Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures

The UEC “Special Committee” at Work

During the time Moses Odita was paving the way toward his Ozo Title, and after the decisive initial meeting of the Royal Clan Committee on May 23 (where the membership and officers of this group were formally defined), the participants in this Committee began an intensive program of activities that would last a full two months.  After May 23, participants labelled their more general gathering by the bilingual phrase “Umu-EzeChima Conference” (which I will usually gloss for the general reader’s convenience in what folllows as the “Royal Clan Conference”), while the select committee which the Conference devised  was thereafter called “the Special Committee” (of Umu- EzeChima, Onitsha Town).

1.  Assessing the Committee’s Membership

The designated Committee formed an impressive cross-section of Onitsha Inland Town social statuses and interests, with the very noteworthy exception that women were not represented at all.  In 1961, nobody even raised this prospect as problematic.  As far as I could determine, its initial membership consisted of the following men:1

Oke-buNabo (9 members):  (1) Ogbeabu, L.A. Achukwu (Treasurer); Ononenyi J.C. Okosi, J.A. Okosieme; (2) Ogbembubu, A. Izuchukwu, J.C. Ananti; (3)  Ogbe-Odogwu, Akunne F.A. Iwenofu, Akunwafor A.O. Abadom; (4) Umu-Dei, H.O. Bosa, J.I. Orakwue (1st Ass’t Secy)

Umu-EzeAroli (4 members): (1) Ogbeozala,  Akunne J.O. Ikwueme; (2) Ogbendida,  Kpajie J.M. Onyechi, M.B.E. (Secy), F.I. Chima; (3) Umu-Aroli, Okunwa T.B. Akpom (Chairman)

Ogbe-Olu (3 members):  (1) , Obikporo, Akunnia V.A. Modebe, M.B.E.; (2) Umu-Ikem, D.D. Molokwu; (3) Ogbe-Otu, Nnanyelugo F.O. Obiozo-Abutu (vice-Chmn)

Ogbe-Oli-Olosi (2 members): Ononenyi P.O. Emengo, IAkukalia M.O. Ekwuno

Isiokwe(3 members):  Akunne V.N. Erokwu, Akunne M.O. Uwechia, B.A. Maduegbuna (2nd Asst Secy).

In terms of social prestige, the membership of the Special Committee can be seen to form a nice balance between titled men and untitled but well respected elders.  A majority were Ozo men (two of whom also held the prestigious modern title of Member of the British Empire), while the untitled members included both locally prominent Christian elders respected for their commitment to Christian principles (which among other things precluded their taking Ozo title) and men whose traditional Onitsha wisdom was held in high esteem.  The leadership of the Special Committee accentuated the general pattern:  The Chairman, T.B. Akpom, was a Customary Court Judge renown for his balanced, carefully reasoned speech; the Vice Chairman, F. Obiozo Abutu, was a retired Schoolmaster and popular current President of the Onitsha Ozo Title Society (called Agbalanze) who maintained a remarkably traditional form of Ancestral House, almost a museum piece; the Secretary, J.M. Onyechi, was a newly retired Senior Civil Servant and an M.B.E.; and the Treasurer, L.A. Achukwu, was a retired teacher and respected Roman Catholic elder.  The First Assistant Secretary, Jerry Orakwue, was admired for his writings on local history and traditional custom, while the Second Assistant Secretary, Byron Maduegbunam, was regarded in the Inland Town as a socially responsible young man of letters.   Peter Achukwu was from one point of view the most prominent participant of all (though his reputation generated more feelings of fear and resentment among some than did that of other participants, who had been selected in part for social “respectability”).  While the three Senior Chiefs who were members of the Royal Clan Conference would take no active part in the daily affairs of the Committee, they made themselves available as consultants and their status as backers of the group was crucial to its legitimacy.

2.  The Committee’s task assignments

In the formal “Rules and Regulations” the group established at the outset, the Special Committee enunciated its major goals:

“(a) to seek the welfare of Umu-EzeChima people in Onitsha town;
(b) to secure amicable settlement in respect of the selection of a suitably qualified successor to the vacant throne of Onitsha Town;
(c) to determine the conditions necessary for the appointment to the office of Obi of Onitsha; and
(d) to arrange system of future appointments to the office of the Obi of Onitsha.”

