Saturday, August 16, 2014

Origins Of Uneme

(by Prof Aashikpelokhai)

The Beginning

Uneme was born about the middle of 15th century (about 1450 AD) to a man named Uka by his only wife Esohe. Esohe was then popularly known as Eso, a name which has been corrupted to Etso. Uka was among the leading Blacksmith inner caucus of the then Benin Empire that produced Military and Farm Equipments for the then Benin Empire. 

Uneme as the first born to Uka and Esohe naturally followed his father's footsteps by learning the Art and Science of Metal Technology. Oral tradition and folklore had it among the elders that the despotic nature of the rulership in the Benin Empire made Uka to take his wife, his first son Uneme along with their two other younger children who passed on along with their father at the time of migrating to the expected Promise Land. 

They left Benin along with other Newfoundland seekers. Nothing much was heard of Uka and the two children who could not make it to the Newfoundland now known as Etsako. However, according to the elders, it was being sung in Uneme folklore of the Uka who lovingly struggled to carry two children, at the same time fighting forest fever which eventually claimed his life and the two younger children. Thus leaving his only wife Esohe and the first born Uneme who eventually made the journey.

The order of the Oba of Benin at that time was that Uka must be brought back to Benin alive and in good health. The reason for this is that the Oba cherished the safety of every member of the Technological cult to which Uka was a prominent member. If he falls sick, according to the Order, he must be cared for by the messengers. Uka's decision to leave the Empire was in the main initiated by his maternal uncle who the Oba slighted in words at a Palace meeting.

Military and Farm Technology

Uneme eventually continued his father's technological work until the coming of the new white men (Probably the British) who banned the Art and Science of Gun production throughout Bini land by 
classifying the practice among illicit activities. Uka had along with the Bini Technology cult as they called it in their time derived and developed the gun technology from the early, now primitive guns supplied to the empire by the first white men (likely, Portuguese) that brought the guns and Agricultural tools. 
Uneme's first child was a girl named Uzanu. The sons of Uneme, according to their seniority are:
(i) Ava: He was born during thunder and lighting. This made Uneme his father to name him Ava. All  the descendants of Ava today are called Imiava. He established Anegbette.
(ii) Oguluka: By resemblance in form to his late father (Uka), Uneme named his second son Oguluka. Oguluka in latter years passed on in the heat of war.
(iii) Uzoshi: He was the third son. He established Udochi.

The Dispersion

There are various versions. However, as diverse as they are, a common denominator has it that Uka's death was in the first 3 months unknown to the Oba of Benin; what was known to the Oba was that Uka left with the precious secret Technology and must return. Uka was given sharp ultimatum in absentia to return to Benin from wherever he was else himself and his seeds would forever scatter. When Uka was not forthcoming after 3 fruitless months, the Oba obtained a fully ripe palm-fruit and had it dropped from the palm-tree top, pronouncing that as the palm fruits scatter, so shall Uka and his seeds scatter. 
Since Uka died and had only one seed Uneme alive, naturally, though Uneme produced his own children, Uneme's descendants scattered. 

According to the folklore and oral tradition, these events surrounding the birth of Uneme's children took place in Ugboha where Uneme himself stayed, died and was buried. However, the Benin war threat made latter generations of Uneme to move to Oghomeze. This according to the elders explains why the most senior Uneme from Ugboha had the right of kola nut breaking where other Uneme were in those days.

According to the folklore, Uhi a traditional community near Ehor is one of the major resting places of Esohe, his son Uneme along with the other Newfoundland seekers on the way out of the Bini Empire. Ava and his generations to come eventually settled in what is today known as Anegbette. The name Anegbette came to be on the day the then District Officer (D.O), a white man, visited Imiava and asked the chief of Imiava, pointing all over the direction around him, what these people are called by name. as was common in those days of language interpretation, the interpreter misunderstood the question to mean who owns all these lands. The chief told the interpreter to tell the D.O that it is not a land for one kindred but that we are all pushing one another to possess whatever quantity each one can control. The 
interpreter then told the D.O; meaning we are struggling for space. The D.O then recorded the community's name as Anegbette. 

