Alor Anthropological Source Book Anambra Nigeria [1]

Table of contents :
1.0 The Physical Environment
1.1 Physical setting – C.S. Nwajide
1.2 Substratum and earth resources – D.U. Okafor
1.3 Environmental perspectives – E. I. Mbaekwe
2.0 Our Origins – Genealogical Insights
2.1 Origins of Alor – M.C. Obiagwu
2.2 Myth of the ofor, Ezeofor, and the akpu tree – M. Ukatu
2.3 Alor writ large in Igboland – E.E. Ndubuisi
3.0 Socio-Cultural Setting and Practices
3.1 Societal structure – A.I. Afuekwe
3.2 Alor names: origin and meaning – B.J.O. Okafo
3.3 Foods and culinary practices – S. Nwune, N. Udodi
4.4 Alor dialect: glimpses at its twilight – C.N. Oyeka, A.I. Afuekwe,
L.N. Oraka, C.F. Ojukwu and C.S. Nwajide
3.5 Evolution of living quarters – C.S. Nwajide and E.F. Asiegbu
3.6 Arts of Alor – P.N. Ufo (Monte)
3.7 Music of Alor – J.C. Mmeka
3.8 Festivals, religious observances and recreational activities – A.I. Afuekwe ns R.N. Obiorah
3.9 Title taking – A.I. Afuekwe
3.10 Marriage issues – A.I. Afuekwe
3.11 A comparative study of marriage – E.S.O. Amugo
3.12 Ịma nsi in Alor – P.U. Nnaebue
3.13 Deaths and funerals– A.I. Afuekwe and C.S. Nwajide
3.14 Succession and inheritance – L.N. Oraka
3.15 Generational analysis – C.C. Nwudo-Odenigbo

4.0 Belief Systems and Practices
4.1 Religions in Alor – S.C. Okafor-Udah
4.2 The Olise festival – L. Madubuko
4.3 Pentecostal movements – N. Okide
5.0 Native Ordinances, Politics and Governance
5.1 Politics and administration – E.C. Nwankwo and A.I. Afuekwe
5.2 Age grade system – A.I. Afuekwe
5.3 Modern governance – C. Aniefuna
5.4 Native ordinances applicable in the olden days – C. Ngige
6.0 Educational Development
6.1 Educational development: - home upbringing and early childhood – R.N. Obiorah
6.2 Western education: - history and products – R.N. Obiorah, F.C Ojukwu and C.C. Oyeka
7.0 Land Issues
7.1 Land ownership and use – A.A. Okafor and N.V. Okafor7
8.0 Local Economy
8.1 Rural economy – N.J. Aziagba
8.2 Alor experience in agricultural evolution – E. E. Obidozie
8.3 Alor mba nkwụ – C.S. Nwajide and E.I. Mbaekwe
8.4 Soap-making – Francis Agbazue
8.5 Nkwọ Alor: more than a market – Mallinson Ukatu
9.0 Health and Medical Practices
9.1 Medical practices from antiquity – C.S. Nwajide and A.I. Afuekwe
9.2 Medical practices: past, present and future – N.P. Obiegbu
10.0 External Relations
10.1 Relations with Obosi and Ojoto – C.S. Nwajide
10.2 Relations with Ukpor – A.M. Igwegbe
10.3 Wars Alor had to fight – J. Onyeanuna
10.4 The Alor – Nnobi hostilities: a perspective from Nnobi – W.I. Azugo
10.5 Ideani: antecedents and route to independence – L.N. Oraka
11.0 Population Dynamics
11.1 Population movements – J.O. Izunwanne and A.E. Edozie
12.0 Mysteries and Superstitions
12.1 Mysteries, superstitions and taboos – A.C. Nwune
13.0 The Future
13.1 Alor in the future – I.O. Obiora-Okafo and U. Obiorah
14.0 Heroes and Heroines
14.1 Chief Ezeukwu Enendu
14.2 N. Dr. Mgbankwo Nnwayi Nwose
14.3 Rev. Julius Okafo
14.4 Chief Ezekiel Obiegbu
14.5 Chief S.M.B. Ojukwu
14.6 Chief P.O. Mbachu
14.7 Chief G.N. Udoka
14.8 Chief P.N. Okeke
14.9 Mrs. S. Ifejika
14.10 Justice G.O. Oyudo
14.11 Dr. Gibson Nwokedi
14.12 Rev. Fr. Tim Ańunobi
14.13 Prof. E.C. Ogbuobiri
14.14 Dr. Chris Ngige
15.0 Appendices
15.1 Igwes of Alor
15.2 Members of Alor Development Initiative
16.0 ADI – the Journey So Far – Emeka Ngige

Citation preview







Edited by

C.S. Nwajide A.I. Afuekwe A.A. Okafor A.E. Edozie A.C. Nwune E.I. Mbaekwe C.F. Ojukwu


FOREWORD With the dearth of books and publications on the histories of the various communities of Ndigbo, Alor: An Anthropological Source Book, is a commendable gap-filling project by the Alor Development Initiative. The book has no pretension to being a statement of documented historical facts; it derives mainly from oral traditions passed on from generation to generation. In Obosi where I am an Ndichie, Ichie Adazie Obosi, we know and had it written as far back as 1924 by Igwe I. E. Iweka, Eze Obosi, in his book, The History of Obosi and Igboland in Brief, that we are descendants of Adike who was related to Alor and Ojoto.

This book contains very useful data and material which not only inform but also should serve as a rich basis for work by future researchers in authoritative history of Alor and the other eighteen communities washed by the Idemili River.

I congratulate the Alor Development Initiative, and especially the contributors and the team of editors, on the production of this very readable book. And I commend it both to the citizens of Idemili region at home and in the diaspora, and to all those interested in the story of Alor and its neighbours in Igboland.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, CON, CFR, GCVO Adazie Obosi Commonwealth Secretary-General 1990 – 2000 22 November 2009



This volume titled: Alor: Anthropological Source Book, is aimed at compiling all that can possibly be documented about the town, Alor, one of the seven towns of the Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State of Nigeria. As indicated in an accompanying map, the town consists of two groups of villages – Ezi (Umuoshi, Etiti, Ebenesi-Okebunoye) to the east and Ifite (Umuokwu, Uruezeani, Ide) to the west. It is bordered by seven towns as follows: - to the north and northwest, across the Idemili River are Abatete, Ideani and Uke; to the east, across a gully is Oraukwu, to the southeast is Adazi Ani, to the south is Nnokwa, and to the southwest and west is Nnobi, which lies partially across a gully. The town is therefore unique in being largely naturally demarcated from her neighbours. The uniqueness indeed extends to several other aspects – origins of the people, socio-cultural practices, belief systems, politics and governance. She also is distinct for furnishing Igboland, and indeed Nigeria, with some of the finest administrators, political stalwarts, iconic intellectuals, legal luminaries, erudite professionals, and talented entrepreneurs. It should be added that Alor has been the dispersal centre of thriving diaspora as near as Ideani, Ukpor, Ihiala and Igbuzor, and as far flung as Okrika, Alor Uno, the whole of Africa, as well as Europe and the Americas. She therefore clearly boasts the best credentials for being one of the places that should be studied closely as a model or archetype. This contribution should serve as a major source of the required inside story as well as a guidebook.

The undertaking is considered worthwhile in being at once historical, extant, futuristic and didactic, even if somewhat belated, especially in terms of capturing the history from as far back in time as would have made the compilation as complete as possible. Times are changing and life appears to be proceeding at a faster pace than ever. It is therefore opportune to record as much as possible before the passing on of those who can even dimly recall the history, and to ensure that the said changes do not completely swamp the identity of our homeland in the drive towards globalization. The rationale is, let there be an authentic source of facts rather than fiction, a veritable quarry of reliable information about a unique place and its people. The book has been designed to embody, under one cover, what a relaxed or fast-paced indigene, relative or indeed anybody, including the research scholar or general reader, would require to enlighten them on Alor. This is the only way to ensure that future historians, anthropologists, sociologists and ethnologists interpret and present Alor fully and accurately. 4

The Alor Development Initiative (ADI) has been an idea that took wings. The burning desire for an organisation of its kind, which had incubated for long in many people, finally got an expression when, on 29th December 2002, the “nucleating dozen” assembled in the house of Engr. Frank Emeka Asiegbu and gave life to their aspiration. The body has an uncommon, singular and special character essentially for the fact that it is not based on clan, gender, religion, occupation, educational level, age, social standing or wealth; it is not a social club, a flash in the pan or a transient organisation. Membership is therefore of the widest possible spectrum. It sprouted with a singular objective: - the development of Alor in all ramifications, approached as the contribution of ideas and execution of projects that would uplift the homeland now and in the future. The task is to accelerate the tempo of development by complementing the efforts of the statutory town government. This publication should be taken as a partial fulfillment of an aspect of the mandate ADI imposed on itself – doing everything within its reach for the development of the town.

Although the bulk of the authorship is internal to ADI, the association remains grateful to nonmembers and even non-Alor persons who most graciously contributed papers to the publication. Additionally, the ADI places on record all those Alor and non-Alor persons who availed various authors of their rich repertoire of knowledge during the research for the papers. For editing and reviewing of the papers, members and non-members alike contributed ideas that added some sparkle to the compendium. We thank them all. Sam Ojukwu, Afam Mbachu and Emeka Asiegbu Lagos June 2010


CONTENTS 1.0 The Physical Environment 1.1 Physical setting – C.S. Nwajide 1.2 Substratum and earth resources – D.U. Okafor 1.3 Environmental perspectives – E. I. Mbaekwe 2.0 Our Origins – Genealogical Insights 2.1 Origins of Alor – M.C. Obiagwu 2.2 Myth of the ofor, Ezeofor, and the akpu tree – M. Ukatu 2.3 Alor writ large in Igboland – E.E. Ndubuisi 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 4.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15

Socio-Cultural Setting and Practices Societal structure – A.I. Afuekwe Alor names: origin and meaning – B.J.O. Okafo Foods and culinary practices – S. Nwune, N. Udodi Alor dialect: glimpses at its twilight – C.N. Oyeka, A.I. Afuekwe, L.N. Oraka, C.F. Ojukwu and C.S. Nwajide Evolution of living quarters – C.S. Nwajide and E.F. Asiegbu Arts of Alor – P.N. Ufo (Monte) Music of Alor – J.C. Mmeka Festivals, religious observances and recreational activities – A.I. Afuekwe ns R.N. Obiorah Title taking – A.I. Afuekwe Marriage issues – A.I. Afuekwe A comparative study of marriage – E.S.O. Amugo Ịma nsi in Alor – P.U. Nnaebue Deaths and funerals– A.I. Afuekwe and C.S. Nwajide Succession and inheritance – L.N. Oraka Generational analysis – C.C. Nwudo-Odenigbo

4.0 Belief Systems and Practices 4.1 Religions in Alor – S.C. Okafor-Udah 4.2 The Olise festival – L. Madubuko 4.3 Pentecostal movements – N. Okide 5.0 Native Ordinances, Politics and Governance 5.1 Politics and administration – E.C. Nwankwo and A.I. Afuekwe 5.2 Age grade system – A.I. Afuekwe 5.3 Modern governance – C. Aniefuna 5.4 Native ordinances applicable in the olden days – C. Ngige 6.0 Educational Development 6.1 Educational development: - home upbringing and early childhood – R.N. Obiorah 6.2 Western education: - history and products – R.N. Obiorah, F.C Ojukwu and C.C. Oyeka 7.0 7.1

Land Issues Land ownership and use – A.A. Okafor and N.V. Okafor


8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5

Local Economy Rural economy – N.J. Aziagba Alor experience in agricultural evolution – E. E. Obidozie Alor mba nkwụ – C.S. Nwajide and E.I. Mbaekwe Soap-making – Francis Agbazue Nkwọ Alor: more than a market – Mallinson Ukatu

9.0 9.1 9.2

Health and Medical Practices Medical practices from antiquity – C.S. Nwajide and A.I. Afuekwe Medical practices: past, present and future – N.P. Obiegbu

10.0 External Relations 10.1 Relations with Obosi and Ojoto – C.S. Nwajide 10.2 Relations with Ukpor – A.M. Igwegbe 10.3 Wars Alor had to fight – J. Onyeanuna 10.4 The Alor – Nnobi hostilities: a perspective from Nnobi – W.I. Azugo 10.5 Ideani: antecedents and route to independence – L.N. Oraka 11.0 Population Dynamics 11.1 Population movements – J.O. Izunwanne and A.E. Edozie 12.0 Mysteries and Superstitions 12.1 Mysteries, superstitions and taboos – A.C. Nwune 13.0 The Future 13.1 Alor in the future – I.O. Obiora-Okafo and U. Obiorah 14.0 Heroes and Heroines 14.1 Chief Ezeukwu Enendu 14.2 N. Dr. Mgbankwo Nnwayi Nwose 14.3 Rev. Julius Okafo 14.4 Chief Ezekiel Obiegbu 14.5 Chief S.M.B. Ojukwu 14.6 Chief P.O. Mbachu 14.7 Chief G.N. Udoka 14.8 Chief P.N. Okeke 14.9 Mrs. S. Ifejika 14.10 Justice G.O. Oyudo 14.11 Dr. Gibson Nwokedi 14.12 Rev. Fr. Tim Ańunobi 14.13 Prof. E.C. Ogbuobiri 14.14 Dr. Chris Ngige 15.0 Appendices 15.1 Igwes of Alor 15.2 Members of Alor Development Initiative 16.0

ADI – the Journey So Far – Emeka Ngige





Physical Setting – C.S. Nwajide


Substratum and Earth Resources – D.U. Okafor


Environmental Perspectives – E. I. Mbaekwe






Alor town is located within the triangle formed by the three main towns of Anambra State. Conceptually straightening out the roads connecting the towns, the northern side of the triangle is the Onitsha – Awka road, whether the expressway or the old Enugu – Onitsha road. The eastern or southeastern edge of the triangle is the connection from Awka through Agulu or Nimo, Neni, Oraukwu, Adazi Ani, Nnokwa, and Nnobi to Nnewi. The third side is Onitsha to Nnewi. These road connections can be gleaned on the satellite imagery below.

Satellite imagery showing the location of Alor in relation to the main towns of Anambra State

Nearer still, the town is located just beyond the southeastern periphery of greater Onitsha. By this is meant that where Ogidi and Nkpor are now virtually assimilated at least in commerce if not in the broad culture, Alor happens to still continue to be protected from that undesirable type of urbanization. Umuoji, Ojoto, Uke, Ideani and Abatete serve very well as such a buffer. By a stroke of chance, the way the roads traversed the terrains in the past resulted in Alor not really being a passageway to any particular market or town. This in a way made her location insular. The Idemili River, which bounds her in the north and northwest, had in the past been both a physical and 9

commercial demarcation as well as a cultural barrier of sorts, which took quite some effort to cross from either side. Thus Alor has, to a large extent, remained a pristine and idyllic locality shielded by her location from becoming a concrete jungle with garbage-lined streets.

Map showing the access routes into Alor from the major towns of Anambra State and beyond


Geographical Location

As indicated in the map, Alor is located within latitudes 6o 4.00”N (Alor/Nnobi boundary off Ichie Okua‟s compound) and 6o 6.08”N (Alor/Abatete boundary at Mmili Ezigbo bridge), and longitudes 6o 56.11”E (Alor/Uke boundary at Mmili Obiaja bridge) and 6o 58.23”E (Alor/Adazi-Ani boundary off Idi Akubeze and Onuselogu compounds. Important stretches within the town include: Mmili Ezigbo – Nkwọ Alor

3.6 km

Mmili Ezigbo – Ukatu Road junction

4.0 km

Centre Nnokwa – Nkwọ Alor

2.1 km

Mmili Obiaja – Nkwọ Alor

3.7 km

Approximate land area

25 km2

From this set of figures, the land area is about 25 km2 and has a geometrical shape that is a cross between a circle and a pentagon. It is clear, therefore, that Alor is not among the large towns (cf. 10

Nnewi) of this area of Anambra State. Perhaps the only component of the present Idemili South Local Government area smaller in land area is Akwukwu. But this is not an issue. Other facts will be added later to show that our ancestors have had to battle the vicissitudes of nature to hold on to even that meagre patch of land.

Looking southwards into Alor from Obodoji in Abatete, across Mmili Ezigbo (Idemili River); far up on the horizon, beyond the twin towers of St. Mary’s Church, is Nnokwa town The town has physical, political and cultural boundaries with her seven neighbours. The physical type consists of gullies and rivers. In the north and northwest the Idemili River separates Alor from Ideani (up to 1970 a village in Alor), Uke and Abatete. On either side of the river, there is a relatively extensive stretch of uninhabited communal land about 1 kilometer wide on the Alor side. This accentuates the physical separation, making the northern neighbours appear rather far away. Oraukwu to the east also looks somewhat far away on account of the great erosional chasm separating the two towns. In contrast, the southern neighbours – Adazi Ani, Nnokwa and a bit of Nnobi – are largely physically contiguous, allowing for much closer interaction such that in the past there was such a level of closeness as ịgụghalịtọ ọkụ (fetching fire from one another) among neighbours across land boundaries. This land corridor only partially conjoins Alor and Nnobi since 11

another gully, albeit somewhat tamed, heads close to the major Alor Nnobi road. It swings from west northwards and empties into the Idemili River. It may be summarized that for some eight of the ca.12-kilometer perimeter of Alor, she is circumscribed by a river and two major gullies; only a meagre 4-km swath of land is solid ground.

The cultural demarcation has been shaped by such factors as diet and dialect. With respect to the former, perhaps the foods are virtually the same for all the surrounding towns, but there is an important exception. For the Alor person eating dog meat is an absolute prohibition. For almost all her neighbours the four-legged friend of man is fair game.

Dialectical inflections, greetings and exclamations can instantly identify the home town of any speaker among the eight towns of which Alor is the centre. Quite curiously, Alor dialect does not contain the letters f, r and v. F is replaced by sh or h; r is almost always l and v is usually pronounced b. In Alor, especially in the past, the normal way to greet a man would be to hail him by his specifically chosen name, especially if from a titled status. A woman would also be hailed by a special name, akin to title name. This is being gradually replaced by the general “good morning sir/ma” as the case may be. Also being replaced, or perhaps now finally gone, is the fact that in Nnobi a man would be greeted with ợm – o and a woman with om – o, a mode of greeting never heard of in Alor. It is noteworthy that the dialect of Ideani very rapidly acquired a considerably different intonation from that of the mainland perhaps because of the geographical separation constituted by the Idemili River and the extensive parcels of gullying land on both sides. The dialect is so much more like that of Uke. These cultural distinctions die hard, despite intermarriages and other social and commercial interactions.

The political divide has been evolving since the administration of the larger area became a colonial responsibility. First, Alor was part of the Onitsha Province within which she fell within the Onitsha Northern County Council and from there to the Idemili Local Government comprising eighteen towns (nineteen after the war when Ideani jostled into the list) with Ogidi as the headquarters. At present Alor is one of the seven towns (Alor, Ojoto, Nnobi, Nnokwa, Akwukwu, Awka Etiti, and Oba) comprising the Idemili South Local Government Area, with Ojoto as the headquarters. Incidentally only with two of the seven surrounding towns, Nnobi and Nnokwa, does she belong to this Local Government area. There have been moves to further split up into more local government areas. Under one such plan, the area around Obiaja stream somewhat common to Alor and Nnobi is proposed to be the headquarters of a new local government probably comprising only four towns – 12

Alor, Nnobi, Nnokwa and Awka Etiti. The apparent benefit is to bring government nearer to the people.


Climate and Weather

The location within the tropical climatic region makes the weather patterns predictable. The two seasons – wet and dry are invariable. With temperatures that range between 28 and 33o, with a mean of 31oC, and a mean relative humidity of 60%, the weather is generally average. The prevailing wind system affects Alor in a manner slightly modified orographically due to the northerly slope of the topography. This is why the higher parts in the southern border are slightly breezier. The bitter-sweet aspects are harsh scorching sun of the peak dry season and the thirsty and dusty harmattan winds from December to early February which can be cold in the nights and uncomfortably dry, tending to baking hot during the high noon. According to folklore, intense harmattans are nevertheless desirable because the severity directly translates to abundancy in crop productivity especially of such fruit trees as ube (pear), mangoes, oranges, etc. Succeeding the harmattan cold, the months of March to April can be intensely hot and humid, to the point of making sleep a kind of nightmare. This is the time to lay mats outdoors and damn the mosquitoes in order to snatch some sleep before the sticky weather cools enough to manage indoors. Such dry times also used to produce perfect moonlit nights. For children and young adults moonlight play enabled the ingraining of some aspects of the culture through story-telling, dances and games straight and crooked, simple and lewd or outrightly licentious.

The mean annual precipitation for the general area that includes Alor is about 1390 mm. The rains start from April/May with thundery showers and rumbling skies that gradually cool the weather. Precipitation climaxes twice in the year – in July and September, i.e. some respite in August. During the peaks in particular, the mode of precipitation is as battering torrents that generate extremely erosive floods the results of which are obvious as scarified lands following the enormous soil loss. The rains gradually thin off as from October, again with lightning and thunder, and give way to the harmattan as the winds reverse from the rain-bearing southwesterlies to the dry dusty northeasterlies.



To locate Alor in this respect, let us refer to an asymmetrical ridge that stretches north-south for some 50 km from Awka to Orlu. Its eastern side is steeper but shorter and that is the location of such gully-devastated towns as Agulu, Nanka, Ekwulobia, Oko, Nkpologwu, Amesi, Urualla, etc. 13

The gentler but longer western side of the ridge is where Alor finds herself, along with such other towns as Enugwu Ukwu, Nimo, Oraukwu, Adazi Ani, Nnokwa, Nnobi, Awka Etiti, etc. The crest of the ridge ranges from 300 m above sea level in Awka to 280 m above sea level at Orlu. It is from this range of elevations along the crest of the cuesta that the topography drops generally westwards to the River Niger valley. The highest elevation at Alor is about 275 m above sea level measured at the Alor – Adazi Ani boundary near Akubeze – Onuselogu area. Contrast this with the 71 m elevation at Mmili Ezigbo bridge, and the difference of 204 m depicts Alor as patched on a slope that is being literally washed away into the Idemili River. This also explains why Alor is the destination or passage way of floods generated within Nnokwa and Adazi Ani. The specific topography of Alor can be summarised in one word – slopy. The entire terrain is simply facing the Idemili River. As an illustration, mount a bicycle at the Nnokwa boundary along the major road. You will roll down to the Mmili Ezigbo with absolutely no pedaling; rather you need all the brakes. The average slope is about 5o, with the steepest part of about 10o on the Ugwu Osita up from Mmili Obiaja across from Ideani. The short flattened stretch around Central School and Obi Agbo area is attributable to the effect of a major flood path that, before the construction of the storm drain alongside the road, used to conduct floods from the Umunambu sub-catchment area into the Ogwugwu Ebemma gully. Sheet and Gully Erosion: – When we realise that all the conditions for sheeting and gullying are complete in Alor and the neighbouring areas, we may become thankful that we still have some space left to till and build on. Sheet erosion may slowly, even unnoticeably, scrape away the top soils and cause soil impoverishment and gradual exposure of housing foundations. What we do not seem to realise is that the entire terrain is, by and large, being lowered by sheet erosion, albeit slowly, so slowly as not to be worrisome in the short term; not so in the long term.

As for the gullies, our forebears had their own account of their origin. The story had it that the mighty Alor-Oraukwu chasm, the largest of the gullies, was once the channel of the great River Niger. The river grossly offended the chief priest (Aka Nshi) of Alor by drowning his only son who was swimming with his mates. This so infuriated the chief priest that he ordered the river out of the area. In obedience, the river relocated to its present domain at Onitsha. The channel it left behind is the Alor-Oraukwu gully.


It is because of the apparently gargantuan scale of the Alor-Oraukwu gully that a legend had to be built to account for its origin. Many of our old folk may not therefore believe that the gully originated mainly as a consequence of erosion by concentrated flood flow, most probably following a trackway initially depressed due to use as a foot path. Perhaps the footpath down the slope to the river served as the original linear depression which triggered gullying. Widening to the present frightening dimensions simply followed through such mass wasting processes as creep, rock fall, sliding, slumping, and debris slides and flows facilitated by the battering tropical cloud busts generating extremely erosive floods.

Eastern wall of the Alor-Oraukwu gully as seen from across Ọgbọgụ quarter; gully here is at least 50 m wide and over 30 metres deep, note the fresh bedrock (Nanka Sand) exposed below the lateritic soil cap about 10 m thick. The factors involved in gully erosion include erodible soils, pronounced slopes, battering rains, vegetation cover, and human activity. The first three factors are undoubtedly beyond human control and are evidently present in destructive abundance; vegetation is largely protective of soil. Human beings blow hot and cold. For instance, while bemoaning erosion due to natural causes, we inadvertently or even knowingly accelerate soil loss by the way we cultivate the little land available. By orienting our farm ridges downslope, rills are created that easily enlarge into gullies.


Village or town rules prohibiting letting flood waters out of walled premises are hardly kept. Sumps for trapping flood waters at road sides, where built at all, are hardly maintained and soon silt up.

Alor is not alone in having loose and highly erodible soils. The rains are as torrential and erosive elsewhere. So what is peculiar about the place that has made it so prone to concentrated soil loss that has devastated large tracts of the terrain and is progressing ferociously? The topography appears to be the greatest villain. Its grain, undulations and general characteristics are evidently the result of the interaction of the substratum, the climatic elements, and vegetation. In tracing the evolution of the topography of Alor, the most important factor is obviously the Idemili River which should logically be discussed under drainage.

Is there a cure to the gullies? The general experience is that once a gully is emplaced, it is usually hard to smooth over. Indeed there is hardly a cure. The effort is often directed at slowing down and, if possible, halting its progress. This is may be achieved through mechanical stabilisation. A good example of this approach is the mechanical works at the head of the Ogwgwu Ebemma gully close to the precincts of St. Paul‟s Church. If not for the major stabilisation work done on it, the head would have sliced through the heart of Alor by following the paths of the floods washing down from Nnokwa town and Umunambu quarter.



Under this section what should be discussed is the overland flow of water usually as rivers, whether perennial or seasonal. However, the matter of drainage in Alor is really about flood flow as the rains come. It is therefore not a discussion of conventional drainage. It is a story of flood flow pattern, i.e. the network of ephemeral drainage lines conducting flood waters downslope to the Idemili River during and after the characteristically heavy cloud bursts.

The Idemili River is obviously the arterial drainage of the larger area within which Alor finds herself. The river is, at its source at Oyetolo in Agukwu Nri, a shallow, narrow effluent of the Agulu Lake. The meagre outflow conjoins with two other small ones from the Ulasi Lake in Nawfia area and from groundwater seepage from near Oyeagu Abagana. Along its way, ground water issuing as mostly perennial springs contributes water that significantly increases its volume such that the lower 40% of its ca. 40 km total length is a navigable stretch that joins the Niger River just south of Onitsha.


The ease with which the soils are scraped away has enabled the river to deeply entrench itself, in the process carving down the topography to produce the slopes we see today. We may imagine that a very long time ago, indeed some millions of years past, when the river initially began to flow along its present path, the terrain over a large area, including Alor, was generally higher and relatively flat, save for a minimal gradient that allowed it to flow into the Niger River which is its base level. Some twenty thousand years ago, when the global sea level dropped to about 120 metres below its present level, the Niger itself had to incise downwards in response to that drop. In turn, every tributary of the Niger, including our own Idemili, started cutting down its own terrain in response to the fallen base level. The incision by the Niger may have ceased; so also for the Idemili River, which indeed appears to be shallowing or alluviating. But the consequences are still intensely in force. The implication here is that all the areas within the catchment or drainage influence of the river are still in the process of serious downwearing; the nearer to the river, the more intense.

Base level (mouth) of the Alor-Oraukwu gully where it empties the Ọgbasalasala into the Idemili River, as seen from the Abatete bank of the river


Alluviated floor of the Alor-Nnobi gully close to its base level as seen from the bridge on the road up Ugwu Osita close to the Idemili River at Obiaja Additionally, any channel, whether perennially or only seasonally in flood emptying into the river, can be regarded as its tributary and is in effect a gully. The several large active gullies – AlorOraukwu, Alor-Nnobi, Ogwugwu Ebemma, and the small ones, e.g. the system around Mmili Nwangene – are partially or fully dry tributaries of the river. The Idemili River is the base level of these gullies and none of them can stop progressing until the floor along its entire stretch attains a profile of equilibrium with the river.

The drainage of Alor may therefore be thought of as simply the gully systems and subsystems whose locations, trends, and general network have been defined by the paths of flood flow into the arterial Idemili River. Only a few of the tributaries are perennial and even then for only the lower part of the whole stretch, e.g. the Alor-Oraukwu gully which spots a spring in the lower half a kilometre of its ca. 3-km length.



Hereunder are the statistics of some physiographic elements of the Alor town as measured at selected strategic locations: 1) a) b) c)

Mmili Ezigbo bridge Latitude 6‟ 06.08”N Longitude 6‟ 57.2”E Elevation 234 ft (70.91 m) above mean sea level

2) a) b) c)

Centre Nnokwa Latitude 6‟3.30”N Longitude 6‟58.02”E Elevation 900 ft (272.73 m) a.m.s.l.

3) a) b) c)

Alor/Adazi Boundary by Akubeze-Onuselogu area Latitude 6‟3.30”N Longitude 6‟58.23”E Elevation 906 ft (274.55 m) a.m.s.l.

4) a) b) c)

Head of gully at Oraukwu/Adazi-Ani Latitude 6‟50”N Longitude 6‟58.38”E Elevation 677 ft (205.15 m) a.m.s.l.

5) a) b) c)

Ukatu Road Junction (Alor/Nnokwa Boundary) Latitude 6‟04.11”N Longitude 6‟58.14”E Elevation 785 ft (237.88 m) a.m.s.l.

6) a) b) c)

Alor/Nnobi Boundary by Ichie Okua Latitude 6‟04.00”N Longitude 6‟57.23”E Elevation 737 ft (223.33 m)

7) a) b) c)

At Nkwọ Alor by Civic Centre junction Latitude 6.04‟.44”N Longitude 6.57‟.57”E Elevation 706 ft (213.94 m) a.m.s.l.

8) a) b) c)

At Nnokwa Boundary along major road Latitude 6‟05.09”N Longitude 6‟56.11”E Elevation 718 ft (217.58 m) a.m.s.l. 19



This chapter is aimed at highlighting the characteristics of the sub-surface (underground) of Alor and the surrounding areas. Information is presented on the rock associations, their characteristics, their surficial expressions, and the economic benefits that have been derived from them from antiquity to date. As has already been discussed, the rock layers on which Alor and the surrounding towns stand are not the hard types and their relative softness is responsible for our woes as regards soil fertility and erosion. The information contained herein has been sourced from available literature on the geology of the area and beyond, from discussions with colleagues and, of course from the kind of personal observations one unconsciously makes in the course of being a “son of the soil” schooled in the relevant discipline.


Surficial Earth Materials – The Soil

Soil is considered the most important product of weathering – the physico-chemical processes that break rocks down. In Alor and the neighboring towns, the soil has been directly derived from the underlying bedrock except for the areally minor, though horticulturally important small strip of land flanking the Idemili River, i.e. the raffia palm swamp. Here the soil is derived from elsewhere – as a depositional product of floods from upland Alor and beyond, as well as the silty overbank material deposited by the river during its seasonal high waters. The soil has a simple profile – a top loose layer underlain by a lateritic horizon. The top layer is the cultivable part and ranges in thickness from a few decimeters to slightly over a meter. In some terrains, it may not even exist, having been eroded away. It is composed of sand, clay, and iron oxide and darkened by the organic content made up of decaying plant debris. There is usually a variety of living organisms – insects, worms and of course invisible microbes. Below this normally cultivable layer, across a transitional boundary marked by increasing brownness, is the subsoil – the lateritic layer – which may attain up to 15 metres in thickness, as is clear from hand-dug wells (umi) and as noted in such deep gullies as the Alor – Oraukwu ravine (see photograph below). The bulk of the material is still quartz sand with a minor clay content, but the presence of iron oxides imbues it with the striking reddish to yellowish brown colour. The process of lateritisation, which is 20

here largely by the introduction of iron oxide, has destroyed the layering and other sedimentary structures of the bedrock. Rarely, lateritisation may proceed to the formation of harder crusts – laterites proper.

Typical gully wall showing the lateritic soil (brownish red) developed on top of the highly erodible sand unit, the Nanka Formation It is remarkable how rapidly lateritisation process can take place. As an illustration, clear a lush virgin forest and cultivate the rich deep grey soil during a given cropping season. Return the following year and check the soil colour. Some tinges of brown would be in evidence. Cultivate for the second year and the reddish brown colour would no longer be in doubt. This is the scourge of tropical soils. It is largely responsible for the poor farm yield experienced by Alor and her neighbours.

The lateritic part of our soil profile is however not completely valueless. Lateritisation substantially reduces the porosity-permeability of the original sandy country rock, thus slowing infiltration and making it possible for the lateritic zone to retain water. This is the advantage exploited in using hand-dug wells (ụmị) or sumps to trap and store some of the runoff as flood waters that many families use well into the dry season. Although such water is absolutely unpotable, it comes in 21

handy for building purposes. An even greater value of the lateritic soil is its application in construction. Even in modern times it is still of value in construction of demarcation walls (ekpe) in farms and even homesteads. Before sandcrete blocks became fashionable, the only material for constructing walls of houses and compounds was lateritic soil. Once properly protected from the rains, such walls could last indefinitely. Indeed up to the early 1900 every building, was simply mud walls (plastered with cement or not) under a roof of grass or raffia palm thatch, including even the rare storeyed houses, such as that of the late Mr. Mark Nwose of Agbo quarter (see photograph below for the relic).

The ruins of the storeyed house built by Mark Nwose of Agbor quarter in the 1940s using lateritic soil material and decked with timber; hanging up there is good old Mark’s lantern


The use of lateritic material discussed above may be phasing out, but its application in modern civil construction is getting even more intense. It is perhaps the most reliable base course in modern highway construction. It is also the fill material prior to damp-proof course in modern houses. Thus to a large extent, these uses of lateritic soils in civil construction from antiquity to date make up for its downside as a poor agricultural base material.


The Bedrock – the Deeper Substratum

Alor, as elsewhere in southeastern Nigeria, sits on a series of rock formations emplaced within a large accommodation space created when, some 200 million years ago, the continents of Africa and South America drifted apart and between them came the Atlantic Ocean. This major event in the history of our Earth followed the crack-up of the supercontinent called Gondwana, which also gave rise to other pieces of land today called India, Australia, the Antarctica, and Madagascar. The said accommodation space is actually a sediment-filled furrow called the Benue Trough extending for over a thousand kilometers from southern Nigeria northeastwards to Maiduguri and beyond into Niger and Chad Republics. Adjustments within the hard rocks at its foundation, and within its sediment fill, as easily interpreted from the rock exposures in the Abakaliki area, caused the lowering of the southern portion which created space for the installation of two younger depositional regimes – the Anambra Basin, partially overlain by the Niger Delta Basin. From the studies of the regional distribution of the rock bodies and the occurrence of layers as noted in oil wells and exposures in gullies and road cuts, it has become clear that Alor is situated on one of the rock formations of the Niger Delta Basin, specifically the Ameki Group of sediments. Earlier reports assigned the general area to the Anambra Basin, but more information obtained by the analysis of oil wells drilled in the 1950s by Shell D‟Arcy has clarified the issue. The actual situation is that the rocks of the Anambra Basin can be found by digging down to between one thousand and two thousand metres below Alor, with the equivalent appearing on the surface somewhere around Oji River. An apparent paradox is that the rocks that belong to the Anambra Basin are hardly exposed on the surface within Anambra State (except in a small strip of land in the far southeastern tip of the state). The state is named after the Anambra River and not the rock formations. The Anambra Basin rocks lie deep in the subsurface; the bedrock we see on the surface in almost all of Anambra State belongs entirely to the Niger Delta Basin.

Now that Alor, and indeed all the towns around for over ten kilometer-radius with Alor as centre, have been locally, regionally and even globally situated, we may more closely focus on the immediate substratum. As indicated earlier under the surficial cover, directly below the lateritic 23

zone, however thick, is the bedrock of the area. The question that immediately arises is: what bedrock are we talking about, do we mean sand? Technically the base from which the soil has been formed is referred to as bedrock or country rock. Our own happens to be so loose, and that is essentially responsible for our devastating environmental scourge – erosion.

We can catch a glimpse of what really underlies Alor, and of course the towns around, by examining the gully wall profile of any of the deeper canyons, such as the Alor-Oraukwu gully. Standing at the edge of the gully, say somewhere behind St. John‟s Seconadary School, one sees the lateritic horizon superposed on a generally white zone extending to the gully bottom and surely deeper (see earlier photograph). This depicts the gross stratigraphy of the accessible part of the Nanka Formation, so named for being particularly well exposed in the horrendous gullies of the Agulu-Nanka-Oko-Ekwulobia area of Anambra State.

What we see on a close-up examination of the Alor-Oraukwu gully is the authentic subsurface that actually underlies the whole of Alor and beyond. It is mostly white coloured loose sand made of fine to coarse quartz grains, with dispersed clay and occasional smooth pebbles. Stratification is evident as horizontally demarcated beds which often show diagonal subdivisions in places bounded by very thin clay layers or tiny black grains. Some horizons are coloured violet to indigo, perhaps on account of the content of various kinds of iron oxide. In places, there are white to pink claystone (nzu) layers up to one metre thick and laterally extending several tens of metres. There are also oneto two-metre thick bands of deep brown to black, fine to coarse, properly consolidated rock which can appropriately be called sandstone (nkpume, okwuta). Such layers have evidently been preferentially converted into proper rock by impregnation with iron oxide cement. Rather rare are layers of yellow ochre (aja nwammọọ), a fine powdery material thought to consist of a waterbearing iron oxide. A way to assess the intensity or depth of gullying is to check if the white sands have become exposed, as is clear in the Alor – Oraukwu gully. This is also the case in the gully between Alor and Nnobi, as well as a few gashes on the flanks of the Idemili River.

Studies by experts show that the rock varieties comprising the Nanka Formation were the product of deposition in the near-shore area of the sea under pronounced tidal influence. This is estimated to have happened some thirty to thirty five million years ago. This means that, during that part of Earth history (called the Eocene Epoch), Alor and all such places underlain by the Nanka Sand were under the sea. One wonders why a rock formation whose age is measured in tens of millions


of years is still so loose, or at best only preferentially hardened in some volumetrically insignificant layers.


Economic Earth Materials

The economic earth material resources of Alor include lateritic soil, building sand, stone aggregates, claystones, and water. The first item in the list has been discussed and need not be flogged. Building sand is available from two sources: - flood-accumulated sand and river sand. There has been a general prohibition of sand scooping in flood channels. This is in aid of erosion control. Now that there are concrete storm drains flanking the major roads, it is advocated to scoop away the sand to keep the drain channels open. The amount of sand from this source is however insufficient to supply the booming building industry in Alor. The other source is the Idemili River channel. This source may be regarded as inexhaustible and has become a major income earner for able-bodied young men ready to go scooping.

The country home of Chief Ezekiel Obiegbu constructed in the 1940s with blocks hewn from ferruginous sandstone blocks from the Alor-Oraukwu gully

The other resource of interest is the dark, hard sandstone already described as occurring in restricted layers within the sand zones. Quarrying of the rock is now prohibited, but in the past, the Alor-Oraukwu gully was the main source of the aggregates for concrete and even building blocks. 25

Several monuments in Alor were constructed of building blocks hewn from the stones laboriously hauled up from the gully. Examples include St. Paul‟s Anglican Church, the old St. Mary‟s Catholic Church, and such private buildings as those of Chief Ezekiel Obiegbu of Umuoshi (see photograph below), and Chief Ugoenyi of Umunambu. Some shrines were even constructed using such stones, e.g. the Ezigbo shrine of Ọgbọgụ quarter in Ebenesii-Okebunoye village. It is all in the past now, but it is worth mentioning that the claystones, also from Alor –Oraukwu gully – also served as building material. In preparation for festive seasons such as ime Olise, and over time, for Christmas, houses and even compound walls were “painted” with white claystone (nzu) and murals painted using various colours of claystone, especially the ochres.

Water Resources Water supply in Alor is from several sources – Idemili River, direct rainfall, runoff, subsurface. The Idemili River has from antiquity supplied not only Alor but also all her neighbours and all the towns located along its valley right from its source at Agulu Lake down to its mouth at the left bank of the River Niger just downstream from Onitsha. The river has carved the topography down to a level where it has intersected the upper aquifer of the Nanka Formation and is therefore supplied by numerous tributaries that are actually groundwater seepages. This river is perennial, a critically important characteristic which has not only sustained the population from antiquity but has in modern times engendered all-year round vegetable farming. The endeavour has recently developed as a profitable pastime along the relatively narrow flood plain or fadama of the Idemili River. Women and children now carry out manual irrigation of the narrow strip of land at the foot of the river valley slopes, enabling the growth of vegetables round the year. A good measure of sustainability may be achieved if soil fertility is maintained using suitable chemical fertilizers.

Meteorological data from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture shows that the mean annual rainfall for the general area that includes Alor is about 1390 mm, recorded mainly from May to July, and from September to October. This translates to a double maximum within the rainy months, since there is usually a depression within August, which averages less than 100 mm precipitation. November to April may record virtually nil. The total volume of annual rainfall has been computed by an expert (Dr. Chris Akujieze of the University of Benin) to be about 13.90 x 2.0 x 106 m3 i.e. about 27.8 billion litres of water. Of this amount 15%, i.e. 4.17 billion litres is lost as surface runoff, while 55.5%, i.e. 15.43 billion litres is also lost by evaporation. This leaves only about 8.2 billion liters to infiltrate into the ground and recharge the groundwater. 26

Where there is an appropriate set of conditions, especially where the slope of the ground surface intersects the groundwater surface (water table), a spring will occur. Several such springs, as earlier stated, occur on both sides of the Idemili River. The lower 500 metres of the Alor-Oraukwu gully has a groundwater seepage (ọgbasalasala) that gathers into a perennial tributary of the river. At the Mmili Nwangene section of the river, a short but particularly clean brook ceaselessly flows out of the raffia palm grove. The main task had been to climb the long slopes bearing a heavy vessel of water. In the days gone by, Nnokwa and Adazi Ani people came all the way to fetch from these springs. It is worth noting that in those days, young girls had the responsibility of keeping the spring points and the immediate precincts clean. They even had a code of conduct stipulated in aid of sanitation around the water points; one could infringe upon the stipulations at the pain of a fine.

The direct harvest of rain water had been and is even an increasing mode of water supply in Alor. In the far past it was the practice to channel flood water within the compound into hand-dug wells (ụmị) within the compound and store for as long as possible. Such was simply mud water, usually brown to grey in colour, and obviously a cocktail of invisible microbes. It however served quite some domestic use, save for consumption. Today, such wells are still dug, but more for flood control than for domestic water supply. By far cleaner is the water harvested direct from the rainfall via the roofs – whether thatch or corrugated iron sheets. In the past harvest was into a few pots or other vessels and just saved the labour of fetching drinking water from down the stream for a short while, and even then for only the rainy season. The practice has now advanced to catching rain water in large plastic tanks and piping into the house. It has even blossomed to harvesting from the roofs direct into appropriately constructed ground concrete tanks for storage and all-year round supply. This has saved the rich and affluent the very high costs involved in drilling and maintaining boreholes. Besides, experience has shown that drilling boreholes in Alor can be quite tricky on account of the occurrence of relatively thick claystone horizons which are often tough and sticky to drill through.

Going down memory lane, it is germane to recall that about 1959, a pipe-borne water project was executed in Alor, courtesy, Chief P.N. Okeke, then Eastern Nigeria Minister of Agriculture, and Chief S.M.B Ojukwu, the then Chairman of Onitsha Northern County Council. The supply was from an aquifer (water-saturated zone) substantially deeper (about 45 metres) than that issuing the springs discussed above. The supply well was sited at the foot of the hill some one hundred metres 27

from the Idemili River at the section of it called Mmili Ezigbo. The location of this source at the lowest part of Alor meant that distribution involved pumping up the slope to public outlets and a small number of private homes. The problem soon boiled down to fuel for running the pumps, as well as the general maintenance costs. Although the system lasted over 25 years, it eventually proved unsustainable and had to be abandoned.

Later efforts at restoring pipe-borne water scheme involved drilling boreholes in Umuoshi, i.e. near the highest points in Alor. Here the main aquifer is a 20-metre thick sand interval with its top lying at a depth of 170 m and at Nkwọ market some 140 metres deep. It is semi-confined, since it is sandwiched between two plastic clay intervals, which fact accounts for the initial artesian flow that supplied the Nkwọ market area. Clay lenses, intercalated within the thick sands, constitute perched aquifers with non-continuous water yields. The static water level varies from 140 meters at Umuoshi, to 135 meters around Nkwọ market.

Now that the construction of private boreholes has become fashionable even though expensive, it may be advised to reduce the chances of failure and minimize costs by carrying out appropriate geophysical studies to determine the depth to the water table. Construction should be by experienced drillers, supervised by competent professionals.





The location, climate and weather, physiography, geology and other physical aspects of Alor have been discussed in the foregoing chapters. We may therefore now take those discussions as a background against which to place the environmental perspective. Much of the information contained herein has been sourced by collating and analysing responses to questionnaires served to a good number of residents, complemented by personal observations of the author, as well as oral communication with several people.


Vegetation: - Food and Other Valuable Crops

Alor is located within the tropical rain forest, and so is supposed to be dominated by forest species typical of that vegetational belt of the world. In fact this was the situation up to mid-twentieth century. In those days, lush green forests adorned all the villages, as evidenced today by the few remnant sacred groves, as well as some relict tree species widespread and far between, dotting the landscape.

Typical vegetation – essentially a relict patch or secondary forest within the villages 29

Our plants have served and are still serving many purposes, indicated (not exhaustively) as follows: Timber for construction of houses, furniture including chairs, beds. Food items – bulk foods, beverages, alcoholic drinks, vegetables, fruits, fodder. Medicaments – for fever, dressing wounds and sores. Household items – mortars (ikwe/odo, ọkwa), pestles (aka odo), ladles (eku), spoons, cups, bowls, baskets and trays (ụkpa, anyala, ngịga), brooms (azịza), fodder (nni eghu), fans (akụpe), mats (ute), ropes (ịgba ngwọ, ekwele), wrapping materials. Farm implements – hoes, shovels, handles for machetes and other metal implements. Musical instruments – drums (ịgba), ukolo, ekwe, ọyọ, ụbọ, xylophone (ikwe mgbo), flute (ọja). Weapons – for offence and defense – bows and arrows, hunting and trapping tools, charms. Miscellaneous materials, tools and equipment – walking sticks (mkpa), chewing sticks (atụ ọnụ), coffins/caskets, masquerade garbs, dyes and body décor materials (ushe, uli, ọgaalụ).

Another sample of vegetation of Alor – mainly oil palm bush with the more recently introduced cashew; grass marks the derived savanna and a glimpse of the soil shows its highly lateritic nature


We may elaborate a bit on the food crops, many of which were planted, but some of which grow in the wild: Staple foods – yams including abana, ukom, abị, adaka; cocoyam (ede ọkụ and ede akasị), ọna, adụ; beans (akịdị, ukpodudu), maize (ọka, ọgbadụ), cassava (akpụ), pumpkin (anyụ), plantain (ojoko), banana (unele). Vegetable plants - inine (Amaranthus sp.), ọkwụlụ (Abelmoschus esculantus), eliamịọnụ (Celosia argenta), ahịhaa (Corchorus olitorus), ụtazị (Gongrenema latifolium), nchụ anwụ (Ocimum viridis), ọha, abụbọ (Pterocarpus sp.), ańala (Solanum aethiopicum), ụgụ (Telfaria occidentalis), bitter leaf onumu (Vernonia amygdalina), ụzịza (Piper guineense), pepper ose (Piper nigrum).

A mango tree at the flowering stage – February to March Edible fruits – oil palm nkwụ (Elaeis guineensis), ụkpaka (Pentaclethra macrophylla), icheku/cheleku (Dialium guineense), uguli (Irvingia gabonense), kola nut ọjị (Cola acuminata), ụdala (Chrysophyllum albidium), ube (Dacryodes edulis), ube okpoko (Canarium schweinforthii), 31

mmịmị (Denntia tripetala), ose ọjị (Aframomum melegueta), ugolo (Garcinia cola), ụdala nwenwe (Paschystela breviceps), ụtụ (Landolphia spp.), ụkpa (Tetracapedium conophorum), ụda (Xylopia aethiopicum), bread fruit ukwa (Treculia africana), castor oil ogili (Ricinus communis), paw paw (Carica papaya), mango (Mangifera indica), orange oloma (Citrus sinensis), guava (Psidium guajava), mkpọdu (Napoleana vogelli), etc.

A mango tree in fruit – April to May


Ube tree (Dacryodes edulis) with fruits prior to ripening


Ukwa tree (Treculia Africana) in fruit


Animal Communities

A number of wild animals used to be known; they are now either extinct or hardly ever sighted in Alor. The following can be recorded:Mammals:- monkey (enwe), gorilla (adaka ọzọ, ọzọ dimgba), tiger (agụ owulu), leopard (ọdụm), rat (oke), rabbit (oke ogene), grass-cutter (nchi), antelope (ene) edi, eyi, ululu, mgbada, squirrel (ọsa), uze, oghu, bat (ụsụ), porcupine (ebi ogbu). 34

Reptiles: - lizard (ngwele), chameleon (egwumagana), crocodile (agụ-iyi), snakes (eke and agwọ, including python (eke ọgba), etc. Insects:- cricket (abụzụ), termites (mkpu, akụ), mbene, butterflies (ululukuma), bees (anwụ), flies (ijiji), mosquitoes (anwụ nta), tsetse fly (odudu), elughelelu, agbịsị, bedbugs (chinchi), lice (igwu), sand fly (ịbụba), cockroach (ụchịcha), etc.

Birds: - chicken (ọkụkọ), duck (ọbagwo), turkey (tolotolo), dove (ndulu), owl (ikwikwii), kite (agụnankwọ), hawk (egbe), vulture (udene), eagle (ugo), pigeon (kpanakwukwu), dove (ndulu), obe shọọshọọ, etc. Miscellaneous: - snails (njuna), earthworms (idide), centipede (ọgbakụlụ nwoke), millipede (alịlị), scorpion (akpị), spider (ududo), toad (mbala), frog (awọ). Alor people have from far past been very much involved in pastoral farming – albeit on small scale and lacking in sophistication – rearing such domestic animals as goats, sheep, cows, chicken and rarely ducks. Up to 1956 dogs were kept as a normal domestic animal in Alor, but when outbreaks of rabbis claimed some lives, keeping them was banned by the town government. They were never reared for meat, since eating dog meat has been and still remains a very strong taboo. They were, in those days, kept as pets, for security or hunting purposes, and for selling to those neighbouring towns that have had it as a delicacy.

There has been some measure of sophistication introduced in chicken rearing. This has been by way of construction of large enough pens to accommodate chicken in their scores and providing all sorts of other gadgets – drinkers, feeders, as well as purchasing poultry feed in large quantities. All this would require a relatively large capital outlay for a rural setting where demand for poultry product might be rather low or seasonally high at best. Add the risk of disease and nonavailability of veterinary services, and the venture becomes a lot riskier. This is the main reason there has not been a particularly successful poultry farm. However, here and there in the town, there is some attempt at large-scale poultry rearing, even if just to cash in on the elevated demand for meat and eggs during festive seasons, especially Christmas.



Human Impact on the Environment

The greatest threat to our environment is population growth. As any Alor indigene fifty years of age or older can recall, ours was a community of small population. There was therefore rather little or no adverse impact on the environment. With relatively few motor vehicles traversing the town, there was minimal wear and tear on the roads and exhaust fumes were hardly noticeable. In those days, there were only a few buildings with corrugated iron roofing, and so concentrated runoff following heavy rains was minimal. This kept erosion at a low rate, and the overall interference with the environment was far less, which can account for the much lower rate of loss of biodiversity. The weather of the town was generally more stable. All these have now changed, evidently following the rising indigenous and immigrant populations.

The upset in our environment may be traced back to some forty years ago, i.e. around 1968 during the civil war when there was a large influx of refugees into Alor. Not being a particularly large town, the population pressure resulted in putting whatever land space available under cultivation just to eke out some livelihood. This resulted in a massive deforestation that affected even the sacred groves (shrines). This marked the beginning of the gradual loss of our forests. Additionally, construction of residential houses has been on the increase ever since, and this has meant the clearing of more forests, which are never replanted. The custom of giving every male child a piece of land to build his own separate homestead has further consumed available land. At the rate the population is increasing, we may soon completely run out of building space. The net effect of all these issues is increasing instability in the system, resulting in increasing soil erosion, loss of biodiversity, continuing change of weather and climate, and declining soil productivity.

The particularly unfortunate aspect of our problem is that the vast majority of our people are quite ignorant of our current and emerging travails. Herein lies the tragedy of our situation. A good number of our native plants and animals have disappeared, others are going slowly, but steadily, and this should be of concern to all Alor citizens at home and in diaspora. At the moment, we cannot successfully predict what the ultimate impact of the disappearance of our native animals and plants, as well as climate change, will be. All or nearly all of our timber trees, which were sawn to provide timber products for housing construction, are now extinct or nearly so. For instance, all the remaining iroko (Clorophora excelsa) trees in Alor can be counted on the fingers of the two hands if not one alone. We cultivate a narrow range of food crops and cash crops and the few still remaining record very poor yield. For instance, banana (Musa sapientum) was in the past (1950 – 1970) abundant and cheap in Alor, hence the main market was tagged “Nkwọ ogede”. And so, we 36

are fast losing all the plants that served numerous uses for our people, making the future quite bleak.

Plantain and banana very common in Alor; note the double bunch plantain production from just a single stand Our native animal diversity and population are also steadily diminishing. For instance, we do not see monkeys any more, despite their being so common in the 1950s and 1960s. The other big game animals are no longer there too. The popular cricket (abụzụ) which used to be relished by children as a source of protein is virtually gone. All these should cause us a lot of concern if we realize the implications for the future.

In the absence of baseline data, questionnaires were served our people for the purpose of establishing those of our animal and plant species which have become extinct and those at the verge 37

of disappearing, and those that are still abundant (if any). The findings are quite worrisome, as revealed by the excerpts in the following table.

Table 1 Extinct and endangered plants of Alor S/N 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Extinct species ọwhọ (Detarium senegalensis) ụkụ (Billonella toxisperma) ngwu (Albizia ferruginea) ngwọ unwo (Raphia rufia) adụ (Dioscorea bulbifera) ọtọbili nwata ọnụ ala (Dioscoreophyllum communisii) ụdala nwa enwe (Paschystela breviseps) elo mkpu mushrooms wowo (Scleria barteri) ọgaalụ (Cassia alata) uli (Rothmannia spp.) ube okpoko (Canarium schweinfurthii) ikpo ụtụ (Landolphia spp.) mmịmị (Dennettia tripetala) ubulu (Nauclea popeguine) ose ọjị (Aframomum melegueta) okwe – a species of beans ịbaa (Mucua sloanei) ọkpa anya atụlụ (Vocindzera subterranea) ụshe (cam wood)

S/N 1 2 3 4 5 6

Endangered species iroko, ọjị (Chlorophora excelsa) akpụ (Ceiba sp.) orange (Citrus sinensis) ngwọ mmili (Raphia hookeri) ogilisi (Newbouldia laevis) oil palm (Elaeis guineensis)

7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36

local mangoes (Mangifera spp.) mkpọdu (Napoleona vogelli) ụdala (Chrysophyllum albidium) ahaba (Acioa barteri) ube (Dacroydes edulis) ụkwa (Treculia africana) sweet sop (Annona squamosa) anunuu (Lonchacarpus sp.) cheleku/icheku (Dialium gunense) banana unele (Musa sapientum) ụlụ (Musanga cercropoides) ọjị igbo (Cola acuminata) ede ọkụ (Xanthosoma spp.) ahịhaa (Cochorus olitorus) anyasi (Glyphaea brevis) abọsị (Baphia nitida) ọha (Pterocarpus sp.) ugolo (Garcinia cola) okwe – a species of beans akịdị (Vigna unguiculata) nchụ anwụ (Ocimum viridis) ji abana (Dioscoria alata) ugili (Irvingia gabonense) castor oil plant ogili (Ricinus communis) mbubo (Lagenaria scienaria) oba (Lagengria sp.) ijikala (Spondias mombin) oke akpa (Carpolobea lutea) ụkpa (Tetracapedium conophorum)

May it be emphasized that the list above are far from complete. For instance, where are the numerous trees, shrubs, and herbs, woody climbers, e.g. apali (lianes), herbaceous climbers, creepers, trailers, decomposers (macro- and micro-), saprophytes and stranglers that used to adorn our forests (oke osha), our bushes (mkpu), and the farm plots around the homesteads (mbubo)? Where are the big game animals regularly hunted by our professional hunters (from Uruezeani) and their dogs? Where are the birds – big and small, the numerous insects, e.g. the winged termites 38

(aku)? The list cannot be exhausted in this limited documentation. The real tragedy of our situation is that many of the species of animals and plants are fast slipping away from both existence and memory, and those who knew them when they were around are themselves also fast aging and passing on. Even if we remember the names and/or the uses, we may not recall what the plants and animals looked like since there were neither pictorial nor descriptive records. Table 2 Extinct and endangered animal species of Alor S/N Extinct species 1 Monkeys - enwe 2 Tiger, leopard, lion – agụ, ọdụm 3 Python – eke ogba 4 Cobra - agwọ 5 Mgbada 6 Ene 7 Cricket - abụzụ 8 Some beetles and their larvae (akpa agbụgbọ) 9 Ngwele aghụlị 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20


S/N 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Endangered species Snails – njuna – koso Earthworms - idide Rabbits – eyi Grass cutter – nchi Milipedes – aịlị Centipedes – ọgbakụlụ nnwoke Butterflies – ululukuma Kites/hawks – egbe Dove – ndulu Wood pecker – ọtụlụ kpọkpọlọlọ Owl – ikwiikwii Apịa Agụ nankwọ Asha Ndulu Nza Ọkwa Ụsụu nwangwu Toad – awọ Frog – mbala Moths Beetles – ebe Local python – eke Winged termites – akụ

Suggestions for the Management of our Natural Resources

Owing to large-scale construction of residential houses, our land resources are fast shrinking and there is no way we can carry out a massive reforestation. However, as a community, we should make a conscious effort to stem the erosion menace by taking simple measures to reduce runoff. This can be done by constructing large enough concrete underground tanks to harvest rain water from the roofs for later use, as well as the use of hand-dug wells (umi) to trap flood waters. These measures reduce the amount of flood waters exiting the walled premises. Villages should protect their access roads by constructing and conscientiously maintaining roadside catch pits whose function is to reduce the rate of flood flow and prevent its erosive effect. Farming should follow contour ploughing that reduces or completely prevents soil loss and rilling that develops into


gullies. The town government should make it a priority to maintain the concrete storm drains flanking the modern highways that now traverse the town.

We should endeavour to reintroduce the valuable plants by sourcing them from wherever they can be found. Where possible, even the timber trees should be reintroduced. All this would involve sourcing the seeds or propagules of the plants from wherever they still exist, germinating them and raising them in nurseries and making the seedlings available for distribution to individuals, institutions, and organisations to enable them effect massive replanting in homes, schools, churches, markets, open spaces, village squares, roadsides, etc. We can do the same for our native species of animals, by capturing/buying them and rearing them in captivity. But for space limitations and financial constraints, the ideal thing would be to create botanical and zoological gardens where some of the endangered species can be reintroduced. In this conscious manner, we shall be leaving a worthy legacy for posterity.




2.1 Origins of Alor – M.C. Obiagwu 2.2 Alor writ large in Igboland – E.E. Ndubuisi


2.1 ORIGINS OF ALOR Marcel Obiagwu



Several stories and unauthoritative sources have attempted to account for the origin of Alor. Some documents have also been found tracing the origin of the town to a particular ancestral area and people. But coherence and a common point of dispersal are lacking in these well-intentioned and spirited efforts. This contribution takes a step forward in the task of synthesizing the fragments of information regarding the historical and especially the genealogical account of Alor.

Alor is one of the seven communities comprising the Idemili South Local Government of Anambra State in the southeast geopolitical zone of Nigeria. The town is surrounded by seven neighbouring towns some of which belong to two other local governments. The boundaries with these other towns are either gullies (Oraukwu and Nnobi) or the Idemili River (Abatete, Ideani and Uke). Only Adazi Ani and Nnokwa lie across a land boundary. Alor, and indeed all her neighbours, may be regarded as a gift of the Idemili River. It may indeed have determined the choice of our present location for settlement by our forebears. In Alor alone the river has several names in most cases derived from the major idol of the village touched by the river – Mmili Ezigbo, Mmili Nwangene, Mmili Ọhọsha, Mmili Ideoọhwọlọ, Mmili Iyiogwgwu, and Mmili Ọbịaja.


Legends of Igbo Origin

The information on migration and settlement of the Igbo people is shrouded in ambiguous and contradictory legends that have not helped historians to move forward. Some Igbos claim Jewish origin and strongly believe that they migrated from the Middle East, specifically Israel, in the preChristian era. They base this claim on similarity or correspondence in the phonics and lingual accent. For instance Igbo is thought to resemble Hebrew in sound. Thus, by inference, Igbos might be Hebrews or Jews. This hypothesis has never been checked against archeological or linguistic data and therefore may be difficult to accept. Another group of Igbos holds that since they are an object of hate by their fellow constituents of a country or large regional area, just like the Jews, the two peoples must have a common origin. However, even if the common hate theory is true, the causes are not the same. A third group hinges a Jewish origin on religious observances. But this appears more sentimental than factual. The Israelis are not Christians but essentially Judaists. They are Mosaics and do not recognise the messiahship of Jesus Christ. 42

It may be helpful to consider what non-Igbos think of the question of Igbo origin and settlement. Early European travelers to the Igbo heartland tended to compound the mystery. They are known to have marveled at the socio-political coherence that existed among the Igbos. The Igbo culture thrived in a dense population that had no monarchies, no standing army, and no police force. This made them speculate that Igbo people must earlier have been a component of an advanced civilization such as the Middle East. They base their speculation on some similarities between the Igbos and the Hebrews, especially with regard to language, law of sanctuary, circumcision, atonement rituals, and belief in one Supreme Being (God, Chukwu, Olisa). An example of language is the correspondence in sound between Ibo (Igbo) and Hebrew. They, like the Igbos themselves, thought Igbo to be a corruption of Hebrew. The conclusion was then that Igbos must have been descendants of one of the lost tribes of Israel which might have occupied part of Egypt during the days of Moses and later migrated to their present location in the lower Niger area.

Unfortunately, clinging to Jewish or Middle Eastern hypothesis in terms of culture, language and religion has not helped to establish Igbo origin. Researchers are now focusing their attention on Igboland as the original homeland of the Igbos. Theories of the origin of Alor are on the same murky terrain. Alor is said to have migrated from Nri (Nshi) community in Agu Ukwu in Njikoka Local Government area of Anambra State. Oral tradition has it that Alor left Nri in company of his three younger brothers – Ojoto, Adike (progenitor of Obosi), and Igbouzo and migrated to the locations that now bear those names. It is not clear whether they had a temporary sojourn in any one location before dispersing, or the rest proceeded while Alor settled down where the town is now located. The theory of the association of the four brothers is very much supported by the people of these various towns. Umuoshi, a component village of Alor, is thought to be a corruption of the Umu Nri, i.e. descendants or children of Nri. The corruption of the pronunciation most probably arose because of the absence of the letter r in Alor dialect (along with letters f and v).

Another issue is whether Igbouzo is related to Alor in whole or only in part. The accounts given by Ohadike (1994, Anioma: a social history of the Western Igbo People) and Onwuejeogwu, M.A. (The Traditional Political System of Ibusa) do not seem to bear out the said relationship. It is very likely therefore that the relationship would be only in part.

Apart from the simple oral claim that our great ancestor, Alor, came from Nri, there seems to be nothing else about him, such as his status in society or even his parentage. For instance, was he one 43

of the sons of Eze Nri? It may be speculated that he was a chief or a warrior in the Nri kingdom. At what point in history did he migrate from Nri to the present location? What is the meaning of the name Alor? Is it even an Igbo word? There may be no immediate answers to these questions. Nevertheless, the theory of the Nri provenance for the ancestor of Alor is taken as authentic. The departure could as well have been during the Nri movement that started from 900 AD and pervaded the Igboland and culture up to 18th century.


Dispersal from the Nri Kingdom

An incontrovertible fact emerging from oral tradition is that there was a man called Agbudugbu. In the absence of any other tradition, we are constrained to take that name as a sobriquet for Alor, most probably a fame name arising from the forcible subjugation of the people he met on arrival at a location he chose to settle. That location is in the quarter that now bears the name Umubelu, not far from the left bank of the Idemili River. Where he built his abode is to this day referred to as Obi Eze Agbudugbu. Alor is planning to construct a befitting structure on the site which has recently been reidentified and secured – see picture below.

The entrance to the site where Agbudugbu reportedly settled, now designated as Obi Alor

It is not clear if he migrated from Nri with any wife, which point warrants the speculation that he might as well have married from any community he met on ground. What is clear however is that he had two sons named Ezi and Ifite. 44

What propelled Alor to seek a new settlement outside of Nri kingdom is not indicated by oral tradition or any written account. It has however been speculated that he was a farmer and the search for fertile land brought him to the location we know today as Alor. The northern fringe of Alor town forming part of the Idemili River valley as probably the attraction on account of its fertility. Another strand of thought has been that since many of the Nri founding fathers in some towns lying to the east of the River Niger were hunters, itinerant diviners, fortune tellers or exiles, the man Alor could as well have been one of them. He found a relatively comfortable abode in the left bank of the Idemili River. It is noteworthy that Ojoto is located downstream of the same river, and Obosi further downstream. It does appear very likely that the Idemili River was a very important determinant in settling three of the brothers in the present locations of the towns they founded.

Prior to their final dispersion, was the location now called Alor a transit setting for the brothers, or did they move straight on from Nri to the various final locations? Again there is no evidence to support any of the alternatives. Rather it appears logical that they initially settled at Alor for a considerable period. As already stated, the Idemili River valley most probably disposed the brothers to later proceed farther downstream. With hunting and farming as their main occupations, the tract of fertile land and lush forests flanking the river would be the most important assets available to them.

As is now well known, Ojoto had two sons who were the progenitors of the two parts of the town now known as Ojoto Obofia and Ojoto Uno. From Obofia sprang Enugo, Ndiabo, Umuezeama and Ezema. From Ojoto Uno sprouted Ezieke, Umuchem and two others. The story of Obosi is more elaborately recounted later (this volume), so suffice it to state presently that Adike went along with Ojoto, temporarily sojourned with him and, from his hunting expeditions, spied out a place which he built for settlement. The name of the town, Obosi, is said to have been derived from the crumbly behaviour of the mud with which Adike was trying to build an abode. The legend is strong that, only by returning to Alor with his immediate senior brother, Ojoto, and getting the blessing of Alor, did the house eventually stand. Thereafter, Adike married a woman called Akwugo (her place not clear, but must be one of the neighbouring towns) and sired two sons who proceeded to populate the town which now has nine villages, the basis for the expression “Obosi aka teghete”.

As earlier mentioned, the youngest of the brothers that struck out from Nri was the progenitor of Igbouzo. This does not seem to have a strong basis in oral tradition or any written record. There is 45

actually some written record which drew from oral tradition as to how the town Ibusa originated. The town is said to have been founded by Umejei, son of Ikenga, the king of Isu, a town near Awka in Anambra State. By the laws of Isu, Umejei had to either be hanged or go into exile for committing an abominable act. Not now quite clear, it had to do with killing his wife‟s lover or inadvertently killing his opponent in a wrestling match. Either way, whether aforethought or inadvertent, the laws of the land had the same retribution – exile or hanging. Umejei‟s father chose exile for the son.

Umejei left Isu on exile, accompanied by several sympathizers including Onuoha his sister, and Abala his younger brother. He carried on his head a pot containing some charm prepared by the father who instructed him to travel westwards and to settle down to a new life wherever the pot fell. It was at a location called Omeze in the present-day Igbouzo that the pot fell off his head. The band of travelers right away cleared the bush and settled down. Umejei named the place Igbouzo, connoting Igbo settlement far from home.

It is clear, from the above account, that there is not even a remote indication of any connection with Alor or Nri as a provenance for the people of Igbouzo. However, there is some considerably strong claim that a component part of what is presently Igbouzo town had a genetic relationship with Alor. Research in this direction is therefore clearly desirable.


Progenies of Alor

As a symbol marking the point of dispersal of the progenies of the man Alor, his original abode, our ancestral cradle now stands as the Obi Eze Agbudugbu at Umumbelu. It was here he sired his two sons – Ezi and Ifite. It bears repeating that where he sourced his wife is not clear. It might even be likely that the two sons had separate mothers; a powerful man was likely to have more than one wife. However, whether from one mother or two, Ezi is said to be the elder, and himself had three sons who were respectively the forebears of the present Umuoshi, Ebenesii-Okenunoye and Etiti. The primordial elements of Umuoshi were two brothers – Mbakwe and Mkpuluose. Mbakwe begot Onyekonwu, Ukatu and Agu whose descendants now constitute the kindred called Isigwu Ngo. From Mkpuluose descended Ojukwu Enendu, Ezeukwu, and Igwe Ezenwa, who now make up the kindred called Isigwu Akwa.

The two Isigwus were the nucleus of Umuoshi, a name again indicative of the genetic ancestral relationship between Alor and Nri. But not all of Umuoshi as presently known could be traced to 46

Nri. Immigrants include Ihuwam, Iru Mgbabichi (now changed to Ebubechukwu), Nkwelle, and Obiangwu. It is speculated that the immigrants converged from various points including Nneni and Oraukwu; Iru Mgbabichi people are known to have migrated from Aro Ndizuogu.

Etiti and Okebunoye are the two other components of Ezi Alor. The names appear to have been derived from politics or geography rather than from descendancy or kindred relationship. Their constituents are therefore confederates rather than kinsfolk. Etiti, literally meaning centre or middle, consists of three units – Agbo, Umunambu and Isieke. Okebunoye, literally meaning “the boundary is at Oye marketplace”, consists of six units (hence also called Ebenesii): - Umumbelu, Orafia, Uhudunu, Ogbogu, Eziafor, and Umudim. It is somewhat curious that Umuoshi, being the eldest son of Agbudugbu, did not occupy the location of Obi Eze Agbudugbu following the normal inheritance routine. Rather the village is located at the southeastern border. The descendants of the second son, Okebunoye, occupy the northeastern area bordering the gully and the upstream part of the Idemili River. Etiti, as the name connotes, occupies the middle part, bordering the AlorOraukwu gully.

Ifite, the second son of Alor, also had three sons whose descendants now constitute the villages called Uruezeani, Umuokwu and Ide, in order of seniority. Uruezeani village probably had its ancestor by the name Ezeani. By the same strand of reasoning, Umuokwu would be the descendants of the man Okwu. It is not clear for Ide, but perhaps the ultimate forebear went by that name. It may be noted at this juncture that each village of Alor, as indicated in the map, actually had a nucleus, the real “sons of the soil”, onto which was patched a considerable number of immigrants who arrived Alor from far and near, in singles or in groups, in some cases fleeing from some form of oppression. Some came as servants in the households of the rich and powerful. The origins of some of these immigrant families are still within living memory. In Okebunoye for instance, the progenitors of a number of well known families came from Abatete as servants and stayed on. In a particular case, only recently did they give up the land they owned in Abatete. They are now seamlessly assimilated into the various kindred (umunna) units of the original master. Since no written records could ever have been possible a century or so ago, any accounts of who was who are gradually dimming away. By and large the original descendants of Agbudugbu appear to have been so liberal, especially as regards land, that Alor has indeed been a melting pot of peoples from a large mix of provenances within Igboland.


A pertinent issue, already raised, is why Umuoshi, the first son of Agbudugbu, is located at the southeastern portion of Alor rather than the original area, where the Obi Eze Agbudugbu is located, i.e. Umumbelu. The status quo is that Umuoshi, specifically Isigwu Ngo, the first son of Agbudugbu, is the holder of Ofo Alor – the traditional symbol of authority. Among the responsibilities of this kindred is the duty of issuing the staff of office to any intending title holder, including as far up as the Igwe of Alor, a traditional institution established in 1972. Additionally, the kindred is the caretaker of the sanctuary, i.e. the shrine located at Nkwo Alor. The kindred therefore commands a lot of respect within Alor.

