I am sorry if anyone is offended by this post but I still have to say it because I have the right to express how I feel about certain things especially human right issues. I’m talking about The Osu caste system in South Eastern Nigeria. Its not because I know too much, infact I know nothing. Its not because I am perfect or a saint and itsnot even because I am the most qualified, Heck no I am not even qualified. But I still have to talk about it because we are directly or indirectly ruining innocent people’s lives and still go to church on Sundays and praise God, Hypocrisy at its best.
Okay let me go straight to the point. My very close friend Obinna lives and works in Canada, he called me early this morning and sounded very sad and frustrated. He told me that he has been dating a girl since 4 years and now want to go home and marry this girl in two months time. According to him, his dad called him yesterday telling him to cancel the marriage plans because the dad has done some investigations and found out that the girl is from Osu family. Since this is the internet and its likely that many people within and outside Igboland will read this post, I think I have to explain what Osu means in Igboland.
For the records, Osu means an outcast in Igbo language. It is an ancient practice in Igboland that discourages social interaction and marriage with a group of persons called Osu which like I already explained means outcast in Igbo. It is an obnoxious practice which has refused to go away despite the impact of Christianity, education and civilization. This type of racial discrimination is also very common in far away India where the dark skinned Indians are regarded and treated as animals because they are believed to be of lower caste. Anyway this post is about AlaIgbo so let me concentrate on South East Nigeria. In Igboland there are basically two classes of people– the Nwadiala and the Osu. The Nwadiala literally means ‘sons of the soil’. They are the masters while the Osus are said to be the people dedicated to the gods; so they are literally regarded as slaves or outcasts. From what I know, an Osu cannot be Igwe or Eze, at least thats how it used to be when I was younger, I am sure that things must have changed now except this marriage tingy.
Chinua Achebe in his well-known book, No Longer At Ease asks: What is this thing called Osu? He answers: “Our fathers in their darkness and ignorance called an innocent man Osu, a thing given to the idols, and thereafter he became an outcast, and his children, and his children’s children forever” The Osu are treated as inferior human beings in a state of permanent and irreversible disability. They are subjected to various forms of abuse and discrimination. The Osu are made to live separately from the freeborn. In most cases they reside very close to shrines and marketplaces. The Osu are not allowed to have sexual relations with Nwadiala, the freeborns. They are not allowed to break kola nuts at meetings. No Osu can pour libation or pray to God on behalf of a freeborn at any community gathering. It is believed that such prayers will bring calamity and misfortune which to me is absolute rubbish.
The Osu caste discrimination is very pronounced in the area of marriage. When I was much younger An Osu cannot marry a freeborn. The belief is that any freeborn that marries an Osu defiles the family. So freeborn families are always up in arms against any of their members who want to marry an Osu, they go to any length to scuttle the plan, I have seen few cases myself. Because of the Osu factor, marriages in Igboland are preceded by investigations like what is happening to my friend right now– elders on both side travel to native villages to find out the social status of the other party. And if it is found that one of them is an Osu, the marriage plan would be automatically abandoned and this is the reason I am making this post because my close friend is presently facing this problem.
Many people have condemned the system which has traumatized many innocent people but the problem persists. But one fact is that the Osu system of discrimination is an outdated tradition with no basis for its continued practice and observance in the contemporary Igbo society. I am well-travelled and have witnessed racial discrimination first hand so I know how it feels to be treated unjustly because of your race, skin colour, religion or social status. To our brothers and sisters in Europe, Asia and The Americas, how would you feel if a white man calls you a black monkey? You would be mad right? Then why the hell do we think its okay to call an innocent man or woman Osu? What crime did they commit? Whatever sin their forefather’s committed should be forgiven. I was told their fore fathers worshiped idols bla bla bla but before the white men came to Nigeria our ancestors and fore fathers were all idol worshippers. We are all sinners and were all born in sin. Its a shame we go to church daily prasiing God but still practise this injustice. If you are reading my post, you go to church every Sunday, asks God for blessings and forgiveness and yet you still believe or call an innocent man/woman an osu you are a HYPOCRITE. Why cant we practice what we preach? I am against this injustice because it is NOT in the BIBLE. I am against it because we are ruining innocent souls. I am against it because we are ruining people’s lives. I am against it because it is totally wrong before God and man.
