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Last update June 1, 2020

As among other sections of the Edo-speaking peoples men’s age-grades and age-sets and title-associations are important features of the social organization. There are differences of detail, however, in such matters as the presence or absence of individual titles and the means of acquiring them, the relations between age:- companies and title-associations, etc. For purposes of description the North-West Edo may be considered in the following groups: —
1. A northern group—Osi, Ogugu, Ikiran, Ugbosi, Ibillo, Ekor, Ekpessa Ibiekuma, Lankpese, Ekpe, and Umorga.
2. A hill group—Somorika-Eshiawa, Onumu, and Ogbe.
3. A south-western group—Okpe, Ijaja, and Olomo
4. A southern group—Ate, Ikpeshi-Egbigele, Igwe, Enwan, Sasaru, Akuku.
5, An eastern group-_Oja, Dagbala, Ojirami, Makeke, Ososo.
Each of these groups will be dealt with separately below.

The political organization is everywhere complicated by the disturbed history of the last 100 years. Indigenous political offices seem to have been associated with the guardianship of ward and village shrines, priests being selected according to a variety of principles age, differential ranking between territorial segments, divination, etc. The members of title-associations, too, played a leading part in the authority structure.

This system was destroyed or overlaid by the Nupe who generally selected the three leading personalities in each community and gave them Nupe tities, Zeike, Dawudu, and Danya. The Zeike was regarded as the village headman and the Dawudu, who was his messenger and deputy,was often his brother or son and his successor, though in some cases the title was given to another strong personality. These title-holders, backed by the Nupe, acquired considerable authority and bequeathal to their descendant’s claims to village headmanship. Their claims were encouraged by Muslim District Heads who, in the period 1920 to 1936, resuscitated Nupe titles where they had lapsed and created new ones. The holders of these titles were their representatives and proteges exactly as they had been vis-a-vis the Nupe.
The British adopted a similar method in selecting other village headmen in the early days of the administration. They and their heirs now constitute a third set of claims to authority.
The result of all this is considerable confusion in the political organization. The headmen appointed by the Nupe and the British seem to have taken little account of such institutions as title-associations, and the latter, as well as the ward and village priest-headman, seem to have lost ah but their ceremonial and ritual functions in many cases.

The Northern Group
The meagre information available about these communities suggests that all have named age-grades through which pass sets of males formed at seven-year intervals. The minimum age of entry into a set is said to be about 16. There are from two to six grades in each of which a man must spend seven years before he becomes an ‘‘ elder ‘‘ (oriosi at Osi) , privileged to wear a straw bat (okala) and carry a carved staff. Entrance into the first grade is accompanied by initiation rites which are said to include egungun (a Yoruba cult); masquerades and further rites take place at each successive promotion. Some grade names are found in several communities, but no two lists of grades are identical.

In some villages the status of elder does not automatically follow when a man has passed through all the age-grades. At Osi, where there are six grades, any person from the third grade upwards can take the status erekpa by sacrificing a goat and two fowls, entertaining the town and paying a small sum to the elders; he thus gains exemption from the communal tasks appropriate to his grade. Elsewhere title-associations appear to be extensions of the age-grade system in which promotion is effected individually instead of by sets. Thus at Ugbosi, which has five grades, promotion to the second and third grades is by sets, but beyond that by personal qualification and payments. At Ikiran and Ibillo a man who has passed through all the grades may, by making sacrifices, entertaining the village and giving presents to the elders, acquire the umu title. Only then does he become an elder.” At Ikiran an elder (eku-okala) is privileged to wear a straw hat and carry a carved staff and at Ibillo (where he is called oja) he wears a red tarboosh; here payments to the elders are said to amount to £5 and seven goats.

Throughout this area the age-grades and title-associations have declined with the refusal of Christians to undergo the necessary ceremonies of initiation and promotion.
Among these northern communities the only tied offices are those given to priests and ward and village headmen. In the indigenous political organization the latter seem to have been the priests of ward and village shrines who were drawn from particular extended families and wards. In some cases they were the oldest men in their territorial group, in others hereditary, in others to be chosen by members of their territorial segment (or in one case from one ward by “the whole village “) and in still others by divination. In some instances the right of appointment claimed by a particular family or ward is disputed by other groups and in others rights of appointment may have alternated or rotated between various segments.

In certain communities there is a separation of priestly from secular ward or village headmanship. At Osi there is a priest of the village deity (orimosi), who should always come from one family, and a distinct secular head, oya, from the same family. Elsewhere such separation of functions appears to date from the Nupe period. Thus at Ibillo there is a priest (Udezi), and the Onibilo (called Zeike before 1930) who was appointed first by the Nupe and later by the District Head. The two functionaries sit side by side at village meetings.

