By: Anayo M. Nwosu (Original Onye Nnewi)
Nwosu Mgboli later known by his Ọzọ title of Ezeodumegwu after his initiation, was troubled by what he was hearing from informants from Arochukwu, the town that hosted Chukwu, the supreme deity of the Igbos.
He was told that some albinos from across the seas had overrun the entire historical town of Arochukwu and destroyed the holiest shrines to which Igbos from all places went to on pilgrimage or to consult to resolve issues smaller gods like Udo, Ogwugwu, Nweke, Egbo, Ele, Uzukpe etc could not handle.
Ezeodumegwu also heard that the foreign albinos later to be known as British Expeditionary Forces, with their Igbo collaborators, had also used superior guns to silence Ohafia and Abam warriors who Nnewi leaders relied upon as mercenaries to prosecute very difficult wars.
Ezeodumegwu was particularly pained that “ana na-aghaa na oge nke ya” or that all these strange things were happening in his own era as the 5th Ọnụọra or field marshal in Nnewi.
The Ọnụọra was the commander-in-chief of all armed forces in a town. It is a rank one step above Ogbufoo or a general.
Ezeodumegwu’s predicament was particularly made worse by the very fact that besides being the supreme commander of Nnewi armed forces, he was also the regent and the de facto traditional ruler of Nnewi being that the natural heir to the throne was too young to assume the political responsibility.
The Obi of Nnewi as he was then referred to, Iwuchukwu Ezeifekaibeya, had just died and his son, Ezeụgbọanyịmba also known as Orizu I, who succeeded him was too young to handle state matters hence his uncle and the most powerful man in the town was asked by the council of elders to oversee the palace as a regent pending when the young Obi would come of age.
It was a natural warrior instinct for the revered Ezeodumegwu to resolve and not to surrender Nnewi to the foreign albinos without a fight. But the news of how the greater warriors in Arochukwu were caught and hanged by the invaders made him reach out for his snuff box to receive tobacco induced sense.
That same day, he sent for Ezeachitaoke of Ụmụanụka and my grandfather Nwosu Ezeechedolu of Okpuno Otolo to come hear what he had just heard.
Ezeechedolu, my grandfather, a renowned lawyer, counselor and orator could relate to the ordeal of the Ọnụọra Ezeodumegwu and comforted him.
He told the Nnewi ruler that from his records, that Nnewi citizens had performed all sacrifices and rituals to all the deities in the town and that it was now time for the deities to acquit themselves and fight off the aggression of the whiteman which he guessed would bring more hardship to the deities than the humans.
“What a brilliant suggestion!” Ezeodumegwu exclaimed.
And a decision was taken there and then not to resist the colonial expeditionary forces of the whiteman but to set them up against Nnewi’s powerful gods who would have to justify the divine powers that had been ascribed to them.
To further gain more knowledge into the nature of the white man, Nnewi elders sent some spies to ascertain how the white men looked like.
The spies returned with their findings that the white man looked like “anyarị” or albinos without toes (because they were wearing shoes).
The elders of Nnewi then sent some Nnewi born albinos to the white man at Onitsha to convey the town’s resolve to cooperate and the decision of the elders of Nnewi to work with the colonial government.
It was reported that the white man was confused as he saw all white citizens from Nnewi. This incident gave birth to a popular Nnewi saying that “ị na-enyom ka onyeocha si enyo anyarị” meaning that you are looking at me confused and unsure as the white man was looking at all albino delegation from Nnewi.
The surrender treaty was executed and received by Major Moorehouse of Great Britain and Nwosu Ezeodumegwu on behalf of British Empire and Nnewi Town respectively in 1905 before all the village heads of Nnewi.
Impressed with a bloodless conquest of Nnewi, the whiteman arrived the town with administrators and religious teachers of their ways and of their god.
It was heartbreaking that our local gods who were the last hope of Nnewi triumph over the whiteman were not ready to fight and make names for themselves. The deities appeared to have been frightened by the guns and audacity of the British.
Before then, men were men and alusi (deities) were gods. Though families were allowed to institute their preferred deities and build shrines for them, the Ana, Edo and her husband, Ezemewi were the supreme deities in Nnewi.
In fact, Edo who hailed from Idemili was revered more because of the very fact that “ikwu ka na nne” meaning that “maternal affection is strongest”.
