MY BELOVED HOME TOWN
by Chidi Denis Isizoh
Updated by Igweze Chinemelu
1. GEOGRAPHICAL SURVEY
Ogbunike is one of the towns in Oyi Local Government area of Anambra State. It is located on the map along the longitude 6.40°E and the latitude 6.20°N, and lies between kilometres 11.3 and 14.5 along old Onitsha-Enugu road. The new Onitsha-Enugu expressway cuts through the northern border.
The town is bounded on the East by Umudioka (Idemili Local Government Area), on the north-east by Umunya (Oyi Local Government Area) and on the North by Nkwelle-Ezunaka (also Oyi Local Government Area). She shares her boundary on the West and South with Ogidi (Idemili Local Government Area). She has an uneven landscape, sufficient rainfall and fertile soil.
The 1953 national census peged the number of the inhabitants at 5,366. Since then there has been an explosion in the population. In 1993 the figures rose up by 42%.
2. Historical Survey
a) Iguedo & Umu-Iguedo clan
Ogbunike belongs to Umu-Iguedo clan. There is no dispute about this in history. Until recently the indigenes of the town participated in the olili-nne-Iguedo and they usually sent their offering to the traditional priest of Nando.
Iguedo, a woman, is widely regarded aetiologically as the mother of the Umu-Iguedo clan. There are divergent opinions on this. No position can be outrightly and correctly accepted or rejected, as some of the data came purely through oral tradition and scanty archaeological discoveries. But there is near unanimity in different parts of the area of our studies concerning the strong connection between an individual person called Iguedo and the towns that constitute Umu-Iguedo clan.
One of the entries on the clan reads:
The people of this clan are intelligent but headstrong, and social progress has, owing to Nri influence, got beyond the system of rule by the oldest men.
b) Who is Iguedo?
One opinion holds that she was a daughter of Eri. The origin and the life of Eri himself have been mythicized. By A.D. 994 he had existed. He came down from the sky, God sent him. He canoed down the River Anambra and established a place known as Eri-Aka. He had two wives. The first bore five children: Agulu (founder of Aguleri); Nri Ifiakuanim; Nri Onugu (founder of Igbariam); Ogbodudu (the founder of Amanuke); and a daughter, Iguedo, who bore the founders of Ogbunike, Awkuzu, Umuleri and Nando. The second wife, Oboli, gave birth to Onoju who left the Anambra area and became the founder of Igala land.
Another opinion asserts that Iguedo came from either Agukwu or Onitsha. Not many people share this view. That Iguedo came from Agukwu (Nri) could be an attempt to explain her relationship with the people of Nri. If she is said to have come from Onitsha, that may again be an effort to account for the profound respect which some parts of Onitsha accord her. It was very well known that olili-nne-Iguedo was celebrated by some Onitsha indigenes.
Iguedo’s relationship with the people of Onitsha is further supported and explained. In the letter to the Resident, Onitsha Province, dated 12th October, 1932, the people of Onitsha were counted among the children of Iguedo. The signatories to the letter, on behalf of the people of Ogbunike, insisted that Onitsha was the daughter of Iguedo. The District Officer for Onitsha later in his letter of 29th November, 1932, clarified:
The Umuigwedu (sic) Towns certainly have an Onitsha relationship —but with only one quarter thereof— that is, OGBOLI. It would not be practicable to divorce OGBOLI from the rest of Onitsha and I do not think that Mr Bridges has recommended this. OGBOLI has far closer affinities with the rest of Onitsha.
According to oral tradition, the progenitors of the towns of Umu-Iguedo clan were born out of successive marriages of Iguedo to several men. She first married Nnamenyi and gave birth to Ogbunike, Awkuzu and Ogboli. Later, she got married to Riam (or Osodi) from Nri, and the fruit of their marriage was Eri (progenitor of Umuleri). Finally, Nnamovo, a man who was believed to have come from Onitsha married Iguedo and she gave birth to Nando. It was in the land founded by Nando that Iguedo died and was buried. For this reason, the descendants of Iguedo made, until recently, a yearly pilgrimage (olili-nne-Iguedo) to her death place which has become a shrine.
c) Why Iguedo?
How did it come about that Iguedo’s children were known by reference to her name instead of their fathers’? The situation of taking up one’s mother’s name was not uncommon among Umu-Iguedo. Prior to the coming of Christianity, as in some other parts of the world, polygamy was widely practised among Umu-Iguedo. A man, depending on his physical prowess and wealth, would marry as many as ten wives. Each of these wives could be a mother of about six or seven children. If any of these children is confronted with the question: Onye mulu gi? The answer will remain incomplete if the child simply says: Abu m nwa Nweke Okafor. It will prompt another question: Kedu mkpuke I si puta?. The complete, once-for-all, answer should be: A bu m nwa Nwanyieke Nweke-Okafor. Thus, children from polygamous families were identified by reference to the names of their respective mothers. It is then not difficult to understand how Umu-Iguedo who had no common paternity could see a point of unity when identified by reference to the name of their mother.
According to oral sources, Ogbunike was the first fruit of the marriage between Nnamenyi and Iguedo. He was a great hunter and a courageous adventurer. It was during one of his hunting expeditions that he found the area today known by his name. He first settled at a site called Okwu-ani —a spot that is still revered today as a holy place. Until recently people used to go there yearly to pay homage to their father-founder.
There are some people who hold that the original name of Ogbunike was Egbunike. According to them, the appellation (Ogbunike), is a distortion of history and it gives a wrong information about the town. The name, Egbunike, means literally "do not kill with brutality/violence." According to the people that propagate this view, it is a name of someone who does not engage in a fight except when all peaceful means have been exhausted. Ogbunike (Ogbu-na-ike), as it is, stands for "one who kills with violence." This could suggest that the people so named were a belligerent race. Was this a deliberate change of name? How can one account for this change which looks like a movement from a concept to its negation?
It was William Shakespeare who asks: "What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by another name would smell sweet...." Understood in this sense, a name is no more than "identification mark, a label that does not explain the content of a thing." But in the Igbo context, this is not so. A name carries with it the history of a person or a family or a people bearing it. It explains their world-view. For example, between AmamChukwu and Chukwunonso there is a movement from the unknown to the known, from deism to theism and from the abstract to the real. This reflects a change of perception of reality.
Were the people of Ogbunike a war-like race? No old man interviewed would recall being told that Ogbunike, as a people, ever took up arms in any organised form and initiated a war against their neighbours. There is only one reference to Ogbunike in the, so far, documented war history. It was in 1898 when the people of Awkuzu (Umu-Iguedo), apparently engaged in a policy of expansion, hired the war-lords of Adda against Nteje and Igbariam. The fighting that ensued was both very crude and bloody. A missionary reported having seen very many bodies of women and children slain along the pathway to the stream. The people of Nteje who could not match the force of the Addas went across the river Niger and invited the Royal Niger Company from Asaba. The company sent troops of soldiers who not only crushed the mercenaries and those who invited them but completely destroyed everything they saw on their way and finally put the town of Awkuzu to torch. The people of Ogbunike in the company of other Umu-Iguedo helped the survivors of the war from Awkuzu to rebuild their town. This was purely a gesture of fraternal solidarity
If Egbunike was original, from where did the name Ogbunike come? Two dominant positions could be distinguished.
One opinion states that prior to the coming of the Europeans, the town was called Egbunike. But when the "white men" came, they had two problems in pronouncing the name of the town. First, they found it almost impossible to pronounce the double Igbo consonants «gb» without putting an imaginary vowel in-between. Next, they could not with ease pronounce the vowel «E» before the double consonants. They took an easier way out. They altered the pronunciation of «E» to «O» which does not involve a change of the shape of the mouth before the difficult «gb». From then on, the letter «O» replaced «E» and found its way into written records. Hence today Egbunike has become Ogbunike.
This argument is unconvincing. Such acrobatic philology is unacceptable. The name "Ogbunike" pre-dates the arrival of the Europeans in Nigeria. It is not the creation of "white men."
There is a more plausible opinion. The town is famous because of the cave —a natural geographical feature located at the outskirts. According to oral tradition, there was a god called Ogba who lived inside the heart of a large rock in the cave. This divinity, despite the opaque nature of the rocky environment, was an all-seeing spirit who could detect crimes, especially, theft. In Ogbunike, the cave itself is called Ogba and it was a place in ancient times where people went to declare their innocence of any crime they were accused of. Those proved guilty never returned alive. The position held in this write-up is that the name Ogbunike came from Ogba. This assertion can be further supported.
