Prof Chidi Osuagwu of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, at this year’s Ezumezu Lecture, a colloquium organized by the Obowu Development Association (Federated), on the 16th of August, in Obowo, discuses identity crisis with its debilitating effects in Africa and Nigeria.
In his paper entitled Obowu Identity Recovery and Rectification in Post-invasion Africa presented before scholars, political leaders, various cultural and professional groups, traditional rulers and government leaders Osuagwu delves into the age long Ikwerre-Igbo identity conflict and the Aro roots of this crisis.
He also explains why Port Harcourt and Anioma States were not created in 1991 by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime despite all expectations, as well as why the leader of the Port Harcourt State creation Committee, Senator Obi Wali, was murdered.
And, for the first time, disruptive effects of the famous Aba Women Riot in the Igbo heart is also brought to light in this paper. Excerpts:
Obowu Identity Recovery and Rectification in Post-invasion Africa
Imperialism is Identity-stripper!
Egypt and the Arab Spring
The invasion of Africa, in the last more than one thousand years; first by Arabs, then Europeans has meant the gradual reduction of Africans to corpses; living dead. The identity-stripped and personality-warped is a living dead. Unless one understands this, he would not understand what is wrong with Africa; wrong with us. If we now have bad governance in Africa, not based on the Oma n’achi (the knowledgeable leads) principle, it is because ‘ozu’ are ruling Africa. The post-invasion (after slavery and colonialism) chief problem of Africa is the crisis of identity. Some short stories will illustrate this point.
Sometime in 2009, I went for a conference in Morocco. They gave participants a cocktail party at which two bands entertained. One band was Arab, the other Amazigh (Berber).
It was clear the Arab band was playing non-African, while Berber band played African music. The Arab band had only men (sharia-compliant!), while the Berber band had males and females, like Africans would. The lead female dancer moved across to where I, the darkest man in the audience of mainly white people, sat and asked me to dance. We danced.
Later I got to understand that the Berbers, 52% of the population, whose culture the Arabs suppress in the name of Islam are intensely nationalistic; pan-Africanist. They would rather identify with black Africa and have an identity than identify with Arabs in the name of Islam and lose their identity. Unless we understand this identity crisis in North Africa, we cannot understand why the so called Arab spring has run into a desert storm.
The Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, for instance, are salafists; like Boko Haram in Nigeria, who are Arab cultural purists; identity-strippers! They ran into trouble because they are trying to strip others, like Coptic Christians, of their identity. The Egyptian Army intervened to avert a civil war, like President Anwar Sadat did in 1982 and got shot for it.
Aro roots of Ikwere identity crises
In 1991, Babangida regime created new states without creating Igweocha or Port-Harcourt as requested by Igbo people of Rivers State, led by Senators Obi Wali and Francis Ellah. A short while later, I accompanied Mazi Philip Nkwocha, a friend of Obi Wali’s, to visit him at his home in Umuigbo. As Senator Wali saw us enter his house, he shouted at his friend “Phil, what happened?” His friend retorted, in surprise, “Obi about what?” “How come you people asked for Igbo States without including Port-Harcourt?” Wali further asked his perplexed friend. At this point I had to speak up to minimize the confusion. I knew something they both didn’t know.
In 1991 Emeka Omeruah, from Imo State (later Abia), was Military Governor of Enugu State, while Anthony Ogugua, from Anambra (later Enugu) was in Imo State. As the agitation for states heated, these two Governors, quietly, set up a committee to harmonious Igbo demand for States. I was a committee member.
Four states were identified; Abia, Anioma, Enugu and Port-Harcourt. Outreach groups were constituted to reach out to the Igbo in the different states. But events were moving so rapidly that the group decided to go with only demands that would not elicit identity confusion. Port-Harcourt was dropped, for this reason, for the Igbo there to do the best they could under the circumstance.
Hearing this Senator Wali sat still for a long while, then said “Phil, our gamble about identity has failed! You will buy me three traditional Igbo dresses.
I will attend this year’s Ahiajoku Lecture, and seek to deliver that of next year”. He never made it! He was assassinated a short while later, his friends believed, for his continued Port-Harcourt State creation agitation. When I read later that Dr Wali’s son, Ihunwo, was one of the leaders of the Congress for the Liberation of Ikwerre People, COLIP; an ‘Ikwerre-back-to-Igbo-fold’ youth movement, whose mission is to wean Ikwerre off Biafra-war propaganda, I knew where he was coming from.
Identify-confusion is a horrible disease. Barack Obama’s greatest political strength is his very early decision to be African-American and nothing else. He knew where his father came from; and where his mother came from. Those who pretend in America that they are, socially, half-white and half-black, for example, end up as friends of psychiatrists.
