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Bishop Obinna And Osu Caste In Igboland By Boniface Alanwoko

Bishop Obinna And Osu Caste In Igboland By Boniface Alanwoko

HE may have considered it a parting gift, but it smacks of arrogance and subjugation. His Grace, Most Rev. Anthony Obinna, the outgoing Archbishop of Owerri, made a declaration on Thursday, March 17, 23, on the Osu caste, in Igboland. His recent declaration: “We have put a seal on the abolition of Osu caste in Igboland” sounds bogus and worrisome.

There is no doubt that Bishop Obinna may be constantly burdened with this Igbo malady and frustrated by the seeming lack of sufficient progress its abolition is making, but his endeavours towards this effect will continue to collapse at the altar of exclusive and sanctimonious posture he and his clique have adopted to checkmate the evil.

On different forums and media platforms, the Catholic Bishop has remained vociferous on this issue. This could be understandable, since he comes from an area where the Osu caste system is endemic and also, as a scion of a prominent traditional Igbo family who traditionally contributes chief priests to a deity that may be a custodian of this disorder.

Except when he spoke at a forum where the Initiative for the Eradication of Traditional and Cultural Stigmatisation in Our Society, IFETACSIOS, organised a conference, on September 23, 2019, the Bishop is not known to have stretched any hand of comradeship to the Igbo traditional institution and its custodians for an input in a matter he is keen to tackle.

At the forum, he made a veil reference to the traditional institution for support, where he said: “I charge custodians of the traditional institutions in the South-East to lend their full support to the clamour for the abolition of the Osu caste system in the area.” All this while, Bishop Obinna’s quest to confront this menace has not yielded much dividend, simply due to ego and disdain towards the Igbo traditional institution – a critical establishment that cannot be ignored; if there would be any headway towards achieving this objective. Like the Igbo will always say: “You cannot overlook the height of Nwangwu if you intend to hoist a high roof.”

So, what prevents the likes of Bishop Obinna and other concerned clergies to approach Igbo chief priests and decorated patriarchs whose deities the Osu question resides with. Let me inform His Grace that unlike in the past when Igbo deities were manned by rustic and tobacco-snuffing old men, emerging Igbo chief priests are young, educated and enlightened.

They are wiser and are likely to be receptive if their cooperation is needed towards issues like this. For example, if you meet the current chief priest of the overall deities of Owere Nchi-Ise, Ala Owere, Ejiogu Reginald Kelechukwu, or the youthful and educated double chief priest of Nnemiri and Ala Ezema of Ezema town, Chibuzor Anunobi, of Ngor-Okpala LGA, you will agree with me, that changes have taken place. Their shrines are being redesigned while their modus operandi are equally adjusted to fit into modern exigencies.

Let us look at this scenario. Supposing His Grace, Bishop Obinna, on his own, or along with his colleagues, deem it fit to drive to the residence of Ejiogu Reginald, the chief priest of Ala Owere, or to a gathering of an association of chief priests of Owerri zone over this issue, don’t you think it will elicit more positive response and results. In the sixties, Irish Reverend Fathers, who were at St Peter Claver Seminary, used to visit my uncles who were then chief priests.

Apart from joining the priests in their shrines, they joked and drank palm wine with them there. It was as a result of this fraternisation that some of them gained confidence in the church and encouraged their wards to become Christians and to attend schools. The issue with our Igbo clergies is the problem of ego. They see themselves as more important than the Christian faith – a creation that must be adopted and regarded by all, in every Igbo community.

The problems of the Osu caste in Igboland do not plague or inhibit the Christian faith alone, rather, it torments every patriotic and discernible Igbo person and community. The destructive elements of this malady are incalculable when measured in Igbo economic and social engagements. Dishearteningly, the system has become a devastating tool in the hands of riff-raff and evil kinsmen who deploy it to demonise achievers, progressive elements and philanthropic individuals in their communities. More so, there is a hypocritical tendency on how most Igbo view and practise the Osu segregation these days.

For example, a Diala, who would be employed and sustained by the Osu, will turn round, after a flimsy altercation, and castigate the same benefactor as an Osu. Today, most Igbo men would not mind sleeping with an Osu lady, but raise hell, once the issue of marriage is mentioned. In the past, Osu was an Osu. The segregation was tight and maintained, while the tenets that guided their association with the Diala, were strictly observed.

The Osu caste is in two forms. We have the redeemable and the irredeemable. However, our discussions here centre on the latter, since the former is like a man with the elephantiasis of the scrotum, who becomes free once he gets rid of it. In Igbo land, there are about seven ways through which one can become an Irredeemable Osu. Only two out of the seven can be defended – where a free-born was bought or kidnapped and consecrated by overzealous and covetous chief priests who want their deity to be custodians of Osu like others; and an Osu that occurs inadvertently. In this case, a man may accidentally damage or lose a property that belongs to a powerful deity. If he cannot replace the item or make amend before a given time, he could use himself or any of his sons as a replacement.

Apart from these examples, the other five or more ways to become one are self-inflicted. The Osu caste was an important tool available in ancient Igbo to regulate social ills and discourage evil men from wreaking havoc in Igbo communities. In fact, if the Osu caste is still a course being followed today, 95 per cent of current Igbo political leaders would have automatically become members.

So, for the revered bishop to mount the pulpit or state at forums that there is no more divide into Diala, Osu, etc., that the Dialas are still in bondage, as long as they give credence to the fact that people were sacrificed for shield protection…or that Igbo people should rise above cultural barriers and embrace modern doctrine…are not felicitous. It amounts to grandstanding, indifference to cultural issues and blackmailing present-day Igbo for an issue they did not create but inherited from their forefathers. There must be a concerted effort to how the menace can be effectively resolved for the benefit of all.

Again, the entry into the caste, its consecration and the rules that guide its existence, differ from one community to another. In the same vein, not all parts of Igboland have the Osu caste. All Ngwaland and most communities of Abia North do not have or condone the system. My advice to His Grace and others anxious to abolish this disorder is to seek collaboration. Let the assaults be community-based. It is the custodians of an area, their chief priests, who know how a particular caste emanated in their area, who will be able to invent the best way to tackle it. To this effect, there should be Igbo conferences where sensitisations are made paramount.

While some communities may be willing to jettison this age-long practice, others, like in the old Owerri zone where the system is endemic and strongly resented, could be tackled by a sustained enlightenment and sensitisation programme that will allow the influence to gradually fade away. This possibility arises because some of the deities that gave life to the system are no longer in existence, as some have receded due to lack of care and patronage. The fight to abolish the Osu caste must be the responsibility of all Igbo who wishes Ala Igbo well. Fiery speeches or ecclesiastical rhetoric alone will not abate it.

*Alanwoko, publisher of Igbozuruoke Forum, wrote from Lagos

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