Chris Aniche Okorafor
The 2000 Easter Edition of Aro News hailed the kick-off of the Centenary Celebration with the launching of the logo by no less a personality than the Nigerian Senate President in the very presence of our illustrious Eze Vincent Ogbonnaya Okoro CFN in its front page. This incidence had earlier been given greater publicity in the national print and electronic media. Since then, questions have been asked by a few Aro, and very many non-Aro, as to why one should mark with pomp and pageantry the demise of his self-rule. “Why?”, they demand, should the Aro celebrate the one hundred years of the disruption of its budding civilization by the British invasion and subsequent enthronement of colonial rule?
There has not been a prior history of a nation celebrating or commemorating the fall of its empire. This is not therefore an idle question. It rather calls for some considerable philosophizing or serious soul searching. History is replete with such questions as to “how” and “why” certain events took place. There are well satisfying ‘how’ and ‘why’ the
Several authors on Nigerian history, have proffered various reasons for the invasion and fall of Aro hegemony. The general trend in the presentations have been grossly biased and tended to run along the lines of the main frame concepts propagated by the colonial historians. Some of the authors being non-Aro, have relied also on “the interpretation of interpretations” of their forefathers who in some instances were claimed by the colonial historians as ‘liberated’ in consequence of the British invasion of Aro. We shall later revert to this class of ‘liberated’ natives of the territories under Aro hegemony prior to 1902. Suffice it to indicate at this point, that in dealing with the past or history of a people, one is invariably confronted with interpretation of events which took place in the past, from the standpoint of circumstances and environments that are no longer the same. It therefore follows that one is constrained to as it were, rationalize the thinking of the people who lived at those past times most of whom are dead. If they kept any records, one cannot measure the degree of subjectivity in those records. It therefore calls for a certain measure of charity in attempting to pass judgment on a generation with which one has no contact, and in a situation where circumstances have so changed that such situational criteria of morality, justice and fairness are not precisely the same as in the present environment.
Anthropologists now know that in prehistoric times, all races of humans practiced human sacrifice and slavery. Some even indulged in cannibalism - a practice that was and is still taboo among the Aro. The Aro recognized that some slaves were honorable and honest men of rank and affluence in their respective places of birth. They became slaves as a result of probably losing a battle or some such other circumstance of un-avoidable misfortune or calamity. This accounts for the Aro practice of absorbing such slaves into their patriarchal system and granting them all other human rights excluding those related to headship of an ezi, ogo, or mgbala within traditional Aro society. This practice was common in only a few such other known ancient human societies such as the Romans. Among the Jews it prevailed only during the jubilee year, when they granted freedom to their slaves.
Sociologists have demonstrated from recent studies that have been collaborated by very recent events, that humans of all races, surviving but marooned after a ship wreck, plane crash, earthquake, flood or other natural disaster, resort to deviant behaviors that are not apparent in their normal societies. These include such practices as cheating on other victims and even cannibalism. Contemporary history nevertheless, points out the falsifications that are deliberately imported into the interpretation of events in history. No one reading the history book on
The colonialists had hidden their drive for territorial control behind the smoke screen of “pacifying the natives and abolishing the inhuman slave traffic”. Before, during and after the invasion of Aro, they propagated this ‘humanitarian and altruistic’ doctrine to the trading partners Aro had garnered right from the period of its founding as a nation state. Their main objective was the disruption of all ties (trade, political and social) between these territories and Aro and the acceptance of the British authorities as godly and benevolent whose only intention was the abolition of evil and enthronement of Christian principles. Some of the people living at that time with the Aro in Diaspora (Aro Uzo) and in metropolitan Aro (Aro Ulo), were persons or descendants of those who were retained there by some system of trade, security for loan or, a form of exile and sequestration from their native land for crimes they had committed. On the fall of Aro, and with the spate of propaganda directed at painting Aro hegemony as evil, these persons were naturally disposed to swallow hook line and sinker, the doctored version dispensed by the colonial authorities. To a large extent, the greatest part of the smear publicity that was given to Aro, arose from this class of individuals who were absorbed by the British Administrators into the schools’, clerical etc systems. This same class consistently harped on this distorted fact and transmitted same to their children and children’s children.
Aro has lived through this lie. Later in this article, we shall affirm that Aro was not the initiator of the slave trade. Aro was not the sustaining factor of the trade. Aro was equally not the last to switch over to legally acceptable trade after the abolition of slave trade by the world’s major powers that influenced and propelled the trade while it lasted. Aro only diverted to slave trade when it became more profitable than its previous engagement and reverted back to normal trade on the abolition of slave trade. It took
The paradox of the leopard and the lamb:
Jungle justice is typified in the story of the leopard and the lamb. The British invasion of Aro was induced by purely commercial motivations arising from the need to colonize and control trade in the region. There has been antecedents to this in the history of British colonialism. The early European settlers in
Why the Fanfare:
Aro survived this onslaught predicated on a false accusation that it was the dominant power that initiated and sustained the slave trade and other oppressive acts. This is one big reason for a commemoration, thanksgiving and celebration. An ancient Igbo proverb states that the lizard nods its head several times soon after landing from a great height because it claims that if no one acclaims his surviving such a feat, he himself will pay the encomiums to himself. It was St. Thomas Aquinas who said that ‘humility is truth.’ If one is great, he is not being humble in avowing that he is a mediocre. It is therefore within the confines of prudence and not an obtrusive pride for Aro to take a time out and sing its own praises.
