History of the Origin
Akama: The Myths and the Facts
Like every great town, a lot of myths surround Akama, and these are noticeable even in its name – “Aka” (hand) “ma” (spirit). That is to say, “Hand of the Spirit.” Here, “Spirit” may mean a Supernatural Being or God. Hence, some people may be inclined to interpret the name, Aka-ma, to mean the “Hand of God,” Aka Chukwu!.
There are, however, some people who argue that “Akama” was not the real name of this great man of history. This is because of the preponderance of the name – Akama - in many parts of Igboland. For instance, we have:
Akama in Eke,
Akama in Abor,
Akama in Ngwo, all in Udi local government; also, we have:
Akama Otugha in Olo, Ezeagu local government;
Akama Uno in Arondizuogu, Imo State;
Akama Osire in Enugwu Ukwu,
Akama Ugwu in Aguleri, as well as
Akama N’Ito in Nteje, all in Anambra State.
It could therefore be argued that the people who make up these towns were Akama Oghe indigenes in the Diaspora. That is to say, they were people who left their ancestral home to establish elsewhere. In those days of migrations in search of more fertile lands, or as a result of trading, farming, hunting, slavery, inter and intra town wars, etc., this could be possible. Professor Adiele Afigbo wrote about the East-West movement of people or migrations towards the fertile planes of the Anambra River and vice versa.1 There is therefore the possibility that the search for arable land for farming or hunting, etc., might have forced some Akama Oghe indigenes to migrate to such far places as Olo, Aguleri, Nteje, Enugwu Ukwu and Arondizuogu or vice versa.
Similarly, during the period of slavery, many slaves were carried through Nike, a big slave market, to Arochukwu, where they were later shipped to the United States of America. It is possible that some of these slaves on transit might have escaped to settle at Eke, Abor, Ngwo, and other towns, and yet, retained the name of their great ancestor – Akama.
Some natural catastrophes like epidemics or sicknesses, could have as well led to some migrations or movements in and out of Akama. For instance, it was said that sometime in the past, many people from Enugwu N’Agbani fled their home and later settled at Owelle Oti, Iwollo, due to an epidemic that was then ravaging the area.
For these reasons, there is therefore the suggestion that “Akama” was indeed, not the original name of this great ancestor. Rather, the real name was MBA. “Akama”, they say, is simply a nick name!2 Those who hold this view did not however explain the full meaning of “Mba” – whether it is “Mba-kaogu”, “Mba-ji-ogu” “Mba-dugha”, “Mba-amalu”, “Mba-nefo” of “Mba-ama-onye-ukwu”.
If we are to accept this view, then there is the possibility that this “Mba” might have met someone called “Akama”, took him as a hero, and adopted the name. With time, the original name got lost or forgotten outright, and “Akama” took over his name. We have seen this happen even today in Akama, where some people go by the names: Banda (Kamuzu); Boko (Justin Bomboko); Kawawa (Rashidi); Kennedy (John); Kissinger (Henry); Opigo (Frank); etc. And these have virtually taken over their names.
There is also another suggestion, which says that Akama’s real name was “Dim-eze Ijem”.3 We do not however subscribe to this view. This is because the name sounds like that of a woman – “Dim” (My husband) Eze” (king) “Ijem” (My way) – (“My husband, king, is my way” or “My Husband, who is equally a king, knows my way”).
We can therefore assume this “Dimeze” to be Mba or Akama’s wife. This view is supported by the fact that the shrine where Dimeze is worshipped even today is located at Enugu N’Agbani, the last son of Akama. According to Oghe tradition, it is the last son that inherits his mother’s property, particularly her kitchen. This shrine is believed to be where Dimeze was buried. The implication is that were Dimeze to be a man, the shrine would have been located at Isiokwe, the first son, who has the natural right to inherit his father’s obi (the main house in the compound).
Ironically, both the past and present traditional rulers of Akama bear this apparently female name and the government accord them recognition with that name. Thus, we have “Dimeze I of Akama”, “Dimeze II of Akama”, and now “Dimeze III of Akama”!
There are however cases where men also bear this “Dim” title or name. For instance, Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, goes by the title “Dim”. We equally have name like “Dim Onyekwere”.
Similarly, praise names like Di-(mkpa), man of valour, Di-(mgba), great wrestler, as well as Di-(nta), great hunter, feature prominently in Igbo vocabulary.
Be that as it may, “Mba” or “Akama” or “Dimeze Ijem”, has three sons, namely, Okwe Mba (Isiokwe), Abuba Mba (Imama Akama), and Agulu Mba (Enugu N’Agbani).
Okwe Mba or Isiokwe consists of two kindred. They are Anobu N’Obom (Umuenyi and Amaogbu) as well as Aneke N’Igweagu (Umuaneke and Umuigweagu). On its part, Abuba Mba or Imama Akama is made up of three kindred – Oma-ashi (Umuochie), Abiaha (Umuagbonwu), and Inem (Umuodogbu). Also, Agulu, or Enugu N’Agbani, is made up of two kindred, namely, Umuezeagu and Umuifi.4
There was, perhaps, something special in this “Mba”, which made him to abandon his original name to adopt the name: “Akama.” It could be that Akama was just a hero’s name, as was earlier suggested, or that his single blow of the hand (aka) would usually dispatch an opponent to the land of the spirit (ma), hence “Aka-ma”.
No wonder, this mythical figure popularly goes by the name “Akama Ogwugwu Ebenebe” – a Waterloo, or a deep gully or ditch at Ebenebe (a town in present Anambra State), which took many lives. He is also called “Akama Gbalu-nzu N’Anya.” It is only an extraordinary person, a powerful dibia (medicine man), for instance, who rubs Nzu (white chalk) round his eyes, which enables him begin to see in-between two worlds. All through history, Akama has produced a rare breed of no-nonsense men and women who are both feared and revered. They are called Akama Gbalu-nzu N’Anya.
Akama is also known as “O ji Ishi Madu Aghu Otokono” – a great warrior, who drinks pond with human skull. He is equally called “Oduneje Ogu”, since he has always been victorious in every battle. And because he lives at the outskirts of the ancestral home, where he shepherd his weaker siblings in those days of the Hobesian war of all against all, he is also called – “Igbo B’ni Ishi Agu”. Each of these names, no doubt, suggests Akama to be a very brave man whose exploits and influence were acknowledged from both far and near.
There was, therefore, something wonderful in this mythical personage called Akama or Mba or Dimeze Ijem that made Oghe’s first son, Owe, to forfeit his birthright to Akama and desert his ancestral home to sojourn with his youngest sibling, Iwollo, simply because of a misunderstanding between these two immediate eldest brothers. The matter was made worse by the fact that Owe also had to bequeath to Akama his personal god, Chi, now known as Ugwu Omala.
A very restless fellow, who would never let go an inch of his territory, Akama had fought several wars with his neighbours and always came out victorious. Similarly, he had had his fair share of internal dissensions, which sometimes would later turn out as self-purification. In fact, there is a common saying that when Akama does not see an outsider to fight, he will start fighting himself. Such is the enigma of this mythical personage, called Mba or Akama or Dimeze that he has continued to be a puzzle to many people.
The Ancestors of Akama
According to tradition, Akama was the second of the original ten sons of Oghe – the rest being Owe, Amankwo, Neke, Oyofo, Amansiodo, Iwollo, Umunum, Obiagu and Akasa. Oghe, it was claimed, married two wives. The first bore him five sons. These are Owe, Akama, Neke, Oyofo, and Iwollo. They are known as Ikenge (right hand side). The second wife equally had five sons. They are Amankwo, Amansiodo, Umunum, Obiagu and Akasa. They are equally known as Ibite Oha (left hand side)5.
Umunum, Obiagu and Akasa are now either extinct or have been subsumed into other towns. Similarly, due to a misunderstanding that arose between Owe and Akama, Owe abdicated his position as first born to Akama and got settled or subsumed in Iwollo.
Oghe, on its part, was one of the sons of Ezeagu, whose origin is still being contested. For instance, while one source claimed that Ezeagu was an itinerant farmer and hunter who came from Nkanu6, the other source grouped Ezeagu or Umuoshie Akulu among the Agbaja Clan whose original ancestor was Anugo, who was brought down from heaven by a vulture and placed on Uto Hill at Nsude7.
Another source however believed that Ezeagu was the original inhabitant of its present location, dating back to time immemorial. The source also traced the origin of Ezeagu up to five generations. These were Ezeakputulum, who begat Ugama, who begat Awuya-Mgbume, who begat Kwoko, who begat Igbudu, and who begat Ezeagu.8
The first two claims of the origin of Ezeagu could be disputed because in the first case, there are some observed differences in both the character traits and the cultural behaviour of an average Nkanu man and his Ezeagu neighbour. For instance, the Nkanu man appears to be more aggressive than his so-called Ezeagu brother. Again, while in the Ezeagu sub clan, the Mmanwu cult holds sway, in Nkanu, it is the Omabe and the Igede dance that are in vogue. Accordingly, Amoury-Talbot, a British cultural ethnologist, had in his work published in 1926, grouped the Agbaja sub clan, Ezeagu inclusive, and their Nkanu neighbour as distinct cultural entities.9
The other suggestion of Ezeagu’s great ancestor, Anugo, being brought down from heaven and placed on Uto Hill at Nsude by a vulture, appears to be simply a myth or folklore.
We are therefore inclined to align ourselves with the suggestion of a pre-historic occupation of Ezeagu area by the forebears of the present inhabitants. This fact is supported by some ancient stone sculptures found at Aguobu Owa in the 1920s, said to have originated from North Africa, suggesting a possible migration of the people from Sudan10.
Furthermore, as the research work of Professor Afigbo shows, “the Udi-Nsukka-Okigwe cuesta”, (which includes the Ezeagu area), is “the point of primary Igbo dispersal”11, that is to say, it is the point where the Igbo began to spread to other places. So, instead of Ezeagu coming from Nkanu or any other nearby place, the reverse could be the case.
Be that as it may, legend had it that Ezeagu married two wives. While the first wife known as Mgbolie, said to come from Okpogho, bore him Owa, Oghe and Oghu, (which is now being administered as part of Udi local government), the second, known as Udeagu, gave birth to Umana, Obinofia, Umumba and Oba, (now in Awka North local government area of Anambra State). In 1948, a request was made by the people of Oba to rejoin their kiths and kin in Ezeagu, but this was turned down by the then colonial authorities.12
A misunderstanding that occurred between Owa and Oghe, probably the scramble for land, forced Oghe to cross the other side of the Ajali River with his mother, Mgbolie, where Okpogho, his maternal uncle, offered them a large expanse of land for farming and other activities. Akama later inherited a substantial portion of this land. Mgbolie lived at a location called Olie Oghe, at the eastern part of the present Afor Oghe Market, along Isiokwe Akama road. That was where her shrine was and where she was being worshipped. The entire Oghe communities originally had their market there, which took place every Olie day.
Akama is located about 18 kilometres west of Enugu Metropolis. The main town situates within the road junction that leads to Aguobu Owa, headquarters of Ezeagu Local Government, and Umulokpa, headquarters of Uzo Uwani Local Government, via Iwollo and Olo. Its land area stretches from the Ajali River to the south-east, through Aguobu Akama, Ofilofi Forest, Mkpuachi Hill, Ugwu Ogidi, down to Okpolo, Ogbodume, Okpokolo Okpogho, and across the Nwabasa Stream, to the north-west – a distance of over thirty kilometres. The town is bounded by Okpogho, Egede and Affa in the north; Eke and Ajali River in the south-east; Oyofo and Neke in the south; Amankwo and Amansiodo in the west.
Among the mineral deposits that could be found in the area are coal – around Okpolo Utili and Ogba Ishiagu areas, Iron Ore (Mkpume Afulu) at Ugwu Isiokwe and Agu Okpolo, Bauxite at Ugwu Mkpuachi, gravel and laterite at Ugwu-Oba.13 The Oghe Cashew Industry, which is the largest cashew plantation in sub-Saharan Africa, is located in the town.
With an estimated current population of about 30,000 inhabitants, the people of Akama are mostly farmers and wine-tappers, while many others now work in the public service, or are traders and self-employed artisans. Among the farm products prevalent in the area are yam, cocoyam, cassava, maize, black beans (Akidi), groundnuts, palm produce, etc. The people also rear domestic animals like goats and fowls.
Like most communities in Ezeagu, Akama people originally maintained a tripartite pattern of settlements, consisting of Imezi – ancestral home, where the people retire at the end of every farming season; Aguobu – centre settlement, where some people made a permanent settlement; and Agu – farm settlement, where they all migrate for farming activities.
Akama people are deeply religious, always seeking the face of their Creator. Before the arrival of Christianity, every household in the town had its personal god (Chukwu Okike). Every now and then, libations and sacrifices were offered to it, soliciting for protection, assistance and intercession before the Supreme Deity. With the arrival of Christianity, the people again threw themselves, body and soul, to the new religion. Today, practically every Akama person professes the Christian faith, and in particular, Catholicism.
Akama people are hard-working, industrious, and straight-forward in character. Their yes is their yes, while their no is their no. They are friendly and accommodating, and do not have any dividing line between them and the so-called strangers.
Pioneer Irish Catholic prelate, Bishop Joseph Shanahan, perhaps, had the Akama man in mind when he wrote: “The Ibo has a child’s winsomeness. He loves fun and banter. If you show him the good side of your character, he will show you the best side of his. The people know a good man when they see one. Their own souls aspire to goodness, and they have not stifled the aspiration. It is my firm conviction that we shall meet great numbers of our Ibos, pagans as well as practically all our Catholics, in heaven”.14
R E F E R E N C E
1. Adiele Afigbo (1987) The Igbo and their Neighbours, Ibadan, University Press, P. 23.
2. Matthias Nwafor (1999), Akama, Oral Interview.
4. Okongwu Ogbatu (1978), Akama, Oral Interview.
5. Ozo Nechi Okachi (1978) Oyofo Oghe, Oral Interview.
6. Richard Okafor C., (2006) The Owa Clan, Enugu: New Generation Books, Page 2.
7. ONDIST 12/1/423 Intelligence Report on Agbaja Clan, 1929, NAE.
8. Ozo Nechi Okachi, op cit.
9. P. Talbot-Amoury (1926) The People of Southern Nigeria, London: Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. Page 36.
10. Dons Eze, et al, (1999) The Wawa Struggle, Enugu: Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited, Page 22.
11. Adiele Afigbo (1987) The Igbo and their Neighbours, Ibadan, University Press, P. 35.
12. OP 2910 ONDIST 12/1/ 2002 NAE.
13. Odozi Obodo – A Magazine of Akama Students and Graduates Association (ASA), 1982, page 7.
14. Life and Times of Bishop Shanahan,
Akama And Her Neighbours
1. Invitation of the White Man
While the imperialist forces of Great Britain forcibly took most parts of Igboland during her colonial conquest of Africa, the people of Akama had, on their own, invited the White man to their territory. Akama has a long stretched border at its eastern frontier with Owa, Nsude and Eke, and these people would not give her respite. There were constant raids and harassment of the people, especially by the people of Nsude. It so happened that during one of those unpleasant days, the people of Nsude had killed an Akama indigene named Ndubuisi Ogbuchi. The exact date of the incident was not given. What is apparent was that the killing of Ndubuisi had greatly pained the people of Akama, and so, they rallied the people of Oghe and informed them of their intention to invite the White man to the town to help deal with the situation.
Fortunately, there were reports that some white men were stationed at Adaba in the present Uzo Uwani local government. So, a delegation was sent there, to acquaint them of the border crisis. That should be between 1903 and 1904. At Adaba, the delegation met with one Mr. Boyle, a political officer under Colonel H.D. Moorhouse’s expeditionary mission to Igboland, who followed them to Akama. The White man was presented with a cow by each of the three villages of Akama, some fowls and eggs, and later taken on top of Ugwu Omala Shrine. There, he was shown the scene of the border crisis. He left and promised to be back in two years’ time.1
A question could however be asked as to why Mr. Boyle had decided to put off his action for two years, in spite of the fact that the raid was continuing? A possible explanation could be that the man might not have been adequately prepared to deal with such a sensitive situation or that he needed to obtain permission from his superiors before dabbling into the matter.
After waiting for two years, whiled neither Mr. Boyle nor any other Whiteman was in sight, but with the continued harassment by the people of Nsude, representatives of the then seven towns of Oghe were again called to a meeting at Ozo Nechi Okachi’s compound at Oyofo. At the end of the meeting, it was decided to seek the assistance of the Hausa men living at Nechi’s Compound to lead them to the Whiteman, who was now said to be stationed at Udi. The assistance of the Hausas at that time was necessary because it was believed that the White men who were on expeditionary mission in Igboland came from Northern Nigeria, and so, might have had a long period of interaction with the Hausas.
After narrating their predicaments through their interpreter – Ozo Nechi Okachi – the Hausas requested each of the seven towns of Oghe to select their representatives who would accompany them to meet with the Europeans. The representatives were as follows:
Ozo Obodo Nwanechi - Akama
Ozo Agunakpaimo - Neke
Ozo Nwachieke - Amansiodo
Ozo Aniago Nwankpu - Owe
Ozo Onwumelu Nwechi - Oyofo
Ozo Akpata - Iwollo
Ozo Aliozo Odenigbo - Amankwo.
Ozo Nechi Okachi was liaising between them and the Hausas.
We may observe here the importance of the Ozo institution in Oghe, and in traditional Igbo society generally, as all the members of the delegation were Ozo titled men.
After some days’ absence, the delegation came back, bringing along with them, another White man who was accompanied by some handful of soldiers. He was again presented with a cow by each of the seven towns of Oghe, and later taken to the area of the border dispute. There, the man fired some shots in the air, which forced the people of Nsude to rush out for attack. He returned fire, which left many Nsude people dead and several others wounded. Their ammunition were seized or confiscated. This brought to an end the border war between Akama and Nsude.2
But while the people of Akama were congratulating themselves that they were the first to bring the White man to Oghe and the surrounding towns, one man who later turned out to be the main beneficiary, was Ozo Nechi Okachi of Oyofo. As the only “enlightened man” among the delegation (he spoke Hausa language fluently), Nechi was easily spotted out by the White man and subsequently made the Warrant Chief of Oghe. That was around 1908. He was the first in the former Udi Division to be so anointed, even before the all powerful Onyeama N’Eke, who was himself appointed Warrant Chief in 1910.
Perhaps, not comfortable of being seen as inferior to Nechi Okachi, Onyeama conspired with the European colonial administrators to dethrone Nechi, burned down his Court at Ugwu Etiti and destroyed Okwujuolo Iwollo (an-imposing upstairs), and other public buildings in Oghe. That was part of the “1914 Expedition” – Aho Bekee gbalu Oghe.
For the people of Akama, however, this brief encounter with the White man, though remarkable, was not enough to establish an enduring relationship. Nevertheless, they had tasted the “forbidden fruit,” and things would no longer be the same again!
2. The Rise and Fall of Aguobu Akama
Like most communities in Ezeagu, Agu-obu – Farm Settlement, was a mere chance occurrence, usually founded by hunters or some itinerant farmers. The virgin habitation and rich natural resources of the area were what made it a compelling habitat.
So, it was, around 1921, one Chiaha Onuoha from Imama Akama, who was on a hunting expedition, saw a vast uninhabited arable plateau located about twelve kilometres north of Akama town. Chiaha was thus caught between the games he had set out to hunt and the untapped treasure he had just discovered. As soon as he got back to his ancestral home, he narrated his experience to his bewildered audience, who already had raised a search party, thinking that Chiaha had been devoured by some wild animals. An ikoro, wooden gong, was sounded, summoning an emergency meeting of elders from the three quarters of Akama – Isiokwe, Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani. Chiaha was invited to address the gathering and to narrate his experience. Again, the man bared his mind, and narrated what he saw, and how he was revealed in a dream about the future of the place.
The people, after listening to his story, decided to give the place a trial. They therefore invited some volunteers to help explore and exploit the area. As an incentive, they decreed that inhabitants of the area would neither pay tax nor be subjected to any form of levies for a period of seven years. What a mouth-watering package, and in less than three days, twenty-two volunteers from each of the three quarters of Akama, including Chiaha Onuoha himself, offered themselves up. Like the “Pilgrim Fathers”, they set out to explore the place, now called Aguobu Akama. Their pleasant reports back home a few weeks later made other people to follow their footsteps. In no time, the place became densely populated as the settlers began to raise children there.
Aguobu Akama was another Canaan – a land flowing with milk and honey. There was food in abundance. Wild animals from the nearby Ofilofi Forest had always walked into people’s compounds in company of domestic animals only to be slaughtered by men keeping in wait for them. In fact, almost every member of the expedition team had turned to expert hunters, which made meat became surplus for every family. There were also rich reserves of honey, for hives were everywhere in Ofilofi.
When the day’s toil was over, the people often gathered at their public square – Oboli Aguobu for different kinds of entertainment and relaxation. Their kids and some grown-ups were taught how to wrestle and play xylophone – Ngedekwu, and folk music, etc.
Aguobu settlers did not forget their kith and kin back home. They made frequent visits to their ancestral home, carrying with them honey, meat and fruits which they distributed to their relations and friends.3
It was however not long before this new found colony would come to an end, with all the trappings associated with it, as people began to leave the place in droves. And in no time the whole area was completely deserted.
Three reasons were adduced for this. First was the advent of Western education, where boys from the area saw themselves as inferior to their counterparts at home, who had the privilege of attending the newly established school by the Catholic Mission. Moreover, Akama people wanted boys from Aguobu to return home to make up the number of pupils required in the school.
Secondly, young men were no longer content working in the farms, but prefer to go to the cities to work as civil servants, traders or even as miners, particularly with the discovery of coal in Enugu. At the same time, beautiful girls of marriageable age from Aguobu were married out either at home or the nearby villages. With the massive exodus of such young men and women, therefore, Aguobu was left with very old people who could hardly fend for themselves, and the alternative was to trace their footsteps back home. The same fate has befallen Agu Akama, which has now been abandoned to Egede, Amaozala Affa, Amofia-Agu Affa, Okpogho and Amansiodo.
3. Ogu Ntigbuyigbu Anya
Ogu Ntigbuyigbu Anya was the result of the inability of the people of Akama to trust themselves and to accept a common political leadership. It is one of the manifestations of the saying that when Akama does not find an outsider to fight, she will start fighting herself.
It was around 1929 that the colonial authorities had indicated their intention to establish one Native Court for all the towns in Ezeagu District, which had comprised the towns of Owa, Oghe, Umana, Olo, Obinofia and Awha. Worried about this development, Chief Onyeama of Eke called a meeting of all the Chiefs from Oghe, Olo and Awha, and cautioned them of its possible implication. According to Onyeama, a single court for all the towns in Ezeagu District would not augur well for the Chiefs of Oghe, Olo and Awha, since Owa and Umana had very powerful chiefs who would not let them have a say in such a court. At that time, Owa had such powerful chiefs as Ozo Obu, Ozo Ejike and Ozo Okoli, while Umana had Chief Ozo Anichebe. Onyeama did not see eye-to-eye with many of these chiefs, particularly Ozo Obu, and he feared that were they to be allowed to draw the chiefs from Oghe, Olo and Awha to their side, it would diminish his own (Onyeama) influence.
To scuttle the arrangement, Onyeama promised that he would assist these chiefs from Oghe, Olo and Awha to have a separate court of their own if they would cooperate by making available to him (£700) seven hundred pounds. The chiefs agreed to the bargain and set out for work. When they got home, each of them decided to impose a levy of two shillings (equivalent to the current rate of two hundred naira) on every taxable adult within their areas of jurisdiction. This was a lot of money, as this was an equivalent of eight days labour, given that a day’s wage was about three pence at that time. The levy was to be collected by individual village heads and brought to a central committee for onward remission to Onyeama.
In Akama, Umeha Ozo Eluke, who all along had been “parading” himself as the “Chief of Akama”, upon the death of his father, Ozo Eluke, set down to work. He started collecting the levy from Isiokwe Section. When he finished, he went down to Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani. He was however challenged by the leaders of these two sections who sought to know how much would be their own commission before they could allow the collection in their areas. Umeha was said to have conceded nothing. Then, the people refused to allow the collection from their own section.
But Umeha was not the one to be easily intimidated. He decided to use his own men to enforce the collection. But the people blocked their way. Fighting broke out. Many people were wounded. It was by mere luck that Umeha escaped being lynched. The following morning, Umeha went to Eke and reported the incident to Onyeama.
On his way back from Eke, he saw a group of people from Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani amassed at the junction between Akama and Eke, waiting to lynch him. Again, he escaped through their midst very much unhurt. The people pursued him to his house where they got many people beaten up, including one of his brothers, Nwokolo. His other brother, Ogbozor, had his house set ablaze. But they could not get hold of Umeha.
The matter was again reported to Onyeama who dragged the suspects to court. About ninety persons were arrested, tried and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, ranging from six months to three years. After the imprisonment, nobody from these two sections paid the levy.
The leaders of Imama Akama at that time were Ejiofor Odenigbo, Aniago Ucheabuaku, Ugwuozo Amunachugo, Eze Nwadebewe, Anieze Onuoha, and Ozo Igbokwe, while Enugu N’Agbani were led by Ozo Onyenkwelu Ogbunagu, Ozo Magbo Ugadiogwu, Ozo Odawa Ugwuozo, Onyema Owa and Okolo Ubalada.
In spite of the failure by Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani to pay the two shillings levy, Onyeama still succeeded in getting the colonial authorities to create a Native Court for Oghe, Olo and Awha. The court which was sited at Ishiogo in Iwollo, had Mr. Raymond Emehel from Imama Akama, as its clerk. Raymond, who was then a teacher, was among the first set of Oghe indigenes to pass standard six. He served the court from 1934 until his death on April 3, 1936. His brother, Clement Emehel, at a later stage, also served the court as chairman.
The crisis generated by the two shillings levy did not end with the imprisonment of those convicted for disturbing peace. Rather, Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbanni, feeling aggrieved, decided to boycott all activities at the Afagu Square, which then had served as market and centre of all traditional activities like Ibono, Olio Umuozo, Eke Onyekanma and Igba Akwa ceremonies. They cleared a junction between the road leading to Iwollo and Aguobu Owa, and called it “Obodo Ugbo”, and began to have their own market and other activities there.
At a stage during the crisis, Onyeama tried to mediate, but failed. When he asked the people of Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani to return to Afagu for their Ibono festival, he was partially heeded. On Nkwo Ibono day, only a handful of people from these two quarters would turn up, but the next day, Eke, they would all troop down to Obodo Ugbo to celebrate the festival. It was not until 1934 that concord finally returned to the community through the efforts of some elders of the town. They arrived at the following decisions:
Ø That OBODO UGBO will from then be known and called EKE UGBO.
Ø That the Age Grade called OGBA OBODO UGBO in Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani should be merged with their counterparts in Isiokwe and revert to their original name of OGBA OJI.