This is where I get very angry with our so called Men of God. Most of our bishops, pastors, reverend fathers, etc give sound preaching but don’t live by their words. They do opposite of what they preach. Let me ask a harmless question, what are our pastors, bishops and rev fathers doing about this injustice? It seems they are afraid to talk about it because maybe they will lose many members of their congregation which means.
I wish I have the power and resources available to these men of God, I would use it for something meaningful. When I die I want to be remembered because of my contribution to mankind, not because of how many cars or houses I own and not because I own the largest church in the world. If we are honest with ourselves we can put a stop to this Osu nonsense today if our pastors and top men of God will be honest and stop making material things their number one priority. No wonder they lay too much emphasis on paying of tithes and seed sowing. They lick the asses of corrupt politicians instead of telling them the truth point-blank. This lifestyle is gradually killing the credibility of the Christian faith. I am talking about pastors and reverend fathers/bishops because we are too religious in Nigeria, we believe everything our pastors tells us. The government and politicians have a role to play as well.
Every time I discuss this problem with some of my friends from other tribes and these are some of the questions they ask me.
- How Can You Identity An Osu, Do They Have Marks or Anything That Differentiates Them From Other People? The Answer is a Big NO. The only time you find out is when you want to marry someone, both families will carry out due diligence and thats the only way you can find out. There is no facial mark or anything that differentiates them from free born.
- Are They Still Abused Openly Till Date: Well in my part of Imo State they are not openly abused like they used to say 15 years ago and beyond? We kiss, hug, date etc its only when you want to marry someone that this devil sets in with its ugly face. I ask people everyday, if its okay to date or sleep with a man or woman, why is it a crime to marry them?
- What are the politicians and pastors/bishops doing about it? Well I dont know if they even talk about it. I believe if our governors and pastors step in it will be abolished officially within 1 month but I haven’t seen any commitment from the government and top pastors. Our pastors are mostly after tithe, offerings and sowing of seed, SHAME.
- Are You Osu and Why Are You Complaining? Why is it paining You? No I am not Osu, I am a free born and no member of my family/lineage is Osu but I dont believe that I am better than anyone else. I believe we are all created by the same ever loving, ever faithful God. I love people from all races and religion. I do not judge people based on their skin colour, religion, race or social status. Many of my friends are from Yoruba, Hausa, Ikwerre, Warri, Ghana, Middle East, Asians, Americans, and Europeans etc. I am a Christian; I cannot hate someone because he is a Muslim, Hindu or Budhist. I have many friends who are Muslims, Hindu and even Budhists and we get along very well.
- I was told if someone marries from Osu family he will die mysterious death, how true is that? This is total bulshit. I have heard this one many times. This is one of the fake stories our elders used to tell us just to scare us away and many of us actually believed it. I know several people that have married from osu families and they are all living till date, let me use one example from my own village. He is one of the most educated and wealthiest in the village, he is a professor and a lecturer in a top university in the UK. He wanted to marry a lady; the dad is highly educated as well and commands lots of respect in the village. The dad said no you cant marry Osu, the young man said yes Daddy I will do it and I cant please you and displease myself. He went ahead and married his lovely wife. Today they have kids and are balling. They have not died. There are several cases I know but will like to stop here.
- Solution to End this Injustice: Our pastors, reverent fathers, bishops and other religious leaders should join hands and preach against this injustice in their various churches and on weekely basis. It has to be a continous thing till it is totally defeated. They need to talk about it with the same zeal and effort with which they use in preaching about tithes and seed sowing.
Today twins are celebrated all over Nigeria but it has not always been like this. Some time ago our fore fathers used to kill twins because they were seen as EVIL CHILDREN. It was a Scottish Missionary, Mary Mitchell Slessor that stopped the filling of twins in Nigeria. Without her, there wont be any Psquare today. What is Nigerian pastors doing about this Osu problem?
I am interested and ready to do anything within my power to make sure that this injustice is brought to an end. How I will do it I don’t even know but will welcome every advise/assistance whether negative or positive.
I can be reached at the following email: iykbethany AT Gmail Dot com
May God bless us all.