Urhobo Traditional Jurisprudence and Primogeniture


By Bobson Gbinije

“Whilst thou waitest for dead men’s old shoes, thine own exertions might procure thee new ones. Be like the bee, and thou shall gather the honey of life and not cursed dungeons”— Napoleon’s Oraculum

The tradition of primogeniture entails the total non-negotiable handing over of power of attorney over properties, titles, positions, etc to the eldest son. This is a very common practice all over the world. The eldest son and not the eldest daughter is looked upon as the pretender to the throne. And as soon as the king dies he is crowned as the next king. He is always regarded as the king in waiting.

Urhobo Warriors

In the African primordial setting, the tradition of primogeniture was looked upon as the only formula for ensuring peace, continuity of family totems and upholding atavistic per relics within the family setting. It was looked upon as sacrilegious and a blatant breach of ancestral injunction to deviate from it. Sometimes curses were invoked and the culprits were placed under the yoke of excommunication, ostracisation and anathemisation.

Among the Masai tribe of Kenya, the Junkuns, the Gwaris and the Edo-speaking tribes of Nigeria, the tradition of primogeniture still maintains its’ inviolacy, both in traditional institutions and family hierarchy. It is so uncompromisingly entrenched in the lives of the people that it is sometimes likened to the inseparability of the tortoise and its carapace syndrome.

Historical recapitulations and anthropological investigations have revealed that there was once an Edo king who was a certified moron. But his imbecilic fancies did not deter tradition from holding sway. As the eldest son he mounted the throne of his fathers. The Edo- speaking people of Nigeria-Esan, Etsako, Owan, Igarra and Okpameri-still uphold the tradition of primogeniture with Trojan and unblemished zealotry. It is upheld with religious devotion; notwithstanding the incursions of Western civilization vide education, religion and technology.

But amongst the Itsekiris and of late some of the Urhobo-speaking people of Delta State, the tradition of primogeniture has been consigned to the unfathomable dungeon of placebos, both in traditional institutions, and in family hierarchy and circles. This is because of the politicization and monetization of kingship and sometimes because of the unfitness of the heir apparent.

In Urhoboland where kings litter every nooks and crannies, the system is submerged in total torpsy-turvydom. The politicization and monetization of titles has led to the wanton proliferation of kingdoms and kingship without any regard for any effective formula. Some argue that this is because the Urhobos are “Republicans” by nature and bearing. But some posit that Republicanism does not thrive on anarchy and planlessness.

In the Okpe kingdom for example, the system of primogeniture to the kingship does not holdsway.IGBOZE, the Ancestral founder of the Okpe kingdom had four gates. The “Adane Okpe” featuring Esezi, Orhoro, Orhue and Evwreke. We have had Esezi the first, Esezi the second, Orhoro the first and now Orhue 1. After our revered Orodje must have lived for 1,000 years God willing, are we going to have an Orhoro the second or Orhue the second or will it be Evwreke the first? This, I do believe, will be left for the Odogun Okpe and the Okpe people to decide. But wouldn’t it have been much better, if there was a responsible and reliable formula bereft of politics, money and influence peddling?

In his keynote address delivered on September 1, 2007, HRM ORHUE 1, ORODJE OF OKPE KINGDOM, LLM,CFR AT THE 3RD ANNUAL CONVENTION OF THE OKPE UNION OF NORTH AMERICA HELD AT MARRIOTT HOTEL, COLLEGE PARK, MARYLAND, USA, TITLED “TRADITION AND GOVERNANCE IN OKPE KINGDOM”. He posited that, “The Okpe people are patrilineal in their family structure. Perhaps this is the reason, as I tried to indicate earlier, that our oral history tends to play down on the matrilineal side of the Okpe people. Inheritance is by primogeniture; that is, it is anchored upon the first descendant. In Okpe, the heir to the family is not expected to lord authority over all the offsprings of the family. He is only first, although an important first, among all the children. This explains, why the male heir is regarded as “the priest” (Owharan) of the family, that is, where and when the ancestors are being worshipped or venerated.

In the absence of the first male born, then any other male descendant, regardless of age, functions in that capacity. In Okpe, no female can play the role regarded for the male child in accordance with the tradition, yet female descendants are never disinherited in Okpe, not even after years of marriage to other families”. (VIRGINIBUS PUERISQUE-The Orodje has explicitly articulated the position of Urhobo traditional jurisprudence.

In modern day Urhobo families the survival of the fittest has taken over the tradition of primogeniture. Especially, in polygamous homes where the father is weak and susceptible to the diabolical manifestations of some of the wives, uncles and friends etc. The first son is hated by his father (UTUOMA) and he becomes, if he remains alive, the punching bag of the father, wives, brothers, sisters and uncles because of hereditary rights.

Again, families, because of the desire to practice the tradition of primogeniture, the eldest son becomes, a nuisance to himself and the entire family. He cannot carry himself beyond the eldest son’s status and the accompanying legacies with it. He ends up being a failure. He cannot project beyond his immediate setting. He lacks education, wisdom, courage, shrewdness and vulpine temperaments. In such a scenario, will an honourable father allow such a son to take over his legacy because of the tradition of primogeniture? Some may argue that tradition is tradition and must be upheld by all means.

But such traditional apologist must take into cognizance the basic principles of family integrity, responsible management of hereditaments, etc. The tradition of primogeniture cannot be practiced when a dunder-headed noodle who masquerades as a first son is involved.