Generations of Uzoshi children moved to what is today known as Udochi. Generation of Uzanu the female child of Uneme moved to the present location called Uzanu. Other large but mixed Uneme parties moved to virgin lands where they could find what they called ROCKS-MELTABLE-TO-IRON. The excavation for Iron ore, iron smelting and usage of Iron ore to produce farm implements and local guns determined the movements to new virgin lands. This movement gave rise to Uneme settlements such as Imiava both in Etsako valleys of the hills in Anviawu area of Etsako, Akpama, Uneme-Osu, Ekpedo, Erurun, Enekhua, Aiyetoro all in Akoko-Edo LGA, and Ekpedo in Okene. 

At Oghomeze during the dispersion, seeing that the Bini troops did not come down in the way they 
expected them, some of the mixed groups comprising Imiava, Uzanu and Uzochi, and upon also hearing about the CURSE, went back to Bini to live their lives as Binis that they had always been in Bini land, saying after all our various opinion leaders here and rulership are tending to be more despotic than the Oba of Bini. To Bini, therefore this small went and they were restored joyfully. However some of this mixed group joined their forefather Uneme at Ugboha. So to this day, those who know it regard Uneme Ugboha as senior.

Effects of Dispersion

There are as many marriage and social rules, regulations and rites as there are Uneme communities except those communities that live close to one another. Even in the case of those Uneme communities that live close to one another, variation still exist. Since this concise history is not on analysis of the reasons for such variations, it is obvious that since Uneme began as a person, indeed the first and only surviving son of Uka, apart from metal work technology Uka had sparsely settled down enough tobuild up a culture and social norms for Uneme and his descendants before the dispersion. Because of the scattering and non-existence of any opportunity to gather for long in a single location before dispersion,
the summary below shows the main dispersion effects.

i. Blacksmithing technology is the main cultural heritage.
ii. Each Uneme settlement has its unique definition of various social norms, and rites, though 
similarities obviously exist.


Saturday, August 9, 2014

Catch Up

It's been a while here, but I am glad to be back and I hope to be back for good. Before I continue the study on the origins of and how Uneme live, I invite you to listen to some recordings of what Uneme sounds like, though there might be variations from one clan to the other, this will give a good idea of the basic tongue.

Here is a recording on youtube

There are a few recordings here as well

The next post will be about the Origins of Uneme according to Prof. U.S.U Aashikpelokhai

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Uneme Age-Grades (II)

There were two broad categories of the age-grades in every Uneme community. This categorization was applicable to the male age-grades as it was to the females. The first main category comprised the senior sets and the second, the junior. With particular reference to the senior age-grades category, oral traditions collected recently have shown that each of the grades comprised no fewer than three age-sets. The names given to them varied, although their structures, compositions and functions were generally similar in nature, for instance the senior male age-sets. they are known in some sub groups of the Uneme, especially by the people of Uneme Aki-Osu as follows,

  • the Edion-Iviuru
  • the Edion-Ezigele
  • the Edion-Useniughere
Similarly among the sub-group now called the Uneme Erhurun, the senior male-age-sets were referred to as

  • the Edion-Ukpokpo
  • the Edion-Evauru
  • the Edion-Ezigele
In the case of those now called Uneme Nekhua, the three senior male age-sets under review are known as

  • the Edion-Iviuru
  • the Edion-Ezigele
  • the Edion-Useniughere

Concerning the sub group now known as Uneme Oghomeze or Imiava, the three senior male age-sets being discussed continue to be referred to as

  • the Ogobor
  • the Oberua
  • the Ukhiodeh

The above names adopted by the Uneme Oghomeze or Imiava people were similar to those adopted by their neighbours now known as the Uneme Udochi or Uzosi for each of their three sets of the senior male age-grades. There had, however, existed some slight differences between these two inter-related Uneme communities on this subject, especially at the level of the junior sets of their age-grades. One of such differences was the title-names of the leaders of each of the junior sets of their age-grades. This difference will be discussed in the appropriate sub section of this chapter.
Unlike in Uneme Udochi (Uzosi), however, in the community now known as Uneme Uzanu, the three senior male age-sets are refered
  • the Oberua
  • the Okhiode
  • the Ogobor

In most of the Uneme communities, the oldest person in the most senior age grade set is referred to as Odio-Uneme, i.e the oldest Uneme person. His approval is required for all traditional activities.
Generally, those who who belonged to the following age sets Edion-Ivuru, Oberua, and the Ogobor were regarded as the most senior members of the senior age-grades of the Uneme. Their ages were put at fifty years and above. But one major exception amongst others, was the case of the members of the Edion-Ukpokpo in Uneme Erhurun, whose ages were fixed at seventy years and above.

