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Otu And Age-Grade Systems Of Edo Land

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

By Ekhaguosa Aisien

Edo built and anchored the organisation of the life of their communities upon an ancient framework of Otu Group). These Groups survive to the present day, but now have greater relevance in the smaller towns and villages of the land. The Otu are seven in number and each has its ethos. From the first to the last Otu, the names and the ethos of each are:

1 Akina (Vigilance)

2  Oya ¡ ghi ru oba (The Oba shall suffer no want)

3 Ehonsi  (Spreading the fame of the people)

4. Obo ¡ ghi ro mwen (My hand shall. not tire)

5 Obokhae (Lifting self by the bootstrap)

6  A I wan erhen  ekpen (You don’t share fire with the monarch)

7 Izemete (Patriotism and total loyalty to Edo land and the Kingdom)

In the days of the Ogiso dynasty, Edo had a group called Ominigie. That group became extinct because of the many wars they fought. According to oral records the group danced  into heaven and never came back. In order to maintain the number seven, the people set up a new group in place of Orninigie. And they called the new group Oya I ghi ru ‘Oba.

The Otu system brought all the hundreds of communities — towns, villages. and dukedoms in the land together. They all adopted the same time spans for recruiting into the system, but once in, a member will remain in a group for the rest of his life.

Each Otu recruits its members for six years before the next Otu comes along. All the seven-year old children in Edo land will be available and will be recruited into the first Otu called Akina Since the recruitment lasts for six years, all children younger than seven when recruitment began would be available to be recruited into the same Akina as they turn seven, in each of the succeeding six years

The next six-year time span comes along and recruitment into the next Otu will begin. This group is the Oya i ghi ru Oba. The first recruits into it, have just attained the age seven and the first members recruited into the Akin whose time span has just ended, have just turned fourteen. This process would go on until all the Otu have recruited their members. By the time all the seven have had their time. It will be forty—two years and recruitment would begin again with Otu Akina starting the new cycle

Before the West came, Edo had a system by which they judged ages. People born within two years of each other were regarded as age-mates, but that was also thought, known and used for rough and ready judgements of age within families and in neighbourhoods, the people knew the lunar month, the farm worked, and the special mnemonic event that took place when children were born. These were more accurate, but over time, they were strains on the memory Two-year blocks became the chips that counted the age. As it is the custom of the people, therefore, Ikpia ra va mu otu

Within each Otu, those born in the first two-year block of the six year time span for recruitment, were regarded as seniors of the next two-year block They were therefore ikao, those in the two-year block that follows, were the ikadese; and those in the final two-year block were the ikiekie

Age was important then, as it is today, if there were things to share or a kola nut to break Every man in each of hundreds of towns and villages in the land knew what Otu he belonged to. That simplified the task of finding the eldest in any group, but it could not be the perfect solution that dating is today

The age-Grades
From the time they become members of the Otu all Males in Edo land would have been in age-grades. These grades were necessarily progressive and each member moved into the appropriate one as he reaches the required minimum age the age-grades are:

a. Emwin r ‘Oba evbo (about 7 — 14 years)

b. Eroghae (Ihema) (about 15 — 30 years)

c. Eghele (about 30—50years)

d. Edion (over 50 years)

Before the age of seven years in Edo land, children are em ‘orhue (babies), em ‘obo (infants) and em ‘owe (toddlers) until they are seven when they joined the Ernwin r ‘Oba evbo. This is the first of the age-grades. The other age grades follow every seven years.

Emwin r ‘Oba Evbo
Before or in his early teens, a boy will be noticed for the first time, as an asset to his community. Given no community duties, the young Ernwin r ‘Oba Evbo will grow and mature in the shadow of members of the next higher age-grade, the Eroghae.

At about the age of fourteen years, the Ernwin r ‘Oba Evbo will have been a member of his age-grade for seven and he will be ready to move up to the Ero ghae age-grade after a public ceremony. This is the youngest age-grade which the ruling council of the village will confer both the rights and the duties of citizenship on the teenager. At the same time, the previous Eroghae age-grade would have s seven years in the age-grade and should be ready too to move to the Eghele age grade. As it is in one age-grade ever seven years, so it is in another and each creates room for new entrants. These movements of members change each age-grade, but they do not change the Otu to which each member also belongs.

The Eroghae age-grade did most of the menial work in a community, probably because they belong to the most active years of life They carried foodstuff such as yam tubers from a village community to the Royal Palace and to the household of the chief liaison of the village., in Benin City .The community would have gathered them for the upkeep of the Oba and the chief. Because they carried out these yearly treks to Benin City, the community also called them the Ihema (the carrier of yam tubers).

