Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures

The Divine Umundri Kings of Igbo Land

Jeffries, M.D.W.

Editor’s Note: i provide this summary of Jeffreys’ work, drawn from my own detailed notes of his unpublished manuscripte, located in the library of the International African Institute in London, out of a sense that his work is insufficiently available to readers interested in the Nri-complex phenomena. I assume that the full text remains available at that location.

 Almost  all  the towns north of the  Onitsha-Awka  road  are Nris:   Nteje,  Umuleri,  Aguleri;  in  Awka  division,   Awkuzu, Igbariam, Amanuke, Orumebo, Enugu, and Oreri are Nris. (16)  This tribe  very hostile to Europeans, because formerly, when  Obalike was Eze Nri, he crowned the kings of Benin and presided  ritually over the surrounding people.
 Leonard: street of Nri is street of the Gods, where all  who dies elsewhere in Iboland pass to land of spirits.
 Nri  required for Ozo, alu, nso,; say  contemptuously,  "Igbo have no king."  (20).  
 Igboland  Divine Kings: Aguku, Oreri, and (formerly) one  at Aguleri; one at Onitsha; all come from outside Igboland;
 Igala  tie  Nri:   1) people  of  Agukwu,  Oreri,  Igbariam, Aguleri  say  they and the Igara are one; 2) Obuga -- a  part  of Aguleri,  surrounded by trenches said dug by Igala as  protection from  Igbo. (23)  3) Eze Nri must wear, at and after  coronation, white Igala clothes; at his burial an Igala cloth called Okwechi, and  aka  beads  from Idah must be provided  by  his  family.  4) Umundri legend sees Nri and Igara brothers having Eri as  father; Onojo  Ibori giant involved too on both sides; 5) the name  Adama for  priestly  family  attending Eze-Nri occurs  among  Igala  in similar circumstances.  (Atama = Igala term for priest.)
 Eze Nri (E.N.) salutation:  "Igwe".
 Igbo man taking /ozo/ title  went before E.N. to obtain  his /ofo/.


 ALUSI:  have  cleared space (oghu); always  rep.  by  carved human  figures  (nku); may take title, own slaves,  possess  ofo, have  children; cults conducted by hereditary priests, chosen  by divination.   Staple  food of alusi: Nzu  (spindles).   Oaths  on alusi  made over idols (nku); if person killed, property goes  to alusi, body to bush.
 Important  ones have ikolo -- large wooden  gong  (sometimes decorated  with  skulls of enemies killed in  war  under  alusi's auspices).

 CHUKWU,  ANYANGWU,  AGBALA:  lack Nku, Oghu, but  mounds  of earth  for  altars  dedicated to latter two, which  are  in  turn identified  with  Chukwu,  or "under Chukwu".   Anyangwu  =  sun; Agbala associated with womanhood, fertility.

all first things happened at Aguleri: land first made dry, food given to world; nri born there; he returns to Aguleri to get odudu (sacred lump of white clay) “Eri from sky, found himself standing on a mud-heap; land a morass.”. Eri died; no food (sacrifice story follows). — Yam, cocoyam. Male, female slave buried: oil palm, breadfruit; Chukwu: give food; in exchange, Nri right to cleanse each town of abomination, crown Eze Aguleri, tie ngwulu ankle-cords when man took \ozo, make ogwu-ji (yam medicine; tribute paid for this, and Nri could travel unarmed and unharmed thru world.
Claim: when Eze of Idah is crowned, Nri man there to put crown on his head.
Nri was first man to take title: Eze Nri; others after him: eze ozo. Now all ozo men, when salute Chukwu, raise their NGWU AGILIGA (ozo sacred spears) to sky, drive spears into ground, calling to chukwu: bring me food, etc.


 youngest  son  most likely; eldest son  becomes  Eze-okpala.  Adama are "most senior group"; but actually were servants to  EN.  Selection  by  the  mmuo  of  predeceased  eze;  3  royal  groups eligible.   Man  must  show  himself  possessed,  must   manifest signs/wonders,  prophesy, declare self chosen -- voice called  to one  man, he called pple of all neighboring towns (see  list)  -- they agreed.
 7-year interval after death of EN; dreams, signs of  falling wall  --  prophetic because EN has NO PROTECTING WALL  ROUND  HIS HOUSES, COUNCIL-HALL, TEMPLE. No commercial benefit to position.  
 both parents must be dead.


