Researching and trying to obtain accurate information regarding our history can sometimes be very difficult.
What’s more frustrating, is the apparent inability of our ancestors in handing down much needed written information.
Sadly, we are left to rely on oral history which for various reasons has been compromised over the centuries.
For me, listening to the different versions of our history, reminds me very much of the game, Chinese whispers, where, the message passed on from person to person over time (in this case -centuries) can sometimes seem disjointed and distorted.
This no doubt has left a huge vacuum as to our exact history.
Not surprisingly It has kept many in serious debate as to our true origins and unless we find some sort of new information to shed more light to the ever growing questions on our origin, this confusion is unlikely to be alleviated.
The images I’m sharing today are from a place called Aguleri, during the Ofala festival in 1959.
I will attempt to explain these images as best as I can. My information is peiced from oral history as well as various sources.
The town of Aguleri is located sixteen miles up the Anambra river (Omabala river) in Anambra State Nigeria.
According to Aguleri oral tradition, kingship started in Aguleri ‘ube eri’ or ‘mgbe eri’, meaning since the time of Eri.
Agulu was the first son of Eri (c. 900) and the founder of ‘Agulu-Eri’ (Aguleri).
This legend holds that the area now known as Aguleri is the origin and ancestral home of Igbo people.
According to legend, Eri is said to be the legendary cultural head and progenitor of the Igbo people, just as Oduduwa is to the Yoruba people.
There are varied accounts of how Eri came to be. One common belief amongst the people is that Eri originally came from Israel, this seems to have been reemphasized after a visit in 1995 when a group of Israeli anthropologists came to Nigeria, looking for evidence that the Eri of the House of Jacob was the same Eri in Nigeria.
They went to several Igbo communities without much success in their mission, until they finally came to Aguleri.
At Aguleri, they found evidence that Eri of the House of Jacob was the same Eri in Aguleri. Among other things, they saw an ancient site known as Obuga, at Enugwu Aguleri. With writings which they recognised as Hebrew.
The name “Obuga” is thought to be a corrupted version of “Obu-Gad” (the House/Sanctum of Gad).
Another more mystical version of this, is that Eri came from God or rather he fell from the sky (and so directly from God) to found the Igbo race landing and settling first in Eri-Aka an area that is now known as Aguleri, the confluence site of Anambra and Ezu Rivers.
The Ogilisi that identifies his tomb is still there to date and oral history states that when Eri died, all his children returned to bury him at Aguleri.
There are varied versions as to the composition of Eri’s children.
According to the Aguleri version of the story, Eri had seven children. Agulu who ‘Agulu-Eri’ (Aguleri) is named after was his first son.
This version states that the six sons of Eri in order of seniority are: Aguleri, Igbariam, Nteje, Amanuke, Nsugbue and Nri and his only daughter was named Adamgbo.
Adamgbo married and had a son whom Eri named Uli-Eri ((the founder of Umuleri (Umu-eri), and a daughter named Iguedo, the mother and founder of other towns in the Anambra/Oyi River valleys: Awkuzu, Ogbunike, Umunya, Nando, and others.
This version is in dispute, as the children of Nri (Umu Nri) hold that Eri had two wives, Nneamaku and Oboli and 6 children. Nneamaku had five children; Nrifikwuanịm-Menri , Agulu, Ogbodudu, Onogu and Iguedo the only daughter.
The second wife, Oboli had one child, Onoja. The story goes that he founded the Ịgala Kingdom.
Sadly, without accurate records it is difficult to authenticate these differing accounts, for example, was Agulu the first son or was his more popular brother Nri who moved around Igbo land the first?
One thing both sides can agree on, is that they were brothers.
Nri (Nri Ifikuanim or Menri) was a priest. He and his family left Aguleri and migrated into the Igbo hinterlands and settled in Mkpume Onyilenyi near Enugwu-Ukwu.
One is inclined to believe, that since Nri did not inherit his father’s temple it is unlikely he was the first son.
Nri was very influential not just at his ancestral home but all over the land because, he inherited many qualities and spiritual gifts from his father.
Eri revealed to Nri the secrets of the ‘mystical world’ and gave him two types of paraphernalia’s called Nrimeri. One of them comprised of two staffs, OFO NRI and ALO NRI, and the other type comprised of objects of bronze, iron, and clay.
Nri was progenitor or ancestor of many including the Enugwu-Ukwu, Nneofia and Enugwu-Agidi peoples. It is also said that he later left the Enugwu-Ukwu site and came down the valley near the lake to establish the town of Agukwu. descendants of these towns and those that migrated later from the Anambra River Basin became founders of other towns and villages.
