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Edo Women

Some Passage Rites Of Edo Culture

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By Ambrose Ekhosuehi (Last update 25/09/2017)

Passage rites of culture mark the transition from one social category to another, such as birth and naming ceremonies, marriage ceremony, initiation ceremony, age grades, title associations and funeral ceremonies.

Passage rites such as purifications, consecrations are safety measures that are proposed to safeguard the human persons.

The participants also depend totally on the mentality of the environment and the circumstances surrounding the occasion to determine the meaning.
The birth customs vary considerably from place to place but certain features seem to be common.

There are seldom any stipulations as to where a birth should occur but special care is normally taken in the disposal of the placenta, the child’s end of the umbilical cord-ukhon, and the first hair shaved from his head.

Mother and child are usually washed outside the house by an attendant woman and the child is brought in with various ceremonies, such as the beating of flat gourds-Okpan with singing “don’t confuse night and day” and handed the child to the mother. Further sacrifices are often offered to the gods, and neighbours are invited to participate in the dancing.

The passage rites accompanying the naming of a child - Izomo, also vary considerably, but normally take place on the seventh day after the birth. Offerings are made to the ancestors and people are invited in the evening for the ceremony.

The dances usually imitate the series of events that bring about the making of a child. It is also common that they sing seven special songs to express the hope that the child will grow safely and be a credit to his parents and the joy that a successful birth evokes.

In the olden days, passage rites at birth or naming ceremony was the occasion for songs to the accompaniment of a Lamella-phone, a musical bow or a raft zither, while the acts of cleaning and purification take place. The seventh day is also the day for naming the child; which is indelible in the life of the child.

Passage of rites of marriage often extend several years but nowadays are shortened and includes, besides the actual marriage ceremony - the betrothal of the girl, the paying of bride price, dowry and the entertainments of the family members.

In the evening, the girl is taken to her husband by her relatives. An essential rite in the reception of the girl is the washing of her feet.

The significant is that all her past areas she had trod are washed away and has come to tread in a new beginning where all precautions are to be observed. Her hands are also washed and from that moment she cannot shake hands with un-authorised person. She observes the tradition, customs and regulations of her husband’s family.

About two days later, the husband goes to thank the parents of his bride and is entertained by them. A few days later, the bride’s father pays a return visit. The last visit is that of the bride’s mother on the seventh day after the bride’s arrival and for this occasion the bridegroom prepare a special feast.
This same day, the bride cleans the husband’s house, prepare her first meals for the husband’s ancestor and prayers are said for her.

This passage rite was the glory of marriage. The bride’s mother looks forward to a blood stained cloth as a proof of her daughter’s first intercourse and virginity, a pride of chastity, a dignified symbol of good upbringing of a girl child; which a good mother is proud of, because her prestige would be above measure from an admiring son-in-law.

Braced, single membrane cylindrical drums and Ukoise-gourd rattles were often used to accompany dances during the marriage ceremonies.

Passage rites differ considerably with regard to initiation ceremonies for age grades and title associations. In some customs there are puberty rites and the lower grades of the various orders of cultural titles. Entrance into the lowest age grade and the lowest grade of the various orders of chiefly titles involves little ceremony.

At the appointment of new members of the higher grades there is a ceremonial rite of one kind or another; ranging from initiation rites of “tieing a cloth on the celebrant and wearing of the beads”.

There were passage rites of young men who were admitted to warrior status. Nowadays, there are no longer any ceremony that aim at getting men into the warrior grade, rather there are graduation ceremonies for those who have qualified in the art of community leadership.

In a certain cultural heritage, girls clitori-dectomy is performed after puberty with considerable rites and ceremonies. Young men perform a symbolic chasing out and readmitting of strangers by dancing and singing. Strangers are regarded by virtue of their coming from a different cultural background, as a probable threat to the proper observance of the rules concerning the confinement of the girls and were formerly asked to leave the village during the period of confinement.

The beauty of this ceremony is the parade by the circumcised girls. The youths, the adult men and the women danced round the community. The drummers strike up the special dance rhythm and the adult men dance the quick, jerky movements of the arms.

Another interesting passage rite is whereby men of fifty years of age and over get drafted into the governing body of a community. The ceremony begins with derisive song by the elders in which they say that the candidates have not yet had a name.

The candidates themselves hurry to take with them, their machetes and hoes. They are quickly relieved of these implements by a group of young men. This handing over of working implements symbolizes the retirement of the candidates from active communal labour. The candidates, one after the other, dance to the rhythm of music on the last day.

In all the passage rite of culture, the singing voices joining in without any conductor like the most perfectly trained choir and without a shade of hesitation as to the opening note, is extraordinarily impressive and beautiful.

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