Ø That all traditional festivals, including Ibono and Igba Akwa (Burial Ceremony), that were usually held at AFAGU by all the people of the community should be retained there, while the market at AFAGU should come down to EKE UGBO because of its strategic importance.4
With these resolutions, the crisis was finally laid to rest.
But why was the crisis called Ogu Ntigbuyigbu Anya, more so, since no life was lost as a result of the debacle?
It was Chikeluife Nwaezievuo Ikolo from Imama Akama who coined the word, “Ntigbuyigbu Anya” during the burial ceremony of Machewe Chude, also of Imama Akama. In a song which would appropriately fit Goliath when he got a show down from King David, Chikeluife sang:
“Okolobia gbata ugba lie-ukwu, obu ochalu oshi n’anya”. And the chorus was: “O Ntigbuyigbu Anya.”
Chikeluife was probably referring to Umeha, as “big for nothing”, one whose huge size was only good to frighten thieves. Actually, Umeha was huge and tall, but he was never known to be a coward. At least, during the crisis he never shied away. He stood his ground.
Chikeluife’s song immediately evoked a response. Anidiobu Onyimgba from Isiokwe, who was also at the burial ceremony, put up his own song thus:
“Nwa-ajo-obu, Nwa-ajo-obu, Nwa-ajo-obu n’echete ife echezochelu”, and the refrain was “Nwa-ajo-obu”. N’echete ife echezochelu, Nwa-ajo-obu.5 The song was referring to the other side as die-hards who would not let go what had already happened.
One important lesson that could be drawn from the Ogu Ntigbunyigbu Anya debacle is the need for Akama community to always rally behind one common leadership. If Akama had accepted Umeha or any other person for that matter as their leader, perhaps, the two shillings levy as demanded by Onyeama would not have posed much problem, after all, other communities had paid it without much hassles. But because sectional interests were made to override the general interest of the community, the centre failed to hold. The result was revolt, which precipitated the Ogu Ntigbuyigbu Anya debacle
4. Umu-Ochie/Umu-Agbonwu War
It was a misunderstanding between two former friends, which later turned sour that pitched the two brotherly sections of Umu-ochie and Umu-agbonwu against each other, and led to the forced exile of Umu-agbonwu to the now uninhabited “Okpokolo Agbonwu”, that situated between the former Aguobu Akama and the Mkpuachi Hill, some twelve kilometres away north of Akama main town.
Story had it that one Ekpelibe Nwaezeonovulu who hailed from Umuezenevo kindred of Umu-agbonwu quarter in Imama Akama had a bitter quarrel with his onetime good friend, Ozo Ezeamaona Nwalio from Umuonyiwa kindred of Umu-ochie quarter also in Imama Akama. The cause of the quarrel was not explained, but what was apparent was that Ekpelibe was so embittered that the only thing he thought could assuage his anger was to see Ozo Ezeamaona leave this planet. So, under the cover of darkness and shielded by the unbroken sound of the wooden gong, ekwe, which usually signifies that an Ozo is taking a meal in his secluded hut, nkpo, Ekpelibe allegedly stole into Ozo Ezeamaona’s Nkpo, met him on his dinner table, and dealt several cuts on him with his well sharpened cutlass. This left the man instantly dead. Nobody then knew what had happened.
It was when the young man who was beating the ekwe had got tired, (for he had not heard the sound of the gong, ogene, from Ozo Ezeamaona, to signal that he was through with his meal), that he decided to peep into the nkpo to find out what was amiss. Behold, he found Ozo Ezeamaona lying stone dead in his own pool of blood. He raised an alarm which attracted many people to the scene. There was confusion, a pandemonium. To kill an Ozo inside his nkpo was not just an ordinary crime. It was simply a sacrilege. Who must have been responsible for such a dastardly act? Ozo Ezeamaona’s kinsmen vowed to unravel the mystery and to avenge it accordingly.
The clue to what happened came two days later when Ekpelibe was said to have vanished with his entire family the very night of the incident. His previous quarrel with Ozo Ezeamaona coupled with some footprints which led to and from the scene of the incident, suspected to belong to him, made the people believe that Ekpelibe was actually responsible for such a wicked act. Since all accusing fingers were pointing at the direction of Ekpelibe, his Agbonwu kinsmen, were left with no option than to approach Ozo Ezeamaona’s own kinsmen of Ochie, for discussions on how to amicably resolve the problem.
However, for the people of Ochie, it is either that Agbonwu produced Ekpelibe and at the same time shoulder the burden of the expensive burial rites of an Ozo titled man, or they would descend on them and take their own pound of flesh. As the Agbonwu people were either unwilling or incapable of doing any of these, Ozo Ezeamaona’s immediate family, Umuonyiwa, resorted to the Law of Moses – an eye for an eye.
Finding no Ozo titled man from Ekpelibe’s kindred, they descended on Umuezenevo people, and killed seven of their young men. Then, war broke out between the two sections of Ochie and Agbonwu. As Ochie were clearly having an upper hand, while neither Isiokwe nor Enugu N’Agbani were on hand to broker peace, Agbonwu had no choice than to surrender, fled and took refuge with their wives and children to the now abandoned Okpokolo Agbonwu, a valley between Aguobu Akama and the Mkpuachi Hill. As soon as Agbonwu deserted their homestead, Ozo Ezeamaona’s kinsmen, Umuonyiwa, which comprised of Umuode, Umualio and Okunito, allegedly went and occupied many portions of Ezenevo land. The date of the incident was not explained, nor when Agbonwu went on exile and how many years they stayed there.
With time, however, Ochie began to feel the absence of their brother Agbonwu, particularly as they were feeling marginalised in the scheme of things in Akama. Their attempt to lure Enugu N’Agbani to their side yielded no fruitful result. The climax came during the annual Ibono festival when many Ochie men were mercilessly beaten by their Isiokwe counterpart at the Afagu square. Their masquerades went home humiliated, while those that accompanied the masquerades got serious wounds.
What therefore should be done? Ochie began to send emissaries to their Agbonwu brothers, pleading with them to come back, but the people were not keen, as they had comfortably settled at their “new home”. Every effort made by Ochie to get Agbonwu to forget the past and come back home fell on deaf ears.
Ochie then decided to procure the services of a powerful medicine man from as far as Udiome in the present Igbo Etiti local government area of Enugu State. The medicine man who spent a whole day to prepare some concoctions gave them out to be delivered to Agbonwu people at their settlement. Two young men from Nyaba-Ekpe and Umuenemualiagu all in Umu-ochie, volunteered to deliver the concoctions under the cover of darkness. Those who first saw the concoctions the following morning thought them to be poison and warned the people to steer clear.
Nonetheless, two elderly men volunteered to taste the concoctions and found them palatable. As soon as they tasted the concoctions, they began to feel home sick. Others who took after them also felt the same and began to dream of the beautiful things they left behind at home. This necessitated the elders of Agbonwu to come together to seek of how to return home. First, they sent five young men to spy on Ochie people. The men first decided to hibernate at Enugu N’Agbani. But when news got to Ochie that some Agbonwu men who were spying on them were hibernating at Enugu N’Agbani, they sent words across, that they should come home straight. On getting home, the men were warmly received by the people of Ochie. When later they got back to their settlement and narrated the red carpet reception accorded them, all the Agbonwu people decided to return home en mass.
On their return, the Umunonoulum family of Agbonwu in particular, found to their chagrin, that part of their territory had been occupied by Umuonyiwa family of Ochie. Since there were other areas not yet occupied, they decided to move in there. But the people still nursed a bitter feeling that their land had been wrongly occupied, which led to a cold war between Umunonoulum family of Agbonwu and Umualio family of Ochie. That was why there was no inter-marriage between the two families until the late 1930s, when the ice was broken with the marriage between Nnewedum Ejiofor and Nwabulu Igboekwu.
In the meantime, the powerful medicine man from Udiome in Igbo Etiti, decided to send one of his sons, Onyegwu, to monitor the efficacy of the medicine he had prepared. Onyegwu, who took to his father’s profession, was delighted that Agbonwu had returned and settled down at home. And because of the hospitality offered him by Agbonwu, he decided to settle down with his children and was offered a piece of land by Umuezenevo. That is why in spite of the seeming affinity between Umuezenevo and Umuonyegwu, the two groups marry with each other.6
5. The Ogbodume Land Dispute
The dispute over which communities owned the expansive areas from Nkwoagu down to Ofilofi Forest, up to Duu River, and from Nkonozi to Mkpulukam, etc., later named Ogbodume Land, arose following an attack by the people of Egede on some Akama indigenes at Nwuma-Ofilofi. The people of Akama immediately responded to the attack and drove them out of the place.
However, around 1935, Mr. Enife Ozowikpa from Egede brought action in court against Nwachukwu Ozo Chiawa and Ozo Nwafor Nwaezewulu of Imama Akama, for allegedly trespassing in his land. He claimed that the two men had felled palm trees which belonged to him at Okpokolo Okpogho.
In their defence, the two accused persons claimed that it was Onuoha Chude from Okpogho that leased the land to them. The court then sent for Onuoha Chude, who gave evidence that the land in question belonged to him, but was leased to the accused persons for cultivation. Thereupon, the court decided the case in favour of Akama. Later, Onuoha Chude, (perhaps, through the instigation of Akama people), brought a counter action before the court to the effect that Enife was disturbing his tenants, and so was trespassing on his land. The court tried the case and found Enife guilty, but he appealed against the decision of the court.
The day the Assistant District Officer (ADO), was to physically visit the area to see things for himself, the people of Akama, Egede, Okpogho and Amansiodo, (each laying claims to the said land), assembled round the “Akpu Chukwu” tree near Ofilofi, for a meeting with the White man. The oldest man in Akama at the time, Ozo Ugbonibo, was even brought on a stretcher, to say what he knew about the land. A kola nut was presented and he said the usual traditional prayers and broke it. But before Onuoha Chude from Okpogho could open his case, as he was asked to do so by the White man, a swarm of bees (Mbu Aghu) rushed out from nowhere and attacked the people. There was stampede or confusion. Everybody ran for dear life. And nobody came back there again, even the White man.
A few weeks after the bee episode, the ADO instructed all the warring communities of Akama, Okpogho, Egede, Amansiodo and Amaozalla Affa, to embark on boundary demarcation exercise, so as to prevent further skirmishes on their borders. To effectively carry out this exercise, the people of Akama decided to raise the sum of one hundred pounds (£100). The levy was to be evenly shared among the three components of the town – Isiokwe, Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani. The people of Enugu N’Agbani however complained that they would be unable to meet their own share of the levy. It was then decided with an oath that one out of every five shares of the levy should be given to Enugu N’Agbani, on condition that if there was going to be anything to be shared thereafter, be it reward, levy or labour, it would be shared in the same proportion. The agreement was sealed with the planting of an Ogbu tree (Igwu Ogbu). Accordingly, the levy was then shared as follows:
Ø Anobu N’Obom (Umuenyi/Amogbu) £20.00
Ø Aneke N’Igwagu (Umuaneke/Umuigwagu) £20.00
Ø Umuochie £20.00
Ø Umuagbonwu £20.00
Ø Enugu N’Agbani £20.00
Present during this Igwu Ogbu ceremony were Umeha Ozo Ekuke, Jacob Obodo, Uzoechi Anigbo, Chugbo Aguliya, Anyanechi Chidowem, Nwaegbo Ukemeje, Ahamnonu Oshibu, Anidiobu Onyimgba, Okongwu Ogbatu, Ngwueke Obodo, Patrick Okofia, Chioke Nwonah, Ubenyi Nwahalike, Oguanya Ogwudu and Alphonsus Uzendu, all from Isiokwe. From Imama Akama were Chief Clement Emehel, Ejiofor Odenigbo, Moses Ogwudu, Josiah Orga, Eze Nwadabewe, Cheteze Egesi, Ozo Igbokwe, Ozo Nwokike, Anieze Onuoha, Obu Ozo Malo, and Okelue Ozo Malo, while from Enugu N’Agbani came Ozo Odawa, Ozo Ejiofor Agudu, Ozo Onyenkwelu Ogbunagu, Onyema Owa, Ofegh Aniago, Ozo Magbo Ugadiogwu, Amano Ogwudile and Ozo Obueke.7
It was probably due to the spirit of this Igwu Ogbu accord that the trustees on behalf of Akama Community for the Cashew Industry Project were Jacob Obodo and Ngwueke Obodo for Isiokwe; Chief Clement Emehel and Cheteze Egesi for Imama Akama; while Joseph Ugwuozor was the only trustee from Enugu N’Agbani.
Similarly, following the Akama Water Scheme of 1965, both Isiokwe and Imama Akama were allotted four points of water tap each, while Enugu N’Agbani got only two points. With the passage of time, however, this Igwu Ogbu accord seems to have been forgotten, particularly with the withdrawal from the scene of the actors, as everything is now shared equally among the three components of the community.
Having raised the needed £100 (One Hundred Pounds), around October 1935, Mr. Raymond Emehel who then was the Clerk at Oghe Native Court, set out with some age grades from Akama for the boundary demarcation exercise. They went through Nkwo Agu, down to Odighe, Okpogho, to Ugwu Nkonozi, Ugwu Ogidi, Ogwugwu Ezeatuwo, Ugwu Nzu, up to Aguliya Tree, marked B.P. 130 at Mkpulukam.
From there they went to Inyi Mbe, Ugwu Nwolie near Ukwu Ube tree at Edu Ubodo, and then down to Duu River opposite Okpogho Mgbuta. And from the other side of Nkwo Agu they went through Nkpu Igala, Inyi Ona, up to Uyi, down to Mgbuta, Tulugbuu, Omelu Nwegbe, Nkpa Nwagu, and then down to Duu River. The Surveyor who carried out the demarcation exercise was one Mr. Umeh and Co. He was led by Umeha Ozo Eluke and Marcel Mbazi. The exercise took about two weeks.
Amansiodo carried out their own demarcation exercise from Odagagu down to Okpu Akidi, up to Uburu tree, Akparata Odani, across Nwabasa Stream, to Nwabasa Mkpu Agu, Duu River and then to Mkpa Nwagu.
After the demarcation exercise, the Assistant District Officer (ADO) at Udi, Mr. Bermont, accompanied by one Mr. Frederick Nwachukwu from Ozalla Akegbe, Owoh Ogakwu from Udi, Ochu Nweobeke from Umulumgbe, and the ADO’s interpreter, Mr. Ojiba, came to see things for himself. Mr. Celestine Obuayo from Akama was given the assignment of carrying the ADO’s Diary.
Akama and Okpogho who were grouped together as one team chose the following people to show where their boundaries were – Anieze Onuoha, Moses Ogwudu, Cheteze Egesi, Onuoha Chude (the group’s spokesman), Eluke and Udebunu.
On the side of Amansiodo, were Ozo Okpoko Obodoeze, Obudialio Amukenewe and Umeha Adagbani, while Enife Ozo Nwikpa led the Egede delegation, and Ejiofor Nwefi, the Amaozalla Affa team.
So, when the journey started, it took off from Ofilofi, to Agbo Edu, Nkonozi, Mkpuachi, Ugwu Ogidi, Agba Umueze, Ugwu Nzu, Mkpulukam, Inyi Oku, down to Ogbodume, and then to Obondudu, where Akama had a camp. The next day, the journey continued from Nwabasa, Omelu Nwegbe, to Nkpa Nwagu, where Amansiodo had its own camp. It finally ended at Duu River. Neither Egede nor Amozalla Affa showed their own boundaries. After the exercise, the case was decided in favour of Akama and Okpogho. This was rejected by Amansiodo, Egede and Amozalla Affa. They appealed to the Resident at Onitsha against the decision.
To ensure the maintenance of peace and order among the disputing communities, the Resident issued a directive that nobody should enter the disputed area until he came in person to see things for himself. Three police men were drafted to the area to make sure that the order was complied with. Messrs Celestine Obuayo and Nwokolo Ozo Eluke were asked by Akama people to attend to the needs of the police men, while Ozo Odawa Ozo Ugwuozo undertook to collect yams from individual barns for their feeding.
On the appointed day, the Resident, Mr. O’Connor, accompanied by the ADO, Udi Division, Mr Bermont, and his interpreter, Mr. Ojiba, asked each of the disputing communities to select seven representatives who would show where their boundaries were. Akama and Okpogho selected Messrs Celestine Obuayo, Anieze Onuoha, Michael Ikevuje, Onuoha Chude, Eluke and Udebunu; while Egede’s delegation was led by Enife Ozo Nwikpa; Amansiodo by Ozo Okpoko Obodoeze; and Amozalla Affa by Ejiofor Nwefi.
The journey took off from Akpoti along Akama-Eke junction, down to Mkpuachi where Egede people were already waiting. When they got to Agba Umu Ezenevo, the Resident asked one old man from Egede how much he was being paid as rent by the people of Akama, who he said, were farming on his land. The man told him “One Stock of Yam” yearly, but the interpreter gave it as “One Barn of Yam” yearly. The Resident took down the note. Mr Celestine Obuayo pointed out this anomaly to Akama and Okpogho delegation, observing that the interpreter seemed to be against them.
When the team got to Agu Okpolo, the Resident asked whether there was any barn around. He was shown one by Cheteze Egesi. Upon enquiries, Cheteze told the Resident that “One Barn of Yam” was the entire barn where all of them were in, while “One Line of Yam”, means only one line from the entire barn; (Aka Oba); and “One Stock of Yam”, a single pole of yam (Ukwu Ji). The journey then continued through Uyi, Mgbuta, Ofia Agwo, Nkpa Nwagu, and then back to Obondudu camp, where they passed the night. The next day they passed through Ogbodume Akama, then to Aguobu Akama, where they also spent the night. It was here that the Resident discharged them and asked them to come up to Eke in two days’ time for judgement.
On the appointed day, after some preliminaries, the Resident reminded the old man of his earlier statement that he was being paid “One Barn of Yam” yearly by the people of Akama as rent. The man denied the assertion. The Resident got annoyed pointing out that the man was denying his earlier testimony. He then handed down the judgement as follows.
1. That no particular village or town owns the whole area
2. That each of the towns should concentrate on the area they now occupy or cultivate.
3. That any person or persons from any other village or town outside the towns disputing the lands should pay rent to the people that brought him to the land. For example, if the people of Akama gave a person from Eke or Ebe a piece of land in the area in question, the fellow should pay rent to Akama people who gave him the land.
4. That failure to comply with the ruling carries a fine of five pounds.
5. That the land in dispute was very extensive and vast with different names, and so should henceforth be called OGBODUME.
6. That the “Ogbodume” land case is closed, and so should never be tried in any Native Court again.8
A question could be raised as to why Akama and Okpogho were always grouped together as one team throughout the Ogbodume Land Dispute?
According to oral tradition, Okpogho is the maternal grandfather of Owa and Oghe. However, due to some misunderstandings between these two brothers, their mother, Mgbolie, led Oghe out of his ancestral home across the Ajali River to settle at his present location. Some portions of land were made available to Oghe by Okpogho.9
It is therefore possible that some of the lands in dispute were Akama’s inheritance from Okpogho. Moreover, in those days when there were no well developed means of exchange transactions, one could easily give out some portions of land in settlement of some debts. One could not therefore rule out the possibility of Okpogho being in a serious financial crisis approaching Akama to help him out on condition that some portions of land would be made available to him (Akama). There is presently a place called Okpokolo Okpogho (the abandoned habitat of Okpogho), which now forms part of Akama land. This seems to suggest that Okpogho people once lived in that place, before being inherited by Akama people. This area had witnessed a series of bitter clashes between Akama and Amofia Agu Affa.
Okpogho and Akama were therefore grouped together as one team throughout the land dispute, in order to testify to the fact that the disputed areas belonged to Akama. This she consistently did till the end of the crisis.
6. Akama-Amansiodo Affray
Hardly had the Resident handed down his verdict on Ogbodume Land Dispute than fighting broke out between Akama and Amansiodo at Agu Mkpunyi. That was precisely on June 26, 1937. Reports had it that one Nwabuife Akpagu from Amansiodo, whose farmland was at Uyi, allegedly trespassed to Mkpuinyi farmland, an area considered by Akama people to belong to them. Nwabuife was challenged by occupants of the farmland, and scuffles ensued. An alarm was raised, which attracted many people to the area. Many dangerous weapons such as guns, machetes, charms, bows and arrows, were freely used in the fight. Twenty-six people were treated for machete cuts, arrow and gun-shot wounds at Eke Dispensary, while four persons whose wounds were more severe were sent to the hospital at Enugu. In all, 53 persons were arrested – 28 from Amansiodo and 25 from Akama and charged to court.10
Nwokolo Ogbuagu was the commander of Akama fighting forces, assisted by Ogbozo Ozo Eluke. They successfully chased out the invaders out of the area. Both Okeanonife Udeaba and Terrence Amuluche both from Akama, received gun-shot wounds, while on the side of Amansiodo, many people were severely wounded, including Nwabuife Akpagu, who was captured, butchered and later released half dead, to nurse his wounds.
The following day, Akama people resident in Enugu, dispatched a big lorry to convey their wounded indigenes to the dispensary at Eke for treatment. Two policemen, accompanied by Mr. Celestine Obuayo and Mr. Moses Ogwudu, were dispatched to the area to keep law and order. In addition, Akama laid the matter before Resident O’Connor, referring him to his earlier judgement on Ogbodume land. The Resident being well acquainted with the matter ordered that there should be no further trespass by Amansiodo on the land as the area actually belonged to Akama people.11
7. The Akama Women’s Revolt
The boom experienced by the Cashew Industry project in the early 1960s, led to the springing up of private cashew farms in different parts of Eastern Region. The farmers, after harvesting the cashew nuts from their farms, would sell them to the Cashew Industry, which in turn would process these nuts for local consumption or for export overseas. In Akama, virtually all the communal lands were converted to cashew plantations by some few wealthy individuals. This left many peasant farmers with little or no land to farm.
In March 1973, one Mrs. Akubunma Onyeije, nee Ejiofor, not finding any free land for the cultivation of her black beans (akidi), decided to settle at one of the private cashew plantations. Either by a deliberate action or accident, the woman cut off a branch of one of the cashew trees. The owner of the farm did not take it kindly as he allegedly beat up the woman. Like what happened during the Aba Women’s Riot of 1929, the woman raised an alarm, which attracted other women.
After hearing her ugly experience, the women took it upon themselves to avenge the wrong. They mobilized themselves and moved in unison to fell all the privately owned cashew plantations in the community. Not even the arrest and detention of some of their leaders would deter them from their set goal. Within three months, all the private cashew plantations in the community, covering over ten hectares of land were cut down by the women. This saved the people the problem of a privileged few cornering all the community land while the majority would have no land either for farming purposes, or to carry out developmental projects. One major fallout of the women’s action was the decision reached by the entire Akama Community that no economic tree lasting for more than one calendar year would be allowed in any land jointly owned by the community.
8. The Ora Farm Crisis
The Ora Farm Crisis stemmed from an alleged attempt by some notable Akama individuals to influence the lease of a piece of land at Ugwu-Oba to a private entrepreneur for farming purposes, contrary to an earlier agreed place at Ajali Nw’inyi.
As the story goes, on December 30, 1973, during the general meeting of the community which took place at the residence of Mr. Anyanechi Chidowem, one Mr. Egwuatu was introduced as the owner of “Ora Farm” group, which would want a piece of land from the community for his business. The meeting agreed to the request and appointed two persons each from Isiokwe, Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani, to take him to Ajali Nw’inyi area to make a choice.
Surprisingly, according to the story, by June 1974, it was discovered that some portions of Ugwu-Oba area had been surveyed, ostensibly by the group. The matter was tabled before the Akama general meeting which was held on July 1, 1974, at the residence of Mr. C.O. Ikwueze. Some influential members of the union were alleged to have suppressed the discussion.
When the issue was again brought up at the meeting held on July 21, at the residence of Mr. Obu Malo, the atmosphere was charged, with the meeting later ending in confusion. From then on, two separate groups had clearly emerged – the anti and the pro-Ora Farm elements. While the anti-Ora Farm group held their monthly meetings at Chief Clement Emehel’s Compound in Imama Akama, those in support of Ora Farm rotated their meetings at the residences of Messrs C.O. Ikwueze (Isiokwe), Alphonsus Ofodu (Imama Akama) and Mathias Malo (Enugu N’Agbani).12
Down the line, members of the community were equally divided. Some members of Independence Age Grade even took it upon themselves to uproot the survey beacons ostensibly mounted by the Ora Farm group at Ugwu-Oba. They were arrested and charged to court for malicious damages, but later discharged for want of evidence. Those who did not support their action among members of the age grade pulled out and formed their own separate age group called “Oganiru Independence Age Grade”. At the resolution of the crisis, however, the two groups later came together as one age grade.
Those opposed to the sale of Ugwu-oba area had contended that the place contained some precious natural and mineral resources such as gravels, potash (akowo), grasses for house-making, etc. As such, the land should never for any reason be sold. The crisis raged for several years, even when the Ora Farm group itself had practically abandoned the venture.
9. Ndi-Uka Versus Ndi-Obodo
Nobody ever thought there was going to be any friction between the two groups. When Christianity came, Akama people welcomed them with open arms. They gave them a place to build their Church – a choice area in the community where the people equally celebrate their masquerade festival, Ibono, and other traditional ceremonies. For years, the two groups had existed side by side, enjoying cordial relationship with one another, and each respecting the tenets and beliefs of the other.
Then around 1997, some Christian faithful (Ndi-Uka), began to complain that they were being harassed by masquerades whenever they wanted to attend their normal Sunday services. They therefore asked for a complete ban of masquerades from appearing on Sundays to enable them freely attend Church services. Some of them even went further to call for the proscription of Ibono festival and masquerade activities altogether, describing them as devilish and satanic.
But the traditionalists (Ndi-Obodo) would have none of these. According to them, Ibono is neither devilish nor satanic, but a celebration of culture and tradition. They further held that there was no shrine nor alter dedicated to the festival. As such, to call for its proscription was merely mischievous. Moreover, they continued, Ibono season lasts for only about twelve days (Izu N’ito) in a year, with two Sundays in-between, and this would not pose much problem for any Christian who wants to attend Church services.
They matter came to a head in October 2000, when the Christians decided to enforce what they believed was their rights by allegedly inviting the police, who arrested and detained some masquerades found patrolling on Sunday. This incensed the traditionalists who launched counter-attack, broke into the Church, and destroyed some property there.
This launched the community into another round of crisis. It then threw up debates as to the plausibility or otherwise of continued retention of both the places of Christian worship and the celebration of the traditional Ibono festival in the same venue. While some people were of the view that since the Christians have already firmly established in the area by building both the Parish House and the Church in the area, the traditionalists should relocate, others however contended that the matter should be allowed to lie, believing that the die-in-the-wood Ibono followers were already on the downward side.
The Ndi-Uka versus Ndi-Obodo palaver which virtually tore the community into two opposing camps was later mediated by the timely intervention of the then Vicar General of Catholic Diocese of Enugu, Monsignor Obiora Ike, with a resolution that while masquerades could be allowed to appear on Sundays, that should be between the hours of 12.00 noon and 4.00 pm. This was to enable Christians attend services on Sunday both in the morning and in the evening.