In the pre-colonial Nnewi, each deity had a thick forest adjoining the shrine called Agbọ or a forest that has never been cleared for any purpose.
There were also thick forests adjoining the shrines of some deadly deities in whose names people are administered oaths to settle land matters or to prove the oath taker’s innocence of accused crime.
The guilty usually died and were deemed to have been killed by the deities in whose names the oath was administered.
When an oath taker died within the waiting period, his body and his personal effects were deposited in the evil forest also know as “ajọ ọfia”.
Nursing a defeat of no casualty unlike other towns that fought against the white man, Nnewi elders had to now rely on the potency of their deities to wrought this foreign but powerful intruders. They kept their plans secret.
The White man played into the elders’ plan by requesting for land to build district office and the land belonging to a powerful Ele Deity was given to them.
It was expected that the Ele deity would k**l off the white man and his cohorts.
The religious organizations namely Roman Catholic Mission and Church Missionary Society who moved in with the colonial masters also requested for land to build their own shrines which they referred to as churches.
These pleasant looking group of white man called “ndị ụka” needed land to build their schools and churches.
Nnewi elders decided to give them the village evil forests of very powerful deities.
Roman Catholic Mission were given the evil forests of Egbo deity known as Akwụ Egbo in Ụshuagụ, Akwụ Nweke belonging to Nweke deity in Ụmụanụka Otolo. Notable of the one given to the Anglicans was the evil forest of Udo deity known as Akwụ Udo.
The hidden motive was that these deities would inflict serious illnesses on the confident foreigners and their local conspirators within four market days of their occupation of the land.
The more superstitious natives of Nnewi hoped that the Christians wouldn’t be able to clear the forests not to talk of building or sleeping therein.
To the amazement of Nnewi elders and chief priests, the white man and his missionary company successfully cleared the forests and erected buildings in the centres of the dreaded forests.
The natives waited to no avail and nothing happened. This caused a great desertion of Nnewi deities starting from the Ụmụ Osu alụsị or “those dedicated to the deities who were mostly slaves and some local volunteers” to other worshippers.
Nnewi elders ensured that the embarrassment was not total as the sacred forest “agbọ” of our main deities of Ezemewi and Edo were not given to the white man and his religion.
Ezemewi is the patriarchal deity of Nnewi though the wife, Edo married who hailed from Nnobi was more popular and revered.
Okwu Edo or “Edo Shrine” is located in Uruagu while Ezemewi is located in Nnewichi part of Nnewi. The two deities have a pathway connecting them. This pathways has expanded into a road now called Edo-Ezemewi Road where almost all the banks in Nnewi are situated.
Being true to the practical people they were and still are, Nnewi elders became convinced that the only way to understand this “all powerful” white man and his obviously superior ways was to allow their children to “go learn their trade” which entailed going to school built inside those evil forests.
Each child would return home answering strange names saying “na ha mere mmiri chukwu” meaning that they had been baptised.
Very wise elders didn’t send very intelligent and hardworking children to school. They needed to work in the farms and to worship the deities. The ones sent were the lazy, rascally and or the children of the less favoured wives.
As the year passed by, more people were converting to the new religion through school and missionary activities of the white man and his converts.
More practical natives decided to embraced christianity having seen that the much feared deities were obviously afraid of the God of the white man or must have themselves been converted to the new religion if they had not fled.
The final embarrassment of our traditional religion happened in the turn of the 20th century with the arrival of Rev. Father Ockiffe (spelt as pronounced by the locals) of Roman Catholic Mission.
The missionary from Ireland was able to use the power of his God to neutralise the feared powers of our deities and was able to take on and deactivate the juju of many renowned Nnewi witch doctors especially at Ụmụanụka Otolo and Ndi Ojukwu Uruagu.
Armed with holy water and anointing oil and sometimes the blessed host, Fr. Ockiffe would be commanding and instructing potent spirits to flee as he walked in a procession accompanied by chaplets clutching native converts.
Many personal shrines were set ablaze and the owners pledged allegiance to the new God.
All attempts by never- say-die traditional religionists called “ndị ụka ọ dị n’ana Nnewi” to at least restore the Nnewi religious beliefs and traditional ways of worship or the status quo has to date, proved ineffective.
The very incident of the invasion of Nnewi by the white man and the humiliating defeat of our hitherto revered gods have made almost all the citizens of Nnewi including our traditional rulers and all the village heads, to become members of the religion of the colonial masters or variants of it.