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WE ARE, BECAUSE HE WAS
BY DR IRO EWEKA
ASSOCIATE LECTUREROPEN UNIVERSITY, BRISTOL, U.K.
TEXT OF THE THIRD CHIEF(DR) JACOB UWADIAE EGHAREVBA (MBE)
MEMORIAL LECTURE ORGANISED BY THE INSTITUTE
FOR BENIN STUDIES, ON FRIDAY 8TH DECEMBER 2000 AT OBA AKENZUA II CULTURAL COMPLEX, BENIN CITY.
Greetings and salutations to one and all . A year or two ago, I received an invitation from Mr. Uyilawa Usuanlele to give the Jacob Uwaidiae Egharhevba 3rd Annual memorial lecture. I felt very honoured. And what was more, I was extremely impressed my Mr. Usuanleles frankness sincerity and honesty, he has written that, if I accepted the invitation, must be prepared to finance my trip, since the group he represents has no funds for anything but the most basic needs. Such truthfulness pleased me and, I am sure, it would have pleased Jacob Egharhevba as well. Unfortunately, however, I was unable to make the trip because I had already committed myself to a similar project in America.
But as early as February of this year, Mr. Usuanlele repeated his invitation and, I was glad to accept, since I had not commited myself to any serious project else where. In any case, eniyaenmwen in Benin- My son, Prince Eghe Kingsley and my adopted daughter, Onaiwu, have increased the pressure of their demand for my visit and I have succumbed to that demand, I was prepared to come over to see them, anyway. So, here I am.. And as Mr. Usuanlele had been generous enough to permit me to pick my own lecture topic, I chose what I considered to be a simple but pertinent title, namely:
WE ARE BECAUSE HE WAS
In my mind, that title will do well-deserved credit to the intellectual and cultural giant whose memory we are gathered to celebrate. And the rationale for my choice is that we may approach the celebration of his attainable vision through that magnification of his high heart which may lead us to our individual and collective greatness. Thus, the full interpretation of my chosen topic is that we are Edo today because he was Edo in his day. In other words, without Egharevba there would be nothing left of Edo cultural tradition, history, folklore, games, songs, and proverbs. Egharbevba has shown us our exact place in the chequered history of humanity so that while we recognise the similarities between us and other cultures world wide, we can also access the differences which establish our uniqueness. As far as I know, no one else has done that before or since. little while back Egharevba has become better known and more highly respected abroad in places like Germany, Holland, France and in partic ular, Britain, than in Benin. A prophet, we have heard said is not without honour save in his own country, so let it be with Jacob Uwadiae Egharevba. But he was fully aware of that fact. For, as he wrote in OKHA EDO in 1932, Emwi Edo oro sorno Edo That means, simply, that the Edo do not like what is their own.
What Egharevba has described as Okha is what in English, we call History. And this is exactly how he described it.
Emwi Kpataki no sunu vbe egheni gbera ore a tie ere okha;Okha ke ghi re emwi no rhienrhienesesemwense na ta kevbe na tievbe ebe ugbugbehia, sokpan nagben ye ebe oro rhierhien seesese rhunmwuda ai ghi fian yo,ai vbe fian hin vbevboovbehe ededemwende.
Translation:(Important events which happened in the past are called History. History is very entertaining when spoken or read. However, written History is even more entertaining because nothing can ever be added to or subtracted from it)
He carried the matter further by adding that
Okha Edo keghi ye vbere avbeArabian, Greek, Roman kevbe Evboemwa nekhwi ovbele ni rhanroye, vbe eghe nede; ore a vbeta kevbe na ya kpe akpata ma eninwanren ni ree Edovbe otota.
Translation:(Edo History is rather like that of the Arabian, Greek, Roman and other civilized blacks in olden days. Thus it is not only warranted but is accompanied with when narrated before the elders in the evening)
He then went on to say and I am sure there are many who will agree with him- that it is History that gives wisdom to the fool, contentment to the dissatisfied , bravery to the warrior. Strength to the weak and cowardly, counsel to the wicked, patience and attentiveness to the sorrowful and poor. Above all, History is a great sooth sayer who makes predictions and proceeds to solve the problems predicted .
Such was the mind-frame which drove him to grab a pen and start to write He. crammed eighty-seven-chapters into 111 pages of stories which covered practically every conceivable aspect of Edo life and people. And to explain his insatiable desire to write, he declared in the preface to Benin Law And Custom in 1946;
I determined to do my utmost topreserve in writing the ancientlaws and customs, so that theymight always be for futurereference, . . . this book is notwritten with the hope of producinga piece of literature, but solelyto preserve from oblivion theancient Laws and Customs ofan ancient race.
With that in mind, I have placed Egharevba in the same category as Tacitus, Josephus, Herodotus and even great story tellers like Ovid and the legendary Homer all of whom have preserved from oblivion the ancient laws and customs of their various ancient races.Jacob Uwadiae Egharevba was a prolific writer. With more than twenty books to his name , written both in English and in Edo. However in this lecture, it is not my intention to review all his work. That I hope to do later else where . My intention here is to discuss, as briefly as I can some specific and crucial aspects of our culture which Egharevaba tackled in his writings with meticulous attention to detail.
