Ubiesha Etarakpo

Ubiesha Etarakpo of Kokori was the founder of the Igbe religion, a monotheist expression of faith that gained considerable followership among the Urhobo people of Nigeria from the 19th Century. As a trader of bangles made of elephant tusks, Ubiesha travelled to many parts of the Benin Empire, but after suffering an ill heath took to farming, an endeavor which also failed. Beset by these failures, and death of his children Ubiesha became withdrawn and was believed by his seven wives who later deserted him to have lost his mind.

Ubiesha moved about in the streets of Kokori mouthing different languages. He often sang and danced, while, in his own confession to a kind lady benefactor- he is in a state of entrancement. He would hold a leather fan and pieces of white chalks which he often dusted on his head. In a self-account, Ubiesha was visited by a man dressed in white robes and given a lump of white chalks by which he was told, he could help mankind. When Ubiesha deplored his otherworldly abilities for good use he began to win disciples over. A record was made of an instance in 1893 when he resolved a conflict among cow owners, by mystically identifying each of the mixed up cows for their respective owners. Ubiesha’s career as a moralizing agent was particularly important to the Urhobo society who have lost faith in the cult system for dispensing justice due to the corruption of priests. Being incorruptible, he won many to his side, thereby rendering the native court at Kokori redundant. Chiefs at court petitioned the British Colonial Office at Abraka to normalize situations, leading to Ubiesha’s arrest in 1919.

Ubiesha died in July 1920 after confessing to his followers that his decision to marry the daughter of one of his priests was sinful. In a moment of rage, he had told the fair looking lady who complained about her husband’s treatment of her, against his own initial counsel, to divorce him. It was for this act of indiscretion, according to tradition, that his career was brought to an end. Legend has Ubiesha’s burial accompanied by vivid anomalies, which serves to accentuate the importance of his person. Three of his four original disciples laid claim to his office after his death, forming therefore, different sects of the movement, with headquarters in Warri, Orogun, and Benin.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer