The role of market rings in the unification of iuleha communities

Bookmark and Share

By Omon Merry Osiki (Last up date October 16, 2018)

Market rings was structured to accommodate the role of culture in the scheme of things in the various communities in Iulehaland. In this connection, commercial and economic considerations played secondary roles in favour of cultural designs. Although Iuleha markets were organized according to the demands of each community where the markets were located, as well as the demands of the clan, the arrangement was such that the communi- ties were encouraged to relate with one another, in appreciation of their kinship ties and ancestral connections. (Osiki, June 1999: 93) In that sense, markets in Iuleha were not organized at will nor was the timing of market days a matter of impulse or a motivation of economic considerations but also for cultural ties.

A market in the sense of Iuleha people is a demarcated and designated site where traders and consumers met at an agreed time to exchange products, ranging from farm produce, domestic animals, tried and fresh games, forest products, herbs and other sundry items. (Falola, 2006: 64) In most instances, goods were spread on the ground or raised bamboo platforms designed for that purpose. Besides that arrangement, traders had their different stalls located in different places while hawking was done by women and minors who carried and advertised their goods (Smith, 1971: p. xvi).

An important aspect of the market was that “stalls” or “space” in the market could be inherited from parents or other relatives, even though no physical demarcation was needed to indicate this arrangement. The involvement of local government staff in the administration of market,however, changed this cultural design because market stalls were now allocated on the basis of payment of certain amounts to the government. This development can be traced to the beginning of colonialism in Owan-land when the people were subjected and subjugated to the dictate of colonial rules. Although no evidence exist to indicate that the colonial masters in Iulehaland instituted any policy to abolish the traditional market structures in the locality, it is safe to argue that the new socio-political system introduced by them affected the traditional structure of market system in the area. For instance, the idea of raising revenue through collection of levies from the people made it imperative for those charged with the responsibility of raising revenue for the colonial government to seek ways of revenue generation and market became a veritable means of actualizing their demands. That was how the supervision of market gradually moved away from the traditional way of doing it to the one controlled by members of the Native Authority designed by the colonial masters as part of the Indirect Rule system.

The colonial system bequeathed control of market structure in Iulehaland to the succeeding local government administration, as it was in other communities in Nigeria. However, what is important to note is that whether during the pre-colonial times, the colonial period or the period when the control of market was done by the local government authority, traders and buyers operated in perfect harmony and order and transacted their affairs like one big family without fighting and bloodshed in most of the occasions. Indeed, by virtue of the traditional dictates of the people of Iuleha, fighting was seen as a taboo that should be avoided. By 2000 A.D, however, this norm would seem to have been ignored as many traders and customers lacking in the customs and traditions guiding market operations acted without due considerations for decorum as especially the way culture would have it. This group constituted what can be described as “stranger elements”. The presence of stranger elements could not be completely ruled out because it was part of the evolution and development of the communities in Iulehaland in line with the process of urbanization.
The influx of stranger elements in Iulehaland pre-dates the attainment of independence by the Nigerian state. For instance, in the second quarter of the twentieth century, especially during the outbreak of the First World War (1914 - 1918), some Yoruba and Igbo traders came to the area for the purpose of trade. Of these two categories of people, the Yoruba appears to have established a longer antiquity of socio-economic and political relationships with the people of Iuleha.

The contentious issue of the introduction of Obaship from Ife to Benin and other Edoid communities, as well as the role Ile-Ife played in the establishment of the chieftaincy institutions in the area is well known and would not take much time and space in this discussion. In any case, there are indications that Yoruba communities of Idoani, Ogbese, Ukaro, Ifon (Ikhan), Ikpele, Owo and others had been trading with the people of Iuleha long before the introduction of colonial rule. The routes for this contact were mostly through Uzebba-Ukaro-Ifon footpath, across the Ose River; the Okpuje-Ikpele footpath and Eruere-Idoani footpath. Of these routes, it appears that traffic was heaviest along the Okpuje-Ikpele axis of the routes. In the course of these interactions, sundry goods such as beads, called Ikpele by the people of Iuleha, textile materials, household wares such as earthen pots, wooden spoons, calabashes, in addition to farm implements, farm produce and domestic animals, were exchanged between the two people.
The two world wars provided an opportunity for increase socio-economic interactions between Iuleha people and their Yoruba neighbours. In any case, it is safe to argue that several goods of Northern Nigerian origins such as swords and leather materials found their way to Iuleha through the various Yoruba routes. In the course of this relationship, inter-marriages took place between them.

