The Traditions of Origin of Uokha People

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Last up date (28-sep-18)

The earliest of the Owan settlements, by consensus of the people themselves and the other Owan clans, was Uokha. Uokha people claim to have left Benin at the time of Oba Eweka I ca.1320—1347.  The establishment of the dynasty under Eweka I was followed by a period of relative peace. As such there were no radical changes to the social and political structure of the Benin kingdom. Sargent concluded that “although personalities had changed there had not been any effective alteration in the style, demands or intercursive power relations in the new administration.” However, Egharevba explains that “Omorodion’s (Odion’s) claim to the crown after the death of their father was passed over. He, in consequence, left Benin City in anger, with his family and followers, and became the founder of Uwokha (Uokha) in Ivbiosakon (Owan).” Uokha narracive traditions have it that Odion was the elder of two brothers. The younger was named Omo-Odion was said to be a very hardworking farmer who spent most of his time on the farm. At the death of their father Eweka, Omo succeeded to the throne. When Odion came back, he was infuriated at the development. He left Benin for Uokha after seizing Omo’s ada, the state sword. Uokha people were unable to prove this general claim with a genealogical tree stretching back to anywhere near ca.1320—1347. However, as already shown, Egharevba confirms the tradition. The founder has been called Odion, which probably refers to his title. Many other Owan groups over the centuries left Benin and sojourned in Uokha before migrating to their present areas of settlement.

Uokha is located in the north-central region of Owan. The community land is situated on the top of the ridge dividing the head waters of the Owan and Edion rivers. Mostly the environs are open savannah, with some outcrops of granite on the eastern border. In the southwestern section of Uokha lie the Utete hills.

Uokha possessed an important priesthood, associated with the name of Akpwewuma, likely a title too. Akpwewuma and his brother Uvbie (Ovie) were said to be living in Use, in Ondo State, as traditional doctors. In search of a place to practice his trade, Uvbie left for Benin. For unruly behavior Uvbie was later expelled from Benin. He then sought refuge with Odion in Uokha. Odion readily accepted Uvbie because they had known each other in Benin. Not long after, Akpwewuma left Use in search of Uvbie in Benin, where he was told his brother had migrated with his family to Uokha. Consequently, Akpwewuma left Benin for Uokha, where he met both Uvbie and Odion. Akpwewuma was also accepted by Odion. Another version states that Akpwewuma was a mad priest who left Ife for Benin. He later migrated to Uokha. This account contends that Uvbie who founded the village of Evbuvbie was Akpwewuma’s son. Other Owan groups occasionally note this priest in their sojourns in Uokha. For instance, Oras tradition claims Prince Uguan married Akpwewuma’s daughter, who bore him a son, Erhae-Ekpen (Ora-Ekpen), while irimo, the founder of Iuleha, was said to have been his follower.

Animal totems are associated with the Eweka dynasty, the Leopard being the royal emblem. The indigenous people of the Benin region probably revered snakes, especially the boa. The Ogiso era was associated with plant totems and the people were strongly matriarchal. Matriarchal peoples appear to have been less inclined to maintain genealogical information. This might explain the limited references to female genealogies in Owan. The coming of the animal totems into Benin strengthened patriarchy and the preservation of genealogies.

It seems possible that Uokha originally was a mixture of indigenous people (the boa totem) and people of the Ogiso (the bean totem) period who moved away from Benin to escape the spreading fashion of animal totems and patriarchy. The evidence for this comes from the modern organization of Uokha. In Uokha and Owan generally the quarters normally represented extended families with which intermarriage was not tolerated. Therefore, usually people of a quarter revere the same totem. However, in Uokha eight quarters out of eleven scattered in three villages had no unique totems. Thus, matrilocal marriages were possible, since a man might move from his natal ward to his new wife’s without violating any totemic law. Where villages possessed unique totems, as in Ora, this could not occur. A man from the Goat village could not move into his wife’s Termite village. It had to be the other way around. Thus, totemism tended to promote patrilineal and patrilocal social organization. Only three quarters were strangers to Uokha: two animal quarters and one revering an oblong squash or eggplant called garden egg. It might be assumed that the influence of these stranger quarters gradually over the centuries converted the Uokha community to patrilineal and patrilocal concepts of organization.