Shankland, an English administrative officer regretting the damage to Aro civilization, reported that the Aro had organized a very functional judicial and administrative system, and that the burning desire of the Aro Expeditionary Force to destroy Aro power was such that little of the indigenous system was permitted to survive. Aro is celebrating, not the defeat, but the fact of surviving the defeat and the subsequent and persisting ideological warfare directed against it. The most depressive aspect of man’s inhumanity to man - perfidy, slander and denial of self-respect, was generated against Aro with the assistance of persons who had had close relationship with Aro. All other attempts were made by the British to indoctrinate the peoples of the territory under Aro hegemony that Aro was evil. Several of these turned traitors, ‘confessed’ as most ‘born-agains’ now do during their spectacular “testimonies”, to participating with the Aro in hideous acts. Several Aro nobility and merchants disappeared into self-exile as their compatriots and royalty were arrested and exiled to Calabar by the British colonial agents. Aro survived all these. It is this survival that started after the ‘treaty of surrender’ at Bende to Ralph Moore on
Aro maintained its system of government within the original confederacy that emerged after the 1513 Ibibio war - the Otusi structure; the administrative confederate structure; the Triumvirate of the Eze Aro, Eze Ibom Isii and Eze Eze Agwu; the Ekpe cult; the attendant Aro national calendar of celebrations - Aja Mbu and, Izu culminating in Ikeji Aro. These still persist under one realm, united under one coat of arm and, so consistently conservative, relatively eclectic, resilient and dynamic in its culture that if an Aro were to rise from the dead from the past ten generations, he can routinely sit in any Mgbala Ekpe in any of the nineteen villages in Aro, participate in-errantly in the ceremonies, including giving and recognizing the secret sign and symbols, taking over any of musical instruments, leading in a dance, song, incantation or the ululation. That these are not lost, is a good cause for a celebration.
The internal seed of death:
I know for a certitude that most of us must heard some supposedly “Christian” Aro relations talk about a ‘curse on the land.’ To this ‘curse,’ is attributed all the perceived ills in Aro, principally, the inability of Aro sons and daughters in ‘corridors of power’ to attract good connecting road network to, and repair of the existing water and telephone facilities in Aro. This topic was very much debated in several circles after the publications of the Easter edition of Aro News in which these poor infrastructural facilities were brought to the fore-front. Some particularly referred to the back cover news -“Aro becomes of World Tourist Site”, ...with the conclusion of a plan by “the Abia State Government in conjunction with Arochukwu Local Government and the people of Arochukwu to open up the Ubn-Ukapbi or ‘Long Juju” site as a heritage and pilgrimage centre for Black and people of Black descent from the Americas, Europe and the world at large.” This ‘Christian’ opinion was particularly peeved that such a ‘satanic’ institution and ‘source of our curse’ should be re-established. and was myopically happy that there are no infrastructure to sanction the proposed tourism. This group was therefore happy that the American Society of Travel Agents would not ever recommend such a place as Aro to their clients.
In an earlier edition of Aro News, a contributor had in an article “That Ikeji May Not Die” warned about the danger of extinction of our culture through the distorted teachings by this group of ‘overzealous religious leaders‘ and their followers who even mounted concerted and organized attacks including fasting and praying just to achieve that purpose. These are sowing seeds of death of Aro culture and thereafter of Aro itself if Aro does not resist the growth of this seed. I am very much reconciled to these new wave Christian upstarts. I know for a certitude that they consist mainly of self-proclaimed “born-agains” who were not even baptized in the pure scriptural sense of the word as taught by Christ and his disciples as we shall review in the second paragraph after this. Those of them who profess to be ‘men of God’ will fail the acid test of Heb 54, namely “And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.”
To be anointed, one must be anointed by someone who himself was duly anointed and who also was granted the power of anointing. The same goes for baptism. The common sense principle of ‘nemo dat quod non habet’ applies generally. Simply put one cannot give what he does not have. If any of them claims ‘spiritual anointing,’ he is only talking nonsense.
On the other hand the general trend in
The Ikeji cerebrations they preach against is only a way to getting their followers save up funds for their own organized “annual harvest thanksgiving.” The traditional church, according to the teachings of
Today, all Christian theologians know that the Christmas and Easter celebrations were initially pagan ceremonies which the Christian church adapted to commemorate the birth and resurrection of Jesus. As pagans had an Ofala ceremony for their kings, so has the Christian church introduced the
“..they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” -2 Tim 44. For “ unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.” -Titus 115.
Aro Ikeji, is the festival of new yam harvest and is syncretic of the Igbo iwaji rituals and the uniquely Aro historiology enacted in Awada Akuma Nnubi (alias Awada Aro Okeigbo) and concluded with a fanfare and celebration of the unity of Aro Confederacy at Amaikpe square on the day of Eke Ekpe Aro. Its detractors are therefore mere ignorant and uneducated gold-diggers, out to extort funds from their followers because it is “.through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you... [for they] speak evil of the things that they understand not....” -2 Pet 23-10. One should note their consistent repetition of quotation from only a few verses of the Scriptures that serve their purpose and therefore sympathize with them in light of what Scriptures also states about itself as containing “..some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” -2 Pet 316. Furthermore, we know they did not go through what is regarded as formal education in English, Logic, Philosophy and Theology, all of which are jointly very essential for evangelization. The Apostles may have started as fishermen, but they were at their master’s feet for three years where he taught them all things which his Father had commanded him to teach. Those things he taught them were so much that the whole world is estimated incapable of containing the books that would have been required to record them. John 2125 St. Paul was a late comer, but a well read Roman citizen of no mean city and, a scholar from of the feet of Gamaliel, a renowned professor of law Acts 534, who taught him “according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers,”. Acts 223.
