…It was Igwe John Igwesi, Dennis Nnaji, Daniel Nnamani, Igwe Edward Nnaji that were at the fore front of the modern Nkanu; Chief Mark Ngene, JP
I still remember that in Nkanu, it was Igwe John Igwesi, Dennis Nnaji, Daniel Nnamani, Igwe Edward Nnaji that were at the fore front of the modern Nkanu; Chief Mark Ngene, JP
The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine was with Chief Mark Ngene in his Enugu home to ask him questions on issues of importance to Nkanu and Awkunanaw. He said a lot in this revealing interview. Here are the excerpts.
PFM: Please tell us about yourself Sir.
Chief Ngene: I am Chief Mark A. Ngene, JP. I hail from Attakwu, Akegbe-Ugwu, Awkunanaw in Nkanu-West Local Government Area of Enugu State. I am a retired Civil Servant on grade level 14. I retired as the Head of Personnel Management in Enugu North Local Government. Educationally, I started early from 1934, I made the Standard 6 certificate. I have a Senior Cambridge certificate and a Diploma in Public Administration. Also, I have been a social man, I was the Secretary of Awkunanaw Welfare Association for a very long time. I am a Title Holder in Attakwu, my Title is Egbe a nu-uzu of Attakwu. I am 93 years old.
PFM: In Nkanu, Nike is adjudged the eldest. How did Nkanu as a people come to be before the political delineations?
Chief Ngene: Yes, Nkanu as you see it has so many components. We have Nkanu originating from Arochukwu in Abia State. Throughout all parts of Igbo land, you will find Nkanu communities. Nike is the most senior because Nike was the first to settle in this area where Nkanu people occupy at present. Nkanu has a lot of communities and Nike is the traditional home of Nkanu.
PFM: How did they come about this name “Nkanu”?
Chief Ngene: Nkanu as a word is derived from “Nka” which means Craft makers or Craft making. We were known for craft making so that was how we got the name Nkanu.
PFM: A lot of records may have been lost especially since our histories, traditions and cultures are orally recanted. Were there people who played major roles in the making of Nkanu’s history? Tell us about one or two of them.
Chief Ngene: Ah, those who made Nkanu a modern Nkanu and old Nkanu, those of us who are old still remember them but we are very few now. Fortunately, some of these things have been documented. Let’s begin with Nike; we had people who were prominent in the development of Nike. Some of them were Ugwu ani nw’ene oka. He was a paramount chief of Nike those days, though he had problems before he died such that his compound was abandoned and desolate because of his inhuman treatment of his people. Igwe Edward Nnaji was also one of those who developed Nike, James Agbo and so on. Leaving Nike and coming down to Awkunanaw, we had the paramount chief Ugwunnaji, Agbowo ebiem, Okeke ede, Igwe John Igwesi and so on. Down Nkanu like Akpugo had people like Ogbodo orie abo, Joseph Nwobodo. In Ugbawka, we had someone like Ede nw’ani, in Nara, we had Igwe Nathan Ogbu who, in those days built a house whose cost was One million pounds.
PFM: Could you be specific about the roles some of these names you mentioned played in shaping Nkanu as it is presently?
Chief Ngene: I still remember that in Nkanu, it was Dennis Nnaji of Oruku, Daniel Nnamani of Agbani, Igwe John Igwesi, Igwe Edward Nnaji that were at the fore front of the modern Nkanu and their base was at Agbani where we had the headquarters of Nkanu County Council. They first identified Nkanu because we were under Udi District Council. Nkanu said it was not wise for them to go second to Udi area. These men made it possible that Nkanu stood on her own. As at then, Nkanu had just very few schools, the only Standard 6 we had in Nkanu area was at Agbani Methodist Central School because the Methodist church was quite popular in Nkanu then. These names I mentioned were the pioneers that made it possible for each side in Nkanu to build their schools, and have up to Standard 6, which was the maximum then. The highest was Methodist College, Uzuakoli.
