UKPE-INEMEN IN HISTORY & THE PLACE OF UKHUMHONROR, THE DEIFIED WOMAN OF VIRTUE
To say that Inemen people are serious minded farmers among the major known quarters in Ugboha kingdom in Esan South east Local Government Area of Edo state, is simply stating the obvious. Inemen is made up of Nine closely linked quarters: Aneni, Akubor, Egbene, Oyomon, Odagbor, Ohunmhende, Esogban, Ugbeni and Ukpoke. Around the month of August through October of every year, Osanor festival is observed. It will be officially announced that Ukhumhun folo! No more hunger since there is new yam from the farm. However, both those who invested their time on cassava, cocoyam, Maize, and even those who do not have farm they can call their own, etc also join in the celebrations. Hmmmm.
In this piece, I wish to historicize Ukpe-Inemen and examine the place occupied by the deified Ukhumhonror goddess as she is celebrated on the first day of the five (5) days festival by Inemen people of Ugboha. Beside, to keep the memories of our valued fathers and celebrate same within a slated day of the year, is a worthwhile project. This is Ukpe festival as the Western world through religious numeclature, would prefer to call a resemblance of our Ukpe, festival, a “Memorial service”. It is my sincere hope that this voyage of historical ideas would serve the intended objective(s), especially that of closing up of the lacuna occasioned by dearth of literature in this area of our Cherished culture for posterity.
Death is not an annihilation but a temporal separation in the physical from the family to Ugboha people. So, during Ukpe feast, the eldest son whose right it is to preside at the family Altar, celebrates the exit and memories of his father with his kins men and women. In the month of May as it tallies with about the sixth (6th) Luna month, a date is usually fixed for the celebrations. It takes about “Usumhun”, ( 9days) notice by the elders who will converge at the Okoughe, by Okekada at Aneni quarters.
The age groups are mandated to tidy up the known ancestral grounds like the rebuilding of Okoughe, clearing and cleaning of the Alugbe Shrine location at Esogban, Ukhumhonror Altar, (along Amalu road and the annex in front of Hon. Giwa family house through Adava market road), roads to the streams, as well as the foot paths within the quarters in Inemen. Individuals, takes care of there compounds. It is usually the prayers of all concerned that they may not be like the grasses that were alive when the date for Ukpe was announced, but did not live to celebrate it. (Osenobulua, khe jimen jabhi ilunbhun nori bhe gbolele, na sirale ruukpeyi, abhaye sirale luele), Isee.
Yesterday, being the commencement of Ukpe-Inemen festival 2021 edition, called Edo- oralor, ie the day designated for scrubbing of the house with specially dug red sand from Oeken/ Ekizide through Otoikhimhin/ Uzea axis, the cebrants in their respective homes, remembers the exploits of Ukhumhonror who is now deified, in the evening of day one. She has been accorded a place of a guardian Angel in the traditional arrangements of men and women whose memories in the annals of Inemen history, were elevated for honour. She was of the Akubor ancestry and her contributions to the overall stability and progress of Inemen, earned her the revered place. Hence, till date, the priest is resident in that quarter.
On this day, (day one of Ukpe-Inemen), a well prepared pounded yam with an unmistakable soup to match, is made available by the family who has accepted Ukhumhonror as a venerated goddess with a small clay pot to represent her Altar. Funny though, there can be as many pots as possible in one family who are lovers of Ukhumhonror’s virtues and wish to identify with her religiously. This is not restricted to Inemen alone for she has lots of fans all over Ugboha and outside the kingdom.
So, before anyone would eat from the prepared meal, a piece of the food will be cut out of the dish and properly stained with the soup and attached to the mouth of the pots with statements like: “Ukhumhonror henre” (Ukhumhonror, show up please), “Le ni me le” ( Eat so that I can eat) or ” Miele, ni melee” (Accept this so that I can also eat). Thereafter, others can go on with the meal.
It is traditionally believed that on the first day after the evening meal, it must rain to enable Ukhumhonror to wash her hands. This is mystical. It is very rare that this occurrence is taken to be a mere coincidence. If the rain is not heavy, it will at least shower. This keeps the people happy that their reverence for Ukhumhonror, “Ugbe buru buru”, has accepted their sacrifice of love.
