THE OSU PHENOMENON: MATTERS ARISING
When I wrote the rejoinder to a publication on Osu and Diala written by an Apostle suggesting the eradication of IBO Cultural Symbolic System as well as the Osu caste in Iboland, least did I expect the type of responses that followed suit. A little over one hundred calls and seventy two text messages were the result of that topic – the philosophy of Osuigwe, Osuala, and Oshimiri published in the Daily Sun Newspaper of 21st, 22nd and 25th of October, 2010.
Only two SMS abused, but I am not amused because all cannot pass by, some will say hello, those the Lord had made so. Many questions were asked while some others commended the issue of not trading the Ibo culture for Eurocentric symbols and names. Here are some of the texts
(1) 'Mazi Ebuzome, I boola Chi? Thanks. Ur 3pts article is educative I agree with U. Our problem? Trying 2 be more white than the white men. may God save Ndigbo. Tel: 08039425218'.
(2) 'Mazi ndewo. Jst fnshd d konkludn pat of ur pis. U did wel. Dat Nwachukwu and likes must hav lant dia lessns by nw…. fanatiks, ignorant of kulture O.O, Tel: no: 08032552825.'
(3) Your write up….sun newspaper was a master piece, kudos for such historical exposition. Keep it up – K.O. Tel. No: 08034697964.'
(4) Hello Mazi — I read ur piece ….Its scholarly and academic write up, and dats where it ends. It lacks morality, equity, fairplay and human consideration….. Please reconsider ur core values. Tel. No: 08035833785.' There is no regret or apology to anybody for that write up. The truth must be told before a solution can come. It has nothing to do with morality because a hidden scar hardly heals. It can be made to look better or salvaged. The Ibo culture in totality can not be abandoned because of one incongruent concept. That was the argument. Well every truth remains the truth until it is made untrue. Each SMS betrayed its source but a caller in confidence told me simply that she is seen as an Osu designate and bombed me with the question 'what is the solution to all these? Please can you put up a book on that if possible and give us a frank solution to this wound that refuses to heal'. She is a female and asked me not to expose her number over that discussion. As a matter of concern, it must have been traumatic for this female to have opened up, asking for solution. Probably she had suffered some emotional stabs in the past hence her confidential openness to a problem everybody else would like to cover. It is on this level that this headline is chosen.
In the past write up I maintained that the Ibo cultural symbols like names, arts, the weekly-luner calendar, folk lore, herbal practices for curative well being like the herbal steam therapy for malaria etc. are retained. The issues of Osu caste was only introduced since it was not exclusive to Ibo race alone. It was not derogatory. However, those obnoxious activities associated with it such as the denial of human rights and free association should be expunged. Afterall slaves, bonded men and women as well as child trafficking are still in existence despite its legal abolition, and people are still fighting to scrap it off.
In 1975, I was a victim of deprivation in my school in New York because am black, and the Bible talked about black in songs of Solomon 1:5-6. America is a Christian Country. 'In God we trust' is their logo and motto. The Bible also talked about the Caste system in Isaiah 11:12. The Iboland is replete with more Bibles than Hamburg in Germany (Courtesy Femi Adesina). In Iboland, the Bible is the King of books even when adherents are very inhuman to Osu. Is there no hypocrisy in these two anecdotes? Some times it is just mere rhetoric to compare words and actions.
There must be moral re-armament which should be holistic to accommodate all sectors including the issue of Osu and other negative Cultural activities. That was my recommendation for our cultural renaissance.
There was a time murder of twins existed in Iboland. The Ibos lost so many people to more complacent communities across their borders especially the Yorubas who adored twins. While they gained, the Ibos lost. Today the so called Osu designates are alienating and dissolving into the cities and other nations with no caste system. As a friend once said, 'there is no osu in the cities'. It is only in the villages and Ibo locations. You may not tell a cripple when sitting down, same way it is hard to detect an osu in the cities. The issue of twin baby infanticide is over today. So the caste will also go with a future generation.
To be continued
Scientist, Ibo Hebrologist and Linguist
The Ibo culture does not centre on Osu caste system alone as people seem to believe. It is only because the crooks in the villages are creating cracks in the system to gain advantage over others. Divisive tendencies even in religion is a human factor which only the love of humanity can heal. One religious body talks about peace as the mantra but lacks peace more than anything else. Another preaches love but the love eludes them due to misplaced love of money. Pride and self exultation have blinded the minds of the people such that every focus is on self, irrespective of any neighbour or even brothers. 'Quel dommage ! What a pity'!
