I don’t allow women to wear trousers, or speak any other language except Ijaw in my palace — Pere of Kabowei Kingdom

The Pere of Kabowei Kingdom, His Royal Majesty, Barrister Shadrach Erebulu, Aduo lll, who is a trained Lawyer has been labouring to revive the traditions and cultures of his people. Even though he is highly educated, he has been reluctant to allow modernization to wash away the ways of his people. In this interview, he spoke about his kingdom, which spreads across two states and his plans for his people, especially in the area of cultural revival. Excerpts.

How has it been since you ascended the throne?

It will be six months February 16. I’m still quite new on the throne. I must say that initially, it was not so easy, but it is getting better by the day.

What were you into before you ascend the throne?

I was a practising lawyer with a law firm in Warri. By the side, I was the Supervisory Councilor for Works in Patani Local Government Council.

Were you compelled to join the race or was it out of your freewill?

I think God destined it this way and I only followed the way God planned it and worked it out. I wouldn’t say I was compelled but I just flowed as it was unfolding and it worked out fine.

Is the Kabowei kingdom stool hereditary or by appointment?

It is hereditary. It passes from father to son. My late father was the last Pere of Kabowei Kingdom and he passed on, on February, 18 2016. Then, I came after him.

It is said that you also have some elder brothers, so how come you were picked instead of them?

The process moves from father to son, starting from the first son and there are qualifications that are also stated traditionally and even by government’s gazette to guide the kingmakers. I think that was how it was done. I happen to be the sixth surviving son, but I think flowing from the qualifications, the kingmakers found me as the most suitable person for the office.

These days, the race for the throne is competitive, how many of your siblings actually ran for the throne?

The way it is done, the first son is considered first. Then, if he is not deemed qualified, it goes on to the second and so it continues until it gets to the most qualified. So it is not as if it was a contest between two persons.

Can you tell us some of the qualifications?

There are traditional qualifications and also, the ones laid down by our laws. The society is very much aware of the general ones, but the kingmakers in charge of the selection process are well-versed in the traditional qualifications. Like you have to be fluent in the Ijaw language, you have to be married, free from insanity and all that. It is a whole wide level of qualifications that are being considered.

While growing up, maybe as a crowned prince, did you know you would be made king at any point in time?

Growing up, I had no idea I would be a crowned prince. I didn’t for once, think of the possibility of ascending the throne because growing up, I was the seventh then, I only lost one of my elder brothers recently. Growing up then, it was not in my thoughts. I only got a feel of it maybe from the very day my dad passed on.

Did you have any form of resistance during the traditional rites to make you king?

When I was told I was the most suitable, I must say I put all those to thought. My relationship with my late dad made me to have firsthand knowledge of the whole process even more than some of my siblings. I put all those in mind and weighed all the options and made up my mind I was going to go through with it.

The Ijaws have a rich history. Could you tell us how this kingdom came about?

The man Kabowei, who gave birth to the whole communities we have today, came from somewhere called Oporoza and he resided in a place we call Kabo Creek, as at now. He had two brothers, Baraowei and Kumbowei. Baraowei is in the present day Bayelsa and Kumbowei is also in Bayelsa and part of Delta. He stayed in Kabo Creek and had his children there. As time went on, his children gave birth to their own children. In search of greener pastures, they moved out from the creek and came to where we have today as Patani town. Some went across the Forcados River and resided there, which is in the present day Bayelsa state. With the political divide, some of the communities or children of Kabowei, fell in Bayelsa state and are now communities residing there. We were all together, before the boundary adjustment that placed them there. But traditionally, we are still one kingdom.

Can you tell us a brief history of the Ijaw people of which Kabowei is one of the kingdoms?

Ijo, like the Kabo man, was also an individual. History has it that he was one of the sons of the great Oduduwa. During his father’s reign as king, he was very powerful and when his father was getting weaker, he almost wanted to take charge of the administration. Then, his father told him to leave the kingdom because there could not be two kings while he was still alive. Notwithstanding the fact that he was weak, his father felt Ijo could not run the affairs of the kingdom. He told him to go towards the river bank, where he would see white sands that he should go with servants, family and dwell there.

In that light, he moved from there and got to a part in Edo state, settled for some time, had children there, and moved again southwards, along the river in search of where they had white sands and all. He came down southward and settled at the river bank, moving and building canoes. And it is the nature of the Ijaw man to give birth to many children, so in doing that and in relocating, he was leaving some behind because the practice of the Ijaw man is for children and wife to stay behind, while he first goes to fish and all. That is why today, you have the Ijaws spread along the riverine areas. An Ijaw would like to move from one riverine area to another, establish their families there, later move to the river for fishing because it is what we do for a living.

