Okpella clan is strategically located on the Northern fringes of Edo State bordering Kogi. It is one of the major gateways opening Edo State to the North of Nigeria.
Okpella was censused to be the third largest clan in Edo State as recorded in 2006 population census. The founder and the father of Okpella was a man called Ikpomaza meaning “I give thanks to God”. He was said to have migrated from a place called Ekae in Benin during the tyrannical rule of Oba Ofin. Okpella later left Benin with his beautiful wife Eveva, his departure was said to have been hastened by attempt of the king of Benin nursing the ambition of seducing his wife Okpella fled from Edo with his wife for security.
He decided to move very far away beyond the areas the Ọba had powers over. In other version, he was said to have left Benin empire to hunt for Leopard; it should be recalled that Leopard skins were exported by Benin empire to Portugal in the 15th century. The above account strongly suggested that Okpella origin lies in Benin. We can date their departure to the time of Ọba-Ewuare “The selfish” between 14th and 16th century; having travelled for many months, Ikpomaza and his team camped at Umar near Ijah in Akoko-Edo Local Government. Ikpomaza and his team settled at Ijiase there he had is only son named Okpia meaning “Good aroma”.The name “Okpia” was later corrupted to Okpella meaning “unity of Okhu”. Okpomaza died and he was buried at Ijiase his son Okpella instituted the pilgrimage to his grave yard during the all-embracing “Otu” or “Idaetche” festival.
This is celebrated till today in Okpella. Ikpomaza and his team they met two aborigines’ groups which are the Okhu at Amovie cave and Epema at Epema rock. These aborigines’ languages were similar to that of Okpella indication that they also migrated at much more earlier period. They were the first people to settle in the land Okpella occupies today. Their interaction between the two groups has led to the people of Okhu almost losing their original dialect. Okhu language and Epema language is now fully absorbed into Okpella language although each section still retain its tradition of origin. Okpella married a woman called Ogieumah “a name reminiscent of the former place of settlement” and they had three children two boys and a girl by names they are: Nte, Ase, and Ekuri respectively. When the boys were of age they got their wives from the neighboring people. The love their parents had for their daughter made them refuse to give her hand to a man in marriage ,her lover husband came to settle with her in her father’s house where she give birth to the people of Imiekuri (the desendants of Ekuri).
Ase the second son was very adventurous and while on an hunting expendition discovered another suitable site for settlement. Eku was the new place of settlement to Ase and his family, Ase was nicknamed Oteku. He paid regular visit to his parents although his elder brother Ute was unhappy with his departure. Oteku never returned to his parents but had children in his new place and they became the founder of the three settlement in Ukhomuyhio (Afokpella) ,Iddo, and ogiriga. Ute the senior son of Okpella remained with his parents and give birth to the founder of the settlements of Ogute, Awuyemi, and Imiegiele.
However, Okpella is divided into two sections Ogute “which is the heart beat of Okpella” and Oteku. In Ogute section the following are the villages: Ogute-Oke, Udiegua, Imiagwese, Imieghiele, Awuyemi, Okhu, Oturogbe and Imiekurei “the children of the daughter of Okpella”. In Oteku “the children of Ase”, we have Iddo, Afokpella, Iyeluwa, Kalasa, and Ogiriga.while, Okhu forms part of Ogute, Ẹphema belongs to Oteku. The Okpella people have semblances in their traditional institutions with those of Benin, it is safe to assert that the Origin of Okpella by no means obscured and that there has been a consistent link between Okpella and Benin. The Benin work of art especially wood carving and basket weaving were also carried down to Okpella. If need be the trace of this works of art survives in Ogiriga and Utegie villages of Okpella till today.
Culture can be seen as an art, custom, and habits that characterize a particular society or nation. It is a belief, value, behavior and material objects that constitute a people’s life.
Culture is the evaluation of mind or body by education, training that is handed down from one generation to another; it is said to be the identity of a group of people.
