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“EBIRA HERITAGE: OUR LEGACY”

AT THE FIRST EBIRA POLITICAL REFORM CONFERENCE
ORGANISED BY EBIRA ADVOCATES
PRESENTED BY DR A TOM ADABA, OON, OHI ETOHUEYI OF EBIRALAND
ON AUGUST 07, 2010

Protocols
Introduction
To the glory of God Almighty and for the peace, love and unity among our people, I share with you distinguished organisers and guests, these few thoughts which I dedicate to my bossom friend, Chief David Amodu Braimoh (DABRAS) who recently passed on to God’s glory. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
I congratulate the organisers of this gathering for deeming it fit to get together to share views on the way forward for our people who have been so decimated and degraded by forces that have set us against one another. Forces of marginalisation, of oppression, of hunger and indeed poverty have reduced us to a leprotic paraiah race who now eat the crumbs instead of feeding our neighbours. Our self-sufficiency and contentment which was the symbol of our pride has been snatched from us. What now is left of us is the shell of our old selves in which a vital element is still hidden. It is our will. For this will to grow back into a formidable force, it is imperative that we look back, establish our point of deviation from our ordained path, and strategise to regain our pride, our potential and our path of honour.

BACKCKGROUND
Way back in 1959, when the campaign for the Federal Legislative seats were heated up in Ebiraland between the then member of the House of Representatives, - late Mr. J A G Ohiani and a new entrant, Mallam Salihu Maaji, the then Prime Minister of Nigeria, late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa came home to campaign for the re-election of Mr. Ohiani. He even promised on the rostrum that if Mr. Ohiani was re-elected, he would be made a Federal Minister. The late Alhaji Mohammed Kokori Abdul, a vibrant and articulate organizer and mobiliser of human beings, retorted that Ebira people had never been captured by any Jihadist empire or any other group for that matter and were therefore not slaves to any tribe in the country. To him, Ebira people, not any outsiders would dictate who represented them anywhere. This is an encounter between a prime national voice and a local voice of a minority ethnic group. At the elections, Mr. Ohiani was defeated by a neophite in politics – the power of the people, the indomitable spirit of the Ebira man, the inalienable resolve of the Ebira man of yester-years. In the 50’s and the 60’s, the voice of Ebira counted in decision-making and the general scheme of things in the then North and indeed in the Nation. Even in Kwara State, Ebira was given the first shot in the civilian leadersip of the State. Just what has gone wrong in Kogi State which is about 5% of the old North? What has become of us?
To answer this, we must first, examine what makes us a people?
Culture
From the sociological perspective, culture is defined as the sum total of a people. Webster’s Dictionary describes it as – the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon man’s capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.
It is also identified as “the customary beliefs, social forms and material traits of a racial, religious or social group”.
The transmission of this knowledge is manifested in the language, the folklores, the festivals, the customary behavior or pattern on occasions like birth, marriage,, burial, family values, etc.
In all these determinants of the culture of a people, Ebira Nation is totally deficient. Today, permit me to buttress my assertions with the following questions:
-       How many of us or our children can speak Ebira language, and dare I ask, fluently?
-       Are there any Ebira Folklores that we know? How many know our answer to Titinkori?
-       Which traditional festivals do we celebrate in Ebiraland today?
-       What are our defined norms or traditional patterns for celebrating birth, marriage or death?
-       There used to be a ritual for the young person’s assumption of maturity – oyi su abara. What has become of it?
(A).      Language
