NRI IS THE FOCUS IN IGBO
I read with great trepidation, the posting of Okenwa Nwosu MD of 30th June 2011 titled ‘IGBOUKWU WAS NEVER PART OF “NRI KINGDOM”.
The most shocking aspect of the write up is that it opened with the following liner: “A lie repeated severally could soon become a fact.” And he to brand all the authorities to date on Igbo and Nri Studies liars based on a book of Igbo historical fallacies written by one Prof. Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe titled “THE IGBO and their NRI NEIGHBOURS”. I have read the book and the title and content of the book asserts that Nri people are not Igbo but IGALA! I have decided to answer Prof. Nwezeigwe with a book which should be in the book stalls in the next 6 to 9 months. Unfortunately Igboukwu people keep trying to force my hands. It is either they are claiming to be the No. 1 Igbo or they are performing IWAJI for NDIGBO.
I am neither an anthropologist nor a historian. I am a student of both faculties of learning. I read every available material on Igbo cultural and political history II can lay hands on and will suggest that anybody who wants to dabble into Igbo Cultural History should read up, for there are hundreds of published volumes on the subject dating from the 18th century. Unfortunately most Igbo elite like Dr. Okenwa R. Nwosu ,are too busy making money that they do not read and know nothing on Igbo Cultural History. Yet they are the ones who are always too quick to come to judgement on issues of Igbo History which they have no time to study. I come about this type almost on a daily basis. Even if one is a Medical Doctor but fail to read up on any subject matter outside one’s field of learning, that fellow cannot assert any competence except as authenticated by scholars in that field of learning.
As for Dr. Okenwa R. wild assertions based on Prof Nwezeigwe’s highly compromised views in his highly controversial book, I will merely exhibit the facts and evidence Professors who taught Prof. Nwezeigwe and other world renowned authorities on Igbo history,anthropology and archeology and leave the reader to make up his mind on who is telling the truth between those authorities, Dr. Okenwa R. Nwosu and Prof. Nwankwo T. Nwezeigwe.
It was the motto of the 1960s Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s news paper – the West African Pilot, to “ Show the light and let the People find the Way”.
I have done quite some work on Nri issue and will merely attach copy of a letter I wrote the Hon. Federal Minister of Culture and Tourism on 23rd March 2009 when Igboukwu people claimed to be celebrating IWAJI for Ndigbo. That letter has a historical document attached to it which I have merely edited and reproduced hereunder.
I leave the reader to his opinion as to where Prof. Nwezeigwe is coming from by claiming that Nri people who gave Igala kingship and the Igbo, the Bini & the Igala, the four market days of Nkwor, Eke, Oye & Afor, come from Igala. Can a son preceed his father? “Ndigbo si nwata ada ebu nna ya uzo amuta di okpala.” Literally interpreted, “a son cannot have a son before his father”. Oral tradition of Nri and recordings by Colonial Anthropologists have it that the progenitor of Igala was Onoja Nwa Oboli, one of the sons of Eri. Oboli was one of the wives of Eri. It was the tradition up to the 1940s for men to be called after their mother’s names since Igbo families were traditionally polygamous.
British colonial anthropologists also recorded that Nri people used to perform prominent roles in the coronation of Atta of Igala whose history dates back to only 1500 AD unlike Nri which predates 900AD.
The dating of Nri civilization is authenticated by carbon -14, a scientific process, unlike most civilizations in Nigeria. The reader will now be able to judge Prof. Nwezeigwe’s assertion that an Igala prince whose kingdom dates back to only 1500AD set up Nri Kingdom which dates back 900AD! I forgive Prof. Nwezeigwe his misplacement of Nri. I am informed he is a historian dabbling into anthropology by other motives other than scholarship. Furthermore, the reader would be in a position to judge Igbo-ukwu claims to a place in Igbo history. Igboukwu had no tradition of kingship except as introduced by the British Colonial Warrant Chieftaincy Decree of 1903. I challenge Dr. Okenwa R. Nwosu to name the first traditional ruler of Igboukwu which until the 1950s answered IGBO-NKWOR.
Please read on and form your opinion as to who is telling the truth:
NRI THE FOCUS OF IGBO CULTURE, HISTORY AND CIVILIZATION
One of the greatest advocacies that emerged from thirty-five years of studying Igbo culture is the conviction that Igbo culture needs to be re-focused in space and time as it was between AD 900 to 1911. The late Rt. Honorable Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was one of the earliest Igbo elites to be convinced about this need. When on Wednesday, 29th March 1956, as the Premier of Eastern Nigeria, he moved the second reading of a Bill entitled “The Recognition of Chiefs Law 1957.” He said amongst others:-
“Thirty years ago, Dr. P. Amoury Talbot gave a lot of reliable information about the Aro theocracy and the spiritual potentates of Agukwu Nri whose civil supremacy was acknowledged in Awka and Udi Divisions and which was a holy city that was comparable to lle-Ife in its hey day.
From this remarkable ethnographer, we gleaned authoritative data about kings and chiefs who exercised spiritual and temporal power throughout the Eastern Nigeria just as their opposite numbers did in the North and West.
..It is remarkable that while the Ooni if Ife was recognized as the spiritual head of the Yoruba-speaking people; and the Sultan of Sokoto was highly respected among Muslims of the North, the role of the Eze Nri was not only minimized but was officially ignored.
…Therefore, the present government cannot be blamed for snubbing the chiefs of the East..”
‘'…The saving grace is that we are now engaged in the Herculean task of restoring the prestige and dignity of our chiefs, wherever such tradition exists, and we hope that we shall be given a fair chance to find a satisfactory solution”.
Zik was an Anthropologist by training and knew the implications of every word he spoke on this matter of chiefs and kings of the East.
In supporting Dr. P. Amoury Talbot, Zik was giving a cultural focus to Ndigbo. Dr. P. Amoury Talbot was a learned scholar of Igbo culture who wrote several remarkable books on Igbo in the twenties: The peoples of Southern Nigeria Volumes 1 & V. In his book he emphasized what he saw, heard and read about the centrality of Igbo culture located at Nri town before the British and missionaries destroyed it in August 1911.
Certainly Ndigbo require a reconstruction of their past to move forward. But that reconstruction must be based on solid facts derived from sustainable research and not on various bogus claims by charlatans in Igbo history who now seem to out-number the experts.
*If Zik in 1956-57 was unable to restore the Igbo focus/center, if Professor Afigbo’s committee in 1976 was unable to do so too, we in 2002 have no excuse to fail having gone through the harrowing experiences of lack of cultural center/focus imposed on the Igbo by the British since 1911 and thereafter by Igbo politicians; making it impossible for Ndigbo to have a clearing house for conflicts and their resolutions, on account of the devaluation of Igbo value system by modern forces and factors.
The compelling evidence derived from our research on the Igbo is that Nri and Eze Nri historically and unchallengeably constitute the center/citadel of Igbo culture, history and civilization; the destruction done by British colonialism and imperialism in August 1911 and the benign neglect and parochialism of Igbo politicians since 1957, notwithstanding.