“Our gamble about identity has failed!” That statement, by a man who, a short while later, was murdered; for his just state-creation aspiration, still haunts one to this day. And no one can understand the current crisis in Rivers State without understanding the identity crises there. For instance what it means to be Ijaw, but not Izon or ‘core-Ijaw’. And, to be Igbo-speaking, but not Igbo? Or, in fact, all of the above. Not to talk of Ogoni ‘war-of-all-against-all’.
When I observed to Senator Wali that his person epitomized the Ikwerre identity dilemma; his very village is Umuigbo (Igbo-children/Igbo descendants/Igbo people), but he too claimed not to be Igbo, his response pointed to the great depth of our identity crises. He told us that his problem was not Igbo identity, as such, but Aro-Ikwerre domination. He informed us that he used to attend the Council meeting of the Village deity priesthood with his father. Even as a child, who carried his father’s stool, it struck him that of the seven stools of the Council, the small Aro population in Umuigbo controlled four. That information struck me.
Famous writer, Elechi Amadi, had given me a variant of this Aro-Ikwerre problematic tale in 1985. We had served together on an interview panel at the then Rivers State College of Education, Port-Harcourt. He told me he had no problem with Igbo identity, but had problem when the Aro-Ikwerre, during the Nigeria-Biafra War, plotted to kill him. Now, it seems the Ikwerre suffer from a significantly misdirected anger.
They are, in this case; holding their Isuama-Igbo (Ikwerre, traditionally, distinguished between ‘Ikwerre and Isuama’; not ‘Ikwerre and Igbo’) kinsmen, who are ethically more related to them than to the Aro, accountable for Aro domination.The Early British, before oil became a factor of ethnic classification in the Lower Niger, had a cultural sub-group of the Igbo they called Orratta-Ikwerre (that is Owerri-Ikwerre, in current usage), who, both call the heartland Igbo as Isuama. Ekwensu wu amaghi ihe! The Devil is Ignorance! The solution to our identity crises, then, is ‘Know self, know other!’
Now to consider the Aro a purely Igbo people; and hold Igbo responsible for Aro mischief is the height of identity confusion. One day, the Cross-river Ejegham, who own the Ibini-Ukpabi soul of the Aro system, the Efik who control the social organizational Ekpe; the Ogoja Akpa that supplied the fighters and the Ibibio on whose land Arochukwu was founded will turn around and blame the Igbo, from among whom a few medicine men were coopted, for inventing Ibini-Ukpabi and Aro slavery. That would be a most uncharitable treatment of truth, but the world is a clever place.
That the Aro and Arochukwu have been in the process of Igbonisation, as Dike and Ekejiuba called it, because of the sheer weight of Igbo population and Culture in the neighbourhood, does not alter their fundamental archeology and history as a synthetic people who exist beyond Igboland. Aro exist, physically and culturally, at the very Igbo border (that is why they are called Aro-okeigbo; Igbo-boundary-Aro).
An informed internet site gives the following information on the Aro Confederacy: Created: 1690; Capital: Arochukwu; Official languages: Igbo, Ibibio, Ijaw …etc; …; Dissolved: 1902 (http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Aro_Confederacy). Where, then is the pure ‘Igbo Aro’? Aro sins cannot be visited on the Igbo or Ibibio, who were the chief victims; leaving off the coastal Ijaw and Efiks; who were the ultimate slave-traders, in direct contact with European slavers.
Closer home, and happier; Okenze BG Okonkwo, Obowu Development Association President-General, visited the Abuja branch recently. He was surprised to have some attendant introduce himself as Obowu man from Amachara, Umuopara, in Abia State.
Luckily my brother, High-chief BC Osuagwu, whose wife is, logically, High-lolo was present to explain. A branch of our Umuabazu-Umunachi people migrated to Amachara. They, of course, retain the name Umuabazu as the branch of our Umuikwe kindred retains the name Umuikwe at Ogbodi, Umuopara.
As Opara Asonye (father of Dr. MI Okpara) said in an interview, in 1977 “Umuhu and Okaiuga are Ohuhu. My grandfather Onyemobi said we came from Obowu. We all came from Obowu because the names of the villages on both sides are the same.” Former Provost of AICE, Owerri, from Umunwanwa Umuopara, Prof SN Nwosu, had also asserted in a television Interview some years ago, that Umuopara people migrated from Obowu, which explains the presence of my people at Amachara and Ogbodi. Also, my mother’s Ehume Obowu people migrated to form Ehume Umuopara. When the last Eho (totem tree of Eho-ume; Ehume) died, in the early 1950s, I saw them come for the funeral, in long lines, with their celebration guns firing in Uwuwuru-egbe.
If we recall; when the British colonial soldiers thought they had defeated Obowu, in 1911, our Mbaloha (Ohuhu and Umuopara) kinsmen started shelling them from across the Imo River to their discomfiture, forcing Britain to negotiate with Obowu. Would their ill-informed descendants come to Obowu’s support today, in similar circumstane? Can we now appreciate the cost of loss of identity-consciousness between us and our Ohuhu/Umuopara kinsmen?