This nice sequencing of aims reflects the strategic planning of leaders like Peter Achukwu, beginning with a general vision of desirable outcomes which would serve to unify the group itself and then designating the specific task performances required for attaining those aims.  Note that the “welfare” designated as the primary goal is not that of Onitsha people as a whole, but rather of its Royal Clan (granting that this group comprised roughly 2/3 of the total population).  The second aim, however, by using the modifier “amicable,”  points toward a wider community purpose.   Note, further, that “selection of a candidate” is not directly affirmed as a specific task for the group itself.  Instead, focus is directed toward efforts of cultural re construction, toward  research to be performed and frameworks to be designed, and away from the more immediate political challenges of deciding among competing candidates (attention to which would only distract the group from the problems of creating an order in the succession process).

As the Special Committee began its task, I was told that Chief Ibeziako the Onoli (following his failure to gain a strong position in the Royal Clan Conference officiate) had refused to allow his documents to be used in the Committee’s research, putatively out of fear that they would fall into the hands of his rival fellow historian, Jerry Orakwue.  Ibeziako  was said to be training his own son in England to become an anthropological historian who would return to write a definitive book on Onitsha tradition (an accomplishment to which many Onitsha people aspired).  Both Ibeziako and Orakwue had been interested in attaining the Committee Secretariat in part for its access to the knowledge of the past contained in whatever documents and oral information the Committee might unearth, but the role Orakwue achieved now placed him under a more senior person, thus limiting his secretarial freedom.
Many Onitsha men kept substantial files of documents (including some active participants in the Conference), but none that I know expressed the devotion to research so much as Peter Achukwu.  Nearly every time I met him he would bring out copies of letters and topical files which illuminated aspects of Onitsha past, and as he did so he often spoke with excitement and conviction of the critical need for Onitsha people to codify their tradition and their history.

As he saw it, Onitsha people suffered a devastating loss when the colonial powers transferred the kingship from Umu-EzeAroli to Oke-BuNabo in 1900, and many traditional royal objects, practices, and prerogatives fell into abeyance then and afterwards while the Umu-EzeAroli refused to comply with the new Colonial Government’s decision.  But in 1961 people were still alive who knew the times of King Anazonwu, and Achukwu thought that Ndi-Onicha might yet recover the knowledge which he saw as an indispensable key to regaining their lost powers.  If they could properly reconstruct their traditional system of kingship, he maintained, not only would they order their internal affairs more amicably and equitably, they would also regain many of those rights and powers they lost after the disruptive invasion of the Europeans.

Achukwu’s own files contained substantial evidence that he had been striving since the 1930s to develop and to institute for the society as a whole a formally written “Onitsha Constitution”. This endeavor grew out of his decisive participation in the interregnum of 1931 35, when he led the Eight age sets to develop a written document suggesting both how the Obi should be selected and how he should structure his relations with his subjects in a more democratically-responsible manner.  But this document was set aside in the aftermath of that interregnum, as the new King whom Achukwu helped to select (and who had made and signed many promises in order to gain popular acceptance) proceeded to behave in autocratic ways which again brought the Inland Town to split into irreconcilable factions.

In 1961 Achukwu’s (and, to a lesser extent, numerous other participants’) long-standing knowledge, ideas, and plans for reconstructing Onitsha society were now fed into the Special Committee’s program of activities, which they established as a formal research agenda: (1) determining the “conditions to be satisfied” by the candidates for kingship, (2) establishing the “true genealogy” of the Royal Clan in order both to identify the “real Umu-EzeChima”    those who are eligible for the throne, separating these from those members whose genealogies revealed them to be “attached” and to ascertain the “Spiritual Heads” of the Clan and its subdivisions, (3) instituting a genuinely traditional “procedure for installing the Obi” (including necessary payments to “Onitsha Nine Clans” and bestowal of the proper Ofo), and (4) ascertaining an acceptable site for a permanent Palace.

Achukwu himself also emphasized a fifth aim, that of formulating a system of “rules governing the Obi” in his future relations with his subjects, but the Committeemen excluded this from their formal program because of pressures of time. Despite the rather formidable set of four tasks they set themselves, the members began their work exhibiting an elated sense (emphasized repeatedly by Achukwu) that their efforts were of great historic significance to the Royal Clan, and would earn that unit new powers and privileges.

