The metaphor of titles, awards/honours – the place of Aro

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Eucharia Oti

What are titles and awards/honours. Literally they are ways of appreciating people who in one way or another, have contributed to the development of a nation, people, or community. There are usually, criteria, or reasons, such persons are honored in any of the chosen capacities. Maybe, a brief analysis of the key words will give us a clearer understanding of these honours.

An online dictionary defined title as,” a prefix or suffix added to someone’s name in certain contests” I think this definition is apt for this piece. The clause- certain contests- simply infers that, title is not for everyone, or, title is relative. For example, one will not be a Mr. and Mrs. at the same time. Just as one will not be a Miss and Mrs. at the same time. Every title has its role and significance.

Here, we shall be examining the titles which are conferred on people, owing to ones significant or outstanding contributions to the community, examples are: chieftaincy, nze na ozo titles etc. However, for the purpose of this piece, we shall be focusing on, chieftaincy, which is a more popular one, which cuts across ethnicities.

Some decades ago, chieftaincy title was an honour bestowed to distinguished citizens of a community, owing to their services, contributions or philanthropic gestures to their people. Names like:” Ochiiri ozuo 1 of …., Eziokwu bu ndu 1 of …, and so many others. These names are usually in sync with the person’s outstanding qualities or philosophy.

Regrettably, in the contemporary Igboland, chieftaincy has become a thing for the highest bidder. It is now a known fact that majority of the people who are now conferred with these hitherto prestigious titles are men and women of questionable characters; which juxtaposes the original intent.

However, in Aro kingdom there is a different view to this phenomenon. Aro being a peculiar people with a peculiar culture and tradition, they distanced themselves from this band wagon from the outset. Kudos to the wisdom and insight of our forebears who foresaw this traditional basek and distanced Aro from it. They rather adopted a peculiar prefix or title of – Mazi, for a mature Aro man, and Nwa Mazi, for the younger men/ those whose fathers are alive. The interesting aspect of Mazi is, though it is also adopted in Igbo language as the equivalent of Mr. title for men, yet, whenever a man is addressed or introduced as Mazi, everyone present assumes he is an Aro. The prefix “Mazi”, is so prestigious, and carries a special aura, amongst any other title.

I had the privilege of interacting with my father- in- law of the blessed memory, Mazi Kanu Oti, popularly known as- SK, by his contemporaries, and Dee Kanu by all. He was a true Aro patriot. When I asked him why Aro do not confer chieftaincy titles, he went inside his room and came out with a brown file, fished out three documents from the file and passed them to me. In the first instance I thought they were documents stating the obvious, so my curiosity increased and I began to read immediately. While I was busy reading the documents, he said to me in his usual teaching manner- paraphrased “Nde ochie ochie Aro maara ihe. Wo anaghi eme ihe nde mba odo n’eme, n’ ihi Aro bu nde nganga, bekee mbu. Ome nali Aro dikwa icho na nke nde Igbo odo”. He went on to educate me on the peculiarities of Aro customs and tradition and what they stand for. He also pointed out that the proliferation and bastardization of these titles may not be ruled out with time; that was why Aro founding fathers in their wisdom saw it as alien.

Yes, back to the documents. It happened that the three documents were letters, offering him a concernment of chieftaincy title from a notable Eze in Ngwa land; which he also declined three consecutive times. Reasons being that Aro tradition does not recognize it. He however pointed out that the tradition offered a lee way for persons who so much desire to have a title, on the condition that they may take one from outside Aro kingdom. Such persons are also expected to answer or be addressed as chiefs wherever they may domicile; but drops whatever title at Ugwuakumma or Amuvi, and pick the Mazi prefix when coming into Aro kingdom.

The fact that Aro kingdom does not confer chieftaincy titles confirms this story. Also, the fact that many Umu Aro now have chieftaincy titles from all parts of Igboland further confirms the story. But the question is, is the contemporary Aro still upholding this peculiar ancient tradition?

AWARDS

It is said that a giant does not beget a dwarf. In line with this logic, the contemporary Aro thought of a way to appreciate her sons and daughters who have made outstanding contributions to the development of the kingdom; and decided to carve a niche for Aro kingdom. In Aro wisdom, the Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi led executive of Nzuko Aro worldwide came up with the “Ugwu Aro, Ikemba and Ada Ukwu Aro awards. These awards act as a morale booster and encouragement to the awardees, and also awaken the consciousness of those who has been sitting on the fence as regards community service and development.

Like every other award which has criteria for selection, the awards are guarded by the Aro mantra- ” Nwa Aro icho, nkpoola icho”. This infers that, financial contribution is not the only criterion that merits these awards, but genuine service and integrity. Another poser is, has the rules for these awards been duly followed?

PATRONS/PATRONESSES

This is an honour cum advisory role, conferred on senior citizens of an organization, union, group etc, based on service,, commitment, and experience. It is likened to a retirement package because; it comes when one is no longer in active service. The recipients (s) are expected to draw from the wealth of their experiences to handle critical issues that may arise in the union. They are expected to play fatherly roles to both the group, and individual members of the group. They are to act as coolants and stabilizers, not the contrary. I also understand that these special group value integrity and reputation because, they portray the image of the organization/ group they represent.

I became aware of these qualities of a patron/patroness, when my father- in- law of the blessed memory, Mazi S K Oti was alive. He was a strong and committed member of Atani Welfare Union, and Nzuko Aro, in Omoba, one of the popular Aro settlements. He served as vice and later president of these groups. He also chaired many committees. Having served meritoriously in various capacities in these groups, he was made a patron of both Atani Welfare Union and Nzuko Aro respectively, when he attained the age of seventy five.

I also observed with keen interest how he presided over issues that came to his table as a patron. He was a rallying point of umu Aro in Omoba and neigbouring Ngwa communities. Every one respected Dee Kanu for his great display of conduct and wisdom. I have also been privileged to see people who are patrons of other communities in Igbo land. One common thing that I have noticed is age. Even as a growing child, all the people I saw being addressed as patrons were advanced men and women, nothing less than sixty.

I sensed that the reason could be, making a younger person a patron could amount to making that person redundant; therefore playing minus one. Reason being that, persons in their sixties are still in better positions of being presidents of branches and otherwise.

Since patron ship is in sync with retirement from active service, it is not therefore expected that, one will be a patron of one group and a president or welfare officer of another group in the same community. It sounds like a pun. There is no law which also says that one should be made a patron automatically, if one completes service early; after all there cannot be an end to services one can render to his people.

Here in Nzuko Aro Lagos and also outside Lagos, I have seen patrons, who one do not require introduction, because of their age and how they conduct themselves. My question again is, is this senior citizen role given to senior citizens in all ramifications?

Cries of woe streams from many umu Aro, pointing to one direction- Aro is no longer what it used to be. Self and sycophancy, is now the order of the day in Aro dealings. Another question is, how long shall we remain in this state? Who will bail the cat?

The earlier we have a re- think and build on the legacy of great Aro patriots, the better for all of us.
Aro Mma Mma no!!

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