There is little information concerning the existence, composition, or function of ward and village councils. At Osi there is said to be a council composed of the priests of orimosi and other deities which, however, meets only to make arrangements for festivals. At Ugbosi and Ogugu one or more of the senior age-grades are said to perform this function, and at Ibillo members of the umu title-association are said to constitute the council.

The Hill Towns
These three hill communities, Somorika, Onurnu, and Ogbe claim to have been founded by the same band of immigrants; they speak similar dialects and their social organization is of the same pattern.

Age-sets are formed every 11 years at Somorika and Onumu and every five years at Ogbe. The minimum age of entry is about 16 and the sets are named by the elders. At Ogbe and Onumu they are disbanded on the formation of the fifth and third sets junior to them respectively.

In all three communities there is a title, umu (the pronunciation at Somorika is woomu), whose holders are called ilezi (Somorika), ekulafumuze (Ogbe) or ekuloyanafe (Onumu). At Somorika, it is reported, any male from the fifth set upwards can take the title by making certain sacrifices, entertaining the town and making gifts to the value of £10 to the elders; at the other two villages it is the members of the senior age-set and the disbanded age-sets who are eligible. At Somorika the title confers the insignia of a straw hat and carved staff, but at the other two villages these privileges are reserved to a more senior title-association, called eku at Ogbe and eya at Onumu. At Ogbe a man can become eku by giving a feast in the year following the taking of the umu title but, according to the information available, an Onumu man must wait eleven years before sacrificing two goats and becoming eya.

Only ward and village headmen and priests hold individual titled offices and in the past secular and priestly functions were probably invested in the same individual.. At Onumu the two ward headmen, Ohara and Olaru, are chosen by divination from specified families; they are the priests of the ward deities. At Ogbe the position is similar, but the ward headman should be the oldest man. Village headmanship is not highly developed at Onumu or Ogbe. In the latter community one party claims that the two ward headmen are equal, but several families claim the right to appoint a village head. Guardianship of the six village shrines is shared between three families, one of which controls four and the others one each. Authority is said formerly to have been vested mainly in the members of the two title-grades.

The political organization of Somorika has been much affected by the special relations of the community with the Nupe. Originally the village headman is said to have been the priest of the village deity, and he is now called Otaru; the descendants of the two immigrant founders alternated in appointing the incumbent. Eventually the Otaru became so sacred that he was continued to his house and during the Nupe period the man chosen by the descendants of Owa to fill the position gave it to his brother and himself took over the secular authority. Backed by the Nupe he imposed serfdom on the descendants of Esamo and the aboriginal elements, forbidding them to keep cattle, collect palm-produce, wear beads, or worship the family deities, and forcing them to work for the descendants of Owa. The descendants of this man, Usamo, have ever since appointed the village headman, now called Ima, though since 1936 there has been considerable opposition from the rest of the population

The descendants of both brothers and the aboriginal elements are scattered through the three wards. There is no information concerning the structure of the wards.

The South-Western Group
Okpe, Ijaja, and Olomo, the three settlements in the south-west, are distinguished by the apparent absence of title-associations while there are hereditary individual titles.

At Okpe there are age-sets of 12-year span named by the Alala, who is the hereditary headman of one of the wards. The fourth and fifth sets are together called okomokugbe and function as the executive arm of authority in the community. They act as messengers to the council of title-holders and meet with them each morning at the Alala’s house to discuss matters affecting the community which are to be brought before the Olokpe (village chief). When a set ceases to be okomokugbe its members are exempted from specific cornmeal duties. Ijaja forms its age-sets at the same time as Okpe and, with one exception, they have the same names. Olomo is more akin to the northern communities in having three age-grades, including the elders, ekase.

At Okpe each ward has a hereditary title which passes from father to son; the title-holders are known collectively as ivie. They form a village council which is attended by okomokugbe, acting in the capacity of messengers. The Otoke or Eta (father) is the hereditary head of one ward and of the whole community.

At Ijaja there are four hereditary titles, including that of the Onijaja (village bead). The third age-set plays a prominent role in the political organization.

At Olomo each ward selects its own headman, but the village headman’s title, Ogua, is hereditary. The Ogua and the two senior age-grades constitute the authoritative body in the indigenous political organization.