3. “Conditions to be Satisfied” by Candidates

On May 27, the Conference Secretary circulated a letter calling for suggestions about the “Conditions to be satisfied” by candidates and about prospective sites for a permanent palace.  Each member of the Committee was requested to consult with the knowledgeable elders of his village and to submit a set of suggestions to be compiled and presented for discussion at a Committee meeting.  By the first of June an initial list of 15 suggested conditions was drawn up, copied and circulated to Special Committee members, and was tabled for discussion at the subsequent meeting on June 3.  This “Summary of Suggestions” stated that “A candidate who is contesting appointment to the office of Obi of Onitsha shall be required to fulfill the following conditions:
1.  He must be a direct male descendant of one of the former rulers of this town of Onitsha and not an attached family to the ruling house.
2.  His father should not be alive.
3.  His mother should be a native of Onitsha (but this condition is not essential provided all the other conditions are satisfied).
4.  He must severe [sic] connection with his mother if she is still alive and she should normally reside in the Waterside area of Onitsha.
5.  He must be a married (man).
6.  He must not be married to a divorce (sic) and if he has any divorced woman he should recall her.  This condition is necessary in view of the fact that Obi is the father of all Onitsha and as such all Onitsha people should feel at home in the King’s palace.
7.  He should not have any visible deformity.
8.  He should be devoid of known traits of hereditary disease such as leprosy and lumancy (sic).
9.  He must be a person of good and unquestionable character, and must not be an ex-convict or criminally inclined person but political imprisonment should be disregarded.
10.  He must have a commanding personality.
11.  He should show evidence of possessing appreciable measure of boldness, firmness and wisdom and in addition to these he should be approachable and tolerant.
12.  He must have fairly sound education and at least have a First School Leaving Certificate.  (He should be intelligent enough so as to be capable of expressing himself fluently in Igbo and English.)
13.  He must be a member of Agbalanze.

14.  He must be of reasonable financial stability.
15.  He must not be concerned with or interested or involved in any business other than that of the state administration and official  requirements.”

Of these 15 proposed conditions, eleven were insofar as I could determine substantially “traditional” requirements (no’s 1,2, 7, 8, 10, 11, 13, 14) and four were distinctly new, based on social changes growing out of the Colonial situation.  The traditional rules were not in dispute except for number 3, which would of course tend to disqualify Enwezor.2

Oral tradition identified an event during a known reign when Onitsha people made an oath requiring an Onitsha maternity for their kings, but exceptions were the rule at earlier stages of the oral history and the Committee was aware of the view of many Onitsha people (whose recent incidence of immigrant wives was considerable) that this criterion should not be a primary or rigid one.  Some members of the Special Committee also expressed fear that since most of the current Eastern Nigerian Government Ministers were themselves Ndi-Igbo,  the latter might take  offense to this strongly exclusionary provision should the Committee’s findings be subjected to later Inquiry.  A qualifying phrase was thus added to the rule (as shown in parentheses).

Of the four historically new rules, there was at the June 3 meeting considerable and strong support for number 9, 12, and 15, all of which were claimed to be emphases made by Onitsha Improvement Unions located “abroad”.  Feeling about no. 9 specifically,  non-political imprisonment, was (to me) surprisingly strong among Ndi-Onicha (given its historically external, that is, Colonial imposition and control).  In some degree this suggests a measure of legitimacy for the administration of Colonial criminal law in non political contexts, since those imprisoned for crimes like theft or embezzlement were much stigmatized in Onitsha in 1961.  However, I construed this rule to be aimed in some sense at Enwezor, because various individuals told me they had “a paper” testifying that he was once imprisoned in the Northern Region.  (No such paper however was ever produced to my knowledge.)
The educational (and elocutional) requirement (no. 12) was even more consensually supported in Onitsha (outside of Enwezor’s camp), the recent national-context embarrassments during the reign of Obi Okosi II being still strong in social memory, but when they learned of it members of Enwezor’s group regarded it as specifically aimed against their candidate.  The provision excluding business activities (no. 15) could also be construed as aimed at Enwezor, anticipating the conflicts of interest which would arise if he combined his business as a road-building contractor with the position the new Obi would hold  as President of the OUCC.  Some members of the Committee argued that this should be a condition for a reigning Obi rather than for “one who is merely aspiring”, but Mr. Onyechi, the Secretary (being himself both an aspirant and a retiree, he met this requirement), insisted it must apply to contesting candidates.

