Thursday, June 17, 2010

AROCHUKWU KINGDOM - Apologia pro vita nostra

Arochukwu Kingdom: - APOLOGIA  PRO VITA NOSTRA –

Chris Aniche Okorafor

 Preamble:

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 Roman empire fell.  The defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in his Russian campaign, the collapse of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe etc.  Many more events in history, have all been traced to acceptable causes.

 

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 Nigeria covering the period 1959 to 1970 particularly, will fail to observe the biases and contradictions among the authors.  Most often the interpretation the author proffers is predetermined by whether he has sympathies for Hausa, Yoruba or the Igbo tribe. The same sort of doctoring has been very obvious in the accounts of colonial and non-Aro historians with respect to Aro history.

 

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 Britain 35 years in 1807 to pass the Act of Parliament that was first propelled by Lord Mansfield in 1772 for the abolition of slave trade.  It took United  States of America an extra 108 years in 1880 to legislate its abolition even after that, the Afro-American is still today to shed off that stigma within the United States’ white-dominated society.

 

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 America, the ‘Pilgrim Fathers’ who left Plymouth in 1620 on the Mayflower suffered about the same economic-induced persecution from the British authorities. After about 130 years of their settlement in America, the thirteen English colonies, under the king of England and, administered by royal governors, demanded self government.  The French had established colonies in Canada, trading lucratively about the St. Lawrence River, the Great Lakes and, the Mississippi.  The British, as they later did along the Gulf of Guinea down to the Bight of  Biafra, wanted to monopolize the rich fur trade within these north American regions.  After a ten years’ war, the French ceded the territory to the British.  Thereafter, King George III imposed a tax on all commodities the colonies bought and positioned warships empowered with Writs of Assistance to stop, search and cease ‘smuggled’ goods.  As with the Niger Delta and the Bight of Biafra with respect to the Royal Niger Company, the monopoly for trade in America was created for the British East India Company. The last straw was the passage of the Tea Act in 1772 which was directed at further increasing the trade monopoly and the commercial interest of England. The consequent Boston Wharf Riot, popularly known as the ‘Boston Tea Party,’  and subsequent dramatic events, later culminated in the American war of independence. Unlike the Aro, the American states had the fire and man power to determine, establish and sustain their independence.

 

Why the Fanfare:

Along the Gulf of Guinea and the Bight of Biafra, the British successfully entrenched the United Africa Company and the Royal Niger Company before consolidating their economic and political interests in the region now known as Nigeria.  On Africa, a group of American historians aptly and succinctly  stated in the “Columbia History of the World,” that  after Columbus and Cortes had awakened the people of Western Europe to the possibilities, their appetite for converts, profits, and fame was thoroughly aroused and Western civilization was introduced, mainly by force, over nearly all the globe.  Equipped with an unappeasable urge to expand and with superior weapons, conquerors made the rest of the world into an unwilling appendage of the great European powers. The peoples of these continents were in short, the victims of a ruthless, unrelenting exploitation.” (The underlining are for emphasis).  In some of these continents (the America, Australia and Asia), some dominant races, tribes or groups of people were totally eliminated in the bid by the colonialists to possess the land and its economic rights unhindered.

 

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 March 26,1902, that Aro is celebrating.

 

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.”

 

Prostituted Christianity

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.  St. Paul could have been spiritually anointed on the way to Damascus if that were the principle laid down by Christ.  Paul was rather sent to Ananias who already had the power to enable him “receive his sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.”  The same applies to laying of hands.  It must be performed by someone who has been conferred with the gift.  From the Acts of the Apostles, we know only too well those to whom the powers were conferred during the solemn rites recorded in John 2012-23  and Matt 2818-20 . They only then .had the power to confer equivalent powers to the few that they had chosen from the many that they had called.  There must therefore be disciplinic succession.  One must duly receive from someone who duly received. - (Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained); (And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have ommanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world Amen.)

 

On the other hand the general trend in Nigeria since the collapse of our economy and the consequent unemployment, is the phenomenal growth of groups who carry the label ‘church.’  One strategy for increasing their collections is to isolate their converts (or are they perverts?) from their root society to which they owe some financial obligation.  The root social group could be any ranging from a simple occasional drinking party; a family, village or town meeting; to the established Christian denomination such as Catholic, Anglican, Methodist or Presbyterian.  Once this isolation is achieved, these ‘born-agains’ are then assured of hundred percent tithing to their coffers by the new ‘pervert.’