1. LAW AND CUSTOM ASPECT OF CULTURE.
These is hardly a better place to begin than Edo laws and customs. The single word for laws and customs is Culture. And by general acceptance, culture encapsulates all the beliefs, social institutions, arts, religions that characterise and are unique to a community or a race.Cultures differ from place to place on earth . But no one culture is inferior or superior to another. They all carry equal weight, passes equal validity and originated from the same human need to explain human existence and regulate human behaviours. Geography is the mother of History and History is the expression the manifestation of culture. To exchange one culture for another, therefore, is to destroy the very root from which human society has sprung. And this destruction is what Egharevba has sought tirelessly and with indefatigable consciousness to avoid in respect of Edo Culture.
In the preface to Benin law and Custom he wrote as follows:At the ceremony held on April 4th1943 to celebrate the tenth anniversaryof the occasion of Akenzua 11 Oba ofBenin there was some disussion as to theright posture which should be taken upby the Osodin. There was no authorityto which we could refer to clear up thematter, and the argument and confusionserved clearly, alas! that the old customswere being forgotten. This thought oppressedme greatly.
That was what led him to the declaration cited earlier. The question facing us today are: how much of our culture, up to and including the reign of Oba Akenzua11, have we forgotten or retained? Are we the richer or the poorer for what we have lost or gained? What, today, is our cultural identity? Who is an Edo? .
Cultures are not- cannot be- static. They are constantly being modified. But, as with every thing else, in culture, the more things change the more they remain the same. This is why people all over the world are able to retain their cultural identities.
What must have appeared to Egharevba as our mindless and slavish imitation of the white-man has whittled relentlessly away at what was once proudly described as Edo culture. In Dawn to Dusk: Folktales from Benin, I queried this imitation of the white-man and asked for the justification of our lack of nostalgia .
In chapter 55 of Law and Custom , Egharevba wrote that in the past.Guards or watchmen (Ode) wereusually posted to every quarteror street in the city, especiallyduring war time, or in orderto prevent thieves from stealingany lost property, cattle orchild, if found, would be detainedand cared for by the guards, Chiefsin authority or ordinary personsuntil delivered to the owner orparents. Rewards might or might.not be given or received.
What is the situation today? Only you can answer that. I cant, because you live here, I dont. But that is only one out of the numerous examples that emerge from Egharervbas pen. Another example is the impressive list of 53 family salutations in Chapter 39 which he introduced thus:
Each important family in BeninHas a special morning salutationThe words used for Good MorningAre different in each case, soThat one can tell to which familyA person belongs, by the salutationHe or she gives.
Are we now ashamed of the families to which we belong? Has our individual sense of identity totally dissolved into some imported meaninglessness?In concluding his monumental Benin Law and Custom Egharevba wrote (Chapter 30):Although not as advanced asThe Europeans yet our socialLife before their advent wasNot a chaos.
Each man knew his place and his work and could regulate his daily life accordingly. At some points, the bad old ways must give way to the new, at other points the good old ways must be kept. It is no easy task. But a prerequisite of any success is a proper understanding of the old Benin way of life. Amen!.
Things that are old, after all , are not necessarily and always relevant; things that are new are never necessarily and always improvements.
2 .LANGUAGE ASPECT OF CULTURE.
The next aspects of culture to which I will direct some brief comments is LANGUAGE.In 1948 Egharhevba wrote URODAGBON which I translate as; The gate to life. Which he opened thus
Ama zevbo omwan ta wiriDomwandevbo ni rhanro hiaVboto agbon oro ze kevbeNo gben urhu evbo iranYe ebe. Sokpan Edo nevboMwan keghi gheghe bizugbeOghiran, iran ke yEnglishKhin urhu evbo kpataki niIran ghize o keghi remwimEkhue nokhuokhua. Vba mienWe ivbi Edo eva ra ehaGha mien egbe, iran ghighaYurhu ebo English guanKegbe Oba kevbe ekhaemwenKpao, yasegbe ibieka hia.Akhakha ighurhu / Osanobua ya yi agbon
(Every civilized nation in the world speaks and writes its own language. But our ownnation, Edo, has simply abandoned its own. It has adopted English as its only tongue; Itis a terrible shame that when two or three (Edo) meet, they speak in English, from the Oba and the Chiefs to all the children as if English were the language in which God created the world)We are all familiar with the situation described here. But in 1956, Egharevba carried the issue further and wrote;
The Hausas speak Hausa,The Yorubas speak Yoruba,The Ibos speak Ibo andEvery tribe speaks its language,Because who does not speakHis native language is LostTherefore, it is necessary thatThe Binis should encourageTheir own spoken language.
This issue arose in a conversation with the venerable Professor E.U. Emovon during his recent visit to Bristol. He had expressed the view that Edo parents should be encouraged to speak the Edo language to their children at home. But, as he has later to be forced to concede, the parents themselves cannot speak the Edo Language. How, then, can they speak it to their children? How many of the so called educated Edo can speak, read or write the Edo language? It seems to be the case that among the Edo, the more educated one is the more ashamed one becomes to be heard speaking the Edo language. To be sophisticated, it would seem, one must abandon the vernacular and sharpen ones tongue for the English Language.
