This booklet contains a brief history of Nteje people in Anambra Local Government Area of Anambra State, Nigeria, between 1891 and 1980. It is entirely the work of Rev. Anayo M. Akwue which combines the history of the town with the growth of Christianity at Nteje.
The booklet contains the highlights of successes and failures of our people of great interest to the entire Nteje Community and even the general reader. It analyses the root causes of the successes and failures in the past endeavors of our people. It further provides a store of information of various inquiries which most people of the town are in quest of.
Our leaders and the led have much to learn from facts contained in this booklet and to them it is a treasure. I sincerely recommend it to every inhabitant of Nteje and even to the general reader.
MR. J.I. OREGBUNAM.
This booklet is a first attempt to provide a written history of Nteje and her people especially with regard to the town’s first contact with the Europeans. Nteje is a town in Oyi (formerly Anambra) Local Government Area of Anambra State of Nigeria.
A proud but hardworking and successful agricultural people, the people of Nteje resisted anything that would disturb their traditional set-up. As a result of one of their inter-village war with the people of the Awkuzu, they were invaded by the Adas (a group of blood-thirsty mercenaries hired out by Awkuzu against Nteje in 1891). The people of the Nteje not only successfully resisted the Adas but also staged retaliation by calling in the soldiers of the Royal Niger Company against the Awkuzu in 1894. This was the first contact of Nteje with the Europeans.
In 1906, the white missionaries came to the town and they were welcomed at first. But when however the missionaries showed absolute disregard for their beliefs and their sacred institutions, the people withdrew from the church and school. Little did they know they were denying themselves the benefits of an early association with missionaries. This action was to have adverse effects on the overall development of the town.
Since the missionaries abandoned the town in 1924 there has been much talk as to whether a curse was pronounced on the town by the missionaries. This prompted an attempt to survey the social, political, religious, and economic life of the people over the years. From this survey, one discovers that the forces militating against rapid progress originate from the people themselves rather than coming from outside. The last chapter tries to discuss chances of a greater tomorrow, making use of all the available resources.
Most of the facts contained in this booklet are derived from oral literature as little or no written history of the town and her people exists. As a pioneer effort, this history is not exhaustive and it is hoped that other interested historians will either improve on the work or cover other areas of the history of this town which has not been touched upon in this book.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to the following elders: the late Mazi Igwebuike, Mazi Lawrence Ikelionwu Udogwu, Mazi Louis Akom Oraveh (Late), Chief Daniel Akweze Chief R. Isidienu. To mention but a few, for supplying most of the information contained in this booklet. My profound gratitude also goes to: Barrister and Mrs. Amasiani, Mr. & Mrs. A. O. Amasiani, Mr. & Mrs. J. I. Oregbunem, Mr. & Mrs. S. N. Aniga and Mr. Emma Okafor for making time to read and correct my manuscript. My immense gratitude also goes to Mr. & Mrs. P. A. Ozuah, Mr. & Mrs. J. I. Oregbunem for their financial support while I was carrying out this work. Last but not least, I am most grateful to Rev. Fr. Jordan whose book “BISHOP SHANAHAN OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA”inspired me to write this book.
REV. ANAYO M. AKWUE
CHAPTER ONE NTEJE - A GEOGRAPHICAL SURVEY
Nteje is a town in what is today known as Oyi Local Government Area - formerly Anambra Division of Anambra State Nigeria. It is situated about 15 kilometers northeast of Onitsha by land route. The town is within 6.14΄ North latitude and 6.45΄ east longitude. The land is fairly low approximately 500 feet above sea level.
The climate is fairly hot, the hottest days being in February and March, the coldest days are in the dry harmattan month of December, and the coolest are in the rainy months of June, July and September. There is little break in July or August, corresponding to what is known as the August Break according to western calculations.
It has a river, called OYI, which almost semi-circles towards its northern boundaries and a number of streams and lakes. The more prominent ones are the KPOKILI, NENGO, OBOKO, in the Ifite area of the town, ADU, IMO, in the Ikenga area, and EJIROATO, MGBANENU in the Ezi area of the town. The vegetation is not so thick except along the banks of the waters. Among the trees commonly found Iroko, Oil palm, Raffia palm, Deleb and Bamboo. These supply the timber for building fuel. Most of its area consists of farm lands abounding in coarse grass. Fairly widely spread over the vegetation are such common games as bulls, antelopes, gazelles, cutting grass, bush rats, wild cats, snakes of various sizes and breeds, squirrels, monkeys, and birds such as weavers, guinea-fowls, wood doves, herons, owls and bats, among others. The river, streams and lakes teem in fishes. Among the unwelcome inhabitants are snakes, scorpions, tse-tse and land flies.
