside down before commencing repairs.
Apart from Eramha Obe, there was also our next-door neighbor in Ivhiebi, Eramha Imekieli Eshiesimua. Eramha Obe was trained by him and as he rightly told us, he learnt the trade in Ibadan. Eramha Imekieli was a spectacle any time any day. He was not just a bicycle repairer; he was also a blacksmith cum designer. He was very arrogant and big mouthed. His fragrant display of arrogance stemmed from his monopoly of the blacksmith aspect of the trade. Though, there was an Ibo blacksmith in the person of Iboh, their line of business was very different. Iboh specialized solely on hoe blade production and was never involved in box making and repairs of basins. Eramha Mekieli lived beside The Ifaorumhe compound and his workshop was an extension of his house in front of the Ilegah family. He was brief, stoutly built and dark in complexion with chubby cheeks, some clear evidence of somebody who lived well. He was the only one who could construct and mend broken plates and boxes outside his main bicycle repairing business. He was mainly patronized by women who had problem with the bases of their basins. He had a fixed price of NGN1 (one naira) which was not a small amount then. It was either you agree to his term or you look for a nonexistent alternative. He had an in law, Eramha Enetomhe who used to visit him from Iraokhor. Whenever he came visiting, he would send any one of us to buy a Fanta bottle of Kai Kai (local gin) which was always 40 kobo. Prices were very stable then. We never bought that Fanta bottle of Kai Kai beyond forty kobo. Sometimes, he drank Harp beer or big bottle of Guinness Stout whose price I can’t remember but was very cheap. Eramha Mekieli would go to farm very early in the morning before day break and returned early to face his blacksmith business. One endearing quality in him was his human nature. Whenever he was coming from the farm especially during mango seasons, he would bring them in abundance and shared to all of us and anytime we helped him to do any little work, he would reward us with 10 kobo. He had a radio that was always on and he relayed and interpreted news to us. He could speak Yoruba fluently which was a big thing to us in those days. He used to have it rough with the Ilega family mostly after the death of their father, Eramha Ilegah. One after the other he would take them to the cleaner and wash them dry. He had an unsavory word for each and every one of them, from Eramha Kasimi to Eramha Isanawu. Whenever the altercation was snowballing into physical combat, he would run into his house and shut his door. I remember, Eramha Isanawu banging on his door one day and he quickly reminded Isanawu that the door he was banging on was called flush door that was not found anywhere in their house. Unfortunately, both Eramha Obe and Imekieli are dead and none of their children took after them. Perhaps, it was a wise decision as technological advancement has rendered bicycle and the likes obsolete.
There were two rice mills in Okotor. Chief Vincent Omadimhe owned one beside the primary school and Eramha Ighiegwe Osigbemhe popularly called Longman had another one before The Odior orchard. Rice mills were quite different from cassava engines whose noise were very coarse compared to the smooth and soothing sound of rice milling engine, the night preceding Jattu market was a sort of all night at the mills, especially that of Eramha Longman. Uwomha Mary Ilenuma, Chief Vital Anaweokhai mother in law, was a rice merchant. One thing that I could not understand is why electricity was not generated from the mill engine as kerosene lanterns were used at night to mill rice. I seriously believe Ogbona is short charge whenever I hear of Ekpoma rice. Why I may not be able speak convincingly on the extent of rice farming in Ekpoma then, I make bold to say, Ishan people were always coming to Ogbona to buy rice. Some of them stayed in our house as my cousin, Eramha Thomas Anaweokhai was one of their middlemen. I also remember Eramha Inusa Awansi who was also their agent. Ogbona was a rice farming community as almost every able-bodied man was involved in rice farming. When Ogbona land which stretches from Ekperi to North Ibie and from Fugar to Iraokhor and partly Ayogwiri was no longer enough, Ogbona people took their rice farming prowess to Weppa, Warranke and Apana. Why Ogbona was never recognized and accorded her due respect as a rice farming community defies any logical explanation. Perhaps, we never blew our trumpet, a dominant character trait in every Ogbonan. There were two cassava grinding engines: that of Eramha Francis Ikolo Ilegah and Eramha Odaimha, I was told Eramha Okhakuobomhe had one directly opposite my maternal home of Ikhumhi family but since it was never part of the evidence of my eyes and I shall not probe into it. Both Eramha Ikolo and Eramha Odaimha’s engines were greatly patronized hence they never bothered with good customer relation. According to my elder sister, Pst. Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru, cassava grinding machine was a recent development as they grated cassava manually in their time.
Cassava occupied a central place in the home of every Ogbonan. Every woman was a cassava farmer. It formed the centre of other ancillary crops planted in any farm. Cassava farming was generally considered a feminine vocation. Peeling cassava was very interesting as my mother personally supervised it. We easily incurred her wrath whenever we peeled too deep as only the outer layer that needed to be removed. She would ask if we thought there were seeds beneath the outer layer. After peeling, it was washed and taken to machine for grinding. It was our responsibility to carry parts of it on our heads from the farm with plate but as we grew older, we started using bags. As soon as yours sincerely started wearing trousers, such chores became too feminine for one’s comfort and it took my mother quite a while to accept the obvious. After grinding, it was left to ferment in a basket and if one wanted it soured, she would leave it for a couple of day before drying it on some woven mats, Egbai. Dried and well fermented cassava is easy to sift with a woven shaker popularly called Akhakha. With time, Eramha Ikolo bought a pressing iron frame and a jack that was used to dry the cassava as soon as it was grounded. There was Iwewe for which we always hung around our mother whenever she was frying garri. It is garri mixed with oil and turned severally on the hot aluminum frying bow knows as Efee to mash it into tasty powder.
Evang Godwin Asekomhe Imekieli was not only a house name in Ogbona but in the whole of Avhianwu Clan. Every primary School pupil in Ogbona use a metal school box manufactured by him. He was a very generous ma and embodiment of wisdom. He was always the first if not the only one to entertain all Ivhiebi children on Christmas day.
Talking about the professionals in Ogbona in those days, were Okereke Anabor in Ivhiochie, Cyril Akpi in Ivhiorevhor, Pius Oghena and Oghie Ako in Okotor. One late Mr. Cyril Ayalomhe the professional photographer in Ogbona. The first major shoemaker in Ogbona is Apanoshia Okhaimera now based in Auchi.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 21)
One distinctive quality about Ogbona tradition is the concept of joint parenthood over children. One’s upbringing is never considered the exclusive responsibility of his biological parents. The child belongs to the family/quarter in particular and the entire community in general. Whenever a ward was seen manifesting traits of waywardness it was the collective responsibility of everybody to ensure the child straightened up. Whenever any pupil was caught playing truancy, he would be decisively dealt with and every possible step were taken to ensure he took his studies serious. In the years before, children were shared between both the maternal and paternal families. Though the practice seemed to have waned considerably these days, its vestiges abound everywhere.
Outside my immediate family, the next place I frequented was my maternal home, The Ikhumhi family of Ivhianaga sub quarter of Okotor quarter. In fact, we stayed there briefly and we enjoyed the same rights and privileges due to every bona fide member of the Ikhumhi family. It is part of a larger family, Ivhiera, made up of the Okhumholor, Umole, Ozoh families. Apart from The Umole family, the other members of the extended family farmed together in Ighiase. I could go to any of them for help if there was need for it. I used to aid Eramha Paul, Aka “No Time “in his farm work. I saw the power of unity first hand among my mother’s kinsmen. It was my maternal uncle who was a soldier, Eramha Thaddeus Mamaidu Ikhumhi that wanted to erect a habitable structure for our grandmother beside the family house. As soon as he started molding blocks, The Okozi family who are their next-door neighbor felt he was going to encroach on their land and started spoiling for a show down… Eramha Thaddeus pretended as though everything was alright. Matters came to a head when the foundation of the building was to be laid. The Okozi family came out in their numbers to stop the digging. Speedily, they put up a make-believe partitioning fence and their numerical strengthen was frightening and without mincing words, dwarfed that of the Ikhumhi family. What followed the next day was beyond description? That very morning was a gathering of all the adult males of the combined families of Ikhumhi, Umole, Okhumholor, Ozoh. Luckily, Brothers Cockhead and Lawrence Umole were bricklayers and while others were digging, they were setting blocks and my soldier uncle with his military swags was threatening to bring down the heaven upon any trespasser. At the end, The Okozi family allowed peace to reign and palm wine was never in short supply that evening.
Palm wine, Ezuih was central to any major gathering in those days. It was more popular and more consumed than Kai Kai or ogogoro but tapping palm wine is not a lazy man job I must confess. I have a shallow knowledge of the trade which I acquired from Eramha Patrick Enilama Okhumholor and Bros Michael Umole by helping them to do some firing before proper evening round of tapping could commence. Children were not allowed to do the real tapping hence we were restricted to the fire blowing aspect of it. I used to follow my maternal cousin, Eramha Patrick Enilama Okhumholor to Oramhe along Agenebode road for palm wine tapping. Honestly, every aspect of palm wine tapping is strenuous. After the whole exercise, the color of the eyes turned reddish and the offensive smoke odor was another snag too. God forbids he falls sick! A palm wine tapper, Okpor, goes to farm twice a day. He wakes up before everybody in the morning and goes back for the evening round early in the evening. Morning palm wine is very fresh and tasty and it does not involve the application of fire. The freshest palm is known as Odonor, generally considered women drink because of its low alcoholic content and it is very tasty too.
Palm wine occupies a pride of place among the Ogbona people. No marriage is contracted without it. In the olden days, it was mentioned in calabash. A prospective suitor must take a certain number of calabash or kegs of it to his in laws to be. Whenever somebody died, you mourn with the bereaved with it and rejoiced with whoever was rejoicing with palm wine as a friend.
There were two major palm wine joints in Okotor: that of Eramha Bernard Ikhanoba and the one operated by Sunday Imhana. They also sold pepper soup too. They did everything possible to win customers loyalty. They had music stereos and tape recorders which loudly blared music to entertain customers. We used to hear the latest music by Gen. Bolivia, Waziri, Vincent Ugabi and others from them.
Apart from Perry Cut, opposite Imhakhena primary school garden, there were three Taylors in Okotor. There was Eramha Oghie Ako who was very good and successful. He was a good friend of Eramha Emperor Ifaorumhe. They were like twins, I learnt they had been friends from childhood. Eramha Oghie had a funny way of pronouncing words with emphasis. He was our Taylor. I remember he once had a lot of apprentices including an albino. Eramha Patrick Enilama and his younger brother, Idiquity Oghiadomhe were very good too. They occupied the store in my maternal family building. Eramha Enilama was, taught by Eramha Iteh Anabor. Eramha Pius Oghena who was better known by his mother’s name of Omeghe was another one though later became a staff of Ogbona secondary school and that affected the trade a bit. Eramha Pius Oghena’s first son, Christopher was my friend, we used to hurt birds together before he died in that terrible accident that shook Ogbona in the mid-70s.He had my catapult with him on that fateful day he died according to my twin brother.
The Construction of new road made Ogbona more accessible and opened up vistas of opportunities. The concomitant developmental strides took place in the community soon afterwards was immense. There were few houses along the main road before the road was constructed. I can only recall Eramha Cyril Imoagene who was also a tailor from Ivhiorevhor but everything changed as soon as the new road was constructed.
I saw caterpillar for the first time during the construction of the Auchi/Agenebode. The contract was executed by an Israelis company, Dumez Construction Company. There was a bulldozer operator called Kakasusu whose skills on the heavy-duty machine was mind bending.
It was quite easy for us to go across the new road and hurt for birds which we never caught anyway and also to fetch water. There were a lot of burrow pits where sand was excavated for the road construction. We used to patronize the retained water whenever it rained. Of course, it was flood water with red color but once you applied ashes to it and left to settle till the following day, the water got purified and was good for washing hands and legs before going to school. Between the Umole family house and the new road was a scaring tick forest where quite a number of people who died in questionable circumstances were buried. At the back of the Ikhumhi/Okhumholor family compound and beside the Okozi family compound lived our teacher, Mr. Paul Otsoi’s mother. We all called her by her name, Iyaipe… We used to hide any time we saw our teacher coming to visit his mother. I remember the day Iyaipe died and was buried. The grand son, bros Peter Otsoi entertained us greatly not because he was crying like a little baby, but what he was crying about. He would say,” Iyaipe ye oo. omhi ukpoka e ooo. He was also rueing the loss of Iyape’s maize soup.
There were three professional drivers from Okotor. Eramha Eagle was very popular among us. We believed he was the best of them all though I can’t say in an empirical manner how we arrived at that conclusion. There was a day a lorry got stuck in Ivhiorevhor in front of Eramha Adomhere’s house. The driver applied all the skills at his disposal all to no avail. People murmured Eramha Eagle and that once he arrived at the scene everything would be history, consequently, he was sent for. He came and with the superb skills of an excellent professional driver worth his salt, got the lorry moving without much ado. He was our pioneer secondary school driver. I do not know any of his other names till date. Eramha Blacky Bello was another driver from Okotor. He had a lot of boys as apprentices. At least, I remember one Akaba from Agenebode who learnt the trade under him. With the benefit of insight, I cannot help but wonder what it took to learn driving then. Some of the apprentices spent years learning driving. Perhaps, driving was more complex or auto design was much more complicated than now. Eramha Ayo Owekhai, popularly called AY was another driver from Okotor. His first son, Late Boy boy was our friend and he was a very good footballer. I must confess his death took us time to recover from. I never met Eramha Ikpemhinoghena Oshiotse, that’s Timothy Oshiotse’s father driving but he had a lot of young drivers driving his commercial vehicles. He was generally called Overall. Bros Ojo Oyavhe was one of his boys. There was Bros Famous Ikhanoba, Bros Andrew Irene and many others. A lot of young boys from Okotor and Ivhiorevhor took to driving very early probably because of the likes of Eramha Oshiotse… Bros Robert who we popularly called Jamaica easily comes to mind. He lived beside the Oshiotse’s family house. He used to play reggae music. He was a great fan of U Roy, Peter Touch and Bob Marley. Little wonder he was called Jamaica. Frankly speaking owing and driving a car then was a big achievement. Apart from Eramha Ikpemhinoghena Oshiotse, Chief Omadimhe was also a transporter, beside the two Lorries of Obayaye and Ozoghor, he had taxis, buses and tippers. Obozuwa was written in one of the buses. Bros Eluemie from Ivhiorevhor drove for him too.
There were only two model houses before the buildings in Oshiotse family compound. Eramha Odalumhe’s building which was vintage architectural design. It was an old building whose beauty is still a pleasure to savor till date. Eramha Odalumhe retired home from the Nigerian Railway Corporation and later became the pioneer Chairman of PTA. He was well respected by everybody. He had a blue Peugeot 504 salon car whose speed never exceed 40 kilometer per hour. Eramha Moses Anavhe had another beautiful house that later housed the first Principal of Ogbona secondary school, Mr. Akeremiokhai. We used to admire the electric bulbs.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 22)
Ivhianaga is one of the sub quarters in Okotor. Ordinarily, they are like any other family in Ogbona. There is nothing untoward about their history that sets them apart from any other bona fide quarter in Ogbona. They enjoy the same rights and privileges like every other Ivhiera in Ogbona. They have no trace of foreign ancestral origin yet there is something special in their tradition that distinguishes them from other quarters in Ogbona. Among the notable families that make up Ivhianaga are: Ikhumhi, Okhumholor, Umole, Ozoh, Oshiotse, Anavhe, Eshiesimua, Ilegah and others. Geographically, they are not located in a particular area. Perhaps, they did before but right now they are dispersed in Okotor quarter. For example, there is a wide distance between the Anavhe and the Oshiotse families though they are Ivhiera.
The Ivhianaga quarter does not perform Okhei rites like every other Ogbonan. In fact, the word Okhei does not exist in their dictionary. They have their version of Okhei known as AGBE LAGI URU. Though they wear the same red cap like every Okhei title holder, their own version of Okhei differ both in content and in form.
They do not go to the traditional Ogwa in down Okotor. They used to have their shrine in Eramha Odalumhe’s house. Like the normal Ogwa, everything is steeped in secrecy, incantations and sacrifices. One will never be put in the know of what transpires at the shrine just like the conventional Ogwa episode. They gather there with little or no hint of what is happening over there. Unlike the normal Okhei that spans over a week, Agbe and Uru are restricted to just one day event. The excessive and arrogant beating of drums for which Okhei is well known is not enacted during Agbe and Uru. The drums of Agbe and Uru are much smaller compared to the big drums always on display during Okhei. The drums are half covered and are beaten with bare hands. Permanence of the Agbe and Uru ritual involves going round the whole village in a procession but once thus contrasting with the numerous times Okhei title taker goes round the village. Agbe and Uru title takers are not subjected to the elaborate decoration, designs and the costumes of local tattoo of Ibie. Even ordinary white chalk with which Oboh and Akpai boy are decorated on the way to Ogwa is not applicable during Agbe and Uru. Agbe and Uru taker is never given a dressing code. He is free to wear any clothes of his choice unlike the Okhei title taker who must tie wrappers and other paraphernalia. Agbe and Uru is taken on a market day of Ekhue. The service of Akpai boys are dispensed with and it does not involve the placing of a small black earth pot with granulated boiled yam mixed with red oil and a roasted rabbit on the left palm which the Oboh sprays on either side as sacrifice on the way to Ogwa. There is no small hut where Oboh retires to after the Ogwa rites. There is no Ogwa nikeke or the holding of live fowl under the ambit. Agbe and Uru taker is never under the influence of alcohol like the Okhei title taker who appears drunk and always ably assisted by an expert on the way from Ogwa. After going on a procession round the village there’s enough entertainment that include pounded yam and palm wine. After Ogwa, there is no entertainment other than palm wine. But after the village procession, the beating of drum and singing are tilted towards satirizing the uninitiated. There are no holds bare as he is addressed by his name and taken to the cleaners. All the same both Okhei and Agbe and Uru title holder wear the coveted red caps and carry a spear with decorated tiny bells otherwise known as Etsu. In spite of the difference in their processes, both title holders are accorded and enjoy the same rights and privileges accruable to every red cap wearer. There is always a comradery between both Okhei and Agbe and Uru title holder wherever an Ogbhari is concerned.
There were two motor cycle mechanics in Okotor. There was bros Napoleon Okhumholor in front of my maternal home. He had a wooden signboard with the inscription: Walk Alone mechanic Workshop. He only stayed briefly before leaving for Ife. There was also bros Ikhumetse Owekhai. He was neither here nor there and I understand he later founded a church.
Going to Okotor then was very scaring. Between the primary school and school garden was a thick forest. Perhaps, the abandoned and dilapidated headmaster’s quarter did not help matters. Passing through that place at night was very frightening. There were big iroko trees everywhere, especially between the primary school and the Adventist church. There was a very big iroko tree in front of Eramha Bello’s house opposite The Owekhai compound. Just across the main road before Okotor town hall were big iroko trees. I remember it was one Dada from Apana that supervised their being brought down. There were Obada trees everywhere along the road. The road was very rough and coarse with red mud.
Okotor also had Agbi dance popularly known as Agbi Ayiekhemhe. It was the only second Agbi in Ogbona. The drumming and singing are the same. Of course, the Ivhiochie/ Okotor dichotomy also affected the Agbi dance. You would not find anybody from Ivhiochie or Ivhido among them. There was also Uke dance that was owned by my grandmother. Oboreke Omadimhe and I did drum for them together. At a time, my right as an Ivhiochie to beat drum for Okotor dance was questioned but my grandmother quickly intervened on my behalf. Owing Uke dance is not an easy job. I remember when my grandmother did in 1977, it took a lot out of her financially. It was as if she was going for UKPE NOKHUA. She cooked almost everything edible in pairs.
Just before I left the village there was another female dance band generally known as Obere. They took every other dance unaware. My maternal cousin Cockhead Otsaki was their chairman. They had two beautiful lead singers, Uwomha Alukhe Oshiotse and Uwomha Isisi. They even waxed a record.
There was a dance I saw only but once in Okotor during Eramha Amalu burial ceremony I believe. It was called Igolo. The drums were rectangular in shape. I believe it was at the verge of extinction as I have never heard of it since that day. It was a funny dance involving the twisting of every part of the body like a Parkinson diseased patient.
Musically, Gen. Bolivia Osigbemhe was the greatest export from Okotor/Ogbona/Avhianwu in particular and Afenmai in general. He was a huge personality who got a carrier push from Chief MCK Orbih. He used to come home in the evening close to my maternal home. He came mostly in the evenings with a tape recorder and miniature television which always attracted us and we would stay behind him as he ate. During the Auchi/Jattu fracas, he relocated his family home. At night he would show video that attracted everybody. He showed Mohammad Ali’s RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE & TRILLER IN MANILA. He also showed us the James Bond series. At a time, the whole place became a denizen for all manners of people with the attendant incessant brawls at the least provocation. He relocated the film show to Chief Omadimhe’s compound and we were made to pay a token and it helped to check the influx of people.
One interesting thing about Okotor is the number of upstairs then. Apart from the one in Eghieyes compound opposite Eramha Ivharagbuyia’s, all other upstairs are still standing. That of Eramha Inaede and Omadimhe are still very strong with no sign of dilapidation. Eramha Longman’s building is still very much alive.
There were two strong native doctors in Okotor who were generally feared. We grew up hearing stories of their exploits with the power of divination. They were a deity of a sort or better still, symbolic representatives of some invincible forces. Everything was seen from their point of view though Iraokhor and north Ibie were believed to take the lead in that direction. Events were interpreted from the power of native doctors. Whenever there was a football match between Ogbona and Iraokhor, even before the match commenced, we would give them the upper hand due to our believe in their diabolical power. We believed their goal keepers always had charms tied to their waists to aid them in goal keeping or with the charm buried by the goal post, it rendered the goal posts impenetrable. Stories of how hunters applied such powers in gaming abound in those days. Hunters were believed to be able to hunt at night because of some fetish power. We were told they never opened up on their several fearful encounters with some strange forces at night in the forests. Hunters were the closest to native doctors in terms of mysteries.
Native doctors were believed to have answers to every human problem and were well sort after. There was Eramha Dirisu Oshiomhogho who was very tall and fair in complexion and seemed to have issue with one of his legs. Eramha Owekhai was another powerful native doctor. He was quite elderly and seemed to speak a bit of English. He shared fence with Imhakhena Primary School. His fowls used to strain into the school compound but ran out of luck one day. Rahmani Okozi either by act of omission or commission killed one of the fowls. As soon as Eramha Owekhai saw the butchered fowl, he went straight to the head master’s office and said ” H.M, H.M, do you see Rahmani Okodi cut my powl into two?” Instantly, Rahmani Okozi earned a name that stuck with him till date. In short, whenever I see him, I simply say” my powl?”
Imhakhena Primary school was much more than a school for us as everything we did revolved round it. After school and farm, we met there to play ball. I remember like yesterday how I got there the very first time. It was a big hall where we were asked to place our right hand over our heads and one was considered matured if the hand touched the ear lobes. Soon afterwards we were taken to the Seventh Day Adventist Church building where Mr. Paul Otsoi and one Mr. Ikhane from Apana held sway. Among my classmates were Cajetan Oshiomhogho, Albert Aigbai, Late Agbazika Eghieye, Johnson Aleghe Odior, Kabiru Otsoi, Aloye Umole, Shappiro Okhakumhe, and Okhaposi Ilegah nee Oshiotse, Patricia Amiekhamhe, Timothy Oshiotse and many others. On a particular day, Mr. Otsoi decided to test us in arithmetic with everything centering on addition and subtraction. All the answers were 10 but unfortunately, I placed zero before one, immediately I was sent to preprimary otherwise known as Ifue sagwe, ground nut chaff
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 23)
Marriage is one of the most revered institutions in Ogbona, indeed Avhianwu clan. As a marker of maturity, it separates boys from men. Having distinguished himself in farming or any other chosen field of human endeavor, there is yet a basic criterion with which man’s maturity and sense of judgement is determined. It is called Ughue ceremony. Age grade system may on the surface seems to be the real acid test for one’s maturity, probably, it is with women and certainly not with the male folks. From the age of fifteen or there about, a boy goes through the rite of passage and becomes initiated into manhood but this does not guarantee him marriage status. Women though initiated the same period; they are married off immediately. The age grade system which will soon be the focus of our attention seems to have been structured to favor the female folks. While the male age grade system is biennial that of the woman is annual. This is not to assert that women have separate age grade system all together. Biennially, women are initiated alongside with men though ceremonially. Women are also favored with an all women affair initiation ceremony the following year. Otu Igbefo is an exclusive age grade system designed for women. Otu Igbefo does not involved the elaborate celebrations of the biennial age grade system that involves both sexes. Some girls get together during Aduikukwa, New Year festival and regard themselves as age mates. I have no knowledge of any pre or post initiation rites before the new year grand event .While the physical manifestations of the naturally endowed features of the female folks can be considered as pointers of maturity among the girls, the same cannot be said of men .On a general note, Ughue is one of the acid tests of man’s sense of judgment and maturity. A year after manhood initiation, all the young men are expected to congregate at the market square near the totemic Orokhiyie tree. They go to the square with symbolic representatives of their chosen profession. If one is a mechanic, he goes with a spanner, a farmer goes with his cutlass but students arrive either with biros or books. All of them are expected to file up in an awaiting order. Once it is one’s turn, he raises that symbol of profession and calls loudly on the name of his younger one whose turn is it to be initiated the following year and as a show of strength, might, bravely and courage he runs a short distance race and lands with his both legs like jumping down from a high altitude. He comes face to face with elderly men amidst beating of drum. The elderly men who are vast in our culture and traditions take him on a roller coaster ride on the dos and don’ts of our culture and tradition. Finally, he is asked to leave a word of wisdom behind. He receives a heavy ovation if he is common sensical, otherwise, he gets boos .Much as one cannot say conclusively that Ughue ritual is water tight or better still, a litmus test for ones ripeness for marriage among the male folks, one can submit without an iota of hesitation that our founding fathers must have seen the wisdom in its usefulness as the idea yardstick against which maturity is evaluated.
But once a man begins to show signs of loneliness discernible from his unfettered display of affection for the opposite sex, chances are excellent he needs a life partner. How he gets a wife is nobody’s business. It is his strictly his duty to look for a wife of his choice. This is not to discountenance the input of one’s parents in the choice of life partner. It was not unusual for parent to set the stage for marriage proposals. Sometimes, one’s parent might tell him to look at the direction of so and so girl. Good girls were evaluated on the basis of good mannerism more than any other things else. Her countenance, candor, agility homeliness, handwork, chastity, of course, beauty, curves/swags and respect for people were of paramount importance. Woe betide any girl caught in any act of waywardness and promiscuity. Parents had firm grips on their daughters as it was considered disgraceful anytime a marriageable girl was left behind in her family house by her peers. Everything humanly possible was done to ensure young girls were properly raised by their parents.
Men were not spared from serious scrutiny before being accepted by their would be in laws. Of course, the character make up of such a young man was never left out but his family background and the size of his farm were very important. He must prove to be hand working and capable of catering for his wife and meeting his immediate family obligations. Among the people of Ogbona in particular and Avhianwu in general, marriage is seen beyond the realm of the two parties involved. It is the marriage of two different families with different background. The girl is not just marrying the husband, she is marring the entire family. Subsequently, her actions and inactions are evaluated on that basis. The girl’s family history is subjected to a no holds bare perusal much like that of the man too. Does the family last long in marriage or are they given to quick divorce? Are they adulterous? Do they have any strange illness? What is the average life span of the family? Are they responsible and honorable? As simple as the above question may sound any of them can make or ruin the chances of the marriage coming into fruition. Once the parents expressed their displeasure over certain snags about a particular family, it was enough hint of disapproval though there were cases when parental consent were relegated to the background and the resultant “kidnapping”. Needless to say after the issues have been resolved between the two parties, there was the issue of “go and see my parents “on the part of the girl and once the parent gave their tacit approval, the stage was set for negotiations and the girl was not expected to entertain suitors any longer.
Before contracting any marriage in Ogbona/Avhianwu the question of Amhoya must be settled.in a nut shell, the question of Amhoya or Onabor and Adegbe must be brought to the fore. Amhoya has two version. At a tender age, owning to poor health and after due consultation a little girl is pronounced Amhoya and a cowrie is tied round her wrist and when she is grown up and ripe for marriage she must be married off as Amhoya. The other version of Amhoya entails a foreigner. Any girl married out of Avhianwu or brought in outside Avhianwu is considered Amhoya or Onabor. Their bride price is different for reasons best determined by our fore fathers.
Once Amhoya is married off she severs her perpenguinity ties with her family. She is taken to have been bought from her family. She is considered a bona fide citizen of her husband’s family. Before the recent amendment, upon her demise, she is not returned to her ancestral home for burial. She is buried in her husband’s home. Remember until recently, one was not permitted to bury his mother in his home. The corpse must be returned to her family home for burial. It was even considered a taboo for her to die in her husband’s home. She was immediately rushed to her ancestral home once it became glaring, she was at the point of death. Allowing one’s mother to die in his house attracted heavy fine. We thank God for modernization.
Once things become too difficult for Amhoya; she is free to uproot cassava from any nearby farm as she is considered all alone in a strange world with no help from her family home. I understand even if luck ran out of her and got caught, she is never subjected the conventional humiliation of being jeered round the village. On the spiritual dimension, once Amhoya or Onabor is properly integrated into the husband’s family, she is free to exercise her power freely in her new home. Please, don’t ask me which power.
Adegbe is a free born who is from any of the villages of Ivhiarua, Ivhinone, Iraokhor or Ogbona. The bride price is not as high as that of Amhoya. She frequents her family compound unrestricted. In the days of old her position in her marital home is cemented only by having a male child. Her children were shared between both families too.
One interesting about both marriages is the negotiation process especially the day of handing over. No matter how well things had been resolved ahead of time, there remain a lot of other issues to be settled on that particular day. Before the girl is handed over to her husband, the young male who hands over the girl will place a demand for things far beyond reach and unattainable and after much negotiations, a truce is reached. At the point of handing over the girl, there is the tragic news of accident, a terrible one very close to the room where the girl is kept and that a huge tree fell across the exit door and as such, until a construction company was called, there was no possibility of getting the girl out of the room. Of course, another round of negotiation would ensue.
The most endearing thing about our marriage is the bride price. At the end about 70% of the bride price is returned to the family of the groom to drive home the fact that life can never be quantified in monetary terms.