What is the relationship between your people and other Ijaw people across the various states?

Like I said, the Kabo man had his father as Oporozaowei, who came from Oporoza. The same way we are aware that we have brothers in Kumbo and Bara, it is the same way that we are aware that we have uncles in other kingdoms too, that were brothers to Oporozaowei. So because of the relationship, we try as much as possible to keep in touch with those other kingdoms. Since I emerged, I think I have been able to do just that, to get close relationships, to re-establish the tie with our brother kingdoms in Delta and other states.

What are the unique traditional practices of your people?

The Kabowei kingdom is celebrated for her festival called the Seigbe Festival. It is about a 20-day event celebrated every year, in the month of April, where every son and daughter of Kabowei is expected to come home to showcase our rich cultural heritage. Our burial and marriage rites, we hold dearly. Also, the transition from girlhood to womanhood is held dearly. But most celebrated is our annual Seigbe Festival.

Did you at anytime think of pulling out after discovering you are the most suitable for the throne?

If that thought ever came, it was when I discussed it with my wife. It was more like this was not what we thought we were going to do, but it took some time for her to get over it. When it came, when I knew I was the person, I knew it was a call to serve. I knew I had to reflect back, with the help of one of my elder brothers, to see that I was born for this. So, I could not run away from it. It was at that point I had to convince my immediate family that this was what I was born for.

Is there any historical perspective attached to Ijaws’ penchant for living close to waters and being good swimmers?

It is very easy to highlight when you talk about it. If you stay close to water and you don’t know how to swim, that is a suicidal mission. For you to be able to want to go into the river to catch fish first, you should know how to swim, in case your boat has issues. I think it links to our history, our culture and our practice of fishing. You don’t see fishes on the land, you have to go deep and if you need to catch the big ones, you have to go deeper. And to delve deeper, you should be able to swim. So it is that sub consciousness in every child and in every parent that when you give birth to your child, you are aware that he or she should know how to fish. So, the first step is you must know how to swim before you can take the next step.

What is the history behind your stool covering parts of Delta and Bayelsa states?

The stool dates back to the 18th century. I am not the first king, neither am I the second. As of that time, all the children of the Kabowei were seen to be residing in the same area. Before now, we had the western region that covered the old Rivers/Delta axis. Then, we were together because, we were all under the western region. So during development, the need now to have Rivers and Bendel states, the Forcados River, seemed the best bet for the division. That was when some of our brothers fell for this other angle and the others were on the other divide. It still went further to when Delta State was created and Bayelsa State was also carved out. They were already residing there. It doesn’t mean that these people are no longer brothers or have the same history. It’s just for political convenience because despite the divide, we share the same traditional and cultural heritage.

States have meetings of monarchs. Which of the states do you meet with in such circumstances?

Since this is the traditional headquarters of Kabowei kingdom and by virtue of the political arrangements, this is in Delta State, I meet with the Delta State Traditional Council. That is not to say Bayelsa state does not give recognition to the fact that there is Kabowei kingdom in the state. Over time, there was the development to have a political stool on that other end. This is the traditional headquarters of Kabowei kingdom in Delta and Bayelsa states. We have a political stool just to cover for the communities there, so they don’t lose out in Bayelsa state. So a sub-clan was created to have a sub-head who is subjected to the rulership of the Pere of Kabowei kingdom, which is the head of traditional authority. Due to that divide, even the Bayelsa state government recognises this stool as the Pere of Kabowei kingdom covering the Bayelsa angle. But since the headquarters of the traditional stool covers this divide and for convenience sake, we attend Delta State traditional council.

Since you are a king of a major ethnic group in Delta and Bayelsa states, what has been the relationship between you and other monarchs of Isoko, Urhobo, Itsekiri and even Ijaw and other tribes in the state?

First, some personal relationships normally exist before my ascension to the throne. By virtue of my job and my father, I had personal relationships with some of these monarchs. But after my emergence, I was given Staff of Office in October, so between then and today, I have been able to cultivate relationships with some major monarchs in Delta State.

