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Aruosa: Benin Church Where Christians, Trado-Worshippers Commune With God

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By PATRICK OCHOGA (Last update 09/10/2017)

Holy Aruosa is a traditional religious and unique worship place where the Oba of Benin, Omo N’Oba N Edo Uku Akpolokpolor, Oba Erediauwa , his palace chiefs , family members including men and women of Bini origin commune directly with God. LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, PATRICK OCHOGA, writes.

Situated along the famous Akpakpava Road, Benin City, Holy Aruosa,[Eye of God] was established in 1849. A traditional worship house where the people are said to have direct contact with God without going through any intermediary. It is widely acclaimed as the oldest church in the continent of Africa.

Holy Aruosa is the religion of the Binis, headed by the Oba. Its entire activities are centred on Bini language, but over the years the prominence, growth and proliferation of Holy Aruosa whose geographical spread once cut across Edo state, Cross River, Western parts of Nigeria and indeed, parts of Dahomey ( present day Republic of Benin), was adversely affected by western civilization and the Nigerian civil war.

Besides the gross impact of the British expedition of 1897 which prompted the eventual expulsion of Oba Ovorawmen N’Ogbasi to Calabar, it also had its ripple effect on Arousa. However, it was subsequently rebuilt by Oba Akenzua when he ascended the throne in 1933. So many branches were subsequently, equally reconstructed in Benin, Port Harcourt, Onitsha and as far as Dahomey.

Many historical versions over the years gave divergence views about the origin of Arousa as religion. The British according to world initiative for peace, a non-profit organization, in its 5th world conference on Religion and Ethnicity with a special reference to the Portuguese, Ancient Benin Kingdom and the Romania churches as case studies, has it that Holy Aruosa was founded by the Portuguese in 1406AD.

In an interview with LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, Col. Paul Ogbebor (Retd.) counselor and chairman Board of Trustees (Arousa), who vehemently contradicted the position of World Initiative of Peace, opined thus, “it amounts to saying it was when the Spanish got to America that was when America was founded. The Portuguese came for commercial and religion treaties, they only came to complement what we have. Before their advent, we had a very disciplined and strong religion. They took our priest to Portugal, but the difference is that, we go directly to God, while the Christian pray through Jesus Christ. We are not Christians. We are goodies. We deal directly with God.

According to him, so many years ago, Edo people experienced strange happenings, man’s inhumanity to man outlived its bound. Spurred by three fundamental questions and request: that the young ones should not be dying before their elders, the need to continue to have rain throughout the season and that the dead should be able to visit the living, Okhuahe, a Benin priest volunteered to take the message to God. Although several years later, God spoke, unfortunately the above requests could not be granted as they tend to violate the natural law which says there cannot be witness of any person who have seen God on earth.

“But where the Binis gathered, praying and awaiting the return of Priest Okhuahe, is the present site where we have Arousa.

On a comparative dichotomy between Arousa and contemporary religion, Col. Paul said, Arousa is more imparting, Christianity has nothing to do with Benin culture, but Arousa is Benin. You cannot see five percent of Binis who live 100 percent by Christian doctrines, is rare. But Arousa is Benin culture. Before most Binis go to church they pray to shrine to keep their homes’’

Reacting to the diminishing prominence of Holy Arousa in the contemporary society, the chairman board of trustee explained, “the British expedition affected Arousa, there were insinuations and accusation that we were fetish. Being a spiritual institution, Arousa was demolished. Arousa went underground until Oba Akenzua now started rebuilding, most of the shrines that were affected. Unfortunately, the civil war did the most damage. The snare waves of Christianity and finally the government took the missionary school that was a big blow to Arousa propagation.

On his part, Royal Priest Harrison Okao (JP), Senior Presiding Priest of Arousa who shared similar opinion with Col. Paul on the origin of Arousa said Aruosa is a rallying center for Christians, Muslims and idol worshippers. “We are not against any religion, but we are concerned with the state of the mind”.

A product of ministry pastoral school institute, USA and worldwide ministry, Priest Harrison stated that the Oba is responsible for the appointment of the priests through inspiration from God.

Defining his specific role in Bini kingdom, he said both himself as priest of Arousa and Chief Priest of Benin, Chief Nosakhare Isekhure has a duty to protect the Oba. “I pray to God on behalf of the Oba, while Isekhure pray to ancestors on behalf of the Oba.

‘’The Oba’s wives are not under my jurisdiction. No Oba’s wives come here, but we only pray for them’’ However, women who are mostly the choristers are allowed to worship freely without inhibition, as they communed freely with Osanobua (God or creator) without any intermediary according to the Chief Priest.

“We do not pray through Jesus Christ or any other intermediary. It is not that we do not believe in him, but the truth is that we pray directly to God. “If you have a father and you also have a brother and you want to ask your father for something, do you pass through your brother? That is why we do not pass through any intermediary and instead, go directly to God to make our requests. “During the prayer session, I ask people to come out and talk to their God and say or ask whatever is paining them, which they want God to do for them. There is a specific time during every worship service when such people will come out to cry to their God. To me, it is one of the best sessions in the entire service.”

“The prayer every successive Oba offers at the worship site ensures the success of the kingdom and its inhabitants as a whole. God has been answering our prayer. Here, we pray for barren women, jobless youth, our children—that they have the fear of God and grow properly; we pray for our market women and others generally. So, being a place of true worship, and of prayer for good things, Holy Aruosa is a very important place to the society here.”

The Benin monarch occasionally attends worship at the traditional church especially after Igue festival for thanksgiving. The temple which conducts services every Sunday is also believed to have the most unadulterated bible they use for worship.

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