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IDOMA CULTURE THREATENED AS OWUKPA PROTEST CHANGE IN BURIAL RITES

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Some Idoma women from Owukpa in Ogbadibo local government area of Benue State have risen against a recent change in their culture where a woman is now buried in her husband’s house against the extant culture where such deceased wife would be taken to her father’s house for interment.

It would be recalled that controversy recently trailed the decision by Owukpa elders and leaders to bend the extant culture, as a woman whose corpse was reportedly buried in her father’s house on her family’s insistence despite the new culture was later exhumed by some vigilantes mobilized by the traditional ruler, the Onomo of Owukpa, Chief Emmanuel Odeh.

The development further angered a section of Owukpa who protested to the traditional ruler of Idomaland,  Oche Idoma, Agabaidu Elias Ikoyi Obekpa in Otukpo Benue State. Their argument is that the extant tradition must not be tampered with, and as such, women must continue to be buried in their family homes.

According to a woman leader, Maria Adoyi, ‘’ this can’t happen during our time. We can’t just wake up at the middle of the night to change a known tradition whose roots can only be traced to our forefathers. Women must not allow this to happen, not in our time. The repercussion is grievous.’’

On the contrary, some women group who embarked on a solidarity march to the palace of the Onomo of Owukpa in Ukwo-centre said they were not comfortable with the burial tradition, saying the tradition was putting their womanhood to question.

Speaking on behalf of the women, their leader simply identified as Ogwa said, ‘’These women have decided to launch a major campaign against what they tagged ‘patriarchal dominance’ that has characterized the Idoma nation. Our agitation shows that we have seen reasons beyond what the Idoma men can see and we support the need to bend the old tradition of women burial that we now consider ominous, barbaric and unsophisticated, hence we are calling on the entire Idoma nation to revisit the old tradition of burial where a deceased woman is taken to her father’s house for burial.

‘’ We maintain that such tradition has put the traditional oath of marriage to question.  It is only a display of dominance by the masculine gender over the Idoma women. Our point is that the Idoma marriage tradition is in agreement with the universal institution of marriage, which maintains the interminable union of two different genders, so why should the relationship end during burial? Why must corpses of women be taken away from the home they contributed in building?’’ they asked.

But confirming the disagreement, the  Onomo of Owukpa, Chief Emmanuel Odeh, told reporters that some women from Ehaje in Owukpa protested to his palace and he was also later summoned by the Oche’ Idoma, over the issue. He, however, declined to speak further on the issue pending the outcome of the meeting he had earlier scheduled to have with Owukpa sons and daughters slated for September 10th, 2016.

“I am aware of the protest staged by Ehaje women group and I was also summoned at the Oche’ Idoma Palace over the issue. But I will not say anything now. I will address the press after then.”

Reacting to the development, a youth leader in the community and a Port Harcourt based seasoned lawyer, Barr. Adoyi Matthew Abakpa, said he stood with the people on the matter, affirming that the abolition of the extant tradition was long overdue. He argued that the tradition was contrary to the natural law of justice, equity and good conscience.

“It is a good step in the right direction for a people to move in line with the societal development.

“The culture of expatriating a dead woman from her matrimonial home where she had lived for over 50 years, where she had her comfortable home before death is no longer in consonant with the natural law of justice, equity and good conscience. It no longer passes the test of civilization and development.

“There are so many cultures in Idomaland that are no longer generally acceptable to the people and this is one of them.

“I heard from a reliable source that the Oche’ Idoma had threatened to sanction Owukpa if the decision is not reversed. This is a serious legal matter that can be tested in the court of law. I will volunteer free legal services to defend the abolition of the uncivilized practice if it gets to that. We must adapt to a new change.

“What happens to other group of people like the Agila in Ado, Egede in Oju and others who have since expunged same? For those protesting, why didn’t they protest against the conversion of the people from paganism to Christianity which was the original culture and tradition of the people?

“Culture and tradition of a people should be flexible. It should change from time to time to reflect in changing socio-economic conditions of the people.

“The people that are protesting about the abolition are doing so for their individual interest, but not for the interest of the people. The voice of the minority cannot override the voices of the majority that are behind the abolition.

Another prominent son of the soil and a political stakeholder in Owukpa politics, Dr. Cletus Egbo, said expunging the obsolete culture is a welcome development, saying that children will be happy seeing their mother’s grave in their family compounds.  He said, “It is a welcome development that I feel everybody should embrace without any form of sentiment. I see no reason why corpses should be carried, in most cases, on the head from the deceased’s matrimonial home to her family for burial.

“Children will be happier seeing their mother’s grave in their family compound. I have spoken with the Onomo of Owukpa over it and he emphatically told me that there will be no going back on the decision for the fact that four women had already been buried in line with implementation as decided by the community and I was well impressed,” Egbo said.

Expressing his take on the abolition of the rite, a community builder and philatropist, Chief Paulinus Igba, said that, “I heard that Ai-Agada family is alarmingly opposing the abolition. Yes, I am from Ai-Agada family in Ehaja Owukpa. We have four families in Ehaje where Agada is the senior but even at that, I don’t believe that Agada alone can take majority decision in Ehaje and stop what the entire Owukpa had agreed to implement. I believe in majority. Right now, we have sent delegation from Makurdi and elsewhere to go and dialogue with the elders in the village.

“Their complaint was that they were not carried along in the decision and implementation. When they come back from the meeting, we will take a position along with the majority views. As a person, my position is simple. I love the idea. Unfortunately, my mother is dead long time ago. I would have been the happiest person if my mother was buried in my father’s compound.”

Reacting to the allegation that they were not carried along in the decision and implementation process by the aggrieved family, the National President of Ehaje Women Development Association, Mrs. Alice Omeluko, said all heads of families and all the Ward Onagenes were carried along and that they all signed the document before the late Oche Owukpa, Chief Ojobo Akparu since 2008.

“The Owukpa Development Association women wing, ODA, and Ehaje women had their representative in the meeting that took the decision. We cried out that we were no longer in support of it. We want to be buried in our husbands’ houses where our children and great grandchildren will live to see our graves.

“This is our position and we solidly stand with the Onomo of Owukpa. He shouldn’t give up the fight. No good thing comes easy. He has the majority support of both men and women of Owukpa. It is insane for any woman or family to protest against this positive change in our time.” She said.

A member of Akatekwe Forum, Mr. simon Ogwuche, also said, “I am fully aware and support the development. The document of the change was, as a matter of fact, signed by all the four Onagene representing the four Wards in Owukpa District since 2008 and reviewed in 2014 respectively. There is nothing wrong with the change and it should be accepted by all sons and daughters of Owukpa. The distracters should stop further agitation,” Ogwuche Said.

The former House of Representative aspirant, Hon. Sylvester Onoja Ben, gave his position saying, “the change has traditional implication. For me, I am not in support of that change. My mother was buried in her family compound and it further cements our relationship with her family even after death. We could always go there to see our mother’s grave and doing that unites us together with her family. But if she was buried in my father’s compound, there would be no cause for us to visit her family because after all, our mother is no more alive. This is the angle I look at it from and that is my personal position. But if Owukpa district in majority voice agreed on the new practice then let it be, and we will all abide by it. This is my personal position on the issue.’’

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