BRIEF HISTORY OF OKERE COMMUNITY AND HER PEOPLE
Okere which means, ”it is small” in Itsekiri language, is an Itsekiri indigenous community and it is the oldest in modern day Warri metropolis having been found about 1497 by a Benin war general, Ekpenede, (Ekpen for short) and sent after Prince Ginuwa’s entourage. They had not been privy to the Oba’s plot to have his son, Ginuwa, found a new Kingdom, (what is known today as Warri Kingdom).
Encamped across the Uton Tuba, with the Warri river between them and their quarry, and with no means to cross over to ijala, Ekpen was compelled to end his chase and settle further upland at the place christened “Okere” in reference
He is said to have planted his staff at the centre of the settlement with the invocation “Ogungbaja Okere” (literally meaning that war will never come to Okere). This new staff grew into the tree which stands proudly by the Okere market junction today as a major historical landmark. Another tree, Arimabo – meaning one who sees and exposes what is seen, was planted after Ogungbaja Okere Odola and it’s still today at the centre of the Okere Market roundabout.
IDIMIS (QUARTERS IN OKERE COMMUNITY)
Okere comprises six idimis: Odekporo, Ogun-Obite, Idimi Ode-lle, Idimi Jakpa, Ajamimogha and Idimi Sobo (Urhobo Quarter) which is the most recent, having come into existence on the arrival of some Urhobo immigrants about 1778 and were allowed to settle there by the reigning Town Head (Olare Aja), Ogieboro Arukuneyi. Today due to the unhealthy stoning of the embers of ethnicity, Idimi Sobo now calls itself “Okere Urhobo Clan”.
The Itsekiris live in the westernmost part of the Niger Delta bounded by the Bight of Benin on the west and Lat 05 45E and Lat 05 20N. The administrative unit known as the Warri division, now broken into three -Warri Local Government Council areas: Warri North, Warri South-West and Warri South; is about 1,520 square miles in size.
Warri metropolis is the headquarters of Warri South Local Government Area and Okere is the pulse centre of the metropolis. Okere is situated near the Warri river on the South, bounded by Effurun in the North-East and the Agbassas on the South-West. The Okere Creek cuts through the entire community and empties into the Warri river.
Okere people are mostly Christains though some practice traditional African religion ancestor worship (ebura), there are up to fifty Churches in Okere alone but the biggest and most popular is the Word of Life Bible Church centred in Ajamimogha Quarters in Okere.
Ikengbuwa Primary School and Nana Primary school are Government schools while Bunmi Nursery / Primary and Peace Nursery / Primary schools, are the most prominent private schools. Among the prominent secondary schools are: Hussey College, Nana College, Uwangue College. Bunmi Secondary School (a private secondary school).
First Bank, Union Bank, U.B.A., Zenith Bank, Standard Chartered, FCMB and Access Bank are prominent commercial banks around Okere. Okere Community Bank is the only community bank and it is the strongest and most viable in the whole of Warri metropolis
Morgan Smart Foundation is a prominent N.G.O. based in Okere while Eni-Jones Peace and Development Initiative is the most prominent C.B.O
There is a sole Youth Forum: Omologho, which runs youth affairs in the Community.
The most prominent association is the Okere Community Development Association (O.C.D.A); there is also the Okere Committee of Friends, Ajamimogha Committee of Friends. There are other socio-cultural groups like Arimabo, Okere Choral group Sisan Okere etc.
LANDMARKS, SYMBOLS AND THEIR SIGNIFICANCE
The rich cultural heritage of the Okere people is further exemplified mostly in the traditional landmarks and symbols and in its supernatural significance to the Community. Rivers, Sacred Trees Groves and pulse centres acquire sublime significance that touches the very existence of the community.
The Okere Creek is and remain the drainage for the whole of Warri metropolis. The Creek opens and empties into the main Warri River at Miller Waterside by Old N.P.A Port.
It is a common sight to see children and adults swimming at the Eye “River” by Esisi Bridge and at the Ajamimogha “River” by Mabiaku Link through which the Awankere Festival deity, Okioro comes into the community before the Festival and it is also the ritual exit at the end.
OGUNGBAJA OKERE ODOLA
Like was the custom with early founders of settlements. Ekpenede planted his staff at the centre of present day Okere with the invocation “Ogungbaja okere” (literally meaning that before war comes to Okere, it will be yesterday i.e. War will never come to Okere). Ekpen’s staff grew into a tree and this tree has been known by the name “Ogunbaja okere odola” – from the inception of the town it can still be seen by all, even today at the Ekpen Street/Okere Market Road junction just by the Okere Community Bank.
Arimabo is another sacred tree, also planted by Ekpenede that stands at the centre of the Okere Market roundabout, protected by white slabs. It is of the female gender and forewarns members of the community against any malevolence. This tree was the target of the ldimi-sobo “army” who tried to burn it down during the ill-fated May 9th 1993 crisis between the Urhobos of Idimi Sobo and their Itsekiri benefactors in Okere, so as to obliterate the fact that Okere was founded by Ekpenede, but to their consternation, the tree could not be killed. The new lushly rich green foliage that adorns Arimabo today is a living testimony to the magic, the mystery and the mystique that is Arimabo.
Erele is the sacred tree that is hemmed in by a fence painted white beside Pa. Macrocos Uwejamomere’s house at Okere market square. Erele shrine is meant to cleanse both widows and widowers in the event of the death of either partner. The cleansing ritual is usually performed about three days after the final burial of the deceased. By performing the Erele ritual (OKPO) the bereaved partner cleanses the last traces of death from the home.
The OKPO ritual symbolically represents a clean break from all other funerary rite, only those whose partners have died and have done the OKPO ritual can attend other’s funeral ceremonies and participate in ancestral worship (Ebura). Visitors from far and wide have been known to come to Erele to perform the OKPO ritual.
It is made from a particular plant whose stem is woven into a rope-like extension with a strand, “ayo”, got from the inside of raffia palm is attached to the ropelike end and used to whip the ground, it produces a sound like a gun shot.
The festival takes place during the heavy rains between July and August. Apart from the Ogieboro, nobody is allowed to cover himself with an Umbrella and no male is allowed to wear a hat during the festival period. The rains have a therapeutic effect on all participants, and spectators alike, as it washes all sickness, other ailments, curses, ill-luck e.t.c.
Edited by Monoyo Edon (BA Ling)