Nevertheless, who is the lost person? He or she is a disembodied spirit floating in a cultural ether, a wailing bird circling an empty nest. Detached from his or her roots, such a person possesses no identity, no sense of belonging; his or her freedom is eternal enslavement within a psychological steel-cage, with nothing but intellectual masturbation to fill the empty hours. From such a living-death may the good Lord of all creation Osanobua nOghodua protect us (if it is not already too late). Ama zevbo Omwan ta wiri! For the lost person, KNOWLEDGE OF THE FUTURE is the tool, given to a shipwrecked castaway who might have found himself or herself in possession of a weapon which cannot be immoral to use, so long as the use made of it is in accordance with the dictates of the Law of Life and to the best of his or her ability. Except that the lost person has neither a law of life nor ability. Having no culture, he/she automatically looses capability.
There is no doubt that reasons can be found for the situation in which we now find ourselves. Four such reasons immediately come to mind. Firstly, Benin City has been, since time immemorial perhaps the most cosmopolitan city in what is now known as Nigeria. Ewuaires injunction was that no stranger should be molested but all new comers must be given full hospitality. Thus in the markets, for example, an Edos stall is flanked on both sides by an Igbo trader and a Yoruba one. None of them understands the others vernacular. To communicate, therefore, a central language must be employed. Such Language is English. A similar situation exists at home. And the central Language takes hold and spreads.
Secondly, however, since the schools are filled with staff and pupils of different linguistic stocks, the language of learning and instruction must be the central language -English.Thirdly, there was a deliberate policy by the British colonialists to inculcate the English language, to the total and, in fact, ruthless suppression of the vernacular, the schools as well as in the offices and work-places. A classic example was at Edo college.
Fourthly, there remains the fact that Edo tend to prefer foreign things to their own native ones. As shown earlier, Egharevba as long ago as 1932 correctly evaluated the truism that Emwi Edo oro sonno Edo ( Familiarity breeds contempt, of course.)
It seems quite plain, though, that our language situation may have become irreversible. Yet when Language is deleted from Law and custom, the whole of culture is strangled. For language is the vehicle for culture it is the medium by which culture is expressed.
Egharevba saw the danger and attempted to forstall it by preserving the language, as he did in 1953 in OZEDU-INTERPRETER. But if preserving it means locking it up in a drawer in a museum, it will serve no purpose for posterity. Language is not a piece of museum artefact. Language is an organic (LIVING) thing. A language is dynamic. It survives and fulfils its natural functions only through use. If Egharevbas vision of the future is to become reality, the Edo language must be put into active service (pray God it is not too late to do so).
3. RELIGIOUS ASPECT OF CULTUREHere we tread on dangerous ground opening a large can of worms. Religion deals with spiritual matters and affects people at the deepest and most subliminal levels of their beings.But what exactly is religion? Or, to put it more broadly, what are Religious Experiences?Broadly defined, religion is the belief in the existence of a supernatural ruling power, the creator and controller of the entire universe, who has given to the human being a spiritual nature which continues to exist after the physical death of the body.
Religion and culture are at best co-terminus, at worst inseparable. And, as in the case of History (as previously indicated) the geography of a place, while creating its History, also determines the dieties which the people worship and the modes of that worship. Thus the legends that surround any particular aspect in the various civilizations and cultures of the world differ only in the indigenous. Names which people assign to their heroes, their saints and their gods. It is, therefore, quite astonishing and instructive how intrinsically similar are the various gods supposedly responsible for creation.
For example, the ancient Babylonian supreme deity, Boal, is the same as the ancient Egyptian deity, Re, which the ancient Hebrews called Yalwe (Jehovah) which the Christians called God, which the Moslems call Allah, which the ancient Greeks called Zeus, which the ancient Romans called Jupiter, which the ancient Hindus called Isvera which the ancient Edo called Osanobua. (See APPENDIX)
Religions, all over the world and from immemorial times, are equal in weight, equal in validity, originate from the same human needs, and not one of them is better or worse, than, inferior or superior to any of the others.
Among the Edo, Osanobua was never imported from abroad.. Among us, Osanobua was home grown, highly venerated and profoundly powerful.Egharevba become inducted into Christianity at an early age. It could not be helped, because practically all schools in his early days were Mission (Christian) institutions. No doubt he was a devoted, dedicated and committed Believer Yet, later in life, he was delighted to be admitted into the membership of the secret palace society of Iwebo. He was as proud of that membership as he was of his MBE. But perhaps more surprising is the fact that, later in life, he undertook the study of the Edo system of divination (a pagan system) which he described in great details in OMINIGBON in 1965 (it was simply a matter of, as Israel Zanqwill paradoxically phrased it, Scratch the Christian and you find the pagan spoiled)
In his preface to Ominigbon Egharevba demonstrated the ease with which the Edo religious tenets can be transferred to those of Christianity and vice-versa for fuller and more comfortable enlightenment: he recalls passages from Isaiah, Romans and the psalms to illustrate the implications of the use of Oguega for divination .
