Traditional communities in Africa largely survived through their keen sense of communalism; a knit-tight bond which starts from family to kindred and village levels. Writing on this unique communal relationship in the pre-colonial African societies, Ekpunobi (1988), notes that the “ingredients of blood ties in communal relationship is akin to detaching the breast from a sucking child’s mouth”. Ancient civilizations have been known to have been anchored on this spirit of brotherhood. The progress made by these civilizations has been found to be closely related to the symbiotic partnership that existed among community dwellers.
These bonds of brotherhood were nurtured by strong structures such as “Umunna” (kindred), “Umuada”, “Otu Nze Na Ozo”, “Ndi-Ichie”, age grades etc. The kindred (Umunna) structure was, and still is, more important and binding because it is the basic structure that binds families. Anthropologically, kindred (Umunna) in Igbo culture loosely mean brothers who can trace their origin from a common putative progenitor or ancestor. These groups of people usually trace their lineage from the patrilineal angle forming the maximal lineage upon which families and villages are built and which share common inheritance. Before the advent of western civilization, the concept of kindred (Umunna) was a distinct administrative arm through which important decisions were reached. It acted as a lower court in local legal jurisprudence, hence such group as ‘Nzuko-Umunna’.
On the other hand, “Umu-nne”, as a concept taking its root from the originating ideas of brotherhood, leans particularly towards matriarchal relationship as opposed to patriarchal (Umunna). ‘Umu-nne’, as the name suggests, is a pool of brothers and sisters who share a common matrilineal ancestry (Ikwu-nne).’Oma-nne’ therefore, is a celebration of this ancestry. It is one of the rich cultural heritages of Igbo land bequeathed them by their forebears that have survived till date. In Umuoji, the celebration and observation of this important ceremony among the people helps to bring together families tied by matrilineal relationships. According to oral tradition, there is no particular time or date of the year when such event holds. It is scheduled at the discretion of the oldest woman of the lineage as “Isi-Oma”. The ceremony involves in large part, pooling together of edibles and drinks at the residence of the oldest woman among the family lineage on the day it is scheduled to hold. During the occasion, new family members are introduced and welcomed into the fold just as new births are celebrated. As the adults chat and share experiences of life, children take the opportunity to play around as they have fun. The event was usually a one-day activity as some families return home later in the evening depending on the distance from the host’s village. In our days, children looked forward to Oma-nne day as it afforded them splendid opportunity to fraternize. The feast most often rotates among the women, affording everybody the opportunity of knowing each other particularly the villages and families their relations are married into. The essence of the feast also is to ensure that consanguinity was abated as endogamous marriage was forbidden in Umuoji and among Ndi-Igbo. Through the celebration of “Oma-nne”, relationships are strengthened and renewed. A common feature of Omanne was, and still is, that marriage between blood-ties through the mother’s side is abhorred as it is considered an abomination. However, for those, due to modernity, who find themselves in such an unholy relationship, expiation was required to be carried out. The expiation is usually performed by an Nri man as representative of Eze Nri and symbolically in recognition of the Nri origin legend of our community. Although the actual observance of the tradition appears to have waned in recent times due largely to urbanization and modernity, causing dispersal of homes and marriages going beyond the immediate confines of the locale, one can safely say that this is one of the traditions of Umuoji nay Ndi-Igbo, that has not been corrupted by Christianity, as the significance of the feast remain largely sacrosanct for which the popular saying “Nwanne ara-anu nwanne ya”. For instance, most families, before engaging in marriage contract, usually confirm lineage of suitors seeking the hands of their daughters in marriages by asking prospective suitors questions about their lineage. It may however be important to note that the maternal relationship, while remaining a significant part of consideration in marriage relationships, is “generation bound”. In other words, the relation becomes insignificant in marriage consideration after about Five (5) generations.
In the light of the forgoing, given their matrilineal relationship, the three communities of Abatete, Umuoji and Nkpor had always celebrated “Omanne”. The idea of celebrating the bond among the three communities was from extant records, first muted around 1995 by a group of young and insightful men from these communities. This idea was conveyed to the then traditional rulers – Igwe Akum M.A. Nweze of Umuoji, Igwe C.A. Ibegbunam 11 of Nkpor and Igwe Ezeogu I of Abatete. These traditional rulers in their wisdom and desire to implant a perpetual bonding relic to immortalize our ancestral relationship gave their blessings to the idea. Thus, on the 27th of September1997, under the chairmanship of Chief J.N. Nnadi (Ichie Anake) of Umuoji, the maiden edition of the celebration was held with pomp and pageantry at Ogbu-Ikwelle, the present site of Eke Abatete where the statute of the father of Abatete, Umuoji and Nkpor stands till date. It may be pertinent at this point to briefly explain how these communities are related matrilineally to merit the celebration and perpetuation of the tradition. The object of this essay is essentially to underscore the significance of the “Omanne” celebration and advocate for its continuation.
According to their oral tradition, one Okolie Otie was indisputably the ancestral father of Abatete, Umuoji and Nkpor, though his origin is still unsettled. Otie, according to tradition, had three sons namely Ezeogu, Ora and Idike. Ezeogu, the eldest son, is said to have married Mgboko Eke and they had nine sons, out of which only four survived to form the four pillars of Abatete namely: Nsukwu, Agbaja, Odida and Ogbu.
Ora married and had a son he named Oji. When Oji had his own son he named him Eziora to reflect his grandfather’s name. his grandfather’s name. Idike’s descendants today occupy present Nkpor.
Ezeogu, the father of Abatete proudly referred to his nine sons as (Igwulube-otie denoting the plurality of his children). Over generations, Mbateghete was corrupted to Abateghete and to Abatete with the advent of British rule.