 

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 St. Paul, has been led by the Spirit of God, to the understanding of the doctrine of aculturization whereby Christianity has to be “all things to all men, that [it] might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 922 )   It was the same principle that Paul is reported to have applied to the altar dedicated TO THE UNKNOWN GOD in Acts 1723. .  Our ‘born-agains’ would have preached the destruction of that altar as an abode of Satan.  Paul saw in it an aculturization channel for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

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 Corpus Christi processions  to commemorate Christ the King.  No theologian worth his salt would preach against the celebration of Ikeji.  He would rather invite his  followers to bring their new yams to church for prayers of thanksgiving and blessing of the fruits of the harvest.  He ought later to organize his faithful to process to Amaikpe with Christian songs of thanksgiving to God for yet another year of harvest. The irony with these ‘born-agains’ is that even within themselves they harbor too much strife and dissention.  There could be more than two of such ‘churches’ in the same building or locality and there would not exist any sharing of concepts or dogma between them.  Each is seen as a rival and competitor for ‘souls,’ (or is it funds?).  If one traces the history of their leaders, he will definitely find that they had migrated from some other group.  Further down the track, you will find that they had been members of one of the traditional Christian denominations.  The question then is  why the migratory prostitution?  St. Paul has the answer:

“..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

 

Apud nos:

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 347visiting 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 Britain who initiated the maligning of Aro as a an excuse to destroy its trade control over territories within Aro hegemony.

 

The British empire depended considerably on robber barons for its growth which in several instances entailed the ruthless exploitation and sometimes, slaughter of vast numbers of native tribes . The United States of America depended enormously on the sweat and blood of thousands of slaves, and the African American is yet to be fully absorbed into the present American society.  The Spanish conquistadors blazed a trail of blood in their raid for gold at the ancient temples of the native south America. Today these very prosperous nations, have their big fingers at the trigger of warfare in several hot spots in Africa.  Their nationals sponsor rebel groups and exploit behind the war lines, the mineral resources of such African nations as the Congo, Angola, Liberia Sierra Leone.  In Nigeria, being the regular ‘sponsors’ of those in authority, they continue to exploit our` natural resources without adequate consideration being given to environmental pollution brought about solely by their operations.  These nations are the apostles of globalization and the principles of comparative advantage, policies that would render the poor nations poorer. The provide havens for funds looted by from the national treasury of poor nations and end up owning the loot when such corrupt leaders die or are assassinated in coups  The bottom line is the continuing exploitation of their previous colonies now classified as third world or poor developing nations.

 

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 Guinea cost, Britain crushed France in the 1815 battle of Waterloo thereby fully exploiting with little competition the burgeoning trans-Atlantic slave trade.  Aro supplied very much less than one percent of the slaves that crossed the Atlantic.

 

By 1808, Britain had taken over Freetown and its neighborhood which later was to become Sierra Leone, on the perfidious pretext of using it as a base for its trans-Atlantic slave-trade-busting naval forces.  In 1821, Britain converted their former slave forts in the Gold Coast (Ghana) to Colonial Office, and went ahead in 1850 to take over the Danish fort located also in that nation.  It later also took over that of the Dutch in 1872.  In 1874 it declared the Gold Coast a British colony after whipping the Ashanti’s who were even on the verge of instituting an indigenous administration based on European model.  It must of a necessity be noted that the Ashanti’s were not at that time engaged in any slave trade.  Their only ports of exports were then fully under British control.  The undeclared intention of Britain was the un-hindered exploitation of the gold resources of that nation.  One of its officials had even ‘captured’ the sacred golden stool of the king of Ashanti and Britain had it restored on account of the mass civil disobedience the crime  generated.

 

