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Onyeji Nnaji

There are four generations…, and the fourth generation, which is the most exalted, is kingless and perfect. These people will enter the holy place of their Father and they will reside in rest … They are kings. They are the immortal within the mortal (The Nag Hammadi, 219)

Also read Nsukka Civilization: The Peopling of Ancient Nsukka

One of the African homes that colonialism has completely deformed beyond certain level of recognition is Nsukka. Colonialism apart, the most affecting factor to the survival of the meaning which the rich cultural enclave, Nsukka, carries will best be blamed on postcolonial political structure. The biggest harm all these have against Nsukka as a people are that they rubbed her of the meaning of her name; their place of origin; how their fathers managed to come into their present abodes and who their ancestors are.  A profound understanding of the excerpt above will open the door towards deciphering the meaning and origin of the people called Nsukka.

Geographically situated at the point where the Egyptian Book of the Dead refers to as “the northern door”, Nsukka is in Northern Igbo land, it is at present in Enugu State of Nigeria. Nsukka is well located geographically. In fact, it appears to be one of the well located in Nigeria Nsukka lies between latitude 6°, 18′ and 70.00, North and longitude 6°, 52 and 70, 541 east. The place is the culture contact zone between the North and the south. This geographical proximity with Idoma and the Igala groups in the North enhances intercourse in various fields of life which subsequently affected the history of Nsukka on one hand and the Idioma and the Igala on the other hand.  Nsukka shares boundaries with Idioma of the present Benue state in the North-east and Igala of the present Kogi State in the North and north-west. It is bounded on the east by Ishielu in Abakiliki zone now Ebonyi State and Nike in Enugu zone. It shares boundaries with Udi in the South and Ifite Awgwali in area of Anambra State.
The Meaning of the Word, “Nsukka”

The etymology of the name Nsukka is traced to no other people than the very people who speak the language collectively termed “Nsukka”. Its lexicography is traced to the history of the settling of the Nsukka ancestors in the days of the beginning. Remarkable among the host of the vast Igbo speaking dialect, or better put, language as a people with a set of lexicon that differ from the various types of the same Igbo spoken by Nsukka predecessors, Nsukka was seen as a different people in the fold of the Igbo consort.  Therefore, they were formally called “Nsukka” following their different linguistic features. The linguistic condition that characterised the naming of Nsukka the very name the inhabitants today speak was founded on the fact that the version of Igbo language spoken by the ancestors attested distinctly that the superiority the inhabitants are immersed in proved clarity in their tongue.

Lexicographically, Nsukka is the amalgam of two Igbo lexicons: they are “NSUand KA”. There is a clipping of the affricative /k/, considering the word “Nsukka” serially by its composite letters.  The first may be better translated equivalently as the gerund (verbal noun) “Speaking”. It is also used to explain stutter (to speak with involuntary disruption or blocking of speech by spasmodic repetition or prolongation of vocal sounds). Ka in the Igbo language can be used for the comparative, “greater” or the superlative, “greatest”. Put together, Nsukka refers to the language greater than others of its kind in terms of its restricted audience. As the last group of the Igbo ancestors to arrive at the part of the Igbo settlement where they have as their home presently, Nsukka was marked as the home of the gods, considering the extent of the energy these ancestors had. Therefore, Nsukka means a people with greater tongue.

The Origin of Nsukka

Nsukka is traditionally called "Nsukka Igboeze". This made some historians to suggest that Igboeze might be the father/ancestor of the ancient Nsukka. But Nsukka, by this reference, does not mean ancestry. Read details of this reference from the document captioned, Nsukka Civilization: The Peopling of Ancient Nsukka.  

The Igbo ancestors generally were four. They were not individually four men; they were distinctively different sets of people emerging at different times in their hierarchical positions.  According to the Igbo oral tradition, the nations of people marked today as the Igbo emanated from four distinct ancestors who lived in the period which the late Adiele Afigbo referred to as the realm of “Eternal Day(s)”. There were the earliest ancestors, Eri and his wife; the second (a group), the Awka; and the third people, the Umudiala occupying the part of the Igbo land referred to the Igbo heart land. The last was the ancestors of Nsukka. These are the ancestors of the Igbo race. These different people and their different periods of emergence are referred to as different generation of people; and as the Nag Hammadi puts it,

Consequently, four races exist. There are three that belong to the kings of the eighth heaven. But the fourth race is kingless and perfect, being the highest of all (Hammadi, 124-5).
Hierarchically, according to the way and time these ancestors descended respectively, the ancestors of Nsukka were the fourth set to descend. They made up the Igbo quadrangle that characterised the Igbo nation. And being of the later, Nsukka was wielded with greater energy above their three older ancestors. The Nag Hammadi reveals that although the three other races were great, “the fourth race is kingless and perfect, being the highest of all”.  

Outside the linguistic feature that gave them their name, Nsukka was marked as people who had the characteristic feature of kings. They are kings. They are the immortal within the mortal. (p. 219).

