BRIEF HISTORY OF NKALAHA.
The name Nkalaha is a coinage which stands for a people occupying a geographical land and regional setting in the eastern part of Nigeria. It is a coinage which attempts to explain the direction of movement and adventure of the men who founded the community in the 15th century AD. According to oral sources and some documentation about this community, some of these men were believed to have traveled from Ida, old Benue state of Nigeria to inhabit the land. These men had traveled on different days to locate the place. Onojah who originally founded the land was said to have been in a deep search for a place of safety as he was besieged by a fate that appeared to make him somewhat incompatible with his own people.
Nkalaha is one of the communities that make up Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. Nkalaha occupied the northern part of Ishielu Local Government Area. She is located through the zip 135.031.000. The community sits on 923.768km2. She shares boundaries with neighbouring communities. These communities are: Eha-Amufu (North-west); Agila (North); Ngbo in Ohaukwu (east); Umuhualu (South); Ezillo (south-south), Amazu (South-west) and Obeagu (West). She belongs to the group of communities that make up Igbo-Asa communities. These communities include: Nkalaha, Obeagu, Amazu, Umuhualu, Nkalagu, Ezillo and Iyonu. Of these communities, the early four are collectively called Igbo Ano These ones are so called because they believed to have the same ancestral history and origin. These four communities share things in common and see themselves as brothers.
The land Nkalaha comprises a large landscape that carries more than 4,32000 populations. She is a large community comprising four un-autonomous communities (locally called Nkpuru) organized into one, pursuing a common goal and aspiration. These un-autonomous communities include: Amaezegba, Umulesha, Amegu and Amaokwe. Each of these communities is composed of many villages put together. All these villages had their deliberations on issues that concern them separately. These meetings usually held at each village’s playground had been the binding wire and bond that hold the villagers together and keep them focused towards their common goals. On matters concerning the communities in general, the inhabitants meet at Obobochi, the central play ground to discuss it. Whatever is concluded by the inhabitants at Obobochi playground stands, it cannot be thwarted.
According to oral sources and the prestigious adaptation of the long narrative poem, Onojah Epic (Nnaji 2003), the land that housed the entire population today called Nkalaha was founded 11th century ago by, mainly, three hunters believed to have travelled from Ida during a hunting expedition. Of the three were Onojah, Oji and Okpanshi. Other people came (some, through the same mission) to inhabit the land afterward. Among these were Awo and his brother Edenneye, and Eke and also his brother Egbu. These had come from Ezaa and Ikwo respectively.
These men lived peacefully as brothers and share things in common. Onojah as well as the other two continued in their profession, however with little inclusion of arable farming of yams. They cultivated the head of the yams they had eaten. During a hunt, after many years, Onojah came closer to a stream where he had a noise from the other side of the stream. Another thought came into him; he thought it was an animal to hunt. He moved further, getting to the bank of the stream, he saw another hunter. They explained themselves, then Onojah brought out a piece of liver from his hunting bag. They ate together and vowed to remain undivided. The other hunter, who told him of his name as Ogudu, requested that they meet the next day. As was agreed, they came and reaffirmed their covenant. That day, they set the boundary of the two communities at Amia (the very stream where they met during hunting expedition).
Edina had had a son before this time. He was called Ofu, for he was named after his mother’s village. In the contemporary Nkalaha, Ofu refers to the instinct which he believed had given him - Onojah - protection and care in his days of hobo. (In Nkalaha language, Ofu means the wall built usually at the front and around a compound which can obscure someone from beholding another at opposite direction. When the wall is built round without any compound, such is called Uhvo or Itere). Onojah took another wife which gave birth to two sons, Omaba and Oyide. By this time Awo had come into the land and was accommodated also as a brother. He was given the hilly part of the land, southward. Awo came together with his brother, Edeneye. Both were descendants of Ezekuna; the ancestral father of Ezza. Awo’s descendants are called Amaezegba community. The last to come into the land was “Eke and his brother, Egbu.” they came from Ikwo. They founded Amegu communitiy. By this time and beyond, people had come to live in the land with the aforementioned men to make their villages.
One day, Onojah received visitors from Ama-Nkalu. They had come to know Onojah’s rout. He received them and told them how he founded his new home. Other founding fathers were there with him. The strangers returned to their home. On a return visit, Onojah went with his own people; the fathers of other villages. They were received. The eldest man, after their introduction, referred to them as the Nkalu who live beside Eha-Amufu. With time the words were coined to Nkalaha. (Traditional history holds that Nkalaha was so called because the founders passed through Eha-Amufu).
As days went by, Onojah continued to advance in his hunting lifestyle. He lived in peace with his family and the rest of the people around him. While the family continued to enlarge in the number of friends and unexpected visitors, needs continued also to seek for more people to meet up with the services required. Onojah took a third wife. This he married from Umuogirii. But she was very unlucky, unlike the two older wives; her womb was closed by the gods. She couldn’t conceive all through her days in Onojah’s house. Because Onojah was easy going and had vowed to love all his wives, he never segregated among them. Edina remained his best wife in all ramifications, even as she too maintained a uniform relationship among her younger wives. The last wife was given every support capable of making her feel belonging.
Onojah encountered his death after he was confronted by his personal spirit during hunting. It was next to evening when he had almost concluded his hunting for the day. His hunting dog went back–and-forth in an uneasy solitude. Shortly it entered the bush. Onojah did not mind since such had been its normal lifestyle. Stepping an inch further, he heard the dog shouted once (fiercely) and was heard no more. He knew immediately that all was not well. When he got to the scene, he saw the dog lying dead and two younger lions feeding on it. He attempted to retreat when the mother lion jumped from the tree branch over him. He tried to escape but the lion was very mean. Before he could apply his bow in defence, the lion’s claw was already on his head. He strove and killed the lion which left him with a deep wound at the slant height above his medulla position.
The injury he sustained kept him in-door all through that season. Within those days he was on bed he gave instructions on how things should be done, for he knew that what he had fought and killed were mere symbol of his time to return home. That very year, at the end of wet season and the inception of winter, Onojah left. Before his departure, he shared authorities to his sons and other founders. These titles and rites served the purpose of every protocol in Nkalaha even hitherto.
THE EARLY STAGE (1440s-1790s)
As the first person to inhabit the new land by setting a hut on it, Onojah became the traditional eldest of the community, while Oji held his ground as the eldest in birth. He, Oji, Okpanshi, Eke and his brother and Awo gave birth to what is originally called Nkalaha today. Onojah was survived by three sons with whom he is survived today by the descendants called by his name. The inhabitants are called Umuonoja.
Before Onojah died, he shared his legacy to the three children. He called them together and gave them titles and rites. On that day, while on his sick bed, he addressed them together, beginning with Ofu. Meanwhile, he had in his hand, tails of Atu, the animals he had killed in his active days. Alongside were some Ofor sticks. First, he took one of the sticks and turned towards Ofu. To him he said,
“When a child is growing up, the first thing he holds as he learns to walk is stick. It serves as a support to him. I give you this as the first man of this family. With this stick your descendants remain the first in the face of tradition, just as I have been.” When he had so said, he handed the ofor stick to Ofu.
Again, he took one Odu-Atu and turned to Omaba and said,
“You are the second son of this family. Therefore, you do not need Ngburu because it is not in your position to hold. As part of this family I give you this Odu-Atu. With this you become the Onorovu of your brothers.”
To his younger brother, Oyide he took another Odu-Atu and turned. He said to him,
“Oyide Nshuga (named after his maternal grandfather), you are very different among your brothers; you are not like them. Everybody in this family followed me to farm everyday but you; you do not know where my farmland is. I will not leave you out for reasons. If I do, the dignity of this family may be dragged to the mud should hunger kill you. I will give you this Odu-Atu to be the priest of Ebe. You will live by the proceeds of the sacrifice that people bring. On the other hand, you shall have it as a punishment that as you shout, calling the spirit of the goddess, you shall have headache. With this you shall teach your children that it pays to be hardworking.”
Again, he took another Odu-Atu and turned to Ofu and said,
“What I gave you before was a walking staff. It is your entitlement as the first son of the family, it is not a title; it makes you the first among every other titles just as I am the first among all those who inhabit this land. With the Ngburu you will direct them to the right part as you have observed me do all these days. Now I give you Odu-Atu as the oldest person. You will hold it. This is your own title.”
Ofu rejected the offer. He responded thus,
“It appears somehow if I should in turn collect another duty after I have received the first. I heard you alright, but would want to make one plea. Permit me to give it to Edziragu to hold for me since you told me we are brothers. He shall hold it, should the gods give me longer days, as you said, I will collect it. And when otherwise, let the Odu-Atu remain in his hand.”
He collected the title and handed it over to Edziragu. Since that day, this very Odu-Atu had been held by Umuobeye, turn by turn till date. It qualifies the holder to be an Onye-idzi, eldest. Nate:
Edziragu is a concept that stands for the conglomeration of Umuonoja and Umuobeye. Obeye, the son of Edziragu was also called Edziragu (his descendants). He held from Ikem whose ancestral origin was traced to Igala land. Confabulations made them to know that they were brothers. The Odu-Atu given to him by Ofu to be shared in turns cemented this brotherhood and made them mentally one, but not in lifestyle and habitation. Whenever Edziragu or Umuobeye is mentioned, connoting Umuonoja, attention goes to the Odu-Atu. Today, the mental unity has waned in the character of the inhabitants (few young ones) of the latter who would want to be called by their name than the more general concept. So it lasted that Edziragu, Umuobeye becomes connotatively a name that refers to the both villages. It is to still retain that relationship (recap about their origin) that Umuobeye built Odo masquerade. Odo masquerade originated from Ikem Leke. Originally, Edziragu belongs to Umuobeye. That is why she is called Obeye Edziragu.
Onojah took another Odu-Atu and turned to his third wife who was unproductive. To her, he said,
“If a man does not have a son, he still cannot be denied parents, with whom he shares things in common. Since you have no son to give this as your share, you will take it to your people. With this title they become Ndu-oke in every traditional gathering.”
He gave it to her. This title afforded Umuogirii the traditional participatory rite they possessed till date. This has however been extended that they became the people permitted to offer crown to a new king during coronation.
After he had apportioned rites to them, he turned to Oji, Eke and Awo who were present to witness what had happened and said, “If one goes to separate a fight, he receives blows many a time. Thanks to our fathers that you have not come to separate fight. For being here today, you won’t go home empty handed.” He took the remaining three Odu-Atus and shared it among them as elders of their different settlements. It permits them to participate in the affairs of the elders. These were the genesis of the titles held by the descendants of the people mentioned above. This forms the basis of the meeting and protocol in Nkalaha. Onojah died in autumn, at the end of wet season; before winter sets in, that year.
What is known today as Umuonoja comprise the descendants of these three families. These three were the direct sons of Onojah. This consanguinity, of course, remains the prominent reason why they are collectively called Umuonoja family till date. The descendants of the three lived together without a clearly defined boundary until when men got their minds ignited with the self-centred lifestyle introduced to them by colonial properties and modernity.
After Onojah’s death, some mutilations were encountered among the traditional concepts. These mutilations were traceable to the descendants of Eke and Awo. Awo successfully handed the title to Ele Awo, his first son. Meanwhile, Ele was struck with smallpox (Edzi nwa Ataa) and all his brethren avoided him for fear of being infected. Ode remained behind to give him assistance and ran errand for him. Ode was the ancestral father of Umuode. Ele became very sick and was about to die. In such condition he became embittered about his people and he gave the title to Ode. He asked Ode to keep the Odu-Atu until any of his people was prepared to take it. Otherwise, he should hold it. On the day he was about to die, he placed a curse on them thus, “if the way I have been treated is good, then I wish Umuele well. But if it is not, anyone whosoever shall sit like me shall have greater ailment than this.” After that day, Ele joined his ancestors. Therefore, it came to pass that till this day, anybody born of Umuele who becomes the eldest goes blind. Till date, the title remains in Umuode. Other villages that existed in Amaezegba at this time include Umungbudu and Obulegu.
