Reawakening the Aro Essence

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Mazi Emma Kanu Ivi

This paper was prepared for the recent All Aro USA (AAUSA) Convention held in LA California on May 24, 2019. Time did not permit its full delivery at the convention.

Let me start by thanking leaders of All Aro USA (AAUSA), the organizers of this convention for inviting me through your President, Frank Agodi, to speak on this interesting topic: Reawakening the Aro Essence. We shall start our discussion by trying to describe what Aro Essence reallymeans. Aro Essence may be defined as a combination of all those unique things that Aros are known for (ihe eji mara Aro). It is an embodiment of Aro spirit; the fundamental distinctive way of life of Aro people which, among other things, may include those essential natural characteristics that tend to distinguish ndi Aro from other people and which help determine their unique identity. It may also include those vital spiritual properties that ndi Aro are known for and by which they are called umu Chukwu, and their native land, Arochukwu. It is a sum of various distinctive qualities which ndi Aro carry along and exhibit wherever they go. It includes their culture, special attributes, wisdom, character, and tactical diplomacy that help make them attractive to many but sometimes make them to be envied by some few others. Aro Essence really finds true meaning in who we (ndi Aro) are and what we have that make us the Aro we are. Two Aro philosophical mantras are important here: (i) “Nwa Aro icho, Nkpola icho” and (ii) “Ako bu ije”. These are two in one Aro noble compass that helps in shaping and directing the Aro way of life. While “Nkpola icho, Nwa Aro icho” essentially acts as a vital character molding principle that shapes the way ndi Aro behave in all circumstances, “Ako bu ije” mantra guides them in making certain decisions and the actions they take in various difficult situations. Wisdom becomes very paramount to them.

Reawakening the Aro essence is therefore a self-awareness clarion call on ndi Aro to pay special attention to who they are and what they have. It is a call on them to rise up to the responsibility of projecting and protecting themselves including Aro interests at all times, no matter where they may be. Aro interests really mean the interests of Aro as a people, their businesses, their communities, their culture, their language and identity, etc. The call is to reawaken those Aro virtues and ethos that make other people respect ndi Aro. It is a call to reactivate those things that bind us (umu Aro) together as a people and make us our brothers’ keeper. It is a call on us to reactivate those qualities that inspire us to dare and succeed where others fear to dare and fail, to remind us to always remember the Aro value system that makes us value character and honor above riches and wealth. It is a call on us to become good ambassadors of Arochukwu kingdom wherever we are. Let me now affirm that I am also an Aro and as such may be using the words we, us, our” in place of “ndi Aro or umu Aro”as we discuss here. We are all involved in this call to reawaken the Aro spirit in us such that we will always develop interest in projecting and promoting our Aro nation to the standard and level we shall be proud of it and in tandem with our rich history, good culture and modern civilization.

Our historic origin and who we are

There is no absolute end to the arguments of various claims of historic origin of any set of people including ndi Aro. As new ideas, knowledge and revelations continue to evolve, different opinions continue to emerge on Aro origin. As for me, I firmly maintain that ndi Aro as well as ndi Igbo have a Hebrew origin. We are descendants of Gad, one of the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel), who also was a descendant of Isaac and Abraham. Gad had seven sons including Eri the 5th, Arodi the 6th and Ereli the 7th, (See Genesis 46: 16, 26-27). All these were part of the 70 Hebrews of many centuries before Christ that left Beersheba for Egypt to dwell with Joseph their brother who they had earlier sold into slavery. But Joseph later rose to become second in command to king Pharaoh of Egypt. Eri, Arodi and Ereli were close to each other. But Arodi who was the most daring of the three decided to take these his two brothers along with some other strong men and women they had added to their stock for a long journey of faith out of Egypt in search of a new and better place where they could settle, prosper, and continue to worship the almighty God of Abraham. They traveled through many nations and deserts for several decades until they got to this part of the world where they chose to settle. They briefly settled in Igala area of the present Middle Belt of Nigeria. They later left some people there and continued their historic journey southwards until they got to the place where Eri and Ereli chose to settle and they called that place Aguleri (the abode of Eri and Ereli). Eri moved and settled at Nri. Both expanded further and populated almost the entire present Northern Igbo areas. Meanwhile Arodi continued his journey further southwards with some of his people until they got to a place he finally settled. He named the place after himself Arodi and added the name “Chiukwu Abiama” (the almighty God of Abraham) to it. Hence the full name of the final abode of Arodi became Arodi Chiukwu Abiama. But the name had been shortened over the years to now read Arochukwu. And the people have ever since been known as umu Chukwu or umu Aro. That is exactly who we (ndi Aro) really are.

Umu Aro being umu Chukwu are very spiritual and prayerful. Historically, they were not idol worshippers. They feared and worshipped the almighty God in heaven (“Obasi dina-enu”); but they tried to remember their ancestors (“ndi-Iche”). They believe that prayer (ikpe ekpere) is the same as traditional “igo ovo”. And so in their traditional prayers, “(igo’ ovo’ with kola nut or libation pouring with wine)”, ndi Aro will first call upon the almighty God in heaven (“Obasi dina enu”) before they accord any reverence to their ancestors, “Obasi dina ani” or “ndi iche”. And so whenever they pick up a kola nut to pray, you hear them say: “Obasi dina enu, bia gozie oji; Obasi dina ani, bia were’ oji’ taa”. That is: God in heaven bless this kola nut for us; our good ancestors, the saints of the land, (ndi-iche) come and eat this kola with us. Praying with kola nuts, especially in every Aro gathering, has become an essential part of our culture. In all we do, as umu Aro Chukwu Abiama, we relate with God almighty in heaven through prayers without any prejudice. The ancient Arochukwu of Arodi era had existed several decades of centuries before the present Arochukwu emerged. That ancient Arochukwu encountered many wars and conflicts before the last critical war, which was Igbo – Ibibio war of some centuries ago which gave rise to the present Arochukwu Kingdom state. This present Arochukwu nation is essentially an offshoot of the ancient Arochukwu of Arodi; but with some changes here and there. The Aro people keep traveling long distances away from their homes as their forebears Arodi did and they keep expanding from Arochukwu to other parts of Nigeria and beyond. We are seen everywhere all over the world learning, expandining, building homes and communities of successful people. We learn a lot as we travel a lot, far and wide, in search of things to improve quality of life. Ndi Aro believe: “onye njem, ka onye isi awo ivu uzo, kakwaya mmam-ihe’ puru’ iche’.” To them, he who who travels a lot knows more than he who has grey hairs but doesn’t travel out as such. We boldly carry our unique character and identity along with us everywhere we go. Naturally, we are enterprising and highly ambitious people, intelligent and influential. We are daring as our progenitors were. We dare to explore deeply where others fear to dare at all. And that was one of the reasons we were actively involved in the risky trade of human capital exchange when that was the highest global trade with the Europeans as the main lead. But we were smart enough to stop the trade when it became officially illegal. We were also bold to challenge the British colonial masters to war when they wanted to cut down our influence and impose theirs upon us and upon the people we did business with in almost the entire old Eastern region of Nigeria. It was a historic war; they call it Aro Expedition of 1901 to 1902. We call it Aro- British war. When the time for peace came, we wisely grabbed the opportunity and made peace with them. We joined them in the new business of palm produce and textiles. They saw us as astute business people and respected our enterprise and integrity. We quickly got educated in their Western education system and became successful in civilized endeavors even till date. These special attributes exhibited by the Aro as at then, are still part of the Aro Essence we must reawaken in us.

“Omu Aro” Logo is the Aro National Coat of Arms. It is a symbol of Aro unity and authority; graphically articulated in early 1900s; and officially adopted by Aro leaders around 1928. It was later designed into Indian Madras textile Joji as exclusive dressing attire for the Aro and was commercialized in about 1948. Omu Aro Joji in its original brown color is the officially approved standard color design that adds calm and beauty to Aro traditional dressing style. We should stop the color abuse that has recently befallen Omu Aro Joji. Aro men and women gorgeously wear the attire at special events to set them apart from others. Omu Aro as Aro Coat of Arms is in fact older than the Nigerian Coat of Arms which was officially adopted on 20th May, 1960. Omu Aro tells a lot of Aro story in symbolic art form diplomacy (Nsibiri) on how ndi Aro handle and manage conflicts wisely; it also bears witness of Aro wisdom and dexterity for peace making through dialogue. Confirming the saying: “ndi Aro na akpa isi okwu, wo anagi ese okwu”: Ndi Aro engage in dialogues to resolve conflicts rather than engage in prolong quarrels that may lead to hate, war and death. The gun and sword as tools of war found on the Omu Aro are indeed placed behind the logo to show that Aro may only resort to war as last option. We don’t even go to wars directly. We fight wars with a lot of diplomacy. The two open hands and a tied omu (palm fond) placed on the front of Omu Aro logo is to keep reminding us of Aro Essence in using effective communication and consultation in leadership and pursing peace through dialogues in times of conflicts. Community signboards at Aro communities bear Omu Aro Logo to project their Aro identity. But today, some Aro Diaspora Communities, for some political reasons, have dropped the practice. As part of reawakening the Aro Essence, we urge them to revert to the use of it to project their Aro identity where it is expedient. “Ako bu ije”, boldly inscribed on the Omu Aro logo is Aro motto that keeps reminding us of the Aro essence in applying wisdom and diplomacy at every critical time.

