• Fri. May 24th, 2024

FEATURE: THE KING, (OBI) OF IKA WRITTEN BY ONYEKPEZE

Apr 23, 2024
onyekpezeCHIEF DR ONYEKPEZE

In Ika, an Obi is regarded with religious awe. He forms yet another link in the hierarchy of society which passes from men to Obi, to ancestors, to gods and up to the Supreme Being.

In the olden days, the Obis of Ika guarded their supremacy very jealously. No one within the kingdom was allowed to rival them in prestige or pomp. For example, it was a crime for the ordinary mortal to wear clothes resembling any of the Obi’s, build a bigger house than his, use his medicines or watch him eating. He had great magical power and was feared by all his subjects. The Obi was supreme. His decisions had a divine authority, and there was no appeal. He had the power of life and death. He would order the deposition or execution of Chiefs. He would command his people to till the royal fields or repair, or rebuild the palace and his commandment was urgent. He could appropriate the major game animals killed by hunters, and he exacted a penalty from any household, a member of which had been responsible for causing a virgin girl to become enceinte. He could take as a wife, not merely any unmarried girl he pleased, but the wife of any of his subjects.

If two suitors quarreled over a girl, the Obi might settle the matter by appropriating the girl to himself. His servants bare their shoulders, and women, their breasts before him. His wives were guarded and attended to by castrated domestic men. Offenses against him were punished more severely than those against ordinary people. People never spoke to him without going down on their knees, and at times touching the ground with their heads. He was said to be confined to his palace. His subjects treated him with differential respect. He ate alone. The parings of his hair and nails were secretly buried, for if some evil-minded medicine-men were to get hold of them, they might work them into a charm against the Obi’s health or life. He appeared attended to by a crowd of naked serving boys some carrying ada, ebeni and other insignia of royalty, the greater part of the nobility and gentry also followed in the train. In those days, such public appearances were on rare occasions during important ceremonies when the people rejoiced at his appearance.

The Obi is not merely the head of the clan but he is the symbol of the clan’s unity. In him is unified all aspects of political system and the tenets of his clan’s religion. He is the head of the Idibie; he controls the diviners, the Iheren, the Omu, the priests, the witches, the magicians and all cults in the kingdom. As he is believed to be the nearest to the spirits, he is believed to have more powers than anyone else in the kingdom. His political superiority is emphasized in many ways, one of which is through praise names. He receives all the great praise names to which no one else in the kingdom is entitled. These praise names include Agu (Lion is the king of the animals’ kingdom), and the Obi is the ruler of men in an Ika kingdom. He, whose power is likened to the great one above; one whose will must be obeyed in the kingdom; he, who owns the kingdom; he, who has the last word; Obi Okutukutu, Obi Ehuoma; Obi- Okusi-ogu; Obi Owę ihianle; Obi Tutu, and so many others. These praise names indicate the notion of the king of the clan, and he is the most feared, reverend and adored leader to whom all powers are attributed. The king is never judged but, if his advisers are warned to be careful, then he knows he is guilty.

He is a ruler and law giver, war leader and source of wealth. His person is sacred, his subjects remove their caps and bow their heads before him in adoration and flatter him with adulations. He is called the father of all the indigenes. He is not a despot, but a constitutional monarch whose office brings privileges and responsibilities.

He is the custodian of the custom of his people. The whole clan is his own possession, and his welfare is believed to be vital to all. The Obi does not necessarily administer all justice, or perform ritual sacrifices, but while he can delegate these powers to officials, he is the final source of law and leadership. The Obi cannot, therefore, be scolded in the public or blamed. The blame is levied on his advisers.

To be without a king is regarded as disastrous. And for that reason, immediately after the death of an Obi of a clan, a new Obi is enthroned according to the tradition of the clan. A lot of guided rituals are performed before the heir apparent is coronated. The rituals include a symbolic ‘meal made in respect of his predecessor’s head’ known in Ika as iri eze, ‘eating king’. A nonagenarian respondent told the author that in those days, ritual human sacrifices were offered to protect the Obi from bad spirits, witches and wizards and to cleanse the land. Nowadays, cows, goats, dogs, fowls and rams are used for these sacrifices.

The purity of the Obi is protected by elaborate rituals and taboos, which were very many in ancient times. It is certain to judge from the general trend that some of them were designed to ensure good moral behaviour. The values of the Obiship are reaffirmed and consolidated by periodic ceremonies, the most important of which are ‘national or yearly festivals’, which focus the various aspects of the social and economic activities of a kingdom. During these festivals also, Chiefs and subjects pay homage to the Obi and renew their allegiance.