The Formation of Nsukka City State

Every ancient document that discussed issues connected to the development of the earliest human population on the earth plane spoke of Nsukka, although it was not completely easy to directly identify pinpointed(ly) the part of the world the documents referred to. To identify this, the researcher therefore needs to get himself assimilated into the worldview of the Nsukka by dwelling with them. It does not end there, he ought to learn and use Nsukka dialect competitively, being absorbed into their whims. With this he may succinctly launch himself into the world of the Nsukka to understand how names are given, how terms are assigned values and meaning, the purposes for which any antiquity concept was placed the way they were and why they are hallowed even hitherto. All these cannot be known by just reading books written by outsiders since Nsukka does not have a consolidated document particularly designed with the purpose of sustaining who, how and what they are.

The formation of Nsukka city states began earliest with the assortment of the identity personalities that composed the ancient Nsukka independently. The need for this independent assortment arose from the desire to independently define the personalities that composed the race known as Nsukka; the same race or generation which the Nag Hammadi explained as the “Fourth generation. There was however no consolidated central power among the ancestors as was found among the Nri of ancient, the inhabitants were generally gifted to the same energy (mystic force or supernatural qualities). The first to assort independently was Igbo-Eze. With his assortment Northward, the need for expansion was found.

About this duo period in the history of the ancient Nsukka, those part of the land marked out today as Opi, Edem, Obimo, Okpuja, Ikpa, Orba, Ubollo and the rest were originally not inhabited by any people. At this earliest time, of course, Nkanu (the descendants of Nwawuwa) and the descendants of Agbaja were not in the territory. The border land was far reaching east to the place where the ancient Nodo lived (the present day Abakaliki) and south to the lands of the Umudiala. West were the Awka and the Nri community of people. The northern parts of Nigeria were inhabited by nobody; there was no trace of the Jukuns and the Igalas not until around (9 – 7000BC) and 5th to 7th century AD respectively. For according to the dimension of history, the settlement of the Jukuns should precede the peopling of ancient Nubia, Ethiopia and Egypt respectively by the “Walker Traveller,” traditionally referred to as Ndi Ojukwu. These were the ancestors of the Jukuns.

The main reason behind the latter spread inhabiting of the later parts of Nsukka surrounding was occasioned on the discovering that such areas were laden with natural resources. Places like Opi, Orba and many other places suddenly became massively immersed by the Nsukka population because the areas were discovered to have iron ore which was the need of the then society. Opi iron smelting sites prove Nsukka the foundational home of iron smelting in the world. According to The General History of Africa, Joseph Fazing made the following remark in the Nigerian case. 
Early dates undoubtedly make the Taruga iron-smelting furnaces the earliest ones known in West Africa until the Opi figures were produced. Some specialists on this subject have seen them as evidence of an independent invention of iron metallurgy in West Africa, but others, who have studied the technical aspects of the question, have argued that this is unlikely since, except in Mauritania, West Africa had no Bronze Age. Everywhere else in Africa south of the Sahara, the use of iron succeeds the use of stone for implements and weapons. Without any intermediate copper and bronze metallurgy, it is difficult to see how late Stone Age people could have discovered the use of iron by themselves and mastered it so quickly without any outside influence.  
Among archaeologists working in the Nigerian region, emphasis has now shifted from the ‘diffusionist’ theory to the examination of the actual level of metallurgical sophistication attained by a particular group. The study of the methods of production of various iron-producing societies can result in the clarification of certain patterns of cultural similarities and contacts across the African continent(Origin, 33-34).
Nsukka is a proof that, without any intermediate copper and bronze metallurgy, it is possible for a late Stone Age people to know the use of iron by themselves and mastered it so quickly without any outside influence. Of course, Nsukka, unlike Nri/Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, Benin and others, developed the use of iron and mastered it before trying their hands in bronze art which was the base of Awka. A good example of Nsukka bronze is shown below

The reason is simple; iron was fashioned to meet the various needs of the society that fashioned it. Unlike bronze which were produced to sustain certain cultural and historical evidences of a people, iron production was fashioned to meet various social needs such as protection, showcasing of authority and levels of attainment in the society and other reasons as the Nsude/Nsukka civilization had proven to us. To meet these various societal needs, Nsukka iron production/extraction had been fashioned to indicate three different periods of that age. Therefore, to understand the Iron Age in Africa better, attention should be given to the Nsukka metallurgical units. Our claim here supports the statement above that, “Early dates undoubtedly make the Taruga iron-smelting furnaces the earliest ones known in West Africa until the Opi figures were produced.”

Iron made Nsukka the oldest world merchants. The need for iron was everywhere alike and Nsukka was there to supply them. This created the interwoven relationship between Nsukka and Awka down to Nri. For as Nsukka produced the raw material, Awka were the people who fashioned them into finished products. Igbo-Ukwu however joined in the fashioning of iron much later. According to research, it was discovered that Igbo-Ukwu joined in the exhibition of this skill as late as 22,000BC, meanwhile Nsukka had been found in the supply of iron around 500,000BC and beyond. It was about that same time that Nsukka civilization started.