First, as Ogba was a powerful divinity, people used to exclaim whenever they heard of a new demonstration of its power: Hm, Ogba-na-ike. With the usual elision in Igbo language, it came to be Ogbanike. This, with time, turned to Ogbunike.
Second, Ogbunike could have become a new appellation for Ogba because of its powers in killing quickly those who were guilty of crimes. Perhaps, earlier, people used to say, "come let us go and consult "the one who kills quickly the guilty (Ogbu-osiso/Ogbu-na-ike). From having this appellation reserved to the divinity of the cave, it came to be used as the name for the whole area where this god resides. Thus, today the town is known as Ogbunike.
The geographical location of Ogbunike has made the town susceptible to influences of other cultures. Some of these influences have made a lasting impact on the people.
a) The Nri influence
The earliest known influence came from Nri people. Nri was the home town of a priestly cult whose particular services were connected with the coronation of kings and purification ceremonies. Their priests travelled widely to almost all parts of Igboland. According to Nri tradition,it was Nri Ifiakuanim (1042-1252) who authorised the men of Nri to confer titles (like Ozo) on the neighbouring leaders. He permitted the establishment of markets and shrines to various supernatural beings and proclaimed the rules of abomination to ensure that peace and order prevailed on earth. It was believed that he himself had mystical powers to control the elements of nature, diseases, insect pests, fertility and so on. His curses were dreaded because of their effectiveness.
It is known that in the 16th century the influence of the Nri priests in Ogbunike was very much felt. This influence was, however, mainly in the religious sphere. There are some people today who hold that these priests introduced the Ozo title-taking in the town.
According to the Bridge’s report,the ministry of the Nri priests in Ogbunike centred around the Ajani. The priests also featured during the offering of expiatory sacrifices. Whenever an abomination, for example incest, was committed, the sinner was made to take a victim for sacrifice in Okwu-ani. There he or she confessed his or her sins to the priest in Okwu-ani. He/She then threw some sand from the shrine on the sacrificial animal. The symbolism was that, from that moment on, the guilt of all the sins committed which had been confessed by the sinner would be heaped on the animal. The animal was then removed to be killed and eaten by the Nri people —the only people "divinely mandated" to do so. It appeared that any Nri man could eat such surrogate animal victims after the ritual cleansing.
The Nri men claimed to have the power to abrogate "divine laws" which established taboos and sanctions. For example, in the separation of exogamous family units, permission was always sought from them. Thus, when in the early 1920s Enugwu-Abor in Amawa village separated into two exogamous units, it was the Nri priests who permitted it and performed the required rituals.
These mysterious men from Nri were also dispensers of the divine gifts to men. They regarded dwarfs as their divinely commissioned agents. Hence, they adopted any dwarf they met anywhere and, perhaps, made them priests too! In Ogbunike, the dwarfs are called Aka, but because of their relationship with Nri people, they are known today as Aka-Nri (the dwarfs from Nri), even though some of them are not by birth from Nri town. In the period of the Nri hegemony, these dwarfs were treated with great respect. People who were in need, for example barren women, sent gifts to them and begged to be touched by them. It was believed that their prayers were very efficacious. At that time, it was a privilege to be a dwarf. Today it seems that the reverse is the case.
b) Other Influences
A visitor to Ogbunike will hardly believe that the town has anything in common with other towns of Umu-Iguedo. The dialect is different and so too is the pattern of behaviour and thought. If Umu-Iguedo had one origin, it is supposed that they will share many things in common. But this is not the case. Ogbunike is different. Perhaps the people have lost almost all the peculiarities of Umu-Iguedo. Let us briefly take a few examples of the differences in dialects.
Awkuzu, Nando, Umuleri Ogbunike English equivalent
Yáà Ndufu Now
Kpáà Mbà/Éè No
Nli Nni Food
O wali oso O gbanava oso He/She runs away
In these and other similar instances where the dialect of Ogbunike people differs from that of other Umu-Iguedo, it is discovered that it comes nearer to the tongues of their neighbouring towns of other clans.
Among the Umu-Iguedo, only in Ogbunike is the letter "r" pronounced in a rather difficult way for foreigners. English language has no equivalent pronunciation. It sounds like something between "r" and "s". Bridges was at his wit’s end trying to represent the sound of the letter "r" in Umueri during his interview with the elders of the Ogbunike community in 1931. For Umueri he wrote Umuozhi. This pronunciation is used even today in the following towns: Ogidi, Umuoji, Abatete, Eziowelle, Uke, etc. Its use in Ogbunike must have been due to influences from outside, notably Ogidi.
The points of contact between Ogidi and Ogbunike are many: farms, markets, streams (as Ogidi has no natural potable water supply and the people depend on the many streams in Ogbunike, especially in Osile village), celebration of common feasts, condolence visits, etc. Inter-marriages between the two towns were regular and common. Today, one can hardly find any umunna without, at least, two or three wives married from Ogidi. These women come along with their dialect and they influence their children in many obvious ways.
In Ogbunike, there is the celebration of Nwafor feast (about June/July) which clearly originated from Ogidi and is not found among the rest of Umu-Iguedo.
The influence of the Europeans is also evident. There was good contact between the "white men" that came to Nigeria, the first generation of the Igbos that received their education and the people of Ogbunike. The nearness of the town to Onitsha (from where the early europeans — missionaries, traders and colonial masters— penetrated the interior of Igboland) made this very possible. Already by 1896 arrangements were underway for the opening of a teacher-training college in Ogbunike. The re-organisational report (1932-34) has the following entry:
The people have long had contact with Europeans. ...St Monica’s, one of the first girls’ schools in Ibo country, is situated at Ogbunike.
The 1953 statistics (below) show how advanced Ogbunike was among the Umu-Iguedo clan:
Town Total Population Number of Literates Percentage
Awkuzu 13,150 799 6.08%
Nando 9,637 203 2.11%
Umuleri 7,165 205 2.86%
Ogbunike 5,366 501 9.34%
The percentage gap between Ogbunike and the rest of the clan was due to the geographical location of the town and the frequency of contacts with the Europeans. There has been a tremendous progress in Ogbunike between 1953 and 1995. The percentage of literacy today is about 91%.
4. General Features of Ogbunike
Ogbunike has six villages: Ukalor, Osile, Amawa, Ifite, Umueri and Azu. These are broadly grouped into three:
[a]Ikenga: Ukalor, Osile, Umueri, and Azu
[b] and [c] are often taken together as one: Ezi na Ifite.
They are further broken down into smaller wards (families):
Ukalor: Umunnebo, Umudiani (Umuezeani)
Osile: Umunnegbe (Umuokubaga, Umuekedolu), Mgbago (Umuezochu, Umuoma)
Amawa: Enugwu (Okpala-Egwu, Iruekwulum), Abor (Umuegwu, Umuezekwe)
Ifite: Adagbe (Adagbe, Umucheke), Ugwu (Okpaleze, Umuobinwa)
Umueri: Uruama (Obeagu, Dibiamili, Ezeafa), Umuogene (Umu-Ngbaka, Umu-Nkwuluma, Umu-Ezendu)
Azu: Umuru (Umuru, Azuntu), Ofezi (Umuegbo, Umuezemba)
b) The family
The family structure is patrilineal. In the past, a man could marry as many wives as he had the financial capability. But today, due to the influence of Christianity the tendency to have many wives has been greatly reduced. Marriage without any issue is considered a disaster. There is no limit to the number of children per couple. The more, the merrier. Generally the range is between two and twelve children. Girls are accepted but boys, as heirs, are preferred.
The eldest son invariably succeeds his father. He receives his father’s house, title, regalia, all kolanut trees planted by his father, and all palm trees capable of being tapped. The remainder is divided equally among the other sons. The youngest son receives his mother’s property.
The main occupation of the people of Ogbunike, until the mass movement to the urban cities began after the Nigerian civil war (1970), was farming. Their chief crop is yam. Other crops include cassava, cocoyam, maize, fluted pumpkin, melon, and tomatoes. Planting yam is mainly the affair of men. They make the mounds, sow the yam tubers, put up the supporting sticks (alulu) and guide the tendrils to them. Women take care of the other crops. They are also responsible for weeding the farm of unwanted grasses that grow up with the food crops.
Small scale animal husbandry is also practised. Among the domestic animals kept are: goat, sheep and hen. It is forbidden in the town to have dogs and when any is seen, it is the duty of the people around to chase it and get it killed.
The title-taking system betrays its Nri origin. Many reasons could be adduced as motivating factors for the person who takes the titles:
- gaining of a position of authority and honour in the town.
- provision of funds for his maintenance in his old age.
- entitlement to have a say in the town councils.
- immunity from assault or arrest in his own or any other town (not at war with his own town).