Also, with other tribes, I have been able to renew the relationship with the Gbaramatu kingdom by paying a courtesy call on the Pere. I have also done that to the North. I visited the Obi of Owa sometime in January. Also the Urhobos, I visited the Orodje of Okpe some few weeks back. I have a date with the Olomu king for sometime this month.

As for the Isoko angle, the Odiologbo of Oleh, I will be seeing him next week. I have seen him on one on one basis because apparently, we have an ancestral maternal relationship from the same family in Ofagbe. So we are like brothers.

Also, I have extended that to some of my brother kings in Bayelsa State and these are people within this region that even came for my coronation and presentation of staff of office. There are plans to also establish ties with the Yoruba kingdom, that is with the Ooni of Ife, also possibly, one or two kingdoms from the North.

Geographically, we are all in Nigeria, we all speak same thing, we are all united in our own ways. I am still new in it, so we are trying to build more relationships. But before now, my late father had very cordial relationship with most of the major kings in the country.

Since your kingdom spreads between two states, do you receive entitlements from the two as well?

When you have your children spread across the world, and they come home for Christmas, I believe they bring the various currencies from the various countries. I receive homage from the states and the communities that are under my administration. How is the political head selected, the one you have in Bayelsa state? It is rotational and the candidate emerges through election. It moves from one community to the other.

What are some of the taboos in your kingdom?

There are particular days when people are not allowed to go to the farm or go to the river. Our women do not go to the farm on those days. There are areas where you don’t just bury people; you bury according to the type of death. If it is an accident victim, a suicidal one, you don’t bury them among normal people like the aged ones. There are other lesser ones.

What are the consequences of those taboos, if one decides to defy them?

Well, there are traditional consequences. First, a scenario where maybe a married woman sleeps with another man, there are traditional consequences that will make her start losing her children. Those are extreme consequences and people desist from such.

What are the things you cannot do as a king?

They are so many (laughs). First, I am not allowed to see a corpse, so that restricts me from attending funeral services. Apparently, I am the oldest man, so I can’t prostrate to greet even my mother anymore. I am not allowed to live my normal life but a regimented one. I am not allowed to go out on my own. There are places I am not allowed to go into. There are so many others. The regulations and restrictions guarding the lifestyle of a king are quite enormous.

Can you tell us about your growing up and your educational history?

I was born in Ibadan, but I grew up here in Patani because my dad ascended the throne just after my birth. So we stayed in the same palace, I grew up in the same palace. I attended a primary school here and part of my secondary school was also here. Then, I left for Ibadan where I attended Command Secondary School, Ibadan. Afterwards, I attended Delta State University where I bagged my LLB in Law and afterwards attended the Nigerian Law School in Enugu. I served in Delta State too, then I was working as a practising lawyer. I just lived my life like every other royal child because I grew up knowing that my father was a king. I didn’t grow up to meet him as a military man.

What are some of the things you miss as a king, considering the fact that you are young?

Will I say I really miss doing those things? Before I ascended the throne, I just got to the stage in my life where I became a responsible man. I got married in the same year I ascended the throne. As at the point of my getting married, I believe I had had enough of everything I wanted to do as a young man, and it was time for me to be responsible and be focused. If there is anything I miss doing, it is going to court as a lawyer because that is one of the things I cannot do anymore too.

How did your family receive the news that you had been picked as the next king?

Apparently, the news came while we were still having our honeymoon. You can imagine!. That was a terrible way to continue our honeymoon. My wife is also a lawyer. We met in court and we had our plans, like establishing our own chambers and all that . When the news came, it was a shocker, especially for my wife, but in a short time, she came to terms with it. For my extended family, it was more or less a celebration.

Can you just tell us the reaction of your wife, what did she tell you?

It came via a text message from one of my elder brothers. When I saw the message and showed it to my wife, she didn’t understand what it was and asked, ‘what is this one that Eli congratulating you for?’ And I said that I was selected as the king.

She said, ‘King what? You aren’t going to stay in Patani, are you?’ And I said when we get to that bridge, we will cross it. I think her major concern was coming to stay here, because she had only come twice for my dad’s burial and when I brought her to officially introduce her to my mum. That was the only challenge.

During traditional rites, in most kingdoms, some rituals are usually performed. What were those things you went through to become king?

By my title, I am the custodian of the tradition and custom, so for every traditional and cultural activity that goes on in the kingdom, I don’t see them as being extreme. They are the ways we have lived before now and they are the traditional obligations for the stool. For you to occupy a certain office, there’re things expected of you, so the fact that a politician will have to go from door to door to campaign to gather votes doesn’t mean it is an extreme thing. I think it is just what comes with what you are aspiring for. In my own case, there was really nothing extreme.

