In Defence of Edo Womanhood

The expanded form of the word Ogiso is Ogie-iso, which when tranlated in Edo means, king of the sky. The word Ogie means king, Iso means Sky or Heaven. Thus the Edo people believe that thieir kings come from the sky or more appropiately, from Heaven or from God. It is belief which explains why the Oba or king is the embodiment of the culture of the Edo people. The story of the people of the people cannot be written without reference to their king or Oba. Indeed, everything revolves
round the Oba. For example, a matured man would be appropriately referred to as Okpioba(meaning Oba´s man)Conversely, a woman would be referred to as Okhuoba (meaning Oba´s woman).

The salutions or greetings of the Edo people have not excluded their Oba. Thus for "Good morning" Edo man or woman would say Oba Owie(meaning King of the Morning) "For good afternoon" they would say Oba Avan (King of the afternoon) and for "good evening" they would say Oba ota (meaning king of the Evening). The origin of the word Oba has been a subject of controversy.

The early kings in Benin were known as Ogisos. The succcesors were the Obas which began with Oba Eweka1. Some writers claim that the word Oba is a yoruba word which means King. Others insist that the word must have been derived from the Benin word O baa meaning "it is difficult hard or dificult or probably from an abbreviation of the original name of the first Ogiso Obagodo(Oba godo: Oba-King godo. high; thus High king). The long history of Edo people is reflected in their uniquely rich cultural heritage.
By Williams Enegbo Uwa

The Edo-speaking people of West Africa, especially in Southern Nigeria, have lived where they are now, for THOUSANDS OF YEARS. The beginning of Edo history is lost in antiquity-in a mythical timeframe work. Edo history did not begin from the 7th century A.D. People have moved in and out. The Edo people did not migrate in mass from Sudan, Egypt, Babylon, or Greece. It is doubtful if they even emigrate in waves.

Chief Jacob Egharevba in chapter one of his book BINI Titles (1956), quoted his source as P Amaury Talbot," According to P.Amaury Talbot in his Book " The Peoples of Southern Nigeria," Vol.II Chapter. Paragraph 6 and 7:" Considerably later, perhaps about the seventh millennium B.C., a further wave of Sudanese Peoples began to pour in, first the Edo (Benin) and EWE (Popo) and then the Ibo, followed may be about the second millennium B.C. by the earliest Yoruba." Then he gave his own interpretation-" Perhaps in a more correct phrase," The Sudanese, therefore come first-Yoruba, Popo, Edo (Benin), Ijaw and Ibo, then the Semi-Bantu Ibibio, Ukelle and other tribes of the Northwest followed by the Boki, Ekoi, and Bafumbu-Bansaw; and finally the Bantu." Almost every African tribe came from the Middle East.

For thousands of years, Edos have been getting married. It is unfortunate that, there is no more powerful corresponding word in Edo lexicon than ORONMWEN that captures the meaning of the word MARRIAGE, as in the Anglo-Saxon sense. The closest word we have is ORONMWEN. All we have are descriptive phrases about marriage-" Okhia ye omo ye oronmwen,"-he wants to give the daughter away in MARRIAGE. " Okhia rie Okhuo,"- he wants to marry a woman. " Okhia romwen odo," she wants to marry a husband. But sometimes an Edo man/ person would say," Ma khia du ugie oronmwen," we want to perform the festival of marriage.

Incidentally, there is no indigenous Edo word for PROSTITUTION as practiced today all over the world. The modern Edo word, OSUKA is Igbo derived. ASEWO is a Yoruba word. Before 1897, it was unthinkable for an Edo woman to rent an apartment and sell herself for money. There were just no apartment to rent. Tenancy as we know it today came with COLONIALISM. There were of course some who women were flirts. They were simply described as OVBAN OGHE OGHE ( Ovb''oghe )-somebody who flirts. Whether they do it for money or were just promiscuous is another matter altogether.

The word OSUKA is Igbo derived as a corrupted Bini version of the name NSUKKA. When prostitutes appeared in Benin City in the 1940s and 1950s, most of them were Igbos speaking. They took abode at UGBAGUE QUARTERS in Benin City. When asked were they came from, they said Nsukka. That name became corrupted to OSUKA-PROSTITUTES. I was born and raised at no 8 Ugbague street, Benin City. It is the only place you can get" suya suya meat" 24 hrs. a day. Their descendants or successors are still there still practicing the "oldest profession" known to mankind. Just go Chief Aluyi house on the side street. Therefore prostitution among Edo women is new, may be 30 years old, exacerbated with the presence of the military and the civil war ( Biafran war )..

