Brief History Of Osu Caste System:The Osus are people historically owned by deities, and are therefore considered to be a 'living sacrifice', an outcaste, untouchable and sub-human (similar to the Roman practice of homo sacer). This obnoxious practice dates back to hundreds of years ago when criminals, slaves and mostly war prisoners from neighbouring towns were dedicated to deity gods. They will be taken as slaves and put in shrines to worship and serve their gods. These prisoners marry themselves and bear children and children's children who are also castigated as Osu.
The Osu and The Nwadiala:In South Eastern Nigeria, there are traditionally two classes of people, the Nwadiala and the Osu. The Nwadiala are the free-born and literally, they are the "son of the soil". They have liberty to own lands, marry and engage in any activities, age grade meetings, etc. in the land.
The Osu, on the other hand are the slaves, strangers, unclean, untouchables and outcasts. They are treated as inferior human beings and kept in a state of permanent and irreversible disability; they are subjected to various forms of abuse and discrimination and are made to live separately from the freeborn; They reside very close to shrines and market places.The Osu are not allowed to dance, drink, hold hands, associate or have sexual relationship with the Nwadiala. They are not even allowed to break kola nut at meetings or pour libation or pray to God on behalf of a freeborn at any community gathering. It is believed that such prayers will bring calamity and misfortune.
Why Write About Osu Caste Now?:AfryCulture is writing this, not because it has not been written by some writers before, but as a contribution On our own part towards 'Change' from Bad Cultures witnessed in Africa to Free and Happy Africa. Legally today in Nigerian constitution, OSU system has been abolished but deep in the minds of the so called Free-borns the Osu System still make big meaning . And the Outcastes still carry this stigma with them especially when it comes to big political appointments or elections (always used by opponents to disqualify them) and life meaning events like Marriage.
In 1956, the government of the then Eastern Nigeria passed a law abolishing the Osu caste system. The law freed and discharged anybody called Osu including the children born to such a person. It declared the practice unlawful and a crime punishable by law. Unfortunately, more than 50 years after the enactment of this legislation, nobody has been prosecuted or convicted for breaking the law.
Recently, one of our members travelled to the village. As he sat with some village members discussing, there passed this beautiful young girl, tall and very fair. He recognised the girl and told that she has grown so beautiful. The men all laughed and many agreed with me but there and then they remarked that she is from an Osu family and vehemently stood that it is still strong in the community and any free born that marry them is also castigated as an Osu. Many will be surprised to hear this because I believed that people have long forgotten this Outcaste issue.. Even among learned friends, I mean, Doctors, Engineers, Lecturers, they still strongly believe in this Osu practice and discuss it with utmost seriousness.
Anyone could have become an OSU:What is Osu, or rather, who is an Osu? Anyone could have become an Osu because from the derivation, 'A war prisoner' could be anyone. I mean, during wars any side could win and take the other side prisoner to make them Osu. In the old testament Bible, the Israelites, for example, won wars and sometimes were defeated and taken away as prisoners though they were mighty and favoured by God; In history, we heard about mighty Persian empire (550 - 330 BC) that was later defeated and brought to fall; Also the famous Oyo empire, etc. What we saying in essence is that In wars, any lucky side could win no matter how mighty or strong you may be. So why do you think you are too special or too important than the so call Osu just because God favoured you and you did not fall among the war prisoners of the old.
People are stubbornly so wicked that any little excuse they have to oppress or suppress the other, they want to hold that so tight not to let go. Most of these so called Osus are, Education wise, very much educated than the free-born; Business wise, progress and very much richer than the free-borns; etc. So, why are you so proud that you cannot allow Change when even the 'gods' blesses them more than you.
Osu Caste System, Ignorance of the Past:I will say it was Ignorance that brought about the Osu system. Same with Slavery, Eunuchs, Killing of Twins, etc. But today we should come to accept change. Leave Pride and selfish interest behind and do what is right. In the past, Slavery was a legal trade, a legal source of income for countries and individuals. This was stopped due to change. Before the 19th centuries, eunuchs were very legal. Infact, any family that will produce an eunuch is a blessed family because he is going to leave in the kings palace (even if it is to serve as a slave). All these are stopped today due to Change.
Many people are enjoying today in Africa and all over the world due to the stoppage of Slavery. You can move about freely, get good education, get good home, good life because you no longer have to fear of being captured, sold and maltreated as a slave; Many Widows in Africa today enjoy their freedom of life because of Change. They now have their human rights, have their belongings not taken from them and no longer have the fear of being forcefully asked to marry one of the husband's kinsmen; Many families are enjoying their Twins, Quadruplets, etc. today. They no longer have to fear of their children being killed. So, why do you hold so tight the Osu caste culture?
Change For A Better, Modern Africa:Equality and Diversity, along with Internatioal Human Rights, Campaign is going on around the world today. Gender equality, Racial equality, Age, disability, Religious equality, etc. It is all about 'creating a fairer society, where everyone can participate and have the opportunity to fulfill their potential', eliminating prejudice and discrimination. Thereby, allowing a healthier and happier society.
Change is what we need in Modern Africa. We should put aside Pride, Anger, selfish interest, etc. and bring about good Changes in our society if Equality and Diversity is to yield desirable fruit in Africa. The courageous fight of the good old Abraham Lincon and William Wilberforce who stood strong and abolished Slavery; The courageous work of the good old Mary Mitchell Slessor, who fought strong, among all odds, to abolish The Killing of Twins in Nigeria, etc. should not be made to waste.