I am rest assured that they will be caught up with the promise which guarantees that “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. Let no man deceive you. Our God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a loving father. Don’t be mentally poisoned by those un-learned and un-ordained propagators of the false doctrine of the ‘sins of fathers being visited on their children’ and ‘a curse over the land’ Don’t even waste your time trying to enlighten them. We cannot teach non-Aro the symbolism of our Ikeji ceremonies as it would amount to a breach of: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” Matt 72-6
Let us for purposes of re-instatement of facts, look within our history objectively. Do we have any skeleton in the cupboards of our history for which we need to put up apologetics? What in Aro history would input the often quoted verse of Exodus 205 and 347 “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation?” What does ‘the loosening of a curse’ entail? Let us once again look at the history of
One cannot compare the alleged atrocities of Aro in the institution and maintenance of its hegemony with enormous casualties caused the British army drive at establishing colonialism in the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria. In the first instance, there was a lot of perfidy on the path of the British. As a prelude to their intent on lording it over the nations on the
The British military forces also introduced a very new dimension to warfare in these area. Their assaults most times, resulted in numerous deaths in the sacked communities, the capture and exile of their chiefs and, the looting of their village by the African soldiers in the British army. To invade
In contrast, during the period of total Aro dominance, as indicated earlier, inter-tribal wars in the area scarcely occasioned a loss of up to four persons. The tribe that lost a soul is even sometimes compensated by the other side. There is a rhetorical question to this effect – ‘How highly populated is a warlike tribe to loose four warriors in a battle?”
We must recall that by the time of all these British invasion, sacking and subjugation of the people, the trans-Atlantic slave trade had stopped. The last slave ship sailed from Brass in 1854. Along the Bights of Bonny and
Sources of the bad name label
I do not know the man who coined the phrase “give the dog a bad name…” There is no doubt that the British hated the guts of the Aro.
With this expansion of legitimate trade after the collapse of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the costal states like Bonny, Brass, Opobo, Kalabari, Okirika and Calabar needed a lot of manpower to serve in the loading and un-loading of ships at the ports and as ‘pullaboys’ to paddle the new and bigger canoes laden with puncheons of palm oil (400 litre drums) and bags of palm kernel, up and down the rivers flowing from the rich palm interiors to the coastal ports. On their own part, Calabar and its hinterland also required a greater amount of labor for working the plantations. These were also supplied by Aro merchants. The missionaries classified this labor force generally as slaves even though several of them excelled in their various engagements and rose to heights in society not available then to pure and outright slaves. About 1850, a group of these plantation hands in Calabar, formed the “Blood Men” fraternity, and organized a successful rebellion not against their status as slaves, but against their being the source of human sacrifice for the burial of their masters and plantation proprietors. The publicity given to this rebellion gave the British the requisite smoke screen to destroy their only remaining rival in the region.
The Dutch, Portuguese and the French had yielded to British dominance in the Bights of Bonny and
George Goldie had criticized
The final push to crush Aro began paradoxically for a Christian British army, with Christian chaplains, on the eve of the day of peace to all men of goodwill –
In defeat, Aro was still its characteristic self. It objected to a meeting with the frontline white military commanders quartered in Amanagwu where their barracks were pitched. They bravely insisted on discussing only with the British High Commissioner in person. They were conceded this on Avòr day March 26th 1902 in a neutral soil, Bende. They did not just secure Ralph Moor’s audience, but also had the meeting extended to the second day in their unsuccessful attempt to negotiate the retention of Aro autonomy within defined limits, namely the removal of the troops to Itu and the non-interference with the political structure of the town including the traditional religious practices relating to Ibn-Ukpabi.
The most devastating effect of this defeat, is the stultification of an indigenous Aro golden age that may have began close to the second half of the eighteenth century, about 216 years from the inception of the Ibibio war. It took Shankland who later served in Aro as an Administrative Officer, to regret this damage to Aro civilization. He had reported that the Aro had organized a very functional judicial and administrative system, and that the burning desire of the Aro Expedition force to destroy Aro power was such that little of the indigenous system was permitted to survive.
The insignificance of alleged Aro savagery
Records of the Aro Expedition is replete with instances of mass massacre of what one British army officer called the “primitive sharpshooters” that had the bravery to attack an English column. Another reported that faced with “the almost certain death which overtook any who came within 200 yards” the freedom fighters attacked with dauntless courage and were mowed down “with heavy loss.” Hundreds of others died from events related to the invasion, such as the sick, the aged, women and children who had to abandon their homes for the thick bushes then infested with wild animals. Igbo land is surfeit with recounted eye witness accounts of the standard sacking of communities by the British army, known in local parlance as “Ndi Bekee gbara.” It can easily be demonstrated that more people were killed by the series of British attack on the natives than were killed in whatever form of human sacrifice may have been practiced in those areas. A Catholic missionary described the 1892 Aguleri massacre, looting and imprisonment of notable indigenes as a senseless response to an issue that would have been settled within a one hour discussion. Because the British soldiers thought that Umuleri is also part of Aguleri, the town was similarly sacked for the one crime of a single man, Onwurume, wanting to draw palm oil from the United African Company’s barrel to eat his just one piece of roasted yam.
The riot by slaves in protest to their being cropped for human sacrifices after the fall of Aro, popularly known as the riot of the “Blood men” fraternity, was not against Aro. The Aro knew the exchange value of a slave in the coastal market. His reluctance in diverting it for a blood offering, definitely made economic sense. We all know that from the same economic consideration cannibalism was not entrenched in Aro. Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that evidence does show that some slaves that were retained as domestic helps in metropolitan Aro, indulged infrequently within their secret associations in cannibalism which they were wont to, in their place of origin.
