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Edo Women
 

THE LAWS OF MARRIAGE AS THEY AFFECT THE ONOJIE

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As have said under the laws of inheritance, an Onojie was an institution by himself - a Frankenstein Monster created by the community, it existed to grow and feed upon. He could neither marry by the Ebee system nor take a wife by the dowry method; and yet his harem is full to the brim. He could even marry two sisters, a thing not sanctioned by Esan law and custom. But his chief method of taking wives were:

(a) By  INHERITANCE:- After due burial ceremonies of his father, he was installed  and he inherited everything in the harem minus his mother. That gave him a flying start in a long reign of smash and grab or No Cash And Carry.

(b) BY SEIZURE (BAA IGBN):- Baa Igben was the privilege that marked him out as the greatest octopus, whose tentacles could reach any woman, married, single, willing or unwilling. Once a while he took a regal walk or a look round his domain. Or favour seekers came to report to him of the presence of a damsel somewhere in his district. All he did was to send one of his coral bead necklaces. On reaching the abode of the girl the unsuspecting damsel or woman was called, and before she knew what was on, the bead was round her neck - she was then the Onojie’s wife, a marriage as binding as if it was performed by the Chief Justice of the Federation or the Papal Nuncio in Nigeria! If the former husband in whose house this drama took place, looked at the woman or talked to her once the necklace had been placed round her neck, and she dared not remove it under the pain of death, he had committed adultery with the ‘King’s wife by look or spoken word; and as far as the Onojie was concerned- adultery was adultery, with no half-way measures, and the method, immaterial. The punishment was death. A wise man, therefore, deprived of his wife and more often, it is the only wife in his life, bore his agonizing sorrow in his heart.

In many cases the result was tragic. An informant came to eulogise a woman he had seen in the village. The insatiable Onojie at once despatched a messenger with beads. The woman came captive but to Onojie, it was hatred at first sight. Well, she had been pronounced Onojie’s wife, and so she merely went to swell the myriads of women starving for love, food and freedom in the harem.

The famous story of IHENHENELE which has now gone down in Esan folklore is illustrative. The proverb is OTUQKPA imun ole bhe enan mun ole bhe enan, khe ukpoko ne Ihenhenele gbanó je QmOaka (No one can be here and there at the same time is the parcel Ihenhenele sent to Omoaka).

Ihenhenele was the wife of a man in Ibhiolulu,Irrua. Chief Omoaka, one of the men who got on by saying ISE (AMEN) to everything the Onojie said, about 1885 reported  to Eromosele of the existence of a stately woman fit only for the King, but at that time, a man was blaspheming nature by calling her his wife. Omoaka himself was despatched immediately to go and Baa Qie Igben. Within five hours he was back with Ihenhenele, stupefied and terrified, in tow. Either because of this or because Omoaka had over exaggerated her looks, she looked a very ordinary woman to Eromosele,who merely hissed in annoyance and sent her to swell the ranks of the near-slaves in the harem. After months when this wretched woman had been starving with no food or husband, she made a small corn leaf parcel containing a piece of chalk and a piece of charcoal which she sent through a small girl, Unuizigbe, to the man who sold her into her miserable state - Omaka. Seeing the contents of the small parcel, and sincerely no one till this day can say exactly what she really meant, Omoaka cried in self-remorse, “May be the poor woman was hungry” but unfortunately for him, there were several people who knew how he got on in the palace and were climbing by the same ladder; his junior brother called Obo saw the parcel  arrive, heard the name of the sender, Ihenhenele, the Onojie’s wife “O-ho,brother, you are getting high - parcels from the Onojie’s wife”  He made a bee-line dive for the palace and told the Onojie that he had just discovered, that his maternal brother was in the habit of having secret dealings with some of his wives, with Ihenhenele in particular. The great Eromosele was stirred, and as usual to fury.

Obo was rewarded with a twist of the comer of the mouth, by way of a smile, and for Ihenhenele - the women, there were hundreds in the harem, were quickly assembled in the great inner palace square. Eromosele went in brought out a white kola nut and handed it over to Ihenhenele who by now was already on her knees, with her hair standing on end for fear. “Greetings to my father” ,he said, “Tell him I am in full control of all this side of heaven. Kha hi” (Say your last prayers!). In another minute Ihenhenele’s head was on the sand.

(c) BY PAWNING:- Many of the Onojie’s wives were married in this way, but as the reader would have seen already, he was a class to himself and so he had his own special way of pawning. People pawned themselves or property in lieu of money. People pawned themselves or their daughters or both to the Onojie, FOR FREEDOM!

A man in trouble with the Inotu, a man alleged to have wronged the Onojie, by look, intention but certainly not by the spoken word, was heading for the abyss which was Eguare. He sent his daughter to the Onojie,to “please save  me” There went another inhabitant  of the harem

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