LIBATION IN ELEME TRADITION
A libation is a ritual pouring of a liquid as an offering to a god, or spirit, or in memory of those who have died – ancestors. Libation was common in many religions of antiquity and continues to be offered in various cultures today. Libation also entails a drink offered to honour and gratify the gods, ancestral spirits, deceased relatives, and the environment.
Libation was part of ancient Egyptian society where it was a drink offering to honour and please their divinities, sacred ancestors, humans present and not present, as well as the environment.
Among the ancient Israel, drink offering was a popular practice; and olive oil libation was well-liked. The Israelites believed that wine offering cheers both God and men, while olive oil was libated to honour God and men.
According to Armah, Ayi Kwei (2006) libation, which is now a common practice among Christians and non-Christians alike, originated somewhere in the Upper Nile valley and spread out to other regions of Africa and the world, including Eleme.
Since then, libation has grown to become central and vital aspect of Eleme Traditional Religion and one of the simplest and most common forms of religious practice. It is also one of the basic religious acts that defines piety in Eleme, and as pointed out earlier, dates back to prehistory Eleme.
Libations are part of daily life and the dutiful might perform them every day morning, afternoon and evening as well as to begin every important meeting, occasion or activity.
In Eleme, libation is a customary practice that takes the form of a request or as an expression of gratitude. The request may be for a successful marriage, fruit of the womb, male child, bountiful harvest, peaceful celebration, healing, protection from evil, punishment for known and unknown enemies, long life, guidance in defined circumstances, journey mercies, and other human requests.
Similarly, the expression of gratitude may relate to a peaceful marriage, the birth of a child, perceived protection, promotion, defeat of known enemies, bumper harvest, forgiveness and many other occurrences that brings us happiness.
The people of Eleme do not worship idols, rather they consider offering of drinks, oil, food, water, etc. as a visible and tangible form in which their service and requests can be channeled to Obari Jimajima – God Almighty.
Libation is a ritual of heritage in Eleme. It is concomitant with leadership and traditional rule in Eleme and one cannot be successfully divorced from the other. Anyone not sufficiently knowledgeable in the custom and tradition of Eleme is not expected to libate in an occasion. A person who, for whatever reason (s), cannot pour libation is not expected to be crowned a traditional ruler in Eleme.
At the family level, libation is a responsibility bestowed on the oldest male member of every family in the family Shrine known as Nsi Eji. An elder (Ekpo Ↄnԑ) who cannot pour out libation before the family Shrine or when the family members gather together to make a request or express gratitude to the gods, ancestral spirits or powerful departed member is assumed to have forfeited his birth-rights; and attracts the wrath of the gods or ancestors in several ways. Many offenders have been punished with sudden/untimely death, barrenness, ill-luck, poor harvest, poverty, failure, sickness, crisis-ridden family, wayward children, etc.
Pouring of libation in the Shrine entails lots of preparation, self purification and special dressing. A family priest (Ekpo Ↄnԑ) whose function requires him to face the Shrine and pour libation is customarily prevented from wearing a pair of shorts or trousers. He is rather expected to tie a special wrapper known as Njiri, whether plain or designed, in the manner called Ekpo Ԑkwā, barefooted and without cap of any kind. He is not expected to communicate with anyone until the libation is done and the session is terminated with a general affirmation and a welcome greeting by the audience.
Two types of drinks are acceptable for libation in Eleme. These are the palm-wine (known locally as Mmi Eleme), and the local gin (kai kai) or Schnapps (called Mmi ofa). As a rule, the drink, whether in a cup, horn, or bottle, must be poured out to the ground intermittently to accentuate the process of libation. It is expected that all who are within hearing distance of the libation will concentrate and respond affirmatively when each major statement or decree is concluded or uttered.
Apart from drink and oil, saliva, tears and sweat are prominent elements in the libation process. Yet, these liquid elements that make tremendous beneficial contributions to the success of the libation process have been ignored over the years. Saliva, tears and sweat have not been properly researched into for their potentials and roles in libation.
While much is known of blood sacrifice and offering little or nothing is known of saliva, tears and sweat. Instead, these liquids which play salient roles in libation are unconsciously introduced by man into the processes of libation at different levels depending on his expertise, spirituality and commitment.
Saliva is a watery liquid secreted into the mouth by glands which provides lubrication for chewing, swallowing, aids digestion, and spice libation as requests are presented. The harder one speaks the more saliva he makes and the more saliva he releases to reinforce the drink offering, open doors for acceptance and facilitate granting of necessary requests. In olive oil libation, saliva also plays similar roles. Vocal prayers and praises (making of requests and expression of gratitude) go with saliva and/or tears libation.
The spiritual significance of saliva was vividly demonstrated by Christ Jesus in his healing ministry. On one occasion, “He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay…. So he went and washed, and came back seeing”, John 9:6-7 (NKJV).