      1)  man  makes  obeisance  to  Obu  (temple)  of  every departed EN,   sacrifice 1 she-goat and hen.

      2) visits, gives sacrifice to all impt. alusi of town;

      3)  Ishi-nze  of Agukwu gives him special  private  ofo picked from ground, as he is about to go to Aguleri.

      4)   Man  is transfered into mmuo:  Ozo  men  assemble; young  men  dig grave; candidate prepared for  burial  (no  women present);  washed, rubbed w/camwood, wrappted in mat /ute  miri/; Ishi-nze  addresses him: "you will enter grave and rise up  again with   /aru  uke/ (vivid-white-shining body),  /aru  onwu/  [dead body!];  may  no sickness befall you; you must  rule  well,  with truth and justice; go to Aguleri and obtain your /odudu/;  return safely, rule."
 Grave  lined with Iroko planks; man laid flat;  iroko  plank over; earth on top; men go off; family goes into mourning as  for death (wives in "widowhood" restrictions for 7 weeks).
 The candidate's /obu chi/ -- "tree of life" -- is cut  down, burned (a species of fig), after goat sacrifice.  Person is dead.
 Hours  later,  at sunset, all cmonies  finished;  Adama  men exhume,  carry  body  out  of compound;  man  may  never  return; plantain felled, interred there.
 Candidate is now mmuo, may be approached only by the Adama.
 He  is placed on a cowhide, body rubbed all over with  white clay  wash; clad in white Igala cloths; wears white or  blue  for rest  of life.  HE IS CROWNED WITH A COWHIDE CROWN STUCK  WITH  8 WHITE  UGO FEATHERS, BY SENIOR ADAMA PRIEST; crown made by  them, candidate  pays for it.  He provides own ofo and  special  sword, /mma-eze/.
      5)   trip   to  Aguleri:  whitened,   robed,   crowned, accompanied    by   wife   similarly   clothed;    great    crowd dancing/singing accompanies.  Journey takes some months:
           A)  first:  PROCEDE TO /NGKPU-EZE/  --  the  Eze's white-ant  hill near the town of Ukpo; here, he climbs  with  his ofo up it and offers a prayer to the sky-gods, and sits there. 
 This  sitting = act of fertility; if mound then broke  open, swarms of locusts would fly out, give people food; it is said all preceding  EzeNri did this;  this is why they are called  "igwe": they ascend to sky.
 [He  cites  Talbot,  III,  p. 773,  who  notes  that  Asaba-neighborhood  Obi/Eze or "Igwe" titles are such because  position is "high as the sky"; on the preceding page, he discusses the Ika chief title called "Okpala", where there is sacrifice to /Orhai/, "the  tutelary juju of the members," offering only  "strong  male things", such as ram, male dog, or an ant-hill. (771-2)

           B)  Eze  continues clockwise  trip:  Enugu,  Nimo, Abagana,  Ukpo,  Okuzu,  Nteje, Umueri,  Aguleri;  received  with feasting/rejoicing at all; screened from public eye, takes  meals alone, in silence.
 Test  of  powers:  at  Aguleri, he must  dry  up  waters  of anambra, enable Aguleri man to obtain /odudu-eze/, lump of  white clay  which looks like stone  -- Adama boy carries  OKWA,  carved bowl,  whitened  with Agukwu clay; otherwise Eze  cannot  sit  on throne  and skull of precedessor, nor be crowned ceremonially  on his return.
 Instrument for drying waters resides in sacred ofo handed by Adama; at Anambra, Eze drives alo into ground, throws white  cock into river, then with ofo in right hand, points first over water, then  at sun, prays waters dry.  Young men assemble at  bank,rush in  to bring out  odudu; (reward: cow and ram, and manilla --  to be  kept  in  Obuga  Obu.)   Sacrifices  made  to  various  alusi meanwhile.  (Eze comes with an /aka-nri/ -- any dwarf from  Aguku --  terrorizes  the people.  Eze waits in /ama obuga/  --  Igala-walled quarter; "eats only white clay"; sits on stones (others on title  stools),  eating white clay; sits beside  strange  pottery object called /ududu/.
 Odudu placed on Okwa. 

