Title: UNEMHE Our Heritage
Author: Aigbokhaleode Asimiafele
Publisher: Uto Enterprises Ltd, Lagos
Reviewer: Adjekpagbon Blessed Mudiaga
According to Sanderson (1998), culture is ‘the total life ways characteristic of members of society including tools, knowledge and patterned ways of thinking and acting, that are learned and shared and are not the direct product of biological inheritance.’
It is in the light of the above definition that one could appreciate the commendable contents of Asimiafele’s book titled ‘UNEMHE Our Heritage,’ which documents the culture of the Unemhe people in Edo State, Nigeria.
Written with 10 chapters that span 74 pages, the book explores Unemhe historical origin; geographical location and cosmology; religion, philosophy and family; social organization or gerontocratic structure; political organization; and traditional iron industry. Other areas it focuses on include the caste question and refutal; Ogane potentate; and Unemhe numerals- ‘0’ to ‘10’ respectively.
In the book’s introduction page, the author says “When the colonialists came, there was deliberate suppression of iron technology among the Unemhe, to curtail the threat that the possession of iron would pose to the British influence of Lord Lugard’s divide-and-rule system…” Asimiafele explains that the Unemhe were placed under surveillance, and stigmatized.
Despite the callous blow of imperialism against many good practices and skills of Africans, their religious philosophy though seriously polluted by foreign beliefs, their innate spirit of artistic creativity and invention remains unshakeable. In Asimiafele’s opinion, “to the Unemhes, every object in nature is infused with spirit.” This assertion is in line with some of Lobsang Rampa’s views in the book titled “Saffron Robe,” where similar opinions of spiritual vibrations are said to dwell in all inanimate objects too.
In this vein, Asimiafele further offers that, “to some extent, one will be tempted to say that the Unemhes are pantheistic… like breeze, they easily adapt themselves to whatever environment they find themselves…” This is a very common noteworthy trait not only found among the Unemhes, but an average Nigerian known for ‘never giving up,’ in line with late Fela Anikulapo’s song, ‘Suffering and smiling.”
Moreover, just like the Holy Bible posits about the leadership role of men in the world, Asimiafele’s book also states that “in any Unemhe community, the father is the head of the family.”
From the social organizational structure of Africans, one could see how the Unemhes are known for their creative skills in blacksmithing, in terms of manufacturing iron for sales. Judging from the way their ‘blacksmithing’ skills are presented in the book, it seems an average Unemhe understands the solid spirits that controls iron, which make irons take any shape the Unemhean wants it to be. This underscores the sociological stratification and identity of some families and communities in Nigeria and Africa, well known for their expertise in specific professions. While some families or communities are recognized as hunters, farmers, singers, wrestlers, lawyers and so on, the Unemhes can be said to be the gods and goddesses of ‘blacksmithing,’ as the contents of Asimiafele’s book portrays.
The book further fills the reader with nostalgic memories about the good old days of Nigeria in the 1970s, when agriculture and practical skills acquisition were encouraged and contributed immensely to the development of local communities and the nation at large. Some traditional and cultural pictures used to spice some of the pages also reminds the reader about his childhood days when children from royal linage like this reviewer sat on bare palace floor and listened to words of wisdom from reputable high traditional chiefs and the late King Oghoghovwen II of the Ughelli Kingdom, Delta State, Nigeria.
No doubts, Asimiafele’s book is a resourceful material for all sociological and anthropological professionals interested in understanding the values and skills still embedded in many Africans despite the millennia pollution of their cultures and mind by imperial manipulations.
The author is worthy of great commendation for documenting some of the cultural practices and professions of Africans represented by the Unemhes.
Incidentally, the author, Asimiafele was born in Unemhe-Erhurun to Uzanna kingship- an aristocratic family of the old Unemhean tradition. After his secondary education at the popular Edokpolor Grammar School, Benin City, Edo State, he later proceeded to Fisk University in the United States of America, where he bagged a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology/Anthropology in 1981. He also obtained a Masters of Arts in Cultural Anthropology from Atlanta University, United States of America.
Nonetheless, he holds a Diploma in Journalism and Television from United Kingdom. He has won several awards for his contributions to cultural promotions and poetic creativity. His most voluminous and grand breaking work, is his recently published book entitled ‘The Nigerian Book of Names and Meaning,’ which was launched in October 2013, at the International Conference Center, Abuja FCT. Until his retirement recently, he was the Deputy Director in the Extension Services Department of the National Council for Arts and Culture, Abuja. He is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). Some of his volumes of poetry would be published soon.