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AFRICAN HOLOCAUST ARTICLES

Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter

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Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will

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The most pathetic thing is for a slave who doesn't know that he is a slave

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Every man is rich in excuses to safeguard his prejudices, his instincts, and his opinions.

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Until the Story of the hunt is told by the Lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

– African Proverb

Beyond a shadows of a doubt, the most definable characteristic of African people is our intrinsic ubiquitous reverance for divinity

– 'Alik Shahadah

We are not Africans because we are born in Africa, we are Africans because Africa is born in us.

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If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors.

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It takes more than a horrifying transatlantic voyage chained in the filthy hold of a slave ship to erase someone's culture

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If the future doesn't come toward you, you have to go fetch it

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What kind of world do we live in when the views of the oppressed are expressed at the convenience of their oppressors?

Alik Shahadah

It makes no difference what language Africans speak if our first language is not Truth

Hilary Muhammad (NOI)

 

NATURE OF EARTH GOD’S IN EDO ONTOLOGY

Valentine Eihichioya Obinyan,PhD Jan-2014
 

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The Edo people, are those who cover or occupy the whole of the present Edo state. Usually, it was identified as Bendel

state with the Afemai and Akoko to the north, the Bini and the Ishan in the centre, the Isoko, the Itsekiri and the Urhobo to the south[1].

The Edo people have always been regarded as having great affinity to the Yoruba people. It should be noted that due to dissatisfaction, crisis, custom implication of actions, there was migration by individuals to other parts of the kingdom for settlement. These migrations mostly arising from banishments resulted in the formation of other ethnic groups in the Bini kingdom.

Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century The Bini has a huge diversified language despite this apparent and mutual slightly un-intelligibility of language there have always been group interaction among the Edo people. The king was the head of the empire. But he ruled the empire through a government system consisting of chiefs, freemen and slaves.[2] There was a division of functions and duties among the groups that consists the Edo people, political organization was based on the village system. In such villages, the age grade association who performed both social and political functions. But politically, the government was solely in the hands of the most senior of the age grade association.

The Edo people are well-known for their ancient carvings and artistic works. Many of the ancient and exemplary arts where stolen to Europe by the imperialist agents who not only destroyed a lot of things of such outstanding works but also indoctrinated Africans to look down with extreme contempt on their work of art, culture and tradition as things that properly fitted into barbaric era of primitives and condemned African work of art and used them to adorn European museums and they are treated with an utmost incredible affection.


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THE SUPREME BEING- ‘OSANUBUA’

The people have in the hierarchy of beings, the Supreme Being as the highest of all things. Supreme Being is the absolute spirit, the ultimate one, the pure force and the ultimate force behind everything in reality.

Queen Mother Pendant Mask: Iyoba, 16th century

The Supreme Being is the first of the horizon in the Edo people’s relationship with each other like every other African society or community that is truly and dynamically involved with the reality as he is reflected in everything in nature as against the concept of the supreme as ‘Deus Remotius’ (Distant God), ‘Deus Incertus’ (an uncertain God) and a ‘Deus otiotius’ (an idle God)[3].


To the Edo people, the Supreme Being is the Alpha and Omega (the beginning and the end) of all things. That he is concerned with men and their deeds and recognizes the heart of all men.

For the Edo people, the Supreme Being is traditionally called ‘Osanubuwa’ or ‘Osanubua’. This name can be broken into four parts for etymological clarification:
  1. ‘Osa’ is a contracted or shortened form of the name “Orise” or the Itsekiri “Oritse” meaning the source of all being.
  2. ‘N’o’ is “who” or “which” as we have in ‘Chineke’ among the Igbo.
  3. “B” means “carry” or “Sustain”.
  4. Wa” or Uwa means the world or the universe”.

 ‘Osanubuwa’ base on the above etymological trace, mean “the Source of all beings who carries and sustains the world universe”4.

This name portrays the Supreme Being as the creator and absolute sustainer of the universe. The controller of all other god’s or activities who serve as God’s will and help Him in the theoretic control and maintenance of the universe. They are the intermediaries between ‘Osanubuwa’ (God) and ‘Oria’ (Man); the world we can see and that we cannot see.


ATTRIBUTES OF THE SUPREME BEING- ‘OSANUBUA’

Attribute of God- ‘Osanubuwa’ are those words or phrase ascribing traits, properties, qualities or characteristics to the Supreme Being- ‘Osanubuwa’. Such attributes are necessary anthropomorphic imageries which are natural attendants of every African society and religion. The attributes of the Supreme Being give us a true face to face knowledge of what they consider to be His nature and characteristics, and what they believe to be His role and position in relation to the world and super sensible realm. These attributes are:

  1. ‘Osanubuwa’ is the creator
  2. ‘Osabubuwa’ is a unique Being
  3. ‘Osanubuwa’ is the king of all.
  4. ‘Osanubuwa’ is the omnipotent.
  5. ‘Osanubuwa’ is transcendent.
  6. ‘Osanubuwa’ is supreme judge.
  7. ‘Osanubuwa’ is immortal.