Below is the revised list of marriage items
Revised Customary Law of Marriage in Ogbona. Marriage Custom with Effect from 22 November 2012. External Marriage – Amhoya/Onabor (This is a form of marriage where a prospective husband comes from outside Avhianwu Clan to marry an Ogbona girl)
a. For the Girl: One Large box of clothes of assorted types of the girl’s choice
b. For the Mother:
• One bag of rice
• One tin of palm oil
• One tin of groundnut oil
• Two bags of salt
• Twenty five tubers of yams
• One basket of dry fish (bonga)
• Forty Coconuts
• Five bunches of Plantain
• One SHE Goat
• Three bottles of Honey
• Bride price for Mother (10,000)
• Akara, Eko and River fish (Equivalent N10, 000)
c. For the Father:
• Jerricans of Palm wine – Five (5)
• Cartons of Beer assorted – Ten (10)
• Bottles of hot drinks Six (6)
• Bride Price for Father (50,000)
• Okphe Ukpi of Ogbona: N2,000 and a bottle of wine
• Chief of the Village: N3,000 and a bottle of wine
• Youth of the village : N1,000 and two cartons of Beer
d. Other Requirements:
• Akpogege (announcers) – 2 @ N1,000 – N2,000
• Ibeto (Hair Dressing) N1,000
• Idibie (Body designer) N1,000
• Inwobovhare (handing over of girl to the husband) N2,000
• Irode (Guide) 2@ N1,000 each = N2,000
e. N/B Where a husband cannot present the items listed above, he can pay cash equivalent to the value of items concerned
HRH Chief Willy Idode Chief George Kadiri
The Okphe Ukpi of Ogbona Secretary: Okphe-Ukpi in-Council
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 24)
Ivhiochie is one of the three children of Okhua. Oral tradition has it that When Anwu migrated from Bini in the distant past he settled first at UTAGBABOR in Fugar where God blessed him with four children including Imhakhena who was the last child. Ogbona who was the first child of Imhakhena, migrated from Fugar and settled under the totemic Orokhiyie tree where he had OKHUA and OMIERELE. Okhua had OCHIE, OREVHOR and UDOKHAKOR. OCHIE was blessed with ITSE, OBORE and ASANO. Perhaps, he had other female children but there is no record to buttress the fact.
Ivhiochie, the children of OCHIE is the largest and most populated quarter in Ogbona. In the north, it shares boundary with Ibie Imiegbai, in the West are Iraokhor, the eastern part is where Okotor is located while Ivhido and Ekperi are here next-door neighbors in the southern part.
If one overlooks the arbitrary nature of how the quarters are delineated, Ivhiochie quarter starts from our family house.
The verandah in front of our house was where my father, Pa Joseph Akhaniamhe Anaweokhai and his elder brother, Eramha Cletus (Aketusi) Eshiemomoh Anaweokhai who was the patriarch of the Anaweokhai family always seated especially in the evenings. Eramha Eshiemomoh unlike my father was a bit dark in complexion and was of average height. He was a devoted catholic, in fact, he was the head Christian cum catechist. He wedded his wife, Uwomha Jamina in the Catholic Church in the mid-1930s. He ensured everybody went to church on Sundays. As a rule, nobody went to farm in our house on Sundays. I grew up seeing people coming to our house in the evenings to get prepared for baptism and to learn how to pray the rosary. Eramha Cletus was very fond of his grandson, Jude who he named IMAIVHA. Jude was like his personal assistant who followed him everywhere. When it was his turn to take charge of the Adih in our Ivhiosano quarter, he refused on ground of his Christian faith which did not go down with his kindreds. At the end somebody was put in his stead. He also refused to take Okhei title. He stayed in the first room by the right from the main parlor. At the twilight of his life, there were continuous burning of log of woods in his room. He was a prayer warrior who died on his knees with the rosary in his hands-on the 11th of April, 1976.
The images I have of my father are very few and scanting. He was a very handsome gentleman who relocated from his base at Onitsha in the late 1950s and he used to give us Ovaltine tea every morning. He called me Andrew just as he called my twin brother Edward. He stayed in the part of the building separated by a narrow part from the Asekomhe family. It was a modest room and parlor with detachable chairs and foams. The ceiling of the parlor was made of mats. We ate together every evening. There are three father/son experiences about my father that will remain indelible in my memory. We had a site at Ugheagbai where my elder brother, Chief Vital Anaweokhai was putting up a building. Most times he would carry me on his shoulders and other times, he would allow me to walk a little. We always stopped opposite the catholic cemetery at a local bar operated by Eramha Oshiole. He would buy a cup of palm wine and gave me a little to sip. The building remains there till date.
On a certain day, we went to the site to plant potato and my father dug out a big cricket which I wanted roasted immediately unfortunately, there was no fire and I started crying. I told my father I wanted to go to one of the neighboring compounds to get it roasted. He knew I could not roast cricket on my own, nonetheless, he staked it on a long stick for me, as I was going, he called and warned that should anybody give me anything to eat, I should decline and I shook my head in affirmation. As soon as I got to the compound the cricket was quickly taken and roasted for me and a plate of pounded yam and melon soup was set before me but I remembered my father’s last words and I declined. On returning to my father, he asked if I ate anything there, I said no and I told him what transpired and he just nodded his head more in appreciation of my heeding his warning.
On the 24th of April, 1973 was like any other day only that my father had not been feeling well. We could not play freely with him like before. He was far removed from us and was always on his own on the sick bed. My twin brother and I were always fighting over one small locally made wooden seat. On that fateful day, my father asked my mother, Uwomha Victoria Abike Anaweokhai to take us to a carpenter who had a workshop between the Ikoko and the Asekomhe families on the short cut route to Ivhido quarter to make us seat each and our joy knew no bound. Without wasting time, the man made the seats for us. When we came back, my mother entered my father’s room only to come out shouting and I saw people pouring water on her. My knowledge of what happened thereafter is restricted to the events of the next morning when they brought out a casket and I was given a new orange color coin in the midst of my siblings, Chief Vital, Pastor (Mrs.) Julie Inu Umoru, Sir Romanus, Adolphus and Omo, my twin brother, to drop on the casket. A woman tied me in her back, the casket was lowered into the grave between the Ogbualo family and Eramha Amedu’s house, behind Eramha Agbagbona’s compound, I was given some sand to pour on the casket and that was it. We never drank Ovaltine tea every morning again.
The vacuum created by my father’s death in our family was easily filled, at least his elder brother, Baba Nokhua, Pa Cletus Eshiemhomoh was still alive but his demise in 1976 necessitated the return of our uncle who left home in the 1920s. Pa James Anaweokhai was my father’s immediate elder brother who left home at a very tender age to Rohn in the present day Plateau State. He was a driver all his life after his elementary school. According to him when he started driving, there were few vehicles in Nigeria. He was patronized mainly by white people. He used to charge ten shillings from Jos to Lagos.
Pa James Anaweokhai’s return to head our family in 1976 restored the morning tea but if it is not Panadol, as they always say, it can never be the same thing as Panadol.
The death of my father in July 1973 coincided with the introduction of naira and kobo. Before then one used to hear EKPINI, ISHILE and ANINI. Paper money was a rarity but kobo was a common sight though there were also five kobo and ten kobo coins and all of them were very new.
There were a lot of tall cocoa nut trees in those days in Ivhiochie. I understand there were some in front of our compound but I only met their decomposing stunts. There were about two cocoa nut trees in front of the Ogbualo’s house, my paternal grand mother’s family. The cocoa nut trees had obviously passed their prime. They were excessively tall with no economic value. Uwomha Elizabeth, popularly called Eliza used to fry akara in front of Eramha Busharlie Esi’s family compound very close to an orange tree. The balls of akara were quite sizeable and weighty. It was akara in its raw form, undiluted with garri or anything else, though made with red oil, it was very tasty and a ball cost one kobo.
Beside the orange tree under which Uwomha Eliza fried akara was Alhaji Ikhamate Akhigbe’s workshop who was a bicycle repairer. He only came to his workshop on market days. He was always businesslike and was one of the transporters from Ivhiochie. His half-brother, bros Oshiele is a shoe maker, Bros Oshiele’s workshop is an extended part of his building. There was an orange tree that extended to the main road. Eramha Charlie aka Pepper Do the boxer was another shoe maker too. Beside bros Oshiele was one of the two motor cycle repairers in Ogbona, Eramha Isa Awansi. Eramha Isa was popularly called Ogunpa Ibadan. He was greatly patronized but was always having issues with his customers. Eramha Iroye was another Motor cycle mechanic from Ivhiochie. He seemed to know his onion and was doing very well until he left home unceremoniously.
Eramha Emperor Ifaorumhe was one of the pioneering bricklayers from Ivhiochie. He was very popular among us. He was an easy going fellow who understood the complexity and dynamism of life in spite of his limited education. He built most of the “modern” houses in the village. When our old 8 bed room mud house became dilapidated, he was given the contract to replace it a modern cement block building in 1979 at the cost of one thousand naira. His father, Eramha Ifaorumhe was quite elderly and was my father’s age mate. He was the head of the extended family including the Odior family. The Odior family was the biggest family in our immediate environment. It was a very long building with a lot of apartments. Passing through that compound to Eramha Emuekele or Eramha Okhire’s house was frightening because of the number of people that lived there. We used the compound as a short cut to the market. The head of the immediate family was Eramha Kadiri who retired home from Lagos. There was Eramha Imhana, Alias Igagagugu. There was also Eramha Raphael Nasamu aka Arthur. Eramha Jacob popularly called J I was seen occasionally before he built his house at Ughiagbai. Eramha Kadiri’s children and I were very close. We used to go to their orchard in Okotor to pluck fruits. How their grandfather acquired such acres of land in Okotor beats my imagination. The Orchard is a child’s play compared to the expanse of land they own very close to Agbha. I saw NYSC kits for the first on Eramha Nasamu on his way to farm, on enquiry we were told his children who had graduated from the university gave them to him.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 25)
Between the Odior family and The Ilegah family is the Eshiesimua family. While both families are Ivhianaga kindred of Okotor Quarters, The Odior family is Ivhitse Kindred of Ivhiochie Quarter. The Eshiesimuas were proud owners of one of the three upstairs in Ivhiebi Quarter. It was made of mud blocks of orange colour. The building was never plastered and like the other three, it soon became dilapidated and was replaced with a model building. Eramha Tsedi and Eramha Tsado stayed there together behind the Ifaorumhes. Eramha Tsedi was the senior but was not as tall as Eramha Tsado. Both of them had beautiful girls which they guided jealously. Eramha Tsado was a trader but later worked at UBTH health center. He later left Ivhiebi to down Okotor where he built his house before his death. Mrs. Stella Mode is one of his daughters. Eramha Tsedi was tough and hardly welcomed male visitors to his house though I was allowed to visit Roseline and Orele who were my classmates in secondary school.
One fate we all suffered in that part of Ogbona is the rough and undulating topography that grossly affected the settlement of Ogbona. It is as if nature conspired with some unseen forces to deny Ogbona equal settlement on both sides of the town. From Ivhiosano to the back of the Otsoi family there is really no room to expand inward as the back is full of steep valleys and a high mountain. As a matter of fact, that part of the town is inaccessible. Until one drives through Ughieda through Ege Ikpido, one has to resort to trekking and climbing of mountains. From the back of Ivhiebi up to the Aikabeli, the story is the same. The valleys are over three hundred feet deep. The place is neither arable nor habitable. Unfortunately, that part of the town houses our banana plantations farm. The one closer to the house belongs to my father while the one further down the valley belongs to Baba Nokhua, Eramha Eshiemomoh but they later became known as Eghede Dimka. It was a place we all visited in group especially during the dry seasons after the annual harmatan bush fire. The bush fire provided us the needed opportunity for gaming. As the fire was burning, we would stalk for animals. Sometimes we caught squirrel or snake. That was occasional but that of the banana was regular though somewhat seasonal too. We would cut the banana, bury them underground and returned after five days to do justice to them. My cousin, Eramha Michael, aka Dimka was in charge. He was very tough and never spared any trespasser but my case was different as I had unrestricted access to either of the plantations. How he came to be known as Dimka beats my imagination. It was a name he grandly answered until the Dimka coup of 1976.He became uncomfortable with the name soon after Col. Dimka was declared wanted over the death of the then Head of State Gen. Murtala Muhammed.
One interesting about the banana we harvested directly from my father plantation farm was that the money realized from it was for our exclusive use as our mother was not allowed to share from the proceeds. Most times, we hawked the ripe ones in the market. I loved the market days then especially when we had banana to sell. The market was a very big open space with few shades.it extended from the totemic Orokhiyie to the Anabor compound. The Front of the Itsuokor compound in its entirety was part of the market. There was a big Obada tree where my grandmother used to sell beside the Itsuokor family house. The tree had obviously passed its prime with little or no green leaves. Beside the Anabor house was ALOKOKO shrine which was rarely opened. Before the Shrine is the legendary dry wood, Utuora Nokai. It is the place where proper initiation into manhood is done after naming from Fugar. Also, The Azoganokhai and The Asapokhai compounds though both on opposite sides of the roads, they were an extended part of the market too. Both sides were the places where garri buyers used as their shields. One thing we did on market days to make some money was to help convey packaged bags of garri into stores. Carrying of bags of garri was very interesting. The matured ones among us like Anthony Ilegah, Aleghe Oyowhi Ozoh would join hands together and fall the bags on their wrists. We would support from any side. At the end of the day, one or two kobo would be given to us each.
Among our trading partners then were the North Ibies. Ogbona relied on them for scent oil, Avhinopie and earth pots. They bought garri and snakes from us. It was very difficult to see any Ogbona person that ate snakes. If a snake was killed before market day, it would be smoked till the next market day and true to type, The Ibies bought it on arrival without much ado.
Also located in Ivhiochie is one of the primary schools, Imhakhena Primary school, Now Oboarekpe primary school. We called it Catholic school, perhaps, because of its origin as a catholic mission school. Though the Primary school we attended in Okotor was also Imhakhena, we never saw ourselves as one. To us, they were alien and our staunch rival. All efforts by our Headmasters to disabuse our minds of such sterile notions fell on deaf ears in spite of the fact that we always had joint section on vacation day when results were called. We also competed against outsiders together especially, during football matches. One thing they had in abundance was their Smoot football pitch that contrasted heavily with ours. Our football pith was rough and divided by a wide path that made it look awkward during matches. They had a big hall like ours which musicians used. Gen. Bolivia easily comes to mind. It was the venue he patronized before Asaya Inn was eventually built. Going to the musical show at night was very scaring because of the cemetery.
The Catholic Church is also located inside the school premises. The architectural design reflects that of the cross. A lot of weddings were conducted in that buildings. Those weddings helped to inspire one to greater heights in life. There were three weddings that really inspired me. Bros Godwin Atsegwasi, Bros Tony Ogedegbe and that of Bros Gilbert Odior. My plans to attend bros Godwin Atsegwasi wedding were shattered by my mother who woke me up early that morning of April 1982 to follow her to farm. Bros. Tony Ogedegbe wedding on November 7th, 1983 was marred by the profuse tears he shed that day because his father had just passed on. Bros Gilbert Odior’s wedding on 10th December, 1983 remains green in my memory. We practically lived in the same place at home. I didn’t attend the church wedding but I attended the reception in their compound with Gen. Bolivia on milk colour safari entertaining guests. It was a gathering of cream de la cream in Etsako. The space between The Esi, Ogbualo and the Akhigbe compounds were parked full with the state-of-the-art cars then. There was Alhaji Inu Umoru and my elder sister, Pst Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru, Chief MCK Orbih, Chief Philip Okhumhale and among others including Chief Bruno Oshiokpekhai who was the chairman of the Occasion. After that marriage I said to myself that I must wed my wife too and that I would buy a car too because bros Gilbert also had a brown Peugeot 504 saloon car with registration number BD 1700 CA
How fulfilled I felt that day I wedded my wife though not in Catholic church, in The Redeemed Christian Church of God.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 26)
One of the memorable things about Ivhiochie quarter, was her prime choice as the host quarter for Ogbona community Secondary School upon its approval in 1980. I have no knowledge of how the school was established but suffice it to say that Prof. Ambrose Ali was the Chief occupant of Osadebe Avenue when the school was established. He was an unrepentant apostle of The Awolowo school of thought and a card-carrying member of UPN and going by the number of non-academic staffers employed then, one would not be out of place to submit that party affiliation played a significant role in the establishment of the school. I would be grossly economical with the truth to posit here that everything about the school was dichotomized between NPN and UPN.As I stated before, partisan politics was relegated to the background as every abled Ogbona man and woman came out in drove to contribute his or her quota to the putting up of the pioneering structures of the school.
We were the third set of the school and if for nothing else, we were happy because we did not have to go to the neighboring towns for our secondary education.
Mr. Akeremiokhai was the pioneer principal of the school. Before we got there right from our primary school, we have heard series of stories about him. He meant different thing to different people. To parents, he was a stern disciplinarian. To the students, he was a wicked man who never gave them leeway on any issue. He was dictatorial, uncompromising and a no-nonsense administrator. He was highly respected by his colleagues too. He was very young and of average height with a disarming smile on a good day. He looked always well dressed in well-tailored safari suits. He was from Somorika, a town not too far from Igarra. Though not from Etsako, his name sounded like Etsako and he could pick few of our expressions too.
Some pundits have argued that it is better for a leader to be feared than to be loved. Mr. Akeremiokhai was an embodiment of both. There were a lot of stories about his power of mysticism. Some of us believed, albeit superstitiously that he was not just an ordinary human being but a supernatural one with some strange forces and that the enormous powers he wielded over us were enough attestations of his mystic power. All the students understood his sign languages. Whenever he stood on the assembly ground and clapped his hands, all the students would gather in a jiffy. Whenever he folded his arms backward, it meant he was displeased with the level of noise in the school. One never saw or heard him coming, only to see him right in your classroom window observing proceedings with an eagle eye. He had everybody in his palm. Woe unto you if you came late to school. There were no commuter buses or any other means of transport. Only a few students had bicycles. Almost everybody trekked to school. It was immaterial if you lived far away from school. How I pitied my brother, Taye Anavhe who lived far away from school but he never came late to school anyway. He had no cause to because he stayed in the same compound with the Principal.
Chief Odalumhe was the PTA chairman. In all honesty, that man labored to make that school grate. He sacrificed and gave all to ensure the school had a sound footing. Right from the construction stage, he was always on ground to see things for himself. He resumed before everybody and closed after every student had left. He had a mini court where he tried minor cases among students and his verdict was not susceptible to appeal of any kind.
On a certain day, we lost a little girl in our house and as custom demand, we were not allowed to go school or farm on that fateful. I decided to ride my cousin, Eramha Thomas Anaweokhai’s Yamaha motor cycle to school to inform my class teacher why won’t be in school that very day. As I was approaching the staff room, Mr. Akeremiokhai pointed at me and told our Bursar, late Mr. John Aduku Apoede “that is the boy” “he is riding machine” He shook his head in total disbelief. Straightaway, he sent Mr. Apoede to my mother and warned that I should never be allowed to ride motor cycle again. According to him, he saw my enemy’s body lying dead in his pool of blood right on the dreaded death spot in front of our school. Matters were not helped by the larger than life image the Principal had ingrained in the minds of everybody. Mr. Apoede told my mother that Mr. Akeremiokhai dreams or visions were ominous and harbingers of doom and that every possible measure, both physical and spiritual should be employed to ward off the impending disaster. My mother assured me that nothing would happen and to the glory of God nothing happened to me. This is not to disparage Mr. Akeremiokhai’ spiritual dimension to issue. As a child, I never expected my mother to show me how rattled she was neither was I aware that certain libations were not poured to propitiate the gods in the days of ignorance.
Mr. Aleobua was his assistant. Mr. Aleobua was from Jattu and according him, his mother was from Ogbona. Mr. Aleobua was advanced and more fatherly. He was our literature teacher.
10th of May every year will remain a red lettered day in the history of Ogbona secondary school. It was like a jinxed day. Right in front of the school was the very death spot where lives were lost in great proportion. A lot of allusions were ascribed to that day especially as it related to that first ugly incident that happened in front of the school. Every student was well aware of that day and every precautionary measure was taken to avert taking that route to school on that day of every year. What was to become a recurring decimal all started in 1981 when Aramhani Okozi’s car was involved in a ghastly motor accident very close to the school gate. I can recount at least, three young Ogbona boys that lost their lives in that accident. Ayeduma Aigbepue, Inuma Ikhane and Mustapha Okhuemoi.
According to an eye witness account, it was a gory sight, a human carnage of a sort and unfortunately, the victims were all Ogbonans. The driver of the vehicle, Arahmani was the sole survivor but with a big scar on his head to ever live to tell the story. Ayeduma had just graduated from Islamic school and was a kind of Malam. Inuma was an agile young man with all the world at his feet while Mustapha, though a bit advanced, was a student in the school.
Why a lot of allusions were made to that death spot was not farfetched. Everything was seen from the prism of superstitious. Events did not just happen, there was an unseen hand that regulated every instance. Needless to say, we were not immune to such superstitious belies. Everywhere was strewn with negative stories of “spiritual endowment” or “spiritual empowerment”. It was not uncommon to hear bizarre testimonies of especially “blessed people”. For instance, a little child would tell people why he felt he was more powerful than any other mortal regardless of his age.
My first experience was in one of the small quarters in Ogbona where an elderly woman, surrounded by a lot of people one early morning, was telling the whole village of her escapades while everybody had gone to bed at night. Sincerely speaking, we were not allowed to get close to her but as we were rightly told, she was a slave to a mighty spiritual power which she had little or no control over. Under the influence of that strange power, she could travel to any part of the world and returned that same night. The whole thing was eerie and nauseating.
I will forever remain grateful to Aruokhai Norbert from Ivhiorevhor. On a certain day, Norbert saw me eating with one of my boyhood friends and unknown to me, he was very uncomfortable. He later called me aside and warned me never to eat with the boy again. When I tried to find out his reason, he simply told me the boy was not “pure” as we say it in our local Warri palace. Soon afterwards, one of our classmate in primary school who was named after a certain governor in the old Bendel State and who also was a cousin to this my boyhood friend, suddenly became sick with every part of his body swollen up and before he eventually died, he made some starkly confession about his atrocities under the command and control of this my boyhood friend and his mother.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 27)
The Ilegah family was one of our closest neighbors in Ivhiebi. They lived between The Eshiesimuas and The Asekomhes. More than half of the family building was covered by Eramha Imekieli workshop. After the death of the patriarch of the family, Eramha Robinson Ilegah who we fondly called TATA, in February 1980, his eldest son, Eramha Kasimi became the head of the family made up of Eramha Sanawu, Atsaghuegbe (Taxi) and Inusa (Tegherieghe).Aside Eramha Inusa, other members of the family were great hunters (Ighiedor)
Hunting was a well-respected profession in those days. We were always held spell bound by the titillating stories of their encounter with supernatural beings in the course of their trade, especially at night. It was not uncommon to see hunter with an improvised lamp stripped to his forehead at night. The thought of one going to the bush at night sent shiver down our spines. We were specifically told that wild animal’s retinas were reflective of the rays of the hunter’s lamp which ultimately gave away their locations and thus becoming easy prey for the hunters. Hunters were said to possess some mystical power with which they maneuvered their ways among ghosts and evil spirits in the dead of the night. Above all, they were said to be tight lipped as they would never break their oat of secrecy and divulge any of their unsavory experiences in the course of their nocturnal expedition.
Sometime, Ighiedor would take their gaming expenditure to some neighboring villages of Weppa, Ekperi and so on. The aspiration of every Aghiedor was to be a proud killer of either Elephant or Buffalo or both. It was a feat rarely achieved by anyone of them. It sets an Aghiedor apart from his colleagues. It confirms instant recognition and honor on any one. It was celebrated with pump and pageantry. All one needed to do was to kill buffalo or elephant, cover it somewhere in the bush and come home with the severed tail. Instantly, all his colleagues would mobilize into the bush and bring home the animal. For seven good days, the hunters would dance round the village with the tail amidst singing and dancing.
I have no idea of the pecuniary reward for such feat other than the hunter would spend all his money entertaining visitors who throng into his new Mecca home.
Hunters were also very crucial in appeasing the gods in those days. Soon after our initiation into manhood in 1983, the town crier announced that our age group and others should liaise with the village hunters to hunt for an antelope. I have no details of the events that preceded the announcement but as it were, we obeyed. Ughieda was chosen as the particular reserve to hunt for the envelope. Our job was limited to combing the bush while the hunters stalked somewhere waiting. Ughieda was a very tick forest but was partly cemetery and orchard few meters after The Eghieye family compound. It was dreaded by every child but that particular day was different. Even if one entertained some fears before then, it had to be shelved as one had just been initiated into manhood. After all, among the Ogbona people, timidity is not a masculine virtue.
We went into the bush and in less than thirty minutes, there was a sound of gun. Somebody shouted “that is the sound of taxi’s gun” Boy! I was shocked to my bone marrow! “So, it is possible to differentiate among sounds of guns” i looked askance. True to type, it was so and in next to no time, Eramha Atsaghuegbe came out with a beautiful but dead antelope.
Events quickly proceeded to Orokhiyie tree where proceedings were handled by Eramha Ozemhoya who lived between Eramha Odalumhe and Eramha Bello in Okotor. No woman was allowed to come near. All the cooking was done by the elderly men and we were given some portion to eat after the sacrifice.
During the coronation of Chief Patrick Oboarekpe as the Oghieavianwu of Avhianwu in 1986, one rarely seen aspect of our hunters was put on full display to the admiration of everybody. Hunters enacted a simple but straight forward drama about their trade. It showed how they prepare and scheme for animals in the bush, the different positions they assume to avoid casualties and minimize damage to the object of expenditure. It was very interesting and endearing. It was in that realm of respect we esteemed the Illegah family.
When one tries to compare our evaluative approach to issues these days, perhaps, there was a problem with our value system or better still, we were not well schooled on the importance of money. May be our people prided honor and good name above materialism and monetary rewards. This is pointedly so when everything is viewed against the background of the spirit of honor in service to mankind that was inculcated in one right from infancy. The hunters that went to hunt for the antelope were never indemnified of the cartridge or time used for the exercise. One was contented with the honor of being called to serve his community. I have my reservation on the pay offs of extrapolating that culture of selfless service to the national front today.
Apart from hunters who entertained us then, there were other personalities and corporate bodies that made our growing up very memorable. I remember Eramha Amedu Nokpotso. Eramha Amedu was from north Ibie who properly integrated himself into the mainstream of Ogbona culture and tradition. He used to stay in Ivhido. He was round with a muscular face that was neither appealing nor frightening. He was every sense of the word a maverick of a man to the core. Some people contented he was not actually a man but a hermaphrodite. He was not married neither did he make any attempt to get married. He was a woman in the real sense of it as he was nicknamed. True to type, he did feminine chores like cooking, carrying of cassava on his head and milling and frying of cassava all by himself. But if Eramha Amedu Nokpotso was well loved it was certainly not because of his feminine dispositions. It was more of his attire and panegyric dance. Whenever anyone died, he would be there with his hand woven Igbogane dress round his waste and the traditional mental gog, AKPOGEGE with which he danced to refresh the memory of everyone the exploits of the person that just passed on. I wouldn’t know if he was ever hired or he rendered those services pronto bono.
Eramha Agbagbona was a bundle of talent who never got to the peak of his career by my personal estimation. He was a very good story teller and a custodian of our tradition. He had a rich knowledge of Ogbona history which were well embedded in his scintillating stories. He was also a philosopher who with his limited knowledge of the world tried to unravel the mysteries of the world and proffer solution to the myriad of problems that beset mankind. He laced his stories with choruses and dances. He had a mini band. His services were mostly engaged during wake keepings.
Eramha Alasa Obiaza and Ekpe Mochi also entertained us. Eramha Mochi was a quasi-musician but Eramha Alasa Obiaza was a full-fledged musician with a thriving band.
Of all the Musician then, General Bolivia Osigbemhe was unarguably the best. Later in 1980, King Benji Igbadumhe joined the business. Gen. Bolivia and King Benji were household names but I cannot make similar submission concerning Iyodo and Lucky Odogbo.
There was also Izi dance from Ivhiochie. Uwomha Oghogho that is Chief Greg Kassim Enegwea’s mother was their lead singer. They were very popular and were more of our local blues dance band. As stated before, there were the two Agbi dance bands, Uke, amhi Ivhiorevho, Iloh and other groups that entertained us.
Without mincing words, nothing is as entertaining and glamorous as the biannual manhood initiation ceremony known as URUAMHI. It is a display of candor, affluence and grandeur among the Ogbona people in particular and Avhianwu in general.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 28)
There is a silver lining, as they always say, however unpalatable a situation may appear from the outset. Though growing up in Ogbona was tough and challenging, Ogbona provided us the opportunities that helped to aspire us to greater heights in life. There were arguably three sets of people that helped to shape one’s being. They were a grimmer of hope, role models and source of inspiration in a society that subsisted mainly on what the jungle had to offer and whose steepness in superstition and traditional beliefs were beyond the superficial. From infancy and unknown to them, they helped to shape our destiny, better still, they propelled us towards achieving our goals in life. Crude as things were, they signposted a better organized social life style far and above the mundane and agrarian life of our local environment.
Within my immediate environment were Eramha Ambrose Odior, Gilbert Odior, Bernard Odior, Vital Ilegah, Jacob Eshiesumua, Peter Eshiesumua, Late Isaac Asekomhe, late Emmanuel Inaede, late Aligamhe Okhakuobomhe, Godwin Eshiekhai Asekomhe, Uwomha Paulina Asekhauno and Florence Ahme née Ebetse and so on. This first set were hardly at home and but whenever they came around, they looked different and behaved different. They never went to farm like us. It was only one day I saw bros Ambrose coming from farm but his shirt was very neat and with the little bag of oranges in his hands, I concluded right away that he must have gone to pluck some oranges from their orchard. Late Isaac Asekomhe was very fond of us and we all liked him because whenever he came home, he gave us money, one kobo each. I had a female maternal cousin to whom I was more of a mailman than an errand boy. She always gave me letters to deliver to bros Jacob Eshiesumua. I never knew the contents of those letters and I never bothered as I could not read. We were very excited when we heard that bros Peter Eshiesumua was going to become a Reverend Father but somewhere along the line, things did not turn out that way. Before Rev. father Okotietie, all other Rev Fathers were white men. They were known by their Volkswagen (tortoise) car trade mark. In fact, Reverend Fathers were synonymous with tortoise car. They used to come from Fugar where they resided once in two weeks. They seemed to always be in a hurry as they had to go to Iraokhor for another mass. It was as if their duties were restricted to the Holy Communion. They never came early and were very much in a hurry to leave soon after the Holy Communion. They spoke an esoteric language through their noses. Whenever we saw them coming, we would shout FAARAAAAR. Sometime we would crave for their blessing by a touch on our fore heads, a feat of no mean significance whenever we succeeded. One could understand our level of excitement when we learnt that somebody from Ogbona was going to be trained to become a Reverend Father.