It was not of-course a one way flow of solidarity. Support flowed from Obowu to our Mbaloha kinsmen, too. As Isichei’s Igbo Worlds informs “When we were children, Abam people came to Aguebi-Umuagu … two villages appeared at once with their guns, attacked and finished Abam people. Abam people never escaped each time they strayed into Ohuhu because we are Abam in our own way.
In those days, before our people went to war they were prepared by medicinemen … Some of the medicine men came from Mgbowo or Obowo and Ugwueke. The most famous came from Obowo … captains were chosen by the medicine men through a test.” Solidarity of Obowu kinsmen kept Ohuhu free from slave raiders. And later solidarity of Ohuhu helped sustain Obowu dignity in encounter with British colonialism. Identity is everything! No identity, no dignified existence!!
Ezumezu-2013 and Partially failed Obowu Gamble about Identity.
When we talked about identity gamble it sounds distant from us. But the clan that is ancestral root to Drs MI Okpara and Sam Mbakwe, Obowu, did indeed gamble about their identity under colonial pressure. Today, Ihitte-Obowu is the only Ihitte in the known universe that pretends to be a proper name, instead of adjective. That is why we are here today; on a pathway to recovery and rectification of Obowu identity. If Obowu youth had their way, Ikenga-Obowu was to drop Obowu and answer Ikenga simplicita. Ihitte was to do likewise. The gamble failed on the Ikenga side; but succeeded on the Ihitte side. What happened?
Ikenga and Ihitte within African Social-structural Binarism
Some people think Obowu was some man; Ikenga his son, Ihitte another (adopted) son, e.tc. That is ridiculous thought, fueled by ignorance of Igbo and African social philosophy.
In introducing myself above, I had shown that Ehume is named after Eho, the tree, which symbolizes an ideology of commitment to life-promotion. Was Eho a man, also? Was Nnachi a man who gave birth to four sons that constitute Umunachi? When Avutu talks of ‘Olengalaba-ama-iteghete’, how many know Umuikwe that I just said are part of Umunachi, Ogbodi, and elsewhere, is one of them.
And I said that Nnachi is the ‘Spirit-of-knowledge-driven-wise-governance’; spirit of the philosopher-king, symbolized by the Achi tree. Obowu was not a man; and neither Ikenga nor Ihitte. These are social categories; social communities. Obowu (Obi-owumowu) means the ‘Heartland People or Hometead-of-all’ as we understand it.
Ikenga and Ihitte are ‘social moieties’, as Adiele Afigbo called it, that constitute a proper Igbo community. Professor Afigbo made this point in relation to his own hometown, Ihuwe (Ihube, as the Whiteman corrupted it), which also has an Ikenga part and an Ihitte part:
“According to the unadulterated version of … oral history, the seven villages of Ihuwe fell into two moieties– Ikenga and Ihitte with Ikenga being the senior moiety and Ihitte the junior moiety”
Uturu, which neighbours Ihube, is also organized into Ikenga (Ikeagha) and Ihitte. Around the same Okigwe neighbourhood, one finds Ikenga-Aku, Ihitte-Aku, Ikenga-Isiokwe, Ihitte-Isiokwe, etc. Nearer home, Obowu neighbours to the West, is Ezi-na-Ihitte; our Ohuhu kinsmen; across the Imo, are also organized as Ikenga-Ohuhu and Ihitte-Ohuhu.
Scholars have long established that every properly established Igbo community is organized in binary moieties of Ikenga/Ihitte, Ezi/Ihitte, Ndiugwu/Ndiagbo, Ndiama/Ndiowerre, etc. The complementary-binary structuring of communities is universal in Igboland.This social-structuring motif is the reason Ikenga-Obowu (alias Obowo LGA) is also organized into two moieties as Ekwerenote/Okwunanso. Furthermore, all the towns of Okwunanso, where I belong, are grouped in pairs; Alike/Amuzi, Umunachi/Avutu, Umuoke/Umulogho. Because seven towns cannot fit into pairs, the left-over town, Okwuoha, is paired with Umuihi on the Ihitte side.
Even though there are four villages in my Umunachi, things are not shared that way. They are shared into two; Ogboghoro-na-Abazu and Uta-na-Awom, to maintain the binary motif. My own Umuabazu, in Umunachi, is organized as Eluama/Agboala (note: Ugwu/Agbo that is the standard in Enugu area exists in Obowu).
The interesting thing is that Umuabazu people are back-migrators from Mbaloha (Ohuhu and Umuopara), pressed to come back, as great Dibia (medicine-men), who played key role, in the Obowu cultural, leadership and defense system.