THE OSU CONCEPT:
In that write up, I explained that osu means spirit, a phonemic word derived from the Hebrew Ru ach meaning spirit. In various dialect forms it comes as Ru'ash, Ru'as, Ru'osu, Ru'ak etc. The words arusi, orisa, orisha, etc meaning idols or deities, emanate from this source. However, the word `Osu' actually stands for a person dedicated to a spirit, shrine, or any deity in any form. The concept came as a result of seeking some refuge under a deity for protection and services. `Inegbinosa' is an Edo name meaning 'seeking refuge under God (god) ' as the case may be. The phonemic word `Osa' means God in the language also coming from the root Ru'ach (as-os)for spirit.
There are two major ways of becoming a designate or frater in the caste. Voluntary and forceful methods of induction into the system were actuallized by the Ibo of old who inadvertently worshiped God through local medium of intercession or intercessory gods. As people of several religious sects approach God through patron saints, angels, prophets, pastors, and other holy servants of God, so the ancient Ibos worshiped through local deities and the triad of the great gods, the sky (Anu), Enu in Ibo, land (Enlil), Ana/Ala in Ibo, and sea (Ea/Eya), Iyi in Ibo.
Some people are forcefully inducted while some others' voluntarily initiate. Some got inducted to escape from a more vicious calamity especially during slave trade. Some people did not want to get sold out or captured hence their initiation into the system. Some others were captives and others only for associating or dining with those in the caste, through marriage or sexual contact. Most Ibo local deities like the Greeks and Egyptians are either masculine, femine or both in several communities. According to Chief Nwafor Ezimo – Ichie Ugbana of Ojoto – Anambra State – a cultural custodian and historian, 'most goddeses demand human sacrifice in `VIVO' but their male counterpart demand sacrificial animals and other materials, eg in Ojoto the Ide oto sea goddess which late Christopher Okigbo flavoured poetic is a female, while the variant male counterpart 'Ukpaka oto' does not solicit for any human sacrifice in any form. It was to `Ide oto' the sea goddess that `Osu' was inducted for', he said. In some communities, there is nothing like the Osu system, just like some others where similar castes exist in other forms and names. Other stories on this Osu Caste is in a book I will soon publish on the subject.
As a promise to the caller asking for solution to this abusive caste system in Iboland, only a few suggestions can be available for now.
Scientist, Ibo Hebrologist and Linguist
OPINION: To begin with there is no way a problem can be solved or even attempts made without fully understanding and discussing it. Each time somebody writes on this subject of Osu, some people get angry and vituperative as if mentioning the word is a taboo. No! whatever a problem is, it must be discussed and exposed or create the awareness of its short coming. Solution starts from bold approach and discussion as a body or group of interested stakeholders. It is going to clash with die-hards or the hard core Ibos who are bent on retaining the system. It is only a part of Ibo culture and can be re-adjusted to accommodate ambient relationship rather than the ostracism attached to the system. There must be champions and stakeholders to tackle this issue of making love to the cultural minds of the Ibos because they are not only lost in this cultural wilderness but also in fraternal bitterness. Action, Action, Action and not silence in timidity or complacence. The money bags amongst the stakeholders can lead the crusade to emancipate the Osu System like the following oppressed groups – The Albinos, the minorities, the gay world, blacks in America, even the Christians who were once against the Jews, etc. It may not be physical fight per se but mental and psychological approach, even legal where obtainable. The mind is the battle field and bombardment with positive ideas and more love for mankind is a way. Unfortunately the phenomenon of love is completely misplaced in our system. Nevertheless, what we have today is what a proceeding generation suffered for, hence the need for a 'debut d'action' for the emancipation of the Osu Caste in Ibo Culture. I feel that designates will be afraid to identify in order to avoid further stigmatization. Time will tell.
Furthermore, the Osu group of old had their left or right ears chopped off as a branding technique just the way some other racial or religious groups chop off limbs to identify a rogue or criminal. What about nations that scar their faces as brands running from Sudan to Nigeria and beyond? Physical Scarification has been discontinued for the Osu Caste, so it is difficult to tell who is and who is not, except in the villages where they are known. It is better today and I believe that the future generation will obliterate it, completely just as the members of the Jehovah Witnesses have done. Even the word `Caste' is not in their dictionary or rather bible.
