THE RELIGIOUS POSITION OF THE AVAT
We have now considered the way in which the office of the Ovat is fitted into the social structure. To achieve a deeper understanding of the Ovat's position, however, we must consider the ideology which lies behind it. In the first place the political position of the Avat can be understood only when it is realized what a vital part is played by the Ovat's cult of Okpobam in the life of the people. The cult, we shall see, is thought of as central to their very existence.
To show why this is so we may examine what it is that distinguishes an Mbembe village from the small satellite farming hamlets which belong to some of the villages. The most significant difference between a village and a hamlet is that the latter is ritually entirely subordinated to the village. This is normally obvious since a hamlet is almost without shrines, and the only cults which are found in it are one or two specifically designed to protect the settlement from marauding witches and sorcerers. This obvious ritual difference between the two types of settlement stems from the fact that they occupy entirely different ritual statuses; unlike the village, the hamlet has no direct communication with the world of the dead; it has the ritual status of the bush.
What this status is can be seen most clearly in the context of certain funerals. All normal individuals are buried in the village, in or by their houses; on the other hand infants or those who have died of an unclean sickness are buried outside in the bush. The purpose in each case is the same, to delay the reincarnation of the individual concerned. The death of infants is not regarded as natural; it always raises the suspicion that the child who died was not a real human being but a spirit child which, if allowed to return immediately to the world of the dead will only be speedily reincarnated of the same parents and will as speedily die again; it is therefore buried in the bush and no subsequent rites are held.  In the case of those who die of an unclean sickness it is feared that if such individuals were speedily reincarnated they might once more suffer from the same trouble. They are, therefore, buried in the bush, and burial rites are held in the village only after a considerable delay, when it is felt that they have been cleansed completely from the illness. The rites guide the ghost back to the village, it is said. The crucial underlying thought in each case is that it is only if an individual's spirit is in the village that it can
easily find its way to the Village of the Dead and so be quickly reincarnated.
As we have said the hamlet counts ritually as the bush. It is therefore impossible to bury anyone in a hamlet and it is a serious misfortune to die there. If to bury the unclean just outside the village prevents them from finding their way to the Village of the Dead, it can be appreciated how much more serious it is to die in a relatively distant hamlet. Even if the body is carried straight to the village the spirit may become lost on the way. No dead are buried within the hamlet for it has no mystical twin; it follows that rituals are not normally held in hamlets since the essential contact between the living and the dead is not easily made there. Some even hold that the entry of a spirit child into a woman's womb, which is as necessary as sexual intercourse for conception to take place, cannot occur in a hamlet.
The crucial distinction between a village and a hamlet, the fact that accounts for the difference in their ritual statuses is that a settlement can be ritually a village only if in it a tree has been planted beneath which the medicines of Okpobam have been buried in the earth; such a shrine establishes special contact between the spot and the world of the dead. The tree so planted is not an ordinary Okpobam shrine; it is called simply "eimana 'chi", "tree of life", or a "life-giving tree" (from Eimana, lit. birth, or life itself). The medicines of Okpobam act as a kind of inverted Jacob's ladder, opening contact with the underworld. These trees are, today, only rarely the site of further sacrifices and in some of the villages the tree itself has disappeared; but this seems not to matter for it is the initial opening up of contact which is crucial. Once contact has been opened between a settlement and the realm of the dead then not only can the dead who are buried there easily find their way to the Village of the Dead, but, as a corollary, they may easily be reincarnated.
The ritual centrality of the office of the Ovat, the priest of the Okpobam cult, cannot therefore be doubted. To understand the full significance of this for his political position, however, we must look carefully at the different aspects of his priestly role.
One extremely significant aspect of the Okpobam cult is that it is a cult of the dead - but not, it must be emphasized, in any strict sense an ancestral cult but rather it is a cult of the Collective Dead of a residential group. In the context of the Okpobam cult the consanguineous ties between the living and the dead are not significant.