PFM: What was leadership and governance like in Nkanu before the coming of the Whiteman? Also, what was the people’s reception of the advent of the westerners?
Chief Ngene: Well before the advent of the European administration, our people were very much organized. The only problem we had then was the class, that was the bane we had then. Leadership then was by the class called Ndi Izhi and they were very effective. There were taboos, customs, traditions and norms, they maintained these things strictly. However, their mistake; it was not regarded as a mistake at that time, it was regarded as pride, was the issue of buying and selling slaves, human trafficking. It was prevalent at that time, that those who had the might were kidnapping and selling human beings, those regarded as second-class citizens. Outside this, their administration was so powerful that you don’t go contrary to the norms. There were stringent methods meant to enforce order unlike nowadays where you can commit a crime, rush to the Police and the Police will protect you. They had shrines and they had strong faith in them.
When the Europeans came around 1908 or thereabout, our people saw them as devils. They were not received, particularly Awkunanaw. Awkunanaw, so strong and organized were united and resisted them. When the Europeans came, they first appeared at Ugwu Akegbe, the hill from Udi side. Our people sounded the Ikoro to inform the people that devils were around. Awkunanaw met at Ani Awkunanaw and decided to fight them. When the white men saw that our people were hostile, they went back, regrouped and brought along Tiv soldiers. At the hill, from Nyama river, Awkunanaw converged with sticks and knives but the Europeans sounded their guns, guns that blew up palm trees, and our people took to their heels. It was later that the Europeans used their tricks, lured our people with things like gunpowder, schnapps, clothes, etc. That was how they won some of our people. When they said they wanted to see us at Ani Awkunanaw, our people saw it as a sacrilege and an act that would pollute Ani Awkunanaw, that was why and how they established Orie Odenigbo and met with the white people there. After they lavished gifts, our people saw that there was something good from them and appointed them Warrant Chiefs.
PFM: Some versions have it that Igede dance “ufere igede” or the larger Igede was wrestled from Ogui Nike by Okunanao (Awkunanaw). Do you mind lending your voice to this?
Chief Ngene: It is true. The first Igede we had was from Nike and Ogui is part of Nike. Awkunanaw people went to Ogui Nike, because they were more powerful, drove them away and captured the Igede. Ogui returned back to their settlement after a while. We had what was called Ukpu atu ru afo asaa. It was a land that Awkunanaw said belonged to them. They decided to go to war to get it. The problem was how to face the people of Nike. Awkunanaw introduced ukpu, a long rope which was to be tied to the leaders of the war while those at home would always pull it to feel the weight of the warriors. If at any time, the rope became light, they would send in more warriors. This was how the Ogui Nike people were fought and Awkunanaw took her Igede. So, Nike was the first place to have the Igede dance followed by Awkunanaw. That is why if anything is being shared in Nkanu, Nike takes first, followed by Awkunanaw.
The Igede dance was a symbol of spiritual superiority and strength of an army of warriors. That was why, previously, a human being must be killed before Igede is established in a place. Because human sacrifice became obnoxious, the life of a cow became a substitute to human life. So, a cow will be killed in the place of a person before Igede can be established. It was regarded as the highest spiritual dance in our land. It extended as far as Enugu-Ukwu in Anambra. Our people say that a people without Igede are not worthy.
PFM: What do you know about the history of Awkunanaw and the formation of Awkunanaw Welfare Association?
Chief Ngene: The origin of Awkunanaw started in Mbaise in Imo State. From Enyi ogugu, the founder of Awkunanaw and his brothers that founded Nara, Nomeh, etc migrated as hunters till they reached a place called Ogwugwu. While there, Akegbe gave birth to five children Awgu, Owerri (present day Owelli-court), Ihe, Agbogugu and Akegbe-ogwugwu. Akegbe-ogwugwu eze settled at Awkunanaw and gave birth to Obuoffia, Akegbe (his namesake), Amodu and Umaa (present day Amechi and Obeagu). Akegbe-ogwugwu eze found out that Obuoffia as his first son wasn’t able to lead the war coming from various angles. He then devised a means; he told his children that his dibia told him that any of them who was able to lift the Omu (a stone located in the present day Omuoha in Obuoffia) would lead the others. It was Akegbe that successfully lifted it and that is why today, although Akegbe Ugwu is not the first by birth, they are the traditional head of Awkunanaw.