R E F E R E N C E S
1. Ozo Nechi Okachi, (1978), Oyofo, Oral Interview.
3. R.W. Anidobu, Akama Oghe, The Lost Paradise, Unpublished Manuscript.
4. Anyanechi Chidowem, (1978), Akama, Oral Interview.
5. Celestine Obuayo, Akama Oghe, Unpublished Manuscript.
6. R.W. Anidobu, Akama Oghe, The Ancient Galilee, Unpublished Manuscript.
7. Op cit.
11. UDDIV 3/1/96 NAE.
12. Celestine Obuayo, Akama Oghe, Unpublished Manuscript.
Basic Beliefs and World-View
There is no better way to understand or appreciate a people’s way of life and how they view their universe or the world around them, particularly in a society whose ancestors had left no written documents, than through their thought forms, expressed in various ways, like the marriage institution, birth, death and burial ceremonies, the names they give their children, as well as their proverbs and folklores, etc. These are what govern their behaviour or basic attitude to life. In academic sense, we call this philosophy. Every society, no matter how primitive, has a philosophy or basic way of life.
People in every society are governed by what they see around them, that is to say, by what they see or observe in their environment or surroundings. These are things which shape or determine their attitude to life. For instance, while people in river-line communities may have their lives shaped or dominated by waters and their contents, those surrounded by hills may naturally be thinking about mountains and their likes. Yet, there are some communities where the sun plays vital roles and they pattern their lives around it, while in some others it may be the moon or the earth goddess, etc.
Here, we shall consider how Akama people view their surroundings, which ultimately patterned their lives and social behaviour. We shall examine this through their marriage system, pregnancy and birth, death and burial ceremonies, as well as the names they bear or give to their children, etc., before these were adulterated through acculturation.
1. The Marriage Institution
In traditional African society, as here in Akama, marriage is the centre of human existence. It is a meeting point among members of a given community – the living, the departed and the yet to be born. Marriage, according to J.S. Mbiti, “is a drama in which everyone becomes an actor or actress, and not just a spectator”.1 What this means is that marriage is not just a union between two lovers, or even between two families. It is a relationship that involves everybody in the community.
Here, in Akama, no one goes alone to marry a wife. He must be accompanied by his umunna, that is to say, by his parents and relations. Similarly, no parent gives out his daughter in marriage unless the suitor is accompanied by his umunna. This shows that marriage is a social institution, and not just a personal relationship between two individuals. Marriage is a bond that binds two distinct people into one inseparable entity, such that what affects one also affects the other.
The main essence of marriage, as far as the people are concerned, is procreation, that is, the bearing of children – “Onye nulu waya tulu Chi ya afhia wa” (He who marries a wife expects children from God). Without children, marriage will be incomplete. Since man’s life here on earth is but temporal, through marriage, he tries to raise children that will continue his existence when he must have physically left the world. Through procreation or bearing of children, man attempts to recapture his lost immortality.
Thus, when a departed ancestor re-incarnates or is re-born in one of his descendants, he is given the name – “Nna-aghayo” – father has returned. He has prolonged his life here on earth, and this perpetuates the chain of humanity. The greatest curse that could befall a man therefore, is to die childless, for he has thereby been cut off from the seed of immortality. He is forever dead.
Usually, there will be no marriage contract for men unless they undergo the process of initiation into manhood – Iwa ogodu. (This is discussed in Chapter Five). For girls, however, they are made to learn from their parents how to prepare food, how to behave before men, how to look after their future husbands, how to take care of their children and other domestic affairs, etc.
When a young man reaches the age of marriage, his parents and relations will help him choose a wife. They will not only be interested in the physical features of the girl; they will also make enquiries regarding the girl’s family background, her character and upbringing. Sometimes, a parent may naturally come to appreciate a particular family, perhaps due to its nobility or for some other reasons and desires to have the seed sown in its own family. Thus, as soon as a baby girl is born into that family, they will quickly move in and have the girl betrothed to their male child.
Generally, Akama people contract marriages through intermediaries. This is not only aimed at ascertaining the background of the two people involved in marriage, but also at assisting in negotiations, as well as intervening when there is crisis. Intermediaries also help to promote the corporate existence of the individual.
Usually, marriage is not allowed between close relatives. Before any marriage is allowed within the same clan, enquiries are conducted to ensure that the two people preparing to marry are not in any way related. It is generally believed that where close relatives are married, the “living-dead”2, that is, the departed ancestors, will be displeased, which will result in deaths of children from such a marriage.
The process of marriage begins with the parents of a young man approaching the parents of a particular girl and asking her hand in marriage. If the girl accepts the proposal, negotiation will start, but where otherwise, negotiation will terminate. Every marriage negotiation at whatever level is done with palm wine, nkwu-enu, (not raffia wine, ngwo), and kola nuts. The “living-dead” (the ancestors) are invited to partake in the items, as a mark of the intimate relationship existing between the living and the departed. They are asked to bless the marriage, which is meant to prolong their existence here on earth.
Even if the proposal is rejected and negotiations break down, the wine is never carried back home. It must be consumed there – maya jelu bu ogo anagh ana (the wine that is taken to an in-law’s house never returns). It is only when the girl accepts the cup of wine from her father (or whoever may be standing in for him), sips it, and gives it to her suitor, that everybody will come to agree that she has accepted the proposal. Thereupon, her umunna will begin to drink the wine.
Usually, there are different stages of wine-carrying ceremony in Akama. The first stage is the Maya Ajuju (wine for enquiries). With this, the suitor approaches the girl’s parents for permission to woo their daughter to marriage. He is accompanied by his immediate parents and carries along, two gallons of palm wine, udu maya. Nowadays, one carton of beer is added. This stage does not usually count because the wine belongs exclusively to the girl’s parents, while approval must be given before proceeding to the next stage.
The first wine-carrying ceremony in the real sense of it is Maya Nneche-anya (wine for betrothal) or Maya Iyi-ashi-nashi (wine for covenant). Here, some few members of the girl’s kindred are informed of the marriage proposal. The suitor is accompanied by a sizeable number of his family and relations. He brings with him one jar of palm wine, Mbala Maya, two cartons of beer, kola nuts, a head of tobacco and potash, akowo. Here, preliminary negotiations are started.
The girl may be allowed to accompany the family of her suitor back and stay with them for some few days – Ije seneje Udu – taking back the empty pot of wine. Care must however be taken not to allow the girl come close or sleep with the suitor for fear of getting pregnant before the completion of the marriage rites. She will therefore be entrusted to the hands of an elderly woman in the family who will ensure that nothing happens to her.
Any pregnancy before the negotiations are completed is a taboo. Negotiations are then suspended until the girl delivers of her pregnancy. In some cases, the child does not belong to the husband, but to the family of the girl, while in some others, the parents may allow the husband to own the child. In both cases, the girl has brought shame to the family.
The second stage is Maya Umunna. The suitor, accompanied by a sizeable number of family members and relations, brings about five jars of palm wine, Mbala maya N’ese, eight cartons of beer, and one bottle of hot drink, to the girl’s kindred, umunna. He also provides some kola nuts, a head of tobacco, potash and cigarettes. The guests are provided with kola nuts and food items as entertainment by the girl’s parents.
The third and final stage is Izu Afhia Nwanyi. This is the climax. Both the umunna and friends of the girl are invited. The suitor is also accompanied by his own umunna and friends. He brings along with him, about ten jars of palm wine, mbala maya n’eli, fifteen cartons of beer, kola nuts, some bottles of hot drink and about two heads of tobacco, potash and cigarettes. The host will provide some food items. There will be feasting and drinking.
Meanwhile, the two immediate families will retire to a secluded corner in the house to negotiate the bride price. Some quantity of local peanut seeds – akpulu ede, will be employed for the exercise. They will be adding and subtracting, until the two parties come to a compromise. The suitor’s father then presents the bride price to the girl’s father. The girl’s mother is also presented with a certain amount of money as her entitlement – Ifhe Nne-n’eli.
The presentation and acceptance of the bride price signal the end of the marriage negotiations between the two families. The husband then brings a hen or a she goat for presentation to the bride’s family. When the girl accompanies her husband home, the hen or the she goat will remain. This shows that the girl has not left the family, but is still part and parcel of it, even though she now lives with her husband. If and when the woman dies, her umunna will go to her matrimonial home to collect a she goat – eghu otuchi. This marks the return of the woman to her place of birth.
If at any period in time the marriage breaks down, the husband will not get any refund until the woman remarries. It is only when the woman remarries that the two families will return to the negotiation table to sort matters out. If the woman was ever pregnant and bore him a child while living with him, the man will be given 50 per cent of the bride price he paid and 50 per cent of the cost of the drinks. But if otherwise, the man will get a full refund of the bride price and 50 per cent of the cost of drinks.
2. Pregnancy and Birth
The first indication of the arrival of a new baby into the family is pregnancy. In Akama as in many other communities in Oghe, marriage is not regarded as fully consummated until the wife becomes pregnant. This could be seen from the question often asked about a newly married wife: “Otu-kwu-ye-du-kwe?” (“Has she settled down?”).
First pregnancy therefore becomes the final seal of marriage, the sign of complete integration of the woman into her husband’s family and kinship circle. Unhappy therefore is the woman who is childless, for she has thereby failed to produce the seed that would prolong the life of the family lineage.
Once a wife is confirmed pregnant, she and her husband will begin to observe some taboos and regulations designed to protect the life of the unborn baby. For instance, a man whose wife is pregnant does not touch a corpse or swear to an idol. Similarly, a pregnant woman does not eat snake meat or snail, else when she delivers, her baby will begin to crawl like the snake or have a running nose like the snail.
The seventh month of the first pregnancy is marked with the “Ilu-akwa” ceremony (tying of cloth or wrapper). The ceremony marks her entry into womanhood. Before then, she was still a girl. All the daughters from the woman’s kindred, big and small, are treated to a heavy party at her new home. The ceremony which commences late in the evening will last till the early hours of the next day.
The woman will have her hair cleanly shaven as a mark of entry into a new life. At the end of the ceremony, each of the daughters present is given a certain amount of money by the woman’s husband, graduated according to their closeness to the wife.
At the first light of the day, the woman will visit all the elderly women within the family kindred to expose to them her womanhood. It is these women, after closely examining her, who will give confirmatory evidence that the woman is indeed pregnant. They will bless her and pray for the safe arrival of the new baby.3
Virtually every kindred in Akama have a traditional birth attendant or midwife. Even where there is none, as soon as the woman goes into labour, she is led to a secluded corner of the backyard where other fellow women will assist her deliver the baby. Men are not allowed to come nearby.
Still in labour, the woman would be asked to name the person responsible for the pregnancy. If it was not the husband, words would be sent across to the person concerned to produce a fowl or something in exchange. This would be used for rituals to enable the husband see his baby.
While the placenta is buried at the spot, the baby’s father will be given the umbilical cord when it falls due, and told to use it to plant a palm tree for the baby (if a male child). This is the boy’s first inheritance – Nkwu-nam. The father will also be told to begin to plant oranges – a wish for more children to come.
The mother is then led into the inner room of the house with the new baby. A member of the family fetches some obo grasses from the bush, and lays them across the entrance of the door. He also brings odo, a yellowish lump – a symbol of peace and harmony, and puts it in a bowl inside the room. Every visitor is made to pass through the obo. This will cleanse him/her of any infirmity or evil forces that might harm the baby. As the visitor enters the room, he takes a little quantity of odo, rubs it first on his own forehead, and then on the forehead of the baby with the greeting: “Akpoto ihu m na ghi odo-n’igwugwu, gi-enegbunam, ma m enegbuna-ghi” (May peace and harmony be unto our faces, and may none bring curse to each other). These days, powder is provided for the exercise.
Circumcision is on the eighth day. Mother and child are still indoors, until the 12th day, three native weeks (Izu n’ito), when a keg of palm wine is provided for a little ceremony that will be performed to bring them to the outer section of the house. Both mother and child will not be outside at the same time. Since the mother is still unclean, she will not enter the kitchen to cook a meal.
The naming ceremony of the child is on the 28th day or seven native weeks (Izu n’assa). There will be heavy feasting. Friends and relations are invited. The oldest man in the family kindred (umunna) presides over the ceremony. The child’s first hair, carried from birth (aba-nya), is shaven. This marks its purification.
For the first time since she put to bed, the mother, putting practically nothing to cover her nakedness, but clutching her baby between chest and laps, is led into the kitchen by the chief celebrant. She is made to go round the cooking stands (ekwu), nine times, and touching them with her right hand on each occasion. This also marks her purification.
If the child is a girl, the chief celebrant will give her a name at the family house. Other family members will follow suit. Normally, a child does not bear only one name. Since he/she belongs to the entire kindred everybody is welcomed to give him/her a name.
For a male child, the activity shifts to the larger family compound (Ebete). A pot of wine (udu maya), a cock, and Ighu, a granular bitter food resembling tapioca, are provided for the ceremony. At the end of the exercise, the chief celebrant gives the child a name. Others follow suit in quick succession and also presenting gifts to the child.
3. Death and Burial
Death is something that concerns everybody. This is because it brings loss and sorrow to the family. In Akama until recently, as in many traditional African societies, death was never envisaged until one attains a very ripe age. That is why every premature death is viewed as an anathema, and why such death is believed to have been as a result of one malevolent spirit or the other, or caused by one wicked person or the other.
Thus, as soon as death is announced in a family, the immediate relatives of the deceased will consult a diviner to find the cause or the person responsible for such a calamity. All the suspects will be made to swear to an oath to exonerate themselves of the crime. This is done even before the person is buried.
It is also the diviner who will say where the dead person will be buried. Normally, a person is buried with the head lying either west-ward or south-ward. Each of these directions leads to the spirit world. While a man is usually buried in front of his house; a married woman is buried inside her kitchen. This reflects their different roles, either as a shepherd, or as one in charge of the home front.
A little child is however buried in the bush, to sojourn with other unidentified spirits hovering around the area, while a young man is made to appear in a masquerade before burial as a way of recommendation to the ancestors for acceptance in the spirit world.
Similarly, a war hero, in particular one who had killed people during many of those several inter-communal wars, will have an Ikpa music played for him to celebrate his valour. On the other hand, a criminal, that is, one who had committed some heinous crimes, or who had sworn falsely before a shrine and later died as a result, will have his corpse taken outside the community and thrown into the bush for vultures to feast upon. All his personal belongings will be deposited with the shrine. In the case of a criminal, his entire property is thrown into Ajo Ofhia (Evil Forest).
The burial of a married woman takes a much longer process. First, her umunna (family kindred), will be visited three times by the husband’s relatives, to inform them formally and officially of the death of their daughter. This corresponds to the earlier three visits to the family when the woman was being given out in marriage.
On the last of these visits, the messengers will go with a traditional tray pan, ufhele, a kitchen knife, mma ebeke, one closet basket used for drying meat, ngiga, and a certain amount of money. This will be the time the umunna will send a delegation to confirm the death and to negotiate their entitlements before they will agree to bury their daughter. The presentation of a she goat, Eghu otuchi, by the husband’s relatives, marks the final return of the woman to her place of birth.
Akama people, as true Africans, believe in the life hereafter. Man is never really dead even though he may have left this physical universe. He exists in the other world, body and soul. This helps to explain some of their actions and observances with regards to the dead. For instance, when the Umuada (the daughters) and the Uye di (women married in the same kindred), are singing and dancing as the dead person lies in state, they are giving testimony that the person had lived a good life and should therefore be accepted in the other world.
Similarly, the presentation of cloths to the dead person by the nearest relatives is meant to prepare the person for the continuation of life in the next world, while the booming of guns before, during and after the burial, is a way of marking the glorious exit of the dead. A wicked and evil person never enjoys these privileges. He is condemned, and therefore doomed forever.
Again, during the actual burial, the deceased’s children and all his relations will gather around to pay their last respect and to implore that his exit may bring better days ahead – k’nkwuta gh kalu ihu gh nma (may your back be better than your front). An ogilishi tree will be planted around the position of his head where the people will be giving him foods and drink.
Four days after the burial of the deceased, the women will organise another round of songs and dances – egwu izu. This is meant to confirm the actual departure of the deceased. The same ceremony will be repeated on the twelfth day – Izu n’ito. The general belief among the people is that the deceased will continue to hover around until the funeral ceremony (Igba akwa) is finally organised. This is when he will reach the land of the spirit and to take his place among the ancestors.
4. Some Indigenous Names and Their Meanings
Like most people in Igboland, Akama people are very thoughtful in giving names to their children. More often, many of these names are the true expression of their beliefs, their aspirations, desires, wishes, hopes, joys, tribulations and fears.
During our research, we discovered that while Akama people reverently defer to the Supreme Deity, who they see as “all in all”(Chi-bu-nine), “who created the universe and everything therein” (Chi-kelu-ife), “who is the giver of children and material wealth” (Chi-kelu-uba), and “who is the upholder of life” (Chi-ji-ndu), etc., they also believe that there is a thin line separating those living on earth and people in the spirit world. Accordingly, they give their children names that cut across these two worlds. For instance, among the names Akama people give their children and which refer to the Supreme Deity include:
· Chi-bu-ni-ne God is all in all
· Chi-kelu-ifhe God is the author of the universe
· Chi-kelu-uba God is the source of family increase
· Chi-na-akwa-nka God is an artist
· Chi-bu-oke God is the sharer
· Chi-do-wem God protect me
· Chi-we-yitem God lift me up
· Chi-ji-oke God is the upholder of wealth
· Chi-na-aha-oke God is the dispenser of wealth
· Chi-na-aha-eghe God is the dispenser of Justice
· Chi-ne-egbu-odo God endows harmony
· Chukwu-ji-ike God is the upholder of power
· Chukwu-malu-ilo God knows the enemy
· Chukwu-emezie God has done well
· Chukwu-ajalum-ike God has vindicated me
· Oke-Chukwu-kelu God’s gift
· Chi-gbo-ogu Let God settle the case
· Amalu-uche-Chukwu (Amuluche) Who knows God’s will?
· Alize-Chukwu In deference to God
· Chelu-chi Wait for God
· Nnewedum-Chukwu I look up to God
Where, however, the Supreme Deity appears too remote or far removed from the affairs of men, the people look up to His immediate representative – the Earth Goddess – “Ani”. Thus, Ani could be approached in times of need, and when their prayers were answered, they give their children names like “Ani-ekee”, not in the sense of Ani being the Creator, but that Ani had brought succour to them through its intervention. Names deferring to Ani include:
· Ani-ekee Earth has done it
· Ani-bu-eze Earth is the king
· Ani-ekwu-ilo Earth never reveals the enemy
· Ani-ehe-obu Earth never changes its position
· Ani-agba-oso Earth never runs away
· Ani-bu-oshialim Earth is my witness
· Ani-amalu-ilom (Aniamalu) Earth knows my enemy
· Ani-eze-ofho Earth never shies away from
· Ani-ago-lum Earth has vindicated me
· Ani-ebonam-ilo Earth will never make me an enemy
· Ani-ekwe-nshi Earth will never allow evil
· Ani-gbo-ogu Earth will settle the case
· Ani-di-obu Earth is fruitful
While celestial bodies like the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars are necessarily not part of creation due to their distance, the people still see the need to occasionally look up to them for assistance as occasion demands. Thus, supplications are usually made to the early morning Sun (“Anyanwu Obala Ututu”), and to the new Moon, for protection and good luck. In spite of this, nobody goes by any of these names. The Sky also appears too far away, which is why only very few people go by the name – “Igwe”, which probably is an adopted name – “Igwe-na-atu-uzu”.
Akama people believe in the dualism of life – “Ifhe-di-ibuo”, “Ifhe-ni-bo”, “Ude-di-ibuo”, and “Oke-ano-n’ifhe”. The departed are not really dead, but physically exist in the other world. For this reason, they are to be constantly nourished through libations and sacrifices, while soliciting their assistance and intervention in the affairs of the people they have left behind.
It appears, however, that only the departed men have the privilege of being asked to intervene in the affairs of their people on earth. This is because Akama people hardly give their children names of their departed mothers. Thus, names like “Nne-ka”, “Nne-nna”, “Nne- amaka”, “Nne-oma”, are not indigenous, but came through acculturation or cross-cultural interaction. Names referring to male ancestors therefore include:
· Nna-ekee Father has done it
· Nna-emezie Father did it well
· Nna-akalia Father is greater
· Nna-ji-uba Father is the source of family increase
· Nna-ji-ofho Father is the upholder of uprightness
· Nna-bu-ude Father is famous
It is possible though, that “Nna” referred to God, the Almighty Father, and these days that is the view of those with Christian disposition.
Benevolent spirits, the homestead, as well as the people’s good will, can also bring good fortunes, resulting in names like:
· Maa-che-wem Spirit protect me
· Maa-nulu-okwu (Malo) Spirit hear the case
· Maa-nulu-ikpe Spirit be the judge
· Maa-gboo-ogu (Magbo) Spirit settle the case
· Obu-ekee Homestead has done it
· Oha-eke-yi People’s wish
· Oha-ne-eye People’s gift
Hills, trees, and some objects considered sacred are also approached in times of need, and they answer to men’s prayers. That is why we have names like:
· Ugwu-ekee The hill has created
· Ngwu-ekee Ngwu (a Sacred Tree) has done it
· Akpu-ekee Akpu (a Sacred Tree) has done it
· Ngwu-ne-eche Ngwu protects
· Ofho-eche Uprightness protects
· Ofho-dile Uprightness is profitable Ogwu-dile A portent medicine
· Ugwu-ehe-obu Hill never changes its position
The desire for children among the people of Akama is unparallel. They know that their sojourn here on earth is but temporal, therefore their wish is to have children who would prolong their lives when they depart this physical universe. Names that express their deep desire and love for children include:
· Nwa-di-n’ume Child is my treasure
· Nwa-ka-ego Child is more precious than money
· Nwa-ako-n’obu Child never lacks in the homestead
· Nwa-di-nma Child is good
· Nwa-di-utio Child is sweet
· Nwa-ka-eze Child is more precious than king
· Nwa-bu-ndom Child is my shelter
· Ifhe-eyi-nwa Child is unparalleled
· Olu-nwa-agwu-ike No effort will be spared for a child
· Agha-nwa-eche-gini What else can I think but a child?
Since the strength of any family depends on its size or population, Akama people lay premium on increase in family members. This is necessary because they need people for companionship and who will help till the land for cultivation and who will fight the enemy when there is war. Consequently, they give their children names like “Igwe-bu-ike”, “Igwe-na-agum”, “Uba-na-agum”, “Ibe-bu-ike”, “Ibe-ka-aku” as well as “Une-bu-ike”.
While Akama people subscribe to the general concept of “Igbo-enwe-eze”, (Igbo have no king) in the sense of enthroning an autocratic king, they never-the-less believe that even among the company of equals, there must be a leader. Accordingly, names revealing their inner desire for kingship or leadership include:
· Eze-na-agum I will like to be a king
· Eze-ewu-zie The king has arrived
· Eze-ekwu-nem (Ezekwu) May kingship never elude me.
· Eze-ako-nobu King never lacks in a homestead.
Market days are not just designed to record the calendar of events. They could equally bring children or good luck to people. Accordingly, they give their children names like:
· Eke-emezie Eke has done it (For a male child)
· Eke-di-nma Eke is good (For a female child)
· Nkwo-di-nma Nkwo is good (For a female child)
· Okolo“Eke” (Okeke) A male child born on Eke day
· Okolo“Nkwo” (Okonkwo) A male child born on Nkwo day
· Okolo“Olie” (Okolie) A male child born on Olie day
· Okolo“Afo”(Okafo) A male child born on Afo day
· Mgbo“Eke” (Mgbeke) A female child born on Eke day
· Mgbo“Olie” (Mgbolie A female child born on Olie day
Akama people do not bear names that suggest social segregation, in the sense of a person being either a stranger or slave, or dedicated to a shrine or idol. Names that suggest kinship or family relation however abound, and they cut across all sex and hamlet. Usually, children do not exclusively belong to their biological parents, but to the entire kindred (umunna). He or she could be “Nwa-amu” or “Nwa-amadu”, (a beloved child). Other names include:
· Amu-liwe-aku A beloved child who enjoys herself
· Amu-liwe-ji A beloved child who feeds on yam
· Amu-na-achu-ugo A beloved child who chases eagle away
Akama people hardly bear names of lower animals like “Ene”or “Agu”. While Ene may be considered a “foolish” animal which they could hardly associate with, Agu is seen as a vociferous animal. Therefore, names like “Agu-na-awa-edu” (lion that prowls in the forest), and “Ude-ebunu”, (fame of a ram), could perhaps be adopted names.
Death is man’s greatest enemy. It is beyond human comprehension, which is why the people express their fears and helplessness about death in names like:
· Onwu-eme-lie Death has won
· Onwu-ama-eze Death knows no king
· Onwu-melum Death is responsible
In spite of all these, the people still look forward to the end of constant deaths through divine intervention as they give their children names like:
· Ume-nwa-gbo-lu (Ume-gbolu) May constant child deaths end
· Ume-zulu-ike Let premature deaths end
· Ume-ebe This ends premature deaths
· Ume-nwa-haa-m-aka (Umeha) May constant child deaths depart.
These are few instances that reveal the people’s deep thoughts and beliefs through the names they give their children.
5. Customs (Ome-nani) and Taboos (Nso-ani)
Every community has its dos and don’ts, which it expects every of its members to obey and to conform with. These dos and don’ts help to regulate their lives and ensure social harmony and societal progress. The Holy Bible, particularly the Old Testament, lays down stringent rules and regulations, or customs and taboos, which it expects the people of Israel to conform with. Even in the New Testament, Saint Paul insists that women must always cover their hair while praying to God and equally should not to talk in the Church. In the same vein, Akama people have their own dos and don’ts, codified as Ome-nani (customs) and Nso-ani (taboos). Some of these are:
a. Ome-nani (Customs)
1. Respect to Elders – Every Akama child is educated to show respect to his elder. For instance, it is not customary for a child to be comfortably seated while his elder is seen standing.
2. Priestly functions – It is the man, usually an elder, who performs priestly functions. He offers sacrifices and pours libations to the deities and the ancestors.
3. The Kola Nut – The kola nut is at the heart of Igbo culture and tradition, Akama inclusive. Unless a kola nut is offered, one may not feel welcomed by his host. In Akama, it is the oldest man that breaks the kola nut and offers prayers in the process. Women are not permitted to break it, to pluck it from its tree, or even to pick its head from the ground. She must look for a man to do it for her. The same goes for a man in his maternal grandparents’ home, Ikwunne. He is seen there as a woman!
4. The Figure Nine as a complete number – For the Jews, the figure “40” is a complete number, while for the people of Akama, it is the figure Nine. For instance, the flood that destroyed the world of Noah lasted for 40 days; Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai before he was given the Ten Commandments; the Israelites spent 40 years in the Wilderness before they entered the Promised Land; Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days before he began his earthly ministry, and He spent 40 days after His Resurrection before ascending into Heaven, etc.
