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IN THE BEGINNING: The Bini cosmological account of the universe

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By Omorodion Uwaifo

Myths of Edo land say that Osanobua (God) sent four forces  (His  children) from Erinmwin (Heaven) to found Ágbon (Earth) They came and saw that water was all over the surface  of the expanse.

Before the forces left the courts of heaven, He asked them to take what they thought they might need. The eldest of the children chose riches, the next. Wisdom, the third, mysticism, and the fourth and youngest took with him what appeared to be a snail shell

The other Sons had thought little of the shell having chosen it; the youngest looked and found that it was full of sand. He was disillusioned, but his Father commanded him for his wise choice He told him to empty the content of the shell wherever on earth he pleased He said, ‘Where you empty it, will turn to oto (land), which will be yours to own.

The youngest of the children did empty the content of the shell on the waters he found on earth There was an explosion soon after and land emerged from the depths of the waters. The land was Igodomigodo; though it took on Idu, Benin and Edo at different times of its history. That is why all Edo say even to this day, that all lands are the Oba’s from Benin City to al! Places on earth. As they say in Edo, ‘Oba ya,, oto  s ‘evbo ‘ebo’ This means the Oba owns the land from Benin City to all places on earth.

The youngest of the brothers gave his siblings a condition if they chose to use and live on his land. They must deposit their gifts from the Father on his land. Two of them agreed and did so, but Olokun, the eldest, refused. He would rather live in and rule what was left of the waters and he took his riches with him.

The youngest became the Obagodo (Oba of Igodomigodo) now Edo land, while the others went far away to start the primary shades of humans that now occupy the rest of the earth.

Being of God, the earth took on its own godliness from the moment He created it. And all things in it had their spark of godliness. What a huge impact that has had on their lives, the Edo say. All their deities are of God and they see them as of God. They reflect that at home, at work and at play. Osa (short for Osanobua) features in all they do and say at ceremonies, at ugie (festivals), as well as in the healing of the sick. That is also true at such events as the coronation of the Edo monarch

When one writes about the creation of mankind and the vision of the Universe, one tends to write what one knows in matters of mysticism, spirituality and religion. But these are areas of knowledge that the Edo have hardly developed. Having lived for centuries without a writing culture, what they know of such matters he deep in their oral tradition This is a huge handicap, for what they can tell today can only be sketchy, unstudied and lacking in the kind of details of the stories others have told and written and rewritten in tomes about the creation of the world. And those stories have been sold to all across the earth...

Bede Griffiths, rated perhaps the greatest spiritual teacher of our times in his book 4 New vision of Reality explored the divine mystery behind human life in Western Science, the stories of Eastern Mysticism., and of Christian Faith and concluded that,

“From all this we see how there is a common tradition that the divine realty seeking to know itself, to know itself in another, created the world”

The people of India, Israel as well as the Arabs, told the stories of their creation and of their faiths at times far apart in the history of their peoples The Indians told their stories many centuries ahead of the Jews who told their story. in their language, the Hebrew. That story today underlies: Judaism and the Christian Faith and beliefs. The Arabs adopted theirs from the Jewish writing some six hundred ‘ears after the Christians did the same. But the Jews are no Christians; they practise Judaism

The people of India told a number of stories much of which was the same, except in details. Bede had compared the records of the stories and beliefs of these peoples. On page 214 of his book he said,

“This is an expression of the cosmic dimension in Israel’s experience of God. Whereas in Hinduism it is the dominant theme, in Israel it is the secondary but it is always present. The God of Israel is also the creator of the world and he controls the world from above. He is never immanent in the same way as the Hindu God is, but he has this power of creation and the creation responds to his will.”

Clearly, different peoples and cultures have their stories of creation and of the Supreme God. And it is not helpful to the Black African that they should throw their story away, for the love and belief of that which others told them of theirs.

Bede found that the Hindu and the Buddhist faiths of India may be as different as the Christian and the Islamic faiths are, but they all believe in the One Head of Nature and the Universe by whatever name they call Him. Indeed, all the mystic stories of creation have behind them a universal wisdom, which comes down from ancient times. The differences were in the details of the links they thought the Universe and they, had with this One Head.