It was indeed, the members of this age-set and those of the Edion-Ivuru that were entitled to wear the highly valued red caps in most Uneme villages and clans.

For the other age grades, these approximate ages may however not be very accurate for the members of the various age grades in Uneme Nekhua as a result of the difference in the selection process. two examples of these are the Edion-Ezigele and the Edion-Useniughere. Concerning the Edion-Ezigele age-sets especially those that emerged in the communities now known as the Uneme-Erhunun, Uneme Aki-Osu, and Uneme Nekhua,. during the period, the members are generally, not above fifty years.

In respect of Edion-Usenighere, however, especially those which came into being in Uneme Aki-Osu and Uneme Nekhua, during the period, members were generally between fifteen and twenty years. Below them, were the junior male age-sets. At the lowest rung of the ladder, were children of ages between six and seven. Like all the other age-sets in both the junior and senior categories, and of both sexes, members of this children age set, did perform certain rituals and rites connected with the Irhuamhi or the age-grade ceremonies. However, these ceremonies were organised in phases. Among the Uneme Erhunun community, for example, the first phase of the ceremonies was and is still known as the Osokhulun.

Osokhulun is the process of initiation of all male children between 6 and 7 into Uneme culture. This initiation is mandatory for every Uneme male born into the culture. The Osokhulun title gives an Uneme male an identity that transcends this present world. The Ezigelee age-grade and title taking ceremonies marked the second phase of the boys ascent into manhood in an Uneme community

Unlike in Erhunun, in some other Uneme communities, the process of transformation, to the senior male age-set, exceeded two ceremonial phases. In Uneme Nekhua, for example, no fewer than four of such junior age-sets were established and had to be compulsorily passed through, with the relevant rites , rituals and ceremonies performed. These junior male-age sets are;

  • the Ainigenoya
  • the Umareghe
  • the Okharunmba
  • the Umairogamhe

It is necessary to note that these junior age sets, like their counterparts in all the Uneme communities, were utilised by the elders and the title holders of the most senior grades for executing communal assignments. Because of their teenage nature and youthful endowment, the members were very active and energetic. thus, they represented the cream of the leadership of the future leadership of every Uneme.

As earlier noted, just as the male Uneme people had adapted to and developed both the junior and senior sets of their age grades, so did the women. Besides just as each of the various male categories of both the junior and senior age grades had different sets, so also the women. Moreveover the names by which these age grades were known varied from community to community. However it is possible to give three notable examples as follows;

  • the Odion-Ikposo
  • the Ikposo-Edion
  • Igbidegwa
The Odion-Ikposo was the oldest woman in each of the villages and clan. She was usually selected from the apex age-set and titled society of every Uneme community. She was therefore the oldest surviving member of both her age set and titled society in each of the component Uneme communities.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Uneme Age-grades before c.1370 A.D (I)

The term, ''Age-grade'' also known as age group may be defined as a system by which persons of relatively the same ages are selected and graded into a group. In essence, the main cultural parameter used for this form of grading is the chronological or biological ages of the persons concerned. In Uneme-Nekhua however, while the founding age groupings might have been based on this mode of grading., the process of selecting members of subsequent age groupings is based on grouping of the first sons of every wife of members of the same age grade into one age grade while the next set of sons are grouped into the next lower grade, the same happens to daughters of women in the same age grade.

It is important to note that this mode of grading cuts across sex, involving both Uneme men and women. This was a common feature of the sociopolitical culture of all Uneme Villages and Clans in Benin City during this period. This age-grade system was also a practice of other ‘Edoid’ communities and various other ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in Nigeria in the pre-colonial periods.