Similarly in Akama, when a woman gives birth to nine children at different intervals, a cow is slaughtered to congratulate her, and her umunna will be invited to celebrate the feat – ibo ezhi. A woman also goes round and touches the cooking stand (ekwu) nine times as a mark of purification after delivering a baby. If she wants to pay homage to her umunna, she goes there with nine tubers of yam. If a man wants to take his children to their grandparent’s place, it must be with nine tubers of yam for each child, and if a new Priest of Ugwu Omala wants to inform Ani about his selection, he presents it with nine tubers of yam in two places, iteghna ji n’ibo, etc.
b. Nso-ani (Taboos)
Some of the observed taboos in Akama are:
1. Climbing of House and Palm Tree – A woman is not permitted to climb the roof of a house or palm tree.
2. Iwa-ogodu – It used to be a taboo for a woman to put on pant, knickers or to pass a loin cloth across her buttocks, Iwa-ogodu.
3. Masquerade Performance – It is a taboo for a woman to participate in masquerade display or to reveal the identity of a masquerade.
4. Crowing of a Hen – A hen that crows has committed an awful thing and must be killed. Same, if a cock crows between the hours of 8.00 O’clock in the night and 12 mid night.
6 Traditional Medium of Exchange
Before the arrival of the White man, the only acceptable medium of exchange in Akama, nay Oghe and Igboland in general, apart from the so-called trade by barter, was ona, cowry, or the copper currency. Ona was produced from a kind of iron ore called utu. Okpogho people in Ezeagu local government, were acclaimed to have possessed the technology for the production of this currency, hence the general reference of money, throughout Igboland as “Okpogho”. It took series of military expeditions by the British colonial administration to force the Igbo people to jettison the ona and to accept the British coins and paper currency.5
Okpogho people were ingenious and enterprising, who moved from place to place, in search of raw materials with which they produced the currency. That is why the people were scattered in different settlements, made up of Okpogho Imezhi, Okpogho Mbanito, Okpogho Mgbuta, Okpogho Ukwuagba and Okpogho Oku-ube.
Because ona was indigenous, it was never hoarded nor stashed away to personal accounts overseas, though some cynics could argue that this was due to its cumbersomeness. Even the Okpogho people who produced ona never hoarded it nor kept it for personal aggrandisement or self-glorification.
Ona was denominated as a single unit of account, which could count to any number depending on the price of the commodity or service. For instance, while one pole of yam in a barn (Ukwu ji) could price at ona n’eli (ten ona), one line of yam in the barn (aka oba) could sell as high as nnali ona, also called Nnali Okpogho (One Hundred ona).
On the other hand, the British currency which replaced ona and which was produced in coins and paper denominations was denominated into different units of account. The various categories of coins are known in Akama as follows:
Anini ¼d or One Farthing
Afu ½d or Half a penny
Kopo 1d or One penny
Toro 3d or Three pence
Shishi 6d or Six pence
Nayi 9d or Nine pence
Ofu-ego 1s , 12 pence , or One Shilling
For the paper currency the categories were as follows:
Eg’ise 5/- or Five shillings
Eg’ili 10/- or Ten shillings
Ogu-ego £1 or One pound, 20 shillings
Nnu-ego £20 or Twenty pounds.
R E F E R E N C E
1. John S. Mbiti (1969) African Religions and Philosophy, Heinemann, London, page 136.
2. Ibid page 83.
3. Stephen Odezulu Eze (2009) Akama, Oral Interview.
5. Nwabara, S.N. (1977) Iboland: A Century of Contact with the British, (1860 – 1960), London, Hodder and Stoughton.
Traditional Institutions in Akama
Akama is blessed with many traditional institutions which add colour to her rich cultural arsenal. While some of these institutions could be said to be indigenous or have come from the roots, others were simply adopted, or came about through the process of cross-cultural interaction. In course of time, however, some of these traditional institutions began to lose their original form or got forgotten outright, while the adopted ones took over. Unfortunately, like a borrowed garment which can hardly fit its wearer, some of these adopted institutions have failed to satisfy the purpose for which they were intended. In some cases, they become simply an aberration. We shall hereunder examine some of the traditional institutions that existed in Akama before the coming of the White man.
1. Izu Akama
Ever before the White man came, Akama people had been meeting together as a group to take decisions on various issues affecting the community. Known as “Izu Akama”, this comprised of all grown up men in the community. The forum not only regulated the political, socio-cultural and economic lives of the people, but also determined whether, for instance, Akama should go to war or not with any of her enemies.
Since the people had no crowned leader or chief at that time, the forum was usually moderated or presided over by the elders, some tittled men, as well as some war heroes. Within the forum itself, there was no institutionalised opposition as we know it today in the Western sense of democracy. In other words, every adult male was a member of Izu Akama. He was free to argue his point within the forum and later to abide by whatever the majority has decided. Decisions reached at the forum were then passed down to the entire community to be adhered to or implemented. It was perhaps at this Izu Akama forum that the vital decision to invite the White man to Akama, for the first time was taken. This followed the killing of an Akama man, Ndubuisi Ogbuchi, by the people of Nsude. Thus, whenever the ekwe or ikoro, (wooden gong), or ogene (metal gong), was sounded, all members of Izu Akama knew that he was being summoned for some crucial issues that required urgent attention and would therefore converge at the meeting venue.
A concerned individual could also convene the forum if he considered it necessary. For instance, when Ozo Okelue Malo from Imama Akama, wanted to be appointed Warrant Chief of Akama by the British colonial administrators, he called the meeting and asked the members to lead him to Eke where he would be so appointed.
2. Izu Umu-Nwanyi Akama
While there was perhaps no “Izu Umu-Nwanyi Akama” in the sense of a general assembly of the entire Akama women, where they usually met to deliberate on issues affecting the community, Akama women always had a way of mobilizing themselves whenever there were issues that concerned them or the entire community. For instance, the women were as much involved with their male counterpart in the various inter-communal wars involving the community, by playing supportive roles, both by serving as “arms carriers” and ensuring that no woman entered her kitchen to cook until their husbands and sons returned from the war front.
Similarly, the women had a way of expressing their displeasure over any issues that were contrary to their interest by mobilizing themselves to deposit their brooms at the residence of any of their traducers, which was a way of invoking a curse on such a fellow.
It was also the women who usually stimulated economic activities in the community. Perhaps, none of the local markets, Eke-ugbo inclusive, would have been functional, if the women were not there with their products.
The Uye-di (women married in the same kindred), kept their husbands on their toes by ensuring that none of their husbands misbehaved or maltreated any of their members. They could all return to their individual fathers’ homes to drive home their point.
The “Uye-di” forum also ensured regular maintenance of environmental cleanliness through regular sweeping of compounds, village squares and lanes, every seven native weeks (Izu na-asaa). They made sure that defaulters were fined accordingly as a deterrent. Of recent, the scope of the Uye di forum has expanded to include all married women in Akama, and they hold regular meetings in groups according to their approximate ages.
There was also the powerful “Umu-ada” (Daughters from the same kindred), who maintained their strong presence at their place of birth, by ensuring that everybody kept to the rule. As is generally believed, the fear of the Umu-ada is the beginning of wisdom as they could strip any recalcitrant individual naked, be he a man or married woman. All these reveal the vital roles played by Akama women to keep the community afloat before the coming of the White man and even after.
3. The Prestigious Ozo Title
The Ozo title is perhaps, the most prestigious traditional institution in Igboland. It is taken by men of honour and substance. Ozo is taken by men whose wealth is counted not necessarily in naira and kobo, but by their material possessions – the size of their family, the number of wives they married, the stock of yams in their barns, and the number of livestock in their household, etc. In conferring the Ozo title on the prospective recipient, wealth alone does not count. The fellow must also be a respectable personality. A known criminal or a conman, an equivalent of today’s “419ner”, for example, is hardly considered for the honour.
The Ozo title originated from Nri in the present Anambra State. Legend had it that the title was established by one Eze Nri, Nri-Ifikwuanim (1043 – 1158 AD), who gave the title to other Igbo communities through his agents – (Adana, or Eze-Nshi) (dwarfs), and told the people to do like Nri men. Nri-Ifikwuanim told his people to take the title and observe its taboos. He further asked Nri men to give “ofo” (staff) – the symbol of truth, and “alio” (spear) - the symbol of authority, to Igbo chiefs.1
The person who brought Ozo title to Oghe, and Akama in particular, was one Ezeakulu who hailed from Amogbu, Isiokwe. According to the story, Ezeakulu had lost his parents early in life, and with nobody to protect him from being sold to slavery, which was rampart at the time, decided to seek the help of an adana, (a dwarf). The adana advised him to take the Ozo title, which would prevent him from being kidnapped or sold to slavery. Ezeakulu wasted no time in heeding the advice.
Fearing that his nephew, Ezenevo, who hailed from Umuagbonwu, Imama Akama, might face the same danger of being sold to slavery, Ezeakulu also got him initiated into the Ozo title.2 Thus, while Ezeakulu was the first person to take the Ozo title in Akama and Oghe in general, Ezenevo was the second. The peculiarity of the “Eze” (King) title attached to their names – “Eze”(akulu) and “Eze”(nevo) – showed that both were men of substance and no paupers.
Who Qualifies to take the Ozo Title?
Wealth acquired honestly, and the spirit of generosity on the part of an aspirant, are basic, since the Ozo title is not meant for the poor. Otherwise, there are no special qualifications or stringent rules for taking the title. However, unlike the current practice where chieftaincy titles are conferred on known rogues and criminals, an aspirant to the Ozo title must not have killed an Ozo man or any member of his lineage. Similarly, an unmarried man would not be allowed to take the title. If such a person so desired, he must first get married – a mark of responsibility. In the same vein, no aspirant would take the title if his father was still alive and not taken the title. If he was so keen on taking the title, he must first initiate his father. Of course, a poor man who could not foot the expensive bill for the title had definitely denied himself of the opportunity.
How to Take the Title
The first thing an aspirant did would be to furrow his face. That is, he would undergo the ordeal of having his face marked by elaborate parallel marks made with a knife (Igbu Ichi). These days, people are no longer compelled to undergo this process.
After the Igbu Ichi ceremony, the next thing that followed was Ido Chi. The aspirant would be made to erect a personal place of worship. A particular spot within the family would be marked out for the pouring of libations (Iku-ma). A small ceremony is performed at this stage. The nearest relative who had already taken the title was summoned to perform the ritual. The person would be presented with a cock, nine moulded salts and a pot of palm wine. Furthermore, the aspirant’s daughter or any other person acting on her behalf would buy a small earthen pot which would be buried on the ground for the purpose. Merriments are made. Young boys would be asked to enter the bush to fetch ‘oka-a’ stems. They would be welcomed back with two moulded salts and two ona (cowries), equivalent of two farthings.
Next was Ikpu Alio. The aspirant would invite all the Ozo title holders in the vicinity to a feast. He would present to them a goat, three bowls of pounded yam, four big pots of palm wine and £2.00 (Two pounds). On their part, the Ozo title holders would present to him an “Alio” – a spear-like moulded metal that is usually stuck on the ground with the barbed end facing upwards, and also build for him an Nkpo – a small house where the aspirant would be performing all his ritual ceremonies. The Nkpo is provided with a cooking tripod stand where the Ozo’s wife would prepare all his meals when he fully took the title.
At this stage, he has taken the Alio title, a prelude to the Ozo title (Alio-Ozo). Some people might even stop at this stage if they considered the remaining stages too expensive, or if the diviners had told him not to continue due to one problem or the other.
After the Ikpu Alio ceremony, came the Ifa-ji-Oku ceremony. Here, the aspirant would throw another big party to relatives of all the Ozo title holders in the area, presenting them a big goat, a cock, a hen, two jars of palm wine and six small earthen bowls (oku). The guests would, in turn, bring along with them eight tree stems – four Ogilisi and four Ogbu. They would plant these stems in a semi-circle form in front of the newly built Nkpo. The six bowls would be buried up to their necks in front of the semi-circular stems. The goat, the cock, and the hen, would be slaughtered, and libation poured at the spot. From then on, it becomes an altar for slaughtering animals and pouring libations.
At the end of this stage, he will begin to wear the Ozo crown. He will send an Akpulu to Amogbu family of Isiokwe, as homage to Ezeakulu, the first Ozo titled man in Akama. He will invite all the Ozo title holders in Akama and his other well-wishers to a heavy feast. His predecessors will crown him and put the Ozo thread around his ankles. He will choose nine different names by which he will be called. These were his Ozo title names. His well-wishers and friends will present him with gifts. We notice the involvement of a man’s kinsmen and women in his ozo installation.
The Ozo’s wives will also be crowned as his Nono. They will put thread around their ankles. From then on, the new Ozo will be forbidden from eating and sleeping outside his Nkpo – a closet that consists of a kitchen, his bedroom and an Ekwe, - a wooden gong that is sounded each time he starts to eat and which will not end until he finishes eating.
The Ozo always dresses gorgeously with his flowing gown and beads while attending public functions. He also carries along with him, his Alio, an instrument of authority. When he is offered wine to drink, it must be two cups at a stretch, and all the people around will be clapping until he finishes the drink. Formerly, an Ozo was not permitted to wear trousers or knickers, and he would not eat any cassava product – garri, akpu and abacha.
When an Ozo Dies
The death of an Ozo is always a burden to his umunna (family kindred). Ozo is not buried on ordinary day like the rest of other mortals. He is buried either on Olie or Nkwo day. In those days when there were no mortuaries, if an Ozo died, say on an Nkwo day, his burial would be put off for two days, that is, till the next Olie day. Before then, his umunna would bring a goat, a cock, and nine long pots of palm wine (Udu-Maya) for rituals. The animals were slaughtered and shared among the ritual performers and the umunna.
Ozo does not lie straight in a coffin like an ordinary person. His coffin is constructed like a back-chair, and his corpse made to sit on it. His neck will be thrown aback to give support to the onuda stem that would be stuck to his mouth up to the surface of the ground. This onuda stem will be made to pass through the hollows of the extracted nine long-necked pots (udu), which would surface on the ground after the grave had been covered. The daughter of the dead Ozo will be assigned the task of pouring hot water through the hole of the extracted pots three times every day – morning, afternoon and evening – for three native weeks (Izu N’ito) – twelve days. This will sterilize the corpse and prevent it from rotting and smelling.
At the end of the three native weeks, a ceremony known as Iti-chi Egbegbe Onu, (closing the mouth of the grave), will be performed. On this occasion, the sons of the late Ozo will be required to produce pots of wine, while the daughters will provide Ighu, a granular bitter food resembling tapioca. These will be shared to sympathisers and well-wishers.
The relatives of the late Ozo would consult a diviner as to who among his sons should be offering sacrifices to him. It is the son so divined that will remove the onuda stem stuck to the Ozo’s mouth. He will pour one pot of palm wine through the hole where the onuda stem was removed until it foams out. Sometimes the whole pot of wine was exhausted before it foamed out. The remnant, if any, is shared among the male folks. The son will then use a king-size bowl, nnukwu oku, to cover the mouth of the grave – hence iti-chi egbegbe onu. Any further sacrifice to the dead Ozo, would be performed by the chosen son at the same spot where the grave was covered. The burial of an Ozo’s wife – Nono similarly follows this elaborate ceremony.3
Importance of Ozo Institution
Before the arrival of the White man, Ozo was an important institution in Akama, and Oghe in general. It gave honour and prestige to the holders, and opened many important doors and gates to them. They enjoyed special privileges and recognition more than ordinary men in society. As such, ambitious young men aspired to join the society.
As men of honour and integrity, Ozo title holders held the conscience of the people. For instance, an Ozo must not steal. If he did, he would be immediately de-robed. He must also not take part in criminal activities or tell lies. If he did, he would be sounding his death knell. His staff (ofo) was a symbol of truth, and anybody who swore falsely by it, was doomed for life.
On account of their wealth and influence, they always participated in important traditional functions and ceremonies, including village politics and administration. Their status had conferred on them the role of plenipotentiaries or worthy ambassadors of their people. They were thus the natural leaders of the people long before the imposition of the chieftaincy institution. No wonder, all the people who represented Oghe communities and travelled to Adaba to invite the White man during Akama’s border war with Nsude were Ozo titled men.
Unfortunately, this noble institution is gradually dying out, even when it has been substantially modernised. In its place is the indiscriminate conferment of chieftaincy titles on individuals whose characters are less than honourable.
4. The Ekwu Title
This was the female equivalent of the Ozo title that was conferred on women of substance in society. Ekwu was equally as expensive as the Ozo title. As such, only women who could afford to foot the bill were conferred with the title. Unlike in the case of the Ozo whose wives automatically became his Nono immediately he took the title, the husband of the woman who took the Ekwu title never enjoyed such privilege. In other words, one could remain an Ofheke (ordinary folk), and be married to a woman who took the Ekwu title.
Though the history and origin of the Ekwu title was not clearly explained by the chroniclers, it was however understood that the processes for taking the title were virtually the same as that of the Ozo title, except that women did not directly offer sacrifices or pour libations to shrines or ancestors. This was done through an intermediary.
The Ekwu title automatically conferred on the holders the leadership of other women in society. Women who took the title were always gorgeously dressed and went about with short-blunt knives (Nma Ekwu), as a mark of power and authority.4
The Ekwu title has since gone into extinction in our community, particularly with the passage of virtually all the women who took the title.
5. The Age Grade System
The Age Grade system was an important political organ in traditional Igbo society. Young men of fairly the same age usually came together as members of the same age grade for purposes of group identity and for carrying out orders as decreed by the political leadership, usually the elders. Specifically, while the elders and other titled men made laws for village administration, members of the age grades carried out their orders. Similarly, it was the duty of the younger age grades to guard and defend the community against enemy invasion, carry out communal works, and guard against the misbehaviour of any member of the community.
In Akama, the importance of the age grade system was recognized since time immemorial. Members of these age grades performed various security functions, which were rotated in turns among them. They defended the community against enemy invasion and carried out other communal works such as road construction and rehabilitation, market development, etc.
In the past, age grades in Akama chose their names according to events and circumstances that happened at the time they were formed. For instance, “Ogba Olanagu” meant that members of the age grade were sleeping at the farm, probably as a result of an inter-communal conflict going on then, while “Ogba Owanagha” might have been formed during a period of war. In the same vein, Ikpa was the most popular dance when Ogba Ikpa was formed, in the same way as Oyogho dance was in vogue when Ogba Oyogho was formed.
Ogba Igwekanma was first called “Ogba Ojugo”, a popular slang in the community in the early 1950s when the age grade was formed, just as Ogba Ironsi was first called “Ogba Pipe”, as the age grade was formed in 1965/66 during the laying of pipes for the Akama Water Scheme. Similarly, Ogba Malo was first called “Ogba Attack,” due to the “Attack Market” (across war zone market), going on during the Nigerian civil war when the age grade was formed.
Here now is the list of some age grades in Akama according to their order of seniority, from around 1868 to date5
1868 – 1873
1873 – 1878
1878 – 1882
1882 – 1887
1887 – 1891
1891 – 1896
1896 – 1900
1900 – 1905
1905 – 1909
1909 – 1914
1914 – 1918
1918 – 1923
1923 – 1927
1927 – 1932
1932 – 1936
1936 – 1941
1941 – 1945
1945 – 1950
1950 – 1954
1954 – 1958
1958 – 1962
1962 – 1966
1966 – 1970
1970 – 1974
1974 – 1975
4. Chieftaincy or Traditional Rulership Institution
Like most communities in Igboland, there was no single political authority or institution in Akama that presided over the affairs of the entire community, before the coming of the White man. Each family kindred (umunna) was ruled by a council of elders, which often came together to deliberate on issues affecting the entire community.
Either due to lack of qualified personnel or unwillingness to spend in a colonial territory, the erstwhile British colonial administration decided to fish out some of their local allies, whom they crowned as “Warrant Chiefs”, imposed them on the people and charged them with the task of running the day-to-day affairs of their respective communities, while they (the British colonial administrators) kept a watchful eye. This was known as the Indirect Rule system. As a strange institution, many of these “Warrant Chiefs” greatly abused their positions, which led to altercations between them and the people they were supposed to govern. The crises generated by the Indirect Rule system throughout Igboland, led to its abolition thereafter.
In the same way as the “Warrant Chief” system or the chieftaincy institution in Igboland generally, was an accident of history, so also was the “traditional rulership” or chieftaincy institution in Akama, an accident of history, and which could be viewed alongside the role Karl Marx and Frederick Engels said “accidents” play in world history. According to Marx and Engels, “accidents naturally form part of the general course of development and are compensated by other accidents. But acceleration and delay are very much dependent upon such accidents, including the accident of the character of the people who first head the movement”.6
Viewed along that prescription, the first person to play the role of Traditional Ruler or “Chief” of Akama was Ozo Obodo Nwanechi. He hailed from Umuaneke, Isiokwe. Ozo Obodo was probably a slave merchant who had visited Arochukwu, a slave market, where white men came to buy slaves for shipment overseas. He probably had seen the role which “chiefs” usually played for their communities and decided to play the same role when he came back to Akama, even though he was not officially accorded such recognition by the colonial authorities.7
Perhaps, it was on account of the experience he got from Arochukwu that made Ozo Obodo to impress it upon the people of Akama, of the need to invite the White man to the community to help quell the crisis with Nsude following the killing of one Ndubuisi Ogbuchi. Having accepted that suggestion, Ozo Obodo was the obvious choice by the people of Akama, along with other representatives from other communities of Oghe, to lead a delegation to Adaba to bring the White man to the community. But when, however, the colonial authorities decided to formally appoint a Warrant Chief for Akama community, Ozo Obodo was no longer in the picture. Probably, he was no more around or was not aware of that move.
The person, who actually warmed up for the position of Warrant Chief of Akama, was Ozo Okelue Malo from Umuagbonwu, Imama Akama. Ozo Okelue had a son in-law, named James Nwaomenjo, an Onitsha born Interpreter to the Assistant District Officer (ADO) at Udi, who had hinted to him of the plan by the White man to appoint a Warrant Chief for Akama. He assured Okelue of his readiness to assist him clinch the position if he (Okelue) would muster the necessary support of his community members.
Based on that privileged information and assurance, Okelue invited elders from all the segments of Akama to accompany him to Eke for presentation to the Whiteman. On the appointed day, the people came to Eke with various gifts and Okelue as their choice for Warrant Chief. The British District Officer (DO), however, thought differently. From the crowd he beckoned on Ozo Eluke Chibuoke from Umuenyi, Isiokwe, to step forward. The DO asked the gathering if he had any message for them and the message was passed through Ozo Eluke, whether the man would deliver it. They all answered in the affirmative. Pronto. He pronounced Ozo Eluke as their Warrant Chief!
The District Officer allegedly told the people that his decision to make Ozo Eluke their Warrant Chief was informed by the fact that the man looked more matured and more responsible than Ozo Okelue, whom he considered to be too youthful to handle the job. Actually, Ozo Eluke was said to be heavily built and looked every inch a man of substance and authority. Ozo Eluke thus became the first Warrant Chief of Akama.8
Beyond this stated reason by the District Officer as to why he preferred Ozo Eluke to Ozo Okelue as Warrant Chief of Akama, one could however pierce through the crystal ball to see the hand of Onyeama N’Eke in the whole drama. As is generally known, Onyeama had a lot of influence on the European political officers at that time, and so might have considered the grave implications of making Okelue, whose son-in-law, James Nwaomenjo, was the ADO’s Interpreter, a Warrant Chief. Naturally, he would prefer an entirely neutral person who would not rub shoulders with him. He had just managed to silence his arch rival, Ozo Nechi Okachi of Oyofo Oghe, and so could not afford to have another rival too soon, particularly at his backyard. It is therefore possible that Onyeama might have advised the DO to look for another person as Warrant Chief for Akama, citing Okelue’s youthfulness as an excuse. With hindsight, the choice of Ozo Eluke perfectly suited Onyeama as the old man never gave him any headache, while his son, Umeha, who later took over from him, became one of Onyeama’s trusted allies.
Ozo Eluke died around 1929. By then the colonial government was thinking of phasing out the Warrant Chief System following the Aba Women’s Riot of that year, and thus did not consider it necessary to appoint any successor to Ozo Eluke. That notwithstanding, Umeha, who had been a principal character in his father’s cabinet, decided to step into his shoes. This was resented by the two other sections of Akama – Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani, who were said not to be too comfortable with Umeha’s alleged high-handedness. They therefore decided to choose their own leaders, who if not for any other reason, would ensure that they received their due share of commission from tax collections. (Recall that it was this issue of “commission” that precipitated the Ogu Nti-gbu-yigbu Anya crisis). Thus, while Umeha was “parading” himself as the “Chief” of Akama, Imama Akama rallied behind Ejiofor Odenigbo as their leader, while Enugu N’Agbani had Ozo Odawa Ugwuozo as their own leader.
The leader of Imama Akama, Ejiofor Odenigbo, was said to be a man of action, an economics man. He was therefore not so comfortable with the rigmarole involved in politics. He was worried by the fact that while he was busy collecting taxes for the White man and waiting for the attendant commission, his crops were suffering in his farm. He then requested his kinsman, Clement Emehel, who then was a teacher, to assist him do the job, while he would have time to attend to his crops.
As an educated man, Clement Emehel gradually began to overshadow the other leaders from Isiokwe and Enugu N’Agbani, Umeha inclusive. With time, he transformed into “Chief Clement Emehel”, assumed leadership of the entire Akama Oghe Community, and from there became chairman of Oghe Customary Court and later chairman, Ezeagu County Council. This arrangement held till the death of Chief Emehel in 1963 and Akama lived without a “Chief” or traditional ruler8, even though at a stage, Mr. Francis Ndubisi from the same Umuochie, Imama Akama, started to act as regent.
Following the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war, Akama fell to the federal forces. As a result, most people fled to the farm (Agu Akama) and to other places considered safe. As the war raged, some people began to sneak in and out from the farm, to check their valued properties at home. It was during one of those “sneaking-ins and sneaking-outs” that some Nigerian soldiers met Mr. Pius Aboefi from Umuaneke, Isiokwe. They offered him a hand of fellowship, but Mr. Aboefi was not ready to accept the gesture. He did not want to be identified as a “saboteur” or collaborator with the “enemy”. He therefore referred the soldiers to his uncle, Mr. Menuihu Anidi, (alias Menuihu Igbo-Eyi-Oghe), who all along had stayed put at home and did not run to the farm.
Unfortunately, Menuihu could neither speak nor understand English or Hausa languages, which were then the only means of communicating with the soldiers. He was therefore compelled to send for his brother-in-law, Matthias Okechukwu Malo, who was still at the farm. The soldiers were very pleased when they saw that Mathias Malo could speak Hausa language fluently. Thereupon, they crowned him the “Seriki” or “Chief of Akama”. That was in 1968. With his new role, Matthias Malo began to liaise between the people of Akama and the Nigerian soldiers, and the people appreciated his role, for he had thereby helped to save many lives. When the war ended, he continued to act as the “Chief of Akama”.
