PHILOSOPHYCAL ASPECT OF AFRICAN CULTURE: Edo Culture in Perspective
This final section of the lecture deals with the more intractable and abstractelements in Edo culture namely: the elements of philosophy and metaphysics.If, as we are constantly reminded, philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom, then philosophising will be the practical expression of whatever wisdom may be obtained in the pursuit. Such an expression will require words. Thus the Edo language, as the vehicle of philosophising, is of the most crucial value; just as Egharevba has tried in many ways to demonstrate.It is not so much the exact words used in the language but the manner in which they are used that is important in the understanding of the ideas and concepts they seek to portray. Hence the bulk of Edo philosophy lies in Edo adages and proverbs of which Egharevba collected and documented some 1030 in ERE EDO in 1964. Curiously, incidentally, these adages and proverbs are extremely similar in content and expression to adages and proverbs from various ancient cultures of the world, especially those from Egypt, Greece, China, India and the Middle East. One obvious implication, of course, is that the Edo may share many similarities with all other human cultures without having to compromise their autonomy.
It is, however, not in the adages and proverbs alone that Edo philosophising is contained. It is scattered explicitly or implicitly throughout Egharhevbas writings. For examples, each of the 26 stories in the 55 page long Some Stories of Ancient Benin (1950) contains a clear moral lesson couched in discrete philosophical language. Story number 19 , which is about Ogun , One of Benin deity, for example, concludes with the line How poor are they that have no patience And in story number 21 appears the following. Nature is infallible in human as it is in wisdom. Some times the sense of (a) fool is better and more straight than that of a wise man. Wisdom and right motives are special gifts from God to man irrespective of a ruler, rich man or poor man but in addition to the foregoing and many more, each of the songs collected in Ihuan Edo in 1950 is a variable store house of direct and implied philosophising. The various songs are connected with various physical and spiritual activities, all of which involve moral and ethical issues of the deepest kind.
However, the huge collection of adages and proverbs, contains such a wealth of thought – provocation that it will alone be enough to provide a full and complete picture of the whole Edo person in terms of the philosophy which governs his or her life. Thus it reveals a total image of the entire culture as an organism.
That image promotes the emergence of a clear-cut cultural identity, which is what Egharhevba was determined to preserve. Had the adages and proverbs been grouped thematically, it would have been easy to identify the philosophical under- pinning of each of the items treated in detail by Egharhevba in the monumental Benin Law and Custom.The image of the traditional Edo as cynical, pessimistic and cowardly is false, given the philosophical foundations of the culture. The traditional Edo is, on the contrary, co-operative, accommodating, hospitable (almost to a fault) and, above all cautious.
A fews examples will quickly illustrate my point. First, Let us look at the accusation of cowardice when marching to war, the Edo warriors song: “Ima le nemwende, ima le nemwendeIma le nemwende, etose”
(I have never, never, never run away from confrontation; it is a fact) To me, that is no expression of cowardice. It is a firm and frank demonstration of fearlessness, bravery and determination in the face of death.
They also sang ; Gheni, gheni, Ovbiozede gheni
(Here comes the elephant, here comes the elephants hunters son, watch out).
The elephant is the Edo warrior and he knows that for a fact. Thus he is confident, warning his adversary to watch out. That is no sign of cowardice.
They sang,Degh igbina ugha gbina; deghike ughaku,Tama mwen nighe honTranslation:(Whether you want a fight or whether you want to play let me hear it clearly) Again, there is no indication of cowardice there. Rather, the call is for clarity of motive or purpose.
Even in peace time when the youth went on their harmless rampage through the city streets, they sang: “Orere khion ogho mivan, avbiere khuegbe yowa”
Translation (The street is ours, the weak cowers indoors)That was the motivation for those who had to be called out of their homes to come out and play. Even the girls sang similar songs.
