Functions of Ebira Traditional Customary Chiefs
Nearly every major clan in Ebiraland had a title and a clan, which had no title, was ruled by its elders. This did not mean that such a clan could not contact some traditional chiefs (particularly those of its clan-related groups) for some advice. Generally speaking, Ebira clan chiefs were not administrators (as compared with the Emir in the Northern States or Obas in the Western States) The chiefs are better described as “Leaders” comparable with the Biblical judges in the Old Testament. The only difference is the fact that our clan chiefs are hereditary but the Biblical judges were not.
But as the clan chief’s influence in the society become stronger and stronger, they gradually and systematically assumed some administrative functions just like the judges. Thus, the clan chief had quasi-functions and these were spiritual and secular functions. In the past, these were not so distinct although one could easily differentiate them. The Ebira traditional chiefs
Below are the main functions of Ebira Traditional Customary Chiefs:
- They were (and to some extent still are) the spiritual directors of the clan(s) since these chiefs were supposed to have some divine powers. They were therefore the chief priests in the clans and in the society. They usually appointed some prefects to do the necessary rituals on their behalf. Daily “Eva” divination was carried out in their houses.
- They enforced and interpreted the Ebira laws and traditions. This was particularly true of masquerade rites discussed in chapter three. This function is partially performed today even though some of the traditional chiefs are recognized by the state government.
- They regulated and supervised the traditional festivals. They did this effectively through diviners. Today, however, these functions are partially performed by the clan chiefs because the Local Government Authority started to supervise the festivals in the early fifties when political parties were hatched and nearly all Ebira festivals become very much influenced by political sentiments traditional festivals were and still are used achieve some political aims and objectives.
- The Ebira clan chiefs were solely responsible for arranging for defense in case of outside aggression. In other words, they were more or less “Supreme Commanders”. It must be Demphasised that all the affairs of such wars were directed through diviners and outstanding warriors.
- Lastly, but by no means least, were the administrative functions. Before the arrival of the British, the chiefs had established themselves fully, and their influence on all affecting the clans was universally acknowledged by the people. Their decision and or ruling normally superseded that of the elders although no conflicts between the chiefs and the elders. All disputes in a clan or clans of the chief were usually settled in the chief’s compound. The chief of each clan had some sort of council of elders who helped him in the spiritual or secular aspects of his duties.
These councilors normally spent most of their time with the chief and this was facilitated by the fact that the Ebiras (in the past) normally settled in clans. This did not mean that the majority of the members of a clan lived together in a particular town or village the majority of members lived together in a particular area of the town. Matters affecting two or more clans or between states were amicably settled by the chief and council of the clans concerned. Such a settlement normally took place at crossroads or at a land boundary or any other conspicuous place.
At such a momentous gathering, the most elderly chief presided or deliberations were called out without a chairman. Such meetings were not regular and high-level consultations were normally carried out before any meeting was held. This was how the Ebiras governed themselves before the arrival of the British in 1902.
In the past, the social welfare of the clan chief was the full responsibility of the members of the clan, people owed allegiance to their clan chiefs. Members of a clan would consult only their clan chiefs (the elders) for spiritual, social, economic, etc. advice. Consequently, a man living in Okene (but of Eika origin) whose clan chef was Adeika would pay allegiance to Adeika even though, geographically and politically, he was outside Eikaland. That is to say that the Ebira traditional chiefs did not rule a “territory” like the Atta Idah. They ruled clans and, wherever the members were, the clan chiefs still ruled them hence the description Ohindase of Okengwe, Ozumi of Okene, Adeika of Eika, Otu of Okene, etc. connotating that they ruled those areas has no meaning whatsoever.
This usage came about perhaps during the time when Atta Ibrahim appointed some of the clan chiefs to perform the functions of District or Village Heads. The clan chiefs are better described by their clans and not by their residence because of the political and social implications. Such usage was definitely copied and since the chiefs no more perform the functions of a District/Village Head, the description becomes very vague and meaningless.
This matter is further complicated today where people have completely mixed up. In conclusion, the clan chiefs were all regarded as equal and were completely independent. They did not rule a territory but clans and all the members of a clan or clans paid allegiance to only their clan chiefs irrespective of where they were. The theory held by Mallam Y.A. Ibrahim that the above description was in order since settlements were in clans in the past is vague because of Okengwe, Adavi, Eika, etc.
Were inhabited by different clans who have no claim over these titles. Furthermore, clan settlements were only effective or nearly effective in certain quarters of a town. For instance in Okene, the Eziogu clan dominated Ukako, Ezi-Adobe dominated Ukowa, and so on. Definitely, Ozumi did not rule Ezi-Adobe they were ruled by Otu who might be in Okengwe District.
Taboos Observed by the Clan Chiefs
It is a universal phenomenon especially among some African chiefs, to observe certain taboos, the breaking of which were/are believed to be catastrophic to the chiefs and their people. This general belief is also prevalent among the Ebira clan chiefs. Because of this fear, the chiefs or their immediate relatives never broke the taboos. Such taboos included:
- The Ebira traditional chiefs do not generally eat new yams until their (used here figuratively as charms or jujus) have which is generally performed “sacramentally” and ceremonially. The chief’s clans do not usually eat new after the “leader” has officially eaten new yams. In time or 1amine, however, people are given special dispensation to eat new yams before the chiefs do not break the law whatever may happen. his taboo seems serious today to only the chiefs and their close relatives.