The International prostitution is very, very new, may be 5 years old. The effect of the economic crunch is there for all to see.
Before 1897, girls were generally regarded as ready for marriage between the ages of 15 through 18. Courtship can begin among the individuals during the trip to the river to fetch water or during the moonlight play-EVIONTOI. But sometimes parents actually go looking for a wife or husband for their children. This led to the BETROTHAL SYSTEM where marriage were conducted with or without the consent of the individuals involved. Sometimes such betrothal, took place when a baby girl was born. Suitors would begin to approach the parents by sending a log of wood or bundle of yams to the parents of the child. You are likely to hear statements such as -"Imu' Ikerhan gboto"-I have dropped a log of firewood. When a boy decides to get married and the parents have accepted the bride as a prospective daughter-in-law, messages go up and down between the two families. This is called IVBUOMO-SEEKING FOR A BRIDE. Series of investigations are conducted by both families-about disease, scandals and crimes which may affect the families.

The term of the marriage which of course may include the DOWRY would be settled in some families. Gifts for mother of the bride and IROGHAE- members of the extended family would be part of the settlement. Then a date would be set for the ceremony, which would take place in the home of the woman's family. This was called IWANIEN OMO in the old days. The go-between for the two families must be somebody well known by both families. There would of course be a lot of merriment on the day of marriage when the bride and the bridegroom are presented openly to the two families. Kolanuts and wine are presented. The OKA EGBE of the woman's family would normally preside over the ceremony. Prayers are said and kolanuts broken at the family shrine.

Rituals vary from family to family and clan to clan. The woman always sit on her father's lap before she is given away. Amidst prayers, laughter and sometimes tears, the woman would be carefully hoisted on the lap of the OKA EGBE of the bride's family. Many years ago, the woman would be sent to the bridegroom house about thirteen days after IWANIEN OMO and gingerly hoisted either on her husband's lap or the OKAEGBE of his family. They are done immediately nowadays in the home of the bridegroom. The bride, now known as OVBIOHA would be led by her relatives to the husband's house with all her property Meanwhile the family and friends of the bridegroom are feasting, drinking, singing and dancing while waiting for the bride to arrive. As the family and friends of the bridegroom awaits the OVBIOHA, messages will arrive suggesting that there are UGHUNGHUN-barriers on the road. The bridegroom has to remove the barriers by sending money to the party, bringing the wife to him or else the wife will not arrive. As they approach the house of the bridegroom, you can hear the echo of OVBIOHA GHA MIEN ARO-ARO, meaning "Bride! Be proud/ the Bride is proud." Arrival at the bridegroom's house is immediately followed by the ceremony of IKPOBO-OVBIOHA-washing of the bride's hands. A bowl of water with money in it would be brought out. A woman in the bride's family, sometimes his senior wife would bring out a new head-tie, wash the hand of the Ovbioha in the bowl and dries her hand with the head-tie. Both the new head-tie and the money in the bowl belong to the bride.

A few days later, the bride would taken to the family altar and prayers are said for her. She undergoes what is called the IGBIKHIAVBO ceremony-beating of OKRO on the flat mortar. This would be followed by a visit by the bride's mother-in-law and other female members of the family to the newly wed, if they were not living in the same house. She would demand the bed-spread on which they both slept when they had their "first sexual relationship" after the wedding. If the bed-spread was stained with blood, the bride was regarded as a virgin and she would be given many presents including money. If it is proven that she was not a virgin, then the preparation for the ceremony of IVIHEN-OATH TAKING ceremony would be set in motion. First, she has to confess to the older women, the "other men" in her life before she got married. The husband would never be told of any of her confessions. Then, she would be summoned to the family's shrine early in the morning, without warning to take an oath of FIDELITY, FAITHFULLNESS, TRUSTWORTHINESS, HONESTY ETC, to her husband and family.

This ceremony is the equivalent of the oath people take in the church, mosque or marriage registry. Once the oath taking ceremony is over, she would be fully accepted into the family. She immediately becomes married not only to her husband but to the family and sometimes to the community.

Christianity, Islam and Westernization have already weakened the Edo traditional system of marriage. The traditional ceremony is sometimes done the same day with many of the rituals avoided in the name of Christianity or Islam. Many women would rather die than take the oath we described above. It was the oath that kept our women out of prostitution for many years. Edo women were regarded as very faithful, trustworthy, and honest with strong fidelity to their husbands. Neighboring tribes wanted them as wives. It made divorce on the ground of adultery, less common in those days. The scourge of prostitution which has eaten deep into Edo women's life (as reported in the news media) should be placed on the shoulders of Christianity, Islam, Westernization and the attendant economic mess Nigeria has found herself.

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