Arochukwu: History, People & Wars
Arochukwu is a small town located at the Southern end of Abia State in Nigeria.
The Aros, as other Igbos, migrated from the Middle East to their present location in then Eastern Nigeria. You cannot mention Christopher Columbus who discovered America, without a short history of the Indians who owned the land. Also, in retrospect, the Aros came and won the land from the inhabitants, the Ibibios, after series of wars. These wars had a historic impact on the town. For instance, the leader of the Ibibio warriors who fought the war was captured and slain at Oro Village and this is why Oro became the chieftancy village. Amikpe Obinkita became the center where these defeated warriors were judged. This also is why all Aro villages assemble at Obinkita during the Ikeji festival. Any village that is not represented was fined by the entire Aro.
Arochukwu, sometimes referred to as Arochuku, or Aro-Okigbo, (pronounced Aruchukwu) is the third largest city in Abia State (after Aba and Umuahia) in southeastern Nigeria and homeland of the Igbosubgroup, Aro people. It is composed of 19 villages with an overall leader called Eze Aro. Arochukwu is a principal historic town in Igboland. It was also one of the cities in the Southern protectorate conquered by the British colonial government. Several historic tourist sites exist in the city. The mystic Ibini Ukpabi shrine, the slave routes and other relics of the slave trade era are frequently visited by tourists. It is also in the food belt of Abia state where most of the staple foods are produced.
The Arochukwu town has 19 villages namely: (Not alphabetically ordered.)
UGWUAKUMA, AGBAGWU, UTUGHUGWU, AMANMAGWU, UJARI, AMASU, IBOM. (These villages are what is known as IMEARO). ORO, OBINKITA, AMOBA, AMANKWU, UGBO, AMUKWA, ATANI, ISINKPU, UGWUAFOR, AMANGWU, ASAGA, AND AMUVI. (These villages sums up the AMUZE.)
Each of these villages are characterized by their respective cultural displays. For instance, Obinkita village (Landlord of all Aro) is known by their masquerades called Ekpo. Atani villages are identified by their Ugboali for example madam Mary Kanu.
Arochukwu town is divided into three classes: OKENNACHI,EZEAGWU, AND IBOM ISI. These villages are then merged into these classes due to their migration from one village to another. This inter-village migration not only populated Arochukwu but brought internal progression that helped split the villages into these classes as seen below. Note also that EzeAgwu is split into two Umumna Okpara Agwu and Okpara Ezo Agwu.
PART OF ORO
PART OF ORO
AMANAGWU (OKPARA EZEAGWU)
AGBAGWU & AMANKWU
The population of Aro is approximately 60,000 and every Aro indigene is a proud person due to the fact that we are the cultural chief in all Iboland. Our culture is being examplarily practised in all Iboland and this is how the “Aro-Okigbo” came about. The slave era found most Aro people migrating to all parts of Nigeria spreading the religion of Aro heritage. This heritage, became adopted by the host in all the cities and towns in Iboland where an Aro man lives.
The branch out of Aros to other Iboland, for example, ARO OKPOROENYI,ARO NDIZUOGU,ARO IKWERE, ARO YORUBA,ARO NGWA,ARO IZOMBE,ARO CAMEROUN,ARO AJALLI,ARO ORU,ARO NKWESI,etc., did not only personalized the Aros but had an ARO-MATIC effects to the entire Iboland. These Aros that migrated still have a bonding link with the villages they had left behind.
The new Yam Festival is a period where all Aro cultures are displayed. The activities of these events are very fascinating and interesting to watch. All villages prepare for this wonderful occasion that starts and ends in September of every year. Any village/s that is not represented as I mentioned earlier on, will be fined. The place of this meeting is called “Amikpe Obinkita.” The American Beauty Pageant has judges who decide the winner of the Pageant. So also, during this festival 19 Judges are appointed by the Eze of Aro including the Eze Aro who will select the best village presentation on the Ekekpe day which is the outstanding day of the festival. These judges will then assemble at Obinkita recording and checkmarking events. At the conclusion of Ekekpe day, the Eze then announces the No. One village in the entire town. Also other identifiable villages that host some of these events as per another market day includes: “AKUMANNAOBI” who is from Ugwuakuma village. The UGWUAKUMA village host the “MGBAPE AWADA” which signifies the begiining of the New Yam festival (IKEJI) for all Aros. As the events are heated up, every village must homage to the Eze Aro by going to Oro village with their heritage. The Eze Aro in return, will bless them and the village they represents.
THE IKEJI FESTIVAL ACTIVITIES MUST BE WITHIN THESE MARKET DAYS:
NKWO …..…………………………. NKWOEKPE
EKE ……………..……………………. EKEODU/EKEKPE
ORIE …………….…………………… ORIE GBUGBU
AFOR …………….…………………. AFOROSU
The “EKPE SOCIETY” is predominantly becoming a domineering factor in Aro whereby if you are not a member, you tend to feel isolated. I vividly remembered my age mates who will proudly come to me and asked “I BAKWARA EKPE?” or are you “IKPOO?”. It is the man’s thing. Besides the Ekpe society, we also have the “OBON” that plays all night.
Arochukwu is believed to have been the homeland of the Ibibio as they arrived in 300 AD from the Benue valley and founded early states like Obong Okon Ita and Ibom. Many years passed as Igbo immigrants came along and pressed into the Ibibio occupied territory and founded several states. The first Igbo group were the Ezeagwu group led by their leader Agwu Inobia. As Aro-Ibibio wars occurred, there was a stalemate. In reaction, the Eze Agwu clan invited a priest named Nnachi from the Edda clan of northeastern Igboland and another group from the east of the Cross River through Nnachi. These people were identified as the Akpapeople. Akpa forces led by Osim and Akuma Nnubi, they helped the Igbo forces capture the rest of the area. This formed the alliance of 19 new and old states in the area known as the Arochukwu kingdom around 1650-1700. The first king (or Eze Aro) of a unified Arochukwu was Akuma but after his death, Nnachi son’s Oke Nnachi took over and his descendants have the throne to this day.