All three of these proposed normative innovations may thus be readily interpreted as biased constructions aimed against the candidature of Enwezor, and the Secretary’s resistance to modifying no. 15 (displayed in the Special Committee’s minute books) supports this interpretation.3  But these new rules (9, 12, and 15, if regarded as general principles applicable to a reigning Obi) did have considerable support not only within the Special Committee but among the wider populace of the Inland Town.

The fourth proposed new “rule” (no. 6), however, had no comparably  general consensus.  A proscription against marriage to a divorcee, this submission by Committeemen strongly attached to the Onitsha Roman Catholic community was quickly challenged as “untraditional” in the Committee’s meeting, and was deleted by amendment.

The remaining 14 “conditions” were then printed and re‑circulated to Conference members for further comments and suggestions. While some further discussion did occur about them, this initially endorsed list of 14 would remain intact with minor modifications throughout the Special Committee’s later deliberations.

4. Site for “A Permanent Palace”

The 4th major assigned task of the research agenda, that of establishing the site for a permanent palace, also met with a quick resolution. Having elicited suggestions on this issue, the Committee ruled out sites currently subject to litigation (notably Obi Okosi’s palace, despite its considerable charisma as a suitably imposing place) and those deemed located in unsuitable places. Examples of the latter included the Customary Court site and the Onitsha Improvement Union Hall, both located on the peripheries of the Inland Town along the Awka Road. These had the advantages of a somewhat neutral location, but were thought too marginal, too exposed to outside eyes.

Members agreed that the ideal location for the future palace was the ancient Sacred Grove of the Kings  (Okwu-Eze)  located in the center of the community where the historic sequence of 5 Ogbe-Ozala kings dwelled, and which (having recently been cleared) now presented an open field mostly barren of grass or  trees.   This placement decision would seem to reconstitute a powerful centering in the direction of history, but it would not seem likely to become a permanent location unless all future kings were to come from that section of the Royal Clan (not a prospect acceptable to the majority).  The convenience in this solution would appear to lie in its appeal to the members of Umu-EzeAroli, the Royal Group least committed to the Royal Clan Conference cause.  Presumably upon the next Interregnum, the palace site might again be moved to the vicinity of Oke-BuNabo.

5.  Establishing “The True Genealogy” of Umu-EzeChima

The remaining two  major tasks set before the Special Committee were not to be nearly so readily solved, for they concerned the traditional rights of major competing Onitsha interest groups and posed more serious problems of research. The most difficult issue, and the one members approached with the greatest apparent eagerness, was the question of the genealogical structure of the Royal Clan.

The eagerness of some Committeemen to examine genealogical issues arose from a widely shared desire to distinguish what are called  the “real Eze Chima” from those who are not fully entitled to contest for the throne, those whose affiliation to the Royal Clan was at some significant point in past time “attached”.  By sorting out these two categories, they believed, disputes over succession would be greatly diminished and decision making simplified, a point that was repeatedly emphasized by Achukwu in his meeting-opening harangues.  The second important task was to define who are the “Spiritual Heads” (the senior patrilineage priests, or diokpala) of the various levels of the Royal Clan.  This identification was universally regarded as important because the procedures of succession entail participation by these ascriptively designated representatives of ancestral seniority, and it is therefore essential that the appropriate statuses and roles be identified.  (Remarkably, few Onitsha people appeared to have a clear conception of them. This was probably due to the great infrequency of situations where they were likely to become relevant.)

In the June 3 meeting of the Special Committee, an issue was raised over the position of one attending member, L.A. Achukwu (the Committee’s Treasurer), who claimed on the one hand to represent “Oreze” (by oral tradition, the first member of the Onitsha Royal Clan to beat his royal drum on Onitsha soil), but who in another context claimed to be a member of Ogbe-Abu in Oke-buNabo.  These dual affiliations were held to be mutually exclusive by representatives of Ogbe-Abu, who denied moreover that L.A. Achukwu was representing their village in the Committee.

This kind of disputing and confusion about genealogical positions appeared as a minor theme in the earlier meetings conducted by Isiokwe, reflecting both weakness in knowledge and lack of consensus about overall genealogical structure that were quite pervasive in the Inland Town in 1961.  My own research was directed to a considerable degree at clarifying this structure, but I encountered much vagueness and contradictory evidence.

