CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION 1.1 Background to the Study
Before the advent of Christianity into Esanland in the first decade of the twentieth century, the Esan society was a well organised society with a viable social structure, social institutions and cultural values. The Esan people occupy the Edo Central Senatorial District of Edo State Nigeria. It is made up of five (5) Local Government Areas viz:- Esan West, Esan Central, Esan North-East, Esan North-West and Igueben, with Ekpoma, Irrua, Uromi, Ubiaja and Igueben as Headquarters respectively. It is made up of thirty (30) clans; Ekpoma, Egoro, Opoji, Irua, Ewu, Uromi, Ugoha, Ubiaja, Ukhuesan, Emu, Ohodua, Ewatto, Ewosa, Ewohimi, Ekpon, Ebelle, Okalo, Amahor, Iria, Ugun, Ujiagba, Ogwa, Igueben, Ugbegun, Idoa, Uzen, Orowa, Udo, Onogholo and Ukhun (Okogie 29).
The people had a religion with certain basic beliefs similar to those of the Christian religion. They believed in an Almighty or -Overall God (Osenobua) to whom worship was given through the minor communal household gods known as ebo (Donatus Akhilomen 12). Ebo, divinities or gods who were worshipped by the traditional Esan society were only approached as intermediaries between Osenobulua, Supreme Being and them (the people). ‘They act for Him in the theocratic government of the world’ (Alli 45). As they,s the ebo were brought forth by Osenobulua, Supreme Being Himself, they have no absolute existence or authority. They were appointed and are commissioned by him to serve a purpose. Hence, their authority and power is derived from Him and delegated by Him. This is why in Esan, every act of worship or ritual has an ultimate reference to Osenobulua the Supreme Being who in turn sanctions it.
Apart from this, the traditional Esan society cherished their cultural values such as family unit or communalism, respect for elders and constituted authority, ancestral worship, to mention but a few. All of these were strictly adhered to as their guiding principles. This was the position in Esan when Christianity and western culture began to make inroads. The coming of Christianity with its civilizing influence has greatly affected the cultural life of Esan people. This impact has been greatly felt in the economic, political, educational, medical and in the overall cultural life of the people. In essence, it could be said that the presence of the Christian Church stimulated the socio-cultural development of the Esan people. These are, in spite of the deficiencies of the early Christian missionaries (who could not distinguish between the culture of Europe and the principles of Christianity). Those aspects of the Esan cultural values that were not in the best interest of the people (according to the missionaries) had to give way or abolished.
One could say here, that, it might be one of the reasons why in the mid-nineteen seventies, there was a constant call for the revival of culture in Nigeria. Every ethnic group in Nigeria was encouraged and motivated to revive the apparently dormant cultural values of its peoples. General Yakubu Gowon, a former Head of State, said at the fourth National Festival of Arts in 1975, that some people had wondered whether the aim of cultural revival was to abandon all modern amenities and conveniences and return to pre-historic times, or whether it was to raise a new religion which would replace the existing ones. He maintained that such views were wrong since Cultural Revolution is not synonymous with cultural bigotry (Kato 4). Nwafor Nduka, argues that Cultural Revolution or emancipation does not mean a call to return to the past. What he is saying is that there are much of our past that are no longer relevant to the society today and therefore, should be discarded (vi), but those that are relevant should be revived and reserved. This is because much of our past is no longer relevant to the society today. Matthew Omo-Ojugo, agrees with Nduka when he said that, Edo State and Nigeria have excellent cultural values which should be revived for the survival of our society and for our people to compete meaningfully wzith other societies in the world in the 21st century and beyond. He added that there are, however, some traditional and cultural traits which must be discarded because they are no longer relevant in civilized societies (2). According to Nduka, “we are culturally under-developed; therefore our appreciation of beauty is mundane and almost naive. We instinctively like or dislike what we see. The profound and the intriguing put us off” (7-10). This implies that our cultural values still exhibits the disabilities of adolescents, for, as yet, it has not assumed is final distinctive statures. Therefore, there is need of re-assessment, re-evaluation and development.
If Cultural Revolution is neither a return to the past, nor an introduction of another new religion, then what is it? According to Adrian Hastings, it means “rediscovering the wisdom of the ancestors, revaluing their ceremonies, reawakening their names, renewing their own language” (43). Nduka, opines that, it is; “a more discriminating, inculturating of foreign cultural elements with the indigenous cultural heritage, instead of just selling our cultural birthright for a mess of Western Cultural Pottage” (vi). In a nut shell, culture is an aggregate concept fundamentally characterized by the distinctive spirit, way of life, device for living and attainments of the people. Olive Ponting opines that culture determines how social institutions cultivate and impose behaviour that is communally transmitted from one generation to another. Culture is versatile and includes both material and non-material objects and concepts. It entails the totality of a people’s norms, values, beliefs, codes of socially acceptable conducts, mode of life, religion, philosophy and ideology. It also includes communal informal education and technology (430).
If the above statements are correct, then cultural revival are noble intentions that should be pursued vigorously. Africans generally and Esan in particular, has every reason to seek the revival of their cultural values since their philosophy, value, systems, identity, languages and indeed, all of their cultural values had apparently been threatened with extinction. They had been humiliated, exploited, oppressed, and denied self-determination (Kato 5), and this also applied to Esan people. They had become strangers even in their own land as a result of colonialism by the Europeans.