On another occasion, “He took the blind man by hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him…. he was restored and saw everyone clearly”, Mark 8: 23-25 (NKJV).
The human body produces 2 to 4 pints of saliva a day. The gods and ancestors love and enjoy human body liquid, be it blood, saliva, tears, sweat, etc. and are cheered and spurred into action by the quality and potency of body liquid accompanying libation. As said earlier, the quality and potency of these liquids depend on the mode, spirituality and involvement of the person performing the libation.
On the other hand, tear is a drop of clear saltry liquid secreted from glands in a person’s eyes when he cries or when the eye is irritated. Tears are an expression of a sensible experience, associated with deep compassionate communion. Tears invoke profound and invisible links the human body has with other persons and with the environment. A tear of contrition or repentance or compassion appeals to the conscience of the gods and ancestors to temper justice with mercy. Tears can be introduced into the libation by the person actually performing the libation or by the subject or a third party. The closer the source of the tears to the subject and issues being addressed the better, and the more beneficial the tears in attracting sympathy of the gods and ancestors.
Sweat is moisture exude through the pones of the skin, and is critical in a libation. The human body secrets sweat as a result of work or emotions such as excitement, anxiety, and fear. It is the emotional state of the person performing the libation, witnesses, vis-à-vis proper customary presentation of the subject matter while libating that the gods and ancestors look for and this determines their response.
Although, the amount of sweat may not always correspond to the level of efforts put in serving the gods or ancestors, it tells much about one’s desperation and expectations. The underlying factor causing the sweat introduce into a libation decides the answer one gets from the gods and ancestors.
If fear is the basic cause of the sweat, the gods may be silent or allow an adverse result. If excitement stimulates the sweat, the spirit of the person performing the libation becomes elated and the whole person is immersed in cosmic consciousness, and goodness and mercy results. A libation is what you put into it. A journey of libation must be defined by vision and venture.
Libation that elicits sweat from the human body and plugs the person into ecstasy is much more appreciated and cherished by the gods and ancestors. Sweat stimulates appearance of spiritual being as was established by Christ Jesus when, “He prayed more earnestly. His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground…. Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him”. Spiritual beings don’t just appear at the scene of libation or prayer but to deliver instant result.
The main purpose of libation as practiced in Eleme is to summarize the ideal that prompted the occasion, and a plea for its actualization. Libation generally accompanies prayers – concentration, meditation, affirmation, and decree.
It is a form of serving the gods and obeying them. Libation is a means of obtaining solutions in a number of situations as enumerated above. It is a way of giving thanks. It is also a way to intercede for another, to solicit for another. Libation is as well a way to give praise for benefits derived from the gods and ancestors.
Libation aids confession of sin and asking for forgiveness when one offends the gods or ancestors. It is also a way to ask for help from the gods and ancestors.
Libation invites the gods and ancestor to whisper to the living their mind concerning human worries and endeavours.
The act of libation calls for dignity and mastery of the Eleme language, because it is focused on the ancestors or recently demised relations who deserve reverence.
Language of libation is usually pronounced with proverbs and riddles that convey precision and alacrity. Due to the reverence with which tradition takes the act of libation, no person is allowed to move about or move towards the spot where the drink is being poured.
The social status of a person performing the libation must correspond with the specific occasion. Ↄnԑ Ԑԑ Eta (Paramount Ruler), Ↄnԑ Nkpᴐrᴐ (Spokesman), Ↄnԑ Nkikԑԑ (Traditional Prime Minister), Ekpo Ↄnԑ (Elder), etc. each have their appropriate occasions when they have to libate. An important point in Eleme tradition is that while the Ↄnԑ Ԑԑ Eta or any other traditional authority may libate in their homes, at meetings or other relevant occasions, only Ekpo Ↄnԑ (Elder) and Ↄnԑ Nkikԑԑ (Traditional Prime Minister) may libate before a Community Shrine in exercise of his mandate.
A libation prepares ground for major decisions, to overcome barriers, to gain insight, and strength. It remains the means of discerning the minds of the gods if in doubt and a means of plugging into the powers of the gods.
One important aspect of Eleme traditional marriage is the presentation of a goat with other materials to the family priest and Chiefs of the community. This ceremony known as Ↄfԑ Mbo
Eta e'i calls for drinks to be libated to the ancestors, informing them concerning the ceremony and asking them to participate and bless the marriage with early child birth. The family Elder (Ekpo Ↄnԑ) is expected in the process of his libation to call each one of the ancestors by name, and the more of such names he calls, the more his efficiency is rated.
In the course of the burial rites of an adult male or female who qualifies for the chiefs of the community to assemble for Odo Nli (ceremonial directing of the bereaved family on how their deceased member will be buried), Ↄnԑ Ԑԑ Eta (Paramount Ruler) or Ↄnԑ Nkpᴐrᴐ (Spokesman) will libate saying that frequent death was not desirable so that elders can remain to advise children that vultures are not eaten.