WHO ARE THE EARTH GODS?

As with some other African community, The Edo people have their earth gods who act as the intermediaries between them and the Supreme Being. The earth gods are also categorized as divinities.

African traditional religions’ scholars, has classified these divinities into three categories. The first are the primordial divinities. Those believed to be the divinities of heaven since they were with the Supreme Being form the creation of the universe, and they usually part took of the creative work. Their origin is not known.

Secondly, there are some divinities who are defied ancestors. These were human beings who had lived extra ordinary and mysterious lives on earth so much so that when they were dead they were  “Canonized” or deified as gods. But when an ancestor is deified he is no longer an ancestor. This is the case of Jakuta and Sango in Yoruba tradition.
Thirdly, there are those divinities who are no more than personification of natural forces and phenomenon. Under this last category can be numbered, the myriad of spirits populated the West African people. Such spirits are associated with hills, mountains, rivers, rocks, caves, trees, brooks, lake or thick forests. Wherever there is a sacred place and their people offer worship to the particular spirit.

The earth gods in Edo ontology fit into these categories of divinities. They include: ‘Olokun;’, ‘Ogivwu’, ‘Ogun’ ‘Esu’ and ‘Oto’5.


OLOKUN’

This is the most important divinity in Edo and second only to ‘Osanubuwa’. The Supreme deity is ‘Olokun’. Thus, they literarily mean “The owner of the Sea”. ‘Olukun’ is thus the divinity of the ocean and waters. It is believed that he is the beloved son of ‘Osanubuwa’. Like the Yoruba ‘Orisa –nla’, he is the arch-divinity of Edo land, and he is vested with his father’s royal power and authority.

Olokun’ is considered a female and in some temples he is represented as a woman, usually a clay image of a woman. But many people believe that he is male; although, he may be symbolized in feminine terms. His worshippers are principally women. Hence when a man is ordered to offer sacrifice to ‘Olukun’, his daughter usually performs the sacrifices on his behalf.

Olokun’ is regarded as a beneficent divinity who has all the material well-being at his disposal and can distribute this to men according to his will. ‘Olokun’ sends rain and the fertility of the soul is attributed to him. People in Edo pray to ‘Olokun’ for riches, success in trade, and undertakings and total well beings. His emblems include pots containing water, pieces of white chalk, peeled rods and white cloth. Also, his special offerings are white fowls, white pigeon and white cloth with which he represents God’s holiness. He is the divinity of inspiration and idealism and those who come under his tutelage are believed to have powerful, magnetizing mind, overwhelming charm and magnificent accuracy in all things. Indeed they are known to be quite original to and sensitive highly in nature, becoming geniuses in one way or the other.

The priest of ‘Olokun’ is called ‘Ohen Olokun’, and he serves as a link between the people and the divinity. They are other Edo priest of ‘Olokun’ but ‘Ohen Olokun’ is the head of them all.


OGIVWU’

This is the god of thunder in Edo land, who brings death on disobedient children through thunder and lightning. In this regard, he is an expression of divine judgement.
‘Ogivwu’ is thought to be the son of ‘Osanubuwa’. He is believed to be very wise and powerful so much that he is free to violate the orders of ‘Osanubuwa’, especially in matters concerning human beings since he owns the blood with which ‘Osanubuwa’ makes man and without which it is impossible for man to be made. People therefore strongly believe that it was ‘Ogivwu’ who brought them into the world hence the Edo tradition owe a lot to ‘Ogivwu’ powerful nature.

Among the Edo people, those who fear the powers of ‘Ogivwu’ and do not want to be summoned from this life usually pray to ‘Ogivwu’. In past, sacrifices to ‘Ogivwu’ include one man, one woman, one cow and one goat. And when there was pestilence the sacrifice to him increases. Today in Edo, animal surrogates are made for him [6].


OTO’

This is the earth goddess, believed to be very powerful in Edo land. She is symbolized by an ‘Ikhimi’ tree which is planted near every house. The goddess ‘Oto’ is associated with fertility of the crops. One of the principal emblems of ‘Oto’ is a large yam and during the new yam festival, she receives the best of sacrifices.