Eghele Age-Grade
At about the age of twenty-eight years, the eroghae moves en masse after a public ceremony, to the third age-grade level  called Eghele The people call that ceremony the Iz ‘eki that is, the shedding of the ukoki

Ukoki is a pad of cloth or of leaves, used by the people to carry loads on their heads They place it between the scalp and  the load to reduce the pain and the pressure of hard load on the head The eroghae had used it to carry yam tubers that the people packed in bundies of odd numbers (Okpan) of tubers, never in even numbers (Izu) to Benin City And the Iz ‘eki ceremony was to throw away the ukoki forever and to relieve the eroghae of the yearly treks of his past fourteen years

Eghele Age—Grade does the most for its communities. they maintained security in defence or offence. They are the soldiers of the village, of the town and of the Oba of Edo land, in Benin City. Besides, they are the professional class and they meet the specialised needs of the communities in building, hunting, farming and trading. Promotion from the Grade to Edion is never automatic nor is it ever done en mass, as in some of the lower Age- Grades.

At about the age of fifty years therefore, the eghele will begin to ask for promotion to the highest age- grade of the Edion. Elevation to the rank of Edion is on merit. The village elders will have to rate the eghele high in wisdom, in character and in life achievement to lift him. A precocious son could advance through the grades to the Eghele class and meet his own father in that class. The son would, like his father, function as a member of the eghele age-grade, and would receive and carry out similar instructions of the Edion.

An Eghele, who thought that he was ripe and good enough to be elevated to the Edion Grade, could ask the members to elevate him. On the other hand, an Eghele might have achieved a feat of outstanding benefit to the village. This can bring him to the attention of the Edion who might decide to elevate him to the Edion Age-Grade, before he is of age.

A new Odionwere has the right at installation to promote any two members of the Eghele Grade of his choice to the position of Odion. A new Enogie of a community has the same right on the day he is appointed. But a chief of the Oba of Edo-land is an Odion in any town or village in Edo-land. So is any citizen on whom the Oba has conferred the right to wear coral beads

Iriodioiz: Elevation of an Egliele to the Edion Grade
If the Odionwere—in—coiinciI of the Edion approves the promotion of an Eghele to the Edion grade, the ceremony will take place at the Ogu ‘edion. On the evening before, a senior Odion will visit the home of the odion—lo—be, to help him at an Igue ceremony. That Igue is to propitiate the head df the odion-to-be with coconut slices and a cock. After that, will put the cock to death for food.

At daybreak on the day of elevation to the grade, a happy group will lead the celebrant to the Ogu‘edion. Dancing as they do so, they meet the Edion and the Odionwere already seated The Odionwere as chief-priest propitiates the spirit of the dead of the community with food and drinks supplied by the celebrant.He prays too,for the Odion-to-be.

The celebrant goes on his knees to perform the Igb eken ceremony at the feet of the Edion present He starts with the Odionwere and goes round the other edion That done, he will stand up, then he will be led to a seat on the Iba where the Edion are all seated.

When he leaves the Ogu ‘edion, attendants who may be his children or his relatives, will support each of his raised arms near the elbow. Then he will dance to his house. A large group of men and women will follow him. Some drumming, some dancing and others singing At home, he will entertain all, of them for the day. He is now an Odion a member of the riling class of the community.

Edion  Age-Grade
The Edion are the elders and they constitute the ruling class in an Edo community. At the head is the Odionwere, the oldest male in the community. He is the ruler of his village in Edo land unless that village is part of a dukedom. In Edo land Orno N’Oba N’Edo often appoints Enogie to parts of his kingdom. Where there is an Enogie, the odionwere serves under him. Enogie has the authority of the Orno N’Oba and he will use it on the community.

Installafion of the Odionwere
In Edo land, the odionwere is the oldest of the elders and the head of a village community. In a patriarchal society such as the Edo have, odionwere is always a male and he has the executive, the legislative, the judicial and, to some extent, spiritual powers over the village.

Both the Ogu ‘edion and the village lose their priest and leader, if an odionwere dies The ukhurhe at the shrine will be laid on the floor of the altar until a new odionwere has been installed. When that has happened, it will regain its erect position in the pantheon. And that has always been the signal that the village has a leader and a priest

Many parts of Edo land install a new odionwere (about two calendar years) after the death of the old .The ceremony is the same as that of the Iriodion. At the event which also takes place at the Ogiu ‘edion, the odionwere-to be will propitiate the spirits of the dead of the village with goat, kola nuts and palm wine With all the edion seated, the Ukhurh ‘Edion is stood upright and the new odionwere will sit in his rightful place nearest to the shrine.

At the end of the ceremony, a procession will follow the new Odionwere to his home, his raised arms Supported by his children or his relatives others in the village will follow him dancing and singing. Back home the new leader of the village, will entertain all.

Ikpiha after he has been head of his community, the odionwere will undertake another ceremony called the ni. The ni ceremony confirms his office, but it is more to give thanks. He will propitiate the spirits of the dead with a goat ‘at the Ogu ‘edion. Then he will entertain the community.

(Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisen is a retired civil servant and consultant surgeon.Read medicine at king college university of London.)

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