Another occasion where libation becomes expedient is in the settlement is disputes between two persons or communities. Libation in this case acts as a seal that confirms the terms of settlement and may go further to pronounce punishment on any party that breaches the settlement.
The same process is also adopted when establishing a new boundary demarcation in respect of land that was in dispute.
When a widow is being remarried, a dog instead of the usual goat is presented before the family Shrine and the Priest (Ekpo Ↄnԑ) in his libation will call on her dead husband to realize that he no longer belong to this world, and since all his burial rites have been fully completed, the woman who is still young must find another man for her protection, and that henceforth, she belongs to another man and another family. She must not be harmed in any way because all processes have been completed for her remarriage.
During the Agba Esū Festival, which is held all over Eleme in October each year, there is the customary requirement that each male adult member of the family will deliver yams, one fowl or goat, or a big dried fish and some quantity of palm-wine to the ancestral family Shrine where the family Priest has the duty of presenting these materials to the ancestors by name. He presents these materials to the gods/ancestral spirits as coming from a family member who is showing appreciation for the continued existence of his household and further requests them to give more prosperity and protection so that he can present more than this in the coming year.
In case of requesting the gods and ancestors to forgive a sexual sin known as “unmarried-girl-pregnancy-sin” (Ↄlᴐ Ajija) an elaborate sacrifice is required. It is the Traditional Prime Minister who is also the Land Priest (Ↄnԑ Nkikԑԑ) who performs the sacrifices and pours libation to the gods, ancestors, and dead family members to make all necessary plea on behalf of the pregnant girl and the family, calling her by name and asking for forgiveness and safe child delivery. He concludes by praying the gods and ancestors to accept the drink offering, pardon their daughter who has erred, and to preserve the life of both mother and child in order to sustain their own lineage on earth.
When a man and woman happen to have sex in the farm, whether married or not, the same processes of sexual sin sacrifice and pouring of libation to plead the gods and ancestors to forgive the offenders for desecrating their farmland, and to free them from their wraths, are undertaking by the Land Priest as well.
If a man or woman engaged in sexual activity with animal or person of the same sex, the Land Priest carries out the same sexual sin sacrifices and pouring of libation to appease the gods and ancestors, and beg for forgiveness of the offenders’ folly, to relax their anger, and restore them to normal human life.
If someone pronounced a curse on another person or his/her family and died without revoking the curse, the family elder is expected to put a cup in the deceased right hand while lying-in-state. And holding a cup or bottle of kai kai or Schnapps in his own right hand, the family elder will pour out the drink to the ground intermittently to accentuate the process of the libation, calling the deceased by name and flattering him, he will then present his request on behalf of the person or family, begging him to forgive and revoke all the curses he/she placed on the person or family. Finally, the family elder will, on behalf of the deceased, revoked and renounce all the curses, and all those present will chorus “so be it” (atō anyō) affirmatively.
Where it is established that the deceased will not honour the family elder, for whatever reason, a close-friend of the deceased will be specifically invited to pour libation and conduct the revocation of the curses processes.
Experiences have shown that pouring of libation and soliciting to the gods and ancestors usually obtain necessary pardon from the gods and ancestors and free the offender from punishment.
Some people profess not to give drink offering to the gods and ancestors describing the practice as devilish and an unnecessary attachment to the dark ages. But, the truth in issue is that if you claim you forbid or detest pouring libation to the gods, your ancestors, or dead family hero or heroine know today that someone else in your community, extended or immediate family is doing so on your behalf and you are indirectly being imparted either negatively or positively by the influences emanating therefrom.
That claim of not being connected or affected or the “I-Don’t-Give-A-Damn attitude arises out of ignorance and escapism posture. Reason being that, the blood flowing in your veins and all other inheritance such as landed properties, family wealth, fame, goodwill, etc. which you inherited and upon which you laid the foundation of your life and build your future are the things that sustain and reinforce the natural links, spiritual connections, and physical attachments, not what you think, belief, or do.
In the case of crowning a traditional ruler, admitting someone into the Ogbo Nkpᴐrᴐ (highest traditional ruling council) at all levels an elaborate pouring of libation is involved.
Libation is an important aspect of the social life of Eleme. In recent times, we have witness renewed efforts to paint the practice as demonic and fetish, yet offering of drinks and other liquids to the gods continues to attract wider adherence and admirers. Perhaps, because libation is anchored at the root of human social existence: marriage and naming ceremonies, coronation/ordination, send forth, reception, burial ceremony, promotion, acquisition of new car, commissioning of new building/project, new yam festival (Agba Esū), new year celebration, etc. all calls for drink offering – libation.
Because of the importance attached to libation in all African cultures, the libation of olive oil and water (holy) is gathering daily momentum among African religionists and is fast replacing drink offering especially among modern African Christians.