In that preface he wrote as follows;
Ke omuhen ghade ore emwin iremwinNi dinmwin hia ke gha re domwandeEvbo vbe oto agbon, domwandeEvbo ni rhanro vbevbo ke gbenEmwin irenmwin oghe evbo iran eso.Ye ebe ni ma tie ugbugbehia,Rhunmwundoni o kere ne ima vbeGha rhie eso ma kherhe, kherhe vbeOghe evbo mwan ke ban ghakhian.
(Since the beginning of time all deep knowledge has existed among different peoples of the world. Various civilized peoples have written books which we always read, about their own deep knowledge. Therefore, it is proper that we reveal bits and pieces (of our own deep knowledge from now on) deep knowledge is the euphemism for philosophy
Having said that,. He made a clean and honest confession of his own personal position in the matter. He wrote,
Okpere esesemwense ni ke gha hoNi ren oto emwin kpataki vbekpaIrenmwin no dinmwin oghe iha OminigbonIke rhumwundoni rhue Oguega na fi neImieke na ren emwini ra oto emwenOminigbon (Iha) esesemwense vbe iteGben-ebe ere, isuen onren na rueVbe uki May 1927
(For a very long time I have wanted to know the vital basis of the deep knowledge of Iha Ominigbon I therefore studied the method and practices of Oguega in order that I may thoroughly understand the meaning or the bottom of the word of Ominigbon (Iha) before I wrote a book about it. I began my studies in the month of May 1927).In 1927, Egharevba was 34 years old and had been a practising Christian for 19 years.
He wrote Ominigbon in Benin City and the rationale for the writing was, as he succinctly put it,
no ma ren emwin evbo ere,orhiovbe no, kevbe we no maze evbo ere to wiri
(who does not know the things of his nation is a stranger; and, who does not speak his own (native) language is lost)He refers the reader to first Samuel, Jonah, St. Mathew, St Luke, Acts, thus supporting and justifying so-called pagan practices with Christian claims - a brilliantly illuminating juxtaposition of putative opposites.
He then enjoined the Edo:
Wa gie ima gha te emwen vbekpaemwin irenmwin ni dinmwin ogheevbo mwan na vbe ren OdeOsanobua bare.
(Let us speak about deep knowledge of our people and also know the ways of Osanobua (God) in addition.) He supported that statement from the Gospel of Matthew, St. John and the Book of James. He chained that.
Iha Ominigbon ore aza kevbe isanrenemwen Edo. No ma ren Iha Ominigbone I setin ren oto emwen Edo ese. Ovbe mobo rhie iyobo nakhua me niya gben eben Edo ni gben hia
(Iha Ominigbon is both the store house and the key to Edo words. He who does not understand Iha Ominigbon can never adequately know the roots of Edo. It (Ominigbon) has also given me great help in all the writing of ,my Edo books). There can be no doubt about the authenticity of that claim when one sees some of the questions he asked Oguega. For example,I gha gele yebe na gben ma ra? (Will I really prosper by writing?)Here he raised the profoundly significant issue of the psychological consequences of Iha Omonigbon . He wrote,
I ma fi okan ne avbe erha mwan odedehiehie, rhunmwunda Iha keghi re obude,aronde kevbe emwin kpataki ne iran muetin iran hia yan vbe ede agbon iranhia. Sokpan okere ni ma hia vberiana esesemwense ne ima mieke nadolo emwin hia ne iran bakuru yirhunmwunda eghe ogbon ni ma ye na
(I do not despise our elders at all, because Iha provides advice and guidance together with the important things on which they (the elders) placed all their faith throughout their lives. However, it is prosper that all of us should thoroughly strive so that we may be able to rectify whatever mistakes they may have made in the past since we now live in modern times).Supporting that with a passage from first Thessalonians he proceeded with;
Emwin Kpataki ni mien vbemwin Iha Ominigbon Keghi re na yae ghamu-egbe ran ughenso kevbe we , na setin hon Edo kevbe na ren ewaenirenmwin nede ni dinnwin esesenwense vbevbo.
(The important thing I find in Iha Ominigbon is to use it occasionally to maintain good health as well as to enable us to understand the Edo (Language ) and also to acquire the old wisdom regarding very deep knowledge of the nation).
Ominigbon runs into 168 closely packed pages and reveals much of the secrets of Edo Cultural values . If Egharevba were alive today, one wonders how he would feel, seeing how degenerate his beloved Edo has become as a Christian culture. One wonders whether he would suspect that thieves, rogues and charlatans may have been driven by hunger, insecurity and greed into becoming preachers, prophets and religious leaders; while, self-acclaimed religious leaders, self-ordained preachers, priests and arch bishops have been similarly driven into becoming thieves, rogues and charlatans, and while people without the slightest shreds of morality are preaching virtue to others.