The matter of the location of Isigwu Ngo at its present place may possibly have to do with security. The progenitor even possibly moved to the present location while Agbudugbu was still alive, perhaps in order to secure that southeastern border against incursion or external aggression. It is also possible that the first son of Agbudugbu wanted more space and saw that area as freely available for acquisition. This point easily connects to the availability of fertile farmland. Perhaps Umumbelu area had become less fertile than desired, especially given its slopy nature as well as proneness to erosion.


Alor Diaspora

Even in the far past, elements of Alor had cause to migrate to locations near and far, and even beyond Igboland. While the descendants of Agbudugbu increased in population within the homeland, and even began to receive refugees, escapees from oppression, stragglers and immigrants that chose Alor as their final or transient destination began to arrive the town. This was perhaps why some indigenes of Alor also chose to relocate elsewhere. Their various destinations, apart from such cities as Onitsha, Enugu, Umuahia, Lagos and Kano, included Ukpor, Alor Uno, Alor Agu, Ihiala, Akwukwu-Igbo, and Okrika (Orukpabo Family).

Ideani may be cited as the most prominent example of Alor diaspora, but that town is a special case of territorial expansionist endeavour gone overboard. A fuller account will be given elsewhere in this volume, but suffice it for now to state that before 1970, it was a part and parcel of the Ide village of Alor. The town occupies a parcel of land which was in the late 19th century a subject of dispute between Uke and Alor. The dispute actually involved physical fighting. Alor prevailed in the battles, but whenever the combatants crossed the Idemili River back to the mainland, Uke reoccupied the territory. Volunteers were then drafted, mainly from Ide village, to garrison the territory. The area was thus simply a part of Ide village and over time began to be referred to as Ide 48

Ani in order to distinguish it from the Ide village of the mainland, which by automatic implication was Ide Enu. Tendencies towards autonomy became manifest as the original garrisoners passed on and their descendants felt too far removed from the mainland of Alor. Besides, the animosity between them and Uke seemed to have died down rather too quickly. As could be imagined, Nkwo Alor and other markets lay across a vast uninhabited hilly area bordering the Idemili River, and were therefore too far removed for daily market attendance. Eke Uke was much nearer. Common attendance at the market places must have engendered intermarriage and other cross-cultural interactions that culminated in the alteration of the dialect of the Ideani people from Alor to that of Uke. The alienation was at once inevitable and natural. Secession offered itself and the struggle lasted from early 20th century to just after the civil war when all means possible, including underhand methods and subterfuge, were employed to become listed as one of the nineteen towns of the Idemili Local Government area of the then East Central State.

Ukpor is another place with a thriving Alor diaspora. A fuller account is given later in this volume by a prominent indigene of Ukpor who himself is a descendant of the original pair that left Alor, perhaps up to three hundred years ago. Since records were not documented, oral accounts are bound to have distorted the actual facts. The point remains, however, that some of the most materially well endowed parts of Ukpor are a fragment of Alor.

Marcel C. Obiagwu, BA (Hons) Former Librarian, University of Port Harcourt Consulting Library Scientist






Alor in the 19th century was a typical Igbo rural autonomous republican community, untainted by any contact with western civilization. There were noble men as village heads, with some influence resulting from achievement and not from heritage. No one person was lord and master of all. Alor is one of the seven autonomous towns which make up the present Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State of Nigeria.


Physical Setting and its Effects

Alor has an area of approximately twenty five square kilometers of broken land mass situated on a slope that declines northwards to the Idemili River, which is variously known by the villagers as Mmili Ezigbo, Nwangene, Okide and Ọbịaja. The river is a natural boundary between Alor and Abatete, Uke and Ideani. The terrain is largely broken on account of the swift run-off of flood waters mostly originating from Nnokwa and Adazi Ani which stand on a higher terrain. The result is a multiplicity of destructive gullies. The largest of them lies between Alor and Oraukwu, with its head (Isi Ogwugwu) in the southeast abutting on Adazi Ani. For both Alor and Oraukwu the gully has acted as a natural bulwark against incursions and attacks across the border. In times of danger, the Isi Ogwugwu offers both sides a relatively secure and defensive boundary. It had in the past been exploited economically for lump-stones and white claystone (nzu). Only between Adazi Ani and Nnokwa, are there no prominent gullies as boundaries, with the result that the three towns more easily intermingle and establish homesteads without very clear cut break or demarcation. On the southern side – between Alor and Nnobi – there is a not-too-deep gully created mainly by floods from Nnokwa. It has been a natural boundary down to Obiaja, the local name for the Idemili River. As a summary of the physically peculiar natural setting of Alor, Nwajide (1983) stated thus “Alor is a unique place, how many localities are so clearly and so naturally demarcated from their neighbours? Of the six or so towns around us, only two – Adazi and Nnokwa – have a direct and unbreached land connection. All the others can only be reached after negotiating a gully or a river”.

With as much of the land mass as over fifteen percent taken over by gullies, and the top soils easily washed away by the ferocious floods, agriculture had from time immemorial been severely handicapped as a means of survival. Rising population, which was a requirement for the numerous 50

wars Alor had to wage, forced the people to reach out for greener pastures. On this matter of early dispersal or expansion Nwajide (1983) further postulated as follows “Perhaps, they were not to blame, since the features probably developed after their choice of site, or if they were great military tacticians and settled for a naturally well-protected place. If on discovering later how hemmed in they were, they sought to expand. So we can easily understand those military exploits of the dim past between Alor and virtually every surrounding town. We can understand the Ideani question, we can understand owning economic trees and even shrines at Obodo Oji (Abatete) and all such avuncular tentacular relationships”.

The gullies and the Idemili River checkmated any expansion. Those whose lands were washed away were the first to move out to Odida (in Abatete), an outpost across the stream. Later, because of the hostilities, which were many, it became sensible to seek for opportunities in far-away areas not considered inimical at the slightest provocation. Hence the extensive fertile land at Oze in the Anambra River Valley (Oyi Local Government) beckoned on Alor youths for exploitation. It was in the course of farming at Oze that contact with European missionaries and white traders was established. It was through such contacts that imported items such as tobacco, spirits (e.g. gin and schnapps), textiles, machetes, and stockfish were brought back to Alor.

As peasant farmers, people had to exploit the abundant palm trees for drinks and building materials. Raffia palms along the banks of Idemili River had provided thatches, ropes as well as the sweet drinks preferred by the women folk and children. Indeed Alor people often indulged in palm wine orgies at the Nkwọ market and enjoyed the nick name “Alor mba nkwụ” (Alor, land of palm the palm tree) which gave way to „Alor London‟ at the coming of modernization and Christianity, a reflection of the community‟s desire to overcome her natural handicaps. Such orgies occasionally degenerated to free use of fisticuffs, which on the face of it might be considered uncivilized or barbaric. But it could also be seen differently. Those fights could actually be informal rehearsals or preparations for war situations, although under the influence of alcohol.


Origins of Alor

Professor M.J.C. Echeruo quite forcefully in his 1979 Ahiajoku lectures titled “A matter of identity – Aham efula”, asserted as follows “We must surely not want to forget that we are (Igbo), perhaps the only major ethnic group in West Africa that lacks the monolithic cohesiveness of people with a long history of communal interaction”. Ipso facto, we can also declare with minimum contradiction, that no Igbo community is monolithic. Each town is an amalgam of settlers from 51

various Igbo and non-Igbo provenances. In nearly all cases, people from both Igbo and non-Igbo stock living together became assimilated into their host communities. It is therefore clearly misleading to look at Alor as having derived purely from a single stock. The name is undoubtedly of Nri origin, since “alọ” means staff of authority usually given to a full-fledged son of the soil on being initiated into the traditional ọzọ title. The name Alọ was probably given by Abọ, one of the sons of Nri, to his own son. Abọ was reputed to be the father of Oraeri, a community in the present Anaocha Local Government Area. To underscore the princely and priestly origin of his son, Alọ a symbolic name was given. Another oral tradition, however, is to the effect that the name was simply fortuitously given by a grandfather (Nri) to a male issue (Alọ), born at the time his own son (Abọ) was taking an important traditional title.

Scholars are agreed that the Igboness of Igbo people must be sought in their common language, philosophy, custom, religion and trade. To speak of the origin of Alor, is therefore to refer to her culture in relation to the ancestral home, Nri, of the first settler, Alọ who was later joined by numerous others. Over time, the first settler, essentially part of a hunting party from Nri, camped at a place today called Alor, i.e. he gave his name Alọ to the geographical area now known as Alor. This is very true of most Igbo communities. So when we talk of the origin of Alor we must have in mind the ancestral root (Nri) of the first settler. Through many centuries of unrecorded history the root of this first settler has become shrouded in conjecture. Another source, which qualified for mention in the BBC popular programme – Facts, Fiction or Fantasy – has it that Alọ was sent from heaven by Olisebulukpabi (God Almighty). However illusory and preposterous this may sound, it underscores the perceived special relationship of Alor people with the Creator, right from time immemorial. It shows Alor as a deeply religious people.

An equally persuasive oral tradition has it that Alor came from Arochukwu (in Abia State), believed to be the early abode of Chukwu of the Aros. One can then understand the linkage. Alor people had a penchant for undertaking pilgrimages to Arochukwu to seek solutions to their nagging problems, straight from Chukwu. It becomes understandable that Alor, the founder, came from God (Chukwu) to strengthen his divine right to occupy the enclave on the bank of Idemili River. Again Arochukwu and “Alo-chukwu” appear to pilgrims to be one and the same name in two dialects. Such addiction to pilgrimages to Arochukwu, and the fact that Alor people readily settled permanently in Aro outposts, were bound to confuse as to her actual origin.


Be the foregoing as it may, it is evidently the source material for a theory that has gained considerable validity and acceptance, to the effect that Alor came from Nri. Originally Alor was a tropical forest land on a slope harbouring a great diversity of flora and fauna, and therefore suitable for fruit gathering and game hunting, hence it is held that Alor was founded by a hunter named Alo. He was one of the sons of Abo, himself from Nri. Abo founded a community named Oraeri around 800 AD and was said to be the brother of Nnokwa, a close neighbour of Alor. Abọ was a polygamist. One of his wives bore two sons named Adike and Alọ. In his early years Alọ was brought up by his grandparents at Nri. There he grew up to be a hunter, instead of a priest. During a hunting expedition, he was said to have strayed from the usual path of the hunting party and stumbled on a sloping land with luxuriant vegetation on the bank of the Idemili River originating from Agulu Lake, which incidentally separates Agulu and Agukwu Nri. The presence of gullies provided a natural habitat for all sorts of tropical animals – python, monkey, leopard, deer, gorilla, etc. When most of the hunting party traced their way back home to Nri, Al, with a few others, decided to stay back temporarily in the new place. Later, some of the hunters, not including Alọ, returned to Nri to report on the exciting new place. It is believed that the remaining part of the party, led by Alọ, built their first homestead at a location, now called the Obi Eze Agbudugbu, near the St. Paul‟s Anglican Church, Alor. It is actually the ancestral home of the two sons of Alọ – Ezi and Ifite. So around this adventurous young man, now married with two sons – Ezi and Ifite – a new community grew up, taking his name. Later, his brothers – Ojoto and Adike – were on the move again. They founded their own communities, with Ojoto bearing his name, and Adike founding Obosi (see later for the origin of the name Obosi). Some old people from these two communities refer with nostalgia to the Obi Eze Agbudugbu as their ancestral home. But since it was not known that their father, Abọ, ever joined his sons at Alor, it is plausible to accept that Ojoto and Adike, all brothers, sojourned with their senior brother, Alọ in the new world (Alor), before the spirit of adventure and enterprise carried them away to new frontiers.


More on Historical Relationships

Some elements of Ndubuisi Ochiogu‟s family of Umuezealo in the Agbor quarter of Alor are still traceable in present-day Ojoto. The same blood relationship certainly explains why Obosi and Ojoto came readily to assist Alor during the Ohumba and other wars. It might also be because both Nnokwa and Alor trace their origins to Nri, (Nnokwa and Oraeri are believed to be brothers) that 53

amity has always existed between them, and may indeed have engendered the prolific marriage relationship between the two towns.

While serving as a pivotal teacher at the C.M.S St. Silas Primary School Ubahuekwem, Ihiala, in 1956, the writer was informed by Chief Ndukwe of Mbarakpaka village, Ihiala, that Alor and Ihiala also shared a common ancestry. During a visit to Ukpor in 1968, i.e. during the Biafran – Nigerian war, Chief J.P.C. Onyido‟s father, a man then in his nineties and among the first crop of Igbo public servants at the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, confirmed that some Ukpor villages (including his own) had their origins from Obosi and Alor. Both himself and his elder brother, a centenarian, thereupon excitedly offered kola nut and assigned the role of breaking it to me, then still in my thirties. I found the offer quite intimidating. After a long persuasion, I delegated the elder brother to break the kola nut on my behalf, a compromise that was agreeable to all the parties.

These linkages remain largely unexplored in depth. The same claim beckons for investigation in the case of Alor-Agu in Igboeze Local Government Area and Alouno in Isiuzo Local Government Area all in Enugu State. There is no doubt that strands of Alor and her brothers (Obosi, Ojoto and Ideani) exist in various other places such as Ibusa (Igbouzo) in Delta State and Arondizuogu in Imo State. It is known that in Ojoto and Obosi, these same oral traditions are in circulation. A confirmatory historical fact is that Ojoto and Obosi physically aided Alor during the Ohumba war – the celebrated armada of twenty towns that intended to annihilate Alor. The undertaking failed woefully partly because Alor allied with the Aros, and partly because destroying Alor (as the Romans did to Carthage), would have had tremendous repercussions in Igbo land. Such an eventuality posed a threat to the spiritual hegemony of the Nri and commercial interests of the Aros. As a result, it was resisted with all the forces the two dynasties could muster. As Professor Ben Nwabueze in his 1985 Ahiajoku lecture affirmed – “the Nris and Aros may have wielded some authority, such as it was, but this was purely spiritual rather than political”. Although this influence was more spiritual than political, it was far-reaching, especially in those days when Igboland was organized in mini-republics, bearing in mind that the Aros, as a trading people were also experts at contriving military alliances.


Ideani – An Offshoot of Alor

The present Ideani town in the Idemili North Local Government Area of Anambra State was part and parcel of the pre-civil war Alor town, although agitation for autonomy dated back to 1950. That Ideani was a village in Alor until 1970 is not in doubt. On this matter Ndulue (1994) had 54

stated as follows: “It is pertinent to note ab initio that, at the period of this historical revolution, Alor and Ideani were one and the same people with a common origin, the same customs and traditions, and sharing the same cultural evolution and geographical contiguity. It was not surprising therefore, that what was the history of Alor was the history of Ideani”. That Alor and Ideani are one people is buttressed further by a recent affirmation of the Alor Anglican Church District, which is composed of Ideani and Alor, in a welcome address to Rt. Rev. Dr. J.A. Onyemelukwe, the Anglican Bishop on the Niger, on the 25th of June 1989, during the Niger Diocesan Synod at Alor.

For the records, it should be noted that Ideani as a community with a separate identity resulted from military calculations following the Ohumba war. It was considered expedient to secure the northwest border across the Obiaja segment of the Idemili River. Because of the common ancestry of Nnobi and Uke, both got involved in any war against Alor, once any one of them was at war with Alor. If Alor could bestride the Idemili River, the mainland would be secure and easier to defend. Moreover, Uke and Abatete irritated Alor by wanton kidnappings of Alor people. Such dastardly acts provided the rationale to engage Uke in combat and later to block out a part of the latter‟s territory to serve as buffer zone between her and Alor. The Ide village of Alor being closest to Uke, chose Okpaogbo, a fearless young man to lead a sub-family in Ide to settle on the blocked out land. Many more people, essentially warriors, joined these early settlers. To distinguish the new settlement from Alor proper, it began to be referred to as Ideani, and the mainland part as Idenu. The settlers took the names of the subfamilies in Ide to the new territory – hence Umuru Ideani from Umuru Ideanu, Urueze Ideani from Urueze Ideanu. Through an irony of fate, the first settler, Okpaogbo died childless.

Efforts by Uke and Abatete to retake the area proved abortive. Ideani continued to share a common culture and tradition with the mainland Alor but this was gradually supplanted by increasing contacts with Uke due to proximity. Besides, natural barrier provided by the Idemili River, diluted what they brought from the mainland. What has not become diluted to this day, however, is the tradition of being peace-loving and remaining their brother‟s keepers.


Some Cultural Mores of Alor

Alor is a relatively small insular enclave lying on a patch of erosion-ravaged land sloping into the Idemili River. She is as such a microcosm of the macrocosm called the Igboland. Nevertheless, she has something to bequeath to Igboland. An absurd, immoral and despicable ancient caste system, 55

namely osu and ohu, which allowed for the subjugation of man by fellow man, was recognized and very much practiced in Alor purely for economic reasons. However, the status of osu or ohu was not allowed to degenerate to the level of conferring permanent disability on individuals, nor was it transferable to offspring. Osu or ohu could buy their freedom back using free labour and/or money. This egalitarian trait ensured that all hands were always on the deck, whether at peace time or in war. All men were regarded as equal.

Here lies the greatest and richest legacy our ancestors bequeathed to posterity. This explains why Alor and Ideani today look askance at their neighbours torn apart by the osu caste system. Till today in Alor the main issues considered before marrying from any family include the following: whether the lineage is afflicted with leprosy revenges at death (ije ụgwọ ọnwụ), produces robbers, or is suicide-prone. Nothing else should stop any eligible, able-bodied and hardworking man from seeking the hand of the fairest damsel from even the noblest of families. The rationale is that you never know who can become a noble man – ama isi n’abụ eze. Another unique social practice in Alor is ịma nsi. This used to be the traditional wedding, usually conducted at about the seven month of pregnancy. In the ceremony the bride would intertwine her right fingers with the equivalent fingers of the groom. A twin palm nut – akụ mkpị, i.e. two kernels inside a single fruit, only separated by a thin wall – was broken with a piece of stone by the officiating female priest. The kernels were placed one each on the open palms of the couple. Each of them would then, with their lips pick up the kernel from the palm of the other. Each chewed the palm kernel and spat out some part into a wooden basin. This was then poured into a special concoction of white yam porridge cooked with coiled smoked fish by the priest himself. The bride and groom alone ate the meal. This was to ensure that the product symbolized by the twin palm kernels was absorbed completely into their systems. The ceremony symbolized an open giving and taking of each other. In a sense, ịma nsi would be akin to the Christian giving and taking of the wedding ring, although with a difference. Ordinarily, the ring though Christianized, was alien to the Igbo mind in a marriage ceremony. It conjured in the Igbo mind two divergent impressions. First, a metal ring is a mere ornament. Again, it can be an artificial charm to hold somebody or something to another or even to destroy an adversary, or it could be a protection against the devious acts of enemies. Whereas the Christian church wedding ring symbolizes the grafting of the idea of a label and mutual fidelity into the mind of the adherents, in Igbo marriage a ring has no such significance 56

except perhaps that the giving and taking of the metal ornament is the symbolic holding of one by the other, through a charm, perhaps, and most certainly, a love charm.

In the Igbo wedding described above, the love potion was the yam porridge containing the product of the kernels chewed by the couple. Thus the symbol was an edible fruit given and taken by the couple. The porridge was a chemical product of white yam, chewed palm nuts, saliva and the normal ingredients. The eating of this product was the symbolic fusion of the couple. The twin palm kernels did not stand for the bride price, for a human life is priceless and can never be paid for in cash. The bride price was therefore a mere token of appreciation to the bride‟s parents, for giving the groom a part of themselves in order to start a new life. The ịma nsi ceremony in Alor, like the church wedding, was the consummation of the betrothal of a woman to a man. Although the initial public drinking of palm wine from the same cup by the bride and the groom on the first day established a marriage bond, it was the ịma nsi ceremony that sealed the deed of Igbo marriage in Alor.

In Alor, the eating of twin palm kernels by the couple marked a binary union of two personalities. Whereas the fortitude of a Christian marriage is spelt out by the vow “until death do us part”, the Igbo marriage in Alor extended to the next life, especially if successful and happy. In such cases the woman in a frenzy of grief would promise to continue as the spouse in the next life, before the coffin of the dead husband was sealed forever. It was only when the marriage was unhappy that there would be equivocation on the part of either spouse to pledge to continue the relationship in the next world.

Igbo marriage in Alor was a continuum and a family affair. It could not be terminated officially at will by either spouse; termination was practicable only if the two families had tried everything possible to reconcile but without success.


Divinity in Alor

In Alor there had been a doctrine of Trinity. First, Olise had been recognised as the Supreme Being, creator of heaven and earth and all things therein. Although Olise was omnipotent and omniscient, it was the son, the youthful Igwekanichukwu Okike, who oversaw the spacious firmament, while Chukwu‟s wife, Agbala, was the mother-goddess, the stabilizer and bringer of fertility to all living things. Only Olise existed from the beginning. The son, Igwekana, was not genitum non factum. According to Ifemesia (1975), “Olisebulukpabi, variously called Olise, is the Almighty God, who 57

brings in bounties, a compendious reference to the original concepts of divinity as one of fertility and increase, of benevolence and liberality, of munificence and multiplicity”.

Only Olise, Igwekana and Agbala constituted the triumvirate, a concept akin to the Christian trinity. No wonder the Christian doctrine of Trinity was quickly understood in Alor at the advent of Christianity.



From an enclave geographically helmed in sprouted certain abiding universal principles of equality of all human beings – a foundation of global peace – through the recognition and appreciation of the work of fellow human beings. The union of man and woman encapsulated in the ima nsi version of Igbo wedding remains an affirmation of the indivisible two-in-oneness of marriage being the foundation of the stability of human society. Although the outline of the reality of monotheism may appear blurred, the belief in the almightiness of the Supreme God – Chukwu, Chineke or Olise – underlines the innate understanding that there is only one God; whether he is assisted by lesser gods or not is immaterial. And so, the Igbo, typified by Alor, or the so-called primitive societies, was not lacking in enduring principles that have stood the test of human civilization, since Adam and Eve were chased out of the Garden of Eden. In less than a century of contact with the west, two of the values discussed above – religion and traditional wedding – have capitulated to alien cultures. Only the concept of equality of all human beings has held its ground. Hopefully, the traditional aspects of marriage, now resurging as ịgba nkwụ ceremony, will recapitulate or revive some of the highly desirable and beneficial aspects of contracting marriage in Igboland.

Now, at the threshold of the third millennium, a sober and objective interpretation of the history and cultural practice of the Igbo as against the erstwhile wholesale Pentecostal iconoclasm of the early missionaries on the Igbo culture is imperative and urgent. Our generation holds it as a duty to posterity. God has a purpose for creating us as the Igbo and not Europeans or Jews. Every people, no matter their clime, are God‟s people and shall be judged in accordance with the enduring and universal principles that guide the human race and not according to alien dictates of their captors. From time immemorial, the Igbo have held dear the existence of the supreme Creator, God Almighty, worthy of worship and veneration. Their life revolves around the doctrine of “do to everyman as he would wish to be done to him” – the universally acclaimed golden rule. 58

Source Materials Afuekwe, A.I., 1990. Ima Nsi – First Pregnancy Feast – A Philosophical Inquiry into Religion and Social Life in Igboland. Anya, O.A., 1982. The Environment of Isolation. Ahiajoku Lecture Series. Basden, G.T., 1982. Among the Igbos of Nigeria. Echeruo, M.J.C., 1979. A matter of identity – Aham efula. Ahajioku Lecture Series. Ifemesia, C.C., 1975. Traditional Humane Living Among the Igbo: an Historical Perspective. Fourth Dimension Publishers, 141 p. Isichei, E., 1980. The History of the Igbo. Ndubuisi, E.E., 2008. Courage in Crises and conflicts in Igboland, 1850 – 1918. CSS Publishers, Ibadan. Ndulue, A.C., 1994. A Brief History of the Church at Alor and Ideani. Nnaebue, Priscilla U., 1992. Amansi Ndi Alor n‟oge gboo. Nwabueze, B., 1985. Ahiajoku Lectures Series. Nwajide, C.S. 1983. Our scarified outskirts – the story of erosion in Alor. Alor Outlook Magazine. Okafor, E.O., 1990. Essay on Alor. Alor Peoples Convention Bulletin, Vol. 2. St. Pauls Anglican Church, Alor, 1989. Address of Welcome to the Bishop on the Niger, Rt. Rev. J.A. Onyemelukwe, on the occasion of the Synod, 1989. Udoka, G.N., 1975. The origin of Alor, an essay. Alor Today, Volume 1.

Chief Ephraim Egbuna Ndubuisi, Ichie Okwuloha BA (Hons. Lond.), FIIM, FBIM, Defender of Idemili 59



Societal structure – A.I. Afuekwe


Alor names: origin and meaning – B.J.O. Okafo


Foods and culinary practices – S. Nwune, N. Udodi


Alor dialect: glimpses at its twilight – C.N. Oyeka, A.I. Afuekwe, F.C. Ojukwu, L.N. Oraka, and C.S. Nwajide


Evolution of living quarters – C.S. Nwajide and E.F. Asiegbu


Arts of Alor – P.N. Ufo (Monte)


Music of Alor – J.C. Mmeka


Festivals and recreation – A.I. Afuekwe


Title-taking – A.I. Afuekwe

10 Marriage issues – A.I. Afuekwe 11 A comparative study of marriage – E.S.O. Amugo 12 Ima nsi in Alor – P.U. Nnaebue 13 Deaths and funerals– A.I. Afuekwe and C.S. Nwajide 14 Succession and inheritance – L.N. Oraka






Societal structure in Alor is essentially similar to that of any other society in Igboland. However, by discussing the topic in some detail, it would become evident that there are some peculiarities that set Alor apart or in fact make her a unique society. The structured nature of a society is what really preserves and keeps it going. The significance of having a properly configured society can be appreciated by imagining the converse – a disordered assortment of persons from varying backgrounds, provenances and even races. In place of order, discipline, morals, security and continuity, there would be disharmony, chaos, moral impropriety, and general ferment. In the rural setting such as Alor, survival hinges on the fact that each individual is primordially moored to a family which in turn belongs to a kindred as a component of a village and up to the larger but still coherent society that we may now call the town.


The Family

A broad definition of the family according to the United Nations is: “the basic unit of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of its members, particularly children and youth” (Jean Meadawar and David Pyke, 1971, Family Planning, Penguin Publications, New York). In our context the family is a set of people related by blood, marriage (or some other agreed upon relationship), or adoption, who share the responsibility for reproduction and upbringing for its members. This actually obtains in all cultures, with virtually no exception, and even holds true for some lower animals such as man‟s closest relatives – the baboons, chimpanzees and monkeys.

The nuclear family consists of a couple and the offspring of that union. A question regarding this definition is: suppose a couple does not have a child of their union, can they still fit the definition of nuclear family, or is the family called nuclear only when the marriage is fruitful? If the former, the smallest number that makes the family is two; if the latter, then the smallest number that makes a nuclear family is three. What of the maximum number that makes a nuclear family? We can take this as the total number of wives and children a man manages to accumulate. By this definition, the critical person in the concept of nuclear family is the man. Whatever the number of wives he marries in series or in parallel, plus the total number of children he sires from the wives, may be 61

considered the highest level of complication of the nuclear family. In Alor what is really regarded as a family is almost always more complicated than just parents and their children. They need not live under one roof to be called a family. Uncles, cousins, nephews and nieces are all components of a family, which is what may be regarded as extended family. However, this motley of relatives continues to qualify to be called a family by virtue of answering the same surname such that even if the population of individuals that go by the same surname is in hundreds, they are still regarded as a family. There are several such complexes in Alor, the most prominent example being the Ngige family of Ide village, which currently numbers in excess of 500 persons, a figure clearly superior to that of some villages in Alor. They actually qualify to be tagged a “family conglomerate”. The Obiagwu family also of Ide, and the Afuekwe family of Agbor quarter follow closely. It may be suggested, however, that these families have become so populous because the component nuclear families have deliberately decided, unlike most other families, to retain the name of their great ancestor. Or are these families over-endowed with fecundity? Retaining the name of an ancestor, even though a sign of great respect for an illustrious patriarch, can be seen as a means of denying succeeding persons from ever being remembered. This feeling is what makes some people insist on squeezing in their names into the surnames of their children, resulting in double barrel names. This trend is however not yet very common in Alor, but in some cultures, such as among the Efiks of Cross River State, it is obligatory to answer one‟s fathers‟ name. Even married women include their husbands‟ names as part of their names.

A corollary of the perception of the family as a fundamental unit of society is the upbringing of the offspring of the basic family unit which is nucleated by a couple. In Alor, as elsewhere in Igboland and beyond, the upbringing process is not just providing nourishment, clothing and shelter. These are important but assumed and more or less routine. What, in the estimate of the writer, is critically important for the individual, family, town and country is the process of acculturation, a significant part of which is home training – ịzụ nnwa. The basic role of the parents is the guidance of the offspring through the various stages of physical growth, physiological development and psychological maturation from babyhood, adolescence to adulthood. The road can be quite bumpy and the job is more or less shared between the father and the mother, although the role of the community in this regard should not be understated. For instance, discipline is a trait of character imbued right from childhood. The father‟s approach to inculcating discipline might be seen as hard or high-handed, due to his readiness to drive home his admonition by using bare hands or the whip. But, as the saying goes, spare the whip and spoil the child. The mother may do more tonguelashing, but the objective or the result is the same – the inculcation of proper conduct in private or 62

in the public. The mother‟s responsibility towards her daughters is particularly weighty. She is often to blame if any of her daughters does meet the exacting behavioural expectations by wife seekers. Even when married, any shortcomings in housekeeping, particularly as regards culinary responsibilities, are blamed on the mother. As for the boys, the inculcation of hard work, organizational ability and responsible worldview is basically the duty of the father.


Family Security

Should suspicion creep into a family, especially as regards any evil intentions of a person to the brother, sister, mother or father, or any element of the extended family, a reaction has often been to carry out a ritual process called ịgba ndụ (committing to a covenant). In the past, the ceremony was quite rigid. The head of the family would have briefed a high priest who would narrate the procedure and stipulate the requisite items, including his emoluments. The matter was usually taken so seriously that even the members of that family located far away were obliged to return home for the event. On the appointed day, the high priest would come over bearing his ọhwọ placed in a small mortar (ọkwa). With all concerned assembled, the ritual would begin. The high priest used a sharp blade to draw a little blood from each person present. This would be mixed up with palm oil in the mortar. He would then declare that any person who even as much as thought (much less did) any evil against his kith and kin would run foul of the covenant. He would in fact request each person present to silently purge himself of such evil thoughts and plans prior to swearing to the oath. Each person, strictly in turn, would then with a piece of kola nut pick up a pinch of the concoction and eat it in full view of all, and most importantly, standing directly on the ground, i.e. with no footwear. It was believed in Alor that after this ceremony anybody who thought evil against any member of the family would surely die a shameful death, unless his/her legs did not touch the family ground – the mother earth – during the oath-taking.

In modern times Christianity frowns on the way and manner this oath-taking was performed, and would strongly advocate an alternative which involves prayers and use of the Holy Bible. The efficacy of the new system is left for the public to judge. Some people are of the opinion that there should be a combination of the ancient and modern methods. Either way it does not appear that the world would soon be rid of its iniquities.



Family Propagation and Preservation

It would be appropriate at this juncture to indicate how most individuals and families strive to propagate their lines in perpetuity. Childlessness, or having only girls, is considered a very serious threat to the continuity of any family line. If drastic measures are not taken the family becomes extinct and falls into what is called oliekpe whereby the man‟s property, usually land, reverts to his brothers or their male offspring. Childlessness could be due to impotence of the man or infertility of the wife. If the former, the man would normally strike up an arrangement with another man, not his blood relative, to fecundate the wife and get children for him. If the wife proves infertile, the next option is for the husband to marry a new wife. Even if the man gets too old to sire children by himself, an arrangement is struck up with an able-bodied man picked by the man himself, but not from his own blood relatives. The person could be selected from the same quarter but not from the same kindred. The new wife would not normally be expected to have a hand in the selection. Note that if a man dies leaving a young wife, even where there are already some children, the woman may decide to return to her parents and remarry, provided the parents return the bride price paid on her by the earlier husband. In rare cases, the woman may be remarried by a brother (usually younger) of the late husband. In this case there is a ceremony to mark the new union (nkuchi). A wedding would normally be done. The children from this marriage belong to the new husband, not his late brother.

Suppose a man dies and leaves a childless widow, the kinsmen, usually the brothers of the deceased, would get together and assign one of them to sire children for her if still within childbearing age. Note that it is only after death that a brother or close relative of a man can get into the wife. The same act while the man was alive would be labeled as incest, which would require cleansing through the process of ịkpu alụ. If the widow is beyond childbearing age, she may decide to marry a wife herself. Yes, a woman marrying a woman! It happens at Alor. In this case, the kinsmen of the deceased husband would normally be in support and would indeed be part of the marriage proceedings. One of them would eventually be appointed to sire the children for the late kinsman.

And yet another scenario: a man has only girls. Usually in agreement with the wife, the man would begin to persuade one of the daughters, often the first one, to stay back in the family and get children to continue the line. The rest of the daughters could go ahead and get married. The approach is persuasion, not by order or coercion. It is called nhịịkwa. As soon as the daughter 64

agrees, a man is with no blood relationship to the family is nominated to consummate the arrangement. The girl may or may not have a hand in selecting the father of the expected babies.

Not too far removed in effect from the above scenario, is another mode of acquiring offspring, albeit by accident, but could be regarded as serendipity. Suppose a girl who has no brother gets pregnant without being married (ime mkpụke). This would normally generate anger, protests or general discomfort, but deep down, the prayer is that she delivers a son. However, there can be options. Either the man responsible is forced to marry her, or some other fellow marries her, in some cases not a man the girl would ordinarily accept. Indeed in some cases becoming accidentally pregnant could hasten marriage for a girl, or even make it happen where her chances would have been deemed low, but now brightened up by virtue of her well demonstrated fertility. In this respect the situation in Alor is that, once the marriage proceedings were concluded before the birth of the baby, the owner and technically or legally the father of the baby is the husband. Note that in some other cultures, e.g. Onitsha, the baby belongs to the biological father, irrespective of the marital status of the mother, or whoever brings up the child. But suppose the pregnancy runs to term and the baby comes without the girl being married off, the baby is taken as a sibling of the mother. This has been the situation in Alor from time immemorial. It is clear why the word bastard or illegitimate has no equivalent in Alor dialect of the Igbo language. Everybody has a father, and has all rights and privileges due to any other child of the family. If, in the most desirable case, a man without a son gets a son through a daughter who became pregnant without marriage, there is much rejoicing. Even in cases where there is a lone son, there is still much joy. There is now a back-up, so to speak. There is a greater assurance with regard to family perpetuation. And yet another situation: a girl does not leave her parents‟ home due to lack of a husband. In the past such a girl would always be a member of the family, but in view of the nuisance she would be sure to constitute, a separate hut would be built for her, usually as a tiny thatch at one obscure corner of the compound wall. Such a spinster had better be of good behaviour, otherwise the wife of the brother who inherited the compound would seize every opportunity to remind her she could never get married. The fate is the same for a woman married and sent packing by the husband (mwenaga). The saving grace for the latter is that the children might grow up and retrieve their mother from that miserable condition.

And finally, adoption. This is now the accepted and indeed popular route taken by many a childless couple, and especially by those with no son. The Alor usage for this method of procuring an 65

offspring is ikuta nnwa. The usual procedure is to go through an agency by booking in advance, at quite some cost, specifying the required gender. Agencies have sprung up, and it does appear that the regulatory authorities have specified their mode of operation, which is known to be fairly lucrative. A useful role they play is to prevent wanton termination of unwanted pregnancies, especially by young girls with poor parents. Such agencies are known to cater for the pregnant young girl to term and get them to sign away the baby in exchange for material care pre- and postnatal.

When a baby is thus procured, the routines are followed as for normal delivery by the adopting woman. For instance, the mother of the adopting woman, or whoever should perform the ọmụgwọ, still spends the mandatory time of one month helping to tend the baby. She is still entitled to the rewards of ọmụgwọ, usually in the form of clothing, money, etc, and a bottle of hot drink (often derogatorily referred to as kaị-kaị) for her husband waiting for her back at home. The celebrations attendant upon a new baby are usually completed, particularly the naming ceremony. And it is usually a great party, after all adoption is not usually done from shallow pockets.


The Kindred – Ụmụnna

This is a collection of families related through a common ancestor, i.e. traceable descent. Every member of a given kindred is related to another. Indeed there is no English word, like cousin or nephew for that kind of long-winding relationship in which one person is “the great grandson of the uncle of another person‟s paternal grandfather”. The basic criterion is that within a kindred, it is still possible to trace the relationship of any two members down to one ancestor, invariably long dead. Within an ụmụnna, therefore, everybody is related to the other by blood. It is also noteworthy that the underlying relationship is invariably paternal, rarely, and need not be, maternal. This is because the girls are married off to persons outside of the kindred while the boys stay on to propagate the kindred. Intermarriage is completely out of the question. Sexual contact is regarded as incest and ịkpụ alụ is mandatory for cleansing.

The functions of the kindred include settling disputes among themselves, taking active part, indeed leading the way, in joyous events among members like marriages, chieftaincy events (taking titles), and naming ceremonies of the new born. For instance, during a marriage ceremony it is the wives within the kindred that would rally round and cook the food for the feasts (although catering contractors are now fast displacing the ite ose groups). For settling the bride price and other financial aspects, it is the kindred men from both sides who sit down to hammer out the bargains. 66

The groom, or even his father, is not normally involved in the negotiations. He would normally provide the cash for the expenses, but it is his kinsmen who would put the money down when payment is due. In the event of bereavement, the ụmụnna are at their most active in seeing to burial arrangements from planning to execution and mopping up. If the directly bereaved feels financially incapable of footing the funeral bills, he may appeal to the ụmụnna for assistance. The involvement is usually to the extent that the person directly bereaved may just seat at the table receiving condolences from the general public while his kinsmen practically do all the errands and chores. Any adversity or tragedy befalling a single member of the kindred is usually seen as an affliction to all. This is the scenario so lucidly captured by Professor C.C. Ifemesia (1979) in his book, Traditional Humane Living Among the Igbo: an Historical Perspective, (Fourth Dimension Publishers): quote “Humane living……….a way of life emphatically centred upon human interests and values; a mode of living evidently characterized by empathy and compassion for human beings”, unquote. Even though we see this attitude amply demonstrated today, it is by no means a recent development; it has its roots in antiquity. By an extension of the empathetic sentiment, the ụmụnna usually finds it obligatory to discipline errant kinsmen. Let us take an example of a child or a young man who has managed to overwhelm the disciplinary efforts of the parents. His deviant behaviour would soon come to light even if exhibited far from his domicile. The kindred elders summon a meeting and decide on a line of action. It may begin with ordinary words of caution. Recalcitrance usually precipitates more serious action including physical. Indeed kindreds have been known to whip daylights out of erring members. This is usually in an attempt to turn the member round from his objectionable ways and get him to be useful to himself and the parents. But the more important reason for such drastic action is to save the kinsmen from shame in the general public. As a matter of fact, gossip and even public odium are very useful tools applied by the general public as a means of controlling or curtailing deviant behaviour. Everybody feels ashamed whenever his kinsman is involved in condemnable acts and would do all in his power to avoid the disgrace stemming from the deviant behaviour of his kinsman.

The government of Alor fully recognizes the importance of the kindred in various ramifications, some of which have been indicated above. And this is why the town has set aside the 26th December of every year as a meeting date for every kindred. The value to Alor is enormous, 67

especially in terms of peace and security. Without this self- checking aspect of public order, no amount of work by the town vigilante force would be enough to keep the place safe and secure. It is easy to imagine the amount of disorder that would have prevailed in any community if not for the fact that everybody keeps an eye on the other, and would readily report disgraceful conduct to the ụmụnna.

Still within the general aspect of discipline, a man wishing to raise money by selling part of his land is, under pain of serious disciplinary action including rebuke, fine or ostracism, obliged to first offer it to his kinsmen only. Only in the event of not getting a buyer from within would he be justified to look outside. Even then, the ụmụnna must be duly informed. In absolute and irrevocable land sale, a goat would normally be slaughtered to seal the permanent transfer. The land seller would under no circumstances eat the goat all alone. The ụmụnna must partake, especially in the ceremonial eating of the goat head (ịkpụkpụ isi ishe). The fine for contravention is usually a full goat.

There are several other ways the kindred functions to ensure progress and even prosperity of the members. Right from ancient times, no man was considered really great among his kinsmen unless he actively took part in the upbringing – in trade, business or the crafts – of the youths in his kindred. A man‟s credibility and standing in society depended heavily on the number of his kinsmen he has helped nurture into his kind of wealth and social standing.


Ụmụ Ọkpụ – Daughters of the Kindred

The daughters of a kindred, married or single, children or adult, make up the ụmụ ọkpụ or ụmụ ada of the kindred, i.e. to say, all female issues within a given kindred belong to this group. Thus membership is automatic, just as for boys. The married ones are usually the leaders of the group. They are well known to constitute a powerful union which is usually dreaded more for their trouble-making than for any particularly constructive role in the society. They may play some peace-making role in troubled situations, but are generally notorious for trouble-making. In ancient Alor, and to a large extent up to the present day, these groups would hardly take or need advice from their kinsmen. They were even powerful enough to discipline any of the men folk who acted disgracefully. And of course their own internal discipline would be severe for any members known or suspected to have committed any act likely to bring shame to their parents, kinsmen, or their husbands.


Within their organisation they acted empathetically towards one another. They usually organized a kind of financial cooperative (isusu) whereby money was pulled periodically and the bulk sum picked up in rotation. They would rally round any member who lost the husband and do all in their power to mitigate the agony. In this regard they would take such measures as staying up with the bereaved woman, assisting her financially, and helping with the chores during the husband‟s funeral. The ụmụ okpu of any given kindred, without exception, are essentially notorious for their inordinate demands especially during the funeral of their kinsmen. In ancient Alor the demands from the group could be quite irrational. To begin with, they would compulsorily sleep in for twenty eight days (izu n’asaa) during which they would ostensibly be consoling the directly bereaved and helping with the chores. In return they would be fed three square meals per day. They would often insist on doing the cooking themselves, in which case they would demand for the raw rations, with the full complement of ingredients. This gave the opportunity to make the most trouble for, no amount of any item, especially meat or fish, would be enough. Unless the directly bereaved was tactful, he might mishandle the irrational demands and trouble would ensue, including the rejection of the whole offer. Tongue-lashing by the women was routine, and spared nobody, including the wives of that family who would be closely watched in an effort to detect some unacceptable behaviour such as not greeting them with full and proper respect. On such occasions, only very tactful palliation would settle matters, even then temporarily, and this could be for twenty eight days! They were such a pain in the neck.

Fortunately, so to say, the government of Alor has modified funeral activities, including curtailing the excesses of the ụmụ ọkpụ. They now have to accommodate all their activities within the curtailed funeral period usually not exceeding three days. Besides, most members do not seem to have all the time to spare, especially as some of them are workers or are self-employed.


Ite Ose

This is the organisation of the married women of a given kindred. Although the women hold regular meetings and discuss a miscellany of matters, it appears that, as the name implies, the basis for its existence is all about food and cooking. In the past, and rarely in the present, if a woman had a major function involving large-scale cooking, such as in marriage ceremonies, her ite ose members assisted by contributing such ingredients as cocoa yam (ede ụlị), palm oil (mmanụ), and particularly pepper (ose). They would of course do the bulk of the cooking. In a way the 69

contributions amounted to some kind of investment. The women would cook, eat to their fill, summon their children, feed them to the fullest, and pack take-aways.

All this is, however, rapidly receding to the past, to the chagrin of the ite ose group. They now look on while a new method of mass catering gradually takes hold. The present trend is to hire a commercial or industrial cook who would be given the menu, furnished with the food stuff and ingredients and supervised while cooking in the celebrant‟s premises. Alternatively, all the requirements would be prescribed in detail and farmed out to an industrial cook or a set of caterers. This turn of events has allowed for the introduction of delicacies which were not possible in the past. Some ten years ago, and backwards in time, whoever thought of serving bread fruit (ụkwa) during a major ceremony? It is now the first item to disappear in most feasts.


The Quarter

The next level in the hierarchy of grouping is the quarter. A way to see the quarter (ogbe) is that it is a coherent collection of a number of kindreds (ụmụnna). While intermarriage within a kindred is absolutely prohibited, and sexual contact regarded as incest, all that is different within the quarter. Marriage is routine across the kindreds comprising a quarter. As an illustration the Ọgbọgụ quarter consists of four kindreds namely Oko, Ọnụaghashịsha, Ụmụ Eze, and Okpalezisi. Ọgbọgụ is, along with five other quarters (Eziafọ, Ọrọfia, Ụmụmbelu, Urudunu and Ụmụdim), in turn a component of the lager unit called Ebenesii Okebunoye which constitutes a quarter, as clearly indicated in the Constitution of Alor Peoples Convention, rather than quarter, to avoid nomenclatural muddle.

A question is: how did a given quarter actually originate or, what is the basis for the aggregation that begins to be regarded as a quarter? What comes to mind is that a quarter has been a coherent collection of kindreds because, most probably in the far past, the original forebears of the component kindreds were actually brothers. This is to say that these forebears were once upon a time a kindred. It only became too large to continue to observe the strict laws of incest and intermarriage. In the past, it was not too difficult to conceptually and ritualistically break the blood relationship and declare the component kindreds free to intermarry.

The quarter organisation, usually with a full complement of officers ranging from chairman and secretary downwards, has several important functions. These include settling squabbles and ensuring the preservation of the peace. It routinely assists both financially and in terms of errands and chores during ceremonies and funerals. Most importantly, the quarter organisation executes 70

physical and infrastructural works such as access roads construction and maintenance, as well as erosion control.

Before the white man arrived with his own belief system, religion was practiced in terms of idol worship. Religious observances were in those days somewhat hierarchical in the sense that a man or family had a shrine or shrines where he sacrificed for the purpose of communing and appeasing his personal god (chi). Higher than this was a kindred god which was collectively worshipped by the kindred. The next in rank was the deity superintending at the quarter level. Even though the chief priests would always come from a particular kindred or obi, worship was quarter-wide. Christianity has managed to break all that down. The government of Alor has made pronouncements appropriating the premises of these shrines, i.e. declaring them public land. Only by a full and firm implementation of this declaration will such lands not become a subject of serious land disputes in future.


The Larger Society

With the hierarchy so far established, the larger society is naturally the town, Alor, herself. The town has two divisions, Ezi and Ifite, corresponding to the names of the two sons of the original ancestor – Agbudugbu. Each division consists of three villages as follows: Ezi: – Umuoshi, Etiti, and Ebenesii-Okebunoye Ifite: – Uruezeani, Umuokwu and Ide

By the constitutional arrangement, each of the three villages consists of a group of villages referred to as kindred units. Note that a kindred unit is the constituency of an Ichie. It should be clearly distinguished from the kindred as earlier defined and discussed above. Thus, whereas a normal, natural kindred is a collection of families related by blood, a kindred unit in Alor is an artificially contrived arrangement set up for the convenience of administration and governance. It may be just one or more quarters under the charge of an Ichie (e.g. Ụmụnambụ – Ichie Ezu, Ụmụọnịcha and Ụmụolum – Ichie Ọnyịma).

The name by which each Ichie is designated is symbolic of the geographical setting or the traditional, historical, or social experience, traits and emotions characteristic of the various localities and the people of Alor. Below is the administrative arrangement under which Alor is governed: -




Kindred Units


Ichie Ota Idee Odume

Isigwu Ofor, Irumgbabichi (changed to Ebubechukwu) Nkwele-Enu, Nkwele-Ani, Ihuwam Isigwu Akwa, Obiangwu, Mgbalububa


Ehulue Ezu Ajilija

Isieke Umunanbu Agbo


Agbudugbu Mkpume Ngene

Orofia, Umumbelu Eziafor, Ogbogu Umudim, Urudunu


Enyi Oba Okua

Umu-Ifekibie, Odichalum Nkwele Okpala, Nkwele Diji Umuokpalor, Umuezeakpu, Urungwu


Agu Atu

Uruowele, Ikpolikpo, Umushime, Umudiagu Umuokeatu, Umuajana, Umunkwubo, Umumbekwu


Oshimili Yim Onyima Ewulu

Umuru (Umuokpala Dim, Umuobolu, Ndam) Umuesisi, Umuagwo, Umuezeugwu, Enugoabor Umuonicha, Umuolum Ezioye, Umuawo


Social Stratification

It is hard to find a human society which can be described as socially homogenous. Rather, social stratification is more or less invariably present. The subdivision into differential positions is often on the basis of such criteria as ancestry, age, sex, kinship and race, as well as income, property ownership, privilege and power. The resulting stratification, which can take many forms is usually sanctioned and regulated by certain ideas, rules or principles. From the far past in Igboland, the most common social stratification was into free-born and osu, a system akin to the caste system of the Hindus. In the Hindu castes system of India, rank is hereditary and usually religiously dictated. Caste membership generally determines one‟s occupation or social roles. In most cases members of the lower social class do such undesirable jobs as refuse disposal, cremating of dead bodies, fanning the chiefs, kings, lords and emperors, entertaining the traditional rulers in their palaces and such other menial jobs. The caste system promotes a remarkable degree of permanent differentiation.

In Igboland the group classified as osu consists of people considered inferior. They were subjected to maltreatment, discrimination, molestation and all manner of indignity. For the free-born class 72

social and cultural interaction with this lower set of human beings should be at the barest minimum. This was the practice up to mid-1950s when the Government of Eastern Nigeria outlawed the obnoxious practice. It is remarkable that Alor people most willingly, unreservedly and expeditiously implemented the regional government‟s dictate to the fullest. It is astonishing that several of her neighbours have carried on the repugnant social stratification even into the 21 st century!

What made Alor people rise as one in rejection of the inhuman social practice called osu? The answer may be found in their attitude to one another and even to strangers and migrants to Alor. Alor people believe in and propagate equality of all persons before God, which fact is consonant with the sharing of divine love. It works very simply. Divine love doesn‟t have the barriers that the human mind makes (Harold Klemp, 2004).

How did one become an osu? This could happen in several ways. Prior to the arrival of Christianity, traditional religion allowed for idols, i.e. the various gods to have persons dedicated to them as special servants, apart from the chief priest (onye isi mmọọ). Such persons were outrightly purchased, usually as children, and from faraway places. This was to guard against escape. The duty of the chief priest was to cater for the servant of his idol, including housing, feeding, and general upbringing. Such an osu could be male or female. If a male, on reaching the right age, he was given land to build his own hut, find a wife and settle down to raise a family. Incidentally, the only wife such a person could find would normally be another osu. If, by any stretch of imagination a free-born girl became the wife, she would automatically become an osu. Needless to say, all the offspring would be osu. Their surname would be the name of the idol being served by the osu. If a female child was procured, her upbringing would equally be the responsibility of the chief priest. On reaching maturity, she would be deemed to have been married to the idol. A tiny hut would be constructed for her, and she would be ready to have children for the idol purported to have married her. It would be the chief priest‟s duty to sire children for the idol through the osu girl. Ordinarily, having carnal knowledge of the osu girl would automatically transform any randy man to that class. By a special dispensation, however, the chief priest would be the only individual immune to this consequence.

One could willingly and deliberately become an osu. This was essentially for safety reasons. If a person, for whatever reason, became a target of oppression from his kith and kin, or got a hint he was about to be sold off into slavery, running to the shrine of a well known idol was an ultimate 73

security measure, an insurance against further oppression. Once he was known or seen to have run over there and eaten a piece of nzu (white claystone) in the shrine, all the chief priest had to do was complete the dedication ritual or process and an osu had been acquired for the idol. He or she was now immune from any harm, but had become subject to all the indignities attendant upon that social class.

Another path to becoming an osu was to tangle with one in a fight that drew blood. Once it became known that an osu bled in consequence of a scuffle or full-blown fight, the free-born involved automatically became an osu himself. This was as well, otherwise the degree of molestation would have included bodily harm. This particular provision made free-borns reduce contact with the osu to the barest minimum. An osu was thus highly dreaded.

Another social class akin to but not really osu is the ohu. Note that while ohu means slave in the sense of serfdom, osu has no English word as an equivalent. Such persons were often male and could be procured by purchase, usually from a far place to obviate escape. Somebody sensing danger to his life, especially after committing an offence, might take off to a strong man‟s residence and declare himself ready to serve him as a slave in exchange for full protection from his pursuers or persecutors. There were several such persons who took off from neighbouring towns and became slaves in the fortresses of well known strong men in Alor. An example was Okwunnne Udogu, a notorio-famous slave dealer originally from Arochukwu, who took up residence in Umunambu quarter, held sway in the mid-18th century Alor, and was reputed to have had quite a number of such slaves in his fortress. He actually constituted them into a force that struck fear into neighbours or hapless passersby. The coming of the white man with his police and justice systems weakened the give-and-take bargain involved in that mode of slavery and, with the manumissioning (freeing) of the osus, the ohus also became free. Since they could not safely return to their original homes, they got fully assimilated and seamlessly integrated into the Alor society, complete with all the rights and privileges of the average Alor indigene.

The hangover of the osu system still lingering in neighbouring towns casts some undesirable shadow over Alor. Today, Alor men marry osu girls from these neighbouring towns (and they are reputed to have some of the most comely specimens of womankind) with absolutely no adverse consequences for the children of the marriage, after all, nobody in Alor is an osu. This, in a way, amounts to liberating the osu girl from the odium. Conversely, osu men from these neighbouring towns come picking wives from Alor, which amounts to subjecting such daughters of Alor and their 74

children to the associated loss of honour. It is basically not in good taste, but it is only hoped that these good neighbours of Alor will in due time yield to the civilizing influences Alor has been radiating since the middle of the 20th century.






What‟s in a name? A trivial question, sure, but can actually open up a serious critical inquiry into what had been taken for granted and may soon fade away. The aim of this contribution is to show that names borne by our forebears, and which we have come to inherit, were not just flimsy words or casual appellations; they originated from the depths of individual experience, socio-cultural moorings and religious intensity. The concept of names and naming is an important fact of life. Let us underscore the significance of names by imagining their absence in a family or any community, that is to say, let nobody bear any name, a situation to which we can apply the coinage “anominally”. People would surely stumble on or invent a way of referring to one another but it would definitely be awkward. Give it a thought and it would become obvious that names are inevitable. They are such an important and natural part of life that even animals, especially cats and dogs, are given names. And they respond when called!

In discussing the systematics of personal names in Alor, we are, at least in part, also examining the matter in the immediate or even wider neighbourhood of towns and, by logical extension, in Igboland and beyond. The enquiry is worthwhile because most names arise from circumstances that include historical issues, material well-being, intensity of desire, psychological disposition, etc, of the name giver. Names are therefore not casual matters, in contradistinction to a situation where overpopulation has caused the scarcity of meaningful names. In such places, when a child is born, so the story goes, the parents suddenly realize a name is required for the new individual. The father would then pick up a spoon, drop it on another metal object or a hard concrete floor and listen carefully. Imagine the sound was something like “gan tan kan”. That‟s the baby‟s full and complete name! It does not have to relate to the name of either parent or family. Everyone had their full and complete names.

This discussion will try to present the antecedents for the names we have had in the past as well as in present day using two guides. One is the interplay of feelings or sentiments as the main basis for naming a newborn. We may not always realize it perhaps because it is so prevalent, but emotion constitutes the dominant basis for name giving. It is a complex, usually subjective response arising from personal consciousness involving feelings and sensibility. The second guide is the 76

classification of names into primary and secondary. Primary names are the real ones, the names originally given by the authorized institutions at birth usually without the input of the owner of the name. Secondary names may be regarded as those acquired later by title-taking, as nicknames, or as some kind of adjunct to the primary name.

The main discussion is structured to show a historical trend in the development of systems of names of Alor people – at home or in diaspora. The most obvious trend is evolutionary and we broadly recognize three eras – Pre-Christian, Christian and current. 2. Pre – Christian Naming Systems Before the missionaries arrived Alor with a new religion and attendant incursions into the cultural landscape, naming any newborn was first automatic and then deliberate. The automatic name was simply market day-based. Like elsewhere in Igboland, the native week was a time-cycle of four days:- Afor (actually pronounce Ahwọ), Nkwọ, Eke, Oye – in the order of succession. Thus from any given market day to its recurrence every fifth day is an izu.

Everybody had a name automatically their own depending on the market-day of birth. In the same way as it was a right to have a market day-derived name, it was also inflexible in that no choice was allowed or even contemplated. You answered the name rigidly according to day of birth. Another determinant was gender. Females had their names and males their own; there was no mixing up, coalescence, coincidence or similarity. There was however some flexibility in the eventual final choice of name. For males there are basically two prefixes and three to four suffixes to the market day. The prefixes are oke- (male) and nwa- (child of). The suffixes are -ka (greatest) -enwe (owns) ekwe (agrees) and -du (helps). We can by some kind of permutation and combination derive a finite number of names. Finite here implies that the number of possible names would be limited and therefore far too few to go round. This accounts for the large number of people bearing precisely the same names. By actually doing the permutation we have some twenty possible names. To be more specific, we can go to actual examples. For the prefix oke- we have Ọkafọ, Ọkọnkwọ, Okeke, Okoye. For nwa- we have Nwafọ, Nwankwọ, Nweke and Nwoye. Let‟s now attach suffixes. For ka- we have Afọka, Nkwọka and Oyeka; Ekeka appears not to be preferred. For the suffix -du, only Oyedu is known in Alor. Similarly, for -enwe only Nkwọenwe and Ekenwe are known. So also for -kwe, only Oyekwe is known. The reasons for the exception are not clear but might have had to do with the lack of euphony i.e. the sweetness of the sound. There are some suffixes which appear as one-off and are not generic e.g. Nkwọgụlụ, Nkwọkụdụ. 77

We now proceed to female market day-based names. The same kind of permutation and combination yield some finite number of female names. The common prefixes are ada- (daughter of), nwayị- (lady of), and mgbe- (woman of). Thus we have Adafọ, Adankwọ, Adeke and Adoye. Similarly we have Nwayịafọ, Nwayịnkwọ, Nwayieke and Nwayịoye. The prefix mgbe- yields Mgbafọ, Mgbankwọ, Mgbeke and Mgboye. The suffixes yield fewer names, again because some possible names have been less preferred, for no clear reason. For the suffix -ọma (good), there appears to be only Oyeọma. The possible derivatives Afọma, Nkwọma and Ekeọma have not been on record as Alor names for no obvious reason. Similarly the suffix dịmma- (good) appears to have yielded just Oyedịmma as the only known name. There were the subsidiary rather uncommon prefixes: ụdụ- (fame) and akụ- (wealth). These give us Ụdụafọ, and Akụnkwọ and Akụeke only. The third one is ngbọgọ- (no clear or obvious meaning but suggestive of woman) gives us Mgbọgafọ, Mgbọgọnkwọ and Mgbọgoye. It does appear therefore that females have in a way been shortchanged, making it inevitable, in pre-Christian Alor for repetitions in female names to be particularly common.

Why so much reverence for market day names such that it became both a compulsion and a right for everybody to have one – male or female? The names were so strong that even after the routine naming ceremony by the ụmụọkpụ (daughters of the kindred), the market day names persisted. One premise from which to suggest an answer to the question is that Alor was a highly religious community before the arrival of the missionaries. Virtually the entire livelihood of the people was suffused with worship. Even though such worship was of idols symbolized by shrines, carved images, larger than life objects such as gullies, trees and rivers, the ultimate objective was the worship of the almighty God who Alor people know as Olise, who had no shrine for reasons of being omnipotent and really the supervening deity. As discussed by another paper in this volume, the festival in celebration of Olise was the supreme annual fiesta, surpassing all other celebrations. The point being made is that each market day was symbolic of some religious idea and actually had an idol or shrine dedicated to it. Nkwọ was and still is the main market and the shrine and icons are still there despite the activities of overzealous iconoclasts. The market day-derived names were in accord with the tendency of the people to factor in religion in their everyday lives and, what can be a greater reminder of the mooring or foundation of ones being in religion than to wear it as a name.

As earlier defined, all the market day-derived names fall into the primary group of names. The other primary name was given by the daughters of the kindred on a specific day and that was about 78

seven native weeks i.e. twenty eight days after the birth date. The parents of the newborn also gave names of their own to the baby. Such names, both by the ụmụọkpụ and the parents, often had special meanings. Where based on any of large number of diverse issues and circumstances, names can be so diverse as to be difficult to classify and even defy complete enumeration. But we can work with three subthemes – supernatural matters or phenomena, internal feelings and external circumstances. Primary names are perhaps the most lucid testimony of the intensely religious nature of pre – Christian Alor. Most names were given out of deep reverence to the almighty God, Olise, or to some supernatural entity. Again it is a matter of prefixes and suffixes chukwu-, chu-, chi-, nna-, olise-, enu-, ana-, and -chi, -chu, and -ọfọ. These are the basis for such boys‟ names as Chukwuma, Chukwudị, Chukwuka, Onyebụchukwu, Chukwuemeka, Onyechi, Chima, Chidolue, Chidi, Ekpeluchi, Nnaemeka, Nnakwe, Olisemeka, Oliseka, Udolisa, Udochukwu, Anaka, Nnadịlị, Ọfọedu, Jideọfọ, Ejiọfọ. For girls, the common names were Chinazọ, Chiekwu, Afụlenu, Enuma.

Some names reflect reverence to the almighty God through idols, shrines or entities instituted by man himself but assigned as vassals for the Almighty God here on earth. Such names as Okide, Ezigbo, Udeagụ, the direct names of idols, are examples. The birth of a child during the celebration of the particular idol could also determine the name of the child.

Still in recognition of the supernatural, larger-than-life physical features such as gullies, rivers, or large trees can become a basis for naming a child. For example, the female name Ogwugwu refers to gully and is in reverence to, or recognition of, its immensity. Large trees, such as the iroko, are the basis for such names as Ọji, Ngwu or Okeakpụ.

The next major springboard for names is internal, i.e. the state of mind, consciousness or the complex of emotions coursing through the mind of the name giver. Thus when a man who had for long yearned for a male child eventually got one, names like Obiajụlụ (my heart has calmed down) or Ucheanaa (anxiety is over) would make the statement of satisfaction and fulfillment. In the same vein, if a female baby arrived, the name Nkiruka (future is greater) expressed the hope and desire for gender variety, even if with a hint of disappointment. The name Nkechi (whatever God gives) is a statement of resignation to the will of the Almighty. A female baby who arrived amidst many boys or into a rich family may justifiably be named Obịanuju (comer into plenty). Some had taken it to desperation: as depicted by the name Nwayịbụnwa (a girl is also a child). A name giver might 79

also wish to make a statement reflecting a truth he holds dear, e.g. a name like Okwuọma, which is actually a tip of the full sentence – okwuọma n’emede obi (nice talk softens the heart). And talking about full sentences, the name Ucheonye is short for the complete statement – ucheonye adịya njọ (one‟s thoughts are hardly bad to him). Names in pre-Christian Alor were also based on events external to the name-giver‟s mind or personal circumstances. For example, the name Ọnụọha (people‟s voice) is reflective of the views of the community or the public.

Secondary names in pre-Christian times were quite important in their own right, especially as the individual deliberately assumed the name or brought it upon himself as a special call name. The commonest secondary name was the title name which was a consequence of conferment with an ọzọ or ugo title. As in adult baptism, a man usually carefully weighed his circumstances and selected a name by which he was to be hailed henceforth. Such a name was typically grandiloquent, boastful or vainglorious; after all, ascending to a titular status would not come from a shallow pocket. However, title names could also be reverential, philosophical or prayerful. Prefixes and suffixes are also operational here, e.g. ọzọ- and ugo- as well as -ọzọ and -ugo. Examples are Ọzọdiugwu and Obiwelọzọ, as well as Ugodiebube and Akalugo. The names could be highly diverse and could be bereft of suffixes and prefixes, e.g. Okosisi, Okeizu, Obaji, Ajaubom, etc.

Women also had secondary names in those days. Such names did not need any special ceremony to attach to one‟s existing names. It was often taken up as a kind of requirement for belonging to an association of say, the married women of the quarter, or for belonging to a society. Theirs were diverse fanciful names. There were such names as Akwigwe (iron bed), Ọganigwe (walking in the sky), Achalugo (beauty of an eagle), Ọjịugo (white colanut), Isiụgbọ (ship‟s captain), Ọmasueshi (one who stirs up cows).

A secondary name might also be chosen by somebody as his nickname, e.g. if a man kept referring to himself as ọtawaliko (great drinker of wine) his other names would soon fade away as all and sundry began to hail him by that appellation. Some nicknames might be derogatory and would not normally be chosen by anybody. An example is a name like Ntutuebini (the hair of ram), a nickname forced on somebody whose hair resembled a ram‟s hair.


One major effect or consequence of acquiring a secondary name, especially following an ọzọ or ugo title, was that the new name soon displaced the original given names. In many cases, the person was not only hailed by that new name, but it also became his children‟s surname. In Alor people found it easier and still do even in the present day, to greet an elder by his title name. It was therefore socio-culturally mandatory for a man to pick up a “hail” name as he advanced in age since people found it easier to greet him by hailing.


Christian Era in Name Giving

In the process of Christianizing the natives wherever they arrived, the missionaries intentionally or inadvertently set about replacing people‟s culture along with their religious practices. As already shown, names were intensely reflective of traditional religious ways and had to be among the first to fall. The replacement of names had to be with the foreign ones with the bible as the sole source. Such names had no real meaning, being Jewish or English in origin. The missionaries simply looked at any man and assigned him a name which was then officially conferred at baptism. Thus came such names as Peter, James, Simon, Mary, Naomi, etc. Initially, baptism was free, so to say, but soon had to be earned. It was free since the early converts were all illiterates. Earning baptism had to be by way of learning to read the bible. Reaching there was even in two stages – first passing a preliminary examination called catechumen. Knowledge of the catechism was the main syllabus. Next was the real examination which included reading the bible and answering oral questions. There was quite some rejoicing on passing the examination, after all, some people failed. Passing the examination now allowed one to search around for a befitting biblical name. The well known characters of the old and new testament were the first choices. Such men‟s names as Abraham, Abel, Daniel, Solomon, David, Peter, Luke, Simon, John, Paul, etc, were favourites. Never would anybody go for such biblical characters as Cain, Lot, Judas or Nebuchadnezzar. For good measure, some people even added a second English or biblical name during their confirmation, giving rise to such names as John Paul, Simon Peter, etc. For women, the first choices were those of the virtuous women of the bible such as Abraham‟s wife Sarah, or Christ‟s mother Mary/Maria. But since the female biblical characters were not so many, female names of English or European origin were available, e.g. Victoria, Helen, Beatrice, Eunice. Some mere English words were even thrown in e.g. Mercy, Patience and Comfort.


Over time, the rigours of catechumen and baptismal examinations were reduced as infant baptism became more common. Occasionally, adult mass baptism had to be conducted specifically for newly converted illiterates who had to wed, even long after ceasing to have children.

However, native names later resurged during baptism but with a complete exclusion of market dayderived names. Thus even though one retained market day name as the surname, it would hardly be expected to feature as a personal name. We could therefore, for example, have Stephen Ifeanyi Okonkwọ, but not Stephen Okeke Okonkwọ.

A new way of deriving names based on week days arose in Alor with the coming of Christianity. It however never really became popular since only Sunday, and not any other day of the week, could be used as a boy‟s name. This restriction is very much unlike some other parts of Nigeria were Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday have been very much in use as male names.

In the Christian era of name-giving, one could discern some diminishing of secondary names. This corresponded with the reduction in the frequency of title-taking since the churches, which had taken hold of the hearts and minds of the people, frowned at title names on the grounds that title-taking was an idolatrous practice. Those who had taken titles before converting to Christianity tended to retain their title names. Women‟s title names which were a part of their entitlements in their associations, continued to be had. Nicknames also continued to be assumed or imposed. With the above situation as the antecedents, we arrive at the modern or current era of name giving in Alor.

4. Current Trends in Name Giving The present trend in name giving may be regarded as revolutionary, although in some ways atavistic. To begin with, there is now nothing like adult baptism. There are now no new converts into churches, so everybody is baptized as a baby. The revolution is therefore solely from parents. Atavism, the tendency to revert to old ways, is only apparent. The return to old styles of naming is to the extent that the names are exclusively Igbo. Biblical and English names have virtually gone. Hardly is there any child being baptized John, Peter, Joachim, Mary, Magdalene or Agatha. However some parents decide to still give a baby an English name as part of the pair of names supplied for infant baptism. The same parents then proceed to suppress the foreign name by calling the child only by the Igbo name. The foreign name is for documents or for completeness and is normally placed as the middle name.


The reversion to Igbo names does not include use of the market day names. In fact except for parents residing in Alor, people no longer count days or weeks using Afor, Nkwọ, Eke, and Oye. Days are now counted solely by the Sunday to Saturday day names. And, as already noted, nobody names a child by the week days any more. So even the name Sunday has become an endangered species and will soon go extinct when the last batch of boys so named age and pass on. Gone completely are those names derived from shrines or idols. No child can now be named Ezigbo, Okide, Udo or Ogwugwu.

The real revolution lies in new coinages, usages, adaptations or inventions. It is obvious that the attempt is to be different as well as to avoid replication of the most obvious and common names such as Emeka or Ngozi. Despite all this effort, replications appear unavoidable mainly on account of building names by use of the same prefixes and suffixes, particularly chu-, chi- and -chi, -chu. Remarkably, it is still all consistent with the religious sentiments of pre-Christian Alor.

The exploration of new frontiers in primary names has resulted in names that never featured in preChristian or even Christian eras of name-giving in Alor. Examples include Somtoochukwu (join me in praising God), Kosisọchukwu (the way God wishes), Chikamneso (it is God I am following), etc. Nevertheless, in view of the growing population, even the inventiveness of parents will sooner or later be overwhelmed and duplications or repetitions will become inevitable. In the process of coining names that are intended to be unique or peculiar or “one in town”, gender considerations have been thrown overboard e.g. the name Kosisọ does not sound exclusively male or female; it is applicable to both genders.

An unfailing feature of newly coined names is that they are abbreviations of full or partial sentences. The way it works is to make a sentence expressing gratitude, prayer, regrets, wonder or perplexity at an event and then highlight parts of that sentence as the name. As an example, in expression of wonder or remonstrance, somebody says “Sọsọ”, which in full means Chukwu kalụ malụ ishe oji enye ayi sọsọ nwoke/nwayi”. This translates to “only God knows why He is giving us only boys or only girls”. The names we can derive from this include Chukalụ, Chikamalụ, Kalụmalụ, etc. Note again that the name has no gender sound or tag or flavour. It is clearly unisex. Another illustration is the prayer “Chineke biko zim/gosim ụzọ”. This sentence would be the root for such names as Chibiko, Gosim, Gosimụzọ, Zim, Zimụzọ, Chizi, etc. Again none of these devices smacks of gender. It may thus be predicted that from the trend, there will soon be a


complete convergence of sexes as far as names are concerned; a name may no longer tell you the bearer‟s gender.

We have to point out some anti-current trends in name-giving incidental on developments in belief systems. Alor now has several new or smaller churches in addition to the mighty St. Paul‟s and St. Mary‟s (along with their satellites). The new small churches are the so-called Pentecostals, many of them privately owned and strictly proprietary. Some are known to have rules guiding names such that new converts are obligated to adult baptism. As would be expected, the new names would be strictly biblical, and are likely to include Israel, Zion, Isaac, Hanna, etc. Those who insist on Igbo names almost invariably choose ones with the chi prefix or suffix. It may be suggested that the lack of the Igbo equivalent or translation for the name Jesus Christ is a major limitation in the multiplication of religious-based names. The translation or some kind of adaptation or customization is an area waiting to be explored. Secondary names are very much around in the present era. It is a matter of “more of the same”. In fact there has been a blossoming of secondary names perhaps because people have been downplaying the restrictive attitude of the churches to title-taking. We can date the explosion of title-taking as the late 1960s into early 1970s i.e. the civil war times. The major enablement or stimulus for the explosion in title-taking was two-pronged:- relative cheapness of the process and large numbers of candidates. Title-taking elevated one to a higher pedestal in the scheme of things in the community. The privilege was therefore not for all comers. It was essentially for the well-off. During the civil war people returned from all parts of Nigeria. The villages were bursting at their seams with population. As is discussed elsewhere in this volume, it soon became obvious that the titled men were picking the best cuts of meat during ceremonies that involved the slaughter of cows, goats, rams or even chicken, such as happened in funerals, marriage events and so on. It was also discovered that with inflation, the sale of a small goat or sheep could raise enough money to defray title-taking expenses. It soon became some kind of craze and those who could afford it initiated even their youngest sons into the ọzọ title. This was the background to the proliferation of secondary names during the civil war. The craze did not abate after the war either, but for another reason altogether.

