A Pre-colonial History of Ugwuegu Community in Afikpo Local Government Area, Ebonyi State

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A Pre-colonial History of Ugwuegu Community in Afikpo Local Government Area, Ebonyi State

Ugwuegu is an autonomous community in Afikpo-North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, popularly called “Ehugbo” by the natives. Ugwuegu in made up of Ugwuegu-elu (upper part) and Ugwuuegu-Agbor (lower part) known as Amaizu.

The history of Ugwuegu people during the pre-colonial era examines the ways of the Ugwuegu people and how they interacted with themselves and their Neighbours politically, socially, economically

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and culturally in attaining their recent status. This project work also explains their settlement pattern, which covers the period before the coming of the British (pre-colonial era).

This work further shows the geographical features and location of the Ugwuegu people with its land, topography posed by natural phenomenon like Rocky hill and forest infested with  wild creatures located also in a latitude of 6o north and 8o longitude. However, oral tradition established that ‘Egu’ people were the first to settle in Ehugbo followed by the ‘Nkalu’, whatever be the case it is now known that the Egu inhabited Afikpo a longtime Ago. They were wonderful people, their mode of life, their skill in handicraft and their creative ingenuity in every human endeavor ranked them the most talented among the contemporaries of their time.

However, the Egu were scattered all over parts of the area now known as Afikpo. They are found in Mgbom, Amaizu, Nkpoghoro and Ukpa. There is also linage system in Mgbom called Ezi-ukwu which was a group of the Egu Smith but their main settlement was in Ugwuegu.

The population of Ugwuegu community, according to the 1927 and 1929 census of all adult males were marked 1468 and 2095 respectively, while the population according to the 1991 consensus rose to about 68,000. Therefore, the percentage growth of 1927 con-census from 1929 census stood at 1.4% while the percentage of 1965 was 89.4%.

Up-till now, there is very little written account on the Ugwuegu community in the pre-colonial era. It is on this basis that the present effort becomes important. For clarity and brevity, this work is arranged in five chapters. Chapter one is the general introduction, it includes the scope of study, sources and methodology and literature review. Chapter two dwells on geographical location, features, origin, migration and settlement of Ugwuegu people. Chapter three treats the indigenous political system and their traditional political system. Chapter four treats the socio-cultural and economic life which includes Religious activities, festivals, Marriage system, Economic activities and Age grade and finally Chapter five summarizes and concludes the work.

SCOPE OF STUDY

This analysis is primarily based on the Ugwuegu community in Afikpo North, local Government Area. A little Journey shall be made in this regard in the literature Review to show how the Ugwuegu community/villages pre-colonial history evolved with a closer focus on their indigenous political, socio-cultural and economic structures.

It is important to note that every content or information in this research will be strictly drawn from the obtainable accounts of this aforementioned scope in the pre-colonial era.

 

SOURCES AND METHODOLOGY

Sources of data for this research shall include both primary and secondary data. The primary data will include Oral interviews, Myths and legends while the secondary data will include textbooks, documented official publications, journals, magazines and unpublished thesis. These sources complemented the data already generated through primary source.

LITERATURE REVIEW

As noted in the general introduction, there is very little or no precise work written on Ugwuegu community in the pre-colonial era. Therefore, effort shall be made to establish relevance and linkages of the Reviewed works to the Area of study.

According to A.E. Afigbo, “Ropes of Sand”, the pre-colonial Igbo Society was Striking Variegated, this was not only in the area of geography, but also in the sphere of political and social institutions with regards to Economic activities in pre-colonial times1. He went further to observe that in pre-colonial Igbo society, Agriculture was the most important Economic activities, Quoting U.C. Uchedu, he aptly described farming as the Igbo staff of life2.

Indeed, it is a matrix in which other Indigenous Economic activities were set. Ugwuegu basically engaged in Agriculture in which men and women also participated. Also, he went further to show how the archetype of the Igbo political Community (including Afikpo) in the Village group which rests on the myths of the bloodline. Each category or level of Igbo Political Organization is conceived as a grouping or Aggregation of Blood brothers, the Umunna or Umudi, and their origins are traced to a common ancestor3.

