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By Evinma Ogie April 21, 2021

It is a well known fact that the Edo tries to supplement the esoteric help he gets from the Obo in the prosecution of his affairs by attempting to establish direct contact with the divine through ritual practices. Whether he succeeds in this effort, we may not know but what is of interest is the effort or practice, namely, mysticism.

Mysticism may be described as that practice by man through which he seeks to establish direct contact with the divine for the purpose of receiving help and guidance in order to live successfully. This presupposes, of course, knowledge of the divine and the modus operandi of the invisible world, or belief in the efficacy of rituals and the existence of invisible and. helpful beings who may be contacted through such rituals. But, what does the Edo actually know of the invisible world
Edo Cosmogony states that there exist in the universe Osalobua (God), Olokun, Obieven, Ogiuwu, and Esu (devil). Those invisible beings, it appears, live in the sky, for the Edo normally looks skywards when he speaks of erinvin, the abode of invisible beings

In the Edo literary genro, oxa (prose) which forms a vital part of the evening entertainment, Ibota, there is a story which relates that Osalobua or Osa had a wife, Anume, who gave birth to three children. In order of seniority, they were Olokun, Ogiuwu, and Obieven. Olokan and Ogiuwu were male, while Obieven as a female, It is not said who created Osalobua, but the story tends to give credence to the metaphysical concept that the created universe thrives on the activities of opposing forces (positive and negative) because Osa, a positive force united with Anume, a negative force, to produce two positive forces, Olokun and Ogiuwu, and  one negative force, Obieven.

It is not unlikely that in the consciousness of the Edo, Osalobua, Anume, OIokun, Ogiuwu, and Obieven are beings who possess human qualities, though on a higher scale • On the other hand, it could be that by assigning human qualities to them and other forces of the universe, he tries to concretize the abstract for comprehension.

Of all the forces identified so far by tho edo, Osalobua or Osa, and Olokun deserve do tailed examination as they have significant roles to play in Edo affairs

J. U. Egharevba in his book Benin law and Custom has written as follows:
OSANOBUA or OSA is the chief God, the god above all other gods and an immortal being. He is also know by other names: Akpama, the creator of all living things; Udazi, the giver of all life, and all powerful, to whom everything is subjected; Oghodua, the Almighty, Omnipresent and Omniscient; Ohovba, the merciful, loving, and kind. This god Osanobua, was never worshipped with human sacrifices, but the offerings might be pigeons, white cocks, white cloth, scarlet, chalk and peeled wands called “uwenrhiontan” and a kind of pumpkin called “umwenken”. This Worship was being done by every person in his or her own house or front house of the Edo Osa or Osalobua, J. O. Lucas in his Religions in West Africa and Ancient has also written thus:

The Supreme Deity is known to the Benins as Osalogbowa. The name has been contracted to
Ogbora and is sometimes written and pronounced as Osanobua. It would appear that the name was originally Osa a contraction of Oyisa ór Orisa and that the latter part of the word is a letter addition, It is therefore similar in origin Orisa, Orise or Ulesa.

There are other views, excluding those of the natives themselves, which have been expressed by writers about the Edo Osa or Osalobua, but that of Lucas quoted above appears ,to be most wide off the mark, ,arid a not too deep excursion into Edo etymology. While it may pretend ecclesiastical inspiration, it appears devoid of mystical insight into do cosmogony, as if Lucas is not satisfied with documenting the inaccuracies quoted, he adds most unfairly:

There is a tradition that the Benins regard Oyisa or Osa as trinity The trinity is, composed of Osalugimayi, the king of us all on earth, Osalubwa, Who  made us to be O’sa’ logodowa, the queenly mortar of being.

The Edo lexical items used in the above quotation are misleading, and it appears that in talking of the trinity, just as Egharevba speaks of Osa being “Almighty, Omnipresent, and Omniscient”, Lucas is simply discussing the belief of a modern Roman Catholic Edo, not the typical Edo who is bound to regard the notion of the trinity as academic, and not as a mystical experience.

Maybe a meaningful way of looking at the Osalobua or Osa of the Edo is to regard his many names as denoting his various attributes, i.e. the constituents of what the Philosopher Baruk Spinoza termed “a being which subsists though itself, and therefore makes itself known and reveals itself through itself”

Information gleaned from typical Edo villagers suggests the following classifications and interpretations of the attributes of Osalobua;
Osa is a generic term, and the variant, orisa, occurs only in song, e.g. a song in praise of Olokun, it is affirmed that “Orisa, re Odion” (“Orisa is the senior”).It is, clear that poetic licence permits this variant.

