History of ‘Ofe Mbo Owa’ by the Church Community
Samuel O. Onungwe
Ofe Mbo Owa customarily known as Ofe Mbo Eta E-i was centrally performed by oku eta – male adults of the community and presided by the Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Ɛta until early 1970 when the Seventh-day Adventist Church Community at Ogale withdrew from joint participation. This action occurred when Elder Meshack O. Onungwe JP was Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Ɛta Church Ogale. The church community took the decision in reaction to their perceived marginalization whenever Ofe Mbo Eta E-i was performed. In those days, eight (8) tins (about 20 litres) of palm wine each were presented to the community by the family of the bridegroom out of which one tin was the prerogative of the Ͻnԑ ebo O’e (sub-clan head). Others were two crates of soft drinks (mineral), a bottle of seaman gin (mmi tale ogon) and one native gin (kaikai). However, the community would offer four (4) bottles out of the 48 bottles to the Seventh-day Adventist Church community which makes up a large chunk of the natives even when the church community was restrained by her beliefs not to share in the hard drinks among others. Hence, at the Ofe Mbo Eta E-i ceremony in honour of Esther Sam Ejii Snr., the church community decided to pull out of the central communal Ofe Mbo Owa E-i in order to address the said marginalization. This action aggrieved stakeholders (oku eta) therefore; the community messenger, Abel Amadi (CID) was sent to the church community. His duty was to find out the motive for the revolt against an established order of Ofe Mbo Eta E-i. The church community warmly received him, offered him a seat and asked him to join in the ceremony if he was interested. Reasons for their action were narrated to oku eta under the traditional leadership of HRH Ɛmԑrԑ W. Gbute Ngegwe, Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Eleme VIII and Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Ɛta Ogale X and the matter was put to rest. Since then, it became a tradition that the church community could observe Ofe Mbo Owa separately from oku eta. Hence, when a child fostered or fathered by a church member is given out in marriage, the father of the bride may invite the church community – married male members to perform the rite if he is a church member or call on the traditional community. There have been occasions where a particular man by virtue of his association may invite the community to observe such rite for some of her children and in another case invite the church, at his own discretion. This tradition was never challenged throughout the reign of HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Oji Awala (1970-2007) who succeeded HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Ngegwe until 2008 when HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Godwin Bebe-Okpabi succeeded Ɛmԑrԑ Oji. However, he was informed that it had become established tradition (Onanaenu) and that was how he distanced himself from the matter. The debate on this subject had continually abated as some persons feel aggrieved that since the church remains the sole beneficiary of its tithes and offerings, it should give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar as Biblically ordained. Some even accused the church of transgression for depriving the traditional community of its right to Ofe Mbo Eta E-i. However, an elder statesman and religious leader, Elder Jerry DeeOlaka offers some explanation on the matter:
His Majesty, Ɛmԑrԑ Walter Gbute Ngegwe approved of Adventist Church body in Ogale to perform the blood covenant rite over daughters sired in their blood in the early 1970. This was in recognition that marriage and indeed the blood covenant rite is a Spiritual passage. There was protest at that time but it was handled in the light of superior knowledge and against the understanding and recognition of Higher Spiritual Order of God Almighty (Obari-Jineh, being God, recognised by the church as ‘Only God’) But as God above other gods within Eleme cosmology and belief system. The fathers this generation looks down upon as living in the darkness, unquestionably, had much light when it comes to Spiritual and indeed, issues to do with sociology and system of working order of knowledge, light and life.
In Eleme as common in Africa, traditionally, the dead are not severed from the living but only transited into the spirit realm. Hence, the dead may appear in dreams to pass a message to the living just as the people may pass messages to the ancestors during libation and prayers. Therefore, when a daughter is grown and being married from the family, Ofe Mbo Eta E-i (literally, killing of goat) represents the fact that both the living and the departed members of the community are witnesses to that activity. Although the activity may be carried out at a place called Nsin Ejin – where some hard woods are partly buried on the family land which represents the ancestral shrine, slitting the throat of the goat can definitely be done in any part of the family land irrespective of Nsin Ejin and yet serve the same purpose. There is a distinction between Nsin Ejin and Nsin Ejor; the latter means before or in the presence of a deity. Ofe Mbo Eta E-i is a testament to a daughter or descendant being customarily married and witnessed by both the living and the departed once the goat’s throat has been slit and its blood spilt on the ground. Ofe Mbo Owa ceremony is spiritual such that should the bride passes away any time after the goat’s throat has been slit the bridegroom can be allowed to bury the deceased at his own residence or on his family land. Hence, it has been established that the she goat which is usually a healthy fat one that had given birth before or castrated he goat is symbolically given in exchange to the bride. Some believe that the she goat is preferred to the castrated goat because it depicts fertility. However, the goat must not be pregnant. Marriage brings multiplication and the use of a pregnant goat results in the destruction of a foetus which is a violation of ‘thou shall not kill’ injunction and ‘do unto others what you expect of them’. By this, Eleme unlike the Esan of Edo, Urhobo of Delta, Sagbama of Bayelsa and Kalabari of Rivers States does not accept the corpse of her daughter once given out in marriage except the marriage was ill-fated and of course formally dissolved. This activity does not in any form constitute idolatry but simply an established tradition whose origin is immemorial and which is one of the rites that must be performed to consummate marriage otherwise, churches would not observe it. In fact, before the goat is slit, prayers are offered to the Supreme Deity, the Almighty God who Himself ordained marriage for companionship, procreation and ethical or spiritual purity at creation to bless the marriage by prospering the couple. The throat of the goat is then carefully and quickly slit with a well sharpened machete in order not elongate the pains it would suffer during the process, roasted to remove the hairs on its skin, butchered and shared according to tradition among the participants in a meal of yam. The neck of the goat is an exclusive preserve of the bride. She is then obliged to cut it into fractions, fry and distribute the pieces among her friends and relatives to demonstrate her change of status from being singlehood to married hood. Some persons may have witnessed occasions where certain sum of money is required in addition to the goat. This happens when the goat does not meet the standard for such ceremony. Hence it is customary to demand such money to make up for an identified deficiency or deficiencies as approved by the community elders upon their return from a brief stand-up but confidential meeting known as osi-eken ola.
Ɛmԑrԑ Amenya C. Osaro corroborates this when he reiterates that from the day of the Ofe Mbo Eta E-i, the bride is declared properly married. “If anything happens before the conclusion of the marriage, the lady remains the bona fide property (sic) of the man.” He then recommends that such a day calls for a remarkable celebration on the part of the bride, friends and the entire families. On that day, the bride should be adorned, showcased and the traditional drumming of Ngelem should grace the ceremony. The bride may be carried shoulder high and well decorated even with Mgbetee the emblem of victory – white handkerchief in her hand, waving and smiling to the crowd. Invitation to friends, relatives and well wishers should be circulated before the remarkable day. Assorted gift items could and should be presented to the couple. Food should be made available to invitees as well. “It will not be out of place to escort the bride to her new home – the husband’s house at the end of the day with the usual native wetee anjee…hee…hee..one ee owas nye chuara…hee…hee…hee…. This could be performed in broad day light since the nights are now unsafe.” The bride does not needs not to escort the bridegroom after Ojaonu as being practiced now, mutual feeding and that bride carrying a cup of palm wine in search of the bridegroom are not part of Eleme culture.