The soil is naturally fertile. Consequently, the people of Nteje have farming as their chief occupation. Among the chief crops are yams of various sizes and kinds, rice, cassava, coco-yams, corn, and fruits of varied types. Recently, Nteje has become home of Garri production. The people also engage in animal husbandry. Besides farming, the people of Nteje also engage in hunting, fishing, and carving as part-time means of livelihood. It was not until recently that as a result of the advent of western civilization many people taken to western education, white shirt and other allied western oriented jobs. For instance, many people have recently migrated to the township where they take to business enterprises and artisanship.
The people of Nteje build large oblong houses with four-corner roofs built of grass or raffia mats, as the case may be. Another type of building common in the town is the “OKWU”, a round hut usually windowless to keep of mosquitoes and ensure sufficient warmth during cold months.
A compound is generally large, many a time walled round with buildings spaced out in such a way that some sort of square or playing ground emerges at the centre. These traditional styled buildings are however fast giving way to ultra-modern and sophisticated western styled houses.
The social, religious and economic life of the people will be dealt with later in this book in greater deal. Meanwhile, it suffices to mention to mention a few points, by way of introduction. The style of dressing is undergoing a rapid change. The time-honored custom whereby boys and girls went nude till their puberty does no longer obtain. The tying of long pieces of cloth or rolled wrappers around the waist (IWA OGODU), by young men is still practiced monumentally during funeral occasions of people of same age-grade. The western style of clothing has become the order of the day. However, the old men, the chiefs and title holders have long flowing robes and costly wrappers for their traditional dress. Among men, holders of title carry, in addition to their dress, gorgeously carved seats (OCHE NDI NZE), richly stuffed cow and horse tails and elephant tusks according to one’s rank in the title system. Among the woman, elephant tusk are carved to fit their feet (but nowadays specially designed brass chains have replaced the “ODU”), as a distinguished mark of those who have reached the “IYOM” or the highest in the system. They also carry specially carved seats and richly stuffed animal tails.
Since the Nigerian civil war (1967— 1970), the claim that Nteje is one of the greatest producers of yams, cassava and rice in Igboland has proved a fact, widely accepted by all who have visited the town and its markets. Not only did many refugees flock to the town and its farms for food during and after the war, but also till today, the two main markets—EKE and AFOR, are visited by anything thirty to seventy lorries and people visit the markets from as far away as forty miles or more from neighboring towns and villages. Due to the abundance of cassava, the people of Nteje, and especially their woman have recently embarked on large-scale production of garri. Many people have recently taken to pretty trading as a result of which manufactured goods including various items of clothing are also found in the markets.
Nteje is a town with a population of about fifteen thousand — mainly indigens. However, with the recent opening of a Boys’ and a Girls’ secondary schools a weaving industry, and the gowth of the markets, the population is becoming mixed. The town consists of three quarters namely: EZI, IKEGA, and IFITE, corresponding to the names of the three sons of Nteje, the founder of the town.
The OYEAGU — OTUOCHA Road through Ifite-Ukpo and Awkuzu, and another road through Ogbunike and Umunya are the major roads which provide easy acess to the town by land from Enugu and Onitsha respectively.
CHAPTER TWO NTEJE IN ANAMBRA DIVISION
Nteje is a town in Anambra Division oaf Anambra State of Nigeria. To many people from other parts of Igboland, Anambra Division is viewed as a town or at least a group of towns living together and sharing common features. This is justified by the fact that the people’s way of life: — their friendliness, hospitality, open mindedness and spontaneity, in welcoming and caring for visitors stand out in Igboland. Nevertheless, within this group, different towns and villages trace their origins to various sources. Traditions as to who came from where are many, varied and many a time conflicting. What is outlined here corresponds to some of the more popular traditions.
Anambra Community as we know it today consists of two main blocks called “UMU IGUEDO” and “UMU ERI”. One tradition has it that Umu Iguedo (Ogbunike, Umunya, Awkkuzu, Umuleri, Ado and Nando) are the children of a woman call Iguedo. Iguedo herself was married to one man called Unamenyi who was a son of Nri. His wife bore him those six children. Ado was a daugyhter who was a daughter who was later married to a man called Aloli (probably the father of part of Onitsha called “UMU AROLI”). Iguedo lived with her last born, Nando, till her death. She was highly influential woman and the children came to be known by her name instead of “UMU UNAMENYI” — Unamenyi being their fater. Another tradition has it that Iguedo was an influential woman from Onitsha or Asaba. She had extensive treks and married to various people to whom she variously bore Ogbunike, Umunya, Awkkuzu, Umuleri, Ado and Nando —.