Related condition occurred with the descendants of Eke. Of his children, Oruta was the eldest while Ewa was the younger. Oruta lived in the farm and gave due attention to activities in the farm, but Ewa his younger brother lived with their father at Ndulo (homeland). When Eke had eaten years, he later became ill. It lingered that he knew that he would not survive the time, meanwhile Oruta still lived in the farmland, he gave the Odu-Atu to Ewa. He said to him thus, “If there is a call, before the man living in the farm would come it will be very late. You, who are here, take this and hold it for me.” He gave the title to Ewa at the expense of his brother. Till date Umuewa still holds the title. Oruta was the father of Umuoruta. The descendants of Egbu lived in Amaegbu. Eke and Egbu are the fathers of Amegu village. Okpomoroko Idaka was the ancestral father of Amegu. He was the father of Eke and Egbu, who in turn fathered the villages that are called by their names. Okpomoroko Idaka was of Ikwo descent. He held from Amegu in Ikwo. He was significantly known for the exclamation “Okpotuma Ikwo,” which apparently refers to his place of origin. He was not too prominent among his descendants. This may be blamed on his old and inactive age at the time of inception. His children were more prominent than he was; they, especially Eke, represented him in traditional matter. He played this role until when Okpomoroko passed on. It is his linage that Edeoga title is trusted in Amegu. Till today, Amegu is still called Amegu Okpomoroko.
Till date, Amegu celebrates the festival adopted by her founder which has Ikwo origin. The festival is called Nshovu. This is one of the remarkable features peculiar to Amegu which reveals their continuous reflection on thier place of origin. It is celebrated the same time when Ikwo celebrates her’s. The festival takes the same pattern with that of its origin. All through the days of the festival, no strenger is allowed to stay in the village until the festival is over. This is the major feature kept among the villagers as a link to reflect to their place of origin. This two villages; Ama-Eke and Ama-Egbu survived Amegu in the early stage. In Amaokwe, Oji still has his title with Umuoji (particularly, Ufuachi). Oji was the father of Amaokwe. Amaokwe was survived by Umu-Oji and Ohualu in the early stage.
In Umulesha, Obeye’s children are Eze Nneye, Oko, Ogirii and Ayom. They are the father of the villages that are called by such names. Oko and Ogirii are brothers, they had a same mother. Oko deceived Ogirii and asked him to live behind him so that should there be any attack of beasts he will be alerted by his cry. Therefore, Oko lived in the front while Ogirii lived behind him, next to forest. They are the fathers of Umuoko and Umuogirii. Obeye’s descendants came in larger population at the time of their inception in Nkalaha. Their population granted them the opportunity to acquire larger land. By this time Umuobeye’s land extended to Egu-Eke down to where it was bounded to Amaokwe. UmuOkpanshi, Umugoji, Umuebeoko and Umuaja comprised Umuagu. Umuoko-Ebe had not been in existence by this time. Ebia village was the list in population among all the villages in Umulesha. Ebia is the children of Ngale Ome. They were caught in the forest during hunting. These were the composite of Umulesha in the early days.
NKALAHA IN THE MEDIAEVAL ERA (1801-1930)
In the mediaeval era, there was a breakdown of law and order which were brought about by the populous/profound repudiation of the inhabitants of the community to the concept that held their fathers together. This repudiation emanated at the decay part of the early era when people began to question the authority of some gods and persons. This situation lasted till the death of Ede nwa Agbo (popularly called Ede Agbo) and early mediaeval era. Ede nwa Agbo lived longer than anybody in Umuodumu. Till his old age, he was still hunting and trapping, a habit he did not give up until he joined his ancestors. It was his demise that ended the early age, giving rise to the mediaeval era.
Potable documentation about this part of the country covers events over the years from 1870. And the period may be classified as late mediaeval. Nevertheless, it was a time between middle and late mediaeval; it was thus estimated as the late mediaeval era because the period was evident with the decay lifestyle that characterised the mediaeval era. It was about this time (1870s) that the event that besieged Umuodumu was at its heat. The events that dominated The Eagles Tribe revolved around this period (1734 and down to 1934), but Nnaji, willingly or not, chose to skip events bothering on the dark period in the novel.
Mediaeval Nkalaha bothered on the life of the inhabitants when their population had actually improved. By this time, Nkalaha was composed of eight un-autonomous communities (Nkpuru) put together. It was the time when the inhabitants begun to ignite their minds to selfhood and they were determined to go any length to achieve their mind dream, unlike the piety and enthusiasm for good deeds for fear of the gods which dominated the early period. As a result, members of the community began to vacate their homes as difficulties and wars ravaged the community. This period, I referred to as the exodus time for Nkalaha.