The Southern Group
In the five villages of this group age-sets are formed every three years, except in the case of Sasaru where the interval is seven years. The minimum age of entry is about 16 and the sets are named by their members, the elders, or the village headman; at Ate naming is delayed until all the members are married. When a set has a number of other sets junior to it (the number varies from four to nine) it is disbanded. Members of disbanded sets are called opepe at Igwe and isogua at sasaru. At Euwan, lkpeshi, and Egbigele members of the three most junior sets perform such tasks as clearing farm paths and cleaning markets.

With the possible exception of Sasaru all the villages have one or more title associations open to men. At Enwan the okpa title can be acquired by any man who sacrifices a cock in the market-place, entertains the town, and pays a small sum to the existing members. At Ate and Ikpeshi-Egbigele there are three associations, which should perhaps be regarded as three grades of the same association. The cost of entering the three grades at Ate, ebe, okpa and ízua, was, in 1940, 6s., £5 and a castrated goat and £7 to £15 respectively. In all these cases there is said to be no age qualification, but at Akuku only members of disbanded age-sets are eligible for title-taking. In the latter village there are 16 individual titles (oga), each of which can be held by one or more persons. They are achieved in much the same way as the association-titles in the other communities and they may be a recent innovation. The individual titles at Enwan certainly are; they were fabricated in 1930 at the request of a District Officer who asked the people to abandon their Nupe titles and to restore their indigenous Edo ones. Ninety-one titles were produced, four or five for every family, which were made available to any member of the okpa association who was prepared to pay £5. By 1940 they had lost their popularity. At Ate, on the other hand, holders of Nupe titles appointed during the period of District Heads still constituted the village council in 1940.

At Enwan ward headmen are the oldest title-holders in the ward and at Igwe the oldest man of all used to be the village head. Elsewhere village headmanship is disputed. At Sasaru there was apparently no recognized headman with secular functions before 1911. The Zeike or Ogua of Ikpeshi ruling in 1940 is said to have been appointed by the former District Head. Ate, however, has a headman with the Benin title, Ogie.

The Eastern Group.
In Oja, Dagbala, Ojirami, Makeke, and Ososo age-sets are formed at seven year intervals. At Ososo, where the age-sets function on a ward basis, the most junior set, ekwabirevbo is responsible for the care of the irevbo, an open space where dances and meetings in connection with the ward deity take place. The members of another set who have taken the ivialegi title “serve “ the farm deity which each ward has close to its farms. The Okuluso villages_Oja, Dagbala, and Ojirami—form their age-sets at the same time and with one exception they have the same names.

In all villages except Ososo there are six title-associations or title-grades, those of the Okuluso villages having the same names. The first, sukuru, is open to boys who have not entered their first age-set and who gain admittance by paying a small fee to the village headman. At Oja, the second association, oso, is joined by a whole or part of an age-set whose members perform masquerades, entertain the town, and present 200 yams to the village headman. On the death of his father any member of this rank can take the eja title by paying 4s, to the village headman. At Dagbala and Ojirami both these ranks are said to be joined by age-sets rather than individuals. At Ososo, on the other hand, ah six title-grades are open to individuals on the payment of small fees in money and kind and the performance of initiation ceremonies. Ah the titles may be taken at the same time should the individual wish.

All villages have individual titles which “belong” to descent-groups; they are, available to members of the senior title-grade. In Oja, for example, five descent group have two titles each and the other two one each, the holders being selected by the group from its members who hold the eja title. Each of the seven descent groups of Ojirami  “owns” three titles, Okogbe or Otaru, Obolo, and Oka; the first . being that of the headman and the second of his designated successor. At Dagbala the four wards each have four titles, Okogbe, Otaru, Obolo, and Ogisua. At Makeke there are many titles, some recently created. Any member of the senior title-grade, uma, can take a title formerly held by his father or brother by entertaining the town. At Ososo each descent-group owns one, two, or more titles collective]y called ivie. Candidates for these titles must have performed the burial rites of ‘their father and must have been members of the senior title-grade, ivialegi, for at least seven years. They pay fees to the other ivie and perform certain ceremonies; their insignia is a conical straw hat.

There is little information concerning the exercise of political authority. One of the title-holders is usually recognized as the headman in each ward and one of these ward headmen is the village head. In some cases village headmanship may have been an innovation of Nupe times. At Jagbala the Nupe called the senior Okogbe Zeike and the second Dawudu. At Makeke they recognized the Osheku of one ward as Zeike though the Osheku of another ward is priest of two of the village deities. At Oja and Dagbala ah eja are members of the village council.

At Ososo the ivie are said to form a council which meets every ninth day, traditionally on the day before market-day, but in recent years on market-day itself. There is some evidence that the headman of Ososo held a hereditary post, but this is disputed by one of the wards which claims that it should alternate between two wards.

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