Religious Beliefs of The Ebira’s and conception of Ohomorihi (God)
Although the Ebiras have no well-defined creation mythology, they strongly believe in a “supreme and indivisible God” who has overall powers over the universe and the gods and goddesses. This supreme God is believed to be the creator of all creation and has allowed both the good people and the evil doers to live side by side with one another in this world (called “Ehe”). When an Ebiraman wants to perform any ancestral worship or rituals, he starts his “Ozu” (blessing or prayer) with the name of the Supreme God, next to the earth, and lastly the gods and goddesses before evoking his ancestors’ names. this post is especially about the ebira religious belief.
To Ebiras, the gods/goddesses (called “Ori”) divide anything between the Supreme God and the earth, the god is therefore junior and subservient to the Supreme God. The Ebira’s have numerous influential recitations and verses describing the nature of the Supreme God. The Ebira concept of God is therefore expressed in one of these verses which people normally recite when performing ancestral worship or when a strange occurrence has taken place.
The Ebira concept of God:
|Ohomorihi Obatikere||The God almighty|
|Okoko kowukowu||All silent, all-seeing|
|Ogene mezina||He lies (in space) without any support|
|Ogodo godo onu voza ometu||He is so high that nobody’s hand can reach him|
|Ochichi mokareyi||He is silent but all judging.|
|Odu ajini suhuo tenyi||He allows misfortune to occur today, and tomorrow allows the reverse.|
The above verses describe very vividly the Ebira concept of God and a further explanation seems unnecessary. It is however important to remark that the Ebiras believe that the abode of the Supreme God Is the sky called “ebeba”. To reflect this theory, we have other names for God: “Adayi Ebeba” or Simply “Adayi eba”, “Ihineba”, and so on.
Ebira’s concept of the universe.
The Ebira concept of both God and the Universe seems complementary and inseparable. In order to make matters more exciting and understandable, we have decided to consider the two differently. The Ebira’s conceive the universe in three different but closely related perspectives or habitation. Out of these three “worlds”, two are visible and the third is conceived to be invisible. The visible ones are “Ehe” (the earth) and “ebeba” (the sky).
“Ehe” (the world/earth)
After creating the world (the earth), the Almighty God allows both the evildoers and good people to live together and enjoy the fruits of the soil, Within “ehe” itself, one side of it is “invisible” and this can only be reached by those skilled in witchcraft (called “opochi”) This “invisible” part of the world seems to regulate and interpret the daily activities of mankind and hence people associated with it are usually feared and, perhaps, respected too.
This theory has led the Ebiras (at least in the past) to engage actively in fortune-telling to counter the potency of those people known to be “invisible World “regulators”! it has also led the Ebiras to plead to the witchcraft for clemency whenever they were in any seemingly unsolvable problems in the past. Today, however, the powers ascribed to the “invisible” world “regulators” tend to be despised.
“Ebeba” (the sky)
As we have seen above, “ebeba” is regarded as the abode of the Supreme God. In “ebeba”, we have some important heavenly bodies – “Oyi” (the sun) is regarded as the “father” of the day, “uwhue” (the is regarded as the mother of the night, and “uzomi” (the stars). The Ebira’s seem to think that the above heavenly bodies exist in that order. The sun and the moon are placed in such a position by the Creator that they are incapable of meeting each other because an occurrence may be disastrous to mankind! Furthermore, the sun “travels” daily from one end of the horizon to the other and the journey of the sun takes place at the night!
The two expressions used to describe the daily “travels” of the sun are “oyi osuwhure” (the sun is set) and “oyi” osungwete” (the sun has entered the horizon-earth). The moon makes identical journeys but its path and its journey are the reverses of the Sun. The moon is very important to Ebiras because their calendar is strictly based on it. The only importance attached to the stars was that of determining the future of a child or any person. In fact, the Ebiras strongly believe that once one’s star is determined to be bright, no human being (not even the “invisible” world “regulators”) could have an adverse effect on the life of the child so determined!
“Idaneku” (heaven or the abode of the dead people)
The Ebiras conceive “idaneku” to be invisible and it lies probably below the earth. The simple explanation for this concept could be the fact that the dead are always buried in the ground! This third world is created for the good people and one cannot go there until one has performed all one’s duties in this world. This theory has led the Ebiras to believe that any person who dies “prematurely” will not go to “idaneku” straight but will only change his residence in order to finish his remaining missions or duties in this world.
As we have seen earlier in the chapter, evil-doers must confess their sins to the general public and ask for pardon. Consequently, an evil-doer at the point of death will have one of his/her legs in this world and the other in “idaneku”. He is so placed that he cannot enter into either and hence must do necessary “cleansing” before being accepted into “idaneku”! To the Ebiras, there is no hell as conceived by the two famous world religious tenets.
The “cleansing” stage of the evil-doers could be regarded as purgatory in Catholic terminology Although “idaneku” is not accessible very easily, people in this world can go there and come back at will the philosophy of reincarnation is already discussed. We shall conclude this section by re-emphasizing that the Ebiras do not consider all the evil-doers to be from the “Opochihood” as some of the people in the set are as good as the ordinary men. However, the majority of the evil-doers are believed to be from the “opochi” enclosure!
