Sallah in Edo: Eid in Okpella

Everyday things are not so boring, we just stop paying attention.

Beautiful Roadside in Okpella

Journey

As you may have judged from the topic, I spent my Eid (Al-Fitr) in Okpella Town, Edo State (in Nigeria, for non-Nigerians). Edo is located in the south of Nigeria and I had never spent an Eid, in Nigeria, anywhere other than its north. I have been meaning to explore other parts of Nigeria so this time around I joined a friend of mine from Edo who was going back to celebrate Eid.

I got my camera ready and my mind became sharp for observation. We left Abuja, passed through Lokoja then Okene then finally my destination Okpella. It was interesting that during this four-six hour trip, there were remarkable changes in the architecture of buildings from Lokoja to Okene to Okpella. Unfortunately I didn’t capture this transition on camera.

Ohhh the road was interesting. I wouldn’t want to go into details but I can tell you this: we spent more than an hour extra on the road, we changed our road once and we had “encounter” with some pretentious cops (who by the way transformed to VIO officers in the duration of our dealings)

Arrival

My destination at Okpella could be called premature by many who are familiar with the route because the next popular town ahead of Okpella is Auchi: I could have completed the trilogy of Lokoja, Okene and Auchi. However did you know that Okpella is larger than Auchi? Okpella is also 15-20 mins to Auchi; let’s just say I became familiar with Auchi even more than Okpella during my stay.

Friday Prayers

We arrived on a Friday, before the Friday prayers. We rested and headed to new central mosque of Okpella. Unfortunately I took only one picture inside.

The most astonishing view for me was that about half of the congregation were Fulanis (the Nomadic type). Keep in mind that Okepella is a Muslim-majority town and in the south. When I mentioned this to a friend, there was a surprising reaction but not quite my surprise. The surprise for my friend was that the Fulanis actually go to pray. Later on another was also surprised at their presence not their percentage. What does that say about the perception of Nomadic Fulanis by other Muslims? hmmm… (The Fulanis have been at the centre of my Eid experience last year which you can read and enjoy the pictures at this link)

A Fulani man in the mosque rocking a Gucci bag (or is it LV?)

Unlike most mosques in the north, the call for prayers had a traditional cadence to it. By that I mean it carries the history of Islam in Nigeria; Caliphate of Usman Bin Fodio. The Islam of the time (before Saudi became rich and it’s Islamic teachings dominant) was biased towards Sufism because the authorities in Islam were Tareeqah. Their Tareeqah may not be recognizable to today’s ritualistic renditions of it. The Quran was recited in the Warsh form of reading which is associated with Tareeqah of the past. After the prayers, the Imam led a congregational supplication in which he recites “Fatiha and Salat Al Fatih“. Now this recitation is an anathema to non-Tareeqah Muslims and so much controversy is around this… but that is not my point. The point is it gave away the community’s Tareeqa bias.

Kids

Talking with kids is always an enriching experience I find. I couldn’t help but observe some of their idiosyncrasies.

This group caught my attention because one of the kids was playing with a crude firework I used use and loved as a kid. It’s made of a bicycle-tire spoke, a nail, a string and a pice of wood; the flammable substance of a match stick is the fuel. I promised them a few shots and without my prompting they posed so well. Now that I think about it, my friend from Okpella is an expert at posing for pictures, perhaps posing is an Okpella thing.

    

Two more things. First kids in Okpella are fond of shouting “Allahu Akbar” unanimously after the Imam says the last “Allahu Akbar” in a prayer (mind you, the prayer still hasn’t finished at that time). I first heard it in the Friday prayer, then the next prayer, and after another one, I could predict it. Even the kids that are playing around in the mosque and not really praying somehow keep track of the progress of the prayer because the chorus is too planned to be a coincidence. I don’t know what to make of this, the adults couldn’t help me either especially since they can’t recall whether they used to do it.

Finally kids in Okpella like rice and stew, but not like you (hopefully) and I serve it. They load it in a plastic bag, mix the concoction, tear an end of the bag and squeeze it out like a smoothie. Similarly I saw too many kids doing it to be a coincidence… unless it’s an Eid thing, but I doubt it.