- exemption from manual labour.
- authority to wear certain special regalia and insignia.
- certain privileges were sometimes accorded to his wife.
Before any man takes any title, he must have previously gone through an adult initiation rite called Ekpum ani — a rite in which a young boy is admitted into the traditional secret "masquerade society". It is essentially men’s affair. The arrangement for this initiation is done by the elder male members of the family, especially the father or uncle. To be eligible, the boy for the initiation must be about ten years old. The father goes to the members of the society (from the same village or extended family) with palm wine and kola-nuts and requests that his son be initiated. Essentially, the rite involves letting the child know all about the masquerade society: what is mmanwu, the instruments used, the discipline involved (for example, the secrecy), etc. After this initiation, the young boy is technically qualified to take some titles in the society, but, in practice, he needs some years of experience and maturity.
In Ogbunike, titles are arranged in grades (see table below). All title-taking (except Igwe) is optional but once a man decides to take title he has to start at the bottom grade and proceed step by step, being limited only by the state of his finances and his inclination. Titles could not usually be inherited, though it is in some cases possible for a son to complete the ceremonies if his father died after paying the fees, but before going through the ceremonial (iputa afia). In such cases the son must have already taken lower titles himself.
The taking of titles involves the payment of fees and it is from those paid by the new members that a man is expected to be maintained in his old age.
TITLE-TAKING SYSTEM IN OGBUNIKE
Ifejioku The title was taken at the umunna level
Ekwu Title taken among groups of umunna. )
Okpulukpu Among groups of umunna
Ozo* Among groups of umunna
Ndichie/Ogbuefi* Title for the whole town
* holders of these titles have the right to sit in Councils and express their views whether they are old or young. They used to enjoy immunity from arrests or assault anywhere. For their regalia, they used to wear ankle cords and they carried a spear, a red fez, a and a circlet of oxskin. Ogbuefi took precedence over Ozo if he entered a meeting session.
The exact requirements for these titles as practised before the arrival of the Europeans are lost in history. But by 1920, the situation was as follows: in addition to food and palm-wine, the new aspirant was expected to give some money according to the rank he was applying for.
Ifejioku — £10.00
Ekwu — £20.00
Okpulukpu — £30.00
Ozo — £60.00
Ndichie/Igbuefi — £100.00 + one cow
In recent times, the requirements (food, wine, money) have remained but the quality and the quantity have changed. In the case of Ozo title-taken, for example, some villages are more demanding than others. In a more humane and moderate village the procedure is:
From two hundred Naira upwards is spent as ego mgbasa.
Feast for umunna. Food prepared: yam fou-fou and onugbu sauce, and ji ngha-ngha. This feast is organised to provide an occasion to tell Umunna that the aspirant is about to begin the process Ozo title-taking.
The aspirant goes to the leader of Ozo title-holders ojo with a bottle of liquor drink and requests Ndi nze be convoked.
When Ndi nze are assembled on the date and time agreed between the leader and the aspirant, the latter is expected to provide:
Big kolanuts, with some money (as is it is said, "to wash the kola" — ego nsacha oji). About ten Naira is considered reasonable.
Really big cock and hen (one of each) - okuku asa m ile (symbolizing that from now on the aspirant must always tell the truth).
A specified amount of money is given in cash to Ndi nze.
One he-goat or, in alternative, five hundred Naira.
Reasonable amount of food: yam fou-fou and rice.
The first titled person in the family puts the white thread on the ankle of the feet. This is the insignia for the title.
Ido-Ndichie with Igbuefi
1. The aspirant takes hot drink to the leader of Ndichie with a request to convoke the members.
2. On the arrival of Ndichie, they are presented with: two cartons of beer, one crate mineral, one bottle of hot drink (whisky, preferred), kolanuts (with money, this time called ego asomanya). This is to announce the intention to become ogbuefi.
3. Ido-ndichie: one big cow or twenty thousand Naira (members generally prefer money to cow), and one goat or five hundred Naira.
Food for ndichie (the quantity and quality are assessed by Ndichie and they can accept or reject what is prepared) plus five hundred Naira. In alternative, the aspirant can simply give one thousand Naira and then prepare whatever he likes without further supervision and control by the Ndichie.
4. Ndupu n’ilo. Accompanied by old Ndichie, the new member dances through the street. He is now a member of ndichie. He is also entitled to put on red cap.
There were two major problems in recent times that made it difficult for many people to take titles. One had to do with religious beliefs and the other with financial demands.
Religious practices had always been associated with title-taking. When Christianity came, the converts were unable to take the major titles because these religious practices were against their faith. This meant that in the normal traditional way of life in the society, the Christians had no voice. This problem was looked into by the commission set up by the then Archbishop of Onitsha, His Grace, Most Rev. Francis A. Arinze (now a Cardinal and the President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in the Vatican city). A solution was found and an agreement was reached between the Catholic Church and the Titled Men of Ogbunike. This agreement reads:
AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE LOCAL CATHOLIC COMMUNITY
AND THE TITLED MEN OF OGBUNIKE TOWN
This agreement was made at Ogbunike between the Catholic Community of Ogbunike town on the one hand, and the titled men of Ozo/Ogbuefi society of Ogbunike, on the other, in order to open the way for Catholics to be initiated into the Title society..
1. The Customary titles affected are: Ozo and Igbuefi.
2. The religious ceremonies traditionally connected with title-taking are hereby recognised as non-essential to the title itself. Therefore, the titled man who takes the title without these ceremonies must be regarded as fully titled, and in no way inferior to his counterparts who performed the ceremonies together with pagan religious observances.
3. It is agreed that the titled man is not, by that fact, a member of any priesthood or any hidden cult.
4. Everything connected with pagan religion which is in any way contrary to the Christian faith is hereby removed for all members, Christians or non-Christians, who want to be initiated into the title society. Therefore, there will be no consultation of fortune-tellers, no pagan sacrifices, no visitation of a pagan shrine, nor worship of the spirits or ancestors, no marks of office which are indissolubly bound up with pagan religion, etc.
5. The candidate will not be asked to do any of the acts mentioned in paragraph four, nor will anybody, relative, titled man or otherwise, do them on his behalf, before, during, or after the title ceremonies. In particular, no part of the money paid by him will be used for such purposes.
6. The members of the title society, both Christians and non-Christians, may attend the funeral rites of a deceased member, but the title society will not perform pagan religious ceremonies of any shape or form.
7. The Christian candidate is free to arrange that the Holy Sacrifice of Mass be offered for his intentions on the occasion of his title-taking, e.g., at the public outing ceremony.
8. All the formalities of title-taking, which are not against Christian beliefs and practices, may be preserved when Christians take titles. These include the payment of the stipulated sum or other goods, division of these things in the traditional way, feasting, dancing etc. Sometimes modification will be necessary. This applies, for example, to dress, dance, and some aspects of the outing function and widowhood ceremonies, if they offend against the Christian moral code.
9. The titled Christian assumes all the purely social insignia of his office, such as ankle cords, red cap, eagle feather, elephant tusk, etc. He also acquires all the social rights and privileges which are accorded to titled men according to tradition.
Dated 14th June, 1975
It was signed by both parties. Today, a Catholic can conveniently take all the available titles of the land.
The second problem is that it has become a very expensive business to take a title. Some titled men make it extra-ordinarily difficult for new members to join. They keep on making more and more demands on the new comers. But this differs from village to village. It was difficult to extract information on how much it costs for one to become a titled man today. Most of the informants are unwilling to be quoted. All agree and the details are available to show that title-taking in Osile is the most expensive. It is not difficult to see how vindictive some of the titled men try to be by making the new applicants pay through their nose. Some opinions are voiced out that there is need for the Igwe of Ogbunike to stabilize for the whole town how a person may be admitted into the titled men society, what should be paid by a new entrant to enable him take the titles.
The saying, Igbo enwe Eze, is very true in Ogbunike. Before 1975 the town had no king. The people were governed by an administrative body which consisted of Ndi Okpala, titled men of any age of Ndichie and Ozo, and Elders. In their meetings, the Okpalas of Ukalor and Osile used to preside. The messengers/Policemen were usually the Agbalanzes (young titled men). The meeting ground was Ilo-Akpaka in Osile village. There, important decisions were taken on matters affecting the welfare of the people.
With the arrival of the British colonial masters, every town was put under an administrative zone called Division. First, all the towns of Umu-Iguedo were in Awka Division. Then about 1909, Ogbunike and Umuleri were transferred to Onitsha Division by the order of the Provincial Commissioner.
