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Belief and ritual in the Edo traditional religion Welton, Michael Robert

Abstract

The primary purpose of this study is to describe the Edo traditional religious system. Four assumptions undergird the general theoretical framework of the study. 1. That the divinities are personified beings capable of responding to ritual action as well as manifesting themselves in culture. 2. That the interaction between man and divinity will be patterned after such relationships and obligations that characterize social relations. 3. That interaction with divinity will be related to the attainment of goals at different levels of social structural reference. 4. That the divinity-to-group coordination will reflect the conflicts and competition within the social structure. I have first of all sought to determine what the Edo beliefs about divinity are, i.e. what personalized beings are believed to exist in the 'supernatural' or 'extra-social' world. This has been done through eliciting of statements from priests and other representatives of the divinities, through an analysis of some myths and songs sung before the shrines of 0lokun and Ogun. Closely related to the discovery of how the Edo represent their divinities is the question of how these divinities are believed to manifest themselves in nature and culture. For if they are believed to be 'personalized' entities, then they will have intelligence, personality and speech. When the researcher studies the ritual interactional process between man and the divinities, one of his interests will be to see how the man to divinity communication process parallels the patterns of interaction on the social level. He will also be interested in what relationships there are between the goals an individual in the culture pursues at the different levels of social structural reference and the divinities as instruments to the attainment of this valued ends. Finally, we want to see whether there is any relationship between the ritual interaction with the divinities and the conflicts and competition within the social structure. If structural alignments in the social order are 'mirrored' in man's relationship to divinity in African cultures, then it could be hypothesized that changes within the social structure will also be reflected in changed or new relations to old or new divinities. The 'multiplex' meaning of ritual may be taken for granted. Man's 'vertical' relationship with divinity cannot be interpreted as a cultural isolate, for belief and ritual intersect the socio-political structure and are related to the ecological environment. This study is limited to ritual as it pertains to divinity. For example, I have not been able to examine rites of passage in the Edo culture. If I had I would have discussed changes of role as involving incorporation into new groups which usually have personal beings behind them who keep the group flourishing or weaken it in response to breaches of group norms. Therefore rites of passage involve ritual in order to bring the new member under their control. The questions I bring to the study of ritual are of a different order. I have chosen three broad categories as organizing devices: the Edo representation of Divinity; The Edo manifestation of Divinity; and the Edo response to Divinity. After giving a brief ethnographic introduction to the Edo, followed by an introduction to the structure of the Edo cosmology, I will examine the main divinities in the Edo cosmology, and conclude with an overview of the Edo religious system.

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