Nzuko Arochukwu worldwide, on 26th December 2014, surprised Aro with a rare gift: the symbol of woman Eze Aro called Queen Mgbokwo Udo Omini – Eze Aro (1799-1825). It was a wonderful reminder indeed and Aro must appreciate Nzuko for this rare thought, which led into deep research, which made it possible for Aro to revisit its history and we thank God for all the Aro Heroines in their rich history. Like I mentioned in Arondizuogu in 2000, during the All Aro National Conference of that year, when I presented a paper on the theme ‘Debris of a great past’, every family has a hero and that heroes found in each country must have manifested from his obscure family. I went further to suggest that families must endeavour to encourage or even groom their children to perform as heroes or heroines in any given generation.
Nnenne Mgbokwo Udo Omini (Eze Aro, 1799-1825) must have been compelled by Aro tradition and culture to occupy the ‘Holy throne’ when grown up and qualified men were not available. Aro elders of that period quickly found a solution in her. It happened in England when the present Queen Elizabeth occupied the throne of England just as Queen Elizabeth 1 and Queen Victoria before her. Were it now, some Aro would have gone to court – after using damaging propaganda – to contest it, to Aro ruin. Let us learn to practices traditions that make for orderly programmes and stability. I remember that the lawyers and even the judge at Ohafia High Court listened with admiration when the defending counsel in the Eze Aro tussle case included this in his defense (1988-31-5-1995). Greatness does not always come by useless violent disputes and noise, but by calculated careful plans of devoted and dedicated citizens of a country or kingdom, such as Arochukwu – particularly then!
In this article, I will attempt to mention a few other heroines and through them, illustrate that from time immemorial, Aro have always loved their women and valued them at all times and in all places. Without them, it would be futile to plan for the future, which was why in those days, families with more men than women either bought slave girls or did allow their few girls to live in their families even after their parents had performed their wedding ceremonies. This is one of the occasions ‘when Uzi is allowed’. As we were growing up, we were told that after the British-Arochukwu war of 1901-1902, the British believed that majority males in Arochukwu were slaves. They decided to ask most males to return to their original homes. The exercise was so serious that most males left here into hiding in such places as the plantation in Ito, Abam, Ohafia, Ihechiowa, Isu and in the Diaspora, such as Arondizuogu, Ajalli, Afikpo, Ohuhu, Abakaliki, Ovim, Ahaba, and Ngwa, Enugu and Anambra territories. Some went beyond Igbo boundaries to Akwa Ibom and Cross River states. The women ably kept the homes and refused to disclose the hiding places of the men. My father told me that the heroine in their family was Ma Onyealu Abaa- Nnenne Oyiri Abaa, who kept Ndi Ukpabi Eze Obin in Eziukwu Agbagwu for us. He further told me that often, she toured such hiding places as Nunya, Ohuhu, Edda, Ezinnachi, Afikpo and brought daughters of her relations to Arochukwu and gave them out in marriage. Today we are proud people whose female relations and their families are found in most villages in Arochukwu.
It took some time for ruling colonial British people to relax their pressure on Arochukwu population. We must be grateful to the missionaries, the few colonial officers, who agreed with church plans, Dr. Alvan A. Ikoku; Mazi T.K. Utchay and Rev. Nwamba Inyama Obinanwe who started primary schools in Arochukwu where even those in hiding sent their children to acquire education.
Incidentally too, these children lived with the female relations of their parents. That was how, gradually, male teachers and pupils ‘refilled’ Arochukwu. If you listen carefully when Aro are singing, they would often mention Aro heroes and heroines – Ma Mgbokwo Okicho as an example. She was said to have mobilized Aro women, who supplied stones to Aro soldiers during the Arochukwu-Ibibio war. She too made sure that food was available for the soldiers and the needy. She was born at Ndi Otuu compound in Obinkita and married at Ndike Ibom Etiti. How I wish her descendants will surface so that Aro assesses and appreciates them. It is alleged that she was the first Aro woman whose funeral ceremony was like that of ‘Oke Ndi Ikom’ (great men) accompanied by Igeri, which was seen again in 1987, when the former Eze Aro, the late Mazi Kanu Oji (CFR).
Two daughters namely Mgbocha and Mgbeke were also born in Ndi Otuu, Utughiyi Obinkita. Brought up in real Aro traditional way by their parents and prepared also to perform as dedicated house wives, Mgbocha was married at Ugwuakuma and Mgbeke at Atani Agbor. As heroines, because they were real ‘Oso di eje ogu’ (husband’s supporter) both made it in their husbands’ places. At Ugwuakuma, Mgbocha had Onoh, Omerekwa and Ulu. Today, her tribe is a full compound of 13 in Ugwuakuma. They are one of the families that produce Ezeogo/Ezeotusi Ugwuakuma/Arochukwu respectively. It was at the crowning of their son, Mazi Ulu Oji Senior, that the eclipse of the sun – 20/5/1947 took place. Hard working planners and administrators like their mother, they founded Ewe town and Azu Anyim, the Omon side of the Cross River and joined Ndi Anicho, Ndi Okoro and Orira to found the great Ugwuakuma settlement, which was disturbed during the Nigerian civil war. Just as England expected every English person to do his/her duty (1939-1945); so Aro expect Ndi Onoh, Ndi Omerekwa and Ndi Ulu ‘Mgbocha’ of Ugwuakuma to continue to do their duties, for Aro to admire. Ndi Onoh Mgbocha Hall still stands today in Ugwuakuma.