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The Historical foundation of Nkalaha
Poetry is one of the didactic ways through which Nkalaha passed their oral tradition on to successive generations. In every generation, poems are composed and sang as songs. Great number of poems were composed in the early stage, but virtually all were lost to time and death. The only one more prominent among the early poems which survived the incursion of time is “Egbe l’ Ugo djeru idje ji l’ Oruku.” Nevertheless, the original version has lost some stanzas. About three stanzas are held by the community today. As generations passed leaving various poems, with time, versions of poems were produced. In the mediaeval era, classes of poems were produced depending on the kinds of problems the poems were composed for and designed to solve. Prominent among the mediaeval poems are war songs. These are chanted during wars. These songs served as motivating chants to warriors as they moved to the battle field. A good example of mediaeval war songs that survived the period is sited below.
Ebule ji ishi edje ogu.
Ebule ji ishi edje ogu.
Onyene eme anyi
Mgbe anyi emede.
Onyene eme anyi
Mgbe anyi emede.
Ashi l’ anyi du njo
Ashi l’ anyi du njo.
Ashi l’ anyi du iwe
Ashi l’ anyi du iwe.
A normal Nkalaha man is moved to fight when he sees the blood of a brother or that of self. He is also moved by war songs. The above poem was used during the all-round war Nkalaha fought in the mediaeval era. Another poem was composed spontaneously during the intra-tribal conflicts. It goes thus,
Nwoke nochie uzo
Nwata echito ye
Nwata nochie uzo
Jinkpa echito ye
In the modern era, many war songs are misused for masquerading. Therefore, it was taken as one, maybe because people in the modern era did not know more about war compared to their mediaeval counterparts.
Another popular poem that survived till the modern period is work poems. Work poems were sung individually and also collectively. Individuals sang songs while they worked in their individual farms. These were sung as a means of inspiring and energizing the farmer to do more work and spend more time in the farm. Individual work songs were useful in the mediaeval era, especially during the period of the all-round wars. During this period, villagers farmed collectively – each village chose a particular area of their farmland where every farmer farmed for that particular farming season – each year. While a farmer sung songs in his farm, it gave other farmers in the neighbouring farm boundaries the impetus to believe that someone was still in the farm. It made them keep watch over one another.
Collective work songs, on the other hands, were sung by group of people embarking on a communal job. These were, and are sung during works like clearing of roads during (before) new yam festivals, clearing of boundary roads, procuring timber for bridge constructions etc. collective work poems are sung to keep the workers in the same spirit during each collective venture. A good example of collective work song is “Ivu anyigu Nduda.”
Festive poems were more prevalent in the mediaeval era. It was so because many of the festivals that survived hitherto had mediaeval origin. Apart from Aju-Ede festival founded upon the demise of Onojah – celebrated during autumn (Onanwu) – and new yam festival, every other festivals celebrated in Nkalaha have their history traced to the activities/events that took place in the mediaeval period. Although, Aju-Ede existed before the mediaeval period, the poems attached to Achifu performance during Aju-Ede festivals had mediaeval origin. Unlike new yam festival, Aju-Ede poems were composed for the celebration of the deeds of the founding fathers. All the activities attached to Aju-Ede festival – from Achifu performance to Egbe-Ero artistic display – were fused into Aju-Ede in the mediaeval era. All these were profitable to foregrounding the didactic values of the mediaeval heroism in the mind of the inhabitants. Copious number of Aju-Ede festival poems is contained in Nnaji (2007).
New yam festival embodies various poems sang by various stages of people. The children versions of poems are one while the adult poems are another. The children version were in two ways; one for the male children and the other for female children. Male children sang while “Anayo,” their night masquerades were performing. Female children performed in the evening of the day of the festival. As they performed, they also sang alongside. Popular among the female children poems were “Ekwelokoshi.” Another which is heard too often goes thus,
Le nwa-ibe ruo oru ji
Le nwa-ibe ruo oru ji.
Le nwaka be eze nwa Obegu
Le nwaka be eze nwa Obegu.
Onye nna ye l’ aru ike ji
Onye nna ye l’ aru ike ji.