Expansion of Nsukka
The extended expansion of the ancient Nsukka may be arguably believed to have started around 7 – 5000B.C. according to historical documents. With the heavy presence of iron smelted at Opi, iron workers from most iron interested areas like Awka found their ways to Nsukka to engage themselves in the smelting work. Meanwhile, more population had started to move northward towards the plateau planes, taking refuge in caves. But previously to this time, the Walker Traveller (Ndi Ojukwu) had moved northwards and had gone deep into the Sahara dusty plane. This population were difficult to define, but for their feature. They were giants; and the characteristic features of the Nri was exactly that. This was why we have always attributed their explorations to the credit of Nri.  History revealed that they founded Ethiopia and Nubia. These were the earliest that lived in North Africa. The later population that founded Egypt was pygmies. By this feature we know that Egypt was founded by the Umudiala (the Igbo Heartland), while Nsukka civilized Egypt.

It is also necessary to note that the iron prominence in Opi was not the only site for smelting about that time. We have noted earlier that Orba also had a site at Umundu. Another place with heavy concentration of iron smelting was Lejja. The quantity of smelting carried out in Lejja was higher than was found anywhere in Africa. As the needs for iron continued to be, the inhabitants did not give up its production and supply of it. The earliest merchants of iron in the Igbo heartland were called the Arochukwu. They were so called because of the kind of iron tools they sold. The role involved in fashioning the iron was very intriguing to the inhabitant among whom they were sold. To contain such creativity believed to be beyond human, the inhabitants had referred to the merchants as chukwu. With their products making a headword, they called them the Arochukwu. Meanwhile the original name for the Aro was Eru. Aro were merchants from Nsukka inhabiting their current abode which originally belonged to the Ibibio.

Prominent among the iron workers was Agbaja who had come all the way from the Awka collection of indigenous. Agbaja begot many sons. They include Neke, Oshie Aniugwu, Ojebe Ogene, Ugwunye, Ezedike, and the founders of Ezeagu, etc. As in such stories, these sons married and had children who founded towns; the sons of the children founded the villages.  By nomenclature, some of the children of Agbaja bore names that proved due influence of Nsukka on their parents. Names like Oshie, Neke, Ojebe and Ugwunyi for instance look more of Nsukka than they are Awka.  These are the people collectively termed Udi local government area of Enugu state of today.  Oshie became more popular among his brethren through the legendry acts of Uto one of the legends that existed at his time. The monument kept in his memorial marked the prominence for which Nsude is celebrated today.

The Modern Nsukka
Formally, some towns which today are included as Nsukka were seen on the contrary. They include such border communities with Nsukka are Eha AlumonaEdem, Alor-uno, Orba and Ede-Oballa, Obukpa, Obimo. Other nearby towns are Enugu-Ezike, Ibagwa, Ovoko, Iheaka, Obollo-Afor, Nimbo, Adani, Uzo Uwani and Mkpologwu, now also lay claim to the name Nsukka. This is because they all collectively fall into the political zoning system in Nigeria known as Senatorial Zone. Presently, Nsukka include the following, Enugu-Ezike, Aku, Ozalla, Opi, Leja, Obukpa, Okpuje, Ibagwa-ani, Alor-Uno, Ibagwa-aka, Ede-Oballa, Edem, Ukehe, Obollo-afor, Obollo-Eke, Ikem, Ekwegbe, Ohodo, Uvuru, Nkpologu, Abbi, Adani, Ukpabi, Nimbo Ugbelle ajima, Nrobu. Ovoko, Orba, Imilike, Ihe-aka, Obimo, Obollo-etiti, Ogbodo-Aba, Mbu, Neke, Umuruokpa, lga, etc. Although most people from these communities point towards Nsukka as their home, the main Nsukka community is the headquarter of Enugu-North senatorial zone.

The prominence which Nsukka had through iron smelting sprung them to fame and attracted communities in the neighbourhood to tham. Nsukka is bounded to different people in the surroundings: Afar-Iwolo, Akaiyi, Adada, ukpata,  uvuru, Ukpologu and then reached Nsukka and Ibagwa. The secon linked Arochukwu, Abakiliki and Eha-Amufu. Other routes were Abo Eke-Egede, Amaozala, Nkpologu and Ogurugu routes. The important fact to note about trade in Nsukka is that the 19th century saw flourishing prosperous trade in the area and that traders wealth from it.  


  1. Thank you so much. This is so interesting and useful.

    1. Thanks for your observations. But you owe us a duty. Here we expect your comments mostly on the areas you feel the work did not cover. with this you indirectly oblige our team of researchers for further research.

      Do also read about the Ancient Nations Civilized by Nsukka. It is our latest publication on Nsukka civilization.


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