That the dead should not be thought of as merely as ancestors is readily understandable from what we already know of Mbembe social structure. The concept of the Village of the Dead is based on the experience of the real world. In this it is obvious that the individual has a wide variety of roles as member of an age-set, of various associations and as a member of residential groups, such as ward and village, formed on bases other than kinship. Every funeral is the occasion for the simultaneous recognition of the variety of roles, sometimes openly conflicting or openly juggled with, which an individual plays. No man's status can be summed up by describing only his position in a
particular kin group. It is, therefore, not surprising that there is no belief that once dead an individual is bereft of all his roles except those concerned with kinship. Rather all the institutions of the village, its kin-groups, age-sets and associations are thought to continue to exist. Moreover, since the village is not thought of as a single descent group, the members of the village cannot in any case all be members of the same ancestral cult. Yet, as we have seen, residential groups and villages in particular have strong incentives to acquire cults and become ritual groups; and as we have also seen, all ritual groups must establish fruitful contact with the dead. In these circumstances it is not surprising to find that there is a cult of the Collective Dead of the village in which it is the role of the dead as fellow villagers, not as kinsmen, which is significant.
The dogma that it is Okpobam and Okpobam's priest who establish contact between the living and the Collective Dead of a residential group is in a sense only of academic interest for the Ovat in his relations with his patriclan since these Collective Dead coincide, of course, with the patrilineal ancestors. The dogma becomes vital, however, as soon as the group over which the Ovat holds ritual authority includes members of more than one patriclan. In this case his priestly position must depend on his position as intercessor with his residential group dead. In particular this concept is absolutely central for the Village Ovat. Since there is no ultimate genealogical charter linking all the descent groups in the village it follows that no man, as priest of an ancestral cult, could act on behalf of the whole village. On the other hand as priest of Okpobam the Ovat can represent the whole village before the dead, and it is on this fact that his ritual leadership depends.
Even when this aspect of the Ovat's office is understood, however, we have made only a beginning in our attempt to understand his ritual position. To understand it better we must look more carefully at this concept of the Collective Dead. The crucial point is that these Collective Dead are in a sense equated with the earth in its ritual aspect. It follows that as priest of Okpobam the Ovat is also priest of the earth.
We have already seen that this Okpobam cult is not, strictly speaking, an ancestral cult but is concerned with the dead of the whole of a residential group. Following on from this we find, if we look more closely, that these collective Dead are equated with the territory of the group concerned. The cult of the personalized earth, such as that of Ala among the neighbouring Ibo peoples , finds no place in the Mbembe cosmological system which with its high god, mediating awka and dead seems to have no room for the autonomous spirits of personified natural phenomena. Nor do we find here, as for instance among the Tallensi, that the earth and the dead represent opposite poles of thought,  the dead standing for a particular descent group and the earth representing all the people within a particular area. Rather amongst the
Mbembe, with their shallow genealogical memory, their emphasis on the role of the dead, and their loyalty to settlements containing different descent groups, the two ideas of the earth and the dead are fused. The Collective Dead themselves represent all the people of a given territorial group . It is obvious that such a concept might absorb, or become absorbed in, the concept of an earth cult which has been called the "ritualization of the principle of contiguity ".
That the people do equate the earth and the dead can be seen in many instances. In the first place the earth is seen as the realm of the dead for, although the dead may often be active "in the open air", their home is essentially within the earth.
Diviners, as we have seen, are thought in their seances to contact the dead directly and it is significant, therefore, that it is said of a diviner at a seance that "Oker' Iseik" , that is "he is looking at the ground". Moreover when the people explain the fact that diviners conducting a seance place medicines in the ground, they say it is "Okurobe afranong aning ny 'iseik" , "because the dead are sitting inside the ground". Again, when a new "awka" is established to connect the living and the dead it is usual to bury medicines in the ground beneath the shrine, for the medicines constitute the mediating spirit and by placing them in the ground the priest is placing the mediating spirit in the most appropriate position for communicating with the dead. That Okpobam itself is very closely associated with the earth is clear. Okpobam and its shrines like other mediating spirits and their shrines are referred to as awka. Nevertheless although the usual term for describing a sacrifice before a shrine is "matam awka" , "they sacrifice before the awka" a different term is used when a sacrifice before Okpobam is describes; it is said then "matam iseik", that is "they sacrifice to the earth", a phrase so far as I know used in no other context. Moreover, at the installation rites of a new Ovat the things which he presents as necessary for the sacrifice at his Okpobam shrine are referred to as "Otok f'iseik" , the things of the earth.