Aro hegemony grew by sheer demonstrated pacifying influence and increased wealth it generated within the communities that sought and acquired its protection. The communities were afforded opportunities to increase their productive capacities as they did not have to avoid extensive farm work and game trapping in remote borders of their community, nor keep one eye open when they retire at night for fear of invasion from their neighbors. Aro diplomacy which created the Pax Aroensis – a peaceful period when more effort was channeled to production than to war, saw to this. The residency of the Aro in these communities introduced demonstration effect to their citizens in the manner of house construction, modes of dress and bargaining or advocacy skills where shouting bout had been the habit. We still find non-Aro persons with the surname earned by their forebears as “Oyiri Aro” – (an Aro look-alike) The generality of concept on Aro control and influence over these territories is also characterized by their allusion to Aro as “Bekee Mbu” – the first government in reference to Mr. W. B. Baikie. He was the leader of the British government sponsored
Are these evidences of inhuman domination, exploitation or barbarism on the part of Aro as are being inferred by the misguided proponents of ‘the curse on the land’ or the cry for ‘general prayer of forgiveness’? Do these in Aro prove man’s inhumanity to man? If there were such a thing as ‘curse ‘ on people for what their parents did in generation gone by with respect to African history, that curse ought to be very much crystallized over the British, the French, the Belgians, the Portuguese, Spaniards and the Dutch.
Vindication of Aro hegemony
Let us now listen in to the recorded evidences at the inquiry into the causes of the “1929-30 Women’s War.” The primary cause was the general cry for the return to Goment Mbu , the government by Bekee Mbu, more precisely, to the period of Aro hegemony. We need to bear in mind that this women’s war was in 1929-1930, and only seventy odd year ago. No historic event brings out this vindication of the benevolence, democracy, justice, equity and fair-play of Aro control and administration than the demands of the women. Some of their demands which were high-lighted in the Commission of Inquiry Reports were:-
i) a return to the customs of the past;
ii) the return of all white men to their native land so that they would live their lives the way it was before the arrival of the white man;
iii) that market prices be regulated;
iv) to boycott and destroy all native courts;
v) all roads built by the British should be abandoned;
vi) British coinage should be abondoned and replaced with traditional money forms.
The gravity of this demand can be assessed by the level of damage to all the native court buildings from the Okigwi parallel to Ntan and Okopedi beyond the
Aro hegemony is believed to have been well entrenched in most of Igbo land and beyond, by about 1700. It was at its peak just before the blockade of December 1902. All through this period, there are no confirmed evidences of a similar general insurgence to overthrow its hegemony. British rule was confirmed by the amalgamation of 1914, and by 1929, a period of less than fifteen years, even the women were so disgusted with the administration, that they called for a return to ‘Goment Mbu, the Bekee Mbu, the Omuta Ozi.’ This makes me stick up my head in gratitude to God for making me Aro. As for me and my mine, we have no need as the title of this article says, “an apology for our life.” I am an agnostic with respect to the Aro theory of re-incarnation. I nevertheless find my self wishing the popular Aro prayer based on that belief viz: “Uwam uwa asaa, Aro,” paraphrased as “May my Creator make me an Aro, all the seven cycles of my earthly existence.”
Real current relevant issues
There is not a single need for an apology to any one other than to ourselves. We have long abandoned the wisdom of our fore-fathers. We have ceased to be prudently decent to one another. Some of us have caused a lot of grief in our families by over-bearing on our younger ones, penalizing them with the forces of the law at our disposal for very flimsy reasons that ought to have been discussed within family circles. Some have stired up mob actions to destroy fellow Aro property and estates for identical causes. Some in public office have sacrificed communal Aro interest on the altar of selfish personal aggrandizement. More hot air have been produced by some of our political representatives than hot asphalt to repair even one square centimeter of our badly eroded and gully laden roads. Our neighbors, Ihe, Ututu, Obotme, Atani-Anyom etc., observe with disbelief the extent to which the Great Aro has fallen as all road works are “short-stopped” as in American football, within less than 30 kilometers to Aro metropolis. But unlike in American football, there is never ever a ‘face off’ to recommence work. The project is totally abandoned and as typified by our telephone service, water supply, heart hospital etc., Aro is about forgetting that it once had good network of roads, an issue that will be elaborated upon later.
As a group, we have all like sheep gone astray, every one to his own way, thereby opening our flanks to the attacks of the enemy. Its is unchristian for any Aro, not being a member of the Ekpe society, an administrative, legislative, judicial, religious, convivial, co-operative self-help fraternity, to make a judgmental statement about it. We pardon the ignorance of non-Aro in this respect as we did in the previous parts when we discussed their concepts of the ceremonies of Ikeji Aro. If a Christiran principle is that when in doubt, say nothing, how then can one who is completely ignorant of an instutution declare it as satanic? If the Christian acid test is that by their fruits you shall know them, how can one who professes to walk in the footsteps of Christ condemn the festivities of Ikeji and the communal sharing of fellowship the Eke Ekpe celebration entails? Similarly, if it pleases God, and the site of the ancient Ibn-Ukpabi is turned into a tourist center with all the requisite support infrastructure to support its patronage and sustenance, we shall all gratefully rejoice and be glad. Just think of the commercial fruits that will accrue to the town and its citizens. If we assume that Aro is today a totally Christian society, what has
Rise of Aro hegemony:
What were those heinous crimes on which Aro hegemony was established and sustained over so large a territory for over the period from about 1700 to 1902? In contrast to the fire-spitting British advancing army and administration, Aro arose from a very humble beginning of two Igbo homesteads, to a confederation of three local dynasties to later become a great but benevolent regional power. From the works of Professor M. B. Abasiattai on the history of
One such Igbo community consisted of two homesteads with Nnachi the son of Ipia and Agwu Inobia as their family heads. Within this neighborhood, were also some other prominent and subsisting immigrant communities. Ohafia for instance is known to have originated as Mben people from Owan near
Much of the available history of these communities is loaded with theories that are at best pseudo-history. As Radcliffe-Brown would say, such theories start “from some known condition in the present or in the historically recorded past, an ‘explanation’ of it is invented by imagining some condition or event in the unrecorded past and arguing on a priori grounds that the known condition might or must have had its origin in this way.” Therefore working backwards from 1534, and employing the subsisting age-grade structure of the Igbo communities in the neighborhood of what is now Aro metropolis, and coincidence of events in European history, we arrive at an acceptable sequencing in Aro history.