In 1976, when the military administration of the former Anambra State led by the then Colonel John Atom Kpera, issued directives to every community in the state to select a traditional ruler for recognition by the government, the obvious choice for Akama was Matthias Okechukwu Malo. He was officially issued with a certificate of recognition in 1977, as “Dimeze I of Akama”.9 Chief Malo hailed from Umuezeagu, Enugu N’Agbani.
Proceeding from this discussion, one could see the role which accident played in the selection of traditional rulers of Akama. Was it not an accident of history that made the British District Officer to prefer Ozo Eluke Chibuoke from Umuenyi, the first quarter or village of Akama, as the first Warrant Chief of Akama, instead of Ozo Okelue Malo from Umuagbonwu, who was originally presented to him for the job?
Was it also not an accident of history that made Ejiofor Odenigbo who was then leader of Imama Akama to abdicate his position and hand it over to Clement Emehel, who being an educated man was able to displace all the other sectional leaders to assume the overall leader (Chief) of the entire Akama community? Chief Emehel hailed from Umuochie, the second quarter of Akama. In the same vein, it was by a mere accident of history that made both Mr. Pius Aboefi and Mr. Menuihu Anidi, who hailed from Umuaneke, Isiokwe, to either be unwilling or unfit to work with the Nigerian soldiers, who later conferred on Mathias Malo, from Umuezeagu, the third quarter of Akama, the “Seriki” (Chief) of Akama. As Marx and Engels rightly put it, “...world history worked unconsciously but of necessity towards a certain goal set in advance...”10
Aside of this, it might well be the unseen hand of God or the Spirit of the land in action that designed these events. Similarly, some people might well argue that events before they actually happen have already been worked out in Heaven. Accordingly, it was not too difficult for Akama people to play along this ordained role, by fashioning their constitution to stipulate that the traditional rulership institution should rotate in the order of seniority among the six villages of the community.
Thus, conscious of the fact that Anobu N’Obum (Umuenyi and Amogbu) had taken their turn in the person of Ozo Eluke Chibuoke; Umuochie, in the person of Chief Clement Emehel; and Umuezeagu, in the person of Chief Matthias Malo; when the stool became vacant in 1979, following the death of Chief Malo, Aneke N’Igwagu (Umuaneke and Umuigwagu), was told to present a new candidate. The people chose Chief William Aniekwuilo Ozoeze. He was accorded government recognition in 1984 as “Dimeze II of Akama”. Igwe Ozoeze passed on in 1997, after about thirteen years on the throne. He was succeeded by Chief Kyrian Okoloagu Ugwuozor from Umuagbonwu, Imama Akama in 2005.
The above scenario could be graphically presented as follows:
Probable Year of Reign
Ozo Eluke Chibuoke
Chief Clement Emehel
Chief Mathias Malo
Igwe Wlliam Ozoeze
Igwe Kyrian Ugwuozor
2005 to date
Chieftaincy Institution in Akama: How far, so far?
It may be necessary, at this juncture, to briefly examine the chieftaincy or traditional rulership institution in general and see how far the system has fared in our community.
First, as have been seen above, the chieftaincy or traditional rulership of Akama was not an institution ordained by God, in the sense of its occupant being seen by the people as the divine symbol of their health and welfare, or as their mystical and religious leader. They see such an occupant as mere political leader. They know the chieftaincy institution to be an imposition, first by the colonial government, who used it to install their lackeys who would assist them collect taxes from the people, and later, by the Nigerian military autocracy, who used it as means of getting the support of the people and stabilizing their administration. Thus, unlike the Ozo institution, with its taboos and elaborate cultural and religious ceremonies that tied the recipient to his roots, the chieftaincy or the traditional rulership institution did not come from the people. In many communities, eligibility or qualification for the position is simply a matter of cash and carry or the survival of the fittest. The character, honour and integrity of the concerned individual, always take a back seat.
So far, Akama has been lucky not to have produced a ravening wolf in the name of traditional ruler, who would have torn the community to shreds. But then, it was the same chieftaincy institution that precipitated the Ogu Ntigbuyi-gbu-anya debacle, when the operators could not come to terms on how to share the crumbs that fell from the White man’s table (commission on tax). Under the old arrangement, the Ozo was never a parasite who fed fat on his people. He had his own resources which he usually put at the disposal of the society, contrary to the Warrant Chief or traditional ruler who was a mere tax collector or political agent of government.
The principle of rotation in the selection of traditional rulers in Akama though has the advantage of giving every section a sense of belonging. Nevertheless, it equally has the possibility of enthroning a mediocre in the name of traditional ruler. In this age of stiff competition, of survival of the fittest, the community could fare better if its leadership is selected on merit, rather than throwing up any character based on the sentiment of geography of birth.
Aside of these, traditional African political system is based on consensus of opinion. The idea of instituting two parallel political bodies to superintend the affairs of one community is strange to it. Thus, the imposition of the chieftaincy institution where there is already a town union executive elected by the people, has often brought about conflicts between these bodies in some communities. In some cases, many community members are divided in their loyality between these two parallel organizations. The matter is made worse by the non-clear demarcation of functions by the government between these two organs. Akama has had its fair share of this problem. And this has not augured well for the community.
5. The Traditional Medicine (Dibia)
All over Igboland, Oghe, Akama inclusive, is acknowledged as the home of traditional medicine, be it herbs, charms or divination. In times past, there was hardly any hamlet in the area which did not have a traditional medicine man. Every Oghe person could therefore be said to have traditional medicine running through his blood.
Traditional medicine made Oghe a Mecca of sort, as different people both from far and near came to the area, not only to tap from the great wisdom of the people, but also to have their various problems solved. The sick were equally brought in and they had their ailments cured. Sometimes, the medicine men would be invited outside their domain, to different places where their services were needed. This had made them among the most widely travelled set of people.
Traditional medicine is based on the expert knowledge of the dynamic forces of nature and the ability to harness and put them to the service of man. When God created the world and everything therein, animate and inanimate, such as animals, plants, trees, stones, etc., He assigned functions to each of them and gave man authority to harness them and use them to his maximum benefit. It is the ability to decipher the powers and functions of each of these creations that marked the Oghe man out from other people around him. He has studied the world around him and knows how to deploy it to his service. In specific terms, the Oghe man has mastered how the plants and trees in the forest, their roots, stems, leaves, various parts of animals, stones, etc., could be manipulated to achieve certain ends, both positive and negative.
Thus, he knows how to control the weather – to hold the sky to a standstill and prevent rain from falling, to send down the rain when required, to control the harmattan, and even send the lightening on an errand! He knows how to manufacture protective charms or how to “cook” people going to war and prevent bullets, machetes and arrows from harming or touching them. He knows how to see beyond the ordinary and to tell what the future holds in stock. He also knows how to send unseen forces or “missiles” to his enemies and bring them down on their knees.
Before the advent of Western medicine, the Oghe man had been treating all kinds of ailments and had been performing surgical operations. For instance, in those days of inter-communal conflicts, the Oghe man knew how to extract bullets from wounded persons through mere application of concoctions on the point of entry of the bullet, after which such an external body would find its way out within 48 hours!11 These were some of the great wisdoms which were bestowed on the people of Oghe by their Creator.
In general, traditional medicine could claim cure for various and diverse ailments such as cancers, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, cholera, venereal diseases, epilepsy, asthma, eczema, fever, anxiety, depression, benign prostatic hyperplasia, urinary tract infections, gout as well as healing of wounds and burns. The traditional medicine man does not see any misfortune or illness as a mere chance occurrence. He knows that there is a dynamic link between the physical and the spiritual, such that the spiritual sometimes had influence on the physical. Therefore, diagnosis is always reached through spiritual means or divination, and treatment prescribed, consisting of herbal remedy that had not only healing abilities, but also of symbolic and spiritual significance.
The traditional medicine man does not attribute the healing process to his ingenuity or prowess. He sees God at work and in everything he does. While he administers the herbs on the sick person, he knows that God is doing the healing. He therefore always prays to God and looks up to Him who alone can not only inflict sickness, but also provides a cure.
The traditional medicine man ss not only religious; he is also ethical. He always ensures that he keeps to the rules governing the practice of his trade. For example, he does not accept extra gratification beyond the prescription of his medicine. He also would not do anything against the earth goddess (Ani) or that which could boomerang on his family. Even if he was to be approached by a client to prepare poisonous concoctions or charms that could do harm to an enemy, he is duty bound to send out public warnings about such an impending danger.
The greatest setback to traditional medicine was not just the advent of Western medicine, but the secretive nature of its practitioners who had failed to pass on their knowledge to their successors. With their exit therefore, their great wisdom also perished with them.
R E F E R E N C E
1. The Nri Kingdom: Eze, Nri, Nri Ewelana II, Obidiegwu Onyeso in Igbonet,
2. Anyanechi Chidowem, (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
3. Odozi Obodo (1979) A Magazine of Akama Students and Graduates Association.
4. Stephen Odezulu Eze (2009) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
5. Igwegbu Age Grade Almanac (2008).
6. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
7. Ozo Nechi Okachi (1978), Oral Interview, Oyofo Oghe.
8. Ilo Onoduobia (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
10. Pius Aboefi (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
11. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
Traditional Festivals in Akama
1. As an agrarian community, the people of Akama spend most of their time at their farm (Agu Akama). From January to September of every year,
2. Ozo Nechi Okachi (1978) Oral Interview, Oyofo Oghe.
they are fully preoccupied in the farm work, tilling the soil and cultivating their crops under the scorching sun and the drenching rains. During this period, nobody has any time for relaxation. Their only interest is how far they have gone with their farming activities and nothing more.
However, from October till early January, when they are through with their farm work they begin to think about enjoyment and relaxation. It is during this period that many traditional festivals are celebrated. Among these festivals are Olio Umuozo, Ibono, Eke Onyekanma, Ugwu Omala, Aka-ani and Ifha-ji-oku. We shall now examine some of these festivals and how they are celebrated.
1. Olio Umuozo
As the name implies, Olio Umuozo was a princely festival. Probably the festival was started by children whose fathers had taken the prestigious Ozo title. In course of time, however, the entire community embraced it and began to celebrate it. Its origin dates beyond human memory.
Olio Umuozo is celebrated between the last week of September and the first week of October of every year, and this effectively marks the end of the farming season. The day is announced in advance to enable every farmer complete his or her farm work and return home. Formerly, Afagu was the venue of the celebration, before it came down to Ekeugbo. People come with different kinds of dance troupes.
During the festival, the people rejoice and give thanks to God for His guidance and protection throughout the farming season. While they feast themselves at their individual homes, later in the day, they converge at the public square with their best outings to exchange pleasantries and share their individual experiences during the farming season. Men come with kegs of palm wine, while women bring along with them some edible food items like Okpa or Fhulu-fhulu (cooked corn meal), groundnuts, etc. to share with friends and well-wishers.1
2. The Ibono and Monwu Festivals
The Ibono festival is no doubt the most glamorous and most elaborate of all the traditional festivals celebrated in Akama. Its main feature is the appearance of masquerades (Monwu), which points to the symbiotic relationship between the living and the dead. The festival is celebrated in October of every year. Before delving into the discussion of the festival, we would like to make a distinction between traditional masquerades (Monwu Ibono), and the Christianized masquerades - ‘Monwu Christmas’ or Monwu Obiagu, (Emeka, 1993).2
Monwu Christmas or Monwu Obiagu are those masquerades performed by some Christian converts. Though, not willing to openly challenge the traditional beliefs and practices associated with the Monwu system, these converts and their wards while still engaging in masquerade celebration,would nevertheless, not indulge in any type of rituals considered to be against their religion. These masquerades were only for entertainment purposes. “They wore no protective or offensive charms and amulets. Their province was drama, song and dance”.3 Among these masquerades are “Ulaga”, “Oji-onu”, “Okwonma”, Akwune-eche-enyi, etc.
This type of masquerades are usually seen along Obiagu Road, Coal Camp, Abakpa, and along other major roads in Enugu metropolis during Christmas, New Year and Easter festivals, and hence, the sobquerient – Monwu Obiagu. Monwu Obiagu solicits and accepts money for “pure water” even from women! Some of these masquerades used to feature in Akama during Christmas and Easter celebrations before they were banned.
Unlike Monwu Obiagu or Monwu Christmans, traditional masquerades (Monwu Ibono), are believed to be the true re-incarnation of the dead. They are said to originate from anthills, from holes, or from somewhere in the bush. On the eve of the traditional Ibono festival, for instance, various noises coming from different directions are heard, particularly during the night. That is the time the spirits of all the dead people in Akama are said to return to earth, to make their temporary abode with men. Only the initiated are allowed to witness this mystical transformation.
Monwu Ibono appear around October of every year, when various masquerades of all description will be on display at the Afagu Town Square. It is only a men’s affair, and particularly the initiated, while women will be peeping from far distances. The festival itself is preceded by whip-wielding masquerades – Aguani Ojii, Ochiliopu Nwankita, Uvu, Utobo, etc. They patrol the length and breadth of the community, chasing any one that crosses their path. This lasts for between 12 to 16 days, or as may be determined by the community. During this period, all activities in the community are virtually at standstill, since nobody would like to go into confrontation with the spirits.
Monwu, according to traditional belief, signifies what it represents. Once a particular monwu is designated to represent certain dead person or ancestor, he is regarded as representing such individual. From time to time, the dead like to return to earth, to have communion with their descendants, to share in their joys and tribulations. They bring with them, good wishes from the spirit world, and carry back their requests to the land of the spirits. On their part, the living will approach the masked spirits, the spirit of their ancestors, friends or relations, with love and respect. They will offer them gifts, and solicit their assistance to intercede on their behalf, for good health, long life, as well as for material benefits.
Traditional Igbo society was never lacking in its rich culture and tradition. At every masquerade festival, each community would fall back on its cultural arsenal, to produce masquerades of various types, shapes and sizes. The masquerade festival is usually a delight to watch.
In Akama, the Okpoto Umungwaka Isiokwe, which had earlier announced the commencement of the Ibono season, will summon all adult men to Afagu square, to watch various kinds of masquerades on display. No woman or the uninitiated will be allowed to come close. It is only a man’s affair, where power and charms have combined to transform an otherwise passive object into an aggressive and terrifying being. The powerful medicine man that is at the heart of Igbo masquerading, casting spells and incantations, makes the masquerade dreadful, which no commoner dares come close to.
The masquerades vary in sizes, in appearance, and in outlook – attracting and repelling – some beautiful, others very ugly, some very powerful and aggressive, others lovely and effeminate. All these, combine to make the masquerades outstanding spectacles, which cannot be fully viewed standing in one place – Ada akwu ofu ebe ekili monwu.
Such masquerades like Ogbunma and Mgbadike, typify manliness, strength and valour. They are usually age grades’ masquerades. When the Oja man, the flutist, or a sonorous singer, in an attempt to arouse his potent force, begins to challenge him – that he is moving like an old woman, lacking power and strength – the masquerade will break loose from his tether, to display his fierceness and aggressiveness. He will jump into the bush, destroy plants and other crops. From there, he will scale through a fence, and then to the roof of the house. When this type of masquerade is on display, it will be foolhardy to ask anyone to take to his heels – ada agwa ochi nti na afhia esu – (nobody tells the deaf that the market is on fire).
Ogbunma or Mgbadike is a war masquerade. It is used to avenge any misdeeds on the community by an enemy or rival communities. It is also used in funeral ceremonies of notable war heroes. Only men who are men are admitted into this group, and not women in men’s clothing.
The purely effeminate masquerades, like Ada nma, do not exhibit much physical prowess, but are noted for their good looks, attractive features and beautiful dances. Even though women are not supposed to know the secrets of the masquerade, when they die, however, there is practically no difference between them and their male counterparts. Death has made them the same, since a dead woman not only knows Monwu’s secrets; she can also appear in a masquerade.
In times past, there was no festival that attracted as large gathering in Igbo culture as the masquerade festival. People from far and near, the young and the old, even women and children, in spite of restrictions imposed on them, all clamoured to take part in the festival. Neighbouring towns also came with their own masquerades as a mark of solidarity.
Philosophical Foundation of the Masquerade
It is not easy to fathom the mystery of the masquerade, its awesomeness and its mystical nature. Suffice it to say, however, that the reality of Monwu is rooted in the Igbo traditional world-view of a symbiotic relationship between the living and the dead. In a society where the living and the dead freely mingle with each other in the interpenetration of forces, it is natural that Monwu should exist to symbolize that relationship.
The Igbo cosmology does not view death as “finished”, or as the end of human existence. Rather, it views the dead as existing in the other world, though, in a diminished condition of life, as lessened “life forces” (Tempels, 1959)4, but nevertheless, retaining their higher strengthening fathering life force. Being now closer to God, they must have gained greater knowledge of the forces of life and nature, while their lessening of life force must be less extensive than we might at first believe. As spiritual forces, they are in communication with their descendants, who now see them as existing body and soul in the other world. “Our philosophy knows the problem of immortality and deathlessness and has recognized and solved it long ago”5, writes Alexis Kagame.
The living person has the innate wish to exist forever, but since death is inevitable, he prolongs his existence as a living person in his descendants. And as a dead man, he is concerned about his living descendants. To leave no living heirs behind him is the worst evil that can befall a man, and there is no curse more terrible to put on a man than to die childless, for he would have thereby lost the chance of those who would prolong his life on earth.
The departed is the “living-dead,” (Mbiti, 1969)6, whose personal immortality is expressed or externalized by the living through sacrifices, the pouring of libations and other rituals. They are symbols of communication, of fellowship and remembrance; the mystical ties that bind the “living-dead” to those on earth.
In the words of Leopold Sedar Senghor, former President of Senegal:
Sacrifice is above all, a way of entry into relations with the
ancestors, the dialogue of THEE and ME. Food is shared with him.
Its external force is to give him the sense of life. And this communion
extends to identification, in such a way that, by an inverse movement,
the force of the ancestor flows into the sacrifice and into the community
which he embodies. Sacrifice is the most typical illustration of the
interaction of the vital forces of the universe.7
Mbiti (1969)8 conceives of the dead or the departed as “bi-lingual”. They speak the language of men, with those they lived until recently; and they also speak the language of the spirits, and of God, to whom they are drawing nearer ontologically. From time to time, they return to their human families and share meals with them, however, symbolically. They know and have interest in what is going on in their family. They are the guardians of family affairs, traditions, ethics and activities. Offence in these matters is ultimately an offence against the forefathers, who, in that capacity, act as the invisible police of the families and the community.
Because the dead are still people, they have not passed the stage of forgottenness – they are the best intermediaries between men and God. They know the needs of men, because they have recently been here with men. At the same time, they have full access to the channels of communicating with God directly or indirectly through their own forefathers. Even if the dead may not do miracles or extraordinary things to remedy the needs, men experience a sense of psychological relief when they pour out their hearts’ troubles before their seniors, those who have foot in both worlds.9
Generally speaking, it is only those who have offspring and who become old before their departure that would be regarded as ancestors. But there are those, who, although they are not strictly qualified for admission into this category of ancestorship, who may be admitted into the spirit world of the deceased because they are good and their days on earth are done even though they may be young and childless. Belief in the continued existence and influence of the dead in the affairs of men is symbolized in monwu, odo, omabe, okonko, or whatever the various Igbo groups may choose to call it. It is a manifestation of the fact that those who have passed into the spirit world of departed members of the community are still part of the physical universe and its social structure.10
The reality of the masquerade is therefore anchored on the belief in the physical transformation of the dead or the ritual activation of the spirit to assume a corporeal substance. Just as the Catholics believe the Bread and Wine, after the period of Consecration in the Holy Mass to be the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, so also the mask dancer who assumes the spirit of a certain departed person. He undergoes a form of spiritual transubstantiation to become a spirit. Since the dead represents the spirit of a certain dead person, he becomes transformed into that very person he represents. He is endowed with the charm, the charisma and the awe associated with the dead, the mighty and the powerful. He has been transformed into an inscrutable mystery to which both the initiated and the uninitiated dare not stand on his way, nor raise a voice of challenge.
Monwu or the masquerade is therefore the externalization of that intimate relationship between the living and the dead, where the living conceives of the dead as existing body and soul in the other world and constantly interacting with the living, albeit, in a masked form. Thus, masking can generally be referred to as a form of entry by the living into the spirit world, and of a return to earth in a masked form of the spirit of the dead. It is a union between the living and the dead.
Not even the mask-carver, once he is through with his work, and his clients pay for the mask, while it makes its formal outing in the village square, can come face-to-face with him. He has become a stranger to what his hands has created. A once passive object has been transformed into a kinetic force. Such is the aura and majesty of the masquerade that once he is out in the streets, no one dares stand on his way – “etie nwa eghu idagba, onye nwe eghu amaghazikwa eghu ya”. The masked dancer is said to be propelled by an invisible force that transforms him into a super-human.
Monwu and its Social Functions
The social functions of the masquerade or monwu in traditional Igbo society were its roles as agent of social control, entertainment and mobilization. In various Igbo societies, the masquerade played very important roles in ensuring healthy growth of society, by providing the people with entertainment for their relaxation as well as mobilizing them for communal work, both in peace and during the period of emergency. It also helped to maintain social discipline and cohesion.
Thus, the masquerade was a potent force for social control, as well as for maintaining and preserving the norms and values of society. Monwu is so sacred an institution to be made an all comers’ affair. Only those who have high value for people’s culture and tradition, and who can keep their mouths shut were admitted to the secrets. In this case, women and children were necessarily excluded. Initiation into Monwu cult was therefore the best form of instilling discipline in the child. He must never divulge its secrets under pain of death.
Monwu had legislative, judicial and executive powers. It set the norms and rules of society and ensured that they were strictly observed and followed, failing which, the offenders would be severely punished. Thus, when an over-zealous Christian convert refused to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”, by revealing the identity of the masquerade, it was the masquerades themselves that would exert appropriate punishment, such that the fellow would forever live to regret such an abomination, if he ever survived it.
In avenging criminal offences, in punishing anti-social behavour, in collecting communal levies, and in ensuring environmental cleanliness, Monwu had played significant roles. For instance, the Odozi Obodo Masquerade of Akama, used to go through community lanes and village squares to inspect areas that were not properly cleared or swept. Next, he would take his hoe and broom to clear and sweep the areas, and later asked to be paid for his labour in form of fines. No individual or group of individuals, whose compound, village square or lane was cleared or swept by Odozi Obodo, would ever wish for such favour in future, by allowing weeds to take contol of their compound!
Monwu helped in settling disputes. When two people were in dispute, Monwu would be invited to adjudicate. Whoever was pronounced guilty must pay the fines imposed or be ostracized or isolated. If individuals and government officials could be bribed to influence issues and decisions, it was not so for the masquerade, which was thought to represent the spirit of the dead ancestors, those who the people hold in high esteem. Whatever was their decision must be fair and just. The thought that the masked spirits could be influenced never arose.
Night masquerades would not hesitate to reveal the misdeeds of individual members of the community. An unfaithful house wife who would jump from bed to bed, would have her lustful escapades exposed, and warned of the unpleasant consequences should she persist in such an irresponsible behaviour. A lazy young man who is afraid to handle a hoe, like Unoka in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, would have a song composed in his name by the masquerades, and told to better change his sex and become a woman. Night masquerades were no respecter of persons and status – the rich and the poor, the young and the old, men and women – all would have their dirty secrets exposed. This was a way of instilling discipline and changing for good the lives of individual members of society.
The masquerade was at the centre of every human activity in traditional Igbo society. In Akama, for example, initiation into adulthood (Iwa Ogodu), must be celebrated with masquerades, who would go round the town with the neophyte as a way of introducing him to the community, that he had reached adulthood.
At death, it was the masquerade that would announce the demise. For instance, a young man who died at the prime of his life would not be considered strictly dead until he appeared in a masquerade before his burial. No woman would be allowed into the room where the corpse was lying, and his age mates, while invoking the spirit of the departed, would have him appear in masquerade.
He would come out looking very tired and weary, probably as a result of the long journey he had undertaken, or due to the fact that he was still having the effect of the illness that killed him. He would sympathize with his young wife, if he had any, or his aged mother and other relations, who would be crying out their hearts. He would try to move towards them and try to embrace them, but would be restrained by his age mates, who would be quick to remind him that he was no longer an ordinary human being. His aged mother or wife would present him with gifts to bid him farewell. While asking him to go home in peace, they would urge him to endeavour to fish out the person(s) who were responsible for his premature death, and avenge it accordingly, since untimely deaths were not common.
Later, members of his age grade would lead him round the village in a dirge, as a formal announcement of his transition. Since the people do not consider the death of any young man natural, having him appear in masquerade was a way of recommending him for acceptance in the spirit world, having been adjudged to have led a good life. It was also a way of bidding him farewell from the land of the living, and of cutting the umbilical cord between him and the living.
No deceased young man who did not appear in masquerade upon his death would ever appear in it in future. Such a fellow was an evil man who had led a wicked life. He would not be buried, but dumped in the evil forest for vultures to feasts upon. He is completely dead and must be forgotten.
Monwu in Contemporary Society
Notwithstanding the noble roles, which Monwu played in traditional Igbo society, it is however doubtful whether these roles could still be relevant in this day and age. The Monwu cult generally is undemocratic. It is segregational, repressive and autocratic. Monwu is only a man’s affair, and particularly for the initiated. Women are never allowed to take part in any of its activities. As rightly observed by E. E. Amaku (2003)11, African culture, and by extension, the Monwu cult, is “totalitarian in character”. It is uncritical, authoritative, dogmatic, and coercive. In the present technological age, it is doubtful whether such system could move any society forward.
Monwu has been seen as “an agent of social mobilization”. But that would be under a primitive society, which had no access to sophisticated and modern means of communication – the telephone, telex, radio and television, the newspaper, the e-mail, the internet and things like that. Even the Town Crier could mobilize more people than the masquerade, which disperses rather than brings people together. It is only during the Christmas, Easter and the Women August meetings that fund raising activities, for instance, are organized for community development. No such thing takes place during the Ibono festival, since the Monwu disperse rather than mobilize people.
During the Ibono festival, no social or economic activity is allowed to take place. Wedding ceremonies are postponed. Burial or funeral activities are put off. The Ekeugbo Market, from where many of the people eke out their living, is closed, because women are not allowed to watch the masquerade, even at a safe distance. Their children and wards would be forced to stay hungry, until after the festival. It is difficult to estimate in monetary terms, how much the people lose every year during this period when everything is at a standstill.
Of late, there were reports of altercations or quarrels between some Monwu groups and adherents of Christian religion, not only in Akama, but also from several communities in Ezeagu. This has greatly affected the relationship between the followers of Monwu cult and the Christian religious groups, and by implication, the overall development of various communities in the local government.
