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The Okaegbee In Edo Custom

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By S O U Igde

Egbee is an Edo word, which literally means family .As in other parts of the world. It is the oldest form of human grouping and perhaps, the most important social group in every land .But its relevance might not be the same for all people.

A father and mother constitute the first egbee in Edo land The offspring joins them to form the immediate family .Each child of the marriage can trace the egbe ‘n ‘okhua, the extended family, through the father or through the mother families traced through fathers are patriarchal and those through mothers, matriarchal Edo culture is patriarchal and all actions on important matters are as decided by the through fathers In all such matters, mother’s families often play supportive roles

In a small family made up of father, mother and children the father is the head— the okaegbee In Edo land, egbe’ n’ okhua is all of the offspring of the same ancestors and they constitute the stem and the branches of a family tree.
For thousands of years, Edo family groups have each had morning Greetings peculiar to them, In all that time, the group have grown overly large and today they can hardly recognise each other except through the greetings.

The oldest member of the egbee of a father traced from father is, by custom the head of that family. And the culture known him as the Okaegbee. No daughter and her descendants can be Okaegbee of any family in Edo land. However no male can be Okaegbee if he has not performed the full burial rites of his own father or has not carried out the ukomwen ceremony after burial. This is discussed in two other chapters of this book.

An Okaegbee has the duty to promote cordial relations among members of his family and between people of his and other families in the land. He is the arrowhead in the fight to put the family above its individual members, no matter the status of those members. As the Edo say, A i mu nada din egbee- This means literally, you do not become oldest than your family for being in possession of an ada, a form of sword like a scimitar, which all chiefs in Edo land possess.

The okaegbee helps to enforce moral values. He is both the assessor and the judge of how well his egbee has helped and sustained the custom of the community. He carries out the igbolu ceremony if any member of the egbee wants to build his or her house. He gives out all daughters of the egbee in marriages; he carries out all naming ceremonies of the children of the family; he does the ceremonial feeding of the ancestors in all eho festivals. As soon as he comes on as the Okaegbee he takes over and maintains the family ancestral shine

As a matter of custom. the Edo do not take part in burials of younger relatives Indeed. it is taboo in the Edo custom for anyone to take part in the burial of people younger than they are, whether they are family  members or not The okaegbee does not, therefore preside at such burials in the family. However he delegates the duties to other persons younger than the dead That younger delegate would then act as the Qkaegbee—Irorinmwin at that burial The position of the Qkaegbee—Irorinmwin cannot be held by anyone whose father is still alive or whose father is dead, but has not buried him and carried out the ukomwen ceremony.

The Omo N’Oba, and all his chiefs look up to each okaegbee and other family elders to maintain peace and amity within each family, and especially between families. Should anyone take matters of his relatives to the Oba for intervention, the Omo N’Oba will always ask to know what action the okaegbee and the other elders of the family might have taken.

He expects the okaegbee and the elders of his family to settle all matters in the family Should they fall, such matters must end when the Omo N’Oba N’ Edo Uku Akpolokpolo gives a verdict That is why the Edo say to this day, Eguae  Oba ernwen se The philosophy is that if there is peace in and among family groups, there will be peace  in the Kingdom. That is why an Okaegbee is a vital tool in the public administration of Edo land.

(Samuel Idighi Udinyiwe Igbe is the Iyase of Benin.He retired from the police force in 1978 as Commission of Police.)

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