Aro is in the proximate hinterland of the Bight of Biafra on the
We also know that the arrival of the powerful Ottoman Turks who occupied
Soon after 1517, a good coastal export/import market had been established by Portuguese merchants on the few landing havens on the Bight of Biafra, situated about the present locations of Bonny, Oude Calborch (Old Calabar), Rio del Rey, Andokat and
The farther into the rain forest the goods were produced, the greater the number of middlemen to pass them from one community to the other till the goods reached the coast. This was because, no one could safely travel beyond his community’s contact market with the neighboring community Furthermore, transportation was very expensive. All goods had to be head-carried along difficult rain belt terrains. Travelers were exposed to the natural dangers of the thick rain forests, loss of goods to flash floods, frequent attacks by wild animals, bandits and to high taxes to organized communities living along the routes. Furthermore, the cheap European imports were sold with very high mark-ups in the hinterlands. We must again recall that all trade was at this time restricted among contiguous communities. No trader went beyond this without the certitude of losing his merchandise, his life or both. The European merchants were also limited to the coastal ports.
The family heads of the two contiguous Igbo communities north of the Ibibio and Uneghe territory, Nnachi Ipia and Agwu Inobia are indicated by Aro tradition as professional traditional medicine-man and iron-smith respectively. The lucrative opportunities opening up at the coastal markets and the necessity of direct more profitable access to these markets are assumed to have played a major role in their desire for a safe land corridor to the coastal markets. Agwu Inobia’s marriage alliances with Okon Ita did not provide the sought for solution. At the death of Okon Ita, these two Igbo family heads exploited the prospect of enthroning on the Ibibio dynasty the male issue, Ulu Okon, from the marriage of the Igbo maiden to Okon Ita. The result was a split and civil strife among the Ibibio along allegiances to Ulu Okon on the one hand and on the other, to and his senior brother Akpan Okon. The Igbo community got involved on the side of Ulu Okon. Thus, began the 1534 Igbo-Ibibio War.
At about this same time, the Ekoi, nicknamed Akpa, a tribe of big game hunter-community residing on the eastern banks of the Cross River north of the present Akamkpa, also needed a less tariffs and taxes laden route to the coastal markets for their ivory, hides and skin. The Akpa communities living up and by the banks of the
Neither Nnachi Ipia, nor Agwu Inobia was seeking territorial expansion. The land between their location and the Nkana/Enyong basin was dense rain forest and very water logged then and not ideal for farm work. The only sparsely populated inhabitants within it were the Uneghe who were later fully consumed by the consequences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The two Igbo family heads were marginally farmers but mainly professionals and merchants. The population density was not then high and could not have precipitated forced land acquisition. The Akpa on their part, were big game hunters of elephant, buffalo, leopard, deer and boar. The area was not also an excellent lair for these animals and could not have constituted an attraction for them. The shared interest was in the development and maintenance of a safe and economically viable trade route to the very profitable coastal markets.
The formation of Aro Confederacy:
It has not been possible estimating the duration of this war. The best available estimate within Ibibio sources, is that it lasted between six and ten months. The war ended in the sacking of the Ibibio majority and the forming of a confederation by the victorious allies. The allusion often made that the Akpa were mercenaries is very much questioned. If the Igbo communities needed mercenaries, they had and have subsequently engaged other Igbo communities like Ohafia, Abriba, Edda and Abam who were very much within the neighborhood. The Ekoi were farther away and quite across the river and they were not even neighbors to the Igbo communities. The mere costs of recruiting distant Ekoi troops as mercenaries would have been a deterrent. Furthermore, mercenaries have only one interest in a war they are engaged in namely, their pay either as fees, tributes or spoils of war. The Akpa stayed on to form a confederacy with the Igbo communities – A confederacy that would later exploit the already indicated communality of interests of the affiliating entities. This definitely, must have been the negotiated rights from the conception of the alliance of Nnachi Ipia, Agwu Inobia and Ozim.
The often assumed inference that the Akpa stayed on because they could not return to their home base without their princely chief-of-party Ozim who lost his life in the course of the war, is un-imaginative. Raiding parties, armies and mercenaries never engaged in warfare with the certitude of zero-risk to loss of life. The death of the leader is assumed right from the start in the appointment of a second-in-command. In the case of the Akpa community, it was in the person of Akuma Nnubi. In most instances, the death of the leader of a mercenary contingent, usually leads to a demoralization, dis-engagement and return of the troops to their home base. The Akpa in settling to the formation of the confederation, can not be said to have avoided the anger of their king whose son was one of the casualties of the war. The king could still have avenged his death by dispatching a more populous, better equipped, daring and hate-laden army. Furthermore, the fact that Akuma Nnubi became the first Confederate King, infers more than a mercenary-client relationship between the Akpa and the two Igbo communities.