The Ovat, as priest of Okpobam is himself very closely associated with both the earth and the Collective Dead. This association is crucial for the Ovat's position, and, as might be expected, much of the installation ceremony and its surrounding taboos symbolize this idea.
The Ovat's association with the dead is almost certainly symbolized in these rites although the people themselves do not make the symbolism explicit. Nevertheless in the course of the rites the Ovat is struck on the head with a stone the moment before he is crowned with his cap of office; and it is significant that stones in ritual, perhaps because they may be regarded as solidified earth, always represent the dead. In both the patrilineal and matrilineal shrines the central objects are stones which represent the dead ancestors. Moreover at one stage in
the funeral rites performed by the matrilineage the identification between the stone and the deceased is extremely close; the rite, Edut, occurs after burial, and a stone is taken from the lineage shrine and dressed with camwood and chalk specifically to represent the dead person. To see the striking of the Ovat with a stone as signifying in part his close relation with the dead seems, therefore, reasonable.
Certainly it is believed that as long as the Ovat remains in office he has close contact with the dead, who are thought to come regularly to meet with him in his house. Other priests also have somewhat similar contact with the dead in that the dead members of a cult are believed to go the to the cult priest's house; but in the case of the Avat it is not only those dead who were themselves members of the Okpobam cult, who go but all the dead will go who belong to the group to which he is accountable.
The difference between the Ovat and any other priest in their relationship with the dead is, however, not only one of degree but one of kind also. This can be seen in the beliefs that the dead will quickly punish those with whom the Ovat is angry, at least if he shows his annoyance in particular ways. The Ovat should never strike a man lest the man in consequence be killed by the dead - the Ovat should not even point at anyone with his fingers outstretched for fear of the same result.
It is a further indication of his close relationship with the Collective Dead that the Village Ovat is believed to be able to give, through the dead, special protection to anyone within his village, whether or not this person is a member of the Ovat's patriclan. For example a man who specialized in exposing Ijong sorcery became convinced that the sorcerers were angry and were trying to kill him. He therefore turned to his Village Ovat for protection because, as he told me, he thought that the Ovat, without making any special sacrifices, could protect him by mobilizing on his behalf all the dead of the village. The Ovat, so the diviner said, would get the dead to attack the avenging sorcerers.
The Avat as priests of Okpobam, are likewise associated with the earth. Here again this association is expressed at the time of their installation ceremonies. During the period of seclusion which, as we have see, all Avat have to undergo immediately following the ceremony, there is a taboo on anyone falling to the ground or causing another to fall; breaches of this taboo are severely punished by the Ocheika association. Again, at this time no one may strike the earth with his hand, a common action when someone swears on oath in anger. Even more significant is the fact that the Ovat himself, throughout the whole period that he remains in office, should never fall on the earth. Nor may he ever strike the earth in anger; were he to do so, the dead would kill the man who had occasioned his anger.
This dual association of the Ovat with the the earth and the Collective Dead is shown most succinctly when anyone dies in the village. Before anyone may be buried within the village the Village Ovat (or occasionally someone delegated by him) must perform the rite known as "Oyom' Epe" (lit. "he measure the grave"). At this rite the Ovat goes to the place where the grave is to be dug and there he makes an
offering to the dead. He tells the dead that someone has died and will shortly be coming to them in the Village of the Dead. Then he takes a knife and very carefully makes the first incision in the earth where the grave is to be dug. This is the central feature of the rite; but afterwards, significantly, an oblation is poured at the Okpobam shrine of the Village Ovat. It must be emphasized that the kin-group membership of the deceased makes no difference to the performance of the rite. It is performed in precisely the same way for all members of the village.