For instance during the Isuama battles, 1911, the British were worried because “There was the report received by Frank Hives that prior to the Final onslaught on Obowu, ‘a strong juju was being prepared’ … ‘strong juju’ was regarded as highest national defense strategy”. So, people that played such key roles, including ‘Ofo’ holders, were usually discouraged from migration. We recall that it was mostly to dibia that Whiteman handed warrants to be chief. Examples are Mgbaja Uwandu of Umunachi and Obasi of Amuzi, who both turned down the offer as ridiculous; infradig to them.
That I, descendant of Osuagwu Nwuku, holder of ‘Mpiokpu Ikwe’, who led the Umuabazu returnees back and Umuowom Ehume woman, whose family holds ‘Ofo-Agwukwu’ Obowu, delivers this lecture today is an indication of the efficacy of the policy of discouraging elite migration (something modern Igbo can learn from). It is, indeed, only Obowu cultural that both Premier MI Okpara and Governor SO Mbakwe were sons of Dibia (note: they both went back to school after holding high office).
In any case, some Umuikwe-Umuabazu migrated back to Obowu, with demographic imbalance between them and Umuekete that left Uhuekete in Ndundu, where Avutu poultry now is, to join them. To recreate the imperative ‘two moiety’ socio-structural framework, Umuenwezuo and Umuokereke from Umuikwe had to be excised and joined to Umuekete to form Eluama (this recently led to an identity face-off), while only Umunwuku-Umuikwe formed agboala. Both Nwuku and his father, Ikwe, were great medicine-men.
To understand this Igbo socio-structural motif, we recall that the Igbo equate one to zero … “Ihe foduru otu agwula … remainder one equals zero. Ihe-uwa wu abuo-abuo … the world is populated by binary pairs. Ihe-uwa wu oke-na-nne … the world is populated by males and females (cosmologic origin of fierce African opposition to homosexuality).
Ihekwuru, Ihe akwubido ya … nothing stands alone. Indeed Complementary-Binarism is a pan-African cosmologic motif. Ancient Egypt, though under one pharaoh, was structured on the ikenga-ihitte binary motif as ‘Upper and Lower Egypt”, with separate patron deities. And so was the Africa-founded Hebrew nation formed along the motif as Isreal and Judea, in spite of being 12 tribes.
So, there is absolutely nothing special about Ikenga-Obowu and Ihitte-Obowu. It is part of a general Igbo social-structuring model. The Erima Societal System of the Igbo, best developed in the Isuama Igbo heartland, is a nature-imitating, bionic, community. Indeed Obowu would not be founded by an Igbo people without Ikenga and Ihitte; complementary moieties, which would make a natural, stable, community. Community standing, firm, on two legs! How can a system stand on one leg for long?
1929 Women’a Riot and Obowu Identity Watershed, 1929.
There are some features of note on this map. The first is the prominence of the term ‘ISU’ written all-over the Map. The Isu people are the autochthonous Igbo people, whether found at Obowu, Ohaozara, Awka, Igbouzo (Ibusa), Awgu, Etche or Ihechiowa, etc.
Okigwe District was created for the core of the autochthonous Isu called Isuama (which according to the binary socio-structural motif is balanced with Isu-Owerre/Isu-Ohia/Isu-Agu). Until a few years ago, I did not know I was an Isu man; because my Obowu people called our Uboma neighbours ‘Isu’ in contrast to ourselves (e.g. Umuoma-Isu). Books told me, I’m Isuama; like Isu-Ochi, Isu-Ikwuato, Isu-Njaba, Isu-Ngele, etc.
Isuama was the largest formal State structure; with judicial (Ogbunorie), military arms and administrative headquarters (Ezumoha, near Anara, in Mbano) of which Obowu was a part before the British came. It turned out that Obowu, and indeed Etiti Confederacy, from documented evidence, was an Isuama affair; sanctuary and fortification against the Trans-Atlantic Slave. A close look at the map will show ‘Nso’ (Nsu). The term Nso means, literally, joiners; those that follwed. The one on the map is Nso-Uboma. The majority people of Ikenga-Obowu today are also ‘nso’ (Okwunanso). Ekwereazu in Mbaise are also part of the ‘Nso’ group.
These had great medicine men (knowledge experts) as well as fighters. Avutu (un-uprootable; unconquerable), Alike (land of braves) in Obowu; Umuokirika (underminers) in Ekwerazu and Agbaghara (avengers) in Nsu-Uboma were the best fighters (Achara Ogboogu ; invasion-blockers, are also border-fighters, but of Ihitte-Obowu, non-Nso, origin).
It is the pan-Isuama character of the new Obowu (original Obowu was Ekwerenote-Ikenga and Ihitte) that explains the British reports, 1911, that; “From Obowu had gone out the threat that it would be punishable by death for ‘any natives to submit to government (British) rule’. Consequently neighboring villages (Isuama clans) had sent their men and cap-guns to assist Obowu in their struggle”. Not surprisingly, Obowu/Etiti; like under threat from slavery and British colonialism, was the last Biafran fortress; sanctuary of freedom, as Ojukwu’s final headquarters. The physical geography of the territory explains this role.