At about this time, some other event was taking place in
The Americas which Christopher Columbus had serially “discovered” with his first landing on October 12, 1493 and fourth expedition in 1502, was now opening up to European enterprise, principally Spain, whose king sponsored the expeditions. The Portuguese from about 1510 started supplying African plantation labor to the early Spanish colonies in the
Aro at about this period had though, gained supremacy in specialized middlemanship within its enlarging hegemony in the hinterland of both Bights of Bonny and
Aro took commercial advantage of its growing influence in the territory. Slave trade was more profitable on several accounts. Transportation problems associated with moving goods to and from the coastal markets in the thick rain forests restricted the items to very light materials which had to be of high values to offset costs. Slaves on the other hand, would walk on their own steam, with deliberate little nourishment to weaken them and minimize revolt or escapes. Some docile slaves, particularly women and juveniles would also be made to carry other items of trade. Aro realized that slaves brought in by other raiders, were cheaper in terms of costs involved in the direct acquisition through “tribal” warfare or raid in which own-citizens may be lost or wounded grievously. The expeditions in themselves also involved costs of catering for the raiding troop. Furthermore, known non-involvement in raids, was the greatest guarantee of safety from retaliatory raids. More importantly as the raiding teams were known within the enclave, their citizens were not in safe positions to travel on trade routes to or from the coast.
Aro was therefore not involved in slave raiding. Its merchants only purchased slaves from the raiders, kidnappers or communities shedding of their misfits or otherwise un-wanted individuals. In each instance, Aro merchants avoided acquiring slave from communities they will have to pass through en-route to their destination.
Introduction of guns:
About 1642, the Dutch overtook dominance in the trans-atlantic trade from the Portuguese. They introduced guns into the bargain as well as the renowned aromatic Scheidam schnapps. The guns drastically changed the structure of slave raids in the region. Aro being still in control of middlemanship between the coastal and hinterland markets, restrictively controlled the distribution of this magic weapon of warfare to its advantage. The Dutch in turn, were beaten off by the English and French traders. Sequel to the victory of
The Growth of the Confederacy:
There was a gradual growth to more than the four city states that emerged with the formation of Aro Confederacy. The initial four are held to have been established around the personalities of Nnachi Ipia in Utughugwu; Akuma Nnubi in Ugwuakuma; Agwu Inobia in Amanagwu and Ulu Okon in his ancestral home Obot Okon Ita (Obinkita). Maintenance of territorial integrity of the nation state, required the establishment of vigilante camps principally at the borders. The youths’ vigilante squads were drawn from Akuma’s Ibom-Akpa kindred. The camps grew into homestead as the young guards settled down, married and acquired households. These new homesteads acquired autonomous city state status and took their names from specifics of their location. Some were given names of existing Igbo communities for reasons lost in history and others acquired names from the characteristics of their founding pater-familia. In total, the city states growing from all the kindred groups of the Founding Fathers rose to the present nineteen.
Aro unique principles of republican confederacy, individualism and free enterprise were propelling its merchants into the opening up of new trade routes, posts and residencies in the hinterland. Each merchant undertook such ventures on his own initiatives and capital. Each claimed restrictive monopoly within the settlements, maintaining and enhancing his interests by the deployment of his kits and kin, assimilated slaves and where necessary by the engagement of mercenaries. This practice is typified in the persons of merchants, like Izuogu, Okoroji, Torty, Okoro Ijoma etc., who among other Aro merchants, developed residency status that were later to coalesce into Aro settlements. Let us have a quick preview of Aro achievements during this period to the 1902 surrender to British imperial power. We need though to prefix our discussion with the observation that the height of Aro civilization was such at its point of contact with the early Europeans that the European ethnocentric anthropologists refused to accept that the founders of Aro were indigenous. To them the Aro must be descendants of explorers from an European or Jewish race that were stranded in one of their explorations deep into
Before Aro established its commercial dominance and hegemony, the various communities were involved in constant “inter-tribal’ warfare. It was not possible for any non Aro to safely travel outside his community. As a result, only subsistent economy prevailed in those communities. Aro commercial interests required travels to, and through as well as residency in communities that were only held back from raiding each other by the Pax Aroensis. Diplomacy was therefore critical in balancing the contrasting factors of such transactions centered on Aro middlemanship and control. Aro diplomacy was typified in the harmonized exploitation of cultures and traits among peoples of conflicting interests. For its food basket, Aro harnessed the agricultural communities of Ututu, Ihe, Iwere and Ewe. Its military needs were negotiated with communities that had cultural imperatives to engage in warfare and individual sorties to acquire human head for use in ascending their social strata. Aro opened up trade routes through towns that co-operated by providing free construction and maintenance labor for the roads and bridges. These communities also provided porters and rest-houses for Aro merchants at very much lower rates than would otherwise have been paid for such services. Such towns like Bende, and Uburu were chosen by Aro for the hosting of the bi-monthly trade fairs of Agbagwu and Bianko which privilege Aro rotated at will to the other competing towns of Uburu and Okposi as a means of obtaining maximal commercial advantages from the host community.
When batter was replaced with early money and later when the British coins were introduced, Aro saw to the parity of both the new and the old through its merchants’ system of exchange which was also tied to the deposits from and loans to their clients. Aro developed and operated a good credit and pawn-brokerage system in its commercial transactions. Commissions and discounts were well established and applied to encourage procurement of business and early settlement of accounts. Some big merchants operated a quasi banking system since they had the arms, personnel and solidly built homes to ensure security of deposits.
In contrast to Aro political and mercantile ethics, the British companies were very oppressively exploitative. Sir George Goldie was at first a shareholder in the least of the four European firms mopping up at minimal costs, palm produce on the
The basic education for an Aro child was therefore the imparting of all the principles of human relationship, the study and understanding of the behavioral patterns of the several categories of communities under Aro hegemony, and last and most importantly, the elements of Aro identity, decency and sacredness of every trust from a fellow Aro. Education started in the home. A father played a major part in his male child’s early education. Most would always sit and eat with their son from the same dish. A father would invite his teenage boys to inconspicuously sit-by and listen in to discussions with his clients and visitors. As soon as the young man is of age, he is inducted into the trade of his father. Where the father feels weak-kneed in these respects, he sends the child off to a stricter uncle or relation where the child would be brought up under appropriate rules of discipline. Each male child was intensely indoctrinated in the tradition which sanctioned central Aro institutions and epic events in Aro history. This knowledge of ones historical roots (itu enye), was regarded as a surety to his pride of place in the society. Principally, each person was required to acquire and consistently practice adequate skills, knowledge, powers or other attributes with which he must make worthwhile contributions to the general good of his family. It is for this reason that indolence and suicide is taboo in Aro social system.
