I don’t believe in hiding problems especially when I know that such problems are daily destroying lives and dreams.
The OHU/OSU caste system will continue to be a huge moral dent on whatever civilization we claim to have attained as a people. I understand this is not peculiar to Ndigbo as it is also practiced amongst some peoples in places like Mali, Senegal and even Nigeria, though under different names but I’m more interested in the shame and destruction this discriminatory practice of treating fellow humans like children of a lesser god has done to Ala-Igbo.
I don’t mean to delve into the origin of this dark practice because I believe that no matter how it originated, a people such as the Igbos who pride themselves as natural Republicans whose World Views are premised on Justice, Fairness and Equity have no reason to be identified with such shameful discrimination in the 21st century 2020. But just so we have a more robust view of the issue, the so called OSUs are believed to be people whose descendants were dedicated to the gods while a so called OHU is said to be a descendant of a slave owned by a fellow human known as DIALA or AMADI. And this owning of slaves and dedication of some to deities happened many years ago. Yet, today, at a time we all profess to be either Christians or humanist, this practice of discriminating against fellow brothers and sisters over atrocious practice that happened long before any of our parents were even born is still being practiced by us.
A shame, isn’t it??
For a people who claim to abhor Injustice and discrimination in any form, this is a double shame. But the biggest tragedy of it all is that an average Igbo will rather cover up this shameful practice which is happening right there in all our villages than talk about it.
Don’t let anyone fool you, the OHU/OSU caste system is alive and well in Igbo-land. And it is not just the old people in the villages who practice this, this is also practiced by educated people, govt officials and ordinary people on social media who come to make silly argument such as “we should try to understand the origin of this cultural practice first before condemning it” each time this topic is raised. We don’t like saying this but this issue has caused so many intra-community strife and clashes in Igbo land even of recent. And I have instances which I will rather not mention so I don’t stereotype any community.
From my personal research, the OSU/OHU caste system is in all Igbo states and despite sincere effort by certain groups and traditional leaders to end it, it yet lingers on, though people hardly speak about it publicly but believe me, it is very much there.
Marriage is not the only discrimination the people seen as OHU or OSU suffer, they are also excluded from traditional leadership position, some elective political position or rising to a certain position in the public or civil service, although some of them still manage to beat this artificial barrier and get into political offices and civil service position in some cases. Some villages and communities where they are in majority are sometimes DELIBERATELY starved of govt presence. I HAVE WITNESSED THIS FIRST HAND. Sometimes, in a desperate bid to get a job they are qualified for, or marry their heart-throb, the so called OSU or OHU is forced to change his/her surname which is the most distinctive way of identifying them. Those who are employed have to work under inhuman and degrading condition exactly like what currently obtains in Nigeria where a stark illiterate from a particular section of the country can sack another better educated, better qualified person from another section of the country working in the same govt office and in a higher position. They are free to acquire education, only that no matter their level of education, they can’t rise above a certain level except they go into the private sector or they get lucky somehow. ALL OF THESE DISCRIMINATION ARE DONE IN A SUBTLE BUT NOTICEABLE WAY JUST LIKE THE NIGERIAN DISCRIMINATION.
My point is, if we claim to be a people who abhor injustice and discrimination – the two main reasons we are unhappy in Nigeria – then we have to look in the mirror and GENUINELY abolish the OSU/OHU caste system beyond mere rhetorics. This is the 21st century. No one should be discriminated against on the basis of some iniquitous cultural nonsense that happened when we were in the dark.
And let’s be very clear here, amongst Igbo Christians, the OSU/OHU caste system appears thicker than the blood of Christ. There are communities in Igbo land I’ve worked in where parishioners always go to inquire whether their new priest is OSU or AMADI and depending on their finding, the new Reverend Father will be ceaselessly sabotaged and frivolous petitions written against him by opposing camp until he is either removed or he is through with his stay at the Parish. I am not speculating. I have other shameful details I would rather not delve into unless I’m forced by those who wish to deny the existence of this shameful practice. And chances are, amongst people that will comment here are those whose planned marriage was truncated because their partner were said to be either an OSU, OHU or even UME.
Let me not talk too much on this because every Igbo who is rooted in the village knows what I’m saying even if we would rather pretend not to.
In case anyone wants to talk me up on any part of this short piece, I’m available to provide more info with some particularities and exactitudes.
By Charles Ogbu (Twitter@RealCharlesOgbu)
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