“Noma rhiorere re, emoghede, emiyoko eroKhian gbereko rua o noma rhiorere”
Translation: (Whoever fails to come out tonight, may she be constipated) In respect of co-operation, the traditional
Edo sang,Omwan ghe rhia oghomwen, Eni bie, Ogbeni bie
Translation: (Let no one damage what is mine (because) just as the elephant bears children, so does the elephant hunter). In other words, let every one take care of his or her own. During Igue, they sang “oha kiere, odibo ra kiaza”
Translation: (The messenger is about to open the treasury).
That signifies generosity and hospitality. But in every case, there is no evidence of pessimism or cynicism or cowardice . Those came later with the arrival of the British.
Moreover, what we find in the adages and proverbs is much more comforting and reassuring although some of it may be quite brutally defiant and challenging.Judging from the sayings, there are people who will accuse the traditional Edo of fatalism. There will be some truth in such accusation . The root of such fatalism will be the traditional belief in DESTINY (Ehi and Uhimwen). But perhaps it would be truer to say that the traditional Edo is stoical rather than fatalistic. Stoicism thrives on caution.
Selecting a handful of example from a list of 1030 loaded items can do no justice to the case. However, the following may whet some appetite . The traditional Edo would say Even “Khirhikhirhi vbe udemwen dan ero gba khian”. (A bad fall and wreckless wrestling always go together). Therefore.: “Agha feko khian ta seke na rhie”, – “oven-ighi k’owie balegbe” (Walking slowly , one can still arrive at ones destination. (Afterall), the sun never produces intense heat at dawn ).
That was the voice of stoicism the voice of caution. And one of the obvious implications was: “Erevbe nayamu eraya soe”
Translation: (Early promise does not guarantee successful end). To the arrogant and haughty, the traditional Edo would say. “Imuegbe rhioto ero suen ewaenitegbe nu ero karo ofuanizevbudu ero karo udemwen”
Translation:(Humility is the root of wisdom;arrogance is the forerunner of destruction;heedlessness leads to a fall).
Such warnings came to the traditional Edo from personal and collective experience – collective unconscious, as it has been described elsewhere . In other words, the caution advocated is embedded in the traditional Edo culture. It is therefore an inherited trait, so to speak.
Furthermore, there was the saying that “Enofe-I-fomwan, te oye omwan t’egbe”
Translation:(The rich does not make others rich, s/he only uses others to adorn him/her self)
That means that if one wants to become rich, one must not look to any rich neighbour but strike out and work for ones own riches. Such autonomy could only earn self-respect and establish personal identity. But personal identity and independence demand courage and confidence. Therefore, “Amadin, ai yan agbon”
Translation: (Without courage one cannot live)
But, in all the talk about riches and success, the stoical traditional Edo posits that “uko amafe ekan omwan,ovbiogue i- siomwan yiko” (There is no law enforcing riches; poverty does not drag anyone into trouble) But for that matter, wealth or poverty, the outcome is determined at the close of life. That is “Ota era kponmwen Ehiomwan”
Here enters the belief in DESTINY with all its outwardly fatalist implications. In taking lifes final stock, though, the traditional Edo realized that “Emwina rhie riato, oroto rhie nomwan”
Translation: (One gets back from the earth only what one has put in the earth)Such a metaphor is most appropriate in a farming community. Its implications are wide almost endless. But in the whole process of life, the traditional Edo believed that “Ama kon ne, ai-wan”
Translation: (It is out of foolishness that wisdom develops ).To become wise, in other words, we must grope our way through unwisdom.Then, finally, there is the issue of fairness, here, among other considerations, the traditional Edo would say,
Agha gberhe omwan, egbe omwan agbe
Translation: (In beating ones neighbour, one is beating oneself) .Thus “Emwin na-i- rue re, ghe ruomwan re”
Translation: (Dont do to another what you dont want done to you) .
Thus, in the traditional Edo Culture, any self-respect which ignores or neglects respect for others is empty vanity. The live-and let-live implied here demonstrates the traditional Edo propensity for accommodation, rather than for cyricism.