In the book “History of Afikpo Circa 1600, Raph O. Aja conceptualizes some of the cultural, social, religious, political and advent of colonial rule in Afikpo (Ugwuegu inclusive). He established that the festivals and cultures were and are still performed in the villages of origin and when due, within the Afikpo Calendar year4. This denotes that the many ceremonies of Afikpo have their villages of origin. The Afikpo annual calendar is linked with one ceremony or another including the festivals. He also revealed in his work that Afikpo (including Ugwuegu) is divided into Residential unit called Ezi, which graduates into minimal and maximal linages and finally to village and village group in which, each village is represented in the council, that is, the council of elders with regard to their age5.

He went further to say that Agriculture was the Chief economic activity practiced in pre-colonial Ugwuegu and the foundation in which other indigenous activities were set6. The book did not overlook the customs of the Ugwuegu community, he wrote extensively on many festivals and customary rites of the Ugwuegu people which included the new yam festival, marriage and burial rites etc7. The fabric of typical Afikpo life -social, economic and religious is centered on ogo cult.

Conceptualizing the political structure of Igbo land, S. Ottenberg opined that each village group usually consists of a series of villages as they are called, and each village is composed of a number of Residential Cooperate Aquatic Groups (often both lineages and clan are involved) which may or may not be related. According to him, it is a village democracy where the elder leads the aquatic grouping, priest and other ritual leaders and sometimes members of a titled group and secret societies8. He opined that the Igbo including Afikpo people were self-sufficient in warfare and hunting.

He went further to say that the attainment of any level in Igbo land including Afikpo was for all and that anybody could attain what other person attained. Therefore, it paved way for the attainment of title by all in Afikpo. This is to show that there is no limit or a particular age which is required. Also in all Igbo village grouping, so far as is known personnel achievement in government and everyday life is stressed and energetic individuals9.

However, in Afikpo political structure the government has always been vested in the hands and shoulders of the Ekpuke Esaa and Ekpute Eto. He went further to say that each had its specific role in the society. In otherwords, they are the mouthpiece of Ehugbo (Afikpo) including Ugwuegu and equally the backbone of the Ehugbo traditional council of elders.

According to G. T. Stride and Caroline Ifeka, the political system of Igbo Communities (including Ugwuegu) is an outstanding example of participating democracy. Every adult man has an inalienable right to voice his opinion on public affair at the village assembly10. As R.O. Ajah revealed these age grades and elders (in Ugwuegu) were so organized that they performed legislative, executive and judicial function at village level and community level. He described it as gerontocracy which is government by age grades and elders11.

Arua Okereke contributing to “Afikpo Today Magazine” he said that by implication, the Traditional Council of Elders still remains supreme in the government of Ehugbo (Afikpo). He went further to say that Ezeship title has been introduced which include the Egu of Ugwuegu12.

Besides, the above authors maybe highly appreciated to have touched the topic of Research but it is unfortunate that they failed to give Ugwuegu pre-colonial History its descriptive meaning according to its distinguished epocs. Even the few authors that talked about it failed to reveal the hurdles it encountered and the modifications up to independence. It is therefore for the purpose of filling this identified vacuum that this study is motivated among other reasons.

 

CHAPTER TWO

LAND AND PEOPLE OF UGWUEGU COMMUNITY

Geography of Ugwuegu

The autonomous community (Ugwuegu) which is located in Afikpo North Local Government Area is made up of two parts: the ( Upper part) known as Ugwuegu-elu and the (lower part)known as Ugwuegu Agbor. Ugwu-Egu comprises of five villages which includes Ubam, Ama-Ebor, Ama-Elu, Ama Ogwugwu and Ihu Ogo1.

It is approximately on 60 north latitude and 80 east longitude,   It is also located at the northern part of Afikpo, in the East by Amaizu and North by Amangbala in the West by Ndibe and to the South by Ubam. The relief of the area is that of a gradual slope from the North-west to the River in the Southern and Eastern directions2.

The five villages in Ugwuegu are in turn divided or broken down into more than twenty clustered and closing packed villages (Ezi). The villages are separated only by a narrow area of grooves, farmlands and bushes. Germophologically, Ugwuegu is a lily region which lies in the trough of a syncline of undulating sandstone ridges in an elevation of between 250-300 feet (76.2 – 91.5 metres) above sea level. It is drained by the Cross-River and other numerous streams. It is a transactional zone between open grassland and tropical rain forest with an annual rainfall of about seventy-seven inches (1955.8mm). The derived savanna must have come as a result of sustained human activities like Agriculture and bush burning. Ugwuegu enjoys a warm tropical climate with clearly demarcated rainy and dry seasons. It rains between April and October with a break in August, locally called “akoro nwa esoto” (August break). The little break is important to farmers. They utilize the period for the drying of crops like maize (akpuka), local beans (azama), and melons (ahu). The main rain is about 72 inches, coming mainly between June and October annually.