In 1861, Britain effectively seized and declared Lagos a colony. Oba Kosoko had earlier in 1851 been forced to hand over his reign.  In 1876, Britain shelled Ndoni to submission for purely commercial reasons related to direct access to the hinterland for the United Africa Company.  Onitsha fell prey to the same tragedy through the Royal Niger Company.  In 1879 Atani suffered the same fate, then Obosi, Asaba and Aguleri in 1892. The Christian king Ogbuanuyinya Idigo, who had developed the town Aguleri as a fully Christian city, after divorcing all his wifes and formally marrying only one of them under Christian rites, was captured and imprisoned in Asaba merely because one ‘black native stole’ palm oil from the company’s barrel to eat a piece of yam with.  Much nearer to Aro, Britain had earlier in 1884 converted Opobo into a protectorate.  King Jaja wrote to Britain demanding the practical implications of the treaty.  In 1887 the British Vice Consul Harry Johnston, invited him to his gun-boat the Goshawk to negotiate the term Protection.  In the letter of invitation dated 18 September 1887, ,Johnston had pleaded that “I have summoned you to attend in a friendly spirit. I hereby assure you that whether you accept or reject my proposals tomorrow, no restraint whatever will be put on you.  You will be free to go as soon as you have heard the message of the Government...I pledge you my word that you will be free to come and go..”  He was kidnapped and exiled.  On his death his body was brought back to Opobo, at cost contributed by his subjects who remained loyal to him for burial in 1891. Just imagine this characteristic perfidy.  Later in 1894, Chief Nana of Itsekiri was accorded the same treatment.

 

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 Aro, Britain mustered a formidable army in terms of that age, consisting of 74 white officers, and 3,464 African soldiers and carriers with the intent of inflicting on the citizens a much carnage as it could possibly can.  We shall later, quote the precise sadistic words of the British High Commissioner in 1902 to this effect.

 

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 Biafra, commerce had now zeroed in on the very lucrative trade in palm oil and palm kernel. The rivers flowing into them were consequently, collectively called the “Oil Rivers”. The cropping of cocoa was introduced from Fernando Po to Bonny by Chief Squiss Ibaningo in 1874 and was later adopted in Western Nigeria in 1890. Cola nut, a stimulant permitted by Islam and rubber plantations, were later encouraged.  All the colonial powers that scrambled for Africa, and who participated in the December 1884 Berlin Conference, were not motivated by the urge to stop slave trade, because the trade had ceased to exist.  Their interests were purely colonial and commercial.   Aro merchants had immediately diverted to the oil palm produce trade which was where the action then lay.

 

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.  Britain had displaced the French, who ousted the Dutch, who in turn chased off the Portuguese from the coastal trade with the hinterlands of the Bights of Biafra and Bonny.  Aro never permitted any white man or his agent to even set foot in Aro metropolis until that fateful day of its defeat.  The Enyong river was navigable right up to Amasu village, but it was only after 1902 that British companies were allowed to pull up boats or dinghies to its then developed beach.

 

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 Biafra, why not Aro?  The more Aro resisted British direct dealing with communities under Aro control, the more Britain hated the audacity, guts and effrontery of the Aro.  One Briton reporting his first meeting with an Aro man stated that he walked with his head held high, talked in low tone, and ‘had a swagger stick’.  The English man was though forewarned by the natives, that the Aro expect respect from all persons.  He was not therefore surprised when the Aro man told him point blank in fair English, that if he was the son of an English King, he himself was the son of God.  .One MacDonald on April 10,  1894 wrote to his superior officer stating categorically that  They (The Aro) are brave and have plenty of guns, chiefly cap and flint-lock, although I saw a few snider and old revolvers.  Also Mr. A. G. Leonard was in the group that succeeded in obtaining guides right up to Bende, and had written a eulogized description of an Aro man’s wife.  The description of the Aro lady, (an Nnye Mazi) her hair style, attire, omposure and gait, sounds like taken from the Song of Songs in the bible.  In 1896 when British officials began to penetrate inland, they encountered another phenomenal clash with the Aro. Leonard further reports that at Bende where they met with the Aro to “negotiate free trade and abolition of slave trade”, the Aro were requested to remove their hats in respect to the white men, “every Aro that had a hat put it on and those that lacked hats borrowed them for the purpose, and an ancient Aro orator made a splendid speech of defiance: “The white man may have come by the sun, they may have come by the moon, or they may have come through the clouds, but the sooner they went back from where they had come, and remained there, the better.”[ –A. G. Leonard, “Notes on A Journey to Bende”  Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society, xiv, 1898p. 203-204]

 

George Goldie had criticized Moore for not undertaking the match to vanquish Aro much earlier.  He opined that if his company, the Royal Niger Company had “had a free hand, they would have made the overthrow of this power their first aim on receiving the charter in 1886.”  It is necessary to note that Goldie did not mention the crime of slave trade or human sacrifice as reason for desiring the destruction of Aro.  Aro’s crime was its audacity and effrontery in requesting the British to restrict their activity to the coast as the other Europeans before them, namely the Portuguese, the Dutch and the French.  In effect, what in God’s  name are you looking for inland, when we can give you all the trade you need at the coasts?  A very simple, basic and meaningful logic.  Worthy of note is  Major Hunt’s subsequent statement in another occasion.  As a Resident he had on 13th May 1927 told some chiefs that “I am not going to admit that the first gun boat or the first District Commissioner was here by your invitation. You are not in the position to say that the Government is your guest and they can go tomorrow,” thereby implying that the British power over them was based purely on the law of conquest.  He was truthful.  Its was not the abolition of slave trade.

