A Historical Interjection in the Cosmology and Ontology of the Igbo People of Nigeria: A Study of Orinkiti’s Lineage among the Ozegu People of Uvume
Onyebuchi James ILE, PhD
Ozegu is a village in Uvume in Orumba North Local Government Area of present day Anambra State, Nigeria. This research examines Orinkiti’s lineage in Ozegu, where apart from intimate family units, relationship is by blood, and groups of families in Umunna are related by association, agnate families. Historically, the decision of the descendants of Orinkiti in Ozegu to adopt the name of a shrine, as a means of identification, could have been a decision taken in all sincerity, owing to the fact that in those days, just as royalty was respected, theology was even more respected. The paper posits that, there could have been a sense of pride in choosing the name of the shrine, as a means of identification for their Umunna. The conclusion is that with the advent of Christianity and the politicization and attribution of negativity to African traditional religion necessitated men in the group of Umunna to act in accordance with the events of their time, by doing away with the shrine’s name, as a means of identification. This underscores the history of the descendants of Orinkiti in Ozegu.
Ozegu is a village in Ufuma or Uvume in Orumba North Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria. He is said to be one of the children of Uvume or Ufuma and elder brother of Enebu. Other sons of Uvume as claimed include, Eji, Nebo, Agu, Onyiba, Ogem, Onyiwauka and Agu-Oshibe-Enuguabo (Wikipedia).
According to the famous Professor of History, late Adiele Afigbo, pre-colonial lgbo history is terra incognita; that means an unknown area. The questions one could ask now are: How do we get to know the area? When we do get to know the area? And how do we know that we have known?
In the Medieval Period (450-1066 AD), truth was known through inner revelation or inner light; the Renaissance period (1510-1620 AD) rejected that method as subjective and projected reason as means of knowing the truth; and the Age of Enlightenment (1690-1780 AD), also known as, the Scientific Age, changed the whole dynamics of knowing by insisting that truth can only be known through empirical observation; which means, what cannot be scientifically proved does not exist. All we need to do now is to imagine the state of Africa at the time: nature was not yet explored as in Europe; people lived in nature and were often ravaged by diseases. Mortality rate was very high; sometimes, families with large numbers got drastically reduced through death. Widows had to even, more often than not, as tradition always demanded find responsible healthy men to give them children to ensure that the name of the family of the husband is not wiped away. And these were and still are legitimate practices in ensuring continuity in families in Igbo.
In an age of science, oral transmission of history, especially ancient history cannot be depended upon with all certainty as transmission of varying versions is always the case. That is probably why the German Philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel described Africa as having no history or a place of childhood. It is because of this that African historians, anthropologists and archaeologists decided to investigate Igbo history by not only examining the various versions of oral history, but also its empirical and deducted evidences.
A Brief History of Ozegu: The Origins
This research paper intends to concentrate only on Orinkiti’s lineage. As earlier pointed out, and in line with available records, pre-Colonial Igbo history is terra incognita. However, from pieces of information gathered from here and there, we know that Ozegu had two children – Orinkiti and Nnehi. Much is not known of his supposed younger brother, Enebu. Nnehi’s line branched out with Nwawho, Ibe and later, Nwanyi or Abuchi, etc. Orinkiti himself had a child – Ugbana. Ugbana had children, Ire, Udu, Igwilo, Orji and Mechiri. However, a group among the agnate families in Ozegu traces their origin to a certain Ekwensu. But in fact, according to the research carried out by renowned Professor of History, Edmund Ilogu,
The idea of evil spirit having a separate existence and operating in conflict against the benevolent creator God never existed in Ibo religious thought. Ekwensu, which literally means the deceiver is the Ibo word to translate the Christian and biblical word “satan”, What the Concept of the word Ekwensu represents is new and is borrowed from Christianity In support of this view, it is interesting to note that there is no authentic traditional Ibo proverb that bears reference to Ekwensu and there is no Ibo name that alludes to it (39-40).
Be that as it may, it may still be deduced that Ekwensu could be a historical personality because of the existence of a certain forest in Ozegu, called, Ohia Ngene Ekwensu. What this means is that, Ekwensu installed his shrine, Ngene, in this forest; thus, the name, Ohia Ngene Ekwensu.
However, it is probable that Ekwensu was allowed to settle in among Orinkiti, his children and his brother, Nnehi. The probability lends credence to the knowledge that, Ekwensu is not a traditional Uvume name nor is it the name of any deity brought into Uvume. Again, the fact that Ekwensu brought along his own god, Ngene, attests to this, because Ajana or the Earth god is a traditional Uvume deity, hence, Ajana Uvume, not Ngene. It is possible that a bond of association could have been established between him and Ozegu’s children; hence, their association over the centuries as Umunna.
Furthermore, although names are known to be migratory in the sense that they move as the bearers of the names move, yet there are names that are indigenous to every Onuma or clan in Igbo land. For example, Nwankwo, Okorie, Nwawho or Nwafor, Ire, Okeke, Orji, among others, are indigenous names of Uvume natives. Ekwensu or Ekwensi, Okonkwo instead of Nwankwo, Okafor instead of Nwafor and Mbanefo, and Azikiwe to name but these four are not typical Uvume or Ufuma names. Also, Ajana, as a deity, is indigenous to Uvume or Ufuma; Ngele or Ngene, Ngwu and Agwu are not indigenous Uvume or Ufuma deities.