‘Oto’ is sacred tree is sometimes planted in a new farm to ensure greater productivity. Snails and pounded cassava are often offered at the foot of the tree and prayers are made to her for the growth of crops.


OGUN’

This is the god of iron, of war and of the chase. He is the permanent patron god of blacksmiths, hunters, warriors and all who deal in iron and steel belong to him, all surgical operations and all forms of bodily markings like circumcision and tattooing belongs to him. Tradition has it that ‘Ogun’ himself was a hunter who used to come down from heaven on a spider web for his hunting activities. And when all the other gods were coming into the world and could not find a way, it was ‘Ogun’ who cleared a way in the bush with his magical machete. In consequence of this, he was hailed by all. This is why he is aptly described today as chief among divinities.

‘Ogun’ is believed to be the ferocious and bellicose god. He is an instrument of God’s wrath and judgement. Any covenant or oath sealed before ‘Ogun’ as presiding judge must be fulfilled. In a court of law, adherents of traditional religion take their oath by kissing a piece of iron. This signifies that they have spoken the truth. People suspected of evil intention in Edo land are made to swear before ‘Ogun’ and false swearing is believed to have calamitous consequences because ‘Ogun’ demand justice, fair play and rectitude.

In Edo land, ‘Ogun’ is also worshipped for his benevolence hunters believe that he protects them in their dangerous hunting expeditions. In modern times, drivers and cyclist look forward towards him for protection against accident. His shrine is found in front of houses and at smithy. The most important symbol of ‘Ogun’ is iron. Other emblems are rock, the trunk of an element, porogun plant (Dracaena fragrance) and metal scraps. Dogs are special food of ‘Ogun’, while palm wine is his favourite drink. But a fowl, tortoise, ram, kolanut, bitter-kola, yam and palm oil can also be offered to him [7].


ESU

It is commonly believed among Edo people as represented by Pa. Odion Ehrima that this god is mis-represented as the devil of biblical conception. In the actual sense ‘Esu’ is regarded as a god of mischief who can make things difficult for mankind. But at the same time, ‘Esu’ is regarded as a very beneficent divinity who is prepared to answer the call of his devotees who give him his due.

‘Esu’ is believed to be one of the divinities who were closest to ‘Osanubuwa’, the Supreme deity, from the timeless beginning. When ‘Olokun’ came to the world as God’s deputy in matters of creation and government, in matters of wisdom and fore knowledge, ‘Esu’ also came as God’s deputy in matters of ritual and human conduct. He can thus be regarded as the “inspector General” of rituals. It is his duty to look the behavour and conduct of both gods and men, and then make report to ‘Osanubuwa’. Thus ‘Esu’ can approve or disapprove of any ritual he inspected, and it is the recommendation he make to ‘Osanubuwa’ that will be accepted.

Consequently, due to the role, people attribute all their difficulties to the failure of ‘Esu’ to perform his work because of his ubiquitous character. People can invoke him to harm their enemies; they can also invoke him to offer them protection against mischief and mishap. He is the go between officer between heaven and earth and accusing or defending divinities or people ‘Osanubuwa’.  But if he is well fed and respected, be becomes protectiveness and benevolent.

It is further believed that ‘Esu’ is both difficult to predict. When you think you have given him his due, he might have felt grudgingly, unsatisfied and might descend on maliciously.  That is way he is held in constant dread and people at all times seek to be in the right side of him. Also it appears that other divinities fear him, it was said that once ‘Ogun’ boast that there was no divinity he could not subdue. But ‘Esu’, asked him properly weather it include him and ‘Ogun’, he immediately replied apologetically that he could not have been included. This shows un-mistakenly that there is an undisputable element of evil in ‘Esu’. He is capable of mischief making havoc and causing confusion of personal relationship.

However ‘Esu’ is not worshipped only out of fear or in order to avoid his malevolence. He is approached as tutelary divinity in many places, just as people approach other divinities; people belief in his protection and benevolent capabilities. Prayer and gifts are offered to him to secure his favour and his name is given to children in display of the faith reposed in him as a beneficent father.

The shrine of ‘Esu’ is usually made outside the town or village. It can also be symbolized by a stone slap or a piece of rough laterite stuck into the ground scantily. Sometimes, ‘Esu’ is represented by an image made of mud or wood. He is worshipped and propitiated throughout Edo land. People offer him cowries, cocks, he-goats and dogs. The blood of animal victim is usually sprinkled on the image or emblem of ‘Esu’. Not only that, ‘Esu’ also, frequently receives a portion of the sacrifices offered to other divinities. In some areas annual festivals are held in his honour and people on such occasions ask for his blessing on farming and protection against evil.


