Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures

UEC “Presents a King”

As we have seen, the two sets of Eastern Region elections — to the Onitsha Urban County Council and to the Eastern House of Assembly — interrupted the flow of Interregnum pursuits during the months of October and November 1961, considerably disorienting our participants.  But as these come to an end, Umu-EzeChima Conference hastens to complete their plans, working fast to outpace Enwezor’s group.

During the week of November 13 ‑ 19, the Royal Clan Conference prepares for the ritual Painting of their candidate, Joseph Onyejekwe.  Arrangements are kept as secret as possible to prevent disruptive counteractions by the opposition.  Not until Saturday do they distribute the printed announcement through the town:

on Obiship of Onitsha
umu‑eze‑chima conference of onitsha
town calling!!
Calling on all Onitsha Citizens to
a Mass meeting at
Onitsha Inland Town
on Sunday, 19th November
1961 at 3 p.m.

to take a Momentous Decision on the appointment of the next
All Quarters in Onitsha, all Men and Women of Onitsha
are requested to turn up.
This is the time for Action.
Onitsha must have an OBI.

“EZE Bu Ira Nyelu, Okpala bu elumelu”

Sgd. Chief J. Mbamali, Ajie                Sged. Chief E Nwokedi
Chairman Umueze Chima                   Ogene   Vice Chairman
Sgd. B. A. Maduegbuna
Hon. Secretary

1.  The event

Peter Achukwu takes charge of the arrangements, borrowing folding chairs from his meeting hall and a tape recorder from me.  I decide I can attend this meeting despite its partisan tone, since it is being held in the main Onitsha town square and all members of the Inland Town community have been invited (both sides might therefore be expected to appear).  By 3:30 PM a substantial crowd has gathered in the dusty square when Achukwu arrives and Jerry Orakwue and Byron Maduegbuna begin setting up seats for the titled men of the Special Committee (who are given places of honor in the shade).  Other titled men begin to take seats behind them, while large numbers of young men in European dress and young women in colorful gowns move about the Square on their flirting rounds.  Soon a substantial crowd of commoner men and women sit on all sides of Ilo-Obikporo.

Chike Obi (just victorious in the recent election) arrives with his followers, all in African dress, and, making his V‑for‑victory sign, he shakes hands around the entire crowd and is cordially received.  While he is doing this, the two Senior Chiefs and the Ogbuoba (that is, 3 of the 4 chiefs actively supporting the Royal Clan Conference) arrive almost unnoticed, and  they display some consternation that they have been provided no chairs.  Byron Maduegbuna, showing suitable distress and agitation, places them in seats close by the Special Committee, but at the instigation of Achukwu (who is busily setting the stage) they are removed to a more remote place of distinction where they sit waiting, holding written speech notes.

A few minutes after Chike Obi departs (leaving behind most of his followers), the election loser, Alex Mbanefo, enters the crowd unobtrusively and pays his respects to the senior chiefs.  I observe a few other professional elites present, notably former Chairman of the OUCC B.C.I. Obanye.

Suddenly a green English Ford convertible sweeps into the center of the square, carrying Onyejekwe (dressed in white with a gleaming, bejeweled cap) and his new constant escort, Akunne Ediboss.  While Onyejekwe is seated near the Committee, Ediboss strides about in somewhat exaggerated majesty among the spectators. About 2,000 people, from small children to senior titled elders, are present as the show begins.   As before, this address in Igbo is rendered in verbatim translation1.
AjieUkpaka, Ogbuoba, Nnanyelugo,,Okunwa; Agbalanze (Ozo  men) of Onitsha, I greet you!  Those‑who‑support‑and‑dignify (Commoners), I greet you!  Women, greetings to you!  Daughters‑of‑the‑King, I greet you!  Young men of Onitsha, welcome!

Audience:  Ajie!

Ajie:  Thank you all.  I greet you, how you took (to) gather this night.  It filled my stomach, because this showed that Onitsha lives; it is truly sweet thing.

One thing I want to ask you before I make a speech, is nothing else but that you answer me, tell me, is it truly your mind:  do you want a king, or don’t you want a king?

Audience:  We want a king! (anyi chl eze)

Ajie:  You heard, I am now satisfied.

Audience:  Today!

Ajie:  Today, it is evident that Onitsha truly wants a king.

I took to say, I tell you the reason we came here today is that, long we have stayed in this town.  Has reached ten whole moons actually, our father took to leave us.  We lack somebody who holds eye on (rules) the town, so we hang in suspense (kwufeluzia akwufelu).  Take to speak, it has been a long‑time thing.  Talking about it, talking, after much effort it’s thought that it will soon end, it never ends.  We are now tired (lit., “our strength has finished”).  So we said that we will call a discussion, we who are Children‑of‑King‑Chima.  That we want a king.  We have somebody who will become King.  Those who can take kingship are many (lit., “were filled full”), (but) it has been reduced to one person.  How can we go on staying like this, without a King?  A summons (kpa- okwu] was made for today, you responded.  It is something satisfying.  And so I call to greet you:  thanks to you! (dalu‑unu‑o).

Audience:  Indeed! [O‑o‑o]

Ajie:  Thank you.  I want to ask you again one question:  You who are Onitsha, will you really support us that we have a King?

Audience:  Yes!

(Note how he briefly relates a narrative of how this gathering came to be called, thanks the audience for their actions, and sandwiches these statements with requests for them to state their wants without equivocation.  Their responses are complex yet unitary.)

Ajie:  Talk is finished.  In order to show you, to bring out to you a bit what we worked since beginning to talk about that issue of Kingship:  you know that it was the month of March, nineteen, that our father deceased (gala‑ga) danced his last Ofala.  (Having) danced Ofala, we began counting, Seven Times (oge‑isa, seven four‑day weeks), we saw that it passed, we finished exactly what was customary, we observed all the Forbiddens (Nso).  So when the month of April reached fifteen, we called ourselves together.

It has been said that, for a very long (time) (i.e., since “time immemorial”), it used to be, when the King was sought for but not seen (acho eze m’afu), Onitsha beat themselves, kill one another.  Onitsha is completely broken up into parts, we never stay together.  But we don’t agree that (will) happen so this (time).  Come, our‑masters‑you (di-anyi‑unu), was this not the thing we said?