Spearheaded by the now defunct Alor Youth Movement, the whole matter of town governance was reconfigured. The civil aspect of town government became vested in the Alor peoples Convention, a representative body seeing to the day-to-day administration of the town. The traditional leadership 84

was alongside the civil governing body vested in a three-tier hierarchical system consisting of the traditional ruler (the Igwe), the Ichies and the Idi-Alọs. The new structure produced some eighteen positions for Ichies and thirty-six spaces for Idi-Alọs, plus a number of honorary Ichies. All the positions from Idi-Alọ required that the holder be a fit and proper person in terms of integrity and general character. Implicit in this proviso is that the aspirant be a titled man. This requirement again sparked off a frenzy of title-taking either to be able to run for a vacant position of Ichie and Idi-Alọ or to be ready and waiting in case a vacancy materialized. This is the genesis of more secondary names.

We may now return to the pre-Christian era of secondary name acquisition. It has been the same pattern – grandiose, grandiloquent, boastful, vainglorious, reflective, thoughtful or prayerful.

So much for men. Secondary names for women have also followed the same pattern as for Christian era. Special fancy call names have traditionally been the special requirement and privilege attendant upon belonging to some women group, club or society. It is even compulsory to call and to answer when called.

5. Discussion and Summary This contribution has tried to trace the basis for name giving in Alor. The scheme for the discussion has been the subdivision of time into three eras across which ran primary name giving and secondary name acquisition with religious fervour suffusing the times as well as hearts and minds of the people.

In the pre-Christian era primary name giving was instant since everybody automatically bore one variant or the other of the market day on which they were born. Thus a boy would be Okafọ or Nwafọ, Ọkọnkwọ or Nwankwọ, Okeke or Nweke, Okoye or Nwoye depending on the prefix chosen by the parents. By the same token a girl was Nwayịafọ or Adafọ, Nwayịnkwọ or Adankwọ, Nwayịeke or Adaeke, Nwayịoye or Adaoye. The other primary name was acquired when, seven native weeks after birth, the daughters of the kindred assembled to name the child. The names were usually nominated, considered, agreed and conferred ceremonially. They often reflected the prevailing circumstances, emotions or material well-being of the principal characters especially the parents. It is noteworthy that religious feelings strongly influenced name giving. This explains the preponderance of chi/chu as prefix and suffix and the origin of such names as Ezigbo and Okide, which were names of shrines/idols, and even Olise, the Alor name for the supreme God Almighty. 85

Secondary names in the pre-Christian era were those deliberately chosen by a man as he took a title (e.g. Ugodike) or as a simple call name or even nickname. The latter might in some cases be imposed by others based on one peculiar characteristic or the other. Women also chose secondary names usually as an entitlement for belonging to a group or an association, e.g. Akwigwe (iron bed).

In the Christian era market-day names gradually faded out and replacement with weekday based names had only one (Sunday), unlike elsewhere in Nigeria where virtually all the other days of the week serve as male names. The preponderant choice of names was bible-driven. The favourites were the names of great men and the few virtuous women of the Old Testament and New Testament especially the names of the disciples (except Judas) and the apostles. These names were chosen by the individual at adult baptism, which required rigorous bible-based qualification examinations. Child baptism gradually took over and parents chose names for their children. The names were still very much bible-based or English but Igbo names began to be pinched in as baptismal names. Such names were also very much religious as reflected by the preponderance of chi as prefix or suffix. Secondary names in the Christian era were still ọzọ and ugo title-based but title-taking diminished in the face of increasing fervour emanating from the tighter grip of missionaries on the people. Women steadily picked up their fancy names as dictated by their sororal associations.

The current era in name giving is characterized by partial atavism. By this is meant that there is a massive return to Igbo names with the exception of market-day based ones. Name giving is still very much influenced by religious disposition (the chi prefix and suffix) but there is an increasing tendency to telescope full sentences into names, e.g. Onye ka chi? into Onyechi. Secondary names have resurged as people begin to feel less hamstrung by religious sentiments and go ahead to take titles. Such names are very much grandiloquent and boastful (e.g. Idejiunọ, Idejiogwugwu, Osisiego). Women are not being outdone in the secondary name frenzy. They come as Shiner, Ọjịugo, Ikodie, Fancy and such tawdry appellations. Nicknames still feature, as exemplified by some who choose to answer Akpụtị – demonstrating disregard or disdain for excessive attention to cleanliness or neat appearance.


As seen from the replications, it does appear we are running out of names. This has driven people to coining new names in a bid to avoid repetition or to be unique or both. Telescoping is the new trend, whereby one thinks up a full sentence and abbreviates it in the best way possible paying due reverence to euphony. Population is not diminishing and unless we become ultra-inventive, we cannot escape repetition or recourse to well-worn and jaded names such as Emeka, Ik and Ngọzị. We may also begin to see more of the usage Jr (for junior) or II (for so-so the second), which may in fact be regarded as demeaning since one never matures to one‟s full self, always junior to somebody else, dead or alive. It is hoped we never reach the desperate stage of dropping spoons. Even ọzọ and ugo title names are becoming scarce. The scarcity will lead to ever new boastful and grandiloquent inventions.

But perhaps it is sobering (or is it disconcerting) to realize that, even with the danger of running out of possible names for new-born babies, many names die-hard. Such names are in the form of surnames. We may indeed suggest that majority of Alor people have no idea of the original bearer of the surname they bear. In other words, temporal persistence of numerous surnames in Alor is such that the current bearer may actually be the fourth, fifth or even the sixth generation descending from the original name owner. An implication of this is that, if a generation is taken as 30 years, many Alor people are bearing the surnames of men who died some 100 – 150 years ago. Such were probably great men in their own right, but all men that succeeded them leave no trace by way of their names ever featuring as surnames. As a reaction to this kind of apparent shortchange, some people have decided to attach the names of their direct fathers to the surname of the long-gone forebear. This has resulted in „double-barrel‟ names, a mode of naming associated more with sophisticated women who insist on combining their maiden surnames with husbands‟ surnames.

Another consequence of surnames that refuse to go is the size of families. When a family attains or exceeds ten persons, it is no longer nuclear. As the family multiplies to become scores in population and all persons still go by the same surname, it should be a kindred. And we have examples of families with a population in excess of three hundred persons going by one and the same surname. Such persistence implies that many descendants of the great old patriarch never had their names as surnames. Another fall-out of this persistence is a sure coincidence of first names, possibly middle names and, of course, the surnames. This is most likely to happen, since the component nuclear units of the large-sized family reside in far-flung locations in Nigeria and abroad and nobody consults the other when naming his new baby. Thus when during a general home-coming such as


for funerals or Christmas, a house is full of Chiọmas, Emekas, Iks, Ngọzis and so on, the reasons are not farfetched.

It is the die-hard nature of surnames that accounts for the fact that market-day surnames still prevail in Alor. And there is no reason to believe that they will soon go extinct, unlike their original owners.

The foregoing discussion is specific to Alor. However from experience gathered from traveling and interaction with people of various provenances residing in urban settings, the principles of namegiving are mutatis mutandis the same for all neighbours of Alor. We dare say that the applicability of the said principles pervades a lot of Igboland.

Summary of origins and meanings of names in Alor Era

Primary Names


Characteristi cs Market day-based Automatic, inherently Ọzọ and ugo title Boastful, Prereligious chosen by bearer grandiloquent Christian Given by parents Reflects Nicknames chosen Boastful or Given by circumstances often by bearer or imposed derogatory implicitly religious by other people Ụmụọkpụ Market day-based Automatic, religious Given by parents Reflects Given by circumstances often implicitly religious Ụmụọkpụ Christian Given Title names but Boastful, by frowned at by the grandiloquent missionaries Biblical names churches at adult baptism of converts Biblical and English Given by parents names, Igbo names at infant baptism secondary but still religious Exclusively Igbo, Ọzọ and ugo names Boastful, often religious; resurging; women flambouyant Current Solely infant reflects parents‟ fancy names baptism circumstances, and commonly contraptions of sentences resulting in new coinages


Secondary Names

The author is delighted to have been called upon to contribute this discussion. The time-space phenomenon will soon render today a historical milepost. Even as a footnote, it would still be instructive to realize that our names were not flimsy words with no roots, background or meaning. They reflect psychological, socio-economic and even political issues, events and realities of the times from when Alor, Ojoto, and Adike departed Nri.

Sir B.J.O. Okafo, BSc (Hons), DIC (London), KSJ Past Deputy Director, Geological Survey of Nigeria Consulting Geophysicist


3.3 FOODS AND CULINARY PRACTICES Sussy Nwune and Ngozi Udodi

1 Introduction The foods of Alor are not unique or peculiar to the town, being essentially similar or actually the same as those of the neighbouring communities and farther out. These nearby towns have large markets, e.g. Afor Nnobi, Eke Uke, Eke Agu, Nkwọ Igbo, etc, that have been the major or supplementary sources of the foods. There may be minor and therefore insignificant differences in methods of preparation. It is however still considered necessary to document for posterity the various food types and their methods of preparation, especially in the face of rapidly changing dietary habits and the consequential culinary practices. Some new foods are being introduced and a good number is rapidly disappearing or indeed actually gone.

In keeping with the fact that the primitive man was first and foremost a food gatherer, it may be assumed that the ancient or the original progenitors of Alor were self-sufficient in their food requirements which were at least initially satisfied by harvesting wild plants and fruits and hunting game for meat. It would then be imagined that organized agriculture gradually became a routine practice, along with the rearing of domestic animals – goats, sheep, chicken and cows. It may then be said that the main food source was the crops directly and seasonally cultivated and harvested, supplemented by the rearing of domestic animals that furnished, however scantily, the protein component of the meals.

2 Food Types and Sources The legend or fable has been that yam had been virtually the only food type sustaining the Igbo race. So, feeling overstretched, it solicited help from cassava. The latter willingly began to help and in due course yam gradually withdrew, leaving cassava to a fate including being eaten as breakfast and dinner, in addition to providing such other fillers as akpụ ncheke, akpụ mmili, and akpụ nghalịngha. Yam then began to feel proud, promoting itself to such a level of nobility that people even began to name themselves after yam – Ụdụji, Diji, Obiji, Obaji, etc. It is also remarkable that the new yam festival, very much a major event in many towns, and resurging in others where it had almost been forgotten, actually marked the beginning of the harvest and eating of the new yam. Who ever heard about new cocoyam or new cassava festival? Fable aside, it is known that cassava 90

was introduced into the Igbo menu relatively recently – probably in the 18th century – by white men, possibly the Portuguese explorers. In reality, yams are relatively expensive. It is even becoming hard for the poor family to afford. Much more care and labour would normally be required in farming it. And for the Alor man, there is no amount of farming that provides selfsufficiency. There is no escaping having to purchase from the market, i.e. Onitsha or such other market. From antiquity to date several varieties of yam have been cultivated in Alor – abị, ukom, adaka, itepu, abana, etc. Other food crops have been considered subordinate to it and may be managed by women. Some types of yam notably ukom and adaka, require special land preparation and planting in that their seed yams are relatively large. Holes (owolo ana) nearly half a metre deep are dug and filled with manure. The heaps over the holes are usually much bigger than for ji abị. The yield would be expected to be commensurately higher.

The typical Alor man, especially in the days of old, usually prided himself in the size of his yam barn, as well as the richness and variety of the year‟s yield. Indeed these attributes were a major measure of a man‟s wealth, so much so that a man would rather marry two or more wives specifically to produce the children to serve as farm hands. This is also due to the fact that yam farming was essentially labour-intensive. It involved land preparation (bush cutting, burning and clearing), ridging or heaping the mounds, and seed yam planting (do not forget to cut off a thin slice at the bottom of the seed yam before putting it into the ground). As the yams sprouted, heat would shrivel the tender shoots if not protected, so mulching would be the next stage. Let the tendrils grow tall enough and they would bend over and lie on the bare soil where the same heat would shrivel them, so staking is the next stage. Supply of stakes is a sub-industry, since production and sales of appropriately sliced bamboo stakes would have been taken on by some other fellows. After staking, it would be noticed that grass is crowding out the yams, making weeding the next stage. Other crops such as cassava, vegetables, beans (akịdị) etc. are normally planted on the same yam heaps, but they are essentially subordinate or adjunct to the yam crop. Even after staking, the yam tendrils have to be attended to otherwise they grow in just the wrong directions. The farmer would delicately pick up each tendril, work it into a loop and tie it back onto the stake. This is the ińe ji stage, after which the farmer would more or less be forced to leave the crop to its devises, except to keep asking the gods to moderate the rainfall. Harvest time is also a labour intensive part of the whole process, except that if the yield is good, it would be joyful labour.


Indeed a good measure of cultural practices revolved around the yam crop. As an illustration, yams would after the harvest, normally in October to November, be tied up in 3 to 4 metre vertical stacks and rows. This was an essential measure of a man‟s wealth. A man with a good yam barn would be called “di ji”. Nobody thought much about cocoa yams which would not normally be similarly displayed in barns. They would rather be arranged in heaps on the floor of the barn quite clear of the yam area. Yam had actually, rather unjustifiably, been edified into a noble staple, so much so that a family would be considered as indulging in luxury if, even on rare occasions, it ate pounded yam.

Cassava, reportedly introduced much later into the community, gradually became the more frequently consumed staple, since it supplied both breakfast and dinner. It is planted as an adjunct to yam, and usually by women. It is also planted all alone often when there is shortage of yam seedlings. Since propagation is solely by vegetative means, planting is simply by cutting up the stem into pieces roughly fifteen centimeters in length and sticking halfway into the tilled soil, making sure that the side with the potential buds is upwards. Sprouting is in a few days. It is far less labour intensive, often requiring no tending. Whereas yams are planted in March to May and harvested from September to November, cassava may take up to a full year or more to mature and could remain for three years in the ground. It is usually harvested just before the next rains set in, and this is by pulling the stem from the base. The tubers may all come up or a hoe is used to retrieve any ones that broke off and remained in the ground.

The processing of cassava usually involved fermenting in a pot of water for three to four days. In the past, fermenting was carried out in a small pond scooped out in the narrow swampy ground flanking the Idemili River. The fermenting is absolutely essential since it is the process that detoxifies the cassava by removing the cyanide. The back is removed and, with the aid of a sieve, the fibre is extracted and discarded, leaving the pulp (apịlapị) which is dewatered and is ready for cooking to produce the most frequently eaten food of Alor – foo-foo popularly called ụtala akpụ or mgbadụga. The cooking is in two movements: - the pulp is moulded in large balls and cooked for about 20 minutes and pounded in a mortar with pestle into some coherent mass. It is again molded into balls and cooked for another 20 minutes, finally pounded, moulded into one large mass and preserved in a container called opelete. At meal times in the night and morning, the woman of the house gives each family member their portion, usually cut with a knife, to be eaten with a soup. See later for the soup varieties and methods of preparation.


Cassava is also turned into akpụ mmili, also called abacha. This is done by cooking and peeling into thin slices, soaking in water overnight in a pot. Alternatively the peel is wrapped properly in a basket soaked overnight in the swamps of Idemili River, or let down into the shallow well (ụmị) where most of the poisonous cyanide would be released into the water. After washing several times, it is ready to eat with palm oil or is meshed with oil, salt, pepper, vegetables, and even dry fish (especially azụ ịwụwụ) to provide a fuller dish, which however is still regarded as a snack. Akpụ mmili could also be spread under the sun to dry into akpụ nghalịngha prior to preservation for use in the food-lean time of the year (ụganị), usually from June to September which corresponds to when the yam barn is empty, all the yams having been planted. Akpụ nghalịngha is soaked in water to return it to some level of freshness and can be eaten as already described. Indeed in the peak of the lean times, palm kernel or coconut would be handy for eating the dry stuff. Finally, sun-dried whole cassava, called akpụ ncheke, is also kept for lean times. To prepare it for preservation, the skin is peeled off and discarded or fed to goats (after drying) while the main thing is sun-dried and stored away. Additionally, during fermentation to produce apịlapị, some of the tubers that failed to soften up are dried and also turned to ncheke. To prepare akpụ ncheke for eating, the powder is put in a bowl of water, turned into a thick paste, moulded into balls in the same way as apịlapị, put into a pot of water, and boiled, this time for much longer period than apịlapị. One distinguishing feature of ncheke is that the food comes out black, tough and sticky. This texture is the basis for the joke around eating it – akwụbili akụa isi n'aja meaning “bite off and hit your head on the wall!!” – to describe the rubbery texture. Another use of ncheke is as a supplement for stabilizing the fresh cassava that may be too loose for easy cooking and pounding.

It is noteworthy that Alor people have been very slow in learning to make garri from their home grown or imported cassava. As such all garri consumed in Alor has had to be imported, until recently. A new mill established by Mr. Nweke Ugoewuzie of Isieke quarter just on the inlet to the Alor Health Centre has broken the myth. Here, a diesel-operated electric power generator has been adapted to grate the cassava into pulp which is bagged, placed under a press for a day or two to remove cyanide, and then fried.

Alor has not been self-sufficient in cassava production, nor indeed in other food materials. The main markets around have been the main sources for the purchase of these staples. The rich farm lands of the riverine areas, especially along the Niger – Anambra area north of Onitsha have been the main source areas of especially cassava and yam. Because yams had almost always been 93

purchased from Onitsha, there had been the expression ji Onịcha or ji Otu for the far fatter yams that were purchased from there.

Grating cassava prior to detoxification – an outfit set up by Mr. Nweke Ugoewuzie of Isieke Quarter

Plantains (ojoko) and bananas (unele) are two other staples cultivated within the compound, irrespective of the season. These are actually grown within the premises and tended along as much for the food value of their fruits as for the use of their very broad leaves for wrapping things and even as a kind of umbrella during rains. Plantain has been just one type, but banana had at least four varieties – unele ọsụkwụ (reddish in colour), unele chukwu, unele akanshi and unele nkịtị. The last named seems to be the only variety surviving to the present. In modern times, it appears to be best eaten as the highly delicious ripe banana. In the days gone, they could also be peeled, dried, and preserved to be used as pounded foo-foo alone or in combination with cassava. Plantains are cooked or roasted still green or slightly ripe, or kept to ripen fully and eaten as the fried stuff.


Frying stage of garri production The less common carbohydrate food types of Alor include the three-leaved yam variety called ọna. This was once a noble food variety, especially the sub-variety called ọna akpụkpụkene. It was cooked on special occasions and eaten with a palm oil-based sauce called ncha. It is now almost extinct, not having really been cultivated to any great extent. Rice, which has today become an overwhelming staple, was in the early to middle part of the 20 th century Alor a really rare commodity, reserved for the rich and highly placed. It most probably came in the wake of Christianization of Alor. It was eaten only on the very rare occasions relating to such festivals as Christmas and Easter. It gradually became a Sunday meal, even then for the relatively rich. Nowadays it is eaten virtually any time and, even though largely imported, it has for many families become affordable.


Plantains and bananas

An important grain crop that has invariably been planted alongside yams is corn. It could also be planted alone, but is usually a woman‟s responsibility to ensure the seeds were sown right after the yam mounds had been made. It all bloomed along with the yams, but was sooner ready for harvest, which is as well since the yams were yet to mature, and it was usually a food-lean time. Corn served as a snack – roasted or cooked and eaten with coconut, palm kernel, or with pear (ube). It is also combined with breadfruit (ụkwa) to make a full, if a rare meal.


Corn field

Corn cobs


Beans had been around much longer. It had been in use mostly for making a pudding (elele or maịmaị) and fried so-called bean cake (akala). Hardly had it been in use as a normally cooked meal, not until village school teachers sermonized and demonstrated that it was a good source of protein and could actually serve as a suitable supplement or even an alternative to meat or fish. The common variety available in the market has never been cultivated in Alor. However, some other kinds, (especially akịdị), are cultivated along with yams and used as vegetable. Alongside the cultivation of the main crops was the planting of a good variety of vegetables – pumpkin (ụgbọgụlụ), pepper, garden egg (ohe, añala), bitter leaf (onumu), ahịhaa, mgbọlọdị, ọkwụlụ, ụgụ (rare), scented leaf (nchụanwụ), ụtazị, and ọkazị. Also used as vegetable were the leaves of ọha (also called abụbọ), and akpalata which are medium-sized perennial trees. There are several fruit trees, many of which are more or less wild – being found only in the forests and hardly ever cultivated. They include oil palm, coco nut palm, bread fruit (ụkwa), pear (ube), paw-paw, orange (oloma), mango, cola nut (ọjị), ụkpa, sweet sop (shọwanshọpụ), ugili, cheleku, and a variety of fruits harvested from the forests, usually by foraging children and young adults.

3 Protein Sources Meat supplies in Alor had right from the past not been a straightforward matter, since internal sources – domestic and wild – had been relatively scanty. Domestic sources include meat from goats, sheep, cows and chicken. These domestic animals would normally form part of the household, indeed they would be considered a part of a man‟s wealth, but only on rare occasions would any of them be slaughtered for routine meat supply. However, unplanned “meat events” took place whenever an epidemic such as chicken influenza struck, or if goats accidentally escaped from the compound and ate the extremely poisonous (cyanide-bearing) fresh cassava leaves. The practice in the past was to consider the animal still fit for consumption and slaughtered if death was clearly imminent, or if the animal just accidentally died. Also in the past, such protein sources as milk and eggs were not at all on the menu; milk was unknown, eggs were for increasing the poultry stock and on very rare occasions, may be fried or cooked for eating strictly and exclusively by men only. It was considered improper and in fact a matter of spoiling the women and children if they were allowed to eat eggs.

Cows have been traditionally a meat source, but almost exclusively imported as the so-called Hausa cows. Only recently did the sale and slaughter of cows begin to happen in Alor. Afor Igwe Ogidi 98

and Awka Etiti had been the beef markets. In the past, a few families kept a cow or two, the tending of which was either by the boys of the family or by having them tethered in a grassy terrain for virtually the whole day. There had never been any such thing as milking cows. They were not even usually slaughtered for meat. The only occasion such cows supplied any meat was in the event of unexpected death. On such occasions, a number of people in the neighbourhood would be informed about the availability of relatively cheap beef, whereupon they would rally round, put together some money and share up the carcass. Preservation would normally be by smoking to dryness that allowed the meet to keep almost indefinitely as anụ ọkpọnkụ.

The most common source of protein in Alor had actually been fish of various types, despite the fact that virtually none has ever been locally caught. The Idemili River has never been a great source of fish. Rather all the fish had always been imported, essentially from Onitsha, but indirectly from Chad as mangala and from Scandinavian countries as stock fish (azụ nkụ, okpoloko). In the present day, frozen fish imported from abroad has almost displaced most other sources as the day-to-day protein source.

We may count several subsidiary sources of protein. These include wild game, procured through professional hunters and trappers (who are no more). Game included virtually every wild animal, living in trees or in holes in the ground. These were rodents such as grass cutter (nchi), squirrels (ọsa and uze, eyi and ululu), bush rats (oke ogene), as well as bats, hawks, kites, guinea fowl (ọkwa), ndo, and such game birds. Trapping bats was a painstaking operation. It involved a long rope, made of raffia palm strings, stretched up between an iroko tree and any neighbouring tall tree. The rope might be up to a hundred metres long. The target was bats feeding off iroko fruits (abala) and, less commonly, the fruits of ụlụ tree. A man would take one end of the rope up an iroko tree (a really great climbing feat, the scaling of the lower part usually done with the aid of some rope) and tie it at the highest possible branch. From here the rope would be extended to the top of another tree some 70 to 100 metres away. If not tall enough, a bamboo would be used to raise it higher. From the iroko top, extensions of the rope are extended down for controls. Standing on the ground, the trapper would work the rope into a double strand, and tie small hooked snares made of strands (akwala) from oil palm tree. One or two small metal gongs are tied and the whole system is pulled up and moored to a strong ground prop. Since bats of our area were nocturnal animals, the trapper hardly slept; he had to keep awake and listen to the sound of the gong. A persistent gong meant a catch. The trapper would pull down the rope, grab the bat and kill it, often by biting its head, and then unhook it from the snare. Careless trappers could get a nasty bite from a bat. On a good night, 99

a trapper could catch up to seven bats. This was a seasonal event since the iroko fruited once a year. During the day, the trapper would let the trap down and repair disheveled hooks ready for another night of harvest. The trapper might catch enough for his household consumption and extension to the market. Bat meat was considered particularly nutritious (and perhaps medicinal) especially for expectant mothers.

Reptiles, especially snakes, were selectively hunted. Nobody (excepting the extremely few iconoclasts) ever touched the short, stout, black and white, usually nonpoisonous and indeed completely harmless variety called eke which was taken as belonging to the idols and were therefore free to move around the house in its characteristic sluggish style. Indeed it was even accorded some kind of mourning and burial on natural or accidental death. The only snake considered safe to eat was the rather very rare boa constrictor, itself a very dangerous forest inhabitant which was known to kill by striking, coiling round and stretching the victim prior to wholesale swallowing. None had actually been sighted in Alor beyond the early 1940s. Other snakes were, of course considered extremely poisonous and were carefully avoided as food by most, except the intrepid. Other edible reptiles were large lizards that inhabited the forest or savanna bush. Small lizards were hunted by children but considered mean and therefore not eaten by many families. It is remarkable that during the civil war of 1967 to 1970, lizards gradually became game even for the families that had considered it a mean kind of meat. At the present time, it is quite unthinkable as a meat.

For children, digging for cricket was a pastime that yielded protein. So also was probing for termites (mkpu). There were well established termite mounds in every locality. Long leaves of spear grass were plucked, dried slightly in the sun and used for the hunt. Sticking them down the hole, the hard-fighting, red-headed termite soldiers would cling on with their sharp mandibles and were then pulled out. They were directly edible or could be processed further by frying with salt. The real termite harvest involving even adults was the hunt for the winged termite (akụ), a seasonal event that started with the early rains. As early as 4 am, the light-seeking insect might take flight and would soon alert the people of its exit from the termite mounds. All that the hunt needed was some kind of light kept close to the mound. The exiting insects flocked around the light and were caught and collected into some vessel containing water to immobilize them. The processing into a meal involved frying and eating direct or, in a more elaborate way, especially when large quantities were harvested, mix the termite with corn flour, salt and pepper, wrap into bundles and cook. It was definitely a delicacy. Winged termite hunting also happened in day light. It was common in the 100

large tract of land bordering the Idemili River. Children went down there with hoes and actually dug into the ground, and might dig deep enough to strike the reservoir of the termite population. This would mean a real great harvest. These days termite hunt is unheard of. Could this explain why termites have become extremely ravenous and destructive? They have “learnt” to eat through concrete and possibly through steel and, if unchecked, can eat down a whole house. They have even grown immune to insecticides. These may keep them at bay for a while, but would soon become ineffective. Perhaps the rarest meat events of the 20th century Alor were the locust invasions, the latest of which was in 1938. Even though the ravenous insects devoured vegetation, including precious farm and tree crops, they were equally hunted down, fried and eaten. Some people harvested them in such great abundance as to have the heaps fried, or somehow dried, preserved, and eaten over a stretch of time.

The above account of the miscellany of protein sources in times past shows what a great contrast with today when one can step out and buy mostly imported beef, goat meat, chicken or fish, some of them canned. In sum, Alor had never really been a great generator of its protein intake, although it was, before the era of easy importation, barely or somewhat self-sufficient in its protein requirements.

4 Ingredients Ingredients and condiments in general included salt, pepper, palm oil, ogili ụgba (prepared from castor oil seed), ogili okpi (dawa dawa imported from northern Nigeria), crayfish, okra (ọkwụlụ), melon seed (egusi), ọgbọnọ, cocoa yam (ụlị, for soup thickening), and trona (nnu akanwụ, which is a tenderizer for cooking tough bitter leaf and tough meat, particularly cow skin). We may also count a large variety of vegetables such as bitter leaf (onumu), inine, mgbọlọdị, ahịhaa, abụbọ/ọha, ụgbọgụlụ, ụgụ, akpalata, garden egg leaves (abụba ohe). The leaves and tender stems are deployed for specific food preparations. For instance, inine and ụgbọgụlụ are specific for preparing yams (ji obibie) and never for cooking soup. The rest could be used for making the soup required for eating foofoo, the chief of them being bitter leaf.

5 Soup Preparation Among soups used for eating pounded cassava or, in rare cases pounded yam and garri, the bitter leaf soup should rank top. The Alor family now cooks a variety of soups in contrast to the past 101

when bitter leaf soup was the norm. In those days cassava foo-foo with ohe onumu was breakfast and dinner. Cassava foo-foo is all but displaced by garri and semovita, and these are eaten as lunch rather than twice daily. Such other soups as ọgbọnọ, egusi and ọha were relatively rare and far between. Nsala soup (fresh fish-based soup) and vegetable soup were relatively unheard of and in fact even remain the exclusive preserve of the relatively well off, mainly because of the expensive requirements in the input of fish and meat.

Other vegetables could simply be cut up or roughly shredded by hand, but bitter leaf has to undergo a cleansing process to rid it of the bitter taste. This process was more or less a ritual carried out normally by women and especially children. It involved plucking off the leaves from the perennial shrub, commonly strewn around the compound, in some cases used as stakes for fences. The leaves are sunned to mild shriveling, taken down to the Idemili River and rinsed by continuous scrubbing amid the copious foaming which could be minimized by scrubbing in a palm fruit. The vessel applied at the stream is the anyala, a kind of basket made of oil palm materials. Rinsing can also be done at home, this time in a mortar, and excessive foaming is prevented by adding a bit of palm oil.

The bitter leaf soup has been an undying Alor staple, and so it remains today; we may better detail the preparation procedure. The rinsed bitter leaf may require further, final cleansing using hot water, especially if the original rinsing was done by a young child and/or at home in a mortar rather than down at the flowing stream. The preliminary steps include the cooking and pounding the appropriate type of cocoyam (ede ụlị) into a thick paste to serve as thickener for the soup. Other ingredients include fish, meat, salt, pepper, palm oil, and the critically important seasoner – ogili. This is castor oil seed cooked, pounded (with ash from burnt banana leaves mixed in to darken it), wrapped in banana leaves tied with tender palm leaves, and left to ferment for four days. This seasoning ingredient has really become a great product of Alor. The Alor variety of ogili is now highly sought after in Lagos, Kaduna, and all other locations in Nigeria where Igbos reside in sizeable numbers. Its fame is known to have reached the eateries serving African dishes in London, United Kingdom!! It is remarkable that no amount of fish or meat can make the bitter leaf soup tasty if ogili is lacking. There have been attempts to replace it with such sweeteners or seasoners as Maggi or Knorr and all that concoction. None is as effective. The proverb is extant or current: “ogili bụ ọgwụ ohe”. The pre-eminence of ogili among the ingredients was such that, if there was foo-foo but no soup, it would be the base for ahwụlụ, an emergency soup. Ahwụlụ was made by grinding a bit of ogili and mixing up with water, ground pepper and salt.


The fish used for cooking the onumu soup ranges from good quality azụ asa, ọkpọ, mangala, to stock fish used by the better-off in society. For the not-so-well-to-do the fish available would be the dust or debris (aja azụ) from dry fish which may be the only affordable protein input. The meat may include all sorts, but is most often beef, especially the offal (stomach, intestines and such parts). Goat meat, mutton and chicken may be used, especially by the well off. In the past, these became available if there was a sudden death of a domestic animal, otherwise beef was it.

The actual cooking takes a specific sequence which every woman learns right from childhood. In every quarter or kindred some particular women, especially middle-aged to elderly, become famous and distinct for their proficiency in the preparation of bitter leaf soup. Such women are booked for the preparation of the soup for such occasions as marriages, funerals and functions requiring the feeding of large numbers. Such services were gladly delivered free-of-charge, the public recognition of such special culinary skills being a sufficient reward. This would therefore suggest that the preparation of ohe onumu is more of an art than the mechanical following of a set procedure, which any woman, indeed any cook can use. It probably has requires special stirring method and timing, the simmering time, the amount of firing, the quantities of ingredients and the timing of their introduction, and a host of subtleties in cooking style. Every Alor wife, mother and lady somehow develops her peculiar idiosyncratic style of preparing the staple that is the bitter leaf soup.

6 The Eating We may also recount how, in days gone by, the eating routine was followed, using the foo-foo and ohe onumu as the family food. Routinely, the cassava foo-foo would have been pounded and ready, awaiting the soup. In some families, the woman, being a petti-trader in one thing or the other, might return rather late from the market and would therefore be cooking late. Some women actually become notorious in the village for pounding foofoo or grinding their pepper noisily and late. Such women might be widows, childless or perhaps brought back the ingredients late from the market. Cooking over, it would be time to eat. Some of the younger children might have slept off, exhausted both by hunger and/or frenetic playing activity. In some cases such children would be awakened and more or less fed forcefully. In other cases it would make economic sense to let the child sleep and save the dinner. Some such children had been known to insist on recovering their lost dinner, and combining it with the breakfast which, in any case would be the same foo-foo. Such a tricky situation was often solved by carving the foo-foo into two, one for the lost dinner and the other for the breakfast. 103

The foofoo, which would have been moulded into one large lump, is brought out and portions are cut for each person, with the patriarch having the lion share. It was usual for every person to have their own earthen ware dish (ọkụ) for the soup. Plates were out of the question. As for the foo-foo, it had to be held in the left hand while the right was for moulding the lumps for steeping/dipping in the soup and performing the swallow. Each person had to be economical with the soup to ensure it would do for the foo-foo available. The patriarch would normally leave a small bit of food for the youngest child. It was also his prerogative to share the meat, i.e. on any day a proper lump of meat was actually made available for the soup, otherwise the actual protein input into soup-making was just the dusting from fish (aja azụ). In sharing the lump of meat during dinner, the wife may have pride of place, but it was also an opportunity to recall the pecking order. The man cuts himself a good piece, cuts for the wife and then shares up the remaining lump into, as much as possible equal pieces. The oldest child would pick up first, and down the line to the last child. The man, and usually also the woman, may bite off a small piece for the youngest child. On the rare occasion a chicken was used for the soup, the sharing was followed a specific, well knwn procedure. The gizzard and the caudal portion were the special preserve of the man of the house, so much so that, should any of these be missing, the chicken is deemed not to have been presented; the woman would have to replace the chicken and further penalties may follow this act of flagrant transgression of the well known custom, namely, a woman should not eat the gizzard or the caudal part of a chicken. Her own part is usually the lumbar portion (ukwu ọkụkọ) which may have to share with any other female in the family. The head and the legs of the chicken are for the boy(s) of the family. These parts settled, the man may now proceed to share out the main meat as she deems fit. On even the rarer occasion of cooking with a kite/hawk, the woman would do the cooking, but dwares not taste the meat; females are completely prohibited from eating kite or hawk meat. The reason for this prohibition has never been clear, but our forefathers, who established these customs did not owe anybody any aplogy. The simply deemed it fit that women should not be allowed to taste these delicacies lest they become greedy.

The new yam festival now celebrated with a lot of jingles in many parts of the Igbo nation is a resuscitation of the age-old practice that made the yam such a noble crop. No other food crop has been so celebrated. In the days gone by, it was all part of idol worship and, in any case, there would usually be a small god assigned the responsibility of seeing to the good of the yam crop. It was therefore only right that harvest would involve thanking it, whatever the performance of the crop in terms of yield. A chief priest of the main idol of the village as well as the priest of the particular 104

idol assigned the yam crop would be the chief celebrants for the signaling of the harvest time, an event referred to as isu ọgwụ. It is now called ịwa ji and the chief celebrant in most towns would be the igwe, obi or eze of the town. In those days the actual ceremony would require that the head of each household brought to the shrine a good sampling of his crop. In such an assembly the banter would be dominated by comparing of notes, actually a mix of happiness for indications of a good harvest, and grumbling for not so good a prospect invariably attributed to excess of rainfall or insufficiency of it, or for its delayed onset or too long an August break, and so on. Occasionally one would hear some compliments to the god or gods responsible for a fair or really good harvest.

The actual process of declaring open the eating of the new yam would be performed by the chief priest. Chicken would be slaughtered, and real tasty yam porridge prepared for public eating. Needless to say, good palm wine would be available for washing down. From this day on, one could harvest yams for their meals. Before then it was a punishable offence to harvest even one tuber. If due to delayed onset of rains one did not plant early and the yams were still very much in green leaves, some kind of culling was practiced. By this one would carefully excavate the earth mound from one side, access the tuber, and cut it away without hurting the roots above it. This allowed the particular plant to continue growth undisturbed and, given another month, would yield another tuber, only perhaps smaller in size. Such small, often bulbous yams would be called gbawhụlụ chụba so named from the fact that, in the process of trying to peel off the back of the cooked yam, it may slip off from the fingers and would have to be pursued to be recovered. It is also noteworthy that the period from the final planting of yams and the signaling of the harvest was essentially a lean food time, a mini-famine time called ugani. In this time of scarcity, people made do with whatever little food stuff they could lay hands on – plantain, and banana, corn, dried cassava, etc would do. Children, especially boys, would forage the forests and bushes for wild fruits, pick palm kernels and harvest anything edible. This would be why isu ọgwụ was such a great relief.

For any major farmer, which every man was in those days, the harvesting process required quite a few hands specifically for the digging out, cleaning, and carting home the yam harvest. The barn would have been readied by tying up columns of raffia palm fronds on ogilisi trees which are suitable for reasons of having vertically growing, rarely branching and moderately sized trunks. It is a man‟s job to pick out and proudly display the year‟s harvest especially if rich. Ironically, any yams bored into by beetles are not displayed, given out, or offered for sale. This is why the saying goes di ji n’eli ji ebe (the yam farmer eats the beetle-blemished yam). 105

And now for the eating of yam. As a great Alor staple, yam was eaten almost invariably as lunch. As a routine, the man of the house would go into his barn and pick out the day‟s quota (ịtụ ashị) for the household and hand over to the wife. The latter was not ordinarily supposed to get into the barn to pick out yams by herself. She might not be trusted to be sufficiently frugal, nor to be able to distinguish which stock should be eaten, and which stock should be reserved for the next planting season. Preparation for general household consumption would involve vegetables – either boiled and mixed straight along with palm oil and ukpaka (ji obibie, ji akwụkwọ/ashịsha nni), or the vegetable was prepared separately almost in the fashion of a soup. Yam porridge was seen as a bit aristocratic, since it required some protein input. Thus it was associated with well-to-do families and eaten only on very rare occasions by not-so-well-to-do. Such an occasion would arise if a “meat event” happened, for example if a domestic animal – goat or sheep – suddenly died maybe after eating fresh cassava leaves. The offal would be available for a good yam porridge. Eating cooked yam with salted and peppered palm oil is common but not routine and smacks of an emergency or symptomatic of a lazy housewife. The only situation eating yams with palm oil is a great event is when it is roasted. It could actually serve as breakfast. In particular, the variety of yams called ji abị lends itself to roasting. Perhaps the crusty part of it is the special attraction. The yam is roasted whole, the charred skin scraped off, being careful not to scrape away the crusty back. It is sliced zig-zag and salted/peppered palm oil dabbed on to the grooves and closed back. This allows the oil to soak fully into the hot yam. Needless to say, open back and eat, perhaps after admiring the spectacle. Some people actually make a fetish out of eating roasted yam!

7 Other Alor Foods Cocoa yam was once the main food type that served as a supplement or filler between cassava and yams. Two varieties were well known ede akasị and ede ọkụ. The latter came in two colours – white and pink. Ede akasị has its major function as a thickener for bitter leaf and ọha soups. In days gone by it was cooked and eaten with vegetables very much as for yams, although the cooking was fire wood-intensive, often requiring overnight cooking. It was also pounded and eaten with soup as ụtala ede, although it has not really been popular, perhaps on account of its excess softness and ductility. It was never roasted, in contrast to ede ọkụ which was a ready supplement for yams and could be eaten as roast, eaten cooked or eaten pounded. It appears to be gradually disappearing from the farms and barns of Alor, a great pity. 106

Ukwa the product of the breadfruit tree (Treculia Africana) has from time immemorial been something of a noble meal even though more commonly fried and consumed as snack. It had all along been known to be particularly nutritive even over and above yams, cassava, rice and maize.

Breadfruit ready to fall

This realization is perhaps responsible for its resurgence as a great delicacy, albeit quite expensive. Indeed it is now as a special dish, usually served in small portions, in restaurants and in public functions. The fruit comes as a huge green to greenish yellow sphere borne on the stems and branches of the large, long-lived tree, tightly owned and commonly growing within farms and homesteads, but never as plantations. The fruit falls on ripening.

The first step in the processing involves a manual extraction of the seeds by shredding, allowing for the separation of the mass (apịtị) to feed the goats, and the washing of the seeds to remove the slime. Alternatively the fruit could be left to soften by decaying which allows the seeds to be 107

extracted using a flattish basket (anyala) and water. The difference is that the seeds from the fruit left to rot always have a rotten feel about them, in contrast to the seeds extracted from the fresh fruit, which actually exude some fragrance, especially if fried and eaten alone, or with palm kernel or coconut. As a main meal, it could be quite painstaking to prepare, requiring an initial parboiling, shelling of the seeds, prior to the cooking proper. The ingredients include specially prepared ash (ngụ) or trona to serve as a tenderizer. While cooking is in progress, one could help oneself with an oily scum (ikpukpu) floating on the simmering mass. With an addition of salt and pepper, the food is ready. However, maize, which would have been cooked overnight, is a usual additive. Occasionally, dried or fresh cassava peel (akpụ mmili or akpụ nghalịngha) is added on. The water extract is a part of the delicacy.

Lady Sussy Nwune, BA (Hons), Former Principal, Local Govt Secondary Commercial School, Atan, Ota, Ogun State Proprietress, Rock Foundation Schools, Ota, Ogun State




C. N. Oyeka, A.I. Afuekwe, L.N. Oraka, C.F. Ojukwu, and C.S. Nwajide

1 Introduction

1.1 On the Igbo Language Language is one of the fundamental aspects of human behaviour, especially as regards the establishment and maintenance of social relations (Manis et al., 1987; Yule, 1996). However, no human language is fixed, uniform or invariant; all langauages show internal variations (Akamajian et al., 2001, p. 273). The Igbo language is the lingua franca of some 20 million indigenes of the five states of southeastern geopolitical zone of Nigeria which, as presently constituted, are Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo States. The language is also spoken as either the mother tongue of, or is actively used by, another 10 million people in the states neighbouring to the already listed states, namely Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Benue and Edo States.

On the basis of the relatively large population of the users of the language, experts in linguistics rank Igbo among the major languages of western Africa, and classify it with the large group of languages known as the Niger – Congo languages. Along with Youruba and Chinese, Igbo is classified as a tonal language. The property of being tonal is the mode of speech in which the pitch of a word is used to determine its meaning or to distinguish differences in meaning. For instance, the Igbo word akwa could mean bed, cry, cloth, sew, push, or egg, depending on the tone with which the word is pronounced. Every language has two major forms – the standard and the non-standard, otherwise called dialect (Nwozuzu, 2008, p. 1). The standard language is a form of the language which has been selected as the norm. It is used in official contexts. Non-standard language or dialect is a variety of a language whose grammar differs in systematic ways from other varieties. Dialect diversity develops when people are separated geographically and socially. The changes that occur in the language spoken in one area or group do not necessarily spread to another.

Most people erroneously think that a dialect is an inferior or degraded form of a language. However, the scientific study of language has shown that all languages, and correspondingly, all 109

dialects, are equally „good‟ as linguistic systems. If something can be expressed in one language or dialect, it can be expressed in any other language or dialect. This might involve different means and different words but the important thing is that it is expressed. Trudgill (1983, p. 20) argues that the correctness and purity of linguistic varieties are social rather than linguistic. Attitudes towards nonstandard dialects reflect the social structure of society. Fromkin et al. (2007, p. 409) define a language as a collection of its dialects. Thus for definitive statements to be made in the study of a language, the grassroots, i.e. the dialects of the language must be fully explored for the enrichment of the standard (Igwe, 2002, p. 6). Dialects are therefore a very rich asset in the area of lexical enrichment of the standard form.

On the basis of geographical or provincial specificity, at least seven major Igbo dialects may be recognised, namely Abakaliki, Awka, Enugu, Nsukka, Onitsha, Owerri and Umuahia. To these we may add Ikwere spoken in Rivers State, as well as Ika, Ndokwa, and Ukwuani as known in the Igbo part of Delta State. A subdivision of each of these principal dialects has spawned a multiplicity of lower rank dialects that broadly coincide with divisional or local government boundaries. A still further subdivision brings us down to dialectical inflexions that are specific to towns. This is where we situate the Alor tongue.

As noted by Reverend Dr. G. Egemba Igwe (1999) in his monumental contribution to the preservation of the Igbo language titled Igbo – English Dictionary (University Press PLC, Ibadan, 845p), the multiplicity of dialects is not a problem but an asset. The asset lies in the fact that the diversity (rather than monotony or uniformity) is the actual fascination in the language. For deepthinking scholars, the diversity ensures that all the linguistic nuances of the language are fully represented. This way, the comprehensive cultural tapestry of the language group is taken a full account of, even down to the deepest recesses of the group‟s geographical coverage. In any case, all the Igbo dialects share a common core in the form of lexical items and a variety of linguistic characteristics all of which make for mutual intelligibility. Thus despite the segmented nature of Igbo political culture, inter-dialect communication can still be quite fluent, especially if the various groups shed off their clannishness and ethnocentricity.

Igbo, as a language has both the standard and non-standard forms. Discussing the relevance of Igbo dialects to standard Igbo, Emenanjo (2005, p. 14) notes that dialect words have been admitted into standard Igbo, sometimes as synonyms, and sometimes as crucial basic lexical items in areas where serious gaps have been noticed. A good example is the systematization of Igbo numerals and 110

counting system achieved by incorporating lexical items from different dialects of Igbo into the standard Igbo: - nari (100) is from Nsukka dialect, puku (1,000) is from Orlu dialect, nde (1,000,000) is sourced from Umuahia dialect and ijeri (1,000,000,000) is from Delta Igbo. All these examples show that dialects contribute much to the development of the standard language.

1.2 The Endangerment There is a very serious concern that some languages, including Igbo, are threatened with extinction. A language disappears if the speakers simply abandon it in favour of some other language deemed more prestigious or more useful (Millar, 2007, p. 424). So, the stark reality is that the Igbo language is threatened with extinction. This fact has been obvious enough, but perhaps it needed the UNESCO report to shock the Igbo ethnic nationality to this bitter and unsavory realisation. Specifically, the UNESCO study asserts that before the middle of 21st century, Igbo language would cease to be one of the major media of communication among its present users. One would have thought, however, that as an organisation of the United Nations responsible for preserving the various components of the world cultural heritage, UNESCO would have embarked on measures to reverse the trend and salvage the language. Rather unfortunately, the organisation painted a picture akin to funeral oration. This can be read from their presentation style which did not attempt to camouflage its contempt for the language and its owners.

Nevertheless, the Igbos need not place the blame outside their fold; it lies squarely among themselves. It is true that they stoutly resisted the incursion by the white man, as epitomised by Chinua Achebe in his seminal book, Things Fall Apart, but once they capitulated, their appetite for things foreign, including languages, got the better of them. The penchant of the Igbo people for foreign values has been noted by several observers. Brann (1978, cited by Ahukanna, 1990, p. 180) characteried Igbo people as a group more open to foreign influences and more easily assimilable to foreign cultures than any other of the other major linguistic groups of Nigeria. Afigbo (1979, cited in Ahukanna, 1990, p. 180) laments that whatever the cause, the Igbo, more than most other Nigerian peoples, tend rather recklessly to abandon their indigenous culture for European culture.” Alor people are no exception in this attitude.

The firm hold of the indigenous belief systems and practices on the people was gradually supplanted following the introduction of foreign modes of worship. Since these came along with schooling, abandonment of indigenous cultural mores and tenets became fashionable. Education


meant that people could read and write, and what else was there to read other than English literature.

We may at this juncture commend the efforts of several foreigners, especially the missionaries, who settled down to study the Igbo language prior to producing its earliest literature. Reverend Dr. G. Egemba Igwe (1999) recorded a good number of such pioneering authors among who we list the following: i) E. Norris (1841): An Extensive Wordlist of Igbo ii) Ajayi Crowther (1882): Vocabulary of the Ibo Language iii) J.F. Schon (1883): English – Ibo, (added as Part II of Ajayi Crowther‟s compilation) iv) Ganot (1904): English, Ibo and French Dictionary, (based on Onitsha dialect) v) T.J. Dennis (1906): Ibo – English Dictionary, (a compilation of items collected by workers of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) based at Onitsha) vi) N.W. Thomas (1913 – 1914): Anthropological Report on the Ibo-speaking Peoples of Nigeria (a six-volume publication, containing English – Igbo and Igbo – English Dictionary based on Awka and Onitsha dialects, as well as Proverbs, narratives, vocabularies and grammar based on Awka, Onitsha, and Aboh dialects) vii) R.G.F. Adams (1932): A Modern Grammar of Igbo, (an Igbo – English vocabulary of about a thousand entries) viii)

Ida C. Ward (1936): An Introduction to the Ibo Language, (based on Onitsha dialect, and contained Igbo – English vocabularies, and some texts from Arochukwu and Ngwa dialects; actually an attempt to formulate a standard Igbo dialect – christened Central Igbo, using Umuahia and Owerri Igbo as the base dialects)

ix) R.G. Armstrong (1967): A Comparative Wordlist of Five Igbo Dialects x) B.F. Welmers and W.E. Welmers (1968): A Learner’s Dictionary, (an English – Igbo and Igbo – English dictionary in which the authors used what they called Compromise Igbo) xi) K. Williamson, Editor (1972): Igbo – English Dictionary, (based on a compilation by G.G. Pearman from the Onitsha dialect).

Let us also commend the small number of Igbo indigenes who tried to establish a corpus of Igbo literature by formulating the autography, grammar and syntax of the language, or simply by recording their experiences using any dialect of the language. Notable among them were: i) Pita Nwana, author of Omenuko 112

ii) F.C. Ogbalu (1962): Okowa Okwu (an extended Igbo – English dictionary based on the Onitsha dialect) iii) M.M. Green and G.E. Igwe (1963): A Descriptive Grammar of Igbo iv) G.E. Igwe and M.M. Green (1967, 1970): Igbo Language Course

Other notable contributors to the development and preservation of the language include Dr. S.E. Onwu, S.U. Oruchalu, and M.N. Okonkwọ. It is worth noting that the Government of the then Eastern Nigeria had in 1961 established the official orthography of the Igbo language by calling a meeting chaired by the then Regional Minister of Education, Dr. S.E. Onwu. This action by the Eastern Nigeria Government yielded a document titled The Official Igbo Orthography as Recommended by the Onwu Committee: Notes on Script and Spelling for Teachers. The document settled the orthography issue by establishing that Igbo language had eight vowels, that is the conventional five (a, e, i, o, u,) plus i, o, u with dots under them (ị, ọ, ụ) to indicate the higher and lower tones, consistent with the classification of Igbo as a tonal language. However, the real work – exploration by Igbo scholars into the deep recesses of the language – was still waiting to be started. This would be the only way to ensure its growth and ranking with the major languages of Africa and the wider world. So far, the efforts are still feeble, and we place the blame on the Igbo intelligentsia. An example of our failing is the fact that, to date, there is no Igbo translation of Chinua Achebe‟s Things Fall Apart, the most famous book written by an Igbo man, which has been translated into at least fifty other world languages.

The foregoing is largely a statement of blame on the larger Igbo populace, especially their literati. A similar blame, mutatis mutandis, can be levied on the Alor populace for letting their dialect slip into inevitable extinction. The matter is made particularly bad by the fact that there is nothing written or published in pure Alor dialect as spoken, say before western education took root. We must not fail to recognise the heroic achievement of our own Madam Priscilla Nnaebue, one of the very few Alor indigenes who have written on Alor. Her book, titled Amamnsị Ndị Alọ N’oge Gboo, is a meticulous documentation of an important cultural ceremony in Alor of old. We only wish it was rendered in Alor dialect.

1.3 What Happened to Alor Dialect The original Alor dialect came under assault, albeit subtly, when early in the 20 th century, the community fell under the influence of church and school teachers. Such teachers of course hailed from several other towns far and near. Not only did these teachers have to communicate in their 113

various dialects, they put Alor dialect down, and some even held it in contempt. Alor adults could brush off all the ridicule, but the school children and church goers were made to see their dialect as inelegant if not inferior. Even more effective in assailing the dialect was the effect of the written word as contained in the Igbo bible, hymn books, prayer books, and catechism books, all translated from English into a mix of Owerri and Onitsha dialects.

As Alor indigenes began to venture out of their enclave in search of better livelihood, their speech began to be influenced by other dialects, especially Onitsha, where most people flocked to. Most of the early excursionists picked up selected aspects of the Onitsha dialect, although it hardly diluted their native tongue. For later generations, however, the line between Onitsha and Alor dialects began to be blurred. Not surprisingly, most children born outside Alor, even if the parents communicated in undiluted Alor tongue, often deviated from Alor dialect due to influences of multiple sources.

It may be suggested that the Alor dialect is particularly susceptible to substitution. Or how else can one explain its complete replacement in the Ideani man within a period of less than a century? Ideani was up to 1970 a village of Alor, having in the late 1800s been a military outpost across the Idemili River. This physical separation from mainland Alor facilitated the replacement of the Alor dialect by that of Uke with which Ideani is contiguous.

Another illustration of the loose attachment the Alor man has had to his dialect is the graceless situation whereby some parents, not necessarily highly schooled, start off using only English to their toddlers learning to speak. Such children end up learning bad or broken English and, worse still, not a word of Igbo, much less Alor dialect. We, the fanatics of Alor dialect and her culture, hold such unpatriotic parents in utter contempt. They are not only denying the children their birthright, they are equally stunting their natural ability to communicate in more than one language.

We can cap off the disservice we have meted out to our dialect by contrasting our reticence with the pride, relish and gusto with which the Awka man uses his dialect. Quite absurd is the amusement caused when an enlightened Alor indigene speaks in the public using undiluted Alor dialect, or eloquently expresses himself without mixing in English words. The public attitude is actually that of surprise; the highly educated Alor man would be expected to have abandoned his dialect. But we have to realise that the abandonment of the dialect translates to abnegation of identity, rejection or abdication of our roots. We should note that the extinction of the dialect 114

forecloses all the nuances, colour, and intensity that distinguished and dignified the mode of communication our forefathers deployed in running their families, expressing their religious devotion and transacting all their socio-economic affairs.

1.4 Present Objective So, given the lateness of any effort, and in view of the desperate situation, what are we now trying to achieve? We intend to present, the best we can, under the limited scope of a single paper in a volume of this nature, whatever can be remembered of the original Igbo dialect in which the typical Alor man expressed himself. The effort is in keeping with the wisdom of the elders, to wit, that if a man‟s cow was at the verge of bolting away for good, let him manage to grab off even the tail (eshi mmadụ j’agbahwunahịya, nya gbubilikwa n’ọbụghụ sọghụ ọdụ ya).

But perhaps what we bemoan as extinction is a transition rather than absolute demise. Such is actually the fate of every mode of communication. Even at that, it is still considered worthwhile to record what we can of the primordial state of the tongue, especially at its twilight since, as at the time of writing, there is still a handful of men who can fluently express themselves in original Alor dialect. This paper benefited from interactions with a number of them.


Phonology and Syntax Relative to Standard Igbo

In this section, we examine some aspects of the grammar of Alor dialect by relating it to the standard Igbo (Igbo Izugbe) which, as defined by Ogbalu (1974, p. 24), is the form of Igbo that every Igbo man should be able to understand, write, and speak. By highlighting the peculiarities of Alor dialect we intend to play up its potential to contribute to the growth of standard Igbo. The similarities between the two will help buttress the point that dialects in general, and Alor dialect in particular, should not be classed as sub-standard and therefore neglected or relegated to the background. The discussion is along the following lines:-

Alor dialect within the Igbo language


phonological differences between Alor Igbo and Satndard Igbo


phonological processes in Alor Igbo


tense and aspect in Alor dialect


the negative in Alor dialect


Alor dialect and the single word sentences


Language is first spoken before it is written. Anagbogu, Mba and Eme (2001:11) note that “Every language existed first as a spoken language and was later committed to writing.” They stated further that all known records in the history of language show that the writing system is used as a means of capturing and preserving speech and its meaning. Dialect is therefore not a sub-standard, incorrect or corrupt form of a language. One‟s home town or village is identified by his or her speech.


Alor Dialect within the Igbo Language

Variation is one of the most evident facts about speech. Igbo language is no exception to this. In spite of the variations, Igbo people still understand one another. As noted by Emenanjo (1978, cited by Nwaozuzu, 2008, p. 6), in spite of the dialect situation and the highly individualistic and republican nature of the Igbo people, they have always been able to mutually understand themselves. The Igbo people have recognised themselves as belonging to one and the same culture which is expressed in varieties of the same language.

Early scholars of the Igbo language (e.g. Koelle, 1854; Archdeacon Dennis, 1905; Ward, 1941; Armstrong, 1967; Welmers; 1970, among others) tried grouping Igbo into different dialects. Their classification varied with their informants as well as the styles they employed. Nwaozuzu (2008) did a classification based on uniformity, near uniformity, phonology, morphology and syntax. Those bundles of dialects exhibiting very similar characteristics, i.e. with only minor or negligible differences, could be grouped as one. From this classification, the dialect that has almost all the characteristics of the group is taken as the main one. Other dialects around it are then regarded as daughter dialects. Based on this method, Alor dialect is classified under the Idemili speech community alongside the dialects of other towns in the Idemili-South Local Government Area. Whatever the merits of this study, we intend to delve into the peculiarities of Alor dialect (hereafter referred to as AD), in comparison with standard Igbo (hereafter referred to as SI).

2.2 Phonological Differences between Alor Dialect and Standard Igbo Most of the factors that cause variations in the different speech forms of the Igbo language are essentially phonological; the basic forms are almost uniform (Nwaozuzu, 2008, p. 131). We therefore start by considering the phonological differences. Phonology is the study of systems of sounds and sound combinations in language. The differences between Alor dialect (AD) and standard Igbo (SI) in terms of sound combinations are considerable and include: i) The voiced alveolar lateral /l/ and the voiced alveolar roll /r/.


It is observed that AD replaces the voiced alveolar roll /r/ in SI with the voiced alveolar lateral /l/. Let us see the following examples, to ascertain whether it is the environment of occurrence that brings about the replacement of /r/ with /l/.

Table 1 SI




















Here, the voiced alveolar roll /r/ appears in word initial position in SI but is replaced with the voiced alveolar lateral /l/ in AD Let us consider more so, the following examples:

Table 2 SI



















Verb (past)




Verb (past)












Verb (past)




Verb (past)




Verb (past)




Verb (past)

From the examples in Table 2, the two sounds /r/ and /l/ occur in intervocalic position. As in the first set of examples in Table 1, SI uses the voiced alveolar roll while AD uses the voiced alveolar lateral /l/ in the initial position. The replacements in the two tables show that it is not the 117

environment of occurrence that affects the sounds. It is striking that the replacements did not affect the meaning of the words. The replacement in question equally affects some Alor Igbo/English bilinguals, hence, the teasing from friends and neighbours from other areas. Thus the Alor person with minimal exposure or sophistication is not really abashed saying „‟The lolly is lunning on load‟‟ which one should understand to mean „‟the lorry is running on the road‟‟. The reason behind the replacement is not far fetched. Oyeka (2004, p. 12) observes that there is no voiced alveolar roll /r/ in the speech inventory of the Alor variant of the Igbo language.

ii) The voiced alveolar lateral /l/ and the voiced alveolar nasal /n/ Another peculiarity of AD is that it interchanges /l/ in SI with /n/. Consider the following:

Table 3 SI Le


































Do not buy

Verb (perfect aspect)

In the above examples, /l/ interchanges with /n/ in AD, the environment of occurrence notwithstanding.

iii) The voiced glottal fricative // and the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative / / SI utilizes the voiced glottal fricative //, whereas the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative / / is used in AD. Consider the following:


Table 4 SI




































The above examples show that // in SI interchanges with /

/ in A.D., the environment of

occurrence notwithstanding. iv) The voiceless labio-dental fricative /ƒ/ and the voiced bilabial glottal fricative /w/. Observed also in AD is that it replaces /ƒ/ in SI with either // or /w/. The following examples buttress the above claim. Table 5 SI



















Verb (past)





In the above examples, where SI uses /ƒ/, AD uses // both in word initial and word medial positions. Consider also the following:

Table 6 SI










Staff of office









Fan into flame






The observation made from the above examples shows that AD interchanges /ƒ/ in SI with // when it co-occurs with heavy vowels or those vowels produced with expanded pharynx but when /ƒ/ cooccurs with the light vowels or those produced with retracted pharynx, it takes /w/. v) The voiced alveolar nasal /n/ and the voiced labialized velar nasal /w/ AD inserts the voiced alveolar nasal /n/ before the labialized velar nasal /w/. The insertion results in AD having an extra syllable compared to SI. Table 7 illustrates this point.

Table 7 SI




Nwaanyị mba

Nnwaayị mba

Foreign wife
























Child of a sister/paternal aunt


From the above table, SI has the first word in the first example to be – Nwaanyi. This has five syllables:

Nw a a ny i C VVCV

The same word in AD has six syllables:

N nw a a ny i S C VV CV

(Here, „S‟ stands for syllabic nasal, „C‟ for consonant, and „V‟ for vowel).

vi AD and the voiced labio-dental fricative /v/. Another peculiarity with AD is the absence of the voiced labio-dental fricative /v/. Some dialects of Igbo like Adazi, use the sound but it does not occur in AD. In some words where /v/ appears, AD utilizes the voiced bilabial plosive /b/. Emenanjo (1978, p. 10) notes that the voiced labio-dental fricative /v/ is a dialectal variant, peripheral to and optional in the modern Igbo sound system. Examples of words where AD uses /b/ in place of /v/ include: 120

Table 8 WORDS


















Finger nails


Illustrations made so far show a slight difference between the speech inventory of SI and AD. AD has no /r/, /v/ and /f/. In places where these sounds appear, it utilizes /l/, /b/ and /w/ respectively.

AD has thirty-four letters in its speech inventory which are as follows: A































In SI, we have following: A

































While AD has thirty-four letters, SI has thirty-six. Despite the slight differences, both dialects are well understood by their speakers. The utilization of /l/, /b/ and /w/ by AD in place of /r/, /v/ and /ƒ/ in SI makes no contrast in the meaning of words as shown in the examples.

The differences prove dialects not to be an inferior form of a language. What is important is that what is expressed in standard dialect could equally be expressed and understood in other dialects. The Alor variety of the afore-mentioned sounds/words can serve as synonyms to SI and thereby enrich the lexical items in SI. 2.3

Phonological Processes in Alor Igbo

Phonological processes refer to the changes a segment undergoes in context of other segments. There is usually a noticeable difference between what we say in slow speech (hereafter SS) and 121

what we say in Rapid Speech (hereafter RS). SS usually represents the original form of the segment as it is stored in the lexicon while some changes are noticed in RS. Consider the following examples: SI Kedu ihe ọ bụ? (SS) Kedu ihe ọọ? (RS) What is it? AD Ndii ishe ọ bụ? (SS) Ndii ishe ọọ? (RS) What is it?

From the above examples, it is clear that there are some differences between SS and RS. Phonological processes apply to alter the phonemic forms of words in various ways; thus, sequences of sound are easier to pronounce, and there is adjustment in the timing of sounds to maintain a steady rhythm in speech. Kinds of phonological processes include: metathesis, assimilation, deletion and insertion. Let us examine just assimilation and deletion, since they are more salient in Igbo language. Mbah and Mbah (2000, p. 79) define assimilation as a phonological process whereby in rapid speech, contiguous speech sounds influence each other such that one of them appears like the other. Assimilation has to do with vowels in Igbo. Emenanjo (1978, p. 22) observes that vowel assimilation is so pervasive in Igbo because most words begin and end in vowels. Vowel assimilation may be complete, conditional or coalescent in form. The following symbols which Emenanjo (1978, p. 22) presents will make our presentation simpler and more economical: -

V1 = final vowel before the juncture V2 = initial vowel after the juncture + = juncture (that is where final vowel in the first word and the initial vowel in the second word meet) → = becomes

Complete assimilation in Igbo takes this form: V1 + v2 → v2 v2 if v1 is /a, e, o, o/. Consider the following examples from AD:122



„thing‟ „big‟



„fame‟ „lion‟ ahwọ +

ukwu → Ishuukwu big thing agu →


fame of lion eshi → ahweeshi

„belly‟ „cow‟

cow‟s belly ini →




burial ground

ehele +

ohe → eheloohe



„plate‟ „soup‟ dish In the first example: Ishe + ukwu → Ishuukwu; v2 i.e. that is the initial vowel after the juncture /u/ assimilated the final vowel before the juncture /e/ thereby replacing it with its own sound; thus, we have „Ishuukwu‟ in place of isheukwu‟. Same applies to other examples. Complete assimilation may also take the form v1 + v2 → v1 v1 = 3rd person singular subject pronoun and the v2 is the verb – bu. Let us consider an earlier example from AD:Ndii ishe ọ bụ? (SS) Ndii ishe ọọ? (RS) What is it? Here, the segment in consideration is: ọ + bụ → ọọ In this example, the elision (omission) of /b/ makes way for the progressive assimilation of / / to / ‫כ‬/, thus conforming to the stipulated rule. Conditional assimilation takes the form: v1 + v2 → v2 v2 if v1 is u or ụ and if the speed of the utterance is rapid, otherwise, there is no assimilation. Examples from AD include: RS ọnụ + akwa → ọnaakwa „Mouth‟ „cloth‟

SS ọnụakwa „hem‟



+ ọsha → atụlọụsha or atụlụọsha




Eghu + ojii → Eghoojii „goat‟


or eghuojii


In the first example, ọnụakwa, v1, which is the first vowel before the juncture is /ụ/. It assimilated v2 /a/, which is the first vowel after the juncture, thus we have „onaakwa‟ in rapid speech. In slow speech, there is no notable change, therefore the word remains as it was – ọnụakwa. The same process applies to other examples. The examples show AD to conform to the rules of conditional assimilation in Igbo.

Coalescent assimilation is the type in which two contiguous sounds cannot influence each other so that one can change the other to its form, thus they coalesce to introduce another speech sound to enhance producing them rapidly. Emenanjo (1978, p. 24) notes that this type of assimilation may take the form of: a) V1 + v2 → y v2 if v1 is either /i/ or /ị/ and v2 is any vowel of the harmony set as /i/ or /ị/ and is on the same tone level or b) V1 + ya →

(i) Iye if v1 is a wide vowel (ii) Iya if v1 is a narrow vowel.

The following examples from AD are illustrative: Eshi + ya → eshiye (eshie) „cow‟


his cow

Ahwo + ya → ahwịya (ahwịa) „belly‟


his belly

Eghu + ya →

eghiye (eghie)

„goat‟ „his‟

his goat


+ eghu → Isyeghu (isieghu)

„head‟ „goat‟

goat head

Ụdịlị + unwo → Ụdịlịunwo 124

„type‟ „house‟ type of house In the first example – eshi + ya → eshiye – v1 is a wide vowel which is followed by „ya‟. The two sounds /i/ and /ya/ coalesced to give „iye‟. Other examples equally followed the above stated rules and so show that vowel assimilation occurs in AD. Let us now consider deletion.

Elision or delision, according to Mbah and Mbah (2000, p. 80), is a phonological process involving the omission or deletion of some segment in rapid speech such that the segments are pronounced when the word containing them is pronounced in isolation or slowly. The segment elided may be a consonant or a vowel. For consonant elision consider the following:AD i.

Miili ayị ohe onumu (SS) O miili ayi ohe onumu (RS) v-(pst) S/he put we soup bitterleaf (S/he gave us bitterleaf soup)

In the above example, the voiced palatal nasal /Л/ is elided in the word „ayị‟, thereby leaving the word with „ai‟ in RS. Consider this too: ii.

A sị na mụ amahọ? (SS) A sịa ma amahọ? (RS) v-pst S/he say that I do not know? Is it said that I do not know?

In the above sentence, the voiced alveolar nasal /n/ is elided when it occurs in the word “sị na” to be „sịa‟.


Welu azịza zapụ akpana ọkụkọ a (SS) Welu


Take broom

zapụ sweep off



droppings fowl

a (RS) this

(Use broom to sweep off these fowl droppings). Here the first voiced alveolar fricative /z/ in „azịza‟ is elided/deleted and the first voiceless velar plosive /k/ in „okuko‟ is elided thereby leaving both words with „aịza‟ and „ọụkọ‟ consecutively. The above example shows that consonant elision commonly features in Alor Igbo. 125

It is equally observed in AD, that there are some syntactic structures where both consonant and vowel are deleted. Consider the following: iv.

O sịlị gini? (SS) O sị gini? (RS) S/he said what? (What did s/he say?)

In the above sentence, the suffix „-lụ‟ is elided in the word/stem „sịlị‟, so that we have „sị‟ in the second sentence (RS). Also consider the following from AD:v.

I melu aghaa? (SS) I me aghaa? (RS) You did how? (How do you do?)

Just as in the first example, there is a deletion of the suffix „-lụ‟ from the stem „melụ‟, thereby leaving the word/stem with „me.‟ The above examples prove AD to be a rich variety of Igbo language. It thus has a potentially immense contribution to make to the enrichment of the Igbo language in general.


Tenses in Alor Dialect

Tense is the grammaticalization of time. Tense distinctions include present, past and future. Here, we shall feature some of the differences between SI and AD in relation to time formation. The comparison will further highlight the peculiarities of AD. i.

Past time formation

The past time marker in SI is „-rV‟, that is /r/ plus harmonizing vowel of the root of the verb. For AD it is „lV‟. Consider the following:-



i. Ọ bịara ebe a v-pst S/he came here

Ọ bịalụ nọọnwa v-pst S/he came here

ii. O


riri nri v-pst 126

lili nni v-pst

S/he ate food

S/he ate food

iii. Ha lọtara v-pst They came back

Ha banwọlụ v-pst They came back

In the above sentences, the verbs in SI are: „bịara‟, „riri‟ and „lọtara‟. The morphemes „-ra‟, „-ri‟ and „-ra‟ are used to show past time. For AD, we have „bịalụ‟, „lili‟ and „banwọlụ‟ as verbs. The morphemes „lụ‟, „-li‟ and „lụ‟ show past time. We now conclude that SI uses „-rV‟ to show past time while AD uses „lV‟ to do same. In SI, the auxiliary verb „ga-„ is used to show future time but in AD, „ja-‟ is used. Examples:



i. Ha ga-egbu ewu aux v-future They kill goat They will kill a goat

Ha ja-egbu eghu aux v-future They kill goat They will kill a goat

ii. Ada ga-aza ụlọ aux v-future Ada sweep house Ada will sweep the house

Ada ja-aza unwo aux v-future Ada sweep house Ada will sweep the house

iii. O ga-elo ya aux v-future S/he swallow it S/he will swallow it

O ja-enwo ya aux v-future S/he swallow it S/he will swallow it

From the above examples, it is clear that SI uses the auxiliary „ga-„ to show future time while AD uses „ja-„ to do same. The perfective in SI, according to Nwaozuzu (2008, p. 41), takes the form of (E-) + V + (A-) + la, where: E-verb prefix, V-verb root, A- -harmonizing open vowel and –la is the terminal suffix. Continuing, she states that E- and A- do not occur in all environments. For AD, it is (E-) + V + (A-) + na. Consider the following:-



i. Ha egbuola ehi

Ha 127

egbuena eshi

v- (perf) They kill cow


They have killed a cow


v- (perf) cow

They have killed a cow

ii. He esiela nri V - (perf) They cook food

Ha esiena nni V - (perf) They cook food

They have cooked food

They have cooked food

From the above examples, it can be seen that SI uses „-la‟ while AD uses „-na‟.

2.5 The Negative in Alor Dialect In SI, the morpheme „-ghi‟ is used to indicate negation. AD has a different morpheme for it, which is „-mmu‟. Examples include:

S.I. Ọ zụtaghị ihe n‟ahịa v -(neg) S/he buy thing in market S/he did not buy anything from the market Ọ

zaghị ụlọ v -(neg) S/he sweep house S/he did not sweep the house


gotahọ ishe n‟asha v - (neg) S/he buy thing in market S/he did not buy anything from the market Ọ

zahọ unwo v -(neg) S/he sweep house S/he did not sweep the house


In the above sentences, the morpheme „-ghị‟ is used to indicate negation in the verbs „zụtaghị‟ and „zaghị‟ in SI and „–họ‟ to show same in AD.

2.6 Alor Dialect and Single-Word Sentences One word sentences are those words which carry in themselves the syntactic values of whole nuclei or sentences. They may be in form of greetings, responses, oaths, exclamations and so many others. We have examples of one word verbless sentences in AD which have much to contribute to the richness of Igbo language as a whole. Such include:

Greeting words Nnwọ



thank you


I thank you very much


how are you?


that is very good


see me




leave me


God forbid


what a thing this is


it is fantastic/wonderful


good for you/him; serves you/him right


God forbid


God forbid




beware; leave me alone






good God!!

Response words

Oath/swear words

Exclamation words



good God!


I hear


I hear you, a nam anụ


You are telling me


serves you right




that‟s true


I hear you


even this will take place?


Not so?


What is it?

Reaction words

Question words

3 Origin and Use of Alor Dialect

3.1 Origin and Differentiation Although the Alor tongue has been part and parcel of the larger Igbo language, the differentiation into its specifics such as accent, elocution, articulation, phonetics, and exclamations, must have followed a distinct tract dictated by several influences. We may imagine that when Alor, Ojoto and Adike (founder of Obosi) set out from Nri several centuries ago, they must have had one dialect. Today, one can easily identify the indigenes of these sister towns on the basis of their clearly different dialects, each of which is distinct from that of Nri, the original provenance. The primordial form of our dialect must therefore have undergone substantial modification over time. This could be attributed to several factors. Interaction with neighbours by way of intermarriage, attendance at the same markets, as well as other forms of external relations including military contact, may have multilaterally influenced language growth and use.

In the days of slave trade Alor was, like other towns around, a destination of slave merchants. One of them, named Okwunanne Udeọgụ, came all the way from Arọchukwu, found the location suitable, and settled down, eventually forming a strong dynasty in Umụnambụ quarter. Such powerful settlers must have brought in new vocabulary related to the business chain: - identifying 130

potential articles of trade (slaves), hunting them down, hammering out the bargains, and herding them off to collection centres or staging posts en route to slave ports. In all of this, completely new words were most probably introduced.

Influences from outside also meant introducing new words and usages or extending the meaning of existing ones. For example, when schools and churches sprang up early in the twentieth century, the newly introduced educational concepts, gadgets and miscellaneous items had to have vernacular names. Thus book in general became akwụkwọ, a term that most probably derived by extending the meaning of plant leaf since a sheet of paper was something flat, akin to a broad plant leaf. Going to school was termed ije akwụkwọ and reading a book became akwụkwọ. Now, let us list some examples of new words and usages that must have originated by adaptation, extension, association or analogy: book





ịgụ akwụkwọ



unwo akwụkwọ



ije akwụkwọ

school fees


ugwọ akwụkwọ



onye nkuzi

lady teacher





nwata akwụkwọ



ụmụ akwụkwọ

school uniform


ehe akwụkwọ



mkpịsị akwụkwọ

school bell


mgbalịmgba akwụkwọ

playing games


ịkpolị oghu

playing football


ịgbalị bọọụ

passing examinations =

ịpaasị akwụkwọ

failing examinations =

ịda akwụkwọ

failing very badly


ịdalụ ahụ




We can further illustrate the origin and differentiation of our dialect by looking at the advances in building technology due to outside influence: storey building


unwo enu 131

stair case









roofing sheet


ibe gbam gbam




window panes (wooden) paint



jọlọsi penti

3.2 Avenues for Use It goes without saying that the dialect has been in use for all transactions and verbal communications for all time. We shall now employ one or two settings or circumstances to further illustrate the variety of usages, phraseologies and ideas as obtained in Alor from as far back in time as possible. Family/household setting and religious worship will suffice. In a given household numerous issues require or warrant verbal communication among the members. The following terms are used to characterise the family, including persons, physical setting, activities and general livelihood: -

Family and Community man of the house


dibụnwo, nnaa, nnayị

woman of the house


nne, e-ee

first son



first daughter


ada izizi



nnwune nna/nne




baby sitter








obịa, mbimbi

wife married from other towns


nnwayị mba




daughters of a kindred


ụmụ ọkpụ, ụmụ ada

wives within a kindred


ite ose

kindred meeting


nzukọ ụmụnna

village meeting


nzukọ ogbe 132


nzukọ izuzugbezugbe, nzukọ ọha n‟eze



ezi n‟unwo, ngwulu

four walls of compound


ọkpa aja n‟ano

flanking farmlands


aka mbụbo n‟abọ

front yard


ezi ama



owele, azụ owele

front gate


ọnụ uzo ezi ama

rear gate, rear entrance


uzo owele

man‟s sit-out building



man‟s main building



woman‟s/wife‟s building



front space


mbalezi, ihu mbalezi

behind the house



compost pit


agbụgbọ, agalịga

water/flood well



chicken pen


ụla ọkụkọ

chicken hole


ọnụ ana

goat shelter


ịgba eghu

yam barn


ọba ji

enclosure for cocoyam


mkpa ede




general meeting

Family Compound

elevated part of floor in house


ikpo, ogodo

storage racks



fire place


ekwu ọkụ, anya ọkụ









oke eshi






mkpi, nnwa mkpi

Family Livestock


dwarf he-goat


mkpi akwụ unwo



















day-old chick









Family Activities/Issues/Transactions story telling


ịkọlị akụkọ, ịpka nkata, ịhụlị ụka, akụkụ iho



mkpecha, ntụcha, okwu azụ

family squabble


esemokwu ezi n‟unwo

upbringing/home training


ọzụzụ, nzụnita



ịpịa gbanị gbanị



ịsị asịlị, ịtụ asị, ịtụ ụga, ikwu okwu ụgha



ekene, ịsha aka n‟obi

Farming and Feeding Matters farmland


mbụbọ, ubi

yam plot


mbụbọ/ubi ji

cocoyam plot


mbụbọ/ubi ede






mma oge



ịtụ mgbo

planting yams/cocoyam


ịkọ ji/ede

planting cassava


ịkọ/igba akpụ

tending yam tendrils


iṅe ji

tending cocoyam plot


iyi ede

harvesting yam


igwu ji

harvesting cocoyam


ịbụ ede 134

harvesting cassava

ịbụ akpụ


tying yam tubers in columns =

ike ji

pounded cassava meal


ụtala akpụ, mgbadụga

pounded yam meal


ụtala ji

pounded cocoyam meal


ụtala ede

processed castor seed



bitter leaf soup


ohe onumu

unsalted soup made of garden egg leaves


oke ohe

emergency soup (pepper, salt, ogili, water) =


dried cassava tuber/powder


akpụ ncheke

peeled processed cassava


akpụ mmili

peeled dry cassava


akpụ nghalịngha

roasted yam


ji ọkụ

roasted yam with oil soaked in


ji atụl‟odu

three-leafed yam





akwụkwọ nni, ashịsha

mortar and pestle


ikwe n‟aka odo

drinking cup – water


iko mmili

drinking cup – wine


iko nkwụ

mortar for sharing meat


ọkwa anụ ngịga

basket for preserving meat over fire place





oil sauce for eating ona






breakable plate


ehele ọwụwa

soup pot


ite ohe



paanụ, nnukwu ehele

earthen plate/basin



earthen pot


ite ekpulu

wide-mouthed soup pot



iron pot


ite ọna







flat basket


anyala 135

large flat basket


anyala ogoaja ụkpa

elongate basin made of cane and wood


basin for storing foo-foo (ụtala)


kitchen knife



issuing day‟s food ration to wife

mma ekwu =

ịtu ashị

buying food ingredients


ịnwata ishe nni



isi nni, isi ite

cooking/calling a feast


isi olili

cooking tasteless food


isi ajọ nni

rejecting food


itụkwọ nni



iligha awhọ, iligha isi ahwọ

man fining wife (discipline) =

ihu aṅuṅu

season of (plenty) food


udu nni

season of (food) scarcity




Worship and Religious Activities

As has been indicted or even fully discussed in some other papers in this volume, the Alor man had from time immemorial been highly religious in his general conduct. Because there had been a hierarchy of gods or deities, ranging from personal (chi) to the more public ones such as Ezigbo, Okide, Nkwọ, etc, the Alor man of old could be tagged polytheistic. However, he always regarded these numerous gods as the earthly vassals of the Almighty God residing in heaven from where He oversees human affairs. This spiritual and philosophical viewpoint can be made out from the words, idioms, proverbs and miscellaneous expressions used to conduct worship and all religious activities ranging from simple daily prayers over kola nuts to ịlọ mmọọ and ime Olise. Listed hereunder is a sampling of usages directly or indirectly related to worship and religious matters as practiced in Alor especially in times past. It is obvious that most of these expressions are gradually fading out of routine communication within the community. This is not surprising, since traditional religion is virtually extinct.

breaking of kola nut in the morning =

ịwa ọjị ụtụtụ

chief priest of an idol


onye isi mmọọ, eze mmọọ

demand for sacrifice by an idol


ịwa n‟aha

routine worship of an idol


imeya mmọọ

saying prayers


ịgọ ọwhọ 136



okwu mmọọ

earth mound in shrine


ogigi mmọọ

worship materials/paraphernalia


okpesi, ọwhọ, nzu, omumo, etc

visiting native doctor/diviner


ije be dibịa, ije na nke eze ajụjụ

divination by native doctor


ịgba aha

instituting a shrine/idol


ishibe okwu mmọọ

relocating a shrine


isegha okwu mmọọ

celebrating personal god


ịlọ chi

celebrating/remembering dead parents =

ịlọ mmọọ, ịlọ nnaa

arena for a shrine/idol

ilo mmọọ, olile mmoo


free-roaming he-goat dedicated to an idol


mkpi mmọọ

free-roaming cow dedicated to an idol


eshi mmọọ

new yam ceremony


isu ọgwụ

evil spirit


ajo mmọọ

offering sacrifice


ịchụ aja

one who eats sacrificial material


oli aja

one bought/kidnapped and dedicated to an idol


running into a shrine for protection =

ịgbana na mmọọ

person selected by idol to become its chief priest


onye mmọọ malụ/gudolu

adherence to traditional religion


ịgo mmọọ, onye ọgọ mmọọ

one who stays too long out of home


oje na mmọọ


prayer: let earth hear us and transmit to God =

ana nụlụ gwa Chukwu

prayer: may kite perch and eagle perch

egbe belu ugo belu




In keeping with the observation by the literary icon called Chinua Achebe, proverbs are the oil with which Igbo people eat words. Recall proceedings during any serious meeting, or even a lighthearted banter among the village folk, especially the elders. It is all proverbs and idioms, so much so that anybody failing to follow the transactions, and dared express it, immediately became a subject of derision. Somebody was sure to put it to him that the bride price paid on his mother was an absolute waste – onye a tụalụ inu kọwalịya, ego e jili nụta nnie nalụ n’iyi. Thus proverbs are very much a part and parcel of Igbo language in general and Alor dialect in particular. Use of proverbs makes for brevity in transactions. Proverbs also help to save embarrassing moments since they provide a way of getting around very awkward situations. 137

Our own Chief E.E. Ndubuisi, Okwuloha Alor, has done justice to this aspect of Igbo studies through his recent book titled Spices in Our Mother Tongue (2009, CSS Bookshops, Lagos, 154p). The volume is a thematic compilation of large doses of philosophy, culture, belief systems, economy and a miscellany of items depicting the general Igbo world view. We have sourced and adapted some of the following samples from the book, which is strongly recommended for a fuller sampling of wisecracks and immortal sayings from Alor and elsewhere. 1. Nnwa nwel’ego kwaa nnịa maka n’ọbụhọ diọkpala nyagbulu. The rich son should bury their father; it is not the first son that killed him. 2. Nkịta ah’ata ọkpụkpụ anyabalịa n’onu. A dog does not eat the bone tied to its neck. 3. Anya k’eji ama ọka chala acha, ntụghe b’ụsa Ripe corn is known from its external appearance; opening to see the inside is being greedy. 4. Nwayọọ nwayọọ k’eji alacha ohe d’ọkụ. Hot soup is leaked very slowly. 5. Onye chọọ ili awọ nya chọba nke mal’abụba. Whoever wants to eat a toad had better look for a fat one. 6. Mkpi sị na njepu a maka. The he-got says travelling is a good thing. 7. Chọọ eghu ojii ka chi di, maka n’anyasị ọ shaa ahụ. Look for the black goat in day light; it is harder to search out in the dark. 8. Onye hee eze eze eluye. Pay obeisance to the king; you may one day be king. 9. Ọ bụhọ i kuyi enwe mmili bụ nsogbu nọọ ị natakwịya iko. Giving drinking water to a monkey is not the problem, it is retrieving the cup. 10. Onye ji mmadụ n’ana ji onwie. He who holds a fellow man down equally holds himself down. 11. Gbanụ gbanụ gwujie ji, j’etukwulu ana gwulukwa ọdụya. Hurrying to dig up a yam will eventually mean settling down to dig up the snapped off tail. 12. Ọ bụhọ mbukata bụ mkpakata ike, maka n’onye kwe chie ekwe, mana onye k’onye ka chie. Size does not often translate to might, since determination can win fights, although being bigger often means overall superiority (all demonstrated by the following photograph).


Ị ma n’ibul’ibu kọbọ bulu n’ego; bịa k’ayị kwatụa, ka nnyụagh’ịkpakwụ, anụ ọsha 13. Onye nọ mmadu nso n’anụ isi eze onye ahụ. Only by sitting near a person can you perceive his mouth ordour. 14. Onye bunu k’ọnanyị. It is the load-bearer that feels the weight. 15. Oke dị n’unwo n’agwa nke nọ n’ọsha n’azụ dị na ngịga. The rat in the house informs the bush rat there is some fish in the basket. 16. Awọ a h’agba ọsọ eshishe na nkịtị. A toad does not run in broad day light for nothing. 17. Onye aghụghọ nwụa onye aghụghọ enie ya. A dead cunning man is buried by another cunning man. 18. Otu onye nie onwiye aka apụta. If a man buries himself a hand is sure to stick out. 19. Ị kpata nkụ ahụhụ bụ ị sị ngwele pụkwutagh ọlịlị. Fetching ant-infested fire wood is to invite the lizards. 20. Ị j’aka mmadụ ogonogo kakwịya mkpụmkpụ? Are you going to be taller than somebody and also be shorter than him? 21. Ohu hụlụ k’eji mabazụ eni ibie ma nọọ k’ọ ja a dịya. 139

A servant seeing his dead colleague buried in a shallow grave knows that is his own fate. 22. Nwoke nụsịa ọgụ nnwayị ewnelu akụkọ. A man does the fighting, the woman tells the story. 23. Nwoke tosie o chelu ibiye. When a man fully grows up he waits for others. 24. Ọ bịalụ b’onye abịagbunịya k’ọjab ọ j’ana ka mkpukpu j’apụnịya. A guest should not overstay his welcome to avoid developing a hunch back when departing. 25. Ọ bụhọ mpkopụta ede bụ ọkụkọ. Heaping out cocoyam does not amount to planting it. 26. Ntị a hana k’ọja aha, n’ajeji ze mmili. The ear is sufficiently large; it is not needed for shelter from rain. 27. E nye dibịa ishe ọ n’eli ọbụa mkpọlọgwụ n’ajọ ọsha. If a native doctor is given what he likes, he will fetch roots from the forbidden bush. 28. Enwe sị n’ịya a ha atụhwu nnwịa nwụla anwụ n’olenasịgh. The monkey says it does discard the corse of its dead baby unless it is completely rotten. 29. Nyonyo nyo ka mgbọ jili tụ enwe. Curiousity is why the bullet hit the monkey. 30. Onye a n’agwọ ibi ọ n’eto ahwọ nya n’ ajọ ọsha gbalụ ụgba. A man developing distended tommy while undergoing treatment for enlarged scrotum has a covenant with the evil bush. 31. Nkịta sị na nde nwelu ike a maha anọ. The dog says those who have buttocks do not know how to sit. 32. Iwe nnwune a h’elu n’ọkpụkpụ. Animosity between siblings does not penetrate to the bones. 33. Eshi onye j’agbahwunahịa nya gbubilikwịa n’ọbụgh sọgh ọdụ. If a man‟s cow is bolting away for good, he should try to at least yank off the tail. 34. Ede gbalụm gbalụ nwii dim, anya ukwu anol’onwie. If I and my co-wife both have a good cocoyam harvest, jealousy will not rear its ugly head. 35. Nnwoke nwụl’anwụ a ahapụgh ji n’ọba ọ hapịa n’ubi. At death a man‟s yam crop is either in his farm or in the barn. 36. Okwu baa n’ego ogbenya e wepụ onụ. When a transaction touches on money the poor has to shut up. 37. Akọwaalụ ogbenya ishe eji a ba ọgalanya ọsị kịa hakwa kịa ha. If you explain what it takes to be rich to a poor man, he opts to remain as he is. 140

38. Ụsụ sị nịa ma kịa dị wee welu anyasị n’ehe. The bat says he knows how ugly he is and that‟s why he gets around only at night. 39. Egwu n’atụ ahwọ ọ bịa bulu uzo. The belly has no fear and that‟s why it is in front. 40. Odịịlị utu mma ọ j’akpọdo isi n’ana. If it is fine for the penis it will not be pointing downwards. 41. Utu n’ekeni ọ dị k’ọja akwa aja. When the penis is pulsating it looks as if can topple a wall. 42. Onye anya dị mma a h’egbo nde ala n’abọ ọgụ. A sane person does not try separating two figting lunatics. 43. Dimkpa a h’anụ ọgụ ikpe ọmụma. A decent man does not engage in a blameable fight. 44. Dimkpa a h’agba ulu mgba. A decent man does not wrestle in secret. 45. Ọjọhwulu akụ nnịa n’ụjọ sị n’enyi n’a nwụbue n’ọsha lenasịa. A coward who let go his father‟s wealth rationalizes that afterall elephants die in the forest and rot off there. 46. Mbe na mbe zụa asha ulu a h’a dịa. There is hardly any profit in a trade deal between two tortoises. 47. Ejiho mmakpu ngwele malụ nke ahwọ n’alụ. From the lying position of the lizard one can hardly know the one that has belly ache. 48. Ishe d’iche di na mmili a hal’aha na nke zoolu onwie. There is a difference between rain artificially made and rain that falls naturally. 49. Onye aka chịchịlịchị a dịmụna akpịlị. The miser had better not be greedy. 50. E nebe egbugbe ọnụ agadi nnwayị anya ọ dị k’o jihịa ńụ ala nnie. Looking at the lips of an old woman, you may think she never once suckled at her mother‟s breasts 51. A tọsịsịba akpụkpọ dị n’ajị onye wo ajị a gbalụ ọtọ. If all the knots in the loin cloth have to be removed, the wearer of the loin cloth will become naked. 52. Ụkwala n’akwa enwe ọ n’akwa osisi ọ nọ nịa. When a monkey is coughing, the tree he is sitting on is also coughing. 53. Aka n’abọ gaa n’ọkụ ọ dị k’ọdalụ bụ. 141

When two hands eat from the same bowl, it appears like a sramble. 55. Ogbalụ nkịtị kwel’ekwe. Silence is consent. 56. Ụka a kpala akpa e j’isi ekwie. An earlier discussion is usually confirmed with just a nod. 57. Ọkwa sị n’onye nya talụ jie kọtakalịsịlị. The patridge says the man from whose yam farm he ate is the greatest farmer. 58. Onye ala sulu unwo bie ọkụ sị n‟ọtụa hwoo. The mad man who burnt his house says the whole place has become clearer. 59. A hapụ nsị ọ n’esi. If you leave faces uncovered it will keep stinking. 60. E mee nnwata k’emel’ibie obi a dịa mma. If child is treated like his mates he would be happy. 61. Ọ n’abụ ụla tọb’ụtọ e kwobie ekwobe. When sleep gets really sweet, snoring sets in. 62. Osisi kwuụchil’uzo n’eli ube mma. The the tree standing by the road receives machete cuts. 63. Osisi nụlụ ajegbuye kwụlụ mbe ọkwụ, mana mmadụ nụ n’ajebuye ọ gbaba k’ọkpịa ha. A tree hears it is about to be cut down and stands, but if a man hears he is a target for slaughter, he runs with all his strength. 64. Okosisi daa ụmụ nnụnụ eju ọsha. When a big tree falls numerous birds tumble along. 65. Nkwọ Alor a mahọ n’otu onye a zụhịa. Nkwo Alor market would not miss the single absentee. 66. Onye ma nnịa ma nd’ichie. He who knows his father knows the ancient generations. 67. Ijiji sok’ozu o solie naa n’ini. A fly that persistently follows a corpse gets buried along with the corpse. 68. Eliwọ ji ewel’ede kwụa ụgwọ. Somebody missing out on yams can be paid with cocoyams. 69. Ụgwọ a h’akọ n’ama dimkpa. A man is hardly free from debts. 70. Onye n’eti ọ n’elulie ọ dị k’ojelu be Chukwu. When a man is steadily succeeding in his enterprises, it looks as if he visited God. 142

71. A n’ezo ezo ejekwu ajadu nnwayị o diy’emee pụta? There is no fear in consorting a widow, the husband is not to be feared. 72. Onye mụlụ nnwa mkpukpu ma k’osi eku. If you have a hunch-backed baby, you sure know how to carry it. 73. Uzo dị mma a gaaya nga n’abọ. A good pathway is treaded more than once. 74. Ị gwa nnwayị aga na nnwa n’ata alụ n’ahwọ o nwehọ mgbaghasị. A barren woman offers no contest when told that a baby in the womb can bite. 75. Ọdụ n’enye ikwe nzakpo, maka na gidi gidi bụ oke ozu. It is the pestle that actually gives the mortar all the loudness, since a lot of noise marks a big man‟s funeral. 76. Dimkpa a h’a gba egwu a kwal n’kwe. A man does dance to the beating of the pestle on the mortar. 77. Dimkpa a h’agba ụlụ mgba. A man does not engage in secret wresting. 78. Dimkpa n’abụ o tie ọkpọ ọ saa aka. When a man delivers a blow he shows his palm. 79. Ọ n’abụ e hopu nkịta apkị e gosịa. It is proper to show a dog the tick you picked away from its skin. 80. Nkịta sị n’obie otu ny’alachakpọọ. The dog says if its problems could resolve to just one, it would cope. 81. A kpọọ nkịta uzo oku n’abọ ọ maa agba n’ogodo. Give a dog two simultaneous calls and it will stumble. 82. Ala n’aka mma n’okolobịa. Madness is better during one‟s youth. 83. Njasibe bụ ọgụ. Support is the secret behind most successful endeavours. 84. Ọ n’abụ ishe kwụlụ ishe a kwụdebie. The law of duality requires that alongside an issue, there is another one. 85. Ikikelemkpọ sị nnwii ya ọ chọọya ọ hụughịa ọ malụ n’ịya nọ be diochi. The white ant advised the wife to look him up in the wine tapper‟s place whenever he was away for long. 86. Ọ shal’ahụ iso nde matal’ụsụ mụl’anya anyasị. You don‟t have to stay awake with bat trappers. 143

87. A n’agbanụ agbanụ a mịcha aka, a j’ahabịa n’uko? Why hurry to lick your fingers, will stick them away somewhere? 88. A makata ese nnwagbọghọ ọ dị kịa pụta asha. After so long talking about a local beauty one would wish she appears in the market place one day. 89. Agbọghọ sị nịya akpụna ala n’obi, ebe ọ sọzịlị nd’ọzọ ha kpụa nke ha. The young maiden says she has grown her breasts on the chest, others can grow theirs wherever they wish. 90. Ị hapụlụ ụgụlụ ọnụ o sewaa. If you leave your lips unprotected the harmattan would crack them up. 91. Ishe ọ sọkwọlụ ụgụlụ nya tibe, nnwayị j’enwenagh mmili j’e zulu nnwoke ịghụ ahụ ọhwụma. However severe the harmattan, a woman always has enough water to give a man a good bath. 92. Ishe ahwọ a m’agba nne eshi, a j’abọtalịlịa otu ụkpa anụ. Whatever the amount of purging an adult cow suffers, its meat must fill a standard basin. 93. Ọkpa n’aga wala wala, anya n’aga wala wala n’a hụ ya. Swiftly moving legs are easily followed by swiftly roving eyes. 94. K’onye dị ibie ma. Kith and kin know one another. 95. Ogbu mma n’ana na mma. He who hurtfully wields the machete dies by the machete. 96. Mkpọtọ nnwa ọgalanya kalịlị ogbugbu ya. Scandalising a noble man is worse than killing him. 97. Ọ n’abuụ ikwu a magh ibe e ziye. A man ignorant about a matter is put through by his kith and kin. 98. Mmụta kalịlị ọgwụgwọ. Learning and skills far supercede talisman. 99. Ka be onye a dịna ọ magh n’ana. However shanty a man‟s abode, he still goes home. 100.Agadi nnwayị a h’akalu nka n’egwu ọ m’agba. Age does not diminish an old woman‟s ability in a dance she had been skilled in. 101. Nn’eshi n’ata agbala nnwịya a neneye anya n’ọnụ. As the cow eats the prickly plant, the calf looks on. 102. Nnw’eshi gbekpulue ana ọńụta nnie ala. Only by kneeling can the calf suckle the mother cow‟s udder. 144

103. E nenịna onye nnie nwụlụ na chi e jigh. Don‟t write off a man who lost the mother unti nightfall. 104. Mma n’abọ dị be onye ụbịam, nke nwel’isi a dịhọ nkọ, nke di nkọ e nweh’isi. Of the two knives in a poor man‟s house, the sharp one has no handle, the one with a handle is blunt. 105. Atanị kwado nsapụ ọmụba sọgh oke oke. When a certain animal called atanị is about to go extinct, it reproduces only males. 106. O nweh’ishe jikọl’udene n’ịkpa isi. A vulture has no business with hair shaving 107. Ekwe onye nchiche n’aka ị d’ọma a gụbịa. Give a hand shake to a wretch and he craves an embrace. 108. A h’eji otu iko nkwụ ama nkwụ dị mma. You hardly can assess the quality of palm wine with just one cup. 109. A h’ji otu akpok’ụtala ama ohe di mma. You can‟t determine the quality of a soup with just one ball of foofoo. 110. Nkụ onye kpatalụ n’ọkọchi k’ọnanya n’udu mmili. The firewood you fetch in the dry season is what you use in the rainy season. 111. Nkụ onye kpatalụ n’okolobịa k’ọnanya n’agadi. The firewood you fetch as a young man is what you use as an old man. 112. Nnwata takalịa ose, ose a hwụkalịa ya. If a child chooses to chew a lot of pepper, he suffers a lot of peppery sting. 113. Akụ hechaa ọ dal’awọ. After flying all over the place, the winged termite will eventually come down to the ground for the pleasure of the toad. 114. Onye ndidi n’eli azụ ukpoo. The patient person eats the fish with his hook 115. Ọnwụ egbuchugh nnwokolobia ọ jelinagh ishe ghal’ahwụọnụ. If a lad does not die young, he is sure to eat the bearded thing. 116. Ishe n’at’ụtọ negbukwu egbu. Something very sweet can also be a killer. 117. A nagwa ntị ọ nụghụụ, e gbubili isi ntị e so. If the ear discards wise counsel, the day the head falls, the ear falls along. 118. E bulu ozu onye ọzọ ọ dị k’ebu ogwe nkụ. A distant person‟s corpse looks like a log of wood. 145

119. E bum ihu a chọ ihu nkem ọ gbal’ọkụ? Should I be looking for other people‟s faces, is mine burnt? 120. Ụwa mgbede ka mma, mana ala n’aka mma n’okolobịa. Material convenience is preferable in old age, but madness fits more with youthful vigour. 121. Mmili bụ ndụ azụ. Water is the sustainer of fish. 122. Ọ nabụ onye kobe kosie o tikpọọ. When a man has tired of braggadocio, he mellows down 123. Ak’ekpe kwọọ aka nni, aka nni a kwọọ ak’ekpe. The left hand washes the right one, the right one washes the left one. 124. A nọkọọ k’ah’eli anụ udene a tọtue ngịga. When the eaters of vulture meat assemble, it is time to bring down the meat basket. 125. Ọ n’abụ ngana gbue ute, agụụ egbughee ya. When laziness wraps itself up with a mat, hunger unwraps the mat. 126. A ha amụ ak’ekpe na nka. There is noe learning to be left-handed in old age. 127. Ezi sị n’ishe onye nwelu k’oji eme ngala, nya wee wepụta nnukwu mpkụl’amụya n’abọ n’azu. The pig says you had better be proud of your endowment, hence he displays his huge srotal sacks at his rear 128. Onye isi a kaha aka a h’eje ọgụ ọtụkpọkpọlọlọ. Unless your skull is really tough, do not dare a wood pecker to a fight. 129. Agụ sị na nkwụcha a bụh’ụjọ. The tiger says being cautious is not cowardice. 130. Ọ ghọchalụ k’ọmịlị a h’esi n’ukwuya alịda. If you plan to pluck all the ripe fruits on the tree, you may not come down through the stem.

6 Sample Narrative – About the Oil Palm Utility Even though there is an elaborate contribution on our palms in English in this volume, the following part of the discussion of the Alor Igbo allows for a comparison and supplements or enriches the longer discussion.


Ishe e jili malụ Alor bụ osi nkwụ kwekejulu mbe nine, nde Alor wee welu ite nkwụ melu aka ọlụ, e wee nwee diochi n‟ezinunwo ọbụna. Onye Alor ọbụna ma na nkwụ balụ ulu shinne. K‟ayi gụpụta, kọwakwa nnukwu ulu nkwụ n‟abalụ nde Alor. O wekwalụ anya n‟elue n‟obodo di iche iche gbal‟ Alor okilikili, n‟ishe dị b‟oke dị b‟ogene. Nke mbụ, nkwụ nyelu nde Alor akaọlụ, ma nnwoke ha, ma nnwayị ha. Ụmụ nwoke n‟alị enu chọl‟ ishe eghu, gbue akwụ m‟obụ hwuchaa nkwụ maka otite. Ụmụnwayi n‟atutu‟akwụ, shie ya n‟ikwe, ghee y‟eghee wee pịpụta mmanụ. Nke ibọọ, nde Alor ji igu nkwụ azụ eghu n‟enunu nd‟ọzọ. Mgbe gboo, eji igu ama mkpukpu ishe dịka mbe a n‟akwa ozu m‟ọbụ emume mbe mmadụ j‟abịa shinne a j‟anọ li olili dị iche iche. Nke itọ bụlụ ekwele a n‟ekpeta n‟ahụ ogugu. Ej i ekwele e she ishe oshishe di iche iche – nkụ, nni eghu, ogige, ntụtụ unwo, inibe atụlụ n‟ịmịị eghu. Ekewle k‟e ji ashị agbụ e ji ete nkwụ. E ji ekwele akpa anyala, nkịta, na ngịga. Ute ekwele k‟Alor ji eni ozu mgbe gboo. Nke ịnọ b‟ọbala a n‟ekpeta n‟azụ igu nkwụ. Eji obala agba ọkụkọ ụgbanku k‟ọ jehehwughu. E ji ọbala akpa nkata ụmị, anyala eji a họ onumu, n‟anyala ogo aja e ji a gba ishe di iche iche n‟anwụ. E ji ọbala eso anụ a j‟amị n‟ọkụ. Nke ise bụ ogugu. Ogugu bụ ogonogo okpolo igu a kwasịsịlị abụba. Nde Alor ji ogugu e me alụlụ ji, welie n‟agba ogige. Mgbe a n‟alụ unwo atani, ọọ ya bụ okpolo a n‟eshekwasa atanị n‟enuye. N‟ọba, ọọ n‟ogugu k‟a nekekwasa ji. Ogugu e sheleshe (ngu, nko) k‟eji aghọ ishe ọghụghọ dika ube, mangolo, ụtụ, ụkpa, ụdala, n‟ishe ọghụghọ nde ọzọ. E ji ogugu kpọlụ nkụ n‟akalịka eme nkụ. Nke isii bụ ọmụ. E ji ọmụ nkwụ e me elili e ji ekechi ishe dị iche, dika ngwugwu azụ, akpụ mmili, n‟ụmụ ishe nde ọzọ. Onye chọlụ k‟e lee ishe ọ mịị y‟ọmụ, dị ka ishi nkụ. E ji ọmụ edo iyi n‟ishe a chọhọ ka mmadụ metụ aka. E wel‟ọmụ gechie ana, ị malụ n‟achọhọ ka mmadụ baa nịa, ma na e tumobe okpolo ọmụ n‟ana ị malụ n‟achọlụ ile anah‟ele. A n‟ejikwịa e gechi okwu mmọọ. Ọmụ k‟e ji akpa ụgbọ aja e ji a ghịị ish‟e jili chụ aja. A n‟ese okwu ana a mịị nyabụ ana ọmụ ka mmadụ j‟abagh nịa. E bulu ozu na moto a makwuị ya ọmụ k‟owe eghu n‟ọkụkọ anya ishe e bu. I hụ nde tipụtalụ mmọọ ka ha kpụ ọmụ n‟ọnụ ị malụ nọọ ajọ mmọọ; gbaba k‟ọkpagh ha. A n‟ewenaga nnwayị be nnịa tuyi ọmụ, o gosi n‟o nweezi ka nnwayị ahu nachighaa be die. 147

Nke ịsaa bụ apkọnkwụ, nyabụ ogwe nkwụ e melu nńebisi. E ji y‟egwu iso (ide) unwo. E ji awalawịa akwa ntụtụ unwo. E ji y‟e me ogwe ntụhe mmili m‟obu onunu mil‟emi. E ji ogwe nkwụ e gbo idee. A n‟anyịa nkụ. A hapụ ya k‟o lenaa, agụ nkwụ abaa ya, bụlụ anụ olili. Nke ịsatọ bụ igbegulu. E ji igbegulu ekpu aja egwe (ngwulu). E ji ya eme nti ekpe. A n‟a nyịa nkụ. Nke itenanị (teghete) bụ ahwụli. Nkea bụ elili a n‟esi n‟ogugu a dọchapụta n‟e kpepụtasịa ekwele. E ji y‟e gwu ụkpaka, welie n‟ekechi ishe dị iche iche, welkwịa n‟eme asịsa e ji a sachas‟ishe. A hwụchapụtịa shinne e welie mee nza e ji a zachasị ụmụ ahụhụ n‟a dị na nkwụ. Nk‟ili bụ azịza. N‟Alor e nwelu uzo azịza n‟atọ – azịza unwo, azịza ọdụ igu, n‟azịza okeakpa. Azịza okeakpa bụ okpolo nnwobele osisi n‟eto n‟ọsha. Mbalezi k‟ejie aza. E jikwịa a kwachapụta ụtalị mmọọ n‟apịa mmadụ n‟apụa mkpaghalị mmọọ. Mana azịza unwo n‟azịza ọdụ igu si na nkwụ. Azịza unwo bụ abụba igu a kpụl‟akpụ, wel‟ekwele shekọta ọnụ. A n‟ejikalịa a pịachasị etum, e kochasị ọnya ududo, a za ime unwo m‟ọbụ nnwobele ihu unwo. O nwelu ishe ọzọ e ji azịza unwo eme. Ọ bụlụ n‟onye ị chọhọ k‟ọbata begh bịasịa n‟apụ, i wel‟azịza zab‟unwo o gosi n‟ịchọhọ k‟ọkpụdebezie begh ọzọ. A bịa n‟ịza mbalezi m‟ọbụ eziama, ọ bụlụ azịza ọdụ igu. Aziza odụ igu bụ nke a n‟egbubita ishe dị ka ekemito otu igu si n‟ọdụ ya, chịkọtịa ishe dịk‟ịse m‟ọb‟isii, wel‟ekwele shekọọ ha ọnụ. Nk‟ili n‟otu (mmonu) bụ isi akwụ. Otu osi nkwụ nwel‟ike ịhwọ ishe dị ka isi akwụ ise m‟ọbụ kalịa n‟otu nhwọ. Ishe dị n‟isi akwụ bụ mkpụlụ akwụ, ọghangụ, na isikilidim akwụ. A gbọchasịa isi akwụ, a tụtụa mkpụl‟akwụ, ọ bụlụzịa osụsụ. Ọ n‟asha ahụ otu onye ịsụ akwụ sọọ ya; ọ j‟enwelili onye ja n‟eshi‟eshi. Asụsịa ọ bụlụ ọtụtụ. Atụsia, akụ n‟abụbụ a nol‟iche. O nwee mkpụlụ akwụ a sụhọ ọhwụma (a n‟a kpọ ya mkpe), a sụghaa ya. Abụbụ k‟a ne‟ghee n‟eju wee pịchapụta mmanụ. A n‟ewelu mmili sachaa akụ sachapụta ogulu. E sie ogulu n‟ọkụ e sichapụtakwue mmanụ. A n‟atahwu ogulu e sichasịalna a tahwu. A n‟eji mmanụ e sichapụtalụ n‟ogulu e su uli ọkụ. Mmanụ nwelu nke a h‟asha ahụ ọ lahụ ụla – a n‟a kpọ ya mmanụ agbidi. Mgbe gala aga a n‟e jikalịa esi ncha. Ụdị nkea n‟e si n‟akwụ nọl‟ọdụ tupu asụa ya. Mmanụ n‟a makalịchanụ bụ nke a h‟a lahụ ụla, n‟e hu ehu. Ọọ ya bụ mmanụ nni, tụmadu nke eji e bie ji ashisha m‟ọbụ ili ji a hụlụ ahụ. Akwụ ojukwu nwelu nsọpụlụ a n‟enyie iche. Nkea bụ maka na a n‟a kọwa n‟ọ n‟emelụ nsi n‟aja n‟ọgwụ dị iche iche.


Akwu ojukwu – isi akwụ chal’acha na nke a chah’acha, igbegulu, n’uli ọkụ Nk‟ili n‟ịbọọ bụ akụ. Akụ nwelu akụkụ ahụ naabọ – ichele n‟etileti, nyabụ nke a n‟ata ata. Nnya k‟ej i ata akpụ mmili (ebelebe), ọka, tụmadụ ụkwa. Ọọ ya k‟e ji atụ inu n‟asị k‟a n‟eti akụ k‟ụkwa n‟eghe. E jikwịa a ńụ galị, m‟ọbu a taa ya sọọ ya, wee n‟edi agụụ, tụmadị n‟ụganị. N‟akụ k‟esi e sichapụta ude a n‟a sha n‟ahụ tụmadị n‟ụgụlụ. Ude akụ k‟eji e me ọgwụ e ji a chụ ishe enu n‟eme ụmụazị, welu kwịa n‟agwọ ọya ụmụazị nde ọzọ. Nk‟ili n‟ịtọ bụ abụbụ. A sụchaa akwụ tụa ya, ghee ya n‟eju pịchapụtasịa mmanụ, ishe hwọzịlịnụ bụ abụbụ. E ji abụbụ ahwụ ọkụ tụmadị a hụzịghị nkụ m‟ọbụ nkụ di mmili. Ọ bịa bụhọ sọọ iji mụ ọkụ, e jikwịa a mụị uli e ji a chụpụ ańaashị, ichekwuliche, elughelelu, n‟ụmụ ahụhụ nde ọzọ n‟a chọ ị bata n‟nuwo. Nk‟ili n‟ịnọ bụ ichele. Nkea bụ mgbọkọ akụ n‟e sichaa ike. Ishe n‟enwu ọkụ kịa a dịhọ, tụmadị nkụ dị mmili.


Nk‟ili n‟ise bụ ọghangụ. E wepụtasịa mkpụlụ akwụ n‟ahụ isi akwụ, ishe nahwọzịnụ bụ ọghangụ. Ọ n‟abụ sọọ ogwu nke bụ nonye a kpachapụgh‟anya ọ dụa ya n‟aka. Ọọ ya k‟ọ n‟abụ a kpọọ ọkụ a kpọchapụta ntụ a n‟a kpọ ngụ. Ngụ k‟eji a sachasị ite n‟eku n‟ọkụ e ji e si m‟ọbụ e li nni. Ọ nọ ọnọdụ ka ncha. Ngụ k‟e ji a gba ncha e ji e li ọna n‟akpụ mmili. E jikwịa e si ụkwa ahọ. N‟ụkọ nnu, e ji ngụ e si nni. Mgbe nde Alor n‟egbu ncha, ọọ ngụ na mmanụ bu uzo ishe n‟abọ kasị mkpa n‟isipụta ncha nkọta. Nk‟ili n‟sii bụ uli ọkụ. Nkea b‟igugu nkwụ kpọlụ mana ọ mịpụtaazị nne. Nke kpọọlụna nkụ k‟ọ n‟abụ e sue na mmanụ e welie mụa ọkụ e ji a hụ uzo n‟anyasị. A n‟ejikwịa a hụ ji. Ọ bụlụ n‟achọhọ ka ji lee ọkụ magh dị nlo ka nk‟e sili esi, e welu ukwu uli ọkụ hụa ya. Nk‟ili n‟ịsaa bụzị nke a n‟asị n‟a hụgh‟ebini ma sị e nina dike – mmanya nkwụ. Alor nwel‟uzo nkwụ d‟iche iche – olo (iti), ọhwụlịhwụ, akpọ, na ngwọ. Olo m‟ọbụ iti bụ nke a n‟e tepụta n‟ahụ osi nkwụ. Ọhwụlịhwụ (a n‟a kpọkwịa uduko, n‟a kpọkwịa nkwụ enu) bụ nkwụ a n‟etepta n‟igugu nkwụ kpọsịalụ ọ mịịzị nne, mepụta sọghụ uli ọkụ. Nkwụ e tepụtalụ nịa n‟a tọgh‟iche mana a h‟a ńụkebie sọọ ya n‟Alor; a n‟e jikalịa a kụ iti k‟o wee tịa atịa. Akpọ bụ nkwụ e teputalụ na nkwụ e melu mgbutu. A h‟ańukebie n‟Alor maka n‟o nwelu k‟o si a tọ nde mmadu a h‟a chọ. Ngwọ bụ nke a n‟e tepụta na ngwọ, ngwọ unwo m‟ọbụ ngwọ mmili. Na nkwụ ninea, olo bụya bụ nkwụ Alor n‟a sakalịchalụ. Ishe a n‟e te ngwọ b‟ugbolo n‟abọ n‟ubosi, mana ishe diochi (otenkwụ) ọbuna n‟ete nkwụ bụ ugbol‟ịtọ n‟ụbọsị – ọn‟ụtụtụ, osoje eshishe, na n‟ugbede. Ọ bụlụ diochi n‟ete ụba nkwụ, ị malụ n‟o j‟eteta ụla n‟ọnụ chịm chịm ụtụtụ wee nwee ike jezue nkwụ ya nine, bata lie nni ụtụtụ, nenee ete m‟ọbụ agbụ o ji ete nkwụ malụ n‟a j‟e ńie eńe, wee kwado ije te nke osoje eshishe. Na nkea k‟o j‟e tepụtazị nkwụ o j‟e je leli na Nkwọ Alor. Iwu ji diochi nine bụ na o nwehọ onye j‟ele nkwụ tupu clock a kụa ili n‟otu. N‟ishe obụna a kpọl‟emume n‟Alor, nkwụ bụya bụ isi okwu. N‟ishe dị ka ịnụ nnwayị – ị kụ aka n‟uzo, ime ego, ịgba nkwụ, nni ikwu n‟ibe, bịa mal‟ana – nkwụ bụ a hụghụ n‟e lighi. Emume nine bu olili n‟onụnụ. Ị kwa ozu, ichi echichi ọbụna, ị pụta n‟ọmụgwọ, ị ba nnwa aha, i je yọ mgbaghalụ, i je kene mmadu ekene, m‟ọbụ i je bili mmmadụ ego; a j‟a gụ otu kọọ ịbọọ? Ọ bịa bụhọ sọghụ a n‟e me emume k‟a n‟a ńu nkwụ. Diochi ọbụna n‟a tapụta nkwụ dobe n‟unwo, nyabụ nke nya na nde biye j‟a ńu, na nke ọ j‟a bụ mmadụ bata biye o subiilie. Nde n‟e le nkwụ na baa (bar) bụzi nde n‟e nwe nkwụ mgbe ọbụna. 150

Awalịba Ishe mmanya nkwụ n‟e me shili nne. Ọ n‟e mebi emebi n‟e dozi edozi. Nde maalụ maka ahụ mmadụ sị n‟ọ n‟e dozi ahụ, tụmadụ i nye anya ishe ọ chọlụ maka ị hụ uzo ọhwụma. Nkwu n‟e me ka isi mmadụ hechanata, onye ọbụ e nwetu obi ańụlị, chezọnata ụmụ ntaka na nhịha nine n‟enye mmadụ nsogbu, mee k‟onye ọbụ talụ shịshịlịlị na nso. Ọọ na mbe a n‟a ńụ nkwụ k‟a n‟akọ akụkọ dị iche iche e si nịya a mụta ishe – ma nde ọma ma nde ọjọọ. Ọọ n‟i ńụkọ nkwụ k‟a n‟e si e nweta enyi di iche iche, ma nde ọma ma nde nlahwu. Ma n‟ishe dịanụ bụ n‟onye ala n‟uchie yị, maka n‟ijiji sok‟ozu o solie naa n‟ini. Ishe e jili malkalị nkwụ bụ ogbugbu. Onye isi a kah‟aka ńụhee one isie j‟e bukwata o gosie ishe. Maka n‟o n‟abụ nnwata takalịa ose, ose ahwụkalịa ya. Ọọ kw‟ezi okwu na nnwata n‟a ta akala n‟a ta ego ya. Na mbe a n‟e me ishe m‟ọbụ na mbe a n‟ańu nkwụ na baa, obi n‟a bụ nde mmadụ sọọ ańụlị. Ishe a n‟e kwube bụ n‟ọ n‟abụ a ńụsịa a sọghụ gana gana ọ dị k‟ọ bụhọ diochi telu. Mgbe e ji a ma n‟a ńụnita bu e bido kwebe egwu nkwụ, dịka: 151

Kama nkwụ j’a dọ n’ite k’ọ dọlụ n’ahwọ Kama nkwụ j’a dọ n’ite k’ọ dọlụ n’ahwọ okolobịa Ishe ukwea n‟a kọwa bụ na nkwụ e kwesihọ i hwo chi, nkwụ e kwesihọ k‟a sị n‟o nyịlị ụmụ okolobịa nọ na mbeahụ. Ọ j‟a bụ ish‟ishele na a j‟a nọsịa mmadụ mmadụ n‟e kwu mmọọ mmọọ. Na ndezii ishe ayị ji a za Alor Mba Nkwụ? Man‟ọ kalịzịkwaa e dobi‟ọla, a chọọ onumu wee hwụchie ite, k‟ọ j‟a gbakagh agbaka. Ụtụtụ echie nde o melili nyaa ya a bia ńụtọpụ nkwụ hwọlụnụ. Ọzọ n‟ime egwu a n‟a gụ n‟a ńụnita nkwụ bụ: M ma n’a ńụ ya a ńụ M ma n’a ńụ ya a ńụ N’a hụ onye tịịlịm ka nńụa Ọ kw’uduko n’iti o Ha n’enye m oke anụlị o N’emume Alor b’ayị o o. Mana ishe n‟a t‟ụtọ n‟e gbu egbu. Ishe ọ sọkwọlụ nkwụ nya tọba, ọ n‟a gha ahu n‟a ńụnụgịa oke. Onye nkwụ n‟e gbu a h‟a ma mgbe ony‟ilo muchịịlịa shalị shalị na nkwụ. Onye nkwụ n‟egbu a mahọ njụmanya. Nde ajọ nńụkata nkwụ tisasịlị be ha e shika, maka onye oke ọ ńụụ a h‟e mii n‟ịkwọ. Ishe dị k‟onye nnwii ya kwaalu naa be nnịa, nde otu nkwụ ya a n‟a gụlịa egwu nkasi obi n‟a sị: Enu ụwa n’a gha k’ọmụ nkwụ Onye ọ ghanahụlụ ọ n’e be e-e Ụwa d’egwu o a-a e-e.


Summary and Conclusion

It is only realistic to state the truth: Alor dialect is severely threatened and at the brink of extinction. How we wish we were not writing an epitaph or conducting a requiem for a medium that served our forbears for all their transactions that led up to siring us. What we have attempted is to offer glimpses of its richness and sufficiency while it held sway.

Why has it slipped into the list of endangered modes of communication? The reasons are not far to seek. The rather puzzling issue is the readiness or willingness of the owners of the dialect to forsake it. The ingress of foreign religion along with their supporting literature translated from English into the so-called central or union Igbo cut a gash in the local dialect by tending to depict it as 152

incomplete and lacking in euphony. Church and school proceedings thus supplanted the local dialect and soon began to make the users of indigenous tongue feel awkward. The exodus of Alor indigenes to cities facilitated the absorption of new tongues. Children born there naturally followed suit. Worse still, some parents, even relatively unschooled ones, started off their toddlers learning to talk with English language, some with disastrous consequences in later school days.

The real pity is that what has befallen Alor dialect is threatening the larger Igbo language. This threat has been articulated by a UNESCO document which predicts the demise of the language sometime about mid-21st century. Perhaps a prelude to this is what has been referred to as dialect levelling which the language is presently undergoing.

Can we still salvage the dialect? This is desirable and highly challenging but is feasible only if a good measure of enthusiasm is rejuvenated in the owners of the dialect. The importance of language in relation to group identity cannot be overemphasized. As Ejiofor (2006, p. 6) warns, “asụsụ bụ ndụ agbụrụ ka mmiri siri bụrụ ndụ azụ. Mmiri taa, azụ anwụsịsịa. Otu aka ahụkwa, asụsụ nwụọ, agbụrụ anwụọ. Nyaabụ, o bụrụkwa n’asụsụ anwụọ, a gaghịzịkwa enwe agbụrụ a n’akpo ndi Igbo” (language is the life of a lineage, like water is to fish. When the water dries out, fish die. In like manner, when a language dies, the lineage becomes extinct. Therefore, if Igbo language dies, there will be no group called the Igbo). In view of this realization, all hands should be on deck to see that we salvage our language. Dialects have their own quota to contribute to rescue our language from extinction. Okere (2009, p. 35) pleads that we give our dialects a chance, as each of them has its own peculiar richness. We must let them interact for the the common good. An Igbo adage says: A na-esi n’ụlọ amara mma apụta ezi (charity begins at home).

The importance of language in the society cannot be over emphasized. When a language dies, the lineage speaking that language loses her identity. Every dialect has its own peculiar richness and has much to contribute to the standard form of the language. A.D. is no exception to this. So far, the phonological and syntactic, aspects of language have been discussed in A.D. and S.I. S.I. has only one auxiliary „ga-‟ which is made up of „CV‟ to show future time. In A.D., „ya-‟ does same work. The addition of „ya-‟ to show future time in SI will make it richer. Same is applicable to „-na‟ as a perfective and „-mmu‟ as a way of indicating negation. When it comes to one word verbless sentences, A.D. has much to contribute to S.I. It is not just that A.D. is richer in such words than SI but the extention of the vowel sounds in the examples like: oloolookokoo! Kwookwooukwo, Doolumoo, uchugbakwoelee – make the words more melodious and unique. Addition of these to 153

S.I. will enrich it. Dialects have much to contribute to the growth of the standard language and therefore should not be neglected or regarded as sub-standard. On the strength of the findings, the following recommendations are made for the growth of A.D.: 1. An essay competition should be organized yearly for schools in Alor. This should be written in undiluted Alor dialect. 2. Programme(s) like „Alor Doonu‟ should be on air in our media houses. 3. A quarterly newspaper should be written in Alor dialect. 4. An end of year quiz in undiluted Alor dialect should be organized for Alor people.

References Ahukanna, J. (1990). “Bilingualism and Code-mixing in Language use: The case of Igbo – English Bilinguals” in Emenanjo, E. (Ed.). Multilingualism, Minority, Languages and Language Policy in Nigeria. Agbor: Central Books, p. 175 – 185. Akmajian, A., Demers, R.A., Farmer, A.K., and Harnish, R.M. (2007). Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication (5th Ed.). New Delhi: Prentice hall. Anagbogu, P.N., Mbah, B.M., and Eme, C.A. (2001). Introduction to Linguistics. Awka: J.T.C. Ejele, E. (1996). An introductory Course on Language. Port-Harcourt: University of Port Harcourt Press. Ejiofor, P. (2006). Ibeku Ndi Igbo maka Asusu Igbo. Enugu: Nolix. Emenenjo, N. (1978). Elements of Modern Igbo Grammar. Ibadan: Oxford University Press. Emenanjo, N. (2005). “Beyond Okasusu Igbo: Igbo Metalanguage Past, Present and Future. In Ikekonwu, C. and Nwadike, C. (Eds.), Igbo Language Development: The Metalangauge Perspective. Igwe, L.A. (2002). “A Survey of Polysemy as Lexical Ambiguity in Achi Dialect of the Igbo Language”. In Agbodike, C. (Ed.), Unizik Journal of Arts and Humanities, v. 4, p. 16-30. Mbah, B. and Mbah, E. (2000). Topics in Phonetics and Phonology: Contribution from Igbo. Awka: AP Express. Manis ,M.C., Stollnwerk, C and Zheng-Sheng, Z. (1987). Language Files. (4th Ed.). Ohio: Advocate. Millar, R. (2007). Trask’s Historical Linguistics (2nd ed.). London: Hodder. Nwaozuzu, G. (2008). Dialects of Igbo Language. Nsukka: University of Nigeria Press. Ogbalu, F. (1974). Standard Igbo – Path to its Development. Onitsha: University Publishing Company. 154

Okere, T. (2009). “UtaAzu: Onodu Ndi Igbo na Nigeria.” A paper presented at the 4th F.C. Ogbalu Memorial Lecture at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka on 26th March, 2009. Oyeka, C. (2004). “R-lessness in Alor Dialect: Causes and Effects in the Speech of Alor Igbo/English Bilinguals.” A seminar paper presented to P.G. School, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka. Trudgill, P. (1983). Sociolinguistics: An Introduction to Language and Society. Middlesex: Pengiun. Yule, G. (1996). The Study of Language (2nd ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mrs. Chiamaka N. Oyeka, BA (Ed), MA, PhD Senior Master, Girls‟ Secondary School, Alor






Among the basic human requirements, shelter ranks next to air, food and water. Why is shelter so critically important? Whether now or in the past, the need for security from the elements, the denizens of the wild and even fellow humans, would be the foremost reason. We may recall that the name Obosi came from attempts by Adike, a junior brother of Alor, to construct a shelter. In the days gone by, when a young man reached the right age to get married, he was assisted to first of all build his own homestead (ịpụ obi), usually a small hut, so as to quit the parents‟ own shelter. Stepping out to construct one‟s own homestead is still by and large practiced, although not necessarily as a prerequisite for marriage, since there is often some other shelter that could be shared or managed for some time. Besides, the first son of the family is usually by right the inheritor of his father‟s compound. He would therefore not normally be required to step out to build his own homestead. Besides, in some cultures, there is the concept of family house which is supposed to accommodate all of the family even when the population is exploding. This may douse the need for using up a lot of land space just for shelter. In contrast, in Alor, every man strives very hard towards having “my own roof”. In many cases the magnificence of the shelter serves to make the statement: “I have arrived”, i.e. the edifice goes beyond mere provision of shelter; it is designed to flaunt affluence. This mentality has always been there in our people, otherwise how do we explain the construction of storeyed mud houses by some of our forefathers? It was not likely to be for lack of land in those days. It was mainly to stand out from the rest on account of relative affluence. Examples include Mark Nwose of Agbo quarter, Okoye Chindo of Ide, Matthew Nweke of Uruezeani, and Igwe Emenahu Enenchukwu of Umuoshi. Even though the practice of ịpụ obi has always been there in Alor, the drive took a frantic turn since after the civil war. The massive displacement of populations from the rest of the country into Igboland had placed a severe strain on existing accommodation in the villages, resulting in overcrowding that fractured relationships among even very close relatives. This is why everybody now strives to have their own personal shelter. The consequence is another big issue – dwindling land space.


Storeyed house built by Igwe Emenahu Enenchukwu of Umuoshi about 1880

It is perhaps not so easy to imagine what kind of shelter our forbears lived in, especially as we now see only magnificent edifices piercing through the greenery that Alor presents. Shelter construction has come a long way in Alor, and so we had better start from as far back in time as possible and trace the evolution of shelter from shacks to sky scrapers.


Stage I – The Primordial Shelter

We may define this stage as spanning from when a big cave, a rock overhang, or a big tree served as a shelter, to when huts began to be constructed using sticks and leaves especially grass. Since the physical character of our terrain in Alor was unlikely to have had suitable natural shelters such as caves, the earliest inhabitants must have had to construct their own as quickly as possible using whatever building materials available in the immediate surroundings. The durability of such shacks would be the briefest imaginable since it meant contending with the elements and struggling against wild animals and such vermin as termites (mkpu, akịka).


We may imagine Alor, Ojoto and Adike (Obosi) struggling through this stage and surviving to eventually spawn the succession of generations that have culminated in us today. They most probably had no need for large rooms and spacious premises, being at least initially single or very much alone. Over time, however, they needed to expand and have a more durable accommodation, especially as a family began to nucleate. The initial improvement on the theme would include partitioning the single open space into more than one room, use of mud to construct walls, and the arrangement of the grass to provide rain-proof roofing.


Stage 2 – Advancing from the Primordial Stage

Advancement of shelter from primordial to a relatively more sophisticated stage must have been spurred by several factors. Top among such factors would be family size. With wife and children, the need for accommodation would definitely increase. Security should rank high, prompting the need to change the layout, style and materials used. For quite a few, social standing imposed by acquisition of material resources would tend to be expressed in the type of shelter. Such improvements would require several hands and gradually increasing building skills. These could have been satisfied by way of communal labour rewarded in cash, kind, or barter. It must have taken a long time for building materials to begin to be imported. Therefore, a building, however sophisticated for the time, would still have been constructed entirely with local materials.

Advancing from the primordial stage (after Monte, 2010 )


Mud houses roofed with grass, reputed to be very cool even in very hot weather; reminiscent of the sort that phased out in Alor in the early 1960s. The advancement from the primordial stage would be in several aspects. Lateritic soil, i.e. red mud, was used to build walls, most likely with stronger (deeper) foundations, and better flooring than direct soil. The roof was better supported with columns hewn from some hardy trees such as ụkpaka (Pentaclethra macrophylla), constructed with rafters of bamboo, and finished with palm fronds carrying the thick sheaf of grass (ata, ayọ). Under such a thick roof, the intense heat of the sun was very much reduced, making it cool even in the humid, baking heat of the dry season. A later development in roofing was the use of raffia leaves crafted into individual sheets (akanya, atanị) about a meter long and less than half a meter wide, with one side frayed. While this advancement made repairs simpler, the cooling quality of grass roofing was sacrificed. This prompted the development of the ceiling. Long before asbestos or cardboard ceiling materials came round, warding off radiant heat from the raffia palm roof was done using whatever cover could be placed between the roof proper and the top of the walls. In due course ceiling construction became more systematic through the use of oil palm or raffia palm fronds closely lined up and tied in place with oil palm rope (ekwele).


Windows (mpio) were small holes in the walls, with no shutters, and were easily covered or blocked with some kind of mat. The entrances were initially mere openings with no shutters. Later developments contrived wooden boards, with short extensions at the two ends to serve as hinges. Such wide timber must have been hewn from several kinds of large trees. It may be imagined that some kind of building materials supply activity would have developed, since nobody could be selfsufficient in both materials and labour. For instance, doors with some carving would obviously have meant that some persons began to develop into craftsmen. From where did such people acquire or source carving tools sharp enough to cut wood neatly? Metals must have been involved, an indication that some foreign influence had begun to filter in and influence building technology in Alor.

The layout was clearly in rooms, ranging from two to four in number, and there might even be a sitting section. Furnishing was some simple set of sitting and sleeping materials such as mats laid on bare floor, later advancing to a kind of bed made of raffia palm fronds (akpata). The man of the house eventually moved up to having a proper wooden bed with its floor covered with a mat (ute). The need for decors also began to arise as people started appreciating art and visual impressions. The roughness of the walls of houses was initially smoothened over using water and rag made from plantain or banana stem (ntite). Then followed proper painting using white claystone which had only one source – the Alor-Oraukwu gully. Other colours of claystone – yellow and red ochres (aja nwa mmọọ), also available from the same source, were then used to paint murals depicting all sorts of things around.

An important advance in the nature of domiciles would be in terms of fencing off an area of land to create a compound or properly secluded premises. The need for this would be obvious in those days when the entire place was climax tropical rain forest inhabited by the wildest of animals. Thus security would be the main driver of this advance in the provision of shelter. Moreover, as soon as domestic animals began to be kept, they had to be guarded and protected. Again, a man with substantial social standing needed to set himself apart from the neighbours. A properly fenced off compound easily made such a statement. The materials would be just sticks as frame, and palm frond as cover. The preferred kind of sticks would be ogilisi (Newbouldia laevis), given the ease with which it takes root and becomes permanently installed as a perennial and straight, upright growing plant. There would be an entrance into the compound by way of some gap in the fence, usually covered with an easy-to-open material. This was the primordial gate.


All this is subject to attack by vermin, especially termite (mkpu, akịka, mwọlọ). The search for solutions might be one of the drivers in the transition to the next phase of domicile development. For instance, the compound fence would require maintenance or repairs every so often, besides being a particularly soft cover still kept the demarcation vulnerable to easy penetration by wild predators, such as lions and tigers interested in the domestic animals. The solution that easily suggested itself would be the replacement of the palm frond fence with solid walls, the sort with which the house proper had been constructed. With lateritic earth material ubiquitously available, the only other material needed was water. Water requirement on a large scale could not have been satisfied from the Idemili River. It is therefore easy to assume that most of such construction took place during the rains, or towards the end of the season, using flood water stored away in deep sumps (ụmị). Labour for such a heavy job would be communal, or possibly hired and paid for in cash or kind. With the construction of such a wall, it was only logical that a suitable entrance be installed otherwise the security achieved by the solid wall, usually up to two metres tall, would be nullified by a weak entrance zone. So the next stage in the evolution of the gate would be a large wooden board hewn out of a large tree trunk. A proper dimension would be at least two metres tall by half a metre wide. A protrusion at the opposite ends served as hinges. In elaborate cases, some decorative carving was evident on such shutters. The gate wall was usually higher than the rest of the compound wall. Some locking device was normally installed to secure the gate at night. A smaller door was in some cases installed at the backyard to serve for a quick access to the rear of the compound (owele). To protect the wall from rain, a roof was provided using the base of palm fronds (igbegulu) stacked about three or four layers and laid over with palm fronds (igu) with the leaves already stripped bare by goats. On annual or biennial basis, the whole thing, or whatever was left of it by termites, would be stripped off and a new roof laid on. Managing a compound required a fairly high level of maintenance culture.


Stage 3: Era of Imported Building Materials

This era might be roughly dated as commencing about the turn of 18th into 19th century. This would correspond with the increasing tempo of spread of Christianity in Igboland which actually followed in the wake of trading activities in the main towns especially Onitsha where such mercantile houses as UAC, GBO, and UTC, had been established. These organisations had to build large houses using mostly imported building materials, especially cement and roofing materials. This gave the impetus for the construction of personal houses in the township. Over time, Alor elements who trekked down to Onitsha to sell palm produce or other materials (ụda, a spice) began to see the new building materials as not beyond reach. It is striking to note that several houses in Alor which were 161

built in the early days of imported building materials have survived to date, many of them after considerable refurbishing.


Roofing Materials

Perhaps the earliest material to be imported was corrugated iron roofing sheets, gbam gbam, a name coined onomatopoeically from the hammer sound as the sheets were being nailed down to make the roof. In due course cement followed. As more and more people traveled out and settled in the townships, acquisition of wealth could not be hidden for too long. Building better houses with materials brought down from the townships became fashionable.

As already indicated, roofing repairs, which had to be done more or less annually, was the most demanding part of maintenance. Roofing with corrugated iron sheets therefore easily became the most obvious lasting solution to the problem. The most serious challenge in this regard was affordability. It became the ambition or target of every man to give his house a corrugated iron roof. Even owners of shrines were determined to use the new roofing material to protect their gods e.g. the Ezigbo shrine of Ọgbọgụ was the first corrugated iron roofed house in that quarter. It could be surmised that the chief priests persuaded or coerced or taxed the “owners or subjects” of the gods to raise the funds for executing the very expensive project. Viewing the project from their angle, the rationale must have been that the shrine must be protected permanently from the elements. What of protecting the shrines from the iconoclastic propensity of today‟s marauding Pentecostal zealots? They are challenging the gods whose shrines they are decimating to rise in revenge or defence.

Corrugated iron roofing became so fashionable that many people planning to build a house would first procure and store away bundles of roofing sheets, in some cases for years, ahead of breaking the ground. For many, it was a matter of changing from grass or raffia leaf roofing to corrugated iron roofing. An accompaniment of corrugated iron roofing was the material for making the roofing frame – the rafters. This could be any durable timber, but it was mainly from the product of a certain kind of palm called ubili imported from Onitsha, although the ultimate source was the riverine area to the north. It came in four to five meter lengths. Ubili was chosen based on its hardiness and longevity. It could survive many years of exposure to sun and rain. It also was not a choice food of the notorious termites. The solution to the problem of unceasing maintenance solved, a new one surfaced: – radiant heat from the metal roof. The grass or raffia leaf roofing was so much cooler. Organizing some kind of 162

ceiling therefore became compelling. The evolution of such protection from heat could thus easily be imagined to have started from just any kind of improvised cover with mats supported by palm fronds or bamboos, to properly nailed in line of palm fronds, to the actual thing – ceiling boards.

How was the labour or skill for such a specialized job as roofing provided? The white man came with both the materials and the skills. Thus arose carpenters and joiners, masons/brick layers, painters and all manner of artisans and craftsmen. The skilled men were initially imported, but over time Alor men acquired the skills. It is known that the first carpenter Alor ever had was Mr. John Emefo of Ide. By the early 1930s the skills were so well grounded that the construction of the St. Paul‟s Anglican Church, a great marvel of the early 20th Century Alor, was supervised by a famous building contractor, Chief Ezekiel Obiegbu, Okosisi. That project, as well as the construction of another big church, St. Mary‟s Catholic Church, generated a large number of men skilled in all aspects of building construction.

The added advantage of corrugated iron roofing was the harvest of water far cleaner than from the eaves of grass or raffia leaf roofs. Indeed the grass roof was a great health hazard – it provided a breeding environment for millipedes. The idea of corrugated iron roof as a source of relatively clean water started that far back in time has persisted to date. The current trend of constructing large underground storage tanks is simply doing more of the same, by making it possible to accumulate large enough volumes of water to last the household far into the dry season.

Concurrent with the establishment of corrugated iron roofing was the use of asbestos ceiling material. It became ridiculous for a house capped with corrugated iron sheets to have mats or grass to douse the radiant heat. Proper ceiling boards were therefore a compulsory accompaniment of corrugated iron roofing.

Let us note the evolutionary trend in the types of corrugated iron roofing material that Alor has seen since the material came into use. First there was the very heavy rust-free type. With guaranteed durability, it remains rust-free wherever it still exists, especially in some shrines. The rusty type was more or less marketed pari passu with the type described above. Over time it rusted into a brown colour, and from there developed holes and leaks. Then came the shiny, lighter, highly flexible, but rust-free type. This type was so light it began to be referred to as ugbe akụ (termite‟s wing). It was actually made of aluminum. The special attribute of this type was that it made for a cooler house even in the absence of any ceiling. The physics of it was simple: rather than absorb 163

heat and reradiate it into the house below, the shiny surface radiates away both heat and light, keeping the house cool. This type soon phased out. For a long spell only the rust-prone type was on the market, perhaps because importation from overseas ceased and local manufacture in Lagos and even Onitsha held sway. The latest trend is the “long span”. For the elite, nothing else is acceptable for roofing. Its main advantage is the rust-free nature, being made of aluminum, and this assures durability. Other advantages are aesthetic. Since it comes in several colours and patterns, architects are experimenting with all sorts of roofing designs.

May it be observed that to date not a single house in Alor appears to have been roofed with asbestos roofing sheets, not even public buildings. It was simply considered not fashionable despite the cooler effect it produced, and not because of the undesirable effect of being carcinogenic or causing asbestosis. Nobody knew about all that.


Walls and Rooms

It took a while before the use of imported material for building the walls of houses and compound fence caught on. In general, the importation of building materials into Alor most probably started as a trickle early in the twentieth century, gradually heightened to what we know today, and there is no end to it. The earliest craze was the roof, but before long, roofing a house with gbam gbam ceased to be news. Cement evidently came later, essentially because the idea of shelter, which clearly implies being under a roof, was the primary concern. The best known brands of cement in early days of its importation were Burham and Snowcem. The latter had the added advantage of also serving as paint on account of its whitish rather than grey colour. In due course local manufacture, notably at Nkalagu in the 1950s, began to supplement, but never really supplanted the imports.

The use of cement started basically with flooring houses. This use ranked first perhaps because, apart from being fashionable, it saved the labour of having to scrub the mud floors (ite unwo) every so often. It also permanently closed up the holes of the nasty stinging black ants called agbịsị. The use gradually progressed to plastering over the mud walls.


Sandcrete block making operations, one of several in Alor

The next in the sequence was the use of cement to mould sandcrete blocks. This stage may be regarded as a landmark in the sense that moulding of blocks became the very first stage in materials procurement. It became a routine practice to mould blocks months or years before even sketching a plan for the house. Indeed during the Nigeria – Biafra war, blocks that had been moulded prewar, when cement was still available, were nevertheless used for building houses as the need for accommodation became too pressing. Red earth (lateritic soil) was used as mortar to “chuck” the blocks which were then roofed over with raffia palm leaves (akanya or atanị). Red earth even served to plaster the walls and lay the floors. After the war, the mud plaster was scraped off and replaced cement plaster and proper flooring done. Today, any onw intending to build need arrange to mould the blocks on his own since several moulding concerns are available all over the place not only in the cities but also in the villages – as exemplified by the picture.

Along with the use of sandcrete blocks for walls evolved the layout of buildings proper. The most popular style in the mid-1900 was the „‟porch‟‟. In this fashion, a four- to six-room house had the two front rooms symmetrically positioned and shaped as semi-hexagons with a verandah separating them.


The ‘’porch’’ style house fashionable in the mid-1900s illustrated with the one built by Chief Edwin Ikegwuonu of Ogbọgụ quarter about 1953 For some large public buildings and a few residential houses, tough, black sandstone quarried from the Alor-Oraukwu gully was hewn into building blocks and used to construct the walls. The best examples were the two large churches – St. Paul‟s and St Mary‟s. The storeyed private buildings of Chief Obiegbu of Umuoshi, Chief Jideofor of Umuokwu and Chief Ugoenyi of Umụnambụ, employing the said sandstone blocks, remain remarkable for their beauty and longevity.

The importation of steel products was the next stage of development. The need for steel rods was initially minimal since they were required mainly for reinforcing lintels above windows and doors and wide entrances. The need increased as soon as people became affluent enough and decided to express it by way of putting up storeyed buildings in the village. It may be noted, however that the earliest storeyed buildings referred to above initially had a wooden upper floor. In due course the use of steel rods for reinforcement of columns and decks set off a very high demand, resulting in the very high costs. Steel rods were also soon to serve as a material in burglar proofing as well as for decorative purposes – hand rails, girders, etc.


The country home of Chief Simeon Udoji constructed in 1961 using sandstone blocks as a major decorative item


Doors and Windows

In the era of imported building materials, doors evolved from openings with mats for cover to wooden boards hinged into the walls. From there the importation of hinges and the advancement of local craftsmen from wood working to carpentry skills made for the installation of doors hinged on frames. Such skills allowed for the construction of doors with their upper 50 cm made of fixed wooden panes that ventilated the rooms. Over time doors with lower half made of wood and upper half of translucent glass became fashionable though not very popular. It was soon overtaken by doors that were made of metal and filled with glass, the most popular brand being Crital Hope. This did not fully catch on before flush doors broke into the scene. They were initially imported into the country from abroad, but the United Africa Company (UAC), the pioneer mercantile house in Nigeria, began to make them in Sapele utilizing the abundant timber resources in that area.