 

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 – December 24th 1901. Some have appropriately interpreted this as un-equivocally indicative of the aims and objective of the Aro expeditionary campaign.  It was not to “pacify” the territory,  nor to implant Christian principles on the “natives”.  The British High Commissioner could not have put it better.  He stated in his dispatch of March 24th, 1902, that it was to teach Aro “who had persistently resisted any interference on the part of the white man,… a salutary lesson”,  and that the campaign “had clearly demonstrated to them the power of a government that intends to rule them and control their country”.

 

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 Niger expedition in 1854, whose name was popularized in the Delta and Niger-Igbo areas.  All other subsequent whites became conveniently called Nwa Bekee (the children of Baikie) as it was difficult to either distinguish one whiteman from the other or to recall their foreign, hard to pronounce individual names.. Among some Igbo communities, a particularly beautifully decorated masquerade of feminine features, with very gentle dance steps as opposed to the very vigorous characteristic Igbo choreography and dance, is to this day known by its ancient title Nwanyi Aro (the Aro lady).

 

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  Cross River, down to Opobo.  The general populace, represented and spoken for by the women, were disgusted with the British established system administration of justice in the land.  There were rampant corruption, dispensation of injustice and abuse of power by the Warrant Chiefs, their later cohorts, the Court Clerks and Court Messengers.  There was even the suspicion that the white administrators benefited from the racket as their visits impelled the collection of levies in cash and kind to load their cars with on their departure.  In proper analysis this meant a vindication of the system of administration and governance under Aro hegemony.

 

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 Egypt lost by the surge of tourists to the place of the pyramids or to Mount Sinai?  Tourists also flock to Autswich where millions of Jews were executed in gas chambers. The amphitheatre in Rome saw many Christians eaten by lions, burnt or slaughtered by gladiators.  Today it is a very necessary place of visit by any tourist in Italy.  There are many more too numerous to mention.  Away with that idiotic homburg of Aro requiring a reparation and purification for a curse on the land.

 

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 Cross River State, the “Igbo-Ibibio” war has been dated to between 1500 and 1550, but more specifically to 1534.  Prior to this war, this location consisted of a dynasty of Ibom kingdom under the rulership of one Okon Ita whose headquarters was situate in  Obot Okon Ita.  Flanking this Ibibio kingdom’s north-eastern and western borders was an Uneghe community. Further north of this location were immigrant Igbo communities that were dispersing from beyond the Igbo heartland west of the Okigwi escarpment to more fertile land, west of the Cross River.  These groups of Igbo community homesteads clustered around a family head.  It is estimated that each group consisted of less than two thousand adults.  Depleting soil fertility compelled these purely agricultural communities to spilt and migrate to more fertile and available land as their population grew..  Where the land is already occupied, detours are made if the previously occupying  community cannot be expelled by war or threats of war. With the low population in each community, a  “tribal” war which occasioned the loss of up to four lives, was regarded as tragic and was best avoided if such a result were to have been envisaged.

 

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 Benin. From thence, they moved  to Ndoni, shared neighborhood with Ogbaru, before moving again to Leru near Okigwi. Their final lap took them to Isieke Ibeku, then to Bende and finally to Ugwungbo in Elu Ohafia.  A family head Onyerubi Ezema had to drop off  with his dependants just before crossing the Igu river to await the delivery of a child by his wife who had gone into labor.  He eventually settled at the spot and founded Abam.  . Eda is claimed to arise from an offshoot of the same group and so also Ihechiowa. Oral tradition of Mkporo, a town north east of  Ohafia, states that they emigrated from  “Ibom” in Ibibio land during these periods of migration and re-migration. The major Igbo communities of Izzi, Ezza and Ikwo trace their origin to three brothers Olodo, Ezakuma and Noyo respectively.  These brothers  were emigrants from Item, or more likely Abam communities.