2.0 ANALYSIS OF THE EVIDENC
2.1 Evidence From The Young and Some Westernized Elites:
Some young Igbo and some westernized Igbo elites say that they have neither heard of nor seen or even known of Nri. This is understandable because many in this category cannot state their genealogy up to three generations. This group suffers from “cultural hiatus”. According to Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart in a pathetic way for this category of Ndigbo: "They do not even know the name of their Umunna". They simply will say “ I am from Awka”. They cannot even speak their dialect of the national Igbo language spoken by over fifty million Igbo and even by some non-Igbo like Hausa, Yoruba or Efik living in the Igbo culture area. This category do not know much of Igbo land, yet some of them will shout loudest about their knowledge of Igbo history, culture and civilization.
We have come across hundreds of such Igbo personalities in and outside Igbo land. This has not enough knowledge of Igbo to tell us either of the Igbo in general or Nri in particular. They need to be re-socialized in Igbo culture history.
On the other hand, there are groups of Igbo westernized elites who have adequate knowledge of Igbo culture but are propelled by narrow, parochial vision of their own community as the center of Igbo culture. And there are, yet another group knowledgeable and broadminded enough to see the facts that their own community is only an atom in the Igbo culture. This group knows that Nri is the center of the culture solar system of Igbo from time immemorial or between AD 900 and 1911, and even to the present. This category is well socialized in Igbo culture-history.
2.2 Evidence from the Traditional Igbo Elites
This category of traditional elite has interesting remarks to make about Nri. We hereby state clearly how they assess Nri.
The Nri are head of the earth force, isi ana.
The Nri believe in God, the Creator – Chukwu Okike and Chukwu gave them more powers; hence they were able to bring the Igbo together (Chikoba Ndi-Igbo).
The Nri have wisdom and knowledge (amamife na mmuta) and are great in mystic (ndi na fu mmuo).
The Nri crown kings (chi eze) and make Alusi priests (chi eze Alusi), and ordain the earth priests (chi eze ana).
The Nri are people who break kolanuts (wa oji) when Igbos are in gatherings.
The Nri are non-violent and peaceful (ha buro ndi ike, ha bu ndi udo)
The Nri people are owners of Nri town through which the Igbo dead go to the spirit land, ana mmuo.
The Nri have ichi marks on their face and carry otonsi. Because of this they are not killed or molested in any part of Igboland
The Nri establish the markets (do ahia), and make peace (do udo) in Igbo land.
The Eze Nri is king of Nri. His agents with ichi marks on their faces and the aka -Nri and ada- Nri (dwarfs) work for him.
The Eze Nri interprets changes and enacts what is custom (Odinani) abomination (alu) and taboo (nso) for all Igbo.
Some will derisively concede, “Okwali alu ka ndi Nri nakpu.” Is it not only cleansing of abomination that Nri people do? The utter naivety of this bland concession can only be appreciated when one temembers that cleansing of abomination is tantamount to ablution. In all organized religion the only humans that can intercede between God and man is superior to man. Christianity is the biggest organized religion in the world with over 2billion followers out of the world’s 6billion population. With over 38,000 denominations, Roman Catholicism is the most popular with over 1.1billion adherents. The Pope is the only one who has ablution rights which he dispenses all over the world through his bishops and priests.
The Eze Nri is Eze Ora (for all Igbo) and all Igbo groups obeyed him in the past.
The Eze Nri is a mystical Eze. He fasts and makes himself holy (nso) for the good of Nri and Ndigbo
Eze Nri controls fertility (omumu)
Eze Nri controls yam and crop fertility through ifejioku and gives yam medicine (ogwu ji), to Ndigbo
Eze Nri controls erosion, heat, rain, insects like yam beetles (ebe), and locust (igwulube).
Eze Nri receives tribute (ife nru) and payments from Nri and Ndigbo.
Eze Nri controls the Igbo calendar by counting the year (Iguaro).
It is clear that this class of Igbo see Nri like the proverbial big elephant described by the seven blind men. Each person describes Nri or Eze Nri according to his or her individual perception.
2.3 Evidence from archaeology and anthropology AD 900- present:
In order to understand the role of Eze Nri and Nri people in Igbo land among Ndigbo, let us start with evidence from archaeology dated AD 900 and AD 1500 through Olaudah Equiano’s work of 1775 and documents of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and finally through the works of researchers mostly anthropologists between 1912 and 1980.
(i) Archaeology of Igbo Ukwu, dated AD 900 by Carbon- 14, by Prof. T. Shaw- University of Ibadan- Archeologist. (British)
From 1959 to 1960 and in 1964, Professor Thurstan Shaw conducted an archaeological excavation at Igbo-Ukwu, Eastern Nigeria, near the town of Oreri, on land formerly belonging to Oreri which was an Nri settlement. The report was published in two volumes and called Igbo-Ukwu objects according to archaeological system of naming sites.
The quantity and quality of the bronzes, iron objects, pottery and beads indicate that the users as well as the makers of these objects had developed a complex system of organization based on king ship. From the outset, it was obvious that certain symbolic motifs depicted on the Igbo-Ukwu objects such as the elaborate facial marks called ichi on the bronze pendant heads and the cords around the ankles of the figures of man and woman depicted on the cylindrical bronze objects are all at present associated with the ozo titled men who are regarded as the leaders and political elite of Ndigbo towns and villages. The objects were dated by carbon- 14 AD 900. Every object excavated has a similar extant object, suggesting continuity (Shaw, 1971, vols 1 & 11).
A simple photographic identification test of the objects made at Igbo Ukwu, Oreri, Nri and Awka among elders, show Nri elders scoring highest in suggesting the functions, structures and history of the objects used, in the test (Onwuejeogwu, 1974, 1975, 1981).
Archaeology of Ezira, Dated AD 15th Century by carbon-14 by Professor H. Hartle (United State of America)
Professor Hartle excavated at Ezira twenty-five miles east of Igbo-Ukwu and fifteen miles east of Nri and recovered bronze objects including anklets, bracelets, bells, etc and some pottery similar to Igbo-Ukwu objects. They were dated late 15th century A.D. and this date synchronizes with the latest date from the Igbo-Ukwu site (Hartle, 1972).
The ichi marks on these objects were conspicuous as Ezira area was under the Nri sphere of influence. Onwuejeogwu saw and identified these objects in the museum of the Department of Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, before their disappearance during the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970.
(ii) Archaeological Surface Findings by M.A. Onwuejeogwu (1966-1990)
Professor Onwuejeogwu collected surface findings from homes in Nri and afar and exhibited them in a museum established in 1972. The findings of bronze, textile, pottery, status staff and wooden sculptural materials with ichi marks are similar, in essential details, to the findings of both Igbo-ukwu and Ezira excavations. The surface findings covered a very wide area between Nsukka and Owa and between Aguleri and Owerri. These findings are evidence of a pan-igbo characteristics of the Nri complexes and traits. Over one hundred Nri towns have been located all over this Igbo culture area. It is clear the Nri people spread this culture far and wide as supported by the people’s oral tradition. It is pan-Igbo phenomenon in space and ideological scope.
2.4 Documentary Evidence (1746 to Present)
Since 1746 to now, almost a period of two hundred and fifty-four years, documentary evidence have been gradually emerging, informing us about the nature of Nri system and the nature of their personality. Here, we shall attempt a presentation of highlights of these evidences as known at present:
(i) The earliest indirect reference to Nri culture was given by OlaOudah Equiano in 1789. Equiano was a literate Igbo slave who wrote his own life history in a volume called The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Euiano. In this book, Equiano described the facial marks on the faces of the rulers of his town thus:
His description of the facial marks shows that embrenche refers to the Igbo word mgburu ichi, which means “those with ichi marks on their faces’. Ichi marks are still found among Nri men born before 1920 and also on the faces of some elders of areas once under Nri influence. Ichi is an important title in Nri sphere of influence conferred on Ndigbo by Nri agents. It is definitely clear that Equiano was an Igbo under Nri influence. Attempts have been made to locate Equiano’s village-group by analyzing the context and content of his work. One placed it at Iseke Orlu (Achalonu, 1989); the other at Usaka near Umuahia (Onyema, 1991). Whichever be the location, it falls in the area of Nri sphere of influence. For Equiano to remember clearly the mgburu ichi ceremony of his village at the age of eleven, indicated the strong impression it made on his young mind. This had helped us to interpret the ichi marks on the bronzes dated AD 900 and 15th century, described above. It has further given us a clue to the extent of Nri sphere of influence in the late 18th century and the influence ichi has on the psyche of Igbo people.
(ii) The next important documentary evidence comes from the writing of Captain John Adam 1823 who was the captain of a slave-ship that frequented the Bights of Benin and Biafra in the early nineteenth century. Writing in 1823, he had this to say about Igbo slaves:
‘A class Heebos called Breeche, and whom many erroneously considered to be a distinct nation, masters of slave ship have always had a strong aversion to purchase because the impression made on their minds by their degraded situation was rendered more galling and permanent from the exalted rank which they occupied in their own country and which was thought to have very unfavourable influence on their ship-mate and country men in misfortune”.
This record also holds that:
“Breche” in the Heebo language signifies gentlemen or the oldest son of one, and who is not allowed to perform in his own country any manual office. He inherits, at his fathers’ death, all his slaves and had the absolute control over the wives and children whom he has left behind him. Before attaining the age of manhood his forehead is scarified and the skin brought down from the hair to the eyebrows so as to form a line of indurated skin from one temple to the other. This peculiar mark is distinctive of his rank.”
It is clear that on the coast, many Nri men were brought in as slaves. This situation brought Nri and Aro at conflict, which they attempted to resolve diplomatically. The slavers thought these Igbo men were a distinct class of Igbo, because of the ichi marks and their constant instigation of other Igbo slaves to revolt even by suicide. This is an important document for Ndigbo.
(iii) W. B. Baikie in his book, Narrative of an Exploring Voyage up the River Kwara (Niger and Benue 1845), says:
“I inquired particularly after a supposed district or tribe mentioned by Clark and some other writers as Ichi or Bretsh, refers to certain individuals who are marked by numerous cuttings on the forehead.”
It is clear that Baikie was trying to locate a town whose inhabitants have ichi marks on their face. But was unable. He did not know that the men whom he met with such marks came from Nri town. This eluded him but the fame of men with ichi was behind the motive of his search. This fame was a result of the role Nri slaves played among Igbo slaves on the coast of Biafra instigating Igbo slaves to revolt.
(iv) Next is the work and findings of Major A. G. Leonard (1890)-1906), a Cambridge scholar of comparative religion who worked for ten years among the people of the lower Niger. He published his work in1906. In this book, The Lower Niger and Its tribes, he produced a map of the area and located Nri town accurately, thereby solving the problem that eluded W.B. Baikie. Leonard went further to discuss the function of Eze Nri and the Igbo towns that still paid tribute to Eze Nri. On the function of Nri people in Igbo land, he wrote:
“Nri or “Nshi- evidently the same place, but a different pronunciation of it is a town, which is situated about forty miles to the east, i.e. behind Onitsha… the inhabitants of this particular town are known as “king makers”, in other words, they possess the sole prerogative of conferring the title of royalty in all the Ibo country… they also, it appears, enjoy the privilege of walking untouched and unharmed through any portion of the same… so the Nri family, for the same scared reason, are not only the progenitor but also the priests of the whole Ibo race, as such, high priest, taking precedence over all other fraternities, priestly, social and political.”
All that Leonard wrote was correct. His exactness is indeed confirmed by Northcote W. Thomas and Rev. Father Duhaze and others that followed.
Northcote W. Thomas (1910-1913), the government anthropologist who published his work in 1913, confirmed Leonard’s account on Nri.
In his book Anthropological Report on the Igbo Speaking Peoples of Nigeria, Part I, he wrote:
‘The Eze Nri, or King of Nri town otherwise known as Aguku, is a somewhat striking figure…
He is the spiritual potentate over a large extent of the Ibo country, and so great is the awe which he inspires that recently, when, probably for the first time in history, an Eze Nri entered the native court of Awka while a sitting was going on, the whole assembly rose and prepared to flee.”
This incident took placed in 1911. The fact is that Eze Nri in the past was not seen but heard. The British planned to desecrate him and therefore forced him to attend the native court of Awka to demonstrate to the Igbo the power of the white man. The reactions of the Igbo was that of great awe. It was one of those tactics used by the British in their imperialist process.
Northcote Thomas compiled a list of the Eze Nri from Ifikwuanim and Nri Namoke to the then living Eze Nri Obalike. He went into some details describing the succession, death and coronation of each Eze Nri as observed for the good and harmony of the state and Igbo people. The ichi mark and its significance were also discussed. He added that in the case of the son of Eze Nri: “the operation has to be performed fourteen days after birth”. Who is the son of Eze Nri? They are all male sons of Nri town. This is a point Thomas missed. On page 137, he demonstrated that the Nri believe that ichi mark was tied up with the myth of how Chukwu, the creator, gave yam to Nri to distribute to Ndigbo, and this was done through the ichi marks and sacrifices of Eze Nri’s first son and daughter.
The king then resolved to go and fetch yam from cuku ; cuku then made a bargain with the king that he was to mark his son with the ichi marks…
The myth was also fully recorded by both M.D.W. Jeffrey (1936) and Onwuejeogwu (1972 and 1989) who analyzed its significance in Nri ritual and political economy. The myth of Nri was like the present bible story to the Igbo. They believe it and regarded it as coming from Chukwu Okike through the Nri. Chukwu Okike is the creator of everything.
(v) Rev. Father Duhaze: Before 1910 missionaries had started to visit the interior of Igbo land. One of the first places visited was Nri, because any where they visited they were directed to see Eze Nri. According to Rev. Father Duhaze’s record of 1906 which was quoted by Jordan in the book, Bishop Shanahan of Southern Nigeria, the following was recorded about Nri:
“The very first town visited in the deep interior was that of Nri, the headquarters of juju and voodoo and pagan priesthood for the whole Igbo tribe. This was a genuine attack on Satan in his citadel, for Nri represented the heart of Igbo paganism”.
On the influence of Nri, Duhaze wrote:
“The religious influence of Nri… once extended over the whole Ibo country. The Nri’s were the high priests of the idols and from their hands the chiefs loved to receive the insignia of office. They regulate even the building of huts for fetishes… the arrival of the king were preceded by the ringing of bells and by a storm of clapping”.
Let us forget the religious bias of this record. The Eze Nri Obalike received the missionaries in a friendly way. Duhaze and Vogler reported to Shanahan and Father Jordan remarked:
“The reports they brought back thrilled him immensely, for although the king of Nri and the chief of two or three nearby towns absolutely refused to allow any interference with pagan rites, they professed themselves quite pleased at the idea of the children ‘learning book’, and they even admitted that it would be good for them to learn what the father had to teach them about God.”
