THE TRUE HISTORY OF YORUBA - Onyeji Nnaji
In the consolidated publication, The Cultural Unity of Black Africa, edited by Diop Anta (an Egyptian), it is established that all the nations of antiquity among black that have the scarified bronze are termed aboriginal. But in hierarchical rating, the Nri is the oldest and proves the core of the African population.
The world was generally peaceful throughout the generations that experienced Eri as the theosophist of Eridu (The Lost City of the Sun). It was easy because the entire earth were absorbed into the one-government of that age because the population of human on earth were not scattered abroad as in the case today. The human population was concentrated in the east and nowhere else. This peace lasted for four thousand years before the departure of Eri. The remnant of the Eridu kingdom did not see any problem until later, at the decay part of the civilization, for while Eri was alive the earth was witnessed no hunger. According to the Igbo Oral Tales, Eri and his wife descended with five tubers of yam through which his generation were sustained. Added to such a magnitude provision was also another food which Eze Nri referred to as Azu Igwe, a manner from heaven in the nature of fish.
A time came when Eri departed (for he was not buried. That is why the Igbo constantly hold to the saying that the deceased has returned home). Before he left, he relinquished his theosophical position to his eldest son, Nri. This was bases on the symbol of his position as the first man, the power which was trusted on a staff. This he handed over to his eldest son, Nri and thereafter he disappeared and was seen no more. Few days after Eri’s departure, the yam that came with him also joined him. The human population on the then earth lamented the departure of Eri and his accompanied yam. The Igbo oral tradition said that Nri, Eri’s eldest son responded to this challenge and set out to settle the problem. According to Metuh remarked as follow:
When Eri died, this food supply ceased. Nri complained to Chukwu, but was told that in order to get food he would have to kill and bury his eldest son and daughter. When Nri objected, Chukwu promised to send Dioka from the sky to carve the ichi or facial cicatrization marks on the foreheads of the two children. After Dioka arrived and cut the ichi on the faces of the two children, Nri cut their throats and buried them in separate graves.
Three native weeks (twelve days) later, shoots appeared from the graves of these two children. From the grave of his son, Nri dug up yam. He cooked and ate it and found it so pleasing that he fell into a sleep so deep that his family thought him dead. When he awoke, he told his astonished family what he had done. The next day, Nri dug up cocoyams from his daughter’s grave, ate them and likewise slept again. This is why yam is called “son of Nri” and the cocoyam called “daughter of Nri”. The first-born son and daughter of Nri are marked to this day with the ichi to commemorate the event (God and Man. 4-5).
In 1911, Northcote Thomas carried out a research on the Ancient Nri kingdom and also related his findings. From the analysis of the above statement, it is apparent that Nri, the first child of Eri went to settle the hunger problem with God. In the words of Northcote, “Cuku (Chukwu) and Eze Nri talked” in a conversational manner. After the conversation, Chukwu, God gave him a piece of yam. All the account, even the several versions of the Yoruba myth of creation said the same thing about the Igbo father or king travelling to meeting God over the problem that befuddled the entire world of the ancient time.
Now, when Nri wanted to embark on the tour to the realm unseen, he handed his theosophical staff over to his younger brother, Odudunwa (the very Yoruba father whom they refer to as Oduduwa) to hold and stand in for him for the main time. By this authority conferred on him, he became a momentary theosophist of the ancient Eridu. Nri departed for the crucial mission. After several days he came back with a solution. The solution was very task demanding that Nri objected to Chukwu’s request in the first place. Later he had to accept to make the sacrifice since it would not involve him directly in the task of inflicting pains on his own children. Dioka had to do this as the artist of his time. Nri presented his eldest son and daughter for the function he consented to in the presence of God. Dioka created scarification marks on the son and the daughter of Nri. Below is example of the face scarification by Dioka.
The children died and were buried in different positions from where Nri harvested the first yam and water yam. When Nri ate the first product of the earth, he fell into a deep sleep for a long time. Above are the images of facial scarification notable of the ancient Nri kingdom. The first is a bronze facial scarification, while the second is a live scarification picture taken by the anthropologist Northcote Thomas in the early twentieth century. This may be taken as the most modern scarification of the princes of Nri kingdom. Every first son of the Eze Nri household wore these facial marks to tell people of his personality even without speaking for himself. Every other African proclivity to this form of facial marks remains a clear indication of such part of Africa having her origin traced to the Nri kingdom where it derived its origin. The picture below is a clear proof of the source of the Yoruba tradition even before the enchantment of Ifa (the body that carries the Yoruba tradition and history) gives his explanation of the Yoruba history.
The idea about the disappearance and reappearance of Nri at this trouble period was misinterpreted by the Yoruba in different versions of their creation story. A version of Yoruba oral tradition insists that Obatala (whom Ifa called the father of the Igbo nation) was saddled with the responsibility to create the world. But while he was still preparing to set off, Oduduwa came down and created the world. There arose a misunderstanding between them. To resolve the matter, God then assigned the role of creating man to Obatala. Ruth Finnegan, in her research on Nigerian oral literature captured this aspect of the nation’s history.