The Uneme people were able to revive and adapt this vital aspect of their culture which they had brought from their Edoid homeland in the Niger-Benue confluence to their new places of settlement in ancient Benin along with most of their pre-existing settlement patterns. They resuscitated this age-grade system and encouraged it to blossom in their emergent places of settlement before c.1370 A.D thus influencing surrounding communities.

The main reason for the retention and development of their age-grades system in Benin stemmed from the great value and importance, which they had continued to attach to this major institution in their socio-political culture. Other reasons concern the fact that the age-grades had continued amongst others to;

  1. Allow for a much easier differentiation of the elders from the youths or children in each of the indigenous Uneme communities in Benin at the time;
  2. Promote solidarity and the unity of members of each of the sets of the age-grades, through regular socio-political and allied cultural interactions between the members, especially as expressed in their constant inter-personal relations, official meetings, exchange of idea and experiences, and collectively solving certain problems common to the age-sets or to the entire Uneme community
  3. Enable the heads of the various Uneme villages and clans in Benin at the time to know the numbers of the different sets of the age-grades existing at every given period in each of their communities, thus easing the problems of general identification, recognition, delegation and distribution of communal roles and duties among the diverse sets of the age-grades for the advancement and progress of the Uneme society; and
  4. Encourage the grooming and graduation of new age sets to take on leadership responsibilities, after the passing away of the older sets, thus ensuring that no gap existed in the leadership and hierarchies in each of the component Uneme communities

Monday, May 16, 2011

Structure of Uneme Quarters, Kindreds, Villages and Clans before c.1370 A.D

Quarters - A quarter may be defined as a part of a village or town inhabited by a series of extended-families that derived their descent from a common great grandfather, who was related to the founder or leader of the kindred in which that quarter and others had emerged since their rise and development in the village or town.
Each of the component Uneme quarters in Benin was headed by its oldest man referred to as Odafe. He was accorded full honors and respects not only by the Edafe (heads of various extended families that make up the quarter), but also by the leaders of the numerous conjugal and nuclear-family lineages and their wives, children, brothers, sisters, e.t.c
Kindreds – Mr Hugo F. Marshall, one of the early colonial district officers, who had served in the Benin province during British Rule in Nigeria attempted to define the Kindred from his point of view.
It is difficult to give a definition of the Kindred, as it is merely a smaller edition of a village, and there is no hard and fast line by which a kindred can be distinguished from a village. The original distinction was probably geographical. As the original kindred which formed the village grew, there was a tendency for some families to move off and make a fresh settlement. They still regarded themselves as part of the original kindred, but in the course of time, they became a separate kindred but remained members of the same village.

The descriptive analysis of Mr Masrshall perfectly fits into the Uneme's conception of this vital component of their indigenous sociopolitical culture in this period highlighted in the header. Each of the Uneme kindreds in Benin was made up of several quarters whose early leaders had descended from a common ancestor. Like the Uneme extended-family units and quarters, each of their kindreds in Benin, was headed by the Odafe, who symbolised and epitomised the image of the ancestors of each of the kindreds. However the Odafe of every Uneme kindred in Benin was regarded as superior to those of the component extended-families and quarters not only in status, but also in terms of the socio-political power and authority, which they had wielded during the period.
Village - An assemblage of houses smaller than a town. It is also bigger and larger than a hamlet. Structurally every Uneme village, like other Edoid villages before and after c1370 A.D did comprise the family lineages, quarters and kindreds and was usually headed by the oldest man in the village called the Odion or Odio.
Clans -From Mr Marshall's report, this can be defined with the following composition and characteristics.
Each clan traces its descent from a common ancestor and is divided into villages, usually also having a common ancestor who in most cases was the founder of the Clan. The villages are divided into kindreds which are themselves again subdivided into quarters, compounds and family units.
It is not exactly known how many clans the people of Uneme were able to establish and develop in ancient Benin city during the period of their stay up to c1370 A.D. It is also difficult to determine the number of villages, which they founded in each of the clans during the period. Indeed both the Bini and Uneme oral traditions and related evidence on the subject are silent on this issues. but it is clear from the sources that the Uneme clans were independent of each other. The leaders and rulers of the villages were said to have respectfully responded to and acknowledged the authority of their clan heads.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Crossing.

