By Sunny Awhefeada,
When I was planning what my residence would look like, I explained to the architect that I would want a number of small gardens and then a grove behind the house. I had envisaged a mini-forest behind my house where I could retreat from the buffetings of life without having to wander far. So upon completion of the house eleven years ago, I set to planting fruit trees that have now grown and turned a portion of my residence into a grove. Besides providing shelter and nourishing my soul in times of complexities, the grove has also enabled my children to become expert tree climbers. The grove is now home to a number of birds and squirrels have also turned it into a playground.
Occasionally, especially on Saturdays, once a month, we engage the grove by way of trimming tree branches that had become too long or resting too precariously on the roofing sheet. We deploy machetes and spades when necessary to dress and tame the grove. This we do so that the grove remains accessible and secure from dangerous reptiles even though we occasionally encounter them once in a while. The grove has also become a source of plump and juicy fruits for the family, friends and passersby.
A few Saturdays ago while engaging in the occasional trimming of wild branches, my son screamed as a way of drawing my attention to what he called “a big reptile”. I looked up in the direction of his anxious and trembling fingers and I saw the “big reptile” robust, majestic and unperturbed. Its posture marks it out as the lord of the grove at that moment.
I opened my mouth in disbelieve as I beheld the ogborigbo the totem and guardian spirit of my people, the Orogun people of Delta State. A wistful smile played on my face and imaginary memories of primordial times when my ancestors held the ogborigbo in awe swarmed me.
A silent conversation, the kind of conversation that reaches out to the soul ensued between the ogborigbo and I. I cannot now recall the silent unheard exchange, but something connected us in an archetypal way. I imagined my ancestors and their ways with the ogborigbo. They venerated it because it was and still is our totem and guardian spirit. It remains one of the most revered and lasting totemic animals in these parts. In silence I hailed the ogborigbo. In silence I asked it what its mission was. I eulogized it as I saw my paternal grandmother do many years ago. Although, I couldn’t give words to my eulogy, deep in me I showed the kind of reverence and attention ogborigbo elicits from an Orogun man.
Not too well versed in the ways of handling such an incident I put a call to my fellow Orogun man who showed up in no time and confirmed that it really was an ogborigbo. I was truly anxious as to what seeing ogborigbo in my residence far away from Orogun where it saunters in a lordly manner portends. I felt relieved when my Orogun neighbor told us that it also visited his residence a few days earlier.
I also put a call to a relation who knew the ways of our ancestor at home in Ugono-Orogun. He said that I needn’t panic, but I should not harass it and that it will chose how long it would stay. So, I dispersed my children and their friends and cautioned that it must not be disturbed. However, by the next morning which was a Sunday, the ogborigbo had taken its leave.
The ogborigbo which is popularly known as iguana has assumed a life of its own among the Urhobo people in general and the Orogun in particular. It has become the most respected, venerated and mystical totem around.
And the elders say it chooses whom it wants to visit beyond the boundaries of Orogun where it is ubiquitous. Certainly, an ogborigbo would not have been so lordly and comfortable within the boundaries of a non-Orogun fellow as it could have been taken for game. The ogborigbo enjoys veneration and liberties among the Orogun people at home or away and its sacredness is compelling. There is now a saying that no matter how much of a pastor an Orogun man has become he would never affront the ogborigbo by killing it or eating it. This was what was handed over to generations before mine and it appears as if the ogborigbo is unique to the Orogun people in view of its interest and significance.
I didn’t grow up in Orogun, but the few times I visited during holidays always opened new vistas of experience for me. I saw my paternal grandmother adore the ogborigbo in Orogun. Since it was considered sacred and adored, it took liberty for license and enjoyed unfettered access to households where eggs and other delicacies abound.
Rather than chase the ogborigbo away, grandma would talk to it in a respectful and endearing manner and it will saunter leisurely. The ogborigbo’ s forked tongue would dart in pleasure as grandma calls it different names and make utterances I didn’t then, and even now, understand. Grandma took to heart the idea of giving food to ogborigbo and she always made sure she fed anyone of them that came to our household.
I got to learn more about the veneration of ogborigbo among the Orogun people especially the rites accorded it when it dies.
Since ogborigbo is our totem, it is expected that no Orogun indigene should eat it. It is a taboo. When it so happens either inadvertently or deliberately the eater is afflicted by a skin disease believed to be incurable. It is said that not even the most seasoned of dermatologists administering sophisticated skincare drugs can cure the skin disease which turns the offender’s skin into the same texture as that of an ogborigbo, rough and scaly with flakes.
The offender, even if he were away from Orogun must return and visit the shrine where he will receive healing after observing prescribed rites. Such is the influence and awe built around the ogborigbo that it remains dominant in the socio-cultural and religious lives of the Orogun people.
When someone introduces himself as an Orogun man or woman among the Urhobo, ogborigbo was bound to be mentioned. Till this day, a visit to any of the many Orogun communities will enable encounters with the ogborigbo in different sizes and lengths. They crawl leisurely across the road, go into households and mingle with the people. They also know the boundaries as they do not go beyond Orogun into other nearby communities where they could become victims of hunters.
Assured that it cannot be hurt in an Orogun household, the ogborigbo has been known to visit where Orogun people live even in faraway places to reveal itself. I was told that such visits are harmless and only a tendency for the assurance of the ogborigbo that its species remain endearing to that particular Orogun household. Hence, those who know insist that it should not be disturbed whenever it visited. So it was that Saturday when it visited my household. It was not disturbed. Besides the initial fear it inspired among my children, the visit and its sight became an exciting occurrence to them as told them what I know about it as out totem.
They got their cameras and took snapshots and made videos of it. The incident made all of us to forget breakfast as we all gathered around the grove watching the ogborigbo in all its lordliness. It rested on a branch of one of the trees and didn’t move an inch despite all the initial screams of fear, excited talks and finger pointing. By noon, interest began to wane and occasionally checks by my children showed that it was still there resting. After a while it was seen no more. The ogborigbo had ended its visit to my household.