The sky is immense, but grows no grass.
That is what the oracle said to Obatala,
To whom the great God gave the reins of the world.
God of the Igbo, I stretch out my hands.
Give the reins of the world to me (Oral Literature, 195).
Since Obatala was the creator of human, as Ifa intones, it stands to mean that Obatala could be the first to be created by the Oracle who gave him the injunction. He is in this poem addressed as the God (father) of the Igbo. From the assistance of this narrative poem, the relationship between the Yoruba and the Igbo is clear. All these may be too engrossing, but it is not. The issue with understanding the Igbo creation story is that the Igbo see creation as the duty of the almighty God, but delegated to lesser gods. Achebe puts it straight thus:
Since Igbo people did not construct a rigid and closely argued system of thought to explain the universe and the place of man in it, preferring the metaphor of myth and poetry, anyone seeking an insight into their world must seek it along their own way. Some of these ways are folks-tales, proverbs, proper names, rituals and festivals.
The misunderstanding which the version of the Yoruba oral tradition mentioned above stated was wrongly told by the postulators of that same oral tale who would want to lend certain credence to the action of their ancestor, Oduduwa. But Ifa, the mouth piece of the Yoruba land and the entity on whom the entire Yoruba tradition rests on, has a different thing to tell. Ifa clarifies that the activity that succeeded the reappearance of the Igbo father was what led to the war of the God-men; the same war Ifa remarked as the highest war ever fought on the planet earth. According to him, the war was fought “over a reclaim of staff.”
The Yoruba oral tales presented the matter in a manner that attempted to elude certain vital characters by replacing their original names with the activities that led to the war. In the first place, Nri was though explained as the eldest son of their father, but given the name Obatala. Secondly, Odudunwa which expressed the position of the Yoruba father was shrouded to a mere sound of meaningless Oduduwa. The matter which the educated Yoruba writers tried to hide from people’s knowledge is the fact that their father, Odudunwa, was ostracized from his legal/paternal home because of his mischievous act which nearly tore his father’s house apart. Issues concerning the staff which Odudunwa claimed were what the Yoruba writers did not want to let people know about. Why? Gaining understanding into that aspect of their life (which of course is sacrosanct) opens the door to the understanding of the entire deceitful lifestyle of every natural Yoruba man.
When the problem that made Nri to travel was settled, Nri requested for his staff of office from his younger brother who refused to hand the staff over to the rightful bearer. This was where the name Obatala came from. Obatala explains a prior intended action targeted at a particular time. In this case, the time was when the travelled man would return. As the interim theosophist, Odudunwa would want to hold to his position. Therefore, he was advised by Idu (the Oba of the ancient city of the sun) that his brother should be gone as their father, Eri. Should he return as promised he should not give the staff to him. Odudunwa accepted this suggestion because it met the desire of his hearth. When Nri returned, the assertive expression that showed that he had arrived was thus Obatala, which later became the appellation held by the Oduduwas for Nri’s name. As he refused to hand the staff over, there was a war between them. The gods took sides, as the Yoruba versions of creation story tell us.
Obatala and Oduduwa quarreled and all the other Gods took sides. In the end, Olorun settled the dispute by giving Obatala the power to create mankind. Oduduwa was allowed to rule the land that he had created. Oduduwa became the first Yoruba king, ruler of the ancient city of Ile-Ife, the place where he was first believed to have climbed down from the sky.
While the fight continued among the gods, God had to settle it by returning the staff to the rightful bearer, while Odudunwa who could not bear the shame of his action left the city and settled in the western part of the land. Nri could not bear the unexpected action by his brother. Out of annoyance, he placed a curse on him thus, as a helpless follow depends on people for survival, you will prosper only through what you acquired from others. Therefore, he called his linage Yoru-Baa, translated as beg-and-prosper. From that day till date, the Yoruba life had been that way. They are never reliable and every of the citizens see Igbo as his fatal enemy.
The punishment did not end with Odudunwa (otherwise called Oduduwa), it also included the architect of the incidence, Idu. Oduduwa left alongside his cohort, Idu. Idu settled in the middle between east and west, while Oduduwa lived in the west. Idu was the father of the present day Edo (Benin City) and others that descended from them. This was the genesis of the spread of the African nations in the ancient time. Idu went to the mid-west and established his kingdom of Oba which was his position in the Eridu City. His new home was called after his name, Idu just as the abandoned kingdom was called after Nri; the name of Oduduwa’s elder brother. Only Oduduwa lost his name as a city. Rather than Ife retaining his name, it was called after Oduduwa’s cursed word, YORUBA. Therefore, for establishing the Oba title as a structured kingship reign, the Igbo refer to the Idu city as the City of Kings, for the Igbo were people without king. He was the first Oba of Benin, for he retained his office as he left the lost city of the sun. Because of his departure, the inhabitants of Umudiala (the Igbo heartland) lost their position in the Theosophism. From that day and hitherto, the seat of the Oba in Nri kingdom had been vacant: nobody had occupied the seat till date. It was revealed in various early researches on Benin kingdom that the Oba of Benin were formally crowned ritualistically (not ceremoniously) by the Eze Nri. That was the only time the seat of the Oba was occupied in Nri kingdom, for the coronet seats on it during the ritualistic invocations by the Eze Nri. It was discovered that Oba Iweka I (Eweka) was the last Oba of Benin to pay such homage to the ancestral kingdom, Nri. Iweka I was the Oba who carried out the latest reform on the nature of the Oba dynastic tradition which has lived till this day.