Nri has kept an oral tradition of the dialogue between the Rev. Father Duhaze and Eze Nri Obalike i
One point which Rev. Father Jordan made in his work is the title system. He wrote:
“Each town had a whole list of titles which every free-born man was allowed to take, provided he could pay the initiation fees… the higher the title the nearer one approached to Maw, or spirit; indeed the basis of respect for titled men lay in their association with maw. For that reason, the taking of the top title (the ozo was the highest taken in many towns) was accomplished by a big sacrifice- generally of a horse or cow… The senior ozo man, if possess of initiative and personality, was easily acknowledged as chief.”
(vi) Iwekanuno (1924) wrote a fine work on Obosi in Igbo language which was later translated into English. The title is: The History of Obosi and of Ibo Land in Brief. This book is important because it was by an Igbo man of Obosi in Igbo language in 1924 when Ndigbo were still slumbering in deep illiteracy and when the search for truth was innocent of political and economic gains. He had deep insight into what Nri stood for in Igbo history. He told us a history of how a hot-headed Obosi warrior, Onukegu, killed Nwokuku, an Nri man in December 1852. Immediately the family of the hot-headed warrior brought him out for judgment and executed him in order to appease the Eze Nri. On cross-checking the incident in Nri, Nri tradition holds that Obosi sent a delegation to Eze Nri and dissociated themselves from the act and made reparation by marrying a wife for the murdered Nri father to bear children in place of the murdered man. Nwokuku family now in Nri holds that the killers performed all the rituals of purifications associated with the killing. Nri men were regarded as sacred and must not be killed. To kill any, was abomination that would call down the rage of Eze Nri, demanding purification and reparation. Obosi, which is near Onitsha, is about twenty miles to Nri as the crow flies. The marriage of a wife for a murdered person by the family of the murderer whereby the woman bears children for the dead man is common in Africa, called ghost marriage by anthropologists and it is one way of showing repentance, making peace and stopping vendetta among families and communities when a murder takes place between allies.
The vendetta from Nri would have been the pronouncement of anathema on the whole of Obosi town in general and the murderer’s family in particular. Such an anathema was considered more dangerous than war because an anathema visits several generations and in some cases may end in the extinction of the lineage or lineages or town. The Obosi people acted wisely and the matter ended in friendly forgiveness. It has to be noted that if an Obosi man killed an Onitsha or Nkpor or Umuoji man at the same period, these steps were not taken. The two towns would simply fight it out until Nri sends a peace mission to intervene.
The special treatment of Nri by Obosi in the case described by Iwekanuno was the common feature between Nri and towns all over Igbo land. This is attested to by the fact that Nri genealogies show, some lineages arising from ghost marriages of the type decsirbed here. This has been identified by Prof Onwuejeogwu in his work (1982). The Obosi case here was how Nri diplomatic immunity was sustained all over Igbo land. In the past, Igbo land was a difficult place to travel freely without being killed. Only an Nri man had the free passage and maintaining such a free passage involved a type of diplomatic relationship. Are diplomatic relationships not political? This question is left for those who doubt the strength Nri used in organizing its kingdom and hegemony. This work of an Obosi man reveals to us without doubts, the temperament of Nri people and their personality rating in Igbo land. Indeed, Obosi town was considered as one of the most powerful and outstanding towns East of Nri noted for killing and ritual cannibalism which polluted their strength. They were feared by their neighbours such as Ogidi, Oba, Nkpor who also practised ritual cannibalism and killings in the past as a mark of valor. They were always at political loggerhead with Nri. To punish them Nri decided to establish the mighty Nkwo market, the present Onitsha market at Onitsha before the arrival of the white man. The position of Onitsha on the River Niger may be another geographical factor. Rev. Father Jordan made it clear that Nri controlled the location and building of shrine - huts all over Igbo land and this fact was real and verifiable. Shrines are regarded as ‘dangerous’. Only Nri people could build and consecrate them. It is like the handling of atomic energy in modern times. Only those who can handle it do. Nri was the controller of these invisible mystical forces in Igbo land and since the Igbo believe in them, Nri held sway and ascendancy until otherwise, when the missionary came and introduced the gospel of the Old and New Testament which is monotheistic as far as the belief in One God, the Creator, and the belief in the existence of angels, saints, and Lucifer are concerned.
(vii) In 1934 the PhD thesis of M.D.W. Jeffrey was made available. Jeffrey was a British District Officer turned anthropologist. He was so interested in the Nri ritual economy that he studied the Oreri system and investigated many problems related to Nri activity in Igbo land. He demonstrated that Nri and Oreri are Igbo kingdoms organized in a theocratic form with a liberal divine kingship. He demonstrated that they held sway over a large portion of Igbo land sustained by trade, industry and ritual services. He described the ritual of ichi marks and the immunity Nri had all over Igbo land. Though he was not able to explain how the political structure was able to sustain itself in the absence of a military system that relies on violence and compulsion.
(viii) Then comes an important work by the present Cardinal Arinze, F, who in his work: Sacrifice in Igbo Religion 1970 made it abundantly clear that Nri is the center of Igbo religion. Other versions are ramifications from Nri. Hence there is Nri acceptability all over Igbo land.
(ix) Ethnographic Evidence: Nri oral tradition genealogical structure and anthropological findings by M.A. ONwuejeogwu (1966-2000)
A collection of Nri oral traditions and the construction of Nri genealogical structure undertaken by Onwuejeogwu in his attempt to solve the problem of time in Nri is revealing. The result published in a book titled the Principles of Ethnogenachronology: Dating Nri Igbo Oral Tradition, 1997, demonstrates that Nri genealogical time ranges from AD 904 to the present. The reign of each Eze Nri has been located and the history demonstrates an impressive Igbo Kingdom, hegemony and civilization, which were dominated with the building of Igbo leadership and elite around the ozo/eze/duru/obi title complex. The Nri title is the epitome of all titles. The ozo/eze/duru/obi title which are one and the same in spite of the names used, is each a microcosm of Nri title. Eze Nri is “first, above equals” in the democratic theocracy established by Nri people among Ndigbo in the Igbo culture area for a period one thousand years or more. It is therefore incomprehensible for any enlightened person to say that Ndigbo have no king (Onwuejeogwu, 2001) or that Ndigbo have no cultural focus.
Onwuejeogwu’s researches on Nri and other Ndi Igbo spanned between 1966 and 1999, and his findings on Nri are clear and unequivocal being validated by the works of other scholars who worked after him. They have validated his 1972 and 1981 publications up to 99.99%. The scholars write on it and teach it in colleges and universities in Africa, Europe, and USA. And what do they write and teach? The summary of what they write and teach is detailed in Onwuejeogwu’s book: An Igbo Civilization: Nri Kingdom and Hegemony published in 1981. Here is a summary from it:
Long before the foundation of Onitsha Kingdom around 1700, long before the rise of Arochukwu in 1650 and long before the establishment of Aboh and Oguta Kingdoms between 1700 and 1750, Nri Kingdom and its hegemonic influence had been established and felt in a large portion of Igbo land from around AD 800 to 1910. This finding makes ludicrous of the cliché: Igbo enwe Eze. Let us get it clear, historically, sociologically and linguistically: 'Igbo nwe eze ora eri ndudugandu', meaning, Igbo have democratic kings, generations ago.