Audience:  It was!

(Note the term of address here, implicitly placing the speaker in the role of “wife”/”servant” in relation to his listeners, an expecially significant marker when spoken by a Senior Chief to a group composed largely of “Commoners”.  Note, too, the repeated employment of inclusive first‑person plural pronouns in this discourse.)

Ajie:  That we have seen enough light (Na anyi afugo uzo na-nma, “We have seen the road that is good”.  .This is an allusion to civilization, “Enlightenment”, probably also Christian imagery).  We have many lawyer, have many doctor,  have many people, educationists, how can we do things like people who have not seen light?  (ndi-na-furo uzo, “uncivilized people”)  So we said that we shall do this like people (who) have seen the light.  Let us proceed so things go well.  So that from this procedure we may select out one person, who will be one who will win over (melizie) the others, those others who, defeated, anger may stop annoying them, so that they may settle their bodies to the earth, come down smoothly.  Was that not how we took to do it?

Audience:  It is!

(The modernist tenor of this passage is striking, including an allusion at the end to a cardinal requisite of democratic processes:  that those who lose a particular contest are able to accept their defeat.)

Ajie:   We began to call a private meeting (izu).  Finishing the private meeting, then agreed together that it has reached (the time) we shall begin the talk about kingship.  We then wrote people of Government Eastern Region a letter (akwukwo, “leaf”, letter, book), said to them that we have finished mourning (akwasigo) our father.  That we now want to begin discussion how we shall get somebody who will replace him (anchi anya ya).  That letter of ours, we took to Onowu, sent also to all the Chiefs, telling them we have begun talking about kingship.  That passed.  We commenced discussion, continued to talk, until the month of May was at twenty, we saw (we) have gone deep in discussion.

All of the Umu-EzeChima, we said we are going to the experts (ndi‑uka) to look into the matter, because, if we go in large numbers to discuss it, it will not be possible for us to finish.  So (let there) be chosen people who know something well and who have thoughts, so they may take their hands (work independently) to work the job.  To be constantly examining it, to know the way we go into it, not to cause us controversy.  We then went to all Umu-EzeChima, all places they are, village by village.  Went to say they select people to come represent (lit., “give their mouths”) this private meeting Umu-EzeChima are going into ‑‑ to select people who will throw ideas (gatu‑alo) about the kingship issue.  Letter was written to everyone, saying to them ‑‑ each person should select someone of his own choice, in his own area of work (na aka-olu‑ya), his area of work (i.e., according to his special merit).  So selection began, and continued until ‑‑ complete selection of persons.  The only one who did not agree to select someone of his choice was Onya, Egbunike.  Afterwards we wrote him another letter, asking him, how about that letter we wrote him?  He did not answer us.  His people (i.e., members of Umu-EzeAroli who sided with the Conference) then took their hands (worked independently) and selected those who will help us do the job.  Then the work was started.

Then (they) worked constantly until when month of July was at 25, then they completed their work, all who (were) chosen to work on that thing, as was desired.  So (they) called Umu-EzeChima, showed them.  That very thing they accomplished filled our stomachs, (we) told them it is like that, let it pass (O‑ga-esi‑ga, “it is approved”].  Everyone agreed.  So we took this same report (akwukwo, “leaf”, letter, book), we sent to the people of Government Eastern Region telling them to examine what we have done.  Took also the very paper, gave all to all the Senior Chiefs, telling them that, see how we have reached this conclusion.  That the people (arinze) know you, you should help support us so it thus may follow that there will not be trouble.

The Government people answered us that they have gotten our paper, that they look toward us to select them a king.  We then came back and said the way we recommended in that paper, in that way (we) will select the king.  That is:  the two hands (i.e., the whole) of Umu-EzeChima and Onitsha will be selecting the King: Umu-Dei and Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi.  So we told Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi people, whose turn it is (Ndi-oluu) now, that it is their turn, that it was Umu-Dei completed (kingship) last.  They themselves agreed that they will give way so Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi will rule (chie).  You select the person for you, (each group) bring forth one man, one man, brought to Umu-EzeChima, so they from there may choose who will be made King (ga echie eze).  Wrote everybody, that is:  Umu-EzeAroliUmu-Olosi, and Isiokwe.

Umu-EzeAroli were seven (candidates).  Onya himself did not answer us the letter. When he did respond, he said that the one who we chose, that is, the one at whose back we stand  (Onye anyi kwu na azu), that it is only he that he knows (na obu so-so-ya ka-ya ma) (exact meaning here unclear).  (We) said to him, that’s good.  That they who are other people present, bring papers to be reviewed here.  Whomever it falls for will take (it).  That there is not much to be done about it, that the King is one person ‑‑ what is only necessary is that Kingship is for one person who will make it, there will not be three persons.

It came that selecting persons was finished, Umu-EzeChima then wrote letters again to all those chosen, in their places, said that they are wanted in the Court (Onitsha Native Court Hall], so they tell what they will accomplish (all) for Onitsha if they become King.  So (we) may even know that if that person who is going to become King, that he appears where the town is assembled that he may have the ability (ike) to make a speech [to] Onitsha.  To really see him with our eyes, to know how his nose and eyes are on him (what he looks like), this man who answers, King. Come, people, is that not how it happened?

Audience:  It is!

(These passages construct a meticulous narration of “proper procedures” and standards of judgment according to an idealized Western model ‑‑ as signaled at the outset by the “we have seen the road/light” image and the emphases on a fair competition in which losers have enough confidence in the process that they accept the outcome as just.)

Ajie:  Because Onitsha is so large, it is after much effort to bring forth one person, saying, this is the King.  So that was the way it happened.  After writing the letter, we than came to the Court.  The people of Umu-Olosi came, Umu-EzeAroli, five men came ‑‑ two of them did not come2.  You know all that happened then.  One person went to another place, but that did not prevent us from putting his name into what we were doing (a reference to Enwezor).  So we came, all the people finished talking, those who came that day have heard what was said.  He‑who‑looks‑for‑me (otum, “my enemy”) found himself (tulu onwe ya) instead; nobody instructed you (agwazi unu) who was properly suited for Kingship.  Speaking finished, we marched on.  It was decided to select someone.