The warrant chief system was at the same time introduced. Warrant chiefs were appointed at town meetings by the people, with the approval of the government. They sat in various Native Courts, as appointed by the District Officer, and executive orders were sent through them. The court procedure at that time was for an aggrieved party to apply to the clerk (of the court) of his own area for a summons which was served by a uniformed court messenger. The case was heard by a court composed of four warrant chiefs selected for the month by the D.O. from the list of representatives. Purely town matters were discussed in the town by the natural leaders whether the District Officer was present or not. The well-known Warrant Chiefs from Ogbunike include: Ezechukwu Obidimma of Azu (1915), Nwadiegbo of Ifite (30th September 1932), Obiesili of Osile (30th September 1932),
In 1952 the Local Government Council was introduced. The following Councillors were elected:
From Ikenga - Okoro Igbachi, Udegbuna Nwabueze, Emma. Okoye, Moses Elobisi, Igboneme Aghunabo, Nwankwo, Anekwe Echezona, Peter Mbamalu, Igweze Onunkwo, Okeke Adigwe, Agbako Okwudi, Nwaigbo Uduezue, Timothy Ejiofor, Nwokafor Nwafodo.
From Ifite - Peter Onwuegbusi, Nwosu Okogba, Michael Nwabufor, Edmund Onyekwe, Josiah Umeano, Herford Mozie, Jeremiah Ikegulu, Joseph Ofochebe, Obidigbo Chinweze, Ben Obike.
From Ezi - H.A. Mako, Abodike Azodo, Igboamalu Agwuike, Samson Onuigbo, Josiah O. Ibeziakor, Enendu Nnanyelu, Nwankwo Mozie, Nwokogwu Ileje, Nebeolisa Udozo, Azoba Ndu, Peter Nwora.
Of this Local Council the District Officer, F. Cobb, on 26th February, 1954, wrote:
...a small but progressive local Council area that has had its share of good things.
Moses Elobisi was unanimously elected the Onitsha-North District Councillor on 21st February 1952. He was re-elected in 1955 but he did not finish his tenure of office, as he died on 20th February 1957. At his death, Ogbunike lost their seat and the opportunities in the District. They protested again and again to no avail before the D.O. to allow them elect another person to replace Elobisi.
On 22nd February, 1955, the following councillors were elected:
From Ikenga - Obianwuna Ndulue, George Adibe, Moses Elobisi, UdOzo Egbosimba, Oguno Isizoh, Okearo Ibeabuchi, George Chigbo Mbamalu, Orjiakor Nnacho, Uzoefo Chiegbu, Udedibia Chiezie, Obiaghanwa Adigwe, Nwanegbo Udezue, Agbakoba Okwudili, Ifegbo Onyeasi (at his death later in the year, there was a bye-election on 14th July 1956 in which Festus Chira was elected).
From Ifite - Alfred Ofoche, Peter Onwuegbusi, Josiah Oguelina, Chiobi Obike, Edmund Onyekwe, Harford Ilozie, Obidigbo Chinweze, Matthew Odili, Andrew Onuora, Michael Nwabufo.
From Ezi - Wilson C. Obiora, Enendu Nnoyelu, Anyaegbuna Ezigbo, Igboamalu Agwuike, Anyanwuteaku Chidebelu, Iloma Arinze, Igwealo Udegbuna, Peter Nwora, Nebeolisa Udozo, Ekwekwu Obiechina, Samson Onuigbo.
The need for a single ruler as a sole representative of the town before the government never became an issue until the late 1970s when Nigeria began in earnest to break with the colonial master’s system of government. There was shift from the British to the United States of American system. The new administrative structure meant that there was an executive President on top, then the houses of Senate and Representative at the federal level. The form is reproduced at the state level. The voice of the people was heard through their representatives in the house. But there was another way of hearing the people, viz, through their chosen leader (be he king or chief or whatever label this office was described). This constituted body from the grassroots has the opportunity of reaching directly either the governor of a state or the President of the Republic and making the position of the common people known.
The body was not entirely new, it had existed as "house of Chiefs". It, however, gained prominence at the time when the second Republic (as the period when USA system was introduced in Nigeria is popularly called) was born.
It became a la mode for every town to have a "traditional ruler." Many wealthy people began to spray their money around in order to capture the attention of their people. Some of them in this way found their way to the throne as Igwe in their various towns. Others were given titles that were hitherto unheard of in Igboland. Ogbunike had its own share of these titled men.
In 1976, John Ositadimma Umenyiora, son of a Protestant pastor, and a successful businessman, appeared on the scene. A young man in his early forties, it was not difficult for the people of Ogbunike to see in him a sincere and a serious leader. He was unanimously chosen as the first Igwe of the town and was given the name Eze-di-ora-mma I.
He built the market stalls in Oye Olisa (formerly known as Afor-igwe ofuu) — this later became the only market in Ogbunike; when Umenyiora assumed office as the Igwe, he suppressed the rest. Among markets that gave way to Oye-Olisa were: Eke-Olisa (Ukalor), Oye Ukalor, Afor-igwe ofuu (Ukalor), Oye Olamme (Osile), Afor ilo-akpaka (Osile), Eke Aro (Amawa), Nkwo Amawa, Eke Ogba (Ifite), Oye Umueri, and Eke Azu.
Igwe Umenyiora also built a modern town hall for the people. On the occasion of the blessing (which was performed by the then Archbishop of Onitsha, His Grace, Most Rev. Francis A. Arinze) and the opening of the hall, the Igwe read the following address:
AN ADDRESS AND EXHORTATION TO THE PEOPLE OF OGBUNIKE BY HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS, THE IGWE OF OGBUNIKE EZEDIORAMA UMENYIORA 1 ON THE OCCASION OF THE OPENING AND DEDICATION OF THE TOWN HALL AND OYE-OLISA MARKET
ON 24TH DECEMBER, 1976
Honourable Commissioner, Your Grace, my Lords Spiritual and Temporal, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
This day is really a great day in my life. This is because it marks a part-fulfilment of my boyhood thoughts and wishes. Whatever is achieved to this day dates back to the time I was a boy with nothing and no notion of what I will become in the future. But the formative ideas which have crystallised today in the construction of the market and the Town Hall started then. The nagging question most of the time was in what way should I contribute to the greatness of this our little world - Ogbunike. I resolved early enough that if ever I had the means I would do a lot for my beloved town, Ogbunike. I believe that some other sons and daughters of Ogbunike have been thinking along the same lines. I am happy, today to say that this is just a beginning of my vision and ideas of what this town will be. I hope that more of the ideas will be translated into practical terms in due course, as God grants me the means to do so. I am particularly grateful to God for this contribution to the development process.
My fervent wish is that as we travel through the labyrinths of socio-economic transformation of our dear town, I should have along with me the backing of the entire people of Ogbunike. It is in the spirit of self-help and determination that I call upon Ogbunike community to sail with me through a sea of problems of development process.
The needs of our beloved town are many and demanding especially as the nation is in a hurry to develop. We will therefore rise to the occasion and roll our sleeves to work for the Greater tomorrow of our people. As the President of Ogbunike Progress Union has rightly hinted, we need a modern hospital for this town; we need most urgently a Comprehensive Secondary School that will be an institution of pride for our people. We need pipe-born water, we need electricity and good roads, we need Cottage Industries. In short, we need to transform Ogbunike in an enviable position, a talking point and show-piece of fruits of communal efforts.
This may be ambitious but a beginning has to be made somewhere. Great cities of the world today had their foundation of greatness laid some point in time. It is such foundation we seem to lay today. I therefore call on our intellectuals to provide the intellectual leadership, the business men to provide the financial power and our men and women at home to provide the moral and manual stimulants.
This is not really a forum for a long address. Such occasion will come up shortly. I need not, therefore, task your patience further. But suffice it to say that I derive my happiness from the joys of my people. It is in this happy note that I hasten to hand over the keys to this Hall and the Market to the President of Ogbunike Progress Union with a humble exhortation, namely:
(1) To use the market as a venue to enhance the prosperity of the people;
(2) That the Hall should be a symbol of peace, unity and progress of our beloved town.
Honourable Commissioner, Your Grace, Your Lordship, Distin-guished, Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you all for your patient audience. The honour of your visit to Ogbunike is highly appreciated.
On behalf of the people of Ogbunike, I thank you all very much.
Chief Umenyiora was given the certificate of recognition by the then Military Governor of Anambra State, Colonel John Atom Kpera. He celebrated his first ofala with great fanfare on 26th December, 1976.