The Dry Season generally begins in November and lasts till March. This period is characterized by intense sunshine and high temperatures. This is generally interrupted by the harmattan between December and February; referred to as ‘uguru’ usually characterized by dry, dusty and chilly weather. Ugwuegu soil is composed of sandy and fertile loamy soil. The best farmland, are also found along the broad valleys and water courses which is usually swampy during the rainy season and wet enough to sustain crops3.

However, the people are remarkably different from many other Igbo groups because of the kind of systems they run such as the double descent system of kinship, composite nucleated village patterns and age grade system of government and they share most of the same features with other ethnic groups like Ohafia, Bende, Item, etc4.

The population of Ugwuegu Community was estimated to be 263.045 persons in 1931 but the national census of 1953 put the population of 26.305 out of a total of 264,796 for the whole of Afikpo division. The figure was however given as 36.096 by the 1963 census, giving a density of about 220 persons per square kilometer. The 1991 estimated population of Ugwuegu is over 60,0005.

 

 

ORIGIN, MIGRATION AND SETTLEMENT

It is not known by certain when and how the earliest settlers came to the area now known as Afikpo. It is possible, as the evidence of archaeology suggests, that as early as five thousand years ago fairly well-organized communities were existing in the Afikpo area (including Ugwuegu)6.

Oral sources have revealed that groups of people known as “Egu” and “Nkalu” were among the earliest settlers in Afikpo. The Egu originally had their homes along the Oroghoro ridge now part of farm-land area in Afikpo. The Origin and who the Africa people are like their other pre-literate Igbo societies is quite obscure. However, the oral traditions of the people have helped in the understanding of the early history of the people.

Writing in “Afikpo today Magazine”, he said that a great hero called Igbo ukwu and his people came from Saudi Arabia in the middle east in quest for conquest and settlement. He came to Africa and first settled at Ikoyi Lagos from where he proceeded to Calabar from there he came to the area now settled by the Aro people and defeated the Ibibio people who had inhabited the area and then settled there. He went further to state thus:

The origin of Ugwuegu is wrapped in myths and mystery. No one is certain of the time the geographical entity called Afikpo came into existence (including Ugwuegu). The most reliable account of the origin of Ugwuegu is that the founder was a man of Hebrew race who migrated from the east7.

Therefore, the first settlers in Afikpo, according to Gabriel Mbey” were the “Egu” and the “Nkalu” and the “Egu” are officially known as the first settlement in Afikpo dated from 5000 – 3000 (later stone age). Whatever be the case, the Egu are very wonderful people, their mode of life, their skill in handicraft and their creative ingenuity in every human endeavor ranked them the most talented among their contemporaries. Mr. Gabriel further stated that after the death of Igbo ukwu, his sons set out on expedition that brought them to Afikpo (including Ugwuegu) but his sons. However, many traditions of the people point to Igbo Ukwu as the founder of Afikpo and the Igbo Ukwu could be a descendant of the “nri” the legendary founder of the Igbo people, and that is why in Afikpo even today the people used to say “mgbe nri”, in reference to something long past or something that happened long time ago8.

It is generally agreed in Afikpo tradition (including Ugwuegu) that before the arrival of Igbo Ukwu and his people to Afikpo ,there had been existing in the present area of Afikpo, non-Igbo speaking groups inhabiting the area. These people were called the Egu, the Nkalu and the Ohaodu people. However, Prof. Afigbo described the Egu and the Nkalu people as linguistically belonging to the Benue-Congo speaking family9.

The Area inhabited by the Egu are now part of the present day Ugwuegu Arable lands and to that Gabriel mbey stated that “the leader of the Egu was a man known as Anuma Ugwu, who settled at the area now occupied by the Izi Ukaka Amaha Amaizu who is said to be a peace loving man who cared much for the unity and progress of his people, the Egu, inhabited the area now occupied by Ugwuegu people, hence the whole area is known as Ugwuegu i.e. great concentration. Therefore, ugwuegu community is divided into two parts ugwuegu-elu and ugwuegu agbor namely Ugwuegwu. Ugwuegu-Elu occupies the northern part of the area and it comprises of five villages: Ubam, Ama-Ebor, Ama-Elu, Ama Ogwugwu and Ihu-Ogo11.