Ma Mgbeke performed well at Atani Agbor, no wonder that, according to Aro tradition, we have a successful family known as ‘Ndi Okoro Mgbeke’. Aro are proud of them because most of their descendants promote Aro matters everywhere and at all times. In those days, Arochukwu Development Union, Port Harcourt branch did not do much until the Diobu branch was inaugurated. Those of us who attended Aro conferences at Diobu used to hear during donations ‘Ochonma No. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc donating huge sums of money. Late Mazi B. Obasi Ochonma and his father were their leaders, and Mazi B.O. Ochonma also lead Atani well, that they called him ‘Isi Engine’. Only a few people remember that it was through him and late Sir Alex Onyeador that the Shell BP relocated to Port Harcourt, to the benefit of most Aro.
Mazi Chris Ukpabi, De Nwamuo Echemazu, the Ohuabunwas, Mazi Nnadozie, Mazi Kanu Isoka, Mazi I.K. Onu, Mazi E. A.C Orji, Mazi Aka, the Ukpabi Ukpabi lawyer at Enugu and others are some great descendants of ‘Mgbeke’ also known as Ndi Okoro Mgbeke/Igburukwu family. Maybe one day, the descendants from Atani Agbor and Ndi Mgbocha Ugwuakuma will pay a courtesy visit to Ndi Otuu Obinkita, to show appreciation that their maternal grand fathers had God’s favour, through the upbringing of Daa Mgbocha and Da Mgbeke.
Fancy that most Aro women refuse to give such family names as Mgbocha and Mgbeke as if they are evil. These two women did their duties well and we use these ancient names to trace easily, to which families’ people belong. Foreign names could not help us. Such other names like Okoro Avigbo and Ndi Udumma of Amuvi and the great Ndi Ijoma Ebulu of Amannagwu confirm the statement.
In recent times, we had women who joined the missionaries to work for the progress of Arochukwu. Nnenne Mgbafor Eni of Amannagwu was employed by the Church of Scotland Mission to use the PCN Church present Manse at Amannagwu for the care of twin children and orphans. Then Ma Rebecca Ngugbo Okwara of Eziogo Amannagwu majored as a teacher, as she was employed by the missionaries at Slessor School, Arochukwu, to bring up girls to value education and homes. She was popular in Arochukwu because of her organizational ability, particularly as she encouraged Aro women not to drop good traditional matters, including marriage and childhood practices of Ide nkasi ali and Uri (non-indelible body tatoos). Fortunately, she was the mother of Elder Ezinne, Mrs. Maria Emmanuel Ochiabuto Achinivu, who on her own right was leader of Nzuko Aro (Women’s wing) for many years, including teaching, ownership of primary and secondary schools in Aba. We also know her to have led women of the Presbyterian and protestant Churches in Nigeria. We have many young Aro women who have followed her footsteps educationally, all of them copy the examples set by Ma Mrs. Ijeukwu H.N. Udoh (nee Ogwuma) of Ndi Owuu, Ibom, who taught in many government schools and produced the first Igbo Premier the Nigeria government used for primary schools before 1960.
Aro women are great peace makers and they easily rise to reconcile and settle conflicts in Arochukwu. They know how to use even their sons to good effect at any time. Between 1946-1947, Arochukwu faced crisis arising from stipends being paid to the Eze Aro and Eze Ibom by the Native Authority administration.
Unnecessary bitterness ensued, to the extent that the lineage of Okennachi and Ibom Isii were to be drawn into an open battle field. Men were nearly getting ready to take sides. Women quickly rallied themselves and called on Elder Mazi Emmanuel Useze Oti, the then headmaster of the Church of Scotland Mission School, Obinkita, to write a well worded petition to the District Officer at Barracks, Arochukwu, asking him not to stop the stipend (ten shillings) being paid to Eze Ibom, Mazi Kanu Okereke, which the Native Authority administration planned to stop, as a result of lack of funds. Each of the 19 villages signed the petition. I saw a copy of the letter recently, and it was Daa Nnuola Oji that represented Agbagwu.
During the Nigeria war, while educated women like Elder Mrs. Eme Nwakanma Okoro, Lady Beatrice Onyeador, Mrs. Florence Ezuma Ngwu, Mrs. Phoebe Igboko, Mrs. Nnennaya Injama, Mrs. Cordelia Enyinnaya Nkemdirim, Mrs. Ola Mbonu(nee Otusi Okoro), Elder E.E. Ehi, Mrs. Mgbafor Bassey, Mrs. Nnennaya P.M. Igboko, Elder Mrs. M.M. Onoh, and others were actively seeing to the care of Kwashiorkor patients of children and adults, other elderly Aro women like Ma Mgboro Iroka of Ujari, Ma Grace Ojukwu of Agbagwu, Ma Nwannediya Kanno of Amannagwu, Ma Nwamuo Onwuchekwa of Obnkita and others organized Aro women for regular prayers and food for Kwashiorkor kitchens and the army. It was pleasant as the women never allowed friction to take place. Their children supplied water to soldiers too. Women are great achievers; we cannot easily ignore or attempt to do many things without them.
Nowadays, we have taken note of Aro women professors in all departments of endeavour. Teachers confirm that girl children are more serious with their studies than boys. Some parents are now paying special attention to the upbringing of the girls, because a lot of homes have received benefits from Umu Ada Aro than some of the men, just as our fore fathers did, that brought up Mgbocha and Mgbeke of their time.
Let the boys rethink and let Aro remain bent on giving value to their women as the latter too must give respect and support to men, when they are derailing. Inyom Aro not ‘Ada dapia ulo’ have great value and we must, like King Lemuel in Proverbs Chapter 31, honour them by allowing them to remain so, at all times since civilization and Christianity do not condemn the act.
– Written by Elder Isaac Onoh Ezeogo X111, Agbagwu village, Arochukwu