The second set was made up of my elder brother, Sir Romanus Anaweokhai, Augustine Anaweokhai, Wilson Asekomhe, Raymond Ilegah, Philip Adebisi Odior, Peter Uduimhor Asekhauno, Mustapha Okozi, Andrew Orvini, Rose Obeakemhe, Christopher Unuevho, Emmanuel Osigbemhe, Lucky Emuekidi, Late Beauty Odior, Kensington Imhonopi and many others. This second set were readily at home especially during the holidays. They were very serious with their studies as they always congregated in the primary schools to read their books even while on holidays. some of them picked up teaching appointment after their secondary school education. Uwomha Rose Obeakemhe and Bros Peter Asekhauno were my teachers in Primary 4 and Primary 5 respectively. Christopher Unuevho and Andrew Orvini, Uwomha Florence Atsegwasi nee Ayeni also taught too. Though our seniors, we could relate with them a bit unlike the first group who were far our seniors. They used to organize social gathering where they spoke English and engaged the opposite sex in dance. Dancing with girls was very strange to us because we had been schooled to be very careful with the opposite sex.
The third set was made up of our immediate seniors most of who formed the nucleus of the premier students of Ogbona Secondary School. Among them were my elder brother Adolphus Anaweokhai, Jude Anaweokhai, Tony Ilegah, Late Asama Odior, Ebere Atuka, that’s the Ibo blacksmith, Iboh’s daughter, Stella Mode and many other people. We could do anything with this group the only snag being not going beyond the boundary of seniority that separated us. We were never reported to our parents whenever we crossed the line. We rather cried home to report our spiking to them. There was no warning or big grammar whenever one disrespected his seniors.
We used to go hunting with this group during the dry season especially during harmattan period when there was wild fire… Every Harmattan season invoke these memories in me till tomorrow. It is the season that reminds one of Christmas, the preparations, the hype and the fog that precedes Christmas especially in the mornings. Waking up early on Saturday morning to go to Ugbadeghie/Ekhabade streams or farm during the harmattan season was very discomforting. The weather was very harsh on the skin. Although kernel oil, UDEMHI could keep the skin soft, it hardly withstood the strong and ravaging impact of dry harmattan wind. This group were not that tolerant of our excesses. We never argued with them. We were at their mercy. Our bargaining power were limited to only two options, namely either we appeal to the emotion by crying or by openly admitting their superiority over us through begging. Sometime, mostly during waking keeping or any other nocturnal event, they determined if we could attend with them or not. Burial Waking keepings were very interesting especially if General Bolivia Osigbemhe would entertain. General Bolivia was the ultimate. Although King Benji Igbadumhe later came on the music scene, he never enjoyed the cult like followership General Bolivia enjoyed from us. Atrocious immoral acts were committed during wake keeping, one is not surprised that it had to been cancelled altogether.
The nights were very dark, though girls were not harassed in the real sense of the word, their chest endowments were however not spared. The absence of electricity did not help matters at all. We had to rely on UFIO’BO, lantern at night for our academic work. It was a kerosene lamp that enjoyed patronage from every home. It had a globe that had to be cleaned every now and then. The edges were a bit ticker but somehow, it inflicted deep cuts on the hand whenever it got broken and when being cleaned. Breaking a lantern globe was a serious disservice as the entire family would have to wait till the next market day for replacement. Sometimes, it was possible to cover one side of the globe with a tick paper but the emanating thick black smoke could be very discomforting.
Gas light was far better than kerosene lamp. Gas light had a semi cycler flat shining base which served as kerosene tank with a naked frame. It had a protruded nob with which the kerosene tank was manually pumped to build up pressure. It also had a Mantle that looked like the charred remains of a piece of clothes and with ashes that dissolved at the least touch. The mantle was the source of illumination more like energy bulb. It was commonly used during night functions.
Matches was a recent phenomenon, perhaps, it was in use but not readily available. People used to go to farm with a burning log of wood or UGBURI, that is mashed palm fruit chaffs. It was positioned in the direct of the wind to keep it aglow. Whenever one wanted to set fire at home for cooking, he would comb everywhere for embers or burning charcoals. Elderly people had continuous burning logs in the rooms to keep them warm. It was not uncommon to visit such places early in the mornings for fire.
It was in the above rugged setting one had to find his bearing in life. Thank God there were a lot of people that served as our role models and whose life style served as our building blocks too. I would be grossly unappreciative of my family to ascribe my source of inspiration solely to the above sets of people. My siblings and cousins easily come to mind. Very early in life, I had the privilege of being exposed to the good things of life courtesy of my elder sister, Pst. Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru. The number of state-of-the-art cars Alhaji Inu Umoru possessed and the conspicuous display of a life of opulence were of a tremendous influence. Very early in life too, I saw Chief Vital Anaweokhai came home with a Citroen car that was the cynosure of all eyes. Sir Paul Anaweokhai and Mr. ABC Anaweokhai were always coming home with cars as far as I can remember. A lot of people used to troop into our house whenever any of them came home. The impacts of those cars especially the Citroen car on my life is unquantifiable.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 29)
It is not uncommon to identify a particular tribe with certain characteristics which range from the sublime to the infinitesimal and from the endearing to the despicable. Some people are known to be unforgiving while to others, craftiness, mendacity and unreliability are their stock in trade. The Ogbona man is not exceptional. On a general note, Ogbona people are known to be high headed, stubborn, self-will, independent minded, self-opinionated, highly temperamental but hardworking, honest, humble, frank, bold, courageous and daring. These innate characteristics, to a great extent, define who we are as a people, what we stand for, how we see ourselves and how we are seen by the outside world. These noble characters have all through the ages breed suspicious and animosity between us and our next-door neighbors. Of all the virtues, self-assertiveness and independent mindedness seem to be the major source of acrimony between us and others.
No matter the seriousness and precariousness of the issue at hand, the Ogbona man will simply tell you AMHUE MA MIE, nothing will happen. I remember what happened in 1989 soon after the Ogbona/Imiava war at Ayogwiri when I went on a visit. The Issue came up and I unconsciously told them NOTHING WILL HAPPEN. How that thought crossed my mind and found expression in such an audacious manner, beats my imagination till tomorrow. My host and her friends looked at each other with mouths agape and dilated pupils more out of shock than surprise. They asked me if had also been bitten by the bug of nothing will happen. According to them, all the Ogbona people they had discussed the issue with gave them similar answer and I just laughed. Through to type, at the end of the day, in spite of the gang up and the likes, nothing much happened
This does not make it easy to deconstruct the Ogbona man with the ease of the methodology of precise science neither is it an easy ride to explain away the complexity of an entity who fears God and loves his neighbor but with the penchant to fight a cause, even at the expense of his life, to a logical conclusion, with the leeway of the liberal art. He has a voice that refuses to be muffled while articulating his views. He hates crime, dishonesty and cheating. He believes in the dignity of labour and never begs for handouts from anyone. He believes in the unfathomable capacity of the jungle to meet him and his family’s physiological needs and as such, he wakes up before dawn to explore the limitless potentials of the jungle. He understands and cherishes the importance of education, consequently, he will not hesitate a hoot to brave the thorns and bear the stings of life to educate his children. He is independent minded with no trace of group think mentality. His self-assertive nature, most times, brings him into conflict with others who mistake his independent mindedness for arrogance. His love for his community knows no bound and he is stubbornly uncompromising with his love for his kinsman and community. Whenever the independence of another object or being threatens or threatens to endanger his independence or that of his brothers and community, the canine instincts in him are usually unceremoniously brought to the fore.
I strongly believe the Ekperi people and the Imiava people ignorantly mistook these enthrallingly endowed characteristics for weakness, of course, at their peril.
Political leadership positions in Ogbona are not bought with money or influence. It is always a collective decision of the sage who after a thorough scrutiny of the character disposition of the personalities involved and with honesty as the guiding principle, a leader is chosen to be their eyes and protect their interest. This singular act does not in any way confer lordship statue on such a beneficiary. He remains a trustee of the people, perhaps, a mere servant who is fortunate to stand in the gap for them and he is never spared whenever he derails.
The billion-dollar question is what makes Ogbona man tick and the envy of his neighbor? An exegetical evaluation of the Ogbonan without recourse to his root, is as futile as striving for excellence in calculus without the basic knowledge of algebra.
Ogbona, according to oral tradition was the last son of his parents, Eramha Anwu and Uwomha Alokoko. It is generally believed that upon arrival from Benin with his extended family members, Anwu stayed briefly in Uzairue before migrating finally with his immediate family to UTUAGBABOR, Fugar, the present-day headquarters of Etsako Central Local Government Area, circa the 13th century. Anwu had four boys, namely, Unone, Arua, Uralo and Imhakhena. Imhakhena was the last child and as such, he enjoyed the exclusive love and care conventionally showered on the baby of the house. Moreover, his mother’s affection for him was beyond measure. She loved his company more than the rest.
Very early in life, Ogbona exhibited traces of greatness and independent mindedness and very quickly too, he distinguished himself as a farmer/hunter of great prominence, all to the admiration of his parents, especially the mother. The other brothers were loafers who lived off on his farming and hunting prowess. Initially, Imhakhena restricted his expeditions to his immediate environment but later spread his tentacles far beyond Fugar. Most times, he would remain in the jungle for days, a happening that constantly gave the mother great cause for concern. At a point, he started staying for weeks but always come back home into the warm embrace of his mother with enough bush meat. Anytime he was questioned, he would repeatedly say UGBO UNUA. While UGBO means FARM, UNUA means LONG in Bini language and he soon became known as OGBONA.
Ogbona was not bothered by his brother’s laziness as he could well put up with their excesses and he did everything humanly possible to ensure the family lived together in peace and harmony. One fateful evening and having sapped his energy on faming and hunting activities, he came home famished and to his utter disappointment, his own portion of food, UKPEKO was eaten. Instantly, he felt enough was enough and furiously stormed out of the compound and headed straight to his new found home up north.
In one of his earlier adventures, Ogbona found a tree that provided him shield and succor. The tree was quite homely but there was this problem of water. He needed water for his hygiene and chores and he decided to go further north and as fate would have it, he found a small stream which was later christened AVIEDA. Though he had once contemplated relocating permanently into the cool and protective cover of the big tree, ORIOKHIYIE, he feared the emotional trauma it would unleash on his mother. Fortunately, or otherwise, the UKPEKO saga was the last straw that broke the Carmel’s back.
Uwomha Alokoko and the rest erroneously believed Ogbona’s desertion was just one of his numerous long journeys away from home but when day and weeks snowballed into months, they knew there was an issue of immense proportion at hand. Fortunately, Ogbona had made a path, a tiny road with which he could be traced and he was traced to his new home. Initially, they only came visiting with their mother but later, the mother decided to relocate permanently to stay with her beloved son and needless to say the other children could not stand it. It was a fragrant display and confirmation of their long-held notion that their mother had a softer spot for Ogbona than the rest. With this and coupled with the fact the other brothers had to fend for themselves in the absence of their bread winner, the battle line was drawn. Matter became less decided upon the demise of Uwomha Alokoko, contrary to custom and tradition, Ogbona buried his mother in his new home with her symbol of authority and womanhood, UME. This was considered sacrilegious, an offense of no mean significance and with dire consequences. All entreaties by his three brothers to talk him into bringing their mother’ corpse home for burial fell on his deaf hears. In fact, Ogbona was as defiant and uncompromising as ever.
Ogbona was a man of means and vision. A self-made man with a difference. A man who had the burning desire to leave his foot prints in the sand of time. A courageous and audacious young man who understood very early that life would never willingly thrust onto one his deserved dues without a fight. He was never influenced by the pervasive sense of laziness around him neither did he become malleable by virtue of his position in the family. He realized that though age is respected, achievement and courage are revered. He was an industrious fearless young man who confronted lions, conquered bears, subdued beasts and tamed other wild ravenous animals in the jungle in his quest to leave the world a better place than he met it.
Still wondering why the Ogbona man is just who he is?
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 30)
OVHO’TO, I understand, was a common phenomenon in the days of old but became greatly reduced in one’s formative years in Ogbona. Almost all the houses were roofed with corrugated iron sheets. However, there were occasional cases of fire outbreak with ferocious intensity not necessarily from main buildings but from kitchens. Kitchens were separated from the main buildings. Fire outbreak was very common during the dry season, especially, during the harmattan period. The kitchen was prone to fire outbreak by reason of being made with thatched/shelves. It was not strange at all for such houses to be caught in inferno with everything burnt to ashes. Apart from carelessness on the part of children, there was this particular bird in the class of hawk, called AGBOO that was reputed to be in the habit of transferring fire from one place to another though there was no scientific proof to back up this claim. With time, thatch houses were confined to farm. Yes, there used to be houses built in the farm, looking as comfortable as one could imagine. Some stayed in the farm for days. This is not to conclude that the essence of houses in the farm was to serve the purpose of perpetual habitation. Far from being, farm huts provided shelter especially during the rainy reason. Nothing was as dreadful as being beaten by rain while working in the farm.it made everything looked awkward with the hands and body going completely stiff and frozen, at least, temporary. But once one was lucky to have a hut in the farm, it saved one from the dreadful drench of rain fall. Moreover, nothing was as refreshing as roasting fresh corn in the farm while it rained. One could easily feel the warmth of the fire and enjoyed the freshness of roasted corn in its natural form. It gave a taste that was not found anywhere else. It was much more preferable when there was enough fresh ground nut to go down with it. I enjoyed the time of the year between August and October. Everything was in abundance. There was yam, ground nut and corn. I used to pray it rained and coincidentally, whenever the sky was dirty with signs of imminent rain fall, I would do the needful to ensure I never missed out anything while it rained. Though the rains were very heavy, they never lasted and before one knew it, it would start sunny again. I hated the thought of going back to work again mostly, when I remembered the drops of water still hanging loosely on leaves and grasses waiting to get me drenched at the least touch.
I have this deep memory of a farm hut built by my maternal uncle, Eramha Paul Ikhumhi, aka No Time, at Ighease. It was made of spear grass shelves. My twin brother and I were playing with fire and before we knew it, the whole place was engulfed with wild fire and everything got burnt to ashes. I remember the look of disappointment and desperation on our mother’s face and No Time’s countenance when they learnt what we had done. It was a look of frustration with bottled up anger. We were forbidden from eating anything taken from that part of the farm till the next day when a sacrifice, made up of red oil and a roasted rabbit was offered to appease the gods and for the expiration of the negative effects of our sacrilege. I remember our fore heads being anointed with red oil too.
Snare was one forte that made the farm enjoyable. It was a thing of joy for one to have his trap catch a grass-cutter. Squirrel was appreciated but grass cutter was the ultimate. The only problem with trapping is the demand of having to wake up early in the morning to do the daily checks on them. One stands to lose greatly if he refuses to do the morning round and another person wakes up before you and loses a prey from your snare. Moreover, animal like grass cutter decomposes easily if one failed to do the morning round.
Traps were of various types. There was the normal WIRE, there was UDERU, there was the UKPAKHWUI. WIRE varied too. There was a special WIRE for deer and antelope. The one for ELUE and UZOH were of different version and size. UKPAKHWUI was trap made of iron but bury beneath the earth surface.
I can boast of having owned a trap line in conjunction with my twin brother and with only one giant rat, EVHIOR as the reward for all our effort. The only grass cutter we were fortunate to entrap got decomposed due to our failure to do the daily check.
Trapping starts with a thorough survey of a forest with possible bush meat potential. Once this is ascertained, a path known as OGBA is constructed. Flexible sticks, IKPERA and a short stick with two branches and a sharp angle, called AKAVA, are cut to size. A tiny flat stick of about 10 inches length with a deep cut known as AGBHAO’TOR or grounder is prepared. A small peg of about 2 inches, AKPEKPE, with a pointed tip is also needed. A little long stick usually driven down behind the AKAVA is another requirement. A rope, UKPULI, where the wire is tied to, is gotten from the bush. The rope is of two types. There is the brown one and the milk colored one. The Milk colored one is stronger and scarcer. In fact, UKPULI is the most challenging of all the materials required for trapping. Once the rope is gotten, every other thing can easily be assembled save for money to buy wire.
Wire is bought from the market. It is a long roll made up of 7 strands which is cut into 3 places to give 21 pieces from a single roll. ATSEVHA, a stick slightly split into two parts is also required.
With everything in place, the onerous task of setting the trap begins. It is a tedious work that dissipates raw energy in no mean proportion. The flexible sick is tucked down into the earth manually while the AKAVA is pushed down into the ground with a flat wood, gently used to hit the pointed head. One end of the rope is tied to the flexible stick while wire is hooked on the other end. There is a small knot before the cycle shape wire where the calved small peg, AKPEKPE is tied. The deep cut part of the AGBHAO’TOR is placed under the angular AKAVA wood with one edge resting on the tiny long stick placed behind the AKAVA. The flexible stick is bent and the rope with the wire is passed under the AKAVA and with the head of the AKPEKPE resting on the sharp angular part of the AKAVA. The tip of the AKPEKPE is inserted into the deep cut of the raised AGBHAO’TOR. The other edge of the AGBHAO’TOR is placed in the ATSEVHA stick. The cycle shaped opening between the AKAVA and the ATSEVHA forms the main stream of the snare. Woe betide any animal that places its head into the snare and touches any part of the AGBHAO’TOR.
On paper, wire snare is simple with little or no technical expertise. Unfortunately, the reverse is the case. Trapping involves a lot of technological know-how. Everything from the roll of wire to the sticks used demand measured accuracy and are thus cut to sizes. The flexible stick used must be capable of budding, otherwise, it gets dried off with disastrous consequences. The height of the trap must align with that of a normal grass cutter. No trapper rushes to inspect his snares without taking all the necessary precautionary measures. In fact, it is the first lesson a neophyte learns about the complexity of the trade. It is always advisable to inspect snare from the rear. A trapper must know the height of all the flexible bent sticks. The normal size like a horse in a stable, signifies no prey but a slightly raised one is a pointer to an entrapped prey. He must not be carried away as utmost caution is required. Much as wild or mountainous are animals are not expected to be entrapped, poisonous reptiles like cobra are easy preys. The worst thing about them is that they can survive entrapment for days. Too bad if one rushes into the waiting venom of a wounded cobra or rattle snakes. It was not uncommon to discover a complete set of traps had been uprooted and taken away. It was more common whenever bigger animals were caught. If one was lucky, he could get the pieces or even trace the prey.
Uderu was a complex set of snares that was not common. I was privileged to see only one. It involved the use of heavy woods and big stones. From the amount of work put into it, it was not a child’s play. It was not surprising that it fizzled out with time.
In all honesty, I have my doubt if the output from snare trade is commensurate with the amount of energy and time extended on it. Perhaps, one was contented with just being a proud owner of a trap line. Otherwise, and on a personal note, it was a misplaced priority. Although some people who reaped hugely from the endeavor may have a contrary view. Maybe I was in the wrong trade.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 31)
My childhood days in Ogbona, arguably, overlapped with the passing phase of mud blocks houses and the appreciation of a new era of cement block structures. Then, the vestiges of mud blocks were still very palpable. Its evidence abounded everywhere from the block work to the final stages of plastering and painting. Nowhere else was it more patent than the kitchen, where meals were cooked. Although it was quite customary to see a three-stone stand with three outlets, which served as firewood stove, IDIGHU, there was this stationary one in most kitchens. It was well designed and polished with mud clay. Some women were gifted in the aesthetic art of mud clay designs. They combined it with native tattoos, IDIBIE to capture perfect logos and designs on walls.
Also found in its vantage position in the kitchen was the mud bed, EKPESE. It was about one-foot high platform, designed in the shape of a bed. On top of it was a mat, which served the dual purposes of bed and seat. The mat was only changed when it became shredded and It was always bought from Jattu market. Mud combined with thatches was a perfect material for ceiling. Most kitchen’s ceilings were made of them. It created a very big outer space under the roof where valuables were kept. It was called OKHUI’ZE. Groundnut and maize were usually kept there and they were the first victims of fire outbreak. OKHUI’ZE reminds me of AGBHAI, along Imiava road. It was a flat rocky ground where farm produce was kept to dry. On it were Pepper, groundnuts, maize. Nobody pilfered with whatever was kept in AGBHAI. It was generally seen as a divinely inspired venerated grotto, immune from the nefarious activities of petty thieves. Attached to the mud/thatched ceiling in the kitchen was a hung frame made of wood were spices and condiments were kept. It housed UGBUDE where locust beans, UGBA, smoked fish and the likes were kept from the preying eyes of children and scavengers. I cannot say with exactitude if I never had any cause to open UGBUDE to pitch smoked fish whenever my mother or grandmother was not around. May be the place was not as venerated as AGBHAI. Clay pot, though not made from Ogbona mud, was another common sight in the kitchen. It was where water was stored especially during the raining season. Like in most mothers’ rooms, it was a big earth pot with a permanent steel cup which everyone used. The water was never boiled neither will it pass today’s purity test, yet there was no typhoid fever. Medically, there is no scientific explanation on how we survived those wells, streams and rain waters without any complications. The maxim IGNORANCE IS BLISS EASILY comes to mind.
All the upstairs, I believe and wrongly so, were built with mud blocks and of course, with that ubiquitous Ogbona red-colored trade mark, as it were. Most of those upstairs became dilapidated and got demolished with time. There were several of them but few are still standing. Ivhiorevhor had a chuck of them. That of the Ikhanes and the Okhaimera’ were plastered but the two buildings in the Ikhanoba family compound were not plastered and one of them remains till date.
The process of mounding mud block was very tedious and rigorous. It was not a job for loafers. I cannot not help but wonder what it took those people with upstairs to erect them considering the amount of time and energy it takes to process ordinary earth into blocks. It was a very crude and tasking venture. It starts with a deep well dug with holes, shovels and diggers. The initial stage is not that difficult order than mere scrapping off the top surface soil. The actual process commences once one gets to the conventional hard red mud for which Edo State is known. Nobody contemplated such venture during the dry seasons. It was done when it was raining or soon after the rain falls. The excavated surface was allowed to get wet before being mashed with legs. Children were allowed to dance on it. It was thing of joy whenever we were allowed to dance on it. The essence of the pressing or mashing was to smoothen out all the lumps and to ensure the mud jell perfectly together. Once, the mixing and smoothening were ascertained, the OVHERE was cut into a ball shape mud and ferried out of the pit. A little bit of scientific management was employed at this stage. While some people would cut the mud into conveyable sizes, some would lift them from the base to others who were positioned right on the edges for onward transfer to those who heaped it outside. Most times, it was not immediately molded into blocks, nonetheless, it never caked because the heap was covered with shelves. From the heaps, the mountainous OVHERE was cut into a manual molder, made of rough wood of about six inches high and one-foot long. The molders must study the weather to ensure their efforts were not vitiated by Mother Nature. Though rough and coarse, the end product all the same, served its utility purpose Without any form of exaggeration, mud block wall was generally considered ticker and safer than cement block walls. According to the opinion of experts, mud block walls are natural bullet proofs, compared to the fragile and porous nature of cement block.
I sincerely hope I won’t be misquoted herein as sponsoring the view that the prevalence of mud block buildings in Ogbona were thus structured to forestall instances of break in by armed bandits or to fend off stray bullets from the menace of armed robbers. If anything, Ogbona was very peaceful with little or no fear of men of the underworld. It was a closely-knit community where everyone was his brother’s keeper. At worst, there were occasional cases of missing fowls and the likes. People slept with their eyes closed. The nearest police station was in Auchi and yet, one was not security cautious. The farms were as well secured. People had bans in their farms where yams were staked. A combination of red and black pieces of cloth tied round a miniature calabash was considered mystic enough to scare off thieves because people feared God and juju. I can remember only one instance of armed robbery that jarred the tranquility of Ogbona community. Uwomha Janet Omadimhe had the misfortune of being visited by a man who attacked her in the dead of the night with a screwdriver. It sounded so strange because such brazen acts of banditry were very rare.
The consciousness of being robbed at all hardly crossed anybody’s mind. Things were relatively easy. Moreover, this crave for material possession of today world was checkmated by one’s ability to meet his basic needs of life through the ever-rewarding vistas of opportunities of the jungle. There was this deep sense of contentment, ladened with an entrenched value system that was not money centered. Hard work paid. No profession was denigrated or disparaged in any form. Hunters and undertakers were well respected.
People strove for excellence and perfection in order to earn the respect of everyone in the society. Money bags with no substantial means of livelihood were scorned, at best, tolerated.
Sincerely speaking, things were beginning to wear an ugly look at the twilight of my time in Ogbona. I remember one boy from one of the small quarters who became very notorious. He earned himself the unsavory appellation of ANINIH, who was an enfant terrible to the whole of Bendel State then. Of course, the long arm of the law caught up with and he never came back from prison as I was later told.
Much as the mud block was found to be bullets repellent, it would be out of place to ascribe its patronage mainly to that benefit. Its cheap economic value and the civility of that era must have contributed to its patronage and acceptability.
The mud block is not different from the modern day well packaged brick blocks of South Africa. The little bricks factory in Agbede is not anyway better than the OVHERE pit of Ogbona. Apart from the soil texture, a better design and organization would have made the difference.
The mud block, no doubt, signposts the relics of an era that spanned over centuries to when man first realized the necessity of a decent place of habitation. Unfortunately, it had to capitulate to the annihilating power of a supreme culture, fanned by the embers of civilizations and modernization, The Cement Block.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 32)
IGBUDU or IKHAGBA were among the noblest people in Ogbona. They exuded confidence and carry with them that air of arrogance solely displayed by those whose services were short in supply like the monopolists. They were both feared and respected, probably, second to native doctors. Their services were well known to everyone and were actually sort after whenever the occasion demanded. Notable among them, were Eramha Buchiali Otoaye, Odutola Ikhenape Okhuemhor, Alasa Anabor, Agbazuadu Aigbona, Inowa Enamhegbai, Aliu Inobemhe, Unopie, Ukor Ogedegbe, Igechi who was a carpenter in Ivhiorevhor and Kilien who lived between Eramha Odalumhe and the Headmaster quarters et al.
The respect Ogbona people accorded the dead, OLIMHI, did not help matter. It is a truism that an average Ogbona man cherishes his blood line, both patrilineal and matrilineal. The story was not different where the dead were concerned. Children, in the olden days, were divided between both families. The same principle applied whenever any of them died. It was much more serious with the females. Except a woman was an Amhoyia, she could never be buried in her matrimonial home. Her remains must be returned to her parent’s home for burial. In fact, most elderly women would specifically give instructions that under no circumstances must they be allowed to die in their matrimonial homes and as such, they would be returned to their places of birth at the point of death. Some fines were demanded, should children allow their mother to die in their father’s home. This practice held sway until 1996 when Chief MCK Orbih buried his mother beside his father’s grave in their family compound. That singular act marked the gradual demise of the practice. Some eye brows must have been raised I believe, especially from his maternal home who may have considered the move a deviation from the entrenched norm. It was clear that the practice of returning one’s mother to her family for burial was a tradition that had outlived its usefulness and needed to be permanently confine to the waste paper basket of history. Culture, they say, is dynamic and its dynamism was exemplified, because soon afterward, the practice was slightly relaxed with children permitted do wake keeping and entertain guests in their home. Within a short period of time, the practice was completely reformed and became legal for children to bury their mothers in their father’s houses or in their private homes.
It was immaterial who was involved, Igbudu or Ikhagba’s services were hot cakes. They were saddled with the responsibility of funeral rites performance, from the preparations of corpses for burial and the actual burial. We thought they were super human beings from the land of the dead. Not necessarily because they were often seen with IBANA, but because of their bravery. They were considered to be real men with the heart of a lion. Their mien displayed a people in total control of their emotions and who were unruffled by the tears and agonies of the bereaved. They were the first set of people to arrive at the places of mourning.
As children, the concept of death was very scary, even to be discussed in the open. It was a mystery that must been discussed in hush tones and with utter reverence. Death was a ferocious spirit that was no respecter of any being. Dead people were said to have a route to their final destination through Ivhiaru, a village very close to Afuze. It was advised that whenever anybody died, the family had the last opportunity to catch the last glimpse of him by going to Ivhiaru to say goodbye. The dead were also said to come back to through reincarnation. They were deaf and dumb who reasoned contrary to the dictate of human action. They were indifferent to human plight. Apart from native doctors who were capable of invoking the spirit of the dead, Igbudu were said to be the only ally to native doctors in that respect.
There was this unconfirmed attribute of IGBUDU that got us freaky as children. We learnt they had the power to wake up the dead and unravel the circumstances surrounding their death. Of course, until one was well advanced in age, no death was natural. It was caused by one unnatural occurrence or the other. Igbudu were said to be capable of waking up such dead people and unravel the mysteries surrounding their deaths.
Ikhagba were also ascribed with the capability of caging wandering spirits of dead people. They were said to be able to carry out this mission in the midnight when they would exhume the corpse and sever the head from the body. The stories of wandering spirit were everywhere. People who were said not to be clean before their death or whose death were not considered natural were reputed to being in the habit of wandering from one place to another. Ughieda was said to be the place where such spirits congregated at midnight to disturb and make the lives of their murderers miserable until they had totally avenged their deaths. This seemed to resonate with the practice where cutlasses and knives were seen tied to the hands of dead people in the coffins and with which they were prayed to avenge their sudden deaths.
Such dead people, we were made to believe, were capable of relocating to places like Kaduna to complete their life cycle. Most disturbing was the story that centered on dead witches and wizards. They never rested in peace until their heads were separated from their bodies. There were stories of dead witches and wizards dancing within the vicinity of their graves at midnight.
Igbudu were good administers of the oath of innocence on any spouse who was a prime suspect in the death of her partner. She would be compelled to drink the water with which her husband’s corpse was washed.
They had their hands full whenever an Oboh, an Okhei title initiate died on EVHIA day. It was a taboo for an Oboh to die on that first day of the week and as such, he must not be buried immediately. There were no morgue services but Ikhaemhor had a native way of preserving Oboh till the next after much ritual. Local gin (Kai Kai), was the major chemical with which they did their embalmment. I have no idea if a corpse decomposes within 24 hours anyway.