Since Okpobam, is, in the special sense we have described, an earth cult and the Avat are earth priests they are those responsible for making propitiatory sacrifices to cleanse the earth in the event of its pollution. They also cleanse those responsible for the act. This fact has the greatest possible consequences for the Avat.
Not all earth polluting acts influence the political status of the Avat who perform the cleansing sacrifices. For example adultery, if it takes place in the bush, pollutes the earth; but the placatory sacrifice which the Ovat will make if the sin is confessed has little influence on his political position. More commonly, however, his performance of propitiatory sacrifices does have direct or indirect political repercussions. We have already seen this to be the case in the relatively insignificant context of the up-rooting of growing crops. Such deeds are done only in the event of a quarrel between two men about their rights to land and, as we saw, such a quarrel and its consequent sacrifice inevitably involves the Avat as mediators in land disputes.
The really significant fact, however, is that it is naturally the shedding of human blood that is the worst sin against the earth. It follows that since the Avat are involved in the vitally important sacrifices which must follow such dreadful pollution they are inevitably concerned with the maintenance of peace. The rest of this chapter will be concerned with unravelling the consequences of this fact.
The importance of the Ovat's role as peace priest may be judges from the emphasis laid upon it in his installation rites. These rites lay great stress on the Ovat's personal immunity from violence, for it is on this that everything else is based. Despite the variations in the detail of the installation rites of the Avat each, as we have see, is struck on the head with a stone. Whatever the significance of the stone itself the significance of the blow is clearly stated by the people themselves to be that it symbolizes that this is the last occasion on which anyone may strike the Ovat. Immediately afterwards his status is changed, he is crowned and henceforth his person is inviolate.
This person immunity from violence is extended in two highly significant ways. In the first place not merely must violence not be offered to his person but violence in any form must not come near him. This fact also symbolized at the time of his installation ceremonies for during the period of their performance there must be no quarreling, wife beating, nor even any loud voices. This rule has great political significance because it is extended so generally that it is thought to be the duty of an Ovat to impose peace on any who fight. His presence should be sufficient but if not he may lay his ceremonial staff, which
no man may touch or cross, between the disputants; or again he may take other measures we shall discuss later. Whatever the precise steps he takes, however, the important point is that if any continue to fight afterwards they become subject both to the ritual sanctions of Okpobam and to secular sanctions imposed by Okwa. The groups with which an Ovat is competent to deal vary very much, but even one who is the head of a patriclan only may impose peace between quarreling groups of different clans if there is no superior Ovat present to take the initiative.
The Ovat's immunity from violence is extended also in a different direction but one which had equal political significance. Not merely was the Ovat personally inviolate - the concept was also extended so that it was recognized that the Ovat's compound was also inviolate and the Avat, or certain of them, could there give sanctuary. These two rules together had, I believe, particularly great significance in the Mbembe situation. As we shall see it is most valuable that there should be office holder who can impose peace, and necessary that within comparatively easy reach there should be someone capable of offering sanctuary. Indeed such an office may be of crucial significance in any society which has double unilineal descent of the Mbembe type, for in such societies it would seem vitally necessary to have a priest who can prevent the outbreak of violence within a settlement, especially by giving sanctuary to those guilty of homicide, for the pursuit of blood vengeance would be extremely disruptive to the group.
As I have argued elsewhere,  the crucial point among the Mbembe, and among other similar societies, is that it is the dispersed matrilineage, not the co-resident patrilineal group which is responsible for its members in cases of homicide - seeking compensation if its member is a victim and having to give compensation if one of its members is the killer. In these circumstances armed violence in the community is restricted because the dispersed matrilineages are less able and less willing to fight each other than residential groups would be. They are less able for obvious reasons. They are less willing because quite possibly members of the opposed matrilineages would be members of the same patriclan and, therefore, not disposed to fight each other; or conversely one of the matrilineages involved might not be able to unite because it numbered among its members those who belonged to the patriclans of both slayer and slain. To the society at large the advantage of this situation is that the agnatic groups, the main structural units of the settlements, have no responsibility in the event of acts of violence involving their members. Its follows that despite considerable patriclan loyalty violence between the members of the different patriclans should not lead to inter-patriclan fighting. Even if those involved come from different villages of a tribe the principle is ideally the same. The Mbembe themselves clearly recognize that the rule of matrilineal responsibility tends to reduce violence and
the Avat for this reason have in the past resisted any attempt to collect compensation on a residential group basis; they have refused to accept the compensation or make the sacrifices.