Language is a uniquely designed phenomenon by God to differentiate a people one from another. It is the instrument for communicating and transmitting culture from generation to generation. It is a blending and uniting element, indeed the core of a people’s existence. It is the distinctive force that defines a people. When this is lost, the people are threatened with extinction. This explains why the major languages strenuously and proudly work to preserve and propagate  their language, much to the detriment of the smaller groups, because it is the medium of promoting their culture. Today, our language is anaemic, it is diluted, it has no character of its own, it is colourless, it is massively infected by other languages and indeed, it is at the brink of submersion or total annihilation because we ourselves have not given much attention to its preservation, promotion or deliberate propagation. Ebira people are, by nature, a proud, upright, courageous and intelligent people. This must be reflected in our treatment of Ebira language which, to me, is incomparable to any other language because of its richness, beauty, sonorous quality, sharpness and expressive delivery. Even in an inter-tribal marriage which we generally claim threatens the extinction of our language, I strongly believe that Ebira can be taught to the child along-side the language of the spouse and even extra foreign languages like English and other major Nigerian languages. Research and even empirical experiences show that children are capable of absorbing many languages at a time. We are, by God’s ordained endowment, duty-bound to be interested in, passionately learn, proudly speak, and deliberately and courageously transmit Ebira language to our off-springs. In this language lies our pride and our God-given identity. To appreciate the beauty of Ebira language, I admonish that we speak it without diluting it with any other language.
(B)       FOLKLORES
Story telling is one medium of disseminating morals and values of a people and their culture from generation to generation
The use of literary expressions through rhythms and rhymes, proverbs and parables, songs and symbols enrich the language of a people. Stories with morals that depicted honesty, heroism, hard-work etc were told to children at home under moonlight and in schools during school hours.
Today, all of the above are absent and indeed loudly yearn for a revival. I appreciate the rat-race that our present circumstances have subjected us to. But I believe it is untenable that this fundamental agent of acculturation has been dropped in schools. It must be revived in our educational syllabus. It must be re-introduced at our homes no matter how minimal.
(C)       HISTORY
The history of our heroes past, our ancestors who have left this proud legacy for us cannot be recounted today. Where are the Ozumis, the Odimboro’s, the Obeges, the Otase’s, the Okino’s, the Ichimiri’s, the Iya Egbe’s, and in the last 50 – 100 years – Alhaji Ibrahim Onoruoiza Atta – the architect of modern Ebira, Adobo – the hunter, and in the political arena, Joseph A G Ohiani, George Uru Ohikere, Raphael Ojeba, William Omo, Mohammed Kokori Abdul, Ahmadu Badamasuyi, Onoo – the women leader etc, who have helped in shaping modern Ebira? What of our esteemed nationalists like Raji Abdallah, Abdul Maliki, Abdul Azeez Atta and our other sons and daughters who have been outstanding in their various areas of calling, Dr Mumuni Atta, Albert O. Ozigi, Isa Abonyi Obaro, Judith Atta or artistes like Umojiri, Kekere Usungwe, Audu Echori, Isa Danga, Momoh Ajagu, and countless others. What do we know of them today? These are people whose contributions to our history and literature should be documented, and transmitted from generation to generation. Their heroic exploits deserve to be emulated because of their iconic value. May this serve as a challenge to our historians, anthropologist, social scientists, and to anyone committed to the past and the future of Ebira to address.
(D)       CEREMONIES
Life has three major landmarks – birth, marriage and death. In any society, these are generally marked either with celebrations as in the first two, or with mourning or celebration in the last – death, depending on the circumstances of death and the age of the deceased.
(i)            Birth
At birth, there is joy generally. The celebration that commemorates birth is the naming ceremony. The child is presented to the community and the designated elder is given the child to present to God in prayer. After the prayer, one significant assignment of the presenter is the first breath of instruction. The presenter raises the baby up and blows a breath into the child right ear saying “Isa Adawu okayuwu, wawu” meaning “Work with or obey whatever your father tells you”. He does the same thing on the other ear enjoining the baby to obey his or her mother. Here, the parents represent the elders that make up the community. The child grows up respecting and appreciating the parents and elders who take the responsibility of bringing him/her up.
 