Windows developed pari passu with the doors, evolving from open holes (mpio) to wood-covered oblong openings on the walls and from there to windows with frames and hinges. Windows also benefited from the increasing skills of carpenters and joiners. Windows made of wooden panes popularly called jọlọsị came into common use because they let in more air. However, they had a downside; they freely let in mosquitoes. Windows more or less traced the same evolutionary route as doors. Thus there were windows partially made of wood and partially of translucent glass. From this, windows with frames entirely made of metal filled in with glass emerged but held sway for a relatively short while.


Finishing, Furnishing and Decor

As the building materials began to be imported, so were paints, furniture and decorative items. For most people, a house was completed and occupied when it was roofed, the walls plastered and the flooring done. Painting should be the logical finale, but it was often postponed, and for most people indefinitely. In fact this pattern became very common and has had to be rationalized away in a joke: “aha elebe nde Alor penti”, meaning: “paint is not normally sold to Alor people”. Even today numerous houses constructed and occupied decades ago remain unpainted. There is actually something pragmatic about it all: painting added nothing really basic or essential to a domicile, the core issue is the shelter.

In a typical household, the man had his bed made of raffia palm fronds (akpata); the wife also had hers. The children ordinarily had to do with a mat on the floor where there was a painful sting often and now inflicted by a black ant (agbịsị). Pillows and blankets were not normally heard about, much less procured. In due course, stimulated by importation and traveling, wooden beds began to be constructed, usually by order through a carpenter. A bed was a simple frame and a set of floor boards that could be dismantled whenever the need arose, e.g. in efforts to eradicate bed bugs (chinchi). The beds were always high enough to ensure a large storage space below. Such was the space to push in the man‟s large wooden box (and later the metal trunk), and in particular the woman‟s trunk. All these were the handiwork of carpenters. It should therefore be noted how widely and rapidly the skills spread from the pioneers who learnt from the white man.

The sitting part of the house, a simple veranda or a large space in the house, was furnished with some folding chairs, benches or low seats called nwayị nọdụl’okwu, reflecting the fact that women commonly sat on it to trade gossip or other lively banter. As things improved, the hard and low chairs began to give way to reclining chairs, first without the cushions and then later with cushions 168

stuffed with cotton. This preceded foam as stuffing material. This evolution extended to beds; mattresses and pillows stuffed with soft grass came into use but soon gave way to foam. Mattresses became the inevitable accompaniment of iron beds which had begun to take over from wooden beds. A spring bed – usually the Vono brand became a status symbol within the householder‟s bedroom.

With wooden windows, curtains were apparently not necessary, but with glass windows, some cover was required for privacy. Curtains therefore became a part of the furnishings. However, even today, the typical village dweller does not consider curtaining up doors and windows a worthwhile expenditure.


Compound Layout

By early 20th century the standard of living quarters of Alor people had advanced substantially towards permanency, and the critical index of this was the construction of a solid enclosure. The era preceding imported building materials saw the construction of solid compound walls with red earth, protected from the rain by a roof of palm fronds (igbegulu). The next step was the use of corrugated iron sheets for roofing the walls. In due course red earth walls gave way to sandcrete block walls which could stand the weather indefinitely and therefore needed no roof. Rather the problem of burglar-proofing popped up. The solution was not too far, again using imported materials – iron spikes or pieces of broken bottles. The former soon rusted up and made intrusion easy. Jagged pieces of glass obtained by breaking bottles became the main material. In those days bottled beer had begun to be imported and there was no “return bottle” recycling system. In the townships foraging garbage heaps and going from house to house in search of bottles became an occupation. From such sources, the gradually emerging new rich more strongly secured their premises against intrusion. Some went further to plaster the walls and even finish with a few coats of paint. An important part of a walled compound would be the gate. Even in the early 20 th century the entrance door (ọnụ uzo ezi ama) into a walled compound had acquired some special distinction or status. Some men of distinction made a statement about their homes beginning with artistically embellished entrance gate, such as is preserved in the place of Emenahu Enenchukwu of Umuoshi.


Artistically carved panel entrance door; preserved in the compound of Igwe Emenahu Enenchukwu of Umuoshi

With the importation of corrugated iron sheets, giving the gate a permanent roof became a priority. It soon became modified into a larger building under which any passerby caught by the rain could take cover. To get larger doors, people began to use corrugated iron roofing sheets to construct the shutter.


Use of corrugated iron sheets for the construction of the main gate into the premises of Emmanuel Mmilioma of Ogbogu quarter, Ebenesii village It was soon realized that a roof over a gate, as well as its width, were impediments as regards access by vehicles. Suppose one had a car? This gave the impetus for the evolution of gates to the sizes and styles we know today. The utility has gone beyond mere entrance; a gate is both a statement and pretty often a work of art.


The modern entrance – a very large and strong gate into a compound with a three-storey mansion built in the home of Mr. Onyedimma of Eziafor quarter, Ebenesii village

Current trends in entrance gates – artistic masonry plus embroidery in metal works – illustrated by the entrance into the premises of Professor Emeka Ezeonu of Orofia quarter, Ebenesii village 172

Now that we have followed the evolutionary stages of the premises to its advanced configuration, we may check out how the innards evolved, especially as stimulated by the importation of building materials. Other driving forces were the increasing repatriation of wealth by Alor indigenes who had established successful enterprises in Onitsha and other towns, as well as the increasing influence of the missions. But we should start with the home-bound householder who, by dint of industry and sweat, extracted a good measure of material well-being from the soil. The need for the storage of farm products, especially the chief of them all – yams – necessitated the construction of an elaborate barn (ọba ji). This would be in the form of an oblong enclosure at a suitable corner of the compound. In the middle of it would be a row of ogilisi (Newbouldia laevis) or any other straight and erect growing trees to serve as the main props for erecting the frame upon which columns of yams would be tied. There would usually be some cover using palm fronds, but such cover was intentionally made light by the householder so as to leave visitors and neighbours in no doubt as to his achievement for the year after the harvest. The remaining space in the barn could be used to store cocoa yams, usually under the custody of women.

The householder would normally need a lot of hands for farm work. For a man starting off independent life a wife would be the only helping hand. For obvious reasons, she might not even be steadily available or always disposed for strenuous farm work. The man would therefore consider picking up a second wife. One problem solved, a new one generated: one tiny building would not be enough accommodation, and children would be coming. A new hut was necessary (mkpụke). This done, it would soon be realized that the man had better have his own accommodation all to himself so as to invite the wives in turns. Another hut became necessary. As the man grew in social stature, he might decide to build an obi which would now have the appropriate shrines installed. This would be the building with a fire place for basking during cold mornings before striking out on the day‟s chores. In rainy times, which usually corresponded with the maize and pear season, the obi was where to sit down to roast and eat those major food complements. Hanging down above the fire place would be a basket that always had some dry meat.

Thus in a typical compound of a successful Alor village dweller, be he a farmer, craftsman or local trader, there could be as many as four separate buildings, not to count a shed for goats (ịgba eghu), an attachment to serve as chicken pen (ụla ọkụkọ), and a tiny outhouse for toilet. The last named was a replacement for the surrounding bushes after a long and arduous campaign in the 1940‟s and 1950‟s by the government sanitary inspectors.


With this layout established, improvements would gradually take place – changing the roofs of the various buildings to corrugated iron sheets, laying floors with cement, plastering the mud walls with cement mortar, etc. In due course one or more of the children, who had been apprenticed to a trader in one of the cities, might strike it rich and decide to modernize the premises. The pattern would then follow what has already been outlined.


Stage 4 – Present-day: Era of Mansions

The logical culmination in discussing the evolution of living quarters in Alor is to look at the present trend and then extend into the future as far as can be imagined, especially in the face of land space constraints and changing tastes. Virtually every part of the anatomy of a typical building has evolved in one way or the other. The driving factors have been the increasing sophistication in the types of building materials, as well as the waxing expertise of the artisans, craftsmen, building engineers and interior decorators. One question that can legitimately be asked by anybody reading this is whether we are still describing the evolution of living quarters in the rustic setting that is Alor. The answer is a strong affirmative. The next logical question is: what economic sense does it make to build an expensive non-rent earning mansion in the village only to lock it up except for a two-week Christmas holiday per year? The answer here may now be variable. It makes no economic sense if cash is the ultimate goal in constructing residential accommodation. Indeed it costs money, not only to build and furnish to taste, but also to maintain, guard and update as necessary. On the other hand, what if an individual with sufficient material convenience considers it expedient to have a well appointed holiday resort in his village? Combine this with what may be called the requirement of culture, which we can also describe as the compulsion imposed by public view. These are very forceful factors. A man‟s standing in society is severely negated if he has no place he can call his own in the village, his series of mansions elsewhere notwithstanding. These two factors are enough justification to build a modern house in the village.

For the ordinary village folk, it is a thing of great pride to have a roof exclusively his own, even if it is over just one room. He is not really missing the luxury and the gadgetry of a mansion. For the moneyed lot (and there is an ever increasing number of them, especially among the dashing young businessmen, as well the long-suffering white collar worker), the current trend is to pick up one‟s own piece of land, which is a birthright, and brief an architect. Some people still use ordinary draftsmen rather than architects to design a complex building. The difference is eventually clear between charlatanry, quackery and professionalism. If land is not easily available, purchasing a parcel somewhere or anywhere in Alor is increasingly becoming an option. This is why land has 174

become very expensive in Alor, even relative to the cities. People are not very eager to sell, however. An alternative for some people is to break down an existing house and design to build upwards. Indeed four to five storeyed buildings are no longer a novelty in Alor. For such people, even though the basic need is for a home, the opportunity is ceased to announce arrival. This results in some of the most striking architectural displays. The internal layout is often meant to provide the necessary comfort such as having large self-contained rooms with flow-through ventilation, expansive living rooms complete with built-in bars, and a balcony with a commanding view of the neighbourhood.

The current emphasis is on aesthetics. This is achieved by infusing maximum urbanity in different parts of the house – columns, windows, roof, flooring, painting, etc. The columns are arranged in singles or in pairs. Rather curiously, most such artistic columns carry no load commensurate to their thickness and height. Windows have in recent times ranged from louvers to sliding and now projecting, all made of aluminum frames and glass – translucent, tinted or mirror, rarely transparent. The doors are now entirely steel, frames and all. This is partially for security and partially for appearance.

The country home of Mallinson Ukatu at Umuoshi 175

Roofing styles appear to be the aspect that allows for the most striking artistic expression. Flooring is done in ceramic tiles that come in exotic designs, moderate to large sizes, legendary smoothness and impeccable shine. Nobody wants to hide such flooring under cover of carpeting, and this is rapidly making rugs out of date. Painting is done in colours that range from screaming to cool, in some cases chosen to blend with the prevailing yellowish green or greenish yellow shade of the background vegetation, as demonstrated by the mansion in the premises of Idi Nweke Agina of Umuonicha quarter in Ide village.

The country home of Chief Uzoma Igbonwa (Okife) at Umidim quarter of Ebenesii village

Furnishing is another area that allows the new rich to make a further statement. It is usually done to intimidate, what with kaleidoscopic chandeliers dangling from designer ceilings, cozy leather upholstered settees and giant size flat digital television reminiscent of the cinema. Curtains of rich and intricately embroidered drapery hang down from golden bars and conceal whole wall sections, 176

allowing only a hazy view through a delicate textured lace. Fully complementing the furnishing is the bar. A set of shelves lining the wall bears an assorted stock of spirits, liquors and vintage wines. An appropriately sized fridge bears the lesser drinks such as the lagers and softs. By the side are crystals, goblets and glasses to match the different classes of drinks. The serving top is inlaid with special tiles.

Painting like nature – typified by the edifice in the place of Idi Nweke Agina of Umuonicha quarter, Ide village

For the utilities, public sources cannot be trusted. The premises must therefore be completely selfcontained in this respect. A top class low-noise generating plant of the appropriate capacity to carry the air conditioners and other gadgets is assumed. It runs the submersible pump that lifts water from the borehole to the overhead tank and powers the wide variety of light fittings including scorchingly bright search lights beamed at points considered vulnerable to security breach.

The compound is exquisitely laid out, the handiwork of a landscape architect working in cooperation with a horticulturist. They have arranged the compound to include a car lot and a 177

building to house the staff. The balance of the space is carved out into lawns matted with exotic grass interspersed by lilies and perennial flowering species, with immaculately manicured hedges to demarcate the open ground laid over with motifs of smooth concrete mosaic. The final effect is a compound that is at once colourful, natural and welcoming. No wonder the householder is lured home every so often. In and out, the home provides the right ambience for spoiling guests.


Stage 5 – The Future Domicile

The setting described above may appear exaggerated, but seeing is believing. There are several premises in Alor that fall in that category, and an undercurrent of competition is not to be ruled out. That is why we may take a peek at the future and envisage developments that will surpass what already exists as well as indicate what may hamper progress towards greater heights in the evolution of living quarters in Alor. As for future trends or directions, the architect‟s imagination has no limit. We may speculate that changing tastes in design as well as expertise in construction using newly developed building materials and methods will definitely reach new heights in the evolution of domiciles in Alor and elsewhere. For instance, in future, buildings need not be large; they may just be more utilitarian. This will tilt designs towards being more functional perhaps at the expense of aesthetics.

Towns such as Ogidi, Mkpor, and our own brother Obosi, which are proximal to an aggressively expanding urban sprawl, risk being sucked in. Alor is distal enough to escape this fate even beyond the foreseeable future. She is therefore well suited for development into a get-away resort. This may eventually dictate the development of rural housing. The downside to this prospect is the congestion due to land scarcity and population pressure may eventually catch up with even such a rural setting. However, a foreseeable solution is a fuller use of the third dimensional vertical space which is freely available. The technology is within reach, as has been pragmatically demonstrated by Sir C. N. Onuselogu at Umuoshi.


The six-floor residential quarters of the family of Sir C.N. Onuselogu – exploiting vertical space


3.6 FINE ARTS P.N. Ufo (Obiagwu) Monte 1


Art is a form of self-expression. It is one of the very few subject areas that have creative sensitivities that make life satisfying and meaningful. This most probably because the artist uses his sense of vision particularly well. When such expression is skillfully done, it is very highly gratifying. Art reflects realities and increases our power of thought and keen reflective observation. Art beautifies, it educates and creates awareness. In totality art is everything created or yet to be created. Man then is the highest expression of art by God on our planet. So God is an artist and human artists imitate God in creation. The man, God‟s artistic output, and the artist are an inseparable lot for art is life itself, not just a way of life. One‟s hands constitute a ready tool in any work of art, since they makes thing. They translate the artist‟s mind into handicrafts, which are functional and/or decorative artforms. The hands may be directed by the brain or mind at creativity. They consist of individual members – the palms and the unidentical flexible fingers – whose collective enterprise gives control and direction to the whole idea of creativity manifesting as arts and crafts. In the olden days, artists were not in business just for the material gain. They were also farmers, artisans, traditional medicine men (dibịa), priests, craftsmen as well as community leaders. The full range of their activities was not entirely known to all, particularly the uninitiated (oheke). Women did not know, and were never supposed to know, the artists who worked with the spiders to produce the masquerades, much less know who moulded the deities superintending over the community. Today, overspecialization and the quest for material wealth have made a mess of artists. They are now in the various trades to keep their body and soul together. And they are nevertheless surviving. Thanks to computers and the internet, creativity has become unlimited. A piece of artwork capable of surviving the test of time is deemed to possess a soul or a spirit force and is functional. In fact it belongs to a class of art works within the society; in a way, art is society and society is art.

Fine arts constitute a discipline in higher education curricula designed to enable learning and understanding of the techniques in modern artistry. Some people are simply talented artists, i.e. 180

born not made. Others belong to the class as a birthright, i.e. hereditary right, as within a clan of carvers. Yet others are in art by diligently learning the trade and becoming expert craftsmen in their own right. Our present task is to undertake a survey of art and culture in our homeland, Alor, which lies within the heartland of the Igboland. From oral tradition, Alor people, along with those of Ojoto and Obosi, are known to have their origin from Nri from where their original patriarchs departed. The man Alor was both a farmer and a traditional medicine man and was therefore eager to search out fertile land and source of herbs. There is also the tradition that traces Alor origin to Arochukwu in Abia State of Nigeria. It is in the context of these traditions of origin that we can appreciate the cultural similarities among several neighbouring towns. Indeed through intermarriage and cultural affinity most other parts of Igboland share the Cultural Revolution characterising this era. We may now delve fully into the topic by taking various modes of artistic expression in Alor. 2


Like the other parts of Igboland, Alor people, from time immemorial, built simple to elaborate houses for shelter. This was aided by the availability of clayey or lateriric soils which could easily be kneaded into walls prior to roofing with bamboos and grass or palm fronds or leaves. Such huts were initially roundish in shape but evolution in construction later resulted in orthogonal forms. Over time time most settlements started erecting mud walls properline outline their premises.

Mud houses of olden times


It was the walls of these village huts that the artist of old needed to beautify. This is the origin of mural paintings. A mural is an abstract form of art. It is a painting or decoration exhibited on such flat surfaces as walls. An abstract painting or sculpture is one which does not represent any real thing. It is mostly forms and shapes generated from the artist‟s power of imagination or stylization, and may be composed to generate a meaningful whole. Artists of old envisioned beauty in such common places as mud wall walls and so most enthusiastically used them as a medium of expression especially in festival times. Shrines were also decorated with mural paintings to evoke fear or sacredness. Festival ground walls had impressions of masquerades and masks. It used to be an intensely thrilling experience to pass through such a decorated arena. A few strokes of charcoal, any colour of mudstone, or some black paint – and there was a dancing human figure or masquerade. 3

Uli Motifs

Some mural paintings on the village walls were dominated by basic simple designs called uli drawings. Uli motifs were represented using line drawings such as the akala-line. Isi nwoji motif was one of the most recurrent motifs not only in igbu uli (body decoration) but also in all spheres of Igbo design. The uli motif was predominantly a skin decoration art form. Uli is a colourant, actually a black dye with a bluish hue extracted from the fruit of the tropical tree Rothmannia sp. A lot of the motifs consist of curvilinear and triangular lines abstracted from the space between the four lobes of a kola nut. Uli motifs are usually crescentic (agwọlagwọ), i.e. coiled or tending to circular. There were also ọkala ọnwa – discoid, the ntụpọ – the dot, ije agwọ – undulating or serpentine or sinuous often made using longer-lasting lighter-coloured dye called ọgaalụ, on which uli motifs were often superimposed. Triangles, squares, and stripes were the other basic shapes found as fundamental patterns in Igbo cultural designs.


Basic motifs in the arts of Alor Uli designs were a traditional art form common in Igboland. These patterns were primarily used as skin décor on young girls and full grown women as delicate aesthetic designs to prepare them for festival outings. A maiden so decorated exposed a greater part of her body during certain ceremonies such as ịpụ ebe, and this presented such a maiden as fully ripe for marriage. With only a set of beads on the waist covering just a bit of the mid-parts, the rest of the body, including ulidecorated full breasts, would be left to full view and delight of the spectators. Ushe, a reddish skin colourant, would have been amply applied as a skin toner to enhance the visual impact of the uli motifs. With a bevy of adolescents so well titivated and turned out, the crowds got their eyeful of innocent beauties. It was all heightened as the girls performed a perfectly choreographed dance all planned and now being executed for the festival. There was no better hunting ground for many a young man looking out for a wife. And of course sequel to the festival seasons, gourds of palm wine would be making evening trips all around town. We could in fact attribute so much enhancement of otherwise hidden beauty to uli art. Other types of local paints used in mural drawings are nzu, which is white to cream coloured claystone easily made into an emulsion with water. It is obtained from layers of rock exposed in gullies, especially the Alor-Oraukwu gully. Other colours of the same claystone composition, but with some iron compounds include various ochres – yellow (aja nwammọọ) and pink (edo). Mud walls of individual compounds, as well as walls and courtyards of shrines and major idols such as Ezigbo, Okide, etc, were often decorated with murals done up in an artistic combination of these 183

colours, and were in those days a great sight to behold. Among the favourite subjects of advanced local artists were the drawings of masquerades. Their rendition of such masquerades as the fastrunning ogolo, the long-snouted oji ọnụ, the nimble-footed dancing atụmma, and the furiously sprinting ụlaga, can be recalled by any Alor person old enough, as a major artistic display up to the early 1960s. Other masquerades that were the subject of the artists included ọgbamgbada, the energetic dancer, and onuku, a masquerade with an ugly mask, often exhibiting a twisted physique. Drawings of python – eke Idemili, and that great trickster of the animal kingdom – the tortoise – mbekwu, also featured prominently.

Sample masks




A family of masquerades


A flutist in action



Shrines, as abodes of ancestral spirits and images, were an important, indeed the basic, element of the village square which was the arena for most festivals. Such shrines could be so heavily decorated as to evoke mysticism, sacredness, as well as incite fear in the uninitiated. The shrine could be a small hut but was usually built under a giant tree. It usually housed the images or carvings of the deities – such as Awho, Nkwọ, Eke, Oye, Ogwugwu, Udo, etc. Of course the Ikenga – the king deity – always had a prominent position in the shrine. Inside the hut there would be the okwu mmọọ, a metre-high conical mound of kneaded red earth with a round base. The okwu mmọọ usually bore layers of dry animal blood with tufts of chicken feathers to testify to the frequency of sacrifices. Some of the shrines were located deep in thick forests while others were situated by the village pathway, in markets, or under such large trees as iroko, ngwu, akpụ, etc. The forest around the shrine was usually not tampered with or used as conveniences (for fear of the consequences), although frontage of the shrine would normally be kept clear of grass and litter at all times.

The adherents of the traditional religion knew too well that the images (nkwu) were products of the skilled craftsmanship of the local artists. They therefore never claimed that any of these images was the Almighty God. The images only served to keep them properly focused in their supplications to 187

the Almighty God. This use of a focusing medium has been a subject of criticism and misinterpretation by those who see no merit in traditional religion. They claim that the adherents worship them directly, labeling the objects idols, and the adherents idol worshippers. This is a clear case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. They gave the religious approach of our ancestors a bad name – idols, charms, amulets, juju, fetish and devilish – in order to kill it. The consequence has been placing our people in a state of utter confusion and disarray. Some of the missionaries equally use images and objects; they rather call their own sacred statues or holy pictures and symbols. They even build huts and shrines to house such images. Additionally they venerate the saints, who by the same measure would pass as ancestors. We should have protected our sacred shrines, groves and carvings which our ancestors left behind. We should not have allowed the missionaries to destroy or steal them as they often did during their "retreats" and "revivals". Our own locations and sacred places were usually very rich in natural scenery and beauty. They were often situated in idyllic and beautiful landscapes, rocks, forests, caves, rivers or lakes. People now expend enormous amounts of resources traveling out on pilgrimages to see, in some cases, shrines originating from their own land. All we needed to do was modernize our own settings, and they would become destinations for tourists or pilgrims. 5

Skin Decors

Scarification of the face (igbu ichi) is a form of art very much symbolic of the culture of our people in the olden days. It was a form of tattooing. The craftsmanship, discipline and devoted services of all involved made the practice an outstanding artistic expression. The display consists of delicate and intricate designs on the face of a mature male emplaced at least as from age twenty five years. It symbolized dignity, courage and strength. The person so decorated usually had a highly dignified bearing and revered social status, and was invariably invested with a leadership position in his society. He did not need to be titled – ọzọ or ugo – but he was highly respected. All that has become history. As at the time of writing this contribution, all persons in Alor who had been scarified had passed on. The nearest town to find such a person had been Neni in Anocha Local Government of Anambra State, where the symbolic igbu ichi ceremony called mma nka (carving knife) was still being held annually. Another artistic kind of tattoo in Alor was ịtụ mbụbọ, a symbolic décor on the belly of a mature woman. However, only when partially clad would mbubọ be exposed, so it was not just for beautification or adornment. It was rather for the exclusive delight of her husband who would himself have arranged the craftsman and sponsored the project. 188


Remolding Dentition

It was also an art form in Alor to have one‟s front teeth remolded by way of ịpị eze. If one had some kind of chaotic dentition, malformed teeth, or disproportionately sized incisors or canines, a correction could be effected by carvers specialized in the delicate art. Thus ịpị eze was a corrective therapy. It also served a decorative purpose, especially for those who wished to introduce a gap in an otherwise very tight set of teeth. Such people seized the least opportunity to offer a smile in order to elicit the necessary admiration from onlookers. However, it is interesting to note how far down the priority list the Alor man put the idea of ịpị eze. This is captured in the proverb: mwelu ohu ukwu pịa eze, a mụtam ego one n’amụ, meaning: if I spend a heavy sum of money just to remold my teeth, how much shall I realize by showing them off in laugher?



As the expression goes, the hair is a woman‟s crowning glory. This is perhaps the rationale for the special attention women tend to pay to their hair. The present mania about hairdo gripping the womenfolk and gradually affecting boys is not at all new; it has been carried over from time immemorial. Hair weaving has as such been a longstanding art form. On special occasions such as festivals or marriage ceremonies the young women directly involved in the occasion normally had their hair braided or woven in an artistic fashion with the sole aim of creating a beautiful appeal. The women who had such special artistic weaving and plaiting were normally heavily patronized and paid handsomely to create their best for exhibit during the occasion. The young girls not yet of the age for waeving and plaiting would have the hair neatly cut low and carved into intricate patterns to depict the mood of the occasion. Boys may prefer a slit on the left, right or centre of the head. At present art may not seem to have any place on men‟s heads, since the elderly ones wear a cap and the young ones scrape down to the scalp.

The blooming of the hairdo art into an industry is testified to by the springing up of hairdressing salons all over the pace. The art is acquiring all sorts of dimensions such as frying or roasting the hair, artificially extending it by attaching synthetic fabrics, and so on. It is a pity though that the artistic aspects have diminished. The attempt is to look Caucasian. This is why it is a perpetual struggle for most girls and women and involves unending perming, washing, setting, retouching and such trappings of being imitative rather than natural.


Hair styles of women and young girls 8


Alor people of old, like their counterparts in other parts of Igboland, engaged in crafts of all sorts using metal, clay and wood.


Metal Craft

Blacksmithing is both an art and a trade. The blacksmith uses applied art as an instrument in making shapes and forms come alive at his anvil. Our local craftsmen proved worthy and sustained the community with their functional products. We had indigenous local foundry developed and sustained as acquired technology. The furnace was made and filled with charcoal. The iron was allowed to heat up and soften in the furnace for some time, and then beaten to desired shape. Tools such as hoes, cutlasses or machetes were produced. The blacksmith also produced dane guns for hunting, offence and defense. Spears, oji (staff of office for chiefs and titled men) were manufactured with specialized skill. The oji (symbolic staff for “advanced” masquerades), gongs (ogene) for dance groups and town criers, and bells (mgbalịmgba) were made with precision. 8.2

Wood Crafts

Wood crafts and carvings were the common products of most places lying within the tropical rain forest region, just like Alor was in those days before the virtually complete deforestation. The dominant trees of Alor, now all but gone, were iroko, ụshị, ụkọ, ụkụ etc. (see paper by Dr. Mbaekwe) supplied the necessary material for wood craft. Craftsmen hewed out ceremonial stools 190

and panel doors and engraved beautiful patterns on them.

The exquisite craftsmnanship of our ancestors – artistically carved pannel entrance door; preserved in the place of Igwe Emenahu Enenchukwu of Umuoshi 191

They also produced hoe handles, axe handles, knife heads and other household implements such as mortars (ikwe, odo) and pestles (aka odo, ọdụ). The carvers diligently produced the large variety of well decorated musical instruments such as drums, flutes (ọja) ukolo, ushe, ekwe, etc.

Mortars and pestle (ikwe n’ọdụ)


Various other wooden items were easily made by both apprentice and master carvers. Such products included ritual instruments, e.g. ikenga (the Igbo symbol of dignity), ọfọ, statues (nkwu), and small mortars for serving kola nuts. Facial masks worn by the masquerades were also their products. Walking sticks (mkpa) were also the artistic products of the carvers. Basketry could be classified as a subset of wood craft. It is a process of making such vessels as 192

ụkpa, nkata, anyala, and ngịga, all used for carrying and storing miscellaneous items, especially farm produce. In Alor, most basket making material has been derived from that most utilitarian plant, the oil palm tree, which Alor has in great abundance (see contribution titled Alor Mba Nkwụ).


Clay/Earth Crafts

Working with the kind of earth materials available in Alor has been a labour-intensive process. But that had from time immemorial been the most easily abundant, indeed ubiquitous, building material available. As already discussed, red earth, actually lateritic soil, used to be the main material for building all walls, mounds for shrines, and other utility items. It was easily obtained by scraping away the top layer of the ground surface, and digging up the red earth below. Water was added and able-bodied men would jump into the pit and with their legs knead the stuff into suitable consistency, allowing for moulding and carrying in large lumps. The lumps were laid systematically to build up a wall to the required height. This was usually not achieved in one day. Several days were required so as to ensure considerable consolidation of the lower parts before achieving the required height.

The actual craftsmanship in working with earth was in the trimming of the wall so constructed, especially for eventual roofing. With a machete bent into a slight bow-like shape, the craftsman would systematically yank off obtrusive parts of the wall and carefully trim the surface to acceptable smoothness. In due course, after the roofing had been done, the woman of the house carried out further smoothening using water and some sort of brush (ntite) made from softened banana or plantain stem. This was the stage at which claystone (nzu) emulsion would be applied for final décor, and some murals painted on. Lateritic soil material was also very much used in the past to produce bricks for housing construction. Red earth which had been worked into a coherent mass as earlier described was moulded into cuboids using wooden moulds. They were left to dry under the sun. In some other towns, firing in some kind of oven produced much stronger bricks. The same red earth was used to build the central image in a shrine which would be a moulded mound forming a massive structure, in some cases just shy of two metres tall. That would be the receptacle for the blood of sacrificial animals, with chicken feather as buntings. Some statues (nkwu) were moulds of earth, but the more striking artistic works were the statues sculptured out of walls of buildings and standing out in bold 193

relief. Red earth materials were also used by the blacksmiths to form their foundry – base for heating metals to fashion out implements. The same material was used to form tripods – stands in the fire place for cooking and drying objects. Over time, people learnt to reinforce moulded red earth material with skeletal bamboo sticks or palm fronds enabling the erection of larger and higher buildings. It was this advancement that brought about larger buildings with rectangular and provided for window spaces and better ventilation. And within the buildings, a clever manipulation of the earth material brought about the construction of an elevated metre-wide platform called ikpo or ngodo, to serve as a sitting and sleeping platform. One end was elevated to form the “pillow” position. With a piece of mat placed on top of such ngodo one had a bed.

In Alor every house would normally have somewhere at the corner of the premises, an earthen mound (ikwe akwụ) for threshing palm fruit. It is a circular structure some, three metres in diameter, with a centrally mounted wooden mortar for the threshing.

There are many more uses of red earth material, especially the variety that has a considerable proportion of clay. In particular, pottery, which allows for artistic expression, had been a major industry in areas with the appropriate type of raw materials, such as Awgbu and Agulu areas. Alor never became famous for pottery on account of her endowment with a type of red earth that is more sandy than clayey.

Water pots 194

References Afuekwe, A.I., 1992. A Philosophical Inquiry into Religions and Social Life inIgboland – Alor as a Case Study. APCON Ltd, Calabar, 132p. Nmanka Arts and Cultural Festival, 19 . Obiagwu, M., 19 . Our Praying Fathers. Okafor, B.C., 19 . "Aka": the grain of Corn. Exhibition catalogue. Okereke, E., 1986. Interface 86. Onuoha, E., 19 . Godianism: the Traditional Religion of mankind.

Ufo, Chinonso Pius (Monte), MNIP Creative Head & Art Director Ufo Arts Unlimited




June C. Mmeka 1


Traditional music is one of the major socio-cultural heritages of Alor. It has been in existence for centuries, i.e. long before colonial administration was imposed on Nigeria. Our music fits the description: “symbolic expression of social and cultural organization which reflects the values of the past and present life of the human beings that create it” as given by Blacking (1971:86). This summarizes its role and importance. Alor traditional music has been the first level of contact for execution by the individual, family or community planning any occasion or gathering such as funerals, title-taking, child outing, festivals, puberty rites, marriages, initiations, etc. Hence music is seen as one of the various means of achieving success in any occasion.

Alor people have been great lovers of music, such that they simply grew up with it and enriched every activity with it. This is consistent with the observation by Akpabot (1987:7) that “from the day an African child is born, up to when he attains manhood, marries and dies, music plays an important role in his daily experiences”. Many functions in Alor had specifically designated music which enriched and glorified them. For instance, when a baby was born, music was used as the medium for announcing the event. Music featured in the naming of the child and in dedicating it to the gods. All such music was never written down; it was simply transmitted orally down the generations and continued to expand until it began to be thwarted by the incursion of foreign culture through religion.

In the view of Agu (1989) traditional music is quite rich and varied, and is directly associated with socio-cultural and political setting of the community, and preserved by tradition. The scope and nature of music making generally allows for the core of the culture it is emanating from to be exposed, appreciated and transmitted. The ọfala festival, for instance, is an avenue for special recognition to be accorded a select number of stalwarts for their contributions to the development and welfare of the community during the special periodic outing by the traditional ruler. Ịgba eze music or ushe music would normally feature on such occasions.


Nketia‟s (1979) account of social singing shows that songs have achieved freedom of expression and so could be used to give vent to grievances, expose vices, haul insults, deliver praises, express joy as well as tackle other social problems. In the same vein, Merrian (1964) noted that songs of ridicule and scandal were used to punish offenders, thereby deterring others. In this context, the ayaka night masquerades of Alor usually used lyrics to chastise offenders. Their musical performance helped create awareness of some vices in the community. It might compliment, encourage or condemn, and those usually praised were mentioned by name. In puberty rites (ịpụ ebe) for young maidens, lyrics were crafted to ridicule and scandalize. (Ịpụ ebe was a process of grooming young maidens by putting them on a fattening diet for about a month to round out and look beautiful on graduation day; see paper in this volume by R.N. Obiorah). The music and song texts executed by the maidens tended to massage the egos of the individual participants. They also sang songs portraying jealousy, envy, ridicule and insult. However, they usually made references to the duties of motherhood, preparations for which were the essence of ịpụ ebe.

Public performance of music in Alor was generally for entertainment, usually on such occasions as funerals, marriages, ọfala and new yam festivals. On such occasions, members of a group or a community come together for the purpose of leisure or recreation. They may perform their music for monetary purposes, for their own enjoyment, or for the enjoyment of a handful of like-minded persons all set in a carnival atmosphere.

In the olden days, Alor people had festivals in honour of various deities symbolized by such objects as rivers, market squares, and even trees. A major one was the Olise festival. It was for the celebration of the Almighty God supervening all the other gods of the land (see paper in this volume by Rev. Father Madubuko). Ushe music featured from the eve of the festival day and throughout the night till dawn. The climax was on the festival day when several musical troupes, including women groups, performed till late in the evening. Music played during the festival created great awareness in the people of Alor regarding the importance of traditional music.

In general people laid more emphasis on group performance than on solo effort. This is why such social occasions were dominated by performance by groups of boys, girls, women or mixed. Specials examples are brass band groups such as St. Benedeth Catholic Women Organisation (CWO) Band, St. Paul‟s Anglican Band, St. Andrew‟s Anglican Band, Catholic Boys Organization Band, etc.


2 Music Groups Musical ensembles have been widely varied: i) ii) iii) iv) v)

Children‟s musical groups Adolescent‟s musical groups Male musical groups Female musical groups Mixed musical groups

In addition to these groupings, one can count several other musical outfits that make music as the times required, e.g. egwu ụmụọkpụ, ịgba eze, egwu ọzọ, ushe, ọkpanga, ukolo, abịa dike, and various masquerade-supporting musical types such as ịgba ijele.


Children’s Musical Groups

These are ensembles composed of persons aged below fifteen years. As Nketia (1975) noted, “the African mother sings to her child and introduces him to several aspects of music right from the cradle. She trains the child to become aware of rhythm and movement by rocking him to music”. This contact with music in babyhood enabled an early acquisition or awakening of musical skills which gradually widened the child‟s experience in his cultural heritage of which music formed an important part. Recruitment and training in the children‟s groups did not require much effort. Children who wished to join a particular group might be required to pay a token registration fee. Training did not involve strenuous formal instruction; it simply required full participation and imitation of the experts. This way the children gradually acquired the skills through constant practice which was mostly in the evenings, especially towards a major festival such as ime Olise, now replaced by Christmas. The instruments commonly used by the groups include: small twin or single metal gong (ogene), large gong, wooden gong (ekwe), wood blocks, maracas, rattles, pot drums, and xylophone (ikwe mgbo). There were several children‟s musical groups in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which were: i)

Opanda Dance of Uruezeani village


Egwu Torch of Umuru Ide


Epetike of Uruezeani


Etilogwu Dance of Uruezeani


Eriko Dance of Uruezeani


Ogbuagwo Dance of Uruezeani


Egedege Dance of Uruezeani 198


Ulaga Group from Isieke and Umunambu

2.2 Adolescent Musical Groups Adolescent musical groups were largely organized in villages or kindreds. Each group had a patron and a patroness who organized, directed, financed and above all, inspired the group. Many such groups have since disappeared, even though a good number of their members might still be alive. The few surviving groups are those who recruited and trained younger people. Such new members eagerly practiced along and learnt from the older members who were already expert performers and therefore easily taught the new members. The musical instruments included xylophone, metal gongs, rattles, pot drums, animal skin drums, whistle, and flute.

It is noteworthy that many adolescent groups actually have the same or very similar sound of music and dance patterns. This is because these groups hired the same experts to teach them. Of course each group chose a name unique to it. For instance, the Udo masquerade from Uruezeani village and Isieke quarter are the same as the Okwu Brothers masquerade from Umuokwu village. Other groups include: -

i) ii) iii) iv) v) vi) vii) viii) ix) x) xi) xii) xiii)


Obigele Group of Ebenesii-Okebunoye Zoro Masquerade of Uruezeani Ijele Egwu of Uruezeani Igba Enyi of Umuokwu Egwu Umumma of Ide Egwu Ajali of Umuokwu Ayolugomma of Ezioye Ide Ghana Dance of Umuokwu Egwuobi of Umuokwu Ugo Biafra of Uruezeani Okwu Brothers of Umuokwu Akwunechenyi of Isieke Aji Buusu of Isieke and Umunambu

Men’s Musical Groups

Men‟s musical groups mostly involved masquerades taken to represent some ancestral gods which themselves symbolized ancestral spirit force or mythological beings. Some of the masquerades presented spectacles ranging from weird, awesome, fierce to bleak, plain or even beautiful. Members were mostly from one village or quarter, e.g. the Ogbamgbada masquerade members were from Umuokwu village or Orofia quarter, while Ojionu masquerade members were men from 199

Uruezeani village or Umudim quarter. These music groups may or may not have patrons. Women were in no way involved since they are forbidden to have any knowledge about masquerades.

The masquerade groups had a common system of recruitment. New members had to be screened. They paid a fee consisting of palm wine, kola nuts, alligator pepper and some cash. Training of such new members was during rehearsals. The new members stayed in groups and trainers were assigned to each group. The masquerade part was special and not more than three persons were assigned that part. The instruments used in the ensembles were entirely African – twin metal gong, slit wooden drum, animal skin drum, and wood blocks. Alor could, not too long ago, boast of many musical groups exclusive to men. The following is a sampling: a. Ayaka of Umuokwu and Ide b. Atumma of Umuru Ide, Onicha, and Ebenesii Okebunoye c. Ojionu of Ebenesii Okebunoye and Uruezeani d. Ogbuefi Awuka of Ezioye and Umuru Ide e. Ntoawho of Ide f. Ndubuluilulo of Ide g. Ugoye Masquerade of Umuokwu h. Ogbamgbada of Umuokwu i. Owaosha of Umuokwu j. Ulom of Umuokwu k. Mgbadike of Umuokwu l. Okpolomkpi of Umudim m. Egwu Odinani of Ebenesii Okebunoye n. Odenigbo of Umuokwu o. Gwumbe of Umuokwu p. Oshe Masquerade of Lagos Branch q. Okwumma of Ide

Many of these groups do not last too long. The members thin away by relocating to find greener pastures. Howver, at any given time, there must be a function, especially funerals, where a group gets hired for a short performance. The pht below shows a group of young men performing ata funeral event.


A musical group performing at a funeral event, 9th July 2010 2.4 Women’s Musical Groups The female musical groups consisted of women that had a common interest, which could be just merry making, or to serve as an accompaniment for attending such functions funerals of departed members. The musical instruments used by most female groups include rattles (ajalị, ịchaka), alo, udu, ekwe, and okpokolo. The group may be named after the principal instrument in use by the group. For instance, the music of rattles (ajalị) performed by Umuokwu women had the name Egwu Ajali. A female group usually picked an Alor man of good public standing as the patron and chose one from among their fold to serve as the patroness. Admission of new members followed procedures laid down in a constitution. Training and integration of such new members was during rehearsals especially in preparation for an outing. Alor had many such women‟s groups some of which are: a. Egedeokwu Dance Group of Umuokwu b. Senior Service Dance Group of Umuokwu 201

c. Aghadiegwu Dance Group of Ebenesii Okebunoye d. Egwu Ogwe by traditional religion adherents e. Amala Dance Group of Onitsha Branch f. Ejimili Dance Group – Association of Alor Women in Onitsha g. Ugonwanne Dance Group – Alor Women in Onitsha h. Ayolugbe Dance Group of Ide i. Okemmanya Dance Group of Uruezeani j. Jolly Dance Group of Ebenesii Okebunoye k. Egwu Eriko of Etiti l. Aba Kilijam of Umuoshi and Uruezeani m. Odenigbo Dance of Ebenesii Okebunoye

2.5 Mixed Musical Groups The mixed music groups (men and women) existed within the villages, age grades, and clubs. To qualify for membership of such a group, one must belong to the age grade or club, or hail from the village that performed the music. Patrons and patronesses were chosen from among persons endowed with good leadership qualities, considered well-to-do, and popular in the community. Both men and women acquired the various aspects of the music, although during most performances, men played the instruments and the women did most of the singing and dancing. Training of new members was during rehearsals. Performance was on invitation, normally for a fee and a good measure of feasting, and usually to such occasions as funerals, festivals, and marriages. Well known mixed musical groups were: a. Akwunechenyi of Uruezeani b. Egedege of Uruezeani c. Okpanga of Uruezeani and Ide d. Oshe of Uruezeani e. Ukolo of Uruezeani and Ide f. Igba Enyi of Ebenesii Okebunoye g. Igbaike of Ebenesii Okebunoye h. Egbenuoba of Ochiagha Age Grade i. Igba Ijele of Umuokwu j. Odenigbo Dance of Umuokwu k. Etilogwu Dance of Urueze Ide l. Odenjimjim of Normal Social Club of Alor 202

m. Anulika Dance by Anulika Social Club Alor


Occasions for Music Making

As already indicated, numerous occasions in Alor feature one kind of music or the other. The following tabulation is an attempt to capture such occasions and the kind of music that featured on them. S/No Occasion 1 Funeral (akwamozu)





Cradle/lullaby song (egwu eji agụgụ nnwa) Moonlight play (egwu ọnwa)

Traditional marriage (ịgba nkwụ nnwayị) Battle (egwu ogu)


Naming ceremony (imenyụ ọkụ)


Puberty rites (ịpụ ebe) Title-taking (ichi echichi)


9 10


Olise festival Children‟s games (egwulimegwu ụmụazi) Ritual


Sample of Lyrics and Music Type 1. Ana nwe mmadụ nine 2. Ọbụ ekpili ka ụbụ ụghali na-aha be ọnwụnaa 3. Ọ nụlụ akwa ọnwụ bulu nkata jebe Eke Uke ka ọ zụa. 4. Onye chube iyi, iyi echue ya. 5. Egede mụ na Okoye Ojoko – E Okoye Ojoko 1. Nwa m’ebezina na Nne na-abia 2. Onye tili nwa n’ebe akwa? 3. Opunisi nwa, opunisi nwa-a delelema nde 4. O dodo o-o-o 1. Onye na onye nọ n’egwu ọnwa k’anọlịa 2. Onye na onye nọ be enyi y’ọma 3. Onye kwụlụ ọtọ e gbutue ya 4. Onye j’agba egwu - - iyaa 1. Kpọta agbọmma k’ayị naa 2. Elele nnwa elele nwunye ya 3. Nnwayi nụa di obi a n’asọ ya ụsọ 5. Chiiya key n’ọnatago 1. Ojije ọgụ adịghị ọghịgha 2. Nzọgbu nzọgbu enyi mba enyi 3. Onye akpamụna agụ aka n’ọdụ, m’ọdị ndụ, m’ọnwụl’anwụ 1. Anyị bịalụ ọnụ nnwa-a-e 2. Ọbụghụ ma nnwa onye j’enye m 3. Ọ nụlụ uye nnwa mee ọsọ ọsọ 1. Agbọgọo ebe nna e-e 2. Okoo koo koo koo koo 1. Eze ọzọ na nnwii ya gbulu ebini olobo – o -o 2. Ayị jelu be Simeon nalụ ya nkwụ Alor j’ekwe n’ayị ka ha, Alor j’ekwe 1. Ishe egwu ayị a gaba 2. Akpakolo kpankolo 3.Onye enena anya n’azụ, mmanwụ ayi n’aga n’ilo Ogene and chanting of incantations 203

1. 2. 3. 4.

By Whom Friends Well wishers Age grades Villagers

1. Mothers 2. Grandmothers 3. Baby sitters 1. Children 2. Adolescents 3. Adults

1.Married daughters of the kindred (Ụmụ Ada) 2. Friends


1. Umuokpu 2. Friends 3. Neighbours Young maidens

Umuokpu General Public Children

1. Chief priest



14 15









(ịchụ aja) Initiation ceremony (ichi otu) Installation of a traditional ruler (ichi igwe) Hunting session (ịchụ nta) Festivals e.g. Christmas, Easter

2. Traditionalists Ogene and chanting of incantations

Chief priest

1. Igba Eze music 2. Ushe music General Public 3. Masquerade music 1. Chanting music Hunters 2. Ogene music 1. Opanda dance 2. Masquerades music 3. Female dancing groups General Public 4. Children‟s dancing groups Drinking session 1. K’ọdịba n’ụka Nkwọ (egwu nkwu) 2. Itịịlịm ịtịịilị ọwhụ ọja Drinkers 3. Ayị jelu be Simeon nalị’a nkwụ 4. Kama nkwụ j’adọ n’ite, k’ọdọlụ n’awhọ okolobịa Sacrifice to 1. Chanting music ancestors (ilọ 2. Ogene music Male traditionalists mmọọ) Sacrifice to 1. Chanting music personal god (ịlọ 2. Ekwe and okpokolo music Female traditionalists chi) 3. Ogene music Ọfala festival 1. Ịgba Eze music (ịgba ọfala) 2. Ushe music Alor community 3. Masquerade music 4. Dancing troupes New yam festival 1. Ushe music (ịwa ji) 2. Masquerade music Alor community 3. Dancing troupes Deity festivals (e.g. uzo iyi Ushe music Traditionalists Ideọwhọlọ) Sex prediction Mbọsị ịtọ ayị an’eli, Husband of the pregnant Mbọsị ise ayị an’eli, woman Mbọsị ịsaa ayị an’eli Obi ọmọmụ 1. Biko tinye aka n’aka ọmụmụ ka Women i kuta nnwa 2. Olili nnwa n’ama m ama

4 Musical Instruments and Instrumentation Echezona (1962) conducted a major study of instrumentation in music of Igboland and many of the hardware he listed have been of use in Alor. Of these instruments, the percussion types, generally made of soft wood and bamboo, are particularly common. The flute is the only wind instrument


commonly used. There are also pot instruments which, though a kind of percussion, are dependent on air to produce the sound. While some instruments are imported, the following are home-made: i) Ikwe mgbo (xylophone) ii) ọja (flute) iii) Ekwe (wooden gong) iv) Okpokolo (wood block) v) Ushe (slit wooden drum) vi) Ukolo (large slit wooden drum) vii) Ọja (clappers) viii) Mkpọlọ egwu (stick beaters)

Some musical instruments currently in use by a prayer group: - ịgba, ọkpọkọlọ ekwe, udu, ogene The musical instruments could easily be made due to the availability of soft wood and bamboos (Personal communication with Okafor Egwutuba, 2007). Unfortunately, these home-made instruments do not meet the standards when compared with those found in the markets outside 205

Alor, mainly on account of poor finishing and unsatisfactory sound output. So, Alor people still depend largely on imported instruments.

These instruments are mostly easily used for accompanying songs and dances. Their secondary role is for communication. For instance, ekwe was the instrument the town crier used to call attention to himself prior to loudly voicing his message. The adept player of the ukolo could deploy its sound to hail the outstanding and well known men by their title names during public functions. The communication would normally be in a rhythmic language clearly intelligible to the general public. The xylophone (ikwe mgbo), is a principal instrument in several vigorous dances, notably etilogwu. It is easily constructed by mounting short wooden (okwe tree) panes of varying thicknesses on a pair of support made of banana stems.

Some instruments are more or less specially designated for use on specific occasions. For instance, ukolo is used to announce and adulate the noble men of the community, such as the Igwe and the Ichies as well as their august visitors, during such outings as ọfala and ịwa ji. The flute often serves as the lead instrument such that, in the hands of a master flutist, it can literally sing or talk. It can call people by name. It normally dictates the tempo of the whole performance, improvising and passing messages to the music makers and the dancers. In the words of Nketia (1979), “the flute can also be conceived of as an integral part of the melody section of an ensemble”. Conceivably, the chief priests and diviners used these instruments to commune with their gods in worship.

In Alor, it has been a taboo for women to play certain instruments such as the ukolo, ushe and the flute. This prohibition has most probably been based on some superstitious beliefs. For instance, the flute was thought to have a power that could cause abortion if played by a pregnant woman. Ukolo, abịa dike and ushe were specifically meant to be played by men and danced exclusively by men.


Playing the ekwe


Playing the drum


Structural Features of Alor Traditional Music

A specific study of some aspects of Alor traditional music has shown that it is purely the vocal type with instrumental accompaniment. The conception of the musical pieces is articulated in the body movement and dramatic requirements of the dance. The important features attached to the vocal music lie not only in the beauty of the melody, but also in its use as a social and artistic medium of communication (Nketia, 1979). Nketia also pointed out that through vocal music, instrumental 208

music, and dance, individuals and social groups could show their reactions to hostility, cooperation, and friendship.

Another structural feature is the repetition of the chorus sections. This is common in most songs of the female groups and the masquerade groups e.g. ojiọnụ, awụka, and atụmma. The repetitions are more prominent in chorused refrain sections of such songs, where musical sentence is continuously repeated from the beginning to the end of a particular song. As the repetition goes on, it serves as background music to the whole performance. It also considerably lengthens the output thereby avoiding very brief performances. This repetition technique allows enough time for those who wish to express their inner feelings through dancing to do so, and also offers the soloist sufficient time to improvise, as exemplified by the Opanda cultural dance in which “ayoo ayoo” is continuously intoned before the soloist moves to another refrain. The same is applicable to the Udo masquerade group of Uruezani who repeats “o-o-o nganga” more or less indefinitely.

Alor music melodies are relatively short but nevertheless allow room for variations. The short melodic motifs serve as the basis for repetition. Again the melodies contain a call-and-response form. In such a form of singing, the lead singer executes the entire song solo before the other members join with the chorus. In some songs, the lead singer and the rest sing together.

The text language of Alor music is essentially Igbo, with Alor dialect serving as an embellishment. For instance, in one of the funeral songs, Chukwu is pronounced Sukwu, e.g. “ọbu ekpili k’ọbụ ụghalị n’aha ọnwụnaa; ụmụ agbala ebulu ụghalị gaa be ọnwụnaa, ọnwụnaa ebulu ụghalị naa be Sukwu, ịyaa ogo gooo”.

Some obviously meaningless expressions feature in some of the song texts, e.g. ayoo, ayoo, duu duu yaa yaa, choo maa choo maa, etc. However, being merely songs, what matters may be just the melody and not the lyrics. Also, there are song texts that relate to one item or the other of interest in Alor, such as in relation to palm wine e.g. 1) K’ ọdịba-a, k’ọdịba n’ụka nkwọ, k’ọdịbaa 2) M ga n’aṅụ mmanya, m’ahụ onye tịịlịm ka nṅụa, Igbo kwe ajayamma 3) Anyi jelu be Simeon nalị ya mmanya, mmanya n’eje ego n’Onicha, mmanya oyibo e 4) Kama nkwu j’adọ n’ite k’ọdọlụ n’awhọ okolobịa 5) Onye lie, onye ṅua, onye agbọna agbọ, awanje awanje


It may also be noted that song texts are used to formally express gratitude or appreciation to a benefactor. Sometimes what cannot be said in speech can be stated easily in song text. Likewise, someone eager to complain may find it more effective to do so in song, than in mere speech. Hence some attention is given to song texts as oral documents by Alor people.

6 Decline of Alor Traditional Music Traditional music has been a very important aspect of our social and cultural well being. It has been a focal point of our being since time immemorial. It had kept evolving but appeared to reach its zenith in the 1960s into the 1970s from which time it began to decline, albeit slowly, and is now virtually extinct. Various factors may have caused this unfortunate turn of events. One of them is the planting of western music by the British colonial masters. As is well known, when a people become colonized, the masters subtly or even boldly impose their culture on the subjects. Thus our indigenous music began to be supplanted by foreign music. This was easily achieved through western education and religion.

Acculturation, which is the emulation of one culture by another, contributed in reshaping the indigenous music from its original form to something different and new. For instance, our traditional funeral songs have now been completely displaced by Christian music. Our cultural outfit during any musical displays has had to change so as to be in line with jet age dressing style. In the same vein, some western musical instruments have been added to our traditional instruments. In a way this has been for the purpose of appearing modern, whereas it has all quickened the demise of our traditional music, a major aspect of our heritage.

In addition to the above, as Last (2006) noted, the mass availability of imported music through cassettes and compact discs meant the replacement of local music which had remained unrecorded in any medium and has therefore no way of being reproduced and transmitted. The absence of any means of preservation may perhaps be regarded as the critical shortcoming that facilitated the death of traditional music of Alor. It is therefore not surprising that most people, youths in particular, easily embraced foreign music, since there was no easy availability of the local type. The custodians of the tunes and the lyrics, i.e. the elders, could be said to have in a way suppressed the knowledge, significance and beauty of our music such that a break in transmission from them to the younger ones became inevitable. Besides, the drive for livelihood and wealth has meant that most people have had to leave Alor to settle elsewhere especially in the big towns. It is noteworthy that in some towns Alor indigenes organize themselves into groups that learn a native dance of some 210

sort. However, little or none of the effort has any relation with the original flavour of Alor traditional music.

The introduction of foreign religious practices also grievously disfavoured Alor traditional music. At the missionary schools, the new converts were forbidden to practice their indigenous music. The music practiced and performed at schools consisted of church hymns and related songs. Traditional music was regarded as having no educational value whatsoever, and therefore had no place in their curriculum. Omibiyi (1987) observed that the curriculum was western in orientation and the content of music instruction was western classical music.

In Igbo custom, mothers have been the first teachers of music. Nketia (1979) noted that the African mother sang to her child, and introduced him to many aspects of his music right from the cradle. Sometimes mothers even danced with their children. Okafor (1989) also observed that mothers chanted songs to announce the birth of a new baby and afterwards sang lullabies to it. They also sang as they went about their household chores. This helped to implant the musical culture in the children. Nowadays, mothers do not seem to know any lullabies, much less sing them to their babies. Some even consider such a practice below their dignity. Babies are therefore left to the care of baby sitters or house helps who might even hail from a different language group and cultural background. The kind of music presently in vogue with most mothers is gospel songs which have no cultural affinity with indigenous music. However, all is not lost for, as Agu (2001) noted, “despite these influences, the basic musical concepts in African traditional music have not been swept away, since the new ideas and innovations operate within the original concepts”. In Alor, new songs, which have Christian origin, but some flavour of traditional music, are performed at funerals.

7 Summary and Recommendations The foregoing account has attempted to recapture the nearly extinct musical glory of Alor. Traditional music witnessed its glorious days prior to the civil war and went into decline thereafter. In its heydays there were many different groups, organized village by village, even kindred by kindred. There were children‟s groups, groups organized by adolescents, women, men, mixed, age groups and so on. The instruments were varied but mostly made by carvers or blacksmiths. In the hands of master players the delivery was the richest kinds of music fit for festivals, religious events, marriages, funerals and all sorts of occasions. Our music has its distinctive structure characterised 211

by repetitions of choruses, and call-and-answer form. It also has socio-cultural values and communicative attributes, such as its application for exposing, publicizing and chastising social ills.

Its decline has been attributed to the incursion of foreign culture in the wake of colonial imposition. It definitely in the past had relations with idolatry, but all that has been stripped off. Therefore religion should not be a barrier to the restoration of the glory of our traditional rhythms and melodies. The said restoration can be achieved in several ways: i) For certain occasions, using our local groups should suffice and can deliver performance as satisfying as the so-called bands and orchestras, which are by far more expensive to hire. ii) Trained music teachers should impart indigenous music in schools and such professionals should turn out textbooks and other vital teaching aids on local music. iii) The town government should deliberately promote indigenous music by sponsoring shows, stimulating competition, rewarding excellence, and assisting in its dispersal and popularisation. iv) Every opportunity should be seized to document our traditional music and dance using the latest audiovisual recording gadgets.

References Agu, D.C.C., 1989. The influence of technology on music creativity and performance in present-day Nigeria. In Nnadi, J.E. (Ed.), The Humanities in Contemporary Nigerian Education –

Relevant Methodological Options., College of Education,

Eha Amufu

Pub., p. 115 – 123. Agu, D.C.C., 2001. The Impact of western education on traditional music creation: expression and appreciation in Nigerian cultures. Unizik J. Arts and Humanities,

2001, p. 198 – 210.

Akpabot, S., 1975. The talking drums of Nigeria. African Music, v. 4, p. 36 – 40. Blacking, J.B., 1971. Deep and surface structures in Venda music. Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council. Echezona, W.W.C., 1962. Ibo Musical Instruments in Ibo Culture. Federal Ministry of Information, Lagos. Last, A., 2006. Nigerian re-living the highlife. BBC, Lagos, Nigeria. Merriam, 1955. Musical Instruments and Techniques of Performance among the Bashi, v. 9, p. 121 – 132. Nketia, J.H.K., 1979. The Music of Africa. London, Victor Gollanez Ltd. 212


Okafor, R.C., 1998. Popular music education in Nigeria. Intrn’l J. Music Ed., No. 14, p. 4 – 12. Omibiyi, O.M.A., 1987. Wither Music Education in Nigeria? Paper presented at the First National Conf. on Music Education, 16 – 18 March, 1987, Anambra State College of Education, Awka; Anambra State.

Lady June Mmeka, BA (Hons) Music, PGDE, Vice Principal Academic, Girls‟ High School, Nise



A.I. Afuekwe and R.N. Obiorah 1


A festival is a joyous occasion set aside for the celebration of something considered great or phenomenal. It is usually marked by feasting – eating, drinking, and making merry. It can be regarded as a social tonic which lightens up moods, allows for all kinds of socializing, and is markedly different from normal times. A relaxed atmosphere is all-pervasive. The run-up to festivals invariably means serious preparations involving saving money and other material resources, only to squander virtually the whole thing at the appointed time. It may be quite strenuous on many a household. A major force is often the children. Their interest would be in new dresses, holiday, gallivanting and kitchen delicacies as never before, rather than in the economics of festivals. For them, it is the festival proper that mattered.

Festivals by nature involve recreational activities, although not all recreational activities are tied to festivals. In Alor of the far and recent past, and even today, most festivals have been centred on the religious calendar, very much as in other places and cultures. In ancient days Alor had such major festivals as ime Olise, ịlọ mmọọ, ili ji ọwhụụ, (new yam festival), and more. In the present day Christmas and Easter festivities have completely taken over. The former has become so intense in its celebration that Igboland becomes aflame with activities that border on orgiastic. Apart from excessive consumption, the real value has been reunions and touching base with home for those who had been away hunting treasure in places far and near. In real terms, some of the wealth acquired in these far places in a full year of frenetic activity is repatriated and made available for all and sundry to partake in. As a matter of fact the original essence of the festival, the commemoration of the birthday of Jesus Christ, is virtually drowned in the frenzy of feasting and merry-making. The church is grappling with this serious drift.


The Festivals of Alor

As already stated, the festivals of Alor in days gone by were essentially all centred on religious observances. For each festival, the preparations were a major issue, but differed mainly in intensity depending on status. The most important of them was ime Olise. We shall use this to typify 214

festivals. Let us note at this juncture that this festival was in celebration of the Almighty God regarded in Alor as the ultimate deity. What this says for our forefathers is of special significance in assessing their spiritual bent and maturity. They worshipped various gods, and had idols (nkwu) to represent them, as agents of the Almighty God for whom, most remarkably, no idol was ever made. Alor people regarded the Almighty God as too large and so completely supervening that no idol could represent Him. For a further examination of this topic, please see the paper by Rev. Dr. Lawrence Madubuko in the section of this book dealing with the belief systems of Alor.



The preparations for the four-day festival took up to three weeks. The family compound was redecorated using white claystone (nzu) and red and yellow ochres (aja nwa mmọọ), all quarried from the Alor-Oraukwu gully, to paint murals on walls. Some of the murals depicted such local features as masquerades, houses, snakes, pots, trees, tortoises, well dressed people, etc. New clothing was bought for especially women and children. Young girls usually had their hair shaved into special patterns. Women and girls also took off time to paint their skins with decorative patterns using a semi-permanent pigment (ọgaalụ) extracted from a certain plant. An assortment of foods, meat and fish is stocked up. Particular effort was put into procuring special delicacies, such as rice (osikapa), bread fruit (ụkwa), etc. Chicken, not normally a part of the household diet, would be picked up from the household stock or purchased. In well-to-do families, a he-goat or ram would have been earmarked for the festival. Dancing groups needed even more time to rehearse for their outings. The venues for most festivals were the markets and major village squares such as the Nkwọ market, Ehulu, Oye, Nkwọ Ide, etc. Note that these arenas had been named after various deities with Nkwọ topping their ranks. Indeed Nkwọ was believed to be so powerful that nobody dared steal or poach any item lying around in the Nkwọ market square. Anybody who assayed to pick away anything not belonging to him secretly brought it back at night, or he would suffer dire consequences including death. The chief priest invariably came from the Ihuwam quarter of Umuoshi village.


Ime Olise - Festival in Honour of the Almighty God

Ime Olise was the greatest festival in Alor and elsewhere in Igboland. Its fame and intensity would perhaps be likened to the present frenzy associated with Christmas celebrations. Ime Olise came up around the eleventh and twelfth months of the year (November/December), i.e. about or within harvest time. Food was therefore relatively abundant. The festival day proper was awaited with a lot 215

of anticipation. It would eventually dawn like any other day, but always somehow seemed brighter, with the air filled with a lot of excitement, especially for the children. Ime Olise rituals were performed at the shrine in the Nkwọ market by the Eze-Nkwọ, the high priest. Different dishes were prepared by various families and taken to the market square for the celebration. Friends were invited from neighboring towns. Today, in some places in Igboland, it is termed „New Yam Festival‟. Whatever name, it was purely designed to give thanks to the Almighty God and His representatives, such as the earth goddess, for the rich harvest. This festival marked the beginning of the season of plenty. It was deemed to bring gods and men together in the market place. The chief priest, with his ọwhọ gave thanks to mother earth for the harvest and requested again for guidance, protection, good health and wisdom in the coming year. Sacrificial items were brought to the shrine by mostly women. The items included corn, yams, cocoyams, plantains, bananas, and fruits. Although sacrifices were voluntary, people fell over themselves to bring something to the great Nkwọ shrine.

Priests of the various gods in the different villages brought over their idols (nkwu), along with their ọhwọ to the market square for the ceremony. The ọhwọ must be put in their bags until the appropriate time to bring them out. The priests and devotees wore symbols about their necks or on wrists, waists or ankles, and often marked their faces with white claystone. This was essentially for mystic reasons, very much for the same reasons as crucifixes and other symbols are worn by Christians. In the performance of religious sacrifice, these priests used palm leaves, eggs, animals (especially chicken), kola nuts, fire, chalk and wine, among other items. Celebrants shared with the priests such edibles as meat, yams, kola nuts, pepper and wine. Ọhwọ was sacred to the people and the priests could not just expose it in public for no just cause. The tree from which it was collected was greatly respected and no one used it for fire wood. To tell a man, „may ọhwọ kill you‟, was like saying „go to hell‟, and it was not taken lightly; it was a very serious curse, a highly malevolent vituperation. While the chief priest and other priests celebrated at Nkwọ, the masses carried on in their various homes. Sweet fragrances wafted out of the kitchens as the women cooked the special meals. In due course, people settled down to feast. The relaxed atmosphere facilitated inter-visits. Bands of men got around eating special meals, lots of meat and drinking palm wine. People soon began to reject food proper; only meat was acceptable. However, all this was somehow short-lived. The hurry was 216

for getting to the village squares or Nkwọ market to watch and enjoy old and new dances and masquerades. There were all sorts of masquerades. Some had a notoriously riotous disposition and took delight in hurting people. They were as such quite dangerous. They usually came out with bundles of long whips from a particular plant called okeakpa which they freely used on anybody daring enough to stand on their way. Such were adakụdọ, ụlaga, and ayaghalịgha mmọọ. Women and children had to watch from a decent distance. In contrast to the violent masquerades were the real spectacles – the more gently disposed masquerades. They were the well organised groups of young men who really prepared and rehearsed their show for full time entertainment of the public. There were atụmma, agbọghọ mmọọ, ọgba mgbada, ojiọnụ, and more. In many cases these classes/types of masqueardes were duplicated such that one troupe came from Ezi Alor and a counterpart came from Ifite Alor. For instance Ide and Okebunoye each had its own atụmma masquerade group. They all had their preferred locations for entertainment. Thus while atụmma Ide stationed at Shop Ide for their show, the Ogalijele atumma of Okebunoye village stationed at the Oye market square, now the location of the Post Office.

The entertainment provided by these masquerade groups was often in double measure. As an example, each atụmma group was first and foremost a dancing organisation. The dancing was to melodious singing with instrumental accompaniment. The second measure was in the lyrics. These were not mere words; they were actually operating the gossip mill. All the transgressions or misdeeds of individuals in the whole of Alor were laid bare in the songs. Most often, any infamous conduct that had managed to be concealed, even for a long time, was unearthed and names of culprits were blared, very much to the great pleasure of the public but to the utter embarrassment of the individual cupripts and their kith and kin.

The milling around of the crowds was also an opportunity for women and children to show off new dresses as well as the latest trends in fashion as regards clothes, hair do, and body décor (uli and ọgaalụ). The turnout of the children and particularly the women spoke volumes about the relative affluence of the families from which they emerged. People went from one entertainment spot to the other in search of the most exciting fun, a lot of which was actually on offer.


The Ogalijele atụmma masquerade of Ebenesii Okebunoye village of Alor By the sidelines, no opportunity was greater for spying out prospective wives from among the damsels who innocently ambled from one masquerade or dance venue to another. As a matter of fact any mother with sufficient foresight envisaged a situation where her daughter might be approached directly or edgeways by some old man (a relative of a young man in search of a wife) with a question like, “bịa nnem, onye mụghụ?” meaning “hello young lady who is your father?” That was all the requisite data. They would now go home, plan and carry out a background check on the prospective bride, and if favourable, proceed with marriage plans. This was often the most fortunate outcome of ije mkpaghalị mmọọ, i.e. outing to see masquerades at festive occasions.


Members (with their masquaerade) of the Ogalijele atụmma masquerade group of Ebenesii Okebunoye village, famous in the 1950s

A particular practice that has lasted through time to this day is the communal eating of goat head, or cow head. The age-old principle is simple:- if you killed a goat for a festival, or indeed for any other reason, you could go ahead and eat all the meat, except the head. It was the exclusive preserve of your kinsmen (ụmụnna). The penalty for default, i.e. secretly eating it alone, was, and still remains a full goat. Thus in the evening of a given festival day, the kinsmen would assemble to cook the stuff themselves. Once cooked, it was carved down to the bones, and the broth prepared in a wooden mortar using the animal brain tissue, oil, salt and pepper. The meat was portioned out based precisely on the number of kinsmen present. Picking was strictly by age. Needless to say, palm wine was the main fluid for washing down the meat. Again here we may see a practical or in fact an institutionalized demonstration of humane living whereby it was, and still remains, compulsory for any man rich enough to slaughter a goat or a cow to extend the meat to his kinsmen. In actual practice the animal head is complemented with some more meat. Thus those not capable of affording a goat somehow had quite some meat to eat. While some of the kinsmen consumed their share on the spot, some others saved a portion for their families back home. Some element of charity is evident here. 219

At the end of the feast of Olise, people went home elated and radiant with satisfaction. There was a renewal of brotherly affection and unity. Cooperation in matters of physical development, mutual protection and assistance was revamped and there was reassurance with regard to societal harmony. 2.3 Ime Nnweke n’Umuokwu Apart from the ime Olisa festival, which was a town-wide event, Umuokwu village had an annual festival all their own. This was ime Nnweke. This festival was in celebration of Alụsị Eke, a special god of the village ensconced in a location called Eke Umuokwu. The people of the village regarded themselves as the children of that god. This strong belief warranted an annual event of a magnitude well known in all of Alor and even in the neighbouring towns. It was a feast in celebration in affirmation of their togetherness, peaceful coexistence and love for one another under one god and common acestry. The preparation and actual cebration was marked by such great joy and felicity as to bordering on euphoria. A saying in all of Alor captures the rapturous, even ecstatic relish associated with the event, such that a person radiating joy in consequence of a good fortune is said to behave as he was involved in the Nnweke festival in Umuokwu (ọ dị ya k’Umuokwu n’eme Nnwke).

For the festival, families would have stocked up on different food items, even if this meant spending frugally in order to save for the event. Other aspects of preparations involved cleaning and decorating the individual premises, including painting the compound walls with claystones of various colours and putting up such murals as masquerades. In all, the various homes and their environs, including footpaths, were rendered spick and span.

In the wee hours of the appointed festival day, the women of the village would trooped to the environs of Alusi Eke shrine, sweep it clean and prepare it to receive a large crowd. As the dawn advanced, the elders arrived. The chief priest brought along kola nuts and white claystone (nzu). The proceedings commenced with the chief priest marking four strokes of the nzu in front of the shrine, to represent the four market days – Ahwọ, Nkwọ, Eke, and Oye. He then prayed, kola nut in hand, invoking the spirit of the ancestors. He thanked them for the blessings which he enumerated, in particular for keeping the people of the village alive for another full year to witness yet another festival. He would then bemoan any unpleasant incidents, such as untimely deaths, which the village had experienced during the previous year. He then prayed the ancestors and Eke, their special god, for continued protection during the coming years. This done, he then listened to the 220

ancestors for a message which he transmitted by repeating whatever he perceived as coming from the ancestors to the hearing of all around. He broke the kola nut and dropped some pieces for the ancestors. Other elders around also broke their own while muttering diverse individual prayers to the ancestors. Kola nuts broken and eaten, the chief priest called for the chicken – cocks and hens – which would have been readily brought over in some numbers. The birds were strangled or had their heads pulled off and the blood sprinkled over the mound in the shrine prior to pasting on some feathers. The women carry away the chicken to prepare them for consumption later in the day. The elders dispersed to attend to some morning routines, the most important of which was to tap palm wine. Of course all the wine produced on that day would not see the market; it was all for the feast.

By mid-day, family groups began trooping over to the festival ground bearing various festival items. The men took along gourds of palm wine while the women and children carried along each family‟s meticulously prepared festival dishes. The types and quantities of food brought along by each family was a reflection of its material convenience. The foods were mostly roasted yam (spiced with salted and peppered palm oil), ọna with its sauce (ncha), akpụ (pounded cassava) with the bst of onumu (bitter leaf) or ọha soup, rice with ohe akwụ, ede igbugbu (cocoyam mixed with vegetables), ojoko and unele (unripe plantain and banana). Also brought along were uncooked food items and fruits – unripe plantain and banana, achịcha (sliced and dried unripe plantain or banana), coconuts, oranges – which were often given out in exchange.