Of all the activities of Igbudu, the most prominent was the episode between the lying-in state and that of the burial ground. The casket would be brought out and all the bereaved children would be compelled to drop money on it. Soon afterward, some burning issues were settled. If there was any of the children that had issues with the deceased, they would be called out for forgiveness and settlement. If there was an unredeemed vow or an unpaid fine of, He goat, it was quickly settled. A rope with which a goat was tied would suffice. In the absence of any other issue, the casket was taken to the grave yard. There was no ambulance, except on few occasions. The casket would be carried by the Ikhaemhor on their heads from Okotor to the Catholic Cemetery in Ivhiochie or Ughieda cemetery. There were no much ceremonies at the grave yard save for church rituals, as it were, even at that, the burial activities were still handled by the Igbudu. A mat, EGBAI, was the only paraphernalia needed for burial. EGBAI was one thing without which no burial was conducted. No matter what, a fresh one must be gotten. It was used to cover the base of the grave before the coffin was lowered into it.
I had one occasion to play the role of an Igbudu with my cousin, Jude Anaweokhai. A memory, albeit with a great deal of discomfiture, that would last with me forever. It was my aunt, Uwomha Mary Anyiador granddaughter whose corpse was brought to our family for burial and unfortunately, the onerous task of burying the corpse fell on both of us and It was terror inspiring. The corpse was covered with leaves on a flat piece of wood. We had no problem with taking it to the back of the Asekomhe compound on the way to our plantation farm but the digging was stressful, no thanks to the hard texture of the soil occasioned by the dry season. There was a problem with lowering it into the small grave of about three feet deep with our bare hands. At the end, we buried the corpse and it became my first and last experience.
Ikhagba were a set of people whose services were well known and patronised. They were loved, respected and feared. They were welcomed anywhere and enjoyed almost the same social status with native doctors. If out of youthful exuberance, I only feared but not appreciated them, the day I had the misfortune of playing their role, changed my perception forever.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 33)
The services of Ikhagba or Igbudu were not only in high demand upon the demise of somebody, they were also well patronised during final burial ceremony, ATOLIMHI. Except on few occasions, final burials were separated from the main burial with an interval of about three years. It was a mark of honor to separate the two instances. No Odape could be buried in that manner, except he predeceased any of the parents or he was not really an ODAPE in the true sense of it. Who is an ODAPE? An ODAPE is a family man who has initiated his children into age group. He is considered advanced in age and as such, his passage is not seen as painful but a well lived life, worthy of celebration. If I am permitted to add, An ODAPE, deserving of the honor of a second burial cannot be less than 70 years old. There were no fast rules about it, but it could easily be discerned if one was qualified to be so honored. The number of children and his age group cadre were enough testimonials. On a general note, as soon as one was married, he automatically acquired the status of an ODAPE but that doesn’t qualify him to enjoy the veneration of a second burial.
However, there were instances where a man whose children were not initiated, yet received that honor. For instance, If the man’s father died very early and he happened to be the first son and as such, initiating his siblings into age group. On that note, he could be given a second burial but without an interval of about three years if he predeceased his mother and every event relating to the burial would be conscripted into a single day affair
Final burial ceremonies were well planned in advanced and a lot was put into it. From the day one died, preparations for the final burial would commence in earnest. A date was usually taken after due consultation with the elders on when the final burial would take place. I have no knowledge of any instance where a fixed date was changed on ground of any eventuality. All possible variables were considered to avoid such an ugly scenario, I presume.
Final burials were usually planned to coincide with Christmas and lasted throughout the dry seasons.
Normally, burial ceremonies lasted four days and each of the days was set out for a particular activity. The wake keeping was held on EOMHI. How the wake keeping was held rested on the financial capability of the family of the deceased or the IVHIOLIMHI. This would manifest on the choice of the particular musician engaged to entertain. If they were people of means, Gen. Bolivia Osigbemhe was the ultimate even when King Benji Igbadumhe had gained prominence. However, there were occasions where both of them were fully booked and the family would make do with any available dance band. There was Uwomha Aigbaobesi from Ayogwiri, Eramha Agbaigbona and other female dance bands that were also engaged for wake keeping services
The traditional part of it was done on the next day of EWOR. It was the day of IGBAKI. Igbaki was the main final burial ceremony. It was held at the home of the chief of priest of ADIH in all the quarters. ADIH forms the basis of anything in Ogbona, nay, Avhianwu in general. It is headed by the eldest man in each quarter and its headship is never contested. The centrality of EWOR for final burial ceremony cannot be emphasized. On that day, different dance bands including amhi and Iloh were hired to entertain. A one-day burial, that is, a deceased with a parent, was held on this day too. Souvenirs were shared on this very day. The evening events were held at UTUKWE, public squares of each quarters. One memorable thing about UTUKWE event was the service part. Again, how one served at UTUKWE was a measure of his financial muscles. If he were a man of means, he would serve everybody equally, otherwise, the whole process was rushed with members of the audience sparsely served.
EKHUE Events centered mainly on age group entertainment. There were a lot of cooking. Needless to say, that one’s age group input was very vital on this day. No matter one’s position in life, he must come down to the level of his age mates on this particular day. One’s age mates could tell him to his face what nobody else dare to whisper behind him.
The most entertaining part of this day was the female age group procession. It was very colourful as every woman would want to stand out in the midst of her age mates. They sang some solemn songs said to have been composed by a certain God knows how animal, called ACHIEKE.
The age grade procession was a show of wealth and splendor as the greatness of the deceased could be inferred by the number of children and in laws involved in the procession.
Ikhagba were still involved in almost every aspect of the foregoing. On the EWOR day, the Igbudu would roll a mat, EGBAI or the clothes of the deceased and used it to make an effigy with his red cap, UMADAI. The Ikhagba would sit close to the symbol where they would remain till the next day when the effigy is symbolically throne away. There was another mini ceremony before the symbol is disposed, called, ASHIOLIMHI, that was confusing. It was assumed that the aspect of fixing a date for the burial had been done with, in fact, formed the basis upon which the entire final burial was anchored but repeatedly, they would still mention the date fixing episode, when in reality, the burial was gradually coming to an end. Of course, everything involves money. Igbudu would be well taken care of in the two days they would remain with the symbol in the room. Later in the evening of EKHUE, the Igbudu would lift the symbol and spin it for a while before embarking on a marathon race with the children running after them. After some distance along the main road, the children would be asked to wait behind while the Ikhagba performed the final ritual of disposing the symbol of the corpse.
The EVHIA ritual was mainly an in-house event involving some elders after which, all the children including Amhoyia were expected to scrape their hair. The issue of inheritance was formally settled on this particular day. There has never been issue with inheritance in Ogbona as it is strictly by primogeniture. The first son is the heir apparent and as such, the father’s estate automatically devolves on him. Women have no role in their family home as far as inheritance is concerned. She can only inherit her mother’s property if she is the first daughter. If a deceased woman left no female child behind, her estate devolves on the next available Amhoyia.
The services of Igbudu was not needed where a youth was concerned. He would be buried by his age mates.
Again, there is an issue with one burying his age mates. It would depend on the oath of allegiance taken during age group initiation ceremony. Some swore never to see one another’s corpse and, in that case, the deceased age mate won’t witness the burial or partake in any aspect of the burial including the entertainment. The succeeding age mates would do the burying. It was a taboo for one to escort his junior to the grave yard.
All in all, Ikhagba were not only called upon when there was a corpse to be buried, they also took part in the final burial that was less frightening and more ceremonial.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 34)
Of all the cultural endowments in Ogbona, age grade initiation ceremony remains the most elegant, glamorous and grandiose, and as such, enjoys unsparingly, unbridled celebration with pump, pageantry and utmost reverence. It is unabashed display of Ogbona, indeed, Avhianwu culture and tradition. It is a moment everyone looks forward to with a great deal of reminisce and expectations, breathtakingly, one is never disappointed. It evokes deep sense of nostalgia from the elder much as it elicits anxiety and great expectations from the youth. It is a once in every two years event to savor and like the proverbial comet, it comes only once in your life time. It is a moment that re-cements the ties of consanguinity that bind the four children of Anwu together. It is irrelevant if any of them had been at “war” with the other, but the period of initiation provides the ample opportunity to bury the hatchet, mend fences and come together as one indivisible family.
There are two different age grade systems in Avhianwu. While one is annual, the other is biannual. The annual age grade system is designed strictly for the female folks but devoid of the extravagant and ostentatious zest appeal of the biannual age grade initiation ceremony that involves both sexes. Nonetheless, both of them share the same nomenclature of URUAMHI
Everything aspect of the URUAMHI takes place simultaneously in Fugar, Ogbona and Iraokhor. In fact, it is Avhianwu culture and tradition at its best. One happenstance that has perpetually and inexplicably defiled my rationalization about Uruamhi is the involvement of Ayogwiri, Uzairue in the process. I may not have details of the extent of their involvement but it remains to be contested if by virtue of not being among the descendants of Avhianwu, they are legitimately qualified to be part of the christening part of the ceremony in Fugar like us too. Perhaps, their fore fathers were enthralled by the alluring splendor of the ceremony and couldn’t help but got enmeshed in it too.
Nobody can say in concrete terms how and when Uruamhi originated in Avhianwu. It is a practice that was passed down from past generations and it is jealously guided.
Much as it impossible to trace the origin of Uruamhi, it’s imports in the social life of Avhianwu cannot be over emphasized. It is one of the structural frameworks against which vital aspects of our social lives are graded and evaluated. It was the basis upon taxes were levied. The issue of personal income tax was very thorny in the days of old. It was next to impossibility for one to evade tax payments and the British imperialists explored the handy structure of our age grade system to its fullest and of course, at the manifest detriment of the peasant farmers. It was synonymous with the feudal system in the northern part of the country that provided the fertile ground for the indirect rule system and the concomitant economic exploitative tendencies to blossom in prodigious dimension. It was assumed that once one was initiated into age grade system, he automatically fell into the bracket of tax payers. This is very tendentious if not completely against statutory provisions. Adulthood begins at twenty-one while maturity baseline is put at eighteen. I have my doubt how many 18- or 21-years boys and girls were ever initiated in my time. Most people are initiated between the ages of 14 and 15.
One other benefit of the age grade system is the provision of security for the community. It is among the age group cadres that people were selected to keep watch over the community while others had gone to farms, especially on EVHIA and EOMHI days. The dead quietness that pervaded the entire community on those two days while others had gone to farm was a mole in our fortress that could be explored by men of the underworld. I remember soon after the borehole along Imiava road was sank, the place was invaded by armed robbers who made away with some of the equipment. On our due date, I joined my age mates to keep watch over the place all throughout the night. Funny enough, we had no defensive mechanism and weaponry training before we were deployed as security personnel. Thank God, we never had cause to defend ourselves against any menacing entity that night.
Army was also quickly raised from age groups to ward off any external aggressions in the days of inter-tribal wars.
Most community services were rendered through age grade system too. There were a lot of manual activities embarked upon by the community for the common good of everyone. Soon after the rainy seasons, streams like UGBADEGHIEH would become very shallow and bushy, impacting negatively on their ability to meet the water demand of the populace and had to be dredged with the surroundings kept clean. The town crier would announce the particular age group to do the dredging and cleaning. Farm paths also needed resurfacing and clearing during the rainy seasons too. sometimes, the roads would be become too sandy for bicycles to move freely and it was the duty of age groups to clean all the farm-land paths in their respective routes.
Age grouping engenders the spirit of healthy competition among members. One’s success is often measured against that of his age mates. It is a thing of joy to be trail blazer in all fields of human endeavors among one’s peers. It thus serves as catalyst in spurring young boys and girls into productive and healthy rivalry for the overall wellbeing of the community. There is no room for laziness as one can easily be taunted by the success of his age mates. (UMAH MIO TUEH?)
Being initiated into age group also brought with it some handful of responsibilities. If you are in the same group with anyone, that person’s parents automatically become your parents and you are expected to do them parental obeisance as your biological parents. One didn’t need any former schooling to be thus minded. Similarly, age mates enjoy parental care and love from every surrogate parent as well. In fact, he calls such initiate, OVHIMHE NOKHUA.
The most notable of them is the final burial ceremony. All age group members must rally round their mate and engage in a long procession around the village behind the bereaved member.
There is no scientific approach in determining who is matured enough to be initiated. It is the sole decision of one’s parents or guardians. Immature initiates are at the mercy of the matured ones while the ceremony lasts. Birth certificate has no place at all. Irrespective of differences in actual dates of birth, age grade system is a leveler and you become age mates forever. Generally, children with two years age difference are counted as age mates and It forms the basis upon which seniority is determined in the village.
Former initiation rites begin around July, with lumbering expenditure. Prospective initiates are instructed through the town crier to bring trunks of wood to the market square under the totemic Ore’Okhiyie tree and, straight away, all roads lead to Ughieda forest. Although, this first assignment signifies former commencement of Uruamhi, in practice, it is not so because two years earlier, during the preceding age grade ceremony, the next in line (IWHOGOH) were invited and given their due keg of palm wine on the wake keeping night. The rowdy behavior at this first informal meeting, is an adumbration of the show of might that is unleashed on the lumbering day. There are no elder among them to direct proceedings, which depicts leadership vacuum that must be filled, and this is usually done through the crass display of the beastly force of the jungle and of course, no thanks to youthful exuberance. It is a case of might is right. How well you exercised power and commanded obedience, confers on you, some leadership role, albeit temporarily. The trunk of wood is cut down into three equal sizes of about 15ft length with only axes and cutlasses. They are rolled manually from Ughieda forest down to Ore’Okhiyie. The sizes of the trunks of wood is a snap summary of the maturity and industry of the prospective age group.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 35)
Rolling the trunks of wood to the market square under the much orchestrated Ore’Okhiyie tree, underscores the centrality of the tree to Ogbona culture and tradition and like the biblical allusion, nothing is made without it, as far as anything worthy of attention is concerned. Apart from being at the center of the village, there is this magnetic power, timelessly radiated by the totemic tree that draws people to it with unalloyed veneration. The story is not different during age group initiation ceremony. Everything about age group initiation starts and ends under the tree. Arrangements for the lumbering expenditures start and end there as prospective initiates meet there to fine tune program of events for the exercise.
The trunks of wood are not placed there wholly for aesthetics purposes; they also serve as means of putting weight off the feet whenever the occasion demands. Needless to say, that Ore’Okhiyie is never bereft of seating materials. In fact, as soon as new ones are brought, the old ones are shifted slightly away, perhaps, in deference to the scriptural admonition that you don’t put new wine in an old wine skin.
The next market day after the wood cutting episode, is the OKEMHE OKE KABA section. It is an all comer affairs. There are no restrictions on who joins the train. They are young looking naive boys with poor sense of judgment. They are neither children nor adult, yet they want to be seen and regarded as adults. There is a new-found sense of self-worth and importance with a bloated ego that is jealously guided with all seriousness. There is this inexplicable bottled up anger that is waiting to be vented at the least provocation. The urge not to be seen as a weakly breed ill-will that results in constant altercations and dis-orderliness. Everyone must prove his mettle in one way or the other, probably to show that he earns his rightful place among his age mates. It is a case of being seen and regarded just the way one packages himself. Outsiders are not permitted to mediate between members and no matter the level of provocation, act of physical violence or brawl is seriously frown at. Not only are fines levied on erring members with reckless abandon, the forceful manner in which they are levied is very interesting. The absence of legitimate leaders may be exploited by the more matured ones, but in reality, decisions are unanimously taken. After a decision is taken, it is usually rectified with a lone question OTUMHA NA KPO, IKHI ‘YIOMHA GUE? and the answer is nonetheless given in a chorus form, IYIOMHA GUE! And it becomes a binding law on everybody.
One interesting part of this stage is the dressing code. Prospective initiates are not allowed to be shabbily dressed. He must dress to reflect his aspiring status as he must not be seen to be irresponsible. He is not allowed to put on short. He must wear a pair of trousers and a long sleeve shirt, half worn, with one shoulder left on uncovered. They move from one corner of the village to another, to collect money and to expose themselves to the waiting judgment of the court of public opinion. Favorable verdict is returned on them if they are considered matured enough to be initiated and otherwise if the reverse is the case. It must be emphasized too that at this level, they are not taken too seriously because the chaffs are yet to be separated from the seeds. Also, unpaid fine cannot be enforced because things are still very fluid. It is only One’s parents that are certain of one’s eligibility for the proper initiation. I remember the psychology of one of my classmates who joined us for the pre- initiation ceremony before his father told him point blank that he was not going to be initiated that very year. It took him quite a while to recover. To him, we were age mates, having started primary school and entered secondary school together. As I have stated before, some parents, especially the polygamous ones, would want their children scattered in different age groups. It was immaterial, if the children would fall in the age cadres far beneath their real age and with the only discernible advantage being the number of age groups that would embark on long procession around the village during final burial ceremony.
AZUEGBE day marks the beginning of the real ceremony. It is the day those who would actually be initiated are chosen and branded for the real initiation. A token is exerted from their fathers by the elders and those to be initiated are clearly designated. Shirts are fully worn. There is no room for non-members. Hitherto loose rules are strictly applied. The songs also change. So also, is the visitations. Particular people and members are singled out as hosts and they entertain the initiates whenever they come visiting. There is unconscious attempt to assert and manifest one’s sense of maturity and manliness by engaging in such acts of easy virtues like smoking of tobacco and the consumption of spirits, especially Ogogoro, local gin. This section of the ceremony lasts till early October when the wake keeping, AZIGHI OTOR takes place.
AZIGHI OTOR, artificial tremor, induced by those to be initiated succinctly encapsulates the thrust of events of the preceding day soon after the wake keeping. There may not be shaking in the real sense of it but the banging sounds of wood, baton and slippers against the earth surface, very loud and clear are informative enough that initiation is in full swing. The dark cover of the wake keeping night is usually explored to its fullest for some despicable acts. Some who never tasted the opium of tobacco before are lured. After all, one is being initiated into manhood, as such, he is at liberty to satisfy his curiosity and experiment with the cryptic sense of fulfillment in those hitherto condemnable acts. They are also allowed to get away with any ” crime” that night. They can plough oranges, kill goat, fowl and commit any misdemeanor unchallenged.
Events of the evening start with the prospective initiates going into hiding only to be sort by IWHOGOH who are next in line. A kind of an advanced form of IVHI OKHOR play is enacted. Iwogoh may or may not succeed in locating them. Either way, proceedings move quickly to the chairman’s compound. Of course, the chairman is known to everybody at this time. There is nothing much other than to drink and stay awake all through the night. The next in line are given their due keg of palm wine which they consume few meters away. It is very interesting to know that the positions of chairman and vice chairman are shared between the two families that make up Ogbona. IVHIOKHUA and OKOTOR. Both positions cannot go to one quarter at once. The next powerful position is that of OKEMINARE, you can call him the welfare officer, provost or Public Relations Officer of the age group. His duty is to provide logistics for the distribution of material, especially consumables met for the age group members. He wields enormous power as he gives to anyone as he wishes with little or no accountability. I have no idea if he can be suspended. He is generally in the good book of the powers that being and almost everybody courts his friendship too. The morning after the wake keeping marks the beginning of IJIOYE entertainment part of the age group ceremony. The initiates are expected to dance around the village and this is normally done with an improvised ORIO’TO, it is cold, song. They all seem to be very shy with only a few daring to do the IJIOYE panegyric dance.
Also very striking at this moment is the costumes for the IJIOYE dance. There is a pair of trousers called AKAMU, made popular by the rave of the early 90s music scene, The American rapper, M.C Hammer. Long before Hammer popularized that his trade mark baggy trousers, it had been the traditional dress of Avhianwu people for age grade ceremony. Each person is expected to have a pair of broom, made, not from the conventional palm trees but from cocoa nut trees, joined together by a string. The broom sticks are more sizable compared to the normal ones and between the two brooms, is tied a small stick called, ADANOR.
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Evang Godwin Asekomhe Thanks for the update. Most people that went through this process of initiation may have forgotten most of these procedures. It surprises me that somebody like you, in your capacity as Deeper Life Pastor could be interested in promoting our culture. On formation coming to me from the Palace says that Deeper Life in Ogbona are vehemently opposed to Age Group Initiation entirety. Even though it has been modernised by removing all the pagan rituals and sacrifices and oaths taking as recommended by Ogbona Christian Association and the Muslim Community, they still insist they will not participate. Culture is the way a people live, eat, dress, conducts ceremonies such as naming, burial, marriage, and age grade. I could remember vividly when in the past, Ladies in total nakedness were escorted to their Husbands home with frenzy drumming. But it is now history through civilization and modernisation. Esi Festival and Age Group Initiation are no longer paganism and occultism Cultures with the present modernisation. Culture is as dynamic as the Society that practices the culture. I stand to be contracted. What makes a people, tribe, community, clan and nation different from others is the dynamism of its culture. Even within Etsako Kingdom alone, we have diversity of cultures. A people without Culture is dead. To crown it, the people of Israel have a Culture that distinguish them from other nations. As a Bible student, I discovered that there were certain cultural practices in the ancient Near East that God Himself accommodated in the Israelites Culture with modernisation. Am ready any day and any time for a symposium debate on these issues. May God give us the grace to modernise our culture to bring glory to God in the order of Christmas in Jesus name.
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THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 36)
All positions, during age grade ceremony, gravitate round the UTSA TSO (broom) phenomenon, the sole evaluative mechanism for allocation of positions and determination of their occupants. The broom, like every other determinant, are in the pairs of big and small ones. If IVHIOKHUA gets UTSA TSO NOKHUA, IVHIOMIERELE automatically gets UTSA TSO NIKEKE. You also have the IYIAGBA, ULO and OKEMINARE positions, in pairs too. The above positions are never contested openly by the initiates as everything is settled at the subhead level, long before the ceremony commences. The positions are not inheritable neither can they be bought or influenced. Again, ADIH forms the source of every position. Holders of such esteemed positions have the sun shines on them before any other members of the age group when it comes to distribution of resources within the age group. The ordinary members are not left empty handed as they are compensated with ADANOR, a tiny peg of wood always tied between two brooms. The offices are not only fulling operational while the ceremony lasts, seniority is forever determined in that perking order too. Seniority among other members is determined on the last day of the ceremony where the chairman institutes an order of seniority module on the basis of his personal choice and preference. To get chosen before other members, the chairman receives a lot of patronage. His choice remains in force till eternity. However, nature in her normal mysterious manner, has a way of reorganizing and balancing things out, far and beyond the limited interpretative capability of mere mortals. Who lasts to become the oldest man in the village later in life is never determined by the chairman or his preferred choice? But in his usual characteristic crass display of lack of knowledge of the working mechanism of the unseen hand of nature, man would never cease to insist on having a say on how nature works, unfortunately and sadly so, he ends up more confused, despondent and disappointed. It is doubtful if any other positions apart from the chairmanship and his vice, are factors to reckon with soon after the ceremony. Nonetheless, everything humanly possible is usually done by parents to ensure their children are favored for such juicy positions at the administrative office of ADIH.
Regardless of who gets what, the fact remains that everybody goes through the rite of passage especially the IJIOYE part of the ceremony. It is immaterial if one is the chairman or the OKEMINARE. Everybody is seen and treated as equal.
IJIOYE is a panegyric dance with opening and closing formulas, solely to entertain and narrate the exploits of one’s family. It casts into section in a very lucid and dramatized form, virtues of nobility and forthrightness among Ogbona people in particular. The initiates have unbridled license to tell who cares to listens about the financial and material accomplishments in their ancestral lineage. It is about smartness, articulation and the mastery of the Avhianwu language and the ability to render it in it’s pure and raw form, in an organized lyrical/danceable manner. The initiate would delve into the repertoire of his ancestral accomplishments and bore the audience with countless achievements, ranging from the digging of water well to the purchase of motor cycle and what have you. It is very difficult for one to embellish the stories because of the close knit nature of Ogbona community that makes it easy to detect iota of lies since every family’s successes and failures are well known to all.
IJIOYE dance does not give much to savor except when accompanied with AKPOGEGE metal gong ,especially when the opposite sex have joined in the morning after the wake keeping and until then, the dance is always banal, ornamented and too mechanical with the ORIO TO, it is cold ,chorus. The major activity for this day Is the AKHUI KHUMI, cutting a chunk of the medicinal concoction (juju) for the URUAMHI. There is no begging the question of what is to be done. The initiates are exposed to the dark side of the ceremony which is steeped in mystery and secrecy. Before going to IVHIO’ BA where the UKHUMHI is cut, the initiates would look for powdered charcoal to darken their faces like one going to the war front. They file out in number for the business of the day. Nobody ever explains to you what the concoction is all about or what goes into its preparation though some insinuations abound of what actually forms its constituent parts. It looks like mixed clay soil with some white substances. It has no material or economic benefit considering all the hype about the AKHUI KHUMHI part of the ceremony. Once the UKHUMHI is shared among the initiates, they come back to town, embark on a marathon race to the house of the chairman where they get water to wash the charcoal off their faces. From that point, women join them against the next day’s activities which are more ceremonial and more fashion ladened than any other parts of the initiation ceremony.
This AKHUI KHUMHI part of the ceremony is what has pitched the conservatives, hardliners, core traditionalists and staunch opponents of modernization ,who insist on undiluted age group initiation ceremony in its long enduring raw traditional form ,with all the sacrifices and incantations preserved for posterity, against the liberal and ecclesiastic position of the Christian Association of Ogbona who are of the thoughtful conviction that there is much more to everything than meets the eyes and as such, it must be demystified and be obliterated of all fetish aspects.
The most watched part of the AKHUI KHUMHI section is the marathon race where everybody watches out for the UNA NE OTU, The splinter of the age grade. Ordinary, it sounds like the fastest, winner or the first person to blaze the trail in the chairman’s house, at least, the hype seems to point in that direction but unfortunately, the reverse is the case. UNA NE OTU is the last person to get to the chairman’s compounds and of course, he remains a butt of laughter and sneer remarks for a long time to come. Needless to say, everybody does everything within his power to avoid that unsavory appellation?
Before MHAKOLO, is the fashion part of the ceremony AME MA. Native clothes of different designs are heaped for the event. Men are allowed to dress like women much as women are allowed to dress like men. We really enjoyed this mixed sex part of the show. Men were easily picked out because of the absence of the perforated ears of the women folks. It was unthinkable for men to porch their ear though there were some special ear rings, pinned on the ear which made it easier for us to recognize them still, however incognito they tried to appear. It is a thing of joy and pride for one to change his wears several times to portray a sense of dignity and affluence.
One other remarkable thing on this day, is the demystification of OMADA, the red cap that distinguishes Oboh from the commoners. The importance Avhianwu people attach to OMADA is beyond description. It is wearing with arrogance and as a mark of honour in the society. Under no circumstances must OGBHARI been seen to wear the cap. Apart from the Muslim faithful who wear it with relish with no form of molestation whatsoever since they are never bothered with the observance of our cultural practices, no one else dares to put it on. The Muslims are seen to belong to another culture as they hardly per take in any of cultural undertaking. Unfortunately, Non-Muslims don’t enjoy such privilege. Honestly, I never encountered any instance where an OGBHARI took matters in his hands and desecrated that venerated cultural practice. I have no doubt he would be summoned to the OGHIEBO priest to propitiate the gods with God knows what? Certainly, the head of John the Baptist would be demanded to serve as deterrent to others. However, strict application of the red cap rules is relaxed during age group initiation period. The initiates are permitted to wear the red cap through out the ceremonial parts of the ceremony.
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THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 37)
After the razzmatazz and the conspicuous display of elegance and affluence of the previous day of AME MA, comes the MHA KOLO part of the age grade ceremony. I have no knowledge of the literary meaning of the expression order than MHA means we or us as the case maybe. KOLO is a gutter language that denotes crass state of mental instability in the Niger Delta region of the country. Obviously, our people could not have conceived the idea of associating MHA KOLO as a phrase with such a derogative concept. Perhaps, its best summaries the import of the event by telling who cares to listen that we mean business with no room for any Acadia proceeding whatsoever. Whatever be the case, MHA KOLO succinctly captures the most intrinsic and endearing part of the age grade ceremony, always watched with profound admiration.
It starts very early in the morning before day break with almost everybody including girls, gorgeously dressed in elderly male attire of AGBADA. The fun of the whole costume is that the lower part of the dress is allowed to freely sweep the ground. This is always expected because of the age and size disparities between the initiates and the parent’s owners of the attires.it is an oversized dress that depicts a scenario of a butterfly calling itself a bird.
One advantage all initiates enjoy on this day is the luxury of time. No one is in a hurry as they have half of the whole day to themselves for the event. In fact, until the intensity of the rays of the sun becomes unbearable, no one is ever time conscious. Although before MHA KOLO that very day, a cushion seat would have been taken on behalf of the initiate to the market square for the other IRUA VHEA event later that day, it does not in any form impinge on the quest by every member to give unbridled cerebration to the MHA KOLO part of the grand event.
It is a movement at stand still. At best, one thousand steps forward and nine hundred and ninety-nine steps backward. All the initiates must embark on a precession at that snail speed round the whole village.
There is this usual mild altercation between boys and girls with some daring boys overstepping their bound so to speak, by trying to swallow up the girls with their overflowing AGBADA jacket. On a general note, girls usually look more mature than boys during initiation, but boys will always be boys with that innate knack to exhibit some mischievous tendencies. It must be pointed out here that there is no court of arbitration or any presiding judge to adjudicate on any misunderstanding between ” warring” members. In short, no one is interested in what is transpiring between age mates. After all, they are being groomed to master the art and science of self-defense and to take care of their own affairs, and as such, everything is dismissed as the incipient manifestation of the natural yearning for companionship, the primary purpose for which God created the woman in the first instance.
There is only on song for the event which never sounds monotonous anyway.
EGBE MHE OKPISA
It is all about self-adoration, emphasizing the new-found transition from the primordial stage of nativity to that of maturity and manhood. He does not eat childish and lowly graded stakes like that of giant rat any longer but relishes that of grass cutter which has suddenly become his choice delicacy.
MHA KOLO section of the rite of passage does not involve the services of external band or drummers. It is strictly for the initiates, to whom lies the responsibility of singing and dancing with any instrument of their choice. Well-wishers are not welcome, though spectators watch from a close distance as the whole thing invokes deep memory of one’s initiation. But the second event of the day is an all comer’s affairs especially parents of the initiates. This is a payback moment for the young men and women. It is a reward time for obedience, handwork, honesty, dedication to duty, level headedness and humility. It is the crowning moment for the character disposition of all the initiates.
If there is any principle that has withstood the test of time in Ogbona, it is the maxim of AS YOU SOWN, SO YOU REAP. It is the time for one to reap his deeds all this while in monetary form. The content of one’s plate would tell at the end of the day If he has been stubborn and disrespectful.
Though it is a market day, buy and selling take the back stage on this day. The whole market square is taken over by the gorgeously dressed initiates with covered plates placed in front of them. They are appreciated by family, friends and well-wishers with some money. Sometimes, it is better not to go there at all as a family member because of the number of known faces you will run into.
