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Published On: Tue, Jul 24th, 2018

Mythology Of Right Hand And Its Significant In Urhobo Culture


LAGOSJULY 24TH (URHOBOTODAY))-Today, we want to look at the beliefs, customs and traditions, the culture of the Urhobo people attached to the right hand and its cultural significance to modern living in Urhobo land. Therefore, the scope of this article shall cover but not limited to the beliefs and traditions of the right hand in Urhobo culture and its cultural significance in relation to Urhobo mythology and cosmology. Without doubt, the Urhobo culture like every other culture in other parts of Nigeria and Africa is very dynamic and revolutionary.
Our major focus here is look intently into the beliefs and traditions of the right hand according to the Urhobo culture, using symbols and other literary devices to drive home my points or arguments.
In Urhobo mythology, we believe that the right hand is a representation of paternal children (emo-emeshare) while the left hand is a representation of maternal children (emo-emete). Urhobo as an ethnic group is classified as a patrilineal society. A society or ethnic group that places much importance or preference on male children than female ones. The Urhobos so much believe that male children (emeshare) are prepared for inheritance and the continuity of family progeny and ancestral lineage while the female children (emete) according to the Urhobo culture are destined to be married to any place or people. And immediately marriage has taken place, you lose hold of female children. From that very moment, the female children seize to be your inheritance anymore. They now belong to another family. Therefore, the Urhobos referred to the male children as “right hand” while the female children are grouped as “left hand”. In Urhobo culture, we propagate gender inequality to an extent of regarding it as a sexual abuse. This is noticed from the way some Urhobo parents address their female children, even both at home and in the public.
Secondly, the Urhobos believe that the right hand is a symbol of prosperity and success in life. In Urhobo culture, whenever an Urhobo man raises his right hand to greet people in a cultural gathering or social function, it shows such a person is prosperous and successful in life. On the other hand, an Urhobo man that is biologically and physically fit to use his right hand but chooses to use his left hand to greet people in a ceremony, it shows that, that person is dangerous or evil in life.
In Urhobo culture, it is only a war-lord (Ogbu) that uses his left hand to greet people in an occasion. In most cases, such greetings are subjected to questioning by also brave people or elders in such occasion. In the same way, normal and successful people drink with right hands while evil and dangerous people drink with left hands in ceremonies. If you are not in the group of war-lords, the Urhobo culture does not permit one to drink with left hand. Some time ago, in my community, a young man was fined by the elders for drinking with the left hand. As he was questioned, he couldn’t defend himself and he was fined heavily for abusing the use of the left hand to drink in the public.
Also, the Urhobo culture does not allow Urhobo people to have handshake with one another with left hands. Handshaking is a form of greeting in Urhobo land for people of almost the same age grades. Only the right hand is permitted by the Urhobo culture to have handshake with other people. However, people that greet with left hands are classified according to Urhobo culture as people that belong to a kind of traditional cult e.g Igbu (war-lords) and Ebo (herbalists), Ilorogun (traditional chiefs) in Urhobo land. Apart from such people, every other persons are to greet or have handshake with the right hand.
Thirdly, the Urhobos believe that the right hand is the source of life (Akpeyere) or destiny (Otarhe). In the story of creation or evolution of man according to Urhobo cosmology, man was created by the Supreme Being (Oghene). He gave man after he was created, a lump of native chalk (Orhe) in his right hand. The lump of native chalk God gave man in his right hand is his destiny and source of life. Therefore, spiritually according to the Urhobo culture, once one’s right hand is cut off in a dream, is a symbol of bad omen or slavery and poverty in life. From the Urhobo creation story, many Urhobo people will agree with me that whenever our elders want to serve the ancestors represented in this form with special tied sticks (Epho), they as a matter of cultural law in Urhobo land, must use the right hand to draw the three lines on the tied sticks with the powdered native chalk. The three lines symbolizes the Urhobo trinity of the body (ugboma), spirit or soul (erhi) and the planet of the dead (erivwi) as three persons in one enclave. In Urhobo cultural practices, no right-handed elder in a family is allowed to serve ancestors with the left hand. It is a bad omen for the children of such families. Also, in Urhobo land, elders always frown at children that receive gifts from them with left hands. In the same way too, people are not permitted by the Urhobo cultural standard to give loved ones gifts with left hands except such a gift is an evil gift.