In specific situations where the first son claims to have risen above mundane tradition, family rancours and funds and he then voluntarily decides to opt out of family politics and wrangling, derobing himself of titles and properties, will tradition force him against his will? Will legacy hunters in the family grant him rest? Is he consigned to the characteristics of the scrotal sac syndrome of perpetual restlessness and troubles? Yes, so long as he is alive he is a threat to legacy hunters. But if he dies another eldest son emerges and must also be subjected to the same caprices of pathological first son killers.

Amongst some Urhobo families and people, especially the crème de la crème enshrined in the temples – of polygamy it is difficult to find their real first sons alive. But if they are alive, they are experiencing hell on earth as some Urhobo men have neurological compulsion to hate their first sons. They are cantankerously at variance with them and will always work surreptitiously to make them failures. Our investigation reveals that these assertions are only partially true amongst some of the Urhobo people and that there are also very successful first sons in Urhobo land.

If an Urhobo man dies without a will, it is axiomatic for his legacies to be scattered by his wives, children, brothers, uncles, etc. There is always a big fight to cart away his properties. Some even come for his wives. If he dies with a will in place, it is immediately made a subject of legal entropy questioning the authenticity of the will or an uncle or brother may file a case asking to be the administrator of the estate of his brother or father who has children that are above [50] fifty years old. What a shame!

Beaming our complete projectiles into the hereditary tapestry of the Urhobo people will be endless, as various pictures emanate from the various clans making up the Urhobo kingdom. But the gravamen of this submission is to highlight the flaws in Urhobo hereditary rights vis-à-vis our traditional jurisprudence and how these defects has killed the spirit of continuity and unity in Urhobo families and how this has boomeranged into the total disunity of the Urhobo nation. When families are not united because of disputes over legacies and properties, it spreads generically, robbing us of our most positive weapon for development, Unity.

What then are the ways forward in forestalling such hideously moribund and lethally monstrous problem as the abuse of primogeniture and hereditary rights?

The first step is for Urhobo fathers especially those who practice polygamy to love, educate and cherish the development of their children equally. The idea of playing the politics of blackmailing one against the other must stop. The mothers too have a very onerous role to play by taking all the children in the home as their own and not the diabolical manipulations of playing their husbands against the other children. The man must be resolute in applying discipline to all the children without favouring any one.

Fathers must be tactful in handling their older children. They should not be pampered and given the impression that they are the heir apparent. They must be encouraged to imbibe the culture of hardwork and independence. The tradition of primogeniture is not automatic. It is for only older children who have proved themselves capable. No worthy father will labour so hard to build an empire and leave it in the hands of a loafer and indolent son.

Fathers, on the other hand, must endeavour to create the atmosphere of love, respect and understanding amongst the children. They should prevail on all the children in the house to respect age first, before status, money and certificates. Fathers should strive to establish a rapport with their older sons and try and protect them spiritually because they are most often the target of jealous and ambitious wives, brothers, sisters and uncles. But a first son that refuses to make himself amenable to good conduct should be left in the lurch.

Our mothers and elder sisters should not be left out. They must have worked so hard with our fathers to see us through life. A reliable, loving and kind wife or mother can also be bestowed as head of the family and administrator of the family estate. She becomes the mother of all the children (Oni emo) in the family and not just her biological children. The idea of women or wives being driven from the family compound as soon as the husband dies and stigmatized as witches is monumentally wicked and ungodly. Housewives should not sit idly. They should be daringly entrepreneurial and strive to be monetarily independent.

The fight for senior sonship or primogeniture is essentially caused by poverty. When a first son is self-sufficient, it will play down the intensity of bitterness generated by quarrels over positions and properties. They should understand that the whole idea is to take over responsibilities and not to fight for properties. A worthy first son knows that primogeniture does not mean recklessness and lawlessness. It is a degree of power exercised with responsibility and restrain. In the words of Jenny Jules “Nobody should see himself as head of the family on the basis of age and sex. For anybody to be head of the family, he should earn it”.

Our fathers should learn to write their wills and if even it is made a matter of legal tussle, it will give the family a lodestone and plinth on which to act. The eldest son mechanism will not work where greed and wickedness prevails. When a father dies intestate it tends to sharpen and accentuate the degree of rancour in the family. Every family has its own Achilles heel.

Urhobo communities, clans, kingdoms, etc should work out viable hereditary formulas to guide them in their quest to build monarchical traditional institutions.A system where there is controversy at the death of every monach or king does not augur well for the kind of rapprochement that Urhobos are striving to build. This wantonness tapers down to individual families. Our courts are copiously replete with cases over family titles and properties, etc. This must stop for it has successfully killed the names of great families.

Urhobo traditional Jurisprudence makes it unconditionally firm that eldest sons should play some specific roles either at the death of their fathers, their mothers or some rituals at home. But the infusion of the “Principles of Born Againism” has enabled most families skip these traditions, making the thralldom of primogeniture less suffocating. As the Urhobo people continue to be imbued with Western education, religion and civilization so to speak, the time tested tradition of primogeniture is cascading down the precipice of irrelevance. Is this good for the Urhobo people? Or is this a development in the right direction? We are entitled to our opinions. But let the truth prevail.

Finally, the odium that has clung to our hereditary traditions will be mitigated if we find a functional elixir that will enhance unity in the family, shun capriciousness, unhealthy rivalry from younger brothers, sisters and uncles and let the expediencies on ground in any family scenario determine the way and manner it should be dealt with. This will go a long way in reducing the penumbra of vagueness enshrining the tradition of primogeniture in Urhobo land. Our fathers should stop killing their children and their names by creating unhealthy rivalry by their being henpecked and their inability to establish hereditary formulas within the context of the family. URHOBO RHORHO!!!



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