Being a paper presented at the Fifth
Annual Conference on "Aspects of Urhobo Poetry" by Chief D. A. Obiomah
First on the Agenda of the preliminary programme of this year's Conference was Urhobo Poetry, I pondered what this could mean. Now I have the signal honour of treating aspects of Urhobo Poetry as the last item of the Conference. It is my fervent hope that at the end of it all you will rise to go home in a cheerful, joyful mood. Urhobo Poetry, what is it? With this reaction I had forgotten that some nine years ago I made a collection of poems in three parts. Part one was devoted to Urhobo themes. But I had not thought that I was writing Urhobo Poetry, rather than just responding to my own whims even when transliteration was involved. What is Urhobo poetry?
By contrast English poetry has forms – the Ballad, Rondeau, the Ode, the Epic, the Sonnet with 14lines. There are the Couplets, Quatrains. There are specific patterns of rhyme. aa, bb, abab, blank verse etc. There are meters, which give particular rhythms. For instance, there is from Robert Browning the dactylic
So, talking of Urhobo poetry, it is a different world. What do we mean? We learn from R.B. Sheridan however that:"Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds." If Alfred Lord Tennyson could not attest to such happiness when he wrote In Memoriam or Break, Break, Break or Crossing the Bar, he could agree with Sheridan's.
"Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar." <>It is on this footing that I intend to deal with Urhobo poetry. The language of poetry is picturesque and captivating.
Western thought developed against the background of the culture of writing. It is recorded, systematized and developed. So we are left with such names as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Julius Caesar, Cicero, Bacon, Spinoza, Butler, Hume, Kant, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Erasmus, Loyola Tom Paine, Voltaire Robespeare, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Hegel, Rene Descartes, Jean Paul Satre, Bertrand Russell, the list is endless. By contrast Urhobo thought exists but at random and orally. It may be gannered from folk tales, songs composed annually for festivals, personal names indicating beliefs and values with elements of the transcendent. They have their own tales, beliefs imagery, resonance and elegance. An Urhobo name is poetic. An Urhobo name encapsulates an episode in the life of the giver of the name. It is history in a word. So names such as Atayerhinyo, Asamiderhi, Erhinyoja, Oghenetega Ogheneero, Onorioborunutakerhi. Festivals have patron deities. Songs and dances to them have their particular drumbeats and rhythm. They may be veiled attacks on unseemly situations and personal conduct like the press does as the fourth estate of the realm.
So for my pick of poems or what constitutes Urhobo poetry I propose to deal with, those that tell Urhobo thought to be found in songs, sayings, folk tales etc. Urhobo set store by certain beliefs and issues. We believe in the supernatural, as well as an Almighty God as creator invoked for wellbeing, and as final judge. "Only God" ‘God's case, no appeal' the Shades of our ancestors, who supervise our lives, punish and reward. We believe in honest labour represented by Obo, a wood carving representing the man's right hand acknowledged with simple rituals in the morning as a man sets out to work. We believe in ethereal beings, Okrobogbowo, in goblins, Okuku. Other issues of daily life are:
Marriage and birth, and succession as celebrated with circumcision songs the lsiakene series.
Togetherness- captured in the song Kpe Orere, otu re edia obe oko
Festivals devoted to patron gods.
We also believe in Rulership and modernity.Only recently the fact of our having 22 traditional rulers instead of just one was raised as a factor of supposed Urhobo disunity.
Let us now take four samples: from Urhobo poetry and thereafter cover as much ground as possible within the time available.
On our concept of Time and Creation
The equivalent is the phoenix, "avis saecula saeculorum, the bird of eternal ages, there before creation of the earth and sky.
This is followed by Kpo – Kpo – Kpo!
Kpo – Kpo – Kpo
To have succession, here and now forever and aye, till the end of time.
This is followed by MAMAKO – a children's game
Mamako mamako oweiya
Mamako mamako who are you?
The next portrays wrestling and prowess as a game.