I myself (mu nwa‑na‑onwem) was the person people of Umu-Olosi selected.  I myself took my thought in hand (i.e, “out of my own will”) and said, no, let me leave it,  that I will not try to reign, so there will be peace, so peace will come.  As discussion ended about the thing, it was said to Umu-EzeChima:  when selecting the person, don’t choose me, it will not be me. But you should select a good man (ezigbo madu), if you don’t choose a good man I will run away from you.  They themselves agreed.  Was this not how it happened?

Audience:  It is!

(Here the speaker focuses on self‑reflexive pronouns.  Note how he presents himself as an exemplar of both process and outcome ‑‑ an initially interested party who has nonetheless stepped down, out of conviction that the process will work to select an appropriate person.)

Ajie:  So it was that after that day, after discussion ‑‑ everyone spoke, indeed.  Umu-EzeAroli were five persons, Isiokwe was one, Olosi one ‑‑ everyone was satisfied, (we began) to toss ideas (tubazia alo,deliberate).  So it came to the day they were to select someone; all the Umu-EzeAroli were there ‑‑ Enwezor was there, Ukpabi was there ‑‑ all those competing kingship were all put forth, so that from that roster, select a person.  Only one person joined them was Akunnia Emembolu of Isiokwe.  So the making of “vote” was completed, so it fell for whom it fell.  Having fallen for him, then we called another meeting, saying to tell Umu-EzeChima what has been accomplished.

So it reached that the month of August was at 26, we came then to the Native Court Hall.  So (we) brought out the person Umu-EzeChima selected.  The person for whom it fell was Nnanyelugo Onyejekwe, Joseph Nnanyelugo Onyejekwe.

Audience:  (Applause)

Ajie:  Everyone was satisfied.  Everybody (aka bu aka, lit. “hand that is a hand”), that is all the people competing for kingship, each person (onye noduzia) came down (ozida); there was absolutely no trying to fight it (anuakwolia ogu)… and that is the way we want it to go, that it went.  And we want it to follow that way to be going in the future (no‑oge‑di‑n’iru, lit. “time which is in front”).  That there is not much remaining to be done with kingship, that we may stop suffering (tadebe afufu, lit. “eating ants”] on this issue of standing..,  tomorrow, when it will be that the King dies, having waited long enough, one month afterward a King will reign.

That is the way we seek, so it will follow that way to select the King, from now hence.  The person (for whom) it falls should be installed… person of Onitsha that he is.  If he is installed it is for all the children‑of‑his‑father (Umunnaya nine) that he is installed.  Ram (ebunu) of Onitsha he is.  Come, people, is that not how it happened?

Audience:  It is.

Ajie:  And it was that he was chosen, it filled everyone`s stomach, joy was in our hearts.  It does not appear to me that ‑‑ if there is any person who will see a man like this, looking at him thoroughly, who will say that he is not good to be made King of Onitsha.  Because the basis used for selecting him (ife eji wee roya) (were) things (criteria) written on paper that we ourselves, Umu-EzeChima, wrote:  that it is a person who does such, is such and such, that is to be a King, he fulfills (onwegbado) all those qualities.  But there wasn’t seen anything that will cause to say, look at this one, it is not like this…  No!   That which is superior (to other criteria) came to be that he knows good book (ma ezigbo akwukwo, “he is well educated”), the thing sought highly today: that he must know book.  Should write for himself, a person should not write for him… because a King for whom someone writes letters is no King today.  After writing for you, you finish, if you go some place alone, (they) speak to you, will you hear?  Come, will he indeed hear?

Audience: No! (Mba!)

Ajie:  We don’t want it like that.

Audience: (Applause)

Ajie:  Because one thing you will know today is that Kingship… is not only King of Onitsha, he is King of the whole world, King of “Nigeria”.

Voice from Audience:  Listen!

Ajie:  The reason he would be King of Nigeria and not our King only:  in the past (oge‑mbu), he was only our King, in this town, saying that he will not go to any other place.  Shortly, now, will be opened Eastern House of Assembly.  If we have a King, he will go and maybe climb to the head there, to stay to rule.  He may be able, from the Eastern House of Assembly ‑‑ it is said (they may) have Chief’s Conference in the whole of Nigeria, to go to Lagos.  King of Onitsha, when he comes in, it will be said, here is the King of Onitsha. (He imitates the movements of a foolish person.)  Zik’s King (Eze Zik) (Reference is to Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Governor‑General of Nigeria, whose national prestige will be affected by the kind of king selected.)  Come, will it be sweet to you that the one who is Eze Zik is a man who does not know book?

Audience: No!

Ajie:  That is one big point we had in our search ‑‑ seeking to get what we want.  I myself here, who am Mbamali, Ajie, I will not tell you lies:  I cannot follow a King who knows no book, to go somewhere (out of town).  Because I will not speak for him… and that, while speaking… I will close my face with my hands (in shame) (he physically demonstrates behavior of an illiterate King, and how he would respond).  Wouldn’t you do like that?

Audience:  We do!

Ajie:  Why not?  But if you follow a King who knows something, as he goes, as he speaks, of himself, you yourself, your head will feel pride, it will (be) sweet for you.

Audience:  (applause)

(These passages at once underline the effectiveness of the Conference procedures and point to their widest aim:  that the Onitsha people may gain a voice capable of projecting views that will be given serious attention throughout Nigeria and even beyond ‑‑ in a world where modernist perspectives and knowledge are required if one wishes to participate in serious and often very complicated discussions.)

Ajie:  Then it will fall in place.  This is just a way of speaking.  So it was that we finished observing, then said that we have finished our work.  Then it reached the month of September was at the first, we sent a message to Onowu first of all.  We told him that we want for us to come to show him whom we selected, who will be made King for Onitsha.  It appeared that, persuaded a little, afterwards he agreed.  So it reached when the month of September was at the first, we took him along ‑‑ the King ‑‑ all the chiefs, all the Umu-EzeChima were assembled at Onowu‘s place.  We then presented him, saying that this is the person we selected.  You can see that that was three or four months ago, we and he discussed, he said that it was good.  What he answered us was that we should go, keep the house in order, then take care of the household courtyard (The implication of this “household” metaphor is that he wanted more time to consider things in private).  So we waited, keeping the house in order before serving outside, for three months.