Ndi Aro are very conscious of their root. They don’t allow their dead to be buried in foreign lands. “Isi nwa Aro anagi ato na-uzo”; it is a vital Aro essence. No matter the cost, ndi Aro want to be at rest at home. We prefer to return to our homeland alive as we get older in age. And so we say: “Ma anyi anagi ngwa na anyi akpajuola, anyi ejikere una ‘maka mgbe anyi puru ije adina anya.”: If we don’t go back to our homeland because we have made it early in life, we must go back to home at a certain time in life because we have been away from homeland for quite a long time. To an Aro his homeland, whether in Aro uno or Aro uzo is usually a preferred place of his last rest. Another important Aro essence is “Nwa Aro icho, Nkponala icho” mantra which is simplified as: Honor above Riches. It is an integrity or character guiding rule we should always try to nurture to help guide our behavior towards pursuit of wealth. We believe wealth alone does not make anyone a better Aro person; but one’s good character does. Wealth without character has no value in Aro value system. Aro will always say: “Kama anyi ga eriju avo dachie’ uzo, ka’ anyi buru onu diri’ ezi ndu”. We (ndi Aro) hate pursuit of criminal wealth that could bring shame and dishonor to one’s family and community. We value good behavior more than silver and gold. But that does not mean that we don’t desire to be rich. God forbid. We all desire and aspire to be rich and wealthy. We try to do that through some honest means. Let us not be deceived by some who claim to be more Aro by mere reason of their birth by an Aro or their enormous wealth alone. It is important we emphasize here that our leaders should always examine the character of people before giving them any special Aro honors and titles such as: Ugwu Aro, Ikemba, and Adaukwu Aro. Awards of Honors in Aro nation should reflect the Aro essence and should not be based mainly on one’s wealth but on the character and quality of services the prospective awardees have rendered to the community.

Culturally ndi Aro love to mentor their own to help their people grow and excel in life. They do this through mentorship system called “izi uzo”, or “iko akpa”. It is a system whereby a successful Aro will guide some other people around him on the right way to succeed in life. It involves counseling, training, developing and equipping the mentees, especially those close to the mentor and those that are willing to serve the mentor well. Mentees may include the mentor’s own children, siblings, admirers and community relations. The Mentees are expected to show desire, willingness and patience to learn and discipline to follow the guidance of the mentor. Therefore they are required to demonstrate special virtues of integrity, loyalty and obedience to their mentors. However, the challenges today are that some of our young ones lack such virtues in them. Some of them may even want to make it bigger and faster than their expected mentors do, without their working for it. Sadly too, some of our wealthy ones these days may not want to help others by mentoring them. Such wealthy ones may either be selfish or ignorant of the blessings that come with helping others to excel. The Aro essence enshrined in “Ibe zim”, that is showing your neighbor the way is paramount in helping others to grow. This should be reawakened in us and quickly too. We should always ask ourselvesHow many other people have we been able to mentor or empower to succeed in life? The Aro essence of: “Onye ahana Nwanne ya”, and “Aku di ntutu na Ezi ozuo oha” should be encouraged. When good riches are in the hands of many people in a family or in the community, more people will benefit from it. Security will be assured. All fingers can never be equal. Naturally, some people are still bound to be bigger than others. But one big tree alone can’t make a good forest. So the more successful people we mentor and create amongst us in the family, village and community, the better we get. Helping others excel should be a good part of Aro Essence we should reawaken in us.

Some of our people today can’t speak Igbo language. And many cannot speak Igbo Aro. This failure must be changed. “Okooh” is an important Aro exclamation, known as “mkpu Aro”; it is part of our identity. Once heard from anyone, anywhere, special attention is usually paid to him as nwa Aro. Not many realize this. Speaking our Igbo language is part of the Aro essence. Every good thing that links us with Aro heritage or identifies us as umu Aro including respect to Eze Aro throne, our value system, our food or native delicacies must not be relegated to the background; we must cherish them and project them. Our traditional brand of music: “Odu Mgbede” once made popular by late Madam Mary Kanu, egwu Pericomo of Arondizuogu, Ojorima, Ojojo, Ugbani, etc and our cultural attires and dressing style which reflect who we are and where we come from should all be promoted and projected to national and international levels. The import of reawakening Aro essence is to keep reminding us of who we are and the beauty of the good things we have as a people. It is also for us to work hard to improve on them. Aro essence, like life, is not static; it is very dynamic. We should keep developing and improving them with time. We should always remember that all Aro homeland communities constitute our Aro nation. So, no matter where we are, home is home. “Ijere’ UK, ijere USA, ritakwa ibe-iza puo njem. We should also remember that wealth we make from anywhere should be made to impact positively on others and our homeland too. And that indeed is the wealth we have really made. “Aku ruru uno, bu ezi aku”. “Ako bu ije”.  Ndewo nu.

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