The other block consists of Aguleri; Igboariam (Onogu), Nteje and Nsugbe (with their brother AManuke in Njikoka Local Government Area). This group traces their origin directly to Igala. According to one tradition, a certain Igala warrior called ERI was their father. Like their father the children of ERI grew up all warriors and war leaders, leading their people on various occasions on war expeditions. One of these expeditions was that of ONOJA, the son of OBONI (popularly known in Nteje traditions as “AGHA ONOJA NWA OBOLI”). This campaign took place about five centuries ago. It is not known who were parties to the encounter but it was a great battle which involved different groups led by the sons of Eri. These sons of Eri eventually won the war and instead of returning home to Igala, they looked for settlements at places which eventually became towns of Aguleri, Nteje, Nsugbe, Igboariam, and Amanuke. Nsugbe formerly settled over the northern side of the Anambra River but later migrated to their present home. The people therefore still own farm lands and fishing ponds in their former settlement. 1
Another tradition says that Eri (generally recognized as a great warrior) from Igala led a war expedition down the area in discussion and began a settlement through getting many tenants and slaves of both men and women
Nteje soon became very friendly with Dunu and eventually married Dunu's daughter who later birth to three sons; -EZI, IKENGA and IFITE. As a warrior, Nteje increased his sentiment with captives from occasional neighbour-raids. Though he soon overshadowed Dunu, Nteje always shared Dunu's company and the family of Ezi, Nteje's eldest soon later incorporated Dunu's children - EZIOYE and UMUEFi into it. Thus, Ezi Nteje which consists of Umuefi, Ezioye, Amadiaba, Ubili, Umuanunwa, Egbengwu, Amupa and Iruoyim, is the head of the three quarters which make up Nteje town today.
Umuefi as the first son of Dunu hosts the goddess, Earth (Ana Nteje). OMELEGUDE, being the family god of Umuefi is the head of all the family gods in the town apart from 'Ana and Ajana' which are owned together. From Umuanunwa, Nnebisis, the founder of modern Asaba migrated and from Egbengwu a section of Nimo called Egbengwu Nimo migrated.
The second son of Nteje is Ikenga who either gave birth to or hosted Achalla, Umuazu and Ikenga. Umuazu traditions trace their origins to Agulu in Njikoka Local Government of Anambra State.
The third son of Nteje (and his last born) is Ifite. Ifite also either gave birth to or hosted Agwa, Orukabi, Akamanato, Amansi, and Umuejiofor. A section of Amansi called Ezize migrated from Nnadi, a small town near Nsugbe. Another section, called Iruatu claims relationships with Nneyi in Umuleri. Umuejiofor traditions trace their founder to a man from Emulu, Ishan in Bendel State. The man, Ejimofor (hand hence Umuejiofor Emule) was a native doctor who in one of his treks came to settle in Umuejiofor after marrying a woman from Amakpu-Agwa. A native doctor from Umuejiofor also went on a trek and subsequently founded a section of Abagana called UMUDINI.
There are a host of other traditions as regards origins. And there is no doubt that many of those traditions not mentioned here may be conflicting with these ones and even at time may be more accurate than what is given here. It is only hoped that this will inspire a more elaborate research work on this topic. Meanwhile, one would regard the foregoing as some sort of pre-history which is most likely to be useful as a background to the understanding of the actual history of Nteje which shortly follows.
Chapter III THE ADA WAR AND THE COMING OF THE MISSIONARIES The beginning of the history of Nteje goes back to some time in the late 16th or early 17th century when Nteje, the founder of the town first established his sentiment. But due to lack of necessary facilities and therefore, fairly accurate information, it is not possible for this work to discuss effectively the period immediately following the foundation of the town. It has however been possible to obtain information based on historical facts and events in the life of the town in the most recent periods. It is from this point of view that the Ada event and one of its side effects - the coming of the Missionaries (1891-1912) are taken as the starting point of effective discussion in this book.
The year 1891 is a year of interest to a historian in the sense that the year witnessed the invasion of the Adas, an episode which subsequently ushered in a chair of events that culminated in the invitation of the Europeans to the town and consequent embracing of western education by town in 1906. It is a good starting point in the sense that most of the narratives recorded in this work were related by people who were eye-witnesses to the events concerned. Most of the stories however appear without dates and sometimes wrongly dated, but the reader must bear in mind three points: (a) there was no formal education at the time of the most of these events, (b) those who were witnesses to these events never anticipated any value in keeping accurate records of the events, (c) Nevertheless, the stories are based on historical facts and events whose lessons to future generations are certainly more important than their accurate details.