On a second thought, I discovered in course of this research that `Osu' Caste is an erroneous step in human civilization and development, just like the slave trade. An encounter with a Catholic Priest' revealed in his sermon that he is an `Osu' but a reverend father as known to Catholics. The Priest whose brother got married to a woman in a distant diocese from his told people that he was not their inlaw and had nothing with them because he is an Osu designate. He went further to explain that he has been dedicated to God as a priest, with no wife, no inlaw, no child hence an osu, called Osuchukwu – When he dies, he claims, his body and all his possession will belong to the church and priesthood. Logically he is very right because he possessed all the characteristics of an Osu- dedication and induction to a spiritfold with all rights and bonding of both osu and slave servant. Everybody, Christian or otherwise who has been dedicated to any spirit, even at baptism is Osu.
All the osu names like St. Christopher, St. Michael, Elizabeth etc taken at Baptism symbolize dedication to a spirit. 'Dedication to God through the saints and holy men etc at baptism with holy spirit is a process in Pneumatology of Osu initiation according to this Reverend Priest. It is equally logical to see local dedication to God through local deities as a process. Local gods represent their ancestors, and men of their religious valor just as saints do, before the arrival of the bible and it was the process of osu initiation. The difference is just in name and type of religion. The Ibos never worshipped he devil but God all along, through local deities. Everybody is just one caste but it depends on the type. In latin the word is `duco, ducere, duxi, ductum – to lead. It is `duo, dukene' in Ibo, induce in English – all to lead or be led; Another Do, dare, dedi, datum, to give like `Idaba/ndaba' in Ibo, to fall into something, and dedication in English. Once you are led into or you give yourself to a spirit, you are automatically an Osu. So who is not? Make your role call.
Professor Sam Uzochukwu, former Head of African language and Literature Department University of Lagos, said 'that the Osu is not just a particular god or goddess but specialized ones, ranging from small to exotic shrines.' Incidentally the Osu is loved by its patron deity, with reward like Beauty, intelligence and prosperity. Although not all Osu are imbued with these rewards, nevertheless they progress. Joseph in the Bible was disliked, Ishmael was disliked, Esau was disliked for marital intransigence, so is Osu culturally disliked, but God is always with them. Consider what Nigerian Newswatch Magazine of September 18, 1989 said; 'The Osu is like a defiled minority but then loved by the gods. In the ancient time osu was highly revered and everybody avoided quarreling with one or face the wrath of the guardian deity. He was privileged but now vilified due to the Ibo man's repulsion for all forms of inherited or endowed privilege'.
'Traditional norms in Ibo uphold that whatever position a man holds in the society must be one he has won by virtue of his achievements'. There was a time it was a taboo for a non Jew to marry a Jew. Remember that `Jacob married from padam Haran where his mother came from but Esau was despised for intransigence. Besides, Moses – a Levite married an African woman (Number 1:12), a midianite or a descendant of Ketura, Abraham's secondary wife (1 Chronicles 1:32) otherwise an Ishmaelite group. Moses father inlaw, an Arab Chief called Jethro who was not worshipping the true God according to'Insight on the scriptures.'
Another mystic writer Osahon Onaiwu declared in one of his thesis that 'Jethro was a renowned Magician and master of witchcraft.' Remember that when Moses was leaving with Jethro's daughter Zipporah back to Egypt, Jethro gave him a lot of good wishes which he used against the Pharaoh of Egypt Ex.2:15-22, 3:1; 4:18. Only God knows some of these good wishes. You can ascertain what Moses also learned from his 40years sojourn in Ethiopia – Africa. These citations are to demonstrate that potency lies in African arts and culture and the permissiveness of marriage between very incongruent people separated by race and culture.
Today more whites marry blacks and vice versa, something unthinkable in 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. So the future is still pregnant for the osu system who are unjustly, vilified for no fault of theirs.
In course of this research, it was discovered that all the bible versions of the scripture listed the word `caste' in their various verses except one which is the New World Translation Edition. 'This Bible hardly believes in the use of segregative, obnoxious or derogatory terms', so one of the users told me. Many who castigate the osu think they know but they all got it wrong. However my take is that the Ibos should not lose their symbolic local names, arts and those cultural set up that promote the race. They can change their obnoxious attitude towards their fellow Ibos. Names like; Offor, Ogu, Nwosu, Orji, folks-model names, Mmuo, Nwagbara, Nwammuo, because Chineke is Agbara and Mmuo according to the language. Just make things positive. It is all in the mind. Others like Okeke Okonkwo Nwaturuocha, Nwogu etc must stand because of their exotic meanings. We must not dispose the Ibo culture but it can be modified. It is your culture that tells who you are. As I said Time will tell.
Scientist, Ibo Hebrologist and Linguist