Ore udu gbare
O se oma gbo
The gauntlet is thrown. Who dares pick it up? Ekpurekpuke, does
Kind of defident, eh? Not as confident as Ekpurekpuke. Note that charms are a part of the power game and Ekpurekpuke is decked up.We believe also in:
Minor, personal or group gods, Orha;
Since our children speak less and less of Urhobo language and live largely outside the environment of these beliefs, Urhobo Thought as history is dying or fading. Here is a notion I have tried to express in various ways:
Today was founded on yesterday, so yesterday is our foundation, which makes our appreciation and projection of ourselves inaccurate and incomplete if we do not know what yesterday was. Much of Urhobo life was expressed in poetry and song as tradition. Poetry is the index of the mind, the inner man.
That culture without poetry must be oppressively barren and stiff. Poetry is like woman, the grace and pulp of things. Our thoughts and ideals are embedded therein with economy. Poetry concerns the subtle and dainty expression of life. In form and comportment, it is refinement and it is pleasurable. I first heard the music of Sam Cook in Kingston
TOGETHERNESS: Let us obtain relief from togetherness indicated in the old song mentioned earlier as well as Festivals when guests arrive from far and near, neighbours who have confined themselves to farm villages are teased to come to town. Guests from neighbouring towns and villages are welcomed with the banter, ‘Vwana!
We all know the tall ostrich. The quip is that a maiden could be an ostrich in height and in the antomy dressed at circumcision if she fails to take the plunge and marry when she is due, hence suitors will cavil at her:
In our peculiar circumstance today in which fewer and fewer of our children speak Urhobo as already noted, there is latent argument here for exogamy.
Next, His Royal Highness, what is the position of Traditional Rulers?
The King was almighty with power of life and death whereby orphans might
be made. This was the Traditional Ruler, although we agree with Acton
power corrupts, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. Like Louis
As style is the man (Buffon) so for the surrealist thought is the society. It defines in aggregate the intrinsic quality of the society. The Greeks and the Romans made sports part of their religious and secular lives and left the world the Latin quote "mens sana in corpore sano " a healthy mind in a healthy body following which they also left us the Olympic Games.What much of Urhobo poetry recognises is that there is order and intimacy, labour and respect for life with transcendence in divinity.
But this order is at present in a flux. As religion it is sneered at and despised through prejudice of foreign religions. When we are in supposedly native attire the items are imported or products of foreign technology. This Conference on Urhobo History and Culture has been and is being conducted and recorded in English. Our dances and drumbeats were stigmatised as fetish or pagan with us consenting. These have now been assimilated into the service of the new Faiths as panegerics to the same God said to have abhorred them. The supreme irony is that those same Faithfuls dance with abandon to these rhythms, with the zeal and frenzy of King Solomon whose clothes dropped from him and he went on notwithstanding. All in all the dilemma of Dilibe Oyeama's book "Niger from Eton" is with us as elite yet only "developing", as superior yet inferior.
Since the nationalities including Urhobo of necessity flow into the National mainstream to be carried along into citizenship and globalisation the initiative to play the role of the melting pot rests with Abuja. How much re-orientation is coming from there? It is the duty of the nationalities to put heat on our active minister Chikelu, no less than is importantly done, for instance, concerning Resource Control. Urhobo have the opportunity to take the lead. "Show the light," as great Zik urged many years ago "and the people will find the way".
Such is the paradox in which we are trapped and is in nowhere more typified than in the area of identity.Rudyard Kipling wrote the novel KIM set in colonial
In looking backwards, it is useful to realise that we are swimming against this tide of multiple currents – the conflict of order and authority, the conflict of religion, the conflict of manners.
State rule is edging out prestine domestic rule under the Traditional Ruler. The erstwhile devotee of traditional religion now shares his trust between the power of the voodoo herbalist and all – powerful blood of Jesus loud on the microphone till the early hours of the morning.
The BBC discomfits by harping not on female circumcision but opprobrious genital mutilation. Once primitive and idolatrous drumbeats and worship now make enchanting, all – possessing holy gospel music for us. Folk tales are out. Television dominates, where the world is seen from our sitting rooms without flight tickets.