As reported elsewhere, “thirty-five followers of African traditional religions including ‘two masquerades, are being held in Enugu for attacking Christians and burning down their houses”.12 A total of nine houses were alleged to have been burnt down in the process. The report had it that the masquerade followers during the annual Ibono Iwollo festival attacked a Catholic priest for being outside at the time of the festival. The priest, Reverend Father Chukwuma Innocent Nnajike, explained that what actually triggered the confrontation was that “traditionalists prevented Christians from attending worship services on Sunday, saying that they were observing their religious festival and no Christian should be seen outside”.
This was not an isolated case. It had happened in Akama, though no houses were burnt, nobody was killed, and no masquerade was arrested. But it brought a strained relationship between the Christians and the Monwu followers. Similar reports had come from several communities in Ezeagu local government, including a report of how some group of masquerades had beaten up some women passengers travelling in commercial vehicles that passed through their area.
Sadly, the worst enemies of the masquerade are not necessarily the practising Christians, but those who have their one leg in Christianity and the other leg in traditional religion. Many of them bear Christian names, but hardly attend church services. And they would not also take part in traditional religious worships. They desecrate Christianity, but would not also keep the rules and practices of the traditional religion. They are thus in between two worlds. They are pushing the masquerade to a breaking-point so that people would start having faults with it in order to get it proscribed.
In times past, both the Christian worshippers and the traditional religionists, kept their separate turfs. None of them interfered in the affairs of the other. The masquerade neither harassed nor disturbed anybody going to Church or pupils going to school. Even a small boy could lead any woman pass through a masquerade, once the person gives him the necessary respect. It is no longer so now, when masquerades pursue women even right inside their kitchens. Even students who come from other communities to Akama to sit for their WAEC General Certificate for Education (GCE) examinations would be running from pillar to post, so as not to be beaten by masquerades. No doubt, that was what led to an agreement that no masquerade should appear in the community on Sundays before 12.00 noon. This was to enable Christians come back from their Church services.
Time was, when judgments passed by masquerades were sacrosanct and could hardly be faulted. Such verdicts were never challenged, because they were judgements based on objective truth, or as were revealed by the spirits. That was when Monwu performed judicial functions and thus instilled discipline in society. This is no longer so now that Monwu could be manipulated to achieve some selfish ends. They would harass and intimidate their target object until their aims were achieved.
A story was told of a certain widow who had consistently refused to surrender a piece of land to her husband’s brother. Her position was that the land in question was her only means of livelihood through which she could take care of the children left behind by her husband. However, when her dead husband “appeared” in a night masquerade and ordered that the land be forfeited to his brother, the woman readily acquiesced!
As an entertainment agent, the Ibono festival should be an opportunity to attract tourists, who could watch the various masquerades on stage, and thus attract revenue and development for the community. This, however, was never the case, as only the initiated are allowed to watch masquerades at the village square (Afagu). And they are few in number. For the moment, the Ibono festival has remained an occasion for merriments and alcoholic consumption!
For Monwu to really serve as an entertainment agent which, no doubt, is the only role now left to it, it should be democratized to enable it serve more people, and hence, earn for the people, the much-needed respect and revenue through tourism. In this regard, the masquerade should put off its toga as an instrument of vendetta, harassment, intimidation and manipulation. Monwu, as originally conceived, was meant for recreation, entertainment, amusement, and ultimately for an orderly society. It was never intended to be used to cause dislocation or disharmony in society.
Happily, some Catholic clergymen of Ezeagu extraction have begun to show the way masquerade festivals could be celebrated to make for progress and better understanding among all segments of society. Worried by frequent altercations and misunderstandings between some Christian faithful and Monwu followers in the local government, they began to organize their own masquerade festival right inside Ezeagu local government headquarters. The aim was to prove that Christianity is not against masquerade celebrations, nor is it anti-culture. It is also to prove that Monwu could be celebrated without necessarily using charms and amulets.
This excellent example must be supported. Akama people have a very rich culture which is in no way inferior to any other culture. This should be kept alive, and passed on to generations yet unborn. Besides, it would be foolhardy for anybody to think that he could make any progress or be comfortable in a culture that is not of his own. A borrowed culture is like a borrowed garment, which never fits its wearer. As rightly observed by Edward Blyden “... Every race has a soul, and the soul of the race finds expression in its institutions, and to kill these institutions is to kill the soul. No people can profit by or be helped under institutions which are not the outcome of their own character”.13
At this juncture, it may necessary to critically examine some aspects of the culture of the people to see which ones are still relevant and which should be modified or discarded altogether. This is necessary since culture is dynamic, and not static. Culture as the totality of man’s life in society, should serve man, and not destroy or suppress him. It should be used to advance the welfare of man in society. Culture should be seen as progressive and forward-looking, and not retrogressive. It should not draw the hands of the clock backwards.
Some people, who are currently opposed to or are against Ibono festival or the masquerade in particular, do not do so because they despise or hate their own culture. They are only worried by the fact that while people from other climes have mastered science and technology and use them to conquer nature and develop their areas, some of their own people were only content in using charms and masquerades to decimate or paralyze their fellow human beings! Similarly, they are not happy that Monwu or the masquerade is used by some people as an opportunity for personal vendetta, victimization and intimidation against their perceived enemies. That is why the Ibono festival currently has a poor image, and why some of the elites still see it as “fetish, satanic and devilish”.
But this negative image can be reversed. It is the responsibility of the elites to educate the people that if in the past, charms and amulets were found to be necessary ingredients in the celebration of Ibono or Monwu festivals, these may no longer be so now when science and technology are ruling the world. Africa was backwards not because their culture was inferior to that of Europe and America, but because these countries had mastered science and technology and use them effectively.
Ibono has neither a shrine nor is it worshipped anywhere. Therefore, there is nothing really wrong or sinful about the festival. Ibono is only a celebration of culture, and meant for entertainment. Ibono is the equivalent of the Brazilian Carnival, which attracts tourists from far and wide, and which helps to promote and advance their culture, and at the same time, yield revenue for the country through tourism.
Accordingly, while maintaining the sanctity and sacredness of the masquerade as spirit manifest, it is necessary to device means of getting a wider spectrum of the populace to participate in Ibono festival. Thus, Ibono festival should no longer be the exclusive concern of men or the initiates, since women also love to watch masquerades, though maintaining a very safe distance. Such masquerades like Odegelu, Ogaja, Oganigwe, Ntukpo, Ada nma, Igbo-fhunanya Okwelu, Ugo-achaa, Otiokpokpo, etc. are crowd pullers. Even masquerades like Obute, which speak in riddles, are equally enjoyed by all and sundry.
To that effect, special day(s) when everybody would be allowed to watch these masquerades perform on stage in our public arena should be mapped out. They could then be recorded on tape or disc for posterity, since many of these masquerades are fast going into extinction. This would not only help to keep alive the Ibono festival, but also boost tourism for the people. In this way, the Monwu and the Ibono festivals would have become relevant in the 21st century.
3. Eke Onyekanma
Eke Onyekanma was a celebration of excellence. It was designed to honour individual men and women who, during the course of the year, had achieved one feat or the other. It was also used to show appreciation to loved ones and close relations by way of presentation of gifts. The venue of the festival was usually the Afhagu Town Square. People from all walks of life would converge there, dressed in their best apparels for the festival. There would be feasting, exchange of banters and gifts.
Among those usually honoured were successful farmers – (Di-ji, Eze-Ji or Onye-tili-Igba-ji) – those whose stock of yams at their barn would count not less than ten lines of eighty poles each (Ili aka-oba). They would be ushered into the arena with dancing drums and accompanied with their friends and relations. Also honoured were those who had harvested extraordinary tubers of yams, as well as young men who, in one single day, had moulded the enviable 4,000 heaps of yam seedlings (Ili-ji). Successful hunters were also honoured. They would come with their guns and skulls of wild animals they had killed.
In a society that gave no room for loafers or the never-do-wells, it was natural that those who excelled in their chosen professions during the year should be accorded recognition or honoured at Eke Onyekanma. This was to encourage hard work and industry and to spur other people to attain similar heights.
Other activities that featured at Eke Onyekanma included wrestling competitions and race-running round the village square. Eke Onyekanma was also an occasion for the outing of new dances. Friends and relations would come with different gift items like cloths, umbrella, earthen pots and head pans for presentation to loved ones.
The festival further offered opportunity for some husbands to honour their mothers-in-law, and by extension, their wives. Accordingly, these men, accompanied by friends and relations, would carry gift items like big tubers of yam, cloths, fowls, etc., as presents for their mothers-in-law and with rendition of songs round the arena: – “Nde-e Ogom omu?, Ivu anyigbuo m,” (Where is my mother-in-law? I am carrying a heavy load). The proud mother-in-law would jump out from the crowd to acknowledge the gift, inviting friends and relations to come and witness the honour bestowed on her.
Eke Onyekanma was also an opportunity to scout for life partners, as young girls decorated with beautiful Uli all over their body and wearing Jigida beads round their waist, would be there on parade.14 What a pity that Eke Onyekanma has not been celebrated since after the Nigerian civil war that ended in 1970. And down the drain has gone one of our rich cultural heritages.
4. The Ugwu Omala Deity
In traditional Igbo society, religion occupied a centre-stage in man’s life. It played a major role in his economic, political and social life. Religion also regulated all of man’s personal life – marriage, procreation, child-upbringing, initiation into adulthood, burial; various occupations, such as farming, fishing and hunting. Man in traditional Igbo society recognized the various interplay of forces in existence and attuned his life to them to ensure harmonious relationship with God and nature.
Every family in Igboland had their personal Chi or shrine. Each kindred also had their own shrine. The same thing applied to the clan and the community at large. There was also the all-powerful Ani, the Earth Godess. These shrines were believed to be interceding on their behalf before the Supreme Deity in heaven. The head of the family or whoever the dibia had divined should carry out the exercise, would ensure that these shrines were constantly nourished through sacrifices and pouring of libations. In this way, the people were brought into close relationship with their Maker.
Akama had many shrines ranging from the personal ones at the individual homes, to the communal ones like Ani Dimeze Ijem and Otigbu N’Okpokpo, but none was as powerful and efficacious as Ugwu Omala. To them, Ugwu Omala represented the “guardian angel” of the community. People often came to it to intercede on their behalf for successful marriage, child-bearing, and bounty harvests, and also to ward off malevolent spirits who were the harbingers of sicknesses and various misfortunes. At birth of a baby, he or she would be presented to Ugwu Omala to plead for good health, protection and progress in life.
Ugwu Omala is worshipped on every Eke day, but the festival usually comes up between November and December. People come to thank it for successful return from the farm, and plead for future protection as they go back to the farm. They would worship the shrine with goats or fowls as the case may be, as well as with edible food, like Ighu and pounded yam with soup.
How Akama Inherited Ugwu Omala
Ugwu Omala was not originally owned by Akama. The Shrine was inherited from Owe, the first son of Oghe. Ugwu Omala was a victim of war. According to legends, there was a man named Aniamalu, a native of Owe, who as a boy was a bird-hunter. Aniamalu had fashioned a trap made up of sticky sweet juice (utu) with which he caught the birds. At the end of each day’s catch, Amalu, as he was later called, would kill the birds, sprinkle the blood on top of the stones, which he gathered around an anthill (ikwube), and put the bird’s feathers on them, in the same manner as priests of deities would do it. He would pray to the “Thing” to help him make more catches.
When Amalu grew up, he abandoned the bird-hunt, and also abandoned the “Thing” which was helping him to catch the birds. But the “Thing” would not leave him or his people. It began to harass them. There were sicknesses and deaths among the people. There were also poor crop yields in the farms as well as loss or death of domestic animals.
The people then decided to consult a dibia for divination. They were told that it was that “Thing” which Amalu “worshipped” but later abandoned that was harassing them. The “Thing” had become a Chi or Shrine, and must be worshipped. The people agreed and did as they were told, and the calamities ended. It was then called Ugwu Amalu, and in course of time, became known as Ugwu Omala. When Amalu died, he was buried near the shrine, and the people continued to worship it.
Later, there was a misunderstanding between Owe and Akama, which led to the death of an Akama person, who hailed from Umuonyialiagu family in Isiokwe. This greatly pained Akama and they could not bear the loss. They began to spoil for war, and asked for compensation or else they would descend on Owe and wipe the town away. In desperation, Owe deserted their ancestral home and took refuge at Iwollo and Achala Owa, bequeathing Ugwu Omala to Akama.15
Why Akama accepted the Shrine
Akama was compelled to accept Ugwu Omala as compensation for the loss of human life due to a number of reasons. First, by deserting his ancestral home and sojourning with his youngest sibling, Iwollo, Owe had forfeited his birthright to Akama, as first son of Oghe. This, no doubt, was not an easy feat. Second, shrines in those days, were not easy to come by. These were places of worship, and hence, of gaining entrance into God’s throne and obtaining His favours. Akama might have observed at close quarters, the efficacy and miraculous acts of Ugwu Omala and desired to own it. The killing of one of their own presented an excellent opportunity.
Since its inheritance, Ugwu Omala had wrought many wonders and miracles for the people of Akama. It is called “Ojelu Aro Nata Ugwo” – he who went to Aro to re-claim a debt. Actually, Ugwu Omala was said to have gone to Arochukwu and brought back one Enemma Nwa Omenife of Umu-Onodigwe, Imama Akama, who was sold to slavery.
According to Enemma himself, “something” which called itself “Ugwu Omala”, woke him up one night at Arochukwu, and told him to go home. Enemma did not know the way that could lead him home, but this benevolent ‘spirit’ promised to take him home. The following night the ‘thing’ came again and bade him to follow him. He walked all through the night but did not know where he was going.
The next day he reached Uzuakoli market. Being so hungry and with no money to buy food himself, he started begging for food. As he was begging, he met one man who asked him where he came from. The enquirer on learning that Enemma was a native of Oghe, who was sold to slavery and was looking for a way home, embraced him, gave him food to eat and later led him home. Enemma later went on a thanksgiving service to Ugwu Omala with a fowl.
In the same vein, Udegbueze Madubuko’s daughter, Nwadinamu, who everybody thought was lost in Fernando Po, Equatorial Guinea, was brought back by Ugwu Omala. Her parents had gone to Ugwu Omala to plead for her return. Three native weeks later, their prayers were answered, as the girl resurfaced from nowhere.
Again, Ume Agbulu from Amaogbu, who had pleaded for a male child, had his prayer answered when his wife gave birth to a baby boy. There were several other favours that were obtained from this all powerful shrine.
There was another case of a man from Imama Akama who got drowned in the River Benue while working as a labourer with the group constructing the Railway Bridge at Makurdi. The man was actually conscripted to work at an under see palace, he later said, but after three days, a ‘being’ that introduced itself as “Ugwu Omala” obtained his release and warned him to go back to the village and never to return to “olu oyibo” (Government worker). Almost immediately, he found himself at the river bed.
It was said that Ugwu Omala had never spared anyone who snubbed or treated it with contempt. For instance, Mr. Harrison, the European first manager of Oghe Cashew Industry, was told on several occasions to bring a cow for the shrine as a mark of respect, but the man ignored it. He went ahead to erect structures at the site of the cashew industry. For three consecutive times, and at the same period of time, the buildings which he was setting up were destroyed by hurricane. Ugwu Omala was said to have sent the hurricane. Mr. Harrison was still unmoved. Then, something happened.
One day, as Mr. Harrison was driving to the site of the Cashew Industry, and almost at the entrance of the Shrine, his car got spoilt. All efforts by different mechanics to fix the vehicle proved abortive. They could not trace any fault with the car. Instead of moving forward, the vehicle kept on rolling back. Mr. Harrison was forced to abandon the vehicle there, chartered another one and went back to Enugu where he bought two big cows. He slaughtered one for Ugwu Omala, while the other one was given to the entire Akama community. Miraculously, the vehicle came back to life!16
Earlier, a road under construction and designed to link Owa and Oghe, across the Ajali River, beside Ugwu Omala was suddenly cut into two by a big gully that ran as deep as 30 feet, and spanning about five kilometres. The reason was said to be because Ugwu Omala was not consulted before the project was started. The road, known as “Uzo Udo-akpuenyi”, has since been abandoned, even when a bridge had already been constructed across the Ajali River.
Ugwu Omala kills within three native weeks, any person who falsely swears by it. As a sign, it would send a vulture, to indicate that the fellow was its victim. When this happens, all the property of the deceased would be deposited at the premises of the shrine, and nobody dared to touch it.
Ugwu Omala is supreme among all the other deities in Akama, nay Oghe in general. The priests of these other deities must first seek the blessing of Ugwu Omala before embarking on their mission. They would come with a cock, nine tubers of yams in two places (Iteghna ji n’ibo), a pot of wine and a staff (ofho). The staff would be left with Ugwu Omala for three native weeks for cleansing and purification, at the end of which the priests would re-claim them for their priestly functions.
Also, Ugwu Omala is the first to have yam roasted for it before it is roasted for any other deity in the community. This is usually done at the 7th month, while the other deities take their turns as from the 9th month. To ensure that this custom was not violated, the priests of these other deities would ascertain from the priest of Ugwu Omala when he had performed the ritual, after which they would schedule their own yam roasting.
The Priest of Ugwu Omala
There is no special qualification to be a priest of Ugwu Omala, except that the fellow must come from Umuonyialiagu Kindred of Isiokwe. It is Ugwu Omala that chooses its priest through the diviners. As soon as the death of an incumbernt priest was announced, names of all the grown-up males from the four families that make up the kindred would be taken to at least three diviners to select who would be the priest. The one selected by each of them, separately and collectively, would be the chosen priest.
Upon the selection of the new priest, his first assignment would be: “Ibi aka na Akpulalio” (the touching of the Spear). This would be followed by formally informing the ancestors of the selection through the pouring of libations and worshipping the Earth Goddess (Ani), and presenting it with nine tubers of yams in two places (Iteghna ji n’ibo), a cock and a pot of wine.
Next would be “Opening Ugwu Omala’s door”, which would be done with a cock. An Nshi (Nri) man would be invited to cleanse the Shrine of any defilement by the deceased priest. The Nshi man would use a fowl for the exercise. The would-be priest would give him fifty kobo, a hen and a pot of wine for his services. To qualify as a full-fledged priest, he would offer sacrifice to the Shrine, using a cock, nine tubers of yams in two places (Iteghna ji n’ibo), a pot of wine, an Akpulalio and an Abuba Ugo (Eagle’s feather).
Ugwu Omala’s priesthood is for life. The priest is under obligation to offer weekly sacrifice to the shrine. If he foregoes the weekly services for pecuniary gains, he would be punished by the shrine. The shrine would send sickness to him and he would never be well until he expends all the gains he had made and apologised to Ugwu Omala for his offence.
Formerly, the priest did not enter the shrine putting on a pant. He must put on loin cloth. This has however been modified as he could now enter there even with his trousers. The priest of Ugwu Omala does not eat dog meat nor have contact with a widow. If he does, he must get himself cleansed before entering the shrine for any sacrifice.
The priest does not receive any emolument or remuneration for his services. All he gets are the edible items that are sacrificed to the shrine. Even at that, he has no hand in deciding what should be sacrificed. It is the diviner who does that. He only conveys the wishes of the supplicant to the shrine and tries to ensure that he does not incur the wrath of the shrine, else it turns against him.
The priest cannot delegate his functions unless he is too old or too sick to be able to carry out the weekly sacrifice to the shrine. In delegating the function, the priest would still perform the normal rituals at home with his staff (ofho), and then hand it over to his deputy. On the death of the priest, the deputy would cease to act. Mr Ilo Onoduobia once deputised for his father, Onoduobia, when the latter was too old to continue with his function.
The present priest of Ugwu Omala is Mr. Arinze Akpagu from Umungwaka, Umuenyi, Isiokwe. Nowadays, only a handful of people still go to Ugwu Omala to seek for their salvation. Similarly, new born babies are no longer taken to the shrine for protection. Majority of the people have converted to Christianity.
5. The Akani Festival
The Akani festival is designed to initiate young men into manhood (Iwa Ogodu). Any young man who had not gone through the rituals associated with this festival would still be regarded as a boy. He would not even be allowed to marry as no father would willingly give out her daughter in marriage to a person who is still a boy!
Akani is celebrated between the last week of December and early January, depending on when the “Akani Cock” crows. This indicates the actual commencement of the festival. Akani is the last major festival before the people start going back to their farms.
About one month to the commencement of the festival, all the young men due for initiation that year will tie wrapper round their waists and have their bodies decorated with uli. As they go about in public, they are hailed and acknowledged as – Ogba Ogodu-o!, that is, young men who are due for initiation. Akani is also the period for whip-wielding masquerades to patrol the streets and chase young boys around.
The actual festival normally starts on Afor day with the Isiokwe section brazing the trail. All the initiates from this quarter of the community, who already had their hair clean shaven, rubbed cam wood (obala) all over their body, and tied loin cloth across their buttocks, would be led into the public arena with musical instruments made up of Igba (drum), and ekwe (wooden gong).
Those who were initiated into manhood the previous year would lead the way. They would dance round the arena with the initiates, three or four times, after which they would run away, in measured steps, to the shrine specifically devoted for the festival. The movement would not be so fast, else any of the initiates misses his steps and slips down, which would be calamitous.
The initiates would be introduced to the shrine, which would be told to accept them as they enter into manhood. Nobody would leave the place until the shrine makes some noise to indicate its acceptance. Everybody would then burst into hilarious ovation.
The ceremony is not yet over until the initiates physically proved that they had attained manhood. A woman would be secretly arranged to conduct the test. All the initiates would be made to personally pass through the woman. It is this woman that would give the final verdict that the initiates had actually attained manhood!
Later in the night, there would be an all night free for all dance involving all young men and women in the community, including the initiates at the public arena (obie or eekwo).
The next day, Nkwo, Imama Akama and Enugwu N’Agbani would take their turn. Their own initiates would practically undergo the same rituals as their counterpart from Isiokwe. The only difference is that they would not dance round the public arena. Rather, they are made to jump a very short fence.
This day also doubles as Mgba ighu ogwu. All the housewives in the community would prepare a tapioca-like local delicacy, ighu, and present it to the head of the family for sacrifice to the family shrine. All the people present would be treated to a feast with this delicacy. At night, it would be the turn of Imama Akama and Enugwu N’Agbani for their own dance at their respective public squares. They would each be visited by the Isiokwe people.
The climax of the festival will be on Olie day. On that day, all the umuada (married daughters) will pay homage (ihi-ihi) to their umunna (family of birth). They will come with nine tubers of yam (Iteghna ji), a fowl and a keg of palm wine (udu maya). The eldest man in the family, who invariably offers sacrifice to the ancestors, will preside over the ceremony. All the guests will be lavishly entertained.
Later in the night, the activity will shift to the public square where young men and women will hold their all-night dance. Each of the three sections of Akama – Isiokwe, Imama-Akama and Enugwu N’Agbani, will take their turns to visit the others with their dance.
The festival would be rounded off one native week later with another all-night dance (Izu afhia Akani), which would involve competition among the three sections of the community.17
Most of these ceremonies connected with the Akani festival, have since been modified or altogether abandoned as many young boys no longer undergo those processes of initiation before they realized that they have attained manhood.
1. The Ifha-ji-oku Festival
This is now known as the New Yam Festival. The festival is designed to honour the god of harvest. As far as the people are concerned, yam is the king of all crops, and therefore must be celebrated with pomp and pageantry. Ifha-ji-oku is celebrated between the months of July and August, when the new yam is harvested.
Before anybody in the community tastes new yam, each family head, following the announcement by the priest of the Ugwu Omala Deity, will harvest a yam from his farm. He will go to the family entrance (Onu Egbo), take some palm fronds (Omu-Nkwu), and weave them in form of a mat. He will then slice parts of the yam on top of it, slaughter a cock and pour wine on them as sacrifice to the gods and the ancestors. He will then roast the rest of the yam which would be eaten, first by him, and then by all the people present.
The weaved palm frond with the sliced yams on top of it would instantly tell any visitor that the community had marked the Ifha-ji-oku and therefore that any other person was free to eat a new yam.18
R E F E R E N C E S
1. Stephen Odezulu Eze (2009) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
2. Emeka, L. (1993) The Funny as the Punch: Mmanwu Obiagu Genre for Effective Social Mobilization, Enugu, Unpublished Article, Mmanwu Festival
4. Tempels, P. (1945) Bantu Philosophy; Paris, Presence Africaine
5. Jahn, J. (1961) Muntu; London/New York, E.T.
6. Mbiti, J.S. (1969) African Religions and Philosophy Third Edition; London, Sheldon Press.
7. Tempels, Placid. Op cit
8. Mbiti, J.S. Op. Cit.
9. Idowu, E.B. (1973) African Traditional Religion, London, SCM Press.
10. Eze, Dons (1993) Mmanwu as Agent of Social Mobilization; Enugu, Unpublished Article, Mmanwu Festival.
11. Amaku, E.E., (2003) Philosophy and African Cultures in Academia: A CIP Journal of Philosophy; Owerri, Assumpta Press.
12. See www.compassdirect.org, August 1, 2001
13. Edward Blyden
14. Stephen Odezulu Eze (2009) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
15. Ilo Onoduobia (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
16. Nnaji Okechi (1981) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
17. Stephen Odezulu Eze, (2009) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
Thorny Roads to Development
Development is a process. It is an ongoing activity. At every level of human existence, there is an element of development going on. Even the man of the Stone Age was involved in development as he wandered from place to place in search of higher level of existence. Development is not exclusively an economic phenomenon, nor is it simply about physical structures. It also involves expansion of human mind or critical view of the universe. Development is meaningful only in terms of its impact on man in society.
Development was not brought to Akama by the Europeans. The coming of the Europeans only modernized or accelerated the process. For instance, before the White Man came, Akama people already had their own leaders or those who presided over their governmental affairs, and they did it perfectly. Akama people also knew how to put roof over their heads and how to cover their nakedness. The people equally knew how to prepare the food they eat and how to clear the footpaths leading to their homes, their farms and to their streams. These were processes of development, which the people were actively engaged in before the coming of the White man.
The road to development in Akama, like in every human society, did not always take a linear, straight course. Sometimes it was smooth-sailing, while at other times, it was rough, full of obstacles and road blocks. Here are some of the developmental projects in Akama since the coming of the White man and how these projects have been realised.
1. The Coming of Christianity to Akama
It was the European missionaries from Ireland that brought Christianity to Akama. Fate had led one Mr. Francis Ndubisi from Imama Akama to travel to Awka, where on August 15, 1919, he led an itinerant Irish priest, Reverend Father Marcel Gradin to celebrate the first Holy Mass in Akama. It was not quite clear the circumstance that first led Mr. Ndubuisi to Awka, but he was said to have been later trained there as a teacher. About two hundred people were said to have attended the Church service on that day. Out of this number, seventy-two people, who could now be counted among the Church Triumphant, were baptised. Father Gradin named the thatched house where that Holy Mass was celebrated – “St. Mary’s Church”. That was in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose of Assumption is celebrated on August 15.1
It could however be argued that Christianity did not first come to Akama on August 15, 1919, as people were made to believe. This was because some contacts ought to have been made during which the people were intimated about the new religion. The seventy-two people who were baptized on that day were probably those who had earlier gone through the long process of tutorials or Catechism, associated with the new religion and were therefore adjudged qualified to be baptized.
