It is on record that the gospel came to Igbo land more than one hundred and fifty years ago. Today we can boast of cardinals who are Igbos capable of standing for the office of a pope. The Anglicans have produced a primate and many denominations, have several Arch bishops, Bishops, whereas others have general Superintendents/Overseers and such high ecclesiastical offices. In the academic world, we have world class professors and consultants; some are even advisers to the president of America. Legal Luminaries and medical practitioners of international repute abound. In the business world, our people have taken immeasurable strides. All these are evidences of civilization. Thatched buildings have disappeared so much so that some of our children do not know what they looked like.
The abolition of slavery was in our favor. The “white man” fought the abolition and enforcement of abolition on our behalf. They have since become history. Such vices like nudity and killing of twins have also been a historic event. But one idolatrous, barbaric and wicked practice still throws mud of shame to our faces – the Osu caste in Igbo land. Barbaric, because some people who are regarded as Osu don’t even know what it is? They just inherited the stigma. Idolatrous, because its origin is from idol worship – the ancient belief of our ignorant forefathers. Wicked because, we castigate and outlaw people who committed no offence – legal offence is not hereditary or transferable.
WHAT IS OSU
This is a very important question – what is an Osu? A young man asked his father that question and the father could not explain. The young man retorted, “Are you advising me not to marry an Osu girl yet you do not know what it is. This is wicked.” The father softly told him that he grew up hearing that they do not marry from Osu family and so they took it as a norm. Hopefully many readers may understand the origin of Osu from this write up. A few books and seminar papers have been written on this subject. What you will read from this write up is my personal research and extract from such books written by personalities like Chinua Achebe, Ezeala Jol, Ogbalu F C, Arinze Francis, Obi Sebastine, Okpala Favour, Okigbo and Marnesschs Ekere to mention but a few.
From every point of view Osu emerged from traditional religion. Somebody can become an Osu by dedication willingly or unwillingly. Prisoners of war, slaves or kidnapped people may be dedicated to appease an angry god to remove calamity from the land while some are dedicated as punishment for an offense they may have committed in the community. Others, in order to escape maltreatment, including being turned into slaves from powerful relations, dedicated themselves willingly by running into the shrine for protection. Those people become agents of the gods with marks and their hair uncared for. There are still others who committed crimes punishable by death from the community, such people run to the protection of the deity and so lose every right of the society and serve the deity instead.
Others became Osu by marrying or sleeping on beds or having sexual relationship with an Osu. In some societies when one uses the same razor for barbing or eating with an Osu or helping to carry the corpse of Osu or cross the leg of an Osu. There are still others who became an Osu through suspicions and gossips. For example, if two women are quarreling and one calls the other Osu or even Ozu (death) which sounds like Osu; at later death, people will begin to associate that person with the Osu, and that’s it.
In some communities females born on Eke day (Mgbeke) or on Orie day (Mgborie) become Osu by traditional belief.
NATURE AND CHANLLENGES OF OSU CASTE
From what has been so far noted, generations who are ignorant of these cultural and idolatrous practices are today suffering from this stigma; whether their forefather willingly or unwillingly became Osu. It is wicked and very unfortunate. Moreover all those stories are antiquated and heathenish. In some parts of Igbo land these people are not even today allowed to participate in government elections, much less town union elections. In other places, they don’t intermarry with those who are not. The later appears to be general in Igbo land.
I make bold to say with deep disappointment that this practice is a challenge to the enlightened in the society – the educated, the traveled, the Church as a whole, our leaders in the governments, our chiefs, Obis and Ezes, our legal luminaries, our senators and House of Representative members. What are we standing for? What is the church preaching? The “white man” fought against slavery and our fore fathers were liberated. Early Christians (still the whites) fought against the killing of twins.
Today many twins who would have been killed are making their marks in the society. The Americans have voted a black man to become their president, thereby removing the past obnoxious segregation of blacks from whites. Why should we come back to our land to enslave our brothers and sisters? I call upon the church, the human right activists, the youth, the government and all that abhor victimization to rise in every quarter and act. Remember, that in some communities they are called Oru, Uchu, Ume. Whatever name, caste is caste and should be abrogated. In some communities it is an abomination for a wife/husband to see the corpse of his or her spouse. Our government abolished it officially since 1956 and put it into law. Let this law be enforced. I call on all those authors who had written against it to now join us to see the total eradication of Osu in our society through legal procedures and whatever possible way within the law and human right procedures. May I congratulate some town unions that have abolished it in their towns. Let the youth rise up, ignore wicked uncouth advices and marry whoever they love and ignore the societal pressure not to do so. When the youths do so Osu will become a thing of the past sooner than later. God will be glorified and our generation blessed.
We, the Igbos have come of age. We cannot continue to listen to fables. We cannot continue to dance to the wimps and caprices of the ignorant and barbaric cultures. We are known to be pragmatic, contributors of developments and advancements in diverse societies and enterprises. We cannot be associated with people who wash their outside cups whereas the inside is full of dirt. This is the time to show that we have fully come of age. Osu caste system and the like must go. Liberty, freedom and enfranchisement for all.
The Rt. Rev.C. A. S. C.Hukuka
(Bishop Emeritus, Anglican Diocese of Isuikwuato-Umunneochi)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters