Celebrating the transition of a departed soul, the ‘ Igbe’ pattern.
By Jon Egie
It was on Friday, April 5, 2019 that I was invited to Obi-Ayagha in Ughelli South local government area to cover the celebration of transition of a soul after 136 years of sojourn on mother Earth.
I took off from Ughelli at 650 pm, the funeral ceremony being an all night wake keep. Not familiar with the venue and the route that leads to it, I zoomed fast and got to Jeremi Town where I stopped and asked for direction on my way and was told the way was far ahead. “Just go on and on and then ask as you go”. I was told. I moved on.
On the way I stopped again and asked a chap for direction to my destination. Good luck! The chap was heading my way but had no money for transport fare so he was trekking to get home to Obi-Ayagha. It was already dark. I asked him to hop in and together we arrived at 743 pm.
On the way I asked, “Is your village big, does it have a primary school?” “Yes, but no secondary school.” The chap replied. “What about a market?” “Yes, but it is down.” He replied. “How? No stalls?” I asked again. “No, not the absence of stalls, it is closed down from functioning.” “Why?” “Because of abomination.” “How?” I inquired further. “Many years ago some youths in the village raped a mermaid who came to the market in human form to buy some wares. After the sexual assault the mermaid returned to the village river and placed a curse on the market. Thereafter, business activities in the village market collapsed. It was when the village elders inquired from the Oracle that the abomination was revealed. It has been a long time ago, that is what we were told and the culprits have all died but the market has remained down.” He said.
The chap disembarked after we got to the funeral place. I invited him to join me in the funeral ground but he said he is a son of a pastor and would have nothing to do with the celebration of the life of a soul that was not a Christian. He promised to stand by my car in the morning of the next day to check on me and left. I thanked him.
I marched straight to the funeral ground. On the ground, I could not reassure myself if I was in an Adams Anglican Preaching Society (AAPS) crusade ground or a Cele church mercy land. People were trooping in, all clad in white. Men and women, the young and old, rich and poor, all clad in white.
I moved on to the house where the remains of the departed soul laid in rest. The people were joyous and singing praises of the dead, swinging and smashing their hands with hide’s fans. The rhythm was in 4-count beat and sometimes increased to 2-count beat as the songs rolled.
The setting was unique, canopies spread out and occupied. Wares were conspicuously displayed, all sorts of alcoholic drinks, fast food, fried meat, fried maggots and oh! Cigarettes were available too. The men in white, some of them smoked and the joy of the moment went on.
I took a position, made friend with one of the sellers, a woman who willingly provided a chair for me to sit on. I bought some plantain chips and a bottle of water from her to cool off after a shot of Whiskey I had earlier ran back to the car to gulp.
I was set for duty.
But I was soon asked to vacate the position I sat. Why? Because, it was too close to the power source-a sacred place. I was told all prayers that would be said would converge at the spot and could be harmful if I got too close.
I looked around to examine the spot. The spot was marked by a ring of empty bottles buried in the ground, all facing up and surrounding a bamboo pole which stood in the center of the circle. I looked up to see a flag, a piece of cloth hanging on top of the pole. Convinced, I shifted position.
Not long afterwards, my client who engaged my services called me up to the center of the show and gave me a seat where I had vantage view of the proceedings.
The praise songs went on. They sang. The message one of the songs conveyed was that a merciless witch within the home ends up in death. They danced and slapped their hands with hide’s fans.
The remains of the departed soul laid in state at a hall, just like the auditorium of a church. It was called Ogwa. Inside the Ogwa incantations, exhortation, praise songs of the dead rolled on and adherents echoed affirmation to the prayers and praises. I watched. The time was now 9.15pm
Prophecies and benediction by inspired adherents rang, oblations and sprinkling of holy water which I found out was palm wine, was sprayed by a woman. She sprayed the water from a white basin all over the arena as greetings of “Igbe wado” reeled on and other renditions followed.
An inspired prophetess led a song. “Keep your heart clean” and others responded in chorus as the hide’s fans in uniform beat clapped, “Kram, Kram”.
Renditions of thanksgiving to the departed soul rolled; the soul who worshiped God through Igbe, for 136 years of her entire life.