Again, as Dillibe Onyeama had reported, representatives of the Catholic Mission, who were in search of African souls, started coming from Igbariam to Eke as far back as 1914. In 1917, a Portuguese Priest, Reverend Father Joachim Correia, took residence at Eke, from where he began to spread Catholicism to many towns around, up to the present Benue and Ogoja Dioceses.2 Thus, it could be safely assumed that within this long period of time, these missionaries could not have waited till 1919 before they carried their evangelisation mission to Akama, more so since the distance between Akama and Eke is just a stone’s throw.
After Father Gradin, came another Irish Priest named Father Davey. It was Father Davey, who in those days had made the greatest impact on the people of Akama, nay Oghe, in general as far as the Catholic Church was concerned. Around 1920, Father Davey visited and celebrated Holy Mass at St. John’s Church, Amansiodo Imezi and baptized some converts. He also visited Amansiodo Ndiagu, Ihuonyia, and established a church there. In 1921, he established the Holy Trinity Church, Amankwo Imezi, while St. Paul’s Church, Amankwo Ndiagu, was founded in 1922. It was not until 1929, that St. Theresa’s Church, Oghe, was established to cater for the entire Oghe Community.
Like a mustard seed, the tree began to grow as more and more converts were won. Later, it was decided to build a befitting church that would serve the entire Oghe communities and beyond, and to ask for a separate parish independent of Eke Parish. Iwollo was chosen as the site for the new Parish. It was a political decision. One, Iwollo being the last of the seven sons of Oghe, needed to be pampered. And second, establishing the Parish at Iwollo would make for easy reach for Olo, Okpogho and Awha communities, as they would equally benefit from it.
At first, the relationship was cordial, each enjoying the fruits of its labour, until later when Iwollo declared itself an autonomous community and no longer part of Oghe. That was in 1960. For the other parts of Oghe, that was an anathema, which had brought strained relationship between them and Iwollo. It was believed that Iwollo was able to take the action due to some developmental projects sited in the area – a teacher training college, a pipe borne water scheme, a market and a post office – all of which came from the collective sweat of all the people of Oghe.
As a reaction, the other sections of Oghe decided to come together to chart a common development agenda. In February 1961, they cleared a portion of land between Amankwo, Neke and Amansiodo, established a market there and called it “Afor Oghe”. In 1963, with the initiative of Chief Pius C. Ndu of Neke, the communities established a girls’ secondary school named, Sedes Sapientie Girls’ Secondary School, which was handed over to the Catholic Mission; while in 1964 they set up a postal agency at Afor Oghe. Akama Water Scheme came on stream in February 1965.
Around 1965, an attempt was made by then Church Missionary Society (CMS), now Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to establish a church in Akama. The church building was erected at the outskirts of the town where some adherents, mainly from the Cashew Industry, were coming to worship. As a matter of fact, it was the workers of the Cashew Industry of the Anglican faith who were instrumental to the building of the church along Akama/Eke high way. It was designed to cater for the settler population, since at that time a non-Catholic Christian was unheard of in the town. That Church did not take firm roots before the civil war broke out in 1967. At the end of the war, little or no efforts were made to resuscitate it.
As a result of the experiences of the Nigerian civil war, Akama people wised up to the need to develop their own locality. For instance, no sooner had the war ended than individuals and groups outside Neke, Amankwo and Amansiodo, especially people from Akama, who owned houses, market stalls and lands in and around Afor Oghe Market were dispossessed of their property by those who claimed to be the real owners of the land. This angered many Akama people who swore never to make any further contributions outside their own community. They were not happy that after labouring to develop other parts of Oghe, they would be pushed out and denied access to the fruits of their labour.
So, when some people were pushing for the creation of Oghe Parish, Akama people were also asking for their own parish. But fearing that an Akama parish would greatly injure the interest of the entire Oghe communities, since Akama constituted the main bloc of Christians that made up the proposed Oghe Parish, the then Catholic Bishop of Enugu, Dr. Godfrey Mary Paul Okoye, bided time. In 1972, he granted only a provisional approval for an Oghe Parish. This was however actualized 16 years later, in 1988, by Bishop Michael Eneje, with Reverend Father Emmanuel Nnajiofor as its first Parish Priest.
The creation of Oghe Parish, though welcomed by the people of Oghe, did not end the agitation for a separate parish by the people of Akama. Rather, this exacerbated it. Just ten years later, in September 1998, Akama got its own Parish, with Reverend Father Damian Udechukwu as its first Parish Priest.
The first task that confronted the new parish was the building of a parish house, as the new Parish Priest was lodging in a rented apartment. With dogged determination and commitment, it was not long before Father Udechukwu mobilized the citizenry to build a befitting Parish House. Father Udechukwu followed this up by attempting to build a new Church, as the existing one which was built around1940s, could hardly accommodate one-quarter of the worshippers. Father Udechukwu held forte till 2003, and was succeeded by Reverend Father Rafel Afam, who in September 2004 was succeeded by Reverend Father Sylvester Nwodo.
In March 2005, Akama Parish was handed over to the Vincentian Congregation, with Reverend Father Donatus Nwobodo as Parish Priest assisted by Reverend Father Ambrose Mouneke. Father Nwobodo was succeeded in October 2009 by Reverend Father Jude Dim Onyekwere, a restless bulldozer and mobilizer, who demolished the old Church building to build an imposing edifice that could comfortably accommodate the increasing population of Christians in the community.
2. Akama Primary School
It was the same Catholic Mission that brought Western education to Akama. The same thatched house that was used for religious worship on Sundays, also served as classrooms on week days. The school was also known as “Saint Mary’s Catholic School”. Initially, it was not easy getting children to attend the school as only the “lazy” or “useless” children were allowed to attend, while the more treasured ones were hedged in by their parents, who preferred to have them in their farms.
However as days went by and people began to appreciate the need for Western education, it was no longer difficult getting children to attend the school. And so, around 1943, with the steady increase in the number of children going to school, the community decided to put up a more concrete structure that could serve as both Church and School. All the members of the community were mobilized for the exercise – both Christians and non-Christians.
The school offered classes up to the junior primary level, while those who graduated from there travelled to Eke every morning – a distance of about six kilometres – for their senior primary education. Before then, in 1929, all the communities in Oghe, with promptings from the Catholic Mission, had jointly built the St. Theresa’s Central School, Oghe, which provided succour for all the children round the vicinity and saved them the ordeal of travelling to Eke for their senior primary education. It was not until 1956 that St. Mary’s School, Akama, was granted approval to run classes up to Primary Six level. Incidentally, the author was the first to pass the First School Leaving Certificate (Standard Six) from the school with a Distinction.
3. Quest for Post Primary Institution
The first post primary institution in Ezeagu was the Lourdes’ Teacher Training College, Iwollo, now upgraded to a College of Agriculture by the Enugu State government. Established in 1956, the college was jointly built by the Catholic Mission and all the communities in Oghe. In 1963, following disagreements between Iwollo and the rest of Oghe communities, Chief Pius Ndu of Neke, led the rest of Oghe to establish the Sedes Sapientia Girls’ Secondary School. Boys Secondary School, Amansiodo, was established in 1975.
Worried that the community, which way back in 1919 had pioneered Western education in the entire Oghe communities, had only a primary school standing on its soil, Malo Age Grade, then led by Mr. Boniface Eze, in 1982, decided to embark on the construction of a post primary institution. The project was pursued with vigour, until internal crisis within the age grade stalled it.
It was not until 1994, that the age grade, now under the chairmanship of Mr. Anthony Ugwuozor, once again resurrected the idea of a post primary school project. He set up an education committee headed by Dr. Dons Eze, with John Nelson Ifenibo as secretary, and charged with the responsibility to realize the dream project. Based on its mandate, the committee sought and got the approval of the Enugu State Ministry of Education for the establishment and commencement of a vocational education centre in the community.3
Armed with this letter of approval, the committee got both the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Federal Ministry of Education to donate some basic equipment for the commencement of the school, such as sewing machines, hair-dressing equipment, type-writers, etc. In October 1996, with the active support of the age grade, the committee threw the gates of the school open for classes. It was then temporarily located at the Akama Civic Centre and named “Malo Memorial Women Education and Community Development Centre”, in honour of the age grade’s patron, Chief Mathias Malo. In no time, the school started to record impressive turn out of students both from within and outside the community.
However, due to some misunderstandings among members of the age grade, and fearing that this might again adversely affect the progress of the school, the education committee, in September 2001, invited the Catholic Church to assist in running the school. The then Parish Priest of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Reverend Father Damian Udechukwu, while accepting the invitation, at first saw it as a joint venture between the Church and the Age Grade. Later, while claiming that the age grade was not meeting its own side of the bargain, Father Udechukwu decided to appropriate the school for the Church. He changed the name to “Maria Assumpta Secondary School”, and relocated it to the Church’s premises.
Successive Parish Priests followed Father Udechukwu’s footpath in nurturing the school as the property of the Church. The school has since graduated to a centre for both the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) examinations. This, notwithstanding, the school is still located at a temporary site, almost one and half decades after it was founded!
4. Outcome of Christianity and Western Education
The coming of Christianity and Western education to Akama did not end in the establishment of structures – church and school buildings. It also led to the development of human mind and creation of political awareness. The result is that Akama has maintained lead positions in virtually every aspect of human life. For instance, it was Akama that produced the first woman to pass Standard Six in the whole of Oghe and its environs. She was Mrs. Christiana Nwachukwu, nee Javanel, who was later married to an Oyofo man.
It was also Akama that produced the first Clerk of Oghe Customary Court at Ishiogo, Iwollo, in the person of Mr. Raymond Emehel; as well as the first chairman of Ezeagu County Council, in the person of Chief Clement Emehel. Similarly, Akama produced the first Secretary to a State Government of Ezeagu extraction, in the person of Dr. Nicholas Edozie; first female High Court Judge of the former Anambra State in the person of Justice Monica Edozie, as well as first Supreme Court Judge from Ezeagu, in the person of Justice Dennis Edozie. Akama also produced the first State Auditor General from Ezeagu, in the person of Chief Felix Ugwuozor, among others. Many Akama sons and daughters also hold key positions in various departments of life.
In politics, Akama is a hotbed. Because the people had developed early political awareness, the community is usually a beehive of political activities in times of politics. That is why any political aspirant in the state who fails to identify with the community is yet to be taken serious.
Akama however plays politics without bitterness. There was a time when two main contenders to the State House of Assembly, flying the flags of two major political parties, were two prominent sons of the community. These were Chief Gordian Nwafor of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), and Chief Charles Emehel of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). At the end of the day when Chief Nwafor won the election, Chief Emehel wasted no time in congratulating him.
In the area of Christianity, Akama is equally not lacking. She has produced many Catholic priests and sisters who minister on the altar of God. Among them are Reverend Father Jude Osondu Nzekwe, who was ordained in 1998; Reverend Father Reginald Nwachukwu, ordained in 2000; and Reverend Father Vitalis Eke, ordained in 2001. The rest are Reverend Father Anthony Ezekwu, who was ordained 2005; Reverend Father Jude Okelue, ordained in 2008; Reverend Father Louis Mary Eze, ordained in 2009; and Reverend Father Felix Ogbuagu, ordained in 2011.
Before then, way back in 1986, Reverend Sister Odinaka Chude, took her final vow to the sisterhood, to open the floodgate for many young girls to follow her footsteps. Presently there are many other candidates both for priesthood and sisterhood as well as several other religious men and women in different parishes both within and outside the country. At the same time, the number of lay faithful dramatically increased from a mere two hundred that attended the Church service in 1919 when the first seed was sowed, to tens of thousands presently.
5. The High Mass Akama
The Highmass Akama Festival was started on August 15, 1919, the day Father Gradin celebrated the first Holy Mass with the local assembly. It could be that Father Gradin had been celebrating ordinary masses, but on that particular day, he made it a “High Mass”. This was to mark the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which the local church was named after. At the end of the service, he organized some activities to celebrate the event. The people treasured the ceremony and began to mark it as an annual festival. Since that day, every Highmass festival was celebrated with pomp and pageantry laced with various social activities like fun fares, athletic competitions and football matches.
Initially, the Highmass festival was restricted to the Christians, who saw it as an alternative to some of the traditional festivals like Ibono and the Ugwu Omala Deity. They then began to invite non-Christians to their homes to partake in the celebration. Of course, that presented a good opportunity for the people to taste rice. It was Chief Clement Emehel who in the early 1950s encouraged the universal acceptance of the Highmass festival by both Christians and non-Christians in Akama.4 By the 1960s, an all night ballroom dance was introduced to the celebration.
The turning point of the Highmass festival came in 1978 when the Akama Students and Graduates Association (ASA) led by Mr. Cosmas Chigbo and Dons Eze, introduced some cultural extravaganza. Before then, Highmass was merely a one-day event. But on the eve of 1978 Highmass, ASA mobilized the citizenry to the Eke Ugbo Market Square for a cultural fiesta. Many people, dressed in their best cultural attire as well as different cultural dances graced the occasion. Prizes were awarded to different categories of contestants. It was on that day that the almost forgotten New Yam Festival (Iwa Ji) was re-introduced. Since that day, cultural exhibition and New Yam festival began to feature as important parts of the Highmass ceremony.5
Highmass, these days, is fast losing its glamour, due to a number of reasons. First, the all-night ball room dance, which was normally used to entertain the people, is no longer there, due to the attitude of some of today’s youths who indulge in criminal activities.
Second, the cultural extravaganza, which hitherto was a means of drawing people closer to their roots, is fast disappearing. For the past few years, a lot of people who had trooped down to the Community Civic Centre or the Eke-Ugbo Market Square, hoping to feast their eyes with the cultural fiesta and the Iwa Ji ceremony, were disappointed to find that nothing of such was going on there.
Furthermore, fun fares and sports competitions, which used to form part of Highmss activities on Sunday, do no longer take place. What now remains is the lengthy Church Service for fund raising, which leaves many people tired and weary.
6. Eke-Ugbo Market
The present location of Eke-Ugbo Market was one of the fallouts of the Ogu-Ntigbuyigbu-Anya debacle, which around 1929, had pitted the people of Isiokwe against the people of Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani. Before then, the market was located at Afagu, which was equally the centre of all traditional festivals like Ibono, Olie-Umuozo, Igba-Akwa and Eke-Onyekanma.
Feeling aggrieved at how about 90 people of their kith and kin were jailed on the orders of Chief Onyeama of Eke, working in concert with the people of Isiokwe, the people of Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani, decided to clear a piece of land situated at the junction of the road leading to Iwollo and Aguobu Owa respectively and called it “Obodo-Ugbo”. There, they began to celebrate their own festivals, which included the market itself. An age-grade known as “Ogba Oji” from Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani, also changed its name to “Ogba Obodo-Ugbo” and cut off links with their counterpart from Isiokwe.
However, following the peaceful resolution of the crisis around 1933, the community unanimously agreed that the market at Afagu should relocate to its present site and be called “Eke-Ugbo Market”, due to its strategic location. They also agreed that all the other traditional festivals like Ibono, Igba Akwa, Eke-Onyekanma, etc, should remain at Afagu, with all the communities participating.6 That was conflict resolution in action - traditional not learned from the Whiteman!
Some items sold at Eke-Ugbo Market then were yam, soup ingredients, banana, okpa, fulufulu, and of course, palm wine. As time went by, some people began to open up stores, and items like kerosene, matches, beer and cigarette began to sell there. Today, virtually every conceivable item is being sold at Eke-Ugbo. A motor park is also developing alongside the market.
In the past, various efforts had been made to expand and develop Eke-Ugbo Market due to its high patronage, the latest being by the Ironsi Age Grade, which built the present open stalls. But the problem of the market remains lack of space for expansion.
This, notwithstanding, Eke-Ugbo could still be developed into a viable shopping centre. Accordingly, the present open stalls could be made to give way to modern designed architectural shopping malls. When this is done, Akama would have succeeded in solving the problem of lack of space for expansion. She would have also shown the way in rural market development.
7. Akama Dispensary
Akama Dispensary was built in 1946 during the regime of Chief Clement Emehel as leader of Akama, and Mr. Edward R. Chadwick as District Officer in charge of Udi Division. Through his community development initiative, otherwise known as “Day Break at Udi”, Mr. Chadwick mobilized the people of Akama to embark on the dispensary project through self-help efforts. Work on the project actually started on February 11, 1946, with all the able-bodied men and women in the community actively participating. While the men hued stones and collected them from Ugwu Isiokwe and Ugwu-Oba, women fetched water and sand. The walls of the dispensary were of concrete stones.
There were however six permanent labourers recruited from each of the three villages of Akama who were paid by the government at the rate of 4d (four pence) a day. They were Mr. Obudialio Amuluche and Mr. Akpueke Ibekwe from Isiokwe; Mr. Michael Udeze, Mr. Eze Amano and Mr. Chiaha Eze from Imama Akama; while Mr. Eze Nwumeh came from Enugu N’Agbani.
Work usually commenced at 7.00 am every day – Monday to Saturday, with one hour break, from 12.00 noon to 1.00 pm, and closed at 4.00 pm. Mr. Celestine Obuayo was the Time Keeper who was paid a fixed rate of fifteen shillings a month, while Mr. Dennis Ezievuo was the Pay Master, assisted by Mr. Moses Ogwudu.7
8. St. Ann’s Maternity Home
In 1956, a maternity centre, known as “Saint Ann’s Maternity Home, Akama Oghe”, was opened at Eke-Ugbo. Built by Mr. Felix Ekwuazi, the maternity centre which catered for the health needs of pregnant women in the community, brought succour to many mothers in and around Akama and greatly reduced the problem of child and maternal mortalities in the area. This maternity centre was however destroyed during the Nigerian civil war in 1967, and had not been rebuilt thereafter.
9. Nne Nke Ebele Health Centre
Worried by the problems posed by lack of a befitting health-care centre in the community, particularly since the dispensary built far back in 1946 was no longer able to carter for the health needs of the people, and the St. Ann’s Maternity Home destroyed during the civil war was yet to be rehabilitated, Akama Women Association, then led by Madam Cecelia Akuoma Edozie, and later by Mrs. Maria Nwafor, decided to embark on the construction of a befitting health centre. To actualize the dream the association apart from their normal monthly dues, also in 1986, decided on a public outing of their dancing troupe, the proceeds of which were channelled to the project.
Furthermore, the association imposed a special annual general levy on its members, both at home and in the diaspora, the proceeds of which were equally channelled to the health centre project. Aside of these, the women occasionally mobilized their labour, like clearing the site and the collection of sand, water and gravel for use by the workmen.
It was however the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) of the Federal Government that supervised the construction of the health centre, and paid the skilled workmen. Upon the virtual completion of the project around 1997, the centre was handed over to the Catholic Church, which named it “Nne Nke Ebele Specialist Hospital, Akama Oghe.”
In spite of their efforts in embarking on this noble venture, many Akama women, indeed the generality of Akama people, are still in quandary regarding the actual benefit of the hospital to the people, in addition to its management. This has even caused division among the women, between those at home and their counterparts from Enugu. Aside that the hospital has promoted the preservation of corpses at its mortuary section, those who visit there for their health needs could still be counted on the finger tips. Actually, it is a matter for the Town Union and the Catholic Church to sort out the problem and turn around the management.
10 Oghe Cashew Industry
Around 1951, representatives of the then Eastern Region Production Development Corporation (ERPDC) approached the three communities of Akama, Neke and Oyofo, to lease them a large portion of land measuring 2,728 acres for the purpose of establishing a cashew plantation. Acceding to the request, the three communities, by a Deed of Lease dated the 5th day of November 1953, registered as No.2 at page 2 in volume 78 of the Register of Deeds, kept in the Lands Registry, Enugu, and verged pink in a Survey Plan N.UD. 032, tracing No. 337 of the 22nd day of August, 1952, gave out the piece of land to the agency for the cashew project. The lease was for 99 years, at the rate of (5s) five shillings per acre per annum. A total sum of £325:5s:0d (Three hundred and twenty-five pounds, five shillings) was paid to the three communities as annual rent. This however created the problem of the sharing formula among the three communities.
As a result, the communities decided to go to court for arbitration. The lawyer who appeared for Akama was the then Mr. Louis Mbanefo, while the then Mr. Udo Udoma, was engaged by Neke and Oyofo. The judgement by an Enugu High Court was rejected, leading to its appeal by Neke and Oyofo. In the final judgement delivered by the Supreme Court in Lagos, Akama was awarded £309:5s:0d (Three hundred and nine pounds, five shillings), Neke £10 (Ten pounds), and Oyofo £6 (Six pounds). This was based on the size of the portion of land owned by each of the three communities in the plantation.
Those who signed the lease on behalf of Akama were:
· Jacob Obodo Umuenyi
· Clement Emehel Umuochie
· Joseph Ugwuozor Enugu N’Agbani
· Ngwueke Obodo Umuaneke
· Cheteze Egesi Umuagbonwu.
They were charged with the responsibility of collecting and safe-keeping the revenue accruing from the cashew plantation land on behalf of Akama community. This arrangement held until an Akama Union was formed in 1956 with Chief Clement Emehel as Chairman, Mr. Christopher Ndum, Secretary, and Mr. Celestine Obuayo, Treasurer. Thereupon, the union relieved the former trustees of the responsibility of collecting and safe-keeping the annual land rent.8
The economic importance of the Cashew Industry to Akama in particular, was tremendous. First, most of the casual workers who cleared the 2,728 acre land for cashew plantation came from Akama and its surrounding towns. When the cashew trees began to fruit, majority of those who picked the nuts also came from Akama. Similarly, most of the women who cracked the nuts manually were indigenes of the community. Accordingly, these employees were paid by the industry, which in no small measure had boosted their economic potential.
The net effect was that this had enabled most people in Akama to send their children to school, to change the roofs of their houses from grass to corrugated iron sheets, to own bicycles that enabled them transport themselves to and from their farms, etc. At its peak, the Cashew Industry had close to 2,000 people in its employ, which included men and women. There were also cattle ranch, piggery and poultry sections attached to the industry, with their own employees.
Furthermore, the Cashew Industry ran health and maternity facilities which provided health services to its workers and indigenes alike. Likewise, they often invited public health officials that helped to eradicate the scourge of “nta-ipo” a type of sand fly that incessantly bit the people and kept them miserable.
Again, as part of its community social responsibility, the industry partly funded the Akama Water Scheme, thus helping to improve the overall community health. They also organized some film shows to educate the people on the prevailing social, political and health issues.
On the negative side, however, the existence of the Cashew Industry had made many people to abandon their farmland in search of “government job”. There were also rapid increase in crime rate, moral depravity and cultural disorientation, arising from the influx of many people with different characters into the community.
The civil war dealt a deadly blow on the Cashew Industry as the industry was completely vandalized during the war, while the succeeding administrations at the end of the war were unable to rehabilitate the project. The worst is that while the government has since stopped paying the annual land rent to the communities, it also has refused to release the land to the people to engage in farming and other productive ventures.
In 1987, the Oghe Cashew Industry was partially privatised and subsequently handed over to ASAFRA Nigeria Limited, which changed its name to Premier Cashew Industries Limited. To actualize this privatization programme, the government revoked the land tenancy agreement which it signed in 1953 with the three communities of Akama, Neke and Oyofo, without recourse to these communities and the payment of land rent for the unexpired period contained in the agreement. The revocation order was contained in a legal notice No. 92 dated the 13th day of March 1987, and published in the Anambra State Government Official Gazette No. 8 Volume 12 dated the 26th day of March, 1987.
Feeling aggrieved, the three communities went to court and succeeded in getting an injunction restraining the government or its agents from issuing a Certificate of Occupancy to the new successors-in-title – the Premier Cashew Industries Limited. This compelled the government to seek an out of court settlement with the communities. Whoever did the negotiation and with whom, many people were not aware. What they however got to know later was that N14,000 (fourteen thousand naira) was paid to the three communities by the new management of the Cashew Industry. They were not even told what the fourteen thousand naira represented.
That notwithstanding, this particular money was to launch Akama into another crisis regarding who should keep its custody – was it the Traditional Ruler of the Community or the Town Union Executive? Some people cashed in on this, which led to the dispute between the then Akama Representatives Council (ARCO) and Igwe in Council. The Town Union’s Constitution was symbolically torn and officials of the Union sacked. For the next couple of years, Akama was without any government and there was also no development activity going on.
Meanwhile, after some years, ASAFRA pulled out from the Cashew Industry and abandoned the place to vandals to feast on its various machineries and equipment, while poachers enjoyed themselves with cashew nuts and woods.
1. Uzo Agu Akama
The construction of the road which leads to Akama farms where most of the people had depended for their livelihood was started about October 1954. Fearing that the project might be abandoned before getting to their own farm, the people of Isiokwe sought and obtained an undertaking from both Imama Akama and Enugu N’Agbani that the project must extend to “Ukwu-Ube Tree” after Nwabasa Stream, which was the end of their farmland. Thereafter, all the age grades in the community were mobilized for the project, each working in turns once every week.
The management of the Cashew Industry also volunteered to assist the people. The then managers – Messrs J. Bruce and C.C. Fuller, authorized the collection of necessary tools like hoes, axes, shovels and monkey-winches from their office. The tools were of immense help to the project, particularly the monkey-winches, which were effectively used in the thick Ofilofi Forest. The managers also allowed Akama indigenes working in the Cashew Industry to work on the road project, once every week. Similarly, Mr. Charles Udeze, who was a tractor driver in the industry, was deployed to work in the project. Mr Udeze thus became the first driver to mount on top of Mkpuachi Hill and down to Mbanamba Farm.9
The completion of the road enabled different kinds of vehicles particularly Lorries, to begin to ply it. This had relieved the people the burden of trekking the almost 20 kilometres to their farms. It also enabled the people to easily convey their farm products to various markets around. Similarly, the road led to the establishment of the Olie Agu Market, located between Ofia-Agwo, Ofia-Ukwu and Okpokolo Okpogho farms, where the people were bringing their farm products for sale. Before then, they had been going to the far away Nkwo Amofia Market in Udi local government area to sell their farm products.
Notwithstanding the enormous human and material resources expended on this particular road, and in spite of the fact that the road has been of tremendous benefit to the people of the community in conveying their farm products to the market, Uzo-agu Akama is now in a sorry state – impassable due to erosion and non-maintenance. The net effect is that the vast and arable Akama farmlands at the other side of the road are now lying fallow or have been abandoned to the people of Amansiodo, Egede and Amaozalla Affa, who are now increasingly encroaching on them.
2. Akama Water Projects
Availability of potable water had always posed a problem for the people of Akama, nay Oghe in general. To get their water needs, the people always trekked all the way to Ajali River, a distance of almost seven kilometres away. Those who were unable to make this long journey, particularly the sick and the aged, had to settle for pond water. That was why many people had experienced various water-borne diseases at that time.