So it went, continued; we said, No.  That this thing is becoming (too) long; one month passed, Umu-EzeChima came together.  When the month of October was at ten, we wrote a letter to beg (yobazia ayiyo).  It has become too much for us.  We continued begging, good begging, wrote him, the Onowu, asking him:  How?  Call Onitsha to know where we stand; shall we just remain like this?  That was when the month of October was at ten.  The meeting was not called.  Even though we told him, call Onitsha, when the month of “October” was at 15 ‑‑ we gave him a lot of time that he may call Onitsha.  He did not call.

Strength then finished for us ‑‑ even the letter was not answered.  Eventually, it seemed the people of Osita‑dinma (the “ruling age‑grade”) by themselves, in this thing, worrying their body they also gave hand, the Age‑Grade‑ruling‑the‑land, and they did their work.  They did their duty by writing Onowu himself a letter.  Copied also to me and all senior chiefs.  Then said to him, what he was doing is not sweet to them.  That he should summon a meeting (nkpo- okwu), and if he didn’t, that they the people of Osita‑dinma, will do the thing which is in their mind (bu uche‑fa).

We continued to remain in place.  So we stayed, continuing… until we then said, No.  That we shall make inquiry, what is wrong?  They changed (position) and said that the paper we, the Umu-EzeChima, wrote, laying down how it will be to install the King, and how to proceed to install the Chiefs of Onitsha, how everything should be, that there is a place that did not taste good to them, who are the people of Ugwu-NaObamkpa.  That if that place could be straightened out, repair it so as to look good to them, it will help us to start a discussion about kingship.  That is all that is restraining them.

We said good, that this will not cause trouble.  That the people of our town said, (He who) says, ‘Have you seen, have you seen’ (Ifugo, ifugo), wants a (peaceful) settlement (cholo ka egbo).  We then wrote, saying to them that we have accepted all the things you said, let it fall to you.  Let there be no more trouble, for we have no need for trouble ‑‑ and making long talk.  (They) wrote back, saying that the letter sent, that it was only the secretary signed it.  That they don’t see the Head ‑‑ that I did not sign it.  We the chiefs of Umu-EzeChima should also sign to show that it was something decided upon.  We asked, is this what will cause trouble?  I said to the secretary, to go and write at once.  After writing, bring it ‑‑ that I may sign all of them.  He then went and wrote, I signed.  Ogene signed, he himself,  the secretary signed, and we sent it away.  As for reply, there was none in view.  We remained where we were.

Strength finished for us, and we said that we are going to call all Onitsha ‑‑ by ourselves (onwe anyi).  Call also those who are chiefs, for them to come.  And not only that we called the chiefs, we wrote them a letter, one by one, and begged them that it is something of importance ‑‑ that you come today to Ilo-Obikporo, where we are now.  That you should come and see and greet, come to tell Onitsha what is your mind on this issue, so we know where we stand.  We are not forcing you (ada amanyekwa unu amanye), we are begging you (anyi nayozi unu), please come now.

Today, you have seen that nobody came.  As I was saying, we have come here, waited, waited, I said, No, that the hen said that it pecks its prey to death before it swallows (i.e., gives its adversary ample opportunity to escape its assault).  As you see me here, I do not pursue my objects by force (n’ike), by force.  I do things entirely so it may not cause trouble for me and the person above (onye enu), so that it may not cause trouble for me and the person below (onye ani, i.e. “anybody”).  I was told to come and speak, but I said, No, I then called “Inferior”(Ochanja, i.e. Peter Achukwu) and told him to take the motor and go to Onowu, tell him ‑‑ that it is he that we await, indeed that it is he who should sit at the head chair in what we have come for now.  To know if he will come.

So he went, there were people who went with him:  Akpom, Okunwa, and secretary, who is Byron.  They returned saying that he claimed he was lamenting the dead (akwa ozu), while we knew that Nduba (the deceased person related to the Prime Minister) was lamented yesterday.  We said to him, Shall we go ahead?  He said to us, Y‑e‑s  (e‑e‑e-eh, a long stretching of the term which perhaps implies irony).  Come, was that how it happened, you the messengers?

Voices:  That is how it happened (O ka omelu).

Ajie:  I then stood and began talking.  I knew that, strength permitting, he should have come to talk to us, thing we are discussing now, asking him:  where are we standing?  I then proceeded.  That means I am not to blame (maw kwo numo).  Come, Onitsha, am I to blame?

Audience:  You are not to blame!

(His narrative concludes by this long description, which details  the Royal Clan Conference’s interactions with the Prime Minister, emphasizing how the Conference participants persistently “begged” him (displayed appropriately respectful behavior), accommodated his procedural requests and apparent inclinations to cooperate, but were met with what they could only assess as persistent “stalling” responses.  Is their ultimate act of proceeding without him ‑‑ as they are doing here today ‑‑ not therefore blameless?  The crowd affirms it explicitly.)

Ajie:  So that the reason we came for here is nothing else.  I have finished what I had to tell you.  It is that question I asked you at first that I want to ask you again:  Onitsha, do you seek a King?

Audience:  Yes! Today!

Ajie:  Do you agree in the person we selected?

Audience:  Yes!

AjieNnanyelugo (Onyejekwe), come….

Audience: (Applause)

Ajie:  You have seen a youngman, handsome (okolobia oma) like this.  Well‑to‑do (Ogalanya ngada), he is good for a King.  He possesses all the things Onitsha seeks.  Is this how it happened?

Audience:  Yes!

Ajie:  He is the one we say that he will be King of Onitsha.

Audience:  (extended applause; shouts of “Sky!” (Igwe!)