When beginning my fieldwork I assumed on the basis of published evidence4  that there were two descent groups among the Umu-EzeChima in Onitsha, one named “Umu-Dei” and the other  “Umu-EzeAroli“, which shared rights to kingship, and that by tradition the throne should rotate between them.  In Onitsha I obtained and read a copy of D.P.J. O’Connor’s authoritative Memorandum of 1935, which stated the same rule.  Some Onitsha people also verbalized this model, but from the beginning of fieldwork I also collected other versions which did not conform to it.  My suspicions were aroused by a number of incidents, for example when a highly esteemed lesser chief, said by my interpreter guide to be a prominent member of “Umu-Dei“, refused to name “Dei” as one of the offspring of  Eze Chima despite the whispered promptings of his various grandchildren seated around him.

It soon became clear that Oke-BuNabo was the most general term applied to this group of royals opposed to Umu-EzeAroli (and their residential and genealogical associates, to be further discussed below), and that Umu-Dei, while sometimes used as an equivalent to Oke-BuNabo, primarily referred to a section of the latter.  The lesser chief just mentioned belonged to another section of Oke-BuNabo which stands as a “brother” section to Umu-Dei.  But members of Umu-Dei proper insisted that Dei was the founding ancestor of the entire sub clan.

Similar contradictions appeared on the side of Umu-EzeAroli, which proved to be only a sub division of a larger royal unit, “Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi,” and some of the other sections of this group    the people of Isiokwe, for example    insisted not only that they were equals to the Umu-EzeAroli but were indeed senior to them, a seniority openly accepted by the latter (indeed, used as a basis for their active 1961 court case claiming a share in Isiokwe lands).

A further contradiction repeatedly became evident when the name “Oreze” was mentioned, for there were said to be only a very few living descendants of this ancestor in Onitsha, but while some informants grouped Oreze with the Umu-EzeAroli, others associated them with Oke-BuNabo.  Some elders claimed that “Oreze Otimili” were the most senior “spiritual head” of the Royal Clan, others claimed Isiokwe were the most senior.  Onitsha people themselves tended to become vague and perplexed when discussing the position of the numerically tiny group called “Oreze“.5

Consequently in 1961 I welcomed the Committee’s investigation of these problems, feeling they might tap new sources of knowledge I had missed and that, whatever the Committee’s success in solving the problem, their information might help me.  (My own excitement to be a partial recipient of the Committee’s ongoing processes of research should be obvious to any reader.)

And in fact their research did bring forth new evidence.  Since the Committeemen saw their task to be twofold —   to distinguish between “genuine” and “attached” segments, and to identify the overall structure of senior lineage priesthoods (“Spiritual Heads”) —    members of the Committee from each division of the Royal Clan made appointments with their respective elders to inquire about these points.  Genealogical lists flooded in, elicited from respected elders representing all sections of the Royal Clan, and the work of sorting them out began.  On several occasions Helen and I assisted Byron in collating some of the material (though taking care not to suggest our own inferences).

The position of “Dei” within Oke-BuNabo

Within the Sub clan of Oke-BuNabo, several numerically small to moderate-sized villages traced descent to almost universally recognized “Early Kings” (Chimukwu, Nafia, Tasia, Chimezie), and through them to the original royal ancestor of Onitsha, Oreze.6  Most elders from these villages classed Dei as a “brother” to their ancestral fathers, denied that they themselves were descendants of Dei, and doubted that Dei was ever King. A genealogy taken from these informants yielded a pattern like this:

Figure 1 (under preparation; to be added later)

The genealogical placement of these ancestral kings and their kinsmen was highly consistent among informants from the several villages.  Usually Dei was not identified as one of these early kings.  There was complete accord as to the identity of the “Spiritual Head”, the most senior priesthood of the group:  everyone agreed that the descendants of Aniemena were the Senior Priests of all Oke-BuNabo.  Since the genealogy placed Aniemena as the “senior son” of Oreze, it now becomes intelligible that L.A. Achukwu (whose confusing position in the Committee was outlined above), as a descendant of Aniemena, regarded himself as directly representing Oreze (being the latter’s “senior son”), while since the descendants of Aniemena now resided in Ogbe-Abu he also regarded himself as one of that group (though most members of that village came from other genealogical lines).

