In the small town of Odekpe, we learnt of the deities, Iyioji-Odekpe and Iyioji-Ozegbe which are the god and goddess respectively. The deities like others whose abodes we visited have been in existence for very long time before the advent of the colonial masters. The deities are said to be highly feared and very powerful and have many stories of paranormal occurrences attributed to their powers.
The deity is best known for its power and fearfulness for which the people of the village hold it in high esteem and the magical occurrences said to occur every year round its shrine. Odekpe being a town close to the banks of the Niger always has about one fourth of its farmland covered in water every rainy season when the Niger overflows its banks. And the shrine of the deities are said to be in a bushy path that is always flooded. It is said that everywhere around the shrine is flooded but the water never comes close to the shrine. It is also said that during the civil war that lasted from July 1967 – January 1970, the people of the town had not felt the impact of the war. This they said was because their deity never allowed the air raiders access into their territory and protected them from their enemies. It is also said that a worshipper of the shrine is immune to motor accident and automatically disappears in the process of an accident being about to occur. Another interesting story is said about any person who tries to kill a worshipper of Iyioji. Such a person it is said would only end up killing his or herself because the worshippers of the deity are said to be untouchable.
The male deity Iyioji-Odekpe is a very fearful and impatient deity who begins to punish an offender immediately the offence is reported to him. If he eventually kills the offender, all the offender’s property is usually brought to it and henceforth belongs to it and becomes irretrievable. But the female deity Iyioji-Ozegbe being soft hearted is a patient goddess who gives the offender time for repentance before she strikes. And when she kills an offender, the offender’s property is divided between her and the next of kin of the deceased. During festivals, sacrifice made to the god cannot be eaten while the sacrifice made to the goddess can be eaten. It is said that in the distant past, the animals and food belonging to the god were not out of bounds. This was until the people of the town started to reject eating the dead animals. It was then that the god became angered and passed an instruction that never again should anything belonging to him be eaten and it has been like that till this day.
Odekpe town is made up of 3 villages. Isioha from where the king comes, Okpakirika where two other traditional rulers known as Iduma and Onowu come from and Ogbetiti which we visited from where the chief priest comes. The priesthood is gender restricted to males only and a woman does not go close to the deity. Ogbetiti is said to be the most important because they play the role of the mediator and there is no serious event that can be held in their town without the chief priest.
In honour of the deities, the Afor-Iyioji festival is held once every year. The festival is said to be a very large and interesting one that attracts visitors from far and wide, coming with native chalks to ask for different favours from the deity and others coming with sacrifices of thanksgiving to the deity for answering their prayers. We were told that the only time a problem arises is when a person reneges on his part of the bargain with the deity and does not come to sacrifice what he had promised. Then the deity would proceed to take action against the person. But if the person happens to do more than he has promised, then it is like challenging the deity to double his blessings too. The only sacrifices the deities accepts are Cockerels, goats and cows and doesn’t accept human sacrifice. These sacrifices are said to be brought in abundance to the deity by the people who come to seek it which include politicians, fake pastors, Businessmen and so on.
Honesty and uprightness are two endearing virtues to the deities. This is why in the community, it remains a taboo to things like yams, cassava or to commit adultery. The house of the chief priest also serves a judicial purpose where cases are settled. On the day of our visit a case was being settled there at the very moment between a sales man and his customer who had reported him to the shrine. Many such cases and even cases of higher repute such as cases between politicians are said to be settled in that same Obi from time to time and when the deity gives a verdict, it must be followed religiously without disobedience or the rebel is forced to dance with the deity in its own music.
The Iyioji deities proved to be very much active among the people. Its versatility too has led to it playing the utilitarian role of a disciplinarian god capable of settling disputes among people. Learning about these things afford us a peek into how the societies of our forefathers must have coexisted before the advent of the white men. This is one of the reasons these documentary was carried out to act as a map of archaeology from the past to direct the steps we are taking to promote our currently dwindling cultures and to preserve their relics.