Families sat together on mats brought along for the occasion and spread anywhere on the festival ground. Once again kola nuts were blessed and eaten. Next was the exchange of food, e.g. those who came with akpụ might dish some of it in exchange for rice and vice-versa. Children usually had a field day as they searched out families they particularly liked their food and fell to. Control was very relaxed and overeating was the rule, consistent with a highly convivial atmosphere. As the exchange and downing of food went on, men poured out palm wine. They usually drank with calabash cups, but it was during such a feast that men brought out their mpi – horns of such big animals as cows or buffalos – which were special drinking vessels. Women brought out their own drinking vessels, called nnwọnya. Nnwọnya was a small calabash, about a litre or less in volume, which a woman took along to the market or on festival occasions for collecting her own share of palm wine for immediate or later consumption. It was the routine for a woman to receive her nnwọnya filled with wine, kneel down before her husband or whoever gave it to her, take a sip, stand up, hail the man by his title name, return to her place and proceed to empty the vessel. The children would also be instructed to kneel down in turns to collect palm wine from the men, drink 221

and hand back the mpi nkwụ, thank the men around and disappear. If a child appeared to be overdrinking, such as trying to gulp down a whole cup or vessel, it was usual for elders to apply brakes by shouting to restrain him. Gradually the merriment would get to a climax, what with lots of eating and drinking. The initially clear boundaries between families would progressively become diffuse. Some sort of regrouping might take place, mainly for chatting and continued drinking. All faces would be radiant with joy. It was now all gaiety.

The next stage in the festival was wrestling. It was for both among boys and among girls. It was properly organised to ensure there were no mismatches. Winners were carried shoulder high and earned quite some respect and adulation from both their parents and peers around. The conclusion of the wrestling matches ushered in the masquerades, specifically the masquerades of Umuokwu village such as Okanga, which usually all on its own, and Ajikwu which always appeared as a group of six to eight identical masquerades, each holding an ajalị – a musical instrument played as an accompaniment to melodious songs. Each masquerade had a shield made of raffia palm hanging at its back. While one Ajikwu sang, the others chimed in the chorus and danced to the music. As the day wore on, several other masquerades from other parts of Alor appeared on the scene. Thus the whole festival arena would soon be agog with all manner of masquerades such as Ụlaga, Ajị Buusụ, Ọgba Mgbada, Ụdọ, Ọtụ Iche, Agbọghọ Mmọọ, some of them less orderly in comportment, but to the delight of boys. This was the point at which the elders and their little children headed home, leaving the arena for the youths. Even the youths were themselves sooner or later advised to go home since the devil might soon be taking over the arena. The song went something like: onye ma nnwanne ya kpọlụkwa, ekwensu n’abịa n’ilo.

Ime Nnweke was significant for a number of reasons since it i) bonded Okwu children, i.e. the villagers tighter, and served as a constant reminder that they had a common ancestry, ii) rekindled their unity as symbolized by eating together and drinking from the same cup, iii) demonstrated humane living, mutual assistance, and generosity as shown by the exchange of gifts and sharing, attributes actually common to the whole of Alor town.

All traces of this festival have now disappeared; it has been one of the major casualties of the ingress of the colonial master and his religion. It is obviously one of our most grievous and painful losses, a severe corrosion of our cultural heritage.


This account relied heavily on the information garnered from discussions with Mr. Christian Umeasalugo, Mr. S.N. Mbeledeogu, Pa. Augustine Onyeonagu, and Mr. Alex Nwoye-Ibe. We thank them very much indeed for affording us their time and availing us of their intellect.


Ịlọ Chi (Celebrating One’s Personal God)

This is the occasion specifically appointed for all women to celebrate their personal gods. The writers hereby wish to discuss the ịlọ chi festival from a close personal observation of the first author‟s grandmother, Madam Mary Mgbogo-Udo Nnakwe, a fervent devotee of traditional religion. She had her chi, which was a small, beautifully carved wooden icon kept beside her house on a spot referred to as the okwu chi, i.e. actually a shrine in its own right. Children were not allowed to go playing around the sacred area, which was additionally marked by having a tree (abụbọ) planted there. The abụbọ, whose leaves are used for making ọha soup, must have been grown vegetatively using a twig broken off from the abụbọ tree in her own mother‟s okwu chi and ceremonially planted in its present location. This was a symbolic offshoot from a mother‟s chi to her daughter‟s new home in her husband‟s place. Being an edible vegetable was the symbolism that clearly connoted food and culinary matters. During meals, she would drop off pieces of food at the okwu chi with prayers in adoration of her chi. She always prayed through udo (a male god) and ogwugwu (a female god) to God Almighty. She was so devoted and prayerful to her gods that one or the other, especially ogwugwu, was always on her lips. Ịlọ chi was a thing of joy to her and indeed all women folk in Alor. The preparation was quite elaborate and involved the procurement of an assortment of food stuff and ingredients, including an abundance of fish and beef, with some chicken for a change. On the appointed day the meals included rice, breadfruit (ụkwa ahọ), cassava foo-foo (ụtala akpụ) with special soup cooked with stockfish and chicken. Eating was done as if there would be no tomorrow. As in other situations, the boys of the family, including those whose maternal grandmother was the celebrant, had an exclusive right to the head and legs (isi n’ọkpa ọkukọ) of all the chicken slaughtered for the occasion.

One therefore missed a lot when in 1967 the great old matriarch became a Christian. Converting her was no simple task. She was adamant and had to be convinced that Mary was a new name for ogwugwu and that Virgin Mary could answer prayers faster. Before she died in 1969, she was a fervent devotee of Blessed Virgin Mary and her child Jesus Christ.




This paper is intended to document festivals of Alor from as far back in time as memory can stretch. This is why Christmas fits in here. Considering the festivals described heretofore, it will not be out of place to think of Christmas as ime Olise in another name, in which case it is simply more of the same, only carried out with modern facilities and gadgetry. In other words, Alor people already had a major religious festival. Christmas was merely a new name for an event that was all about pulling off the garb of labour in order to relax in the celebration of the achievements of a given time period such as a full year. It was an event intensely anticipated by both old and young since it gave the latitude for letting down one‟s guard to enable relaxation, merry-making and striking up of new relationships. In the frenzy of preparation and celebration, the original essence – remembering the birthday of the son of God, Jesus Christ – was all but forgotten. The degree of commercialism preceding the 25th of December attains a new height each succeeding year. The annual cycle gradually recommences as a climax peters out. January and perhaps February may be regarded as the recovery months. Within March and April the atmosphere begins to warm up, especially as Easter, another important religious event, weakly intervenes. The rest of the year sees a steady build-up to the last quarter, i.e. into so-called -ember months when the fever becomes infectious. The local economy actually benefits from the accelerating frenzy of buying and selling. Alor and indeed all the towns around bubble up with such activities as renovation of existing buildings, completion of those close to habitation, construction of access ways or the clearance of the existing ones all amounting to a general facelift for the various localities of the town.

We have already compared the preparations for Olise and Christmas and decided that, for the latter, it was simply more of the same. This is because the activities during the run-up to Olise festival are repeated for Christmas but clearly in greater intensity, what with clothing for women and children, decorations, stocking up on food and drinks, etc. Foods now include all sorts of imported items and the condiments, cows are trucked down from their northern source and slaughtered in groups. Drinks include softs, beer, liquers, wines and spirits hauled in by the carton to supplement palm wine which, though abundant, becomes very expensive during the season.

For people living in far away locations, preparation for the trip home is even more challenging and this is why some families postpone such trips and make it once in several years, especially if a mandatory, i.e. compulsory mass return has been declared by one‟s village or the whole town. 224

Because some individuals or families in faraway places have found home trips rather too expensive, they keep putting up the trip. Indeed some have been known to virtually lose touch with home. The effect is that the children of such families grow up in their location without ever knowing their real home place, much less imbibing any grains of its culture. It is in such circumstances that the children of some such families learn to speak only in English and feel completely like fish out of water if ever they touch home. The parents are of course to blame. This is why some kindreds set up a rule: consecutive absence from the annual meeting would attract severe penalty ranging from steep fines to ostracism.

Having purchased the much of provisions one can manage to carry in public transport, the hassle continues over the long journey. On arrival, there is usually much rejoicing. In many cases, celebration has started. It is often gifts galore; items exchanged are usually those purchased from cities (e.g. cloths) for those produced locally (e.g. cocoa yam). For families with personal cars, it would be mandatory to get a mechanic to give the car a clean bill of health prior to departure. Trips in that season can in some cases become a big hassle. Notorious traffic build up points at Lokoja, Ninth Mile corner, Niger bridge at Onitsha, Nnewi, or even Nnobi could turn to a nightmare. These obstacles crossed, home can be sweet.

On the appointed day, the churches would be full to capacity. There might even have been carols. The clergy work hard to remind the congregation of the essence of the day. Needless to say, some of the words would fall on deaf ears. Patience might in fact be wearing thin if the officiating priest insisted on the full measure of worship. In contrast to the past, worshippers are beginning to abbreviate things on their own. Other matters were there to attend to. Such other matters necessarily included attending to rich cuisines and choice drinks.

The women would have had some hectic time in the kitchen, even from the previous day, while the men lazed around, often banding up and wandering from house to house scouting for an early snack. In due course, it would be time to settle down to do justice to the product of the women‟s culinary perfection. It is still more of the same, the only limitation being that an individual can only eat and drink so much and no more. Even at that, many people, especially children, try stuffing in all they can, as if there would be no tomorrow. The consequence is often a reaction from an overstuffed system. Check out Ijeoma‟s place near the Nkwọ market, that most popular of all patent medicine shops in Alor, and you will find a queue that spills out to the road, especially on 26 th December morning. 225

Needless to recount the all-pervading conviviality, same as ever, but that is as far as eating and drinking go. Something has drastically changed. Where are the masquerades and the colourful cultural displays that climaxed the Olise festival? What we see today are the undesirable relics of the glorious past. They are the nuisance called ayakịlịya mmọọ, a set of quasi-masquerades, with no musical accompaniment, no finesse, no art. They roam about armed with whips, harassing women and children and extorting money from men. Any Alor indigene who witnessed the spectacular cultural shows, especially dances and masquerades of the second half of the 20th century, such as ọgalijele, atụmma, ọgba mgbada, agbọghọ mmọọ, ụlaga and more, is sure to lament the great loss. For many of us who have spent our first half a century on earth, the loss of such a great cultural heritage is grievous. It makes the festivals empty.

Youngsters and their ụlaga masquerade – struggling to keep the culture, 04/04/10


We may partly blame the trauma of the civil war for this loss. Perhaps the war made us divert the focus from culture to extreme materialistic pursuits. To engage in such apparently unprofitable pastime would be considered a waste of precious resources. Thus the war was the watershed. Nowadays, after all the eating and drinking, getting out is no longer to any village square to see masquerades. It is now to see and be admired. The stretch from Obiagbọ to Nkwọ has replaced the olden village and town squares, but for no particular show. The milling around of the youngsters would tell you there is something conspicuously absent. The vacuum is filled, albeit most inadequately by the crowds themselves. It is rather interesting to realize that people now devote all the time looking searchingly at one another. In particular, boys, individually or in groups plant themselves at strategic locations for the sole purpose of staring if not leering at the girls. The girls themselves, fully aware of the boys‟ interests and pranks, show up as attractively turned out as possible. The less inhibited ones even conduct themselves in a manner one can call seductive. It is all for the good – to see and be seen, in not a few cases often starting up a chain of events that may include fruitful connections culminating in conjugal bonds. Indeed it is known that boys formulate and rehearse hunting plans and tactics before stepping out to execute them. People from neighbouring towns, especially those to the south where there is a land corridor, are known to literally invade Alor for the purpose of checking out earmarked targets or doing a general hunt. This gives an idea of what great beauties Alor has spawned. Christmas is an auspicious time for catching them.

Crowds milling around in search of the cultural shows that have disappeared; the smoky atmosphere is from firecrackers (‘’knockout’’)children throw around 227

Christmas was in the past the time for scouting out prospective wives rather than the time for a fullblown marriage event such as ỉgba nkwụ. All that has changed. Marriage events have now become the place to go and really settle down to catch some fun. Eating and drinking might appear to be the paramount aspect, but the real thing is actually to see and be seen. This is why hordes of uninvited guests would swamp any person giving out a daughter in marriage. On a given day in that season it is not in any way unsual for a young lady to slowly wake up, groom up for the day by spotting a trendy attire, ask around for where „‟it is happening‟‟ and head right there. Ladies are not alone, and there is sure to be quite a few juicy places.

Heading for an ỉgba nkwụ event, now fixed any day of the festive season, since there is fun to be had there, in absence of cultural shows Back in the villages in the evening or, in some cases the following morning, it is time for ịkpụkpụ isi ishe, i.e. the communal eating of the goat or cow head. The same penalty described earlier for Olise also applies, namely, the head of the goat or cow a man has slaughtered for the festive occasion is for the ụmụnna. Failure to invite over the kinsmen to eat it communally attracts a fine of a full live goat, head and all.

The actual day called Christmas day usually passes in a flash, giving way to all sorts of meetings. Those meetings are extremely valuable. They provide the opportunity and forum for renewal of old relationships and striking up new ones, especially for Alor children born in far-away towns, and 228

have now grown up enough to enroll in the various organisations, especially the kindred meetings and the age grades. The APC has had to step in and specify dates for various meetings between 25th December and 1st January, otherwise funerals and less useful activities would have taken over. It has nevertheless become fashionable to fix these events for every day for the next one week or more.

The meetings were in the past very much centred around the two main churches as the APU involving all adult males. It has now all changed. The main meeting, and perhaps the most important of all, is kindred assembly of 26th December or any more convenient day. It is the day all adult males of every kindred in Alor should meet. Other meetings fixed by the APC include the age grade day (29th December), and for the whole Alor (30th December). These meetings, collectively and individually, are perhaps the most valuable events of the whole Christmas season. They open up the opportunities for the contribution of ideas and crystallization of strategies for the development of the town. Granted, they could be a distraction to the merry-making that had been prepared for, but the young ones could go ahead and have a good time while adults organize the running of our dear town. In any case, there are always little snatches of good time to be had at any opportunity in spite of the meetings. Some of the meetings, specifically the kindred assemblies, often end up in quite some merry-making, including conspicuous consumption.


Ritual Objects, Deities and Unseen Powers

As already indicated, in ancient Alor, festivals were virtually all religious, i.e. one god (alụsị) or the other was being celebrated, the Almighty God being at the apex, while the others were deemed to represent Him in various aspects. Alor gods, which could be male or female, along with their shrines, in addition to representing the Almighty God in various sectors of human endeavour, also carried the symbolic presence of the ancestors and heroes in the place of worship. Some denoted unseen powers were deemed to be capable of exerting both benevolent and malevolent influences on their subjects. Below is a brief documentation of some of the ritual paraphernalia, deities and representation of unseen powers.

Ikenga: - a small, five to thirty centimeter-long doll carved out exclusively from the wood of the ogilisi (Newbouldia laevis) into any desired shape, and served as a ritual object. An example of such a shape was the bust of a man with two horns in place of ears. This was then regarded as a god and took credit or blame for its owner‟s success or failure in any venture. Just like ọwhọ, it stood as 229

a symbol of justice and therefore did not support the owner in any perpetration of evil. Acquiring and holding an ikenga was open to all men, and specifically compulsory for all titled men. Additionally, an untitled man might be compelled, on the ruling of a native doctor or diviner (dibịa), to acquire and hold an ikenga.

Ekwu: - another ritual object, but exclusively kept by the matriarch, i.e. the woman in charge of the family. It was perhaps deemed capable of protecting food from being poisoned.

Ngwu: - this is usually a large tree which, like the iroko (ọjị), could be an object of worship and taken to be a deity. Akpụ and Ngwu were also powerful and highly respected trees. These trees were decorated by clearing any surrounding bush and tying fresh palm fronds (ọmụ nkwụ) around their bases. Sacrificial items could be seen lying around them. The intimidating size and grandeur of these trees easily elicited so much respect from our forefathers. However, we must remember that they lavished worshipful sentiments on these magnificent objects but in reality saw them as the handiwork of a supreme power; they actually looked beyond these towaeds objects to the Almighty God. Ojukwu, Ngwu, Ọwhọ, Ụkụ and Ọjị Trees: - Ojukwu is a variety of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) credited with curative potency, therefore could as well be taken as a deity in its own right, very much like such other trees as ngwu, ọwhọ, ụkụ and ọji. Ordinarily these trees taken as deities were hardly ever felled nor even trimmed. However, there were occasions when the need arose for branches of some of them to be cut. This required that some sacrifices were first made, and the trimming was referred to as “shaving of hair”. As time wore on, and civilizing influences filtered into Alor, some of these sacred trees had to give way to infrastructural development such as roads. This inevitability required that the priest or priests directly concerned would observe some fasting as a prelude to ritualistically transplanting the particular tree. A seedling of the tree, if available, would actually be transplanted to a suitable site. Even after all the rituals, only a man with quite some courage dared put an axe on such a sacred tree. It took a man like Mark Nwose of Agbo quarter to hazard that kind of job. Mark was notable for exhibiting some traits of an iconoclast. For instance, he was the man who, in the 1950s, mowed down the ụkụ tree (Billonella toxisperma) that stood in the middle of the road on a location that is now the turnoff to the Post Office. The fear was that any man that dared touch that tree was doomed. Mark also saw as delicious meat, various kinds of snakes including the slow-moving, non-poisonous, black-andwhite skinned type (eke) commonly found curled up even inside houses and revered as belonging to 230

various deities. As will also be indicated elsewhere in this book, Mark was reputed as one of the few that built a storeyed mud house. He lived a jolly good life, passing on at well over 90. Only a few of the sacred trees are surviving here and there to date. Somehow the marauding holier-thanthou, clean-sweeping religious zealots, are yet to reach them.

Shrine (Okwu Mmọọ): - another object of rituals. It was usually built as a mound made of kneaded mud erected to represent a deity and protected from rain by proper roofing. The Ezigbo shrine in Ogbogu quarter was probably among the earliest, if not the first, building in Alor to be roofed with corrugated iron sheets. The walls of the single room in which the mound, i.e. the shrine proper, is housed, were constructed with well hewn strong sandstone blocks held together with Portland cement mortar. This illustrates how far our forebears went in practicing their religion.

According to Alutu (1986), shrines were often erected in homes and locations where there had been violence and bloodshed. The presence of an okwu mmọọ was deemed to be capable of preventing the spirits of people killed in the conflict from the location or compound from rising against the occupants. To build a shrine, a native doctor (dibịa) had to be consulted to prescribe the list of materials to be used. Invariably the following would be involved: - a cock, a hen and a day-old chick. A shrine was always a prominent feature of a normal obi.

Idol (Nkwu): - another ritual object. It was actually a statue carved from certain sacred trees such as ogilisi and iroko, in the likeness of a man or a woman to represent a particular god or goddess. The carving was supposed to serve as an important agent and the objective visual image of the particular god. Udo, ogwugwu, etc. were agents of „Nkwọ‟ (Alor supreme deity), and certain public deities had their own nkwu. Chief priests have nkwu in their private shrines. The priest would hardly eat or drink without invocational prayers which would be followed with the dropping of some pieces of food at the foot of the nkwu. By the nature of the carving, the palms of the nkwu were always open, as in a welcoming gesture and readiness for receiving gifts and sacrifices. Some nkwu have charms and amulets packed around their waist region. Nobody dared challenge an nkwu in those days; they were supposed to be as powerful as their owners. Agwụ: - a special kind of deity which most Alor herbalists had as a separate shrine (okwu agwụ). The fortune teller in some cases also had the agwụ shrine. Both men and women could erect this deity, although men took the upper hand. Conventionally, nobody could just institute the agwụ


unless he had honestly and sincerely served the herbalist master. It was then that he could be assisted in erecting the deity. The charges for ritual sacrifice to agwụ were often ridiculously small and the herbalists, before and after treating any ailment traced to agwụ usually demanded only a few coins or cowries for his agwụ. It was only the agwụ priest who could handle a person possessed by the agwụ spirit. As had been well known, of all the gods in Alor, agwụ had been the most irritable, violent, troublesome, and implacable. A person being worried by agwụ often met with disappointments, frustration, failures, and was given to poor organization. Such a person was routinely referred to as onye agwụ n’akpụ, i.e. a person possessed by the agwụ spirit. A person being harassed by agwụ behaved abnormally and the situation did not change until one had it placated by instituting it. Alor had some special agwụ priests who carried out the specific process of placating the agwu, i.e. the process of ilu agwụ. Agwụ was known to run in families and had the power to choose anybody in that family to serve it as its priest. Once chosen one had no option than to serve the agwụ. As an illustration of the kind of powers attributed to agwụ, there was the story of a man, comfortably trading in Onitsha, who was said to have been selected by agwụ to serve it. He bluntly rejected the whole proposition on the basis of his strong Christian faith. Agwụ was said to have unleashed an attack which disorganized his business. Next, the man was at the brink of mental breakdown but pulled back when he accepted to serve. This meant he had to return to the village.

As a matter of fact, some events, phenomena and happenings are not quite easy to rationalize. Examples abound of people who begin to behave strangely and are said to be afflicted by agwụ. For such people going through the process of atonement, i.e. ịlụ agwụ, might sort out the problem. A way of looking at it is that abnormal, eccentric or bizarre behaviour might as well be incipient lunacy which native psychotherapy could handle. Now that modernity has swept off the lore of agwụ, such people would be diagnosed as psychotic or as being at the threshold of mental derangement. Left untreated, a full-blown lunacy would result. It has to be admitted, however, that there are degrees or kinds of mental derangement that defy modern psychiatry.

Ezumezu: - literally means a meeting place. In this particular context, it means a meeting place for spirits. In the past there were some places in Alor people, especially women and children, were advised not to pass at a particular time of the day, to avoid meeting with spirits. In most cases, such places were very close to “bad bushes” (ajọ ọsha), or adjoining to a particular segment of the 232

Idemili River. Only priests of deities could enter such localities. Some examples of such places include olile Ezigbo in Ogbogu area, ọsha ogwugwu iyiana, ehulu, Nwangene stream, Okide stream, and obodo ọji. Some pathways were also designated as exclusive to spirits and even up to recent times, many Alor elders felt that such pathways should not be closed, contrary to the agitation of some youthful zealots. Some of them have become major roads. Ndi Ichie: - something erected as a memorial to a man‟s forebears. It was generally to be found within the man‟s outhouse and was erected by him without any assistance from any native doctor or a priest to a deity. Ndi Ichie could only be found outside the walls of a compound if the final funeral rites of one‟s dead father or grandfather had not been performed (Aluta, 1986). In erecting the Ndi Ichie it was customary to use any of the deities‟ trees such as iroko (ọji), ngwu or ogilisi. A cock or a hen was usually sacrificed in the process. Ụmụ Ọkpụ: - for women only, just like Ndi Ichie was exclusive to men. Ụmụ Ọkpụ was for the memorial to a woman‟s dead sister or sisters. A woman had her Ụmụ Ọkpụ in her house. Ụmụ Ọkpụ was usually found either at the foot of a pillar of a house or at any place close to the foot of a wall (Alutu, 1986). Ụmụ Ọkpụ was put up only by a deity priest as the need arose. Women were not allowed to erect it by themselves, and a contravention of this was an offence against the laws of the land. In modern times, Ụmụ Ọkpụ is a union of the women folk from a given kindred and they no longer have deities. Their composition, functions and activities are discussed under societal structure.


Sports and Recreation


Origin and Significance of Sports in Traditional Societies

Awe and wonder overwhelmed primitive man as he looked up at the sun, moon, stars and the firmament. He beheld natural phenomena and began to feel that a prepotent inscrutable author living above the earth must be responsible for all that and should therefore be worshipped with songs and dances. Such feelings culminated in festivals in honour of gods, deities and spirits of ancestors. Men therefore fell on their knees and thanked the sun, the moon and the stars which lived above them and which apparently were responsible for conditions on earth. From such sentiments arose the idea of worshipping gods of harvest (new yam festival dances), rain – especially the first rain of the year (mmili nda ahọ). To all these deities, they set days and names (Afor, Nkwọ, Eke, Oye) and methods of worship, hoping to benefit by giving them honour and adoration. This was 233

thought to be the origin of religion and it was logically accompanied by instrumental music, singing, dancing, and other forms of physical movements. Thus sports of various kinds have been in existence from time immemorial.

Alor has, from far past, had lots of unorganized sporting activities. Such activities were maintained for a long time through verbal instructions handed down along a succession of our forebears. Some of the activities were maintained through learning by observation and mimicry. Most of the activities were utilized for such purposes as festivals, marriages, burial ceremonies, moonlight plays. Some of the activities designed or adapted for use included acrobatics, wrestling, and calisthenics. Hunting could be counted among sports, since it involved physical exertion, although the actual purpose was for meat provision.

In the past funerals were exciting occasions. Immediately after the corpse was buried, members of the appropriate age grade would start paying tribute to their departed member. According to Achebe (1981), “The ancient drums of death beat, guns and cannons were fired, and men dashed about in frenzy, cutting down every tree or animal they saw, jumping over walls and dancing on the roof”. In Alor different dancing groups such as Ndi Egbenuoba usually displayed highly choreographed steps and body movements. Women of the kindred (ụmụ ọkpụ) also keep the tempo of the celebration very high with their songs and dances. According to Adedeji (1985), “The kind of dance performed is for most part designed to show off young ladies‟ legs and the smooth wriggling of their hips”.


Traditional Sports

3.2.1 Wrestling In days gone by, wrestling was a very common sport in Alor. It was exclusively for young men and boys. Matches and contests took place in open spaces or village squares, and were usually organized as competitions between villages, or even towns, depending on the celebration. The competitions were accompanied by music and songs. The essence of holding matches in public places was to clearly identify and distinguish men with the coveted skills in the manly art of selfdefense. This would be in keeping with the saying: dimkpa n’akali ụlụ mgba (a man overgrows wrestling in secret). It may be mentioned in passing that in such public places, those not directly involved in organizing the wrestling, or are not wrestlers themselves, but are mere spectators, especially the womenfolk, use the venue to catch up on gossip and keep the rumour mill spinning.


A good wrestler was usually characterized as azụ elu ana, meaning one whose back never touched the ground, the kind of character Chinua Achebe likened to the cat. Elders, themselves veteran wrestlers, were usually handy to organize the younger ones, including children, to apply the rules and ensure that the entire affair remained a sport rather than deteriorate into a brawl. For instance, it was essential to ensure that each pair was evenly matched, excepting in situations where the wrestling prowess of the smaller man had been tested and proven.

A man with a track record of wrestling victories became very popular and highly sought after as a friend. By extension, it was common to measure and correlate strength demonstrated through wrestling with the expanse of a man‟s farm especially the size of the yam mounds. Being a good wrestler became a shiny credential that greatly facilitated winning a lady for friendship (ili enyi) or even for marriage, the former usually being a clandestine matter. Cases were reported of wrestling heroes who were secretly approached by ladies or families wishing to have them sire children for them. This was referred to as izolu agbọ, literally meaning copying or replicating from a good or virile stock. One can read natural selection into this practice, a subtle demonstration of Darwinism.

3.2.2 Aquatic Sports Aquatic sports took place in the Idemili River which, in those days in Alor was not known by that name. Rather, different segments of the same river were separately named, beginning from upstream at the boundary with Oraukwu, as: Mmili Ezigbo and progressively downstream through Mmili Nwangene, Mmili Ideọfọlọ, Mmili Okide, and Mmili Ọbịaja downstream at the boundary with Nnobi. The river was somewhat deeper in those days, with some parts deeper than two metres, and during the rains actually became capable of drowning people especially when swollen with flood waters. Otherwise it was such a fine place for the kind of aquatic pastimes and games children and young adults of both sexes could safely engage in. Swimming was the basic or background sport, although not necessarily organized as of competition. It included diving from the banks into fairly deep portions of the river, where the river bottom was not visible. A competitive exercise involved testing the endurance or staying power of contestants under water. Another endurance exercise, usually played in pairs, was splashing water on the face of each other until one gave up in defeat. A group sport was racing competition in water, upstream or downstream, which took advantage of the shallowness of the river.



Recreational Activities

Recreation may be defined as any leisure time activity, mental or physical, usually enjoyable, voluntary, constructive, though not necessarily for survival, which has the effect of refreshing and relaxing mind and body (Afuekwe, 1999). In ancient Alor, there were several such recreational activities, e.g. moonlight play, storytelling, and playing in the rain (ogwogwo mmili).

Moonlight play used to be an important social activity for children and young adults. Its timing was controlled by the seasons. Nobody went playing around in the rains at night; the rain clouds would be sure to cover the moon anyway. This meant that the months of June to October were not the most favourable. We may also eliminate early January when the harmattan peaked and the cold could be too much for children, who were either too scantily clad or completely naked. Also eliminate those nights on which the moon was gone or just too young, and we have only four to six days within a given lunar month when the full moon was up. On a day preceding a prospective properly moonlit night, one was sure to be there only by hurrying through evening chores, especially those related to dinner, otherwise no mother let anybody out. All such chores done, a meal eaten or bolted, one keenly listened for the familiar summoning whistle, and all roads led to the village square. Activities were diverse. Critically important was catching up on gossips and rumours – who was eying who for marriage intentions, who had gone out with who, and such amorous matters. There was folk story-telling (akụkọ iho), which usually included songs. In most stories, tortoise, the uncanniest member and the greatest trickster of the animal kingdom, was the hero (akụkọ agha mbe). Children, especially boys often preferred more dynamic activities such as dashing around in pursuit of one person or the other. Hide and seek game (ochi nzom) was particularly popular. While so busy rushing around, children became a good riddance since the young adults often had a different agenda. They might sit in groups, but were more likely to strike up arrangements that involved only opposite genders. One can imagine the rest since, as time wore on, such pairs disappeared from general view.

In general, moonlight play gave the young ones of the village the local and worldly wise kind of education and training that brought them up as fully integrated members of the community. It was a way of handing down folklores as well as those elements of the custom and tradition that kept the community going as a coherent society. Moonlight play provided the forum for closely observing and knowing one‟s neighbours, striking up alliances, and forging lasting friendships. It is a pity it is 236

all gone. Electricity does not now let us respond to the lure of the moon. Are there still village squares? They have either been built over, or have been overgrown by bush.




A.I. Afuekwe 1


From time immemorial, Alor people have been taking titles. So, what is it all about? It is a process by which people elevate themselves into a circle of a higher social status relative to the rest of the society. In Alor, up to the time the osu caste system and ohu status were abolished, only free-born men could take titles. Even then, a title aspirant underwent a good measure of scrutiny. Any hint of moral blemish or lack of good conduct or uprightness resulted in either postponement or outright denial.

Titles are normally conferred by older titled men in the various villages of the town. A man can acquire titles for his sons and grandsons of any age. He can even acquire titles for sons yet to be born – called ọzọ ikwiso. It is often a reflection of wealth and a kind of investment. Women do not take titles although they were free to choose new call names by they could conveniently be hailed, e.g. Gold, Pattern, Ojiugo, etc. In the past, some women who stood out in the society by virtue of their husbands‟ high status or affluence, or the wealth of their children, could acquire and wear hand bangles (ọdụ aka) and/or leg bangles (ọdụ okpa). The ọdụ itself was usually quite heavy and expensive, being made from ivory, i.e. elephant tusk. Wearing any of these was therefore often reserved for ceremonial occasions or special outings. In Alor the process of acquiring these dress items never involved any kind of special ceremony, unlike in some cultures, such as in Onitsha, where the processes and procedures for initiation into the status, i.e. ịgba ọdụ, are quite elaborate and actually amount to the women‟s equivalent of ichi ọzọ. 2 Classes of Titles The ancient titles, in ascending order or pre-eminence, are (i) Ọzọ (ii) Ugo (iii) Ezeana (a special title or order for very few people) In the past the ọzọ title almost always went along with facial scarification – igbu ichi. In itself igbuichi was not a title, although it singled out a man as strong enough to survive deep knife cuts involved in permanently impressing an artistic scarification on his face. A volunteer or a young 238

man selected for igbu ichi had to be put into a cylindrical pit just wide enough to accommodate and ensure full restraint. Several able-bodied men would also be handy to hold the candidate down if necessary. It was of course done by a specialist. Herbs were applied to the face prior to the cut, but this did not amount to anesthesia. It was therefore a great test of fortitude and ability to stand pain. After the operation, which could take hours depending on how coolly the candidate submitted himself to the process, some herbal concoctions were applied to facilitate healing. There were of course some fatalities, and the surprise would be that the survival rate was quite high such that whoever died was considered a weakling. Thus it could be seen as man-assisted natural selection in operation. The facial decoration (in effect a redesign) often went with the titles. The grandeur associated with facial scarification was very much the reward for endurance and bravery signified by the marks. The marks symbolized rank and status achieved by supreme fortitude, for his failure might have brought long-lasting shame upon himself, family and kindred. Now his success proclaimed his maturity and suitability for positions of leadership and responsibility. The commonest titles in Alor were ọzọ and ugo before the coming of Christianity. It may be noted, however, that during the Nigeria – Biafra war, title-taking resurged. This could be attributed to the return of a large number of indigenes from the rest of the country as well as the fact that the expenses involved in title-taking was seen as cheap. One implication of this was that large numbers, including those who would not normally have thought of it, acquired the ọzọ title. Some even took on the revered ugo title. Christianity was not seen as a barrier. However, objections were raised by the churches and quite a bit of controversy actually arose, but the churches soon became overwhelmed. Indeed some sought a compromise by directing that adherents could take titles provided no part of the procedures involved idolatry. Thereafter such titled men should arrange for a blessing of their titles by the church. It should be noted that from that time on, title-taking took on a new significance. After the war, it became a strong credential and an essential prerequisite for aspiring to any of the leadership positions established by the reorganization of governance of Alor.

In present-day Alor, because of the very strong objections of the churches, title-taking processes no longer include a visit to any shrine. The procedure leading up to conferment has been completely stripped of the idolatrous aspects. It is therefore taken in a Christian way. It is noteworthy that no dire consequences appear to visit titled men who tell, propagate or subscribe to falsehood, engage in bribery or generally conduct themselves dishonourably. A question arises: has title-taking in our time become a caricature of the ancient order?


In pre-Christian days certain aspects of title-taking rituals and rites took place at shrines. This involved taking an oath to be totally obedient to the laws, deities and the spirits of the land. It was compulsory to remove any form of footwear so as to ensure direct contact with mother Earth during such oath taking on matters demanding absolute truth and honesty. A titled man was by virtue of that oath bound to shun any kind of bribery, to abstain from ever uttering any falsehood, and to uphold the laws of the land. All this was in the belief that if the truth was perverted, death would be the price for all concerned. On account of their probity, uprightness and integrity, titled men were highly respected and honored in the entire community.

Ezeana: this was a rare title which was incidental on a distinctive disposition and behavior. For a person to be declared an Ezeana, he would have suffered from serious ill health but later bounced back to sounder health, such that his recovery would be seen as a miracle. He was known for fasting, healing, meditation and contemplation. Ezeana was seen as a special order or gift from God. He was the only one that could speak to the other titled men without having to show any special respect to them. To become fully installed, seven years would be required to complete his rituals. He stayed longer without sex when compared with other titled men. Ezeana was filled with superior wisdom, vision and leadership. He was a custodian of the language in terms of his knowledge of words, manipulation of idioms and manipulation of proverbs. He was a repository of the local history, traditional rites, rules, ordinances, regulations and procedural matters in all public affairs. Even though ranked higher than the ọzọ and ugo titles, one did not need to have passed through these stages to attain the Ezeana rank. The two Ezeanas of the mid- to late 20th century where Chief Nwudo Ezeomuaku from Ide and Chief Udeagu Ezeneme Oyeka from Agbor quarter. These men lived exemplary lives. Many proverbs in use today were coined by them and ingrained into every-day expression. They were thus reference points in wise words and proverbs. The title was generally hard to acquire and difficult to maintain. No wonder it became extinct with the two men.

All the above mentioned titles in the ancient days were organized and practiced separately in the various clans and quarters. There was no Alor-wide harmonization in installation methods and procedures for both ọzọ and ugo titles. Despite such differences a titled man would still be accorded the full complement of honour and respect irrespective of his quarter or clan, provided he could be readily distinguished from the masses. This is usually aided by his attire, specifically his scarlet red cap. 240


Title-taking Procedure

i) Indication of intent to the appropriate person or group of persons ii) Fixing of date – as dictated by the group iii) Expenses – cash, food, drinks – for group, special invitees and general public iv) Initiation/installation process – at shrine v) Other ceremonies and/or rituals



The titled status imposes responsibilities and obligations in the society. The premise for such expectations includes material convenience, wisdom and experience (perhaps borne out of age), uprightness, impartiality and balanced judgment. To begin with, there is an assumption that a titled man is at least materially convenient if not well to do. Indeed the expectation of the common man or the masses is that if a man can afford the expenses involved in title-taking, he should be wealthy. It therefore behoves him to render material, often financial, assistance to his less well endowed kith and kin. Failure to perform in this aspect often earns him a label as being tight-fisted.

Due to experience and wisdom accumulated over the years, a titled man is expected to be a fair mediator in cases of disagreement brought before him. In serious cases, especially those relating to land dispute, his wise counsel is critically important so that he can be trusted to be able to deliver fair and balanced judgment acceptable to the all parties. He is expected to be impartial, upright, and incorruptible, consistently adhering to the truth in keeping with the expression nze sal’ile. With these attributes, a titled man is easily trusted, accorded great respect, and held up as a quintessence of good conduct. These attributes also stand him in good stead to be a community leader and a spokesman for the rest of the people.

Experience in the present day is showing disturbing signs of reduction in the esteem accompanying title-taking. Certain events are tending to diminish reduce the esteem to which the titled man is held compared to the situation in the past. The attributes mentioned above are beginning to come in short supply. For example, some titled men have been associated with lying, stealing, immoral conduct, and several other actions or deeds that tend to drag the integrity of the title status in the mud. Indeed certain titled men are held in contempt by their kinsmen on account of one misconduct or the other.



Benefits and Privileges

One of the major attractions in title-taking has been the various benefits and privileges that appertain unto it. Upon taking a title, a man is now set apart in the community and revered as onye nze while the rest are regarded as ordinary men derisively or derogatorily called okolo. As already indicated, it is routine to take on a new name upon taking a title. For example, a man all along known and called Mazi Peter Chukwuma Afuekwe, could on taking an ọzọ title, choose an indicative name such as Obiwelọzọ. After all the traditional rites and rituals he would begin to be publicly addressed by that new name although he retains his original names. In fact the new name often overshadows the original names. The advantage for all around, and especially those younger than the titled man, and particularly children, is that there is now a name by which to hail him. Indeed a titled man is not just merely greeted, he is usually hailed. The name is often thoughtfully chosen by the titled man to reflect both his new status and in some cases his affluence (e.g. Akụkalịa) or that of his father (e.g. Akụnnịa). Some reflect the fact that the title is really a rare and weighty thing to acquire and retain (e.g. Ugodalo). In social or other kinds of gathering, he earns more attention, such as being offered a seat, usually upfront, however tight the situation.

In ancient days an elderly titled man would not be expected to personally bear his personal effect when going on outing. It was a status symbol that one of his male children or grandchildren should be carrying the load which would normally include such items as stool, bags and edibles.

The next distinctive attribute is the attire. It is no longer simple since it is supposed to alert all and sundry, especially those who never knew, that the man around is a title holder and all should get ready to pay respects. The overall idea is to appear somewhat indigenous or traditional rather than oyibo-like. A suite or shirt and tie would normally be out of the question for the titled man. Rather he would be expected to appear in a distinctive accoutrement consisting of a trouser, with a top that should be more of a flowing gown than a shirt. In response to this fashion, there has been an explosion of designs and styles commonly done with velveteen cloth. A particularly popular type is called isi agụ on account of the use of a motif consisting of the head of a tiger or lion, or even some other animal. The popularity of this top is however diminishing. It is reluctantly giving way to some similarly large and variously embroidered gown of the same material as the trouser. Perhaps the loudest announcement about the titled status of a man is the head gear. It is invariably scarlet red in colour, as low as a large skull-cap or, as is getting common, double storeyed. Very often on ceremonial occasions, there could be stuck on the cap a white (eagle, i.e. ugo) feather or two announcing that the wearer is a man fully titled up to the ugo level. The red cap is so exclusive to 242

title holders that it is virtually a criminal offense for a non-titled man (okolo) to ever wear it. It is indeed coveted and this is why some okolos wear it outside Alor but hide it directly on returning to the town. An okolo can wear a cap of the same shape or design but a colour other than scarlet red. Other accessories are ankle ropes, hand bangles and long beads. An important accessory is a custom-made goat skin fan, usually with the title name of the holder boldly inscribed on it. The weather need not be hot for a fan to be carried along. A chrome-coloured or well polished wooden or metallic walking stick with an elaborately designed handle tops up the entire regalia and delivers the final statement as to the status of the titled man. With such a walking stick, the titled man finds himself needing to walk with some swagger or a touch of panache. It should be noted, however, that the assignation of affluence using the appearance might be in error.

Titled status attracts material benefits, which include additional meat and drink from funerals and festivals especially in the olden days. In the sharing of meat, especially where a goat, lamb or cow was slaughtered, specific cuts of the meat would be the particular share reserved for holders of certain titles. As an illustration, a man who took an ọzọ title and acquired the position of Ọzala is, in his particular group or titular quarters or kindred, the exclusive owner of all the offal of any goat, lamb or cow slaughtered in that group in the appropriate circumstances.

There is an issue that remains unresolved: should every title holder be addressed with the prefix “chief”? If the answer is in the affirmative, it implies that a minor titled by his father, or indeed a new-born baby boy who has inherited an ọzọ ikwiso has to be addressed as chief. Going by the appellation “chief” happens to be one of the major attractions for taking a title, especially as, in these days, nobody wants to be addressed as “Mr.”

Titled men have a special way of greeting themselves, distinct from how the okolos are greeted. It is called ịna aka. Specifically, it involves gently slapping the back of the hands three times as a prelude to the actual handshake. A titled man does not allow an okolo up to three such slaps; one should suffice, two for an okolo considered specially deserving, but never three. A modification of the process is to touch walking sticks or fans three times in one direction and then a fourth time in the opposite direction to represent the normal handshake. This mode of greeting is not peculiar to Alor; it appears to be common to all of Igboland.






In the traditional Igbo setting, marriage is not just an affair between a man and woman. The whole ụmụnna (kinsmen) are involved in the process. That is why the saying goes: “otu onye aha anu nwayị soo ya”, meaning: one does not marry a wife all by himself”. So a man marries a wife in conjunction with his relatives, and that is why a man must obtain the approval and blessing of his people before he steps into a marriage as the choice of a wife must be that of the whole family (Okafor, 1992). Besides, marriage processes were drawn out in terms of both the time it took, the number of steps towards the final union, and the consolidation protocols. These complications may account for the stability of marital unions very well known in Alor and in the larger Igbo society. Neither side of a given marriage sees it as temporary, whatever the conditions, unlike in some other cultures. Parceling a woman back to her parent‟s was normally a consequence of a grievous offence. Even then the measure hardly amounts to the final determination of the marriage. In many cases, the woman would return to the marital home, sooner (due to some settlement) or later (when her children come of age and recall their mother, in spite of their father).

Marriage processes differ only slightly in the various parts of Igboland, otherwise the theme is broadly the same. In Alor, changes, all geared towards cutting costs on either side and expediting the process, have progressively obscured the routine procedures established by our forefathers. We shall try to trace back to these procedures, if only for the record.

For starters, a young man wishing to marry would first work hard to be independent in terms of material resources, especially by way of occupation or at least the means of income; otherwise his ability to sustain a marriage would be in doubt. Prior to declaring his intention to his father, he should in fact first organize himself a house (ipụ obi) separate from his parent‟s. The father would assess his mental and material preparedness before endorsing the plans. At times the psychological preparedness or maturity could be a key consideration. The legend is narrated of a young man who, on getting his own house, intimidated his father about his plans to marry. The father deftly changed the topic of the discussion and later gave him a little lamb to go and rear for him. After a few days the young man came round to see his father bearing the carcass of the little lamb. “What‟s the matter”, the father enquired. “This stupid little thing made a mess of the floor I just finished scrubbing, so I simply touched it with my leg”. The father took the limp body back and showed no 244

emotion over the matter. As the young man made to leave, his father raised the issue of marriage, to the delight of the young man. He said, “son, you see that little lamb, that‟s how women are. You need a little more maturity before you can be trusted with somebody‟s daughter”. True story or not, the lesson is clear: some level of maturity (or is it patience) was in those days a major requirement in a prospective husband.



Assuming the necessary clearance had been obtained, the next step was to identify a prospective bride. Word would filter round family and friends and a search would begin. Any prospect identified would first be scrutinized and assessed in terms of physical appearance (anya n’elidaa). A secret investigation was undertaken to check out the girl‟s lineage as well as moral character. Note that the girl or her parents might not have any hint of the process. The young man might not even have sighted the girl. Relatives were often particularly happy and active at this kind of errand. The issues to clear include whether the girl‟s lineage had any record of such dreaded disabilities as lunacy, epilepsy or leprosy. They would also inquire if the girl came from a family of thieves, or whether anybody in the family had ever committed suicide or murder. Was the girl dutiful, intelligent, and well comported? If the investigation turned up nothing adverse, the next stage was to visit an oracular diviner (dibia) with a request to commune with the gods and the forefathers over the acceptability or otherwise of the plans. If any obstacle was noted by the diviner, a prescribed propitiatory sacrifice might clear it. But if indeed the oracle saw a real obstacle, a sacrifice was not necessary; they would have to identify another prospect. Assuming all was clear, the young man‟s family would then send an emissary, also called the middle man (onye ụkụ) to the prospective bride‟s family to start up talks. If the girl and the boy had managed to sight themselves, it could still be from a distance. As a part of the preliminaries, the onye ụkụ, along with the boy‟s father, and bearing a keg of palm wine, paid an unannounced visit to the family of the girl. On this first visit, nothing important was discussed. The entire transaction was in proverbs and idioms. Another visit was then scheduled ostensibly to inform more of the relatives. During the second visit, again with a keg of palm wine, the girl‟s father would ask them to go home and await a message from them. This was the stage at which the girl‟s father would engage her in a heart-to-heart discussion, especially if she was still tender in age. For an older girl eager to catch up with her mates, the answer was often pretty forgone. The next step was for the man to launch his own investigation of 245

the prospective groom‟s side. Was the boy sufficiently hard-working to maintain a wife? Had his family a track record of maltreating wives? What did the oracle say about the proposal? Was the boy‟s lineage worth relating to? If all was right, a message would go out through a middle man on the girl‟s side that “the road was open”. If, however, there was something that did not click, the girl‟s family might be „‟perpetually be considering‟‟ the proposal, or a message might still be sent to say „no way‟. They were not expected to explain anything, although these days some excuses could be faked up, e.g. the girl was still learning a trade. If by any chance the girl had been given any gift by the boy, she was obligated to return it.

In the course of investigation by either side, it might be discovered that some faintly traceable blood relationship existed between the two families. The basic requirement was that the two lineages must have diverged by at least five generations. In this situation, the elders would decide that the relationship had become tolerably distant for marriage to take place without fear of sanctioning an incestuous affair. All that was required was to appease the gods and ancestors by way of a cleansing ceremony called imeya udu ama ite. In some cases, however, fear of consequences of marrying a relative led to the suspension of the entire marriage plan.

The ritual of nullifying the detected blood relationship followed a specified procedure. Udu, a small earthen pot with a commensurately small mouth on a long neck, was specifically designed for music making. The ite, also an earthen pot, was a larger vessel used specifically for fetching or storing water. The ceremony was performed by an elderly man and an elderly woman. Both pots were decorated by tying fresh palm leaves (ọmụ nkwụ) around their necks and things of ritual sacrifice stuffed into them. The girl carried the udu, the young man the ite. After twilight at dusk, i.e. say from eight pm, the party of strictly four – the two elderly people (bearing brooms) and the intending couple (partially or completely naked, and carrying the pots on their heads) – would set off. This time was designated in the belief that it was when the spirits were around while the humans would have all gone home. The trip would start off from the elderly man‟s house and head for a designated point where the pathway branched into three (mbe ezi gbal’ịtọ). At that point the elderly man and woman in turn make powerful invocations and prayers to the spirits, after which they would flog the intending couple with the brooms. The couple would then take off on a run during which the pots would “accidentally” get broken. The mystical connotation of this was that the udu did not “know” that the earthen vessel on the boy‟s head was not another udu, but was actually an ite. The ignorance thus displayed would be 246

equated to ignorance about any sort of blood relationship in the intending couple. They could therefore now go ahead and marry. The breaking of the vessels symbolized the termination of the said blood relationship.

After the ritual the entire party, along with the parents of the intending couple would assemble in the elderly man‟s house for a sumptuous meal of yam porridge prepared with a white cock.

The process narrated above has in modern times been substantially modified whenever the relationship has been deemed as no longer too close. This whole issue of performing udu ama ite should be used to illustrate how sacrosanct blood relationships have been held in Alor. The belief has been that if not properly respected, and relatives, however far, were allowed to marry, even if ignorantly, some kind of tragedy might in due time befall the couple. So, even if the relationship was unearthed long after the marriage had been sealed, performing the udu ama ite ceremony was still mandatory.

Perhaps the final part of the preliminary stages was for the girl to be invited over to her prospective new home for a process called inene unwo, literarily meaning “looking up the house”. It was a period during which the girl would check out her prospective new abode, in fact where she was going to spend the rest of her life. However, conduct of the investigation was actually bilateral. The girl would check out the physical setting of the place as well as the character of her would-be husband and his parents, relatives and neighbours. On the other hand, the girl was there specifically to be closely examined (ịkpa ulu). Was she well brought up? How did she greet people? Did she sweep the compound properly? How was her cooking, especially of onumu soup? Some traps were deliberately set to fully check out her character, especially her ability to manage resources. The story has been well known of a girl on such a trial visit (let‟s skip mentioning her quarter, but she was not from Agbo quarter) who was furnished with a hefty tuber of yam to cook for lunch. The prospective parents-in-law watched in horror as she sliced up the entire tuber and set about the cooking. They had to ask why she had to cook it all. Her reply? “Onwelu nke j’ahwọ ahwọ?” (should any piece remain?). She was allowed to exhaust the normal four-day trial period. Needless to add that the palm wine with which she was escorted back home at the end of her stay was the last her parents drank from that source. The point need not be flogged; this girl‟s idea of thrift was sure to render the husband economically hamstrung.


It would be easy to suppose that both sides of the trial would keep their guard fully up. But somehow there must be a chink in the amour. It would not be easy to go through the entire period without letting down the guard, even if just slightly. There was however an important aspect of the girl that was forbidden to be checked out – performance in bed!! Under no circumstances was the girl to be touched by the prospective husband during this inene unwo period. To remove any temptation, sleeping arrangements took care of any sort of proximity. Assuming a successful trial process, the stage was set for the actual event to unfold.


The Marriage Procedure

On the appointed day for ịgba nkwụ (literally the pouring of palm wine), which was also the day for the negotiation and payment of bride price, friends and relatives on both sides exuded great excitement. The friends of the young man would support him with both their physical presence and their gifts, often in cash. Friends and relatives of the girl‟s family came in their numbers to witness the occasion. Seats were arranged in such a way that the two parties sat facing each other. Two items – kola nuts and white claystone (nzu) – were brought out by the host as a welcome gesture. The claystone was as a rule dropped on the ground and never given to anybody by hand. The elders present would then pick it up and make a number of parallel strokes on the ground – five for the titled man (onye nze) and four for the untitled (okolo). The father of the girl would normally break the kola nuts but he could delegate it especially if he had a senior brother handy. This was the preliminary prayer (igo ohwo) session and was very much shorter. The main session would come later. Next, the spokesman on the girl‟s side, often the eldest man of the kindred, would send for her and request her to reconfirm that she was really willing to get married as had all along been proposed. This done, the next step is the determination of the bride price (ika akalika). For this purpose, words were reduced to a minimum and it was necessary to make it clear that the bargain was not as for a normal article of trade, the girl was not really being priced as of a sale. The process therefore involved some symbolism. Pieces of banana leaf stalk were cut and used to represent specific sums of money. It was really much more complicated in the far past, since several items had to be paid for. Besides, the currency in use was cowries. With the coming of the British colonial administration, a change to pounds, shillings and pence became inevitable and equivalents had to be established between the two systems. All this preceded the naira and kobo system. The following items were not negotiable since specific amounts were statutory for the whole town: - Ego ụmụnna (Kinsmen‟s entitlement) 248

- Ego Akpu ịtọ (Symbolic price of a little quantity of foo-foo) - Ọjị-n’ụdala (Fee for unification ceremony) - Ọkụkọ mmọọ n’abọ (two cocks) - Ibu ọkpọsị (levy for establishing the newly married lady) - Ibu chi (levy for installation of wife‟s personal god – chi) The last item above was for the girls‟ mother and was specified as follows:- Asha n’anọ (about four shillings after translating from cowries) - Ụkpa ji (a bỊasket of yams) - Ụkpa ede (a basket of cocoyams) Sometime after the ceremony, the girl‟s mother had to invite the new couple, accompanied by two or three persons, to a feast featuring: - Cooked yam garnished with vegetables and palm oil - Ụkwa ahọ (cooked breadfruit) - Isi ụtala (a mound of cassava foofoo and rich bitter leaf (onumu) as a take-away for the people back home in the young couple‟s place). Two other statutory items to be supplied by the groom‟s side were - Two young she-goats - Two chickens - Wine for the kinsmen of the bride‟s mother (nkwụ nwadiana)

With the above items restated in public and sorted out or somehow determined, it was time to determine the actual bride price. This was not done in public. Each side would now select some four or five of their kinsmen as representatives, remarkably excluding the groom, his father, and the girl‟s father. Note that the public waited patiently while the negotiators traded banter in a room or a secluded corner of the compound where they had to be tucked away. A well sized keg of palm wine would normally accompany them but would remain untouched, i.e. just sitting there tantalizingly frothing in their full view until an agreement was struck. The wine served as a reward; leaving it untouched was to ensure the sobriety of the negotiators as well as to expedite the process. During the negotiations idioms, proverbs, and figurative language were the oil with which words were eaten. While the girl‟s side extolled her beauty and her numerous other desirable attributes, the groom‟s side cited the relatively low prices paid for one comparable girl or the other. Negotiations 249

over, payment was in cash but never in full. This was the basis for the expression:- aha anụcha nwayị anụcha (payment of bride price is never ever completed). Thus, even if the groom‟s side was ready to pay up completely, they were not allowed. This then became the basis for expecting that, virtually any time the groom visited his father-in-law, he had to go with something, very often palm wine. Bride price settled, the thirsty negotiators would pounce on the palm wine. Some other folks, who must have been spying on the process, would gleefully join them and, in a jiffy, the keg lay on its side.

Excitement rippled through the general public as soon as the conclusion of the negotiations was announced. The next event was for the girl to publicly identify the boy she had fully accepted as her life partner. Again the eldest man on her side would pour out a cup of palm wine and instruct the girl to drink part and hand the rest to whomever it was she had graciously accepted. She would elegantly, even if shyly, carry the cup and go in search of the young man. This aspect has been perfected in the present time to some drama. Several young men who escorted the groom to the occasion would work hard to divert the girl and claim the cup of wine. The girl might add to the fun by tantalizing the impostor.

Eventually the relatively long drawn out search would be over when the groom was located. The girl would kneel before him, take a sip and hand over the cup to the eagerly waiting hands of the boy. A loud cheer would go up while the boy gulped the cup dry. This theatrical aspect was at once entertaining and symbolic. It was a public show of the kind of the submissive conduct expected of the girl, as well as the intimacy demonstrated by the sharing of one cup.

At this juncture, the food would be carted out in pots and pans along with the plates. A man from among the groom‟s side whose mother was from the kindred of the girl‟s family, or any other person with that kind of connection, even if distant, was searched out and requested to taste the food first. The significance of this may not be quite clear but perhaps the step was to certify the poison-free state of the food. This done, the women on the groom‟s side set out sharing the food. It might take a while serving all and sundry, but there was often a general satisfaction since the food was usually abundant.


Palm wine in hand, and a retinue of damsels as escort, the bride searches for the groom

It was time for the girl to make another appearance, this time for keeps. She would now change to her best attire, appearing really resplendent. She was accompanied out by a select number of single girls, equally smashingly turned out. While they escorted her round to greet “husbands” and fellow wives, the young men on the groom‟s side would lustfully take a close look at each of the ravishing beauties and draw up plans for further action. Indeed many young girls actually struck luck just with this kind of exposure. Finally the girl would settle down next to her husband, to the admiration and cheer of the crowd.

Next on the crowded agenda was the second breaking of kola nuts. This time there would be many more nuts and quite a good supply of alligator pepper (ose ọjị). The sharing of the prayer task was equal between the two sides. The elders on both sides would pray with the kola nuts, usually displaying their grasp of idioms and proverbs, all thanking God for the forging of new relationships as in-laws, and harping on the same general wishes for the new couple – peaceful and fruitful marriage.


After the series of prayers and blessings from the elders, the next event was paying a short visit to a few selected relatives of the family (ịkpọ mbata). This involved mainly the core family of the groom‟s side as the bulk of the crowd would head home. The exercise served to familiarize the groom‟s side with some of their in-laws, literally a new set of relatives. After this, the groom‟s family headed home with the new wife. It was the practice that a large mound of cassava foo-foo and a commensurately large pot of bitter leaf soup would accompany them home. The food was essentially for those who were not counted to go along with the groom. It was also the practice for the family of the bride to bring out two large yam tubers and two cocks. They retained one tuber and a cock while the groom‟s side went home with one tuber and a cock. These were to be cooked and eaten that night, however late, by the kinsmen on both sides and, as a rule, shared only by those present. Needless to say, some keg of palm wine must have been saved for this last bit of feasting. The following day, the groom, accompanied by his wife had to go visiting the girl‟s family. This was ostensibly to return the vessels (iwechigha aya) with which food had been carried away the previous day to the house of the groom. But it usually turned out to be another big feast exclusively for the young couple. The groom knew better than not to appear in his in-laws‟s place with a keg of palm wine.



This series of post-marriage events and rituals were designed to cement the marriage into a strong union. Indeed quite some costs are involved especially on the side of the groom and nobody would like to repeat the process. It therefore becomes a strong stabilizing factor in marriages in Alor. They might not come in any particular succession, and might take a few years to conclude. These consolidatory events included nni bịa mal’ana, akpụ ịtọ, oku ahwọ ime, ịma nsi, ime kamanụ, ọjị n’ụdala, akụ ebe, and igbugha ọkụkọ.


Feast for the Bride’s People (Nni Bịa Mal’Ana)

All along the bride‟s side has borne the brunt of feasting the public. It is now the turn of the groom‟s side. The essence of this major eating-drinking event is for the in-laws to get to know both the geographical location and the actual relatives and friends of the family to which their daughter has been handed over to. Whether or not the house of the groom is well known to his parents-inlaw, this has been more or less a mandatory event in the process of consolidating every marriage. When a mutually convenient date is fixed, the parents of the girl go about telling selected members 252

of the kindred, relatives and friends who would be accompanying them to the girl‟s new home. The groom would also invite over his kinsmen, relatives and friends to be handy to welcome their inlaws. All this would mean that a large population would have to be entertained. On the appointed day the crowds would throng the residence of the groom who would have arranged the place to accommodate a feasting crowd. Indeed the arrangement would to a large extent replicate that done for the ịgba nkwụ ceremony. Guests settled, kola nuts and white clay would be produced as a welcome gesture. It was essentially a food and drinks occasion and so the prayers with the kola nuts would be cut short. This done, pots and pans of an assortment of foods would be carted out, along with plates and cutleries. The women among the guests would then dish out the foods. Next would be the drinks. Even to date, as far as the typical Alor man is concerned, beer and soft drinks have not managed to displace the good old palm wine. It would therefore be the drink of choice. Only when it was done with would some men consider topping up with stout or lager. Women and children would have been having a good time washing down their choice meals with soft drinks – minerals and malts. A few speeches would be in order at this juncture. They would be mostly directed to the new couple in form of advice as to how to live in harmony, and as a prayer for all the blessings a married couple would wish for. After a vote of thanks it would be time to go. There would of course be a large mound of cassava foo-foo accompanied by an equally large pot of rich bitter leaf soup meant for the entertainment of neighbours and kinsmen who could not go along for the feast.

The main value of this event would not be so much of knowing the geographical location of the girl‟s new home; it was a lot more for actually knowing who related to whom. In the feasting atmosphere, a lot of scope would be created for lively banter and jocular exchanges, in some cases facilitated by alcohol. New acquaintanceships, friendships and alliances are often struck up. In a way it can be seen as actually promoting and cementing relationships across the entire town.


Akpụ Ịtọ

This had been a part of the processes of giving out a girl in marriage. Again relatives far and near, friends and kith and kin were involved in the feasting provided by the man‟s side. His own kith and kin were of course also involved in the feasting. In view of the similarity with bịa mal’ana, the two became merged or, in other words, akpụ ịtọ was phased out, which was as well given the fact that marriage has increasingly transcended geographical and ethnic boundaries. The logistics of moving large crowds for long distances, just to go and feast and return the same day became nightmarish.


As the saying goes, onye si Alor jee Onitsha ịkpaju ahwọ golie ego, meaning, going from Alor to Onitsha for the sole purpose of having a good meal actually amounted to paying for the meal.


First Pregnancy Feast (Oku Awhọ Ime)

This is a mini-feast organized for the family as soon as the newly married girl became pregnant. The elderly man in the family would be informed for the confirmation of the pregnancy. On confirmation, there followed a ceremony for the kinsmen. A traditional medicine woman must be invited for the ritual rites for which the following materials were provided: eight kola nuts, some yams, palm wine and white claystone (nzu). After the breaking of the kola nuts by the eldest of the family, the traditional medicine woman took the young lady into a room in the compound and shut the door. She hit the closed door with a pestle (ọdụ nni) as she asked, “what will you give birth to?” to which the girl would reply “a boy”. The woman would then say “on the third market day, we shall be feasting”. She would again repeat the process and ask the same question. This time the girl would reply “a girl”, again followed by “on the fourth market day, we shall be feasting”. A final repeat of the question again draws an answer “a boy”. The woman‟s final answer would be “mbọsị izu-n’atọ, ayị a n’eli, lilizie gaba”, translated to: “in 12 days, we shall be around for continuous feasting‟‟. This ended the ceremony.


Ime Kamanụ (Feasting newly married couples by the mother-in-law)

This was also a mini-feast organized by the mother of the newly married girl for her son-in-law. The mother-in-law would prepare two different dishes and carry them to her son-in-law‟s house for consumption. This usually took place on an Awho day, the first day of the native week. The following constituted the menu: (a) Ọkụ ụkwa amalama (breadfruit pudding, i.e. cooked without corn) (b) Isi ụtala (cassava foo-foo) with bitter leaf soup On her arrival, the closest kinsmen were invited. The food would be shared such that half was for the kinsmen and the other half for the son-in-law. The woman would then depart leaving her utensils behind since another day would be fixed for her to return for them. On the appointed day for the recovery of the utensils (nchịlịkwa aya nni – ọkwa n’ọkụ) the kinsmen would again come round this time with cash contributions for the woman that cooked such a sumptuous meal. The concept of no free lunch has actually lasted from time immemorial.


Unification Ceremony (Ọjị-n’Ụdala) This was a common feast although it usually involved only a few persons. In most cases it involved persons intending to get married or before a man and his house girl. The priest performing the ceremony demanded the following items: i) Two to four tubers of yam ii) Cash (asha nanọ in cowries) which in times past in Alor would be equivalent to e.g. four shillings currently worth up to a thousand naira.

Two or more persons normally participated in the feast which was essentially between a young man and a girl involved in courtship, usually to the knowledge of the elders. Even to this day, the cash aspect of ọjị n’ụdala is still paid, but as a component of the bride price. It is notionally paid to the kinsmen as a reward for their careful upbringing of the girl, in keeping with the well known practice of grooming children communally in Igboland. Thus when the pound-shilling-pence currency system of Nigeria was changed to the naira-kobo system in 1975, the cowry fee of asha n’anọ was translated to thirteen naira forty kobo. Despite the inflationary trends that have rendered this amount ridiculous, it is firmly retained, and may never be revised, as the amount due to the kinsmen. This is because of the symbolism of the amount, not its actual monetary value.


Adolescent Girls Peer Group Ceremony (Akụ Ebe)

This ceremony was designed for adolescent girls i.e. girls between the ages of fourteen and seventeen. That was the age of marriage in the days gone by, and some of the girls actually joined the ceremony already betrothed. It was indeed a kind of fattening room sojourn, reminiscent of the practice in Calabar area of Nigeria. For a period of a full lunar month, the girls, numbering about thirty, would be housed together. They wore absolutely nothing except waste beads (jighida) over their smooth young skins which would be completely done up with ushe, a red cream made from the wood of a certain tree. This served as a base on which artistic patterns would then be drawn using a liquid pigment, – uli – also extracted from a plant (see contributions on Early Education, and Arts of Alor).

Theirs was a leisurely, virtually idle time occupied with gossip, a lot of which supplied the necessary material for composing songs. They had scheduled outings to designated shrines where they rendered such gossip in songs. It was believed that their visit to the shrines was for protection against wicked people. Through the songs (ịtụ ọlụ) they broadcast the escapades and misconduct of men and women, especially those relating to immoral living. This drew crowds who thronged such 255

outings just to catch up with the latest in acts of lascivious men and their victims. They always had well prepared fried ụkwa and palm kernel to share to friends and relatives. Young men with roving eyes as well as those genuinely in search of wives were never in short supply in such scenes. Needless to state, many a young man came away with lots of notes to compare with colleagues, leading to enquiries and further necessary action.

This ceremony reflected the innocence of the young girls ready for marriage. It also as much as served as some kind of initiation and allowed for instructions on some facts of life – a good dose of sex education, so to speak. This “training course” was valuable while it lasted. It has to be counted among the desirable practices killed by the advent of Christianity. For any young girl already betrothed, the akụ ebe ceremony was when the would-be husband gave gifts to the prospective mother-in-law. The routine items were (i)

Asha n’anọ (four heaps of cowries).


Four yams and some tubers of ọna (a species of yam).

In return, the woman invited the young man and two to three other persons to a feast. In the event of a broken engagement, a half of the above-stated items would be refunded to the young man.


Related Marriage Issues

What we have discussed so far is directly related to the union of man and woman to become a married couple. Naturally things may not always run smoothly or as expected with each individual, family or clan. Alor customs and traditions have from time immemorial provided for all such contingencies and unforeseen developments as regards, for instance, childlessness, marriage dissolution, and premature death of a man. A number of these issues are hereunder discussed.


Annulment (Ịkwụ Ngọ)

When a man and his wife disagreed to a point the man felt the issue at stake was serious enough, and attempts at settlement had failed, his next option was to send the woman packing (mwenaga). As a matter of custom, this was done with one or two gallons of palm wine. Immediately after drinking the palm with his father in-law, he would announce his decision, usually by stating that the lady would stay behind until he was ready to come back for her. Another way was to physically throw out the woman by evacuating her personal effects from the house while announcing he was done with the marriage. On the other hand, as happened in some cases, the woman herself could 256

decide to go home on her own and refuse to return to her marital home. Several factors could lead to dissatisfaction on both sides. If a woman was a bad cook, had a nagging habit, was extravagant, lazy, insubordinate, obdurate or generally disobedient, the husband might begin with complaining to her people. Depending on the man, these undesirable attributes might be tolerated, especially if her parents cautioned her. However, one issue that invariably led to separation was infidelity on the side of the woman. It might sound unfair, but the converse was often not supposed to cause more than a mild protest from the woman.

From whichever side the separation was initiated, after sincere negotiations by both families, and it became clear that the breakdown was irreparable, the collapse would be noted by both sides and they would go their separate ways. They were now free to remarry. The main issue to settle would be the fate of the children. The woman would have to continue to cater for the children, especially the young ones, particularly any one still suckling. However, all said and done, all the children belonged to the man. After this annulment, the family of the woman might decide to rid the woman of all encumbrances by returning the precise amount of money the erstwhile husband had paid. The alternative was to wait until the woman remarried, at which point the former husband would expect a refund of the bride price he had paid. If he waited a while and realized the former-in-law was dragging his foot on the matter, he would send messages, usually through middleman (onye ụkụ) of the annulled marriage. If the response was still unsatisfactory, he might be forced, in company of two or three of his kinsmen, to physically visit his former father-in-law and extract his bride price. This practice of refunding the bride price is called ịkwụ ngọ. Some men might in fact feel so bad with the whole affair that they would not care to recover the bride price even when it was offered, especially when the injury was still fresh. In some cases it was the kinsmen that worked for the recovery of the bride price. The enmity thus generated between the two families often outlived those who contracted the failed marriage.

In general, Alor culture hardly encouraged complete marriage dissolution. Rather it was the practice to take the woman back to the parents‟ house and await settlement even if it took quite a while. In most cases it was not easy for a woman so rejected by the husband, i.e. divorced, to attract a new husband. Indeed having been divorced made the woman a laughing stock of the community. Such a woman would normally find herself at the receiving end of hostility from the wives of her brothers who would lose no opportunity to remind her of her status as a divorcee. All this would predispose the woman towards accepting virtually any person, including another woman, as a husband. In many cases, the new husband would rather be from a far-away town, or a neighbouring 257

town at the nearest. This would be why it has always been advisable to conduct a careful investigation prior to fully contracting a marriage.

Divorce has been quite rare in Alor. Separation was often temporary. Couples strive hard to accommodate each other and, where it is impossible to stay together a man may decide to marry another woman and leave the first wife alone with her trouble. On the other hand, the woman could forget about her husband and start her own business. Only a few men are interested in divorcees. The preference is often for fresh ladies. In marriage, a new wife can be likened to an unknown bundle or a lucky dip. Despite all the careful investigation carried out prior to the marriage, and even if the woman‟s family has a track record of producing well-behaved girls, there is still no guarantee that the particular lady would be of good conduct. Thus, as things unfold the man is grateful to God for a good wife, or if the bundle unravels undesirable results, and he was not so lucky, he becomes a philosopher and learns to endure.


Widow Care and Wife Inheritance (Nkuchi Nwayị)

Should a man die rather young, leaving behind an equally young wife and very young children, the duty of care usually devolved on his brothers. The widow would be given several options including returning to her parents‟ home (hoping to remarry), staying back and getting more children for her late husband, and being remarried to one of the late husband‟s younger brothers. The first mentioned option was common among particularly young widows, especially if there had been no children. She might indeed easily remarry, especially if her fecundity had become well established in the earlier marriage.

The next option required that the family should approve who, from among the brothers of the deceased, should carry on their late brother‟s line. However, it was not just pleasure without responsibility; the person so appointed by the family had to look after the woman comprehensively, including her material well-being. Once all parties were agreed on this arrangement, the widow (ajadu) was obliged to keep to her assigned care-taker and would not be expected to be tempted to look outside. A family would frown at any such deviation from the arrangement, usually for an important reason: they would rather that their late brother‟s blood line be kept within the family rather than injecting an outside genetic stock. This worked well in the past. In more recent times, a widow might not even care to listen to the family much less keep to any arrangement. She would be sure to be a toast of randy men all over the place, especially if she lives in a city. From the lot she would pick her choice if she desired more children. Her choice would most often be the highest 258

bidder. All said and done, any children resulting from even a promiscuous behaviour of the woman would still be her late husband‟s own. Then there was the third option which also worked well in the past – remarrying to a brother (usually younger) of the late husband (nkuchi). Since a full-fledged marriage is now being contracted, a process would be followed to formalize it. The ceremony is called ịtụgha nkwụ. This involves both sides – the parents of the woman would have to endorse the new union, but no bride price need be paid again.


Converting a Daughter to a Wife (Nhịịkwa)

If a couple had only female children, the girls would normally all want to go off in marriage. However, one of them, usually the eldest, would be persuaded to stay back and propagate the family line. The man through whom this would be achieved was carefully selected, of course with the strict proviso that he must not have any blood relationship with the girl, in other words, the kinsmen of that kindred would be completely ruled out. This unusual situation conferred an ambivalent affiliation on the lady: she would be both a member of ite ose for her kindred and a member of the ụmụ ọkpụ for the same kindred.


Unintended Pregnancy (Ime Mkpụke)

Pregnancy outside marriage has always been seen as a shameful incident on both sides – the family of the girl and that of the man held responsible. All relatives, friends and kinsmen always felt disappointed, indeed scandalized. To avoid such odium every adult in the community used to play a very important role in the upbringing of children and in shaping the moral fibre of the whole community. Every adult played the role of teacher and guardian to the young boys and girls in the society. Adults taught not only their own children, but the children of the quarter, especially as regards moral conduct. In the typical quarter setting of old, one parent more or less had as much obligation as any other with regards to proper training of the children. This tenet was borne out by such names as Nworah (child of all), Adaorah (the daughter of all), Obiorah (the thought of all), Adaobi (daughter of all the kinsmen), etc. Alas, all that has collapsed. The current trend is that you dare not discipline an errant child even when you see signs of criminal behaviour. So, parents now try to do all the upbringing alone, a task that can in some cases prove too burdensome. Some children then take advantage of this situation and easily yield to peer pressure to join gangs and cults, eventually getting involved in such social ills as lying, brigandage and prostitution, especially when they realize how weak and permissive their own parents have become. All this may not 259

necessarily be happening just within Alor, since our children can be found all over the country in the quest for education, employment and general survival.