4. PHILOSOPHYCAL ASPECT OF CULTURE
This final section of the lecture deals with the more intractable and abstractelements in Edo culture namely: the elements of philosophy and metaphysics.If, as we are constantly reminded, philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, then philosophising will be the practical expression of whatever wisdom may be obtained in the pursuit. Such an expression will require words. Thus the Edo language, as the vehicle of philosophising, is of the most crucial value; just as Egharevba has tried in many ways to demonstrate.It is not so much the exact words used in the language but the manner in which they are used that is important in the understanding of the ideas and concepts they seek to portray. Hence the bulk of Edo philosophy lies in Edo adages and proverbs of which Egharevba collected and documented some 1030 in ERE EDO in 1964. Curiously, incidentally, these adages and proverbs are extremely similar in content and expression to adages and proverbs from various ancient cultures of the world, especially those from Egypt, Greece, China, India and the Middle East. One obvious implication, of course, is that the Edo may share many similarities with all other human cultures without having to compromise their autonomy.
It is, however, not in the adages and proverbs alone that Edo philosophising is contained. It is scattered explicitly or implicitly throughout Egharhevbas writings. For examples, each of the 26 stories in the 55 page long Some Stories of Ancient Benin (1950) contains a clear moral lesson couched in discrete philosophical language. Story number 19 , which is about Ogun of Ife, for example, concludes with the line How poor are they that have no patience And in story number 21 appears the following. Nature is infallible in human as it is in wisdom. Some times the sense of (a) fool is better and more straight than that of a wise man. Wisdom and right motives are special gifts from God to man irrespective of a ruler, rich man or poor manBut in addition to the foregoing and many more, each of the songs collected in Ihuan Edo in 1950 is a variable store house of direct and implied philosophising. The various songs are connected with various physical and spiritual activities, all of which involve moral and ethical issues of the deepest kind.
However, the huge collection of adages and proverbs, contains such a wealth of thought - provocation that it will alone be enough to provide a full and complete picture of the whole Edo person in terms of the philosophy which governs his or her life. Thus it reveals a total image of the entire culture as an organism. That image promotes the emergence of a clear-cut cultural identity, which is what Egharhevba was determined to preserve. Had the adages and proverbs been grouped thematically, it would have been easy to identify the philosophical under- pinning of each of the items treated in detail by Egharhevba in the monumental Benin Law and Custom.The image of the traditional Edo as cynical, pessimistic and cowardly is false, given the philosophical foundations of the culture. The traditional Edo is, on the contrary, co-operative, accommodating, hospitable (almost to a fault) and, above all cautious.
A fews examples will quickly illustrate my point. First, Let us look at the accusation of cowardice when marching to war, the Edo warriors song:
Ima le nemwende, ima le nemwendeIma le nemwende, etose
(I have never, never, never run away from confrontation; it is a fact)To me, that is no expression of cowardice. It is a firm and frank demonstration of fearlessness, bravery and determination in the face of death.
They also sang ;
Gheni, gheni, Ovbiozede gheni
(Here comes the elephant, here comes the elephants hunters son, watch out).
The elephant is the Edo warrior and he knows that for a fact. Thus he is confident, warning his adversary to watch out. That is no sign of cowardice.
They sang,Degh igbina ugha gbina; deghike ughaku,Tama mwen nighe honTranslation:(Whether you want a fight or whether you want to play let me hear it clearly)Again, there is no indication of cowardice there. Rather, the call is for clarity of motive or purpose.
Even in peace time when the youth went on their harmless rampage through the city streets, they sang,Orere khion ogho mivan, avbiere khuegbe yowaTranslation(The street is ours, the weak cowers indoors)That was the motivation for those who had to be called out of their homes to come out and play. Even the girls sang similar songs.
Noma rhiorere re, emoghede, emiyoko eroKhian gbereko rua o noma rhiorereTranslation:(Whoever fails to come out tonight, may she be constipated)In respect of co-operation, the traditional Edo sang,Omwan ghe rhia oghomwen, Eni bie, Ogbeni bieTranslation:(Let no one damage what is mine (because) just as the elephant bears children, so does the elephant hunter). In other words, let every one take care of his or her own.During Igue, they sangora kie, odibo ra kiazaTranslation:(The messenger is about to open the treasury).
That signifies generosity and hospitality. But in every case, there is no evidence of pessimism or cynicism or cowardice . Those came later with the arrival of the British.
Moreover, what we find in the adages and proverbs is much more comforting and reassuring although some of it may be quite brutally defiant and challenging.
Judging from the sayings, there are people who will accuse the traditional Edo of fatalism. There will be some truth in such accusation . The root of such fatalism will be the traditional belief in DESTINY (Ehi and Uhimwen). But perhaps it would be truer to say that the traditional Edo is stoical rather than fatalistic. Stoicism thrives on caution.
Selecting a handful of example from a list of 1030 loaded items can do no justice to the case. However, the following may whet some appetite . The traditional Edo would say Even Khirhikhirhi vbudemwen dan ero gba khian. (A bad fall and wreckless wrestling always go together). Therefore.: Agha heko khian ta seke na rhie, oven-I-egbe
Kowie balegbe (Walking slowly , one can still arrive at ones destination. (Afterall), the sun never produces intense heat at dawn ). That was the voice of stoicism the voice of caution. And one of the obvious implications was:
Erevbe nayamu eraya soeTranslation:(Early promise does not guarantee successful end).