(Onyejekwe is paraded around the arena, to the accompaniment of cheers, and followed closely by Akunne Ediboss.  He is provided a chair beside the senior chiefs, and Ediboss then demands to sit beside him.  A brief struggle ensues, until Ediboss is given a seat near the King‑elect.  The crowd shows great enthusiasm for Onyejekwe.)

(Bell rings, crowd becomes silent.)

Ajie:  Our talk has finished, this is completed, what I want ‑‑ you have seen our King selected.  The next thing in it is that you have told us to proceed?

Audience:  Yes!

Ajie:  We are now on the move.

Audience: Yes!

Ajie:  This is why I continue to say that it is you who will tell us to go.  He is your King, if you say you do not want, he will not be installed.  For it is said: the King is given by the people (eze bu ira nyelu), but senior son is reached in turns (Okpala bu elu’ m ‘elu].  If a person is going to become King, let him go ahead and reign.  Do you agree that he should reign?

Audience:  Yes! (Voices: “He is already installed!” (chigo echi;  chisi‑go)

Ajie:  I greet you of Onitsha, thank you how you took to support us.  I greet Umu-EzeChima who worked, I greet the youngmen (Ikolobia)of Onitsha ‑‑ for he is also your King.  Children who are growing now, all things that we are doing ‑‑ now is all for your own good, all tomorrows will be yours.  And you want a King who will begin today to put your town in order (wee dozibelu unu Obodo unu).  for in our town there are so many things that will be done, and we want somebody who knows something to put things in order, and if it is that we don’t have somebody who knows something, we shall remain stuck to the place we were stuck, we shall not go forward (ga n’iru, “progress”).  So we want someone who knows something, who will have the strength to make our town go forward as other towns are going.  Coming to the place of the King, it will be known that in the King’s house there will be no going backwards.  I therefore say that I greet you ‑‑ how you took to support us.  Also to beg you for that you have done, and begging you also for that which lies ahead.  For those who spoke, said that Whoever carries a baby should not allow its feet to drag on the ground.

Audience: That is how it happened (O ka omelu)!

Ajie:  We greet, please stand behind Umu-EzeChima, support us!  Thank you!

Audience:  Indeed! (O‑o‑o)

Ajie:  Thank you!

Audience:  Indeed!

Ajie:  Thank you!

Audience:  Indeed!

(The speaker concludes by repeatedly asking if the audience concurs with the proceedings, emphasizing the contingency of the present action on their support, and connecting this emphasis with the broader implications of looking to a future in light of an ideal of “progress”.)

(The Ajie retires and the audience stirs.  The Bell rings.)

Peter Achukwu:  Ogene will come to greet Onitsha.

OgeneAjie; Ogbuoba; Nnanyelugo; Akunne

Voice from Audience:  Listen with ear and look with eye here!

Ogene:  Ozo men, welcome!  Ozo men, welcome!

Audience:  Yes!

Ogene:  Those‑who‑support‑and‑dignify, welcome!
Audience:  Yes!

Ogene:  Women of Onitsha, girls of Onitsha, welcome, please, I greet you!  I came to tell you the thing I saw in this kingship matter.  I came to tell you the thing I saw in this kingship matter.

(In Onitsha, such rote repetition is regarded as a form of stuttering, a condition from which the Ogene does suffer and which he displays throughout the speech.)

Please, listen well with your ears.  The King of Onitsha who is gone, he died, Ofala was held when the month of March was at 19.  His last Ofala was danced there at his (place).  So we started to lament the corpse.

Audience: (shows signs of restlessness. After the Ajie‘s previous lengthy speech, the Ogene appears now to be repeating the story in even greater detail.)

A voice:  Listen!

Ogene:  So we started to lament the corpse.

Audience:  (Becomes restless; bell rings)

Peter Achukwu:  If you listen well, you will hear him, because his voice is low.

Ogene:  My voice is soft, please.

Audience: (displays some rowdiness)

Achukwu:  Give ears!  Listen!

Ogene:  Give me chance, give me chance.  Our father who went home, dead, when the month was at 29, is “March”, after lamenting his corpse, we then started the case of kingship, we who are the chiefs, first inside a room  (i.e., secretly), one wrestling with the ghost doesn’t wrestle by experience alone.  It was kept in a room of the house of Onowu.  It was spreading like fire that burns the ground, a flickering flame….

Audience:  (rowdiness increases)

(The sequence of metaphors he uses seem excessively vague, and the direction of his thinking unclear.)

(Bell rings)

Achukwu:  Listen well!  Listen with ears well to the ground!  Onitsha welcome!
Audience:  Shhhhhhhhh.

Achukwu:  Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  Yes!

Ogene:  You have seen that my voice is small.  I shall speak as my voice is.  Nobody knows(the future).  You must listen well.

I then showed you that our father the King of Onitsha, James Okosi, that when the month of March was at 19 the Ofala was danced….

Voice from audience:  “You said that!”

Ogene:  …the last of his, that is that his own has finished.  Is it not so?

Audience:  Yes.

Ogene:  We then started the talk about kingship.

(Byron Maduegbuna walks to the Ogene and quietly tells him that what he is saying has already been said.  He has just been asked to greet the people.)

Ogene: (aside) I know.  I shall not go far, it is just to tell a brief story.  I am greeting Onitsha, but I must add a few words to it.

Voice from audience:  Continue saying what you are saying.

Ogene:  I then said that Onitsha… we then started talk of Kingship, Umu-EzeChima.  Called Umu-EzeAroli, called Oke-BuNabo.  I was the first one who came close to the talk ‑‑ saying that in the first paper that was signed about kingship that (I) didn’t see the name of Umu-EzeAroli persons inside it….  Afterwards, we wrote a letter again and they signed their names, that are Umu-EzeAroli.  We then said it was their turn for kingship, we then… gave way and said to them to go ahead.  But only one man will be installed King, not two will be installed.

Audience:  (Some become rowdy.)

Achukwu:  Listen here!  Quiet, you people!

Ogene:  That only one person will attain kingship, not two will attain kingship.  When they gave us a person, they gave us seven people ‑‑ Umu-EzeAroli ‑‑ we were surprised.  Listen well with your ears now.  So it was that it started to go (ogaba).