The point being made here then is that an unintended pregnancy may even be the least of the consequences of the current trend in permissiveness that is pervading our society. In the past, and in some cases still true, such pregnancies might be silently welcome in two circumstances: - if the family badly needed a son, and/or if the accident could facilitate marriage for the girl. In the first case, a family with no male issue, or even with only one, might initially show quite some displeasure at the disgrace the girl had brought on the family. But they would gladly welcome such an accidental pregnancy of a daughter and silently but fervently pray for a male issue. The girl under such a weight of shame might retort that she only did what other girls had been doing; her own only turned sour. Her family would swallow the shame and ensure the girl did not attempt to terminate the pregnancy. As already indicated in another paper, the family rejoiced if their prayers were answered. The tradition in Alor has from time immemorial been that the new child had the rights, privileges and status of the child of the family, and would in every way be treated as the sibling of the biological mother. This explains the absence of an Alor word for bastard. Everybody had a father.

If, on the other hand, it was preferred for the girl to get married, the fact of being pregnant, which was an incontrovertible proof of her fertility, often hastened matters. A childless man desperate for an issue, or even a woman (see later) struggling to ensure her husband‟s land did not fall back to the kinsmen, may pounce upon the chance and marry the girl. The biological father would be completely irrelevant, unless he himself now decided to marry the girl, as may happen in some cases, especially where the girl‟s parents mount great pressure. Whoever married the girl owns the baby, provided the pride price was paid prior to the baby‟s arrival. It may be noted that such a marriage often became unstable in due course. The girl might decide to liberate herself from a marriage that she would, under normal circumstances, never have agreed to. It often had to do with her material well-being.


Woman Marrying a Wife

As already indicated, a widow who was childless or had only girls, and could not persuade or prevail on any of them to stay back and bear children to continue the father‟s line, might decide to marry a wife. This would be perfectly acceptable in Alor culture, an indication of the value the people have always placed on family propagation and continuity among every kindred. Even when 260

it is clear that the extinction of a given nuclear family would be profitable in terms of land inheritance, the kinsmen of the struggling family would still aid and abet the repopulation of the threatened family. This is why the support of the kinsmen was invariably guaranteed. They would enthusiastically follow up on the marriage procedures as soon as a girl, accidentally pregnant or not, had been identified and all parties agreed. As a matter of custom, one of the kinsmen would be assigned the duty of siring children for the new wife on behalf of his late fellow kinsman. Needless to say, this went along with some responsibility. It should be noted that the man assigned this job would normally have his own family. His wife was not expected to raise objections to his added responsibility, whether she liked sharing her husband or not should not be the issue.


Uninherited Property (Oli Ekpe)

Should a man who had no nuclear family of his own pass on, his property would normally revert to his closest relatives, e.g. brothers or uncles. The relatives who inherited the property, of which land was usually the permanent asset, would be called oli ekpe. This explains why in a given quarter, some families have so much land in the face of acute scarcity facing his peers. The responsibility of settling all debts owed by the deceased to any person would of course devolve on the inheritors.


Copying from a Desirable Stock (Izolu Agbọ)

Our forefathers knew that offspring invariably inherited the traits of the parents especially in physiognomy, physical strength, character, etc. They very much admired, indeed envied any family whose offspring showed these attributes in good measure. Indeed in those days the sentiment did not end in admiration. Some went further to get a “copy” of such highly desirable creations. The reasons for this desire varied from defense to pride and ego. “I have a handsome son” would not be seen as boastful, or, “in a wrestling match, my son can handle two opponents at a time”. The latter statement was the sort any man would be very proud to make in view of the value such a strong young man added to the village in physical contests which were quite common in those days. Thus if any man felt he was not sufficiently endowed to beget children of such highly desirable physique, he could unabashedly arrange to get one or two. This practice, called izolu agbọ, literally meaning copying a stock, was very much encouraged by the relatives and kinsmen of the intending copier.

The procedure was simple. The man would intimate the wife with the idea and would with ease secure her agreement. As a matter of fact, she would not mind having the finest specimens of mankind and might even help identify somebody from a good stock. Next, the man so identified would be approached and the terms discussed. The wife of the fine man would ordinarily have her 261

objections, but she would be easily brushed aside. With all arrangements complete, the man would look the other way while the fine man met with his wife. The reward for such a job was not normally monetary. Payment was in good food, the richest the woman could prepare within their means. Izolu agbọ also became necessary where a man was having just girls. He would identify a man who was having boys and arrange for him to meet with the wife and get him some boys. If girls just kept coming, then the gods must be appeased.


Current Practices and Trends

The recall of old marriage practices recorded above has been necessary in order to record where we have come from. Although the institution of marriage has been very much affected by the coming of the white man, we have to admit that a lot of the age-old practices still die hard, notably the symbolic drinking from one cup which can be seen as the sealing of the union. However, a lot has changed. Many of the old practices, especially those events and occasions discussed above under consolidation, have become history. We are now in the “jet age”.

A young man in search of a wife looks virtually everywhere. A young lady in need of a husband listens to every young man to check out his potential. That is the extent of liberation. None insists on their home place any more. This attitude has accelerated the dynamics of marriage. In general the series of events is as follows: – a boy and a girl meet and somehow establish some chemistry, there follows a period of courtship intensely facilitated by the cell phone, understanding culminates in a marriage proposal, then the news breaks to parents on either side, not necessarily to seek consent. They will now be begging for time to check out things, but the ịgba nkwụ (traditional wedding) ceremony and wedding, whichever comes first, are on the minds of the young pair. Their strategy to numb all opposition may be to present a fait accompli: a baby is on the way, and whoever had any objections had better sheath their swords. What of investigations on both sides? The family to be investigated may be too far removed, or even from another ethnic group, actually beyond reach.

The rapid progression of the series of events narrated above may not be typical, but we are rapidly approaching it. What is being underscored is the great flexibility that is now overwhelming the ageold sequence of activities culminating in marriage and the consolidation processes sealing it firmly. However, two issues may derail the progress of a young pair towards a final union – medical and 262

religious. Due to advances in medical science, it has now become necessary for genotypes to be checked for compatibility so as to obviate the misery associated with getting children prone to sickle-cell anaemia. If the two sides hail from Alor, and in some cases from outside Alor, but are affiliated to the different churches, the parents may begin to raise objections. A man shamelessly declares “I am a knight in my church; my daughter cannot marry into another church”. Probe the same man in other circumstances and he would easily aver that there is such a thing as destiny (akala aka). His title name might even be Chideeugo. And yet he would not let the daughter fulfill her probable destiny. This brand of chauvinism in relation to two arms of a religion that professes the very same Almighty deity has introduced a cleavage which ought to have been knocked off by enlightenment, traveling (njepu), or even academic degrees. Fortunately, the young ones, especially the girls, are becoming assertive and will hopefully get to a point where they can muster enough courage to look their bigoted parents in the eye and get them to reason aright.

In view of the run-away style now being adopted by people, the Alor Peoples Convention has set out the procedures for contracting marriages. The aim of such regulations has been to reduce costs for both the groom and his in-law. It has been quite hard, however. Giving away a daughter has become a financial nightmare for the less well-endowed, even when the groom complements the efforts of his in-law. An innovation has been the special reward for the mother of the bride – by way of an abada cloth and a carton of soap for her to distribute to friends and relatives. For the father of the bride, all he gets for his troubles might be a bottle of hot drink, and his troubles are not over till he gives the daughter a dowry (idu unwo), usually at her wedding. People are finding ways around it, however. In the recent past, the property assembled for the purpose used to be displayed openly. Such items as beds, sewing machines, pots and pans, baby cots, etc, used to feature prominently. A moneyed family might even include a car. The mother of the bride would of course ensure she put in the traditional mortar (ikwe), pestle (ọdụ), and a huge custom-made iron pot (ite ọna) complete with the young lady‟s name embossed on it. The items, displayed in one corner of the wedding reception hall for all to see, would be an index of the wealth of the girl‟s father. Relatives and friends used to contribute their own gifts to go along with those from the family. The current trend is that friends and relatives would rather wrap up their own gifts and queue up during the wedding reception to deliver them personally to the couple and receive some memento in return.


The Future 263

What is the future of marriages in Alor? There is no doubt that the marriage institution has been held in great reverence in Alor, as in the whole of Igboland. And that is how it should be, since the family is the basic element of society and should therefore be built on a stable marital union. However, there are disturbing signs that the respect for the institution is being eroded. This is perhaps attributable to the diluting effects of cross-cultural interactions. Alor people are among the most traveled in Igboland, essentially in pursuit of the wherewithal for survival. They therefore inevitably pick up elements of the culture of the places they find themselves. There is really nothing wrong with this except that there could be some feeling of transience about marital unions contracted in those faraway lands. It has therefore become imperative to work out strategies for strengthening the marriage institution to ensure it remains as respectable and sacrosanct as ever before in order to stand the centrifugal tendencies consequent upon the incursion of the jet age innovations.



E.S.O. Amaugo 1


We may start by complimenting our forebears for fashioning out a mode of marriage that worked perfectly well in their time. Their style was just right for the prevailing socio-cultural, economic and demographic demands of the time. As time wore on, however, the circumstances began to change. As an illustration, in the days gone by, a man needed many wives in order to have many children so that some could survive, given the low rate of infant survival then. Changing times have reduced that need. As we shall see later on, other reasons made a man acquire more than a single wife. The infusion of foreign cultures into the indigenous ways caused inevitable changes, not least the restrictive idea of one man one wife as espoused by the Christian religion which caused certain basic upsets in culture of which marriage is not even the most fundamental. But let it be emphasized that traditional or Christian, marriage has been basically for one purpose. It physically brings together two individuals who had possibly never seen or known themselves, and who had neither relationship nor any kind of kinship, into a union, for life, essentially and primarily for the purpose of procreation. Other attributes are consequential or incidental. It is in these incidentals that each mode has evolved from earlier styles and practices one way or the other.


Values of Traditional Marriage

In the strictly rural setting that Alor had been before the advent of Christianity, marriage had pivotal values, which we can list as follows: i) It was a mark of maturity and an index of responsibility to be married and to raise a family; raising a family was considered so critical to the community that support for marital processes was spontaneously given to the new couple. ii) Marriage elevated the status of a man above that of his single peers in his community; being married was a measure of completeness in any man. An aging bachelor was a source of anxiety for relatives and an object of scorn by outsiders. iii) In the traditional community setting, marriage was a major prerequisite for title-taking and an absolute essential for holding certain traditional offices in both religious and secular matters.


iv) Traditional marriage ensured that blood relatives were not allowed to marry; once even the most distant but traceable relationship was established between any prospective couple, there would first of all be an inquiry to see if the relationship had become loose enough to be broken. Only if approved by the relevant traditional authorities and elders would there then be a ceremony – udu ama ite – to ritualistically annul the relationship and allow the marriage to proceed. v) Divorce, i.e. final and absolute termination of marriage, was not the practice with traditional marriage in Alor, rather an offending wife was sent back to her parents, (mwenaga) with the tacit understanding that she would in due course return to her husband‟s house, even if after his death. vi) Traditional marriage had been a way of bringing together and bonding, not just the two individuals directly concerned, but two families in all their extended shapes and sizes. This produced alliances that could be invoked as necessary, especially in matters socio-political or economic.

3 Values of Christian Marriage Marriage within Christian religious tenets would not in any way diminish the basic values stated above as deriving from traditional religion. Rather we can reinforce those points by observing that the essence of Christian marriage is to provide fellowship, comfort and joy, thereby removing or reducing loneliness. These perquisites are completely supported by the holy book, which we can buttress as follows: i) Marriage is an act of obedience to the injunction: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Genesis 1:28). ii) Christian marriage is ordained for fellowship: “And the Lord God says, „it is not good that man should be alone‟” (Genesis 2:18). In other words, marriage is ordained for partnership and unity: “Two are better than one …………Also if two lie down together they will keep warm” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9 – 11); “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). iii) The children in a Christian home are to be brought up in the fear of the Lord: “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).

4 A Comparison Christian marriage is understood and accepted to be a permanent, i.e. an unbreakable union between one man and one woman, as construed and performed within the provisions of the church, and recognised, sanctioned and ratified by the laws of the nation. These are sufficient grounds to protect Christian marriage from outside interference. Since it is the coming together of a man and a woman 266

in the presence of God, it is believed that God‟s blessings go with the union. It is a union in which vows and promises are exchanged just between two individuals, and are expected to be kept by them to the letter and till death do them part.

In traditional marriage, as of old in Alor, the gods of the community or of the families were invoked and were taken to be fully involved, although the ceremonies need not be performed in a shrine or any other place considered to be the dwelling place of the gods. A man performed the marriage rites in full before taking his wife home. Failing such full performance, recognition of the legitimacy of such a marriage was denied even if he took the woman away. It is noteworthy that in traditional marriage all the prayers by the parents on both sides harped on the fertility of the woman and productivity of the marriage. This underscored the subject matter of marriage in the traditional context.

Christian marriage is decreed to be strictly monogamous, as is implicit in the concept of uniting to form “one flesh”. Thus in complete compliance to this injunction or commandment, no Christian would be expected to even contemplate acquiring a second wife, however compelling the circumstances, or he would be seen as wantonly disobeying the will of God and reneging on the vows and promises earlier exchanged. The idea of one flesh is a concept about which traditional marriage is silent or may be said to be entirely ignorant of. The silence is for several reasons. The idea of forming “one flesh” clearly never arose in traditional marriage. If a farmer needed more hands to supply the labour to expand his harvest, he felt free to acquire more than one wife to both help in the farm and to beget more children to serve the same purpose. A man might, as a mark of affluence, decide to have more wives than his peers. This was a source of respect in the community. In the rare chance that a marriage was not fruitful, a second wife was inevitable, since the critical essence of marriage in the traditional setting is for the propagation of the family line. The first wife would even actively advocate and in every way support the acquisition of a new wife to ensure the propagation of the husband‟s line.

In the far past in Alor, a young man could aspire to marriage without having all the money for the bride price. The basic requirement would be enough funds to provide the required quantity of palm wine, and particularly for the specific sum of money that was the special entitlement to the kinsmen of the girl. As for the bride price proper, the young man was allowed to pay the much he could afford out of the sum settled by both sides as the worth of the bride. A magnanimous father-in-law would normally let the able-bodied son-in-law make up for the balance by working for him in the 267

farms until such a time as the father-in-law deemed the young man to have laboured long enough for his bride.

5 Conclusion As earlier indicated, each version of marriage has its merits. The traditional mode worked very well before being largely displaced by the Christian version. A proof of this is that aspects of it are still being practiced and indeed the current practice is more or less a hybrid of the two modes. The traditional mode of marriage was very much based on the culture of the people and was in fact in itself an aspect of the culture, as attested to by the fact that the process was long drawn out and some ceremonies were only performed when the marriage had been consummated and a baby was well on the way. In a way the multiplicity of ceremonies very firmly cemented the marriage and this made separation quite rare and absolute divorce virtually out of question. In comparison with Christian marriage, the traditional mode allowed for polygamy. This may however be justified by circumstances; besides, it worked for our forefathers.

The Christian mode is considered quite secure in view of its preference for monogamy, a corresponding aversion for polygamy, and for being anchored in the legal system of the country. It is thought to guarantee love and security, and might be regarded as unique in its permanency and the complete devotion of the husband to his single wife and family.

Revd. Canon E.S.O. Amaugo, BA, Dip. Th., JP Pastoral Work: Kaduna Diocese 1990 – 1996 Bauchi Diocese 1996 – 2000 Diocese on the Niger 2001 – 2007 Diocese of Ogbaru 2008 268



1 Introduction Ịma nsi was the process of initiating a girl into motherhood. Due to the coming of western culture and religion, this rite of passage for girls has been completely replaced by white/church wedding or court marriage. The purpose of ịma nsi was multifarious. It was first and foremost a symbolic cleansing process (ịchụ ọnụ asha), implying absolution from all manner of earlier sexual relationships prior to marriage. Secondly it was to ban the girl from allowing any man other than the husband to have a carnal knowledge of her while her husband was alive. An additional purpose was to invoke the kindness of the gods in protecting the young lady from all the hazards of childbirth (ịkpa aja uke). A female native doctor (dibịa nnwayị) carried out the rituals usually in the seventh month of pregnancy. The items commonly used include money, livestock (usually chicken), and food materials (yams). The location of the ceremony was the bride‟s parents‟ home, specifically at the mother‟s shrine (chi, normally represented by an abụbọ, i.e. ọha tree) of the mother. Hereunder presented in some detail are the procedures and processes of the ceremony as gathered during a research on marriage issues in Alor in days long gone. Dr. L.N. Oraka supervised the research. The interview respondents include Messrs Nathaniel Madubuko, Okoye Okwueju Anumba, Udo Omenaka, Okafor Ezionwu and Mrs. Franca Okaa.

2 The Preliminaries 2.1 Yam Offertory Carrying (Ibu Ishe Ji) By definition offertory is a collection of offerings at a religious service or ceremony. Thus ịma nsị was a kind of religious ceremony, and hence the involvement of a native doctor. The offertory consisted of eight tubers of yam, one hen, and money (twenty cowries (ego ayọlọ) beaded on a broom stick). It was carried in an oblong basket with a wooden base (ụkpa). Towards nightfall, the bridegroom would help lift the load onto the wife‟s head and bid her farewell for a trip to her father‟s place. At her destination, the father would normally assist her to bring down the load provided the bridegroom had earlier paid up the balance of the bride price as fixed during the initial negotiations (akalịka). If the bride price had up to this point in time not been completely paid, the father would refuse to assist the daughter lower the load. She would have to return the load to her 269

husband. This would imply that the ịma nsi had not been consented to by the bride‟s people and would therefore not proceed. The lady would right away reverse her trip. The onus was on the bridegroom to make good his default as soon as possible to beat the arrival of the baby. Failure in this respect would attract highly unpalatable consequences. If, on the other hand, the bride did not return that same day, consent had been assured. The bridegroom would on the following day procure palm wine and proceed to the father-in-law‟s place where the yams and the chicken would have been cooked for the feasting pleasure of the kindred who would also share the cash (cowries) that accompanied the offertory.

2.2 Material Specifications As soon as the bridegroom felt ready for the main event, he would visit his father-in-law, customarily with a keg of palm wine to discuss details of preparation, including a decision on the date. The lady native doctor would be invited and, over quite some refreshments, she would enumerate the materials required for the event. The critical items included a large coiled smoked fish (azụ ukolo), a round basket (ngịga), cam wood paste (ushe), large earthen bowl (nnukwu ọkụ), for baby‟s bath, a cloth for the bride (she had since marriage being going around nude), and a miscellany of other items, not least a double-chambered palm nut (akụ mkpị).

2.3 Invoking a Baby The symbolic invocation of a baby (ikuta nnwa) was the actual commencement of the ịma nsi process on the eve of the main event. The characters involved were the bridegroom, an ọzọ titled man (onye nze) and a young boy say below the age of ten, in which case he would not have started wearing any kind of clothing. The necessary materials were an oblong basket (ụkpa) inside which a pestle (aka odo) and some cowries were placed. The nude small boy would carry the assembly and the trio would set off for the baby invocation venue. A suitable venue was not actually a single point, but a series of grounds where specific trees were located. Such trees were the African apple (ụdala), oil palm (nkwụ), iroko (ọjị) and ngwu. The ụdala tree, believed by Alor people to facilitate procreation, had the pride of place in the baby invocation process. So it was usually the first to be visited. On arrival at the location of the tree, the titled man would take the basket off the boy‟s head and place it with one end closer to the foot of the tree. He would drop a cowry at the foot of the tree and with the pestle knock at the foot of the tree and request the tree to grant them a baby. With the pestle, and while praying for the grant of a baby, he would knock out some bark from the tree into the basket. They would then proceed to the palm tree and repeat the procedure. Ditto for the iroko and the ngwu trees. The invocation over, the titled man would cut out a finger sized piece of the 270

stem of a certain tree called okpokokpo, clean out the bark, and place it in the basket. Back in the house of the bridegroom, he would proceed to carve it into the likeness of doll, rub it over with cam wood paste (ushe) and place it back into the basket.

3 The Ima Nsi Event 3.1 The Prelude The culmination of the ceremony is marked by various activities on the appointed day. The bride‟s father‟s would be full of women cooking various dishes for feasting invitees. The bridegroom would have arranged to procure sufficient palm wine for the occasion. The bride would have adorned titivated herself to look her best. The lady native doctor would on that day set off for the house of the father-in-law where she would await the arrival of the bridegroom.

Having stuffed all the specified items into the oblong basket, it is time for the bridegroom to set off for his father-in-law‟s place. The retinue would include the titled man, the young nude boy, the kindred folk, friends and invited guests. There would therefore not be a shortage of people to assist in ferrying the items, including kegs of palm wine, to the father-in-law‟s place. At the destination, the items would be offloaded at the shrine of the bride‟s mother‟s personal deity (chi), usually marked by an ọha (abụbọ) and an ogilisi trees.

3.2 The Event Proper For starters, with the invitees seated and waiting, the well adorned bride would be taken to a room in her mother‟s hut and shuttered in. The lady native doctor would take up the pestle which had been decorated with beads of cowries and, in company of the nude boy bearing the round basket (ngịga), and bridegroom, dance from the bride‟s mother‟s shrine to the entrance door and ask the shuttered bride what she had delivered. As per instruction, she would answer that she had had a baby boy. The pair would then dance back to the shrine singing: Mbọsị nk’ịtọ ayị ja n’eli Mbọsị nk’ise ayị ja n’eli Mbọsị nk’ịsaa ayị ja n’eli

meaning On the third day we shall be eating On the fifth day we shall be eating 271

On the seventh day we shall be eating

At the shrine they would knock on the basket with the pestle and dance back to the door of the shuttered room. There they would repeat the question. This time the bride would reply that she had had a baby girl. They would repeat the round and a third and a fourth time and with same questions and answers. After the fourth time, the bride would emerge from the room and station herself at the entrance door. At this point the native doctor would hand her the doll which the titled man had carved and decorated the previous day. She would be shown how to carry it as if a real baby. The singing and dancing would continue: Gbaa tịị tịị tị kololo Amụa nnwoke ayị ja n’eli n’ańụ Amụal’ayị nnwayị ayị ja n’eli n’ańụ N’izu nk’ịtọ ayị ja n’eli N’izu nk’ise ayị ja n’eli N’izu nk’ịsaa ayị ja n’eli N’izu nke ili n’ịsaa ayị ja n’eli Olili n’ọńụńụ agwụ agwụ

meaning Dance tii tii ti kololo If a boy is born we shall be eating and drinking If a child is born for us we shall be eating and drinking If a girl is born we shall be eating, In the third week we shall be eating In the fifth week we shall be eating In the seventh week we shall be eating In the seventeenth week we shall be eating Merriments forever and ever

At this stage the bride and groom would dance over to the shrine and get seated. The native doctor would then pray for them, beseeching the deities to grant the couple longevity and good health. Using the pestle she would grind up some herbs in a mortar and therefrom extract a medicament specifically to strengthen the baby prior delivery. This done, the native doctor would strip off the


cowries with which the pestle had been decorated and hand them to the young lad as a reward for his labours as a porter. Next in the ceremony was the eating of the nuts in the double-chambered palm nut (akụ mkpị). This clearly was the high point of the entire process of ịma nsi. The lady native doctor would instruct the couple to place their right palms together and face up. Cracking out the two kernels from the twinchambered nut, she would place a nut in each palm. Next, she broke off two pieces from the coiled smoked fish and placed a piece in each palm. She then asked the couple to pick up the kernel and the fish using their lips only, each from the other‟s palm. Each of them would chew the fish and kernel but swallow only part. The rest would be spat out into the leaf of ogilisi, wrapped up and preserved till the following day when it would be used to prepare pepper soup. She would finally admonish the bride to stay faithful to her husband. The guests had waited long enough, witnessing the ịma nsi event. It was now time for not just a light refreshment but real feasting. From the father-in-law‟s side large cuts of foofoo and delicious soup would be doled out and the guests would fall to a well deserved feast. The washing down would of course be with palm wine which the bridegroom would have supplied in liberal amounts.

Feasting over, the guests, including the groom and his retinue, would depart after pleasantries and lively banter assisted by a good measure of palm wine. The following morning the groom would load the young nude boy with a small keg of wine and instruct him to go to his father-in-law‟s place and retrieve his wife. The bride‟s mother would then load her up with some foofoo and soup for the trip back to her husband. On arrival home, the groom‟s kinsmen would share up the food. The lady was back for good; and to mark that final admission to wife status, she would for the first time and from then on cover her nudity with some cloth.

3.4 The Ebinsi Money This was a dowry of sorts. It was an amount of money (in cowries) the mother gave her daughter along with the food she packaged for her to return to her marital home with. And like the food, the money was also for sharing among the kith and kin of the groom. The sharing was not on equality basis; rather it was done with respect to affluence. This was some kind of investment since, on the arrival of the baby, a double measure or more would be expected from every recipient. How much money the young wife received back on the delivery of her baby would be an index of the wealth of the husband‟s kith and kin as well the cordiality of relations between the husband and his kindred. 273

In a well-to-do kindred people fell over themselves to get a share of the ebinsi money, so much so that the bride might have to return to her mother for more money. Of course such a mother would readily and proudly provide her daughter with extra cash. The obligatory role of the groom‟s kinsmen after all the eating and drinking, and earning some ebinsi money, was to offer prayers to the gods of the kindred for the protection of the couple and especially the pregnancy. They would troop over to the community shrine to offer prayers, and deliver assurances that the young wife, having been cleansed and absolved of earlier sexual transgressions if any, was never going to be trespassed by another man for as long as her husband was alive. A contravention of this undertaking was not just viewed as a grievous offence, any resulting baby was sure to die.

4 Assessment and Comparison In most cultures worldwide marriage is the legal union of a man and a woman as wife and husband. In Igboland and, as already presented in detail in this volume, in Alor, the process can be quite detailed, stretched out in time, and done mostly in public glare. The family is incontestably the bedrock of society. The process of establishing it is therefore deservedly elaborate and hardly casual. This explains why the society frowns at procreation outside formally constituted marriage, often labeling such offspring as bastard. As already discussed in this volume, a woman can also marry another woman, but this often arises in a special situation where the family line is threatened with termination by the failure of normal couple to have a male child. In our society ịma nsi was the last in the series of ceremonies that finally sealed a marriage. It is noteworthy that it was performed not just as soon as the woman became pregnant, but much later, in the seventh month. This rather long wait might be to ensure the stability of the pregnancy, or to have more time to prepare for the rather expensive ceremony. It also implied that, in the event that the woman proved infertile, ịma nsi would not be performed at all. The special significance or value of ịma nsi could be seen as the real union of two minds for life, as symbolized by the eating of twin palm kernels. This part of the ceremony has been considered equivalent to the exchange of rings during a white wedding. However, the eating of akụ mkpị in ịma nsi could be seen as a more penetrating event than the exchange of rings. Whereas anybody can purchase even the most expensive ring in the market and wear it on any finger, nothing can be more deeply symbolic than getting a couple to eat part of a combination of twin palm kernel and fish, 274

swallow part, spit out part, cook special meal with the sputum and eat it all alone. In a way there is a real exchange of the each other‟s physical being through their saliva. This is by far more truly symbolic and fully epitomizes Christ‟s view of marriage: „‟for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one‟‟. Having done the critical comparison of white wedding with ịma nsi, we may now proceed to assess and compare other aspects. To begin with, each kind of marriage event involves some religious aspect, whether at a shrine or in the church. This is a clear illustration that Alor had been an intensely religious society long before the white man brought Christianity. The preparation for and execution of both kinds of marriage could be quite expensive for both the groom and his father-inlaw, usually on account of materials to be procured and the large crowds to be feasted. For both the couple and the crowds, the event was by and large a joyous occasion marking the fulfillment for both man and wife, a condition in life every young man and woman aspire to. For the woman in particular, ịma nsi was at once a cleansing (actually unburdening of the conscience) event and an empowerment to conjugal bliss. In white wedding, cleansing of any past concupiscent misdeeds is not considered an issue. Rather there is the hypocritical situation represented by the veil supposed to depict the bride as pure. The difference is clear between realism and make-belief.

Mrs. P.U. Nnaebue, B.Ed Master Grade II, Udoka School, Awka


3.13 DEATHS AND FUNERALS A.I. Afuekwe and C.S. Nwajide 1


Death, the terminal point of each unit of life, is seen in many colours. It is seen as both a destroyer and a redeemer. It is the ultimate cruelty as well as the essence of release. It is universally dreaded but, paradoxically, sometimes is actively sought. Although undeniably ubiquitous, death is incomprehensibly unique. Of all phenomena it is the most obvious but the least reportable; it encompasses the profoundest of man‟s perplexities and ambivalences. Over the ages, death has been the source of fear, the focus of taboo, the occasion for poetry, the stimulus for philosophy, and yet remains the ultimate mystery in the life of each mortal. Death is the one thing you do not have to do; it will be done for you. It is largely unpredictable and not quite time-bound.

Having been established with absolute finality as completely inevitable, Igbo people have philosophically resigned to death, as reflected in the names parents give to their children. This does not however imply that it is a welcome event. Many of such names are a resigned acknowledgement of the universality of death, e.g. Ọnwụzuligbo (death permeates all Igboland); does not respect boundaries, rank or status, e.g. Ọnwụakpaoke (death does not discriminate), Onyekọnwu (who is more powerful than death?), Ọnwụamaeze (death knows no king). Its fury and meanness are noted in the names Ọnwụdiwe (death is really angry) and Ọnwụdịnjo (death is bad). Many names are prayers – Ọnwụchekwa (death please wait) or simply a plea – Ọnwụbiko.

Death is specifically the final cessation of life but the process may first involve social demise, economic atrophy, emotional decay and finally, the extinction of the physical body. Death is hardly ever welcome, although there is a scale of grief determined by who is involved. For instance, the sudden death of a man in his prime compared with the passing on of an octogenarian.

The rationale for elaborate funerals in Igboland is the belief that the dead should be given a befitting send off by way of an elaborate burial ceremony. It had been held that from the great beyond, the dead could see and even influence what was going on in the land of the living. It was also believed that if a proper burial was not conducted, the deceased would not be fully accepted into the community of the dead. For instance, a major requirement in the conduct of funerals in Igboland has been the slaughter of at least a sizable goat, ram, cow, or a horse. The folklore has 276

been that unless and until this was done the spirit of the deceased could never be accorded the much desired eternal rest in the abode of the spirits.

In the domain of the living, however, reactions differed as regards the death of a baby, a young boy or girl, man or woman, or an old mature person. There was also the issue of what really caused death. For instance, a clear case of suicide usually meant that no funeral or even mourning really took place. The corpse of a well known evil doer, such as one known to have snuffed out innocent lives, was never buried with any dignity. The kinsmen simply disposed of it in an evil forest; so also for a person that died of a strange illness. He was simply thrown into a forbidden forest. Christianity has changed all that. The evil forests have even disappeared now that every portion of land is tightly owned by individuals, families of kindreds.

The coffin is a relatively recent burial gadget. In those days lying in state was on a mat which was later used to wrap up the body, reinforced with palm fronds (ogugu) prior to lowering into a sixfoot deep grave. The age and status of the deceased determined the intensity of grief exhibited by the relatives, especially women and children. Men often just raised their voice once or twice in sorrow and kept their peace. The coming of the missions profoundly changed many aspects of the funeral rites and procedures. For instance, before the church took hold, the corpse of a married woman was as of right returned to her parents‟ home for burial while the funeral proper normally took place in her husbands‟ place. If the woman died while pregnant, it was forbidden to bury her intact. The foetus had to be buried separately and in its father‟s place.


Death and Burial of a Titled Man

The procedure for the burial of a fully titled man in the past was an elaborate event. For a man that was seen as materially well off – rich yam barn, wives, numerous children, numerous livestock, etc, – and passing on at mature old age, the event was virtually a month-long carnival. Alor people used some herbs to preserve the corpse for a few days to ensure completion of the necessary preparations. The announcement of the passing on to the general public was somewhat delayed so as to enable the club of titled men prepare fully, otherwise the reaction of masses of people could disrupt the completion of the traditional rites. If for instance the deceased wore the ọzọ rings as an insignia, special rituals were needed to remove them prior to dressing the body for lying in state. Women and children were not allowed in during the dressing of the body for there would be a lot of recitations, invocations and incantations. A white ram was procured, slaughtered, and the blood poured on the eyes of the deceased (ị wịị dike ebini n’anya). 277

The first announcement of the event was by way of sounding a talking drum (ekwe), a hollowed out wooden instrument. The men of the community, who knew the language of the talking drum interpreted it to the rest of the people and word soon circulated about a serious event that must have occurred. As the ekwe conveyed the sad news, calling some powerful men in the town and beyond by name, cannons boomed at intervals to reinforce the bad news. This was enough to get people out assembling in small groups and speculating who among the notable dignitaries had been ill of late. Instinctively, small groups would drift in the direction of the ekwe and the cannon fire, anxiously listening for the name of the deceased. Once the person was known, wailing of women would rend the air. As Chinua Achebe (1981) put it, “now and again a full-chested lamentation rose above the wailing whenever a man came into the place of death. He raised his voice once or twice in manly sorrow and then sat down with other men listening to the endless wailing of the women and the esoteric language of the ekwe.” The cannon kept on booming and people trooped into the compound to pay their last respects. As time wore on, the titled men would restrict the sighting of the corpse to their kind only, and proceeded to wrap up the body for burial.

As a part of the preparations for the funeral, the bereaved would have contacted one or two well known rain makers to ensure good weather. Rain makers were a band of men who, true or false, took the dubious credit of causing rain or holding it back. The belief had always been that if they were not fully settled with drinks and cash, the funeral days would see the clouds bursting in torrents. It was also the belief that if any man, taking advantage of a dry season to dare them by refusing to settle, they would get him during a rainy season and would extract old and new; they were known to be patently unforgiving.

Prior to lowering the body into the grave, the deceased was admonished by his peers. This was based on the very strong belief in reincarnation (ịnwọ ụwa). For a man of the people, encomiums were showered and a fresh mandate given to him to return to continue his good deeds. However, if he had failed to live up to expectation, especially as a titled man, his failings were itemized and his corpse rebuked. Thereafter, he was advised to improve his conduct in his next incarnation.

If for any reason it was suspected that the deceased did not die a natural death, a medicine man would have been specifically briefed by the family and kinsmen. He would apply some herbs to the eyes of the deceased and place a knife in the right hand prior to burial, with a charge to avenge his untimely death. Needless to say, if any person in that general locality died soon after, he would 278

immediately come under suspicion. Burial was in a two-metre deep grave dug somewhere at the corner of his compound or in a part of the adjacent farmland (mbụbọ).

The burial done, it was time for the funeral proper. Chinua Achebe (1981) again represented it all most succinctly: “the ancient drums of death beat, guns and cannons were fired, and men dashed about in frenzy, cutting down every tree or animal they saw, jumping over walls and dancing on the roof”. While the underlying vigour is generally the case, some minor modification might have to be applied to the general description. For instance in the far past, the very steep grass (ata/ayọ) roof of a typical house in Alor was not suited for dancing on. Various music makers were arranged. These included ukolo, ushe, and ọkpanga. Ukolo was a huge, two-man load musical instrument hewn out of the trunk of a large tree and carefully hollowed out to give a deep throaty sound. It stood on four short legs and had a tail and a head carved in the image of a bull or a ram. Music making was with a pair of short sturdy rods and took a well practiced man, with a mate rhythmically jangling a pair of rattles (nyọ) made in the form of small closed conical baskets containing some seeds of ụdala (Chrysophyllum albidium). Through the dexterity of a well practiced virtuoso, the ukolo player hailed the dignitaries present by their title names, egging them on to come out dancing. Rewards came by way of cowries tossed at the music maker as the dignitaries came out gently swaying their often not-so-prim figures to the music. The ushe was a smaller instrument, also hewn out of a tree and hollowed out. A pair of them was usually arranged and played standing on one end. It gave a sound just lighter than the ukolo. It was also accompanied by rattles. Not to be outdone by the ukolo, the ushe player often joined in the bear garden that scene would have become. An ọkpanga would even join the tumult. Being a drum strung over the shoulder and played with a curved stick, to the accompaniment of rattles, mobility allowed it to herald and escort any of the relatives and friends of the family, especially the in-laws, into the funeral premises for paying their condolence. A special dance was the abịa dike, dancing to which was exclusive to men who had been to war. And, as is discussed in another contribution to this volume, Alor fought wars with several of her neighbours. Thus if the deceased had been a valiant soldier, his military colleagues had to honour him with this exclusive fraternal show.

There were several other forms of entertainment or dancing troupes that could be arranged to perform. These included masquerades and age grades (e.g. egbenuọba). These groups in turn would demonstrate their art in the deceased‟s compound. Food (mostly cooked yam, and cassava foo-foo with bitter leaf soup) and palm wine were served to various groups as well as all and sundry. 279

Relatives of the family would come in turns to pay their condolence. In-laws (nde ọgọ), especially those marrying the daughters of the deceased, would come bearing cows or at least goats or rams, along with cloths, baskets of yams, cocoyams, and cocks. The cloths would, at the conclusion of the full month of ceremonies be retrieved from display by the women whose husbands had bought them specifically for the funeral. Burial ceremony in the past was in two phases – the first was as already described so far. The second ceremony came up after seven native weeks (izu asaa). It was called ịzụ asha ozu and meant “attending the market after the funeral”. It was actually an outing of the family of the deceased to the Nkwọ market place. In preparation for this occasion, all the sons of the deceased would have their hair shorn down to the scalp. During this ceremony the items used by the deceased during market days would be carried along to the market. The ukolo music was once more in attendance. The children of the deceased would pick one item for the market dance. After this outing, it was now safe to assume that the dead man had joined his ancestors and had become one of the ndi ichie. Drinks and kola nuts could then be given to him by the living people during the routine prayers and supplications (ịgọ ọhwọ). Ibunaga Ose Ishe (Taking a Specific Meat Cut to the Deceased’s Mother’s Place) This is a part of the burial ceremony still very much in force in Alor to date. Towards the evening of the funeral day, by which time the crowd would have thinned down, a portion of meat from the goat or cow slaughtered for the funeral would have to be carried ceremonially to the home of the parents of the mother of the deceased. The specific meat cut consists of the ribs with the conjoined part of the vertebral column intact (ose). The delegation to do the visit would consist of the eldest son and/or daughter of the deceased, along with five to six others selected from the kinsmen. The host would of course have been informed about the visit, and he would in turn have alerted his kinsmen. The delegation would also go along with a jar of palm wine and, these days, some beer and soft drinks. The arrival of the group would be announced by the boom of cannons (mkpọnana). The number of such cannon shots would indicate the social status of the man leading the delegation. The delegation would be received by the host and his kinsmen, i.e. nd’ikwunne of the deceased. The uncooked meat and drinks were then presented. Remarkably, there would be no offer of kola nuts. As per tradition the host would have prepared some refreshment, usually yam prepared with palm oil and vegetables (ji ebielebie). After refreshments the kinsmen made contributions in cash and 280

delivered the proceeds to the leader of the delegation as a form of assistance for the funeral ceremony of their sister‟s child (nnwadiana), i.e. the deceased.

The same processes would be followed in the case of a woman, except that in the far past her body, together with her ngịga (her private basket designed for storing her cooking condiments) were carried back to her father‟s compound. The practice of conveying a married woman back to her premarital home for burial was stopped in the 1950s. Burial had since then been in her marital home. The practice of carrying her ngịga to her parents‟ home was carried on for some time, but had to cease with the infusion of Christian style of funerals. Mourning by the Wife (Nsọ Di): - In the far past a titled man had to be mourned by his wife (or wives) with a special intensity. Indeed she was treated as if she caused the husband‟s death. For a start, immediately the death of the man was announced, her hair was scraped off down to the skull. She had to vacate her hut and get confined in a tiny shanty quickly constructed by the side of the compound. Some old woman was assigned to attend to her needs, especially the feeding, since she was not to eat from the food cooked for the funeral. She was not to talk to anybody, not even in reply to greetings. She would be very thinly clad. At the end of the funeral, usually seven native (four-day) weeks, i.e. twenty eight days, she would now be “released” from confinement. She would wrap up all the materials – clothing, utensils, etc, – she used in confinement and dispose of them in an evil bush. She would then commence the next phase of mourning which lasted for another eleven months during which period she would wear only clothing of black colour. She would be bound to conduct herself in a restricted manner. In particular, she was not for that full year of mourning expected to be touched by any man. Contravention would attract a ritual cleansing process (ịkpụ alụ). She became free at the end of one full year and would now be referred to as ajadu nwayị (a widow).

This mode of mourning has over time been gradually relaxed in Alor, and has now been modified such that a widow is treated with the sympathy she deserves after bereavement. For instance the shaving of hair, solitary confinement and utter silence have now been expunged. The mourning period has been reduced to six months. Activities of Daughters of the Kindred (Ụmụ Ọkpụ): - This group of women has been indicated earlier as composed of all the females born in a given kindred. They are as such all blood relatives of the deceased. Funerals are a major opportunity they cease to display their maximum nuisance 281

value. As far as they are concerned, no item of food or drink was acceptable when initially offered. Such an offer would first be rejected and must be augmented before acceptance. They had an exclusive right to the lumbar region (ukwu anụ) of the goat or cow slaughtered for the funeral. They would closely scrutinize it and instantly reject it if they detected any unfair cut that tended to reduce their share of meat. If an unfair cut was detected, restitution was demanded and this could range from an additional lump of meat to a full chicken. Their demands were always inordinate and only serious negotiations might settle matters. They would always seek out a chance to get even with any member of the mourning family over one trumped-up offence or the other. They were a real pain in the neck.

In the far past and, subject to several modifications up to the present, their role was mainly to keep the funeral period warm and lively. This they did very well by chanting ballads almost through each night of the twenty eight-day mourning period. They might even help with tidying up the compound each morning. But all this was at quite some cost to the family. Whatever their number, and they could be up to a score, they had to be fed three square meals per day. Their stickiness was maximum if they viewed the deceased family as being wealthy. On the final funeral day, i.e. at the end of the twenty eight-day mourning period, called ime asaa, they would stipulate a series of food stuffs including meat and ingredients which must be furnished them raw. Indeed they would insist that the eldest son of the deceased must carry the stuff on his head over to them. Knowing that they would normally reject whatever was brought out the trick would be to first supply half of what one was ultimately ready to offer. Upon rejection, the man would then keep pleading while augmenting the initial offer in trickles until they reluctantly finally accepted. They would then settle down and share up the stuff, leaving some which they would cook by themselves for a final feast. They would of course try to leave some words of advice for the family as to how to leave in peace along the lines bequeathed by the late nobleman. They would then disperse, each bearing her package of raw ration. What a good riddance!


Burying Youths

The death of a young person (okolobịa or agbọghọbịa) was usually very painful especially for persons within the ages of twenty to thirty-five years. Such persons, particularly the males, might still be single. Their burial was not anything as elaborate as described above. The mood was completely different. Burial was immediate and would be organized by the men of the kindred, assisted by the men of the larger village.


As a part of the funeral, the youths of the area, in expression of their anger with the gods, would go on rampage, destroying whatever lay on their path. In such an unusual torrential flow of youthful energy, various items in the compound of the deceased as well as the immediate vicinity would be mowed down. In most cases banana stands were pushed over, shrubs were uprooted, tree branches were wrenched off and littered all over the place. In some severe cases, weak compound walls were flattened. All this transpired while the youths aggressively chanted warlike songs, for example: Onye kwụchie uzo ayị azọgbue ya; Ayị azọgbue ya si kwelu egwu. Okolobịa pụta – k’ọmalụ ishenwa ọ j’eme k’omee. Agbọghọnwa pụta – k’ọmalu ishenwa ọ j’eme k’omee”.

Translated as If anybody blocks our way we trample him to death; We trample him to death and continue with our song. Let any young man come out and dare us. Let any young lady come out and dare us.

This went on for a while. It was advisable for people to steer clear and watch from a respectable distance for, whoever got hurt in the melee was on their own. Nobody was going to be held accountable.

In general, the funeral was brief, usually a single day. Cannons were not fired. There would however be some activities such as music making and dancing by the age grade of the deceased, provided he was an active member. Feasting was reduced to a minimum; the appetite was hardly there. The Ụmụ ọkpụ were in attendance, would even sleep over, and chant their ballads for just a few days, say about a native week of four days. On this occasion they would not be as inordinately demanding and sticky as described for the funeral of the mature man. There would be condolence visits by sympathizers, friends and relatives, but bringing along such items as cows and goats was ruled out.


Burying a Child

The death of a baby (nnwa ọgịga) was always a cause for grief. The grief would be much deeper if the offspring had passed babyhood and could be referred to as an infant. There would not normally 283

be any elaborate burial ceremony. On such occasions, the parents of the little one just sat there receiving condolences from neighbours, friends and relatives while the kinsmen organized the burial. The corpse would be wrapped up in a mat or some cloth, or put in a coffin if the he or she had grown up to a reasonable size, and buried in a grave not necessarily up to the two metre depth for adults. As a rule, the parents would not be present as the burial took place. It was viewed as unnatural, indeed somewhat abominable, for parents to bury their children. In normal circumstances, it should be the child burying the parents, not the other way round.

The situation described above was considered normal but suppose a couple suffered repeated loss of new-born babies. In the past the Igbo believed strongly that children who died young were ọgbanje, i.e. children who were regarded as “born-to-die”. It was believed that incessant losses of infants by a couple was a deliberate act by a particular child to punish that couple by repeatedly dying and being re-born. The belief was that such a child belonged to a company of spirits who took it upon themselves to inflict torture on particular women. For this reason pregnant women were advised not to travel either at mid-night or mid-day, since these times were believed to be when evil spirits could enter the womb of a pregnant woman and replace a real baby. Such an occurrence would therefore have to be checked. This was done in some cases by actually “torturing” the corpse of a baby either by burning it or by mutilating it prior to disposal in a shallow grave. We can imagine the agony of the bereaved mother. In some instances a traditional medicine man had to be engaged to help ameliorate the intensity of the anguish the woman was going through, even though as far as others were concerned, the evil baby deserved the treatment it got. Some amazing events have been reported in connection with this treatment of a dead child. Stories have been told of a new-born baby bearing marks reflecting the torture inflicted on it when it died after an earlier birth by the same woman. This would be a clear proof of the ọgbanje identity of the baby. Like many mysteries, the ọgbanje phenomenon has not been proved. Medical science has attributed infant mortality to a number of preventable diseases including malaria, whooping cough and diphtheria. Incessant loss of infants, especially when they had weathered the well known childhood diseases, was usually attributed to the ọgbanje cult, but it has become clearer that some genetic factors have been most probably responsible. Medical science explains it as due to sickle-cell anaemia, the proneness to which is inherited by the child from both parents. This is the basis for the present need for persons intending to marry to check themselves for their genotype prior to final commitment. This measure appears to have reduced the incidence of repeated losses by a given 284

couple. It is noteworthy that today in Alor, there is no mention of the ọgbanje issue any more. One may hear it only as a joke.


Christian Burial and Funeral

As Christianity displaced traditional religion, and the people drifted into one or the other of the churches – St. Paul‟s and St. Mary‟s, or more recently any of the numerous new churches, the traditional burial style gradually, if reluctantly, gave way to the Christian style. Thus the ekwe became replaced by the church bell for the announcement of the passing on of a Christian. The church bell would chime away at a slow, characteristically unrhythmic pace recognized by everyone as a harbinger of bad news. However, the bell would only toll if the deceased was not in any way indebted to the church nor had any offence standing against him that would prevent him being accorded a church burial. On hearing the bell, the question would be: who died? Word would soon spread through the length and breadth of the town and all concerned would have to reschedule or suspend everything else and get ready to attend the funeral proceedings.

The early Christians in Alor buried their dead in a designated cemetery or in the church premises. Attendance at the burial and funeral sessions was compulsory for all members of the church and default attracted a fine. But as church members grew in population, the zone system was introduced such that the various zones, which largely correspond to the six villages of Alor, are today responsible for the burial ceremony of their deceased member, with representations from the main church – the Church Committee.

On the announcement of the passing on of any adult, the various relatives of the deceased are expected to hurry over with a two-metre length of white cotton cloth for the burial. This is referred to as ikpu ozu akwa meaning: covering the dead with a cloth. The origin of this practice is not clear, but it could be ostensibly to wrap up the body prior to burial. It is not clear why one measure of cloth would not suffice. Eventually so many such cloths are not really used, some having arrived later than the burial, that the bereaved family would have to sell off the surplus. More recently, as directed by the town government, relatives obligated to bring in white cloths, merely pay a sum of money, usually about two hundred naira, in lieu of the actual white cloth.

For the funeral proper, the normal practice has been to dress up the body in a decent attire, and lay it in a professionally dressed bed so that sympathizers could pay their last respects. The dead body could be sent to the church for a brief service before the deceased was sent back to his or her home 285

for interment. Indeed in the 1950s the Anglican Church had a four-wheeled cart i.e. a hearse, on which the body was placed and pushed to and from the church. When the iron contrivance rusted up, it was not known to have been replaced. That perhaps reduced the frequency with which bodies were carried to the church for funeral service. One condition for carrying corpses to the church for funeral service has been that the deceased must not have been part of a polygamous marriage. If for whatever reason a man had more than a wife at his death, or if a woman had a co-wife, the right to this last funeral service within the church building was lost.

For a normal Christian burial, the funeral service would be led by a priest. The procedure would be as written down in the appropriate prayer book, and would consist of prayers, selected songs with instrumental accompaniment, readings from the holy bible, and a sermon. The sermon would normally be directed to the living, but it always extolled the virtues (hardly the vices) of the deceased. The main service over, it was time to lower the coffin into the grave. In the past, some able-bodied men got down into the grave, received the coffin, arranged it properly, and climbed out. Nowadays the coffin is placed over the grave on top of two sturdy cross bars. At the signal of the officiating priest, two strong ropes would be passed under the coffin and the cross bars removed. Finally, the coffin would be lowered into the grave. Covering with the dug-out soil would commence along with the final prayers and as the priest pronounced the symbolic “sand to sand, ashes to ashes”, often amidst the final wailing of women and children. A close look at the men among the children of the deceased would show some quivering of the lips and wiping of the eyes, all indicative of smothered or suppressed expression of sorrow.

In case the deceased was a knight of a Christian church, the dignity accorded him in burial may be considered reminiscent of the burial of titled men in the past. This would be by way of an appropriately modified order of interment service. The conduct of the service would be done by a large contingent of priests, and would be sure to include some of the top ranking clergy. This is why the burial date would in most cases be fixed by the clergy in order to ensure their convenience. Indeed they clearly put it to the bereaved that the church lost a prominent defender of the faith and therefore the top hierarchy of the church equally shared the loss.

The body interred strictly following the procedure in the prayer book, the officiating clergy feel freer in the conduct of the funeral and would usually call on various groups to perform some dance, usually to the rhythm of the church musical group manned strictly by women. All these over, it was time to feast the congregation along with the general public. Basins of rice and stew, one limb of 286

whatever was killed – goat or cow – and drinks, including beer, soft drinks and water were arrayed before the church officials. The food shared and eaten, the church members would in return collect voluntary cash donations and hand over to the bereaved as their condolence purse.

Dancing to the beat of the church music group by the daughters of the deceased In the past the funeral was on two consecutive days – first day for burial and the next day for finalizing the event. Church involvement was later cut to one day. Indeed arrangements have had to evolve quite rapidly and several changes have had to be introduced. In some cases, the body was buried following a simple service conducted by a priest. The funeral then came later on a date the family deemed convenient. It has been found expedient to postpone burials and funerals in order to prepare fully.

The church involvement over, it would be time for condolences, which often spilled into a second day and even beyond. A table would of course have been set up at which would be seated the chief mourner and some of the prominent kinsmen, at least two of them assigned with recording condolence items – usually cash and drinks delivered by all sorts of groups and individual sympathizers. There may be no particular order, but the in-laws to the family, especially those marrying the daughters or sisters of the deceased, would have some prominence. Each of them 287

might have contributed a cow, or at least a goat, and would now come with a large contingent of friends and relatives, escorted by a music troupe. Some person in the advancing crowd would raise a coil of rope high to proudly indicate that a cow (or its equivalent in cash) had been delivered. Another person would be taking along at least one abada cloth as a gift from the son-in-law to his wife, i.e. daughter or sister of the deceased. The arrival might be announced by a few canon shots.

Canon shots, courtesy Mr. Basil Muogbo, ushering in a condolence-paying group

As soon as the contingent appears and the family name of the leader blared over the public address system by a professional announcer, the daughter of the deceased whose husband was leading the advancing group would, in company of a select bunch of lady friends, and bearing a well sized cock or even a live turkey, advance towards the contingent, hand over the livestock and dance elegantly to the music which would have reached its crescendo. The abada cloth would be thrown over her, and people would be falling over themselves to smother her with currency notes. Of course a close friend or relative of hers would be handy, armed with a well-sized polythene bag, to gather and secure the shower of notes. The contingent would in due course arrive the chief mourner‟s table and 288

deliver the load typically consisting of the rope, the envelope containing the cash equivalent (currently of the order of eighty to a hundred thousand naira), as well as crates of drinks. They would then be conducted over to a place that had been prearranged for reception. Refreshments would follow and that would be it. For donating a cow, they would be given a live goat in return. If a goat was donated, they would be given a chicken in return. This return gift is taken to represent what was called aka ogbuu.

A son-in-law paying condolence visit

This general pattern, mutatis mutandis, repeats with different groups including various relatives, societies, friends, age grades, clubs, etc, eventually thinning down to individuals. In some cases the recorders actually become overwhelmed. There is no doubt that this harvest of cash and drinks usually goes a long way in ameliorating the massive expenditure that funerals have become. Again, this great outpouring of assistance in mournful times is a major demonstration of humane living among the Igbos. The practice of recording the gifts is in most cases to repay in future, or to note and compare with what the bereaved or even the deceased had in the past done for the present giver. In particular if the deceased had been a wealthy man, now passing on at a mature old age, or his sons (or even his sons-in-law) are themselves seen as well-to-do, the family must have had a track record of assisting people during such funeral occasions. Now would be pay-back time. Such occasions were easily seen as a carnival. This would be the rationale for some people who had the capacity, to settle down, eat to their fill, and drink themselves to stupor. 289

Delivering and receiving condolence materials


Carry Over from Traditional Funeral Practices

There are practices from the traditional funeral styles that have died hard. They include ibunaga ose ishe, outing service and memorial service, sorting out ụmụ ọkpụ, and nsọ di.

Ibunaga ose ishe: - An account of this practice has already been given under the traditional style of funerals. Nothing significant has really changed. The value or importance is not clear. However, there is no sign that it may soon cease. But some circumstances may weaken the practice. If for instance a man whose mother was married from a town very far from Alor passes on, would there be need to carry the ose ishe to his mother‟s original home? On the other hand, suppose ibunaga ose ishe is not practiced in such far way places? These circumstances are clearly exceptions. However, marrying from far away towns has become quite common, and vice-versa. The practice is obviously endangered. Ịzụ asha ozu:- In the past, the actual funeral period, which lasted seven native weeks, i.e. twenty eight days, ended with an outing of the family to the Nkwọ market. It required that a music group, say ukolo or ọkpanga was once again hired to perform at the Nkwọ market. The bereaved family 290

would dance around the market square, picking up coins from the admiring and cheering public. Finally, the family gave a small-scale refreshment to friends, neighbours and kith and kin that would follow them home. All this has changed. The outing ceremony is now a memorial service that takes place on the first Sunday succeeding the funeral day. The crowd that usually accompanied the bereaved family home has been discouraged by insisting that no refreshment be served. Rather curiously, many families feel affluent enough to insist on entertaining the public. It is recommended that the town government insist on eliminating this unnecessary feeding frenzy. The Ụmụ ọkpụ would on the final day have their rights fulfilled for them, but things have now been modified such that they should cut things short and disperse, of course not without extracting their full rights which include a big meal, and some raw ration. Nsọ di – The wife of the deceased, where a man had died, would now be released to see the outside once again. The inhuman treatment of old has now been modified. The mourning period has been reduced to six months. The extremely depressing mode of dressing has been modified such that the woman could wear almost anything, especially white, although flamboyant dressing would not normally be expected of her. She would of course still be expected to keep herself away from randy men until the end of the six-month period.


The Current Practice - A Burgeoning Funeral Industry

Most of what has been described above may more or less represent the trend in Christian funeral from the past to the present. Recall that in the past, burial was immediate and the funeral just followed. All that has changed. Funeral events have now become so elaborate and expensive in Igboland that the term “funeral industry” can be justifiably applied. For the well-to-do, it is some kind of carnival. Resources redistribution has been cited as a justification. For the not so well off, it is a real pain. People have been known to sell property, including land, for the purpose of “giving my father a befitting burial”. Funeral logistics have been getting more and more complex and have now become a nightmare. Attempts by the Alor Peoples Convention to curtail excesses and simplify matters have had a qualified success. People appear to carry on regardless of the attempts to save them the unnecessary expenditure. The description given above would clearly be the unfolding of all sorts of detailed preparations. Let us now recount some of the massive amount of resources – labour and money – involved in eventually burying the dead, especially if he or she lived a long life and left behind some wealth or well-to-do children.


Preparations Once death occurs, the bereaved never gets a respite for weeks and even months. The richer and older the greater the hassle. The present practice is to tuck away the body in a mortuary, and begin the preparations for the burial and the funeral. The first activity is to go round all the organizations the deceased belonged to and clear any debts, otherwise he would not be accorded his due from such organizations. In particular, the church debts have to be cleared before ever the bell would toll for him, especially now that the churches have fully taken on the prerogative of deciding and fixing the burial date. Since the priests‟ diaries are often crowded there is invariably a long wait which, in some cases involves leaving the deceased body in the mortuary for an inordinately long time, an unavoidable expense. Deaths have become so frequent that the priests are now fixing burials on week days including mid-week. This is irrespective of the disruption caused individuals who are close enough to be compulsorily present at such burials. There is no thought about loss of man hours or the economic meaning of time.

The next preliminary activity is to check back in time in case there was any ancestor of the deceased whose funeral was incomplete, that is to say, for whom a cow was not killed at his burial. If the bereaved are planning to kill a cow for the deceased, they first have to clear any backlog of cows, whether or not the benefiting ancestor was a Christian. The beneficiaries would be all those titled men around who would share the meat according to their titles and relationships to the long gone deceased. Of course the kinsmen would have a jolly good time eating all the cow heads, whatever the number.

A major step in the preparations is a series of in-house meetings by the bereaved family for the purpose of raising funds. Next would be the official obituary announcement in the media – prime time radio and television slots, and full or half page of a popular newspaper. Other issues include the decoration of the bed for lying-in-state, briefing of camera and video men, hire of industrial cooks, meeting with the rain makers, retention of a popular dance band or at least a disc jockey who knows everybody in Alor, clearance with the Alor Peoples Convention, hire of law enforcement agents and guards or security operatives, beautification of the compound and its preparation to seat hordes of mourners/merry makers under canopies. The very latest innovation is the printing of weather-resistant life-size colour photographs mounted on sturdy frame and displayed at some strategic locations in the town. In decorating for the funeral some families cease the opportunity to 292

do a renovation, face lift or a comprehensive makeover of the premises. There would be an elaborately printed colour brochure, i.e. a booklet containing details of the order of funeral service, a biography of the deceased, messages of condolence from prominent and not so prominent friends, relatives, in-laws, children and grandchildren, and of course a photosplash arranged to systematically depict the deceased if possible from childhood, through his heydays to passing on. The brochure is usually produced in thousands and distributed during the funeral to all and sundry irrespective of who can read and who cannot. A special abada cloth to be sewn and worn by all relatives and even friends would have been selected and purchased in bulk. Even though a cheap, locally made abada would have been chosen, the sheer quantity would make the lucky dealer smile to his bank. There had been a custom that required that the dress be burnt after the outing ceremony. The significance of this act is not clear, otherwise it may just be regarded as wasteful mass incineration. It appears that this practice is now being reviewed. In some cases, the children of the deceased would distinguish themselves by wearing a vastly more expensive dress, such as lace or such class, very often to make a statement as to the momentous nature of the celebration of their illustrious parent. Rather curiously, these trendy dresses have been exempt from incineration.

The Funeral Activities The appointed day then arrives. A limousine-type hearse would have been arranged to cart the body from the mortuary. With horns blaring, the long motorcade arrives the compound and the kinsmen ease the glimmering coffin on to the richly stuffed platform specially mounted for the lying-instate. The kinsmen would be handy to do this job if the arrangement with the undertakers did not include the use of a set of half a dozen uniformed porters who ceremonially carry the coffin for delivery to the platform. The battery of priests then performs the routine obsequy with one of them delivering a powerful homily, often a customized adulatory (never uncomplimentary) dissertation on the deceased. Interment proper follows, as already described.

Somehow the priests manage to formally close the burial procedure, in the midst of listlessness by the crowd itching to get to the main event – feasting. The band or the DJ sets the scene by blaring out the loud music that turns the event from mournful to rollicking. The feasting is as already described, the latest trend being that people now expect to go home with some mementoes. This aspect has come a long way from olden days when the daughters of the deceased would be dancing round the crowd distributing pieces of kola nuts and receiving cowries to pennies. This went through some evolution, and has now passed through the spraying of powder and/perfume in


exchange for naira notes. The present state is the distribution of gifts such as handkerchiefs and plastic vessels some of them customized with a picture of the deceased.

What is the aftermath for the bereaved? Physical exhaustion and threatening impecuniosity. The preparation and general run-up to the funeral are both energy-sapping and destructive of such resources as time and money. The tradition of adulating death and celebrating lavishly obviously came from far back in time and all modifications appear to be by way of expensive innovations. It has been suggested that it is all a way of getting money circulating, as well as a way of affording some measure of occupation for all those suppliers of goods and services that flow through a given funeral. There is now no single week there would not be at least one incidence of death of an Alor person whether living at home or sojourning far away. However far, even abroad/overseas, the body would have to be repatriated.

What is the future of funerals in Alor, and by extension, Igboland? The increase in population is obviously what makes deaths appear frequent. When squared with the frequency of births, we may realize that the net gain in population far outweighs deaths which should therefore be regarded as a natural process. This is the single factor that will, in due course, even if decades hence, change the way we look at deaths and funerals. If burials and funerals are now fixed on everyday of the week, mourner fatigue will inevitably set in. Even self-employed persons will sooner or later realize that time is money and absence from one‟s work place or duty post means material or financial loss. If a man has to become terribly impoverished because he has had to bury a parent or so, a rethink becomes inescapable. Sooner or later, the funeral industry will run itself to extinction, which is as well, so as to give way to some productive kind of industry. Burials and funerals can be simplified in Alor.




In Alor, heritable items consist essentially of both movable and immovable property. Immovable property consists of land, trees, and dwellings. Land may be classified into three main types – houseland (ana obi), farmland (ana ubi) and “bad bush” land (ana ajọ ọsha). In the first type, ownership is basically individual and may descend to a man‟s heirs on his death. The second type, ana ubi, which is usually far from dwelling houses, may be communally or individually owned. When it is an individual property, a man‟s heirs can inherit it. But when it is undivided, ownership is common to the family, lineage or village, as the case may be. For instance, the ana ideọhwọlọ, is communally owned by the Umuokwu village. This class of land is portioned out, annually during the planting season, among all interested adult males of the group concerned. Each portion is cultivated only on the basis of usufruct (a legal situation giving the right to make use of and enjoy the profit and advantages of some property belonging to another so long as the property is not damaged or altered in any way). The third type is the 'bad' bush land (ana ajọ ọsha) into which the corpses of people who died the so-called “bad death” used to be thrown. Anything associated with evil was also cast into this bush. Most of these “bad bushes” were (and still are) associated with some deities and cults, and as such cannot be inherited as individual property.

It is generally believed in Alor that land ultimately belongs to the community, and therefore cannot be alienated from it without its consent. Jones (1949) observes that within the community the individual shall have security of tenure for the land he requires for his compounds, his gardens, and his farms, and that no member shall be without land. This class of individual lands is transferable by inheritance and, as Nwogugu (1974) observes, “primogeniture (being the first-born or eldest child) governs intestate succession, in the predominantly patrilineal Igbo society. On the death intestate of an Igbo male, the eldest son will succeed to his estate”. He continues, “Moreover, the eldest son is entitled by virtue of his position as the head of the family to some special property which he enjoys for his life time only. He is entitled to occupy his father's dwelling house, and farm the compound or the immediately adjoining land. His observation is exactly what obtains in Alor, and “the immediately 295

adjoining land” is most probably what Alor people refer to as “ ana ihu mbụbọ”.


Inheritance of a Man’s Immovable Property

In Alor, when a man dies, all his sons rally round to plan his burial. Minors among them shall have their mothers‟ brothers around when the burial budget is being made. After the cost estimates, any of the dead man‟s sons may supply the needed amount, otherwise all the sons contribute equally towards their father‟s burial. If, at his death, all of a man‟s sons are minors, any wealthy relative may supply all or part of the amount needed for the burial expenses. This debt will be made good from donations made by friends, in-laws and well-wishers after which any surplus would be shared equally among the sons. After all burial rites have been performed and sealed off with an outing to the Nkwọ market as a funeral finale (ịzụ asha ozu), usually twenty-eight days from the official announcement of death, a man‟s property may now be distributed among his sons, under certain conditions. If any of the dead man's wives is still within childbearing age, his property may never be divided until after child-bearing. This is in order to obviate the need for a redistribution in the future. Secondly, provided there is peace in the family, the male members may never bother about sharing property, especially land, until all of them are married. Even to date there are still instances of families which are yet to share their grandfather‟s land which their fathers never deemed necessary to share up in their life time. Such land is usually shared into the number of brothers (now dead) and not as many as there are brothers‟ sons. In other words, the land is shared among brothers posthumously. In the ideal situation, a man‟s male children inherit his immovable property, the eldest son having preferential share. First, he inherits his father‟s dwelling-house (obi). It should be noted that in Alor, unlike many Igbo communities, the obi does not circulate through a generation before descending to a man‟s oldest son, that is, it does not pass to a man's junior brothers before descending to his eldest son. The moment the obi passes to a man, it automatically becomes his private property. There is, therefore, a distinction between obi holding and the extended family headship (diọkpala of the family) which circulates through a generation before it descends to the next. Thus, the inheritance of the obi, in Alor, does not at one and the same time confer on the holder the status of the head of the larger family or kindred. This status goes to a man's eldest brother. The obi does not only refer to the dwelling house but to the entire premises and any trees or permanent structures therein. All these, under the name of obi, go to the eldest son. It does not stop here. The preferential share of the eldest son includes the portion of land immediately adjoining and sometimes in front of the obi. This ana ihu mbụbọ and the obi remain personal property of the eldest son which may pass down to his own sons on his death. Finally, the eldest son chooses the nwadiọkpala’s trees which may include the following 296

1. one ụkwa tree (Treculia africana) 2. one nkwụ akwụ, that is, a high nut-yielding oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) 3. one nkwụ otite, i.e. for palm wine (Elaeis guineensis) 4. one ọji, i.e. kola nut tree (Cola nitida) 5. one coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) 6. one ube, i.e. pear tree (Dacryodes edulis) referred to as ube ọnụ mmọọ

These nwadiọkpala trees are not the personal property of the eldest son. These items, along with the father‟s ọhwọ, run through a generation before passing down to the eldest son of the brothers. The rationale for apportioning these trees to the oldest man is to afford him the material means for entertaining any visitors to the larger family. It is also a compensation for his onerous task in functioning as the ọkpala of the family. Under no circumstances must such trees be sold, mortgaged, or in any way alienated from the family.

The next step is for all the male children of the dead man to share the remaining portions of land into equal parts. The sharing follows what Nwogugu (1973) described as “per capita distribution” whereby the land is shared into as many parcels as there are sons.

If an Alor man dies intestate, and without any male children, his brothers will inherit his estate, but none of them shall have a preferential share. Everything will be shared equally among them, except the nwadiọkpala trees which descend to the eldest brother. The dead brother‟s obi may now go into ruins. However, the eldest surviving brother has the option of transferring to the dead man‟s obi and leaving his own as a part of the estate to be shared between him and his brothers. This is so because Alor people maintain that obi aha adị ịbọọ (the obi is not normally duplicated).

In Alor, it is not absolutely true that a headson who does not bury his father does not inherit his obi or enjoy preferential share of his property. It is however not usual for a normal man to dodge this last homage to his father.

A married son with male children who dies before his own father has lost his birthright and place to his brothers. He is of course replaced by his own headson who stands in an inferior position to his father‟s brothers and half-brothers. In the sharing of his father‟s father‟s land, the eldest surviving brother of his father inherits the obi (even if his late father had put up a modern house in the obi), the 297

ana ihu mbụbọ and the circulating nwadiọkpala trees (for life). Then, the rest of the land is shared into as many portions as there are sons in the senior generation, with the dead brother‟s son getting a share in his late brother‟s name. According to custom, the late brother‟s eldest son must not choose (in his father‟s name) before any of his father‟s brothers and half-brothers, even if he was born before of them. He could do this (in his father‟s name) if his father buried his own father before dying, in which case the preferential share would descend to him. When a headson dies before his father, he is said to have “died away” the obi, i.e.ọnwụhwuluobi.

Daughters may only enjoy gifts made to them by their father in his life time. When a daughter marries, her father can show her one or two palm trees (known as nkwụ ana) close to his dwelling house. Her coming to harvest these palms will enable her to call frequently to his obi for greetings, possibly bearing food or at least cola nuts. When he dies, it is expected that the daughter will, once a year, sacrifice a cock to him during the ilọ mmọọ festival. When the daughter dies, her sons may continue to harvest the trees provided they maintain some cordial relationship with their mother's father's family.

If land is given to a daughter on her marriage by her father, the land returns to her father or his heirs at her death. Under no condition should land given to a married daughter pass to her sons or husband when she dies. She has usufruct only. If, however, the daughter‟s sons are suffering acute shortage of farmland, they might still approach their mother‟ family for a renewal of the usufruct arrangement. If renewed, the daughter‟s sons will, annually, pay tenancy homage to their mother‟s family. They thus become tenants-atwill.

So far, we can see that in Alor only sons, to the exclusion of daughters, can inherit the landed property of their father. If he dies without a son, his brothers and half-brothers will inherit. A man‟s widow has no inheritance or succession right. She is, however, entitled as of right to occupy his dwellinghouse or part of it, subject to good behaviour. If she does not marry any member of her husband‟s family but remains there, she is in addition entitled to be shown some portion of the husband's farmland to cultivate. Strictly speaking, in Alor widows are regarded as part of their husband‟s estate. Taylor (1975) observed that the concept of law relegates a lower status usually to women, portraying women often as an inferior species created only as an item for man to use and dispose at will. Whatever favours she derives at her husband‟s death come indirectly to her through her male children. If she has no child, then no matter how long she may have been married to the deceased husband, she has nothing if he dies intestate. Indeed she is shared like chattel (slave) to any relation or son of the deceased 298

husband who agrees to take her as a wife.