Members of the Igbe religion from across Delta state came to celebrate the life of the soul who in ranking could be compared to an archbishop. One of the adherents told me that the night vigil for the departed soul was necessary as a unique honour for a developed departed soul like the Omote-Uku, the traditional title of the celebrated departed soul. It was necessary and obligatory for the honour to be done to her. He said not all departed souls of Igbe religion earn such honour.
I cast a quick gaze at the Ogwa and found a seat, all clad white, some sort of throne, empty and I asked my source, convinced that it was the throne of the departed soul, who would occupy the seat henceforth. My source said at the moment of her demise the throne would remain unoccupied until a righteous person assumed her role. He warned that any attempt for an unclean soul to step into the altar and occupy the throne, that person would die. That is in contrast to the Church where anyone could enter the Holy of hollies, he said.
I continued with my inquiry and asked if the claimed holiness of the departed soul could deter witches and wizards from the Ogwa and he said, witches and wizards, just as in the Church, abound in Igbe but anyone of them who does evil with his witchcraft power is arrested by the white chalk of the Igbe and if such a person refuses to confess, he dies. But that is not obtainable in the Church, he submitted. The church witch or wizard has no control. They are at liberty to do evil, he added.
He informed that while the departed soul was alive, she possessed power to pray for the afflicted and they got solution to their various problems. He said if an evil non-member of the religion found his way to the Ogwa, he would be warned to change from his evil ways or face the consequence of his actions but that the white chalk has no effect on such non-believers.
My source who later gave his name as Philip Anagbo added that even Christians sneaked in to the Ogwa to collect prayers for healing and solution to their problems.
Another round of praise songs was rendered to the Universal God who is Causeless and Immutable. “Oghene-akpo-eje…” They sang and danced.
Another inspired woman in a frenzy of the dance exhorted the dancers on righteousness stressing that adherents of Igbe religion live long if they do not commit sins and iniquity that would drain their blood. She urged them to grab wisdom and be patient in life so that they could live long.
2.32 am, food was served and the frenzy of dancing continued.
3.43 am, the coffin wherein laid the remains of the departed soul was opened and very senior members of Igbe led by five men and four women walked slowly into the Ogwa. The leader of them touched the corpse and another round of rendition of songs began, as they danced round the coffin.
This round of rendition was solemn. Only the Ukus as they were called, participated in the steady, slow and regular steps of 4-count beat dance in a circular motion. They were equal in rank to the departed soul. They sang a dirge which bid the adherents to give the dead the honour due her and let her soul depart the world, for no man lives forever.
4.20 am, family members of the departed soul gathered to face the corpse lying in state, they raised a song and filed out.
A period of lull reigned. Exhausted, some of the adherents have fallen asleep, others remained awake and calm and the interlude lasted till 5.45 am when the word was given for all adherents to be alert for the final dance of honour to the departed soul. Everyone was mobilized, including those who were seated awake and sleeping in the Ogwa. All came out and formed columns for the final dance of honour. This one was different. It was a ritual dance step, this time; they used the hide’s fans to slap their legs. To and fro, they danced until it was 7.30 am when the remains of the departed soul was laid to rest in a grave in the compound.
Uku Olorogun Dr Atie Ivwrighreburhense who coordinated the funeral ceremony had earlier taken turn to field questions from me. He told me that Omote-Uku Emuejeghaire was renowned for healing and prophecy. She was benevolent and widely experienced in problems of mankind. She served humanity to the best of her ability. She was good. She used the native chalk to heal many sicknesses. Throughout her life she never took patent medicines. She used the native chalk to cure all illnesses. She was the senior Omote-Uku and as far as Kokori in Ethiope East local government area of Delta state where the religion originated from, none rivaled her.
On the succession plan for her office, Uku Ivwrighreburhense informed that after her death on August 5, 2018, he, being the a High Priest among the adherents appointed one of the faithful daughters of the departed soul, Ufuoma Agharitoma to lead the Ogwa in prayers until further notice.
“If she performs well she will be ordained as the Omote-Uku of Holy Divine Centre, the name he gave to the Ogwa (shrine) in Obi-Ayagha.
Time to go; it has been over twelve hours on duty. I drove home to get my much missed sleep.