Finally, we note that on this map Obowu is written twice; northeast and southwest of the Aham-Abadaba water system. There is one Obowu where Ikenga-Obowu is located and another where Ihitte-Obowu is. No name like Ihitte anywhere. 1929 is a watershed date in Obowu (particularly Ihitte) identity and crises. Why?
1929 Women’s War, Juo Onwunali and War of Okonkwos
In 1929 Ogu-umunyanyi, the Women’s War, alias ‘Aba Women’s Riot’, took place. The war was furious in Obowu. The leader of Obowu women in the Women’s war was Akulechura. Akulechura was a woman of Amakohia Ihittte-Obowu. Her historical speech at the Commission of Inquiry following the war, informed the Whiteman that Igbo women think for themselves. The speech, popularized by Gailey’s book The Road to Aba, gave the current worldwide Women’s Liberation Movement their battle-cry ‘Thinking for Ourselves!’ Said she:
“It has been suggested here that men encouraged women to move about. I deny that statement. It is not true.We were not encouraged by men. … Men had been made to pay tax and the rumour that women were going to be taxed was spread around. Women became infuriated because they had already felt the burden of the tax on men. We acted according to our consciences. There is no law made by men that women should not move about. The matter did not concern men”.
Akunechura (Akuura Nwanyi-Amakohia, like my mother would call her); Obowu and African heroine, was probably the last real leader out of Obowu, before the subsisting political night fell on the clan.
The warrant chiefs were the problem. They wanted power and were ready to sacrifice anything, including identity, for it. This is not surprising, as already noted, real Obowu elite; like Mgbaja of Umunachi and Obasi of Amuzi rejected the insolent warrant chief appointments. Some people of questionable integrity and public spirit, and, at times, straight charlatans, efulefu, as to be expected under the circumstance, put themselves forward. Ndorondoro-ochichi; self-interested struggle for political power, which was alien to the land, had arrived in Obowu.
The tradition was “O ma n’achi; Nze n’achi”; the knowledgeable-righteous leads’. Ndinze-Onugaotu (parliament-of-righteous-democrats), that met at Onugaotu, Ehume, led and ruled Obowu before the Whiteman came. These men,Nze-Iyinze, were subjected to the Nze-oath; Iyinze, that involved Isaire; cleansing of the tongue, to wash-away the tendency to lie. Nze-Iyinze, compared to current Nze-akupe (made by warrant-chiefs by striking fan on their backs) would never lie. They represented Obowu at higher assemblies on the principle of “Aho ndisi-ala, ha ahogharia onye ha” … a leadership elects its own leadership.
After the Women’s War, the British flooded Eastern Nigeria with anthropological scholars, to try to better understand the rebellious people they thought they had conquered to rule, with a view to more effective control. Assistant District Officer NAPG Mackenzie studied Obowu. If we look at the map (Fig.3), we see NC (native court) written between the two Obowus, across Lake Abadaba.
That court (Abadaba Court it was called) was for Ikenga and Ihitte-Obowu. Mackenzie could not understand why during his interview Ihitte chiefs wanted a separate court from Abadaba Court. The issue is simpler, though; Abadaba Court had a fixed number of Warrant-chief Judges. If Ihittte got a separate court, more warrant-chiefs would become customary-court judges and access more bribes. That set the stage for Ihittte-Obowu becoming named simply Ihitte, an adjective.
Perverse effect is the unexpected negative effect of an action intended for good. The Women’s War, glorious as it was, exacerbated Obowu identity crisis in an unexpected way. This was the removal of the most educated and sophisticated warrant-chief in Obowu, Onwunali Obasi of Amuzi. De-stoolment and imprisonment of Onwunali created a vacuum for two less sophisticated, but articulate and ambitious, chiefs; ‘Konkwo Anowi of Umulogho, Ikenga-Obowu and ‘Konkwo Olujie of Umuihi, Ihitte-Obowu to struggle to fill.
The process polarized support along the sub-clan lines. ‘Konkwo Olujie bargained for the chiefs of the four Ihitte towns that had relocated to Ikenga; Odenkume, Amanze, Umungwa and Achara, to show solidarity and vote for him. They, particularly his friend Ibe Nkume of Umungwa, disappointed him. They had voted, with the rest of the Ikenga group, for ‘Konkwo Anowi who they thought less unscrupulous. Obowu was split!
Onwunali whose Dibia father, Obasi, turned down the warrant-chieftaincy as below his dignity, took over the role from his uncle, Koriocha, who his father had earlier nominated to the Whiteman; as more worth the time waste, after acquiring the Whiteman’s education and political ways. The Whiteman likeed him and relied on him, as he spoke their language. Obowu, who were not Whiteman’s friends, took note. Ugha ka mma na bekee!; lies are best told in English!