Onye nna ye l’ egbu ike anu
Onye nna ye l’ egbu ike anu.
This poem is a refrain entirely. New yam poems were composed in praise of yam farmers, people called “Ide ji.” Every festival in Nkalaha adopted one or two songs which are sung alongside the performances that aligned the ceremony. Some are sung in the ritual process.
Other remarkable poems in the mediaeval era are the moonlight poems. Moonlight songs are vast in their numbers. Moonlight poems gave rise to the songs used in Ama-na-Nkwa festive competitions in the mediaeval era. It was the survival of moonlight poems that gave birth to Odabaru, Une and others.
Moonlight songs in the mediaeval era developed from the usual songs attached to folk-tales which are told during moonlight, children melodramas in the playground during moonlight period to the mega group dance and songs organized in different village’s Ofu. Children gather at the playground to play their parts in the blaring moonlight. Moonlight had so many poems composed to match the activities intended of them. One of the poems which survived till the modern state include,
Du du du ya ya ya!
Dududu ya ha!
Kwenu oge n’ aga
Oge n’ aga ngwo!
This poem is sung in a dramatic style. In the play, every participant holds a stick which is passed on rotationally and interchangeably, as much as the soloist continuous to mention places and towns that eats “Oshikapa.” The interchangeable display of sticks by the children depicts a transactional concept, an idea or process through which Oshikapa passes on, on and on until it gets to the final consumer. The towns, as the soloist mentions continually, are possible places where Oshikapa was transacted and consumed. Moonlight poems are vast in their numbers. They gave rise to virtually all the poems that survived the modern period.
THE MODERN NKALAHA (1933-21c)
After the siege in Umuodumu, what could be taken as the modern era may be explicitly estimated to have begun in the days of Ebe nwa Achi. His days, as the Ugbo of the community, opens a fresh page in the community’s history generally, and specifically Umuodumu and Umuonoja. As was the situation with other settlement, villages, communities and tribes in Africa and around the globe, the history of any people opens a fresh page with the advent of the colonial masters in that part of the continent, country, tribe or community. Ebe nwa Achi’s days were remarkable for this same reason. His days saw the Whiteman first.
Modernity referred here does not mean that the community encountered civilization, first, with the coming of the Whiteman. No, it is so called because that was the period when the community began to display the features that clearly characterized modern society. Some of these features include colonialism, taxation, strife for selfhood, new governance and its accompanied politics, instability on religion, politics and economy. The introduction of the Whiteman introduced the community to his accompanied cultural hegemony, new religion and entirely different politics that strove for individualism than the spirit of collectivism which dominated the community in the early and relatively, the mediaeval period. The first Whiteman to enter the community was called Otomba by the inhabitants. The manner in which the Whiteman came into Nkalaha is explained by Nnaji as follow,
“The strange man was on a seat. The seat was comfortably placed on a constructed four-cornered bearer, with two long stick-poles made to pass across it, beneath it. At the end of the poles were four blacks, young and life-filled. They had the edges of the pole, each, on their shoulder respectively. The four men were sweating seriously (Eagles. 177).
These were the condition under which Otomber gained entrance to Nkalaha. He was called Otomber by the inhabitants because of his colour and complete outlook.
The first thing encounter with the Whiteman offered the community with was hard labour and taxation. There was an urgent need for the construction of Enugu-Abakaliki road. This construction was done manually. As a result, men were deployed from roadside communities to attend the work, and Nkalaha was not an exception to this. White men messengers went round mobilizing men for the road construction. This was likely the condition that necessitated the installment of the first warrant chief in Nkalaha. The first chief Nkalaha had was Chief Onwe Ogbunze from Umu-chiokworega in Ebia. Outside hard labour, taxation was introduced. Ebe nwa Achi was the man in whose custody the box containing taxation record for Nkalaha was. He kept this until when he joined his ancestors in 1939. Men that kept tax record box for the Whitman were regarded as the local Councillors of their different villages or communities. In Nkalaha, those men were called “Ishialu.” Ebe nwa Achi was called thus as a title indicating his position in the Whiteman’s features. It is in this manner that all the people named after Ebe nwa Achi is, till date, called Ishialu.
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The Historical foundation of Nkalaha