Kinship Systems in Igbo Land in Relation to Ozegu:
In Igbo land, kinship is classified into three categories: (1) kinship by blood; (2) kinship by intermarriage; and (3) kinship by a bond of association. These three kinship categories constitute a valid sense of family in Igbo land. In this kinship system, leadership in families or Umunna is based on age: the oldest man in the family becomes the leader (Fadipe 18-19; Ejiofor 46, 207; Ilogu 13; Forde & Jones 19).
According to a research carried out by Nnamdi Marcel Nwosu, various kinship networks existed among the Igbo; and within the various levels of kinship, varying degrees of intimacy, interaction and solidarity were expressed by the members in accordance with the acknowledged degree of affinity (Nwosu 284-285). He argued further that at some levels where there were allegiance to a father or ancestor, one shrine, common land ownership and other characteristics that were shared, the bond of kinship were so strong that there could be no intermarriage among members. On the other hand, where the members that constituted a group did not have any claim to ultimate common descent or where their common descent dated to very remote past, so much so that memories of relatedness were lost, they could intermarry (Nwosu 285).
The above seems to be the case in Ozegu, where apart from intimate family units, where relationship is by blood, groups of families in Umunna are related by association, the so-called, agnate families. The bond of association, oftentimes, is so strong that intermarriages are discouraged, but could happen. That is the case in Umueze, from which a group broke out in the mid-80s and began to call itself Umuekwensu or Umuekwensi, probably tracing its lineage to Ekwensu.
Leadership System in Igbo land in Relation to Ozegu:
In the history of Ozegu, which is not too far away, may be in the 40s or 50s. The oldest man at the time was Ajaka Igwilo from the Ugbana lineage and he was also the Chief Priest of the deity, Ajana or the Earth-god or goddess. He became the oldest man in the Umunna after the death of Udu. We will come back to the deity in the course of this expose.
Family meetings were always held in the house of the oldest man in the Umunna. When Ajaka lgwilo died, the leadership fell on the Okonkwo family, a unit of the agnate families. Before Ajaka Igwilo, Udu Orie was the head of the family and Umunna meetings were held in his compound. When leadership fe1l on the Okonkwo family, it fell precisely on Eleazar Okonkwo. At his death, it fell on Goddy Okonkwo; and at his own death, it fell on Nwawho or Nwafor Nwangwu family.
Interestingly enough, there was a shift in the normal practice during the reign of Nwafor Nwangwu: he hosted meetings in the ‘compound of Eleazar Okonkwo. The Nwafor Nwangwu family later changed their surname to Chukwunwejim. At the death of Nwafor Nwangwu, the leadership fell on Captain Alexander Okonkwo, the oldest man in the group of agnate families and the first son of the late Eleazar Okonkwo.
Religion, Beliefs and Practices in Igbo land in Relation to Ozegu:
The pre-colonial’ religion of Ndi Igbo is animism, what the settling colonial powers termed, wrongly, as it were, paganism. Uvume had a deity. Ajana Uvume, the biggest and most powerful deity in the-ancient Uvume or Ufuma theology and religion. After the royal house of Diji, the theological house of the Chief Priest of Ajana is the most important rank in the traditional power echelon.
These positions are the exclusive preserve of Umudiana and had nothing negative about it. By implication, therefore, wherever the sons of Uvume or Ufuma settled, they adopted the deity and a Chief Priest is selected by the native Umunna to be custodian of the sacred shrine. Even members of the Mgbedike Masquerade Cult spent days in the sacred shrine at Orinkiti forest communing with ancestral spirits, who were supposed to imbue them with special powers.
Furthermore, in the old days, when Ozegu people resided at Ochie Uno or ancient homestead, they worshipped at the sacred shrine at Orinkiti. When Christianity and “civilization” came, the people naturally moved away from Ochie Uno. Those of them, who remained traditional worshippers, conducted their rituals at the patio of Nnehi’s cave. The brother of Orinkiti and Ajaka Igwilo presided over the worship.
It was necessary to undertake this research so as to ensure that at no time will it be possible to undermine the peace of Ozegu Community by mischief makers, who may want to impose their ignorance on an unsuspecting people, through the deliberate misrepresentation of historical facts. Throughout history, unrecorded accounts of events tend to be taken for granted. And actions of men of old taken in all sincerity have been, sometimes, consciously or unconsciously misinterpreted and of course negative values attributed to them.
The fact is that, the decision of the descendants of Orinkiti in Ozegu to adopt the name of the shrine, as a means of identification, could have been a decision taken in all sincerity, owing to the fact that in their time, just as royalty was respected, theology was even more respected. And so, there could have been a sense of pride in choosing the name of the shrine, as a means of identification for their Umunna. However, with the advent of Christianity and the politicization as well as the attribution of negativity to African traditional religion, conscious men in the group of Umunna had to act in accordance with the events of their time, by doing away with the shrine’s name, as a means of identification.
This research has potentialities for further development because there is already a plan in the offing to explore the tourist potentialities of the Nnehi cave in Ozegu. While that exploration will be going on, research is also intended to go on with it. Materials obtained in the cave will be examined with materials that could be excavated in the Orinkiti forest to substantiate the claims of history in this interesting but little village in Uvume that holds very much for the town and community.
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Nwosu, Nnamdi Marcel. Igbo: History, Culture and Tradition. Ogun: Marcel Publishers, 2014.
****** Dr. Onyebuchi James ILE is Head, Department of English Studies, Nigerian Turkish Nile University, Jabi, Abuja-FCT, Nigeria. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.