Voice from audience:  “Started to go!” (mimics him, a form of ridicule)

Ogene:  As the Ajie has just said, my speaking now is, Ajie, that I want to help a little.  I shall not talk to the head (i.e., to the end of the subject).

We said no, that it has taken long, that disputes never end in this Onitsha.  That discussion should be arranged so that it ends.  As he said already, that is Ajie, I shall not go forward too badly.  I  came to greet you, if you who are Onitsha, have agreed that you want a King, tell us that we may know.  Onitsha, do you want a King?

Audience:  Yes!

Ogene:  Onitsha, do you want a King?

Audience:  Yes!

Ogene:  If you want a King, we have got a King ready.  We have got ‑‑ we have got a King, as we are here.  Do you understand that?

Audience:  Yes!

Ogene:  I greet you, greetings; if you want a King, agree that  ‑‑ the King we selected is a real King.  But we took (him) from the room of Umu-EzeAroli.  All of them who gave letters, seven of them, from that room we selected one person.

Voice from audience:  We did not hear.

Ogene:  From them that one person was selected, that is, (from) Umu-EzeAroli.  If you did not hear, hear now.  So I myself greet.  I greet you, Onitsha, for you have done much ‑‑ if you will stand behind us.  So this dispute may end at once ‑‑ today.  Let it end at (this) one.  We have sent for Onowu and he said he had no time.  It is even good like that.  Onitsha people, I greet you.

Audience:  Indeed! (This is followed by a cheer, apparently in part from relief that the speech did not continue over ground already and better covered by the Ajie.]

(The Ogene, though highly respected in Oke-BuNabo, is known to be a poor speaker.  The importance of his words here is to emphasize that his own major section of the Royal Clan has actually come to support a candidate from the other, historically opposing major section of the Clan.)

(Bell rings.)

Achukwu:  A‑a‑a‑a, any Onitsha person, that words run into his mouth ‑‑ both women and men having strength to come and speak before our last words ‑‑ or before we say what next we have to say.  If there is any one of you in whose mouth words are running… who is an Onitsha person… let him come out and speak if he has strength.

Voice:  Ikpeazu!

Achukwu:  This person says that he has something to say:  Ikpeazu.  Come out here and speak. (Achukwu urges the speaker first to address the audience: Greet them!)

Ikpeazu:  Ajie; Ogene; Ogbuoba; Nnanyelugo; I greet you.  Onitsha, welcome!

Audience:  I‑ya‑a‑a!

Ikpeazu:  Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  I‑ya‑a‑a!

Ikpeazu:  It is what comes right ‑‑ you have heard what Onitsha says ‑‑ it is what comes right, (that) remains.  As Ajie said, and Ogene came and supported him, it has taken long since we began to discuss it.  Afterwards, it came to be that Onyejekwe was selected.  Ajie, what we are looking forward to here now, the young men are here now, Those‑who‑support‑and‑dignify, Ozo men, the Women‑of‑Onitsha (Ikporo-Onicha) are here, what we are now looking for is to start from here now, if we are going to Paint Onyejekwe with White Clay (ete‑ya-nzu), let us paint him with white clay, so we may go away from here!

Audience: (enthusiastic applause.  Bell rings.)

(This speaker overtly assumes the voice of the Commoners, calling for immediate and decisive ritual action.)

(Another person asks to speak.)

Ajie:  Come here.  You speak so we can hear.  Let me ring the bell for you.  (Bell rings.)

Speaker:  Thank you!  Listen, now!  When I came out to ‑‑ what I want to say is one kernel of speech.  Where is it going?  The thing for which we are here today has been on more than ten times.  We have only been talking and talking (lama‑lama).  Tell us the day he will Go to Udo.  That is where we stand.  Come, you Onitsha, do you agree?

Audience:  Yes!

Speaker:  Finish; you don’t say anything again.

Audience:  (concurs with cheers and applause)

(Bell rings.)

(There are further offers to hear speakers from the floor. Since nobody responds, Peter Achukwu comes forward.)

Achukwu:  “Think I’ll start off…”  Onitsha, give ears, give ears, please!  Onicha-EzeChima (Onitsha‑of‑King‑Chima), welcome!3

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a‑a!
(His Onitsha fans begin to hail him:)  “Inferior!” (Ochanja) “Abominable Inferior!” (Ochanja Alu)

(These terms allude to his unusual propensity to break with conventional proprieties when higher issues are at stake.  Thus the salutations treat him like the anthropologically‑proverbial “Culture Hero” of many myths:  the person who fearless blurs the boundaries of the normatively enjoined and forbidden, openly defying the death expectable from such transgressions, in order to gain transcendent truths and to create new culture.  Noteworthy here is the use of the term “Abomination” as a token of praise, an application unique in my Onitsha experience.)

Achukwu:  Is it not what you say that will happen?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Is it (another) person who will come to tell you how your town will be?

Audience:  No!

Achukwu:  Is it you who will bring out your King?

Audience:  Yes!

(Thus he begins with a threefold question of who decides crucial Onitsha issues, producing a sort of populist manifesto.)

Achukwu:  As I am speaking to you, both women, and men, and children who are here ‑‑ that what we came for today is, Umu-EzeChima ‑‑ as Ajie showed you here, and brought out Onyejekwe to show you.  What I am asking of you now is:  You Onitsha who are here, should you support that Onyejekwe will be our King (ga abu eze anyi‑ehh]?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Shall he be our King?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Shall he be our King?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Alright! [He laughs, with his high, brief giggle]

(Again, a three‑fold question, more specific in nature, giving the audience ample opportunity to reject the suggestion, and thus emphasizing their power.)

Give ears, listen.  It appears to me that the way to handle this case…. (gesi ge me okwu‑nua) ‑‑ whoever did not understand, let him understand, so it may be light in his ears (clear to him).  Onitsha‑of‑King‑Chima (Onicha-EzeChima):  you know what is the language, that is what is called Children‑of‑God (Umu-Olisa), if it were when we were in Benin (bini) we were called ‑‑ Children‑of‑God, that is Children‑of‑God (Umu-Chukwu), who came from God (chukwu).  Nobody can put his hand into us (override us), and the reason again is that we are Children‑of‑God, that we are indeed Ndi-Very Most Diplomatic People.