The “ezeship” was centered at Nri. Nri has a kingdom and held sway over its theocratic hegemony. One of the astonishing features of Nri hegemony was its emphasis on peace, UDO. UDO NRI as it is called, was given a ritual sanction, democratically controlled by EZE NRI and propagated by Nri ritualists and diplomats who were agents and officials of Eze Nri. Nri officials, under Igbo diplomatic immunity symbolized in the ichi marks on their faces and the otonsi- spear which they bore, moved from one Igbo settlement to another, stopped internecine wars and intra-ethnic fighting by ritual sanctions, installed harmony through the ozo/eze title system, settled intra and inter village disputes, cleansed abominations against the mother earth-ana, enacted new or abrogated old codes of conduct relating to tradition and custom odinana, promoted fertility and health of all living beings, intervened between man and the supernatural, collected fines and tithes for Eze Nri, installed the shrines of the four market days- Eke, Oye, Afor and Nkwo, regulated the Igbo lunar calendar by “counting” the year “Iguaro”, regulated the agricultural cycle which devolved around yam and “ifejioku” and spread the ideology of peace. Nri kingdom and hegemony were built on the ideology of peace-culture.
During the period AD 900 and 1911 many Nri officials and agents had established settlements and kingdoms far and wide in Igbo land; for example, between 1,000 and 1,500, Nri kingdoms were established at Oreri- Ichida and later, at Nnewi, followed by the founding of Oraifite. By 1,400 AD, the Owa, Ute and Abavo kingdoms of Nri extraction had been established in the Western flank of the Igbo culture area near Agbor. By 1,500 the Ogboli clans had spread into the present site of Onitsha, Nsukka, Nkwere, Ogwashi-uku, Ibusa, Iselleku, and Ubulu-Uku. These Ogboli clans gave rise to secondry Nri lineages migrating to Atuma, Akwukwu Igbo and Abala, Asaba, Illah, Nshiagu and Ichi. Other Nri settlements established during the various reigns of Eze-Nri were in areas around Orlu, Ihiala, Isu-ama, Isu-Njaba, Nsukka, and parts of Southern Igbo like Okigwe, Mbaitolu and Mbaise, where the duru title exists as the Southern Igbo version of ozo title.
Since Nri levitical laws and rituals abhor the spilling of human blood on mother earth, ana, in war or in peace, in violence or in play, the system proscribed military ways and militarism. This is unique. Nri system makes injunctions against the use of violence to achieve any human ends on earth. This was a society, though it developed an elaborate age-grade system and had over five thousand iron javelins and spear (alo and ngwuagiliga) and shields, yet ignored developing a military system. Its influence covered over 100,000 square kilometers of Igbo land where some settlements were warriors and ritual head-hunters and slavers. Killing was an abomination forbidden philosophically and practically. The spears and javelins were ritualized and used for status differentiation. It was not easy to instal this discipline on Ndigbo East and West of the Niger except through Nri levitical injunctions. Many obeyed and some disobeyed. Disobedience introduced new dimensions or relationship between disobedient settlements and Nri; such settlements were ostracized, until they repented; and non-repentance showered down physical mystical sufferings. Respect for human life was therefore sacrosanct.
Furthermore, Nri was dealing with a vast area which depended on small scale hoe culture specialized in yam cultivation. These areas were also threatened with soil erosion and leaching, yam blitz and insect (locust and beetle) menace. Eze Nri devised a means of helping areas under its hegemony by providing them with yam medicine and the ifejioku cult, thus enabling them control supernaturally the agony of this pestilence that would have led otherwise, to disaster of disease and hunger. The primitive technology based on iron culture was also controlled by Eze Nri through the black- smith agents of Awka men, for where there was an Nri agent there was an Awka man. Nri moved along with them to give them safety through Igbo village-groups that had extended diplomatic immunity to Nri men.
Eze Nri also encouraged trade by establishing the four market days Eke, Oye, Afo and Nkwo and their alusi -supernatural beings. They were Nri agents in Onitsha who established the famous Nkwo market at Onitsha and the ozo title, which Onitsha treats with dignity long before the arrival of the Europeans. Trading, as an alternative to farming in a difficult ecology was one of the hall marks of the Nri economic system, in its efforts at diversification. Nri insisted on having a well-organized cycle of farming and trading among the Igbo. They created the peace that made these possible among hostile communities and towns.
Igbo people believed that any dead person went to the land of the dead (ani mmuo) through Nri. Thus Nri town became the center of Igbo pilgrimage until the British in 1911 destroyed the system, and ordered all Igbo to avoid Nri. According to Northcote Thomas (1911) who witnessed this event and wrote “He (Eze Nri) is the spiritual potentate over a large extent of the country and so great is the awe which he inspires that recently, when, probably for the first time in history, an Eze Nri entered the native court of Awka while it was sitting, the whole assembly rose and prepared to flee.” This demonstrates the awe and respect Ndigbo had for Eze Nri. The early missionaries were solidly behind this move to destroy the institution to enable them achieve their colonial objectives. The destruction was only a farce, because the ozo/eze forms continued all over Igbo land. Eze Nri continued installing leaders who are symbols of truth and peace and continued giving the ofo Nri and alo Nri staff of authority and power respectively. Till this day, Igbo people, Ndi-Igbo, love to wear the red cap as the external symbol of the ozo/eze title, which they regard with pomp and dignity. Regardless of whether any one knows or accepts it, the red cap the Igbo chiefs wear, is admission of and submission to the supremacy of Nri culture.
Before the British liquidation in August 1911, Nri had developed its concept of aro- the year. First, aro is a supernatural force revealed to Eze Nri in the past; then Nri transformed it into a cycle of one year. Divided into thirteen segments, namely: Onwa Agumaro, fixed around mid February, this is the month for announcing the year by Eze Nri for all Igbo. It is followed by Onwa Mbu, Onwa Abuo, Onwa Ife Eke, Onwa Ano, Onwa Agwu, Onwa Ifejioku,Onwa Iliji, Onwa Ilommuo(Asato), Onwa Ana, Onwa Okike, Onwa Ajana na Edeaja, Onwa Uzo Alusi. A study of the year system, the genealogy of Onwa, the age grade, the kinship system resulted in working out Nri system of time, published as The Principles of Ethnogeneachronology. The lunar system of calculating the year with a system of adjustment, were known to the priests of Alusi Aro. Knowledge of the movement of the heavenly bodies was employed. Northcote Thomas (MA, FRAI) the government anthropologist in 1910, reported that he got “names for the following heavenly bodies at Agukwu: “Pleiades, Orion and Great Bera”. Nri elders had clear knowledge of these stars and others, which helped them in calculating the intervals between each lunar period and finding the directions during their sojourn from one Igbo-village to another in both the semi-forest and forest zones.
During the Onwa Agumaro, Igbo representatives from far and wide congregated at Nri for the “announcing of the year “. This is a big ceremony, which all Ndigbo awaited with eagerness because of its ritual, economic and political importance. Till date Iguaro Ndigbo ((Proclamation of the Igbo Lunar Calendar) by Eze Nri is still the most culturally significant of all Igbo Traditional Festivals.
First, it gave all those under Eze Nri ritualism protection and the spiritual energy to face the New Year. Secondly, representatives were given the Ogwu ji, the yam medicine, and thirdly, it gave them opportunity to express solidarity and oneness with the Eze Nri and the levitical and ritual laws which they had willingly obeyed. Nri people developed a body of philosophy based on phenomenology which deals a distinctive African philosophy which seeks a linkage between past and present, and between present and future. The nature of this philosophy is the theme of a book published by Onwuejeogwu captioned: Afa symbolism and Phenomenology. The Nri were great innovators in rituals, diplomacy, economy, administration and the management of a segmented and decentralized system.
