Eho Festival Of Benin Culture
By Ambrose Ekhosuehi
Eho festival of the Benin culture is a yearly festival usually celebrated in the month of September in honour of ancestral parents.
It closes and opens with agricultural rites when the old yam tubers and grains are near harvesting. The Akaba-Ikpoleki festival had already completed celebrations.
The Royal parrot hunters have carried out their customary duties, and had traveled back home. The people cheer and say that the parrot hunters have ushered in the Eho Festival of the year.
The lyase of Great Benin Kingdom commences the Eho festival, followed five days later by Chiefs and other people of the kingdom.
Extended families will gather at their ancestral family homes for the festival. Sons and daughters who had set up homes in other places arrive, followed by their own families. Married daughters also come with their spouses and children. It offers sons-in-law a chance to show their love and devotion to the families of their wives. They would bring bundles of yams, live stocks and sweet palm wine.
The Ancestral altar normally at the first atrium-Ikun aro Erha would be specially scrubbed and decorated for the Eho festival. Animal for the celebration would be slaughtered for the general feasting.
The cooking for the festival starts at dawn. All the foods are brought to the altar. The Ancestral spirits would be offered their portion of the food and after that the family will start to serve the foods for themselves, neighbours and to friends.
The celebration would continue till dusk of that day. The history of the family is retold and families rejoined in more cordial relationship, it strengthened the bonds of kinship.
Songs, dances and folktales take up the joys of the festival as the people had their fills. Fathers alter – Aro erha is the scene of periodic commemorative rites, of confirmation rites and of expiatory sacrifices and offerings arising out of quarrels, omission and commission involving lineage members and their wives.
The greater numbers of these are directed towards resentment and hostility in relations between fathers and sons; or sons of the same father-parents relationships in which the control, transmission, division and use of property are a constant potential source of a conflicting interests.
The direct demanding aggressiveness and their equally positive capacity for exercising benevolence stand out in contrast against the more shadowing mystical powers of the ancestor.
Indiscriminately on a series of its members, as a result of a younger person ignoring or flouting the elders authority, personal relations are conceived of in a master-servant terms.
In return for their services to him, the head of a family and the household group built round it, has the moral obligation to care for their materials and spiritual welfare. It is incumbent upon him to see that they are fairly treated; and to approach his paternal ancestors on their behalf.
Conversely, the head of the family receives the services of his son-in-law and his obligation towards them does not cease. During the Eho festival, family Heads learn to be more tolerant of their brothers and sisters hence the saying “Edo can be hostile but not during the Eho festival”.
The potential ancestral altar of a chief contains the basic rattle staff — godstick-Ukhure, bells and of course ceremonial swords-Ada, Eben.
The altar represents the proper and successful life of a chief.
A special stool-erhe is placed directly in front of the altar for the use of the Chief when he officiates as the family clergy. Eho, the fathers feast day is conceived of as standing in much the same relation to his descendants as does the head of an extended family.
He punishes certain offences and family members suspected of wrong doing. Such persons are often asked to take oaths upon the god-stick, to prove their faithfulness.
Offering of kola-nuts, white chalk, and wine are used and are accompanied by prayers for the welfare of the families.
At the Eho ceremony, all the patrilineal descendants and their wives kneel one by one before the altar, present kolanuts and other offerings, pray for their well-being and that of their families.
Sacrifices are made which are cooked and served. A dance called Ohogho is performed. it is danced in a revolving circle. The dancers play egogo clapperless bells as they dance.
In some high ranking families, the women play Ube drums. Further, an emighan drum is sometimes beaten in the houses of certain paramount chiefs during the Eho festival.
The ugie Azama ends the Eho festival, seven days after the event had started. It is only a day ceremony at Usama quarters in the premises of the chief of Azama.
The Isienmwero guilds will dance and drum in procession to the home of chief Ihaza. Chief Ihaza and his groups join them and dance to the palace of the Oba of Benin. They are accompanied by musicians playing emugie-festival drums, Ukoise-gourd rattles and egogo-clapperless bells. An interesting addition is small guitar-akpata, asologun, performing praise songs in their honours.