The existence of any society or community has its own distinct way of life. The way they eat, what they wear, religion, occupation, festivals, their mode of marriage, e.t.c. In Okpella just like every society community have their distinctive culture and tradition.
Tradition and Festivals in Okpella Festival are seen by the people of Okpella as event or gathering that is usually staged to showcase the essence of their local community. These centers on some theme, sometimes the unique aspect of their community and in honour of their gods or ancestors.
The Otu or Idaetche (Pure Blood Festival)
The ceremony cannot be highly emphasized without describing some of its significance. The Out (pure blood festival) afford the legible child of the clan the opportunity to his brothers on the pilgrimage to the grave yard of his ancestors Ikpomaza and to establish his Okpella ancestry to the depth of four generation on both his father and mother lines.
The only exception to the last point were the sons of a woman married from outside Okpella called “Iyienabor” and the children of a woman married from Oteku side or village like Afopella, Iddo, Ogiriga, Iyeluwa e.t.c called “Iyelode”. They are allowed to give only the paternal or father’s names.
However, the festival is only open to the son of the soil born of the origin of Okpella and if a strange not of the origin of Okpella and if a stranger not of the Origin of Okpella is recalcitrant and enroll himself into the Idaetche festival; he will be fought by the spirit of the of the pure blood is either he comes out wounded or being lifted up shoulder high by the age grade that symbolizes his death.
The last three Out took place in: Ega-uma in 1928, Akhinekho-uma in 1952 and Uma-ghele 1973. Generally, the time for the Idaetche ranged between 25-30 years. It is advisable for a stranger to steer clear from the Idaetche festival.
Orimi Festival (Masquerade Festival)
Masquerade festival is a prominent festival that is celebrated in Africa society with the same motive and belief. Africans believe there must be link between the dead and the living, for those that celebrates the masquerade festival they believe when celebrating it; it conjure their dead ancestors back to life.
Orimi festival is celebrated once in a year in Okpella. The eve to the actual day of the festival is usually celebrated with whipping of themselves and those that unfortunately come their way.
The day of the festival will showcase different masquerade with diverse dancing steps which they believe that their ancestors are back to life and this festival is still celebrated till today.
The Osoku festival was invented by a woman, who was newly married to an Okpella man; it was rather unfortunate that the man was enlisted into the army. The man went to war to fight for his clan in other to resist incursion of neighboring villages unfortunately he was killed.
The woman was grieved by the death of her husband. She engage herself in an expedition to find the killer of her husband with a calabash containing a knife in her hand singing that: “she is looking for the killer of her husband that her husband was her enemy that if the person can come out and identify that he was the killer of her husband that he will marry the man in other to show appreciation for the killing of her husband”.
She found the killer of her husband she explains how much she hate her husband and she personally showed interest in marring the man and the man agreed. When it was dusk, she slept with the man and in the middle of the night; she brought out the calabash containing the knife and cut-off the man’s head and escaped with it. She arrived back at Okpella singing that she has killed the man that killed her husband that is how the Osoku festival came into existence.
Burial Ceremony in Okpella
Burial has been a common phenomenon in Africa society, anybody that dies are always conceal into the earth in other to enhance his/her journey into the spirit world that is the believe of a typical society.
The burial rite in Okpella is as similar to any African society except the exclusion of these two distinct people in Okpella, taking about the king and the Atsogua title holder.
The Burial of Okpella King
The traditional of the Okpella people demands that; whenever they experience the demise of the paramount ruler of Okpella kingdom, he must be buried before anybody knows in the community that is the dictate of the tradition that guides the co-existence of the Okpella people.
The Atsogua Title Holder.
The tradition of the Okpella people holds the Atsogua title holder in high-esteem, he is highly respected and could be crowned as the king since the Atsogua is the repository of the custom and tradition of the people as they inherited them from their ancestors; they are always given priority in any gathering, they also have the opportunity to share first in anything to be shared.
