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Okhuaihe - A Mythical Figure In Edo Culture

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BY AMBROSE .0. EKHOSUEHI (Last Update 25/09/2017)

Okhuaihe is a hero deity of mythical figure believed to have turned himself into a natural river of the name okhuaihe. Several of the herodeities are mythical figures of the past, most of whom are believed to have turned themselves into natural objects such as rivers, “‘and ponds. Several of the more important ones are believed to have been men or women of exceptional magical powers who lived in the time of Oba Ewuare the Great.

The rites associated with the various cultures differ considerably but they have certain features in common. The worshipping group is usually scattered or contiguous. There is often some co-operation between communities in the sense that priests from one community will visit another community with the same culture when a festival is in progress.

In most of the culture there is a division of traditional labour between the sexes and there are often rites which are kept secret from the women. The male worshipers are frequently graded. The higher grades possess secrets hidden from the members of the lower grades.

There is a cultural festival-Ugie either annually or at least frequent intervals in which there is public dancing. The Oba of Benn, Uku Akpolokpolo maintains some measures of control over all the hero-deity cultures in Benin Kingdom in that the Oba must be informed when all Ugie is going to be performed and he may send gifts to be used by the worshippers.

According to tradition, Okhuaihe was a great hero and magician, who lived during the reign of Oba Ewuare the Great. When still a boy, working in his father’s fields, Okhuaihe, who was then called Ogbeide, met Oba Ewuarei.

Ogbeide was a stubborn boy and a heavy load-Okhuaihe, for his father, and Oba Ewuare might have use, for a boy, his father gladly gave him away.

In the fight against Uwaifiokun, Oba Ewuare was greatly helped by Okhuaihe. After Ewuare had been crowned Oba of Benin, he duly rewarded Okhuaihe by making him Oba N’Ikhuen.

At Ikhuen, Okhuaihe reigned like an Oba in his own realm. He became . very powerful because of his great magical skills. When he ebbed, he melted himself, turned into a river-Okhuaihe and was subsequently worshiped by his eldest son who built a shrine in his honour:

Today there are Okhuaihe shrines in many communities. The principal shrine is situated in a grove in the vicinity of the ancient Ikhuen village, where the symbols and relics are placed. The Chief priest- Oba N’Ikhuen resides in Evbiekoi. He is not an ordinary Chief. He is in fact one of the highest ranking priests of the Benin kingdom and as such he is entitled an Ada state sword.

Once a year, in August, there is an Okhuaihe festival at Evbiekoi. Okhuaihe worship is not however, confined to the annual festival, every five days the Oba N’Ikhuen makes offerings at a small shrine Okhuaihe worship is carried out with dancing and singing to the accompaniment of an instrument ensemble. The songs performed at the shrine in the residence of Oba N’Ikhuen are praise songs for the Oba of Benin, and are also sung at ceremonies in the Oba palace. They are accompanied by one pegged goblet drum of the agban type which is decorated with the same patterns as a similar drum in the Oba palace, two Idan drums and one pair of elaghalogho clapper -bells.

During the August festival, music is performed both in the community and at the principal shrine. At the principal shrine the instrumental ensemble used at the shrine of the Oba N’Ikhuen is supplemented with three medium sized, pegged, single membrane cylindrical drums called orukhuru, ulele and okpegba. These drums were given their names by the Oba and are always kept in the shine, and cannot be removed from there.

In the community several dances are performed, the most important of which is the “Akaba dance’ in which the dancers wear akaba waistlets.

The Akaba dance is accompanied by Ugomwe, songs, which are sung in shouting manner by the men, while the women clap their hands. When the men pause, the women sing the Uke songs, in which both groups stamp their feet on the ground as accompaniment. The instrumental assemble is occasionally supplemented with an emighan which then functions as Iyema.

Certain secret performances also form part of the Okhuaihe festival. During this festival called usa, passers-by are stopped by the sound of the bullroarer - Odoma or by messengers.

Okhuaihe, the Oba N’IkhuenJ had associates in the land. They were Ovato of Igieduma, Emuen of Uhi, Ezuku of Ogan, ake of isi, Izelogha of Ilobi, Ireghezi of Ekae, Oza of Idunwuoza, Oravan of Irhirhi and the famous Ebosi of Ugoneki. They all had ancient traditional stories of mythical figures and were all deities as gods or hero.

The Edo believe in a great number of deities and spirits besides the major deities and hero-deities, thus there are communal deities which are worshipped only in one or two communities or village groups.

There are minor deities and spirits with rather limited or specialised spheres of influence or activities. There are Ancestor spirit which is a central feature in Edo religion, but Okhuaihe was a great physician with magical powers, an ancestor of mythical figure offering an explanation of some facts with veiled meaning in Edo Culture.

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