(ii)          Naming
The names are administered to the child. This ceremony is of profound significance because this is the stage when the child assumes an identity in the society. The names given to the child always have a philosophical, spiritual, historical, social and even genealogical connotation. These are what the child will be known by for the rest of his or her life.
This explains why a child called Oyiz, for example will hardly ever behave contrary to her name – goodness. In this same category are Unoyiza, Isoyiza, Ahuoyiza, Ize, Onize, Eneze, Ometere for female while similar names for males include Adeiza, Onoruoyiza, all depicting the essence of goodness.
 
The philosophy of the value of the person as God’s divine creation is reflected in names such as Ozavize, Ozohu, Ozovehe, Adavize, Oziohu, Enehu, Ozavinoyi, Enes,i Isezuo, Anazuo, etc while name like Asipita, Aasimi, Aaze, Anusoze, Ootuhuo are given to children born after previous losses due to infant mortality. Anataku, Onimisi, Enehu, Asuku are expressions of love and importance of the child to the parents and the community while names like Adeku, Onyeku, Onyeche, Itopa, Onyinoyi, Adinoyi reflect the historical circumstance of birth. The list is endless. One thing however stands out, every name has a historical, psychological, philosophical, and even social meaning.
 
(iii)         Marriage
A girl is not just picked by a man who fancies her. Protocols and customs are respected and indeed carried out to the letter. The suitor expresses his feelings to the girl who in turn tells him to take the right customary steps, - meet her parents. He does not go to the parents. Rather, his own parents or elders in the family, in the case of orphans, visit the parents of the girl and disclose their mission. This is generally made easier if the two parents are acquaintances or friends. The parents of the girl conduct some research on the family background of the suitor. This is done to ascertain that they do not give their daughter to a family that is irresponsible, careless or criminal. They also ensure that they are not both of the same clan as this is a taboo in the land. Character or reputation is a key consideration in giving consent for marriage. No parents would want their own reputation tainted by the type of in-laws they give their daughter to.
After the process of investigation, there are a series of visits by the groom before a consent is made by the bride’s parents. This period is for careful study, prayers and supplications on both sides.  At consent, ceremonies, bride price, kola-nuts, gift items, food items, wines and assorted drinks, public interviews of the bride and groom, consent, prayers and traditional wedding follow. This is the time when the groom’s family prove their seriousness, willingness, capacity and capability in taking care of the bride by the amount of items brought and the number and caliber of people that accompany them. Items brought are generally shared among family members from far and near to seek their prayers for a happy marriage of their children. Indeed some items are even given back to the suitor’s family to take back home as a symbol of consent.
The marriage is just the beginning of the special relationship between the two families. At the birth of the first child in this marriage, the husband’s family sends a number of items including oil, salt, yams, fish and drinks each symbolizing an aspect of life, to the girl’s family to report the arrival of the good tidings – the baby boy or girl. Another forum for inter-family re-union resulting from this marriage is during festivals when the man sends food items and drinks to the parents-in-law to wish them a happy festival.
  (iv)         BURIAL
Death is not an item anyone wishes for but it is a necessity which all must prepare for.
Generally, there is no fanfare for the young person who dies. Rather, there is the usual mourning and accusations. Because we think, as regular human beings, it is hardly ever believed that a young person dies without thoughts of some evil hands at work. However, the two foreign faiths Christianity and Islam have taught us to commend every situation in the hands of God.
When an elder dies, however, he or she is celebrated for the life lived, the impact made, the legacy left behind and the belief that it has been a fulfillment of God’s plan. For the woman who dies, she is not just buried in her husband’s home; cautious reports must be presented to her original family unit. This report process could take a trip or more depending on the mode of report and the level of understanding between the two families before her demise. This reporting system is called “utu omenyi”.
For matriarchs and patriarchs of homes, clans and villages, a lot of celebrations, sometimes lasting seven days, takes place. These celebrations are not just in appreciation of  the length and impact of life but in supplication for his/her spirit to pray to God for the legacies left behind.
(v)          FESTIVALS
I have heard people angrily advocate for the abolition of our traditional/cultural festivals such as Ekuechi, Ech’ane, Ebe, etc. I beg to state that banishment is not the answer to curtailing violence that has now found a hiding place in the festivals. I say so because the festivals are themselves excellent media for expressing our heritage of love, unity, hardwork, courage etc. They are an eloquent identification of our values, if handled the way they should.
The Ekuechi festival for example is not by any stretch of imagination a violent festival. It is indeed a very calculated schedule of festivities to mark the end of the lunar year and to remember our departed relatives and dear ones. The names Eku which means “heaven”, and echi which is “comes down” derive from the visitation of the heavenly beings on the people, families, towns and localities. This day is set aside to welcome them.
 
It starts off with the determination of the days for the festivals according to various localities.
 
The night before the actual festival is Unehe – another name for a carnival-like vigil for both men and women, young and old during which songs and drumming rent the air through the night to herald the festival.
 
During the day, families exchange food and drink gifts especially in appreciation for the wives married from the in-laws, and in thanksgiving to God for a bumper harvest.
 
In the evening, specifically at dusk, the harbinger of the festival a masquerade, announces the beginning of the ceremonies with a shrill, frightening, clanging of gongs which sends chilling vibes on everybody and sends them scampering to their houses.
 
The second round of the masquerade’s traverse round the locality symbolizes the beginning of the festivals. This means that landlords can open the doors of their homes to anyone who wishes to come and share the sumptuous meals with them. It also releases the men to go out to any place of their choice. It is during this period that the women are cautioned, counseled and admonished by the akatapas or mini masquerades to keep their homes intact, desist from quarrels and crises, and keep the peace in the home which in turn promotes societal peace. Indeed, prophetic messages of gifts of children are given by the akatapa’s in domains that are problematic in child bearing which in many cases become testimonies the following year.
 
During this period every household is obliged to warmly welcome anyone who visits the house. The available food and drinks are for everybody irrespective of whether one is a stranger or a family member. This is so because it is not known who is an angel in disguise on this auspicious festival of the descent of the heavenly spirits. All must therefore be treated with decency, warmth and love that connote the festival.
 
After all the eating and drinking, new friends are made and it is time to go out and listen to the songs of the night masquerades which are generally instructive for societal upliftment, philosophical, poetic, satirical, fore-warning, prophetic and of course, sonorous and lyrically blended.
 