Bede said more.
“It is quite definite that in Israel the Lord Yahwey was the one Lord alone to be worshipped, the God of Gods, Lord of Lords. No God other than Yahwey was to be worshipped. This principle came down to the Christians and also to the Muslims. We need to be aware that such strongly emphasized monotheism created a problem later, because when only one form of God is recognised, all other forms are denied.”

For the most part, Black Africans have written hardly anything and discussed little of these matters among themselves to this day. Therefore, the stories of how the earth carne to be and what they believe he on their lips and little in their brain. The West has been quick to take advantage of this to call them pagans. If Black Africans were not quick to disown that label, they have been slow to give thought to what they know and to tell the world in writing that they too, believe in on Godhead and in the “Universal Truth”. Why is this so?
First, the absence of a writing culture could not have helped organised schools and colleges not to talk of universities. The effect of these shortcomings was to limit the scope of discourse and development of the Black African stories and beliefs. vIeanwhi1e, missionaries from the west caught up with and taught them to read and to write the literature of what they wanted them to know. Fired by missionary zeal, the West had to teach the beliefs they knew -, And Black Africans learnt them by heart

Apart from the strands that connect them with God, he Black Africans believe m One Head of Nature and the universe as The West and the East do The Edo call Him Osanobua, Osanobuwa or Oghene-Osa Other Black
Africans call Him by other names.

What point is there then to tell a new story? But are black Africans pagans for not telling their story? The answer to the first question is that the details of their own story can only enrich what the world knows let’s find the answer to the second in the Edo story.

As has been said, land sprang from the depths, when the youngest of the Sons of Osanobua sprinkled sand from his shell on the waters For mankind to live on earth they had to have two other important elements The story says Osanobua supplied them in the form of Eziza (Air) and Erhen (Fire) These two joined land and water as part of the four Pillars to support living Osanobua ruled that the Sun and Fthe  Moon will help the four in their task.

No one ever thought that beginnings were easy Earthling  needed help to do the right things in the new planet and God sent the forces — Oguega, Ominigbon and that  to give them spiritual support. Earthlings consulted them al alI times, if necessary, and the forces helped with the judgement of what was right in the eyes of Osanobua.

The first of the earthlings to procreate were Eteblie, a man, and Eteghohi, a woman. These early earthlings did not die. The gate to heaven was in the Iso (sky?) and it was always open. At that time, earthlings walked in and out of heaven and earth at will. But they had to climb the .Alubode Hill to go to heaven. And to fall while climbing that Hill was taboo.

Earthlings had one thing easy, though. They did not have to go looking for what to eat, for God had food aplenty and ready for them. That eternal food was in the iso (sky). God’s only law was simple. Cut just as much as you need and there must be none left over, after you have cooked and eaten

A hungry pregnant woman called Emonse broke that law. She had let her greed rule her; so she had too much of it. This was catastrophe and it brought with it an explosion. The Edo story says, “Oto vbu ‘khunmwun na ru gbamu” And God sent the sky out of the reach of the earthlings and far into the milky way They could no longer reach it for food Nor could they, even with  the tallest of ladders climb Alubode Hill on the way to heaven. Strife and suffering had come upon mankind and the earth.

If mankind had to eat, they had to look around for food. In time, they had eaten all that the forests had and they had to till the soil and to plant what to eat.to do so, they had to cut down plants and fell trees. As they did that, they took more from the soil than they needed. The story says that there had to be a payback; it is the law of life it says.

f Earthlings couldn’t walk or climb into heaven, they had to find a way to get there. Uwu (death) and Ogi ‘uwu (the force of death) came to the rescue. At payback time then, the earthling died Interred, he or she rotted and enriched the soil. And at death, the orhion left for heaven its place of rest.