- The traditional chiefs do not normally sleep in their “abara”. They are only co here for official matters. Traditionally, the chiefs may not sleep in zinc roofed hoes and so their “obas”* (where they normally sleep) have thatched roofs. This taboo seems in abeyance today.
- All the traditional chiefs are forbidden to see their mothers again after installation hence the presence of a candidate’s mother could disqualify him from holding a chieftaincy title. The main reason for this taboo is that the Ebiras strongly believe that a candidate who installed a customary chief while the mother is still alive may not hold the office long. It was believed that the chiefs would not be able to carry out their secular and religious duties properly if their mothers are alive, since the Ebira women are believed to be very “powerful” and are always interfering in the daily chief’s duties! Consequently, such chiefs do not hold their office long.
The traditional chiefs do not usually enter into anybody’s compound or house for any deliberations whatsoever. The reasons could be: Firstly, these chiefs are regarded as the highest people in society, and as such, it will be improper for them to consult their subjects in their houses. Secondly, to avoid the possible contamination or pollution of their kingly materials. This seems to be the most important reason for keeping the taboo.
In the past, before a chief could step out of his compound to visit another area, many rituals were performed. The chief would only stay in an open place for the consultations- he would not enter any house. This was one reason why the traditional chiefs found it difficult to be involved in the colonial administration initially. It is interesting to note that some of these taboos tend to be in abeyance or even obsolescence today in Ebiraland even though the Ebiras are well known for their cleavage to “Ebiraism”.
This may well be the impact of foreign religions (Islam and Christianity). The Ebira traditional chief is supposed to rule for their lifetime, unlike the Jukuns whose chief (the Aku Uka of Wukari) may rule for only five-seven years after which the chief is forced to give up his throne by “dying” unnaturally.
- The traditional chiefs do not attend funeral services and they do not see dead bodies.
The Ebira Concept of Customary Chiefs
The Ebiras, like some tribes on the continent of Africa, strongly believe that the chiefs (Once installed) have certain powers invoked on them by their offices. These powers are thought to be peculiar to only the chiefs and no other person(s) in the community may be endowed with the powers. These powers cannot be passed by a chief to his children-they are blended within the regalia. The Ebira concepts of their traditional chiefs include:
The chieftaincy title holder is generally looked upon as “‘supernatural” and the most “powerful” person in the society and his words are regarded as “Ise” (prophecy). Many of the chiefs in the past actually proved so. In the past the majority of Ebira clans had their gods and goddesses whose main function was to save the members of the clans from any calamity and sacrifices to these deities were only offered through the chiefs, These chiefs engaged greatly in all sorts of divination in order to keep up to the high expectation of the people. Furthermore, they always stay indoors to perform the necessary daily rituals.
To Ebiras, a traditional/customary chief does not die like ordinary people! He is said to be immortal and all the important burial ceremonies discussed earlier in one of my articles, for an aged man are always performed at the installation and may not be repeated when the chief “dies”. The Ebiras do not say that a traditional chief has died but “ohinoyi osi ngwuriku” (The chief has just gone or disappeared into the forest).
Because of these superpowers, the clan chiefs, and they alone, have the right to direct all the affairs of the society (both physically and spiritually) so that the ruled may be “saved”. The chiefs tend to “legalize” all the ceremonial rites, especially the most traditional masquerade rites. They enforce these rites and punish accordingly any person who may defy them. They know exactly the type of sacrifices to be offered to gods and their ancestors so that these deities may forgive the offenders.
The Highest Person in the Society:
Once a man is installed as a customary chief, he automatically becomes the highest person in the kindred and invariably in society. As we have seen above, he does not normally enter anybody’s compound. Because of this belief, a customary chief is regarded as the eldest man in the kindred even though by’ chronological age, he is not. This is also the reason why all landed properties including palm oil, locust bean trees, “agere”*, etc, could be used by him.
Although the Ebiras still uphold some of these concepts, their importance both to the chiefs and their subjects seems to wane rapidly. Furthermore, the Clans’ responsibilities towards their own clan chiefs are tending towards obsolescence and this is the main reason why some of the chiefs act more irrationally than ordinary People in some way in order to sustain their livelihood.
There seems, however, to be a reawakening of their importance in society today but this is impeded greatly by the fact that almost all the present chiefs are illiterate and do not know exactly their Civic rights and responsibilities of their offices, they have started to ask for official recognition. It is true that Ebiras want a united society and not autonomous states under their elders and traditional chiefs as they had in the past. Nevertheless, the way and manner in which the British brought about the unification of the autonomous states together seems to be the main trouble today,
For a smooth central administration, it is important to take into consideration the person behind the helm of affairs in the past and hence it may be necessary to give the clan chiefs some secular duties but these should be so few that the possibility of returning to the pre-British Ebiraland Is completely removed.
Importantly, people should realize that although the Ebiras had no Central Chief (Central Political Leadership) from the beginning, nevertheless, they had some form of association which could be described as the “Confederation of the Ebira State”. Furthermore, there appeared to be no real unit (in the modern sense) but has the creation of the Central Chief brought about unity? If it has not, then something should be done and done quickly too.
In conclusion, the Ebiras had well established Confederal System of administration in the past: the chiefs together with the elders managed the affairs of the people satisfactorily, but that system may not work well today as a result of rapid changes course inevitable. However, the notion that the traditional chiefs should opt for the modem administrative machinery seems to overlook completely the Ebiras’ social and political backgrounds. It is therefore very necessary to look for an alternative form of administration that will take into account these backgrounds because the present system seems to be far from satisfactory!