On the other hand, several numerically large villages of Oke-BuNabo grouped themselves together as the village of “Umu-Dei“. Elders of these units almost without exception traced their ancestry to Dei, and most identified Dei both as the founding ancestor of all members of Oke-BuNabo and as one of the first Kings of Onitsha.  The founding figure of Oreze was placed to the side as a “brother” of Dei.  Genealogies from these informants look like this:

Figure 2 (under preparation; to be added later)

These genealogies also recognized Aniemena’s group as the Spiritual Head of Oke-BuNabo, but in this version Aniemena was not connected to Oreze (hence from this perspective L.A. Achukwu’s position as “senior son of Oreze” would appear anomalous). In addition, their representation of the genealogical positions of the “Early Kings” was more variable, while Dei was typically singled out as an early king. Note also the elevation of “Aboh” ‑‑ the great riverain power of the 19th Century7 ‑‑ into a prominent if collateral position at the initial stage of the genealogy.

I directed my own research into the ambiguous position of Dei, and found that informed elders outside Division‑is‑two regarded the name as inherently ambiguous, not a direct identification of an individual but designating a class of people who were descendants of Eze Chima associated with the royal family of the Aboh Kingdom (itself a branch of the same “Children‑of‑King‑Chima” as was that of traditional Onitsha). Various customs of the Children‑of‑Dei support this riverain link, and the Oguta kingdom to the south also has a royal family called “Children‑of‑Dei” possessing linkage with Aboh.11   But while this connection was undoubtedly highly prestigeful in the nineteenth century, subsequent to the waning of Aboh power throughout the Colonial era it was no longer advantageous in Onitsha to publicize external affiliations with this group (indeed, to proclaim any external genealogical connections at all). The Children‑of‑Dei in Onitsha tended therefore to speak somewhat evasively of these connections.

Members of the Special Committee were aware of these Aboh allegations12, but did not wish to focus on them because this evidence was not considered to distinguish “real” royals from “attached” ones (Aboh’s standing as “Children‑of‑King‑Chima” not being denied). Since both genealogical perspectives accepted the spiritual headship of Aniemena, that particular issue was thus solved for this sub‑clan (though the question of the relationship of Aniemena to Oreze remained problematic), and the members turned to investigating the more vexing question of who are the “real Children‑of‑King‑Chima” in Division‑is‑two.

They proceeded to identify a large number of sub‑groups whom diverse elders affirmed to be “attached”, and nearly all of these were associated with the numerically very large Children‑of‑Dei village. On the basis of these identifications, the Committee worked up on a large drawing‑board a first draft genealogy of Division‑is‑two which looked like this:

Figure 3 (under preparation; to be added later)

Note that the elevation of Dei to the same level with Oreze was rejected here. The attached groups, all part of Children of Dei village, were all boldly designated by personal names of living elders or their fathers [which I have omitted here], there being such widespread agreement about them (both within and without Division is two) that the Special Committee members doing the research felt confident that their assigned task of designating exactly who the “real Children of King Chima” are would be recognized and accepted by the entire community and their accomplishment regarded as an historic codification of Onitsha custom.
However, within a few days the numerous members of the named “attached” segments in Children of Dei learned of their prospective humiliations, and their agents threatened court suits against the Royal Clan Conference should any such identification be recorded.  On the other hand, the numerically fewer members of the Village of Abu, the Village of Mbubu, and Warrior Village, most (but by no means all) of them more secure in their deep genealogical connections,  complained of the elevation of “Dei” as their founding ancestor, while the Children of Dei insisted on Dei’s central position. After consultation the Committee revised their genealogical charts, and presented their final version:

Figure 4 (under preparation; to be added later)

This version performed the service of expanding on the descendants of Chimukwu (in order to identify clearly the genealogy of the recent Oke-BuNabo Kings, Okosi I & II), eliminated all reference to attachments, and dealt with the conflict among Oke-BuNabo representatives over the position of Dei in Oke-BuNabo by asserting that there were “two different Dei‘s”, one the founder and one the brother of the various segments of the sub‑clan. To justify this duplication they appealed to the widely‑recognized semantic vagueness in “Dei” ‑‑ that it refers to a “prince”, without necessarily specifying an individual.

