To meaningfully discuss the Aro Golden Age, some of its relevant internal and external factors must be brought to the fore-ground. Most of these were occurring almost concurrently or in close successions that they must be seen as having influenced the founding, growth and decline of the Aro confederacy and hegemony. Earlier publications had given a brief introduction of the Founding Fathers of the confederacy in the discussion on “Reflections on the symbolism of the Aro coat of arm”. (See also the Prologue). This paper presumes that we have read that article and only adds on a few paragraphs as a link to the current discussion.
We must at this stage premise for obvious reasons that this discussion is based on extensive research on “facts” of history; generally accepted but verifiably realistic and rational oral traditions; and methodically derived inferences from both. For instance, any oral tradition that assigns the name Agbagwu to a city state implying that it was derived from the fact that the Akpa warriors ran out of gun powder in that location is definitely not acceptable. It is anachronistic. The Ibibio war was about 1534, and guns were not introduced in the entire area until about 1642, a span of over a hundred years. We therefore have made very strenuous effort to avoid such inferences from a fog of inadequate and inaccurate reasoning in Aro history. A renowned Professor states that “development of theories is by distinguishing between what is assumed, what is known, and what can be inferred.” His learned colleague has also said that “if you want literal realism, look at the world around you; if you want understanding, look at theories.”
These maxims have greatly influenced the dating of persons and events in the “nucleic town”, its subsequent metamorphosis as a confederacy and acquisition of the name Arochukwu, its growth and stultification by the British invasion. We are also emboldened by the extensive research of Professor M. B. Abasiattai of University of Calabar’s dates in his work on “History of Cross River State.” The learned Professor, using available Efik king-lists, and applying a mean reign of 11.8 years, dates the “Igbo-Ibibio” war to between 1500 and 1550, but specifically suggests 1534.
The dating we have employed is also in consonance with the age-old and persisting tradition of the Uke (Age Grade) system of social mobilization and governance celebrated as a rite of passage among Cross River Igbo and neighboring societies eastwards right beyond the Oban Hills. As the structure of the age grade is organic, each male belongs to an age grade. These traditional societies recognized and acclaimed nobility enhanced by merit. A male child’s first association with the group that would eventually assume an age grade classification is on the day he makes his first kill with his own bow and arrow. It may be just a bird or a squirrel. For an average child this should occur before attaining his tenth birthday.
After parading the village square with his trophy in company of boys about his age, give or take three years, they eventually share the kill and the presents given to him by the villagers as prize for his first demonstration of his “manly quality.” By the time the boy has attained the age of puberty, his age mates now formally organized undertake general sanitation works in the village, such as roads maintenance and providing raffia palm fronds for roofing the village hall. During this period each child devotes his time to learning one profession, trade or craft. By about age 25, their age grade is formally recognized and given an official name (Izara Ava). Simultaneous with this recognition of a new age grade is the passing into governance status of yet another age grade, averaging 50 years and above, which now retires from community labor into the hallowed and revered status of village governance (Igba Uche).
Between these two age grades, are usually three others groups of age grades about the ages of 30 to 36; 37 to 43 and, 44 to 50. As the youngest age grade (25-29 age bracket) is given the task of general duties within the village which is mainly done on a regular and particular day of the four-days week, so also their immediate senior age grade (30-36 age bracket), is assigned the internal security function of parading the village when most villagers are out to the farms or the market. The more senior age grade (37-43 age bracket), are deployed at the village borders to watch out for and ward off external aggression from slave raiders, head hunters, domestic animal hustlers or yam barn looters as well as securing the boundaries of the village from encroachment by outsiders. This age grade is also the standing army of the village. The deployment consists of a period of about four to five years during which they set up watch camps outside the village. This is the status within which each member strives to attain excellence by protecting the village thus qualifying to dance to the tune of the giant talking drum (Ikoro) with the head of a qualifying enemy he disengaged in warfare. In some of these Cross River Igbo societies, the concluding rite of these years of military service is known as Igwa Mmang. The age grade now graduates and retires as reservists in the village military system until their final bowing out at the once in six years rituals of Igba Uche. It is from the members of this age grade that the village co-opts troop leaders to loan or hire out to other towns or villages engaged in warfare. During such expeditionary engagements, the leaders recruit from the 30-36 age graders such as would want to cut their teeth early in external warfare. With the system still very much in vogue but in a greatly modified form in conformity with changed societal circumstances, we have also relied on it in our dating of Ozim Nnubi (Ozim Nubi) the lead commander in the Igbo-Ibibio war of c1534 and Akuma Nnubi (Akuma Nubi) his sibling and lieutenant, as well as those of other notable Aro citizens
mentioned in this presentation.
by Professor Chris Aniche Okorafor
Those interested in reading the full article should consult Vol. 1 of Aro News Book Series titled Perspectives on Aro History & Civilization: The Splendour of a great past by Mazi Azubike Okoro and Mazi Ben Ezumah available globally at www.amazon.com or www.itunes.com