OGORI PEOPLE, THEIR CULTURE AND ASPIRATIONS By Arc. Matthew Oseborega Onoba(fnia)

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Introduction

Culture as a word, concept or topic for academic exposition is best handled by sociologists, historians or anthropologists. In spite of this however, a perspective can always be thrown in from a user definable angle, or from a ‘because I am involved’ stand point.

From Wikipedia and the Standard English Dictionary, we can see clearly from ‘the basics’ that : ‘Culture is the social behaviour and norms found in human societies, their way of life, the set of customs, traditions, and values of such a society or community’.

There are no written codes of the Ogori culture, our customs have generally been passed down from generation to generation, more by practise and oral tradition than from any formal inculcation.

The Ogori people with their ‘sibling community’, the Magongos, are a highly educated, industrious and expressly religious group of people. We are also very peaceful notwithstanding that we are fearless and courageous, especially when truth gets ‘stood on edge’.

History has it that the trajectory of the ‘Nupe conquest’ of the areas from present day Kwara to Kogi State was unimpeded until they got to Ogori! The Nupes did leave us a bit of their own culture, may be, more in frustration than in conquest. I have the Nupe facial marks for instance.

Culture is dynamic, understandably so. It implies that Culture, the ways of life of a people is always subject to the vagaries of change. The ‘rate and quantum’ of this change is a product of many variables. A number of our traditions have changed overtime to keep up pace with the changing times. Some others have become obsolete and untenable. Our Oko language has undergone a lot of metamorphosis by omission or by commission.

How we built houses, How we practice(d) agriculture, the names we bear, Our belief systems, Our affinities, Our mores, folklores, ethos, Our Art expressions, our traditional  Dances, Our religious inclinations, Our Customs, traditions and Value systems, etc. Over the years, the Culture of Ogori has had to, or more emphatically stated, has been subject(ed) to change! The Society we live in today gets more complex by the day. Advancement in the Sciences and the Arts has led to the explosion of Knowledge and Information.

Today, whole libraries and real-time linkages to other cultures, far and near, are always at arms-length just by way of hand-held devices! Access to information has become express and unlimited. The delivery of information in today’s world is a heartbeat away! Social behaviours, as well as the Sciences and the Arts have just as much become complex in today’s world. What this means is that the Ogori of today is in several ways different from the Ogori of One century ago, even ten years ago!

The Ogori of today co-exists with a world that is completely different from what it was, one, two, ten decades ago. Our identity, however, as a people, as a tribe, as a society and community, remains intact, we remain Ogorians!

The Ogori person, drawing inference from our ‘anthem’, can be seen as a cross breed of, the native Oko, the polite Yoruba and the very urbane English personae. As such, they ‘goko, goyibo fiyoba pileyepan’ (will speak Oko, English and summate in Yoruba). He or she is a good mix-creation and a unique hybrid of the ‘ancient and the modern’.

The Ogori personality of today is therefore that of a thorough bred native African who is a well schooled, highly articulate and bold individual, an embodiment of a well cultured person. Wherever you see the fabled ‘complete gentleman’ or woman, check closely, he or she may just be an Ogorian!  The Ogori person is mostly, always, ‘very well brought up’! Over the ages, the Ogori people have evolved, they have weathered many storms, conquered kingdoms and overcome innumerable subtle attempts, real or imagined, at the subjugation of their culture.

Although, housed within a small geographical space, the Ogori nation is small numerically but mighty in deed, antecedent, progress and history. Ogori has been at the forefront of National Development prior to and in years following the nation’s independence. For instance, we had our own Professor JS Odama, an eminent Ogori son, as a Secondary school student, prior to independence, selected based on merit, to represent Northern Nigeria at the ‘Empire Day’ celebrations of the Commonwealth at the UK.

Ogori boasts of a number of prominent first or top three positions in several fields of endeavour on the National scale -the Military, Education, Human and Veterinary Medicine, Humanities, Meteorology, Administration, Law, etc.