To the arrogant and haughty, the traditional Edo would say.
Imuegbe rhioto ero suen ewaenitegbe nu ero karo ofuanizevbudu ero karo udemwenTranslation:(Humility is the root of wisdom;arrogance is the forerunner of destruction;heedlessness leads to a fall).
Such warnings came to the traditional Edo from personal and collective experience - collective unconscious, as it has been described elsewhere . In other words, the caution advocated is embedded in the traditional Edo culture. It is therefore an inherited trait, so to speak.Furthermore, there was the saying thatEnofe-I-fomwan, to yomwan tegbeTranslation:(The rich does not make others rich, s/he only uses others to adorn him/her self)
That means that if one wants to become rich, one must not look to any rich neighbour but strike out and work for ones own riches. Such autonomy could only earn self-respect and establish personal identity. But personal identity and independence demand courage and confidence. Therefore,Amadin, ai yan agbonTranslation:(Without courage one cannot live)
But, in all the talk about riches and success, the stoical traditional Edo posits thatuko amafe ekan omwan,ovbiogue i- siomwan yiko(There is no law enforcing riches; poverty does not drag anyone into trouble)But for that matter, wealth or poverty, the outcome is determined at the close of life. That isOta era kponmwen Ehiomwan
Here enters the belief in DESTINY with all its outwardly fatalist implications.In taking lifes final stock, though, the traditional Edo realized thatEmwina rhie riato, oroto rhie nomwanTranslation:(One gets back from the earth only what one has put in the earth)Such a metaphor is most appropriate in a farming community. Its implications are wide almost endless. But in the whole process of life, the traditional Edo believed thatAma kon ne, ai-wanTranslation:(It is out of foolishness that wisdom develops ).To become wise, in other words, we must grope our way through unwisdom.Then, finally, there is the issue of fairness, here, among other considerations, the traditional Edo would say, Agha gberhe omwan, egbe omwan agbeTranslation:(In beating ones neighbour, one is beating oneself) .ThusEmwin na-i- rue re, ghe ruomwan reTranslation:(Dont do to another what you dont want done to you) .
Thus, in the traditional Edo Culture, any self-respect which ignores or neglects respect for others is empty vanity. The live-and let-live implied here demonstrates the traditional Edo propensity for accommodation, rather than for cyricism.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUDING COMMENTS
In this lecture I have attempted to justify my claim that without Eghaerhevba we could not continue to refer to ourselves as Edo. Were I to access my own performance, I would award it 4 out of 10 . But you have been the listeners and , therefore, the ultimate judge (No gbe vbugho..)Score my performance which ever way you may wish to do, but I have attempted my analysis of Egharhevbas message under four separate and district cultural aspects, namely: law and custom, Language , Religion, and philosophical aspects of culture.Those aspects are, of course, closely inter-twined and inter-linked, dove-tailing into one another to produce a unified WHOLE . From my point of view, Egharhevba, whether or not he consciously intended it, took a HOLISTIC , not a fragmentary attitude to Edo Culture .And, I believe , it is this holism , that he aimed at preserving.
However, in the fragmented approach of this lecture, I will summarise the law and custom aspect as the basic and fundamental reference-point. Customary law sums up an entire way of life. That phrase summarises the way we live. It is, therefore, the bed-rock of our culture. It is the fountain head from which oozes all our thought,feeling,action(verbal and non-verbal), aspiration, inspiration,motivation, rationale, desire, hope, despair, plot,counterplot,question, answer,-our all in all. It is our customary laws which defines our cultural identity and shows us how and where we fit into the overall scheme of humanity. Thus, when asked Who are you? it is our customary Law which enables us to answer, We are EDO.
In order to give articulate expression to the foregoing, we need a knowledge and command of our own Tongue Language . We are ineffective if we lack the use of it. In other word, Amaze evbo om wan, ta wiri. Being LOST has been discussed in its wider aspects but with some emphasis on the acquisition of our knowledge of the future. For, argueably, there can be no reliable let alone valid knowledge of the future without any knowledge of the past. Knowledge of the past is called EXPERIENCE. Without experience, we cannot function in the here and- now, (TODAY) let alone prepare for TOMORROW: Yesterday is the mother of today, just as the latter is the mother of Tomorrow, And, as an Edo adage puts it, Ede okpa ero rohoho vbedeha (there is a single whole day in every three days) That single whole day is TODAY - the here-and-now to which reference has been made. An attempt was made to show that there is a magical link between yesterday (the Past), today (the Present) and tomorrow (the Future). That magic lies in SLEEP and in the DREAM which occurs during sleep. Egharhevbas Dream was his vision of the future.. And what he undertook to do was to complete the circle, not to square it. It was shown, I hope , that he did not set out to re-invent the wheel of Edo tradition but only to lubricate it and set it spinning again.