Voice from audience:  I know.  (There is some amused laughter at Achukwu’s unexpected combination of Igbo and English phrasing.)

Achukwu:  And will it be sweet to you, if one small (i.e., ordinary) person, maybe two people, should lead all Onitsha who are here now in this place, into Commission of Inquiry?  Does it appear to you that person is not an abominable person (onye‑alu) to Onitsha?

Audience:  He is!

Achukwu:  Whoever does that, did he do a good thing for you?

Audience:  No!

Achukwu:  Is that not what is is all about, Onitsha?

Audience:  It is!

(Here he characterizes Onitsha people as highly skilled in social interactions ‑‑ possessing unique access to deep truths in such domains ‑‑ and argues that those who work to undermine these values are abominable.  It is interesting that, having been just saluted as “Abominable” in jest, he immediately turns the term to its primary, more serious use. And these are harsh words being uttered.)

Achukwu:  Where it is that we are here, both the Igbo (people), and all places ‑‑ both those who have King and those who have not King ‑‑ often each says ‑‑ even when our father who is gone, when he was alive, it has been that when an Igbo person finished being installed as King, it was said that if he did not reach the place of the King of Onitsha, to knock his head on the ground to show that he has attained the kingship, that he would not view himself as King.  Is it not like that?

Audience:  It is!

Achukwu:  Will it be good for you if we turn around, go to knock head on the ground?

Audience:  No!

(These words allude to recent history, in which ‑‑ as Nigerian Independence approached, and a parliamentary House of Chiefs  came under discussion ‑‑ many Ndi-Igbo towns sought out Onitsha to counsel and validate their establishing Obi institutions where these had been absent or inchoate before.  Achukwu uses this metaphor to imply that an Onitsha person might now be required to act like the Igbo man and affirm his dependency elsewhere, perhaps to some place in Igboland.  This may be an allusion to Enwezor’s murky kinship connections with Nsugbe.)

Achukwu:  That is one.

Next, you have heard how everything was done, all the things we are saying now, this is not hearsay.  The next thing I want to ask you:  what has been causing trouble for a long time, that some appear to be confused about selecting King for Onitsha, the paper called Spokesman has explained it several times ‑‑ it said, what people, who are the persons to select the King?  Afterwards, (it) took it in its hand (to explain), saying that the persons who are fit to select the King.  Is it not like that?

Audience:  It is!

Achukwu:  Can another Onitsha person have strength to select King for Children‑of‑King‑Chima?

Audience:  No!

Achukwu:  They select him, they bring him to show all Onitsha, as you are here now ‑‑ and today that we have shown you him, and you supported him.  Is that true?

Audience:  Yes!

(Here he alludes to the issues of Who are the “kingmakers”, emphasizing the conclusion that they are the Children‑of‑King‑Chima themselves (with the support of the non‑royal clans).  He draws attention to the prospect of a non‑royal person or group making the selection, perhaps (but not specifically) alluding to the stances taken by the Onowu.)

Achukwu:  E‑e‑e‑h, before we proceed further, we are now begging Onitsha ‑‑ what we beg, now, that all Onitsha is here, for the good of this town, because the Umu-EzeChima have finished their own for the good of this town, continue begging, up to the point where Ajie said.  What we have come to now is to beg, the last we are begging all Onitsha people here:  whoever is somebody who looked at something, something causing trouble, or which does not go well, or something which will be said, this thing is what Children‑of‑King‑Chima did wrongly, or that all Onitsha who are here and agreed together that Onyejekwe, whom we gave kingship to, that it is good for them, let him come to speak so Onitsha hears.  I shall give small chance, small time, let the person come forth now and say it, that all Onitsha may hear; or if no speech, I ask again the question I asked again.  Is it not important?  Alright.  Children‑of‑King‑Chima welcome!

Audience:  Indeed!

Achukwu:  Children‑of‑King‑Chima welcome!

Audience:  Indeed!

Achukwu:  Children‑of‑King‑Chima welcome!

Audience:  Indeed.

(Note again the emphasis on “we are begging”, placing the speakers in positions of powerless petitioners in relation to their listeners, and offering the latter opportunity to present differing views.)

00-01-ononenyi-emejulu(Ononenyi  Hector Emejulu, the grizzle‑bearded, gravel‑voiced senior priest of the Umu-Omozele in Umu-Aroli, hobbles to the stand with his cane, and looks fiercely about him.  A rather unpredictable old man, he is known for his magical arts and regarded by many with considerable fear.)

Voice from audience:  Listen, because an elder is speaking.

Emejulu:  Onitsha‑the‑Nine‑Clans (Onicha-Ebo-itenani), welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a‑a!

Emejulu:  What we are hearing with ears, I am Maduegbunam Obi‑OmozeleAjie has spoken here, it filled stomach, another person has spoken, it filled stomach.  I am telling you the thing that will be done so all Onitsha may see with their eyes, to know it is true, Onyejekwe said that he will become King, if it is said that is good.  King of Aroli he is, King of Eze-Chima he is, let them call him out here so that we take white clay, so Onitsha Paint him with White Clay!

Audience:  (Spontaneous cheering; applause)

[The speaker identifies himself as a voice of the legendary King Omozele, and it is known he once supported Moses Odita, but now he demands immediate action in the name of Obi Omozele himself.)

(Bell rings)

Achukwu:  E‑e‑e‑h, Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Achukwu:  Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

(aside:  a voice encourages him to uphold Emejulu’s views.)
Achukwu:  Everyone will wait, what was said is what will be done ‑‑ it will not be left for tomorrow.  When we stand up here, carry Onyejekwe straight to the place where he will be Painted with White Clay, and he will be painted at once.  Is it not so?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  And that is the end.

(Aside:  Emejulu: when will he go to Udo?  Achukwu:  Onowu will be consulted first.)

(Note in this aside, Achukwu’s continuing emphasis on maintaining procedural propriety of interaction with the Prime Minister, careful avoidance of precipitous actions.)