How does a close knit Community such as ours therefore, cope with the barrage of change agents that always threaten to ‘tear’ the Society, the Community, its people, in a million directions? How malleable can a Culture be, how resilient can it be to withstand these forces?  Change is an inevitable constant. Change can be for good or can be for bad. Can be in the positive or negative direction, desirable or non-desirable. In the past few years, Ogori has had its fair share of changes. The good, the bad, the ugly.

For instance, a few years ago, a new Social Phenomenom called  ‘Egben gwe’ appeared on our landscape . It was a new culture of misdemeanour of some unruly youth being able to rudely challenge their senior ones, irrespective of the lessons the latter are trying to  pass across.  It was a direct affront on our fabled respect for values, for the elderly and for institutions. A simple answer of ‘bros, egben gwe ro’, was enough to wave off the best of intentions. This I understand was also the case several decades previous. The reaction of the community to this malaise then, was well captured by the eregba exponent when he sang:

Ikiris’ egue no ro, utun me ki siye . Biki wa’ beta, ikiris’ ikirisa, ne s’ Ogor ‘ ebe. Oben sin esin  esin, afore kal’ikom, oben’ a korese, aka bes’ ebuke . One wa bor’ oyayan, yepan’ ewa k’ agbala. Odio naba, anab’ egbele kwe roho. (A message to three rascals in the community to ‘go get a life’ and be gainfully employed).

What makes us unique? Our language, Our numbers system. our Ovia Osese festival, our eregba & ogegen n’esen. Our agricultural cooperative practises, our home ownership practises, our love for education, our succession and inheritance practises, Our sports-eba oteta (e.g. Aiyemide’s ‘ayo game’ exploits at the state level), onin’onini, volleyball, athletics, soccer. Our kingship structure. Our unique tribal marks.

It is said that ‘a city set on a hill can never be hid’, we are set on a minimum of three hills! Over the ages, we have moved from ‘every household a warrior’ to  ‘every household a trader or a farmer’ to ‘every household a weaving loom’ to ‘every household a graduate’ to ‘every other household a professor’, and now may be, ‘to every household, three Pastors’!  Our thrift society systems (adasi), Our ‘ade’ industry, our new yam festivals, our songs, our native intelligence, .. we, certainly are a well cultured people,..the way we bury the dead (two burials!), our communal efforts, our unique geography, tourism, our conflict resolution strategies, respect for institutions and constituted authority, our cohesion and smooth transition dynamics, Our religious beliefs- reincarnation for instance. etc.  A couple of examples here will suffice:

Respect for elders and institutions: We have respect not only for traditional institutions but also for elders. There were locations you passed through and was ‘advised’ not to utter a word or pick a pebble! The town crier would pass a message from the Ologori that ‘nobody goes to the farm tomorrow’ and that was it.

I was reminded of a situation some years ago. I was passing by and I saw two highly respected Chiefs and elders seated. Chief ES Osiako and Chief AO Ogbodo. Beyond being eminent citizens, Babas, High Chiefs, these two had been our teachers and Headmasters at different times in the past at the Primary School level. How do you walk past without stopping to prostrate and greet? I stopped and paid my respect.

Then, Chief ES Osiako turned to Chief Ogbodo and told the story of an event between him and me in the past… I was a student at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. Chief  ES Osiako had come in too as a student. Not a written law, but tradition demanded that I went and paid respect by way of greetings. I strolled over to his hostel of residence on a particular Saturday evening and I met him washing his clothes!  I ‘demanded’ to continue the wash and for another five minutes we ‘struggled and argued’ over who would complete the wash. Chief refused and I felt so uncomfortable I had to ‘cut-short’ my visitation, (I could not just stand by and watch my eminent person wash clothes), but Chief was impressed and he relayed the story back to Chief Ogbodo. To me it was the natural thing to do, it is the way we were brought up, being an undergraduate meant little beside our traditional value systems.