The invasion of the Adas and their encounter with the people with the people of the Nteje is still something indelible in the history of the town. The Adas were a group of blood-thirsty mercenaries hired by the people of Awkuzu against Nteje in one of the inter-village wars. Whatever were the grievances of Awkuzu people at the time, the fact is that inter-village wars were a commonplace in those days and they are today a thing of the past. For one thing, Nteje in those days was invincible in wars and when Awkuzu could not face Nteje in this battle encounter, the Adas were hired out to fight on behalf of Awkuzu. This was an awful experience for the Adas because of the number that took part in this campaign, none escaped to tell the story of what happened to his brother at Nteje. They had mercilessly charged on the people of Nteje, killed many one them and attempted taking some home as captives and booty. But no sooner did Nteje recover from the confusion of the unexpected swoop. Than the Adas were rounded up, liquidated and the straying ones combed out and finished.
On the other hand, the price was high. Some families were utterly dismembered and others almost completely wiped out. In one of the hamlets UMUANUGWA (Akamanato, Ifite Nteje), the following names reflected the effects of the Adas in the inhuman and brutal warfare:
AGHAMELUM: i.e. the war is responsible for my present condition.
AKPO: i.e. the war swept our population.
OMEAZU (OMENAZU NNAYA) i.e. the name given to a child whose mother was at her gestation period when the father was killed in the war., As such, his birth was posthumous.
All these names mentioned above belonged to the OGBO ADA age grade and they are all dead.
MOCHAA, the father of NWUVA (the latter still alive at the time of writing), tracked out and killed the very Ada who killed his wife. For this heroic act, he was nicknamed: OMELU ONYE MELUYA” i.e. the avenger.
AFAM EFUNE ANYAKORA of UMUEJIOFOR, was a child at the time and so handsome that an Ada attemted taking him home as a booty. He was lated popularly known as “OKONKWO NWAMMA BALU NA IFE” i.e. the man whose beauty was particularly useful-saved him.
But for the modern mind both in Awkuzu and Nteje the story of th Adas is not regarded important in itself. What followed that raid was by far more important from the point of view of the value of history. It was in retaliation to the Ada swoop that Nt people called the soldiers of the Royal Niger Company against Awkuzu in 1894. This was to register a favorable side effect on Nteje people eventually. In 1912 the “OYIBO” ( as the soldiers wer popularly known at the time) summoned both Ntehe and Awkuzu for reconciliation and cessation of hostilities. Both towns met at the IGUEDO and not only agreed to but also actually carried out an operation known till today as NTIJIEGBE- the breaking of guns. All the guns in both Awkuzu and Nteje were broken and burnt as a result of this agreement. This not only marked the end of hostilities but also the beginning of a bond of friendship which existed, and still exists between Awkuzu and Nteje today.
For Nteje, this marked the embracing of the western civilization and education. Today, almost all the members of the “OGBO OYIBO” (an age-grade born about 1893-1895) still recall their experiences with Europeans and attempts to read and write.
THE MISSIONARY ENTERPRISE IN NTEJE
Just before the NTIJU EGBE in 1912, the Catholic missionaries were already in Nteje, and in factm were already building schools. The first missionaries arrived in Onitsha on December the 5th 1885, led by Rev. Father J. Lutz. They opened a mission there in April, 1886. From Onitsha, they reached Nsugbe later in the same year but found no abode and so passed on to Augleri. At Aguleri, stories had it that Chief Idigo of Aguleri was afraid of the missionaries because they did not seem to be human beings. Since they covered their feet with boots he assumed that they had no toes and very unlikely to be human beings.
Chief Idigo was therefore determined to get rid of the white men but he could no do that alone. He therefore summoned his contemporary heroes namely: Nwasike Oguno of Nteje and Ejimofor Onyivi of Umuleri to join hands with him in the exercise. But before carrying out the operation, Chief Idigo wanted to hear from the white men first. And when he discovered that the whitemen were preachers of the word of God, he pleaded with Nwasike and Ejimofor to allow these whitemen to settle among the people and tell them more about God. But Nwasike and Ejimofor were annoyed with Chief Idigo, the latter had deceived them. They therefore left Chief Idigo with the white men and went home disappointed. The chief then offered the missionaries the site for their church and school. They settled in Aguleri and opened their mission in 1886. In 1888, the missionaries opened a mission at Nkwelle Ezunaka. This task of evangelization continued from Onitisha was undertaken by Rev Father J. Lutz who was accompanied by Rev. Brother John and Hermas. Meanwhile, the mission at Aguleri became the first Igbo traditional ruler to renounce his pagan beliefs and be baptized into the Christian faith by Fr. Lutz himself. At this time there were already two more priests in addition to Fr. Lutz., stationed in Aguleri.