THE NATURE OF HUMANITY AND LINK WITH THE SUPREME BEING

Our study so far has shown that man has a close relationship with God-‘Osanubuwa’ through other divinities. First of all the creation of humanity, according to oral tradition of Edo land, is that ‘Osanubuwa’ works, although he can delegate other spiritual agent to perform it. Secondly, that man is related to ‘Osanubua’ and other divinities8 is a consequence of the essence of his being which can only be put in man by the Supreme Being- ‘Osanubuwa’. This is seen clearly in Edo creation story. Thirdly, man’s destiny shows that he is closely related to his creator and all other metaphysical beings especially the earth god’s.

The concept of personality soul that animates the body gives vitality to it and pervades with life. In this way, plays a part of vital principle and it is closely associated and related to breathing. The personality soul is point of contact between ‘Osanubuwa’, the earth gods and man.


THE CONCEPT PERSONALITY-SOUL AND THE SPIRIT OF HUMAN DESTINY

The Edo people have two-sided conception on the spirit of human destiny or the essence of man. The first has ‘unhumun’ as the spirit responsible for man’s essence or personal-soul. ‘Unhumun’ can make a person fortunate or unfortunate depending on his state[9].

In the second place, Edo people see ‘Ehi’ as the guardian angel or man’s double. This concept is found throughout the areas covered by Edo land, although it may be modified according to the local variation but basically Edo people believe it is ‘Ehi’ that chooses man’s destiny. The way it is chosen is held on different dimensions. Some say ‘Ehi’ stand by ‘Osanubuwa’, the Supreme Being at man’s creation and then pants to the destiny of what the person should be. Again it is believed that ‘Ehi’ declares some one’s destiny in the middle of great trouble or in an arena where spiritual beings are ready to bully it, if it chooses a good destiny or a bad one and when spiritual beings threaten it with a raised matchet or cutlass. If the ‘Ehi’ is brave, it will declare a prosperous happy destiny, or cowardly choose an unhappy destiny.

‘Ehi’ chooses and declares man’s destiny. On getting to the earth man  forgets his destiny, it is only ‘Ehi’ Who knows every man’s destiny and follows him throughout like controlling his destiny in the life of man, fortune or misfortune, prosperity  or adversity may be ascribed to the work of ‘Ehi’ or its weakness since it is believed that he can help or hinder, cause prosperity or adversity; like ‘Ori’ in Yoruba land, the cult or worship of  ‘Ehi’ is prevalent throughout  Edo land offerings must be given to ‘Ehi’ from time to time so that it may deal with man favourable.

Edo tradition hold that when ‘Ehi’ thinks that his man on earth is over-staying his time on earth, it applies to ‘Osanubuwa’ to let him die so that ‘Ehi’ may go back to the maker [10].


EVALUATION

Having critically examined the concept of earth’s gods in Edo philosophy, it is beyond all reasonable doubt an affirmation of the existence of deities is indeed a reality whose denial will lead to self-confusion. African societies in general give great credence to traditional practices. Thus African traditional religion is a faculty with vital contents.

The idea or knowledge of a Supreme Being- ‘Osanubuwa’ as exposed in this work, gives the Edo people and indeed every man the courage and self-confidence as his creation can be accounted for even in traditional ethos. The Supreme Being ‘Osanubuwa’ is the Alpha and Omega of man’s existence. He is the ultimate force behind everything that exists in nature. The Supreme Being is absolute spirit, pure form, force and controller of all the earth gods or divinities. The Edo conception of God- ‘Osanubuwa’ is not that of a distant God, or an uncertain God or an idle God, but a God concerned with all men and their deed and recognizes the heart of all men as well as punishes or blesses respectively.

The Edo earth gods are clearly displayed as the will of ‘Osanubuwa’. They are the governors of ‘Osanubuwa’. Edo earth gods are the ‘Olokun’, ‘Ogivwu’, ‘Oto’, ‘Esu’ and ‘Ogun’. Another divinity discussed was ‘Ehi’ who is the spiritual being or essence of man or personality soul. ‘Ehi’ is also the determiner of human destiny. ‘Ehi’ is also reverend and worship with believe as he is the spiritual stand for fortune and misfortune of man. ‘Olokun’ is the owner of the sea who is the beloved son of ‘Osanubuwa’. Sometimes, ‘Olokun’ is considered as a female, but others believe he is male. This is why when a man is instructed to offer sacrifice to ‘Olokun’, he asks his daughter to do it on his behalf. ‘Olukun’ has a numerous function as seen in the work. He has a place and mode of worship and has items identified with him as a god.

