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Putting the Tail Back to Trunk of the Tale

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Chuu Krydz |Ikwuemesi

Dirt on White Spectrum: Myths, Travails and Legacies of Eze Nri, the Custodian of Igbo Tradition and Nigeria’s Oldest Kingship Institution, by Chukwuemeka I. Onyesoh, The Pan-Afrika Press, 154 Zik Avenue, Enugu

The book, Dirt on White Spectrum, critically engages the continued disparaging and minimisation of the significance of Nri Kingdom by contemporary “political” scholars, armchair researchers and bread-and-butter writers from across Igbo land, even from the Nri clan itself, according to the author. Little wonder he describes his efforts as pacifist intellectual “war” against the prevailing fallacies about Nri Kingdom/Kingship. Perhaps the war is most timely and necessary, not only in light of the current misrepresentation of the history and significance of Nri Kingdom, but also in the face of the bastardisation of the word “kingdom” and its essence and meaning across Igbo land in recent times, thanks to the happy-go-lucky script writers and producers of Nollywood. The book is structured into six chapters.

Starting with the comments of the great Nnamdi Azikiwe in a motion he moved in the Eastern House of Assembly on Wednesday, March 29, 1956 on the “Recognition of Chiefs”, Onyesoh draws attention to the elevated position and status of Eze Nri in Igbo history and tradition, as clearly acknowledged by Azikiwe (pp. 1-2), even when he did not try to correct the anomaly himself. Beyond the possibilities at Azikiwe’s disposal in 1956-57, the author notes, the Professor Adiele Afigbo Committee of 1976 also failed to “restore the Igbo focus/centre”(p.3), in spite of the huge historical evidence available on the issue. To drive home his argument of Nri supremacy in Igbo civilisation, Onyesoh follows up  with several historical and research evidences that may guide the Igbo like the orphan child through the forest path and out of the prevailing crossroads in Nigeria. The evidences include archaeological, anthropological and historical facts gleaned from such important sources as Olaudah Equiano, Thurstan Shaw, Donald Hartle, M.A. Onwuejeogwu, John Adam, Arthur Leonard, Northcote Thomas, Reverend Father Duhaze, Reverend Father John P. Jordan, among many others. Added to these are other forms of evidence, including ethnography, legacies of Nri Civilisation, the origin of the Igbo market days, proclamation of the Igbo Lunar Calendar, the Igbo agricultural cycle, Igbo title taking, the pacifist traditional worship in a monotheistic system, sanctity of human life, attempt to unify Igbo land under Nri hegemony, the concept of all-kind and merciful God, unified age-grade system, the pursuit of non-violence and peace in governance and justice, democratised monarchy, the historical age of Nri Kingship in comparison with 14 other major kingship institutions in Nigeria (pp.34-56). 

The author also focuses on “The Pacifist Philosophy in the Nri Political Culture” and discusses the symbolism and significations of white as a colour and spiritual signifier in the Nri system, the mandatory white attire of Eze Nri, as well as the centrality of nzu (white chalk) in the king’s mundane activities and in Nri life and religion in general. It is made obvious that white and its attributions in Nri culture are a synecdoche for the kingdom’s pacifist principles and its perception of the spiritual and physical worlds and how the two interface in the lives and aspirations of the people. White also reflects the reputation of Eze Nri as a non-warlike monarch without an army and with proven commitment to “the use of peaceful means in ‘active’ or persistent manner, to bring about political and social changes” (p. 40). The hermeneutics of white as an important colour in Nri culture is thus subtly extended to Nri respect for sanctity of human life, the dignity of the human person, the Eze Nri personification of the spirit world, the absence of imperial power in the Nri throne and the recognition of the king as a sky-being, Igwe, a term now borrowed and banalised by communities across Igbo land. However, in spite of the inspiring and admirable qualities of the Nri kingship, with all its religious and political significance, its decline is recorded to have occurred in 1677 to 1936, as argued by Afigbo in his Ropes of Sand (1981), due to the kingdom’s commitment to “a set and rigid cosmological concept which did not easily adjust to change” (p. 48). Added to this is the challenge of Aro theocracy and the slave trade. But perhaps the more threatening coup de grace was to come in the wake of colonisation and its other corrosive cousin –  Christian evangelisation, coupled with the aggressive efforts by the colonial administration to demystify the  believed spirit nature and essence of Eze Nri. In addition, the “Igbo enwe eze” campaign championed by the colonial administration, the inability of the colonialists to appreciate kingship or monarchy in the colonies outside the British model, the home-grown rebellion from neighbours in the Nri clan (Chapter Four), affront on Eze Nri by Igbo political leaders, and Nri compromise with belligerent neighbours are among the factors that minimised Nri influence among the Igbo.

While part of Chapter Three traces in some detail the affront, assault and disregard of Nri’s position in Igbo history and politics by Igbo politicians beginning from the time of Azikiwe and Michael Okpara down to the present, the later part discusses some misconceptions by some eminent non-Igbo Nigerians about the Nri significance and the history of the Igbo in general. The same discussions and arguments are extended in Chapter Four with a keen focus on the Enugwu-Ukwu challenge, including its claim to Umu-Nri headship. 

The author also sheds light on the origin of Agukwu as a location and not a son of Eri (the Nri ancestor), the bastardisation-cum-Christianisation of Nri customs and traditions by some communities in the Nri clan and the fact that religion has done more harm than good to the Igbo. Onyesoh provides further evidence in Chapter Five about the challenge of other members of Nri clan aimed at minimising the significance of Nri, especially the Akamkpisi experience and some episodes of unhealthy politics played against the Nri throne by Anambra governments. The final chapter of the book leverages on Iguaro Ndigbo, the Igbo lunar calendar, as proclaimed by Eze Nri, to drive more nails into the coffin of the fallacies that abound against the prime place of Nri in Igbo history.  Following these is a collection of historic and historical photographs that round off the book.

Onyesoh reaffirms that Igbo has a long and enviable history evidenced by the Igbo Ukwu finds which are associated with Nri kingship and hegemony. As he hints on p.342 of the book, rather than seek pride and solace in the claim of a Jewish ancestry, the (hi)story of Nri should embolden and imbue the Igbo with a collective pride that speaks to Igbo elevation and sophistication in history, culture and arts. In sum, Onyesoh’s book is about the Igbo story. 

Dr Ikwuemesi writes from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

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