Kid holding a plastic of rice and stew

Tradition Lives On

Since this was Eid Al Fitr, it was preceded by fasting and so we arrived at Okpella during the fasting month and had a chance to experience fasting there. Before the dawn prayers (which marks start of fasting), Muslims are encouraged to wake up and eat. Today in the north, you hear the first call for prayers to warn you it will soon be time; better set your alarm right. In Okpella, it is the traditional style; the town-crier goes about hitting a drum to wake people up (this may be in addition to call for prayers). This is just cool. I hear some Northern towns used to do similar but not anymore.

Tradionally, The Imam is escorted around the town after Eid Prayer

On Eid day, 2:00am, I was woken up by crowd singing in front of my residence. It felt like a mobb at first, and confusing, I checked the time… then I was relieved to understand part of what they were saying; as my ears adjusted. I could here “Assalamu ‘laikum!” repeated in chorus in addition to much I couldn’t make because I don’t speak Okpella (Yes the language is also called Okpella). There is something similar in the North which we used to enjoy (and do) as kids; also during fasting. It’s called Tashe. We would dress up (not unlike halloween), knock on doors (not unlike trick-or-treat) and perform all sorts of arts. This one in Okpella, though sounds like Tashe, is more like a Christmas Carrol because they were welcoming Eid. After a while they moved to the neighbors.

Did I mention I recorded it from my room? Here it is below, have a listen.

Things were quite traditional for the Christians too. Sunday morning, I heard the church bells which sounded more like a gong. I didn’t see the instrument but it is either a church-bell made to sound like a gong or the bell was broken.

Eid Prayer

Eid prayers are usually performed in the largest congregation, even bigger than Friday prayers. Therefore hardly any one mosque is able to accommodate the congregation; and so there is usually a designated Eid prayer ground in most towns and cities.

Eid Prayer Ground

The prayer ground, being for a town, was much smaller than the ones I ve been to in the north. But it gave a chance to gauge the population of males and females. That was a surprisingly a rough 50-50; unlike the North that I am aware of which is probably less than 20%. It seems females in Okpella are more present in congregational prayers. But that is not the best part. The ages of the females are mostly adults and parents. The few that go to Eid prayers is the north are usually the girls but rarely the women.

Female Congregation

Male Congregation

My friend pointed out that the reason there weren’t many young ladies was that they were at home working (cooking for Eid etc). Before feminists jump on me at this disclosure, my focus is not on cooking-instead-of-worshiping. Rather it is in contrast to the North where the mothers cannot leave (or trust) their female children to take care of Eid preparations. Profound realization.

Poetry Lives On

I am a fan of poetry; mostly spoken word. Let me take you back to the Eid prayers. Eid prayers, unlike Friday prayers, have a speech that comes after. In the North, the prayer is immediately followed by speech. Same thing appeared to be happening until a man stood up and started reciting poems praising the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). I doubt he was the author of that beautiful piece (in arabic). That made my Eid prayer! For fun I took a picture I thought was funny: that the holder of the umbrella for the Imam had no idea it had turned upside down

Umbrella flipped and holder unaware

There is more I have to share but given that some of my readers have complained about the length of my posts, I will grudgingly stop here. I have procrastinated long enough before sitting down to write this anyway.

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22 Comments

Filed under A Day at X, Uncategorized

22 responses to “Sallah in Edo: Eid in Okpella

  1. Aisha Hanga

    Wat a nyc experience, love the tashe part lol, also spent my sallah in Ghana, its also mostly drums @ the eid ground and free rice, afterwards most families hire a pik up, fill it up and go to the beach.

  2. Talatu

    Very enlightening, i learnt a lot from your blog.

  3. Mr explorer! Go everywhere and write all about it, we will be here narrating whatnwe read as though we’ve been there! Nice one…i’ma think about doing the whole explorring thing too insha Allah!

  4. Idris Bugaje

    very interesting piece…you guys had alot of fun…wish i came with you guys

  5. Lukman

    Nice post, shows the unity in deversity of the Muslilm ummah, and about the Fulani’s oh they love congregation, from my knowledge, they are consistent attendants of congregation (remeber it gives them an oppurtunity to grab utilities around the mosque mini market).

  6. Writer,
    Please blend your visit by visiting the place during Easter and Christmas times. You will be able to see that your statistics are otherwise. You only presented your facts a muslim.