From Aguleri, Fr. Lutz visited Nteje for the first time in 1891, during the Ada raid. But apparently the people of Nteje were too deeply preoccupied with the Ada encounter that they had no time for a preacher. He therefore did not found any mission in Nteje at this time. He himself died in 1895.
In January 1906, Rev. Fathers Vogler and Duhaze embarked on an extensive expolartion of the Igbo hinterland. The visit of Fr. Lutz in 1891 had left a lasting memory of themissionaries among the people of Nteje, and ther had been since a number of talksin the town on how to get them to settle in Nteje. The great trek into the Igbo hinterland was therefore an opportunity for the people of Nteje to invite the missionaries to the town. The initiative was taken by Chiefs Okika and Okomma ( both of Umuazu). Among the reasons for inviting the missionsries to Nteje by Chief Okika and his friend were: (a) to stay at Nteje and protect the town in case of any other inter-village war, similar to that of Awkuzu and Ada. It may be noted in passing that at this time the people knew no difference between Rev. Fathers and other Europeans such as the soldiers of the Royal Niger Company (b) to occupy the preent mission premises which was formerly occupied by Achalla people ( a quarter in Ikenga Nteje). The fathers were to expel Achalla people, and subsequently act as the protectors of Umuazu against Achalla people.
The fathers happily accepted Chief Okika’s invitation and the terms of agreement. With the help of Brother Hermas, a school was erected at Umuazu. The school was officially opened by Bishop Shanahan on the 24th of March, 1906. A few weeks later, the school was followed by the completion of a building which was to be used as the Father’s residence. Meanwhile, Father V. Duhaze was not permanently residing in Nteje. It was not until 1907 that Fr. Douvry was sent to Nteje as the first resident and parish priest.
The mission was no doubt a hughe success from the very start. Father Jordan in his book “BISHOP SHANAHAN OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA” WRITES: “… but from 1907 to 1919, the residential station of Nteje was the power-house of Faith.” The truth of this statement is borne ou by several facts: (a) FAthaer Joseph Delany is quoted in the above work as having said: “At the time of which I write, (1912), I was stationed in Nteje… Our mission was in a flourishing condition, and neighboring chiefs were continually asking us to come and make arrangements for starting a church and school in their respective towns.” It was from Nteje that he, Fr. Joe Delany, went to open a school at Nimo in the same year, 1912, for the first time. (b) By 1912, the number of the mission boys and the different towns from which they recruited also reflected the extent to which the station had grown. For instance, there were about twelve of them at the time namely:-Paul Ekwemalor, Augustine Okoye and Henry Akwanya from Nteje, Thomas Emeh, Philip Obiakor and Patrick Igwebuike from Awkuzu, Pantaleon Ndubuisi and Nwokoye Mmuo from Enugu Agidi, George Mgbataogu, Michael Ifitezue and Vincent Onwunili, from Umunya, George emeneogha from Nando, and finally Julius Oriji from Agu-ukwu. (c) By 1918, there were altogether nine mission stations in the whole of the then Eastern Nigeria ( all under the Prefecture of the lower Niger, erected in 1889 with Onitisha as the headquarters). Six of these stations were considered very important by the missionaries and Nteje was one of the six, having over 43 sub-stations at the time*. (d) By 1912, Nteje had produced school teachers such as Messrs. Daniel Akweze, Joseph Okafor and Louis Nwakalor, to mention only this few.
One cannot but begin to wonder why a town such as Nteje is not mentioned so often as the cradle of western civilization in the Eastern Nigeria. In fact, it was not until 1977 that the first indigenous Rev. Father was ordained in the tow. But one might as well ask how the missionaries laid the foundation of Christianity in the town. This may answer many questions though far from answering all the questions.
In the first place, when the missionaries were invited and shown their residence near Umuazu, the rest of the town termed it an Umauzu affair- “ OYIBO UMUAZU” and not many people took it seriously. It was therefore not until 1911, when Igwe Okuefune took an active interest in the affair that a considerable progress began to be registered. Okuefune made it compulsory for every child within the age limit of “OFULUKA” age-grade to attend school under pain of heavy penalty. The penalty took the form of either the parents of the paying a fine of one Pound ten Shilling