Family was everything, I understood that right from the days before we crossed the rivers to the new lands south of us. How did we know where to go? The Edafes had been guided by Osanobulah, so we trusted their leadership. We began the preparation to move, two new yam seasons before and I was not yet with child. The plan was to get to new lands before the next yam season.

Crossing was difficult, we didn't have much possessions, but we had enemies. Other tribes, wrongly assumed that we were bloodthirsty, so they were always on the offensive. Osanobulah gave us the wisdom of Iron, but we knew there was a huge price to pay.

My son was kidnapped right at the river, I quickly went into a trance. The Edion of my clan halted the party, no one was going to cross the river without the child. In my trance, I saw a picture of what my son could become, a fierce warrior who would one day bring the demise of the Uneme, if allowed to live amongst the other tribe. At the end of it, I was shown how this was to be prevented, We had to cross the river without him. No one could understand that command but the Edafe and Edions confirmed it, after days consulting Osanobulah.

As I sit in my house surrounded by my sons and daughters, I remember the days of old. My son who was kidnapped now an Elder of the clan. Family is everything, but even more importantly, it is Osanobulah who holds family together.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Socio-Political Culture before c.1370 A.D : Family

After the founding of Benin City by the Bini in about 900 A.D. The Uneme migrated there from the Niger-Benue Confluence area, bringing along their culture which was adapted to the Benin Environment. This post will be focused on the nature and structure of family.

Amongst the Uneme, the family is everything, while the individual is nothing irrespective of the power, influence and wealth that he or she may have acquired. When one is born into a family, nothing can change him or her from belonging to that family, not even death. This is because the spirit of the departed member of every family was believed to have evolved a way of returning to the family through the process of reincarnation

Clearly, the Uneme viewed Family as the foundation of society and culture. They regarded the family as the microcosm of both their macrosociety and culture. The main structure of the Uneme indigenous family system is classified into three main sub-structures
1. The conjugal-family
2. The nuclear-family
3. The extended-family

The conjugal family consisted of just the Husband and the Wife, While the nuclear includes children and extended includes all other relatives. Certain features differentiated the Uneme culturally and include the fact that;

  • The membership of every Uneme family in Benin consisted of men, women and children united by bonds of marriage, blood or adoption.
  • These various members of each Uneme family in Benin lived together under one roof, and thus continued as they had done in previous settlements, to constitute one corporate household.
  • They usually communicated and sustained inter-personal interactions, through their various sociopolitical and techno-economic activities and related functions, which they performed daily in their diverse capacities, as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, e.t.c
  • They also sustained and continued to develop such ties, through their common Uneme language, and other shared cultural values, including their indigenous religious beliefs and allied traditions and practices.
Every family in the Uneme community had the task of collectively moulding the character of its members right from their youth through adolescence up to maturity. One of the ways by which this was achieved had been through the inculcation in each member of the positive ethical values and traditions not only of the diverse conjugal and nuclear family units but also of the entire Uneme society. Notable amongst the Uneme ethical values are those relating to;

  • Belief in the existence of the Supreme Being, Osanobula(h)
  • Loyalty to, and absolute respect for the Edafe and Edion (heads of the various Uneme family lineages, compounds, quarters, kindreds, villages and clans )
  • Respect for the laws, customs and traditions of neighbouring communities
  • Confidence in self, in the entire Uneme society
  • Honesty of purpose
  • Self-discipline and control
  • Tolerance and hardwork
  • Adherence to the practice of being one's brother's keeper
  • Responding positively and timely, to all Uneme communal duties and responsibilities
  • Commitment to the progress, development, protection and well-being of Uneme society and culture
  • Participation in all major festivals, rites, rituals and ceremonies, which are adapted to and developed by the Uneme people in Benin during the period.
  • Strict adherence to the oath of confidentiality, which the Uneme people had taken (before their settling in Benin), not to divulge to non-Uneme people, the secret of the success of their indigenous iron technology.