Osalobua could occur as Osanobua and in each case Osa is the shortened from.

Akpama, as its constituent morphemes imply refers to the creative aspect of Osa. Thus, Akpama is Osa’s praise name regarding his ability to create.

Udazi refers to the pre-established harmony which sustains the universe. By this attribute of Osa, all is ordered and sustained in an impersonal way, and laws of nature are thereby established.

Oghodua appears to be a synonym of Osa. In fact it seems that oghenne, which is another name for Osa, is linked up with Oghodua,

Ohova is Osa’s praise name for his deeds of mercy, love, kindness etc.

One must not conclude that the Edo necessarily worships Osalobua and the other forces identified in such a way that he may be described as a polytheist He regards Anume, Olokun, Ogiuswu,  Obieven, Esu and other forces as Ebo but he never refers to Osa as Ebo, as Osa or Osalobua stands aside in his consciousness. Also, he believes that Ebo are not as powerful as Osa because the former operate on astral planes lower than that in which Osa operate.

While these distinctions are made, in summoning help from invisible sources at moments of great trial, the Edo does not normally attempt to contact Osalobua for help as would be expected, since the best form of help could only come from Osalobua. Rather, he may invoke the help of one of the Ebo.

Because this is what happens, the point arises as to what conditions the Edo’s choice of an Ebo or’ Osalobua for help.
The Edo believe that the Ebo were created to perform specifie functions in the  service of man.  Thus, the one seeking the help of an Ebo ought to contact the Ebo that specialises in the handing  of the problem he desires to solve. Olokun, for example, is said to control the water element in Nature. So, the one seeking to control a water situation is likely to invoke Olokun’s help. Olokun also has several lieutenants, namely Akpowa, Imene, Adesuxunvun, and. Igbaghon, and these dispense “graces” to invocator who need wealth, children and general wellbeing.

The ritual connected with the invocation of help from Osalubua is very unique and further explains why Osa Is not ranked along, with the Ebo. The one who wants to contact Osa takes a good bath after a brief period of mental preparation in retreat, and dresses in white, In fact, as stated earlier, white pigeon or white cook, white cloth, chalk, and uvenxen, which feature, all give an aura of purity of thought and purpose to it. In consonance with this, the invocator, dressed in white, also marks the head with white chalk. Three vertical strokes are made, and I gather that the marking of the vertical strokes concludes the process of self or spiritual purgation needed for the divine’s attunement.

Not much may be gained from trying - to examine what each of Items used in the ritual stands for, but the pole painted white, the flag and white pigeon tied to it, deserve close attention

In his book already mentioned, J. O, Lucas stated that “Deit is symbolized by trees, and a white flag on a pole” and traces the origin of this practice (which he say is common in West Africa) to Egypt. Lucas quotes Margaret Murray’s The Splendour that was Egypt to support his views and the relevant portion reads thus:

In front of the shrine was a courtyard surrounded by a latticed palisade, the entrance to which was marked by a pair of poles with streamers attached. In the centre of the courtyard was a pole bearing the emblem of the deity to whom the shrine was consecrated.

The connection with Egypt is not brought to light, and Lucas is silent on the reason for the choice of the pole and flag as symbols of deity  

It is a great error to think that whatever is civilized or extraordinary must have had its origin in Egypt. Certainly, the Edo of Evuoto gave rise to Edo kingdom and the Ogiso dynasties without help from Egypt, but while it may be true that wanderers from Sahara belt may have joined the Edo at a later date, evidences are not conclusive on the extent they may have succeeded in changing the ways of conservative Edo people.

What can be reasonably said about the pole and white flag is that we do not know their origins and what they were meant to symbolize. However, it may be conjectured that as the forts tor’s prayers or requests were expected to rise to Osalobua erinuin, which is located in the sky, the white flag, which is emblematic of the pure intent of the desired attunement, is raised high on the pole to effect the needed contact with the aid of the white pigeon, symbol of purity and grace.

The Osalobua ritual  appears to centre on self up liftment in the spiritual sense, and help for mundane advantage are not usually sought through it. It could be said, therefore, that the Osa ritual differs from Ebo invocations because of their goals. What may remain unexplained is the fact that whiles it is acknowledged that Osalobua is all-powerful; no attempt is made to ask him for help in connection with non-spiritual engagements.

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