As Igwe of Ogbunike, he governs the town with the assistance of Ndichie. There are also some men specially selected by him to be his special advisers. He represents Ogbunike before the government. His own tenure of office is for life, unless something extra-ordinary happens. The office, however, is not hereditary. His successor will be selected only by popular acclamation.
f) Age grades
Age-grades (Otu ogbo) gather everybody together at the grassroots’ level. In Ogbunike the following Age-grades can be distinguished:
s/no. Name of Age Grade Period of Birth Remarks
1. Otakagu 1868 - 1870 None living
2. Akaka-mma 1871 - 1873 None living
3. Ojaba 1874 - 1876 None living
4. Iru-Okpo 1877 - 1879 None living
5. Anagumagu 1880 - 1882 None living
6. Ekwueme 1883 - 1885 None living
7. Irude 1886 - 1888 None living*
8. Anam-Ekwumma 1889 - 1891 None living**
9. Omuma-Awa 1892 - 1894 None living
10. Aja-Awasincha 1895 - 1897 None living
11. Ajili 1898 - 1900 None living
12. Okona 1901 - 1903 Few living
13. Okpatu 1904 - 1906 Few living
14. Anadimma/Akpaka/Ochokwu 1907 - 1909 Many living
15. Agbaloko 1910 - 1912 Many living
16. Okpoko 1913 - 1915 Many living
17. Ikuku (Influenza) 1916 - 1918 Many living
18. Umuoyibo 1919 - 1921 Many living
19. Government 1922 - 1924 Many living
20. Ugo 1925 - 1927 Many living
21. Ijego 1928 - 1930 Many living
22. Iganiru 1931 - 1933 Many living
23. Azibuche 1934 - 1936 Many living
24. Obioma 1937 - 1939 Many living
25. Igwebuike 1940 - 1942 Many living
26. Njikoka 1943 - 1945 Many living
27. Udoka 1946 - 1948 Many living
28. Ositadimma 1949 - 1951 Many living
29. Ifeadigwo 1952 - 1954 Many living
30. Obinwanne 1955 - 1957 Many living
31. Eziokwu-bu-ndu 1958 - 1960 Many living
32. Ofuobi*** 1961 - 1963 Many living
33. Ezeadigwo 1964 - 1966 Many living
*The last from this group, Meka of Ifite, died in November 1994
**The last in this group, Nath. Aneme of Ifite, died in November 1994
***Formerly called Ifedioramma
Generally, Age grades are concerned about the welfare of their members. They get involved in the governance of the town when a number of them are merged together to constitute a village Union, for example Ogbo isato (of Osile), Ogbo isaa (of Amawa and of Ifite). The function of this village Union differs from village to village. In Osile, Ogbo isato is a standing committe within Osile Welfare League. Its functions in the governance of the village are:
1. General sanitation of the village.
2. Settlement of minor disputes.
3. Road maintenance.
4. Appointment and training of land/boundary scouts (Owa ofia).
5. Administration and maintenance of the water supply machinery within the guidelines established at the Annual General Meeting.
6. Responsibility to the Executive Committee.
g) The Local Year
The people of Ogbunike follow the lunar cycle to calculate their months; weeks follow the number of market days (Eke, Oye, Afor, Nkwo). There are, therefore, four days that make a week, and seven weeks make one lunar month. Some say that there are thirteen months that make one year. But attempts to get the names of the months only give us seven. Perhaps those unable to be named belong to months dedicated to specific deities whose worshippers are no longer alive and therefore no more remembered. Among the months whose names are known are:
Onwa ife nru (also known as Onwa ise) — kolanuts and yams are sent to the elders of families in order to inform them that it is time for work to begin in the farms, and they are requested to give their blessing on the year’s work. This marks the beginning of year for the people. (About March/April in the Gregorian calendar)
Onwa agwu — when traditional medicine-man (dibia) venerate the deity that inspires them.
Onwa nkwu-alusi — libation is poured by all the custodian of the shrines to their respective deities.
Onwa iwa Ji (also known as Onwa alo mmuo) — when new yam is formally allowed to be eaten.
Onwa Ji nka (also known as Onwa isaa)
Onwa ikpe aro
Onwa agum aro
The last two above are months of stock-taking of the events of the past year in preparation for the new one.
It is said that the whole Umu-Iguedo clan used to visit Umuleri (possibly for the ceremony of ife nru) to hear the priest of Aro Neyi fix the day for the commencement of the year. Other towns outside the clan also used to attend if they wished. The priest who came from Umuanwuna Ezi (Neyi is an alternative to Ezi) not only fixed but also prophesied the events of the coming year. He was appointed by divination. It was claimed that one such priest prophesied the influenza epidemic of 1918.
h) Local Feasts
There are many traditional/local feasts celebrated in Ogbunike. Some are kept only in specific villages, others are for the whole town. Below are some of the major ones:
Feast Period of the Year People Concerned Special Characteristics
Ani (Ajani) depends on Ajani priest Umuezeani Ukalor small masquerades, dancing
Ede-Kisa depends on Kisa Priest mainly Osile Coco-yam is prepared with plenty of vegetable
Mgba-agboo Unmarried girls Artistic displays, dancing, etc.
Olisa December Umuezeani Ukalor In the past, Ozo title ceremonies were made on this day.
Feast of general thanksgiving to Olisa (God) for his goodness and protection.
Oye May Umunnegbe Osile, for women Prayer for women’s fertility said during this feast
Ifejioku December Umuchieke Ifite For good harvests
Aro January The whole of Umuiguedo clan Prayer for blessings in the new year
Nwafor June/July Osile To mark the end of the planting season
Iwa ji August the whole town New Yam
THE RELIGIOSITY OF MY PEOPLE
1. Traditional religion
The religious world-view of the people of Ogbunike before the arrival of the Christian missionaries was not different from that of the rest of the people around them. They believed in the existence of a creator-God. They believed too that, somehow, doers of good deeds would be rewarded while evil people receive adequate punishment. They were conscious of the presence of evil spirits and they used to offer plenty of sacrifices to ward them off.
They had respect for the following deities: Kesa, Egbo (popular in Azu), Nensii (Azu), Ajani (Ukalor), Ogwugwu (Amawa), Ogba, Olisa, Ana, Ifejioku, Aro, etc. There were shrines for each and every one of them. Some had priests specially consecrated to offer sacrifices to them. Occasionally, they had one or more persons dedicated to them. Only about twenty years ago did Nwanyieke die. She was probably a slave girl bought about fifty years ago and offered to Kesa. During her life-time, she lived in the small zinc-roofed house in the shrine of Kesa at Osile village (near Ilo Akpaka) and she was sustained by the gifts brought to the shrine by worshippers.
The population of those who follow the traditional religion has drastically thinned down. Today, they number about 1% of the population of the whole town. This is largely due to the massive evangelical work done by the Christians which began with the arrival of the Church Missionary Society of England in Ogbunike.
2. The Church of England in Ogbunike
In about 1894 some members of the British Church Missionary Society(CMS) came to Ogbunike, having first arrived in Onitsha in 1857. They did not, however, immediately begin the evangelisation of the people. It was a reconnoitring visit. They would return later for a permanent stay. But even that early visit disposed the people of Ogbunike to their Gospel message. The most intriguing thing for the people was that among the missionaries that came to the town were not only the Europeans but also Africans. Many aspired to join the group and become like one of the latter. But they needed to learn the "white man’s" language.
On 22nd November 1895, the C.M.S. opened a Girls’ school in Onitsha. Soon they moved it to Ogidi in 1904 and finally they settled in Ogbunike (at Ugwu-Ogba) in 1907. Two years later, the deed of land at Ugwu-Ogba was amicably made between Ogbuefi Obi-Chukwu and the Church Missionary Society of Salisbury. It was signed on 7th February 1909 and registered at Warri on 3rd August, 1909. J.E. Anyeji acted as the interpreter to Sidney R. Smith (C.M.S. representative) and as a witness to Obi Chukwu's mark.
In 1945, a more comprehensive document of the establishment of the Girls' School, now St Monica's school was signed between the registered trustees of the Synod of the diocese on the Niger (Rt Rev. C.J. Patterson, Rev. C.A. Forster and L.N. Mbanefo) and the Grantors of the land (Chief M.C. Onwudiwe, Charles Obiekwe, Nwokeke Anosike, Igweze Onyekwe and Okoye Oneze). The lease of the land was for 99 years at the annual rent of £2.00.
The school had 17 girls in 1945. In the following year it had 22 and in the next, 25. There was a steady growth in number. The establishment of that school, to many, is one of the greatest achievements of the C.M.S. in Ogbunike. The members of the C.M.S. did not limit their activities only to the school at Ugwu-Ogba. They gradually began to expand their ministry. While preaching the gospel to the adults, they tried too to prepare the young for the future. They asked the people for a piece of land to build a primary school. Their request was granted with ease, as the people of Ogbunike were eager to have their children get all the privileges from the "white man" like the black assistants that accompanied the C.M.S.
The building of the first primary school and the first church was done collectively by the whole town. Only two religious groups were by then known: traditional religion and Christianity as preached by the C.M.S. Some of the old menstill remember how they carried «igbi» (cement bags) for this work.
The Missionary Society has since handed over to the indigenous local clergy. Among the sons of Ogbunike who became ministers in the Anglican communion are Bishop Christian Efobi, Revs. Godson D.O. Ofoche (see photo above, + 1969), A.W. Eluogu (Snr), Ephraim Ndu Eluogu (Jnr), Michael Ikeonwu, Peter Awaka, and Nelson Nnaemeka Ofodile. The mission of the C.M.S. in Ogbunike was a huge success. Today the very sight of St Mark's Church tells a lot about the achievements of those early harbingers of the good news from England. An ultra-modern church is under construction now.
3. Catholic Church in Ogbunike
The Arrival of the First Missionaries
The first missionary expedition to West Africa which began in the 15th century A.D. was championed by the Portugese. Among the important achievements of this venture was the establishment of the ecclesiastical jurisdictions of Santiago of Cape Verde (1532), Sao Tome (1584) and San Salvador in the Congo (1596). All the earlier attempts up to the 18th century A.D., either by the Portuguese or the Vatican’s Propaganda Fide, to reach the Nigerian soil (through the Bight of Biafra) did not yield much fruit.
In the 19th century, a new light of evangelisation dawned on the people of the West Coast of Africa when the Catholic Church in the United States of America, desiring to take care of the freed black (Catholic) slaves in Liberia, in January 1842, sent a team of volunteer missionaries with Fr Edward Barron (later, in 1843, made a Bishop) as the leader to Monrovia. By design, Fr Barron, travelling round Europe in search of missionaries to assist him in his mission, came in contact with Francis Mary Paul Libermann, co-founder of Congregatione Sancti Spiritus (C.S.Sp.). The former had a mission field to work but without labourers while the latter had missionaries without a place of work. Both men made an agreement for mutual support: Libermann made available some missionaries, and Barron provided the mission field for the work. It was not a successful venture as some of the missionaries died and others became very ill and had to return home. Bishop Barron was forced to give up the missionary expedition in 1845 and return to U.S.A.
The C.S.Sp. was then called upon by the Vatican’s Propaganda Fide to take over the mission began by Bishop Barron. The area covered by this mandate included ancient French colonies of West Africa, the whole of French Equatorial Guinea, part of Portuguese, three vicariates in English East Africa, a Prefecture in Belgian Congo, a Prefecture in South Africa and two vicariates in Madagascar.
It was in 1885 when Fr Leon Lejeune, one of the missionaries on his way to the Gabon vicariate, halted at the main mouth of the Niger and obtained a clearer information concerning "populous tribes which inhabited both banks of the mighty River Niger, and knew no God." He immediately forwarded a report to Propaganda Fide through his C.S.Sp. Mother house in Paris. The evangelisation of this populous people was then entrusted to the Holy Ghost Fathers by the Popaganda Fide. The new Mission (known in Ireland as "Mission (Prefecture) of Southern Nigeria" and in France, in a short form, as "le bas Niger" — the Lower Niger) was founded.
On 23rd July, 1885, the then Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Père Ambrose Emonet, appointed Father Joseph Lutz (aged 32, ordained a Priest on December 23, 1876 and former superior at Rio Ponge) to head the missionary adventure to the Lower Niger. In his team were Father John Horne, Brothers Hermas Huck and John of Gotheau. They left Paris on 19th September, 1885 for the sea port. They finally set sail from Liverpool on 10th October, 1885, and reached Akassa on 20th November, 1885. They were not well received in Akassa, and so, they moved to the Brass port where they enjoyed the sympathy of the English merchant Charles Townsend. At Brass, Father Lutz left behind the Brothers with the luggage and travelled with the boat provided by Townsend up the River Niger. He was accompanied by Father Horne. Both men arrived at the shores of Onitsha on the evening of 5th December 1885. Thus began the evangelisation of the Igbos east of the Niger.
From the onset there were problems for the new Mission. Apart from the harsh weather, the missionaries had to contend particularly with the tropical sickness of malaria. Each one of them caught this disease. Few weeks after their arrival Br John died. On 17th December 1895, Father Lutz himself died in France where he went for medical treatment and rest. In addition, there was the problem of rivalry between these missionaries who were French and the nascent British colonial power in the area. A solution to this last problem was found when the missionary work was transferred by the French province of the C.S.Sp. to the Irish.
On 6th October, 1896, Father Joseph-Marie Reling was appointed by Propaganda Fide to take over the Lower Niger Mission but his health was so fragile that the doctors refused to allow him travel to Africa. So, in 1898 he tendered his letter of resignation without ever setting foot in his Prefecture.
Father Rene-Aime Pawlas was appointed on 4th July 1898 to head the Mission. He was very zealous, and he threw himself with great energy into the work. He died on 15th March, 1900. With his death, the era of Lutz and those that worked with him came to an end.
The new Prefect was the same man who, on his way to the vicariate of Gabon, sent report to his Mother-house concerning prospects of missionary expedition in the Lower Niger. On 23rd May 1900, Father Leon-Alexander Lejeune was assigned to head the Prefecture of the Lower Niger. He was a very dynamic man. He and his team gave Igbo language a boost: they translated the first ever Igbo-French dictionary and the first Igbo Catechism (Nkuzi nke Okwukwe Nzuko Katolic). He opened many schools and pushed the missionary work into the hinterland. Early 1905 he caught cancer and had to return to France. He died on 5th September 1905 at the age of 44.
Father Joseph Shanahan, who had arrived in Nigeria three years earlier, was appointed to succeed Father Lejeune on 20th September, 1905. Unlike his predecessors, he was Irish. It was during his tenure of office that the missionaries first visited Ogbunike with the intention to establish a mission Church.
[a] Chief Ezechukwu Obidimma of Azu-Ogbunike
Every person consulted agreed that it was when Ezechukwu Obidimma of Azu village was the Warrant Chief and leader of Ndichie of Ogbunike that the first missionaries arrived in the town.
Who was the chief and how did he come in contact with the missionaries? The chief was the son of Obidimma Ezuora and Eziamaka of Azu Ogbunike. He was a successful farmer and a warrior. He had four wives: Nwanyieke, Ego, Onwu-mkpa and Akueke. He was not blessed with many sons — he had only three of them: Nwokoye, Nweke and Nwafor. Early in his life he took all the available and prestigious titles of his time. In 1907 he was made a member of the native court, as he was already by then the head of the Ndichie in Ogbunike. He was appointed a first class warrant chief by the District Officer in-charge of Onitsha in 1915 and he used to be carried on an hammock to Onitsha for court sittings. It is possible that it was during his encounters with some of his fellow warrant chiefs that he learnt about the activities of the missionaries.
No entry has been found in the annals of the missionaries that indicates that they were invited by anybody to Ogbunike. There was already a drive by the missionaries into the hinterland of Onitsha during the period in which the chief lived. They could have come on their own and only presented themselves to the leader of the community. Indeed some people hold that it was Samuel Abba (from Ogbunike) and his friend Joseph Olie (from Nkpor), who were already pupils in the primary school at Nkpor, that brought the missionaries to the chief. The fact that the chief himself never became a christian lends credence to the supposition that he never played any major part in bringing the Catholic faith to Ogbunike. However, his disposition not to obstruct the missionaries from spreading the faith was the first important step towards the successful evangelisation of the people of the town.
Chief Obidimma died in 1925
[b] Rev. Fr Louis J. Ward C.S.Sp.
From all available data the first missionary priest to visit Ogbunike was Rev. Fr Louis J. Ward. According to his own 1917 report to his Superior-general in France he mentioned that his first contact with Ogbunike was in 1912.He went in the company of a religious Brother Adelme Walsh.
Fr Louis himself was born on June 29 1872 at Donegal in Ireland. He became a student at Blackrock Juniorate in 1886. He obtained a Master of Arts degree at the Royal University of Ireland, and he taught at his alma mater (Blackrock) before doing his theology at Chevilly (France). He made his final profession of vows in the Congregation of the Holy Spirit at Orly on October 1, 1902.
In the following year, precisely March 28, 1903 he was ordained a Priest at Chevilly. The same year he was sent on a mission to Nigeria. For the next 18 years he toiled in the Lord's vineyard in Nigeria.