The Edo tradition owes a lot to ‘Ogivwu’s power as the god who brought them to life. ‘Ogivwu’ is the god of thunder who brings death on disobedient children, through thunder and lightning. He is the god of divine judgement.
It is clear that man, woman, cow, and goat are often sacrificed to him and at terrible times, these sacrifices are increased.

‘Oto’ is the god of productivity in farms often represented by an ‘Ikhimi’ tree planted near every house or in any new farm the emblem of ‘Oto’ is a large yam. ‘Ogun’ is the god of iron. Tradition says he was a hunter. Blacksmith, warriors, hunters and all who deal with steel pray to him. In Edo land, people suspected of evil intentions are meant to swear before ‘Ogun’ and false swearing result in calamities. ‘Esu’ for Pa. Anthony Moni Obinyan is misrepresented by people as the devil due to his dynamic nature, ‘Esu’ is highly unpredictable, a god that must be worshipped with dedication and compulsion.

This work also presented to us the metaphysical link between ‘Osanubuwa’, the earth god’s and man. In this analysis, the personality-soul was discussed making crystal the granter or giver of ‘Ehi’ or ‘Uhunmwu’. The ‘Ehi’ is the spirit who determines the destiny of every man. The essence of man, soul or his metaphysical nature forms the foundation of inter relation and indeed affirms that man is a religious being.

Edo ontology reviews a rich historical tradition on the concept of her earth gods. These gods or deities as analysed, play important roles in the community or ‘Usuagbon’. As workers of ‘Osanubuwa’, they form the spiritual or religious structure of the society and give foundation for morality and ethics or norms in the society.


CONCLUSION

Base on the aforementioned, it is crystal clear that in succinct analysis, this work has presented useful information on the earth gods in Edo philosophy, in applying its methods namely, critical analysis and hermeneutics, it conditions the mind of any reader to a constant marvel at the fundamental structure of the Edo traditional society as well as the African religion and philosophy.


It should be borne in mind that this piece could in some ways be related to that of any African society as oral tradition as African societies cut across binding lines of similarity but with some little differences.

The reality of gods in African society cannot be over emphasized. Man is an “imago dei”(image of God), whose creation or origin is founded on the Supreme Being. In his worship of all other earth gods or deities therefore, he (man) must be careful of being arbitrarily concerned only with these gods or deities at their level forgetting the ontological placement of the Supreme Being- ‘Osanubuwa’ in the hierarchy of beings; who is the ultimate force for his existence and the only one towards whom mankind is directed. However, to a large extent, the earth gods or deities in the African traditional society constitute symbolically to the fulfilment and betterment of the society, humanity and as well as its destruction socially, morally and religiously.


FURTHER READING

It is argued that just as there is a common Afroasiatic language family, so too there is a common Afroasiatic family of religions. There is an inner logic to be found in myths, folk-tales, rituals, customs and beliefs as far apart as Yemen and Nigeria which go back to an ancient past shared by the Bible and the pharaohs. Book by Kofi African Religions and Philosophy is a systematic study of the attitudes of mind and belief that have evolved in the many societies of Africa. In this second edition, Dr Mbiti has updated his material to include the involvement of women in religion, and the potential unity to be found in what was once thought to be a mass of quite separate religions.
     

Notes :

  1. National Youth Service Corps: Lectures for the orientation course,

July 1973. Published by the Federal Republic of Nigeria. p.59

  1. Ibid., p.54
  2. Lecture hand out on African Identity by Dr. Harris Odimegwu. Department

of Philosophy, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, 2008

  1. Interview with Pa. Anthony Moni Obinyan on “the etymology of

Osanubua”., 02/12/2008

  1. Interview with Pa.  on “the Edo earth gods”. 15/12/2008
  2. Talbot, P.A.,The peoples of southern Nigeria, Vol. II Frank class and

co. Ltd. London. 1996, p.35

  1. Omosade Awolalu J., and Adelumo Dopamu. P., West Africa Traditional 

Religion, Onibonje Press and Book industries (NIG) L.T.D 1979 p.81

  1. Ibid., p.83
  2. Interview with Elder on “Origin of Man in Edo Tradition and the Concept of Human Essence”. 29/12/2008
  3. Omosade, Loc., Cit.,

Valentine Ehichioya Obinyan: Department of Philosophy, faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe Universit, Awka. Nigeria. Obinyan has a Doctor of Arts (Ph.D) in Philosophy, where he specialized in African Philosophy; a Master of Arts Honours in philosophy, where he specialized in Epistemology and Metaphysics and a Bachelor of Arts Honours in Philosophy, with a speciality in Existentialism.


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