 

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 Guinea Coast.  We know that by about 1347, the then civilized world under Islamic dominance was astonished with the grandeur of an African potentate who passed through Cairo on pilgrimage to Mecca.  This Lord of Mali in Akal n’Iguinawen, traveled with eighty to a hundred camels loaded only with gold. (Akal n’Iguinawen is the Berber name for “Land of the Negroes” later corrupted to “Guinea  For general information, the gulf of Guinea extends from Cape Palmas in Liberia to Cape Lopez in Gabon.)  This pilgrim Mansa Musa, with reportedly nearly fifteen tons of raw bullion spent so much of it in Cairo that the bottom fell out of the gold market and did not recover for twelve years after his visit.  This visit excited a lot of curiosity along the Guinea coast for particularly the Portuguese merchants lusting to sail to and exploit the land of this great wealth.

 

We also know that the arrival of the powerful Ottoman Turks who occupied Egypt in 1517 threatened to dominate the Indian Ocean to the exclusion of the Portuguese merchants.  While this threat lasted, Portuguese merchants were forced to exploit the Guinea coasts further down to and subsequently beyond the Congo river.  By about 1455, trading posts had been opened up along the Gulf of Guinea by Portuguese merchants. Their compatriot and navigator Vasco da Gama in 1498, found the way round the Cape of Good Hope thereby outflanking the Arab controlled land route to the markets of South East Asia but still not able to move up to India because of the Turkish fleet patrolling the northern fringes of the Indian ocean.

 

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 Meme Rivers. This coastal trade was on spices, ivory, hides and skins, ebony and  gold dust exchanged for salt and some trivial manufactured products such as spirits, mirrors, beads, trinkets, pieces of cloth, brass vessels, bells and used articles of clothing.  The forced limitation to the coastal ports created opportunities for the Portuguese to attempt establishing plantations in the easily controllable islands of the Gulf of Guinea as had been done in the Canaries.  The coastal communities not only made substantially abnormal profits from acting as middlemen in this trade by batter, but also enjoyed enviably higher living standards than the actual producers of the exchanged forest products who lived in the hinterlands.

 

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 Cross River, had developed good river navigational skills.  Their attempts to access the Portuguese merchants at Oude Calborch and even Rio del Rey, were subsequently entirely impeded by raiding communities particularly the pirates invading from the banks of the river and especially at Omon, an island situated north of Itu and the other islands in the delta east of Rio Del Rey.   It became therefore expedient for both the Igbo community involved in the Ibibio war, and the Ekoi-Akpa community, to cooperate in the fight for a safer and more lucrative corridors through Ibibio territory to the coast. This route would be more easily controlled by land based forces.  Two feasible routes were feasible. One was to secure control of the Nkana/Enyong river routes to Itu and then down to Calabar by boat thus avoiding the Omon-Island pirate’s blockade.  The other was to control an all land route flanking south-westwards after crossing the Nkana river, into Igbo communities of Obegu, and then to Bonny.  It is therefore this drive to secure a safe and shorter route to the coast, and the consequent pre-requisite of controlling the power base of the Ibibio community south of the Igbo communities that constitute the primary purpose for the acts which led to the historic 1534 war.

 

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.

 

Widening horizons:

At about this time, some other event was taking place in Europe. This was to greatly influence the young  Confederate State which was labeled “Ulu-Okon dynasty” by the sacked Ibibio, and is to this day known in its corrupted form of Inokon among the Ibibio and the Efik communities.

 

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 Americas.  The Portuguese could do this because they had earlier initiated cocoa plantations in Sao Tome.  As they gained ground in Brazil, the Portuguese also transferred their African plantation labor to the new continent.  In 1571, the Turkish threat in the Indian ocean was permanently removed by the Portuguese.  This would have written off the trade links between Europe and the Bight of Biafra, as it was not a very viable source of spices and ivory, were it not for yet another major coincidence.  This was about thirty seven years from the Ibibio war.  European demands for sugar expanded.  The growing of sugarcane in the West Indies, precipitated competition among the principal characteristically avaricious actors of Dutch, French and English merchants.  This increased the demand for plantation labor. Using their knowledge and  dominance of the Gulf of Guinea and the Bight of Biafra, the Portuguese exploited the virile and high population density of the hinterland to secure and transfer more plantation laborers to the Americas.  This was the beginning  of the trans-atlantic slave trade.  This trade in human beings, was not instituted by Aro.