The religious aspect has been shown to be inseparable from the preceding two aspects of culture. It was shown how Egharhevba himself reconciled his Christian belief to the so-called pagan practice of the Edo Culture. The clear implication in that section was that all over the world religion derives from a common human source and aims at the same end. Therefore, it is not the name given to the supreme Ruler and creator of the Universe that matters; but the cultural consequence of the spiritual involvement in religion . It was shown how Egharhevba employed Biblical claims to support and strengthen his own claims. It was shown how new ideas can be used in conjunction with old ones in the effort to rectify the errors and mistakes of the past. The old, therefore, needs not be obliterated by the new but they can both be used to regulate each other.The final- philosophical aspect subsumes the previous three. Here was used material drawn largely from the songs and the proverbs to illustrate the general philosophical outline of Edo life. The root of Edo stoicism was briefly explored in order to dispel any wrong notions about the nature of the Edo (man or woman).
Some attempt was made to link stoicism with Destiny, exposing the fallacy of any charge of fatalism . It was shown that caution is no evidence of pessimism, Cynicism or cowardice .In my concluding comments, logic demands consistency. Therefore, the comments below must begin with the first aspect of culture treated in this lecture. That is the aspect of law and custom. The comments have, as in the other aspects may contain some extraneous material - material that is not contained in the main analysis of the original aspect. Therefore, it is mainly personal opinion that is expressed.
Customary law is the ultimate basis of all human (verbal and non-verbal) activities all over the world. It is dynamic, rather than static, providing the guiding principle of interrelationship between one generation and the next. It survives in the form of collective unconscious a sort of cultural genetic inheritance controlling the phenomenon of collective Amnesia . This amnesia lies at the root of the changes in customary laws. Hence the more things change, the more they remain the same. And hence it is impossible to completely replace one culture with another. And this is what is responsible for the paradoxical by its very advancement, as is the case, for example in humbling England today. However much we may try deliberately or inadventedly to replace the Edo culture with any other (foreign) culture, we will fail. There will always remain some fragments of our original culture .And to some extent ,what Egharevba has set out to preserve are the fragments of Edo culture which linger after th e British invasion. A shattered mirror retains only a shattered image. The image can be reconstructed only to the degree to which the mirror can be reconstructed. This was Egharevbas problem. And it should be ours, too. Each folklore (spoken or written), each short story, every novel, any historical documentation, every adage or proverb is only a fragmented image in the shattered mirror of our culture. But according an Edo adage,
Agha zode ban odeOde nede a yae gualoTranslation:(A new road, by-passing an old one, will eventually find the old) Egharevba would probably have been bewildered by our present situation ,but I doubt whether he would have lost all hope about the future.
Regarding the second aspect of our culture-the language issue my comment are perhaps more copious.
As presented by Egharevba, language seem to me to be too narrow, because it is restricted to the spoken or written word. There is much more to language than the spoken or written word. There is for example, what is called body language and performance language. Every (non- verbal) act is a language, it conveys some communication. It is a vehicle for some information.Given such wider, broader and deeper connotation, all activities within the ambience of a culture constitute language.Every gesture, every sign, every symbol within a cultural framework is a medium for communicating a message. And frequently, the medium itself is the message. According to an Edo adage, akon no rhi emwin rhu uwu egbe. And , omo no wan, aro aya guee guanTo avoid any academic jargon or intellectual rigmarole , let us just say that the Edo traditional culture, as a language in this wide, broad and deep sense, makes interpersonal relationship something of a religious ritual. Kneeling down while an elder is drinking water, for example ,is such a ritual.So is offering something with both hands to an elder.In Benin , we hiss at something you despise and spit at what we find disgusting.These wordless acts are embedded in our culture and ,therefore ,constitute language.
Without meaning any offence or disrespect to Egharevba ,I will point out that the Edo written by him is what we call Edo nEkue( Ado-Akure) not the Edo as spoken in Benin City or in Greater Benin. Egharevbas situation is understandable, because he must have been affected by linguistic interference,resulting from spending some parts of his formative years in Akure, Idanre, and other areas of Yorubaland.
However,It is an ascertainable fact that the Edo Language spoken in the city(Orenokhua) is different from that spoken in the Palace,particularly in the Obas harem. The obvious reason for this difference lies in the fact that everything that goes on in the Palace is shrouded in the utmost secrecy.That demands the use of different words and names from those used in the City. A single example springing to mind is the word Ogbon which is the name of what the city calls oghede (Plantain).
On the other hand, spoken or written language is as organic and as dynamic as the culture which it expresses. Consequently, preserving any old form of the Edo language cannot be of much use to posterity .This is true of all human languages .Hence, for example we talk of old or middle or modern this and that language.What is important, however, is that the new form of words is an inevitable outgrowth of the old.And here we will expect Egharevba s pioneer work (e.g.Ozedu1953) to be most valuable,particularly in terms of orthography.
Even so,(but without trying to be fastidious) Ozedu is of little value in Edo orthography without adequate account taken of what is called diacritical element.Language must be written as it is spoken if the written form is to convey correct and adequate meaning .Hence every technical element must enter into the orthography. That is as far as we need to go in this matter and the bottom line is that Egharevba has not only ploughed the field but has also sown the healthy seed for us . All we need to do now is water the soil and keep it weed-free.