The hegemony was a democratic system in which individual settlements became part of the system without physical force. The Eze Nri respected the individuality of Igbo segmentary system and so their political system. Eze interfered only when the peace of Nri was jeopardized. He interfered not with guns and bullets, not with shields and javelins and swords. He did so by ordering the withdrawal of Nri men from the settlement and by pronouncing ANATHEMA on the settlement. The market closed and no spiritual aid would come from Nri. This in those periods, connotes disaster for the inhabitants of the settlements. Normalcy could be restored after a peace visit to Eze Nri by the recalcitrant settlements; otherwise the settlement was abandoned by its inhabitants for fear of divine retribution such as hunger, death and pestilence.
Respecting the concept of peace udo and Igbo communal individualism, the Eze Nri, during the ceremony of announcing a year, close the Iguaro by saying, “Ora! Igbo! Go home and do your aro according to your custom, respecting the rules of nso ana, Udo, ofo, and alo”. All Igbo left fulfilled and ready to face a new year with faith, hard work and promised economic boom in trade and agriculture.
Nri town also gave refuge to run-away slaves, those oppressed and those who committed abomination and their life was endangered. Any one of these category of persons that set his or her feet in the palace of Eze Nri, gained freedom. Hence the palace of Eze Nri has no walls. His palace is accessible at any time.
All dwarfs and deformed children in Igbo land destined to be thrown away, were brought to Nri town by the order of Eze Nri. These included twins, children who first cut the upper teeth or bridged birth babies. They were all accepted as human beings; thus their fundamental human rights denied them by the Igbo communities where they were born, were restored to them. Some were trained to become medicine men and women and royal messengers. Those dwarfs are called aka Nri if a man, or ada Nri, if a woman. Humanitarianism was a primary feature of Nri civilization. It was a culture that did not accept slavery or slave trade or the caste system called osu, found in most Igbo towns. In 1823, Captain John Adam, a British Slaver, reported how Nri slaves caused revolt among the captured Igbo salves on the coast. The slavers did not wish to buy them. To the Nri, slave trade was abomination and degradation of human personality. Eze Nri (Enwenwelani – great grand-father of Prince Chukwuemeka Onyesoh) was one of the few African kings to ban and pronounce anathema on slave trade and slavers, like on such slavers as Okoli Ijeoma of Ndikelionwu, in the 19th century. This saved Oko community which would have been enslaved and colonized by Okoli Ijeoma. Ekwulobia and all communities around this axis, benefitted from this Eze Nrienwelani’s pronouncement of ANATHEMA.
The Nri culture, though well represented in hundreds of archaeological finds of bronze and other objects, dated before AD 900, and well documented from the time of Equiano, a liberated Igbo slave in 1775 to now, is still confused and under- played by some Igbo, because the British did not exalt it as they did Ife or Sokoto. The British was looking for a system that unified the Igbo with violence and pageantry of despotic monarchy like their European types, and failed to see it in Nri. What they found was a democratic monarchy using religious sanctions to bring the Igbo together. At first, they did not see sense in it but by 1931, the British saw sense in Nri system but it was too late. The British colonial government and the missionaries had stifled the system by 1911. Hence in 1931, the Government anthropologist M.K. Meek mourned that a system abandoned twenty years ago would be difficult to re-instate.
But the Nri system continues, re-instated by the British or not. Nri levitical rules and its ozo/eze, the oral traditions of Igbo, where they are not mutilated or denied or fabricated; the British intelligence reports of 1885 to 1955 and above all, the indisputable hundreds of archaeological findings dated before AD 900, will always remind the Igbo and the world that the fountain of Igbo cultures and Igbo morality, as once loudly and bravely pronounced in 1956 by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in the Eastern House of Assembly, is Nri.
Evidence before us show that during the long centuries, Nri developed a system of expansion into territories of other communities in what they call Ipu-ije which is a peaceful, non-aggressive method of occupying foreign communities without generating conflict. After 1914, other Igbo began similar movements into the territories of other Nigerians. This movement later generated conflict between Ndigbo and those host communities. There is therefore a difference between Nri non-aggressive migratory habits and the habit adopted by other Igbo. Aggressive migrations create conflict while non-aggressive migrations do not. The Nri diplomacy is based on the ideology of: Ojemba enwe ilo which means a migratory person should not make enemies. How does he not make enemies? The Nri ideology says that he must not be boastful; he must not make his host uncomfortable and suspicious of his intentions. There are quite a lot to learn from Nri inter-ethnic ideology, which may be useful today in solving the problem of inter-ethnic relationship in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Nri system was like the system now employed by the United Nations in seeking for peace. But it is more morally advanced than the United Nations system because in its levitical rules, it abhors violence and killing even in self-dense. The system needs to be studied more. We hereby draw the attention of Nigeria, the O.A.U. and UN to have a look into a system that tried to achieve in small scale for up to a millennium what they now are trying to achieve in a large scale since 1945 in a more complex world. They may have a lesson to learn. This is why some Igbo are proud to be associated with Nri and this is why some still associate themselves with Nri.
Nri is the glory of Igbo past and present. It is not romanticization. It is solid, and verifiable, historical and sociological facts of the past and present. A past that is still relevant to Igbo ethical personality of today and hence relevant to the future in building the concepts of peace-culture and a political moral-culture which are today additional pre-occupations. Nri peace-culture had been established and it has flourished in Nri for over a millennium. The modern global peace-culture cannot be understood if few societies with peace-cultures are not understood. This will be the importance of Nri in the present dispensation that has projected the ideology of a peace-culture. This is a summary of some of the things taught and written on Nri (Igbo) culture and civilization.
2.5 Evidence emerging from findings of scholars in other disciplines:
The study of Nri (Igbo) has been an inter-disciplinary affair. Many scholars other than anthropologists and archaeologists have contributed to the understanding of Nri cultural and historical phenomena in the Igbo culture area by sharing common scientificly accepted knowledge, information and findings. These scholars come more from the disciplines of history, linguistics and theology. All arrive at one solid conclusion that Igbo culture and civilization have one focus that needs to be emphasized and projected and that is Nri.
Let us take some important ones to buttress the point:
I. The historian Prof. A.E. Afrigbo writing in 1971 in the CONC, made the point clear while reviewing Thurstan Shaw's Igbo-Ukwu (1978). Since then in his two major works on Igbo namely: Ropes of Sand (1981) and Igbo and their neighbours (1987) he has also maintained his 1971, position on Nri, Afigbo (1971) wrote:
“Another great contribution of Professors Shaw’s work at Igbo-Ukwu is that it has helped to focus attention on the key position which the Nri culture complex occupies in the study of early Igbo history, a job which Major A. G. Leonard has sought to accomplish in his book "The lower Niger and its Tribes". According to Major Leonard who made one of the earliest efforts, amongst our erstwhile European masters, to study the traditions of origins of many Igbo clans, most of the Isuama Igbo claimed descent from Nri or Nshi. Considering these claims of descent from Nri, the reverence in which the Nri were held throughout Igboland, the fact that they were widely known as “King-makers” and enjoyed the sole right of removing ritual pollution in Igboland, Leonard came to the view that:
“It is in certain measure evident that some were in the locality of Isuama, in which the purest Ibo is said to be spoken, is to be found the heart of the Ibo nationality; consequently it is quite reasonable to look among its people for the original fountain head from which all the other clans have sprung”.