  7. Maxwell Emmanuel Uduafemhe

    MR BILNIGMA: A MAN WITH AN INCORRECT VIEW OF OPKELLA
    My friend your experience in Edo State during the holy period of EID, which you apparently spent in Iddo in the Great Kingdom of Okpella, was quite revealing and interesting. However I find some of the key statements you made disturbing and ridiculously untrue. Just so that the world or any writer will not be misled by you scanty and sketchy information, I found it incumbent on me to orient you more appropriately, being a son of the soil. Well here is a bit of the history of Okpella people.

    THE GREAT KINDOM OF OKPELLA
    Okpella is a clan in Afemailand made popular by the large deposit of limestone and many other solid mineral deposits in it soil. Located in the northern part of Edo state in Nigeria, Okpella plays host to the moribund Okpella cement factory and many more solid mineral related factories [Julius Berger is presently in the process of building a new cement factory in Okpella].
    The clan lies between latitudes 7 degrees and 7.25 degrees, North and longitudes 6.15 degrees and 6.38 degrees, East; covering an area of about 231.2 sq. Km. To the North and North-East of the clan is Okene L.G.A. in Kogi State, to the West are the Akoko-Edo L.G.A. Villages of Ososo, Oja, Dangbala, Ojirami and Atte. To the South is the Uzairue clan and to the South-East are the North Ibie clans (Okpekpe and the tree Ibies).
    THE ORIGIN OF OKPELLA
    Okpella tradition of origin says that their ancestor was Ikpomaza, a Bini. He lived with his family in Benin City, until the Oba of Benin began to disturb him. Why Ikpomaza left Benin was not recorded. Tradition says that, OBA of Benin wanted either to seduce or marry the wife (Eveva who was a twin) of Ikpomaza because of her beauty. Hence, Ikpomaza fled from Benin City with the wife for security. He decided to move very far away beyond the area the Oba had powers over.
    We can date the departure from Benin to the time of Oba-Ewuare “The Selfish” between 14th and 16th century. Having traveled for many months, Ikpomaza and his team camped at UMAR, near Ojah in Akoko-Edo L. g. a., of Edo State. It was from here they sent Otu some people to the neighborhood for a better site and IOIASE, one of the areas discovered, was preferred. It was when Ikpomaza and his team settled in Ijiase that he had his only son ‘OKPIA’ the father of Okpella. Okpia, later corrupted to OKPELLA lived with his parents at Ijiase and they soon came in contact with the aborigine people of OKHU who settled not very far away from their home. Relationship between them was at first unfriendly because they spoke different dialects. This later changed as Okpea as son married from among them. They also met other aborigines called Ekpema who dwelled Ekpema rock. These aborigines’ languages were similar to that of Okpella, an indication that they also migrated from Benin at a much more earlier period. It suffice to note that these two groups have been completely absorbed by Okpella today.
    Ikpomaza died and was buried at Ijiase; his son Okpella instituted the pilgrimage to his grave yard during the all-embracing “OTU” or “IDAECHIE” festival. This is celebrated till today in Okpella. The premier secondary school in the Kingdon was named after our great father and so is the first primary school named after our mother. They are Ikpomaza Grammar school and Eveva primary school.
    Okpella married a woman called OGIEUMAH (a name reminiscent of the former place of settlement) and they had three children – two boys and a girl by name NTE, ASE, and EKURI, respectively. When the boys were of age, they got their wives from the neighbouring people. The love the parents had for the only daughter made them refuse to give her OTU to a man in marriage. Her lover/husband came to settle with her in her father’s house where she gave birth to the people of IMIEKURI (the descendants of EKURI).
    ASE the second son was very adventurous and while on a hunting expedition discovered another suitable site for settlement. EKU was the new place of settlement to Ase and his family. Ase was nicknamed OTEKU. He paid regular visits to his parents although his elder brother UTE was unhappy with his departure. Oteku never returned to his parents but had children in his new place and these became the founders of the three settlements in UKHOMHUNYIO (AFOKPELLA), IDDO and OGIRIGA. UTE the senior son of Okpella remained with his parents and gave birth to the founders of the settlements of OGUTE, AWUYEMI, and IMIEGIELE.
    Okpella is divided into two sections –OGUTE and OTEKU. In Ogute section, the following are the villages: OGUTE-OKE, UDIEGWA, IMIAGWESE, IMIEGHIELE, AWUYEWI, OKHU, ITUROGBE and IMIEKUREI (the children of the daughter of Okpella). In Oteku (the children of Ase), we have IDDO, AFOKPELLA, and OGIRIGA. While OKU forms part of Ogute, Ekpema belongs to Oteku.
    It is pertinent to note at this juncture that Okpella was conquered by the Nupe jihadists in about 1850. This made the Afokpella people to migrate to a place known as Ukhomhunyio. However, there were series of wars fought with the Nupe to shake of their imperialism. The last was in about 1893 when Okpella defeated the Nupe army. The effort for revenge by the Nupe was frustrated in 1897 when they fell to the British colonial forces. After this period, the Ukhomhunyio people returned to their present site.
    So you can see that Okpella is a big Kindom and Iddo, a predominately Muslem unit, is just one of the over fifteen units of Okpella kinghdom. Hence it is misleading for to conclude that okpella is predominantly muslim. The religion of the people of Okpella kingdom can be classified into three as obtainable in most part of Nigeria, Viz; Chriastianity, Traditional African Religion and Islam, arranged in the order of the population of the people practising each.