THE UKPE- INEMEN PROPER:
It is the responsibility of the Omondion, the keeper of Ijogbe, to take the lead in the festival. He gets a sizeable he-goat, good and presentable tubers of yam: Asuku, Ogoma, Olii, Obokpo, Kanee, etc. Water yam: (Onoguba, Onojomama, Upara, Enyin- Igbo), was scarcely in use and no fufu either. Other items are kegs of palm wine, and a bottle of locally brewed gin from Ebhoiki- Uzea, my dear mother’s place; a plate of kola nuts and Asinedo, basket of smoked fish from Ozigono and Egah markets and bush meat carefully kept in the family Amun for a while, etc.
All of the items above, will be presented for inspection by the family members in attendance. The celebrant will personally announce to his kins men that he wished to thank his father for the support he has enjoyed all through the year having completed a fruitful year by the late Father’s careful guidance. Prayers will be offered and the goat will be killed at a specified corner of the living room (Oduwa), called Father’s altar ( Alueramhen).
The supervising elder will instruct one of the family young men to supervise the roasting of the goat as well as the preparation of goat peper soup. The wives in the family takes care of the cooking amidst jubilation and cheers as they reflect on the life and times of the departed father whose memories is being celebrated. Omhon Ohiele at its best is available during this festival. Hence, a good definition of a dish is Emukpe, ie Emukpe, is a dish!
Emikpokor (the part of pounded yam kept for those who participated in the pounding of yam from house to house as the ceremony lasts), is usually very delicious. All eat from thesame Ugba and Urolo. Pounded yam bathed sufficiently with the well cooked Ogbono soup, is made available for the Otu. This was the beauty of communalism amongst our people before strange religious beliefs were presented to us with the mandate (unconsciously though) of suspecting each other. We cannot freely eat with ourselves any longer. Ukpe helps to promote the ” Okpamakhin” philosophy yesteryears.
A male child that is born during the Ukpe festival is named ORUKPE! For the records, this is the major feast of our people before the advent of Christianity. Christmas, which is the festival from the Occidental world with no generally agreed date of observance, seems to have taken over our traditional feast. It use to be that time of the year when in-laws pay homages to the families of their wives: Bundles of sizeable tubers of yam, kegs of palm wine, etc were the approved items for such visits. It is called Iro- Oga. Come to think of it, unknown personalities to us without any family relationship have been forced on us to be kept in our memories. But why?
Whereas, our fathers, my father and the likes, whom I /or we related with directly, are described as idols while theirs are Saints. This is not acceptable to me. If we have been told to pray by mentioning Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and that I must not mention the name of my father, mother, hmmmm, colonialism is not over especially that of mental colonialism. Hence, I am rethinking Ukpe- Inemen festival.
Ihe- ihukpe is a strong aspect of the festival that is often prayed against. It any person in the community dies during Ukpe festival, such a person is said to have “He- ihukpe”, (such has carried the load of Ukpe). May no one be a victim of Ihu- Ukpe this year oooo. Aminnn? In case such happened, it takes ” Usiemhin igbe bhe ene” 14 specified items to appease the ancestors through Enejion before such will be buried after the Ukpe festival. Hence, ” Iroboinosen” is strongly advised… Stay out of trouble so that Alimhin will not strike.
To all Inemen sons and daughters, ibharebhe Isonaogbe, I’ma bhojaluuu! May the years ahead be better and more peaceful for all of us. May the blessed memories of our fathers motivate us to live well with ourselves, others and above all, be at peace with Osenobulua N Udaziii, Iseee!! Owesena!!! Remember after the one week feasting period,( Uhen), there’s Irobukpe yu- ugbo time oooo. Farm work resumes for a new year to begin.
May God bless Inemen clan, Ugboha kingdom, and Esanland.
From all of us @ Zibilism
A special dedication to my Elder brothers: Pst. S. A. Izibili,
Prof. Polycarp Ikuenobe,
Prof. F. E. Enegho &
Prof. I. E. Ukpokolo.