“The researches of M r. Onwuejeogwu, (now Prof. Onwuejeogwu) are also revealing that the detailed archaeological, ethnographic, linguistic and historical study of the Nri culture complex may light up the remote past of the Igbo. There is an Igbo belief that all the souls of their dead pass through Nri in their journey to the land of the blessed. Recording this tradition in 1906 Major Leonard wrote:”
“The street of the Nri family is the street of the gods, through which all who die in other parts of Igbo land pass to the land of spirits.
One may now and that it is probably through the corridors of Nri history that the Igbo will come to occupy their proper place in the majestic story of the rise of Negro civilization.”
Again, in 1987 in Igbo and their neighbours Afigbo wrote:
“In other words I am suggesting that a study of Igbo- Benin relations should not continue to be conceived narrowly as the impact of the Benin Empire on the West Niger Igbo. The impact of Igbo culture on Benin is the other side of that equation and till date it has been neglected. Yet there are suggestions in some surviving traditions of Benin’s contact with Nri, the heartland of Igbo culture, which at one time would appear to have been ahead of Benin in the race for the evolution of advanced civilization in these parts. True, Nri’s influence was ritual and artistic, informal and quiet - that is unaccompanied by the rolling of martial drums. Furthermore, it is known that Benin was aware of the existence of Arochukwu as a center of dreaded occult powers and wide- ranging commerce.”
In another part of this same work, he continued to write thus:
“If, as has been suggested, Nri theocratic sway could be identified with the culture whose material symbols Shaw recovered in his Igbo-Ukwu excavations, then that factor must be dated to between the 9th and 11th century A.D. or indeed earlier. In that case, Nri influence would be much older than the political and military hegemony centered around Benin and Idah. It may indeed have contributed something to their rise. There are suggestions of this in the tradition, found not only amongst the Nri but also amongst the Bini and the Igala that Nri ritual priests had important parts to play in ceremonies connected with the coronation of the Oba of Benin and the Attah of Igala. Both Jeffreys and Lawton, administrative officers, unearthed evidence to this effect. Thus, it would appear, Nri activities linked much of Igbo-land with the West Niger region up to Benin, and with the region occupied by the Igala and perhaps it also linked Igboland with Idoma land. Many of these links survived, at least, until the 1930s and may still be there in form of the activities of Nri and related traditional medicine man.”
It is worthy of note that Prof. Nwankwo T. Nwaezeigwe, who is at the centre of Igboukwu controversial struggle for relevance in Igbo cultural history, was indeed taught by this same Prof. Adiele Afigbo at undergraduate and graduate schools in the University of Nigeria Nsukka.
II. It was Professor K.O. Dike’s work: Trade and Politics in Niger Delta 1830-1885, (1956) and Shaw’s work: Igbo-Ukwu (1971) that generated a renewed interest in Nri studies which Onwuejeogwu works (1972/1981 and others) vigorously addressed.
In 1990 the joint work and publication of two Professors: Dike, a historian, and Ekejiuba, an anthropologist, appeared under the title The Aro of South-Eastern Nigeria, 1650-1980. (1990); they conspicuously featured Nri in this work:
“…Nri, however, show that this capital was supported by immense wealth and complex organization as early as the ninth through to the fifteenth centuries AD. The Nri spread from their original home in the Anambra village of the River Niger to the Awka upland. Their success in extending their influence to many Igbo groups derived from the fact that they set themselves up as the chief representatives of powerful spiritual force, especially the key agricultural deities of the Igbo…” (P 109)
“…Nri system was a dynamic agent for the development and spread of new crops. The fragmented size of the village groups, the wide spread claim by many Igbo group that they originated from the Nri, and the vestiges of Nri influence which still survive, are evidence that the rule of the Nri was accepted without much physical coercion.” (page 113).
“…The concentration of rich art objects at Igbo-Ukwu, the new material of which appears to have been brought in from afar, indicate that the security provided by Nri rule was sufficient for regional trade to flourish and to enable foreign contacts to be expanded. Indeed the ring of regional markets, which still survives till the present day within six to ten miles of the Nri metropolitan capital, leads me to speculate that these markets were either set up to flourish under the supervision and patronage of the Nri… two specialist crafts groups were closely associated with them… the Umudioka physicians who cicatrized the members of the Ozo title societies and the Awka blacksmiths and carvers.” (P. 113).
Using these few extracts, it is clear that Dike’s and Ekejiuba’s work, positively replicates the findings of Onwuejeogwu, quoted above. Such replication in social science, gives validity and reliability to facts. In referring to replication, it is here necessary to mention some recent works done on Igbo (Nri) that confer extra validity and reliability on Professor Onwuejeogwu’s work.
First, is G. Webb’s work “Title Societies and Personhood Attainment among the Awka Igbo” (1985). This work demonstrates how pervasive Ozo title is in Awka, a relatively large community with a population of 48,725 (1963 Census), now the capital of Anambra State, about ten kilometers to Nri town. Webb quoting and referring to early writers and researchers like Leonard (1906), Thomas (1913), Talbot (1926), Henderson (1972), Onwuejeogwu (1972, 1981), demonstrated from his field work, the importance of Ozo in Igbo society and the role of Eze Nri in its Custodianship (1985; pp. 103-131). Webb wrote:
“The role that Nri men played in the installation of Awka men as Ozo title-holders consisted of three distinctive ritual services. The first of these was to present a ritual staff (ofo Ozo) to an Awka man seriously contemplating an attempt to secure the Ozo title…
The Nri man who presented the Awka aspirants their Ofo Ozo, and who hereafter acted as in Eze initiations, provide a heightened aura of sanctity for the ozo initiation rites. They were regarded as representatives of the Nri divine being (Eze Nri) himself”.
Secondly, in 1990, an anthropologist from Germany named Hanney Hahn Waandens published an independent study of eze-ship captioned: Eze Institution in Igboland: A study of an Igbo Political System in Social Change. She selected Nkpologwu in Aguata. What are her findings? She found a structure similar to Nri and the people refer to their Nri root in respect to the Ozo title. She argued that old values were re-enacted and new ones imposed by the Roman Catholic Church, were accepted in the coronation of the new Obi of Nkpologwu. She concluded thus:
“It has been established that the kingship institution has been known for more than a thousand years. The existence of the priest kings of Nri, living on in the oral tradition, can be proven at least since the finds of Igbo-Ukwu, dated to the 9th century A.D.
The ruling structure, described by Onwuejeogwu as “theocratic hegemony”, by Shaw as ‘sacred King ship’, whereas Isichie talks of the priestly kings of Nri, has certainly not merely religious character… the Eze Nri also had great political power by which he controlled all of the present day Igboland. Newly created ezeship were often members of the ozo societies founded by the Nri priests.”