Female children were raised by their mothers, aunts or grandmothers. After puberty and betrothal, they may be taken into seclusion for an average of six months’ intensive pre-marital course. During this interval, they are tutored on the finesse of Aro womanhood and etiquette. The graduating class of maidens usually pass out about the start of the 24-days annual Ikeji festival during which time they are given out in marriage to an Aro. They never in those periods married non-Aro to avoid the risk of having their offspring being treated in a manner unbecoming of an Aro. One such risk was that of being brought in one form or the other into the slave market. Hermann Koler, in his study of Igbo dialects spoken among the liberated slaves in
Aro developed a unique Igbo dialect with some dose of Efik tonality. The dominance of Igbo language, may have arisen from several factors some of which are greater contiguity to, and trade links with other Igbo communities. Moreover, two of the founding fathers, Nnachi Ipia and Agwu Inobia were Igbo, while Ulu Okon’s mother was also Igbo. As trade expanded, bilingualism was found expedient as a tool for secret discussion among Aro merchants in the presence of strangers who were not conversant with one of the languages. Down the creeks and rivers on the Calabar trade route, Igbo was convenient. Among the Igbo communities in the mainland and down to the coasts, Efik was the facilitator.
Religion and Government:
It is held that temple worship is the highest form of religious sentiment in its progression towards spiritual elevation. As soon as a people emerge from the worship of visible fetish objects they made themselves, they advance to the erection of temples, churches or assembly halls. Every non-Aro Igbo community had hills, forests, trees, streams etc., to which a priest is assigned and visited for divination and sacrifices to particular spirits for each category of human need. The missionaries that entered Aro with the invading forces noted the absence of any such shrines. Aro had advanced to the stage where it had a temple which was acclaimed to be the ‘house of God’. There must have been convincing evidences of efficacy, otherwise, why did so many people consult the Ibn Ukpabi. From Sir Moore’s memorandum on Aro Expedition, we understand that 800 pilgrims from western Ijaw came to Aro to consult the Ibn Ikpabi in the 1890's. The Ibn-Ukpabi while acting as the last place of worship for any requests from God, was also a court of the highest jurisdiction in the entire region under Aro influence. Infamous, unrepentant or recalcitrant and disputatious individuals, who have developed such evil and commanding influence in their community that they were a threat to peace and order, were sequestered through the functions of this supreme court and surreptitiously “exiled.” Because justice was very readily seen to be done, IbnUkpabi was highly recommended and resorted to by non-Aro communities. Its counseling was instrumental to the decisions of King Jaja in the establishment and administration of Opobo. It also determined the successor to Karibo Amakiri III of Nembe in 1863, and was appealed to for assistance by Bonny in 1898, then a British colony for redress against piracy by their neighbors. The Resident of Owerri Province, as late as December 1921, reported “that people still preferred its decision to those of the established courts.” The perceived realities of the shrine was such that the about year 1800 nickname of Aro in the Delta – Tsuku Abiyama – meaning, “God is really there,” was adopted into Igbo Christian terminology as “Chukwu Abiama” - one of the names of the Most High God.
Progression of development of Aro settlements had a standard format. A single Aro, either a merchant or an agent of Ibn Ukpabi establishes residency either as a guest or tenant in the home of an alien. He soon builds a house and a family and , attracts other Aro itinerant merchants and Ibn Ukpabi agents using his residence as stop-overs and guest houses. With the advantages of Aro diplomacy, the dread of the vengeance of Ibn Ukpabi, and threat of war for any form of molestation, the Aro residents gradually gain ‘below-the-table’ influence and sometimes control over the politics of the locality. The Aro population in the location therefrom increases and establishes a permanent, independent and segregated society within the community, maintaining Aro culture and traditions. The Aro agents of Ibn-Ukpabi collaborated with the merchants in a symbiotic system that enhances their separate and apparently distinct professions and interests.
In some communities Aro established a uniquely functional patron-client pyramidal franchise that suited the entrepreneurial activities of Aro merchants. In general each community retained their internal systems of administration without any overt interference from Aro so long as the interests of Aro merchants and settlers were not compromised. Aro thereby sustained governments that were participative and democratic. It was therefore able to hold itself out as no respecter of persons and communities. These factors greatly enhanced Aro influence much to the hostility of Chartered British trading agents from about 1870 when the Royal Niger Company first encountered supposedly Aro inspired resistance to their penetration into the hinterland from the coasts .
Peace and order prevailed in the nearly two hundred centers of bourgeoning Aro Diaspora that were completely mini-Aro in character and culture as well as in hundreds of other minor settlements that were purely trading posts and guest houses. These emigrant communities created a substantial amount of wealth that benefited Aro metropolitan community and raised its standard of living to more than had hitherto been experienced in the environs of the Bight of Biafra with the exception of Calabar.