The Edo believes that they need a spiritual counterpart in heaven, the abode of Osanobua. This duality of Heaven and Earth and Osanobua and mankind needed to be bridged, they say. The Edo calls that counterpart Ehi. They say that Ehi talks to God about mankind and answers for what they do on earth

Mankind has countless needs here on earth Those in needs are of the akpa (body), of the orhion (spirit) and of the ewaen (mind, intellect or soul) If the spirits of all dead go to the same heaven where Ehi is and where God reigns supreme they could assist Ehi to put their needs before Him..After all, He is the provider of ah things

Ogi uwu had the task to send those who disobey divine laws back to Erinmwin (Heaven) The Edo story says that earthlings could live for ukpo iyisen-iyisen vb’ihi sen  (five hundred years) at that time But Ogi’ uwu could send anyone :nodiyi-Osa (that committed mortal sins), back to heaven at once, no matter his or her age

The sin of Emonse the pregnant woman was a watershed in the life of earthlings, the story says It changed relationships, order and the way God dealt with humankind it brought both Esu and Idobo into the order of things Idoho, as a force, is a hurdle that mankind must jump It seeks to ensure that earthlings repent if they committed any sin. For that is the way of progress in heaven Esu is a force as well. The story says that he is a servant in God’s court and that he ensures that earthlings bring all pleas before Him in purity

With the gateway to heaven shut; mankind had to die to get here. And the Edo belief is that once there, they can only get back to the world if the Father asks them to come back. Others call that the process of reincarnation. Edo mystics say that all orhion cleaned of sin, return to their borne in heaven. Each may come to the world fourteen times while it develops, and each coming is a chance to atone for the wrongs of other comings. When that is done, it would take its place in Eguae Osanobzia vh ‘Erjnmivln (Paradise).

Ehi in heaven is the spiritual counterpart of the orhion of the earthling, not of his or her akpa. Edo believes that mankind have orhion (spirit) dwelling in their akpa (body). Orhion it is that takes on the material body and akpa the identity of the spiritual person here on earth. At the end of life, orhion leaves the akpa and remains close to it until it is disposed off, and the final burial is done.

Umaranrnwen Edo (Edo’s Animal Tales) supports the myth that God created animals and plants before He created mankind. The same tales say that animals live as independent entities with their language, purpose, culture as well as, in a defined area where they might dwell for their health, safety and identity. Potent spirits reside within these plants and animals, the tales also say. So, it is that all of God’s creation on earth has a purpose to fulfil, according to His Divine Will,

Edo mystics say that the purpose of all living things and the way they relate one with the other drives them to their end. The mystics known as Oboihoi say, ‘Emwin ‘agbon na t’ole’ okhiokhi.’ Literally, this means that events on earth move in circles. Put another way, everything lives for the benefit of other things.

Edo and other Black Africans face a huge challenge. They must tell their full story as they know it, for it is not enough that they accepted the story of others, just because they were written in a tome in black and white. That no matter how different from their experiences. Can’t make these stories more credible than their own Perhaps. they ought to think what they might have been able to do with their own story first if they had the culture of writing and second, if they had to package it for a missionary project It shouldn’t matter that they have chosen to accept Christianity and the Islamic faith, which the West and the Middle-East lifted from the Hebrew story The Edo believe in Osanobua the Igbo believe in Chukwu the Yoruba in Olorun and the Urhobos in Oghene, and so on

These names for God the One Head of Nature and the: universe are in the languages that God gave to these people Can they be sweeter in their ears and in their minds in  any other language? Can they come closer and talk to Him in greater piety and understanding in any other language? Can Okhuaihe, Oravan and other Edo deities relate to the one Godhead in any other than the Edo language9 And what are the full stories of these deities?
Let’s hear more from Bede Griffiths.

The basic Christian understanding is that man is the ikon, the image of God. We have seen it to be fundamental in Origen and in Gregory of Nyssa, and it comes also in Dionysius. But now in Ruysbroeck there is the further understanding that this image of God in man has its archetype in God. Each of us has an eternal archetype in God where we are one with God in our eternal archetype.’

Could that be the Edo concept of Ehi? The play on words goes on; we make a mistake if we think it has all been told. Time has nothing to do with it. These are the challenges that universities across Edo land and Nigeria, must confront for the benefit of Black Africans and mankind.

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