On the formation of Awkunanaw Welfare Association, we were in school, I was in Standard 5 when the association started in 1945 through ’46, ’47 or so. It started because in Awkunanaw, there was no Standard 6 and the only mission in Nkanu was the Methodist mission in Agbani. Our people saw it as a backward development so began to think of how to have Standards 5 & 6 in Awkunanaw. Okeke ede from Umaa, Igwe John Igwesi, David Ani nw’ogbo met and decided to take the problem to one Revd. Wood who at that time was in charge of Agbani circuit in the Methodist church. They met with him and they were given conditions. The negotiation spanned from 1945 to 1948. The establishment of the present secondary school in Akpasha was as a result of that. Then it was a Standards 5 & 6 school. The establishment of that school was wonderful for our people. As far as the modern Awkunanaw is concerned, her development started from these three human figures.
PFM: What would be your assessment of the growth and performance of the present Awkunanaw Welfare Association?
Chief Ngene: Well, let me come in because I’m involved. Awkunanaw Welfare Association as far as today is concerned is not very vocal because of politics. A committee which I’m heading as the Chairman from within is the Peace and Reconciliation Committee of Awkunanaw Welfare Association. The President of Awkunanaw Welfare Association is Sir Chinyeaka Ohaa who retired as a Federal Perm. Sec, he is seconded by Chief Nwabueze Nnamani who is today the Local Government Chairman of Nkanu-West LG while the Secretary is Celestine Nnaji from Amechi. They are not vocal, that’s the summary. The Peace and Reconciliation Committee is doing everything possible to settle misunderstanding in Nkanu land, particularly in Awkunanaw. We are doing our best but it is not enough without the main body and like I said, the problem of the main body is politics.
PFM: Tell us about the Ozo title, what is unique about it in Nkanu land?
Chief Ngene: It is definitely in Nkanu land but historically, there’s nothing like Ozo in Nkanu. What was prevalent in Nkanu for those who had performed the traditional rites for their father and mother was Ogbuzuru, Igwe n’ezere oha, Ori inyinya, and some others. We were not having Ozo. Ozo was obtainable in Agbaenu and Agbaja. The Ozo thing presently in Nkanu is a new design.
PFM: Aside the dialect, are there some particular traits that Nkanu people are known for?
Chief Ngene: The most important thing unique about us is our dialect. There are slightly different from community to community but you can always identify it as Nkanu dialect. Akpugo and Agbani have similar dialects while Nara, Ugbawka and Nkerefi’s own are also similar. Outside our dialect, I don’t think there’s any other thing. Previously, we used to have special varieties of Yam particular to us but it is no longer there, those varieties no longer exist.
PFM: Are there some practices in the land you would want the people to stop or abolish?
Chief Ngene: Yes. One thing that I would want us to stop is the Ohuu-Amadi issue. That segregation has brought problems. Although it is everywhere but it is obnoxious. I can’t understand why we should continue to uphold such misdeeds of our forefathers. However, it is double edged because there are some people who use that to enrich themselves today, particularly those persons regarded as Ohuu. They continue fanning the embers of hatred. It is always difficult for the Amadis to refer to someone as Ohuu, they are the ones quick to always be conscious of it. If they are present in a place and something is to be shared, you will always see them bring in that disparity and segregation by asking that their share should be given to them differently from that of the others. Also, they are becoming vindictive in the sense that they want to retaliate. Why would you want to retaliate when those existing now didn’t participate or contribute to the establishment or sustenance of the caste system? Let the media like this magazine campaign against that practice. God created us all equally so let this stop.
PFM: Thank you for taking out time to speak on topical issues in Nkanu.
Chief Ngene: Thank you.
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