The role of Nri as the foundation ground of African Theosophism positioned the kingdom properly as the maker of the kings of other nations with kings. In 1906 for instance, Major A. G. Leonard wrote in his book, The lower Niger and its Tribes, that “the reverence in which the Nri were held throughout Igboland, the fact that they were widely known as ‘King-makers’ and enjoyed the sole right of removing ritual pollution in Igbo land”. As king-makers,
The street of the Nri family is the street of the gods, through which all who die in other parts of Igbo land pass to the land of spirits. One may now know and that it is probably through the corridors of Nri history that the Igbo will come to occupy their proper place in the majestic story of the rise of Negro civilization.
This pact of spiritual or ritual lordship of the Eze Nri was discussed by many researchers. Lawton, for instance, made the following remark:
A marked feature of this (Nri) tribe is its hostility to the European, natural enough, when it is remembered that prior to the British, the Obalike was Eze Nri and crowned the kings of Benin and presided over all the religious observation of surrounding peoples.
People found it very difficult to understand the Igbo story of humanity and his dispersal. One of the reasons is deeply encased in the language spoken by the Igbo themselves, which is Igbo. Igbo language, as revealed by Nnaji in the linguistically analytical paper, “Evolution of Human Tongues: Mother Tongue as Route to the Trace of Human Historical Genesis”, published in the Linguistic Journals by Nnamdi Azukiwe University Awka, is a nature language. And as such, the language is not conditioned to giving any direct reference; instead it fuses within itself a colossus of information, messages and meanings directly involving nature. In order words, one cannot understand the story of the Igbo by the Igbo without understanding the nature of her surrounding and the situation that gave birth to what the language addresses at any given time. Even the Igbo themselves need this knowledge. It is clear in Achebe’s words thus:
Anyone seeking an insight into their (the Igbo) world must seek it along their own way. Some of these ways are folks-tales, proverbs, proper names, rituals and festivals (highlights are mine).
In my research on the Igbo history and neighbours, one of the elders told me that the Igbo history cannot be completely documented without oral tales. To assist me in my research, he advised that I should ask for the original, real or first name given to any people or things. According to him, the first name gives information on the origin and purpose of the existence of such a people or thing. The same is what Achebe refers to as “proper name” here. It proves true in the history of Oduduwa here and that of the popular Benin. Several scholars that had given attention to the Oba kingship of Benin had said that the name of their ancestral home is Idu, the same also was the name of Benin’s progenitor according to the Igbo who did not call them any other name but Idu. Afigbo also clarified thus:
In other words I am suggesting that a study of Igbo- Benin relations should not continue to be conceived narrowly as the impact of the Benin Empire on the West Niger Igbo. The impact of Igbo culture on Benin is the other side of that equation and till date it has been neglected. Yet there are suggestions in some surviving traditions of Benin’s contact with Nri, the heartland of Igbo culture, which at one time would appear to have been ahead of Benin in the race for the evolution of advanced civilization in these parts. True, Nri’s influence was ritual and artistic, informal and quiet - that is unaccompanied by the rolling of martial drums. Furthermore, it is known that Benin was aware of the existence of Arochukwu as a center of dreaded occult powers and wide- ranging commerce.
In another part of this same work, he continued to write thus:
If, as has been suggested, Nri theocratic sway could be identified with the culture whose material symbols Shaw recovered in his Igbo-Ukwu excavations, then that factor must be dated to between the 9th and 11th century A.D. or indeed earlier. In that case, Nri influence would be much older than the political and military hegemony centered around Benin and Idah. It may indeed have contributed something to their rise. There are suggestions of this in the tradition, found not only amongst the Nri but also amongst the Bini and the Igala that Nri ritual priests had important parts to play in ceremonies connected with the coronation of the Oba of Benin. Both Jeffreys and Lawton, administrative officers, unearthed evidence to this effect. Thus, it would appear, Nri activities linked much of Igbo-land with the West Niger region up to Benin, and with the region occupied by the Igala and perhaps it also linked Igbo land with Idoma land. Many of these links survived, at least, until the 1930s and may still be there in form of the activities of Nri and related traditional medicine man (highlights are mine).
We have drawn references from the Yoruba oral tradition to prove that even the Yoruba understand their position in the eldership of the African patriarchy, even though they seem to neglect it. The Edo, Benin, case is not eluding, for from the attempts of different researchers, be him Westerner of African and the Benin herself has found laudable proof of her patriarchy. In the work, Evolution of the Black Race and the Babelic Tales, we observe how this little war had contributed in founding other nations in Africa.