For the sake of some of your subjects who have not been to your kingdom, can you tell us bits of the traditional rites a new king must perform?

For a certain time, there won’t be movements just for the traditional rites. There will be celebrations, beating of drums. There is celebration at the palace of the Pere for seven days and seven nights. While the incoming king will be secluded somewhere and on the seventh day, he is expected to be seen. That morning, there will be shooting of canons and some traditional celebrations. Thereafter, he will be brought shown to the entire public, prayed for by the oldest man in the kingdom and crowned . From that day, he becomes the Pere.

How do you relax amid your entire busy schedule as a king?

By virtue of my kind of person, I do more of reading. That has helped so I do not even feel bored. As a lawyer before now, I read to relax. That is what I still do now or if my wife is around, we play scrabble together.

What are some of the traditional things that your wife as the queen of the kingdom is precluded from doing?

As the Queen, there are some things expected of her. She is not supposed to be like an everyday woman as the Queen of the kingdom. Like when she has to go out, some persons need to go with her. If she needs to go to a public function, she has to go with that same knowledge too. She also has that restriction on greetings too. She can greet the normal ‘good morning’ but she cannot prostrate or kneel down. She only does that when she greets me. She is not expected to do that to even her parents anymore.

How is she settling down to her new life?

Gradually, we are getting used to it. She too is adjusting to her new role very well.

In some other kingdoms, it is understood that the new king will have to eat maybe a human part of the late king. Did this happen in your own case?

There are traditional rites I have been trying not to go delve into. But this one you just mentioned is nowhere near ours. Contrary to it, when a king passes on in our kingdom, even his children do not have an idea where he is taken to. It is only the incoming king that has that knowledge. But eating the part of it, I can assure you it is not part of our tradition.

How do you adjudicate cases when they are brought to your court?

We have the court and the police, no doubt and we allow them do their functions. But where a party or the two parties involved decide to bring it to the palace, I play the role of a father. When you have two children that are having issues, notwithstanding the fact that they have issue at their place of work, you as a father, can call the two to say, ‘why are you having issues’, and settle it amicably between them.

Our people understand the fact that ‘Oh! somebody steals or destroys your property, you take the person to the police station, the police arrests the person and then, the court eventually sends the person to prison, but you have still not gotten back your property.

So on our own side; we try to let you understand that instead of you doing that, let this person replace your property. I think your major concern is that your property is replaced maybe in a better condition than the way it was damaged, rather than you just sending the man off to court. But we have the same notorious ones too, that we just allow the law take its course with them.

How has been a lawyer helped you in your new position as the Pere of Kabowei kingdom?

I wouldn’t know how it would have been if I was not a lawyer. But I believe I have tried to put the fact that I am a lawyer, my knowledge of the law to play when it comes to adjudication. In a way, it has helped and I am grateful to my dad for insisting I become a lawyer.

Can you let us know some of your achievements since you became the Pere?

Before my emergence, I understood the fact that our cultures and traditions are fast fading away. Even our youths find it hard to understand and speak our language. Due to modernisation, everybody now feels that going back to traditional language makes one a lesser person. That was eating fast into our way of life, so my major drive was that as a young traditional ruler, I should be able to reverse these things.

I think my function is not political. It is to keep and preserve the traditions of our people. I had to bring some strict rules. Before now, people came into the palace and they wanted to speak English language while addressing the king. I made it a point for anybody coming into the palace, except you are not from Kabowei kingdom, not to speak the English language, but our language. If you are not fluent in it, mix it, but endeavour to see that you can speak it.

I made it a taboo for any woman to walk into the palace wearing trousers. We see how girls wear all manner of things and walk down the street; that is not our way of life. So even within the town, I had to call the chairmen of the communities to educate their young people to see that they try as much as possible to go back to our tradition.

I also set up a committee to see how we can come up with our own cultural heritage, that is how the Kabowei man used to be. Because Kabowei or the Kabo man as he is popularly called, is a unique Ijaw person. We are unique in all we do because our own tongue is different from every other Ijaw man. If a Kabowei man speaks here, it is different from the way someone from Bomadi or Sagbama would speak.

So if we can go back to the way we speak our language, it will help our culture, it will help our uniqueness, because once you lose your culture, you have lost your identity. I try to see how we can bring that back.

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