Ebiras also believe (as we have seen above) in life after death and contend that the dead have great Powers over the living, and these will come back to life. This was the chief reason why settlements undertaken by the Ebira masquerades in the past were accepted unequivocally as final. Unlike some tribes, before the advent of the Europeans to what later became Nigeria, which indulged human sacrifices, the Ebiras deplored such barbaric practices.
As affirmed by Mockler Ferryman (1892:14L): “Cannibalism is not practiced by the Igbirras”. To label the Ebiras therefore as pagans are unjustifiable as some mediocre Christians and Moslem leaders wrongly believe. Furthermore, their degree of animism is not as repugnant and pronounced as these religious leaders claim. In fact, all accusations seem to stem from arrant ignorance. In Addition, the Ebiras claim that their traditional religion was/is more human and righteous than the imported two famous world religious sects (Islam and Christianity)
Morohunfola (1970: 96) emphasized that:
When I questioned an elder person in a village, he told me there
was no essential difference between either Christianity or Islam
and his own traditional religion.. He added quite pointedly,
however, that whereas his own religion forbade lying and
cheating and other social evils, the new imported religions
appear to admit or at least condone all these vices.
This passage expresses very vividly what the Ebiras generally think about their own traditional religion and the two imported religions – Islam and Christianity. The Ebira’s believe that the present predicaments and social injustices pervading Ebiraland might have come about as a result of the people’s deviation from the traditional religion, thereby creating precedence for the new but imported religions.
Ancestral and “Ori” worship
Despite the fact that the Ebiras believe in One Supreme God, they worship other deities. Ancestral worship was very important in their traditional religion. Such worships were normally directed by oracles and fortune-tellers and there seemed to be no time limit for such worships. In addition to the daily or periodic worships (depending on fortune-telling), there was/is yearly ancestral worship at one of the feasts already discussed. Such worships were/are normally carried out in kindred.
The Ebiras also worship “Ori” (gods or goddesses). Most of these gods and goddesses are very local indeed and Some “powerful” people had theirs! Nearly all clans in Ebiraland (in the past) had their gods whose Function was to look after the clans and their belongings; some of these gods had their temples or nomes in the clans’ lands. In Ihima and Eganyi however, they have a “supreme and central god” called “Ori Ihima” and “Ori Eganyi” respectively in these districts. The Ebira’s look at these gods in human terms who, like people, eat and dress, hence all sacrifices to them usually reflect this notion. Most of these gods are connected with farming and hunting, the two principal pursuits of Ebiramen.
Origin of “Ori” in Ebiraland
The Origin of “Ori” in Ebiraland is very obscure. Generally, it appears to follow the same pattern as That of Some primitive tribes’ inability to explain some natural phenomena and thereby believe in Superstition and sacrifices to avoid any calamity. Many gods (Ori) in Ebiraland were Instituted in this way. “Ori” in this category includes the worship of the African Python or the Rock Python (“Ewu Obanyi”) believed to cause rainbow!; the worship of “Uko” (a small lake usually at the crest of a hill or in a usual place) Idukukoro at Okene for instance.
Some “oris” were instituted after some remarkable events which put an end to a calamity somehow, giving rise to some sort of “thanksgiving” and repeated often to give rise to routine worship. These type of “Oris are not numerous “Ori” Adobe at Okeneba (Okene) is a good example. The last types of “Oris” were instituted on the advice of some fortune-tellers.
There are very many and they take several forms: a tree and in particular the iroko, a lake,, Spring, land, a palm tree, and so on. The modern Ebiras Seem to repudiate all these beliefs and hence “Oris” consciousness has diminished accordingly
Strictly speaking, “ori” were/are not worshiped in the true sense of the word but sacrifices were/are offered to them normally through the advice of oracles in order to avert any form of catastrophe in the clan or locality. “Oris” are also called upon to save the people in times of famine, epidemic, or invasion. These sacrifices may be made in order to have some animals on a hunting expedition or to have a good harvest in the year. The Ebira’s strongly believe that animals are generally looked after by gods and in order to have some during a hunting expedition, the consent of these gods is indispensable.
Only males are allowed to enter the temples of “ori”. Women (not even the “super” ones) are completely barred from reaching such sacred areas either at the time of worship or any other time. Women, however, do take part in jubilation before and after the “ori” worship but not in the actual rituals. The chief priests were mostly the traditional chiefs but usually appointed some prefects to carry out their work. For instance, Obobanyi Anemani is the chief priest for “ori” Ihima, although the actual work is done by the “Onutu ori” (god’s messenger) selected (or appointed) yearly through the help of oracles.
The chief priests were regarded as a mediator between the clan(s) on the one hand and the gods on the other and hence they were highly respected. In Eganyi and Ihima districts, there is a routine of yearly “ori” worship at the Echori festival.