It is doubtful, however, if this pattern of responsibility could by itself be wholly successful in preserving peace in the event of homicide. The mere fact that the Mbembe recognize that the rule limits the likelihood of violence implies, what is in fact the case, that here as among the Yakö  the immediate reaction to a killing is for the patrilineal kin of the slain to want to seek revenge. Therefore these groups which have such a strong impulse to take action must be forced to remain inactive. The mere rule that action in such cases is not their responsibility, although it must play its part once tempers have cooled, could hardly stem the first rush of anger. It would, indeed, seem that the system can only work provided something more positive can be done to maintain the peace. Moreover some special mechanism to take the bitterness out of a homicide affair would also seem to be required because of the very nature of the matrilineal groups charged officially with responsibility in such cases. The dispersed nature of these matrilineages necessarily means that members of different blood-compensation groups must co-exist even within the smallest co-residential group. In such a situation the existence of some means whereby homicide can be settled peaceably seems essential and it is of course the Avat who supply this need. Because of their ritual and secular authority to give sanctuary, and force disputants to be peaceful, the Avat must be seen as the keystone of the Mbembe political system.
We have seen, therefore, the way in which the Ovat's position as priest of Okpobam has given him political influence within the villages. Now, however, we must look in more detail at the way in which his position as priest of this cult has given the Ovat significance for relationships between villages. That he does have importance in this respect stems from the fact that, in one sense, it is only because of the ritual authority of the Avat that Mbembe tribes exist as tribes at all; it is only on the basis of their common participation in an Okpobam cult that peaceful co-operation takes place between Mbembe villages.
To understand this it is necessary to reiterate that the emphasis on village endogamy, implicit in the double unilineal descent system, by keeping inter-village ties to a minimum makes it difficult for them to find any basis for co-existence. It is my hypothesis that the Okpobam cult is crucial to inter-village relations because it helps to fill a social vacuum- and its significance can best be demonstrated by comparing the Mbembe political system with that of the Yakö who, as I have shown elsewhere , have no comparable cult.
The Yakö and the Mbembe villages differ considerably, for the Yakö villages are extraordinarily large (see map 4); as we have seen four of their five villages are a large or larger than an Mbembe tribe or sub-tribe. There is nothing in the physical environment of the two peoples to account for this marked difference between them for the country of the Yakö and the Mbembe on the left bank of the Cross River is very similar. It is true that the two peoples exploit their environments somewhat differently since the Yakö make great use of the oil-palm as a source of income whereas the Mbembe do not, but although this might account for some difference in the overall population density of the two peoples it can scarcely account for marked differences in settlement pattern. Nor does it seem possible that his difference can be accounted for by postulating that the Yakö suffered more grievously from external enemies in the nineteenth century than did the Mbembe; rather the reverse seems to have been the case. Moreover it cannot be claimed that the different pattern of settlement is due to some long-standing cultural tradition which cannot now be explained; there are many traditions among the Yakö that their ancestors lived in much smaller villages which coalesced in comparatively recent times.
I have argued elsewhere that in the absence of kinship or ritual ties between the Yakö village the introduction of fire-arms and an increased emphasis on head-hunting in the nineteenth century led to a situation in which relatively peaceful conditions could be maintained only if weak villages moved to settle with stronger ones. The result, I suggested, was that the Yakö developed the pattern of very large villages separated so far from their neighbours that there was comparatively little risk of chance clashes between their inhabitants. Among the Mbembe, on the other hand, although the villages were ideally endogamous and although here also the nineteenth century seems to have a greatly increased emphasis on fighting and head-hunting, neighbouring villages were not faced with the choice of either fighting or settling together for here they might be ritually linked in such a way that fighting and killing between them was prevented by the belief that it was sacrilegious. Among the Mbembe if villages belonged to the same Okpobam cult they were regarded as members of the same "parish", within which the shedding of blood was a sin.