That’s why it was possible for Onwunali to tell his Whiteman friends that his hometown, Amuzi, one of the joiner Okwunanso group, was the ‘head town’ of Obowu. ‘Ma Uwa amarala si Ehume wu Opara!’ but the whole world knows that Ehume is the first son of Obowu; holder of ‘Ofo-nze-onugaotu’. When the Commission on the Women’s War asked Obowu people of what they knew about the uprising, to one man, they retorted “Juo Onwunali!”; ‘Ask Onwunali!’ Find out from Onwunali!
His Britannic Majesty’s Commission, on the basis of the overwhelming consensus opinion of witnesses before them, concluded, logically, that Onwunali was behind the uprising and recommended long imprisonment. They sent Onwunali to Port-Harcourt prison, near where they had the seaport to their home. People thought that, because of the seriousness of the crime, they sent Onwunali near the seaport with plans to send him to a harsher penitentiary overseas. In any case, the British, shortly, discovered that Obowu had tricked them into jailing their friend. They granted Onwunali free pardon, and restored him as chief.
Meanwhile the struggle to fill the vacuum, as chairman, his absence in the customary court created had torn Obowu apart along sub-clan lines (Ikenga versus Ihitte). Hence the vehemence with which Ihitte demanded a separate court three years later. Obowu women dealt with the warrant-chiefs, for their iniquities and collaboration with invaders, during the women’s uprising.
They caught ‘Konkwo Olujie, for instance, urinated into his mouth and burnt his house. When Biafra came, later, all prominent Obowu warrant-chiefs, except Onwunali Obasi who, after his ‘Juo Onwunali’ experience, became a just chief from Ikenga and Ogwuegbu Ndegbe, who was naturally a fair enough man for his son to learn and became a justice of Nigeria’s Supreme Court, from Ihitte, were de-stooled for their Whiteman-taught bad rulership and impunity.
The Whiteman imported rulership impunity (omekome) into Obowu, as all Igboland. Nigeria now has enshrined that in the constitution, yet America from whom we copied, tried President Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky Affair while in office.
This opportunistic customary court problematic of Ihitte-Obowu chiefs came up again a generation later. Around Nigeria’s independence time (1958), the Eastern Nigerian Government decided to close unviable customary courts, to save costs.
Ihitte-Obowu chiefs saw the hammer approaching them, and panicked. They quickly went into a secret deal with the chiefs of three of the Ihitte towns (Odenkume, Amanze and Umungwa) that had, in ancient times, renounced the harsh jurisdiction of their patron-deity, Ajala, to join their Ekwerenote kinsmen on the Ikenga side (note: none of the four joined the ‘nso’ Okwunanso group). Chiefs Akaliro of Odenkume, Timothy Njoku of Amanze and Chijioke Emelogu of Umungwa would be reserved three of the seven customary court judgeships on the retained Ihitte Court, if they signed-up. They signed-up.
They sent their application to Enugu, without informing their people. Unfortunately, for them, Chief Richard Onyeneho of Ikenga-Obowu was Secretary, Eastern House-of-chiefs at the time, to whose desk their petition landed. Instead of filing their application, Onyeneho summoned Ikenga-Obowu and read it to them. These three chiefs were de-stooled and ostracized in Obowu. Whiteman-made warrant-chiefs have played central roles in the Obowu identity crises.
Finally, looking at the map, one realizes that the term Etiti would lack proper meaning without integral Obowu (Ikenga plus Ihitte) and integral Uboma (Uboma with Nsu). The road from Oriagu in Nsu to Ekeikpa in Amanyi-ama, Ihitte, literally, passes through the boundary (etiti-ala) of Obowu and Uboma. We don’t find ‘Uboma’ on the map, though. Uboma was called Onicha (note: Lowa-Onicha), because the paramount ruler was Chief Osuji of Onicha-Uboma.
That is why when the Church Missionary Society (CMS) wanted to build a central primary school for Obowu and Uboma, they build it along the boundary, calling it Onowu (Onicha + Obowu) Central School. The Roman Catholics also built one called St Joseph, Ihitte-Obowu.
Wankwenkwe and ‘Magicians’: Last Straw that Detached Obowu from Ihitte Obowu
Ihitte did not, formally, drop Obowu from their name until the colonially-induced notoriety of Obowu became a serious embarrassment to Obowu youth abroad; in the new Nigerian cities they migrated to. Obowu never surrendered to the British, because they did not know what it meant to surrender to one on the wrong side of Truth-justice, Ogu.
So the British adopted a scorch-earth policy against them … “until the rebels suffer a severe loss by way of men”, as Captain Taylor of the invading British force recommended. Except that men did not mean adult males; women, children as well as adult males were shot at sight. Stealing yams carried death-penalty in traditional Obowu. The British earned that death sentence thousands of times over; they burnt farms, barns and shot animals.