By the mid-18th century, there were mass migrations of several Aro business families into the Igbo hinterland and adjacent areas. This migration, influence of their god Ibini Ukpabi through priests, and their military power backed up by alliances with several related neighboring Igbo and eastern Cross River militarized states (particularly Ohafia, Abam, Abiriba, Afikpo, Ekoi, etc.) quickly established the Aro Confederacy as a regional economic power. However, Aro economic hegemony was threatened by the penetration of Europeans, mainlyBritish colonists in the wake of the 20th century. Tensions finally led to bloodshed and the Anglo-Aro War took place from 1901-1902. The Aro Confederacy stoutly resisted but were eventually defeated. This helped the British to occupy the rest of what is now known as Eastern Nigeria.
The city of Onitsha was founded by Igbo group from Arochukwu under the leadership of Eze Chima. People of Arochukwu founded many other communities both within and outside Igboland.
Arochukwu is one of the only cities in Igboland named after God. Though named after God, it was named this before the advent of Christianity in Igboland, stemming from the belief in one supreme being. Aro translates as Spear and Chukwu as God. Put together this could imply Spear of God.
Before Igbo arrival in the Aro territory, a Semi-Bantu group of the Ibibio arrived around 300 AD from the Benue Valley. They mainly inhabited the area now known as Southeastern Nigeria.. Prominent settlements were Ibom and Obong Okon Ita. These hunters and farmers perhaps lived peacefully until foreign settlers invaded.
Igbo Migration and Invasion
The Igbo migration led by Eze Agwu clan among the Ibibio in the Aro territory started around the 17nth century. These were merchants, land hungry people, and laboreres from the Igbo heartland. Tensions escalated between the Eze Agwu group led by Agwu Inobia and Obong Okon Ita kingdom led by Akpan Okon resulting in the Aro-Ibibio Wars. Neither group had a victorious position in the war. Eze Agwu asked Priest Nnachi of the Edda clan near Afikpo for help. The alliance also supported prince Kakpokpo Okon’s coup against his brother Akpan Okon. The war escalated and Nnachi called on Eastern Cross River allies for assistance.
Akpa invasion and the foundation of Arochukwu
Osim and Akuma Nnubi were Akpa merchant princes from the Akamkpa area. They led Akpa forces into the Aro territory to assist their Igbo allies to victory. However, this came at the cost of Osim losing his life at the start of the 18th century. With the Akpas and Igbos being victorious, the Arochukwu kingdom was founded with Akuma as its first king or EzeAro. After Akuma died, the Igbo took over the throne starting with Nnachi’s son Oke Nnachi in 1720. Many changes occurred as Arochukwu expanded into 19 city-states due to the increasing population and Aro colonies were forming throughout the area now known as Southern Nigeria.
By the mid-18th century, there were mass migrations of several Aro business families into the Igbo hinterland and adjacent areas. This migration, influence of their god Ibini Ukpabi through priests, and their military power supported by alliances with several related neighboring Igbo and eastern Cross River militarized states (particularly Ohafia, Abam, Abiriba, Afikpo, Ekoi etc.) quickly established the Aro Confederacy as a regional economic power.
Aro activities helped coastal Niger Deltacity-states become important centers for the export of palm oil and slaves. Such city-states included Opobo,Bonny, Brass, Calabar as well as other slave trading city-states controlled by the Ijaw, Efik and Igbo. The Aros formed a strong trading network, colonies, and incorporated hundreds of communities that formed into powerful kingdoms. The Ajalili, Arondizuogu, and Bende Kingdoms were the most powerful Aro states in the Confederacy after Arochukwu. Some were founded and named after Commanders and Chiefs like Izuogu Mgboko and Iheme whom led Aro forces to conquer Ikpa Ora and founded Arondizuogu. Later Aro commanders such as Okoro Idozuka also of Arondizuogu expanded the state’s borders through warfare in the start of the 19th century. The Aro Confederacy’s power, however, was mostly derived from its economic and religious position. With European colonists on their way at the end of the 19th century, things changed.
British Colonialism in the late 19th century turned Anglo-Aro relations sour. Aro leaders knew that Christianity, colonialism, and end of their monopoly would destroy Aro economic rule. Also the British felt that repeated Aro attacks rendered outright war inescapable. They made plans for war in 1899. The conflict had both religious and economic causes. Aro traders and the Royal Niger Company, had their own issues. An Aro invasion of Obegu in 1901 started the Anglo-Aro War. In 1902, following a direct attack on Arochukwu and months of fighting, the British were victorious. The Aro Confederacy’s power was shattered, making it easier for the British to take over the Eastern Nigerian region although resistance in the area was far from over. Although Aro dominance crumbled in March 1902, many Aros took part in later resistances against the British in in the region such as Afikpo (1902–1903), Ezza (1905), and other areas where the Aro had a particularly significant presence.
When Nigeria won independence from Great Britain in 1960, ethnic tensions rose between the regions resulting in the Nigerian Civil War in 1967-1970. After the war, the Aros and the rest of the Igbo People suffered discrimination from other Nigerians. Many Igbo moved out of Nigeria. Aro culture suffered. However, they are currently efforts to unite Aro people and revive their culture.
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