It has been said that every village has at least one Okpobam shrine and one Ovat and it might be thought from this that all the Mbembe villages should be ritually related to each other; but it must be emphasized that although all Okpobam awka are thought of as basically the same, all being, as it were, members of the same genus, yet they belong to different species, most of which have their own names. It is between two villages linked by the same "species" of Okpobam shrines that ritual links exist.
Such links may be founded in a number of ways. In the first and most simple case if a group secedes from a village to found a new settlement with the consent of the parent village, then the latter's Village
Ovat will make the necessary new Okpobam medicines for the seceding group and the two villages will then be regarded as ritually related. They will similarly be regarded as related even if an Ovat of the seceding group makes the new medicines, because the Okpobam medicines of all the Avat in one village are normally assumed to be the same unless the contrary is known without a doubt. There are, however, exceptions to this normal pattern and as we shall see two villages may become ritually linked in a rather limited sense if an Ovat of one village makes and Okpobam shrine for one of the Avat in a different village. Perhaps, however, the most significant of the methods by which villages may be ritually linked is by one moving within the ritual sphere of another. We have seen that as an earth cult, Okopobam has a territorial aspect and, in fact, certain "species" of Okpobam are spoken of as "owning" particular areas; for example the Okpobam "Oyira 'wumo" ("he hears a noise") is said to "own" the territory of the Adun tribe. In consequence if a village should move and settle with permission within the general sphere of another village it is thought of as having moved within the sphere also of the host village's Okpobam cult, and the village Ovat of the host village may even make the new Okpobam medicines, for the incoming village.
Finally village may also become ritually linked simply by the dogmatic assertion that their Okpobam shrines are related, because it is politically convenient that this view should be held. It is true, that beliefs about the ritual relations or lack of them between Okpobam shrines are not invariably altered to suit such requirements, but the beliefs about Okpobam links, like beliefs about the genealogical links between lineages with which they are comparable, are in general almost certainly altered to fit in with political realities.
By the processes that have been described villages are either brought within the sphere of a particular Okpobam awka , or the sphere of the particular Okpobam is extended to include other groups, and between the villages so lined the same taboos prohibit homicide and head-hunting as are operable within a single village. It seems therefore, very probable that, in the case of the Mbembe, the cult of the Collective Dead and the Earth has in fact influenced the pattern of their tribal structure.
That this is so is suggested if we turn once again to our Yakö comparison. The Yakö pattern I have already suggested is not explicable simply on ecological grounds but rather arises from their emphasis on village endogamy in a situation in which ritual ties between villages are absent; but the point at issue is why ties comparable with those of the Mbembe should not have been forged. Obviously it is impossible to prove why the two peoples, otherwise so similar, should differ so markedly in this respect but it is at least possible that it is due to the apparent absence among the Yakö of any comparable earth cult. For the Yakö as for the Mbembe the killing of a fellow villager is subject to supernatural sanctions; this is essential for life to be possible at all. But the peace priests are the priests of matriclans
who are backed by sanctions imposed by the Ase (sing. Yose) the spirits of matriclans . There seems to be no concept that these spirits "own" particular areas of land; in so far as they are associated with any geographical location they are associated with streams not with land. This indeed is surely what might be expected on structural grounds, for the matrilineal groups and the matriclan priests are themselves not concerned with definite areas of land, since land is the concern of patrilineal groups. The idea of a territorial district containing a number of settlements within which homicide is punishable by supernatural sanctions would seem therefore to be incompatible by supernatural sanctions would seem therefore to be incompatible with the belief that it is matrilineal spirits that impose the sanctions. It is, indeed, tempting to speculate that the political differences between the Yakö and the Mbembe are associated, at least in part, with the fact that in one case the "peace cult" is associated ultimately with the co-residential group and in the other with the dispersed matriclan.