Royal Prerogatives: The position of the Obi in a clan is one of outstanding power and authority. He is the father of his people and the symbol of unity. He is the central figure in all the clan’s activities, and generator of traditional wisdom. New discoveries are channeled through him to the people, and those that create innovations are promptly rewarded with conferment of honours for having distinguished themselves His person is sacred and people bow to him in complete reverence.

The Obi is the personification of the people, socially, culturally, traditionally or otherwise, and he is often called by the name of the whole clan. He has the first choice of land for cultivation. He is said to own the land, meaning that he is the custodian of all the land in his clan. He presides over the highest ‘Court’, disburses the clan’s wealth, controls age groups, the titled men and women, orders for any gatherings, and imposes penalties on offenders. As the custodian of the local tradition, he is final authority and the interpreter of the custom of his people.

The Obi plays a great part in the religious life of his people. He is the leader and representative of his people in important ceremonies of the season, purifications, initiations and welfare. His magic or medicines are of the greatest importance in clan crises. He has his medicines men; they work under his order and supervision. However, there are important Councils of his Chiefs and other functionaries who serve greatly to limit actual exercise of the Obi’s power. In recent times, the Executive of the Clan Union has lending hand to these Councils. “A King is a King by grace of his people”. Only by the harmonious co-operation of the Obi, the Chief, elders, the llotu, etc., will the life of the people be happy in the community. The Obi is therefore, a constitutional ruler.

Royal Obligations: Not only are there royal prerogatives, there are also royal obligations of an Obi. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’. The king is surrounded by multitudinous taboos that may have made life wearisome. The King exists for the well- being of his people.

The duties of an Obi take up an immense amount of time if performed conscientiously, a respondent told the writer. He has to receive complaints and give his ears to all his subjects, whatever their ranks. He has to listen to his Chiefs, and he represents his people in agreements and meetings with government functionaries, other communities, peoples, etc. He is not absolute, and must consult his advisers. But he has to keep abreast of all the affairs of importance, for nothing can be done in the clan, or for the clan without the Obi.

But today, many of the customs are changing. The growth of towns to villages, of villages into quarters and quarters into many Idumu or Ogbe has made it almost impossible for the traditional authority to operate as before. The dawn of civilization, representative governments, the introduction of democratic elections, the rise of wealthy traders, workers and businessmen, the use of European forms of justice, and above all, the introduction of the Western system of education, all have shaken the old system in every clan. And yet, some of the olden days’ ceremonials and authority remain.

The Royal Funeral: Many things reveal the demise of an Obi in Ika more than the funeral announcement of his death. Even if the Obi is sick, it is kept secret and his subjects and other people still come to salute him and bring cases for arbitration. Messages are sent from the Obi; impressions are that all is well. When he eventually passes on, he is immediately buried because it is against tradition to keep the Obi’s remains in a morgue. Ika oral tradition has it that an Obi is interred in his full regalia with a lot of wealth to help him in the journey to the after world. Some say the head of an Obi is buried differently from the trunk. This is not authoritative as respondent said, because the people who actually know how an Obi is buried do not say a word about it.

Like in Benin, elaborate circumlocutions are often used to avoid saying that an Obi is dead. Phrases like a ‘mighty tree has fallen, the house has broken, it is night, the house is broken, the lion is at large, ali esusuhu, and so on, are often used. The Obi so regarded as semi divine during his life, becomes apotheosized at death, and enters the rank of the clan’s royal ancestors. In the after world, he is thought of as enjoying royal rank still, and hence the sacrifices made on annual or special occasions are to increase his retinue, send him messages about his family and clan on earth ensure his continued favour to his children.

NOTE: In case of deformity by illness after ascension, an Obi was bound to abdicate peacefully.

Regents must not wear the crown, sit on the throne and observe any festival ceremony. He carries Ebeni sword and not Ada, which is the prerogative of the Obi alone.

In the olden days, materials for service and mutual aid were farm produce, animals, money, allowing one’s child to serve the Obi or elderly persons for some period as a token of loyalty and love.

King’s mother: In the olden days, and for fear of nepotism, Ika custom forbade Obi’s mother to be alive while her son was on the throne. It was believed that she would disturb the Obi to act honestly and impartially. This was stopped with the advent of the Europeans.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *