Celebration of ‘Ori’ (Eche’ori Festival in Ebira)
Echori, as the new connotes, is the festival of ‘Ori’. This festival has its roots in the belief that the soul or spirit of dead people, particularly holy people with supernatural powers, departs the physical body to heaven. A place of his or her choice is designated where he is annually revered as a saint, ‘Wali’ in Arabic or ‘Woli’ in Yoruba which the Ebira people corrupted as ‘Orit in the Ebira language.
The ‘Ori’ is believed to be the intercessor between the Almighty God and the living. The spot so designated as ‘Ori’ is regarded as his sacred place of rest and with some sacrifices offered when in need of his/her assistance, he/she appears in form of a ghost and renders this assistance. This is the concept of ‘Orit itself. The place of worship can be in the form of certain species of trees or rocks, etc irrespective of the actual burial grave.
There, is placed an object from the ghost, on the first appearance; subsequently worshipped can be in the of certain species of trees or rocks, etc irrespective of the actual burial grave. There, is placed an object from the ghost, on the first appearance; subsequently worshiped with a given formula to be chanted to invite the ghost for spiritual consultations.
Echori festivals are celebrated mainly in Ihima and Eganyi. They are believed to be husband and wife, respectively referring to ‘Ori Ihima’ as the wife of ‘Ori Eganyi’. Hence according to the explanation that follows, these places of ‘Ori’ worship denote the sacred resting places of the holy ghosts of Onyiohu, Ada’ai Ita’azi’s first wife (the mother of Adaviriku, Uga, and Ono’otu) on one hand at ‘Ori Ihima’ while that of Adatai Ita’azi himself is regarded as ‘Ori Eganyi’ (most probably transferred from its Opete site to Eganyi) following the migration of Ita’azi’s grandchildren from Opete Compound where Ita’azi was buried.
Ebira oral tradition has it that the mother of Adavi, Uga, and Ihima, used to pay regular visits to her three children from Opete. And that during the such visit, she would first call at Adavi’s place, then proceed to Uga and finally Ihima, where, she would stay for quite a long time before leaving for Opete. But during her last visit, she fell ill and Ihima did not report to his elder brothers until the dying moment; hence they paid deaf ears to the news.
On the second occasion, Ihima emphasized the need for them to come and check her as her condition was becoming worse. Out of the fact that she was of age and that the weather was cold, they simply advised Ihima to go and fetch firewood and warm—up her sleeping apartment, to check the excessive colds.
And when on the third occasion Ihima came to inform them that he feared the mother was going to die, Ihima barely returned to her when she finally gave up the ghost. Ihima, according to the mother’s will, buried her at the place, supposedly where the annual ‘Eche—irikuta’ rituals are performed to date in Ihima. By the time Adavi and Uga arrived to check on their mother they met she had died and had already been buried. This, they did not take kindly.
They went back home disappointed and finally decided to come and exhume They came in the company of their children. On arrival, ‘Ozi—Akuta’ who was being brought—up under Ihima was asked to conduct them around, in search of the possible place where the grave was sited; to which he replied in the negative because the burial was in his absence.
It could be recalled that this was a sequel to Ihima’s refusal to show them their mother’s grave. As if he knew that they would insist on exhuming the corpse, Ihima and his male children dug the grave in the absence of ‘Ozi Akuta’, who was sent on an errand to Okengwe. And before he returned they had completed the burial in a perfect secret place. When Ihima was asked to disclose the place he refused.
They asked ‘Ozi Akuta! who claimed he was not around when Ihima did the burial and as such. did not know the place. They insisted that he should conduct them through possible routes to all the places he used to accompany Ihima to in the area. During this search, with ‘Ozi Akuta’ taking the lead, Ihima and his male children descended on them with canes, as they headed in the right direction. In the ensuing scuffle, Ihima succeeded in chasing them back and Ihima so prevented them from exhuming the corpse. This is why Ihima people are tagged as treacherous people to date.
Oral tradition also has it that during the following harvest season, Ihima, in remembrance of the love between him and the late mother, whereby he used to offer her the first for necessary decided to commemorate the same by some rituals to invite her ghost to bless the year’s harvest as usual. The ghost had earlier appeared to ‘Ozi Akuta’ to whom she gave a mystical power object which he was instructed to bury at the spot where the annual rituals are performed to date.
These rituals include the sacrifice of new yams, amongst others; known in Ihima, today, as ‘Echori’. And to commemorate the role of ‘Ozi Akuta’ (the Ihima based Akuta son by Otura’s direct sister), his descendants who belong to Akuta sub-clan of the Agada clan (Okengwe), still leads the contingent to the place of sacrifice. The fight which ensued between Ihima and the brothers resulting in the use of a cane is still fondly remembered by the use of canes during the festival.
The rituals for inviting the ghost for necessary consultation are presided by the Chief Priest,’Onutu ori’ of the year. This function is rotated among only three clans in Ihima, namely, An’ Emani, An’Ohueta, and Ezi Oha; for obvious reasons. And according to Ebira oral tradition, Onototu (Ihima) intimated his senior brother Adaviriku Ehinkoto about his intention to perform this ritual to honour their mother.
And three days to the slated day, Adaviriku Ehinkoto, for fear that Ihima was trying to take—over his seniority from him under this pretext and consequently cultivate the habit of eating new yam before him, decided to perform a similar ritual in his compound three days before the slated day.
The annual commemoration of this ritual at the ancient Ada’ai Eba compound, on Okehi hill, is what is referred to as ‘Ete Oisi’. That is why on the third day of ‘Echane ana Adavi’ at about 4:00 pm., all masquerades retire from the stage and people converge to the Okehi hill settlement of Ada’ai Eba to perform the necessary ritual.
This ceremony is also strictly guided by some laid down rules and regulations and the annual performance is rotated only among An’Upopuvete, Ezi Uka, and Aniku; for obvious reasons too. Even the leading of celebrants to the ritual ground is done by “An’Emani Uporo” closely related to “An’Upopuvete’.
These “An’Emani Uporo are offsprings of Ahere and Iko; not direct descendants of Apasi. They are different from “An’Emani Obeiba”; hence their encomia, “Ozi Iko, Ozi Ahere” and “Ozi Ochiga, Ozi Obono, Ozi Otura banya” respectively.
It was a common thing in those days for people to cash in on minor things and start using it as precedence, often resulting in claims of rights and seniority, for this reason, coupled with the fact that the memory of their mother’s burial was still haunting him, which should have been in Adavi’s compound instead of being Adavi did not take any chance again.
Imagine what is happening in Ebiraland today, ‘Aneika’ and ‘Anokehi’ now strongly cash in on the homage being paid annually to ododo and obaji during Ekuechi festival and now create the impression that Obaj i and Ododo were the founders of Ebiraland, instead of their mere roles as custodians of Eku cult. The fact remains that all festivals in Ebiraland have specific objectives behind them.
The circumstances leading to the establishment of Echori festival at Eganyi are slightly different. Ebira oral tradition has it that when the women left at the Opete compound wanted some spiritual protection after the death of Ada’ai Ita’azi, they consulted the oracles and they were directed to go and offer some sacrifices at a particular spot in Opete area but the deity has now been transferred to Eganyi area; now designated as ‘Ori Eganyi’.
There is the belief that this area is the sacred resting place of Ada’ai Ita’azi and after the offerings of these sacrifices, similar to the manner of the performances of ‘ori lhima’ ritual, all requests will be answered and the spirit of this our great ancestor will give all the necessary guidance and protection in all endeavours of the new year.
In a similar manner, our oral tradition also has it that in those days, nursing mothers who had nobody to look after their young ones only needed to deposit their children somewhere on a certain rock on Okehi hill beside a certain pond of water.
After necessary homage-paying incantations, the child will be left behind making sure that the nursing mother would be leaving the designated spot, she should not look back. In return, the child’s mother would meet her child already bathed and taken care all she again needed to do was to thank the Great Mother for looking after the child and depart without looking back.
Traditions also have it that any disobedient nursing mother as regards these simple rules would not go unpunished There was an instance of a nursing mother who deliberately decided to disobey the rules with a view to meeting face—to—face with the Great Mother. She saw her ghost and thence she was commanded to enter into a nearby tree.
This tree is still referred to as a magic tree; with its sap from one side being white while the sap from the opposite side of the tree produces a blood-like substance believed to be the blood of this disobedient woman and that the side in question was the side through which she entered into the tree, as commanded.
The Okehi hills with all the associated supernatural powers offered such magical protection during the Bida and British invasions of Ebiraland. Hence the Echori festival at Ihima is not only in memory of our ancestral mother buried there but it also serves as homage paying to the hill for the wonderful protection it gave the entire Ebiraland during those days of foreign invasions. The Echori festival is now regarded more or less as New Yam Festival in Ebiraland.