African peoples have long relied on oral accounts to learn about their past. But the down side of this tradition remains its vulnerability to embellishment. The absence of written records, passage of time and the hunger for greatness have made the method the most unreliable. Egypt is one good example. In the face of mounting evidences, the archaeological findings in Egypt have continued to generate intense racial politics. In the same vein, the quest for political and social mobility in Igboland has progressively turned her history into a subject of differing interpretations.
Addressing the historical factors that shaped the modern Igbo was vital for the knowledge of not only the present and future generation of Ndigbo, but for none Igbos alike. Thus, modern day discussions on this particular subject, for posterity’s sake, should be devoid of politics.
In that context, to divorce either the Igala or the Benin influence from the modern Igbo cultural evolution would be a travesty of history. The evidence of the cross cultural mix appears to be genuine. Thus, the debate should instead focus on the extent of each one of these rich cultures on the other, especially the issue of settler and aborigine in the western Igbo region, and as well as in the East. This particular aspect has not only heightened the interest of eastern Igbos, It has equally generated a quiet acrimony amongst the western Igbos. I mean those of them who had remained steadfast with their Igbo roots, and the others who would defend their claim of Benin ancestry vigorously. The future implication of this situation in the context of Nigeria’s contemporary politics is what I’ll comment on later in this thread.
According to several sources, Igbo people evolved over a long period of 4000 BC to 500 AD in Igboland through waves of migrations. Oral accounts stated that her northern neighbours migrated into her heartland in search of fertile land and rich marine life. The majority of which were Igalas. The Igalas settled amongst the locals east of the Niger, altering the historiography of many towns in today’s Anambra state. Affected also, were parts of the present Oshimmili local government in Delta state.
Anambra state is of course 96 percent indigenous Igbo, however, there are traces of Igala history in some communities of the following local government councils of the state–Ayamelum, Ihiala, Oyi, Awka North, Aniocha, Dunukofia, Onitsha North, Ogbaru, Anambra East, Njikoka, Anambra west, Onitsha South, and Awka South. The migration did not only affect the area known today as Anambra state, a sizeable portion of Enugu state’s communities have Igala ancestry as well. Thus, it would be right to call it a reverse migration, occurring about eight hundred years after which Eri was reported to have founded the modern Igbo nation with its set of unique religious doctrine. It was also a period one of his sons, Onoja, was said to have departed northwards and founded the Igala land.
Eri’s children were listed as Nri-Ifikuanim Menri, Agulu, Onoja (founder of Igala), Ogbodudu, Onogu and his only daughter, Iguedo. Together and respectively, his off-springs were instrumental to founding the towns of Aguleri, Igbariam, Ogbunike, Nando, Nri, Enugu-Ukwu, Nteje, Enugu-Agidi, Oraeri and so many other settlements in the East and West of the Niger. It is indeed difficult to draw a line between Igbo and Igala history.
Having said that, P.E. OKWOLI, a native Igalan, and renowned historian stated that in the ancient times, new rulers from the Igbo communities of Igala ancestry must go to Igala to be taught kingship rituals and ceremonials. Although he mentioned that Igala and UMUERI towns are related, but added that UMUERI needed not to go to Igala for any sort of tutelage. An exemption that might explain Nri-Ifikuanim and Agulu’s seniority to their younger brother Onoja, the founder of Igala.
P.E. Okwoli further stated that “In Nsukka and the rest of Igboland, there is a popular masquerade, which is called Agabaidu, and this is a significant cultural point. In Nsukka, the word Agabidu is used to refer to an eminent man, while it is used to refer to a King in Igala. Also Asadu is the word for kingmaker among the Igbo, while it takes the form of Achadu among the Igala. There are some other words which are signs of close cultural ties shared by both Igala and the Igbo. These include Atama, which means Chief Priest in both languages. Among the Igala, Atta means father, among the Igbo it refers to the eldest person. Ajogwu means warrior among the Igala and the Igbo”
The town of Asaba shares similar history with those others in Anambra and Enugu states. Before its “modern founder”, Nnebuisi migrated from Nteje in the Anambra region to join his Igalla father who was a resident, Asaba was aboriginally inhabited by Ugboma and his lineage. Ugboma was a farmer from AWKA in the present Anambra state. (H. Vaux, 1934), (Asabausa.com). The aboriginal group assimilated those of Nnebisi and vice versa, and the refugees from different parts of Benin Empire. Nnebisi eventually renamed the town AHABAM, also meaning “I’ve chosen” In the Igbo language. Thus, Asaba’s historical trajectory, geographical location, culture and language constitute the bulk of its overarching Igbo credentials.