Two possible sources about Umuoji origin have been postulated. Both apparently are derived from oral tradition. The more widely held tradition indicate that Umuoji people descended from a man called Okodu, who was a descendant of a man from Nri. Another version says that Umuoji descended from one Okoli Otie from Arochukwu.
In those early days only people of Arochukwu (Umuchukwu meaning children of Supreme God) and Nri who were also regarded as sacred people or mediators between men and the gods were free to travel about and they were the two sets of people who were known throughout the then Igbo nation. Arochukwu people, the Aros, migrated from outside Nigeria, probably Egypt and that made them to be on the go always. They were also great warriors with sophisticated weapons that gave them privilege over the other inhabitants of the Igbo nation. Consequently, one great warrior, Okolie Otie from Arochukwu was said to have set out in company of his followers to visit the famous Eze Nri (the great king of Nri). His intention was not that friendly but on reaching the Nri town, he changed his mind as a result of what he heard and saw about the Nri people. Okolie later decided to settle near the kingdom of his host and thereby found his own kingdom. He settled in the present area inhabited by Abatete people. Okolie later married a woman from Nri town. He begat three sons and some daughters. The sons were Ezeogu, Ora and Idike. Ezeogu was the father of the Abatete people, otherwise known as Abatete Ezeogu. Ora, the second son was the father of the Umuoji people, while Idike was the father of the Nkpor people. Ora Okolie had a son named Okodu and some daughters whose names still remain unknown till date. Okodu is the father of Oji. Oji in turn begat Ora II whom he named after his grandfather.
From mythology, Ora II had two wives from each of whom he got two sons. The sons were Ezi, Echem, Ifite and Akala. Ezi and Echem were of the same mother, while Ifite and Akala were of the same mother. These four sons today make up the four quarters of Umuoji and the villages therein.
A variant of the story on the origin of Nkpor indicate that they descended from a hunter known as Okoli Otie from Arochukwu. According to the story, Okolie Otie had three sons Omaliko, Oji and Dimudeke. Omaliko who was the eldest is the father of the people of Abatete, the descendants of Oji are the people of Umuoji, while Nkpor indigenes are descendants of Dimudeke.
Another version of the story which appears more acceptable to the people, claim that Ezeogu was the putative progenitor of Abatete, Umuoji and Nkpor. The tradition avers that Ezeogu, an Nri man, had three sons- Ezigwe, Okodu and Ideke. While Ezigwe begat Omaliko-the father of Abatete, Okodu bore Oji-the progenitor of Umuoji and Ideke begat Dimudeke-the father of Nkpor.
The narratives continue that the people of Nkpor were originally called ‘Umudim’ and lived in the area where the town of Oraukwu is found today. Due to incessant wars and strife with their neighbors, their elder brothers (Abatete and Umuoji) forcefully relocated them to their present site which was then uninhabited to shield them from further attacks. Thus, the name ‘Nkpor’ meaning “ndi akpoghalu akpogha” is a derivative from the act of their relocation to its present location.
Nkpor is made up of five villages named after the children of Dimudeke: Isiome (Umusiome village), Ngwu (Isingwu village), Ububa (Ububa village), Nwafor (Amafor village) and Mgbachu.
From the various accounts on the origin of the three towns, the name of Okolie Otie, an itinerant trader from Arochukwu, appears to be a common denominator. What appears to be significantly but regrettably missing from the various accounts, seems to be the names of the mother of the progenitors of the three communities.
Few observations are however pertinent to these accounts. One is that as far as the Arochukwu connection is concerned, striking flaws are apparent which calls for further investigation and reassessment. As noted by Ekpunobi (1998), “the story is an attempt by local historians to link Umuoji with the once famous Arochukwu trading expedition”. This position is borne out by the fact that at present, there is not yet any evidence of Aro-Abatete-Umuoji-Nkpor connection either in their usages, customs, or traditions.
On the other hand, the story linking these communities to Nri appears to enjoy more acceptability. As noted by Ekpunobi (1988) and strongly supported by Nwosu (2013) “before the advent of the Europeans, Nkpor-Umuoji-Abatete went to Eze Nri to pay their Nru (annual homage)”. Tradition affirms that the tribute were paid in recognition of the “fatherly role Nri was playing towards the three communities” and in recognition of the fact that Nri was their original home. To further lend credence to this evidence of Nri origin of the three communities, Onwuejeogwu (1972) observed that in the past, the power and authority of Eze Nri were based on the belief of many Igbo settlements that Eze Nri had spiritual authority over them. Ilozue (1966), in his work-Umuoji Cultural Heritage-wrote equally that “the chief of Nri is the only person who can announce or denounce the sacredness of anything in Umuoji”
The analyses of the study of the three communities doubtless have shown that they share a common putative progenitor, upon which the need and thus the celebration of the bond of “Oma-nne” revolve.
As noted by Nwosu C.A (2013), celebration of Omanne “is one of those practices to keep alive and immortalize that unique blood relationship of Abatete, Umuoji and Nkpor”. It is on this pedestal therefore that this writer is hinging his call for a more celebrated approach to re-invigorating and re-engineering of the celebration, so as to keep the flame of brotherhood aglow. It is hoped and strongly believed that the renewal and re-engineering of the celebration between the three communities will provide a veritable platform to arrest the occasional communal strife arising from land disputes. To achieve this process, it is advocated here that our youths be actively involved in both the planning and execution. Mass education through various communication portfolios can be deployed to enlighten our youths on the implications of the occasional bloody attacks on the various communities. Furthermore, the leaders of the three communities, as a way of further cementing the relationship, may commission a research team of historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, social scientist and others interested in the study of our area for further investigation on some of our culture and traditions, internal migration and settlement pattern, economic cum socio-cultural relationships between the three communities.