           C)  Returns to Aguku -- thereafter  never  leaves, takes  up residence not in predecessor's palace (which  falls  to ruins),  nor to old compound (where buried), but in  a  bush-camp called  "prison",  for  a year.  But 5  days  after  return  from Aguleri, he goes towards Adazi Enu, performs miracle of  "putting fruit on frutless palm tree."  
 His  own  temple  and palace built while  he  at  bush-camp; unprotected by walls. 
                D) When new king to be crowned, Adama  leader hands him ofo and alo, and makes him sit down on the skull of the last  Eze  Nri.  Skull = brass face-mask.  Last  king  had  skull buried in throne; Adama dig out grave, remove skull.
 Bronze face mask: /ikputu eze/; this with skull, ofo, alo -- latter 2 retained by Adama; mask buried with Eze.
 End of year in bush-camp: he must fight with, overcome wife; then  she downs him; this cleanses any nso; then he fights  mimic battle with young man, then old man; vanquishes both; then mounts throne for first time. He announces his own name.
 Sr. Adama priest now places face-mask, alo, ofo of preceding EN,  odudu,  Eze's  own knife, before EN; prays  for  long  life, prosperity; aks mmuo to guide him, warns him to rule  peacefully, quietly; Eze agrees; then adama places ikputu, alo, ofo, odudu in Eze's  hands,  and  CROWNS HIM WITH A  RAWHIDE  CROWN  (okpu-eze) ringed with 8 ugo feathers, this will be buried with him. 

                E) Townspeople clear wide road from entrance, "an  arch  of triumph," to main road of  town;  slave  sacrificed below  this  arch by Ishi-nze of Adama.  then celebration  for  3 weeks while feasting, games, delegates from surrounding towns.
 Now:  ceremonial  fixing of markets:  4 oglisi  stakes  into ground, surrounded by cylindrical mound of earth about l0"  high; linked  together  by  /omu/; these named  after  week  days  with sacrifice
 He  is now God; "not bound by the rules of the  land:  /ikpe ada ama eze/: court does not condemn a king.

 OZO TITLE TAKING ALMOST EXACT REPLICA OF EZE TITLE,  except: no creation-god identification; man dies/becomes mmuo.

 See nso he must avoid, and duties -- ch. 10   

 Agukwu  now the emporium for persons whose nso, too great for purging   by   travelling  delegates;   travelers   bring   these "abominables" here; Such persons were sold into slavery by elders of Agukwu.

 EN controls the calendar year: consults delegates coming  to get  yam medicine how they have counted months; modifies year  to adjust with seasons.  Now rapidly dying out.
 EN opens the farming season by himself clearing a few clumps on  his  farm,  initiates yam-planting  --  signals  populace  to follow.  
 EN  established /ifejioku/ cult -- main shrine in  hands  of descendants of first EN.  Annual issue of yam-mdeicine associated with this -- secret of one family (descended from particular EN).
 EN right of removing pollutions involves special medicine -- /agwu  otonchi  special spear with medicine tied  around.   (Also controlled by one family.)  

 His  activities are religious -- he has nothing to  do  with economic/legal administrative-executive side; /ozo/ men do  this.  No murder  case brought him.

DEATH: Adama buried — no mourning, family not attend; but Adama demand Igala cloth, live Ugo; leopard skin, ram, hausa cloth; beads from Benin, Igala, Idah. These all buried with him. Grave is in floor of his own private quarters; lined with carved iroko panels and roof (family provided; he is seated upright on Awka stool in one corner of grave, in coronation robe, crowned, plastion on chest.
Wives have been “widows” since installation, though he has had access to them as “mmuo;” they are freed briefly, and have free sex, bear children for dead EN. No human beings or food buried with him, but /odudu/ is. PLACE REVERTS TO FOREST. NO MUMMIFICATION.
7 years interregnum; UFIE gong beaten as if he alive each year during month of ongwasato, for several days.

Impt men like Okpala, Ishi-nze, Eze-nri try to keep in captivity an UGO — vulturine fish-eagle (GYPHOHIERAXE ANGOLENSIS). Load its legs with iron rings to keep it from flying.

Eze Nri Title at Oreri described; similar to EN at Agukwu.
Tells of journey to Onitsha; Udo shrine.

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