Obinna Odogwu, Awka
On February 15, 2020, all roads led to Nri ancient kingdom in Anaocha Local Government Area of Anambra State for the 1,021st Igu Aro Ndigbo, which held in the community.
Igu Aro is a ritual held annually for the proclamation of the Igbo lunar calendar, which signifies the commencement of the New Year for Igbo people all over the world. The proclamation ushers in the beginning of the planting season for the year.
This year’s event was almost marred by the squabble between the regent and some traditionalists over who was the proper person to perform the annual ritual.
Igbo Lunar Calendar, which commences in February, has 13 months, unlike the Gregorian version that has 12 months, with January as its first month. The Igbo lunar month has 28 days; and four days make a week, unlike the English week that has seven days.
Each day in the Igbo week called Izu is a market day, namely, Eke, Oye, Afo and Nkwo. Seven weeks make a month in the Igbo calendar, unlike Gregorian’s four weeks.
During the Igu Aro ritual in the community, the Eze Nri makes predictions for the New Year and what the weather holds for its farming season. He also distributes yam seedlings to heads of communities that gathered for the ritual and charges them to plant, harvest and feed their families and kindred.
The monarch, at the ritual ground, blesses the new year and its farming season for bountiful harvests praying ‘Chukwu Abiama’ (God) to shower his blessings on his children.
The yam distribution, it was gathered, was in obedience to Chukwu (God); and it is after the Igu Aro and the declarations made thereupon that new planting season could start all over Igbo land.
Igbo people all over the world can also start planting their yams, cocoyam, cassava and other crops they wish to as soon as the first rain drops. The yams so planted, according to the Igbo lunar calendar, are expected to be due for harvest in the 18th month called Onwa Asato (September in the English version).
So, on the appointed day, people from all walks of life from across the country, especially from the Igbo-speaking states of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Delta and Rivers, came to the community to partake in the annual ritual instituted by their forebears.
Ordinarily, such an all-important, cultural event held in the community was usually presided over by the traditional ruler of the ancient kingdom. In his absence, especially one occasioned by transition to the great beyond, his role is delegated to the regent, known as Okwudolueze, the Oru-Nzemino and the Adama.
In Nri, it was gathered that Oru-Nzemino is the supreme traditional council, compromised of 24 members from the 24 kindred that make up the community, while Adama represents the spiritual wing of the throne of Eze Nri.
According to the chairman, Umuokpala Adama, Ogbuefi, Dr. Emma Enemuo, these functionaries carry out the duties of the absentee monarch until a new king is crowned.
Enemuo said: “These functionaries, by our tradition, have the impetus to perform the usual functions of Eze Nri until the next king is crowned. The Okwudolueze is the person who is supposed to stand in place of Eze Nri in certain ceremonies that need traditional or simply administrative functions.
“So, with the three arms, Nri continues as if the Eze Nri is still there, until the next coronation, when the next crowned king will take his position.”
But since the traditional ruler of the community, Eze Obidiegwu Onyesoh, embarked on the long journey to meet with his ancestors a few years ago (as a monarch, in Igboland is said not to die), the community has been embroiled in a tussle over the regency.
At the moment, the community has been polarised with interested persons joining choice camps. While one of the camps is headed by the son of the departed monarch, Prince Ikenna Onyesoh, as regent, another camp is headed by Oba Maduka Arubaluezeama.
While Ikenna held the Igu Aro in his father’s palace, Arubaluezeama held a parallel one at the palace of the former traditional ruler of the community, the late Igwe Tabansi Udene.
Oba Arubaluezeama, who appears to enjoy the support of the elders of the community, was assisted by the chairman of Oru-Nzemino and eldest Adama while he performed all the necessary rituals at the Igu Aro.
Ikenna, while performing the proclamation, said that he was doing so on behalf of his father, Eze Obidiegwu Onyesoh, who has literally embarked on a long journey to the land of his ancestors.
The regent said that Eze Nri had introduced the markets days and that they are all deities in Igboland; hence Nri priests (agents) travelled all over Igboland consecrating the shrines of these deities.
Prince Onyesoh said: “Igbo lunar calendar is based on 13 lunar months each of which is made up of four days – Eke, Oye, Afo and Nkwo. All market days are deities (Alusi) and they have their originating shrines in Nri.
“Eze Nri introduced these four deities in Igboland, hence Nri priests travelled all over Igboland consecrating the shrines of these deities.
“The proclamation of Igbo lunar calendar from year to year is the prerogative of Eze Nri, being the custodian of Igbo culture, tradition and the keeper of ancestral Ofo Ndigbo.
“Nri/Igbo New Year starts in February, same as the shrines and other cultures in Asia, far East, Israel, etc. These cultures use moon to determine their season and time. During this period, Eze Nri proclaims and ushers in the beginning of the planting season,” he said.
The regent blessed the New Year and the planting season, declaring blessings on Ndigbo all over the world: “These New Year prayers include peace, good luck; prosperity and bumper harvest for Ndigbo.”
President-general of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, who attended Prince Onyesoh’s Igu Aro, said: “Nri is the foundation and structure for Igbo culture. A number of our behavioural patterns and cultural practices, our Ozo titles, our worship of deities before the advent of Christianity, have their roots in Nri, and Ohanaeze holds in very serious honour this (aspect) of Nri and the culture it has preserved for Ndigbo.”
One of the guests at the regent’s Igu Aro, Chief Chuka Nwaolise, said the event has continued to locate the Igbo as already civilised people with their own way of life before the coming of the whiteman.