The cultural Osmosis is weighed against us. Urhobo are the weaker element in the national cultural osmosis. Go to any public function. You will find Urhobo young men dressed like the Northerner, generally called Hausa, or the Southwesterner, the Yoruba. What is more, no non-Urhobo man will be found in Urhobo attire. Do we need to do anything to change the trends to cultivate our identity or let it slide purely by default? The parts make the whole. Can we afford to lose ourselves as a functional part of the whole? Our thanks must go to the Founding Fathers of the Urhobo Historical Society for their vision. We must show through knowledge and wit that we exist, that we are worthy, channeled into but not lost in the maze of the Nigerian mainstream referred to cynically as the mistake of 1914. In every aspect of our lives subjected to the norms of the western world there is always an undercurrent of the conflict, of fusion, of leadership, elitism and identity. An Uvwie song captures this mood in:
This is the Whiteman's era,
As already noted, in looking backwards, it is imperative to be conscious
that we are swimming against this tide of multiple, mutually parasitical
currents – the conflict of order and authority, the conflict of
religion, the conflict of manners. Let us indicate our dilemma with Royal
Se me vwa Oba vwe Usenu
Ane oyibo mue Oba re Aka
Echabo roye ivwerhe Oma
Alegbe, se me dje, se me yan
Se vwa vwe Usenu.
In the first place, who is a Nigerian? He is a queer being who is a citizen but not an indigene.
We are living in a virtual void like Oghwoghwo. Unity in a void? It is a contradiction in terms. We are faced by a dilemma of definition of identity and purpose. For
The big question is if we have in this paper diagnosed a material ailment what is the cure? What scope exists to turn the tables when similar nationalities constituting
Now for some banter with the teetotaler Palm Wine maker and thence to the festival.
Obregoro, mo ada udi -o–e-e 2ce
Ota re idono rho no
Obregore mo ada udi –o-e-eRendered thus:
Palmwine tapper, come,
Have a drink
O, wine – tapper, come
Penury is a bane,
Wine maker will you come have a drink
Palmwine tapper, come
A teetotaler you?
Come on let's drinkWe shall round off this portion with the festival piece captured in my own words to the mood at festivals, and captioned Mother's Day.
E-yoweyo je efe rhi tevwe
MOTHERS' DAY 5. By noon they'll sing 8. The air is frisky 9. Kigum, kigum 10. Kigum, kigum, Ovwa na Radio cassette of Agbarha Idjui drum. You know that; don't you? The grand
spectacle known as Agbassa Juju. We have the best Idju in the World. Your Excellency, my Lords Spiritual and temporal, your Royal highnesses,
Chiefs, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I hope that true to sheridan's
dictum I have endeavored to show that Urhobo Poet, like any others, does
lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the (Urhobo) world making familiar
objects be as if they were not familiar. I further hope that I have put
you in a cheerful mood as you rise to go home, and to think that the effort
of Urhobo Historical Society is as well worth the trouble you have taken
to come here. From me copious thanks. This is the Fifth Annual Conference of UHS. There
will be yet another day. Join us, be our guest, support the cause. Thank you, and good night.
MOTHERS' DAYIncidentally, social taboos are usually against women. This is one case in a million where the reverse is the case. It is men who must remain indoors on pain of sanctions by the Shades. The shades oversee our own world. But it is the women who invite them to the feast and dismiss them. Mothers' Day goes like this:
5. By noon they'll sing
8. The air is frisky
9. Kigum, kigum
10. Kigum, kigum,
Radio cassette of Agbarha Idjui drum. You know that; don't you? The grand spectacle known as Agbassa Juju. We have the best Idju in the World.
Your Excellency, my Lords Spiritual and temporal, your Royal highnesses, Chiefs, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I hope that true to sheridan's dictum I have endeavored to show that Urhobo Poet, like any others, does lift the veil from the hidden beauty of the (Urhobo) world making familiar objects be as if they were not familiar. I further hope that I have put you in a cheerful mood as you rise to go home, and to think that the effort of Urhobo Historical Society is as well worth the trouble you have taken to come here.
From me copious thanks. This is the Fifth Annual Conference of UHS. There will be yet another day. Join us, be our guest, support the cause.
Thank you, and good night.
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