Another important replication of Onwuejeogwu’s work was done through archaeology. Adigwe Oguagha and Ikechukwu Okpoko (1984) in the interpretation of their archaeological excavation of the Anambra valley based on the history and Ethnoarchaeology in Eastern Nigeria, confirmed the findings of Onwuejeogwu that the ozo/eze title was a dominant Nri culture complex which pervaded the whole of Anambra area, into Igala country and the whole of Nsukka. They showed how Nri influence through the ozo/eze system influenced a large portion of Western Igbo and certain portions of Southern Igbo. They charted the fluctuating relationship between Igbo - Igala in time and space and came to same conclusion which reads:
“… It has been shown that along the Niger and Anambra rivers the slave trade greatly enhanced the political influence of Aboh, Osomari, Idah and Ogurugu. On the other hand, the peaceful cooexistence of the Igbo and the Igala was, in the face of such aggression that the older Nri theocracy whose influence extended to the Igala country declined… the older centers were dependent on religion and political organization, the new ones were based on wealth and force” (p. 297).
This anthropological replication of findings of Onwuejeogwu (1972, 1982) by historians, anthropologists and archaeologists will continue to remain compelling and interesting. If a contemporary European scholars thousand of miles away, could come here and replicate positively such findings, it beats our imagination that any one should doubt the place of Nri and Eze Nri as the center around which the Igbo world revolves. Such doubts (like that of Prof Nwaewzeigwe, even though it is obvious that his motif is other than scholarship), of course, can only emanate from lack of understanding of how a political system works through religious injunctions only; and how religious injunctions can be pervasive and powerful. In any case, we completely agree with Hahn Waandens that:
“the Igbos are not acephalous… Modern ezeship which has grown out of traditional roots and adjusted to modern, ethnopolitical realities with the Nigerian Igbo is evidently an integral and effective part of modern Nigerian constitution”… (P.137-138)
Then comes an important work by the present Cardinal Arinze, F., who in his work Sacrifice in Igbo Religion (1970) made it abundantly clear that Nri is the Center of Igbo Religion. Other versions are ramifications and innovations, hence Nri acceptability’s all over Igbo land.
3.0 THE LEGACIES OF NRI CIVILIZATION:
i. The present day commercial and ritual activity of the four market days- Eke, Oye, Afor and Nkwo. Nri priests established the shrines in most parts of Igboland;
ii. The Igbo Luna Calendar- the concept of Aro (year) was introduced to Igbo life by Eze Nri who till date, proclaims from year to year, the Igbo Lunar Calendar;
iii. Agriculture- Eze Nri introduced new varieties of yam, coco-yam and other food crops into Igbo agriculture cycle and spread the use of iron technology. It is significant to note that the much-celebrated Ifejioku is a symbolization of the supreme sacrifice Eze Nri made with his first son to initiate the yam culture in Igbo land. Imo State Government knowingly celebrates this sacrifice in its annual Ahiajoku lecture series;
iv. Title taking- “Ozo” tile and kingship were brought into Igbo life by Eze Nri. His agents travelled all over Igboland initiating people into ozo and kingship. The ubiquitous red cap of all Igbo titled personalities, derives from ozo introduced by Nri into Igbo life.
v. Pacifist Traditional Worship and monotheistic system: Eze Nri through his agents- Nri men– brought into Igbo life a pacifist traditional worship system of one Supreme Being that placed the utmost premium on the sanctity of life. Nri men traveled all over Igbo land proclaiming taboos and cleansing abominations - nso, alu.
vi. Respect for human life: Nri condemned the slave trade and all inhuman treatment of any human. The concept of Fundamental Human Right was introduced into the affairs of humans by Eze Nri
vii. Nri attempted to unify the Igbo in a hegemony, which the, slave trade, imperialism and colonialism eroded. But the core values of the hegemony exists
viii. Nri developed the concept of Chukwu Okike (God), kind, just and peaceful as against the concept of a violent Chukwu that encouraged wars, slave-trade, blood-shed and human suffering in some Igbo areas under other influence.
ix. Nri introduced and unified the age - grade system among the Igbo. The system became a political and economic structure for a more effective social organization.
x. Nri introduced the concept of democratized monarchial system of rulership in Igbo culture. The representatives of the 12 families of Agukwu Nri in the Eze Nri cabinet who, most of the time, took decisions for Eze Nri in meetings, were chosen independently by each family according to established hierarchy of titles.
4.0 Placing Nri Kingship in a Comparative Analysis with 14 Other Kingship Institutions in Nigeria:
To appreciate the place of Nri among Ndigbo, nay Nigeria, I have selected fifteen Nigerian kingdoms for comparative study. The distribution of the kingdoms are as follows:
Seven Igbo kingdoms since the issue under discussion is about Igbo Kings and kingdoms; one Igala; kingdom since there has been much confucion of Igbo/Igala relationship in terms of antecedent ( Prof. Nwezeigwe would want to dispatch Nri people Igala land so that his sponsors would assume the role of Nri in Igbo land); and three Yoruba kingdoms selected in terms of age - the oldest and the newest. Then two Hausa kingdoms- the first and the most famous. The last and not the least, is the only Kanuri kingdom. These kingdoms have been fairly studied and recorded by various writers of some maturity. It is therefore easy to cross- check one's facts against the other and reach some fair and tentative conclusions whilst research on each kingdom continues.
We present the kingships/kingdoms in a chronological order of age from 900AD to date, along with authorities who studied them:
1st Nri kingdom 900AD (date established by carbon -14) by Northcote Thomas (1913), MDW Jeffreys (1934) and Prof. M.A. OnwuejKogwu (1974 and 1981)
2nd Kanuri Kingdom: about 900AD by Abdullahi Smith (1971), Smith (1971) and Onwuejeogwu (2000)
3rd Kano kingdom 950AD by J. Hunwick (1971), R.A. Adeleye (1971) and Onwuejeogwu (2000)
4th Agbor kingship 950AD by Chief Iduwe (1985)
5th Daura Kingdom 950AD by J. Hunwick (1971), Dr. R.A. Adeleye (1971) and Onwuejeogwu (2000)
6th Ife Kingdom (Yoruba) 1045AD by Dr. R. Smith (1969) F. Willet (1960) and Johnson (1921)
7th Ijebu Ode Kingdom 1080AD by Dr. R. Smith 1969, Prof. E.A. Ayandele (1992) and Johnson (1921)
8th Old Oyo Kingdom 1145AD by Dr. R. Smith (1969) Dr. P.M Williams (1967) Johnson (1921)
9th Benin Kingdom 1140AD by Chief Egharevba (1934 and (1968) and Dr. R.E. Brandbury (1957)
10th Ubulu-Ukwu Kingship 1280AD by Mr. E.A. Ikemefuna and Obi Anene (1985)
11th Owa Kingship (Off-shoot of Nri) 1280AD by Obi Efeizomor II (1994)
12th Igala Kingdom 1450AD by Dr. J.S. Boston (1962)
13th Ogwashi-Ukwu Kingship (Offshoot of Nri) 1500AD by Mr. Ben Nwabua (1998)
14th Aro Kingdom 1650AD by Prof. Kenneth Dike and Prof. J. Ekejiuba (1990)
15th Onitsha Kingship 1750AD by R.N. Henderson (1972) Prof Ikenna Nzimiro (1972)
Sokoto Sultanate was established barely 341 years ago, about 1670AD.
The table in the next page which gives a pictorial view of this comparative analysis is lifted from Prof. Michael A. Onwuejeogwu Iguaro Igbo Heritage Inaugural Lecture 2001 sponsored by the Front for Defence of Igbo Heritage (FDIH) – an NGO founded and chairmaned by Prince Onyesoh.