When an Atsogua gives up the ghost, he is buried in a round grave and a cave will be dug as an extension of the grave inside the rounded hole, inside the cave is where the remains of the Atsogua will be kept; the rounded hole would be dug with stir cases which are seven in numbers. The burial ceremony lasts for seven (7) and the seven stir cases signifies seven day and each stir case will be covered per day till the seventh day lapse. It is a sign of respect for the Atsogua.
Occupation of the Okpella People.
The main occupation of the people of Okpella is farming statistically 85% of the people of Okpella are farmers. They experience two kinds of season, which are wet and dry season, they are experienced from May-October and from November-April respectively.
The land is well drained and very fertile. They practice shifting cultivation because of the abundance of land for farming. Crop grown in Okpella are Yam, Cassava, is their main product that is produced in Okpella at present, they also produce crops like Maize, Beans, Melon, Garden eggs, Groundnut, Rice, Guinea corn, Tomatoes e.t.c.
However, in the forest area they plant Cocoa trees, Kolanut, Cocoyam, Walnut, and also, Palm tree grows wildly in the forest zones. Natural products of the land like Palm tree, Locust beans tree, Dica nuts, e.t.c belong to the owners of the land and when harvested are shared among the different families; apart from Agriculture they are specialist in crafts like cloth-weaving, wood-carving and traditional brick-laying.
The town play host to the Edo Cement Company in then old mid-west region, which itself was establish by Dennis Osadebey and Hon. Musa Godfrey administration in 1964 with the late Chief. Ikhumitse Olowu, as its pioneer chairman. In view of abundance of other solid material, is a home to several granite and marble-making industries, which gives the community a vibrant industrial outlook and job opportunities for the villagers
Religion in Okpella.
Before the advent of the colonial era, there were missionaries. The Okpella people in general were known to have had a peculiar way of life towards traditional religion; they were traditionalist.
The people believe in the existence of the supreme God (Eshinegba), the ruler of both the living and the dead. The mentality of the Okpella people tends to believe that death was only a transformation into the spirit form; they believe that the dead were still very much with them.
Each family had a shrine which represented their ancestors and was regularly called upon for deliverance from evil spirit (Okphagie). Villages around had its own shrine where annual ceremonies were held to affirm their faith in the legacies of their ancestors. Idols were worshiped in families in accordance with the tradition and culture handed down from one generation to another.
However, with respect to the incursion of the westerners they brought the change in dynasty that paved way for the introduction of Christian religion which was well welcomed by the people of Okpella, at present dated back to when this research was carried out: the people of Okpella practice mixed religion, some took side with their traditional religion while some choices to be Christian and Muslim by the virtue of faith.
The predominant religion in Okpella is Christianity and Islam which is the minority, the traditional religion is going to extinction gradually in the kingdom of Okpella because they identified themselves being a kingdom and not a town.
Mode of Marriage among Okpella People.
Marriage is the union between two people that creates a family tie. Marriages in Okpella are of three kinds: The Arhemeh, Ode and Enabor.
According to the tradition of Okpella people, their custom demands that; an Okpella by birth must not marry a woman from Uneme village and the reason why this pronouncement was made was during the inter-tribal war the Okpella people seek the services of the Uneme people because the Okpella people were in short of weapons and the occupation of the Uneme people was majorly blacksmith.
However, the king and the people made their plight known to them; that they needed weapons to fight their neighboring villages, the Uneme people willingly accepted to help them, they came to Okpella in mass because they were majorly blacksmith they were given accommodation.
The people of Okpella showed appreciation for the services rendered they laid a curse that; any Okpella man must not marry an Uneme woman or even have sex with them and if such an Okpella man remains adamant, death is the penalty and there is no remedy because such person will swell in the stomach and die. Marriages in Okpella are of three types: The Arhemeh, Ode and Enabor.
