Emeka Maduewesi

What I’m about to reveal will upset many people. I understand. History could be very upsetting. It could make one nauseous, and hypertensive, and at times create enmity. But we cannot forget our past, especially when the key to our freedom and liberty could be found in our past.

Olaudah Equiano wrote about his place of birth thus, “The Kingdom is divided into many provinces or districts in one of the most remote and fertile called Eboe. I was born in the year 1745 in a charming fruitful vale called Essaka. The distance of the province from the capital Benin and the sea coast must be very considerable, for I have never heard of white men or Europeans, or the sea; and our subjugation to Benin was little more than nominal, for every transaction of Government, as far as my slender observation extended was conducted by the chiefs and elders of the place.”

Read that again. Don’t hurry. Equiano mentioned Eboe as a province. He mentioned Essaka as his hometown. He mentioned Benin as a capital. He then wrote, “and our subjugation to Benin was little more than nominal.”

While I had always known that Nnewi monarchy has some connection with the Benin Empire, I never made much of Equiano’s statements until a few weeks ago when I read another history book that described the relationship between the Oba of Benin and any town that came under Benin Empire subjugation and the authority to use the Ada and Eben. The Ada with one cutting edge is sometimes described as the senior sword of state, and the Ebe, with its double cutting edge, is the thrusting sword, or the sword for dancing. All Benin chiefs have the authority to use the Eben, but only a few among them are allowed to possess the Ada. The Igwe of Nnewi is the only traditional ruler, who is not of Eze Chima Dynasty, who carries the Eben (Ebe). How did that happen?

Let’s take a drive down the narrow path of Nnewi history.

Ezeani Udu, the most famous and greatest Ezeani Isu was the Priest-king of Agbaja, for that was the name this Nnewi of today was first called. At the height of the Isu dynasty’s glory, its fame spread as far as the Benin Kingdom and even to the coast. According to Isu oral history, Nnewi the second son of Ezeana Isu had been manipulated to marry one of the daughters of Eze Arọ at Arọchukwu when he went there with Ezeani Isu his senior brother to consult the Arọchukwu Oracle. They were told that the first son of Nnewi would be the incarnate of Eze Eri himself, destined to be crowned by the Ezeani Isu as the King (Eze Ọchichi) Agbaja in the likeness and with the authority of the Oba of Benin. The Oracle foretold that the children of Nnewi would be great and famous.

The first son of Nnewi from the Aro wife was named Di Igbo Ka Nna Ya, “Digbo that is greater than his father.” Di Igbo means the husband of the Igbo. At his coronation, he was allegedly presented with the Eben as gift from the Oba of Benin. One divinity, Ichie Akwa, found presently in Otolo Nnewi is also to be found in Benin in Edo State and in Arọchukwu in Abia State. “Ichie Akwa’ can be found in the house of the oldest man in Nnọfọ, Otolo, or in the house of whosoever the ‘Ichie Akwa’ likes to live with, but he must be of Otolo, of Digbo descent. ‘Ichie Akwa’ has no connection with Nnewi or Ana-Edo clan.

Agbaja people, like all the Igbos of Nri origin, practice a patrimonial lineage system. However, Ezeani Isu crowned Digbo, who was his brother’s son instead of his own Ọkpala the first son, to be Eze Ọchichi and the Obi of Nnewi because it was so said by Ibini Ukpabi (the Arọchukwu Oracle) at Arochukwu and confirmed by an Arọ diviner in Ezeani Isu’s palace in Agbaja. Ezeana Isu created and presented to Digbo Ọfọ Ọchichi while reserving his own Ọfọ Eze Mụọ for his Ọkpala. The Arọs were at the height of their power at this time and manipulated their oracle to enthrone their consanguinity in almost all the important Igbo towns. This was exactly what happened at Agbaja (now called Nnewi) where the Arochukwu Oracle foretold the birth of the first Eze through Nnewi’s Arọ wife.

Digbo, the father of Otolo (referred to by some people as Ototo ỤmụChukwu, because their grandmother was Arọ, and they exhibit Arọ characteristics) and the first crowned Eze Ọchịchị and Obi of Nnewi, was a very controversial and the most important figure in Nnewi history. His ascension to power caused the fall of the Ezeana Isu dynasty and their eventual migration southwards to the various Isu settlements in Imo State. They never forgave the Arọ for this treachery and forbade their descendants from marrying Arọ women. Remember that they are still Ọkpala with the Ọfọ though they moved. This is another story I will tell one day.

Digbo was the foremost Nnewi citizen in Nnewi History. His direct descendants, the Enems and Nnofors of Otolo Nnewi, are today indispensable members of the Oyo parliament being attended by only the aboriginal sons of Ikenga, Isus, and Nnewians. Digbo is remembered every year during the Igwe’s Annual Ofala Festival because on such occasions, a cow known as “Efi Digbo” must be slaughtered in honor of Digbo who lived about six hundred years ago.

From the coronation of Digbo to this day, sixteen Eze Ọchịchị of the Digbo dynasty have reigned over Nnewi in an unbroken succession, with the current Igwe KON Orizu still holding the Eben, allegedly gifted to Digbo by the Oba of Benin.

By osibanews

Eliel Otote A is an Actor and Filmmaker, with a bias for journalism. He was a freelance feature writer with the Nigerian Observer in the 80's in Benin City, he also presented programmes on both radio and television. Eliel is the Editor and Publisher of OSIBAnews Network Magazine, of which this blog is an affiliate.

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