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Use Of Benin Rhymes And Rhythms In Liturgical Music Composition 

Last Update (January 23, 2019)

Rhyme is an identical sound where like sounding words of different meaning are used or group of words agreeing in this way with another of long and short sounds — Rhythm; in the service or regular rites of the church liturgy, that is strictly used in the celebration of the Eucharist, the sacrament of the lord Jesus Christ’s supper in thanksgiving to Almighty God.

“Great Benin, even in the depth of the forest, the Portuguese was escorted into the palace. It was enormous as large as a small European town. It was the centre of government, a military headquarters and barracks and a cathedral”.

It is often pointed out by Enthno-musicologists that the traditional music of many non-western people is more integrated in their cultures than the art and popular music in western culture.

This difference can be explained by the fact that traditional music usually serves a particular purpose other than providing pure entertainment or that its producers and listeners do not enjoy it.

Music may be used in association with numerous human activities such as religious ceremonies, marriages and so forth, and among its several functions are those of emotional expression, entertainment, communication, symbolic representation, enforcing conformity to social norms and validation of social institutions and religious rites.

All Benin people believe in the highest God. Who is the creator of all things and beings. This Almighty God is called Osa- God, Osanobuwa God Almighty and Oghene- creator.

Any person can pray to Almighty – God, for health, children and other benefits. God is however less frequently worshipped than other major deities. The rite differs but in general no blood sacrifice.

The Oba of Benin re-organized the worship of Osanobua- God Almighty and founded “The church of Holy Aruosa though it was said to be the seat of the Portuguese Roman Catholic Episcopal Bishop. Services are held on each Sunday. Their procedure is based on Benin and Christian traditions.

The music that is performed in the rites for Osa – God is mostly vocal. The instruments that were in used were the leather fan – Ezuzu which the priests and the elders beat against the left hand to accompany the singing.
The struck idiophones are resonant materials struck with a beater to produce sound. Single clapper – bells are used to evoke the spirits. These bells are not used to produce specific rhythms or melodies and have been in used by the Benin people since at least the seventeenth century and several bells of this type are depicted on many of the old bronze plagues and in the literature on Edo culture, there are also some reference to the use of clapper- bells “that brass bells with unbelievable sweet tones were used.”

The egogo — gong is also frequently described by early European visitors to Benin. Thus the Dutchman who visited Benin area about 1600 A.D. tells us that the Benin have a hollow iron where- on they strike and about one hundred years later Van Nyendael mentions that the inhabitants of Benin have a sort of iron bells on which they play.

Slit – drums produces rhythms that are used in certain ceremonies. A ceremony with about the same purpose as the Divine worship which is traditionally sacred to community and is believed to ensure health, wealth and prosperity.
Gourd rattles, maracas – Ukoise are used by the Benins in many types of music to produce an accompanying rhythm. Two variants can be distinguished:-a round gourd covered with a net to which seeds, beads, agates or cowries have been attached. It is held and shaken in the right hand or in both hands and occasionally struck against the palm of the left hand. The other variant consists of an elongated gourd which is filled with seeds, pebbles or other small, hard objects. It is held at the tail and shaken with the right hand.

An envoy who visited Benin City about 1700A noticed some dancers holding in their hands excellent substitutes for castanets which consisted of small hollow gourds, over which are spread nets having small pease strung on the sides of the messes. Gourd rattles have been in use among the Edo for at least more than three centuries.” A number of the old bronze plagues and bronze figures from Benin City represent musicians playing the Ukoise.”- Maracas.
Membrane-phones are instruments in which the sound is produced by vibration of a stretched membrane. They are divided into drums and mirlitons. The general term for drums is ema; and are made to sound by beating their membranes with hands or sticks or a combination of both.

Musical bows are used by all Edo groups. Musical bow consists of a bend wood to which a string or fibre is attached. They include bow lute, Egion, Zithers-the strings of which are stretched over bridge, separated or incorporates in the body, across the entire instrument and parallel to the body. It is believed that certain spiritual beings are supposed to be attracted to the music of the pluriacs-Asologun, Egion or other-wise.

Aerophones are instruments, that produces rhythms in, through, or around which a quantity of air is made to vibrate. The air is usually enclosed in a cavity and may be set into motion by the sharp edge of a pipe, the action of the compressed lips of the player. A few of the instruments act directly on the outer air and are divided into idiophonic
aerophones, free aerophones, fife, flutes, reed instruments, horns and trumpets. Udu- clay pot is played by striking against the top hole and is an idiophonic aerophone.

Benin Rhymes and rhythms and how they can be of help in the composition of liturgical music drawn from the communal nature of the liturgy that services are not private functions but are celebrations of the church which is “the sacrament of unity “the holy people united and arranged under their Bishops”.
Musical instruments can be very useful in sacred celebrations, whether they accompany the singing or whether they are played as solo instruments.
The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, since it is the church traditional instrument, the sound of which can add wonderful splendor to the church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up minds to God and higher things.

The use of other instruments may be admitted in Divine worship, provided that the instruments are suitable for sacred use, or can be adopted to it, that they are in keeping with the dignity of the temple and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.

The use of musical instruments to accompany the singing can act as support to the voices, render participation easier and achieve deeper union in the assembly.
In sung, or said Masses or other sacred celebrations the organ or other instrument legitimately suitably admitted can be used to accompany the singing of the choir and the people.

It is highly desirable that organists and other musicians should posses the skill to play properly the instrument entrusted to them and be thoroughly aware of the liturgy, so also the playing of these same instruments as solos is not permitted in Advent, Lent, during the sacred Triduum and in the offices and masses of the dead (Vatican council II sacred Liturgy) but suffice it to say” That the music that is used is the clapping of hands, or the use of leather fan (EZUZU) which the elders beat against the left hand to accompany the singing in the Benin traditional worship of Osanobua”, the God most high, the Benin rhyme and rhythms in the composition of liturgical music, and let all vocals and musical rhythms produce the rhyme melody of this entreaty:- God the father of all Nations:

Osa n’ Erha, emwanhia,
Uyi nokhua reowue,
Uyi no sere o ghe osa
Vbe nian vb’ ugbugb

Jesu Kristi, omienfan,
Uyi nokhua re o wue
Uyi no sere o ghe osa,
Vbe nian vb’ ugbugbehia,

Erinmwi nohuanren
Uyi nokhua re o wue
Uyi ne o sere o ghe osa
Vbenian vb ugbugbehia

Ma gele rie Uyi ne osa
Osa n’ Erha emwanhia,
Uyi ne o sere o ghe osa,
Vbe nian vb ugbugbehia.

Sir Ambrose Onaiwu Ekhosuehi KSJI, FIBS. Was a Catholic class teacher in the mission school, chief technical officer in the civil service, Religious teacher and choir master of the Angels Choir, author of the Angels choir’s hymnal, a member of the compilation committee of the Joyful sound hymn book, a member of the catholic art and culture inculturation committee and a member of Benin Traditional Council committee on Edo Language.
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