Is Eleme Ogoni?
By Dimkpa Alale
I recently studied the book The Ogoni of Eastern Niger Delta published in 2020 and written by Sonpie Kpone-Tonwe, a renowned clergyman and retired university teacher from the History and Diplomatic Studies Department, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I have carefully presented my observations in this article.
According to Kpone-Tonwe (2020:29) traditional rulership at Ogoni if not hereditary has been hereditary this was not and is not the case at Eleme as the traditional rulership there are generally governed by meritocracy. Thus when an incumbent passes on the stool leaves his family to the family of the preferred and selected successor upon being chosen by kingmakers or stakeholders. An example after the passing of HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Walter Gbute Ngegwe of Ejii clan in 1970 he was succeeded by HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Oji Awala of Agbi and upon Oji’s passage, HRH Ɛmԑrԑ Godwin Bebe Okpabi of Ejii clan succeeded him in 2008. It has been established that like in the Igbani land Eleme has always allowed children of immigrants to pilot the affairs of their land when found worthy of the task. For instance, Ejii clan of Ogale holds her heritage from Ajoor through Egbere Owaekara but over the years has produced up to six Ͻnԑ Ɛԑ Ɛta Ogale – Paramount Ruler of Ogale.
The practice or once practiced matrilineal inheritance at Ogoni Kpone-Tonwe (2020:115) through Biake in which one of the daughters of a man who has no male child is either compelled or persuaded not to marry but bear children in the name of her father living or dead is strange at Eleme. It is a known fact that when a male or female fathers or gives birth out of wedlock respectively, the families are somewhat stigmatized and as such using Eson Ekeabie in Eleme or the ogwelogwa mediumlargely between Ogale and Agbonchia people.
The practice of going to Nama to be initiated for the final rites of Gbene as reported as a compulsory requirement at Ogoni is strange at Eleme as there is neither any known legend connecting any Eleme warrior to Nama nor the knowledge of Nama in Eleme but for through interaction with the Ogoni through physical contacts, literature and technology.
Across the Ogoni there is a common practice of Amanikpo however, this culture remains unfamiliar to Eleme people.
At Ogoni, marriage, childbirth and burial processes are largely individual or family projects whereas at Eleme it is either family or communal projects no wonder when a member of the community dies including a child, there is usually a community holiday to identify with the immediate family of the deceased and relatives are obliged adequately contribute to the projects. Years back, people of the same clan collectively assist a kith and kin during the building of his or her ancient mud and thatch house without pay.
The traditional yam title and wrestling competitions at Eleme are completely different from those at Ogoni. For instance, there are five categories of these and they are listed as A-achu, Obo, Obere Obo, Achuete and Ewuo Achunsi and climax is the attainment of Emerengwe title.
Eleme people are largely made up of the aborigines and pockets of immigrants from Ogoni, Igbo and Ijaw who over the years have naturalized and have never been discriminated against in the comity of things. It becomes necessary to respect the brotherhood relationship between Eleme and great Ogoni. The Igbo having keenly observed the attitude of Eleme people and their richly endowed land simply described her as Marama. Some persons have described Eleme as America for instance, between 1950 and 1960 at Agbonchia; a loyal Igbo resident named Okoroma from Nkwerre was awarded a scholarship by the Ogbo Mkpͻrͻ Agbonchia instead of C. C. Okpa who was a prominent indigene. This can only happen in a civilized society.
Across the world particularly in America, there is Africa American, Jewish American, Indian America among others. The former President of America, Barrack Obama had accepted his Kenyan ancestry but does that make him less American? Science says the chemical reaction is irreversible and therefore when one exists it is believed that mutual respect and cooperation are more important.
The people of Ogoni have three migration theories and Kpone-Tonwe (2020:97) has listed as:
- Migration from Ghana
- Migration from Ibibio
- Tradition of autochthony
Of the three listed, two connects them to people of larger ethnicity but what is important is neither does Ghana which is far away nor Ibibio which is close lay claim to her in terms of persuading her to lose her own Ogoni identity and accept common identity with the larger group and this include not even for a common good. However, what has become difficult to understand are the consistent moves to subsume the Eleme people by the larger group. Many times the great Ogoni has expressed reservation in fraternizing with the Igbo group over the perceived desire of the latter to subsume her. Is it not wise to believe that Eleme shares this same sentiment and has chosen to cooperate on other issues save for the one that could compromise its identity or ethnicity?
Two brothers, Lenee and Giokpee, who escaped from Gokana because Lenee’s wife gave birth to twins and he was also to be killed because he was accused of having physical contacts with the mother and the babies. Lenee quickly escaped from Gokana at night being accompanied with his brother Giokpee. I sat down at a place and declare ‘Msi-an’ ‘Where am I going?’(Kpone-Tonwe, 2020:141)
This theory states that he escaped for his life and those of his family and founded a community of his own. Now having escaped deprivation, humiliation, rejection, and death according to you, what moral justification do a people who have rejected him to his fate have to lay claim to him and his family when he escaped death? Assuming this theory was true, how do we juxtapose this with the theological proclamation that old things have passed away and everything is new? – 2 Cor. 5:17