Thus the outcomes of this research took the forms of conciliatory compromise whenever conflicts arose over issues of genealogical “truth”. Faced with contradictory aims ‑‑ the desire for winnowing genealogical membership in terms of “authenticity”, versus the need for wider‑segment solidarity ‑‑ the Committee opted for the latter. Their official version of the genealogy directly embodied some of these contradictory aims (but the ideal of genealogical “purity” was abandoned where its application directly threatened group solidarity).

Ambiguous positions of Oreze and Olosi

When the people of Isiokwe first called out the Royal Clan in February of 1961, they did so on the grounds that one of their founders was the senior son of the early King, Chima-Ogbuefi,  and as such their representatives claimed to be the Spiritual Head of the Royal Clan.  But this assertion was soon challenged, not only by the Ajie (whose claim for the seniority of his Umu-Olosi was outlined earlier) but also by various participants who insisted that Isiokwe, Umu-EzeAroli, and Umu-Olosi all traditionally “pay tribute to” the representative of “Oreze Otimili,”  the descendants of Oreze living in Onitsha town.  When the most knowledgeable senior elders of Isiokwe confirmed that Oreze Otimili held the senior priesthood of the Royal Clan as a whole, the significance of this numerically tiny group became an issue for the Royal Clan conference, especially when it was learned that one participant in Enwezor’s ritual of Painting with White Clay was a young schoolteacher named Anthony Agunyego, the sole locally-resident adult male from Oreze Otimili.  This implied that the senior lineage priest of the entire Royal Clan had sanctioned Enwezor’s candidacy for kingship, and if he had the right to do so this might have serious implications for the other candidates.

In 1961 the descendants of Oreze Otimili resided in a few houses in the Inland Town located between Oke-BuNabo and Ogbe-Olu.  In their village affiliation they identified with the latter, but they were not a Riverain people — their funerary rituals were different and like those of Isiokwe.  They also held land in the original settlement site of the Onitsha community on the south side of the Township, which supports the inference of their association with the legendary founder of Onitsha.8
Since some elders however denied the direct descent of “Oreze Otimili” from the Onitsha founder, the Committee was uncertain where to place them  in the genealogy.  There was also the problem (in light of the Ajie‘s position as “Chairman” of the Conference as well as his genealogical arguments) of where to place the Umu-Olosi in this scheme.  The first version of the overall genealogy which the Committee developed looked like this:

Figure 5 (under preparation; to be added later)

This genealogy is noteworthy in two respects.  First, the Committee followed the views of the Ajie in his “Obodo” story.  There was wisdom in supporting the Ajie‘s version, since his continuing support (as the most Senior Chief in the Royal Clan) was deemed essential for the continuing political legitimacy of the Conference.  However, they also hedged their position by drawing a dotted line from the Umu-Eze-Chimaogbuefi to Olosi, labelled “(mother?)”.  However, the  Ajie‘s version did not persevere through later versions, because no elder outside of the Umu-Olosi supported it.  In a second draft version, Obodo and Iru disappeared, the line connecting Olosi and the Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi became solid, and a parenthesis beside Olosi indicated “daughter”.  This parenthetical term disappeared however in the final version, where Olosi now stood as an equal with the other Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi, without gender specification,  but also without the separate ancestors alleged by the Ajie.

The second noteworthy feature of this version is the dual reference to Oreze, identified both as a son of Eze Chima and of Chima-Ogbuefi.  This represents another effort to reconcile contradictions in the elicited genealogies in a way that accommodates conflicting points of view.  However, many elders among the Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi denied the status of Oreze as a son of their common ancestor, and other informants from Oke-BuNabo claimed for Oreze a separate seniority.  The final version of the Royal Clan genealogy preserved the separate structure of Umu-Chima-Ogbuefi and added a third page placing Oreze separately:

Figure 6 (under preparation; to be added later)

As in the previous conflict concerning Dei, the name Oreze was doubled, but here the two points of named reference were distinguished by making the earlier figure a King.  (This satisfied those few versions of the genealogy which had listed him as such.)  This semantic device, justified on the grounds that different genealogical models conferred contradictory positions and qualities on the ancestor in question, was in fact a brilliant solution to some otherwise formally intractable problems, and enabled the Committee to “have it both ways.”  This third chart provided the keystone for their final model, showing a dual division of major potential kingship contesting groups, their stark opposition mediated by a numerically tiny unit providing the role of the ancestor oriented senior priest.

