Saturday 1 January 2022

Osu

"As we are dealing with questions of status it may be of interest to say something about the cult-slaves known as osu to whom reference has already been made.

An osu is a person who has been bought and dedicated to the service of the owner’s cult. Or he is the descendant of such a person.

He differs therefore from an ohu who is a slave in the ordinary sense. An osu is both despised and feared, his person being taboo; but an ohu is not.

Any free-born person, whatever his position, may marry an ohu's daughter, but no free person would marry an osu. To do so would be ‘abomination’, and if a free-born person were to marry an osu he would himself become an osu. [It was even taboo for a free-born person to have sexual relations with an osu].

An osu can only marry an osu.

An ohu could be redeemed, but an osu could not. The owner of an osu could only sell an osu with the consent of the deity served by the osu (the consent being given by means of divination). If an osu were sold he had to be replaced.

A master might inherit the property of an ohu but in no case would he take that of an osu.

Free-born persons avoid buying seed-yams from an osu and people are even afraid of buying seed-yams in a market, lest they should have been grown by an osu and so infected by the deity he serves.

Persons who pawn themselves acquire the status of an ohu until redeemed, and the children of unredeemed persons are also regarded as ohu.

The children of an osu can never be anything but osu but the children of an ohu by a free woman have the full status of free-born persons (with the exception that they cannot inherit the ọfọ or any of the cults of the master’s family).

Source: Law And Authority In A Nigerian Tribe by Meek, C. K (1937)

Photo from museumdervoelker.com

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