 

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 Biafra. This new item of trans-Atlantic trade introduced by the European powers, precipitated another wave of migrations, as weak communities fell easy prey to slave raiding as the first stock of hitherto domestic slaves, debtors, thieves and miscreants were sold off.  The weak communities formed the second source of slaves.  If they stayed in their original places, their healthy ones were kidnapped in serial raids.  If they migrated, they ran the risk of clashing in “inter-tribal” wars of conflict over rights of passage through “enemy” territory or over new settlement land.  In either case it was the survival of the strongest.

 

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 Britain over France in the 1815 battle of Waterloo, the British maritime and commercial supremacy became so profound that her ships were freighting more than half the trans-atlantic slave cargo.  In effect, with respect to volume of trade in slaves, Aro participation was a miniscule of that of either the British, French, Dutch or Portuguese business men.

 

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 Africa.

 

Economic Development:

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 Niger.  He merged the firms in 1870 into the Niger Company to enhance their competitive edge and profits.  On receiving a charter in 1885, the company became known as the Royal Niger Company and directed all its might at governing and exploitatively monopolizing trade in the territory.  The natives bought the imported low quality products from the company and paid in advance for goods that were yet to be imported at prices fixed by the Company.  Payment for supplies by the natives were made in credit slips that could only be exchanged in purchases from the company. This was the form of trade that the European companies were disparate to expand to the entire West Africa, namely to fully exploit the natives to maximal advantage to the colonialists.

 

Education:

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 Sierra Leone in 1847, indicated that he could not find any single Aro native speaker. [S. H. Koelle, Polyglotta Africana, London 1854 “Niger-Delta Languages, First Group, Ibo Dialects”]

 

Language:

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 Benue State would join a caravan from Aro to Bende trade fair.  After the fair which lasts for four days, he will transfer to another caravan moving to Uburu trade fair holding within the same month.  After the Uburu fair, he transfers to a caravan return to Igumale.  In each of these instances, he needs introductions  to the merchant whose caravan he is transferring to and to guest houses  he would use on the journey.  Aro for these purposes and others, had a system of “visas” or “travel tokens” issued by a known person in Aro vouching for him.

 

Britain initiated its entry into a territory using the pretext of protecting the natives against the threats of slave raiders – an obnoxious practice in which it  was the principal agent.  It then appointed  consuls who coerced the natives to signing bogus treaties with them.  Some of these treaties were made with the understanding that the communities who entered into them would as Protectorates, be under the shield of the European power against external aggressions by other communities.  Subsequent to this treaty, the colonial power declares that all trade within the territory much be through its agency.  It must at this time be recalled that most of those local chiefs or kings were not even literate in the language in which the treaties were drawn up.  Kink Jaja for instance wanted to be made clear on the term “Protectorate”.  He got invited to the gun boat for that purpose and the rest is history.   King Kosoko signed on pieces of paper that later meant he lost his kingdom.

 

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 18 September 1887, which was breached by Harry Johnston within a few hours of Jaja stepping into the gun-boat Goshawk.

 

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”.

 

Infrastructural Development:

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 Southern Nigeria, if British colonialism had not intervened. There are several  reasons for this difficulty.  Aro for instance, had enough time and power to have instituted an empire or a kingdom as the other Nigeria city states had done in Benin, Oyo etc. but it did no such thing.  In Aro metropolis, which according to the District  Officer F.S. James had in 1902 a population of “over 30,000 in only 25 square miles of territory” it operated a viable and subsisting democratic confederacy.  Is it feasible that such centres as Ndizuogu, Ndiowu, Ndikelionwu etc., were precursors of more  of such emigrant city states, which over time would have been replicated to embrace the entire region which prior to British invasion, were under Aro direct or indirect control?  Would the stage after that have been the absorption and fusion of the entire  area into the unique model confederacy with Aro Metropolis, as its imperial capital?  Would such an empire have been able to negotiate a considerably different administrative amalgamation into the British empire than was imposed on the Southern and  Northern Protectorates in the  1914 forging of the quasi federation of Nigeria?  Would the Eze Aro, under such a federation have had the sphere of influence over the total area of pre-1902 Aro hegemony identical to those that the Emirs of Sokoto and  Bornu for instance, had in the Northern Protectorate?  I may only harzard a guess, but we shall never know.

 

PS:

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.

Greetings:

Mazi Prof. Chris Aniche Okorafor

 

 

4 comments:

  1. http://akobije.blogspot.com/2009/10/arochukwu-motto-ako-bu-ije-still.html is a website I find also very interesting on Aro historical issues

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  2. Mazi ndewo, you have given an unbiased and comprehensive account of Aro and it's people.

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