Fourthly, the Urhobos believe that the right hand is a symbol of freeborn or indigene while the left hand is a symbol of slavery or stranger. In Urhobo culture, we so much believe in lineage identification or hurtful history telling. This happens in most cases when family properties like lands are shared for farming purposes or other inheritance like a traditional stool in a family or community. In this case, you must be made to trace your family lineage to at least the fourth generation before you can convince the people that you are truly part of their inheritance. I also had a gleeful experience when we went to share a family land in my paternal family at Uwheru, the elders of the family asked us (the youths) to trace our lineage on how we linked to the family land. Those that couldn’t trace their family history were deprived of sharing the land at the end. They didn’t have a portion in that inheritance. Therefore, in Urhobo culture, the right hand makes you an indigene or a freeborn of a particular place. It is a symbol of origin and originality. In ancient time in Urhobo land and in the days of the British slave trade in Nigeria, wealthy people and influential traditional rulers bought slaves which they use in domestic or agricultural activities. After the death of their masters, such slaves were usually treated with disdain in the family and also deprived of the master’s inheritance. Such slaves are classified under the “left hand” in Urhobo culture. They cannot vote or be voted for in Urhobo traditional or cultural settings. They cannot be made kings or chiefs or family elders in the community. In such times as when human sacrifice was in vogue, such people (slaves and strangers) were being sacrificed to deities to make them more active and powerful especially war deities in a family or community. That is why the Urhobo would say, “indigene cannot be sacrificed on the land.” Sacrificing an indigene to a deity or deliberate killing of an indigene in Urhobo land is treated as a taboo and the Urhobo nemesis always fight this sinful act by infesting the culprit with swollen body or the spirit of madness. Except the evil doer confesses, he or she can’t be cured of those strange sicknesses.
Conclusively, in today’s discourse, we have done the little that time permitted us to do. We are able to unravel the mysteries behind the beliefs and traditions of the right hand in Urhobo culture. Now, in all the beliefs and traditions as symbolically examined above, their cultural significance is that, cultural innovation which is the essence of modern education today has made us to know that the two hands, that is, the right hand and the left hand are of equal significance or importance to every man. Both the right hand and the left hand are useful to us; we can’t do without any of them. They are important like every other part of our bodies. This is why, the Urhobo maestro singer, Mr. Nathaniel Oruma in one of his albums sang that, the right hand is hand and the left hand is also hand. According to this singer, any of the two hands that is cut off, makes a man to be incomplete in life.
However, I want to conclude this short article by advising the Urhobo people especially our traditional leaders and political leaders to stop hurtful history telling and clique to modern standard of living which is internationally acceptable to people and different ethnic groups around the world. For instance, the recent hate speech or that fictitious publication against the person of the UPU president-general, Chief Moses Taiga, tracing his lineage and origin (hurtful history telling) to Kiagbodo in Ijaw land was doctored or written as a result of hurtful history telling or perverse lineage tracing by some evil-minded persons among us in order to create loopholes to remove the man from the position. It’s embarrassing! More importantly, Urhobo is part of the civilized world. In a civilized world or society, the people and their activities are naturally guided by legitimate and fundamental principles and processes e.g a written constitution. Such a constitution must be honoured and respected by every institution, whether traditional or government.
Why am I saying this? In my own way of life, I had a very harsh and horrible experience as a responsible Nigerian citizen. In that, the community I am residing at the moment has deprived me citizenship and indigenous rights time without numbers for the fact that, I’m not a full indigene of the community but only a step-child or a stranger as they regarded me to be. This is a place I have been living for the past thirty years now. My mother took me there in my childhood when she contracted a second marriage. I have even ruled the youth section of the community in my little capacity as Secretary and has been contributing to their cultural, financial and human development every time. Yet, they never accepted me fully as one of their own. In this very ugly situation, where do they expect me to pack to after all these years? In fact, according to the 1999 Nigerian constitution as amended, the said community supposed to grant me full indigenous and citizenship rights since I have willfully and consciously decided to live with them; even in this case for more than ten years now as stated in our constitution.
If our various communities and the entire Urhobo nation must develop fast like our counterparts in other parts of Delta state, we must forget about this hurtful history telling and perverse lineage tracing. On a serious note, I’m not against our elders telling our youths their histories of origin, lineage or progeny, traditions and beliefs of their communities. I encouraged such a traditional education and cultural orientation among our people. What I’m against is telling these children histories to dis-arm some persons that could contribute meaningfully to the development of our communities just because of personal aggrandizement or selfish interests or enmity. These are nothing but modern tools of division or dis-unity crafted by some sections of our leaders and elders to scatter the Urhobo people. Let us respect the two hands God created in our bodies as human beings. They are symbolic and unique in the Urhobo culture!
Young Erhiurhoro; Kjc is a reporter and a member of the Urhobo Historical Society.

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  1. Beautiful and well researched write up Thanks

  2. This is a brilliant piece. And it’s very enlightening. Great history preserved. Thank you.

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