UBAM

It is a village located at the Southern end of the Community and the founder was a man called Egwu Ehite, who is said to have hailed from Abam in the Bende local Government Area of Abia State. He made brief stay in the places he passed through. In some of the places, he met stiff opposition from his people. As a strong warrior, he suppressed them and waded through. He travelled far to a distant land and arrived at a place called Itigidi in the now Cross River State. Here, he made a settlement which he named “Ubam”, (a deviation from Abam his place of Origin). The people adulterated the Name and called it “Ibam”. Itigidi is still called “Ubam”. It is here that he heard about the Egu territory. It is said that another set of people whose leader was Agha iyi   left their place in search of a better settlement. They wandered about until they came to Ubam. According to Gabriel mbey he said that:

They were said to have recovered a precious article lost in the deepest part of a big river dreaded by good swimmers. The performance of the feat gave them the title “Omine” meaning, “Diving” or “Drivers”12.

Their leader, Agha Iyi approached Egwu Ehite and requested for a piece of land for settlement and he was given a piece of land North-East of Ezi Egwu. The stigma infested the whole of Ubam and made it to be known as “Ubam Omine Egwu”. There were other migrations into Ubam. Ubam was made up of the following compounds: Eze Egwu, Ezi Agha, Ezi Oka and Aghor-Ogo Ubam, including Nde Nna-Nkata.

AMAEBOR UGWUEGU

It is acknowledged that Okocha Ude a.k.a Okoche Eke Egwu Elechi is the founder of the geographical area known as Amaebor Ugwuegu elu. It is said that Okoche ude bound the three compound of  Ezi Okoche, Ezi Okorouche and Ezi Igbidi together to storm one entity known as “Amaebor”.

AMAELU

Ama Elu as the name implies, is a village situated at the upper part of Ugwuegu Elu. The founder was a man called Okoro Uhere. Ama Elu has the following compounds: Ama Elu, Ameta, Ezi Urom, Ezi Ota and Ezi Agha Ude. It has a vast kind mass, but its population is comparatively small inspite of its scanty population, the people were Spartan-like in warfare. According to Gabriel Mbey he stated thus;

They are Aggressive warriors who never gave in to any incursion, despite their infinitesimal number. They fought hard and helped to chase the Egus out of Ugwuegu. Because of their valour in warfare. They are tagged “Eleogu”, meaning Fighting Antelope13.

AMA OGWUGWU

Ama ogwugwu is a village situated at the Northern part of Ugwuegu- elu, directly opposite Ama Elu. The Ancestral father of Amaogwu was Aja Ogbeyi Ekirika. He was an Egu man who surrendered to Igbo Ukwu. He was wise, humble and intelligent. These attributes were safeguard against his Removal and dispossession of his habitation. Their habitation was called Ezi Egwuudu, which because an integral part of Ama Ogwugwu.

IHUOGOO UGWUEGU

The area known as Ihuogo Ugwuegu is made up of the following compounds: Ezi Uzu, Ezi Ekuma, Eze Ogbuu and Eziula. Other compounds are adjacent to Ezi Uzu Northwards. It is said that Ezi Ekuma whose founder was Ekuma Ogwu, was the son of one ogwuorie who brought a shine called “Ekuma Ukwu” or Ekuma Ukwu Ezegbe item”. Ezi Ogbuu is another compound which is part of ihuogo. It got its name from its founder, Osuu Adaka Snr. Although  Ezi Ekuma and Ezi ogbuu are small and appear to have no conspicuous demarcation, they are two distinct compounds. Eziogbuu is Amadi while Ezi Ekuma is not. Ezeta was influential and peaceful. He and the other leaders. Ekuma and Ogbuu united their areas to form an entity now known as ihu ogo ugwuegu-elu.

Thus, the geographical area known as Ugwegu Elu, which comprises five villages, Ubam, Amakbor, Amaelu, AmaOgwugwu and ihuogo were found in Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone of Nigeria. the area of Afikpo concerned founded by different leaders at different times before the pre-colonial period. Each of them was autonomous and had each a village head. The leaders met at ihuogo playground (i.e. ogo ihuogo) and bound their villages together to form a single unit which is now known as Ugwu-Egu Elu Community of today. The area of Afikpo concerned by this write up is Ugwuegu in Afikpo-North local government area of Ebonyi State.

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