A lot of faceless bands spring up on this day too as parents would pay a token for their children to be taken round the square. Everywhere remains rowdy with photographers and drummers having a field day.
Later that day, some members are sent to Fugar for the christening ceremony. Christening is one of the uniting factors in the entire ceremony among the four Anwu children. Every age group has a name with which they are identified. There is ERE UTU, Godfather or patron of every age group. He remains the father of the age group till eternity and he is regarded as a father by every member for the rest of his life. The age group members have a significant role to play upon his demise too.
After the market square event, everybody waits patiently for the return of the Fugar delegation. Until their return with the name of the age group, nothing has really happened. The naming signifies formal initiation and confers legitimacy on the entire process. Ayogwiri and Iraokhor are always the first to return. With waited breath, everyone is relieved to hear the name and as soon as that is done, songs are composed or rather, the name is fitted into a composed song with which every member sing in a procession round the market square. At this time, everywhere is dark and women are excused as events move speedily to the URUAMHI proper, the part reserved only for the young men at UTUORA NOKA. It is an imaginary withered stump beside ALOKOKO shrine, very close to the Anabor family compound. All the young men are enjoined to form a cycle with an elderly man at the middle. Life and death decisions are taken by all members. The elderly man has no opinion on the questions neither is it his business to influence the course of events. It is the business of the age group to make decisions with grave spiritual repercussion. Then, it is the duty of the elderly man to explain the implications of the decisions to be taken and to ensure there is unanimity among all the members concerning the outcome of every decision. The decisions are more or less under oath, though this is not overtly stated but the seriousness of the question and the caveat that they are irreversible, drives home the enormity of the business at hand.
Two prominent issues are quickly agreed on, namely, if members would see each other’s corpse? and if one can marry his age mate’s ex-wife? The answers are for the age group members to supply and whatever option they provide for each question, remains binding forever.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 38)
The collective decision to abstain from attending an age mate funeral and to subsequently avoid eye contact with the corps, at the UTUORA NOKA initiation ritual, is first among other things, to guild against the counterproductive consequences of evil machination against one another. In essence, one must not aid, facilitate and contribute knowingly or otherwise to the death of his age mate. Hence the caveat that upon the demise of any member, no one must participate in any aspect of the burial ceremony. He must not eat or drink anything related to the funeral ceremony.
The plausibility of this oath remains to be seen and, in all honesty, and on a personal note, does not make much sense. I strongly attribute the behind the scene schooling episodes before the actual oath taking, to this singular fact. Both sides of the bargain are always weighed and in spite of the pervasive sense of naivety, it is crystal clear to every discerning mind that the option not to see a member’s corpse is not feasible and as such, must not be countenanced. .
The place of mourning for the departed one by his age mates seems to be left in abeyance by those who toe the hardline stand of total forbiddance. There is no gain saying the fact that the observance of four days of mourning for the departed soul is an integral part of our culture and tradition. Regardless of the deceased’s age and position, the first four days after the burial are usually reserved for the general mourning .If the deceased is an initiate ,his mates would visit his home with palm wine on EVHIA day ,where they sing elegies and dirges, accompanied with sounds of cannon guns, all in his honor.
Although always a dreadful moment, it is ably utilized for sober reflection by every member, a quick reminder that time is tickly away and that it could be the turn of any member at any time. It must be pointed out here that until the fourth day of ASAPIEH, there is no group mourning and the least of mania job is also strongly frown at.
The prominence of Ogbona people place on mourning the dead is beyond description. Generally, the dead are celebrated by Ogbona people. It is a taboo of no mean proportion for one to speak ill of the departed souls. It is much more pronounced when a woman mourns her late husband. Until recently, a widow must remain in door for at least three months. Custom demands she mourns her husband for a certain period however inconveniencing it may be. She must not get involved in any tasking job. She must not go to market or visit anyone. It is immaterial if she has children to cater for! Of course, the close-knit family nature of Ogbona, nay, Avhianwu, the spirit of brotherhood among our people soon come into play by ensuring the woman lacks nothing substantial during her period of mourning. I must confess here that this depends on the circumstance surrounding the death of the man. If foul play is alleged with the wife as the prime suspect, the widow has her hands full and as such, she must prove her innocence. There are many ways of doing this, like drinking the waste water with which the late husband’s body was washed. It is generally believed that her innocence is better proven by the nonoccurrence of anything calamitous within the shortest possible time. What happens when a man is the prime suspect of his wife’s death? Well, there have never been instances, as far as I can remember where a man was overtly or covertly accused of his wife’s death. In all honesty, Ogbona people cherish and see life as sacred and must be thus minded. In all through my formative years in Ogbona, no woman was ever accused of voluntary widowhood. I remember only one instance where Eramha Shaka Idode’s younger wife attempted to poison her mate and her children in the farm. She administered a lethal dose of adrex 40 poison in their food. The putrefying and nauseating odor of the substance soon gave away her plan. The issue was quickly reported at the palace where guilty verdict was returned on her and was booed round the whole village. Nonetheless, mourning laws seem to be more relax with the male folk than his female counterpart. Perhaps, the responsibility confer on him as the bread winner of the family cannot confine him indoors for more than a month. He is at liberty to marry any woman of his choice but the widow would have to choose between remaining in the family and look after her children by getting married to a member of her late husband family through the institution of levirate marriage or marry an outsider and park out of the late husband’s house. It counts for nothing if the property in question was jointly built by them.
It is doubtful if any age group has for a while now considered it beneficial to subscribe and uphold the sanctity of not seeing their member in death. This is because of the enormous demands it places on members and the likelihood of an eventuality that may negate and vitiate the proclivity with its observance. Again, one can never be that careful as to be able to totally avoid contact with some shared souvenirs during such funeral.
The second oath of not marrying one another’s ex-wife may have been conceived with the best of intention to guild against the unending war usually ignited by the senseless contention over the opposite sex, especially among peers. It is a common creed that when men fight over physical objects, friends could wade in to straighten things out. When they fall apart over business deals, other members may find the best possible way to raise amity between the sworn enemies. The elders can easily intervene where landed property is the bone of contention between family members. However, it is a different ball game altogether when a woman is the bone of contention. A whole village can be set on fire. I believe it is in the light of the above that age mates are counseled against marrying one another’s former wife. Much more so, when any member’s wife is seen and treated as the spouse of every member of the age grade.
The frenzy with which this doctrine is enforced among members can be very fascinating. After the death of our surrogate father, Eramha Musa Okauso from Fugar, late bros Adomhi Okhakumhe wanted to fill the void and customarily, my age mates decided to subject him to some moral scrutiny. It was unearthed that he had been having open affairs with the ex-wife of Aleokhai Omoakhai, one of our age mates. Though he had all the odds in his favor, his request was quietly turned down. The intention to marry our former wife was not only considered unacceptable and disrespectful, it was also seen as too despicable and sacrilegious to be condoned.
On paper, both oaths seem plausible and enforceable but then, it remains to be seen if both concepts can withstand the ever disdainful and ferocious hurricane wind of civilization and modernity. One wonders if anyone has the legal right to legislate on who marries his ex-wife. Once the bride price in the case of a fruitless marriage is returned because the marriage was observed to be irretrievably broken and with divorce seen as the only viable option, one wonders the basis upon which such oath is taken and enforced.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 39)
The last lap of the initiation ceremony is the entertaining but exclusive part known as IGAH. It is one moment everyone looks forward to with great deal of expectation and with no fear of iota of disappointment. What with the indolence, layabout and the expressible new-found freedom that characterize the ceremony. It is an open-air cycle shaped tent made with wrappers. Every member goes to Ore’Okhiyie tree with wrapper before dawn to set up the wide-open tent and once set up, no outsider is permitted to interfere with proceedings inside the IGAH. It is also a moment of exchange of social intercourse among initiates and their counterparts from Fugar and Iraokhor. Initiates are free to visit their contemporaries in any part of Avhianwu and they are appreciated and accorded the necessary reciprocal honor and respect. As a matter of fact, it is a seamless ceremony in the four villages of Avhianwu. Initiates wake up in the morning with nothing worthwhile on the agenda other than to take his bath, dress up, eats his food and goes straight to IGAH. He uses the money with which he had been sprayed the previous occasions to buy battery for a tape record that has become an integral part of him. He gets to IGAH where nothing much happens safe for singing and dancing.
It is nine days of recluse from the prying eyes of parents or guardians who have no say or control over what goes on in the place. On paper, the IGAH part of the ceremony seems violent free but with all the trappings of an ideal place for moral rectitude. Even some Christian Union members who would not have been comfortable with others aspects of the initiation ceremony and which they had probably dismissed as pagan worship, find this aspect of the initiation endearing with no fetish appeal whatsoever. This perhaps, accounted for why people like Dr. Simeon Odior who were non-committal to the initiation ceremony, nonetheless graced the IGAH section of our initiation.
Sincerely speaking, I find it difficult to explain the essence of the IGAH part of the ceremony. One wakes up in the morning, takes his chair to the tent where they are arranged in cycle shape to create room for every member and with different people chosen to provide food and drinks for the following day. On any days, initiates could climb orange tree or coconut tree to pluck some fruits unchallenged. On market day too, they visit the market and whatever they ask for is usually given to them free of charge. I must concede here that during my time, things weren’t as easy as they used to be. This can best be explained by one memorable event. We had gone to the market to scout for things, when late Eramha Thomas Okhotor’s wife resisted our appeal for some provisions and before you knew it, an unpleasant scene ensued and a sizable number of her goods were forcefully taken away. The woman could not bear it and she immediately sent for husband. Unfortunately for him and on arrival at our base, he never sent words that he was around neither did he express any desire to have audience with our chairman, rather, he burst into the IGAH unannounced and demanded to know who took things away from his wife’s shop. His action was considered too disdainful to be condoned and he consequently got the beating of his life. He took the case to the palace and of course, our immunity spoke for us and without much ado, the case was dismissed.
Apart from fanning the embers of pleasure seeking and entertainment hungry, I scarcely see the need for the IGAH section of the ceremony. It surely provides a breeding ground for teenagers to mix freely with the opposite sex, learn new tricks and possibly set the stage for intimate relationship whose end is doomed from the outset. Perhaps, in the olden days, IGAH found relevance in such primordial sentiments and thought pattern and certainly not in modern times where school environment provides a better avenue for such interactions under the watchful eyes of teachers. Until school closes these days, nothing really happens in IGAH as the place looks deserted with only few artisans or school drop outs on ground to hold the forte.
One thing that cannot be taking away from IGAH and whose substance can still be achieved in any other parts of the ceremony is the institution of the order of seniority on the last day, which formally marks the end of a tortuous four months journey. Apart from the Chairman, Uloh Nokhua, Utsatso Nokhua and their subordinates, other members are ranked in order of seniority on which basis issues are raised and resolved among members till eternity. On this very last day too, the chairman is the king. His word is law and people do everything humanly possible to scurry his favor. He has the unfettered power to elevate one to any position of his choice and his verdict is never challenged or subjected to further negotiations. Parents do sometimes intervene through the chairman’s parents to cut a good deal for their children. On the whole, there is a lot of negotiation and horse-trading culminating in the last day of order of seniority episode.
Also on this last day too, all the money, booties, fines and compulsory but monetized meal collections from each member is shared. Funny enough, here is not much to go around. Worst still, there is no demand for accountability. It is possible that the desire to be chosen before any other member may have compromised any move in this direction. Perhaps, nobody really wants to rock the boat for the chairman and his executive members, at least on this great day of patronage.
One is always tempted to ask what really constitutes URUAMI in Avhianwu? Which parts are more germane and worthy of preservation? Can there be any form of sifting to possibly discard and dispense with those aspects considered not too consequential? Can the undeniable principle of cultural dynamism be brought to bear on this treasured traditional practice of ours to prevent it from being perpetually enmeshed in the mud of yesterday?
I personally believe it is high time we packaged our cultural heritage and market them to the outside world for economic value.
Some people have opined that what actually constitute the intrinsic parts or what forms the cross of URUAMHI can be isolated from three separate but integrated parts of the custom.
The stump episode at the market square where oath of allegiance and faithfulness to one another is taken, to most people, forms the cross of the age grade ceremony. Personally, I feel this line of argument is lazy. The exclusion of women from this secretive part of the ceremony does a great deal of disservice to proponents of this school of thought. Except women are not part of the entire process and as far as they remain stranger to this episode, it misses this objective test and as such cannot be considered central to the initiation ceremony but in all honesty, can this episode be excluded completely from the entire process? How marketable is this part of the culture that is so shrouded in mystery?
AKHUI UKHUMHI section of this ceremony, to me, is too morbid and depicts picture of a people on the war front, especially with the charcoal darkened faces. The sprint part of the process is alluring and can be repackaged to attract tourists. I make bold to say that this sprint part of the ceremony with all the features of cash cow potentiality could be the icy on the cake, if properly branded.
I am of the considered opinion that the similarities among the fashion display part of AMEMA, the stand still movement of MHAKOLO and the cultural displays of ARIVIA GHOGHOR can be explored to create a symmetric garden of economic value launch pad for our culture. I strongly believe they all possess the much-needed unique selling points needed to put Ogbona, nay Avhianwu on the world map as centers of tourism.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 40)
A roller coaster ride from the continuum of fascinations to the spectrum of challenges aptly describes one’s formative years in Ogbona. It is one moment that evokes deep memories of daring adventures, turn fooleries and the mastery, very early, the complexity of the entity called life. Regardless of the incongruity of some of those adventures and challenges, they permanently ingrained themselves in us as part of our biological make up. Like the snail and its proverbial shell, it is has etched into the realm of exercise in futility to strive at clinical severance between us and the learnt values from such seemingly and meaningless endeavors. As coalesced impetus, they grandiosely helped to shape our trade mark stoic approach to the vicissitudes of life with that infectious hope of a saint.
I find it too herculean a task but explicably irreconcilable to establish a positive relationship between today’s concept of child labor and the ruggedness of our upbringing. Very early in life and without any formal education, one was taught to adapt and develop a very thick skin to the toughness of life through the mechanism of farming and the attendant drudgery. Studentship played no part in it. Most times, one would go to farm after school hours to fetch firewood and helped out in one way or the other. Too bad if Saturday was EVHIA or EOMHI. No parent had any moral obligation to teach his children the rudiment of farming in a formalized structure. It was an art that one was born into and which he must learn by practice and of course, with relish. There was really no age bracket. As one observed proceeding in the farm works, he made cautious effort to be part of them and before you knew it, he became useful in the planting of corn, rice and other minor activities where he would eventually graduate into digging and clearing. It was a thing of honor and joy for us to boast of the number of heaps and ridges we helped to dig in the farm. It was a life of adventure and cherished exposure to the satisfying taste of handwork. The need to be seen as contributing one’s quota to the upkeep of the family, the personal quest for conquest and achievement, the desire to break new grounds and achieve the inconceivable at that early stage in life, the showers of encomiums and overt expression of appreciations ,the crass disdain for the indolent ones among us and the challenges faced in the quest to achieve something worthwhile were enough motivations for us to up our game.
This early exposure to life’s unwillingness to kowtow, more like a Father Christmas to dance attendance to the insatiable demand of mankind, has been the propelling force to the enviable heights Ogbona sons and daughters have attained today. One learnt very early in life that life could be very unfair and stubbornly unyielding and as such, would never give in to his demand without a struggle. It brought to our knowledge at that early stage that manna has since ceased to fall from heaven and that for one to survive, he must devise an existential means within the confines of decency and nobility.
The power of that unseen hand of fate that confers respect and honor on the industry and despises the indolence was made glare to us at that developmental stage in our life. Safe for the primary schools and maternity, government and infrastructures which were a distance world far removed from our own, we never waited for the government to provide us with pipe bore water before we drank clean water. We had to wake up very early and beat the odds in the morning to source for water or better still, did it the previous evening. The urge to be self-reliant is an integral part in every Ogbonan. It is part of our DNA that yearns for physical expression in terms of barrier breaking and trail blazing. It helps one to be on guard and to be better prepared for any eventuality.
This is not to paint the picture of the ignominy of being subjected to child labor as we were growing up. It was our earnest desire to be part of farming activities. Indeed, and thankfully so, we got what we wanted very early in our formative years. Nonetheless, I remember that time when we were “pampered” in the farm, our duty was restricted to just blowing fire to ensure the food being cooked got done quickly. I remember the crickets that were always dug out for us to roast in the fire. ETSEMHI as a specie and by sex, are very different in appearance and taste. The male, ATOBA is a bit awkward with rough feathers and with little or no fat, thus impinging on the taste. The female, OZIGHI has greasing dark back feathers and a beautifully tattooed neck with a lot of fat that makes it more delicious. The taste of OZIGHI is appreciated more when roasted. It is easier to differentiate between the two when roasted than when fried. I enjoyed the alluring sight and the salivation whenever they were staked on a long stick and being readied to be roasted.
Surprisingly, there were instances when ETSEMHI were not only a farm affair. Sometimes, at the beginning of raining seasons, ETSEMHI like termites, IDOO, would find their ways to homes. From all indications, they were attracted by light. Unfortunately, they always looked very Immature with yet to be fully formed features, thus robbing us of the usual excitement at the sight of an OTEMHI.
Honestly speaking, though ETSEMHI and IDOO were both delicious, I give it to IDOO if I were to make a choice between both of them. The taste of termite, on a personal note and preference, dwarfs that of cricket and even honey to the bargain. We sort of have preferred termites to cricket not really because of the taste, it could be eaten raw. Termite has no blood like cricket in its body but while cricket must be either roasted or fried, termites could be eaten by just pulling off the light and spotlessly white feathers. The luxury of oil or setting fire before cricket was made ready to be eaten was not needed. At best, we just fried it with salt. The first casualties were the feathers which are easily consumed by any heated utensil. Termites are nocturnal in nature and are easily attracted by light. Their season was always short lived but we savored every moment of it. We never set out to hunt for termites but we did with ETSEMHI. In fact, we used to plead with our parents to hunt them for us. The first thing we asked our parents upon their return from farm if we were not taken along with them was OTEMHI. Sometime our luck shone and got something bigger like OPE.
Though ETSEMHI were preferred by us, OPE, rabbit was the king. For one, OPE was bigger and commanded more respect, for another, it could be butchered after being roasted. We liked the sight of the intestines, heart, kidney and the likes. The male rabbit, AKPEI is very small but reputed to have begotten elephant. AKPEI LO VHI’NNIH. Only God knows how that came to be. Nonetheless, it was a didactic statement often used by parents to drive home the point that no matter how huge and successful a child had grown to become, compare to his parents, he must not forget to always maintain his position as a child before them. AKPEI never grows big in stature. It is blessed with captivating sky-blue hair over its body and tiny ears lobes that are always in enmity with fire. The female rabbit is bigger but not as common as the male.
Later in life, as we transited to the teenage stage, we started hunting for crickets and rabbits on our own. With an ordinary hole or cutlass, cricket could easily be exposed from its shallow burrow. That of rabbit was a bit tasking but hunting for EVHIOR took a lot of guts and stamina from us but thank God for our tough upbringing.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 41)
EVHIOR was the least treasured of all games among adults. No hunter came home happily with EVHIOR as the end result of his effort. He would bury his head in shame. Perhaps, it had to do with the notorious reputation she had earned for herself. EVHIOR scavenges on groundnut. It is immaterial if they are planted or harvested crops kept to dry. Evhior could render all the year’s efforts useless. She is a greedy and ruthless animal with the penchant for working ahead at the detriment of farmers. Her obsessed with storing up food for the year during the raining season has not helped matters. She is a dirty and ugly animal with long incisors. It feeds on feaces too as It was not uncommon to see them around pit toilets. It was considered ominous to see EVHIOR in the day time. In fact, it was a rarity. Hence the popular saying AMIE’VHIOR ELOTA. Evhior is seen in the day time. If it was ever seen in the day time, it was a clear sign that all was not well. It was also seen as an agent of darkness that could easily be manipulated by unseen forces to achieve some satanic ends.
OLE OTOR, squirrel seemed to be more ranked than EVHIOR. Not really because EVHIOR was a common sight as that was far from being, probably because it belongs to the class of OPE. In fact, EVHIOR is giant rabbit. safe for her size, she has all the trappings of OPE in color and other features. Squirrel was seen in the family of EVUA, grass utter and as such, she was highly reverenced among adults. Though smaller than EVHIOR, her taste makes all the difference. The aroma of a roasted OLE is far reaching and salivating. This OLE OTOR taste is better appreciated when cooked with groundnut soup. Much more so when the meat is a fairly decomposed type. Fortunately, OLE OTOR can survive snare for three days, unlike EVHIOR that decomposes within two days. It was the height of denigration to use the appellation of EVHIOR as a coinage to malign someone.
Adults may have had their disdain for EVHIOR, but to us teenagers, EVHIOR was the ultimate. Coming back from the bush with our fists clutching her tail was more than satisfying. It conferred dignity and industry on us. It gave us a sense of fulfillment and self-worth.
Honestly, such fragrant display of accomplishment must have also stemmed from the amount of time, effort and risk we invested in the business. Hunting for EVHIOR involves a lot of strategies and ingenuity and with a deep sense of intuition too.
The first step is to have your crew members. Of course, you must start as a weeping boy under the tutelage of the more elderly ones. Every crew had its own leader. The importance of the crew leader could not be over emphasized. He must not only be matured; he must be ready to take responsibility for any eventuality. He must take charge of all proceedings. His sense of judgment must be respected by all. His sense of intuition must be expertly put to use in differentiating between habitable and non-habitable burrows. Nothing was as disappointing as digging all day only to discover there was no evhior in there. The leader must be able to exercise control over all members and assert his authority with the brunt force of the jungle. Above all, the leader must have earned the respect of our parents with the assurance that nothing untoward would happen to us.
We never sent out to hunt for OLE OTOR and I doubt if we ever caught anyone by chance. Truth be told, her speed and the ability to sense danger from afar were too tricky for us. In fact, she is more clever, cunning and more refined than EVHIOR in all ramifications. Though it stays in the burrow too, it is found more in the open bush and had no vision problem in the day time. There is one mystery that was always associated with OLE OTOR, namely, she is an ardent prayer warrior. Some snappy events seemed to give credence to this belief. Sometime, one would sight it seated with her upper hinds raised as one giving adoration to God. Even when we reported such unusual scenarios, we were quickly told that she was begging God for her daily bread. Frankly, speaking, I strongly believe God did hear her prayers. She never fell prey to all our antics She had her way of detecting snares, especially UKPAKHWUI. She would raise her hinds and jump over it with ease.
Ole OTOR wasn’t more considerate than EVHIOR in wreaking havoc on crops. Maybe she was just lucky not to be as hated as EVHIOR. She survives on groundnuts and Mellon too.
There is another brand of squirrel called OTA. It is found on top of trees especially palm trees. She likes palm fruits. Catching ota required special skills of snaring that could only be deployed by a professional trapper, even at that, she would by-pass any wire trap however cleverly devised.
Again, because of her size, no hunter really wasted his bullet on her. May be her prayer were also working in her favor.
With our crew ready, it was time to decide where to go hunting. Most time, we never went too far from home. Ighease and omoghi routes were our common destinations. As little boys, we did our apprenticeship under Sunday Amalu and Sunday Okozi, aka driver no corner. I had thought Sunday Okozi would be the leader but somehow Sunday Amalu was our leader. After a while, we formed our crew with Imhonikhe Odior as our leader. Though our contemporary, we all feared and respected him. He never spared anyone that crossed his path unceremoniously. He had a good sense of judgement. He could tell if a burrow was empty or occupied. He could also tell if a snake had predated on the EVHIOR and became the new occupant. Above all, Imhonikhe could detect the emergency/exit route AHOMHI of EVHIOR.
We mainly hunted on market day and we never went with food or water. We depended solely on what the jungle had to offer for survival. In her normal characteristics’ manner, nature had a way of making up for our lack of proper preparation. There were always fruits like mangoes, cashews and the likes to keep us going. Sometimes digging was not stressful and as such, we never had to exert much of our energy. I have my doubt if we ever abandoned EVHIOR in the burrow ostensibly because we were hungry or because we were famished.
With our destination determined and leaders in place, we had to get the tools for the business and they were very simple. Namely, cutlasses, holes and diggers.
Though, our preparations were not well thought out, we had to do everything humanly possible to ensure we never came back home defeated. Yes, very early in life, nature thrusted the lesson of the mystic power of tenacity on us.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 42)
With OPIA, EGUEH and sometimes, DIGGER ready, we were set for AGBUEI’VHIOR, hunting for giant rats. Even without any formal agreement, the expenditure is well guided by certain rules that have been in force from time immemorial. Their sanctity is not subject to negotiations or further discussions as they are well known to everybody. Nobody however powerful dares to discountenance their application however harsh they may be. The rules centre on how the game is shared at the end of every endeavor. The size of the EVHIOR is of no consequence and the number of the people involved is as insignificant as the P in psychology. The person that discovered the burrow from which EVHIOR is caught, is the proud owner of the waist, AKUU and the head, USOO. The rest would have to make do with the chest and the neck. Naturally, one was happy wherever the rules worked in his favor while he watched his colleagues share the remnant with long faces. The strict application of this rule sometimes threw up another issue altogether that needed the intervention of a third party, namely, the demarcating point between the head and the neck on one hand and the dividing line between the waist and the starting point of the upper part of the body. If the rules worked in your favor, you would argue that the neck forms part of the head and that the waist extends to the lower part of the thorax.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can’t help but agree that the rules were rather too unfair and grossly unconscionable. Much more so when viewed against the backdrop of instances where about four people go out gaming, one might be forced to ask: what would be left of EVHIOR to be divided among three others with the head and waist gone?
What if the laziest of the crew members discovered the burrow and played little or no part in the digging? Would the mere sighting of the burrow suffice for others’ efforts?
I doubt if these rules are still in operation and it is also doubtful if teenagers still go gaming for EVHIOR. Otherwise, the rule should be overhauled in their entirety to reflect the spirit of equity and Justice. If for nothing else, the demands and the inherent danger in AGBUEI’VHIOR should be given utmost consideration in enshrining an equitable sharing formula for everyone concerned.
Though we never had any emergency case on our hands, cases abound on how boys got bitten by snakes or stung by scorpions in similar endeavors. In short, everything about hunting for EVHIOR is risky and dangerous. This probably accounts for the analytical and geophysical work that precede digging. Once the burrow is discovered, it has to be analyzed for possible habitation, of course, for the effort to be worthwhile. One way to unearth, though not watertight, if a burrow is occupied, is the presence or absence of cobwebs. To the uninitiated, the presence of cobwebs is a clear indication that the place is empty but to the professional hunter, the reverse may be the case. EVHIOR is very cunning. Sometimes, it stores up enough food to last her for weeks and as such, won’t bother to come out for a while. This practice is very common with a nursing EVHIOR. The short period between her antenatal and postnatal stages, provides enough time for cobwebs to go unfettered and take total control of the main entrance to her place of abode. On the other hand, the absence of cobwebs is not an overt invitation to unleash all the energy in the world to hunt for giant rabbit. Far from being, one may labour in vain or get hurt if proper analysis is not done. The main entrance will be analyzed for toenails prints of EVHIOR. Not only must this be easily discernible, the question of the freshness of the foot prints must be topical too. A long-drawn line close to the entrance is indicative of the presence of an occupant other than EVHIOR, probably, reptile. Two reptiles, namely Alligator, AIKPIA or Snake, EYIEH, are the common strangers that prey on EVHIOR.I have no idea if AIKPIA is carnivorous by nature but the fact remains that it can never share a burrow with EVHIOR. One must make way for the other and without being told, EVHIOR is the weeping boy here. On the other hand, snake swallows up anything it finds in a burrow without blinking an eyelid.
This brings us to one of the cardinal principles required to successfully hunt for EVHIOR. One defensive mechanism EVHIOR puts to use to safeguard her territory against predators is the mounting of protective barricades very close her APEH. Until one gets to this barricade, he is not allowed to deep his hand into the burrow. A snake jotted by the vibrating effects of digging, could be lurking somewhere close, waiting to pounce on any prey. Most victims who have had the misfortune of being bitten and consequently died on the way before getting home, failed to observe this basic principle. It is generally believed until one dismantles the barricade, made of stones, kennels and strong earth mud, he is at the risk of playing into the waiting fangs of a snake. Snakes are not endowed with sharp claws as rodents to aid them in the digging of burrows and as such, they look for already dug ones, displace its occupants and take complete charge of affairs.
One other function barricade perform for EVHIOR is that it can be used as a decoy to mislead hunter. Sometimes, you lose track and come to a dead end and will be forced to clear all the dugout sand and gently tap or knock each side of the hole for a clue. Sometimes, a mild vibration could be the lead to a new direction.
Again, until one gets to the barricade, he cannot successfully smoke EVHIOR out of the hole. Even if the improvised security post is identified and dismantled, it could still be exercise in futility to smoke EVHIOR out of the hole without locating the emergency exit route, AVHOMHI, always cleverly put in place in case of any eventuality. If you undermined AVOMHI, you won’t believe the force with which EVHIOR would escape through it before your very eyes thus rendering all your efforts in vain. Needless to say, searching for this escape route is sine que non for any successful expenditure. In all honesty, locating the AVHOMHI is not a child play. It requires the combination of a deep sense of intuition and a bit of geological survey. It is beneath the earth surface and demands some mild surface digging or the use of the foothills to porch the ground. Once it is discovered, you block it with long sticks or cover it with a jute bag to trap any EVHIOR running from the lethal effects of smoke.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 43)
My recollection of the structure of Ogbona economy as a growing child is daunting and possibly hazy but the prime position of farming as the backbone of the economy remains as fresh as ever. If I am not mistaking, agriculture accounted for about 90% of the local GDP. Everything revolved round farm produce. They formed the basis upon which one’s industry was ascertained and evaluated. Agricultural produce was both status symbol and means of store of value. The size of a man’s ban, the number of harvested bags of groundnut, the height of the heap of raw rice and the size of the unrooted 2 years plus old cassava, IGBI KPEA farm, were a snap shot summary of one’s industry and by extension, wealth. It was not a misnomer to see everything humanly done to grow cassava, groundnut and yam in commercial quantity. There was a ready market for all the produce. It remains to be controverted if rice was not specifically grown for commercial purpose only. Ishan people were our regular customers.