To facilitate travels, Aro merchants worked out an intricate convoy system some of which consisted of over four hundred persons. The principal merchant charged fees to those who may want to travel under the protection of his convoy. Some wishing for instance to travel as far out as Igumale in
In contrast, Aro got into very solemn oaths of live and let live (Igbandu) with their host communities, in which each side to this blood-pact bound himself never to plot, assist in any plot, conceal knowledge of any plot that was directed against the other. This pact is still respected in much of the communities that entered into it with the Aro. Even the so called ‘born-agains’ rely on the safety of this pact whenever they are traveling late anywhere Abriba to Aro on the Umuahia highway. We do not need to compare this with the word of honor given to King Jaja in the letter of invitation dated
Aro Confederacy continued to be very eclectic. It not only married from non-Aro communities, but also incorporated some good elements of their masquerade, dance and music into its own culture. The nobility Mazi, simply dressed in a flowing shirt with long or short sleeve over a wrapper tied to reach as far down to his heels as can conveniently be done, a long neck-kerchief for moping up sweat, a woven skull cap or easy hat, a fan and a swagger stick. He is either clean shaven or wears his beard, mustache and hair trimmed. This pattern of dress can closely be described as businesslike. This approach is still prevalent among the Aro whom others accuse of being very conservative. In an assembly of ezes, chiefs, and people today, the Aro group would come with such apparels that would be very much in contrast to the head-to-toe extravagance of the non-Aro. In Aro there is a saying that decency must moderate affluence (Nw’Aro icho, mkpola icho).
The Aro was therefore conscious of and proud of his heritage and personality. One striking incident recorded by a British explorer, Mr. A. G. Leonard in his book, ‘A Journey to Bende’ describes his meeting and brief discussion with the Aro on his way to Bende in 1896 as follows;-. “He announced in broken English that he was an “Aro man’ and a ‘God boy’. Motioning them to a seat on the box, I told the interpreter to tell the Aros that I was very pleased to see them, but, before I could talk to them, the man with the hat on must remove it; to this he replied that he was as good as a white man, and would not take his hat off to any white man, saying in broken English, and with an air of giving satisfaction, as he looked at me, “Me be “God boy” - me be “God boy”. You be white man; me be “God boy”.
These days, governments close schools to have pupils line up routes for the Governor when a bridge, road or water scheme is to be opened. The communities close shop and come out in their best with dancing troupes. Aro hegemony led to the construction of roads and bridges as a matter of necessity. Because of inadequate engineering skills to build firm bridges or construct ferries, and the greater risks encountered in fighting off raids from pirates on canoe-based traffic, Aro trade routes were principally chosen to avoid rivers. All the roads used by the British invading forces, and thereafter in the normal course of entrenching British rule, were Aro trade routes. These all-season roads linked and inter-connected all Aro Diaspora cities, settlements and trade fair locations. Mr. A. C. Leonard also describes a typical Aro highway in his “The Lower Niger and its Tribes” as “broad, well kept, beautiful avenue of trees” and the “a wonderful floating bridge, by which we crossed over, that extends for quite half a mile, winding in and out among the dense undergrowth.”
Other Elements of Aro Civilization Several other aspects of Aro golden age are subsumed in this general frame work, and can only be dealt satisfactorily in separate discussions. Some of these areas as the internal governance and civil control in Aro itself through an outstandingly complex agency of currently nine Otusi; Three clans each with an Eze; Nineteen autonomous city-states each having an Eze-ogo with a council of Eze Ezi); a unique hierarchy of the nineteen Eze-ogo’s (including the three Clan Eze’s) which constitute the Okpamkpo under the chairmanship of the Eze Aro; and the conclaves of Ekpe in each of the nineteen Ogo (independent city states now addressed as villages). Within this Confederate civil structure, exist the various levels of the legislature, the judiciary, the executive and the police functions.
There is also the mode of writing being developed about this same period c1750-1902 but which was stifled by the British invasion. This system of writing, known by the Aro as Nsibidi, has been more recently researched and found not to be meant for common or profane use, but rather for communication among the members of an inner circle. It consisted of a written and a signs’ format. Ekpe itself, is a very highly developed cultural institution embodying a complex structure that is legislative, judicial, and executive, with its unique rituals, architecture, and symbolism enveloped in esoteric signs, language, music and dance. Often times, one is tempted to assume that with western education developing as close to Aro in Calabar with the arrival of Hope Waddle on 10th April, 1846, the Irish sponsored Qua Iboe mission on October 6th , 1887 and the Methodists on 21st April, 1870, that Nsibidi may have arisen from the attempt of illiterates to mimic the writing introduced in the schools that blossomed in Calabar. Nsibidi predated 1700, and was not alphabetically construed. It was rather in the form of picture-scripts or cartouche communicating determinable ideas as did the ancient hieroglyphic.
The Aro, from known history employ the calendric system independently and precisely along the same format as those of other cultures, namely rational deductions from the sequences of “sunrise and sunset”, the phases of the moon, the cycle of early rain, peak rain, fading off of rainy season, dry season, and back again to early rain. From these natural sequences, the days and years were easily determinable. Two cardinal points, the place of the “rising sun” (East), and the place of the “setting sun” (West) were also readily observed and recognized. Given the general concept of dualism (positive and negative), the moon was observed to “rise” and “set” in a reverse order to the sun. Also observed was that the general direction of the structure of the rain bearing wind (Southerly) was in apposition to the dry wind structure (Northerly) of the dry seasons. This set therefore completed the four cardinal points and is represented by the mark of the CROSS, which also corresponds with the intersection of two roads where special rituals are believed to be most efficacious. These four cardinal points represented stability, which is also the number of days that make up a week (izu). Grouping this “stable” number of days into a set of the “sacred” number seven (asaa) (i.e. 4 x 7), approximates one full moon cycle (28 days) which is designated as one month (onwa).
The eternal questions:
It is very difficult to extrapolate what Aro may have become, and the nature of the continuing impact it would have had over the vast territory of its growing hegemony in
Refer to “A new paradigm on the functionality of Ibn-Ukpabi
-The Arochukwu motto “Ako bu ije” still inspires research-“ for extended concepts on this often misrepresented Kingdom.
Mazi Prof. Chris Aniche Okorafor