The missionary work brought Fr Ward to Onitsha where he lived in the Immaculate Conception residence in Ogboli-Onitsha. Their community there consisted of three persons: himself (as director, bursar, school teacher), Father Eugene Groetz (school teacher) and Brother Adelme (school teacher and gardener). It was from this mission house that he made several treks into the vast area under his care. Among the towns he visited was Ogbunike.
He was later transferred to Calabar where he worked in the out-stations of Okuni and Akam.
Very tired and with fragile health, he returned to Europe in 1921. After some rest, he was reassigned to the United States of America. He became first an assistant and then in 1928 he was made the Parish Priest of St Anthony's Church in Portsmouth.
On February 7, 1935 he died peacefully in the rectory and he was buried in the Ferndale community cemetery.
[c] Brother Adelme Walsh C.S.Sp.
Brother Walsh was born on February 8, 1853 at Silvermines in Ireland. He was a maternal uncle of Bishop J. Shanahan.
He originally wanted to be a priest. He registered on September 20, 1875 in the Blackrock Juniorate. His original name was Patrick Walsh. Due to his advanced age (he was already twenty-two and was just about to begin his secondary education, partly because of poverty!) he could not cope with the rigorous training of the young seminarians. He left the Juniorate and went over to the Brothers' Novitiate. He made his first profession on March 8, 1878 and took the name Adelme.
There was nothing special about him except his simplicity and resignation to the will of God through his superiors. Bet-ween 1893 and 1896 he worked in Sierra Leone. Then he was recalled to Ireland. He always desired to return to work in Africa after this first experience in Sierra Leone. For a long time this was denied him.
The opportunity finally came through his young nephew who was by this time assigned as the Vicar Apostolic to the Niger mission. It was in 1908 when a brother assigned to the Vicariate (Brother David) due to poor health was recalled to their mother-house in Ireland, Shanahan did not waste any time in recommending that Brother Adelme be sent to replace the sick confrère. In his letter to Ireland he wrote:
Now in Rockwell is a veteran West African campaigner pining away for a glimpse of the scene of his former labours. Brother Adelme is the man. A thousand times he has written to me on the subject. Could he not be spared to take Brother David's place? ....
The request was granted and so Br Adelme set sail to Nigeria. He was very warmly received by his nephew, Shanahan. He was then assigned to the mission in Onitsha Waterside (Immaculate Conception mission) where he taught in the school and looked after the garden. It was in this mission house that he worked closely with Fr L. J. Ward.
He died on July 23, 1920 at the age of 67. Bishop Joseph Shanahan, his young nephew, was deeply touched by his death. So too were many of those (both his confrères and the Nigerians) who had known him at a close range. He was interred in Onitsha with the other great missionaries before him.
[d] The Reception of the Catholic Missionaries
The arrival of Fr Ward, Br Adelme and, possibly, others who accompanied them to Chief Ezechukwu Obidimma in 1912 must have been quiet. It was not an unusual spectacle, as the C.M.S. was by then already established in the town. The people were no more enthused by the sight of "white men."
The missionaries were nicely received by the chief in accordance with the Igbo traditional hospitality. The unusual thing about these new missionaries was that they cared for the two-fold nature of man. They came with the Good News for man's salvation. They brought with them medicine (to cure the sick) and gifts (sacramentals). It was not difficult for the people to see the difference between them and the C.M.S. There was, therefore, no hesitation in giving them a piece of land (at Ogba-mgba) for the erection of their Church.
The Initial Struggles
[A] The take-off
The first church building had a thatched roof. It was dedicated to St Vincent de Paul. There was no wall around it. The christian population was less than ten. The location of Azu (at the outskirts of the town) did not help matters. The influence of the C.M.S., with a more decent church and a school, was overwhelming for the nascent Catholic Church. Fr Ward felt disappointed. In his diary (in 1917) he noted that, even though the response to his appeal was relatively good, the people were unwilling to come forward to receive the sacraments. He did not, however, abandon the mission. As a missionary he might have remembered the biblical quotation that "Paul sows, Apollo waters but it is the Lord who gives the increase!" (1 Cor. 3,6)
Among the early ones to receive the faith were:
From Azu - John Chiegbu, Simeon Odinye Okeke, Matthew Somudi, Isaiah Nwanegbo, Nchezo Onunkwo, Morris Onunkwo, Joshua (later, Peter) Molokwu, Timothy Aniekwena, Josiah Onwuzulike.
From Osile - William Nwosu Koggu, Sergeant Ibeziakor, Samuel Asokwu, Benedict Asigwe Udeorah, Stephen Morah (S.M.), Edward Ogbogu Maduka, Dennis Ogbogu Okoye, Lawrence Anaeto Okoye, Michael Ekwegbaa, Jacob Okoye, Raymond Obiekwe Okoye, Joseph Nwangwu Obiakor, Azuike, Obide Ekwegba, Ezeadigo Okanme.
From Amawa - James Awah Nworah, Peter Nworah, Obeegbunam Igweonwu, Samuel Abba, Samuel Mgbakor Okafor, Michael Okwesi, Edward Okika Udozo, Michael Nwosu Ikeche, James Udezumba Anakor, Edward Oraka Ifediora, Isaac Ezenwobi, Paul Ezenwobi.
From Ifite - Dominic Njara Onyekwe, Joseph Chidume Onwuegbusi, Stephen Nwabufo.
From Umueri - Timothy Okadigbo, Alphonsus Onyekwuluje;
and from Ukalor - Anachuna Kwuelum.
Most of these persevered in the faith till the end of their earthly existence.
[B] The Schools
As in every society, Ogbunike has always had the system of education for the new members. But this does not correspond to the formal education in schools introduced by the Europeans in many parts of Africa and other developing continents of the world. The aim, however, is the same: to help the young members/new entrants understand and live according to the ethos of the society. It usually begins in the family and extends to the social groups in the society.
Before the arrival of the Europeans, this form of education was passed on through imitation of the elders and from the story-telling. There was a differentiation of roles for a man/boy and for a woman/girl.
A normal young boy learnt how to do farm-work by accompanying his father to often distant farmlands. He was taught how to make mounds for the planting of yams. He learnt how and when yams were sown in the ground, how the tendrils were supported, when they should be due for harvesting, how to make the rafters for tying the harvested tubers in the barns. The boy was taught too how to climb palm-trees, cut down palm nuts for the oil, get the palm-fronds for making the roofs of houses and tap the wine. He learnt how to set traps for bush animals. He often acompanied his father to important meeting by carrying his stool. From his father and elders he would learn proverbs and how to use riddles and poetic language in expressing himself. By participating in repeated ritual ceremonies, he became acquainted with the traditional religion of his people. In association with his peer group, he learnt how to dance and do acrobatic displays.
The girls often stayed beside the mothers and from them learnt how to sit, talk, cook food, dress (paint) themselves, scrub the walls of their houses and other do other things that pertain specifically to women (for example, what to do during pregnancy, how to nurse a baby, etc.).
Every child in the society benefitted from the fairy tales, "bed-side" stories told by mothers in the night. Important lessons (for example, on honesty, sincerity, bravery, etc.) were usually drawn from such stories for the intellectual and moral growth of the children.
When, therefore, Fr Ward and his confrères came, they found a community highly organised. They did not attack the system directly. In keeping with the method already tried in Onitsha and elsewhere, they introduced the system of formal education in schools.
By 1938, there were already many pupils in the school. As in other places, this school proved a powerful means of evangelisation. With the increase in the number of pupils in the school who naturally became Catholics, the population of the members of the "new" Church grew.
There were obstacles even at this early stage. The first Catholic Church building was erected at a site very far away from the majority of the people of Ogbunike. That time too the Ogbamgba mission, then named St Vincent's Catholic Mission, came under Aguleri Mission. This was understandable, given the long historical connection with that part of the world. But the distance to be covered in order to see the parish Priest was enormous. The newly converted Christians had to wait for months to get their turn to see their Priest during his "trek." Some of them gave up the practice of their newly acquired faith and returned to the traditional religion.
[C] Under Dunukofia Parish
In December 1939, a new Parish was carved out of Nnewi Parish. Originally it consisted of those towns linked together by a common ancestral heritage known as Umu-Dunu (Umudioka, Ukpo, Ifite Ukpo, Umunnachi and Ukwulu). Rev. Fr Michael Iwene Tansi was appointed its first Parish Priest. In those days it was an unusual phenomenon to have a "black" Parish Priest.