On the other hand, during the course of Benin Empire’s military expansion, some of the descendants of prince Odigbo of Nri who founded Ogwashi Uku, migrated back East, Anambra region precisely, and co-founded the settlement known today as Nsugbe. Their village, Umu-Ogwari, installed the first Obi of Nsugbe in about 1550 AD. Obi Ofili, the last king, was dethroned by the British in 1875.
Quite often, it is the Benin theory of Onitsha history that is widely circulated in the media, especially in the internet. Other accounts of Onitsha history would suggest that Onitsha is a federation of differing lineages, arriving at different times in history. Again, Igala is one of them. And what could be the most revealing part of Onicha history is the IGUEDO factor. The Iguedo factor is one of the ancient folklores in the communities of Anambra region of Anambra state. This is a rural and agrarian region that would gain nothing from claiming Onicha affinity. But, again, there is an Igbo proverb that says ” the direction in which a crying baby points his fingers, would either indicate the location of his mother or father”
Their versions of the tale were though inconsistent like all others, but collectively, what was clear and consistent in their various versions were that the beginning of Onicha was not outside Igboland, and that the lady, IGUEDO, was central in the evolution of Onicha. The folklore states that Onicha descended from Iguedo, the daughter of Eri. The historical lady is still highly revered in some parts of the town. The Iguedo clan is made up of the neighbouring towns of Ogbunike, Nando, Umuleri and Awkuzu. Onitsha is geographically contiguous to Nsugbe, an UMUERI town, and shares dialectical similarities with these communities.
The people of Ogbunike reported that as recent as the1940s, Onitsha indigenes traditionally joined the Umu-Iguedo clan to celebrate “Olili-nne-Iguedo”; an annual festival that brings the descendants of Iguedo together in the town of Nando. The elders of Ogbunike community made this public in an explanatory letter to the Resident Officer, Onitsha province, dated 12th October, 1932. The signatories insisted that Onicha was an off-spring of Iguedo. However, the District Officer, on 29th November 1932, after consultations, replied thus:
“The Umu-Iguedo (sic) Towns certainly have an Onitsha relationship—but with only one quarter thereof—that is, OGBOLI. It would not be practicable to divorce OGBOLI from the rest of Onitsha and I do not think that Mr. Bridges has recommended this…..”
This account, however, might be disputed in some quarters in Onicha today, even in Ogboli. But an account of this nature, that comes from ne
ighbouring communities that have long existed before Benin’s influence on Onicha, cannot be totally dismissed. Of note, is the import of the current Nri Kingdom, which cited the town of Onitsha as one spot of her ancient diaspora settlements.
While not dismissing the totality of Benin’s influence on Onicha, research of Onitsha families reveals the presence of unrelated bloodlines that today appear as members of the same family. There are two types of such bloodlines. The first type consists of families that have established their own autonomy after having constructed mythical genealogies, including inventing nonexistent offspring for the founder, to pass themselves off as part of the direct line of descent. The second type consists of families that did not separate from the family into which they had merged. They share the same names and history. It is only during ritual matters, when they are excluded from performing certain rites, that it becomes obvious they are not part of the genealogical line. Investigation often reveals that the latter branches may have been the line of a domestic servant, slave, or an immigrant who lived with the family. (Nkiru Nzegwu, Elizabeth Isichei 1978, 104-107)
Curiously, the only four Ogboli settlements in Igboland have continued to embrace Nri/Eri ancestry. These are the OGBOLI villages of Nkwerre in Imo state, Atuma, Issele-Uku and Igbuzo in Delta state respectively. Infact, the IGUEDO factor is a huge one in that another Onitsha village, UMUIKEM, undisputedly traces their origin to the town of Umuikem in Nando, a member of Umuiguedo clan as well. On the other hand, Olosi and Obi-Ikporo villagers are mostly the descendants of Onitsha daughters married to non-indigenes. Time was, when the matrilocal custom of Onicha mandated non-indigene bridegrooms to settle down in Onitsha with their Onicha brides. An assimilation system known as “Idigbe” or “Mgba” (Nkiru Nzegwu).
On the other hand, the etymological question raised by the existence of Onicha Ezza–Ebonyi state, Onicha Uboma–Imo state, Onicha Nwenkwo–Imo state, Onicha Mbaise–Imo state, Onicha Nweorie—Imo state, Onicha Ngwa–Abia state, Onicha nweafor–Imo state, Onicha Amairi–Imo state, Onicha AmiyiUhu–Abia state etc., would continue to offset the notion that the origin of the word Onicha was outside Igbo-speaking land. What would have made these Onichas in the east to be pronounced and spelt the same way with the other Onichas who claims Benin ancestry, is what many stake holders would be interested to know.
Questions are being asked from both sides of the divide. The present generation is locked in the thinking of what logically can be the truth and what can not in these oral stuffs.