Most desirable from the perspective of the Isiokwe and Umu-Olosi designers of the Conference enterprise, the royal rotation model now contraposed Oke-BuNabo with the entire Umu-Eze-Chima-Ogbuefi, rather than with the Umu-Eze-Aroli alone.  In this phase of the Committee’s activities, the contemporary “founders” of the Royal Clan Conference (Byron Maduegbuna and the Isiokwe elders, together with the elders of Umu-Olosi) had accomplished their primary goal, and on the basis of this “true genealogy” their respective candidates might now validly contest the throne.

Viewing the Special Committee’s accomplishments in genealogy research negatively in terms of their own aims, it failed to distinguish “real” from “attached” membership throughout the entire Royal genealogy    one of their most ambitious tasks.  But facing prospects of extensive court litigation, threatened with potential breakup of the Conference, and  under pressure to complete their work quickly, even the advocates of systemic discrimination on the basis of “real” vs. “attached” members pragmatically discarded this task and aimed rather at identifying a scheme acceptable to all parties.  These results of the Committee’s genealogical work displayed a real effort to reconcile the differing versions, most notably in the repeated construction of two ancestral figures possessing the same name, in order to avoid unilateral selection of one version at the expense of others.  Such results seemed indecisive  to observing Berkeley- trained anthropologists expecting a win/lose political outcome, but they greatly strengthened the prospective short term acceptability of the symbolic product itself (which in turn was an essential component of subsequent clan unity).  Broad spectrum “membership” in the Royal Clan thus took priority over the desire to rank lines as “real” or “attached”.

6.  Implications of the research process

The Committee’s activities may be viewed in light of the stereotypical attitudes of Europeans towards Onitsha traditionalism illustrated in the previous two chapters.  First, the membership of the group was carefully designed to identify divisions of the whole in as representative a manner as was feasible (including that of respected Christian elders as well as traditional village divisions etc.). Second, the organization contained checks and balances to prevent undue influence from any one source, including a component of “Constitutional” vision which aimed at substantially democratizing the social process.  Third,  the group outlined both a general vision of limited, cultural reconstructive goals and a set of specific tasks rationally designed toward meeting those goals.  Fourth, while the methods of research procedure did not accord with any systematically “anthropological” set of procedures, still the essentials of the process paralled such ideals in a number of significant ways:  dialogues were undertaken with elders, and the data from these encounters were examined and assessed through dialogical interchanges in arriving at interpretive results.
The results of these efforts appeared unsatisfactory to a “modernist” oriented ethnographer (preferring more decisive, “authoritative”, “true/false” discriminating means), but they make better sense in light of a “postmodernist” approach which respects dialogical outcomes of a culture-building process.  The genealogical duplications, for example, leave irresolvable contradictions in place where they are found. Where political aims and interests are represented, they are moreover fairly clear, including the outcome that where the two value systems come into conflict, democratic values take priority over aristocratic ones.  The activities seem far too sophisticated for generic dismissal at the hands of a “Superior Ethnographic Authority” (though I deem it valuable to have had a separate, critical observer present and recording some of the processes as they occurred).



  1. Some changes in committee membership occurred as the work of the group progressed.  I will indicate only those salient to the narrative.  Compare the list provided in Harding 1963:85-6. []
  2. No. 3 however, also formally modifies an older tradition that the King should not have a living mother.  Note the similarity to Benin, where according to oral tradition prior to Oba Esigie, the new Oba‘s mother was to be killed (Esigie’s mother in turn being linked in the tradition to the founding of Onitsha).  See Ebohon, Osemwegie 1972: 30-34, and Henderson 1972: 299. []
  3. Harding 1963: 89 specifically directs attention to Onyechi’s interest in these matters. []
  4. For example, Meek 1937:12. []
  5. In part these complexities and contradictions were no doubt intrinsic to the social historical situation and context of the oral traditions under review, and working them out would require broad comparative study among the cultures of the entire region.  In the “Umu-EzeChima” tradition west of the Niger, for example, a shrine dedicated to “Oreze” is a major sacred grove at Onitsha-Olona, where, it is claimed, every Obi of Onicha Mmili, i.e. the town east of the Niger that is the subject of the present volume,  formerly came to offer sacrifice after his installation.  See Nzimiro 1972:19, fn. 3. []
  6. See Henderson 1972:82-6. []
  7. See Henderson 1972:Index for many pages on Aboh. []
  8. See Henderson 1972:96 (Fig. 12). []
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