In dealing with the religious aspect of culture, Egharevba has given us the example to follow: non- dogmatic tolerance. No doubt he was an excellent Christian.But he was also an expert in Ominigbon as well as in Palmistry. He also read the Quran. In truth for every commandment in the Hebraic Decoilogue, there are100 commandment of equivalent strength and validity in Egharevbas Ere Edo. Nor is Ere Edo in any way inferior to the biblical P roverb or the so called Songs of Solomon
All religions contains distinct dimensions,namely:the practical and ritual,the experiencial and emotional, the narrative or mythic, the doctrinal and philosophical, the ethical and legal, social and institutional, and the material dimensions.There is no need to enter into the details of these dimensions. It is sufficient that religions obtain all those dimensions from the culture in which they flourish.In this matter, what is true of Christianity is very true of the worship of Olokun or Ovia or Okhuaihe or any of the other deities, gods and goddesses in the Edo pantheon.Egharevba was probably quite aware of this fact and he was unperturbed by the tantrums of conventional religiosity which are drowning the Edo cultural milieu. It is a remarkable fact that religiosity in Benin contains neither heuristic or epistomological element. Only the material dimension seems to hold sway and that dimension contains only the acquisition of money from the congregations which is why as I have been told, Lawyers, Doctors, Engineers, Architects, Taxi-Drivers and market women now start and operate their churches everywhere.The Portuguese who first visited Benin represented the Christian King and were themselves, no doubt, Christians. But what they found in Edo culture was not substantially different from their own religious beliefs. So, neither they nor the Edo had any problems about faith or worship or whatever. With the British, however, things were different. That is why we are where we now find ourselves. But even if we had the cultural will to extricate ourselves from this situation, can we do so? I wonder!
The talk about translating the Bible into Edo is however more than empty rhetoric. But even when translated who will read it? The only person who can read the Edo Bible is the one who can also read the English one. For the ability to read depends on being literate regardless of the language. But how many Edo even know what is contained in the very first three lines of Ozedu? Regarding the religious aspect of our culture, it is difficult to see precisely what Egharevba could have preserved for posterity.But we must wait and see. Lastly, however, what Egharevba has preserved of the traditional Edo philosophy in the songs, adages and proverbs, short stories and the rest of his writings may grow on posterity and be absorbed into future ways of life. But Egharevba would have found it difficult to comprehend how the ethics and morality of four-one-nine and the bottom power could have evolved in a culture that once sang.Igberaza ni vEdo,wa ya kuruegbe muIgho fo vbekpo, wa ya tolegbe re.
Yet in recent days there have been reports of voices from high places denouncing the proliferation of prostitution in Benin. In one such report, a call is for the repatriation back to Benin of all the Edo girls who are currently practicing prostitution abroad. But in another report there is a call for the total ban of prostitution in Edoland. In both cases the call is couched in modern (English) verbiage of empty rhetoric.
There is question. For example, what will we do with hundreds perhaps thousand of repatriated prostitutes to be added to those who are to be banned? Experience shows that there can exist no life, thought or spirituality independently of a living body. And it is a fact of life that all attempted experiences are mere illusions unless they include accounts of the nature of the living being in its entirety and wholeness.
Those who syill remebr world events of 40 or 50 years ago may recall that when Nerhus government attempted to prohibit prostitution in India, a delegation of high priests told Nerhu that according to the dominant sacred (religious) texts, in a country without prostitute, every house becomes a brothel. In any case, why ban prostitution in a culture in which every male is a scandalous libertine? We have not yet heard of any call to prohibit cash earning prostitution when Bottom Powerflourishes,encouraging
Women to sell sex for favours. Where is the proverbial Edo sense of justice and fair play which Egharhevba hoped to preserve? Incidentally, it is not clear from Egharhevbas writings whether he approved of or recommended polygyny. I am thinking of The Murder and the Tragedy of Idah war (1948) and The marriages of the Princesses of Benin (1962) and wandering what ethical and moral lesson Egharhevba intended to teach through them. Even in the celebrated Benin Law and Custom. (1946), the 26 numbered paragraphs only describe marriage rituals, showing monogamous system (Chapter 4) deals only with the fate of one wife. Chapter 20 deals with Adultery without any reference to polygamy. It is really only in chapter 37 which deals with Widowhood, that a picture of polygamy most clearly emerges. So one wonders where exactly we stand in a matter of this importance.
Whether or not we believe it, woman like men are human beings. They experience feelings, they have needs, they can think, they have rights (natural as well as constitutional). The customary control exercised over them is, gradually being shattered irreversibly. This is inevitable, because it is the nature of things. That desire must lead to anger, anger to error, and error to the destruction of the fruits of austerity .
Whatever else we may feel or do, let us remember that all civilization (Cultures) are the fruit of the of the accumulation of human knowledge and experience, handed down from generation to generation. I am convinced that Jacob Uwadiae Egharevba would have agreed with that.
Thank you for listening so patiently.
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