This is also when the boys are separated from the men. Any young man of the age of puberty who is able to stand all the introduction and is courageous enough to go out with the parent to watch the night masquerade through the night is hailed as matured – O ra su abara.
 
During the entire night, the masquerades sing various songs glorifying God, addressing societal issues, forewarning on pending challenges, admonishing on ethics and general behavior etc. The populace around the masquerade responds to the rendition with such gusto that a visitor would think that indeed the heavens were falling. The number of songs for the night, the weight and sense in the songs, the philosophy in the songs etc assist in determining the winner for the night.
 
In the morning when it is time to disperse, no trophies are given, no formal announcement of a winner is made, no aspersions are cast on anyone, the people leave for their respective homes with a sense of fulfillment that the year has been rounded off in peace and a prayer for a similar event in the following year.
This is the original structure which today has been dislocated by various interests – political, clannish and even sometimes, religious.
 
It is not the festival that is faulty but the evil dimensions brought into an otherwise joyous, harmless, elating and peaceful festival that should be addressed. There have been instances of violence in political gatherings and even in some religious festivals. Should we therefore ban such political parties or religious festivals because they have witnessed such violence? The same methods applied to avoid crises during political campaigns should be applied during festivals.
 
-           There should be reciprocal respect for and appreciation of all religions – Traditional, Islamic and Christian.
-           Masquerades have custodians who should be held responsible in the event of any violence in their group.
-           Workshops should be organized by the Local Government Councils for singers and custodians of masquerades to appreciate the effect of responsible songs that should promote societal cohesion and avoidance of abusive songs that could cause friction and disturbance..
-           Specific areas should be demarcated for singers and masquerades to operate during festivals. Trespass should be handled by law enforcement agents.
-           The use of clubs should be de-emphasised and indeed controlled by the singers/masquerades on whom rests the onus of keeping peace in their domain during the festival.
-           The Local Government should be involved and should indeed show interest in the festivals and cultural issues of the land irrespective of what faith the Chairman and members profess. This is what distinguishes us from others. An interest in our culture could also be revenue yielding.
If organized, the festivals could be made a competitive event that could be vied for and made revenue accruing using the stadium, the media and a host of others.
In each Local Government, there must be a Department of Culture which takes responsibility for the promotion of our long forgotten artefacts, crafts such as weaving and pottery, history and archives, language, festivals, cuisnes, folklores, traditional ceremonies and protocols, etc. The department should be manned by Ebira Historians, sociologists, researchers, anthropologists, linguists, literature and Mass Communications graduates who are keen on promoting Ebira in all ramifications. The result will simply be monumental because they will, using their expertise, unearth amazing documents, facts, figures, endowment and history of our land which perhaps, we know nothing about today. Rather than use them for thuggery, give these youngsters responsibility and we will be shocked at what they would give to society in return.
Our young ones are not mad, none of them wants to die prematurely and ignominiously as thugs of politicians, they do not want their lives to be ruined by addiction, they do not want their lives turned into living vegetables in the hands of heartless and spineless politicans. They want to live the fullness of their lives in fulfillment of their dreams and as useful citizens of the society. They are unemployed and discouraged. They can be helped. The Local Governments can assist, entrepreneurs can assist, pressure groups can advocate their cause before the government, individuals can use their own influence to assist. Indeed everyone should be involved so that our young ones are re-directed, guns are silenced, dialogue is promoted, understanding is enhanced, peace is installed and our past glory is regained.
In conclusion, permit me to emphasise that we have a rich and proud history, we have an enduring culture that is built in our language, our folklore, our ceremonies, and our festivals which must be proudly upheld, promoted and propagated by no one else but us – individually and collectively.
 Ebira-land direly needs a medium of communication – an electronic medium that would solely be responsible for educating, informing, mobilizing, conscientising, promoting, entertaining, uniting and uplifting our people. This is the medium that will bring us in linkage with our past, unite us with the present and prepare us for the future. It will give us a new direction that will lead us from the darkness that has been imposed on us to the glorious light that is ahead of us.
We have a radio station in the making. Our handicap is funds. I challenge you, Local Government Chairmen, distinguished ladies and gentlemen  to come on board so that we can jointly make Ovidi Communication a reality for our people.
Ini ukata Ohomorihi, Ebira ve tenyi.
God bless you all. God bless Ebira-land.
Ohi (Dr)  A  Tom Adaba, OON

Comments

  1. Can anyone tell me what the name Ohiani means?

    ReplyDelete
  2. On reading this piece I felt consumed with pride and dignity for so many reasons among which is the knowledge that I have gained,the focus which it has ignited and resolution which it sparked! Ohi Sir,thank you Eternally for this education.may Posterity be Kind to You and Your TIMES,

    ReplyDelete

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