Another simple example for me would be this: I do not, indeed cannot, take a telephone call from a respected elder such as Gen TS Akande for instance, sitting down, that would be the height of disrespect!  I wonder by how much our young ones have carried on these respect for our elders, they will just simply tell you, ‘egben gwe’!

Reincarnation – The debate .The dictionary definition says to reincarnate is to be reborn, especially in a different body or as a different specie. I read in the papers some weeks back that, Kunle Afolayan, will soon release a new film and he hopes that ‘this will reactivate the debate on Reincarnation’ . The question is, ‘Reincarnation’, is it truth or just a myth?

The Ogori people of Kogi state believed in Reincarnation to the point of practise that every parent consulted the Oracles to ascertain which of the ancestors had come back as the new baby. The belief has been largely discontinued, may be due to the influence of Religion. The question is ‘if reincarnation is a myth, why does the Bible speak about it?’

First a traditional perspective:  Drawing from my own personal experiences. , I was born an ‘Ajanaku Onoba’, believed to be a re-incarnate of  ‘Ogbajiri Arije’. Having lost my father at an early age of a little less than one year, I was ‘handed’ over to my Uncle, Baba Adekanye Arije for up-keep in line with the above. He then became my ‘surrogate father’. He took charge of my cocoa farm, bequeathed to me at my father’s death.  This helped to provide funds for the payment of my school fees, complemented by the much my mother earned from brewing the local ‘ade’. This was the case until the bush burners set fire on every coca farmland in Ogori!

In the same vein, I was treated like a ‘father’ by my  Aunty, Abuwiya, who took it upon herself to take care of me, at every opportunity, always referring to me as Ogbajiriteda (to her I needed to be treated with the same love and tender care that a  father deserved! ). Here the sustainability dynamics of the Ogori culture played out excellently well, I am a beneficiary. Reincarnation for the Ogori therefore was a way to protect children’s rights and give hope and place whilst lending credence to the saying that ‘children are the leaders of tomorrow’.

What are our major challenges?: Changes in the global space. Rural / Urban Migration, intermarriages, The influence of education and Religion. Influx of other tribes. Pressures arising from the fight for limited space, especially from our neighbours. The coming of the Local Government Administration. Challenges to our value-systems. Absence of critical industries, Unemployment and youth restiveness. The pursuit of Unity and happiness. Our Response ability to the challenge of Time and Change. Our oral traditions. The fear of the loss of the language. The thin line between the sacred, the sacrilegious and the fetish. The proliferation of religious houses over and above that of critical traditional institutions (over 50 churches in Ogori for instance). Near Zero level existence of Small and Medium Scale industries. Etc.

Other Influences ?: One example of the areas in which our culture has been influenced is the Masquerade tradition for instance. Masquerades are a part of the African culture, they are a reminder of the connections with the after-world. Almost every tribe in Africa, therefore, has their own masquerade culture.

For us the Ogoris, we had; Ema and Okeneruwa. Later influences brought, aboropa reku, eku anebira, eku dede ku dede, etc. The Kaduna ODU eregba song says,… ‘ikpen ne da man’ogbagbigben, negben de jen nonin’ ana, oho o. Otokokorodi, awema, amo po akesa lailai, awobin’. Today the masquerade culture is completely subsumed and consumed by the neo-religious culture of today, I do not complain.

The weaving loom is completely obsoleted, no thanks to the Arewa looms and tanneries, the Kaduna textile revolution and the like. Our ladies will not imagine adorning with ‘ikokori’ today, for all the wealth of Europe. Conversely however, the most ‘sophisticated’ Hausa Fulani young ladies of today will still adorn and make-up in their ‘laalis’, for every marriage ceremony!

 

Our industrial heritage and base. Society is an aggregation of human beings with inexhaustible basic needs. At our Communal level of Ogori / Magongo, the Sustenance of our tribe as with other tribes has been based on the interplay and interchange of goods and services.

