lBy Ekhaguosa Aisien
Eho a yearly festival in which the Edo feast their ancestors. It takes place each year about the month of September, before farmers harvest their yam crops. At that time, the stock of old harvest of yam tubers is much depleted. And what is left in the market is costly. At that same time, the people of Benin City learn to be more tolerant of their village brothers and sisters. As the people joke even to this day, Edo kho, sokpan I ran kho vb ‘egh ‘eho. This means that the Edo can be hostile towards villagers, but not during the Eho Festival.
In the annual relay of festivals in the land, the Ikpoleki .festival of the Okhuaihe deity has just ended .The Okhue Osuan in ceremonial robes worn as he left his native village of Igbekhue (home to the guild of the Royal Parrot Hunters), has met the Osuan and has carried out his customary duties . As he and his entourage travel back home along the Utantan High Street (Sokponba Road), the people cheer and say that Okhue, Osuan has ushered in the Eho Festival of the year. Nine days after, the Iyase of Benin starts the Eho festival when he celebrates it. Five days after him, the rest of the people of the City including the other Chiefs, all carry out the festival in their own homes.
The elaborateness of Eho feast will depend on what the celebrant can afford. On the day, a chief will visit the Omo N’Oba in his Palace and tell him that he intends to feast his ancestors that evening. The Oba will present him with a bowl of kola nuts. The chief will use them and buy more, if he needs to, for prayers at the Aro Erha during the ceremony. Other people, who are not chiefs, will buy all the kola nuts they need for their own celebrations.
The extended families will gather at their ancestral family homes for the festival. Older sons who have left the home to set up homes of their own arrive, followed by their own families. Married daughters also arrive with their spouses and children. Eho festival is the most important of all festivals in Edo land. It is the people’s version Christmas. And it offers sons-in-law a chance to show their devotion to the families of their spouses they follow their wives to the Eho ceremony in their family laden with bundies of scarce yam tubers, calabashes of sweet palm wine and some livestock.
On the day at dusk the family will come together to propitiate the orhion of the dead at the altar usually located in the first ikun (living room). This altar is specially decorated for the Eho. If the celebrant is a chief, the egbele hip pendant will be hung among the decorations. The Aro Iye, the shrine to the departed mother of the head of the family, is usually located in the second ikun There, the celebrant propitiate her orhion with kola nuts before the main ceremony begin at the Aro Erha.
The climax of the oblation is the slaughter of the sacrificial chicken, goat OF cow. This offering provides the meat for the general feasting, which takes place the morning after.
The festival will go on and in the evening, perhaps the most thrilling part will begin. This is to tell the history of the family. Besides the religious aspect of the festival, this has always been part of all Eho It is the high watermark of the festival, it is mnemonic and it helps to strengthen the bonds of kinship Songs, dances and folk tales take up what remains of the night until the early hours of morning when, having had their fill of the joys of the festival, the people go have some sleep.
Sometimes, heads of households are not able to buy tubers of yam enough for the pounded yam to feed the family at the festival. But given its importance, the festival has to go on. On such occasions, many have used substitutes for yam to feed the families. And the families have gladly accepted the spirit of the festival.
During hard times, many families cannot afford the Eho festival at all. They go for the Ehana, which is a less elaborate version it consists of feasting the spirits of the household with what the celebrant can afford some kola nuts. A little palm wine and a small bowl of pounded yam followed by prayers and other aspects of the festival serve both the spirit and the purpose at such times.
In times of emwin nekhua (the passing of an Oba), Ehana is all that the custom allows the Edo to perform At such times, the size of celebration has nothing to do with personal wealth. The burial ceremonies of an Oba and the rites associated with the coronation of his eldest son, take too long and the full Eho cannot remain in season.
Omo N’Oba does not take part in the Eho. In its place, he carries out the Palace Festival of the (Igl ‘erh ‘Oba. At that festival, the Omo N’Oba will feed his royal ancestors, but he does not have to do it at the same time as the Eho of the people. Yet, it is as important as the Eho as much as it is a major part of the programme of the Palace in each lunar year.
The Ugie Azama ends the Eho festival, seven days after the event would have begun. The Azama festival itself lasts only one day and the Ikpoleki festival always heralds its corning. Usarna Quarters in the premises of the Oloton the chief of Azama is the venue for this festival. Chief Oloton is the custodian of both the Usarna palace and the Azama shrine.
The Isienmwenro gui!d of the Utantan High Street will dance and drum in procession to the home of Chief Ihaza Ihaza and his group join them and they all drum and dance to the Omo N’Oba’s Palace. There, the monarch, sitting on his throne, receives them From the Palace, they precede to the premises of the Oloton.The Oloton joins them for the Ugie Azarna at the Azama shrine where he is host
The past has much to do with the attendance of princes and princesses at this festival. A number of tragic events had occurred during the reign of Oba Ozolua He lost two sons. The 0duomomu (Kidnaps) of the period of the Slave Trade and the unease arising from the bitter conflict between Idubo, alias Arhuanran n ‘Udo (the Giant of Udo) and Osawe,both of thern Sons of Ozolua, informed the need to be more careful with the Edaiken and the other princes and princesses of the kingdom
The conflict between Idubo and his brother Osawe who was crowned Esigie when Ozolua went to his ancestors, came about because of a sad condition Ohonnmin and Idia (ldiaru) were two among the wives of Oba Ozolua Ohonmin had given birth to a son Idubo, a few hours before Idia was delivered of her own son Osawe. Idubo did not cry at birth, but Osawe did Idia immediately sent word of his birth to Oba Ozolua Ohonmin only sent word of Idubo after he had cried. At that time, Oba Ozolua had performed the rites that Proclaimed Osawe the heir to his throne
Bitter recrimination did not cease as both sons grew. At a stage, Idubo was angry with his mother .He went to her to ask who his father was, because he could not believe that a true father would take a birthright away from a son and hand it over to another - a younger brother.
From that time till this day, proxies represent each one of the children of the Oba, dressed up like those royals whose names they bear at the festival these proxies, usually servants of the princes and princesses, and are accorded the full honours due to the royalty each represents. This gave rise to the Edo saying Ovbi ‘Oba edokpa na ya nwan uhunnzwunegho This literally means The one—day princehood said in praise of the uhunmwuegho.
Custom gives Chief Ihaza an important part in the Azama festival The Edo says to this day that, I ri‘ugb ‘Oba, Egha Evbo ne ‘Ne ¡ rí ‘Azama Literally, this means Ihaza will not go to the Oba’s farm and the four Egha Evbo chiefs will not go to the Azama The four Egha Evbo chiefs referred to in this saying, are the Iyase, the Esogban, the Eson and the Osuma.
Once a year these senior Egha Evbo chiefs go to the royal farms at Oka village It is an occasion to enhance the yield of the royal farms, and by extension, the other farms in all Edo land.
At the end of the Azama festival, the groups return dancing to the Oba’s Palace. And the monarch again receives them. At the end of that, they return each to his home.
(Dr. Ekhaguosa Aisen is a retired civil servant and consultant surgeon.Read medicine at king college university of London.)
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