A native of Aguleri, the new Parish Priest was born in 1904. He was baptised at the age of nine. He attended the primary school in St. Joseph’s Catholic School, Aguleri and, later, taught for sometime in his Alma Mater before he was transferred to the Holy Trinity School, Onitsha. In 1925, he entered the seminary at Igbariam and was ordained a Priest on 19th December, 1937. He worked as a curate at Nnewi (1937-1939) before he was appointed the Parish Priest to Dunukofia. Later, he joined the Cistercian Monaster of St Bernard in Leicestershire where he made his simple vows on 8th December, 1953, and solemn vows on 8th December 1956. On 12th January, 1964, he died in the Leicester Royal Infirmary.
Fr Tansi arrived on December 31, 1939 to take possession of the Parish. The next day, January 1, 1940, Archbishop Heerey with Fr Tansi and a few other Priests concelebrated the Mass of the inauguration of the Parish.
It was not until 1941 that other towns outside Umu-Dunu expressed their wish to join this new Parish, partly because of its nearness to them and partly because of the magnetic influence of the saintly Parish Priest, Fr Tansi. Consequently Adazi parish lost Awkuzu, Abbà, Enugwu-Agidi and Nawgu to the young Dunukofia Parish. The towns of Eziowelle, Abacha, Abatete (with sub-stations at Agbaja, Ekeagu and Nsukwu), Uke, Ideani, Ogidi-Odida, Uru-Ogidi became severed from Nnewi parish, while Ogbunike (Ogbamgba) and Umunya were carved out of Aguleri parish to join the new parish. Thus began the long association of Ogbunike with Dunukofia parish - a relationship that spanned over 50 years.
There was something unique about the Parish Priest. Apart from his zeal for evangelization, his ascetic life (observed by those very close to him), his generosity, his simplicity, his exemplary life of poverty, he was a powerful preacher. He was not an eloquent speaker but his message penetrated the hearts of the people. The old people remembered his prophetic sayings about Ogbunike:
Ogbunike, mango di na be unu na aru unu oruru
Agwo talu Abatete, julu Ogidi-Odida odu, bua Ogbunike onu
In 1943, Fr Tansi decided to transfer the church in Ogbamgba (Azu-Ogbunike) to a more central place in Ogbunike where it will serve a greater number of the inhabitants. The choice place was Osile village where a piece of land had been given to the Church by the family of Okogba. This site was rejected because the C.M.S. had already built their Church in Osile. Then, Amawa village was next considered. It was not central, being very far away for those from Umueri and part of Ifite. But none of the other villages offered a good alternative. In absence of any other better site, therefore, Amawa was chosen.
Fr Tansi first moved the school. Next, in 1944, he moved the church. He located both in the present site of St Vincent's Catholic Church at Nkwo Amawa. It is held that Peter Nworah was very instrumental to the siting of these projects.
Most of the people from Azu did not like the transfer. In protest they began to make contributions in order to build a church in their village. It took them about thirty years to realise the dream. And when they began the actual building (in 1978), they had to change to St Stephen's Catholic Church, since the original name of the Church had been given to the central one in Amawa.
The building of the Church at Amawa took four years to complete (1944 - 1948). It was a very solid structure, built with stones. Fr Tansi had already been transferred before the edifice was completed.
Parish Priests were changed in quick succession. After Fr Tansi came Fr Regan (27th June 1945 - 25th January 1946), Fr Mark Unegbu (12th January 1946 - August 1949) and Fr John Cross Anyogu (15th September 1949). The last two later became bishops of Owerri and Enugu respectively. Among the expatriate priests were: Frs. P. Kennedy, P. MacMahony, J. Mellette, P. Dunne, Duncan, T. Cleary and M. Fallon. The last two were in the parish at the outbreak the Nigerian civil war.
During the later part of the civil war (1968/69), Ogbunike had the unique opportunity of having a priest residing in the town. Rev. Fr Emmanuel Otteh (now Bishop Otteh) who was by then the rector of All Hallows' Seminary, Onitsha, took refuge in the town and was ministering to the people as the resident (even though ad interim) Parish Priest. He was very kind to the people. He was covering the neighbouring towns at the same time. In 1969 when it became very unsafe to stay in Ogbunike he moved over to Nkwelle Ezunaka.
At the end of the civil war, in 1970, all the expatriate missionaries were ordered home by the Nigerian Federal Military Government. The administration of Dunukofia parish came under Rev. Fr Ferdinand Ugwueze (later made "Very Rev. Monsignor"). A very energetic man, he undertook the project of rehabilitating all who were displaced by the civil war. He helped through Otu olu ebele, a charitable organisation he himself formed, to build houses for many poor people in Ogbunike. The group also distributed food and articles of clothing to those at the margins of the society. He encouraged vocation to the priesthood and religious life in a special way. The author of this book was among the young boys whom he recommended for admission into the seminary.
Between the later part of 1971 and 1976 Ogbunike was looked after by a young priest just fresh from the seminary, Rev. Fr Henry Emekwue (a native of Abatete which was formerly part of Dunukofia parish). He was a dedicated pastor. He always answered the sick-call, no matter the hour of the day and whichever part of his parish, with promptness. The people remembered him as the first priest to sing the Mass in Igbo in Ogbunike. It was during his tenure of office that the pews in St Vincent's old Church were made (these were later transferred to the new one). He also initiated the new Church building project. When he left the parish, the people of Ogbunike received the news with great shock. He was sent overseas for further studies.
In 1976 another young priest, former Rector of St Paul's Seminary, Ukpor and a native of Nnewi, arrived in Dunukofia Parish. His name? Rev. Fr Christopher Ejizu. He was a very affable person. The people of Ogbunike always looked forward to his very powerful and yet down-to-earth sermons. He continued the projects already initiated by his immediate predecessor. He sought to bring his pastoral ministry closer to the people and hence he revived the old practice of the early missionaries who went "on treks." He would come to a town and spend a day or two. During this period he would visit the sick and the disabled in the area.
Fr Ejizu was succeeded in 1980 by yet another energetic young man, Rev. Fr John Ejike. He was a native of Nando and therefore a true son of Iguedo. In many ways the people of Ogbunike saw him as their own son. He was at home in every family he visited because he identified himself both with the rich and the poor alike. He continued the church building project. It was indeed under him that foundation stone of the new St Vincent's Catholic Church building was laid.
Rev. Fr Emmanuel Nwosu (from Utuh) took over from Fr Ejike in 1984. At first, it looked as if he came for the promotion of the cause of the beatification of Fr Cyprian Iwene Tansi (Fr Nwosu is the Postulator of the Cause and he was assigned to the first parish of Fr Tansi). He gradually settled down to his work as the parish priest. He was a very punctual man and a strong disciplinarian. It was during his tenure of office that Ogbunike had the ordination of their first Priests, Rev. Frs. Denis Chidi Isizoh and Dominic Ibezimife Okafor on 28th September, 1985. Ogbunike people will always remember him for his excellent plan of that ordination.
When Fr Nwosu left the parish (1987), he was succeeded by his curate, Rev. Fr Kieran Udegboka (a native of Igbo-Ukwu). He was already aware that due to some unpleasant experiences in the past, the people of Ogbunike were no more in the mood to continue to remain under Dunukofia parish. They had expressed this in many addresses to the Archbishop of Onitsha. He began immediately by encouraging them to start building the Rectory. They took up the challenge. Ogbunike was at the verge of becoming a parish when he was transferred. The ordination of Rev. Fr John Izuchukwu Offiah on 17th November, 1990 took place when he was the parish priest.
In September 1992, with the appointment of Rev. Fr Pius Nweke of Awkuzu, Ogbunike gained autonomy from Dunukofia parish. Of all the towns under Fr Tansi in 1941, Ogbunike was the last to attain the status of a parish. Rev. Fr John Okaih, the successor to Fr Udegboka in Dunukofia parish, was very instrumental to this. The people of Ogbunike will never forget his presence at every level of the negotiation, his undertakings, his personal sacrifice, all of which led to the approval of Ogbunike Parish by His Grace, Most Rev. Stephen Ezeanya, Archbishop of Onitsha. With the parish status granted, Ogbunike entered a new era of evangelisation. She has already begun to face new challenges!
Between 1992 and 1999 many spectacular events have taken place in Ogbunike. Two ordinations (Frs Celestine Chigbo and Chukwuemeka John Anyaegbunam) have taken place. Fr. Matthew Ugwoji, a young and energetic man, took over and looked after the parish for three years which could be described as glorious days of the Church of Ogbunike. Under him, the Fathers' rectory was completed. The main Church is almost ready for dedication which is scheduled to take place in the year 2000. The Church in Azu Ogbunike is expanded and modernised. On a sad note, Rev. Father John Izuchukwu Offiah died on 21 April 1998. May he rest in perfect peace.
The story of my beloved people continues.... for more info go to www.ogbunike-nigeria.net