THE URHOBO, THE ISOKO, AND THE ITSEKIRI
By Samuel U. Erivwo, Ph.D.
Reproduced in Urhobo Waado By Permission of Professor Samuel Erivwo
later worked hand with Akporido of Agbarho,
although there was no actual union of organisations.
Both branches were in touch with The Faith Tabernacle of America, with
The present Faith
Tabernacle churches have neither institutions, nor real leadership. The
total number of their members, estimated to be under a hundred, selected
one Ovuakporaye, and ordained him as their
pastor when Akporido died only in 1968.
In each branch under Agvarho, there are
head servants (Lay Readers or Catechists in the C.M.S.) From all available
data, the Faith Tabernacle Congregations in Urhobo
are a backwater organisation, maintaining
no link (apart from weekly sermons a few individuals receive from
“We were with them (the C.M.S.) they did not give us full cooperation;they did not recognise our services, how they served too we did not appreciateit. There was a small bit of dispute, disunity, that was why we decided to bringthe church we know that can serve the purpose for our need.”
their members increased. One Lamptey from
the Gold Coast (
Apart from this one methodist church at Sapele, which is dominantly a foreigners’ church, and for which reason services are generally conducted in English, there are hardly any other in Urhoboland worthy of mention.
THE JEHOVAH’S WITNESSES 1935-1961
Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses do not usually regard themselves as Christians, preferring to known as Bible students, a history of Christianity in Urhoboland which says nothing of them will be incomplete.
story in Urhoboland is largely the story
of a single man whose movement has made an impressive mark on a cross section
of Urhobo society. It is the story of J.
M. Orode, formerly also of the C.M.S. In
the twenties Orode was a teacher under
the C.M.S. at Ogba beech, five miles away
Consequently when next it was Orode’s turn to preach in his station, he caused a stir by decrying the observance of Sunday unbiblical. So perplexed was the pastor in charge that Orode was cautioned to alter his tone of preaching if a schism was to be avoided. Convinced as Orode was with this new biblical discovery, he was not prepared to swerve an inch. His appointment was subsequently terminated.
attempts were made by his elder brother to secure him another job, amongst
others, as a court clerk, or an interpreter. But Orode
turned each and all of them down not only for fear of being corrupted by
his bosses and coworkers, and lured into receiving bribes, but also because
of preference for a job which would afford him time enough to preach his
message without hindrance. This was his foremost desire. Thus when another
senior brother sent him a telegram from
opportunity to leave
Back home, Orode traversed the Urhobo country proclaiming the imminent arrival of Armageddon. His family members attempted in vain to get him into a profitable job. The EgwareEkpako of the family was summoned on his account, where the elders, apparently interested and concerned about his well-being, advised him to get married and settle down to a profitable job. But his response put them off.
ThatEgwareEkpako was summoned to discuss Orode’s marriage showed how seriously the matter was viewed; that Orode himself defied the EgwareEkpako and persisted in his preaching showed equally how serious and deep rooted his convictions were. There is even a story that the Ekpako deliberately enticed him by throwing a beautiful girl in this path. At length Orode was compelled to inform them that he would not marry any one by a Jehovah’s Witness. The family thereafter did find him a Jehovah’s Witness and even provided him with the money for the marriage. But if they felt that marriage would diminish the temp of his preaching, they were mistaken. It did not.
adamantly continued and was without any other profitable job until he heard
of one George JevuEgharen,
ofOvwian, a herbalist converted to the Jehovah’s
Witness Society. He was sent for by Orode
who taught him the Bible, and learnt from him his trade. This trade which
was abundantly blessed became Orode’s economic
mainstay. Meanwhile his Urhobo-wide preaching
had won hundreds of converts from the traditional religion, as well as
from other Christian denominations. In 1958 he was invited to the Society’s
Content of the Preaching
The emphasis of the preaching has always been on the imminence of the parousis designated by them Armageddon, and viewed as a cataclysm in which all that is opposed to God’s will would be annihilated and God’s Kingdom Society inaugurated here on earth. To qualify for this new Kingdom one needed to belong to the Jehovah’s Witness Society. As a result of the intensity of their conviction about the imminent Armageddon, the Jehovah’s Witnesses held rallies night and day, moved from house to house, from street to street, form village to village, from town to town, and from clan to clan, persuading and convincing people with a tenacity of purpose, which, even if misguided, is commendable.
In consequence of their conviction of the imminent Armageddon they stood (and still stand) opposed to acquisition of wealth, and indeed to nearly all things material. Secularisation has no place in their theology. The world and all that is in it, including every secular government, is of the devil, and to be eschewed, since it will be consigned to fire and final destruction. The other denominations, in coming to terms with the secular governments, show themselves agents of the devil, and therefore stand condemned as teaching wrong doctrines, and misguiding the people.
the eclipse of the sun on
Their preaching is based only on work, work of a particular kind-a declaration from place to place of an approaching doom, from which people need to flee by becoming Jehovah’s Witnesses. They thus aptly see themselves as members of the Watch Tower Society, the imagery being derived from Ezekiel 33, where the sentinel owes it as a duty to be awake and warn the people of oncoming destruction. Their preaching can therefore hardly be call Evangelion, devoid, as it is, of any good news. They seem to know nothing of salvation by grace, and give no room in their message for the atoning work of Christ, whom they are unprepared to accept as divine, and whose co-eternity with the Father is rejected outright. The doctrine of the Triune God is repudiated by them as devilish.
the Jehovah’s Witnesses initially accepted polygamy as a Biblical and therefore
acceptable practice. But later this position was altered with a consequent
split in the movement. Thence came the God’s Kingdom Society as a distinct
movement. This latter body was under the direction of G.M. Urhobo,
with their headquarters at Warri at a place
At first the Jehovah’s Witnesses also stigmatized other denominations for erecting church buildings. A house could not be built for God, they argued, citing 1 Kings 8:27 as a supporting text for their view. Later, however, they themselves deviated from this position, and embarked on building church houses with the appellation “Kingdom Hall”.
