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Published On: Wed, Oct 24th, 2018

Application Of Deities In Dispute Resolution: Uwheru As Case Study


By Young Erhiurhoro
LAGOS OCTOBER 24TH (URHOBOTODAY)-Before the advent of Christianity and modern education in Urhobo land, the Urhobo people like other ethnic groups in Nigeria evolved different means of resolving disputes that has to do with producing offenders, liars and evil doers among themselves whenever such cases arises. These different means of finding out wrong doers and liars is done through swearing to deities and ancestral spirits.
Such act was corroborated by Professor David Okpako in one of his papers titled, “Emuerivwin: An Urhobo belief that links serious illness to bad behavior. According to hm, “The belief that dead ancestors control moral behavior of their descendants is widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. In Urhobo culture, this belief has survived as a formal institution probably more so than in other Nigerian cultures.”
In other words, the system was a form of traditional judicial system in ancient times. In this case, all the soothsayers and traditional medicine men in the community might have been consulted to bring out the truth or the offender but to no avail. The only option left for the elders was to mandate those involved in the matter to swear to such deities or ancestral spirits which they believed had the power to find out the truth. Cases like theft, land disputes, incest, witchcraft, murder, oppression etc involving two or more people were usually determined by this very traditional process in those days.
How does this traditional process work? This judicial system of swearing to deities and ancestral spirits worked when these spiritual entities pass judgment based on justice and truth by infesting the offender, culprit or liar in this case with an incurable strange sickness hat would defy all possible herbal treatments. The truth would then be revealed if the victim confessed to the evil committed against his fellow brother or sister as a result of the strange sickness. The fear of the sickness and death would make the victim to confess to the elders and heads of the family for forgiveness.
The victim can also die a sudden death, even in his or her own house. When such deaths occurred, without even consulting a soothsayer or seer, the elders have already known the cause of the death. Once somebody dies in the accuser’s family or the accuser himself dies, people would know he accused the opponent falsely and they must appease the deity as fast as they could in order to prevent further sudden deaths upon members of that family. Thereafter, the person accused falsely that was already venerated by the deities must also be appeased or begged. The family of the accuser must tender unreserved public apology to the accused and his family in the community ancestral hall, probably on a market day of the community.
In those days, this traditional judicial system of swearing to deities and ancestral spirits was very much prevalent in many communities across Urhobo land as posited by Professor Okpako in his paper. Each community has its own deities and its judicial systems. However, the focus of this short discourse is on Uwheru Kingdom, one of the populous and large kingdom in Urhobo land. Population statistics in Uwheru Kingdom shows that over seventy percent of the people are Christians while the remaining thirty percent belong to other religious groups. In such a Christian dominated society, the crude method of swearing to deities and ancestral spirits to determine truth should no longer be a welcome and celebrated religious practice among the people. But the baffling aspect of this evil practice is that, majority of those that swear to these deities and ancestral spirits are Christians and not even the so-called pagans in the community.
It is really alarming in this era of civilization and globalization that the leadership of Uwheru Kingdom would allow her indigenes to partake in this evil practice just because they want the truth to be said. Without doubt, this crude and evil practice has claimed thousands of young and old people from the kingdom unknown to us. So many people had died because they swore to a deity or an ancestral spirit. This evil system is also a hidden avenue for evil people like witches, wizards and evil herbalists to perpetuate wickedness in the land in the name of a deity or ancestral god.

What is the way forward? First and foremost, to combat this evil monster and enemy of death, the leadership of Uwheru, that is the Odion’Ode, Uwheru Council of Chiefs, president general, women leaders, youth leaders and Uwheru indigenes in the diaspora should join forces together to fight this war.
The Odion’Ode-in-Council should call a meeting of the entire kingdom to put a ban on the swearing to deities and ancestral spirits in the entire Uwheru kingdom. This was also done in some communities in Urhobo land before. For instance, Ofoni community, a community of Ughelli Kingdom situated in Bayelsa state. The community leadership took a pro-active measure to stop this system when they discovered that the system was not beneficial to their peaceful co-existence as a people of the same ancestry.
Uzere Kingdom in Isoko also took such action against one of such deities known as Eni in their community, believed to have powers to prove witches and wizards in those pre-colonial and colonial periods. It was very popular in those days until the government proscribed it from operations. In Ewu Kingdom too, swearing to deities and ancestral spirits to pass judgment was banned by the community leadership.
Another important solution to this problem in the land is that, Christian leaders in the kingdom should enlightened their members on the effects of swearing to deities and ancestral spirits. They must boldly point it to them in their Biblical teachings that, God is completely against swearing as a means to seek redress and justice.
As follow up, prayer conference should be called by Uwheru indigenous Christians both at home and in the diaspora to seek the face of God in the land. It is a medium to pray for forgiveness and to also repose the spirits of those that were killed by deities and ancestral spirits in the land. This prayer conference can also serve as an avenue for such aggrieved people to reconcile with those they tagged as enemies. It’s a way to broker peace and love among the people.
Conclusively, Uwheru is a respected kingdom in Urhobo land, in Delta state and in Nigeria at large. Uwheru is reputed for producing great academics all over the country. Today, the world has grown over those archaic and crude ways of doing things in ancient times. We are in a modern and global world where justice is secured through modern judicial systems.
Young Erhiurhoro;Kjc is a reporter and a member of the Urhobo Historical Society.

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