The vagaries of commodities prices weighed heavily on the economic power of almost everybody. Nowhere else was it more palpable than the purview of garri. The price of garri determined almost what went on in most homes, unfortunately, the price was as unstable as water. With the benefit of hindsight, I cannot but conclude there were conspiratorial tendencies among the “foreign merchants” to manipulate prices to their advantage, of course, at the detriment of the farmers. I have faint memory of many Ogbona people being involved in the garri business. Most of the traders came from outside the community. There was this refrain of IGHARI EIDEI, price of garri has crashed, ostensibly, a ploy put to good use to price down the price of the commodity and short change our people. They all seemed to have Kano as their final destination where they sold the commodity to retailers. Unfortunately, our people had no means of finding out the prevailing price of the commodity over there.
Although, cassava farming was considered the exclusive preserve of the female folk, its cultivation knew no sex or age. No other crop apart from rice was planted without cassava as ancillary crop. Needless to say, cassava had its pride of place even in yam farm, a masculine trade of no mean reverence.
The price of groundnut was relatively stable and thus predictable, probably because of our proximity to Jattu and the cosmopolitan nature of their market. As a matter of fact, no serious farmer sold a big chunk of groundnut produce in the local market like garri. Jattu market was the usual and final destination. Surprisingly, both garri and groundnuts farming were considered feminine trades, yet, it was easy for the big buyers to predetermine the price they would buy garri on market days in Ogbona. From all indications, it was very difficult to manipulate prices at Jattu market.
The evolvement of cassava and its derivatives as commercial hotcake before my very eyes has never seized to amaze me. Cassava tubers were initially uprooted, processed into garri and sometimes, into tapioca, EFOR. The leaves were neither popular nor treasured vegetables. There was nothing like AKPU or FUFU. Everything changed with the dawn of cassava tubers as commodity of commercial value. Nobody in his wildest imagination could have envisaged a ready market for cassava tubers. As if that was not enough, strangers started trooping into Ogbona to buy cassava stems. It became common to see people carry bunch of cassava stems to the market for sale. From there onward, everything about cassava attained utility value. The shaft, IKHALIA could be grounded and used to make eba. The peals became nutritional ration for swine. The fermented water became starch and still the traditional and staple food of Niger Delta people.
One cassava derivative I remember with nostalgia, traditional swallows of Avhianwu people, is UKPEKOO. If only I can get an English word for it. It was mostly eaten during off yam season. It is very smooth, more or less like pounded yam. It has the same processing mechanism like EKOR. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it was never meant to be commercially viable as it was made solely for household consumption. It was my grandmother that prepared it once or twice for us, as far as my memory can serve me.
The economic importance of groundnut transcended the superficial realm of just selling it at Jattu market. The season of groundnut farming provided us ample opportunity to make brisk money through daily paid labour, IGWA DE. As teenagers, we could be fed and be occasionally clothed by our parents but we would be stretching our luck too much to ask them to buy us slippers, body cream. ARARA and OTSA, Soap. There was no easy or cheap money. One had to work his palm out to earn money. Though it was very common to hear IKPEGHOR EYIO, the story was different when it was groundnut farming season. All the women would look for money anywhere in the world to pay us. My regular hirer was Uwomha Asabi Imhana Odior. She really liked the neatness of my work, so much so that I could go all alone to work for her unsupervised and she paid me handsomely. The price was #5, yes, five Naira was the consideration for a whole day’s job.
Digging of groundnut ridges, IGBAGI had some air of technicalities that needed to be mastered before one could do a perfect job. The positioning of the legs and the handling of the holes, especially when covering both sides at the same time, are different from when one is opening, ATSE, to when one is closing, AVUE proceedings.
The worst offense when could commit while digging ridges was to position the central part of the ridge on a stump. If the hands of the woman were spared during planting, she may not be that lucky during harvest, too bad if she remembered the particular person that acted so unprofessionally.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 44)
Regardless the daunting and rudimentary structure of Ogbona economy, it was still resilient and vibrant, mainly because of the guiding principles of synergy, utmost good faith and the spirit of IYOKPA that bounded everyone together. It was no wonder that in spite of all the challenges, families were still able to eke out a living with all the trappings of grandeur and decency. I must confess here that the economy defiled categorization if the postulations of world economic regulators are anything to go by. This perhaps accounts for my reservations about the institutional definition of poverty as a situation where people live below a certain amount of money, quantified in foreign currency, totally alien and less reflective of their quality of life. It is a state of trans culturalization, if there is a word like that. I see it as the use of a distant life style as the basis against which the value system of a completely different people is evaluated. Much as I feign no ignorance of the uniformity of opinion and the imperativeness of a certain degree of convenience and comfort in life, especially in the areas of education, good health care services and self-actualization over and above the pleasantry life of the country side, I am yet to be convinced that the level of satisfaction derivable from drinking palm wine, EZWHIH with grasscutter, IVUAH can be dwarfed by the connoisseurship of red wine washed down with chicken or barbecue. Again, it remains to be contested, if in terms of relaxation, IVHIO KHOR game is less fun fulfilling than playing video games as children. I stand to be corrected that water preserved in earth pot, IKHEI USAMEH is no less pure or hygienic than the refrigerated one.
Poverty, to the best of my knowledge was prevalent in the Ogbona but different from the one seen exclusively from the prism of predetermined and jaundiced concepts. I remember discussing Forex trading with an American, he did not hide his surprise that Africans can trade Forex. I am sure his uncouth reactions stemmed from the biased statistics he is expose to, as churned out daily by The World Bank and IMF about the level of poverty in Africa.
I strongly believe trying to see poverty purely from the standardized focal lens of living below a couple of dollars per day is fallacious as people lived qualitatively with or without money in the Ogbona where I grew up.
The Ogbona woman’s industry is second to none. The husband owned her the duty of delineating a portion of the yam farm for her, AKHUI OTOR NA, if she had a mate, otherwise, she was in charge of the entire farm. The man may out of magnanimity, aid her in digging ground nut ridges and the likes. How she ran the kitchen affairs were dependent on the produce from her farm. This is not to say the man was not occasionally supportive but it was not a normal routine as it is the practice now. The woman may not buy oil from the market as she could mill AVHI NO PIEE on her own. She didn’t need to buy egusi, EWOOR, as she could have them stored from her last harvest. Garri was always in abundance. Pepper, tomatoes and vegetables were readily grown as ancillary crops. If she had no Garri, she could borrow, MOMHI, with a small steel basin called ADU KPO GHOR from her neighbor which was returned without interest as soon as she rooted her cassava. Of course, yam was never bought but rather sold and it was the duty of the man to give her due tubers, WOLEH NA. If the man was a trapper or hunter, she could get almost all she needed for her kitchen constituency projects without pecuniary transaction.
As stated before, though it was possible to live happily in the Ogbona without obsessive crave for money, there were instances where money was nonetheless indispensable, especially in the area of quality health care. I saw before my very eyes how a young boy lost his first child to the cold hand of death. As far as I am concerned, it was a preventable death. On enquiry, the father told me the child was having chest pains’ OWU’ADA and probably convulsion too. Undoubtedly, and more out of financial difficulties, he sponsored the position before me that the sickness abhorred hospital care and that it could only be handled with local herbs. Though I was an undergraduate with no means of giving financial assistance, I felt very bad and from my countenance, he knew I did not buy into his dummy but what could I have done anyway?
Before then and just before I left the village, I had the misfortune of being among the first people to arrive at the scene of woman who died at the point of deliverance. It was a pathetic sightseeing a lifeless woman with a baby in her womb. Perhaps, the baby was still alive and kicking.
It was just before dawn when we heard the agonizing wailing of a woman. There is this distinctive feature about our people, namely, identification of sounds and emotions with meanings. The English language may not be lacking in tonality and the use of exclamation marks to heighten the poignancy of emotions but that of Ogbona people is different. From the sound of a woman’s voice even without being privy to the substance of the issue at stake, it is possible to match lamentable sounds with the sudden occurrence of unfortunate events like death, snake bite, scorpion sting and the resultant wailing from the occasional exercise of man’s authority over his wife with thumbing (a little bashing).This woman’s voice carried with it that agony of distress that needed urgent attention, my cousin, Jude and I were the first to arrive at the scene and It was horrible .The woman was already dead with only her waist covered with a wrapper. A bowl of water and razor blade were put beside her. I was at loss until the woman told us she was to deliver her daughter of a child when she died on the process.
It was customary for woman to deliver in native maternity homes. There were elderly women who were gifted in the trade and younger women who trusted their expertise went there with all the confidence in the world to be delivered of children. Gen Bolivia’s mother was one of them. Unfortunately, we were never allowed into the improvised “labour rooms”. Little girls, our mates were given free access to witness such episodes and we never knew why we were discriminated against and we didn’t ask.
On that faithful morning and even without being a medical doctor, it was clear the woman was not healthy enough to go through the rigors of normal child birth. It was also obvious there was no antenatal care as she looked drained with pale palms. I was sure her temperature and blood pressure were at abnormal levels and I was more than convinced too if she had gone to the hospital or if a medical expert had arrived at the scene like us, the baby would have been brought out alive, unfortunately, it took a while before the baby was brought out lifeless in a very crude manner. As we were made to understand, it had to be severe from the mother’s body and be buried separately.
The effects of these two unfortunate events on my person are beyond description. They keep flashing through my being every now and then. I never ceased to wonder the number of avoidable deaths that occurred, the number of souls that did not live to fulfill their destinies owing to no fault of theirs but due to lack of good health care services on one hand and poverty on the other.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 45)
The acute health challenges in Ogbona were a function of years of neglect worsened by limited health care facilities available. As a matter of fact, prior to 29th July,1983, when the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (Comprehensive Health Centre) now Chief MCK Health Centre opened for business, the maternity home opposite the Catholic Church was the only health care centre in the village. There were few bed spaces for pregnant women much as the facilities were outdated. In fact, the facility was brought to Ogbona when we were still under the old western region. It was a slight spacious compound dotted with three or four bungalows. One of the structures served as administrative block, another housed the dispenser and his family with the remaining one serving as the main ward. By the early 80s, it was obvious the place could not meet the health needs of the community.
This must have been partly responsible for the influx of pregnant mother to native maternity homes. The only “Private Hospital” was owned and operated by Eramha Gini which was more of gynecology and obstetrics centre than a complete health care delivery centre. Most critical cases were referred to him from native maternity homes which he handled with considerable success. I’m not aware of Eramha Gini’s formal training in the medical field. Nonetheless, he was widely respected as he seemed to know his onion. His death in the early 80s created a big vacuum. How well his son, bros Russell has filled that vacuum is another thing altogether.
The man who manned the maternity home was well known in the community as dispenser. Mr. Osigbemhe was from Fugar where he relocated with his family upon his retirement. One of his daughters, Mrs. Augustina Ayalomhe, nee Osigbemhe was my class mate in secondary school. His first son, Premier was more or less an Ogbona boy and was in charge of their chemist in front of the Egwakhe family house.
The dearth of efficient and effective health care system in Ogbona provided the breeding ground for quackery to fester. A lot of dilettante pharmacists/doctors were always in Ogbona on market days to ply their trade and had drugs for every sickness. They carried with them some bogus bags and portfolio the contents of which were obviously drugs. Nobody cared about the genuineness of the drugs or the expiry dates. In all honesty, I doubt of the local people attached any importance to the germane issue of expiry date on drugs. The so-called medical personnel or drug hawkers looked decently dressed, of course with the civility of medical professionals. They exuded some air of confidence with professional expertise that endeared them to the people. I never saw them with stethoscope but they could detect blood pressure and temperature levels in a jiffy. They could tell from the temperature reading if one had malaria or any other common sickness and never wasted time before commencing treatment immediately. The most popular of them was OMHOR KPEKU because of his summarized stature. They also administered injections on people too.
Dispenser and Eramha Gini have had their work well cut out for them. In fact, they were more or less restricted to maternity related issues while people with other health challenges sort alternative means of resolving their problems. Herbal treatment was one of the options commonly explored.
There were renown native herbal doctors who handled complexes cases with good results. Minor cases like snake bites were easily taken care of. The easiest one was scorpion sting. Though scorpion venom was very unsettling with pangs of excruciating pains, its treatment was never accorded its deserved respect. It was taken for granted that even without formal treatment, the venom would be neutralized in the body, which was actually the case. I have no knowledge of anyone dying of scorpion sting but that of snake was different. The concoction used to neutralize AKPI venom looked like milled banga shafts. A little quantity was placed on the victim’s palm to lick with his tongue. Some were rubbed on the stung spot after incisions. Throughout my time in the village, I never saw anyone bitten by snake. I only heard stories of one or two persons who were victims of snakebites that resulted in instant death right in the bush where the unfortunate incidence occurred. Nonetheless, we were dead scared of snake bites and utmost caution was exercised whenever we were hunting in the bush.
Another treatment which was also minor was the pressing of sores. EMAI was very common in the village. Most times and more out of ignorance than the quest to hide minor injuries from the prying eyes of our parents, we allowed them to snowball into big sores that had to be pressed with hot water every morning and evening. It was a daily routine that was very inconveniencing and we contrived every conceivable trick to evade the evening sessions. There was a particular month named after sores, UKIH EMAI because of the generality of EMAI in the village. One constantly battled with flies which perched and subsisted on sores. We tried to crush them from both sides with our palms, an act that gave clapping sounds. The resultant pains from IKHEA’s menacing deep cut on open sore could be very unbearable. Boy, it was really inconveniencing battling flies with our palms.
EMEA were of two types. There was the ordinary one which could be treated easily with white capsule and there was UTE’MAI that had bacterial or ICHIH grown over it. Roots were cut into hot water and allowed to dissolve before being used to treat UTE’MAI.
I remember a particular day in primary school when our teacher could no longer stand the putrefying stench from our open sores and hurriedly gave us note to the maternity home where we were treated free. That particular event shook my faith in herbal treatment. On that day, the dispenser only used tinning scissors with pointed but curved tip to cut cotton wool which he dipped into a stainless-steel plate of foaming spirit to clean the surface of the EMAI and applied hydrogen peroxide on the cotton wool he used to dress it. From that day till the cotton wool peeled off, I never had to worry about the morning and evening sessions of treatment.
On the whole, there were serious cases like EBA NEKHUA, high fever, Migraine USO TSO, Stroke, OGB’OBO KPA GO’WEH OKPA or UGWAMHI NOKHUA.
Migraine was treated with pounded green leaves rubbed on the forehead. If It was very serious and defiled medications, the forehead would be cut and another type would be rubbed on it and the patient carried for a while. Healing was associated with the peeling off of the dark green caked leaves.
No one claimed monopoly of herbal medicine knowledge for all sicknesses. Though, there was specialization, some pressing cases necessitated the involvement of people from Iraokhor. Some demanded synergy from all herbalists and they combined effort to handle such difficult cases. Of all the sicknesses, stroke seemed to be the most difficult.
Whenever there was a case, people knew where to run to. Cases of convulsions, URIEMHI were handled by The Itsuokor family (Idesimhi) and The Eghieye family from Ughieda. The Itsisor and Anyiador families were also consulted. Meddling of broken bones was handled by the Anetekhai family. Ikhane (Odia) and Ilega Orvini families had the antidotes for scorpion stings and snake bites. Obeobe family from Iraokhor were well known for stroke medicine.
Eramha Idode sold paracetamol from the wooden box strapped to the carrier of his bicycle and became popularly known as Paracetamol.
Much as I have no issue with the use of local herbs to treat sicknesses, I am a bit uncomfortable with the level of guess work or the rule of the thumb that goes with it. How on earth could herbalist handle Hynia, appendices, cesarean operation without proper diagnosis? Only God knows the number of deaths that resulted from the above cases due to poor health care delivery and poverty
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 46)
If there is convergence of opinions between institutional definition of poverty and my personal take, it’s the imperativeness of quality education, the ease with which it is dispensed/attained as a determining factor for poverty characterization. Yours sincerely is of the thoughtful conviction that a nation whose citizenry’s potential cannot be harnessed for productive venture is not only poor but doomed. Also, that a community where people’s latent and natural endowments cannot be translated into their material equivalence for the betterment of the generality of mankind is a recipe for disservice to humanity in general.
To a great extent, Ogbona was no doubt, at that primordial state, unencumbered with the intrinsic finesse and sophistry of formal education. Matters were less decided by the absence of school for formal learning in the community. Until 1927 there was no primary school in Ogbona. That year was epochal in the history of the community as the building blocks for sustainable development in all spheres of human endeavors were put in place. It marked the beginning of a tortuous journey towards making a break with entrenched traditional practices, both at the social and religious fronts. For example, the practice of slitting animals, pouring of libations and offering of sacrifice to idol was openly challenged. Again, the erroneous belief that farming was the only viable means out of poverty was not also spared.
As a matter of fact, Christianity which was the precursor of education, opened up vistas of opportunities for adherents of the new faith to openly challenge time honored traditional beliefs. Those belief systems that had over the years been regarded as sacrosanct were stripped of all the myths weaved around them. In fact, the history of education in Ogbona is interwoven with that of the Catholic Church as drawing a line between both of them is like differentiating between six and half a dozen.
At the heart of both events was the overbearing policy of the British government. They had a firm grip on the polity. They determined who got what and how. They had in their possession the diplomatic and military machineries to tighten grip on power. The ripples of the Berlin conference of 1885 where the scramble for the partitioning of West Africa, indeed other parts of the Africa was perfected were also felt in Ogbona. Oral tradition has it that at the dawn of the 20th century, the vestiges of German incursion into west Africa were still being evinced in our political landscape. The British government were not willing to let go of Ogbona as the German did everything to assert their authority in the village. They were said to be more humane and considerate compared to the gun boat policy of the British. The power tussle that ensued between the British and the German governments overlapped with the reign of Chief Anyia from Ivhiorevhor as the Okphe Ukpi of Ogbona. His preference for the German was an open secret so much so that in spite of all entreaties and numerous overtures from the British, he remained adamant. At the end, he incurred the wrath of Her Royal Majesty that necessitated his being forced to abdicate the throne and went on exile. Ukpi became suspended, a new but alien headship system of warrant chiefdom was introduced. History has it that Ukpi, the basis from time immemorial, against which power of ascendancy to the royal throne is delineated in Avhianwu was suspended from 1914 to 1931.
It is not surprising that when the founding fathers of education in Ogbona wanted to plant the seeds of formal learning, they had to look up to the colonial masters through the Catholic mission for direction.
It is on record that while the British government was expanding and exerting her influence in the then Kukuruku hills and what was to later become known as Nigeria, they cared less about the educational development of the people. Okphe Ukpis and other EDIOR NEJIE relied heavily on the services of interpreters to relate with District Officers and representatives of Her Royal Majesty. It is on record too that a particular Okphe Ukpi, out of ignorance, blew away the opportunity to have the headquarter of the local council relocated permanently to Ogbona. As a matter of fact, his interpreter played a fast one him because illiteracy was very rife among them. That particular ugly incidence was said to have brought about the change in the succession model that spilled a chain of events that shook the fabric of Avhianwu culture and tradition for close to half a century.
There were three main people who drew on their unfavorable experience to ensure Christianity and education had a footing in Ogbona
Eramha Esi Martins Balogun was an itinerant wears trader who plied his trade in Kaduna, Ilorin, Onitsha, Lagos, Ibadan and other places. He was said to have on numerous occasions, experienced unnecessarily delay in his business just because he could not properly place orders with multinational traders like UAC.
Pa Cletus Eshiemhomoh Anaweokhai worked with the Catholic mission at Lokoja until 1927 but could not go far because lack of education. Pa Robert Odogbo was said to have read up to standard IV and somehow got a job to go by at the council headquarters in Auchi.
These three men with others like minds made up of Pa Nicholas Apemheye Asekomhe, Richard Asekomhe, George Okomilo, David Agbiko Enamhino, Thomas Eragbhe, Michael Idode Irumire, Dominic Emoabino, Bernard Ozibe Ogbualo, Matthias Ekiegbemhe Atsegwasi among others worked tirelessly to ensure Ogbona social-cultural narratives changed forever as they chanted a new course for the village.
They made a formal application to the catholic mission at Ivhianokpodi, Agenebode for the establishment of a parish in Ogbona. In 1927, the request was granted and a parish was inaugurated in Ogbona with the first mass celebrated in a makeshift church, sandwiched between the Odogbo and the Asekhauno families. Pa Robert Odogbo was made the pioneer head Christian, a position he held until his death in 1948. He was succeeded by Pa Cletus Eshiemhomoh Anaweokhai till April 11,1976. All the people that came to Ogbona that day for the ground-breaking event were overwhelmed by the uncommon hospitality of Ogbona people. It was in the course of ministerial functions that a request for a primary school was made and granted by the Catholic Mission. The school commenced operations almost simultaneously with the new church at the same venue.
If Pa Odogbo et al thought their initiatives would endear them into the hearts of the people, they were dead wrong. There arose some clashes of interests between the people and the new church. For one, traditional practices were referred to as heathen ones. Esi, new yam festival celebration became frown at by proselytes of the new faith. For another, people loathed the idea of sending their wards to school and preferred having them properly integrated into the farming business as early as possible. Incessant caning of students was another arc hill that dithered parents from sending children to school.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 47)
Cassava, rice and recently, cashew nuts, may have taken the front burners as the leading agricultural produce from Ogbona but then, yam for all its importance and veneration cannot be overlooked. The centrality of yam to Ogbona, nay Avhianwu culture and tradition is beyond mere description, it has to be experienced firsthand in its entirety to get the intrinsic value. Yam holds the key to every form of entertainment during festival cerebration. It can be likened to the role palm wine plays in the five separates but integrated marriage rites in Avhianwu a matter of fact, from Ayih Ino’gbor to Ayior Obekhai stages, palm wine occupies a pride of place. You underrate its importance to your peril as a prospective suitor. Except in some extreme cases when it is next to impossibility to present the required five gourds of Palm wine during marriage rites proceedings, some forms of monetization are allowed. As stated before, this is exception rather than the rule.
During festivals cerebration, it is after some dozes of pounded yam and egusi soup, ekeke sougho suogho have been taken, that Palm wine is used to wash it down.
Yam farming is completely a masculine activity. Outside the feminine touches of planting and weeding, every other aspect of farming place enormous demand on the ingenuity, sagacity and masculinity of the male folks.
From the clearing to the digging stages, man is wholeheartedly not just involved, he takes and dictates the tempo of activities. Ordinarily, digging of yam heaps may look not too methodological but to the initiates, it’s highly technical. Everything is predetermined. From the choice of the particular piece of land to be cultivated to the seedling and harvest stages, everything is well thought out from the outset. The piece of land to be cultivated must be very fallow and dotted with shrubs that can serve as staking sticks.
Nowhere else is technical expertise more required than the digging of heaps.
How well the heaps are positioned determines if the tendrils will climb one another after staking. Rough positioning of heaps creates a lot of problems during staking. A good farmer, versed in yam staking would ensure heap is position in the space separating one heap from another on the same roll. Heaps must not be positioned in direct opposition to one another on either side. This is where the owner of farm must be at alert during digging, especially when hiring/labour is involved.
Digging of heap is done in the heights of dry season when the sun is very unfriendly with sister earth. Everywhere is dusting with the nostrils, face and legs covered with dusting sand and ashes. The scotching heat of the sun spurred us into early morning action. We would wake up before dawn and ensured some considerable portions were covered before the sun rays come out.
Apart from clearing and digging, planting is also done simultaneously between January and February. It was terrible whenever nature decided to be nature and stubbornly remained unpredictable and unfriendly. Sometimes, man did all the clearing, digging and planting with a couple of early rain falls to aid sprouting. Before you knew it, rain would seize till around April or May. The ensuing drought was always frustrating. The level of frustration and anger were palpable and unbearable. The drying up tendrils gave all the men cause for concern as they returned from staking with long faces. When it was becoming unimaginable, of course ALOKOKO and UTU, the gods of yam were consulted.
I had the opportunity to contrast our farming system with that of an Igbo community, Ozubulu in Anambra State where I did my compulsory one-year National Youth Service Corps. I discovered they start planting in the month of April when raining season has set in proper. I would not know how healthy this practice is but from my observation, it helps to mitigate and forestall the negative effects of delayed rain. On a second thought, I discovered that yam seedling farming is not practiced in that particular community. They harvest everything around September and October and buy seedlings for planting in the following season. Without passing any judgment, I believe both sides can learn from each other and improve on their farming expertise.
One other tasking aspect of yam farming is staking. It is drudgery and also takes a lot from man. One has to get the staking sticks and bamboo are very handy. Some days are set aside to cut them with the associated dangers and itching. Bamboo leaves itch a lot. It’s more like when one mistakenly braved devil beans. Too bad if any part of the body is left uncovered and come into direct contact with the leaves. One hardly gets to the base of bamboo sticks without seeing snakes. He has to be extraordinary vigilant while cutting them. With the stick cut and trimmed, the holes where they would be placed have to be dug with mathematical accuracy. The digging may take some days. God forbids if one farms in Idagwa, close to Ekperi that is very stony.
After the staking sticks comes the IGHUO, staking ropes stage. One must climb up palm tree to get Ighuo. The processing is also very stressful and painstaking. After cutting the palm fronds and pruning the sides thorns, it is stripped open to get the wet IGHUO which are left to dry for about two or three days after which a small but sharp knife is used to cut the white flexible long ropes into sizes.
If peradventure, ossification sets in, a little amount of water is sprinkled on them to get the required flexibility for easy cutting. Though the staking of yam is easy, it still requires proper care and attention. The earlier the staking is done, the better. It is always very difficult if the tendrils are allowed to climb and interlock with one another.
Yams are harvested twice in Ogbona. The first part is around August and September. This harvest is not just done for consumption or sales purposes, it is done to get enough seedlings for the next planting season. It is all about severing the tuber and covering up the shoots with Mother Earth to aid early seedlings development. This stage is always handled with professional expertise. Novices like us were never allowed to take part. Otherwise, there may be not enough seedlings for the coming season. The second part is the most enjoyable one where there is enough IKPAMHI EMHI, broken seedling particles. It remains to be contested if anything else tastes better than IKPAMHI EMHI consumed with OTOR KPOR, dregs of native palm oil.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 48)
To the Ogbona man, EMHI, yam is more than a farm produce, it is seen beyond the realm of a means of assuaging hunger and providing succor against starvation. It is seen over and above the limiting angle of a consideration for monetary reward. It entails more than one of the staple foods grown and consumed by Avhianwu people. Everything about it is studded in myths and mysteries. It is an embodiment of the totality of the way of life of Avhianwu people that has endured over a long period of time which ultimately found its way into the culture and tradition of the people. It is a revered agricultural produce that is celebrated every year in Avhianwu during ESI festival. Its origin is not known but believed to be guided by UTU, the god of yam.
UTU spirit was believed to be so powerful that however destructive a person was with unnatural power; he could not withstand the protective power of UTU over its property (yam crop). It was believed to be yam’s guiding angel. It was very common to hear that Mrs. A was in such terrible condition or had died miserably and untimely because she used her evil power to work against yam produce. It was one of the worst “felonies” an unclean person could commit and as such, was never be spared by the UTU spirit.
Yam was so revered in those days that no one, especially women dared slept in the same room with yam tuber till the next day. It was immaterial the act in question was unintentional. UTU must be appeased. Not only must the woman be made to perform special rite, the particular yam tuber must be brought before the elders for cleansing and purification. I found this practice very fascinating in those days until I began to see things from another angle. For example, what happened to Avhianwu people who lived and cooked in a one room apartment in the cities? Where they not taught never to sleep in the same room with yam tuber? Or were the UTU god’s spheres of influence circumscribed by geographical location? Was the UTU god partial and more benevolent to the city people who in the normal scheme of things, had the means to appeals the god more than the people at home?
Yam farming and the ancillary crops had specialized roles for both sexes. The yam and corn institutions obviously belong to the man while cassava, groundnuts and melons terrains belong to the woman. These are unwritten rules, well known to everybody and no one, regardless the level of sophistication, goes against them. The woman can never out of her volition uproot yam tubers without the expressed permission of her husband. Much as she, in most cases, consort with him before plucking corn. Naturally, the man has no business with feminine crops like melon and cassava.
If the man has only one wife, both cassava and melon are for her to the exclusion of any other woman probably with the exception of the mother in-law.
Surprisingly, these rules seem to have some semblances of adaptation to suit some exigencies during harvest period. Sometimes, the man could be seen coming from the farm with fresh corn hanging loosely on his shoulders. At another time, he could be seen with three or more tubers of yam arranged in triangular form being conveyed on his head from farm. Ordinarily, it is a taboo for a man to carry cassava, melon or fire woods on his head from the farm but he could be overlooked for conveying some tubers of yam and corns on his head or shoulders from farm.
As one of the rules, the man wakes up before his wife and may miss breakfast to explore the jungle. The wife would later join him in the farm. As an unwritten rule too, he leaves the wife behind in the farm and If he was in good mood and mobile, he could help the wife to convey firewood or any other thing without anyone raising eyebrows. After his arrival, had his bath and hung out with his friends at Palm wine joint. It was the woman’s duty to take care of kitchen activities and prepared a delicious dinner for the man. She might come back late and had to peel and grind cassava, yet she must prepare dinner for her husband and in most cases, especially during yam season, it must be pounded yam and not eba. A woman could be summoned for preparing eba as dinner for Oda’pe.
These rules were well structured out without any form of ambiguity. It was very surprising when a young man not too far from my maternal home, the Ikhumhi family, was seen been too effeminate and deferential to his wife’s outrageous demands. He was seen severally swapping pealed cassava tubers, arranged in a steel basin on his head with his wife from the farm. Farm routes were always crowded in the evenings, so, it was not easy to hide such obnoxious practice from the prying eyes of people.
Though it sounded strange when we heard it, we never reasoned it beyond outside the peripheral level of one just trying to be of help to his lovely wife.
Matters were worsened when some people started testifying to how on several occasions, he had been seen helping his wife to pound yam and peal cassava. Straightaway, he was summoned before the family meeting. Initially, he was not forthcoming until he finally owned up by confessing that how well he consummated his marriage at night was dependent how helpful he proved himself to be in the execution of assigned house chores as assigned by his wife. This was too degrading to members of the immediate and extended family and without much ado, another meeting was held, a second marriage was contracted for this young man.
Perhaps, the woman went too far or she was not properly schooled in the culture and tradition of Ogbona people. Better still, she saw men carrying things on their heads from the farm but never bothered to learn about the broad line between masculine and feminine crops and the important role this dividing line plays in the conveyance of both crops from farm. Were the family too harsh or was it possible there were ill feelings borne against this woman on grounds of insolence?
Was the reason for a second wife cogent enough?