Yes our people have been subsistence farmers over the ages, but they were still bricklayers, carpenters, hunters, cobblers, bicycle repairers, tailors, musicians, tappers, traders, restauranteurs, barbers, auto-mechanics, iron-smiths, photographers, health care givers, etc. Today, there are added, needed and potential services areas such as events management, computing, administration, information dissemination, telecommunications etc.

All of the above stated areas of human endeavour require skills and are areas of dire need. Agriculture in specific terms offers the widest range today for Skills Acquisition. From crop farming to Animal Husbandry and to Food processing, the possibilities are limitless. For instance, a young man who determines to make an industry of vegetable farming can unearth a treasure trove of unimaginable wealth.

Local demand is huge and today our people still travel far to Ibilo and Okene to buy vegetables!  What happened to ipesu, egbilen, otirib’emumu, ipoto, efo, opeya, igelesisin, . Except for efo, the rest are ‘exotic’ veggies almost exclusive and native to Ogori_Magongo!  What did we do with the skills learnt under the popular ‘Hand Work’, at our primary schools for broom making, basket making, knitting, opepe, etc.

Are our younger ones properly schooled in the provisions and potentials available through SMEs and other instruments of Government?

Where are we heading to? In the light of our history, our values, our culture and tradition and in the light of present day realities of the industrial and computer age, what should be our aspirations? What should be our individual goals and our collective aspirations?

Are we able to survive the barrage of attacks from other cultures? How should we handle the issues of inter-marriages? Are our social institutions up to the task of sustaining these aspirations. Do we have a strategy in place?

Years back, the Ogori Students Association (OSA) created and encouraged participation in these social integration activities. What has become of these institutions and what should be done to reactivate moribund ones? There are several ‘eddy currents’ of distractions seeking to tear us apart. Are we resilient enough to withstand these change dynamics. What should be our adaptation, sustainability and continuing education strategies?

What should we do, Going forward? We can do several things to move our culture forward and build enduring legacies for generations unborn. A few of these can be: Strengthen our critical Institutions.

Build on our strong areas, eg. Education. Think sustainability. Build on our value systems. Seek better co-existence peacefully, in love, and in harmony. Improve our education infrastructure. Create an enabling environment for Social integration. Build on and enhance our tourism potentials.

Encourage healthy community and age-group competitions. Sharpen and strengthen our conflict resolution resolve. Encourage the ‘both-and culture’. Encourage our citizens who are committed to progress ideals for the community. Build stronger institutions like the ODU, the OSA, the Age Groups, the Eregba Groups, Social interaction platforms etc.

A few months ago, I was irked by attitudes displayed by some on the Social Media Platform of the ODU, I was sad at the complete lack of courtesy in the way and manner some of our younger ones expressed their opinion and responded to others, I wrote a simple note on the platform as I quote here :

“…Arguments arise when we react to other people’s comments. If poorly handled, these can cause brushes and  bruises. It is good we have several committees and sub-committees to sieve, summate and prepare a road map for implementation. Take the good out of other people’s submissions, make your own contributions and leave the rest to the Committees and Sub-committees. The ‘ayes or the nays’ situation will come later…..If we will all contribute, we must not limit ourselves in the areas of intervention. Whilst some persons or groups will be best suited to contribute in the area of infrastructure, others can come in for educational materials, curriculum development,  extra-mural tutelage (as obtained in the past where high school graduates came in to offer help during vacations), etc. Who knows somebody who is in the food industry can come-up with an idea to give the kids, a meal- a day and yet someone else, medicals or who knows, building of a whole block.

My submission therefore is that, we should all freely express our opinions and then allow, asap, the various Committees and Sub-Committees  come up with their reports and blue-prints for action”.

In conclusion, we the Ogori people of Kogi State must see the need to continue in the positive direction to inculcate good values on our children. We must speak the language to them and encourage their love for the motherland. We must respect and place value on our traditional institutions and seek peaceful co-existence. We must understand that we occupy a small space within the larger whole and remember always that Change begins with every one us.

If we do not change, change indeed, will change us .

 

Matthew Oseborega Onoba(fnia) is a Fellow of the Nigerian Institute of Architects

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