For Anambra State indigenes labelled “Osu na Oru” (outcastes and slaves), respite is coming their way as the state is set to issue a pronouncement that will afford them the opportunity of relating to their brothers and sisters as free-born, reports Sunday Telegraph. This, of course, will seem to them like being discharged and acquitted from long years of death sentence in the community as they can now inter marry with the women and men of their choices without any form of discrimination and intimidation.
The state, will, this Saturday, December 29, 2018, put itself in the sands of history for being the first state in the country to officially do away with the obnoxious practice of Osu Caste system and make every man free born as God has predestined. The forthcoming declaration will end all form of practices associated with Osu Na Oru and perhaps, other discriminatory practices in the state.
The declaration will be accompanied by certain traditional rites in other to make it traditionally and legally binding. Anambra is, therefore, without a doubt, a model state in the South East geo-political zone, in terms of infrastructural development and of course, worldwide acceptable cultural practices and tradition.
As a leading state in the zone, the state has taken an intrepid step to do what is expected of a progressive state, though it’s coming 70 years after world bodies outlawed all forms of obnoxious cultural practices that violate fundamental human rights of indigenes and put them in perpetual bondage. Thus, history will forever, remember Anambra State for trying to liberate her people from the shackles of age-long obnoxious cultural practices, where people are labelled free-born and out castes, which has stunted overall human social development over the years.
This has further made the state and its indigenes the congregation of progressive thinkers and civilized minds.
The caste system has destroyed all human relationship fibres and social development of minds and character among people. But official abrogation of these obnoxious practices is coming years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and banned slavery in 1948, even as some other Igbo communities are still discriminating against those they still regard as slaves.
The abrogation of this system on March 20, 1956, by Igbo legislators in the Eastern House of Assembly, Enugu, and fines imposed on defaulters partially discouraged the public expression of the word Osu, yet this will be the open and total end to it as the Nri hegemony, which the cradle of the Igbo race, will traditionally destroy the system. It was learnt that in some of the communities where people discriminate against the so-called slaves, those who call themselves free-born do not allow them to marry their daughters just as their sons do not marry those labelled sub-humans.
At this point, some parents give their children, pejorative names like “Ohuabunwa” meaning “slaves are sub-humans”. The issue of slavery had been causing problems, especially in many communities in Enugu and Imo states. They are yet to follow this development. Meanwhile, the Osu Caste system is an ancient practice in Igboland that discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of persons called Osu (Igbo outcast).
Osus are dedicated to the deities (“Alusi”) of Igboland; they are considered as inferior beings and are usually separated from the “Nwadiala” or “diala” (real born). The origin of the Osu Caste system can be traced back to the era when deities were believed to ask for human sacrifice during festivals in order to cleanse the land from abomination thus leading to the purchase of a slave by the people.
The system also has its origin traced to the Nri Kingdom. It is believed that the Nris possessed a hereditary power and thus do go about cleansing various kingdoms of abomination; any community that refuses to be cleansed are called Osus. Another view on the history of the Osu Caste system centres on ostracisation. This occurs when a person or group of persons who refuse the orders of a king or the decision of a community are banished from the community thus resulting to the victim and their generation being called Osus.
The Osus are treated as inferior persons to the class of the “Nwadiala” people. The Osus are made to live in shrines or marketplaces and are not allowed to have any relationship with the real born. In Chinua Achebe’s ‘No Longer at Ease’, he said Osus who are also seen as unclean are not allowed to break kola or make prayers on behalf of the real born because it is believed that they will bring calamity upon the society.
These form of maltreatment and punishments have made the Osus to flee to other places in order to live normal lives. Since the introduction of modernisation in Igbo land, the Osu Caste system has been criticised by people who feel it is against peoples’ rights to freedom from discrimination. A legal practitioner and the President pan- Igbo Organisation, Igboekulie, Prince Ben Onuora, is fully in support of the Anambra State abrogation of the caste system, saying that any tradition that violates the basis of human freedom and existence should be abrogated. He argued that such practice does not have any advantage to anybody but belittles human beings saying that those who are labelled “Osu” are victim of circumstance and must been seen as normal human created by God.
He said Africans cannot complain of marginalisation and discrimination by the western world and at the same time, be discriminating against certain people within their countries, saying that caste system has not helped anybody and should therefore be destroyed. “I enjoin all other states in the South East to follow suit and abrogate this practice in the whole Igbo land. I encourage anybody who feels humiliated by calling him the name to take actions against such people because the law calls it defirmation of character and person.
“When a name is said not to be called to somebody and you call him the name that belittles him, he can and has the right to seek help from the court,” he explained. Also a community leader, in Abo Isieke, in Anambra State, Chief Frank Ejikeme, who is also happy with the planned abolition, said some of the punishments meted out against the osu in Igboland, which necessitated it’s abrogation include parents administering poison to their children.
Others, according to him, are disinheritance, ostracism, denial of membership of social clubs, violent disruption of marriage ceremonies, denial of chieftaincy titles, deprivation of property and expulsion of wives. He noted that it takes a strong willed man to survive this form of humiliation and emasculation for years, saying he is happy and will support abolition of other obnoxious practices in the state even as he called on other states to follow suit. For 91-year-old Christopher Nwankwo, a two-time Secretary General of Ogidi Union of Nigeria, it’s a welcome development that will liberate a number of people and will solve communal clashes resulting from denial of one’s right due to alleged Osu Caste.
He said: “This will go a long way to heal our land. There have been clashes over who is entitled to communal land and who is not due to this issue of Osu and free born. Many people were unable to get their share community land because some people were labelled Osu. It’s a great development. “It’s something that other states, especially Imo and Enugu should take example from, to foster development in Igbo land. Go to many places, there are court cases not only resulting from this but other things. These things don’t allow for development. Disagreement is bad for any community that wishes to move forward,” he said.