To obviate this problem, sometime in the 1960s, all the communities of Oghe made efforts to extend the Iwollo Water scheme to cover the whole area. The consultant, who carried out the feasibility study for the project, came up with a comprehensive recommendation which included sinking a new borehole, constructing a new reservoir, and installing new pumps, etc. In view of the high cost of this proposal, it was decided to jettison it for an alternative scheme, which would involve extending the water pipes from Iwollo to some few public places in Oghe. The cost estimate, which was put at £5,000 (Five thousand pounds), was considered more practicable. However, due to some problems encountered in raising funds for the project and in agreeing the formula for the distribution of the water points, Akama decided to go it alone.
Happily, the Eastern Region Production Development Corporation (ERPDC), which was granted the land lease for the Cashew Industry, accepted to assist the community in carrying out the project. The corporation agreed to sink a borehole exclusively for Akama, and asked the community to provide £6,000 (Six thousand pounds) to cover the cost of building a reservoir at Ugwu Omala, in addition to the laying of pipes from the factory site to the reservoir. The contract for the reservoir, with a capacity of 50,000 gallons, was awarded to Messrs F.G.N. Okoye and Company.
To further assist the community raise the needed amount for the project, ERDPC made an advance land rent payment of £1,150 (One thousand, one hundred and fifty pounds) to Akama Community. It further asserted that the community would not pay water rate for any consumption not exceeding 30,000 gallons per day.10
Back home, Akama Community, in January 1965, inaugurated a Water Scheme Committee, headed by Mr. Constantine Ikwueze, with Mr. Charles Umeh, as Secretary, and Mr. John Ofordu as Treasurer. The committee worked out levies for various categories of citizens residing outside Akama, based on their earning power and status, while those at home were given a flat rate of £5.00 (five pounds) for men and £3.00 (three pounds) for women. Akama Youths Association with Mr. Joseph Ogwudile as Chairman, and Mr. Francis Ibe as Secretary, saw to the collection of the levies.11
When the contract for the laying of pipes in the community was awarded to a contractor at a price which some people considered outrageous, a misunderstanding ensued. This was however smoothened out. All the age grades in Akama were later used to make necessary excavations for the pipes. Altogether, ten points were set up – four for Isiokwe, four for Imama Akama, and two for Enugu N’Agbani. Water actually started flowing from the water pipes, in June 1965, to the relief of everybody in the community. Services were however disrupted during the Nigerian civil war.
At the end of the war, several efforts were made to resuscitate the water scheme, which however proved abortive. For instance, as soon as the war ended, the government of Mr. Ukpabi Asika took over the scheme. But it was poorly managed. The citizens were often asked to provide fuel to run the plant and pay incentive to corrupt operators. The Water Corporation raised outrageous bills for water it could not provide. Despite the spirited effort by an Akama citizen, as staff of the corporation, Engineer Luke Eze, to help sort out the problem, the scheme completely failed.
Then, came the Malo Age Grade, who decided to tackle the problem head on and the people cooperated. Still the problem defied solution. The matter was not helped by the non-functionality of the Cashew Industry, which could have assisted in rehabilitating the scheme. As a result, the people sadly returned to their pre-1965 status of excruciating water problems.
Sometime in November 1992, Barrister Christy Ezekwu, in a mutual discussion with the author, indicated interest to get the Federal Ministry of Water Resources to sink a new water borehole for the community if a suitable site could be provided. When the matter was brought to the attention of the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe William Aniekwuilo Ozoeze, he directed that the borehole be sunk at the premises of Akama Civic Centre as that would prove sufficiently secure for the project.
Accordingly, around June 1993, through Barrister Ezekwu’s initiative, one of the contractors working for the Federal Ministry of Water Resources started to drill a new borehole at the Civic Centre premises. The project was completed in November the same year, with a 10,000 gallon capacity overhead tank. The new water scheme brought succour to many people in the community, even though there were no distribution points outside the project site. The low yield of water coming from the borehole, however, proved insufficient for the community. The scheme finally parked up in 1995.
Relief however came through a private borehole sunk at Umuenenta, in Imama Akama, by one Mr. Abakasanga, an in-law from Akwa Ibom State. For a very long time, this borehole provided all the water needs of the entire people of Akama, just on payment of a token amount of money required. Mr. Abakasanga was later to be conferred with a chieftaincy title in appreciation of his philanthropy.
Between 1997 and 1999, the Petroleum Development Task Force (PTDF) set up by the Abacha Military Administration, indicated interest to rehabilitate the project, but could not, before the Obasanjo civilian government scraped the PTDF. It was not until 2006 that the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) indicated interest to re-drill the borehole and make it functional.
Before then, in 2005, Dr. Dons Eze attracted the World Bank assisted Local Empowerment and Environmental Management Project (LEEMP), to sink a new borehole at Ugwu Isiokwe, which due to its topography, was most advantageous in the distribution of water points. Accordingly, it was believed that sinking the borehole and building a reservoir in the area, would make it easier for reticulation across the length and breadth of the community. A total sum of N6.5 million (Six million, five hundred thousand naira) was advanced to the community for the execution of the project. The project was poorly executed, which necessitated the Enugu State Ministry of Water Resources in conjunction with the Federal Government of Nigeria to re-award it under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) project.
Still battling to solve the perennial water problem in Akama, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President, representing Enugu West, in 2009, sank another water borehole at Oboli Umuetuwe, Imama Akama as one of his constituency projects.
3. Akama Civic Centre
The Civic Centre project was started in 1973. The project was however stalled by a misunderstanding arising from what was then known as the “Ora Farm Crisis”. For close to five years as the crisis raged, there was practically no development effort going on in the community, including the civic centre project. However, in June 1978, the Akama Oghe Union, Lagos Branch, sent circulars to some well-meaning individuals and organizations in the community, inviting them to a peace meeting slated for August 19, 1978. While the initiative was welcomed by many people who anxiously looked forward to such parley, a few days to the d-day, however, the Lagos Union sent another letter cancelling the peace meeting. It was like a rude shock to many people.
In spite of this new development some people still felt the need to go ahead with the conference. Among those at the meeting, were members of Akama Students and Graduates Association (ASA), which later acted as secretary on the occasion. At the end of the conference, apart from the resolution to put the “Ora Farm” issue behind, some money was raised with which to continue with the Civic Centre Project. A Project Committee headed by Mr. Stephen Chidom was set up to handle the execution of the project.
Buoyed by this new spirit, ASA wrote to all the active age grades and individuals in the community, imploring them to contribute their labour, while the money raised during the conference would be used for procurement of materials. The appeal was heeded and work resumed at the Civic Centre, once again. The main hall was roofed in March 1979, while some age grades and individuals donated doors and windows that were fixed there. All these, notwithstanding, the civic centre still remained uncompleted several years after it was started.
Respite however came via the World Bank assisted Enugu State Agency for Community and Social Development Project (CSDP), attracted by Dr. Dons Eze, which in 2011,
4. Akama Electricity Project
The electricity project was started in 1982, during the regime of Chief Jim Nwobodo as governor of old Anambra State. Mr. Charles Emehel who was a member of the State Rural Electrification Board, used his position to factor the community into the scheme. The board only succeeded in mounting some few poles and stringing the wires before Chief Nwobodo left office in 1983. It was not until 1987 that the military administration of Commodore Emeka Omeruah was able to commission the project when it installed the transformers that finally brought light to the community.
Some people were however to accuse the electrification board of favouritism as the electricity poles and wires only touched the selected areas where supporters of the then ruling Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) in the state reside. With the energization of the project in 1987, those whose light did not reach their places began to make individual efforts to get it.
R E F E R E N C E S
1. Mr. Peter Ndubisi (1978) Oral Interview, Enugu.
2. Dillibe Onyeama (2010) The Story of An African ‘God’, Enugu: Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited, pages 90-91.
3. Approval Letter from the Enugu State Ministry of Education, Enugu, ENS/MOE/COM/234/1/19, June 1, 1995.
4. Mr. Joseph Ogwudile (1978) Oral Interview, Enugu.
5. Odozi Obodo, Magazine of Akama Students and Graduates Association, 1979.
6. Mr. Celestine Obuayo, Unpublished Manuscript, Akama Oghe.
9. Mr. Constantine Ikwueze (1978) Oral Interview, Akama.
10. Mr. Joseph Ogwudile (1978) Oral Interview, Enugu.
11. Mr. Celestine Obuayo, Unpublished Manuscript, Akama Oghe.
Community Based Organizations (CBOs)
Man, according to Aristotle, is “a social animal”. What this means is that human beings always like to associate with their fellow men. Aristotle thus believed that men are better off when they come together than when they live in isolation. That is why human beings, unlike the lower animals, live in clusters or in communities.
In Akama today, there are several groups or organizations. Some of these groups could be political, social or cultural in nature. People join them for different purposes – either for purposes of personal prestige, to better themselves politically or economically, or for purely altruistic reasons, that is to say, because they would want to contribute to the progress of their community. We shall hereunder examine some of these organizations to see what roles they have so far played in the socio-political and cultural development of Akama.
1. The Chief or Igwe’s Cabinet
The Chief or the Igwe’s Cabinet dated back to the period when the British colonial government installed the first traditional ruler or Warrant Chief for Akama in the person of Chief Ozo Eluke Chibuoke. Chief Ozo Eluke drew members of his cabinet from all the sections of the community. They were called Ndi Eze-ani (kings of the land), because they were the political leaders of the land. Apart from being the principal advisers to the monarch, Ndi Eze-ani also adjudicated in all civil matters involving members of the community. They were also the agents used by the Warrant Chief in collecting taxes from the local populace for onward remission to the British colonial government.
Upon Ozo Eluke’s death, his cabinet was in disarray as the members had refused to come under the leadership of Umeha Ozo Eluke who tried to step into his father’s shoe. It was not until the emergence of Chief Clement Emehel that another set of Ndi Eze-Ani came into existence. Members of Chief Emehel’s cabinet were very powerful, because they determined the course of the political, judicial, cultural and social affairs of the community.
Chief Mathias Malo’s Cabinet, if he had any, did not quite take off the ground before he died, but Igwe William Ozoeze’s Cabinet was faced with the problem of identifying the real functions of the Traditional Ruler and his Cabinet vis-a-vis the newly formed Akama Town Union. This brought some hiccups in the community, resulting to the ARCO-Igwe Cabinet’s rumpus of 1987. Igwe K.O. Ugwuozor and his Cabinet are also facing the same problem.
The main problem with the Igwe’s Cabinet is that while the government has instituted the traditional rulership institution, and made it to exist side by side with the elected Town Union, it failed to clearly specify their respective functions, and to educate the people accordingly. This is causing problem and confusion, not only in Akama, but also in many communities in Enugu State.
Overall, while the Chief or the Igwe’s Cabinet could be seen as a symbol of unity in that it projects the Community as people with one common ancestry, it has however failed to bend backwards, to draw from the rich cultural roots of the people and inculcate such values on the emerging generations.
2. Akama Town Union
An Akama Town Union was first formed in 1956. The aim was to widen the scope of representation of various interests in the community by including some educated elites and some Akama indigenes living at Enugu. The Union was like a parliamentary system of government since it included the Ndi Eze-ani, that is, Chief Clement Emehel’s Cabinet members. Chief Emehel himself was the chairman of the Union, Christopher Ndum, Secretary, and Celestine Obuayo, Treasurer. Even after the death of Chief Emehel, the joint meeting between those at home and those living at Enugu continued to hold.
It was however not until 1982 that what came to be seen as a properly constituted Akama Town Union was formed. Known as Akama Representatives Council (ARCO), the Union drew its membership from representatives of all the age grades and the six quarters of the community. Some individuals, whose services were considered valuable, were also co-opted as members. A Town Union constitution which specified the roles and responsibilities of its various organs was also drawn up. Aside of this, the Union resolved to face squarely the numerous developmental challenges confronting the community.
At this juncture, it may be necessary to mention the succession of chairmen of Akama Town Union, by whatever name it is called, to include Chief Clement Emehel, Mr. Constantine Ikwueze, Sir Francis Ibekwe, Mr. Charles Emehel (government appointed), Mr. Mike Ozonma, Chief Mike Okafor, Chief Pius Eze, and now, Chief Gilbert Emehel. Collectively, they have in various ways helped to keep Akama united and in the modest progress so far recorded. It is hoped that the institution of the Town Union will be even more so in the years ahead.
Outside the community itself, Akama indigenes living in various major cities in Nigeria, such as Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Kano, Jos, Makurdi, Port Harcourt, Aba, Onitsha, Nsukka and Abakaliki, also have their own branch unions. Apart from ensuring the welfare of their individual members, these unions also contribute positively to the development of their place of birth. They do this, not only by making their views known on every major issue affecting the community, but also through physical contribution of money for the realisation of some specific projects. From time to time, they send their representatives home to chart a common developmental course for the community with the people. Also, each time there was one crisis or the other in the community, they would send their delegates to help mediate the crisis.
3. The ‘Ruling Age’ Grade
The ‘Ruling Age Grade’ is the age grade that is saddled with the responsibility of coordinating the activities of other age grades and the various community based organizations in Akama. In the past, while it was the responsibility of the elders to make laws, the “Ruling Age Grade” was entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that the proposals put forward by the elders were duly implemented.
Also, when the colonial government imposed the chieftaincy institution on the people and vested the legislative and judicial functions of the community in the hands of the newly appointed Warrant Chief, it was the ‘Ruling Age Grade’ that coordinated the activities of other community based organisations to ensure that laws instituted by the Chief were carried out. At every point in time, there are nine active or functional age grades in Akama. These are age grades whose members are still very young and active, and who could be mobilized to carry out communal manual works, such as road repairs, clearing of village squares, security services, etc. Usually, when a new age grade is formed, the eldest of the functional age grades gives way, and the next in line takes over as the ‘Ruling Age Grade’.
This arrangement was very perfect particularly when there was no town union to carry out or coordinate development efforts in the community. But with the formation of a town union that represents all the segments and interest groups in the community, the continued existence of the ‘Ruling Age Grade’ becomes questionable. Therefore, the community could do well to re-examine the usefulness or otherwise of still having a ‘Ruling Age Grade’ at this point in time.
4. Akama Women Association
It was Akama women living in Enugu that started what has now come to be known as “Di Bu-ugwu Umu Nwanyi”. Even before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war, Akama women living in Enugu had been meeting together to discuss issues of common interest. The meeting was however disrupted by the war. At the end of the war, the women came together again, this time under the leadership of Mrs. Cecelia Akuoma Edozie.
During the 1973 “Akama Women Revolt”, Akama Women Association, Enugu, was the strong pillar of support, which provided both moral and financial assistance to their counterparts at home. In 1978, when the Akama Students and Graduates Association (ASA), organized a cultural festival which has now become part of the High Mass celebrations, it was the Akama Women Association, Enugu that made it possible, when they mobilized themselves to grace the occasion.
In 1986, the Women Association performed the public outing of their dance, which enabled them raise sufficient money to start on a health centre project. It was at this time that the women at home led by Mrs. Uduego Nechi, thought it wise to team up with their Enugu counterparts to jointly embark on the health centre project.
In the same vein, Akama women living in other major cities in the country similarly formed their own branch associations, which were also geared towards ensuring the development of the community.
During the now popular “Women August Meeting”, all these women groups would return home to discuss issues affecting the community and as well raise funds to enable them execute whatever projects that were agreed upon. Very often, when the men were unable to come together due to one problem or the other, it was the women association that mediated the crises and also held forte until sanity returned.
Akama Women Association, of married women of whatever place of origin, has always identified with the image of Akama, its unity, progress and well being. It has never lacked quality leadership – Madam Akuoma Edozie, Mrs. Maria Nwafor, Madam Uduego Nechi, Mrs. Amaka Ikwueze, Mrs. Ngozi Chioke, etc. It is a sad commentary though that one of the admirable landmarks of this leadership – the Nne Nke Ebele Hospital – is now the source of acrimony among the women folk. The quarrel appears to have defied the efforts of Igwe-in-Council, the Town Union the ‘Ruling Age Grade’, etc. It is up to the present leaders of the community devise a permanent solution to the crisis and return the women to their past glory.
5. Akama Trinity League (ATL)
Akama Trinity League was formed on January 5, 1979, at the height of the “Ora Farm” saga by some dynamic young men and women that cut across the three villages of Akama. They were worried that the “Ora Farm” crisis had hampered all development efforts, and thus felt the need to forge ahead in the interest of peace and progress of the community. Gradually, their message began to sink, which led to the effective management of the crisis and the formation of a new town union called Akama Representatives Council (ARCO) in 1982.
The League has remained a stabilizing factor in the affairs of Akama. But perhaps, its greatest achievement yet, is its investment in educating three young students through secondary school, who were selected purely on merit by the primary school authorities, as well as in promoting the people’s history and culture through lectures and homage to the eldest citizens.
As an elite organization, Akama Trinity League was a resource base, which has contributed both ideas and resources, collectively and individually, towards the overall development of the community. To attest to the calibre of people who constituted membership of the organisation as well as the high esteem to which they were held by members of the community, there was a particular period in time when the Trinity League had produced the traditional ruler of the community, Igwe K. O. Ugwuozor, the President-general of the town union, Chief Pius Eze, and the chairman, of the World Bank assisted Community Project Management Committee (CPMC), Mr. Linus Okechi. The pioneer chairman of the League was Mr. Godfrey Chioke, with Mr. Peter Ndubisi as Secretary.
6. Akama Students & Graduates Association (ASA)
Akama Students and Graduates Association (ASA) was formed on December 24, 1977, by some indigenes of the community who had just gained admission into various institutions of higher learning in the country. It had Mr. Cosmas Chigbo as pioneer President with Dr. Dons Eze as Secretary General. The aim of the association was to serve as an intellectual resource base for the community. In its mission statement, ASA had unequivocally stated that its aim was to serve as “a rallying point for intellectual activism designed to liberate the people from the shackles of ignorance, poverty and disease as well as to enthrone in the community a new era of critical intellectual awareness”.
For quite some time, ASA was a role model for both groups and individual members of the community who looked up to it for a way forward. Among the various activities embarked upon by the association was the production of a community almanac, the publication of intellectual magazines, which had delved into the historical past of the people, as well as the introduction of cultural festival, which has now formed part of our High Mass celebrations. ASA had also helped to mediate in some internal disputes that tended to pull the community down. It was a catalyst in re-starting work at the Community Civic Centre that was abandoned as a result of the Ora Farm Crisis. Unfortunately, the tempo and vision of the founders of the association had not been sustained by succeeding generations, which led to its premature death.
7. Akama Social Club
The formation of Akama Social Club in the early 1980s was borne out of the need for a social interactive forum for people of like minds. While the welfare of individual members had featured prominently in its activities, the club nevertheless, did not close its eyes to the need to contribute to the progress of the community. Accordingly, members of the club had participated actively in various developmental projects embarked upon by the community. Unfortunately, the club ceased to exist over a decade now.
8. Umu-ada Akama
In Akama, as in Igboland generally, Umu-ada (female members of a particular kindred married or unmarried), are a powerful force that can hardly be dismissed with a wave of the hand. They share in the aspirations, sentiments and feelings of their blood relations and celebrate or mourn with them as occasion demands. They equally plan and contribute to the progress and development of their place of birth, and also participate in their various activities.
It is this feeling of oneness among their kindred that led to the formation of two seemingly rival groups by some Akama daughters. One is “Ugo Jelu Mba” – the Eagle that flew abroad. The group is made up of Akama daughters who were married outside the community. The other group is known as “Ada Akama” or “Ada Amulu Na Nma” – Beautiful Daughters. The group comprised of both married and unmarried daughters, whether within or outside the community. Since the early 1990s, when the two groups were formed, they have contributed in no small measure to the overall development of the community.
E P I L O G U E
Yesterday As A Challenge Of Our Today
From our discussions, we have seen that Akama or whatever was his real name, was indeed a very courageous and uncompromising fellow. His successive descendants were equally courageous and uncompromising, ensuring that they held firmly to their inheritance. They were dynamic – holding on to their tradition when it was necessary, and at the same time embracing change and modernity when they became necessary. Occasionally bogged down by internal dissensions, such as in “Ogu Ntigbuyigbu Anya” debacle, just like in every human society, they nevertheless had never allowed any of these dissensions to continually take hold of them. They always tried to find a way out, for society to progress.
As for us, the descendants of this great Ancestor, we are at the threshold of history. As a privileged people who have passed through the crucibles of modern education and have been exposed to Western civilization, we have been placed at a vantage position to make a big difference in the lives of our people. Was it not Frantz Fanon who once posited that “each generation out of relative obscurity, must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it”?
Our forebears had paid their own dues in accordance with their age and circumstance. They had fought several wars and came out victorious. They had conquered many towns and expanded the frontiers of our community – from the Ajali River in the south, through Akama Town itself, down to Aguobu-Akama, Ofilofi, Mkpuachi, Ogbodume and across the Nwabasa Stream in the north. They have thus brought honour and respect to our community.
Looking at these heroic achievements of our forebears, how far can we say that the present generation has gone to discover and fulfil its historical mission? This question has become pertinent in view of the slow pace of development currently being witnessed in our community. A community that used to be a pace-setter in community development seems now to have lost steam.
Many people attribute this to lack of cohesion among its elites or the intelligentsia. While the average Akama person no matter his status could be said to be genuinely interested in the progress and development of his community, the problem appears to be lack of articulation and proper linkage with their fellow elites. Akama is blessed with quality men and women who hold and occupy important positions both within and outside the country, in public and private sectors. But each of them appears to be playing individual games. There is therefore the need for proper linkages among these elites to enable them ventilate their ideas and chart a common developmental agenda. In this age of computer and the internet, this will pose no problem provided there is the will and the attitude. Akama has a lot of potentials that if properly mobilized and harnessed could catapult the community to greater heights.
Another sore point that hinders development is the confusing political leaderships in the community. Akama has many governmental authorities whose functions and mandate appear parallel and confusing. For instance, while the community has an elected Town Union, which ordinarily should coordinate developmental efforts in the community, there is also the Traditional Ruler’s Cabinet which also sees itself as an agent of development. At the same time, there is the so-called “Ruling Age Grade” and an amorphous group that parades itself as the “Youth Association”, all of which exercise governmental authority.
These parallel governments cause confusion among the citizenry, since many ordinary people do not know who to obey or where to lay their loyalty. Perhaps, this explains the rationale behind the many stalled developmental projects and the springing up of several uncoordinated projects in the community. Is it therefore surprising that the Community Civic Centre as well as the Health Centre Projects that were started over three decades ago were yet to be completed? Has the community become so poor and wretched that it could not complete these projects? Not in the least.
How therefore can our present generation explain to our children that the rights and privileges which normally accrued to the community from the 2,728 acre-land given to government for the cashew project in 1952, and which had been yielding enormous revenue and resources to the people, have either by omission or commission, been allowed to slip off, and nobody is doing anything? What about the arable and expansive “Ogbodume Land” that had cost the community enormous resources in men and materials? Has Akama decided to abandon it to Amansiodo, Egede and Amaozalla Affa? What about Uzo-Agu Akama? How many people still make use of this road to their farms?
These are some of the challenges that face the present generation. We should not hesitate to shake off the lethargy and forces of backwardness and retrogression that have for long beclouded the community. It is these forces that have brought misunderstanding and confusion in the community, and prevent it from moving forward. It is time to rise against these forces in order to liberate the people from the shackles of poverty, ignorance and disease. Our people should no longer be allowed to suffer deprivations in the midst of plenty.
The society has been very kind and so generous to us that we must do all we could to reciprocate the gesture. Moreover, posterity would never forgive us if we fail to play the role expected of us. If therefore we fail to rise to the challenges of our time, we would have betrayed our historical mission and thus committed unpardonable injury to the memory of our great Ancestors.
B I B L I O G R A P H Y
Adiele Afigbo, (1987) The Igbo and their Neighbours, Ibadan: University Press.
Amaku, E.E., (2003) Philosophy and African Cultures in Academia: A CIP Journal of Philosophy; Owerri, Assumpta Press.
Eze, Dons et al, (1999) The Wawa Struggle, Enugu: Delta Publications (Nigeria) Limited.
Eze, Dons (2009) Enugu: 1909 -2009 – A Century in Search of Identity, Enugu: Linco Press.
Idowu, E.B. (1973) African Traditional Religion, London, SCM Press.
Jahn, J. (1961) Muntu; London/New York, E.T.
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels (1977) Collected Works, International Publishers, New York.
Mbiti, J.S. (1969) African Religions and Philosophy, Heinemann, London, page 136.
Nwabara, S.N. (1977) Iboland: A Century of Contact with the British (1860 – 1960), London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Okafor, R. C., (2006) The Owa Clan, Enugu: New Generation Books
Onyeama, Dillibe (2010) The Story of an African ‘God’, Enugu: Delta Publication (Nigerian) Limited.
Talbot-Amoury, P. (1926) The People of Southern Nigeria, London. Frank Cass and Co. Ltd.
Tempels, P. (1945) Bantu Philosophy; Paris, Presence Africaine
B. Journals and Other Publications
Anidiobu, R.W., The Ancient Galilee, Unpublished Manuscript.
Anidiobu, R.W. The Lost Paradise, Unpublished Managuscript.
Emeka, L. (1993) The Funy as the Punch: Mmanwu Obiagu Genre for Effective Social Mobilization, Enugu, Unpublished Article, Mmanwu Festival
Igwegbu Age Grade Almanac (2008).
Enugu State Ministry of Education, OE/COM/234/1/19.
Eze, Dons (1993) Mmanwu as Agent of Social Mobilization; Enugu, Unpublished Article, Mmanwu Festival.
Obidiegwu Onyeso - The Nri Kingdom: Eze Nri, Nri Ewelana II, in Igbonet.
Obuayo, C. O., Unpublished Manuscript.
Odozi Obodo,(1978) A Magazine of Akama Students and Graduates Association.
Odozi Obodo (1979), A Magazine of Akama Students and Graduates Association.
Odozi Obodo, (1980), A Magazine of Akama Students and Graduates Association.
Shanahan, Joseph, Life and Times.
www.compassdirect.org, August 1, 2001.
C. Archival Materials
ONDIST 12/1/423 Intelligence Report on Agbaja Clan, 1929, NAE.
OP 2910 ONDIST 12/1/ 2002 NAE.
UDDIV 3/1/96 National Archives, Enugu.
D. Oral Interviews
Anyanechi Chidowem, (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
Constantine Ikwueze (1978) Oral Interview, Akama.
Ilo Onoduobia (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
Joseph Ogwudile (1978) Oral Interview, Enugu.
Okongwu Ogbatu (1978), Akama, Oral Interview.
Ozo Nechi Okachi, (1978), Oyofo, Oral Interview.
Peter Ndubuisi (1978) Oral Interview, Enugu.
Pius Aboefi (1978) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
Nnaji Okechi (1981) Oral Interview, Akama Oghe.
Matthias Nwafor (1999), Akama, Oral Interview.
Stephen Odezulu Eze (2009) Akama, Oral Interview.