Who is an Osu in Igbo Community? For Achebe (1994:156) An Osu, is a person dedicated to a god, a thing set apart, a taboo forever and his children after him.
Dike (2007:12) defined an Osu as an outcast, a person whose ancestors were sacrificed or dedicated to the local deity in the Igbo Community to appease the gods.
The institution of Osu in the Igbo community is born out of a belief coloured by superstition. According to Igbo belief, an Osu could not marry nor be married by ‘Diala’ (free born) among the people.
Osu and Diala (free born) communicate except in marriage, socially Osus can’t be an Ozo titled holder, because they are regarded as inferior species.
Generally people are made Osu in various ways, some are offered to deities as human sacrifice and with no time they raise a family of Osus. Others were people who ran from danger, seeking for protection, during slavery, some were people who opposed the evil manipulations of the elders of the land who either conspired to sell them into slavery.
Osu are been marginalized and being discriminated in the buying of their goods in the market, left alone with long dirty hairs. The Osus were outcasts in Igbo society. They lived on the edge of the forest and were not allowed to cut their hair.
In Igbo world view, Osus are seen and treated as inferior specie. They are made to live in shrines or market places and not allowed to have contact or have any relationship with the real born.
According to Achebe, “Osus are given separate seats in Church, they are seen as unclean and are not allowed to break Kola or make prayers on behalf of the Diala (free born) because it is believed that them doing that brings calamity (curse on the land).”
Civilization and modernism in Igbo land has brought in so many criticisms, seeking abolishment of Osu caste system.
According to some human rights groups who are calling for its abolishment, some of the punishment against the Osus are; denial of chieftaincy title deprivation of properties, Ostracism, denial of social communication, disruption of marriage ceremonies and disinheritance.
This brought about the issue of March 20 1956, where Igbo legislators in the Eastern house of Assembly, Enugu abolished the common practice of referring people to as Osus. The amount of fines which they imposed have discouraged the public expression of the word “OSU”
It should be noted that Christianity should be liberating. Christ has brought us freedom, liberation and salvation, the practice of Osu is obsolete, primitive and pagan oriented.
Written by Nwafor Michael Ililochukwu (Oboncho)
References: Achebe; Dike
Photo Credit: Google images