This is between the males and females of the people of the same section or of the two sections in Okpella. When a male and a female of Ogute section are married to themselves, it is called Arhemeh marriage.
The Ode Marriage:
This marriage is between the males and females of one section and the other section Ogute and Oteku. When a male from Ogute goes to Oteku to marry a wife, the marriage is called Ode marriage and the children of the marriage are called Iyelode.
The Enabor Marriage:
This is a marriage between a male in Okpella clan and a female of another clan of the same local government area or elsewhere in the country. The child of this marriage is called Iyienabor (meaning children of a foreign woman). Marriage among Okpella people is very cheap the materials needed are of minimal quantity such as Goat, palm wine, bag of salt, yam e.t.c.
A girl could be betrothed to a man at an early age the man rendered services to his in-law; such services include running errands, manual labour in the farms, sawing of wood, building or repairing of houses e.t.c. He made regular presentation of gifts to the girls coupled with visit until the girl is matured for marriage.
Misunderstanding between the couples are settled by the family of the husband but when she sent herself parking to her father’s house, the parent either sent her back if they were not pleased with her reasons or they teamed up with the in-laws to settle the dispute.
When there is a divorce, the man will have the custody of the grown up children born by the couple and the younger ones under the age of six and seven years would be under the care of the mother until they grow up and then handed over to the family of the husband or the husband himself.
The divorce could be done through court action or within the family of the couple or the palace of the village head or the clan head. Fornication and adultery were strictly forbidden in those days but since the advent of western civilization, things are now falling apart, some and indeed most villages. That is why proper care must be taken when it comes to matters of marriage.
Leadership and Government in Okpella.
The present paramount ruler in Okpella is Alhaji. Andrew Yusuf Eshioramhe Dirisu, a justice of the peace; he assured the throne of his ancestors in 1971, with the title of Okuokpellagbe of Okpella. The clan head is regulated by chieftaincy declaration law of Bendel state 1981, as applicable to Edo state. There are six (6) ruling families in Okpella kingdom namely: Imiegiele, Awuyemi, Iddo, Afopella, Imikure and Ogute. The present king was selected from the Imiegiele ruling house that is the Okuokpellagbe of Okpella. However, the king has not being the only personnel responsible for the protection and guidance of the custom and tradition in Okpella. The king delegates his authority to some prominent people in the society otherwise called chiefs and they are: The Atsogua , The village head “Iziaki”, The Dadu, The age grade: The Okthoya, The Omulebe, The Otu-Eniye.
The Atsogua is highly respected chief in Okpella, since the Itsogua(plural) were the repository of the custom and tradition of the clan people as they inherited them from their ancestors; they also have the opportunity to share first in anything to be shared. Thus, after the demise of the king, the Atsogua could be crowned as the King; if situation calls for it.
The Village Head (Iziaki).
The Iziaki performs the role of second in command to the king, when it comes to managing the affairs of the citizens “Villagers” of Okpella kingdom; as at when this research was carried out the present village head of Okpella “Iziaki” is: High chief, B.I Ahudu “The village head of Imiegiele one (1). This position is not hereditary; it is subjected to rational selection of a felicitous candidate.
The Dadu is directly responsible to the village head known as the, “Iziaki”, because it is the village head that appoints the “Dadu’s, but the appointment needs the approval of the king. The village head delegates duties to the Dadu for proper and effective administration.
The Okthoya (Okhithoya “plural”).
The Okhithoya age grade represents the heir apparent to “Otu”ceremony. Its members constitute the police force, the armed forces, the village labour force and they were responsible for the burial of the dead whether old or young.
The age grade is next to Okhithoya age grade. They were sometimes delegated to work with the Okhithoya in any public assignment. They have no right of theirs in such an obligation except they are directed to do so by their senior grade.
This age grade though, it is regarded as the one for the youths, but it contains elderly men. Their assignment includes the clearing of the village square, the path to the sources of drinking water, the village shrine, puddling and molding blocks and running errands.