    For a proof of this assertion, visit Okpella during Christmas period, and see that what I said about Christianity being the religion of Okpellan is true. Also a visit to Okpella between the e last two weeks of May and the First week of June any year (a priod during which the Olimhi festival is celebrated by the T.A.R) will show to you that only about 15% of Okpellans are muslims.

    Thanks

    • Well Mr Maxwell, Thank you for your detailed history of Okpella. I am not sure what exactly prompted this response but those were my observations. Where ever I made claims to historic detail, I must have asked even if casually without the request for statistics. Whether Okpella “belonging” to the Muslims or Christians is not relevant here than the amount of Muslims I came across. Having your contribution would be more information for future readers.

    • Muhammad Fahd Audu

      @Maxwell as much as I agree with u on the brief and detailed history of our great clan, I strongly unsubscribe and differ in your perpective “For a proof of this assertion, visit Okpella during Christmas period, and see that what I said about Christianity being the religion of Okpellan is true. Also a visit to Okpella between the e last two weeks of May and the First week of June any year (a priod during which the Olimhi festival is celebrated by the T.A.R) will show to you that only about 15% of Okpellans are muslims” it is misleading just to assume that during the christmass period tagged always @ 25th of december that every son en daughter you find in okpella is a christain, you know as a fact that in Nigeria @ large not Okpella alone it has almost become a tradition that people from all works of life and irrespective of religion travel to their villages to go unite and celebrate the end of year with their families en loved ones, which in the case of sallah celebrations, most muslims do not really travel home due to timing factor(holidays) and its in few cases you tend to notice that. So please I beg for more objectivity in our reportage.

  8. Sonnie Braih, Esq.

    An interesting write-up. The people of Okpella are very warm and welcoming. The community or Kingdom is very stranger friendly.

  9. Yinusa Ibrahim Ayedun

    Nice write up, for a visitor who only stayed a few days as I saw the children posing for photograph, I said to myself dis na correct okpella children na so we dey pose when we small

  10. Nice job. Very detailed and very graphic. For more information on Okpella and her neighbors visit http://www.afemaipeople.com

  11. Muhammad Fahd Audu

    @Admin a website http://www.okpella-ng.com for okpella is currently being worked on, for more info. Thanks for the piece.

  12. Ramondy

    Thanks so much for your views about the okpella and his peoples. Thanks once again

  13. Mo

    Let me appreciate you for taking time to visit Okpella and for bringing it to your blog at least people who haven’t been to Okpella would appreciate the natural endowment and the rich culture of the town. Your post just brought back the memories of growing up in Okpella. However, I would like to suggest that you should visit Okpella during Christmas or Easter celebration by that you will appreciate the town the more. I also want to state here that Okpella is the most hospitable town in the whole of Edo State. I stand to be corrected anyway. Once again thank you for taking your time to explore the most naturally endowed town in Edo Stat.

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