The argument is that the matriclan, because it is dispersed and its members intermingled with others, inherently lacks the territorial aspect which is as inherently associated with the patriclan. It is difficult, therefore, to credit that there is no relationship between on the one hand Mbembe concept of the spatial extension of the influence of the Okpobam cult, and the association of this cult with patriclans; and, on the other hand, the Yakö failure to develop the concept of a peace cult in spatial terms, and their association of this cult with matriclans. It is probably idle to speculate on how such a difference arose. There may have been pre-existing differences in relationships between groups which led ancestors of the two peoples to perceive the peace cults in different terms. On the other hand it is just possible that it was simply as the result of chance that the cults became attached to different types of groups among the Mbembe and the Yakö. However this may be, that there is a connection between the type of concept held and the type of groups with which it is associated seems very probable. Moreover it seem possible that this relationship of concept and group, once established, exerted its own further influence on the political development of the two peoples.
Although it is impossible to be certain of the extent to which the concepts to which the Okpobam cult gives expression have had an independent influence on Mbembe tribal organization it is at least obvious that the cult has very great political significance for the tribe. The cult we have seen provides the medium for the establishment of peaceful relations between villages but it also does more; it provides the medium through which these relationships are structured. This structuring is achieved through the dogma that the shrines possessed by certain Avat are more powerful than others even of the same "species"; in accordance with this belief the various roles that had to be performed by the Avat could be shared out.
We have seen already that it is the responsibility of the Avat to maintain peace, to give sanctuary and to make the necessary sacrifices to
cleanse the earth and the killer in the case of homicide. It is therefore the Avat, as might be expected, who arrange what compensation should be paid - indeed it is only after having done this that they perform the cleansing ritual. In addition the Avat are involved in warfare because even a warrior who killed in war needed the protection of a cleansing rite. Being involved thus in head-hunting which was the aim of the warriors the Avat, who cleansed the warriors, had the right to claim and eat the heads of the slain enemies, (although giving the killer back all or part of the skull). Indeed some Avat were given the title of "eater of heads" for this reason. By an extension of their right to give sanctuary to homicides some Avat could also give a kind of sanctuary to women. We have already seen that disgruntled wives might go to the head of Okwa, but in serious cases a wife, or a number of dissatisfied wives could go to certain of the Avat and remain in their compounds until their husbands paid fines to the Avat to get them to return the women. Avat also controlled the founding of new villages, for only they as Okpobam's priests could give a settlement the necessary "medicines".
The important point in this respect is that although all these roles are logically connected not every Avat possessed them all; indeed the majority were only peace priests in a minor sense; they had a responsibility to prevent fighting whenever possible, but had none of these other roles. Not even every Village Ovat possessed all these ritual capacities.
The rationalization of this position is to be found in the concept we have already discussed, that of the differences in power that may exist between different shrines of the same cult. This concept applies also to the Okpobam cult. It follows that some Avat can be regarded as more powerful ritually than other and although all the roles we have just mentioned are always performed within each tribe, the way in which the roles were shared out differed radically.
In some districts among the Mbembe each Village Ovat has the ritual authority to give sanctuary but in other areas this is not so and instead although each Village Ovat has the ritual authority to impose peace on his people, only one of a number of ritually linked Village Avat may have the power to give sanctuary and cleanse homicides This is obviously of great political importance since such a group of villages at once achieves a kind of organic solidarity by being made ritually interdependent. Moreover the basis is laid for the acquisition by such ritually outstanding Avat of considerable political power.
It is at this point, however, that a study of each tribe individually becomes necessary because each has its own pattern for the distribution of ritual and political authority among the Avat and on this patterning the political structure of the tribe depends.
 No further rites are held because, of course, the child has no social personality; but this fact alone does not explain the place of burial.
 Forde and Jones 1950 p.25. Meek 1937 pp. 24-32.
 Fortes 1945 p.108.
 For a similar concept see Tait 1961 p.63.
 Goody 1957 p.103.
 Harris 19662 (c).
 Forde 1950 p.301.
 Harris 1962 (b) p.98.
 Forde 1950. pp.314-5.