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Last update June 1, 2020

Under the indigenous system meetings of priests and members of title-associations were convened for the hearing and judgment of criminal cases and civil disputes. In various communities they are said to have been held in the house of the village head, in the open air or at the scene of the crime. At Okpe where there are no title-associations the holder of the Alala title had special judicial functions and meetings for this purpose were generally held at his house.

All cases except murder, manslaughter, and arson could be settled by the heads of “extended families “when they occurred within the group, but they would be taken before the village meeting if a settlement could not be reached. The three crimes named above were an affront to the whole community. The three Okuluso villages, though otherwise independent of each other, held joint meetings to try murderers at the spot where the crime occurred.

In civil disputes the two parties paid small fees to the meeting, the successful one being expected to make further presents after the judgment. Resort was had to ordeals and oaths to establish evidence. Ordeals were generally similar to those found among other sections of the Edo-speaking peoples; at Lankpese the defendant may be asked to eat kola-nuts placed on the staffs of members of the title-associations,’ which are thought to harm him if he is not telling the truth. Oaths, too, are taken on the insignia of the title-associations, or on certain deities.

The penalty for murder was death in all communities except Ate, where the family of the murderer vas banished and their property destroyed. The death penalty was usually executed by forcing the murderer to hang himself in the marketplace or by burying him alive. Manslaughter was compensated by the transference of one or two of the offender’s kin or slaves to the family of the deceased. Arson was everywhere a serious crime and an offender caught in the act might be cast into the flames.

For other offences fines and compensation were the principles underlying punishment. In cases of assault the offender was made to look after the injured until he or she was cured. At Enwan a thief was publicly ridiculed by his own age-set, at Ikpeshi he was painted with charcoal and publicly mocked, and in the north-eastern villages his age-mates seized and killed goats, cocks, etc., for which he had to compensate the owner. In all Communities a proved adulterer should pay various animals and fowls to the husband for sacrifice, presumably to the latter’s ancestors. At Okpe, however, the seducer of the Olokpe’s wife might be executed and she herself sold into slavery.
Fines were shared by the judges. Compensation was often in the form of livestock as well as money.

The insignia of title-associations were used to enforce compliance with judicial decisions. At ikpeshi, for instance, the okpa bells coud be placed in front of a judgment debtor’s house; it they remained there overnight the offender would be liable to an increased fine. At Ate a judgment debtor might be detained at the Ogie’s house until his kin ransomed him. Generally, however, enforcement was left to the successful litigant, who would be permitted to put bad ‘‘ medicine ‘‘ in his opponent’s house, seize his livestock, or make use of his farm.

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