In Ika, an Obi is regarded with religious awe. “He forms yet another link in the hierarchy of society which passes from men to Obi, to ancestors, to gods and up to the Supreme Being.”
In the olden days, the Obis of Ika guarded their supremacy very jealously. No one within the kingdom was allowed to rival them in prestige or pomp. For example, it was a crime for the ordinary mortal to wear clothes resembling any of the Obi’s, build a bigger house than his, use his medicines or watch him eating. He had great magical power and was feared by all his subjects. The Obi was supreme. His decisions had a divine authority, and there was no appeal. He had the power of life and death. He would order the deposition or execution of Chiefs. He would command his people to till the royal fields and repair, or rebuild the palace and his commandment was urgent. He could appropriate the major game animals killed by hunters, and he exacted a penalty from any household, a member of which had been responsible for causing a virgin girl to become enceinte. He could take as a wife, not merely any unmarried girl he pleased, but the wife of any of his subjects. If two suitors quarrelled over a girl, the Obi might settle the matter by appropriating the girl himself. His servants bared their shoulders, and women, their breasts before him. His wives were guarded and attended to by castrated domestic men. Offenses against him were punished more severely than those against ordinary people. People never spoke to him without going down on their knees, and at times touching the ground with their heads.
He was said to be confined to his palace. His subjects treated him with differential respect. He ate alone. The parings of his hair and nails were secretly buried, for if some evil-minded medicine-men were to get hold of them, they might work them into a charm against the Obi’s health or life. He appeared attended to by a crowd of naked serving boys, some carrying ada, ebeni and other insignia of royalty; the greater part of the nobility and gentry also followed in the train. In those days, such public appearances were on rare occasions during important ceremonies when the people rejoiced at his appearance.
Like in the olden days, the Obi is not merely the head of the kingdom but he is the symbol of its unity. In him is unified all aspects of political system and the tenets of his kingdom’s religion. He is the head of the Idibie; he controls the diviners, the Iheren, the Omu, the priests, the witches, the magicians and all cults in the kingdom. As he is believed to be the nearest to the spirits, he is believed to have more powers than anyone else in the kingdom. His political superiority is emphasized in many ways, one of which is through praise names. He receives all the great praise names to which no one else in the kingdom is entitled. These praise names include Agu (Tiger is the king of the animals’ kingdom), and the Obi is the ruler of men in an Ika kingdom. He, whose power is likened to the Great One above; one whose will must be obeyed in the kingdom; he, who owns the kingdom; he, who has the last word; Obi Okusi-ogu; Obi tutu, and so many others. These praise names indicate the notion of the king of a kingdom, and he is the most feared, reverend and adored leader to whom all powers are attributed. The king is never judged but, if his advisers are warned to be careful, then he knows he is guilty.
He is a ruler and law giver, war leader and source of wealth. His person is sacred, his subjects remove their caps and bow their heads before him in adoration and flatter him with adulations.
He is called the father of all the indigenes. He is not a despot, but a constitutional monarch whose office brings privileges and responsibilities.
He is the custodian of the custom of his people. The whole kingdom is his own possession, and his welfare is believed to be vital to all. The Obi does not necessarily administer all justice, or perform ritual sacrifices; but while he can delegate these powers to officials, he is the final source of law and leadership. The Obi cannot, therefore, be scolded in the public or blamed. The blame is levied on his advisers.
To be without a king is regarded as disastrous. And for that reason, immediately after the death of an Obi of a kingdom, a new Obi is enthroned according to the tradition of the kingdom. A lot of guided rituals are performed before the heir apparent is coronated. The rituals include a symbolic ‘meal made in respect of his predecessor’s head’ known in Ika as iri eze, ‘eating king’. A nonagenarian responded told this author that in those days, ritual human sacrifices were offered to protect the Obi from bad spirits, witches and wizards and to cleanse the land. Nowadays, cows, goats, dogs, fowls and rams are used for these sacrifices.
The purity of the Obi is protected by elaborate rituals and taboos, which were very many in ancient times. It is certain to judge from the general trend that some of them were designed to ensure good moral behaviour. The values of the Obiship are reaffirmed and consolidated by periodic ceremonies, the most important of which are ‘national or yearly festivals’, which focus on various aspects of the social and economic activities of a kingdom. During these festivals also, the Chiefs and subjects pay homage to the Obi and renew their allegiance.
To be continued…
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Source: Ika News Agbor
Ika News: THE IKA KINGSHIP CULTURE