Oghene and the Origin of Death

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(Isoko, Urhobo/Nigeria)

Oghene (Oghenukpabe) is the creator of the world and of life and death. Connected with the sky, he is at the junction of the earth and sky. Oghene is good and kind, though he punishes evil, even by death. An emema provided each child by Oghene is responsible for the child's welfare. At death, the personal spirit leaves the world and goes to the underworld where life continues much as it did on earth.

Originally, Oghene created humans to live forever. When a man grew really old, he would be regenerated by sloughing off his old skin like a snake, and assume the skin and vigor of a young man. This process was to be repeated, and so man was to live forever. But as time went on, men increased and the earth became overpopulated. There arose an argument among the men and animals on earth as to what should be done to control the growing population. The dog argued that man should live forever, that Oghene should be implored to extend the frontiers of the earth to accommodate the increasing population. The dog's stand was prompted by his intimate association with man. The toad argued that anyone who dies should go home for good: space in the universe was limited and there was no room for further expansion of the earth. The dog and toad were told to take their views to Oghene in heaven. The views of the one who arrived there first would be accepted, after it had been ratified by Oghene, as the natural law about death. They started on their race to Oghene. The dog soon outran the toad. Convinced that it would get to Oghene before the toad, the dog relaxed, looking for food. It went off the road, overfed itself, and fell asleep. While the dog was sleeping, the toad continued its race. The toad got to heaven first, and said that man must not live forever but must die. The dog woke up later and hurried to cover lost ground, only to find to its dismay and that of man that the toad had already arrived and delivered its message, and that its opinion had been accepted as binding on all creatures. Death came into the world to stay.

Subjects: Religion.

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