What Egbesu is to Gbaramatu
The kingdom has been in existence for a very long time founded by a direct descendant of Ijaw. They later moved away to the Eastern part of the Niger Delta to a place called Gbaran in the present Bayelsa State and later return to their original abode, settling at Oporoza, now regarded as their headquarter. In other words, Gbaramatu refers to where they migrated to.
The kingdom was originally made up of Nine (9) communities that make up the traditional stool from where the rotational kingship system is derived, with Oporoza, the leading community as the headquarters. Other communities in Gbaramatu are Kunukunuma, Benikrukru, Kokodiagbene and Okerenkoko. It is pertinent to state that, though Okerenkoko is among the nine original communities, it does not produce the traditional ruler of the kingdom, as it is designated the Kingmaker of Gbaramatu kingdom. They install and crown a chosen monarch from the appropriate ruling house of the Gbaramatu people and therefore not part of the kingship. The kingdom presently has over 90 communities due to population explosion.
Bebenimibo who gave further details about the place, said: “Our immediate neighbours are the Ugborodo Itsekiri, the Burutu ijaws and the Ijaws of Ogbe-Ijoh towards the Warri Urban axis and it germane to point out here that we have been having a very cordial relationship with our Itsekiri brothers until recent political activities pitched us against one another.
“We have been inter-marrying with a good number of offspring doing very well and cementing our relationship further. This is also true of our relationship with our Ogbe-Ijoh brothers where inter-marriages play a major role in binding us together as it is with the Ogulagha Ijaw many of whom can trace their paternal lineage to Gbaramatu kingdom.
“Indeed, the current paramount ruler of Ogulagha kingdom in Burutu council area of the state is paternally from Gbaramatu kingdom.”
On the kingship system, he said: “Our kingship system is not from father to son. In each of the nine communities that form the kingdom, there is always one that is identified as the oldest family amongst them like the founder of that community and it is from that family that three persons, all males, are selected and presented to the kingmakers –in council who in turn would examine their suitability for the throne and one of them chosen and install as king.
“If the king joins his ancestor throne crown moves to another community in rotation. Let me state here that the process does not accommodate women interest at all, at least for now.
It has nothing to with gender equality. It is only in modern time that issues like this are rearing their heads but certainly not in the Gbaramatu kingdom, the place of women traditionally is the kitchen and remains so and the women know it in this kingship business. That is the tradition in every traditional society.”
The Gbaramatu man
Bebenimibo also gave an indigene’s view of who the Gbaramatu Ijaw man is.
he said, “The average Gbaramatu Ijaw man is a very social, very free to his neighbour, in fact, the average Gbaramatu man that I grew up to meet will leave his bed to his visitor to occupy and will go and sleep elsewhere.
We are very accommodating and entertaining whole heartedly with drinks and good food with fresh fish. We are also very peaceful. It is because of oppression and marginalization, issues that people do not want to seat down and resolved amicably that result to violent. But like we have come to realize, even after crisis we come down to the round table and resolve the issues.”
He also gave insight on the vocation of a typical Ijaw person, saying: “You know a typical Ijaw man is a fisherman, so that principally is our occupation.
“We do not engage in farming of any king at all. But sadly though the this fishing business has been destroyed by oil and gas exploration and exploitation operation of the oil majors in the country such that today most of us now engage in trading in other articles of trade.
But basically, fishing was the mainstay of the Ijaw communities. The fishing business has now become for self sustenance and no more. Though we now participate in the oil and gas business.”
To every Gbaramatu man, Egbesu is supreme and regarded as the peak of all the gods in Ijawland. To them, the Amaseikumo deity is significant for purification and cleansing of the land. It is also perceived to usher in peace, prosperity, development.
“Of course the social benefit of the Amaseikumo festival is that it bring all sons and daughter of Gbaramatu across the country together for social interaction yearly. You know most marriages are contracted during such event just as various contacts are also secured that may lead to some good things in life.
Women as heirs
By Gbaramatu tradition, women do not have much to argue about in terms of the succession, as the system does not allow a woman to ascend the throne, no matter her status in life; at least not for now.
Bebenimibo said that remains a taboo for now, and that any woman nursing such idea should be ready to bear the consequences.
Marriage and other taboos
In Gbaramatu, it is a taboo to marry your very close relations. This covers those who are within the second and third filial generations of the family. This, cultural inhibition is, however, being broken today, as Bebenimibo disclosed.
He said: “Today people have broken into that culture, as they now marry their second and third cousins even though some of us who are very traditional see it as a taboo.”
Speaking further on the marriage culture of the kingdom, he said: “In the past what actually happen is called betrothment. The two families just meet and arrange a marriage for their wards at very minimal cost and it can be done under one hour and the marriage is sealed between the man and woman.
“Another interesting part of our culture is when the king-in-council decides that a person should be ostracized from the community or kingdom. Such a person must have committed a grievous offence like perhaps, murder, where the offender is not willing to resolve the matter and perform the necessary sacrifices of cleansing the land.
Egbesu is seen as a representative of God Almighty. And most of the things that Egbesu forbids are also forbidden by the Almighty God. An example is killing. Egbesu forbids killing of a fellow human being. The Gbaran people are known to worship the Egbesu deity and the Gbaramatu people keyed into it recently.
It forbids spilling of innocent blood and basically, it stands for the truth and whatever is truth. The Gbaramatu people have recently reverted to the worship of Amaseikumo deity. The yearly festival marking the Amaseikumo deity was held two weeks ago at Oporoza. It ushers in peace and love for Gbaramatu indigenes. Another god worshipped by the people is the Barugu deity represented by the reptile called “Monitor” that is in the crocodile family. It is a deity with power of battle, war. When the people want to go to war, they go to the deity first before embarking on any battle with their enemies.
Relationship with multinational companies
Bebenimibo told Sunday Independent about the relationship they have with companies doing business on their land. He said: “I can tell you without mincing words that our relationship with some of these companies is not cordial at all. But we are trying our level best to have a break through anyhow. Most times these companies fail in the area employment and empowerment, including their corporate social responsibilities.”
He, however, has some kind words for one of the companies.
“We however wish to give kudos to Chevron Nigeria Limited (CNL) because they have put in place social infrastructure and set up committee that set up good working relationship that sees to the empowerment, contract and employment strategies in the host communities unlike Shell Petroleum development Company, SPDC, that have sold out almost all their facilities and oil Wells and platforms to companies that are following the evil footsteps of the SPDC itself. This is particularly the case with CONOIL. These companies are not doing well socially at all.
“We are waiting for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB. There are in-built policies in PIB that makes the oil and gas host communities major stakeholder with a larger local content in-put. There is community participation embedded in the policy. So my appeal to the National Assembly is to expedite action in the passage of the bill. It has some good things that are capable of dousing tension in the Niger Delta region.”
Resolving inter-communal conflicts
Speaking on efforts to resolve inter-communal clashes in the area, Bebenimibo said: “Recently at Asaba, Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan assured us that all unresolved matters would be addressed after the ground breaking ceremony by Mr. President on March 26, 2015 and we all agreed. When I say we, I mean Itsekiri, Gbaramatu Ijaw and of course, the Sekobulou/Yokri Ijaws of Ogulagha.
Particularly, Governor Uduaghan acknowledged the Sekobolou people as stakeholders and charged them to maintain the peace with a promise that their grievances would be thoroughly looked into and defined by the owners of the project. It is important to tell all of us that that the project is not owned by the Delta state government. It is only serving as the driving force. The promoters of the project are the Federal government though the NNPC.
My appeal to the protesting Sekobolou Ijaw is that trouble does not pay anyone any good. They have made their case. It would be looked into. After every fight, we will definitely come back to the round table to discuss. So they should sheath their sword.