The British never understood Obowu’s opposition, as wrote the Colonial Commissioner to the Colonial Secretary “It is difficult to understand the attitude of the natives and the persistent opposition which they offer the (British) government”.
How would the British understand? What did Britain know of Erima (the organic/ecological community); what did they know of Onugaotu (consensual democracy of Oha; the political ALL), what did they know of Ohanawueze (Republicanism), what did they know of the Nwaara; Spirit-of-the-age-grade; Covenant of Shared Breast-milk that made age-grades formidable fighting formations, and what did they know of Ndi-mmiri, Ndu-azu (Right to life of all life)? The Obowu were far too socially advanced for British comprehension. Obowu was in desperate way, in a strange circumstance!
In reaction, Obowu youth became bandits; law and order broke down. They took such age-grade names as Nkume-mgbe-ebighiebi (Rock-of-ages; my father’s age-group), Dike-okaaomee (Braves that deliver on their threats), Dike-meelee! (let-the-mighty-dare-and-see!), etc. The warrant chief was treated as enemy agent.
Colonial establishments and clans that had accepted the Whiteman’s rule were raided and property looted. They had a name for themselves ‘Ndi-majik’; the magicians. Many took ‘church’ names; Nelson of Umunachi and Aaron of Ehume were examples. Their English name for themselves, ‘Magicians’, shows that they were a new phenomenon with no basis in Obowu culture.
The clash of the Avutu age-grade, Dike-okaomee, with Warrant-chief Nwosu Ikeagwu can illustrate what the new ‘rulers’ were doing and the Obowu youth perception of and reaction to them.
Nwosu Ikeagwu was warrant-chief for Umunachi/Avutu (before they were separated into two ikputu mba), and like other warrant-chiefs corrupt. He bought a bicycle that ate yams. At intervals he would deflate the tire of his bicycle and summon Umunachi and Avutu to contribute yams to feed the bicycle. Then, he would go in, pump the bicycle and bring it out to show ‘well fed’. He kept doing this, until he ran afoul of Dike-okaomee age-grade and they, calmly, organized and de-stooled him.
The then was that British colonialists sequestered contributory forced-labour from the communities. This was thoroughly hated, fiercely independent Obowu. The warrant-chiefs were the enforcers.
In Obowu the age-grade was a traditional labour formation, so the British took advantage. When it came to the turn of Dike-okaomee, Nwosu took money from, and exempted, some of them. Others, who did’t pay, were to go do forced labour. Now, the age-grade is a frame of absolute equality, based on the nwaara; Shared-breast-milk covenant (Available mothers of same age babies would brest-feed all hungry babies, including orphans. This created a sense of common motherhood among age-mates called nwaara). Partiality within the age-grade would be absolute sin. In theory an age-grade is a commonwealth; so money taken from any member is taken from all. On the appointed day, every member of the age-grade stayed away from work.
Nwosu sent his ‘official list’ of defaulters, and the British summoned them to court, for trial. On the judgment day, all members of the age-grade appeared in court as co-accused. A security issue! In any case, they explained that none of them went to work because Nwosu took money from all of them not to go work. Chief Nwosu became the accused; judged and de-stooled.
Now other chiefs were no better, nor the youth less alienated. Colonial establishments and clans that had accepted the Whiteman’s rule were raided and property looted. This was consistent with the warning Obowu issued to Isuama in 1911. Communities that prospered more under the Whiteman were proportionately more subject to Obowu youth raids and lootings; particularly markets.
Within this climate of anarchy, the Methodist Church established a Bookshop at Umuahia, and news of the novel establishment went abroad. People were visiting the Bookshop on excursion, as tourist site; a palace where packed knowledge was sold. One day an Ihitte-Obowu young man, Wankwenkwe of Nkwumeato, went into the Bookshop, saw the books and decided to pack some away. It was broad daylight looting. The Zik Group of Newspapers carried nation-wide story of an Obowu young man who raided a new Bookshop to steal books he could not read or know what to do with. This story embarrassed Obowu youth, who were jeered at, in the colonial townships. They decided to act.
Obowu youth decided that Ikenga-Obowu should excise Obowu from the name and answer Ikenga; Ihitte was to do same and answer Ihitte. In desperation, Obowu youth had decided to abolish their proper names and answer adjectives. Richard Onyeneho, of Umuariam, led the youth to inform Ikenga-Obowu of the new development in clan nomenclature, while David Epeagba led the youth to inform Ihitte-Obowu. The warrant-chiefs having created the framework for an easy-sale in Ihitte, the idea was adopted. It failed in Ikenga because of the intervention of a patriot Obowu people had better come to know better; Biringa Odiotu of umunachi Obowu.
Odiotu Querry and Obowu Identity.