These stranger groups probably intermarried and stayed behind in Uokha. When later groups came out of Benin, they settled temporarily in Uokha before moving on to colonize other areas in Owan .
Evbuvbie (Uvbie’s village), the lack of a Unique totem could be explained by the fact that Odion gave both Uvbie and Akpwewurna land to settle. As stranger elements from Yorubaland, they adopted the Uokha. In essence they opted for political and social accommodation within the Uokha community. Coming from the Yoruba of Ondo, Uvbie possibly had been from a matrilocal-marriarchal society.

The community was further united in worship at two shrines: one to a god, Oisa, and another to a goddess, Oron. The existence of a goddess further enhances the evidence of early matriarchy/matrilineality in the area. Uokha might be seen as the model of Ogiso organization in Benin prior to the Eweka dynasty. Since all clans everywhere in Africa have some aliens within them, the Uokha community is probably as pure biologically as any. Alone among the Owan groups, it comes closest to being a biological clan rather than a community.

All that Uokha people can remember about Oisa is that he was their father. They do not remember how he came into existence nor does their genealogical tree scratch back to him. Afeninkhena reports that Oisa ¡s “the great father of gods, men, and rulers” in Uokha. Three months in every year the inhabitants of Uokha celebrate the Oisa festival. During its observance the secrets of the shrine are kept away from women and children. Oron was Odion’s wife. It was said she came to Uokha from Benin with a shrine at which she worshipped throughout her lifetirne. Following her death the shrine was named after her. This marked her deification as mother of the clan. The people of Uokha celebrate the Oron festival annually in the month of November. To Uokha men and women, Oron protected them from any form of danger or evil. They also rely on her to ensure good agricultural yields. During the festival, the people give thanks to her for the abundance bestowed on them. Moreover, the populace asks for continuous protection and assistance. In this celebration, both males and females participated, unlike that for Oisa. In fact a male priest now looks after the Oron shrine. Clearly veneration of gods and goddesses indicates an individual occupied a powerful position during his or her lifetime. Parallels exist between Oisa and Oron on one hand and the Yoruba, Sango, and Oya on the other. Sango and Oya were husband and wife, god and goddess. By tradition Sango was the founder of the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo back to which the royal genealogy stretches.

The most likely interpretation of the shrines and festivals in Uokha suggests that the mother of the community lived long before its foundation as recorded in oral narrative. Presumably Uokha was founded upon matrilineal and matrilocal, ¡f no matriarchal, principles. Oron therefore formed the oldest of the deities, and her worship was conducted by women and mostly for women but with male participation With the spread of patriarchy, possibly before but certainly after Eweka of Benin, the god Oisa was invented and maintained as a secret, especially from the women. Under the new, creeping, patriarchal influences, the symbolism of marriage between two individuals who may have lived 500 to 1000 years apart brought unity to the religious ideology, strengthened ideas of the male as head of the household, and became an instrument of control. Joan Bamberger argues that it is this kind of myth or legend that feminists must be concerned about. Sheer manipulation of the religious ideology gradually came to suggest that Oisa the god came first, when, from where, and why being questions best left unanswered. Then arrived the goddess from Benin, who is pictured as a mere female who worshipped at a shrine to some unknown deity. After her death, the shrine became named after her and the people—males and females—began to patronize it. The religious tradition seems to have been purposely confused and illogical and, unlike secular traditions, better not challenged or questioned. The more mysterious, the more powerful a religious tradition becomes.

As noted, most other Owan communities sojourned in Uokha. The cohesion of the Uokha is demonstrated by this, these temporary sojourners left little imprint. The Ora clan group of animal totems exclusively became the first to settle temporarily in Uokha. Later the Igue clan group passed through. It appeared most like Uokha in social organization and seemed more related to the Ogiso people. Ora and Igue stood at the extremes of the Owan peoples if one considers the Uokha community as unique. The Ake people in Evbo-Mion community also record a tradition of settling in Uokha after leaving Benin.

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