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Bells In Culture
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By Ambrose Ekhosuehi (11-07-2016)

“Bells are hollow vessesl with flared mouth struck by tongue or clapper and are instruments for giving ringing sound but taking many other forms as a shallow cup or a coiled spring struck by a hammer.

Bell materials, shapes and sizes are very common among the Edo s as single and multiple clapper bells, single and double clapperless bells.

Clapper bells are struck by a movable clapper hung within the bell. Clapperless bells are struck from outside with a beater. The clapperless bell is also known as gong.
Single clapper bells made of bronze or brass can be found in most shrines to ancestors and deities, where they are used to evoke the spirit.

Large bells are used to summon meetings. They are also used to give signals and are used to indicate the number of hours of the watch that have elapsed, two bells, three bells meaning that there are two, three hours past.

A warning bell from the ancient fable of the mice who proposed to hang a warning bell round the cat’s neck, and to bell the cat is to take leading
part in any harzardous movement.

Bells may be conical, quadrangular, circular or oval in cross section. Brass or bronze clapper bells have been used by Edo people since the time of bronze casting while the metal type existed from the time of Iron smelting.

Bells of brass or bronze are depicted on many of the old bronze plagues of Great Benin and several bells were found in Benin Capital after the British conguest Most of the bells were supposed to be more than there hundred and four hundred years old.

In the literature on Edo culture there are some references to the use of brass clapper bells. Thomas mentions the ringing of bells as part of the- customs, while Boulton says that brass bells with unbelievable sweet tones were used during ugie festival in honour of the ancestors. Paul, Ben-Amos mentions that in the olden days, warriors used to wear brass bells round their necks for protection in battle and to announce their victories when returning from war.

Peoples who have had strong cultural contacts with Benin Kingdom have been influenced in their use of bronze and brass clapper bells.

Two types of single clapper bells made of iron can also be found among the Edo. One type is known as eroro, egogo, like its brass counterpart consists of a piece of iron bent into a more or less conical shape.

In some shrines several bells of the iron type are attached to an iron staff which is shaken to make them sound. The other type is called aza and is similar in shape to the iron eroro, apart from the handle which is formed like a knife blade. It is used as musical instrument to produce accompanying rhythm in certain ceremonies.

The most common type of multiple clapper-bell used among the Edo people is a double clapper bell. It is called “Elaghalogho”, the name which means to be ‘onomatopoetic and consists of a pair of bells united by a short chain. Each bell is made of a piece of iron bent into a more or less conical shape and is round or oval in cross section.’

The musician holds one bell in the left hand and the other in the right hand when playing the elaghalogho and is commonly sounded to tell the spirits that worshippers are present. It can also be played with other instruments to produce an accompanying rhythm.

Elaghalogho bells are depicted on some of the old bronze plagues of Benin.

One of the most common musical bell instrument of Edo culture is the single clapperless bell called egogo, made of two pieces of iron folded or welded together into conical shape. It is known as egogo among Esan, Ulo or agogo among the Etsako and agogo among the Ivbiosakon, urhobo and Isoko.

Single clapperless iron bells- egogo are used in many music to produce basic or accompanying rhythm and melody. In certain festival egogo

produces the basic rhythm. Large bells, are also symbols of chieftaincy and high status.
The egogo is often described by early European visitors to Great Benin; thus inl600, Dutchman D.R. tells that the Benin have hollow iron bell whereon they strike. About hundred years Later Van Nyendael mentions that the inhabitants of Benin, have Iron bells on which they play.

Bells similar to Edo bells can be found among most Nigerian Peoples, who also use names that are more or less identical with the Edo terms, thus Igbo groups call their bells agogo, the Yoruba use the term agogo, and the Igala use the words Ugege or agogo.

Another type of double clapperless bell that can be found among all the Edo speaking peoples is a pair of Iron bells united by a bent handle, each bell being similar in shape and making, to the single clapperless bell. This double bell is used instead of two single bells.

The Etsako call this bell a or akpoge, the vbiosakon use the name agogo, while the Benin call it egogo a gbeva
Double clapperless Iron bells are used most Nigerian people but double clapperless brass bells with stem grips are ofter on old Benin bronze plagues and Benin people are the only Nigerian people that uses double clapperless brass bells. A number of such bells of great age were brought to Europe after the conquest of Benin in 1897.

Bells are not only used in traditions but are pronouncement to alertness,
warning, call to service as of church bell, school bell, Christmas bell, sending messages, of opening and closing of an entreaty and sound of joy and — victory in culture.
Ambrose 0. Ekhosuehi

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