When Richard Onyeneho presented the case of the youth to their Ikenga-Obowu kinsmen, one of the delegates drew his machete and charged at him, shouting “O wu Ikenga-Eghu k’owu Ikenga-Nkita? … is it Ikenga of goats or of dogs?” The serious question ‘O wu Ihitte-Eghu k’owu Ihitte-Nkita?’ was, apparently, not dealt positively with on the Ihitte-Obowu side, because there was no Biringa Odiotu present, and armed. Ikenga is a function; a subject that must be attached to an object to make sense.
Among goats, the mother-goat that exercises leadership is the Ikenga. Among Igbo the side of the community that exercises ritual leadership, holders of the Ofor, is the Ikenga. Ofo Obowu, Ofo-nze-onugaotu, is at Ehume in Ikenga-Obowu, where Obowu ritual activities, including for ihitte end.
That is why it is said of Ajala, the Ihitte-Obowu deity “Ajala ga-elu, ga-Ala ya alakwuru Onugaotu.” Ajala may travel where she may, but must return to Onugaotu (This is in reference to the Mbomuzo (Wiyi high-way cleaning/mending) festival which moves through all the communities, including Ihitte, in turn, but must finally end at Onugaotu, Ehume. Traditionally, some specified parts of the sacrificial animals of the festival will be sent forth from each town for the final festival).
So, Ikenga and Ihitte, kind of adjectives are meaningless without attachment to a proper name they qualify. Biringa would not accept a nonsensical name for a name. Odiotu’s thesis: A name that is not a proper name is not a name at all! That thesis saved the name Obowu from colonial destruction.
But Odiotu’s querry had serious practical implication, too. If Ikenga-Obowu asummed ‘Ikenga’ as name, how would they distinguish themselves from Ikenga-Ogidi or Ikenga-Ihube? How does Ihitte-Obowu, which assumed ‘Ihitte’ as name, today, distinguish themselves from their neighbours that have Ihitte as part of their names; Ihitte-Nsu and Ihitte-Aforukwu? Odiotu’s querry is relevant for all Obowu people and all others, particularly Africans, with identity crises in the modern world. Whoever answers it correctly will recover and rectify their identity. Identity crisis, as we see from Senator Wali, has a cost.
Today, Ohuhu people recall they came from Obowu, but not specify from Ihitte or Ikenga sides; consistent with the practice when they left, as reflected on map above. As Ihitte remains outside Obowu name umbrella, they forfeit Ohuhu kinship, by default, even when many communities there have Ajala suggesting Ihitte origin. Identity confusion is a costly affair. We must recover and rectify our Obowu identity, so that, for example, our children can, into the far future, enjoy the kind of mutual survival solidarity between us and our Ohuhu/Umuopara kinsmen across the Imo River.
For those who know, such mutual support is still going on. Like, Onyema Ugochukwu at NDDC building the connecting Road between Obowu and Ohuhu or me advise my Golden Guinea brewmaster brother, Chimdindu, to avail MI Okpara’s son, Uzodinma, of business opportunities in their company.
Let Obowu today reflect; on Akulechura’s querry and Biringa’s query! Obowu must Honour Biringa Odiotu and Honour Akulechura, forever. For it is the spirit of heros and heroines that guide a people to, eternally, remain themselves; maintain their identity and retain their personality. A people who are sure of who they are, are sure of a self-controlled future in an ever-mutating world.
The post-colonial societal crisis in Africa is, significantly, a crisis-of-identity. Obowu as Igboland and all Africa is afflicted with this crisis. Obowu, a standard Igbo community, exists in two moieties; Ikenga and Ihitte. British colonial pressures led to Obowu socio-economic and identity crises. Rejecting British colonial authority, the youth turned Obowu into a realm of significant lawlessness.
Obowu degenerated from marshal of the Isuama, core Igboland, people before British invasion to notoriety. In embarrassment Ihitte-Obowu excised Obowu from her name, becoming the only community in Igboland to answer Ihitte as proper name. With independence from Britain struggle, Obowu recovered her old socio-political rhythm; producing from her roots some of the best leaders; heroes and heroines Eastern Nigeria has had in modern times.
Obowu, and her Etiti confederates, in recovery, have also earned the admiration of others such that former Biafran leader, General Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu could say, in 2002, “They tell me the best things in Igboland come from Etiti; I, also, am from Etiti”. This paper is part of a movement for Obowu identity recovery and rectification, which hopes to set the pace for other peoples of Igboland and Africa. We should expand the discourse in an organic fashion. We should talk next with our Uboma (including Nsu) confederates, then our Ohuhu and Umuopara (Mbaloha) kinsmen, followed by Ezumoha-Isuama, all-Igbo and, then, all Africa (including African Diaspora). The self-unconscious is living-dead, Ozu. Let us self-know to livealive.NDU M IKENGA NDU M IHITTE
By Chidi G Osuagwu, PhD Department of Biomedical Technology Federal University of Technology, Owerri
(2013 Ezumezu-Wiyi Lecture, Otoko Obowu, 16 August 2013)