Equally inconsistent were they in their teaching on Urhobo greeting. Traditionally a junior person said Migueo to an elder as a mark of respect to him. This act, if properly carried out, takes the form of kneeling down before one’s elder, that being the literal meaning of Migueo. If done hastily, however, it takes the form of genuflecting, or simply uttering the word. But the Jehovah’s Witnesses initially stood opposed to the expression of this greeting in all its forms, and supported their stance by reference to Rev. 22:8&9. This and many other aspects of their doctrine were based on a one-sided interpretation of scriptures. During the fifties after returning from one of their conferences (when Orode returned from the Unites States), they grew wiser and realised that no spiritual worship was implied in the practice-an argument which they had refused to accept from members of other denominations.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses seldom have paid officials, except for a few full-time workers for whom the Society gives money for clothes and travelling expenses. If a full-time officer becomes married, his wife is also looked after by the Society. But once children are born to the marriage the officer is requested to do the job part-time, and take up another appointment to provide for his family.
From the Headquarters the Society is organised into zones, branches, districts, circuits, congregations, units, and rendezvous. There are, for instance, as many as seven circuits in Urhobo-Ijo land. Each circuit is made up of between eleven to twelve congregations, whilst there or so circuits form a district. In big cities or towns, the Society has officers known as city servants, who are directly in charge of the general organisation of the society in their area. Ughelli, for example, has Orode as the city servant. With the tireless efforts of these servants and their congregation members Jehovah’s Witness membership increased rapidly between 1945 and 1961. By the latter date they were about 400 strong in Ughelli area alone, which was roughly one quarter of her total membership in Urhobo. But heir influence on non-members has always been minimal since it is a closed system whose adherents often decline participation in family meetings, or cultural gathering. Consequently apart from refining their own members through regular, pedantic, and studious if superficial, reading of the Bible, cross fertilisation of cultures has not resulted from their presence in the society.
Finally it needs to be mentioned that their one-sided view of scriptures not withstanding, their tenacity of purpose and fanaticism have endeared them to many who admire their otherworldiness without attempting to copy them. They have been able at the risk of inviting persecution to stand over against the world, rather than compromise with any facet of it.
God’s Kingdom Society: 1934-1961
God’s Kingdom Society,
with its present headquarters at
“After three and half years’ diligent and prayerful studies of theHoly Bible, Jesus Christ revealed himself to me in a vision andcommanded me to go and proclaim the good news of God’s Kingdom(or ‘Gospel of Peace”) to all nations as the only remedy for all
human sufferings and woes; to expose all the false doctrines which
Satan had used to deceive the people and keep them in ignorance
of God’s Kingdom and purpose of creation; and to pronounce
God’s written judgment against all wickedness.”
But not long after their meeting, Urhobo was said to have discovered “errors in the teachings of the Watch Tower Society in respect of ‘Marriage’, ‘Jehovah’s Organisation’, Leadership’, ‘Memorial Supper’, Women Preaching’ and their fixing dates for ‘Armageddon’ While the Jehovah’s Witnesses at this time declared their support for monogamy as the only proper marriage for their members, Urhobo held that polygamy was as acceptable to God as monogamy.
regards to “Jehovah’s Witnesses” teaching that any member of their society
was a Jehovah’s witness, Urhobo disagreed.
He maintained that only the prophets and specially anointed persons were
Jehovah’s witnesses, Jesus Christ being the chief of Jehovah’s witnesses.He
equally disagreed with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ teaching that only 144,000
persons would enter Heaven, as he did with the doctrine that no man was
to be accepted as leader, when in fact they recognised
Rutherford, their president then, as leader. When Urhobo
pointed out to Brown what he considered to be wrong teaching, the latter
was said to have accused Urhobo of vying
for leadership. Urhobo was consequently
declared as an enemy of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The result was the emergence
of God’s Kingdom Society. Those who accepted Urhobo’s
point of view followed him to form God’s Kingdom Society at the end of
1934. When he died on
Although the God’s Kingdom Society differs in some of its teachings from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, it is still very similar in other respects. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they are unitarians. While claiming to accept the divinity of Christ, they hold with Arius that there was when he was not. According to them, God (the Father) was from eternity but created the Word (His Word?) in the beginning of creation. Having created the Word the latter became God’s agent in creation. Jesus Christ is said to be a god, as is Lucifer, and as indeed are men. An excerpt from one of their sermons reads:
The doctrine of Trinity has no biblical basis-it is false.We agree that the Father is God and the son is a god but in no place in the Bible is the HolySpirit referred to as a god. Apart from the Son, Jesus, there are othercreatures both in heaven and on earth who are also gods but they, including
Jesus Christ, are all subject to the Father. in the Psalms it is written: “Ye are
gods; and all of you are children of the Most High.” (Psalm 82:6) Thus the
Father is the “God of gods, and Lord of lords” Deut. 10:17,…
Like several other sects, they reject infant Baptism, on the ground that it lacks Biblical precedence. Like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they hold that only those who belong to their society wherever it exists or, where it does not exist, those who belong to a society which holds the same views with them, will enter the Kingdom of God.