Urhobo Historical Society

A Commentary on the Omonose Saga:

By Larry Arhagba

Subject:         Re: Lost and Found disc
   Date:         Sat, 21 Apr 2001 21:02:47 -0700 (PDT)
   From:        larry arhagba <lawval2@yahoo.com>
     To:         "Peter P. Ekeh" <ppekeh@acsu.buffalo.edu>

Even though Omonose's anger against his community turned ugly, I celebrate its promise for Urhoboland, and similar communities who see the impotent male as a terrible specter. There is a crying need for soul searching in most Urhobo communities and the rest of Nigeria on the way the impotent male (ochibe) is disparaged and systematically depreciated. Constantly buffeted and demoralized, the ochibe endures every assault and he is always the butt of the community jokes.

Women on their way to the market place would virtually fall on each other giggling when they passed by the home of an ochibe or when an ochibe approached. Children at play would jeer at an ochibe at every street corner and fade into thin air as the furious ochibe tries to stop them. As if his sexual incapacity affects his intellect, he is not welcomed to most intelligent gatherings or discussions. Family meetings do not count on him and he is often shunted or shouted down when serious opinions are sorted. His non-performance in the bed room also spills into social circles and the Ochibe is not spared in public speeches and other social circles. He is neither forgotten by the community orator nor is he forgiven by the village clown. A man with an ungovernable temper or one who is quick to anger is likened to an ochibe. So also is the man whose thoughts are out of sequence. Invariably, the moral, emotional, and psychological exhaustion which the typical ochibe goes through is unimaginable.

In spite of the mounting odds, Omonose lived a lot in his time. True to his name, he did not only set out to outlive his father and thus achieved greater heights. With his one-man army he virtually fought the whole community to a standstill in his quest for justice and to ensure that others in his condition do not suffer the same faith. He was always one step ahead and stayed constantly on top of the show. Courageous, persistent and adventurous, his resilient spirit spurred him on. Even though the possibility was always there that his male instrument for pleasure would fail him at the last minute, he went ahead and got himself a wife. Andrew Edevbie has highlighted the hurdles in taking a wife in our traditional setting. Even though details were not given, there is no doubt that Omonose must have worked long and hard for his wife. We are not told that he sought medical assistance from the ubiquitous herbalists and the witch doctors of his days. But he probably did and failed. When his male organ for pleasure failed to rev to life at the moment of truth, he again rose to the occasion and tried to renegotiate the whole deal and to return the wife he had worked hard to get. That would have been a face saving avenue for him.

But his family would have none of that. What was worse, his wife was reassigned to a younger member of his family, thus further dampening his intimidated spirit. That decision struck a telling blow at the heart of the aye re kru concept and brought it its most serious test yet.. In a real sense, that decision was high handed, immoral and a travesty of justice. Even if unchallenged, that decision was bound to unleash a flood of bad blood on the entire community. The most hallowed argument for the aye re kru instrument is the protection of the orphaned children and the family, not to destroy the family. It was never intended to reassign the wife of a man who is alive. Omonose was apparently in no mood to carry that emotional scar for the rest of his life. Nor was there much to inspire hope in a system where there were no appeals and the elders reputedly have a monopoly of wisdom. Devastated, infinitely frustrated and desperately alone, Omonose therefore set out to avenge his cause.

There is no evidence in the story that Omonose had a military training or experience. But without a military background, spies and confidants to compare notes with, Omonose made his plan, worked his own battle plans, and improvised for his one-man guerilla army like a veteran. He wielded his machete with such dexterity, picked his targets with computer precision and drove terror into the heart of every one in the community. What touches me was his persistence, his resilience, his resourcefulness, and his passionate activism even in the face of the mounting odds. Could you imagine what advantages these sterling qualities would have garnered for the sleepy Okpara community of Omonose's era.

For those of us who are married it is not easy to read the Omonose story without some emotions getting into your blood stream. Impotence, the inability to attain erection or engage in sexual intercourse is not the crippling disability that our culture tends to make of it. Today the impotent condition is treatable in many cases. We can no longer live in the past that measures wealth with the size of children, farms or wives.

Ochibe in many modern societies is a private concern, not wares to be displayed or paraded on the streets.

Modern definition of sexual intercourse has rendered our attitude towards our ochibes very obsolete. If ochibes from other cultures can enjoy life to the fullest and aspire to be prime ministers and presidents of countries, there is no reason why our ochibes cannot lift up their heads and make meaningful contributions to nation building. Yes, the aye re kru concept may have served our traditional environment well. But it is also being dealt telling blows by modern marriages. Iwho eje ri vw e mu ka mro ro me vwo goes one Urhobo saying. While the aye re kru concept implies a family ownership of a family wife, the truth is that the husband remains the star of the show and the supreme owner when the chips are down. No one can outdo Omonose in his claim for his wife. He alone is in the position to decide whether on not to keep his wife.

If the concept of aye re kru is still alive today, there is no doubt that it is lying comatose on the operation table. In our ever mobile and modern life many young Urhobos are now looking up to good insurance and investment plans to take care of the children, not their families. Many young Urhobos are increasingly regarding their marriages as agreements between individuals rather that as contracts between the families involved. Today there are more Omonoses bestriding the Urhobo landscape than we can ever imagine. And while these youths are not kicking and killing, the momentum out there is unmistakable. A few years ago a young man at Abraka refused to accept his father' s wife, insisting that he could not see himself sleeping with the wife his late father slept with. Another young man turned efforts by the family to receive his bride via the traditional escort ceremony.

Omonose's message to the Okpara community of his times was obvious. That message is still making its rounds in Urhoboland today. His struggles would not have been in vain if it points the way forward for a better system in a better society -- a system that is capable of self- renewal where a man's wife cannot be taken from him and reassigned on the whims of elders and titled chiefs. And a people that that can temper decisions with the milk of human kindness.