There are also various claims to links to other tribes in Nigeria.
Pictures 1and 2 are examples of an Aguleri monarch.
Eze Idigo II (1910 – 1960) was a first class king and at the time of this photo he was 72 years old and had been on the thrown for fifty years.
According to Aguleri oral tradition, Igbo kingship started in Aguleri.
I think it’s important to note that neither Eri or Agulu made themselves kings during their lifetime, they were in many ways elders/cultural and spiritual leaders.
Anyiamigbo, was crowned the first king (Eze) of Aguleri in the year 1087BC he was renamed, Ezeora the First (The King Of All People).
From there the Ovo was handed down from one king to the other, amongst the descendants of Anyiamigbo who are called Umuezeora (Descendants of the King) this produced over thirty kings of Aguleri, up to the 18th century.
The institution of Kingship brought with it two attendant offices. One had the function of handing over the royal sceptre (ofo) at the coronation and the other that of crowning the new king. These offices were first held by Onuezunu of Eziagulu and Iyasi of Umuleri.
Three other kings – Ilenwagu, Egbuji, Mabamu- came from the Umuezeora dynasty but the death of Mabamu was the beginning of the decline of central authority. It was marked by confusion and disorder and for sixty years there was no king.
During this time, the community’s organisation was based on age. The people were broadly grouped into four grades: 16 – 25; 25-35; 35-65; and over 65. The last grade Ndichie, governed their extended family units. In times of war or other troubles an influential member of society will take on the role as leader of all unifying the whole area until the crisis had calmed.
-The Idigo Dynasty and the term Gloria Ibo-
Just before the arrival of the National Africa Company in 1884, an astute leader arose from among the people of Aguleri Igbo which made up one of the quarters of the town. He was Ogbuanyinya Idigo (of Eziagulu Aguleri) He was influential, fearless and strong.
When the N.A.C’s ship first arrived the people fled unsure of who or what was arriving. Only Idigbo went to meet the Europeans that came out. He negotiated with the company’s agents. Trade developed rapidly between Aguleri and the company. King Idigo believing this was in the best interest of his people signed a treaty ceding their land to the company. The agreement was that the company could trade peacefully and in return the company promised to protect them, not to interfere in their laws and customs and to pay for any land they acquired. In that treaty, Aguleri Igbo for some reason was referred to as Gloria Ibo.
When the first missionary, Rev. Father Lutz , arrived in 1888 he negotiated with Idigo, and became close to the king. Indigo was later converted, baptised and renamed Joseph. The first Roman Catholic King east of the Niger.
Soon after, he transferred his residence to a site away from the town and nearer to the river and the mission compound. He did not want the pressure of traditional religion to influence him but at the same time he did not put pressure on his subjects to follow him in this new religion.
In an interview given by his grandson, Eze Idigo II in 1959, he said that ” he did not think that there was anything shameful or repulsive about the traditional religion. With their neighbours they shared a belief in a creater in an assortment of lesser deities, in spirits and in ” gambolling ” souls. The lesser deities which were worshiped together with the ancestors had shrines and images. There is Ajana Ukwu ( in whose shrines confession were made by the afflicted) The Iye-enu, Idemili,Otutu-nzu, Orire, Udo and Aro. Individuals had their personal Ikenga ( god of fortune), Ukwu ( protector of the traveller) and Agu (who improved the lot of the son in law) .
Idigo transfer of residence arose mainly because of his desire to avoid certain duties which traditional religion had imposed on him as a ruler”
Idigo was succeeded by his son , Nwanne Idigo in 1902 and in 1910 he was succeeded by his nephew Raphael Anakwuba Idigo.
-Ofala in Aguleri-
In 1910 Eze Idigo II introduced from Onitsha the social aspects of the Ofala festival ( as seen in the photos) In Onitsha Ofala is celebrated in October and in Aguleri it is celebrated on the first Eke market day of the year. It attracts dignitaries from all works of life. Neighboring village heads also come to pay homage to the King of Aguleri on this day.
This festival was welcomed in Aguleri as before this, people did not normally see the king. His seclusion was in many ways a security measure, as well as living according to the demands of his status. This festival social aspects gave the king the opportunity of showing himself publicly.
Eze Idigo linked his own religious leaning by always starting off the first day of the festival with a Holy Mass, then by afternoon the festival would go into full swing with musicians, various groups and masquerades.