The Igbo elements probably got to Iuleha before the colonial period through footpaths via the Agbor-Ishan-Owan geographical locations. The period did not witness any major socio-economic interactions, except in the area of exchanges of foodstuff through the barter system. During the era of legitimate trade in the late nineteenth century, some Igbo traders in present day Delta Igboland, west of the Niger, came to Iuleha to trade in palm kernels and other forest and agricultural products. However, the outbreak of the two world wars offered the Igbo the opportunity to intensify their socio-economic interactions with the people of Iuleha. These interactions witnessed a boom after the Nigerian Civil War (1967 - 1970) and by 2000, the Igbo elements had overtaken their Yoruba counterparts in the area of trade and commercial activities in Iuleha. The unattractive nature of the footpaths as well as the astronomical commercial relevance of both Ibadan and Lagos during the colonial and post-colonial periods could have accounted for this development. In a nutshell, we can say that the exigencies of the period attracted stranger elements such as Yoruba and Igbo traders to Iuleha for the purposes of economic and commercial interactions.

Markets in Iuleha had a number of features. First, they were multi-functional, that is they embraced a whole lot of activities, comprising economic and non-economic; second, they performed socio-political functions in the sense that they served as avenues for socio-political interactions. For instance, the king or chief could use the opportunity of gathering in the market to address the people, most of who were women on latest development in respect of the welfare of the community and the people. In the same vein, rituals and sacrifices were also performed in the market. Besides, some festivals were conducted in the market. A typical case in point was the annual appearance of the chief priest (Ogheren) of Uloko in Aoma market before 1940. The death of Chief Priest Eibo marked the end of this event because of lack of a willing successor. It was said that his eldest son and heir to the chief priesthood, who was a member of the Jehovah Witness refused to be crowned and so the tradition died with Eibo. (Osiki, 25 February, 2003) He was given power by tradition to pin point any item in the market during the observance of the Uloko Festival and such items were forfeited to him by the trader. Refusal to comply was viewed as an affront on the tradition of the people and was subsequently punished in form the violator having to propitiate the “god” through the presentation of certain animals. Markets also served as places where amusement activities involving singers, dancers and drummers were carried out. But unlike the practice in some areas in Yorubaland, such activities were usually limited to festive periods. (Osiki, 1999: 94).

As a unifying factor, markets in Iuleha were linked together in sequence of operations. This meant that most markets belonged to the same ring. The working was such that the communities, which lived in contiguous parts of a region, had their periodic market on different days of the week to avoid clashes and make for maximum participation, while at the same time unifying the people. By giving allowances for the operation of this system whereby traders could trade in most days of the week in different markets, forebears of Iuleha who started this practice anticipated the continuous unity of the various communities. For instance, Eruere Market (Ekin Eruere) was held at every five days, followed by Aoma Market (Ekin Aoma) and then Okpuje Market (Ekin Okpuje). These represented the three sub-clans in Iuleha, (that is Eruere, Aoma and Okpuje, as earlier indicated). In addition to this arrangement, each village had its own market which was organized in such a way that it did not clash with any main market in the clan, an acceptance of the superiority of clannish arrangements and cultural ties among the people. Examples of such markets included Ekin Ukhuede at Uzebba, Avbiosi Market (Ekin Avbiosi), Ekin Oise at Eruere and Ekin Ikpeyan in Okpuje sub-clan. All these markets were formed into rings or cycles to guarantee maximum commercial and cultural benefit for the people.

The formation of market rings provided each community or village with easy and regular access to goods and services, which the people needed. (Falola, 2006: 64) Hopkins commended this unique African device that ensured that each market met at a specified interval forkeeping the costs of collection and distribution of goods to a minimum level. (Hopkins, 1973: 56) Female members of the community were predominantly involved in market organization as local trade was taken as a convenient adjunct to household and farming activities as well as a supplement to domestic occupation, an arrangement that benefited greatly from periodic and rotational organization of market.

By operating a rotational or market ring system, the people of Iuleha were able to relate with one another socio-culturally as well as in the area of commercial and economic relationships. It also provided avenues for cultural interactions and by extension helped to unify the people. No community was at liberty to fix markets in such a way as to clash or conflict with markets elsewhere in the clan. Besides, the arrangement favoured traveling traders who had to move from one sub-clan to another, displaying their wares. In the course of this development, many traders got married to their wives or husbands through contacts with people outside their immediate communities. In this sense, we can say that the operations of market rings encouraged socio-cultural and economic integration in Iulehaland. This role was not limited to market operations. Ancestral figures connected directly or indirectly to socio-economic activities also served the same purpose of unifiers.

Comment Box is loading comments...