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 49)
Aside the people in my immediate environment who were more like elder brothers and sisters to us, people like Ambrose Odior, Gilbert Odior, Beauty Odior, Peter Asekhauno, Andrew Orvini, Florence Atsegwasi, née Ayeni, Albert Ereso Anetekhai, Rose Obeakemhe, Romanus Anaweokhai, Vital Ilega, Wilson Asekomhe, Jacob Eshiesimua, Peter Eshiesimua, Florence Ebetse, Paulina Asekhauno and a host of others who also served as our role modern, there were quite a number of others ,more like our fathers and mothers, who though ,rarely seen ,nonetheless, inspired us in a great deal by their achievements, commitment to the development of the community and astuteness of character. They were trail blazers in different fields of human endeavors and epitomes of all that is glorious and beautiful. They made us to realize that whatever a man can conceive, he can achieve. They inculcated in us the impetus for boundless accomplishment, the quest to excel and live a virtuous life regardless of our background and natural endorsement. They made us to realize very early in life too that those mouth bugling accomplishments that sounded so esoteric to us were within our reach with well thought out goals and the burning desires to have them translated into their material equivalence for our benefits in particular and mankind in general. Perhaps, unknown to them, they made us to up our games, to be ambitious, bold, daring and focused.
Of all the people and events, none is as fresh in my memory as the one that happened at the twilight of the dry season of 1979 or there about. It was an unusual setting under Ore’khiyie tree. What got us more confused was the native tents made of thatches and fresh Palm front trees that sprang up suddenly. There was no upcoming final burial ceremony as such events were announced about two weeks prior to them. The town crier didn’t announce any message from a native or a stranger, ORÉ ORE MHORE. Worst still, it was not age group initiation ceremony period. If we were confused about what the setting was all about, we were completely at a loss on the topical issue of the accomplishments of the person at the centre of the whole thing. After a while, we were told that a certain Dr. John Bashiru Idode who had returned from Canada after his Ph.D. Program was to be welcomed and celebrated by the community. On hearing “Doctor” we were very excited, believing he would be treating us whenever we fell sick. Matters became more complicated when we were told he was not a medical doctor but DOCTOR OF BOOKS.
On the very day of the ceremony, the image I caught of Dr J.B Idode was a true reflection of his personality in his life time, a least, going by the little I saw of him before I left the village. On that very day, he looked calm, in complete control of himself and the event. He wore this reflective look of nostalgia like some had been separated from his root for a long time. He seemed to enjoy the company of the locals as he joyously exchanged banters with everyone, both the highs and the lows. He walked very briskly with the agility of a young man and would laugh heartily with all the people that came to celebrate him right there under the totemic tree.
Though it took us sometimes to understand what the whole issue was about, we knew very early that there was an academic hallmark achievement far above the qualification of those who were teaching us in primary school.
Soon afterwards, we heard he had been made sole administrator of a local government in Agbor. The turning point in his career, as far as I can remember, was when he became The Director General of DFFRI, a body set up by the Babangida administration to fast track infrastructural development in the rural areas. Dr. Idode was a seasoned administrator with ascetic character, a typical Ogbona man, devoid of an iota of flamboyancy. He never came home with any car apart from Peugeot 504 cars. He seemed to have been raised and cultured in a different world compare to the outlandish things one sees and the stories one hears these days of civil servants, throwing caution to the wind with reckless abandon in mad pursuit of things and position to aid their quests to satisfy personal interests. If for nothing else, posterity will forever be kind to him for the efforts he made to bring to an end the perennial acute water problem in Ogbona. His decision to attach his personal flat to the main building he erected for his family without relocating to new quarters was exemplary.
I cannot think of anyone else when it comes to developing Ogbona and making it wear a new and better look than Chief J.E Oshiotse.
The kind of structures one grew up with in Ogbona, especially at the teething stage were scaring. There were only two “beautiful houses” in Okotor, namely, those of Chief Odalumhe and Eramha Moses Anavhe. Most houses were built of mud looking very old and dilapidated. Between Eramha Owekhai, beside the primary school and Eramha Ikharagbuyia’s house, were very old houses. There was this very old upstairs opposite The Oshiotse family house, in front of The Eghieye house that was later brought down.
Sometimes in 1977 or there about, trips of sand were heaped in front of The Oshiotse compound and blocks were being molded with them. I remember Eramha Amhagbor Anetekhai being one of the molders and before you knew it, the old house was brought down and two new beautiful bungalows were in place. On enquiry, we heard of a custom officer called Chief Joseph Ebuetse Oshiotse. If I was not inspired by those two beautiful houses, I certainly was when he opened a Mobil filling Station later to be known as ONOKE Filling Station and NAYAS Guest house with his beautiful personal house beside the Filling Station. As a matter of fact, everything in that environment changed. Boy! I was enthralled by the beauty of that vicinity mostly when following my mother to farm at Ighiase, behind the hotel and the filling station. The Filling Station and Guest House provided employment opportunities to some people, both natives and non-natives. I remember my very good friend, bros David Eghieye met his second wife, Uwomha Ikhata from Apana, there.
What do I do to become successful in life? Go to Canada and bag a PhD or join the Custom service?
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (50)
Apart from Chief J.E Oshiotse, there was another Custom Officer whose name rang bell in our ears in those days. We never crossed paths with him until the summer of 1985. Before then, three bungalows just sprang up between the Orbih family compound and the Omomoh (Igini) compound that got everyone talking.The speed with which the structures were being erected was mind boggling.Starting three buildings at once then was neither cake nor ice cream matter. I remember people spending years to complete a building project. We were made to believe it was in the best interest of any building not to be rushed and completed in time. Everything seemed to strengthen the position that the longer it took to complete and roof a building, the better. It was preferable, we learnt, to get the walls soaked with rains for a considerable length of time to make the building solid and weather resistant. Otherwise, the building would collapse in no distant time. Yours sincerely is not a civil engineer and as such, not in position to comment on the veracity of such a seemingly tendentious claim.
Nonetheless,the fact remains that the quietness of the village was jolted on that summer of 1985 by the phenomenon of a new religion whose creeds, content and forms had no parallel anywhere, known to anyone in the village. It was Guru Maharaji who, according to them, had come to liberate the community and the entire human race from the shackles of Christianity, Islam and traditional beliefs. A sort of paradigm shift from the predominant three religions which in all intent and purposes, sounded weird.The leader and adherents of the new religion threw their hearts into evangelizing to introduce and win converts to the new religion.Though, enough resources, both human and material were mobilized and deployed for the proselytization of the new faith, it is doubtful if the outcome was commensurate with the efforts of the pioneering faithfuls in the village.
Matters were not helped at all by the precipitous and confrontational manner the religion made its debut in the village.
At that time, I believe,Eramha Aleghe Orbih was the Oghie’bo of Ivhido, for reason best known to them, ETSU, Oghie’bo shrine was brought down by Guru Maharaji.An act considered too sacrilegious to be countenanced and in no time, the whole issue snowballed into serious altercation between Guru Maharaji and the entire community. Then, one puzzle remained unsolved, who brought Guru Maharaji to Ogbona and whence came that bold and audacious move to demolish ETSU shrine with all the brazenness of this world? Behold it was Eramha Bernard Orbih, the much talked about custom officer who built the three bungalows at once that got us talking that brought Guru Maharaji to Ogbona to destroy the paraphernalia of his father’s office. Matters moved quickly to Chief Oboarekpe’s palace where Eramha Bernard Orbih was summoned and fined a certain amount of money which he paid with the list discomfiture. Perhaps, I was too young to understand what the issues were about but regardless the magnitude of my nativity, I saw in Eramha Bernard Orbih a complete gentleman with a good grasp of Avhianwu and English languages. His spoken English was flawless. The ease with which he switched between both languages,a mastery that can only be ascribed to native speaker of each of both languages was beyond description. He radiated power, intellect and humility but with no trace of affluence.
Guru Maharaji, without betraying my religious sentiments, was a great personality. He must have been in his early 30s then , of average height, looking charming with a magical aural. He looked every inch a mystic with a rich knowledge of human psychology and socio-political issues. Without mincing words, he also had a rich knowledge of the Bible too as he quoted copiously from it to buttress his points or better still, as he was never caught off guild with biblical allusions or quotations. A lot of his followers, mostly strangers, did him obeisance as they fell over one another to minister to him and to do his bidding. Eramha Benson Idesimhi Itsuokor and one of his brothers who was a teacher in St. John’s Grammar, Fugar, were among few of his converts in Ogbona.
As soon as the fine was paid, there was no further friction between Guru Maharaji and the community and the “missionaries” settled down peaceably for their evangelical work. I must confess that nobody saw Eramha Bernard Orbih in the light of his new found faith. He was the son of the soil before religious inclination and in like manner, he never ceased to be committed to the development of the community.He donated three transformers,two to Ogbona and one to Iraokhor as his personal contribution to rural electrification. I remember a particular launching where he donated money and almost all the building materials, from bags of cement to bundles of corrugated iron sheet needed to complete the project.
Talking about good command of English, reminds me of no other person than Chief Gregory Kassim Enegwea. His articulation, clarity, coherence,good diction and oratorical prowess are some of his virtues I will surely take with me to the great beyond. Up till tomorrow, he has never failed to invoke such fond memories whenever I am privileged to run into him. I was privilege to see him as master Compere at least, on two memorable occasions, firstly, at our secondary school where he anchored the inaugural launching of the school in 1980 and at one of our inter house sports competitions held in the same school. It was English uncensored. He held the audience spell bound with his mesmerizing diction, descriptive adjectives and oratorical prowess ladened with allusions from all spheres of human endeavors.
If I had any hesitation about his personality, his spell as the Director General of NYSC, Bendel State, surely changed that. The 1984 NYSC orientation for new Corp members took place at Auchi Polytechnic where my elder sister, Pastor Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru had a contract with the school authority to run the Non-Academic Staff UNION, NASU Canteen. There, I saw how to organise a business and the execution of a Local Purchasing Order. If I remember correctly, the contract for the supply of cows was handled by Alhaji Inu Umoru while my sister supplied tomatoes and garri. Chief Enegwea would come to our house in the evening and engaged my elder sister in endless argument on who was the senior between both of them. I doubt if the issue has been resolved till date.
If today in the entire nation, NYSC is peopled by our people, the credit goes to Chief Enegwea. He used the little opportunity he had to give means of livelihood to both graduates and non-graduates. Our secondary School and hospital never lacked good Corp members in his days in the organization.
Very early in life too, I never stopped asking,when would I be able to articulate my views with such clarity and recreate observations with the exactness and the comprehensiveness of a camera portrait like Eramha Gregory Enegwea and Bernard Orbih?
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 51)
Major Francis Atsegwasi was one strong figure I looked up to at that impressionable stage in life. He was, in every sense of the world, a no mean personality. Personally, I was of the thoughtful conviction that our common creator spent extra time in perfecting his make up on a special day like Sunday morning. He had puckered, naturally colored lips with slightly bulging and penetrating eyes that radiated power, disseminated authority, instilled fear and a deep voice that commanded obedience. He exuded confidence and marched the earth surface with the force of a man who was sure of his destination, unapologetic with no iota of hesitation or confusion. He looked naturally configured for the life of a soldier and lived it to its fullest. Tall, slim and fair in complexion, an embodiment of the perfect unification of the features of a European monarch, that uncommon but intimidating physique of an Etsako man with the agility of a young military officer who had the world at his feet.
Before meeting him personally, we had heard countless myths weaved around his personality. There was this particular fable from the rumor mills that gained ground even without any confirmation. We heard at almost the early stage of his military career, he was implicated in a military coup by his detractors but at the point of being executed ,the officer who implicated him could not summon up enough courage to give the necessary evidence that would have sealed Major Atsegwasi’s faith as the accuser suddenly went dumb.
This story made us to see him as an extra ordinary person but upon investigation, it was discovered he was actually implicated in coup plot and got arrested but it was a case of mistaken identity. The person who implicated him never went dumb but stated that the officer who was involved in the coup plot looked exactly like Maj. Atsegwasi but had tribal marks which Maj. Atsegwasi didn’t have on his face and Maj. Atsegwasi was released immediately. It is unbelievable that what saved him was the absence of tribal marks.
He was a captain in the army when I first saw him and always came home with a sky-blue Volvo car. His younger brother, Benson was my bosom friend. Sometimes, we helped him to tidy up his flat whenever he was around and rewarded us handsomely. After a while, he was promoted to the rank of a major and to us, that was the highest rank in the army. We did not know the difference between Major and Major General. We just fancied the uniform much more so, when the military was in power. In those days, it was really honorable to be in uniform. It didn’t matter the particular force. The military was the in thing. One saw them daily on the television, wielding enormous political power. The Presidents, Governors and those in sensitive position were all military men. They were generally seen to be disciplined with no nonsense approach to issues. The image of the military ingrained in our heart by the government of Gen. Buhari was that of muscularity and sternness, with no room for frivolities or effeminate disposition. I must confess that though the gap- toothed evil genius, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida tried to erase that picture from my mind by his maradonic and seemingly humane approach to governance especially at the beginning of his regime, the ” damage” had been done by the stone faces Gens. Buhari and Idiagbor put up while holding sway as Head of State and Chief of General staff respectively. The War Against Indiscipline and the monthly environmental sanitation programs by the Gen. Buhari administration were executed with fear and terror.
It was in the above light I saw Maj. Francis Atsegwasi. I had expected every military officer to hold himself out at all time in similar fashion but I was dead wrong when I met Maj. Atsegwasi personally. I was sent to inform him that one of our family members, Mr. ABC Anaweokhai had died the previous day. As I entered his parlor very early that morning, I discovered he was already set to leave the village for his base, on hearing my surname, he came into the parlor to see me. As soon as I broke the news, his demeanor changed, looking ordinary like the common mortals we are in spite of our positions and profession, transfixed and also looking like he was asking for enough time to process the information, finally said THAT IS BABA LEVENTIS? and I nodded in affirmation. He seemed lost momentarily once again before asking me what happened and at the end, he gave me some money as support for the burial.
I left the house wondering if military men actually feel like us too. There was no doubt he loved the army and would have loved to serve out his time in the noble profession but somehow, fate had a different plan for him as he was retired quite early as a major. The impacts of his sudden retirement were palpable but then, he soon put himself together and came home. His coming helped to shape up things and encourage others retirees to follow his footsteps. Before you knew it, he became a force not only at home but in the state as he was made member of the governing council of Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma. Major Francis used that position to help a lot of our young boys and girls to secure admission into the university with ease. He never allowed petty politics to interfere with his duty. According Bar. John Kemhi, people thought Maj. Francis would not help him to get admission simply because his parents were in the opposition party but Maj. Francis made it clear to everybody that no qualified person from Ogbona would be denied admission on the basis of party affiliation.
His last position as the caretaker chairman of our local government council saw Maj. Francis Atsegwasi at his best. Within his short stint, he ensured the water problem in the village was properly looked into and something worthwhile was done to make the borehole sunk by Dr. Idode, after Agbha, along Imiava road, supplied water to the village. He used his power to get the equipment that actually got water to town, as I was told. Then, the activities of vandals did not help matters after his tenure.
The last time I saw him in the village was after my marriage and as the custom demands, my wife had to sweep all our family compounds. I carried my wife and her assistants to his compound for sweeping. Though, he didn’t recognize me until I introduced myself, he smiled and shook his head. He realized how fast things had change, conveying OFAIKO and her assistants in a car for traditional sweeping was another dimension to the traditional practice.
Maj. Francis Atsegwasi was a trail blazer who inspired us not because he was stupendously rich but because of the passion he had for his profession and love for his community. He was an institution as far as source of inspiration was concerned and no doubt, chiefly accounted for the reason I took the entrance examination into The Nigerian Defense Academy after my secondary school.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 52)
To be told by your mother you needed to go and greet your mother who just arrived from God knows where, was more than confusing. If you were asked to go and greet NENE, it would have been understandable and not another mother. Who else could be your mother other than the one prompting you to go and greet your mother? That was the dilemma yours sincerely found himself soon after the death of our father, Pa Joseph Akhaniamhe Anaweokhai in the early 70s.Perhaps,I was too young to know who was who on that early morning when we were given handful of sand to pour into a grave containing a golden casket or may be, the presence of a biological father before then ,never created a vacuum that needed to be filled by a father- figure but I was soon to know better.
His demise at that formative stage, marked the beginning of a long and tortious journey on a lonely road, from the take off point of infancy to the destination of adulthood. Ordinarily and humanly speaking, it would have marked the beginning of the end of the road as far as even elementary academic pursuit was concerned much more so when one’s mother never cast her shadows against the four wall of any institution of learning and struggled daily within the provisions of what the jungle could offer to make ends meet. Worst still, most of one’s mates whose fathers were well and alive could not make much headway, not necessarily because they were not brilliant, simply because the means was not there and even if it were, there was no proper mentorship but my case was different.
On a daily basis, I cannot help but thank God for blessing me with a mother, sister, friend, confidant, counsellor, mentor and heroine, the person of Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru. Her impact and that of her late husband, Alhaji Inu Umoru on my life can never be properly described or quantified. They were simply awesome. My first knowledge of her dates back to when I was sick as a child, my mother took my twin brother and I into a vehicle to Auchi. It was a big lorry, probably owned by Chief Vincent Omadimhe. As we were going, trees and grasses were moving along a new road which was being constructed by Dumez. On getting to Auchi, it was a different set up altogether. The buildings were fine and well painted with glass windows. My sister’s house was very close to where UBA branch is presently located along Jattu road but on the other side of the road. We met late Sister Rose Ayemhere Igbadumhe, née Odior who was staying with my sister then. She cooked for us that evening and the food was very different. My nephew, John who was my age mate, took me to the kitchen and unwrapped a cube of Maggi which we ate together. It was too tasty for me. He brought water from the fridge and gave me to drink, behold it was too cold and felt as if my teeth were going to pull off from my mouth. He asked me to touch a particular thing on the fridge and I had a sensational vibration all through my body and he giggled childishly but mischievously too. The next morning, we were taken to the general hospital where we met Uwomha Asana, that’s Sister Tricia Orbih’s mother who took us round. I saw nurses spotless dressed with three colorful biros stuck in their breast pockets. We were put on a scale and later saw a doctor. At the end of the day, we came back to my sister’s house. I loved the electricity, light and stereo record player. There was this Gen Bolivia’s record where he mentioned and sang praises to all the Clan Heads in Etsako that was in vogue. On coming back to Ogbona, it was a completely different world, especially the darkness that pervaded Iviebi Quarters at night in those days. I cannot tell if I wasn’t praying always to get sick so as to go Auchi and we did go frequently, mostly when any of us was sick and Uwomha Asana was very kind to us as she ensured we were promptly attended to.
Very early in life, I knew there were places which held out better means of livelihood and dreams fulfilling opportunities than our immediate environment and I never stopped to ask myself what I could possibly do to fit into it. With all sense of modesty, I got to Auchi before I knew Iraokhor and Fugar, our immediate neighbors and the effects that first experience outside my village had on me, no doubt, shaped my being.
I cannot really tell how I got to primary school but I do know there was no free education. Fees were being paid but nobody drove me home because of school fees and I never knew who paid the fees and I have never had any cause to ask.
There is this experience I have tried without success to erase from my memory. It was very degrading and dehumanizing but God showed Himself strong on that day. It was the first term of 1978 or there about. School had just started and we were expected to come to school with new books but on this particular term, it was very tough. My twin brother and I were in the same class and we had no books to write and our class teacher was practically insulting us. There was no Reader, Lamb Comb, Atlas or the likes and above all, there was no father one could easily run to or place such demand. September was almost gone and there were no books. Our mother, at best, could buy us one or two exercise books but were not enough and we were waiting patiently for a big sister and more than sure she would not disappoint.
Luckily, we could see the main road from our class and like a bolt out of the blues was our elder sister, chauffeur driven into the school compound from the main road. She came out from the car probably, trying to locate us. I asked my twin brother to go and tell our female class teacher that the beautiful and gorgeously dressed lady who came out from the then state of the art car ,was our elder sister and that she should allow us to go and see her. The class teacher washed my twin brother and said unprintable things, at least my twin brother told me the teacher said he could never have such a woman as sister and that he should just go and sit down. We were watching and our sister probably went to the head master’s and in less than ten minutes, the head master set for us and our class teacher adjusted her seat and we came back with heap of all the books listed for us to buy. Though still very small, I saw how that class teacher struggled to relate with us in vain. Perhaps, she tried but could not just bring herself down to apologize to her students. Then, it was clear she crossed the lines. It was really tough for her. As fate would have it, she was transferred and replaced with Mr. Ahmed Ikoko who was from Ogbona but came daily from Auchi. Of course, he knew my elder sister and elder brother, he related very well with us and accorded us some respect.
If I had it easy in primary school without having to ruminate over the loss of a father at that early stage in life because of a big sister, the story was far better when I entered secondary school. The good Lord will bless my sweet sixteen, Pst Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 53)
Ordinarily, the distance between Ogbona and Auchi is about 17 kilometers but on the flip side, are two worlds apart. The presence of Internet, cable television and mobile phone may have done much to break barriers and reduce the world to a global village but the facts remains that infrastructures wise, one is behind the other, even at the moment. One can only imagine what the situation was some three or four decades back. I was fortunate enough to grow up in both worlds, luxuriating the comfort and forbearing the pains of both of them. Nowhere else was this striking difference between the two worlds more telling than pecuniary matters.
We had no idea how money is made. To us, money was like a thing of the soul on a high plain of abstraction other than that what could be acquired, controlled and made to work for one. We contrived all sorts of theories regarding how great fortune is made. There were two popular theories among us, one of which was that rich people had the head of a human beings locked up in their cupboards that vomited money whenever they needed money. Secondly, that rich people had a money printing machines in the most secret places in their homes which they used to print new notes. Come to think of it, how else could one possibly explain the source of the crisps notes he saw sometimes?
To the uninformed, we could be seen to be crude and suffering from analytical deficiency but when one remembers that money was a big issue in the village, our naivety could easily be excused as one hardly saw paper notes beyond fifty kobo and one Naira ones which were still very rare. Though we struggled daily to meet the basic needs of life, the true position of things was laid bare before me when school fees were reintroduced into secondary schools in 1984. After the 1979 governorship election, won by the Prof. Ambrose Ali, the UPN free education policy was implemented in the old Bendel State with considerable success. School fees was abolished in schools, Textbooks, biros and exercise books were given to us free of charge. It also witnessed a tremendous rise in the number of new entrants into secondary schools much so when the period coincided with the founding of Ogbona Secondary School. Everything was to change for the worst when the Gen. Buhari government replaced the executive government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari through a bloodless coup de tat in December,31st 1983. Professor Ambrose Ali was replaced by Brig. Jeremiah Useni as the Military Governor of old Bendel State and the free education policy of UPN was cancelled and the sum of thirty Naira per student was initially introduced as school fees but later reviewed upward to fifty Naira. The amount was considered outrageous and beyond the reach of some parents. Consequently, some parents with two to three children had to make some hard decisions. I saw destinies altered, humanly speaking. Some students, against their wish, withdrawn from school to toe different lines in life altogether. Young girls were married out, probably against their will. I saw the traumatic effects of students being sent home while their peers whose parent could afford school fees remained in class to learn. I saw parents swallowing pride to beg the school authority for some time to get school fees to pay for their children. I saw some parents’ requests turned down and the effects on their children. It was a degrading experience no child must be subjected as it bruises his ego with some psychological discomfort.
West African Examination Council (WAEC) registration was another hard nut to crack in those days. Adequate preparations were made in advance. I remember we registered for WAEC with about seventy-five Naira and it was not a small amount at all. I know a friend of mine that traveled to Kano and came back with less than sixty Naira. He had to resort to all sorts of menial jobs including IGWADE to raise the money. Again, I was very lucky as providence seemed to have prefigured my predicament and made adequate provisions for me in advance.
My elder sister’s NASU canteen at Auchi Polytechnic in the early 80s was my first experience of how a system could be set up to roll in money. I saw firsthand what it takes to make money and how easy it was for me to make money without having to exert much energy like the drudgery experience of IGWADE. The 1984 long holiday was the Icy on the cake. I was always sent to one meat shop opposite Auchi High Court, owned by Eramha Godwin Atsegwasi where meat was sold in kilos. It was very easy for me, if I wanted, to manipulate things and make some money for myself but frankly speaking, I had no use for such money.
I also saw money and tons of it in my sister’s room. I had free access to her room because I used to iron her clothes early in the morning and also washed her Peugeot 305 car. Almost on a daily basis, I went to her room to collect the car key and returned the ironed clothes where she would be in the bathroom. Thank God for the grace of God and the values that were inculcated in us in the village. Otherwise, one would have been tempted by the alluring charm and the crispiness of the Naira notes always found in her room.
It was in these two contrasting worlds yours sincerely grew up and when I cast my mind back to the two opposing world and the rare privilege to experience the comfort and the challenges of both of them, I cannot but appreciate God for His grace upon my life right from infancy. I never had any cause to worry about school fees, books and uniforms. I can only remember only one ugly incident in secondary school when I was sent home on the first day of resumption because of school fees. There at the school gate, I boarded a taxi cab to Auchi and I came back to school that day with the money. I have no idea how my enrollment fees were paid. Our Principal, Mr. Christopher Uwemi only asked me to bring my passport photographs to complete WAEC registration as he had my enrollment fees with him.
One basic lesson I learnt very early in life is that nothing gives a man more boldness and confidence to confront, head on, the vicissitudes of life, regardless the situation, than knowing beyond all doubt that there is a strong force behind you and that no matter what, you have a shoulder to lean on and a pillar to hold you firm from all sides. I was very lucky to have that pillar in the person of Pastor Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 54)
One enduring habit for which I will forever remain grateful to my family, I mean the entire Anaweokhai Dynasty, is the spirit of curiosity, the unquenchable thirst to know not only what is happening around me but also the entire universe. I was bitten by the bug of curiosity in the early 1980s at my sister’s NASU canteen in Auchi Polytechnic. On a daily basis, my elder brothers, Sir Romanus and Clement Anaweokhai would buy three newspapers, made up of THE GUARDIAN, CONCORD and either TRIBUNE or SKETCH NEWSPAPERS. Actually, I had no idea of what was written therein but the way my elder brothers and some of our customers threw themselves at the papers, especially early in the mornings to devour them, encouraged me to pick interest some in them. I did like the Guardian Newspaper but the grammar was too hard for me but seemed to be the favorite newspaper of most the people. Somehow, I would approach my two brothers and asked them question like the difference between MILITARY and MINISTRY, and they gladly answered and explained everything to me. When we got home in the evening, no matter what we were doing, once it was 9:00 PM, they would switch to NTA for network news. I do not know how that culture was instituted but once my elder brothers graduated and left, the culture was passed on to us. Whenever I pretended not to know it was 9:00 PM or got carried away by one interesting thing or the other, my elder sister, Pst. Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru would quietly asked if I was not aware it was network news time? After the network news, when we got to our room, they would tune the radio to BBC and very early in the morning before we left the house, they would also listen to VOA.BBC English was somehow accessible to me but not VOAs’. VOA newscasters seemed to be in a hurry to make their point and the assent, difficult and unintelligible to me.
Everything about watching television changed in 1984 when my elder sister bought a color television. Oh boy! It was glorious and wonderful. Seeing those colorful scenarios on television was titivating. The Los Angeles Olympic of 1984 would remain evergreen in memory, especially watching it on color television. The closing ceremony was wonderful. I remember Lionel Richie performing during the closing ceremony with his hit song, ALL NIGHT LONG that was ruling the music air wave then. Added to the color television soon afterwards, was a video cassette player. Oh my God! It was very new and big; the operative buttons were like those of keyboard. The Ejection system was on top of the video player and ejected cassette in a very forceful manner as if to throw the it out of the video player. We watched a lot of Indian and Chinese films. Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon were two films we never got tired of. Honestly, one could count the number of people who had video player. If there was one thing, I asked God then, it was probably to own a color television and a video player and I would be done for life.
The impacts of the color Television and Newspapers on me were tremendous but it soon dawned on me after the holiday that I was in another world. I had to approach my maternal uncle, Eramha Paul Ikhumhi, aka No Time, to give me one of his old radios to keep me abreast with development within and outside the country. I used to get NEWSWATCH magazine from bros Joe Oboarekpe and late bros Oris Omoaka Isuneuvho. Bros Joe Oboarekpe had access to some international Magazines from South Africa and was always willing to lend me some copies to read. The coming home of Chief Vital Anaweokhai and his wife, Mrs. Comfort Anaweokhai put to an end my going to different places to get papers to read. On a daily basis, The Observer Newspaper was delivered to our house, though, sometimes came a day behind.
Getting video to watch in the village was certainly asking for too much and if at all, it was very rare. I remember bros, Bernard Oboarekpe bringing one home occasionally and their compound was always full in the evenings. The talking point was not really the action but the remote control with which he commanded the video set in the comfort of his seat. Eramha Ogah, that Benjamin’s father who worked in Warri but spent most of his off days in the village, used to entertain the community with his video set too.
Struggling among a sea of people to watch video in the village could not be compared with the comfort of watching it my sister’s parlor where we determined what to watch and when to watch but the communal spirit bonded everyone together. It was heartwarming seeing all the people gathered together to watch film in the evening.
The privilege to be exposed to the good things of life courtesy of my elder sister and her husband and having two elder brothers who were undergraduates to guild and mold me, were too strong a propelling force to be docile and unassertive but rather, served as catalysts for boldness and confidence to stand before any man to demand for my right whenever I felt trampled upon. Of course, I soon fall out with my school authority.
In those days, secondary school teachers were well respected and no student prayed to enter the principal’s office for anything. Somehow, our Vice Principal who was from Ogbona, accused me wrongly of an offense the substance of which I cannot remember and I tried to explain to him in vain that I was not the one that committed the offense, the next thing he said was that if I thought he was blind and as such, did not see me committing the offense, it was my father that was blind. I asked if realized he had just insulted my father? I told him, he had no right to insult my father and that if I did anything wrong, he should discipline me rather than insulting my father. Frankly speaking, I had it rough with him. Our Principal, Mr. Uwemi sent for me in his office and asked what the issue was and I told him the Vice Principal crossed the line by insulting my father and that I was ready to face any disciplinary action than have him insult my father and go scoot free .To my greatest surprise, the principal didn’t suspend or give me any punishment but only came to our class to dramatize how I was using my height to intimate his Vice Principal and pointing my finger at his face.
The next person to taste the other side of the “monster” she helped to create was my elder sister herself. Before you knew it, I started disagreeing with her on some issues and anytime she tried to bring some subtle pressure to bear on me, I would simply tell her ” sister, I have made up my mind on that issue” Severally and out of sarcasm and patronage, she would simply ask,” Odior, have you made up your mind already?” Before you could say Jack Robinson, she started seeking my opinion on some sensitive issues.
