Painting by Onobrakpeya 1965
BRIEF BIOGRAPHY OF ONOBRAKPEYA OBI OMONEDO 1887 – 1999
Onobrakpeya Obi Omonedo a patriach (Odion and Oka-orho), father, grandfather and great grandfather was born about 1887 at Oghara, one of the largest of the villages of Agbarha-Otor, a sister clan to Ogor, Ughelli and Orogun which constitute Ohwohwa section of Urhobo, Delta State of Nigeria. He was the last and only male child amongst the three children born by his mother, Ovuomaaroro. He was the 4th and also the only male amongst his father’s four childrern. He died of old age at 112 years on 15th October 1999, as the drums and fireworks were being rehearsed to herald the 21st century. He was still on his feet, mentally alert and full of humour. Pa Onobrakpeya Omonedo missed the new century by only 76 days.
His long life which nearly traversed three centuries, witnessed changes (sometimes very painful) that have built up into modern day Nigeria. Being able to adapt to the turbulent changes is the secret of his longevity. In the process, Onobrakpeya did not lose the sense of who he was nor did he lose his African soul. He was a quintessential Urhobo man – cultured. knowledgable, creative, industrious, accomplished. generous but firm and principled. Among his peers in Urhobo pantheon of patriachs, was the late Chief Mukoro Mowoe who was three years his junior. Pre- eminent merchants/patriachs of the time were Bedekeremo of Kiagbodo and Nana of Ebrohimi (lsekiri).
He participated in the palm oil industry in Urhobo land and else- where in the Niger Delta region which was the proverbial vineyard of the palm produce business that sustained British trade in the area. He grew up when the Royal Niger Company (now UAC) held monopoly of the trade in the then Oil Rivers Proctectorate. Coincidentally. the region also hosts the black gold (mineral oil) that is the main revenue earner of the country. (Incidentally. Agbarha-Otor district like the rest of Urhobo land hosts one of the richest oil reservoirs in Africa. Its field operated by Shell has been mined for 4O years and the oil and gas seem inexhaustible.Thc palm oil industry which was dominated by the Urhobo. yielded products that were the prime attraction to the British that led to their early colonial foothold in the Niger Delta and the proc- lamatiorr of the Oil Rivers Protectorate and the subsequent amalgamation of Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914 Lord Lugard.
Onobrakpeya lived through the period of unrest and trauma created by resistance of indigenous people to colonial authority. There was the 1897 Benin massacre and the invasion of Agbarha-Otor and the respective deportation of both the Benin monarch. – Oba Ovonrarnwen and Agbarha-Otor king. Ovie Oweh to Calabar. Both mornachs died in exile. He was ten years old when these calamities occurred. He was among the helpless children who had to escape death by taking refuge in dense fearful forests. Onobrakpeya also survived the world wide influenza of 1918 and the revolutionary uprising against poll tax of 1927 led by Urhobo nationalist. He also lived through the first World War (1914 – 1919) and the second (1939 – 1945). He witnessed the Nigerian nationalist struggles, that culminated in Independence in 1960. He was 73 that year. Like other Nigerians, Onobrakpeya was affected by instability of the 20th Century, economic down turns, lack of safety of life and property, threats of disintegration and balkanization. The most truamatic was the civil war of 1967 – 1970. He often related how he narrowly escaped death when Biafran airforce planes bombed Oluku near Benin City during the war. No less unsettling for the man of peace was the long period of military dictatorship which occupied nearly the last 36 years of his eventful life. As if to say my eyes have seen thy salvation Onobrakpeya died within six months of Nigeria’s return to democracy under President Olusegun Obasanjo.
SOJOURN ABROAD (UKANE)
As was the practice amongst people of his age (and in some way still persists till today), Onobrakpeya had to leave Oghara in quest of farm- land when he attained manhood. His first port of call was Ikoro in Ovia Local Government area of present Edo State. He returned after two years and relocated in 1928 to Avbemore in Oke-Eruvbi river Valley which is only a few kilometres to Ugbowo campus of the University of Benin.
From there he came to Oghara, got married to Emetore from Oghere family in Otorogba and had a son named Obomeyoma (Bruce). He took his young family to Avbemore. A few years after, he went back to Oghara to marry his second wife called Etakamrere. Each wife gave him 6 Children.
The Bini among whom he stayed at Avbemore called him Obi. probably because they found it difficult to pronounce the name. His status as a migrant farmer (restricted to the palm oil industry) changed when he took the Odion title there. There after, he enjoyed the privileges reserved for the indigenes. permission to cultivate whatever crop he wanted, including cash crops like rubber trees.
Onobrakpeya’s peers respected him for his craftmanship as a carver who produced figurines for tutelary spirits and household utilitarian products. He was very innovative. he designed and produced a wooden shoe which, like a crash helmet. aided the feet while threshing palm nuts in a wooden trough called Oko-edi in Urhobo language. His artistic works were produced at a leisure time, which took place only on the traditional day of rest (market days). The earning from their sale was able to supple- ment his revenue from the farm and this helped him to look after his family and train his children at school. Although Onobrakpeya resided and worked at Avbemore in Oke-Eruubi Valley from 1928 onwards, he maintained an unbroken link with the home land which he visited regularly during important occasions or during bi- annual festivals. He never missed the performance of the great 15 metre- tall trinity masquerade called Ekene, a festival celebrated every 15 to 20 years. This festival brings to Agbarha town every Agbarha son and daugh- ter in diaspora. Onobrakpeya built a house at Oghara and when his farming days were over, he retired there in 1969.
HONOUR AT HOME
Onobrakpeya did not go to school, because there were none when he was growing up. The first schools were opened in Urhoboland in 1914. By “missing” school, he escaped the foreign religious inductrination which was the price one had to pay for attending schools built by early missionaries who were agents of the Colonial Government. Throughout his life. his religious obligations were met through traditional theology which believes in Osonobrughwe (Almighty God) who can be approached directly by the individuals or through ancestors and other divinities. Consequently. there was no conflict whatsoever when as the oldest man in Oghara. he by right assumed the title of Oka-Orho, a spiritual father (with the power to mediate between the living and the dead). The Oka-Orho as priest King also presides over village community affairs. Age also conferred on him the priesthood of Osuovwah. a deified l7th century founder of his kindred to whom he was able to trace his ancestry.
Questioned during his last days. how he rated his life. he thanked Oghene (God) and his Erhi (guardian angel) for giving a life that was vcrv fulfilled according to Urhobo world view. He enjoyed good health (omakpokpo) and peace (ufuoma). he was blessed with male and female children (emete ve emeshare) and wealth (ldolo). These three achievements constitute the tripodal order of accomplishment in Urhobo society
Our father attained old age (Otovwe). He was one of the oldest of the Six bilhon people on planet earth. What else can one ask for” We. his children. grand children. great grand children. members of the Osuovwah and Emesirue lineage. Oghara people. Agbarha people. Nigerians. friends and well-wishers. wish him a deserved place of honour in the ancestral world/heaven (Ojduvwu Erinvbin)
Bruce Obomeyoma Onobrakpeya