Among various communities around the entire world, throughout history, at one point or the other, even in these modern times, we have seen cultural practices and taboos that later generations have described as barbaric. Ososo land, a community caught within the undulating Somorika hills of Akoko-Edo LGA has had it’s fair share of such practices…
In this piece obtained for George Uboh TV by Albert Afeso Akanbi, the first in an upcoming series, Alfred Peters examines the practice of infanticide among ancient Ososo people and traces the history of the town’s ascent from the valley of such barbarism…
Before the appearance of Mary Slessor in the 19th Century, the lady credited with helping to stop the killing of twins in Calabar, pre-colonial Ososo land was already emershed in the barbaric practice of infanticide, the killing of certain kids simply because of the nature of their births. And in this, Ososo was not alone as the same taboos that inspired such practices were very prevalent among various communities in Nigeria in those days.
As a matter of fact, there are reports that the practice of killing twins and triplets still exist among over 60 communities in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital territory, today.
Ojo who was the father of my maternal grandmother was a victim and survivor of this practice.
Born into the Bouro family of UduUkwemiIkegwu household in Epkena, Ososo, Akoko-Edo LGA of Edo State, Nigeria, his story is as fascinating as it is inspiring. Abandoned at a very young age, he was left for dead in the most gruesome manner. Naked, alone, hungry, rejected, he was left to heck a living from the ground around the local family gutters (Unuireveh) where I am sure he would have cried his eyes out. It was a stranger from Yoruba land that saw the poor child crying, so much so that he had even lost his voice, and decided to come into his rescue. He had been on that same spot for four days, crying until the strange woman saw him, and this was how he survived death.
That singular act of kindness and enlightenment, from a total stranger, is the reason those of us who descended from Ojo’s lineage have also survived because, had he died we would not have been here today.
Many infants were not so lucky and their lineages were snuffed out by such ignorant traditions because the nature of their birth was considered an abomination.
I am very certain that one of the major prayers of an average pregnant mother in Ososo land during pre-colonial era would have been for the successful birth and survival of the child in her womb. That would have also been the best prayer of the mother because, having carried the pregnancy for nine months and gone through labour, the only thing she would have wished and prayed for would be for her not to have the misfortune of going through labour and then ended up delivering something society would term an abominable birth.
And there were so many of such ‘abominable’ births in the concepts we came to know as;
Ojo and Aina.
The Ojo and Aina concept of birth is the one under which my great grandfather fell, and children who fell under this category were those whose nature of birth saw them come out of their mothers’ wombs with the umbilical cord (uri) wrapped around their necks. To our old folk in those days, this was considered an abomination and a justifiable reason for infanticide.
These were children born with their legs coming out of thier mother’s womb first. To our old folk in those days, this too was considered an abomination.
Oke were children who, by the nature of birth came out of their mothers’ wombs with their full placentas. To our forefathers, there could be no better way to describe an abominable birth.
Odion and Omo
The birth of twins, Odion and Omo or what the Yoruba call Taiye and Kehinde, was considered the most abominable birth in Ososo of old because our folks in those days, understood nature in such a way that they were only comfortable with animals like goats etc, giving birth to more than one offspring in one pregnancy. Why would a human being give birth to more than one offspring in one pregnancy, that was a question they could neither answer nor tried to understand.
And so, to solve this problem, they took the twin kids up the Ikokoro rock and threw them down to a painful death, their future cut short by this primitive mindset. If the grounds below that rock were to be excavated today, we are likely to see infant skulls and bones of unfortunate children whose crime was that of coming into the world as a twin, Ojo, Aina, Ige or Oke, even though they didn’t ask to be born.
Thankfully, Ososo land did not need a Mary Slessor to end this practices and jump start the ascent of Ososo people from the valley of this barbarism to the hills of cultural progress. And it was the courage of Oba Jerome Obaitan, Ukwedu II, the Olososo of Ososo land that put a stop to this gruesome act and kick started that process.
Interestingly, some prominent people of Ososo origin today that are looming larger than life were rescued by Okwedu II when they would have been taken out according to ancient Ososo traditions, for simply growing the upper teeth before the lower ones, a grave taboo in those days too. As a matter of fact, one of such prominent Ososo son was said to have been strapped on the mother’s back in a calico (igbokwu) as she fled Egbetua in the early hours of the morning to avoid her child being forcefully taken from her and liquidated in strict adherence to that tradition. He was received from the mother’s back just when the king was leaving the palace for Igarra, a neighbouring town that is today the headquarters of the LGA. The king then instructed his aide, Pa Philip Omoudu to take the little boy to a tailor and prepare him for school. The little boy lived in and grew up in the king’s palace thereafter.
Ironically, today the narrative has changed, his survival story has changed too.
We owe a lot of gratitude to, and a huge portion of the credit for our survival as the present generation, especially those of us whose lineage came from children whose births were considered an abomination, to the erstwhile king, Oba Jerome Obaitan, Ukwedu II, who was an exposed and thoroughly educated king. He it was who pulled our people from these dark and primitive practices of killing or banishing children simply because of the nature of their birth.
Apart from our gratitude, we must also continue to build on the legacies of this great king and many like him, and continue to do everything within our power, in fairness, truth and justice, to build and bequeath to our children’s children, an Ososo that we would all be proud of.
God bless Ososo,
God bless Nigeria.
Alfred Peters (Son of an Ojo) is a Technocrat. He wrote from Lagos, Nigeria.