Although things were very tough in the village, the shared communal values, sanctity of human life and astuteness of characters were virtues no one could have gotten anywhere else regardless the early exposure to the good things of life. I shall forever remain grateful to my family in particular for the foundation and Ogbona community in general for the spirit of boldness and respect for human dignity she imbibed in us very early in life.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 55)
Chief Alhaji Inu Umoru was unarguably one of the wealthiest persons to have come out of Afenmai land, as a matter of fact, he was wealth personified and never made pretext of his wealth. He would tell you point blank he never committed fraud or caught corners to make money and that hard work and the grace of God brought him good fortune. Truth be told, he flaunted his great fortune and was very unapologetic about it. Little wonder he was generally referred to as SEA NEVER DRIES, OKU OMOLO.
His life is a study in God’s unfettered power to show mercy to HIS chosen vessel with no consideration for the person’s background. In spite of his humble beginning, starting as a hunter and truck driver, he ended up being the Chairman of the numero Uno indigenous construction company in Nigeria, SETRACO. He was a philanthropist and shrewd business man. If he was well known for his stupendous wealth, he was better appreciated for humanitarian services and he was generalissimo Sui generis. Though a Muslim, he never discriminated against anyone on the basis of faith. He welcomed pastors and paid attention with reverence to God whenever they prayed. In fact, he contributed to the building of church projects.
The greatest mistake anyone could make then was to go to him with the mindset of somebody with no formal education, you would be surprised at his versatility, level of intelligence and business acumen. I remember a lot of people coming to him to brag about their capabilities and expertise in certain areas and matters. He would never argue but accorded them all the attention in the world. At the end, he would analyze and conclude by saying if albino was as powerful as he claimed, he would do something to normalize the pigment of his skin before anything else.
He was a good friend of Chief MCK Orbih, together they used to come to Ogbona on important occasions to spray money as though they plucked it from trees. I was always wondering where they got those new Naira note they sprayed. Sometimes in the process of spraying, they would throw some wad of crisp notes at the audience or good fortune would blow the new notes towards the audience, of course, it was more than exciting anytime one’s luck shined. We always argued among ourselves who was the richer between both of them and we had no basic criteria for comparison other than how much we perceived each to have sprayed. At home, we would argue that Alhaji Inu Umoru was richer but argued otherwise when we were in his house with his children.
The relationship Chief MCK Orbih and Alhaji Inu Umoru was very cordial and productive and I understand it spanned many decades. There is no doubt Chief MCK Orbih had a lot of influence on him. He would tell who cared to listen that it was Chief MCK Orbih who introduced him into politics. Although Inu Umoru & Sons Limited was eminently qualified for any government project, no matter the size, as it had track records in that regard, it is generally believed that his personal relationship with Chief MCK Orbih facilitated the award of the construction contract of The University of Benin Teaching Hospital Comprehensive Health Centre, now Chief MCK Orbih’s Health Centre at Ogbona to his company at the cost of one million nine hundred thousand Naira in 1982.The construction works had great economic impact in Ogbona. Ogbona artisans and laborers were fully engaged while it lasted. It was like the scenarios that played out when the secondary School was being built only that the hospital labour work was not done pro bono. I remember one of my cousins who always waited eagerly for Saturdays, their pay day.
Alhaji Inu Umoru and my elder sister’s contribution to the development of our community was enormous. As far as I can remember, whenever there was important launching in Ogbona, he was always invited as the Chief Launcher. At least, I remember the launching of Ogbona Secondary Appeal Fund of 1980 where as the Chief Launcher, he donated the sum of two thousand five hundred Naira, which was a huge amount then. In fact, until Chief MKO Abiola sent a Cheque of five thousand Naira and Admiral Mike Akhigbe and friends made a collective donation of nineteen thousand Naira, he was the highest donor. Also, in 1984 when the Muslim faithfuls organized a launching for central mosque building project, he was also very handy as the Chief launcher and he did donate a lot of money then. He told everybody how he had tried unsuccessfully to convert his bosom friend, Chief MCK Orbih to Islam to the applause of all the Muslims present.
The above cases were visible to everyone but I personally believe they did more behind the scene for Ogbona. A lot of police and court cases were quietly handled by them. The Ogbona Imiava case was one in question where his contact with the power that be was exploited to the fullest. With all sense of modesty and without making any fuss about it, Alhaji Inu Umoru could get almost anything done within the security apparatus in Nigeria then. I remember a particular case when food was brought daily from his Presidential hotel at Auchi to take care of high ranking Ogbona people who were remanded in Police custody. A lot of our people used to come to my sister, Pst. Mrs. Julie Inu Umoru for job opportunities in Setraco and she did help, though some did horrible things and got fired. Up till date, there’s a particular department in the company where Ogbona people are calling the shots, courtesy of my sister. In recognition of their contribution to the development of Ogbona, His Royal Highness, Chief P. A. Oboarekpe, who was the Oghieavianwu of Avhianwu then, gave them Chieftaincy titles, Alhaji Inu Umoru was made The ANABUI of Avhianwu, CHIEF HOST or THE ONE WHO WAS READY AT ALL TIME TO CHAMPION A CAUSE, of Avhianwu, while my sister was made The UFIOLEE of Avhianwu, THE LIGHT OF KNOWLEDGE, of Avhianwu
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (56)
‘ What’s the basis of this uncompromising and cult-like follower-ship of Chief M.C.K Orbih to our displeasure?” was the question put to my maternal grandmother, Uwomha Eladi Iwulavhor Ikhumi by some council of elders at the height of politics of calumny in Ogbona. The above question can only be better appreciated when put in proper perspective, especially in the context of the poisoned and fouled atmosphere that pervaded Ogbona political landscape while I was growing up in Ogbona.
The power tussle over UKPI between Chief Ikhanoba Ikpeto from Ivhiorevhor, later Chief Vincent Azaigbor Omadimhe from Okotor and Chief Patrick Ajayi Oboarekpe from Ivhiochie provided the breeding grounds for all manner of divisions and hatred ladened political ideologies to fester and also for politicians, especially outsiders to gain strong footing in the village. One could be forced to asked if traditional institutions were not supposed to be insulated from partisan politics? The answer is capital, YES. Again, was Chief P.A. Oboarekpe a partisan politician? Of course, not. Why the poisoned atmosphere?
Well, the general believe was that but for Chief MCK Orbih’s connections and deep pockets, it was doubtful if Chief P.A. Oboarekpe would have been able to withstand the financial muscles of Chief Vincent Omadimhe. I have no idea of how financially strong Chief Ikhanoba Ikpeto was, he was very old when we met him in the village and frankly speaking, he had passed his productive years but Chief Omadimhe was still very active and doing very well financially.
At that time, politics in Ogbona was seen from the focal lens of who was on the side of Chief MCK Orbih or on the other side. It was dirty politics at its best, as a matter of fact, there was no civility or sophistication about it. It was either you were with Chief MCK Orbih or you were on the side of Chief Omadimhe. Chief Omadimhe never contested any elective position or had a personal friend who vied for any elective position but as the saying goes “The easiest way to defeat your enemy is to make friend with his enemy”. It was not surprising that anyone or political party who was in opposition to Chief MCK Orbih’s political leaning, naturally formed alliance with Chief Omadimhe. While Chief MCK Orbih and majority of people from Ivhiochie/Ivhido quarters were card carrying members of NPN, Chief Omadimhe and majority of people from Okotor and of course, Ivhiorevhor quarters strongly supported UPN.
I have tried ceaselessly to make sense out of this stereotyping with no headway whatsoever. This is because the general impression was that anyone who supported Chief Oboarekpe was automatically an NPN member and on the good book of Chief Orbih and as such, avowed enemy of Chief Omadimhe. Though Chief MCK Orbih gave unalloyed support to Chief Oboarekpe, there were other people who supported Chief Oboarekpe without belonging to NPN. There were others who were good friends of Chief Omadimhe and had sympathy for UPN but still supported Chief Oboarekpe.
Mr. ABC Anaweokhai was a good friend of Chief Omadimhe, anytime he came home, there were exchange of social intercourse between them. To be very sincere, I was very surprised when Chief Vincent Omadimhe came to our house the first time to visit his good friend who had arrived from Warri and I know the friendship was devoid of political undertone. On enquiry, I learnt they had been childhood friends.
Chief Omadimhe sawed all the woods used to roof our family house in 1983.When we ran out of budget owing to poor estimate, we ran to him to get some wood to complete the roofing.
There was no phone call and he didn’t hesitate a hoot before opening his wood shed for us because of his treasured friendship with Mr. ABC Anaweokhai. Eramha Obiko Asekhauno was also a good friend of Chief Omadimhe, to a great extent, both of them shared similar political views, then, Yale was on the side of Chief Oboarekpe as far as the UKPI issue was concerned. I must state here too that Sir PM Anaweokhai was once UPN ward chairman in Surulere, Lagos and whenever he came
home, campaigned and congregated with UPN members but maintained cordial relationship with Chief MCK Orbih and gave
unflinching support to Chief Oboarekpe. When both Mr. ABC and Sir PM Anaweokhai passed on in 1987 and 2000 respectively, Chief MCK Orbih was in our house on both occasions for condolence visits.
The source of that crude and politics of animosity that was being played in Ogbona has never stopped to be of great concern to me. More baffling was the calculated attempt to determine my grandmother’s political inclination. On the other hand, I could, to a great extent, understand the position she occupied, especially at Okotor as the life patroness of UKE dance group in Okotor. It was a dance group for all the women, both young and old. She was probably seen to exert some sort of influence which if not checked, could rock the political boat.
According to my grandmother, she gave them a replied that could not be controverted or smashed by the best of prosecuting counsel which got everyone thinking. She asked if they knew her son in-law, Eramha Anthony Isah Orbih who died a couple of years back, they confirmed knowing him. She also asked if they knew her daughter, Uwomha Agnes Adomheli Orbih, née Ikhumhi, who died a year or two after the husband’s death, they also answered in affirmation. She told them the couple left behind 9 orphans who were taken in by Chief MCK Orbih. She told them the first son; bros Thomas Orbih had graduated from the university courtesy of Chief MCK Orbih. She asked how they expected her to pay Chief MCK Orbih back for the fatherly role he was playing in the life of her grandchildren? According to my grandmother, there was dead silence, at the end everybody saw reasons with her and got “discharged and acquitted”
Chief MCK Orbih’s position in Ogbona history is beyond politics, he was the alter ego of the community and had the ears and hearts of the people. It was a relationship built on absolute trust and mutual love. Of course, as a politician, he meant different things to different people, but to most people, he was a benefactor cum consummate leader and to others, especially his political opponents, he was OLOGHIO, a hard nut to crack. One thing was certain, his love for his community was never topic of debate or questioning and he contributed in all spheres of human endeavors to the development of the community. We shall scratch the surface of his place in Ogbona and indeed, Avhianwu history in the coming episodes.
May God bless the soul of The Ekhaevhe of Avhianwu, The Agbokhaivho of Avhianwu, OKAKU, Chief Michael Clement Kadiri Orbih, Amen.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 57)
One role model and generalissimo almost everybody looked up to in those days was The Agbokhaivho of Avhianwu. One did not need to be told who he was while growing up in Ogbona as he dominated every discussion. Every success story was benchmarked against his personality. If you said someone was rich, you would be asked if he was as rich as ” Orbih” if one was said to be influential and powerful, they would ask if the person was as connected as “Orbih”. None of us knew “Orbih” was not his first name. We didn’t even know there was ORBIH family. Of course, we didn’t know about his initials or what have you. The other name he was fondly called was HONORABLE. Go to the market place then and mention HONORABLE, everyone knew who was being referred to. It was one day someone showed me a very tall man of about 6.3 or there about feet. He was in front of their family house. He had straight legs with broad shoulders on a wild chest but no potbelly. The cheeks were chubby and well shaven, radiating good life. The lips we puckered and succulent and never bereft of smiles. He carried semi afro hair style and a particular cap that remained his trade mark throughout his life time. The cap looked almost like that of Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s’. Chief Dan Osi Orbih seems to be continuing with the special cap tradition. He used to come home with one white Peugeot 404 Saloon car but on important occasions, he rode on sky blue Mercedes Benz with long headlights, driven by a man called Usher.
Gen. Bolivia Osigbemhe didn’t help matters with The ORBIHMANIA fever. There was hardly any of his albums without the name being mentioned. In fact, he had a special track for him which he never played for anyone else. It was like The GBU KPE GBU drum beat that is never beaten for a minor. The song was meant solely for Chief MCK Orbih. No matter the occasion, the tempo and personalities involved on the dancing floor, once Gen. Bolivia sighted Chief Orbih from a distant, he would end the music abruptly and played the special number that goes thus:
Ogbor i novha
vha wayie mhe
Ogbor i novha? * 2
Emor yio malu
Nor Orbih vha malu
Ogbor i novha?
Orbih vha kiu otsokpo
na re kwe yie’gbe
Vha du Orbih ghe ghe
Orbih vha Kia vhu gwa
no pua vha gwa sa
Vha du Orbih ghe ghe
Ologhio Orbih Kia yie
Okha pine khodono
Omala mio ghosomi
Omala mio ghomio
Ole Lui Bolivia
Gen. Bolivia is asking if there any height of success in life that Orbih has not attained?
Orbih is not tore piece of cloth that is used to clean the body.
Orbih should be honored and accorded his due respect.
Orbih is not flexible bone that is crackable by a puppy dog.
Orbih is a rattle snake with one deadly strike if dared him.
Orbih is an eagle bird who returns safely from every journey.
Orbih takes good care of Bolivia.
Orbih helps poor tax defaulter to pay his tax.
The relationship between Chief MCK Orbih and Gen. Bolivia Osigbemhe was very cordial, healthy and exemplary. I doubt if Gen, Bolivia had any cause to stand against him openly on any issue. He appreciated Chief Orbih till his untimely death. I always wonder how he would have mourned Chief Orbih if he had not predeceased Chief MCK Orbih. I remember how Gen. Bolivia wept inconsolably when Madam Christy Orbih died in August 1983. It took him time to come to term with reality of her transition. Though he performed throughout the wake keeping and the following day, he was not in his true element. In the middle of every performance, he would fight ceaselessly and unsuccessfully with tears, probably, because of the role the couple played in his career. Chief Orbih was able to identified the talent in him very early and helped Gen. Bolivia to fulfill his dream of becoming a musician.
Musically, Gen. Bolivia was a genius who explored the AGBI genre to the fullest and carved out a special rhythm for his music. A brand of music that gave him identity, fame, money and influence. He bestrode the musical scene in Afenmai land and the old Bendel State like a colossus. Not only did he make a name for himself, he helped to put Ogbona on the map. He never failed to mention his root, Ogbona and the help that Chief MCK Orbih rendered to him as an upcoming musician. As a matter of fact, he eulogized Chief MCK Orbih and Ogbona throughout his life time. We learnt that after leaving his teaching job, Gen. Bolivia decided to go into music full time. He learnt the rudiments of the trade from experts like Victor Olayia and became eager to go solo but one thing was missing, the musical instruments to start his choice carrier. Money, we were told, was not easy to come by but somehow, Chief MCK Orbih came into the picture and bought the much-needed musical instruments for him and his carrier took off gloriously. He made a success of the career and became role model and mentor for aspiring young musicians like King Benji Igbadumhe, Lucky Odogbo, Joe Peller and many others. That singular act of kindness by Chief MCK Orbih never failed to receive mention from Gen Bolivia Osigbemhe in any of his albums. He would say ETSE NOR ORBIH LU YIAMHE, IYIE YIA. The good thing that Orbih did for me, I will never forget.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 58)
His political opponents may have seen him as too rigid, ideological, uncompromising, domineering and OLOGHIO with one lethal strike whenever his political territory was being encroached upon but one thing was indisputably true, the uncommon virtue to connect with everybody, especially the down trodden. That interpersonal relationship skill is one attribute of The Ekhaevhe of Uzairue I will certainly take with me to the great beyond. Some pundits would argue that He connected easily with everybody because of political inclination but the question is how many politicians connect well with the people like Chief MCK Orbih and be loved, respected, appreciated and honored in return? In my short sourjon on planet earth, I have seen politicians fizzled out sooner than they arrived. Most of them are seasonal politicians who come around only when it is expedient with overt ulterior motive but Chief Orbih was an exceptional being. You always found him among the people all the time. Whether it was burial or wedding ceremony, Chief Orbih was always around or sent representative. My grandmother was a case in point. On several occasions, Chief MCK Orbih would park his Mercedes Benz in gorgeous agbada ensemble in his tradition cap and visited her. They would sit together for a considerable time, discussing. I used to wonder what that rich man would be discussing with one old woman. Honestly speaking, paint Chief MCK Orbih then with the most vituperative, malignant adjectives, confess his sins to the heavens, my grandmother would never cease to see him as her hero.
I once saw my grandmother fried garri, rooted fresh groundnuts and asked my mother to take them to her grandchildren who were living with Chief Orbih. I kept asking myself if a rich man like Chief MCK Orbih needed garri or fresh groundnuts as he could easily buy them from the market. I happened to follow my mother one day to his house at Jattu to deliver the garri. It was a big bungalow, full of people including two elderly women who were called MA Ogbona and MA from Avhianwu. There was a beautiful Christmas tree like the one in their family compound at home. We met Chief Orbih at home that day. I was very “disappointed” because things did not turn out the way I expected. Chief Orbih was very excited and welcomed my mother with open arms and I believed the money he gave to her was far more than the value of the things she brought from my grandmother. He appreciated the effort of my grandmother and concern for her grandchildren.
Very early in life too, I learnt that naturally people like to be appreciated sincerely and that no matter how well to do you might think someone is, he may lack one thing or the other which may be material, emotional or otherwise.
Eramha Edegbai was another person who realized no man is ever self-sufficient and that the rich also want to be appreciated. Eramha Edegbai lived between the Itsuokor and The Idode families, just beside the old market. He was tall and slim, fair and handsome. If he had the chance, he would have made impacts with his physical structures in the movie industry. He was a good drummer, always minded his business and of course, had a rich knowledge of the inner working of the human mind. In the mid-70s or there about, Chief Orbih brought his family home for Okhei initiation ceremony. Normally, during such period, someone in Chief Orbih’s shoes receives support from the people with any amount however meager but on that particular occasion, a lot of people erroneously believed Chief Orbih was rich and needed nothing from anybody. Eramha Edegbai saw things in a different way. He was the only person that supported Chief MCK Orbih with 50k, fifty kobo. Chief Orbih appreciated him profusely and without making any fuss about it. Years later, Eramha Edegbai was building his house beside the Itsuokor family house. From my humble experience then, it was not too difficult to erect a building especially with mud blocks. One’s family and friends were very handy to render the much-needed assistance. The major problem was corrugated iron zinc to roof the building. Mud houses were very delicate as they got destroyed easily by rains if not quickly roofed. Eramha Edegbai was probably between the rocks and the hard places on how to roof his house having taking the building to roofing level. He was in front of the building when bundles of zinc were delivered to him by Chief MCK Orbih just because of the support of fifty kobo he gave to Chief MCK Orbih during Okhei initiation ceremony.
Not only did Chief Orbih ingratiate with the locals, he was said to perpetually keep his door open for them. According to Eramha Godwin Atsegwasi, Chief MCk Orbih’s house at Jattu was a mini Ogbona, especially the day before Jattu market day. Things we are told, were not as easy as they are now. One could not leave his house to Jattu on the same market day, did his business and return to Ogbona, he would go a day before to meet up with activities in the market. Every available space in the building was said to be occupied by Ogbona people who were in Jattu to trade. So much so that Chief Orbih had to speak with one of his compound neighbour, Mr. Ikhane to help out whenever his compound was filled up. I learnt Madam Christy Orbih was very supportive as she took good care of the people even when Chief MCK Orbih was not around.
Chief Orbih was a politician, no doubt but his ability to connect with people, listen to their problems and did the little he could to help them endeared him to their hearts and the people loved him in return. Nowhere else was this love demonstrated than when he was thrown into jail by Gen. Buhari in 1984.You could feel the pulse of the people when the news came that Chief MCK Orbih had been arrested and the joy on their faces when the news of his release came too.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 59)
As a student, Engr. Joy Oyati was very precocious. What with his sterling academic performance that left no room for doubt that greatness awaited him. He looked every inch a special breed that needed to be nurtured and given all the necessary support in life to fulfill his destiny. His father, regardless the meagre income, did everything possible to ensure his son acquired western education and help to contribute his quota to uplift the family and help humanity. When it was time to register his son for The West African Examination Council final examination at Saint John’s Grammar School, Fugar, the father never spared a thought or entertained any doubt that his son would make him proud and come out in flying colors. The principal and teachers at Saint John’s Grammar could bet their lives that their school would once again prove its academic prowess through student Oyati but that was not to be as some forces beyond their control were at work to dash their hope and possibly truncate the destiny of their jewel. Engr. Oyati did everything and kept late nights to ensure he did not betray the confidence reposed in him, but unfortunately, after the examination, the result was not released by the examination body. The sense of frustration that engulfed him and everybody was better imagined than described. After a while, the father decided to see what could be done in the interim before he could gather some money to reregister him for another examination the following year and he decided to approach Chief MCK Orbih to get his son engaged as temporary worker at Hill Top Hotel, Auchi.
Chief Orbih decided to find out why the father would want such a young and brilliant chap paused his academic pursuit while his peers were making preparation to further their education and the father opened up and told Chief Orbih what had just happened. Chief Orbih was touched and asked for the young boy’s examination particulars and Chief MCK Orbih travelled to The West African Examination Council Headquarters in Lagos to find out what happened. Luckily, one of his friends, Mr. Esezobor who later rose to become the Chief Registrar of the examination body was in the registry department. Chief Orbih told him why he was at Yaba and Mr. Esezobor swung into action immediately and before you knew it, Engr Oyati’s scripts were located and it was discovered that his result was under investigation for no other reason that his performance was above what was expected of a “Local ” school like Saint John’s Grammar School. Immediately, the result was released including other candidates who were in similar situation. Engr Joy Oyati was to study Civil Engineering and had a glorious career in Setraco Nig. Ltd before resigning to start his private business and he has never looked backed.
Chief Orbih had a way of establishing life lasting bond with people more than anything else. I saw this bond between him and three of his friends at play while growing up at home. Eramha Kande Ogedegbe, Patrick Abuda Obeakemhe, and Raphael Nasamu Odior were his bosom friends at home. They were like three musketeers. I may have been too young to understand the level of intimacy that existed among them, but with what I saw, I knew their relation was very cordial and mutual. I never saw him relate with them in the parlor of condescension. He would park his Mercedes Benz, visited and stayed with each of them and one always saw them chatting like bon homme. I was made to understand that though, his friends never had formal education, he encouraged them to send their children to school and picked in the children’s academic progress. He never forgot to find out about their academic performance right from elementary level and advised them on any issue.
According to Eramha Gilbert Erelumhe Odior, Chief MCK Orbih visited him at the University of Ibadan at least, once in every year to find out how he was doing and that regardless the fact that his father always gave him enough money, Chief Orbih would still give him something substantial. According him, when he could not stand the sights of blood and cadavers and decided to switch from medicine to geology but found it difficult to tell his father he was abandoning medicine for geology, the only person he could confide in was Chief MCK Orbih and he saw reasons with him.
I saw the meaning of true friendship and loyalty when Eramha Kande Ogedegbe died in 1983. I may not be privy to what transpired behind the scene or Chief Orbih’s financial commitment to the burial ceremony but on the surface, Chief Orbih mobilized who was who in Bendel state politics to the burial. Names like Chief Anenih, Okumagba, Afegbua of this world, they were there that day.
Above all, Chief Orbih ” serve” that day. To SERVE in those days meant the giving or distribution of souvenirs, money to people during final burial ceremony. This was done by the children, in-laws and close relations of the deceased. It took place in the public arena of each of the four quarters in Ogbona. How someone SERVE was dependent on his resources and this in turn, determined if people would turn out en mass or not. RICH people settled down to SERVE everyone while the POOR ones hurriedly jumped a lot of spaces, of course, not to the surprise of anyone. Okotor’s public square was the main junction connecting Okotor and Ivhiorevhor, in front of the Esue family compound. Ivhiochie had theirs between the Azoganokhai and Asapokhai compounds. Ivhido used the road beside the Anyiador and the Ezunya compounds while Ivhiorevhor utilized the open space between Eramha Agbagbona and the Ikhane compounds.
But on the above occasion, Chief Orbih asked the people to form a big circle in the primary school beside the Catholic Church and he settled down without jumping anyone and SERVE by giving one naira to everyone that was present day. One naira was a big amount then. On that day, there was a big surprise because the portfolio, EKPI KPEGHOR which was customarily carried by one of the three musketeers, was handled by Chief Ferdinand Orbih SAN and aided by Chief Dan Orbih. Anytime Chief MCK Orbih exhausted a bundle, he would signal to Chief Ferdinand to release a fresh one. People concluded Chief MCK Orbih had lost confidence in the other two of his friends and had chosen Chief Ferdinand as personal assistant/successor but this turned out to be untrue as he still entrusted his “bag of money” to his friends.
THE OGBONA THAT FLOWS IN MY VEINS (PART 60)
As little children growing up in Ogbona, we never knew that our generic nomenclature of Avhianwu was not used exclusively to describe Fugar people. Often time, one would hear someone saying he was going to Avhianwu was later we were made to understand the true position of things but I doubt if much has changed in practice. Ivhiarua and Ivhinone as descriptive entities, have been swallowed by FUGAR. As children, one could not really describe the healthiness of the relationship between Ogbona and Fugar. That of Iraokhor was more cordial and mutual, probably because of the proximity but I doubt if the average Fugarian reciprocated in symmetrical fashion, the same level of respect we accorded them. There was this unequal rivalry between Ogbona and Fugar. Unequal in terms of size and presence of social amenities. They had pipe bore water, A grammar school, Old government residential Area and later, Fugar City Hotel and Nazareth Hospital. Matters were not helped when Fugar was connected to the national grid in 1986 to the exclusion of Ogbona. There was another factor that seemed to count in their favour, The Oghie Avhianwu of Avhianwu, Chief Alao, was from Fugar. As a matter of fact, we erroneously conceded the position to them permanently until we were made to understand that it is rotative among the four villages that make up Avhianwu clan. Chief Alao was surrounded by a lot of power personalities like Chief Steve Obaze, Chief Philip Okhumhale, Chief Emmanuel Ugheoke, Chief Anthony Opitoke and a host of others.
In 2000, I was with my cousin, Jude Anaweokhai in Lagos when a boy from Fugar came to visit him. He told us that but for Chief MCK Orbih, they would have on a permanent basis, pocketed the position of the Oghie Avhianwu of Avhianwu and I asked him how, he told us that after the death of Chief Alao , all the big guns in Avhianwu met with the sole of objective of having the position of the Oghie Avhianwu of Avhianwu reside in Fugar permanently. They were ready to deplore all their resources to achieve the objective but Chief Orbih knew what they did not know. It was discovered that in the early 60s, Chief Orbih caused The EDIOR NE’JIE in Avhianwu to come together and signed a document on how the position of The Oghie Avhianwu of Avhianwu is rotated among the four villages. When the Fugar big guns heard this shocker, they went to Chief Itsueli and he confirmed their fears. On legal ground, the document could not be challenged because it was over 20 years old, a killer piece of evidence in litigation, it was.
Perhaps, Chief Orbih foresaw the direction of things about 30 years earlier having leveraged his political experience. But for his vision, perhaps another senseless and endless litigation would have ensured in Avhianwu.
Though his impacts were felt most in the political scene which he bestrode like a colossus, he also made his presence felt in the academic world too. A lot of Ogbona sons and daughters passed under his tutelage as a teacher and Headmaster. In fact, he was still the headmaster of St. John’s Primary School, Ogbona when he ventured into politics. As a matter of fact, he was said to combine teaching, his first love with politics. In 1953, at the beginning of former politics in Nigeria in the real sense of it, Chief MCK Orbih contested and won against Eramha Agunu Akhigbe from Ivhiochie to represent Avhianwu ward at the Local Council Authority as councilor. In 1959, He also won the election to the National House of Representative in Lagos. The election was said to be keenly contested against Mr. G.M Udochi. Chief Orbih was said to have campaigned with a Pamphlet titled “MY ANSWER TO THE MAN AWAY FROM HOME”. In 1979, he also contested again under NPN but lost. Whatever he lost in that election, was compensated for as Chairman, Governing Board of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital.
The above journey, no doubt prepared him for the task ahead and put him in vantage position to contribute his quota to the development of our community. As member of National Assembly From 1958 to 1962, Ogbona was confronted with two knotting problems, that of water and absence of maternity home which had remained insoluble from time immemorial. 1962, Chief Orbih brought a company manned by an Israelis who had poor command of English, to dig a borehole in Ogbona. The open space beside the Asekhauno family house was chosen as site for the borehole. The Israelis engineer was said to be fond of commanding people to COME HERE with assented English, before you knew it, the man became known as COMEHEEH. Unfortunately, the exercise was futile due to poor geophysical survey and at the end, it was concluded Ogbona was too hilly and such, had no water underneath. That unfortunate and mendacious conclusion, according to Chief Dan Osi Orbih, spurred his effort to look for water inside Ogbona with superior technology and he succeeded with two boreholes within Ogbona town.
The second problem of ante-natal care was confronted head on as Chief MCK Orbih brought the first maternity home to Ogbona and yours sincerely and his twin brother were delivered there. If Chief Orbih is still well remembered today, it’s because of the University of Benin Teaching Hospital Comprehensive Health Centre at Ogbona that has been named after him. It was one government presence that changed the socio- economic narrative of Ogbona. Apart from the Post Office, it is arguably the only federal government presence in Ogbona.
According to the Vice President Ogbona Elites Forum, Mr. Bernard Kassim Ikhane, as the Chairman of the Governing Board of UBTH, Chief MCK Orbih brought 14 employment letters to Ogbona and without any interview, Ogbona indigenes, including himself were given automatic employment in UBTH. Some of the employees relocated to Ogbona as soon as the Ogbona health centre was opened where they worked and retired.
Hate him or like him, Chief MCK Orbih shaped the history of his time and helped in his own little way to contribute his quota to the development of our dear community in particular and humanity in general. He was certainly not an angel from neither am I nor you. As human being whose actions and inactions were susceptible to errors of human frailty, he had his own challenges and difficulties that can be conceded on ground of absence of perfection in humanity. I have no doubt in my mind that posterity will ever be kind to him whenever the history of Ogbona is written. May the soul of OKAKU rest in peace, Amen.