Achukwu:  We are listening for another person who has something to say.  We are listening for another person who has something to say.  It looks to me that it is finished.  (A voice encourages him to call for opposition.)  Any person who has words, who thinks he has something to say, we want that he come out and speak.

(There is silence.)

Achukwu:  That is, it is finished?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Onitsha, is it completed?

Audience:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Let Ajie greet us before we depart.  Women of Onitsha, did it fill your stomachs?

Voices:  Yes!

Achukwu:  Any person that is not satisfied should raise her hand for me to see.   Any person whose stomach is not filled.  Any person who is satisfied should raise her hand.  Those whose stomachs were filled should raise their hands.

(Many people raise their hands.)

Achukwu:  Alright. (He laughs.)

(Bell rings.)

Ajie:  Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Ajie:  Onitsha welcome!
Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Ajie:  Onitsha agree!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Ajie:  I want to have more than that.  I didn’t hear the voice of the women at all. (Anurom onu umu-nwanyi ncha.) Onitsha agree!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Ajie:  Onitsha agree!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a‑a!

Ajie:  It will be sweet for me if an elder woman of Onitsha comes here to follow us to speak also, so we will be satisfied ‑‑ that men have spoken and women have supported the words.  Not only men will be speaking.  You have seen how that we have got one woman in the Council, and we are going to have them in the Eastern House of Assembly.  For it is women and men that do things together now (N’o umunwnayi na umunwoke na emezi ife onu kita).

Audience:  (laughter…  Some listeners attach ribald connotations to his words here.)

Ajie:  It is no longer ‑‑ if a man is working, the women will stay apart.  So it will be something of joy if one girl (agbala) or one old woman of Onitsha comes to greet Onitsha.  So we may know that they and we are standing together.  It will be a thing of joy.  Let not shame prevent you.  Whoever has the strength to come out.

Achukwu:  Ajie!

Ajie:  M‑m‑m, “Y‑e‑s…”

Achukwu:  Sit down, so I announce (naghachi kwue) what you said.

Ajie:  No, wait.

Achukwu: (ignores the chief’s resistance) What we are waiting for is for an old woman to come ‑‑ to speak here, so that we may know that the women have put in their mouths.

(Mrs. Arinze, the Dynamic Party woman who has just won a seat on the OUCC, comes forth, escorted by one of Chike Obi’s stalwarts.  But she is waved away by the Ajie ‑‑ himself the President of the Onitsha NCNC Caretaker Committee, and in any case opposed to any prominence by Dynamic Party people in this Royal Clan’s selection process ‑‑ on the grounds that an older woman is wanted.  Finally a woman of some 70 years, named Akwamma Uyanwa Udezue, steps forward.)

Akwamma:  Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Akwamma:  Onitsha welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

(She is reminded to greet the chiefs.)

Akwamma:  Chiefs (Ndichie) of Onitsha, welcome!

Audience:  Ha‑a‑a!

Akwamma:  Each person to his own, each person to his own.

Voice:  Order! Listen!

Akwamma:  I say it is true that I am an elder, elder of Onitsha.  Afterwards this man here, now has he reached my house that he knows that I am old (Okenye)? (This joking, scornful reference is to the person who has pushed her forward as an “old woman”.)

Voice:  Give us your name.

Akwamma:  I say that if it is what the elders of Onitsha have said, that is where the women of Onitsha stand.  It is good like that.  We have no other words.

Audience:  (Cheers)

Akwamma:  It is good…. (cheers)  Today, the person you have selected, let him go.  He is my Daughter’s Child (nwa‑di‑ani), and he is going to be King.

[She completes her performance with a brief dance of celebration.  This female participation, the first public statement by a woman from the Royal Clan Conference side, is noteworthy for its reticence, and for the coaching required when she speaks to what is normally an exclusively masculine forum.  But the Conference leaders’ emphasis on the equality of women is noteworthy for 1961.)4

(There is a period of milling as the speakers decide what to do next.)

Ajie:  Onitsha, I greet you!

Audience:  Ye‑e‑s!

Ajie:  Thank you, you have done so much.  Let it be done as done.  You have seen that if you did not support us, strength will not be with us, but now joy fills our hearts completely, everyone will carry joy in his heart while going.  Knowing that what we are seeking, that we have seen it.  (This alludes to the earlier proverb about seeking the king but not finding him, in other words, the culminating moment of Interregnum.)  It is said that the thing that is wanted in porridge is the head of yam. (I.e., solid, substantial consummation — and support — is necessary.]  Come, you, is that not how it happened?

Audience:  It is!

Ajie:  You have seen it?  That from today onwards, any Onitsha person has known that we have discussed kingship, and that we know the person who is King.  Do the work on it then, support it to go well.  For we do not know tomorrow, but no matter what happens, we have started the work.  That by the strength of God (ike nke Chukwu), we are begging God that we may do it well.

That is:  the work will begin this night as was said.  That is, Ozo men of Onitsha who are here, Those‑who‑support‑and‑dignify, people of Onitsha, prepare yourselves:  you will leave here to go to Onyejekwe’s place to Paint him with White Clay!

Audience:  Ye‑e‑s!

Emejulu: (his deep, grinding baritone voice forces a greeting through deafening noise)


Audience:  YE‑E‑E‑S!


Audience:  YE‑E‑E‑E‑S!

(The crowd takes Onyejekwe upon their shoulders and rushes from the Square, continuing to cheer.   As they move out,  the voice of Obiekwe Aniweta is too faint to arrest attention, as he shouts, “Wait! Wait!” (chelu‑nu).  Achukwu tells me afterwards that Aniweta has presented a letter of protest, which is not taken seriously.  Achukwu says to me, “Now we must work for a week or more, to try to reconcile with Onowu.“)


  1. As before, words or phrases rendered in English are underlined. []
  2. The reference is to Enwezor and to Akunne Ediboss Okolonji (who dropped out in favor of Onyejekwe). []
  3. Note the new address form, “Onitsha‑of‑King‑Chima”, offered here. Achukwu here introduces this traditional but largely obsolete category into the public discourse. []
  4. Akwamma died less than a year after this appearance. []
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