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Priest - Ohen In Edo Culture

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By AMBROSE .0. EKHOSUEHI (Last update 25/09/2017)

Priest Kohen, ohen, is a holy person chosen from among human beings and appointed to conduct religious rites between god and worshippers. Every high priest igie ohen or priest of God-ohen Osa is chosen from his fellow men and appointed to serve God on their behalf, to offer sacrifices and offerings for sins. Since he himself is weak in many ways, he is able to be gentle with those who are ignorant and make mistakes, because he is himself weak, he must offer sacrifices not only for the sins of the people but also for his own sins. No one chooses for himself the honour of being a high priest. It is only by God’s calling that a man is made a high priest, hence the foregoing is recorded in the holy Bible; scripture in Hebrew chapter five verses 1 -4.

The Hebrew word for Edo word — Ohen is Kohen. All Edo believe in the creator of all things and beings. This creator of all things and beings is called “Osanobuwa” and Osa-God is everywhere. Any person can pray to God-Osa for health, children and other benefits but God chooses his own priest — ohen ordained by man and made his garment sacred.

Osa-God is however, less frequently worshipped than other major deities — such as Olokun the Neptune or Poseidon, Ogun the Mars and Okhuaihe — a great Benin hero who transformed himself into the river bearing the same name — Okhuaihe and is worshipped by the people.

Priesthood seems to originate from the earliest inception of religion but where national religions become a platform for individual to feel their real selves, both in private and public functions it could be said that religions are not only recognized as the pivot of the society but also that it has the support and approval of the masses.

This means that the groups of religion and its morality are completely identified. This expresses the integration of an individual to a human group. Besides, the integrated individual and the Group will together integrate into the universe.

When a person is so integrated, the person becomes the community and the community becomes the person, to the extent that if the community starts misbehaving, one member can serve as a protesting voice to the Almighty God — Osanobuwa or the deities who intervenes invariably.

In this respect, the group and the individual support and maintain the community and in this, the community stays morally just and right. This solidarity continues on a daily basis and an outright revolution is never expected, rather the group through their daily life experiences express their solidarity by appealing to the transcendent witness.

The essential elements of religion are belief in Almighty Creator and worship of God. Religion is concerned with a person’s relation to God and as a human relation to Divinity, to reverence, worship, Obedience and submission to mandates and precepts of supernatural beings. In its broadest sense religion includes all forms of beliefs in the existence of superior beings exercising power over human beings by volition, imposing rules of conduct, with future rewards and punishments.

While people generally conceive the nature and power of this supreme being differently, some religious precepts are so deep and involving. These ultimately translate into various forms of worship as expressed by the adherents in their various ways of life styles, so the expression of these religious convictions leads to the setting of churches that give rise to an organized worship.

Priest, K’ohen, ohen is entered into through consecration of the individuals for the purpose of administering to the people. The Oba of Benin consecrates the Ohen Osa with the insignia of authority Ada — state sword approved by the Oba of Benin worn by paramount chiefs and the priest of Osa and the priest of Okhuaihe. It is believed that God chooses his priest and ordained by man to manifest the divine mind.

The responsibilities of the priest from the ancient times includes, direct service of the deity and provides certain services for the societies to approach God more closely, care of the sanctuary, manifestation of the divine mind as in Oracular consultation, soothsayer, interpret the laws of God entrusted to them. To teach and preach the sanctifying office and offer sacrifices.

In Edo culture, chastity is a virtue which makes people spiritually free and agile as to seeing human souls and not human bodies as it relates to the Benin adage “Agbon ghe Ikpakpa, Erinmwi ghe Ekhoe” and to the priest himself as the scripture says” Even the priests who come near me must purify themselves or I will punish them” Exodus 19:22).

Priests in Benin tradition agree that obedience to human authority is obedience to Almighty God, because priest in Edo culture must be submissive to the laws guiding the faith, belief and practices of whatever religion, and are bound to undertake and fulfill faithfully whatever functions entrusted to them.

In Edo Culture, priest Kohen, Ohen is chosen by the Deity; hence at the advent of Christianity Ohen had been in use in Benin vocabulary. The ohen okun of Neptune, Poseidon was made an envoy to visit Portugal, from where the first catholic priests came to evangelize Great Benin in the fifteenth century.

Oba Esigie during the sixteenth century made the catholic religion compulsory for Edo land, and encouraged the building of churches. Ohen Osa were ordained and were given the authority to worm state sword —Ada.

Some traditional priests were also recognized associated with hero-deity enshrined in special building, which may be within the built up area of a community. Most of these priests are males but in some cases the priest must be a woman or the office may be held by a member of either sex.

There are held annually or at greater intervals, festival of worship called Ugie in which the whole community takes part in the worship of these deities, while the priest are acting on behalf of individuals who make application to them. Principally the men and the women have their own duties and within the male group there are member of sub-divisions, organized mainly on age basis.

The priest ohen is the spiritual head of the country praying and making sacrifice for the people while the odionwere is chosen among the most senior citizen of the community. He is the head of the whole age grade and where there is a duke, the Enogie governs the people as the royal headship. The edion together with the Enogie in the community make the final decision as to who should be the odionwere. Odionwere should be the oldest free born man, the Father was born in the village or town, whether the office of odion owere is confirmed to candidates from a word or from different wards in rotation, or his seniority is judged on actual age than being longest member of the Edion grade.

The ohen Osa-priest of High God ordained with the insignia :“Ada” is as it were in the olden days, those who were ordained priest and capable of administering a parish or a county. Those trained Catechists were the ohen Reverend of the community to teach the doctrine. The Enogie may have an ohen to worship the supreme deity in his domain.

Most ancient towns and villages have ohen Osa that were not ordained to posses the Ada but all chiefs and subjects glorify the supreme deity at the altar of God and make thanksgiving to Almighty God.

The Ohen osa uses the ada of the altar of God most High to mien and bless the people and specially pray for the Benin Monarch., he sits or stands as the supreme representative to receive honour of the blessed deities.” Ehi noma do rhie Orhue” The Ada bears the cross- a mark of Christianity for the priest ohen to rule over an assigned county.

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