Inheritance of a Woman’s Immovable Property

When a married woman dies, all her sons and married daughters team up to bury her. The daughters would spend twenty-eight days (izu asaa) in their mother's house receiving and entertaining sympathizers. On the twenty-eighth day, they would disperse. The rule of ultimogeniture prescribes in Alor that a mother‟s dwelling house and all trees and permanent structures within her premises should pass down to her youngest male child on her death. However, a married woman owns her dwelling-house (mkpụke) in name only, because the landed property in her husband‟s compound actually belongs to her husband. 4 Inheritance of a Man’s Movable Property

In the olden days, a man's movable property was mainly made up of akpa nnweshi (cow-skin bag), agbu or ete (climbing rope), machete, hoes, livestock (such as cows) and cash by way of cowry shells. Today, such movable property has multiplied immensely and may include electronic equipment, bicycle or motor cycle, a car or cars. On a man‟s death, his resources may come in handy for defraying his funeral expenses. At the end of one lunar month, i.e. after the outing ceremony, his movable property is assembled and shared up, with his headson getting a preferential share. Articles like his hand bag, climbing rope, hoe, machete and other personal effects attached to the obi are inherited by the headson. After this, all other items not used for defraying funeral expenses would be assembled and, as much as practicable shared equally among his sons. The property may include the dead man‟s cows, goats, sheep, poultry, yam, etc. Prior to the sharing of such property, allowance is made for any widow without a male child. Some yams, and cocoyams already in the barn would be apportioned to his married daughters. In case the man‟s movable items do not go round, two or three sons may have to co-own some items, e.g. a cow, or they might decide to sell them off and share the proceeds. A man‟s car, television and radio sets, developed and undeveloped lands in and outside Alor, usually in an urban area, are supposed to be shared equally between a man‟s sons. But because, of their novelty, there is still confusion over the method of sharing them. It seems that each family uses its discretion in the distribution of these “modern” classes of property. Generally, with regard to houses in townships, no such confusion arises as rentals can be shared equally by the sons. But a car, television and such electronic gadgets seem to present some inheritance problems. This is because such items cannot go round those supposed to share them. 299

However, if a man‟s heirs are full siblings, i.e. children of the same mother, the problems seem to be reduced. Where there is no understanding among heirs, the tendency is for such sophisticated items to be sold off and the proceeds shared equally among the heirs. If a man‟s adult son dies unmarried or without a male child, his movable property passes to his brothers while his house land (ana obi) devolves on his father. A man‟s widows may be inherited by his sons or brothers, after a minimum period of one year from the man‟s death. The heir who wishes to remarry the dead man's widow will have to perform the ịtụgha nkwu ceremony.


Inheritance of a Woman’s Movable Property

The general rule is that a woman‟s ante-nuptial possessions that she did not take with her to her husband‟s house remain the property of her maiden family. If she brought any personal effects to her husband‟s house, her articles of personal adornment are inherited by her daughters. Her cooking utensils may be inherited by her eldest daughter and her daughters-in-law who would have fulfilled certain conditions, one of which is that a daughter-in-law should have been in good terms with her mother-in-law to deserve any inheritance. If the daughter-in-law is known to have neglected her mother-in-law during the illness that led to her death, the dead woman's daughters would ensure she is denied any kind of inheritance. Whatever remains of a dead woman's yams, cocoyam and kola nuts would be shared among her sons and daughters after her funeral. The deceased woman's livestock would pass down to her youngest son. A woman‟s landed property acquired in the period of her marriage will be inherited by her husband, on her death. If her husband is no longer living, her landed property will be inherited by her sons.

An unmarried woman with children will have her property inherited by her sons and daughters. Nothing goes to her parents, brothers and sisters. If she has no child her property will devolve on her brothers and sisters.


Succession to Statuses

The status of an individual at any given moment may be defined as the totality of all his rights and duties as recognized in the social usages (that is, laws and customs) of the society to which he belongs. This is largely determined by birth as the child of a particular pair of parents. The rights and duties are transmitted to the child by the parents. 300

In Alor the only status to which an adult male may succeed is that of ọpkala, that is, status of the headship of a household/compound, a patrilineage or a village. i)

The ọpkala of a household or compound is succeeded to by the eldest living son of the father. The rights of the first son to inherit his father‟s obi also include rights to succeed to offices held by his father in his life time. From this time on, all his brothers look on him as the father of the family.


The ọpkala of a lineage is usually the most senior man in the patrilineage. His age is the major criterion for his recognition as the ọkpala. Succession to that status runs through each generation completely before descending to the next. In the case of the incapacity of the right head, his duties are performed by the next most senior man. The ọkpala functions as the apparent intermediary between the living and the dead members of the lineage. The living may thus approach the ancestral spirits symbolized by the ancestor staff of office – ọhwọ – through the ọkpala, the custodian of the lineage ọhwọ. The use of lineage land, iroko trees, houses, etc, remains in the control of the lineage as a whole, but under the administration of the ọkpala. Although rights to personally acquired property may be given away during a man‟s life time, and gifts by presentation or will can be made outside the normal rules of inheritance, the rights of succession to the ọkpala status cannot be so manipulated.


Then comes the quarter ọkpala who is also ọkpala of the most senior patrilineage. The function of the quarter ọkpala is more or less ritual. He is also supposed to preside over meetings of the quarter encompassing representatives from all the lineages. He also performs religious rites related to quarter ancestors, at the village square, usually called obi mmọọ (the house of spirits).


Disposition of Property by Will

In Igbo customary law, a will is a declaration made voluntarily and orally by a person in sound mind, in expectation of death, in the presence of responsible and disinterested persons (Meek, 1957). Any sane person can make a will, whether male or female, child or adult. Oral wills are frequent and acceptable if they fulfill certain conditions, such as having to be made at the point of death of the testator in the presence of the family and should dispose of only self-acquired movable property.

In Alor the disposition of property by will is recognized and is called ike ekpe. Ekpe deals not only 301

with the disposition of property but also gives directions as to the place and mode of burial and funeral ceremonies to be performed for the testator. If a childless man is getting too old and sick, he may summon the elders of his lineage to hear him nominate his heir. Usually such a beneficiary should be a kinsman of the testator, otherwise his kinsmen will oppose it and may never honour it if it runs outside the normal rules of succession and inheritance. However, any person is free to dispose by will part or all of his personally acquired property such as livestock and articles of personal adornment to any person he wishes to do a favour to.

It has not been usual in Alor for a man to dispose of his property by will if he has sons. On some occasions, however, a man may decide to partition his land among his sons in his life time. But the right to take full possession may come into play only when he dies. He may use this opportunity to penalize a dissident son, by giving him the smallest share. It is not always true that all bequests made by a testator must have to be honoured, rather, they are subject to modification after his death. This possibility is made manifest in the proverb: onye nwụlụ anwụ kesie ekpe nde dị ndụ ekeghaa – meaning the living often modify the will of the dead testator.


Usurpation and Illegitimate Succession

Usurpation is the unlawful seizure and possession of rights to property or office. Much as the rules of succession and inheritance aim at minimizing unlawful seizure of rights to property and office, yet usurpers occasionally arise. In Alor, it is possible for a trustee, beneficiary or administrator to convert part of the estate under his care into his personal property. This is more likely to happen if the right heirs are minors. But this is not likely to happen with the rights to office, because the office of ọkpala is basically ritualistic and the fear of the gods alone is a strong weapon against usurpation. Generally, any suspected false claimer is scared away when called upon to establish ownership on oath.

In Alor a child born of an unmarried mother is illegitimate at birth, "unmarried" being used to include women whose marriages have been legally dissolved. Such a state of motherhood is referred to as ime mkpụke. A child born in that situation is regarded as belonging to its maternal grandfather. If his maternal grandfather has no sons, he is automatically entitled to his property when he dies. If, however, the grandfather has sons, he is only favoured with a gift of house land (ana obi) and farmland. He has no stipulated share of his grandfather‟s property. As a matter of fact, such a child is not fully legitimate. He is only legitimatized because the succession right of such a child is not inherent in his status, but acquired by the goodwill of the maternal grandfather and his household, arising from Alor traditional love for children. Legitimatized children are, 302

nonetheless, not treated as bastards in Alor.


Obligations of Inheritance

The successor to a deceased man first has the duty giving him a due burial. The next obligation is to cater for his widows. In this respect, he has to provide them with food, clothing, protection and those other things that were hitherto provided by their late husband. He is also under moral obligation to guard, guide and bring up the late man‟s children. He settles or recovers any debts contracted by the deceased, and finally honours all agreements entered into before his death.

References Jones, G.I., 1949. Ibo Land Tenure. Africa Volume XIX. Meek, C.K., 1957. Land Tenure and Land Administration in Nigeria. Colonial Research Studies, No. 22, HMSO, London, 182p. Nsugbe, P.O., 1974. Ohaffia: a Matrilineal Ibo People. Oxford University Press, London. Nwogugu, E.I., 1974. Family Law in Nigeria. Heinemann Ltd., Ibadan. Taylor, O.P., 1975. The position of women under Sierra Leone customary family law. In Elias, T.O., Nwagbara, S.N. and Akpangbo, C.O. (Eds.), African Indigenous Laws, Institute of African Studies, Nsukka.

Dr. Louis Nnamdi Oraka, BSc (Hons), M.Ed., PhD Former Dean, School of Arts, College of Education, Eha-Amufu, Reader and Past Head of Department, Primary Education Studies, College of Education, Nsugbe Former Acting Secretary, Society for Promotion of Igbo language and Culture


3.15 ALOR: A GENERATIONAL ANALYSIS C.C. Nwudo-Odenigbo 1 Introduction: Modes of History Transmission What makes up history is usually an event or a series of events which might be properly documented or not all recorded but handed down from generation to generation. In the days gone by, narratives by elders were the principal mode of the oral mode of transmission. Such narratives recounted events which the narrator personally witnessed as a younger person, or heard from his elders. There were various locations and occasions for such recountals, including meetings of all sorts, settlement of disputes, siting in village squares, on moonlit nights, and particularly in the obi of the family. These settings provided opportunities for elders to transmit some of their stock of wisdom, knowledge and experience to the younger ones and, in the process anchor the cultural and ethical mores of the community in the youths. A village square could be a clearing sheltered by large trees such as ụkụ or ụshị. Some such squares doubled as evening markets. In such places, men had their sitting devises (nkwako) made of appropriately hewn tree trunks, while women made do with their low stools referred to as nnwayị nọdụlụ okwu, a name given to the stool in recognition of its function as an aid in keeping the rumour mill and gossip machine in unceasing motion. A well known village square in the middle of the twentieth century was Obodo Ọjị, a large clearing at the junction of the foot path from Nkwọ Alor to Uruezeani, with a branch-off to Umuokwu. For a given household, the obi (also called ịbaa) was a central point and the most important venue for daily intrafamily transactions. This was usually a centrally-located, partially open (dwarfwalled) building. There may or may not be an additional room to serve as a store or even a bedroom. Any other building, specifically the wife‟s hut (mkpụke), was usually peripheral to the obi. Within the obi, a mound was usually constructed to double for sitting and sleeping. There was a more or less centrally situated fire place that invariably had a large log of wood from such trees as bread fruit (ụkwa), or oil palm (akpọ nkwụ) which always held a smokeless ember from where to make any other fire, especially before the arrival of matches. During harmattans it was normal first warm up in the early morning fire before going about the day‟s concerns. In the thick of the rains, roasting and eating pear (ube, some of it stolen from somebody else‟s tree by boys), was 304

accompanied by storytelling. It was at such times that the elders engaged in lively banter and regaled the children with stories of the past, especially as regards their exploits and experiences in their youthful days, „‟the good old days‟‟, mgbe enu bụ ana ọsa (when the tree tops were the ground for the squirrel). This was the real transmission of history.

The picture of the past painted in the foregoing is to set the background for the discussion of Alor starting from back in time and progressing to the present. It is clearly impossible, given the space constraints, to do justice to the matter, but it would suffice to touch some issues such as community spirit, notable characters of old, arrival and some effects of colonial rule, as well as the civil war and its aftermath, in order to attempt to show that we only appear to have changed, although a lot of things tend to remain the same.

2. Community Spirit In days gone by, life was apparently good because there was more brotherly love, freedom of association and more trust. For instance, in those days, despite the fact that not many households had compound walls and elaborate gates, people felt quite secure and went about their business without fear. However, those days had their fair share of bad eggs in the society. Thus, even where there were compound walls and strong gates, there were still cases of miscreants managing to gain access to kidnap children, steal property or to poison food. These evil doers hardly bore any weapons, and usually operated in the dead of the night with stealth and secrecy. Such bad eggs of the society were however soon identified and dealt with in any of several ways including ostracism, putting to death, or selling off to slavery. Compare with the present day with hoodlums operating in broad daylight, using the most sophisticated firearms and daring the law enforcement agents, and most often going scot-free.

A striking demonstration of community spirit and celebration of brotherly love was in the assistance rendered to a young man in the process of establishing his own homestead (ịpụ obi). On attainment of full adulthood, and considered mature enough to live on his own, a young man was allocated his own parcel of land (ana obi) by his father or the kindred if land was still owned by the kindred. The young man might start attending to the land, first by planting fruit trees (palms, pear, breadfruit, etc), as well as cultivating seasonal crops (yams, cassava, cocoyam, etc). When he was materially ready to proceed with the building proper, he would give notice to his clans people. Being a small building of one or two compartments, the job could be finished in a few days. First a large circular pit would be dug at a corner of the plot, and water (mmili idee) would be fetched from 305

any nearby neighbour‟s shallow well (ụmị) by the women. Able-bodied men would, with their feet, and to the accompaniment of their own rhythmic singing, knead the red earth (ịzọ aja) to appropriate coherency. Next is to transfer the kneaded red earth to erect the walls of the house. Women would also be involved in this. Before long the outline of the house would take shape and the walls, yet at the dwarf level, would be left for some days to consolidate before further construction. At various stages in the drying up of the walls, an artistically disposed fellow would use a blunt machete to trim the walls (ịya aja) to shape and size. The walls raised, roofing was with grass (ata, abịnị) which, as times changed, was displaced by raffia leaves (atanị, akanya) on bamboo rafters.

What was the reward for all the labour? A good meal of cassava foo-foo and bitter leaf soup (ụtala akpụ n’ohe onumu) washed down with palm wine (iti). The provision of such repast was usually the main duty of the parents of the young man.

As soon as the hut became habitable, the young man would be expected to be looking around for a suitable maiden to take for a wife. Brotherly feelings also played up here. The young man‟s relatives would all be on the look-out and, before long, suggestions poured in. All concerned then began background checks on various candidate wives.

Community service was also very much on display whenever there was need to carve out a new foot path, construct or repair sumps for flood and erosion control, or to keep the markets, village squares and water points clean. Depending on the intensity of the job, young boys, or girls would be involved. For instance, the sweeping of the village square, which was the arena of the village shrine, was the duty of the women. Water points were kept clean by the young girls.

Another demonstration of community spirit and brotherly love was the practice of invitation for feasting (ịka oku). This practice started long ago and has lasted through the generations. It may now be termed „‟invitation to lunch or dinner‟‟ but it has been essentially the same matter of inviting a friendly family over for a sumptuous meal and good drink during one festival or the other. The difference may be that nowadays the menu features imported items and ingredients, as well as lager, wines and spirits. As of old, virtually every food item, except for fish (which Alor has never been in a position to produce) was home-grown. The drink was palm wine, produced by the man of the house himself or simply sourced from Nkwo Alor as produced by the master tappers.


What appears to have changed over the years is the practice of ịkpọ mbata. In the days gone by, if a funeral was to be held in a man‟s neighbourhood, he had to prepare to invite over and entertain a host of relatives, friends, and especially in-laws. In fact anybody attending a funeral close to a relative‟s house would expect to be invited, and would indeed go ahead to invite himself. The practice might be dying, but was a practical demonstration of brotherly love and maintenance or servicing of kinship.


Some Notable Men of Old

To be well respected in those good old days in Alor, one would have had to be a tough warrior, an unbeatable wrestler, a big time farmer, a great hunter (lion or elephant killer), or a powerful native doctor. One of the distinguishing characteristics of such men was face scarification (igbu ichi), an extremely painful kind of facial art akin to modern tattooing but deeper and done on the forehead. Scarifiers usually came from outside Alor, especially from Ichida. Some herbs were used to still blood flow and to reduce pain, there being no other kind of anaesthetic. Going through the ordeal, and eventually surviving or warding off post-operative infection, was a mark of toughness. It stood a man out as very strong and conferred a large measure of nobility on him.

Strong men with one major attribute or the other could be found in various quarters and villages of Alor. As a sampling, we could discuss some. Umunambu had a highly reputed medicine man called Ugulu N‟etigba. Ide had Onyenwaanze who was feared for possessing magical powers which he was wont to unleash on perceived adversaries. It was such „‟strong men‟‟ that led or accompanied the most feared masquerades such as Onyekulum and Ayaka which operated only at night. They were a terrible scare to people who went down to the stream to fetch water during moonlit nights. Women, children and the uninitiated were forbidden to sight these horrible masquerades. There were always forerunners who made sure that only the initiated could sight them. Evidence of their bizarre activities were often the trails of destruction along whatever path they trod – knocked down trees, tender unfolded palm fronds (ọmụ nkwụ) yanked off from the tallest palm trees around, unroofed walls, uprooted trees, etc. They even destroyed the houses of those perceived to have offended the gods or the community at large.

Ebenesii had a very curious character, Okoye Idiga (aka Agwuameze), who was rumoured to have swallowed his mystical ring to ensure its security. He was known to have behaved in a somewhat possessed manner thereafter. He usually led the Ọgba Mgbada and Ojiọnụ masquerades of those days. He was a wine tapper as well as a native doctor and chief priest of the Agwu cult. He went 307

about his business on a bicycle which, having seen better days, did not have the best of brakes, among other negative attributes. This was at the root of an accident which claimed the life of one of a pair of women chatting away at the middle of the road at Ama Udoezegbu sometime in the middle 1950s. Although he was tried for culpable homicide, he escaped a jail term.

Umuoshi had Egbe Nghalingha and Omili Obiegbu. These men were famous, not only at home, but also in very distant lands, for their wizardry in native medical practice. They were reputed to have usually covered such long distances in a few seconds by means of ikili, a mode of astral travel known only to such men.

Agbor quarter had Egbutu, a native doctor of less than kindly disposition. He was known to have instructed that upon his death, his carry-all bag (akpa dibịa) must be interred along with his body so as to save people the dire consequences of leaving his traditional medical paraphernalia to operate of its own accord. Such unsavoury consequences were known to include the appearance of ogbu agalị odo which was some kind of evil spirit that manifested at night as strange light, an encounter with which could inflict incurable illnesses.

The burial ceremony of these so-called strong men was usually a remarkable event that attracted their cohorts from neighbouring towns as well as large crowds of spectators, not necessarily mourners. For their living colleagues, it was a show of power and magic. First, a big ram was tethered to a tree with a tiny thread, which in itself was a big wonder. Next was a contest – to see who among the medicine men present was „‟strong‟‟ enough to lift the ram. Somehow, after a lot of trials, the „‟strongest‟‟ of them would succeed in hefting away the ram, to the amazement and wild cheers of the spectators. This done, anther ram would be provided, this time for the high point of the funeral rites which was the process of spilling blood into the eyes of the deceased strong man (ịwịị dike ebini n’anya). This was done to the complete exclusion of women, children and even male youths. The musical accompaniment was equally unique. It was called abịa dike, i.e. music for the strong. The main instrument was a drum made with human skin. The idea was that the drumming would wake up the deceased if he was not fully and finally dead. On confirming that he was really dead, the ram would be slaughtered and the blood poured into his eyes. Thereafter, the man was placed in the grave and buried in a sitting position.

It is worth noting that, except for a few good natured native doctors such as Omili Obiegbu, most of the so-called strong (and by implication dangerous) medicine men left no great heritage behind. 308

Christianity seems to have dealt a terrible blow to their contrivances and their lineage. These days, there are small-time, but equally dangerous persons associated with ritual sacrifices (ịchụ aja) and taking of lives through poisoning.

A notable warrior of old was Chief Nnweke Ogbutu of Uruezeani. He served Alor as a warrant chief along with Chief Obianyo who was warrant chief for Ideani and part of the mainland Alor. Nnwudo Ekwolugo (forebear of Nwudo-Odenigbo) of Urueze Ide was among the first money lenders in Alor. He loaned cowries (ego ayọlọ) to people to defray marriage or funeral expenses. Collaterals included land and economic trees which were forfeited if the debtor defaulted on payment terms. This explains why the Nwudo-Odenigbo dynasty owns parcels of land in many separate locations in Alor.

A notable farmer, reputed for the vastness of his yam farms and barns, as well as the large population of his livestock, was Osisi Ugo of Obiora family in Ide.

It is only proper to include Mark Nwose of Agbor quarter among the remarkable men Alor produced in days gone by. His attributes had nothing to do with the mischief or notoriety of the dangerous medicine men, rather he was simply a very courageous man, a nonconformist, indeed an iconoclast. He was not more than an average sized man but, as people would describe him, he had „‟single bone‟‟, which is a way of characterising a person of physical strength considered extraordinary. His back hardly ever touched the ground (azụ elu ana) in any wrestling contest. The story was told of how whitlow attacked the tip of his left small finger and was proving chronic. He solved the problem in an astonishing way: with a machete he cut off the last phalange of the small finger. The cut healed.

When other people were struggling to build a little hut for their abode, he constructed himself a storeyed mud house, using timber for the upper floor and a ladder for the staircase. The relics of the building have survived to this day (see picture shwn paper by D.U. Okafor).

In addition to being physically very strong, Mark was a particularly fearless man. Three episodes among many would suffice to illustrate this point. A certain family had tied their basket of peeled cassava with a rope and let it down a deep, mud water-filled hand-dug well to detoxify overnight, as the usual practice went. When the following morning the basket was to be retrieved it turned out the rope had snapped. The basket lay at the bottom of the deep well with its load of peeled cassava 309

which was actually the family breakfast. It was really a mournful situation and the hungry women and children could hardly be restrained from wailing loudly. Word of the „‟tragedy‟‟ soon went round and Mark got to know what happened. He consoled the family and went to work. He then plunged down the well and soon surfaced with the basket. There was only one Mark!

On a certain night, a full moon shone so brilliantly it lit up every corner. This obviously blurred Mark‟s sense of time for he picked up a pot and headed for Mmili Ezigbo to fetch some water. As he wended his way along the path that traversed the thicket called ọsha Udo, monkeys started barking furiously. He decided to check out what was really the matter. He put down his pot and pushed into the bush whereupon a huge gorilla gave him a terrible blow on the face. He coolly made his way back to the pathway, picked up his pot, and continued his trip down to the water point. On another moonlit night, Mark made his way down to the Alor – Oraukwu gully to haul up some stone. He picked out three well sized pieces and proceeded to load them on his head. After successfully arranging the first two, he noticed that each time he tried placing the third piece, the second piece would have been removed from his head and placed back on the ground. He looked around, saw nobody, tried a few more times, with the same results, and calmly decided to carry home only two.

Even though Mark was alone during these two events, and he told the stories himself, those who knew him had no doubt that these hair-raising events actually transpired. His strength was in both physical form and in absolute disregard for danger or risk, even when the threat emanated from grisly sources or had an eerie, sinister or ghostly complexion. It might not be wrong to say he had the kind of bravery that bordered on insensitive. Mark‟s iconoclastic tendencies were manifest in several ways, but two examples will do. In the late 1940s into early 1950s, when the axial highway through Alor was under construction, two huge ụkụ trees stood smack on the route. This was at a point near the present location of the Alor Post Office. The trees belonged to an idol and were therefore sacred and nobody dared touch them. Mark offered to solve the problem. He not only single-handedly felled the trees right from their roots, he sawed them up, and cleared the way for the road. While people feared for his safety and keenly listened to hear the worst of consequences, he went about his other businesses regardless.


Secondly, Mark had a completely different view of snakes; they were not just edible, they were good meat. The non-poisonous, white-and-black coloured, slow-moving snake (eke) was in those days highly respected for belonging to the idle of the quarter. It could slither around freely in the bush and within homesteads, and even right inside the houses, up in the rafters and storage structures (uko). The respect for this serpent was such that if it was found dead, naturally or by accident, it was dutifully and solemnly buried by the chief priest of the quarter idol. For Mark, eke was choice meat and he killed and ate it wherever he found any. When reminded the animal belonged to the quarter idol, he retorted that the idol was free to rise in defence of its livestock. He even hunted other kinds of snakes and was known to stick his full arm length, if necessary, into a hole known to harbour a snake. He occasionally pulled out a few and had a good meat supply. Mark lived up to the ripe old age of 90 years and more.


Arrival of Colonial Rule – the Irreversible Change

The culture, attitudes and general outlook of the Alor man began to be affected in various ways about the turn of the 18th century into the 19th. This was just after slave trade was abolished, followed by the arrival of the British colonial rule, and the incursion of Christianity in its wake. The most fundamental change was not only in the mode of worship but also in the concept of one God only, without the smaller gods. Alor had hitherto known and actually worshipped the one and only supreme deity called Chukwu, but this was through smaller gods and agencies, a practice variously called polytheism, heathenism, paganism, or even animism. In reality this showed Alor man as truly religious, then no less than today. In fact the respect and/or fear of the gods by our forefathers very much helped to keep society well ordered and governable even in a purely local republican setting without any monarchy or central government. The churches worked in a subtle way but eventually systematically undermined the traditional religion along with numerous aspects of the cultural mores and practices. The changes that were sweeping through the towns around were however slow in penetrating Alor because of serious resistance by the elders whose community leadership position and well established ways of life were under serious threat. In due course they capitulated. This allowed for the building of roads, churches and schools. There was no way Alor could have remained unchanged with all the influences. We are the results and unwitting beneficiaries of the changes.


Biafra – Nigeria War: a Developmental Impetus

Ironically, the Nigerian civil war of July 1967 to January 1970 was, all told, a stimulant for physical development of Alor and everywhere else around. What led up to the war need not be lengthily 311

rehashed here except to sum it up as a climax of a series of causes and effects induced by political chicanery, cultural contrasts, ethnic chauvinism, absolute dishonesty and a host of other base instincts in the human animal. All these at once made Biafra an inevitable concept, a defensive reflex and at the same time a stillborn nationality. It taught two hard lessons, especially to those within and outside the present Nigeria. First, there is really nothing like world conscience, especially when the economies of the big industrial nations are adversely affected or threatened, however slightly. Second, God is often said to be on the side of the big battalion. Biafra learnt these lessons post-mortem, otherwise the history of the struggle would have transpired in another trajectory, perhaps less traumatic.

The trauma of the war was a complex of pains consequent upon the effort to cling to life while losing all other possessions, or actually losing the life in the hands of erstwhile compatriots having fun in bloodletting. The consequence was either losing one‟s life or escaping with nothing. Starting life from scratch was for many the only option. After massive population movements triggered by pogroms, one thought there was going to be respite. But the blood hounds were not done. The slaughter became institutionalised and more properly ordered and tagged a police action against a people barely clinging to life and only reacting from the most natural instinct – self preservation. When sophisticated armament could not do it hunger, blockade and propaganda became effective supplements that ensured capitulation.

With a massive population back home from the rest of Nigeria, the sociological consequences of overcrowding soon became manifest and tempers flew through the roof in many cases. This left many family relations in tatters and difficult to mend, with animosities being handed down the generations. The sticking point was mostly housing accommodation which ran short with so much demand. Land also became an issue, but was easier to diffuse than housing. This is the background to the explosion in housing development that Alor has witnessed since after that war. It has now become routine to construct multi-storey buildings, since vertical space is free and has absolutely no limit. The need for access to these fantastic mansions is prompting the development of access road network never even imagined pre-war. Such developments are riding on the back of the arterial development achieved by the icon, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, and now being complemented by the efforts of our own Engr. Emeka Eze.

The other salutary effect of the civil war has been the revitalisation of title-taking. The desire to be somehow distinguishable from the masses has driven this development. Forty years after the war, it 312

has not abated, especially as it is now a pre-requisite for full and direct participation in the traditional government of the town.

Perhaps the war was fought too early. The masterminds of the initial violent change of government that spiralled out of hand will be turning in their graves when they realise that, relative to today, corruption and political iniquities were next to non-existent in their time. The opportunists that successively usurped leadership thereafter simply removed the boundary between the national coffers and their personal pockets, then institutionalised corruption, and sponsored it from high places. With aggressive ethnic chauvinism and unbridled sectional sentiments holding sway, Biafra might as well be a storm in a tea cup. For the sake of our nation‟s founding fathers and for posterity, we should pause and think. This is the only way to see the dangerous drift towards the edge of the precipice. It is the only way to conclusively rubbish, repudiate and confute the wishes and dire prognoses of Karl Maier (in the book This House has Fallen) and the US State Department. We should prove them wrong and confirm what false prophets of doom they are.


Summary – the Generational Succession

The attempt so far has been to show how much things have changed, ironically only to remain more or less the same through the generations. This view is supported by the fact that every generation considers itself „‟modern‟‟ or superior to the one preceding it, whereas all a generation does is simply more of the same things their predecessors had done. Thus generational changes often amounted to just keeping pace with what may be happening in the larger world around Alor. Apart from the civil war which, in spite of destruction and anguish, brought its own developmental impetus, Alor has been developing very much like elsewhere in the region. The present generation may be witnessing all sorts of changes, especially in electronic communication gadgetry, transportation, medical sciences, etc, but it will eventually all prove to be just more of the same. We may notice quite some disruption in matters of health and environment. But it is still more of the same. There had been such disruptions in the distant past, and yet our forebears survived to beget us. All we have to do is learn to cope with our times so as to make a worthwhile bequeathal to posterity.




4.1 Religions of Alor – S.C. Okafor-Udah 4.2 The Olise cult: an ancient voice with modern relevance – L. Madubuko 4.3 The myth of ofor, Ezeofor, and the akpu tree – M. Ukatu 4.4 Pentecostalism: a refreshing trend in the belief systems of Alor – E. Okide






As in most of Igboland, our forefathers had a strong belief in the Almighty God, Olise. That belief has to this day not really changed in principle; it is simply more of the same in the sense that what we have today as religious practices are expressions of the various approaches to the same Almighty. This is why this survey should rightly start with the mode of approach of our forefathers and cover the progressive evolution of practices to the present day.


Pre-Christian Era

In the far past, prior to the incursion of the missionaries into Nigeria, Alor people practiced what we generally regard as traditional religion. This implied a strong belief in the indispensability of God Almighty as well as the diviners and ancestors. Their expression of worship was with the instrumentality of various shrines (okwu alụsị), with the major one at the main market square – Nkwọ Alor. Particular days of the year were set aside for the sole purpose of celebrating the God Almighty by way of various rituals. The observances were mandatory for all since it was believed that the ancestors approved and expected the ritual acts, gestures, incantations and libations. Deviation was sure to attract the wrath of the diviners and the ancestors.

There had been a strong belief in reincarnation. It was held that the dead still protected and watched over the living and that a dead man could even come again in another form if he lived a long life, had children, did not die of a dreaded decease and was given a decent burial. The ranking of the powers was: God Almighty first, followed by the ancestors; any other spiritual beings came further down and could be held in much less reverence. An annual festival, ịlọ mmọọ, was for the purpose of propitiating the ancestors. Individuals and families slaughtered chicken, goats, rams or very rarely, cows, according to one‟s means and resources, all for the purpose of remembrance, paying special respects, and supplicating the departed parents and other ancestors for protection and especially for good harvest.


Also in relation to paying special respect to the ancestors, is the concept of the ayaka, a special class of masquerades believed to be a physical expression emanating from the ancestors. It was so special and distinctive that it had no human attendant with it, invariably appeared only at night, could be heard, but would not normally be seen by anybody, especially women, and had an uncanny knack for seeing even in pitch darkness, hence no coins or cowry thrown over to it as the usual gift/donation ever went uncollected.

In Alor and elsewhere, even beyond Igboland, there had been a strong belief in the phenomenon of ọgbanje, called changeling in some places. This was the perception that a person kept recycling between life and death, i.e. a wicked spirit kept coming to the world in the form of a beautiful child, soon dying, usually young, and reincarnating again, and so on. Thus, it was believed that an evil spirit simply targeted a couple and tormented them endlessly with virtual childlessness. The belief was that such a child had a strong union with the spirit world and if certain sacrifices were performed to propitiate the gods the child would stay. All that is now in the past. However, it may have to be noted that modern medical science seems to have satisfactorily explained such a phenomenon of loss of young children. It has been attributed to genetics. A marriage of persons with the potential to have offspring prone to sickle cell anemia would be likely to lose such children early in life. This is the rationale nowadays for advising intending marriage partners to do some tests to ascertain if such proneness exists.


The Incursion of the British

As is already noted, before the British or their religious influence made an incursion into Alor, people had their modes of worship, social life and political/administrative systems. According to Chief Okafor Ugoka, who was consulted in the course of researching this contribution, when Alor people learnt of the destructive effect of the penetration of the white man into the neighbouring towns, they resolved that any Alor person who facilitated such an incursion into Alor would be put to death. To make sure no such incursion ever happened, Alor invited a famous native medicine man from Oraeri to prepare the most potent preventive medicine. Incidentally, according to Chief Ugoka, the incursion did happen, but all those who the white man appointed as warrant chiefs hardly served beyond a year before dying off. It was believed the medicine was working.

In 1907 some officers of the colonial government in charge of the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria arrived Nkwọ Alor and ordered that all Alor men who had guns should surrender them. Fear of the threatened repercussions forced compliance. When the British were satisfied that a large number of 316

guns had been surrendered they set the guns ablaze. This way, they defused any form of resistance. The highly weakened people became completely submissive to their rule.


Enter Christianity

To give a proper account of the entry of the Anglican church into Alor, we need to trace back to the advent of Christianity into the larger Igboland. This involves going back to 1841 during the Niger expedition which set out from Sierra Leone, when Simon Jonas arrived Aboh, a settlement on the right bank of the River Niger. Jonas, an ex-slave had become a Christian. At Aboh, he preached Christianity to children who gathered around him during his three-week stay. But when he left Aboh, the ministry ended. However, as noted by Nwambara (1977), the seed of Christianity had been sown in Igboland during the said 1841 Niger Expedition when a treaty was signed between the representatives of Queen Victoria. Section 6 of the treaty reads “Christians of whatever nation or country peaceably conducting themselves in the dominion of the chief of Aboh shall be left in the free enjoyment and exercise of Christian religion”. During the said expedition, a member of the team, namely the Rev. Samuel Ajai Crowther inspected the area and concluded in his report that “God has provided instrument to begin work with these liberated Africans at Sierra Leone who are natives of the banks of the River. If this time is allowed to pass away, the generation of liberated teachers who are immediately connected with present operation of the natives will pass with it”. Here, Crowther stressed the need for urgent action of using African slaves who had become Christians.

Also at this time, liberated Igbo slaves in the Island of Fernando Po exhibited very keen interest in carrying missionary work to the banks of the Niger. It is worth noting therefore that the first permanent mission station in Igboland was established at Onitsha on 25th of July, 1857, by a team led by Rev. John Christopher Taylor. This expedition laid the foundation for commercial and missionary enterprises amongst the Igbos. From there Christianity spread through the activities of these missionaries to several towns including Aguleri, Obosi, Uke, Umuoji, etc. Alor was not particularly fast or early in accepting the white man and his religion and this was not until 1905. The tardiness could be attributed to the attachment to traditional religion and, as can be recalled, they had resolved never to co-operate with the white man, with repercussions, including death, for any black legs.

When at last Alor people capitulated to the white man, and their guns destroyed, Nweke Ugochukwu Ogbutu of Uruezeani was appointed a court messenger at Ojoto-Uno. In 1914 he came 317

back to Alor with his brothers, and they brought with them the Roman Catholic Mission. Thus the RCM supplied the first Christian contact with Alor. However, the missionaries applied coercion to win membership. They compelled attendance at church services and seized livestock and other personal effects. This caused the failure of the first attempt to plant Christianity in Alor.

In 1915, the missionaries of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) who had established at Nnobi and Adazi Ani planned an evangelical outing to Alor. Although this did not firmly plant the church at Alor, the consciousness had been stimulated, so much so that some Alor people began to secretly attend church services at Adazi Ani and Oraukwu. They even sent their children to attend school in these towns. Eventually the Anglican mission germinated in Alor at two locations as two independent stations – at St. Paul‟s Church Ezi Alor and at St. Andrew‟s Church, Ide-Enu.


St. Paul’s Church, Ezi Alor

This church was brought to Alor from Ekeze, Nnewi, by Chief Ogbue Okobe Ibekwute through the assistance of Igwe Eze Okoli 1 of Nnobi. Towards end-1916 the founders of CMS in Ezi Alor assembled at residence of Chief Ogbue Okobe Ibekwute at Umuoshi, and began to use it for worship and as a school. Through the agency of a certain Mr. Anyaoku of Obosi, then a court clerk and interpreter at Nnobi, a teacher was secured for the young mission. Thus on Friday 17 th of January, 1917, Mr. Isaiah Okeke of Nnewi Ichi arrived Alor as the first school teacher. He was posted by Rev. Ekpunobi, the priest in charge of Nnewi parish. Thus the first proper service in this church was conducted by the first church teacher, Mr. Isaiah Okeke. As a memorial to that event, every Eke Sunday became a special service day and open air evangelism referred to as Okwu Chukwu Ụka Eke. Alor people‟s initial reluctance to co-operate with the white man gradually changed as they began to realize the benefits accruing from such a relationship. The white man had brought in tobacco and hot drinks in order to soften their attitude towards the new Christian religion. Those appointed as warrant chiefs saw it as social prestige to be connected with the introduction of Christianity. This might explain their willingness to offer their residences to serve as churches and schools.

During the fledgling stages of the Anglican church in Alor, the young Anagboso Okafo (later to become Rev. Julius Anagboso Okafo) served as an errand boy. He was instrumental to Chief Ibekwute Ogbue Okobe ushering in the Anglican mission into Alor, which was then called St. Paul‟s Anglican Church, Ezi-Alor. The earliest converts included Paul Obiegbu, Elisha Anaekwe, 318

Lazarus Oyeka, Jacob Ndubuisi, Igwekudu Onuselogu, Ekechi Oguama, Okafor Muozobam, Mark Nwosu, Daniel Ucheana, Gabriel Mbadugha, Simon Ezigbo, Charles Okoye, Jeremiah Obidozor, and Aaron Aforka. The list also included Ezekiel Obiegbu (Okosisi), the building contractor who constructed the old magnificent St. Paul‟s Anglican Church building in 1936; he passed on as recently as 2003. Church and the school moved hand in hand, with Chief Ibekwute‟s premises serving both purposes. Maintenance and general purpose work in the premises was undertaken on Saturdays by a good number of able-bodied converts such as Paul Obiegbu, R.O. Oyeka, Ezekiel Obiegbu, A. Aforka, David Mbaekwe, Jonathan Okide, Joseph Maduka, Christopher Ekwonwa, Otiokpo Mbadugha and Emefo from Ifite. As the church grew, there was increasing need for funds. To this end, the first harvest thanksgiving and bazaar event was organized in 1917. It yielded three bags of cowries, equivalent to a whopping sum of seventeen shillings. In 1918 the church and school were moved to another location in Umuoshi – ama Enyiagba where the first chapel was built. It is worth noting that the actual labour was completely free and even the non-Christians, the so-called heathens, volunteered their labour. Rather sadly, within a year, the building was eaten down by termites. Undeterred, the congregation rebuilt the chapel, sourcing their material from one Mr. Chinemelu from Oraukwu. It is worthy of note that the first baptism in St. Paul‟s Church, Ezi-Alor was in 1919. It was administered by Rev. Ekpunobi. Among those baptized were Aaron Aforka, Paul Obiegbu, Gabriel Mbadugha, Stephen Chibuzor, James Ezika, Samuel Obiora, and Joseph Maduka. Eight


were also confirmed in 1925 by the then Bishop on the Niger, the Right Rev. Lasbrey, in accordance with the principles and doctrines of the Anglican Communion. The first Holy Communion was administered in 1930 by Rev. Asiekwu. The very first child born to one of the earliest converts was a boy named Amos Ndubuisi in the year 1920.

A rapid growth in the population of converts made another relocation inevitable. Thus in 1925 the church had moved to a more central location at ezi Obegwu, today the location of Central School. The chapel remained there until a merger with St. Andrew‟s C.M.S. Church, Ide-Enu, took place in 1933.


It is clear from records examined, and from an account given by Amos Ndubuisi, that the school aspect of the missionary enterprise did not develop abreast of the church side. As such many of the early converts had to go to school outside Alor. For instance Anagboso Okafo (later Rev. J.A. Okafo) schooled at Oze; Ezekiel Obiegbu schooled at Oraukwu.

At the school of the young church at Alor, a notable teacher was one Mr. Malachi Okoye Ezeobi from Adazi Ani. The school taught mainly scriptures (using Dr. Watt‟s Catechism), Our Lord‟s prayer, and reading and writing. There was a succession of teachers from 1917 to 1933: Mr. Isaiah Okeke of Nnewi Ichi

1917 – 1919

Mr. Simon Emenogha of Nkwelle Ezunaka


Mr. Moses Emebo of Oba

1921 – 1923

Mr. Daniel Uba of Ojoto

1923 – 1924

Mr. Ben Emekwue of Okija

1925 – 1926

Mr. Simon Anodo of Ideani village, Alor

1927 – 1928

Mr. Philip Igbokwu of Ogbunike

1929 – 1930

Mr. Matthias Agbapuronwu of Obosi

1931 – 1933


St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Ide Enu, Ifite Alor

The history of St. Andrew‟s Church Ide Enu is strikingly different from that of St. Paul‟s Church, Ezi Alor, except in the structural framework. The church was founded in 1917 by Mazi Joseph Akubue, an already baptized Christian of Ide Enu village of Ifite Alor when he returned from St. Paul‟s Anglican Church, Nnobi. It should be noted for the records that by 1916 there was already a church at Ideani, a village of Alor across the Idemili River. Emmanuel Anglican Church was founded by Chief Ezenwanne Obianyo, facilitated by the church at Ogidi. Mazi Joseph Akubue was attending church services at Ideani, but soon realized that after heavy rains, he could not easily cross the Idemili River. He therefore decided to set up a church at Ide Enu.

When all arrangements were complete, Ogbazulu Ubosi donated a piece of land and, with the support of Chief Ezenwanne Obianyo of Ideani and such other early converts as Mr. Anosike, Simon Anodo and Mr. Stephen Ojukwu, St Andrew‟s Anglican Church Ide-Enu was born in April 1921, with Mazi Joseph Akubue as the leader. Among those who received the church members from Ideani were Emefo Okpanka, Nwudo Odenigbo, Obiagwu of Ezioye, Ojukwu Uzu, and Ogbazulu Ubosi. Members of the Emmanuel Anglican Church, Ideani contributed immensely, 320

especially in terms of finance and physical labour towards the construction of the church. Towards the end of 1921, and upon the deposit of the sum of ₤80 (eighty pounds) with the church authorities in Onitsha, a teacher, Mr. Peter Adieme, from Umuogari village of Oba, was sent to serve as the catechist and school teacher, although the church had no school. But within a month he was transferred to St. Matthias Church, Nkpor-Uno, to be replaced by Mr. Victor Otamuo of Ogidi who however was, after two weeks, transferred, and replaced by James Obi of Ihiala. Mr. Obi was himself transferred after two weeks and Peter Adieme, the first catechist, was again transferred back. The church was then located opposite Ugwukolo‟s premises, a place locally known as “compound”, later to become the cemetery for the Anglican Church in Alor.

The early members were J.I. Akubue, Isaiah Onyedibe, Philip Aniefuna, Thomas Okafor, Abraham Unachukwu, Stephen Okoye, Samson N. Elobenze, Isaac Onyedibe, Hezekiah Okafor, Innocent Ezeneme Okafor, Ben. N. Ugo, James Nwosu, Jeremiah Nwosu, Emmanuel Udo, Josiah Osondu, Jonathan Okafor-Udah, Zephniah Emefo, and a host of others.

As the church continued to grow, its main civilizing influence began to take hold. As an example such age-long horrible practices as the killing of twins and procurement of abortions began to be seen as wrong.

It is on record that Mr. Joseph I. Akubue, original progenitor of the church was the first member to wed in the church. It was he who in 1926 introduced the use of a musical instrument (an accordion) for use during worship. The first death among the early adherents was recorded as that of Samuel Eze Odoji of Uruezeani. He was buried in the church premises.


Merger of St. Paul’s and St. Andrew’s Churches

By 1930, it began to be considered expedient to merge the two Anglican churches on the mainland Alor. The last two teachers prior to the unification were Elijah Uzowulu and Matthias Agbapulonwu, from Nnobi and Obosi respectively. A problem was that St. Paul‟s Church was under Nnewi Parish while St. Andrew‟s was under Obosi Parish. A more important issue that caused some resistance to the idea of a merger was the feeling among the adherents in both churches that they were not worshipping the same god. It was at this juncture that the popular and famous Okwu Chukwu Ụka Eke was introduced among St. Paul‟s, St Andrew‟s and Emmanuel Churches. During this particular service, evangelists and preachers were exchanged among the three churches. Their main duty was to intimate the congregations with the fact that they preached 321

the same good news and were actually worshipping the same Almighty God. This strategy softened the resistance, but a new problem soon arose: which church name was to be adopted: St. Paul‟s or St. Andrew‟s? To break the impasse, Rev. J.M.I. Onyilobi, then the Parish Priest at Obosi, addressed Joseph Akubue, the founder of St. Andrew‟s in the following words: “Since you started with St Paul‟s in Nnobi, it would be good to end up with St. Paul‟s, in Alor”. St. Paul‟s was adopted and the merger finally took place in 1933.

St. Paul’s Church


The Advent of the Roman Catholic Church

In December 1885, Rev. Father Lutz and his team of missionaries arrived at Onitsha, heralding the Roman Catholic evangelization of the Igboland. It was not till 1914, i.e. nearly 30 years later, that the mission arrived Alor. Their general strategy was to introduce both church and school together, such that through the school children, their parents became easily evangelized. When in 1914 Chief Nweke Ugochukwu founded the Roman Catholic Church in his premises, the first people to embrace it were a group of young children who as such at once became both the school pupils and church members.


The pioneer teacher was Mr. Amos Anopu of Ojoto. He reportedly worked assiduously to progress the purpose of evangelism. A handful of children were registered, among whom were Matthew Nweke, Godwin Onyechi, Udoji Ozuome, Sampson Nwoye, Joseph Izuakor, Mmojama Ogbobelu, Donatus Okudo, Okoye Oshinwa, Okeke Mbeledeogu, Jerome Nwankwo, Okide Onyenwa, Nwajiaku Ezeoye, Mishack Nwankwo and many others.

However, this mission lasted for only about one year because of the high-handed and dictatorial approach adopted by the pioneer teacher, as earlier stated. People were being forced to attend church activities by seizing their goats and chicken other personal belongings. In 1915, the mission reorganized by recruiting new members. The mission had learnt from the past events. The arrival of the Anglican mission from some neighbouring towns was an additional pep. Following a reorganization effected by the mission functionaries sent in from Nnokwa, Nnewi and Onitsha, the church and school activities resumed in Chief Nweke Ugochukwu‟s compound. The list below contains the names of those who nourished the new born church and school right from 1914 to 1947: -

Mr. Amos Anopu of Ojoto

1914 – 1921

Mr. Bethrand Ukpaka of Nnobi

1922 – 1923

Mr. Thomas Okafor of Nnobi

1924 – 1925

Mr. James Nwandu of Nnokwa

1925 – 1927

Mr. Isaac Egenti of Ogbunike


Mr. William Okpo of Ogbunike


Mr. Micheal Obi of Obosi

1928 – 1931

Mr. Victor Anyichie of Nnobi


Mr. Anselem Ume of Nnokwa

1933 – 1934

Mr. Peter Okwuonu of Ogidi

1935 – 1938

Mr. Ukatu Okwuonu of Ogidi


Mr. Pius Ezeegbu of Umudioka

1940 – 1 947

The young church and school had become fairly well established by 1917 when the first Catholic priest paid a visit. This historic visit was by Rev. Father Eugene Groctz who later became known as the “Apostle of Aba”. His visit was essentially on reconnaissance basis and not to celebrate mass. This visit encouraged and reassured the teacher, the new converts and the young pupils that the authority of the new religion was behind them. Rev. Father Joseph, who later became known as the 323

“Apostle of Aguleri”, was the second priest to visit Alor and the first priest to conduct mass in Alor. Rev. Father Alphonsus Birch visited Alor in 1923. He served the town as the parish priest. The visits were scheduled for about three times a year while the administration of baptism was once a year. The occasional visits of the father and the masses he conducted made tremendous impact on the people of Alor. Every visit attracted more converts and strengthened the faith of the older converts.

Since the days of the dynamic Rev. Father Birch, a succession of equally enthusiastic and hardworking reverend fathers have taken charge of Alor till date. These servants of God who have served the Lord at Alor include Rev. Fathers Hagam (later to become Bishop of Makurdi), John Cross Anyogu (later to become Bishop of Enugu), C.P.O. Donoghu, M.C. Glade, Callagh Milts, Cornelius C. Wouife, and P. Waldron.

From 1914 to 1934 the Roman Catholic Church in Alor was under the Onitsha Parish. In 1934 it came under Nnewi Parish. When Nnokwa became a parish, Alor was one of the four towns that initially made it up. St. Mary‟s Catholic Church, Alor, became elevated to the status of a parish on the 1st day of September 1984, a particularly significant date, considering the fact that the mission was exactly 70 years old. It was therefore a very important milestone for the Catholic Church in Alor.

The first converts to receive the sacrament of baptism were some of the earliest pupils, such as Matthew Nweke who was baptized in 1924 in Alor. Earlier on, in 1920, some adults like James Abasilim, Isaac Afuekwe, John Ugochukwu and Stephen Nwosu were baptized but outside Alor. Other pioneers who were later baptized in Alor in 1924 were Jeremiah Obidiozor and Christopher Ekwonwa in 1925. Alfred Okoye, Simon Ogbugo, Paul Igweama, Samuel Igweama and Mark Enemchukwu, Godwin Onyechi and Ben Okoye were baptized in 1926. Other converts who witnessed the humble beginnings of the Catholic Church in Alor were Messrs Simon Udoagwa, John Nwosu, John Uko, James Ngige, Gabriel Onwukike, Daniel Uzokwe, Gabriel Okeke, Edward Chikwendu, Timothy Udodi, Patrick Obelogu, T.T. Nwoye, Vincent Ojukwu, Anselem Nwose and many others.

The Roman Catholic Mission in Alor also had its various locations before settling down at its present central abode at Nkwọr Alor. An account by Godwin Okoye shows the following: - The first site was at Uruezeani. The school and church started at Chief Nweke Ugochukwu‟s compound 324

and the church eventually took its position at the present site of St. Francis primary school at Uruezeani. Other churches later developed at Ezi Alor near Obi Agbo and at Ide near Ugoka‟s compound. Then in the year 1929 Uruezeani and Ezi Alor churches teamed up to construct a thatched house at Nkwọ. Ide people transferred their own church from near Ugoka‟s place to near Ngige‟s compound. By 1940, the need to unify the two churches was felt and in 1945, the two stations were unified resulting in the construction of a stone building at Nkwọ, as the forerunner of the present magnificent complex of St. Mary‟s Catholic Church, Alor.

St. Mary’s Church



Problems and Strategies

Language barrier was one of the most serious problems encountered by the early missionaries. It obviously posed a major challenge in preaching the gospel to the natives, especially in Igboland which did not seem to have the luck of having one of the liberated slaves from their language group trained to join the evangelizing teams. The missionaries thus realized that it made no sense to preach the gospel to the people in a language they could not understand. A way out was to establish schools to serve as forerunners to the missions. This in itself encountered difficulties. A major one for both missions in Alor was funds for paying teachers. Parents were reluctant to release their children, especially their first son, to school. Indeed many parents were said to have had to first consult an oracle to determine which of their children would be sent to school. Those children sent to school were classified as loafers who were no longer useful as farm hands. It was feared that those school children might eventually live the “white-man’s life”.

In spite of all these obstacles, schooling took hold in Alor and even the parents gradually began to see the benefits. Over time some Alor persons such as Rev. J.A. Okafo, John Emefo, Jerome Nwankwo, Michael Egwuagu, Godwin Onyechi, and many others, became literate enough to demonstrate the “white man‟s magic”, the art of reading and writing. It was these pioneer pupils that brightened the light of Christianity in Alor.

The early converts also worked hard for the abolition of such horrible practices as the killing of twins, burial of noblemen with slaves, etc. They achieved this by working on and converting some of the traditionalists. One problem they had was that the majority of the early Christians were from the poor masses of the society. According to Isichei (1978), they were drawn from the needy, rejected, the mothers of twins, women accused of witchcrafts, those suffering from diseases such as leprosy, which were regarded as abominable. This was the trend in Alor then because most of the early converts were of this social group who found life unsatisfactory and so they flew into the patronage of Christianity. This group, with the colonial government behind them, fought vehemently against these social ills and was able to stop most of them.

Another strategy applied to gain converts was the promise of free primary education followed by ready employment afterwards.



Growth, Development and Achievements

That Christianity became solidly rooted in Alor is attributable to the indefatigable spirit of the early missionaries and converts who made a lot of sacrifices. To succeed, they had to employ certain vital strategies and postures such as the use of school gifts, evangelical preaching and opposition to some inhuman traditional practices. No doubt, their work had a great boost from the influence of growing urbanization especially centered at Onitsha, as well as the development of infrastructure, especially roads.

Growth of the new religion could also be attributed to the courage of the early converts. They were pious and always ready to risk their lives for Christ. For instance, similar to the story of Gideon in the Bible who destroyed the altars of Baal and Asherah, the early converts collected some okpesi mmọọ and ikenga, the paraphernalia of idol worship, and burnt and used them as firewood. Some of these converts, e.g. Isaac Onyedilibe, Jerome Nwankwo, and John Nwosu, boasted to their unconverted kinsmen that if they died at the end of the exercise, then the new faith should be considered worthless. This seriously challenged the traditionalists who watched in amazement as nothing happened to the Christians. They felt weakened and utterly disappointed that their gods could not fight for themselves. The faith of the Christians was much strengthened. Needless to say, numerous traditionalists dropped their faith and embraced Christianity.

Another factor that promoted the growth of Christianity in Alor was the facility with which the adherents acquired foreign names. It was actually made compulsory by the missionaries throughout Igboland for early converts to take up biblical or at least English names at baptism. In fact from research findings, it became obvious that this was the real attraction rather than the notion that Christ died for them and was their personal saviour. The boast was something like: “I am no longer Okeke, Okoye, Mgbeke or Mgbafor but Michael, Mary or Martha”. It was almost the turn of the century before the priests could be persuaded to allow Igbo names in baptism. Once this caught on, the use of foreign and biblical names went into decline.

Music was a major factor in attracting membership. It was an integral part of any church worship. From the early 1950s to the present day the choirs of St. Paul‟s and St. Mary‟s churches had won accolades in singing competitions organized in the larger districts and parishes. It is on record that


the launching of an evangelical musical group, the gospel band, in 1984 in St. Paul‟s Church helped to restrain straying members from running off to white-garment churches.

Growth of Christianity in Alor had continued over the years with the building of more primary schools, in addition to the main ones at Nkwọ and Ezi Obegwu. In due course, and actually as of a competition, but what became of great benefit to Alor, post-primary institutions sprang up. First was a teacher training college which took off in 1956. An account of how that institution came to Alor is worth presenting here, even if only to illustrate how the ardour for education had caught on and blossomed in Alor, as well as the patriotism of some her indigenes.

Towards the mid-1950s, the Anglican mission in the greater Onitsha missionary area decided to establish an Elementary Training College (ETC) for the training of Grade III teachers for its primary schools. Obosi and Alor indicated interest in siting the college in their towns. Obosi, well known from genealogical legend as a junior brother of Alor, had an edge since they already had the requisite land and a junior teacher training institution – a Pupil Teachers College (PTC). All they needed do was effect an infrastructural upgrade. The Anglican Education Secretary, Mr. Enemo from Nnokwa, therefore decide to settle the matter by resolving it to cash. The first town to deposit the sum of ₤2,000 (two thousand pounds) had the college. The representatives of Alor immediately hinted a few Alor traders and they met at No. 4 William Street, the shop of Mr. Pius Mbachu of Umuoshi village. The sum was raised there and then and the following day deposited at the office of the Education Secretary. Alor had the college.

In 1955 the Anglican Church broke the ground and construction work started on land contributed jointly by Ihuwam and Obiangwu quarters of Umuoshi. Classes took off at the Central School as a temporary arrangement and operated for a few months before relocating to the permanent site. The college was in 1964 transformed into what we know today as the Girls Secondary School, Alor. The school has given education to a large number of girls from Alor and beyond, who are today highly accomplished women in various callings and professions, a glowing example being our own Engineer Mrs. Monica Ego Ojukwu (nee Aziagba), a consultant in aviation control electronics and the tenth President of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria.

The Catholic Church planned and built a secondary school for boys, which took off in 1958 as the St. Johns College, Alor, situated on the slopes of the Idemili River valley in the northern outskirts of the town. In its heydays, the school was bustling with a large population of students as well as 328

teachers black, white and Indian. It offered a full complement of secondary school arts and science subjects. This is why the school now boasts a large number of highly successful old students – doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, etc, including some of the most illustrious public figures in Nigeria, such as our own Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, whose incomparable performance as the Governor of Anambra State between 2003 and 2006 makes every Alor indigene stand tall anywhere. 10 Current Developments – To Every Village a Church In recent times, the two major denominations of Christianity in Alor have considered it expedient to take the worship places nearer to the people, a form of decentralization. This has been by way of, not just establishing worship centres, but by designing and constructing real church buildings, complete with the parsonage. Thus, apart from the mighty and magnificent St. Mary‟s Catholic Church set on the hill at Nkwo Alor, there is the St. Charles Boromeo Catholic Church presently under construction in Umuokwu village. Being a particularly large and complex architectural configuration, it is taking an enormous amount of resources and time to complete. However, the quarters for the priests are already in place.

St. Charles Boromeo Catholic Church, Umuokwu, under construction


The Anglican Communion has set up three other village churches in addition to the central one, the stylish St. Paul‟s Church. These are St. Andrew‟s Anglican Church, Umuokwu (fully constructed), St. Mark‟s Anglican Church, Ebenesii (under construction), and the Immanuel Anglican Church, Umuoshi (under construction). All are in use even while under construction.

St. Andrew’s Anglican Church and Parsonage, Umuokwu

St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Ebenesii 330

The impetus for the massive effort to decentralise has come from several sources – internal and external. With increase in population, no single church building, however large can accommodate all worshippers especially on such special occasions as harvest, ordinations, and visitations by the top clerical hierarchy. It is well known that towns are classified and recognised by the number of churches they have; the more the higher classification especially when it comes to the tussle for which town would be the seat of the higher clerics. It has also been found necessary to decentralise so as to ease the pressure on the central church for such functions as weddings, baptisms, bible classes, and general religious education. In particular, funerals have become a major function of the clerics in Alor, as in most other places in the area. Deaths appear to be getting more frequent. However, relative to the increasing population, it is probably no more than in the past. The frequency is now such that burials and funerals have become inevitable on week days. The church officials are becoming somewhat overwhelmed with the frequency and so they are exerting an undue amount of control on the process of burials especially as regards fixing the dates. The current situation is that the deceased is stowed away in a mortuary while the bereaved awaits the date fixed by the clerics at their convenience. The situation needs a review. There does not seem to be any real benefit derivable by storing corpses virtually indefinitely. The establishment of village churches should expedite and facilitate the burial of the dead.


Other Churches and Sects

Some Christian churches arose in Alor long after the coming of the Church Missionary Society and the Roman Catholic Mission. Some of these churches started off as mere prayer groups, with their members still participating in parallel in the activities of the main churches. Over time, they transformed into full-blown churches completely independent of the establishment churches. Invariably the big churches pronounced a ban or expulsion on such members. The measure often had a counterproductive effect since such members, feeling a measure of persecution for their faith, hardly ever returned to the fold.

Another mode of origin was by way of an indigene of Alor who joined a sect in another location, say a big city, bringing the sect home and setting up shop in Alor, often initially drawing membership from their immediate families. Some of the sects include the Johovah‟s Witnesses, Odozi Obodo (Christ Holy Church), Save the Lost Mission, Eternal Order of Cherubim and Seraphim, Deeper Life Bible Church, etc. There is no way anybody can keep count of the sects, churches, prayer groups and prophetic circles that are mushrooming by the day. Many of them draw 331

attention by playing loud gospel music during the day and conducting even noisier crusades all night long. Such prayers hardly contain more than supplicating the Almighty God to visit perceived enemies with fire and brimstone. It is not surprising to wake up in the dead of the night just to hear an endless chant of “Holy Ghost fire” or “ọkụ, ọkụ, ọkụ”. The hapless adherents soon begin to see beyond the noise into the actual intentions of the leaders – basically commercial and carnal. Such churches do not seem to survive for too long. Let us now look at a few of the surviving ones. Jehovah’s Witnesses This is perhaps the oldest sect in Alor. They have rather remained a small group often populated by disgruntled members of the establishment churches. They have been in Alor long enough to build their own church but they rather meet in member‟s homes. Their missionary or evangelizing activity consists in getting around town in small groups trying to work up a discussion of the bible and distributing or selling their international publications such as Awake and Watchtower. One must acknowledge that these magazines often feature particularly well researched and educative articles on contemporary issues such as nuclear science, global warming, internet, and of course a good dose of religious matters such as creationism, hell-heaven, and so on. It may be said for the Jehovah‟s witnesses that their activities are not usually obtrusive; they hardly mount loudspeakers nor even conduct noisy services or crusades. However, they insist on not recognizing the national flag nor are they ready to sing the national anthem. This has often set them at odds against the rest of the society who wonder why they do not recognise the general governance role of the various governments over their lives. It is not unlikely that their generally cool, insipid and discriminatory attitude to the rest of the society is responsible for their inability to grow their membership beyond a few families.

Christ Holy Church (Odozi Obodo) This sect was founded at Onitsha by a woman called Odozi Obodo. It spread to several other places, arriving Alor in 1974 by the agency of Albert Nweke of Uruezeani. The members claim to be visionaries who can see and interpret the future. Thus people were drawn to the sect because they wished to know what the future held in stock for them so as to avert or forestall problems. The converts however believe that the act of healing belongs to God. They have a set of stringent rules and regulations guiding the conduct of adherents. Some of these rules prohibit participation in certain cultural activities and membership of traditional organisations, an attitude which tends to


make other people label them as isolationist. This has probably limited their growth in a society that prefers openness and non-discriminatory conduct.

Eternal Order of Cherubim and Seraphim This sect was introduced into Alor by the Okide family of Umuoshi 1985. The main claim by the adherents is that they could assist people to get anything they desired from God. Their mode of worship, usually set on a hill or an elevated ground, routinely involved fasting, prayers and the use of candles, incense, holy water, perfumes, bells and various other accessories. References and Sources Crowther, M., 1962. The Story of Nigeria, London, Faber and Faber. Ekechi, F.K., 1917. 1854 – 1914 History: Enterprises and Rivalry in Igboland. Ifemesia, C.C., 1975. Traditional Humane Living Among the Igbo: an Historical Perspective. Fourth Dimension Publishers, 141p. Isichei, E.I., 1978. A history of Igbo People. London, Macmillan Press. Ndulue, A.C., 1985. Priestly Ordination of Rev. John Beluchukwu Ugobeze. Nwagbara, S.N., 1977. 1860 – 1960 Igboland, A Century of Contact With Britain London, Hienemann Publishers. Okafo, B.J.O., 1971 Christianity in Alor. Alor Today, Journal of Alor Youth Movement. Okafor, E.O., 1981. “Origin of Alor” The Spokeman, Vol 1. Oraka, L.N., 1982. The Spokesman of Alor Students Union, Vol. 1. Ubesie, T.U., 1978. Odinals Igbo, (Ibadan Orxford University Press.


Pastor Samuel Chukwudi Okafor-Udah, BA (Honours), PGDE, MA Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies Nwafor Orizu College of Education, Nsugbe General Overseer Gospel Life Revival Bible Church of Nigeria

4.2 THE OLISE CULT: AN ANCIENT VOICE WITH MODERN RELEVANCE Rev. Fr. Dr. Lawrence Madubuko Introduction: A Timely Undertaking Together with most human communities in Africa south of the Sahara, Alor people have been on the fast track of social evolution since the 19th century when most of Africa, sort of, collided with the European colonizers and Christian evangelizers on the highways of history. Chinua Achebe and a line-up of African writers have variously registered the shock that was consequent upon this collision. Understandably, the area covered by these African authors still remains only a tip of the iceberg. Indeed their work can best be seen as a summons to join in the documentation task. One can rightly see the present volume of researches into Alor history as a modest attempt to answer the call. Posterity will therefore be grateful to the organisers of the research documented in this volume. Such a research work into the various features of Alor history has indeed been overdue. An index to this is the fact that in Alor the adult Christian population is already running into the third generation. That is to say that we are already getting grandparents who were themselves born of Christian parents – with all its implications for the break with the traditional culture.


Chinua Achebe and others who plunged into the work of documenting African culture have made the point that the black man did not have to wait for the contact with the colonizers before he could have a culture that was entirely his own. Rather, he had an integral cultural system which, despite all its limitations (and which culture, be it ever so sophisticated, does not have its shadows?), most satisfactorily served the people for whom it was meant, until the cataclysmic collision.

The impact of the collision was such that virtually no sphere of the life of the African was left undisrupted, nor did any territorial portion of Africa escape the impact. Thus the more territorially extensive the research and the more spheres of life covered, the better the integral recovery of the seemingly lost African heritage. What is at stake is the rescue from oblivion of our abundant cultural treasures whether as artefacts, histories or practices. Such rescue operation hardly needs any justification. Its gains are immensely psychological, not only the present writer who, on encountering international audiences, as happens while on international flights, or watching such world media like CNN, feels exasperated to note that what the modern world seems to know of Africa is hardly more than bad governments, internecine wars, hunger, poverty and disease, especially HIV/AIDS. The documentation of our treasures will definitely tone up the pale picture and revamp our collective self-image. When this is said it becomes obvious that the organisers of these researches are in tune with the founding fathers of the premier indigenous university of Nigeria with their aspiration articulated in the motto: To Restore the Dignity of Man.

But the foreseeable gains are not entirely psychological. There is scientific and economic good. A certain programme on a German television station showed how much breakthroughs are within our grasp if only we could pay attention to our environment. The programme showed that the technique of getting the helicopter to stay stationary in the air was learnt by observing the dragon fly, an insect well known in Alor and called oti-udu-na-mmili. In this connection one is made to think of the potential scientific and economic proceeds that could accrue from unearthing some cultural monuments in the nature of personalities and practices. For instances, Otigba Nwafor of Uruezeani was a famous traditional orthopaedic healer; Mgbankwo Nnwayi and Azogbue, both of Ide, were renowned traditional midwives. How much richer we could be by recalling, documenting and studying their techniques. Not that we need to just copy their art, rather we need their heritage as the proverbial shoulder upon which to stand and see far and more easily. There is hardly any area of modern life to which a good grasp of the traditional life of our people cannot make a good input. Indeed it is the thesis of the present write-up that, in the very practice of Christian religion, a good


understanding of our traditional religion can be a great asset. By way of illustration let us look at the cult of Olise in Alor.

The Cult of Olise Perhaps it would be useful to the reader for the present writer to present his credentials relevant to the task at hand. The writer is a member of Ochiagha Age Grade in Alor. Most members of Ochiagha Age Grade (born 1943 to 1948) were born of Christian parents but, generally at least, one of our parents started life as a non-Christian. That was why much of the life of our childhood still resonated with the institutions of traditional life. There was hardly anyone of us at that time who had not an uncle or aunt (if not father or/and mother) still practising the traditional religion. That was why we were more or less in living contact with traditional religion and life. As for the present writer, he had, all through his childhood an uncle living the traditional life and still practising the traditional religion. Given the harmonious co-existence in the extended family the present writer was, inevitably, one could say, brought into contact with the traditional religion including the Olise festival. He was, therefore, a participant observer to the domestic version of the cult of Olise. With the passage of time some aspects of the celebration have become blurred if not altogether out of memory. So we have had to ask questions to fill up the gaps in our experience of the cult of Olise and particularly of the festival.

As far as one can recall, Olise was the most sumptuous festival of our childhood. Part of what made it so sumptuous was that for the festival my family moved over to my uncle‟s and, as the saying goes – everybody ate from the same pot. It should be observed that at no other time did our families make such a move except at Christmas when my uncle‟s family came over to ours. Indeed the festive equivalence of Olise and Christmas was brought out in more ways than by the migration and fusion of our families. Each of the festivals was celebrated for two days. There was also the equivalence in the menu. Christmas and Olise were marked by heavy meals. They were among the few occasions in traditional life when one was sure to eat meat. One still remembers the makeshift cattle pens that sprang up on these occasions especially in the area where Alor civic hall stands today. So many cows had to be slaughtered.

It was, however, not the meat in the menu that marked Olise out from the every dayness of the traditional life of that era and from other festivals. It was ọna. Bearing in mind the anthropological fact that the menu is a serious indicator of the nature and intensity of the any festival, it is pertinent to reflect on the incidence of ọna in the celebration of Olise festival. Why ọna of all food items? 336

While some respondents could not give any answer to this question some others maintained that ọna was the special menu item for Olise because it had and still has some royal trappings. This answer was initially seen as unimpressive considering that yam, according to the Nri myth, is the divine food to the Igbo world. However a second thought calls us to take the answer more seriously. Although we know of no founding stories about the origin of Olise festival it makes sense that ọna was the menu of the feast because of the dignity of the menu.

Along with other Igbo people, Alor people worshiped a variety of spiritual beings at the head of which is the Supreme Being. Scholars of African Traditional Religion (ATR) have maintained that, although most Africans acknowledged the Supreme Being whom they variously designated as Oluwa, Nyame, Nkosi, etc, they rarely worshipped him. Among the Igbo it is generally understood that the Supreme Being is he whom the Igbo called Chukwu.

It seems that for the early Alor traditional believer the Supreme Being was rather known as Olise (Olisebuluwa). We come to this conclusion on the basis of the correspondence between the features of the Supreme Being noted by scholars of African Traditional Religion (ATR) and the features of Olise deducible from the interaction between Olise and Alor worshippers of the same. The feature that stands out in Alor worshippers‟ relation with Olise is that of pre-eminent transcendence. This consciousness registered by the scholars of ATR as characteristic of the Igbo attitude towards the Supreme Being pervades the cult of Olise in Alor. It is for instance significant that, though every family celebrated Olise festival, the cultic act of worship at the feast took place at only one special place, i.e. at “okwa ogbe Olise” within the Nkwọ premises. This is not on account of unfamiliarity with the reality of Olise. Alor traditional worshippers showed the awareness of the intervention of Olise in their fate. Hence the human monuments in his honour, the pre-Christian Alor traditional worshipper named his child: Oliseka, Nwo(li)se, Olisegbo, O(li)sakwe, O(li)seloka, etc.

Nevertheless, there was a sense of reserve in their approach to Olise. There was a limitation to the points of contact with him even on the day of his festival. Perhaps the strongest indication of this sense of pre-eminent transcendence of Olise is in the area of swearing and oath taking. The Alor traditional worshipper was in no doubt about the ultimacy of Olise in power and providence. One could tell this from such Alor linguistic monument as Oliseka. Of course there are other names in Alor with the “-ka” suffix: Udoka, Agwụka, Nkwọka, Afọka, Oyeka, etc. This does not necessarily diminish the ultimacy of Olise conveyed in the name Oliseka. There is a superiority that is not absolute. For instance when a child is named Nkwoka it is not actually being said that Nkwọ is 337

supreme over all. Sometimes it is a statement about the time of birth. Born before 2 pm on Afor day a child would without any hesitation be named Nwafor or Udeafor. Were she to be born around 5 pm the same day, especially after the day‟s market had dispersed, the traditional attitude regarding time would make the parents name the child Nkwogụlụ/Agụlụnkwọ or Nkwọka. So Nkwọka is not necessarily a statement about the superiority in being of Nkwọ. Rather, it is a manifestation of the anthropological datum also indicated in such names as Afọagụlụ, Oyeka/Oyeagụlụ and Ekenwe/Ekeagụlụ. So the “-ka” suffix of Nkwoka, Oyeka and even such other names as Udoka and Agwụka, is only positing relative superiority e.g. (Nkwọ(ka-Afor) or Agwụ(ka-ilo-ike). One can reasonably wonder whether the “-ka” in Olise(ka) cannot be rightly understood in the same way as in Nkwọ-(ka) and Agwụ(-ka-ike). Definitely, the “-ka” in Olise-ka says what it said in Nkwọka and in Agwụka, but actually says more than that.

As is well known, the sources of ATR include more than the names Africans bear. A privileged source is the prayers of ATR: in these prayers, especially those over kola, the traditional Alor man ordinarily observes a certain hierarchy of beings in his reference to the spiritual interlocutors. The hierarchy runs thus: Supreme Being Deities Ancestors Spiritual Forces Charms and Magic In the light of such a hierarchy, one reasonably sees a difference in the “superiorities” of some spiritual beings and that of the Supreme Being of the Alor man. One rightly understands his Oliseka as not only saying that Olise is superior to some other beings but that he is absolutely superior to all. Oliseka in Alor (linguistic culture) is then the linguistic version of what on Olise festival is given a gastronomic expression by preparing ọna, the unique menu of the royalty.

What we have been trying to make clear is the point that the Supreme Being is not a foreigner to the religious world of the traditional Alor man. However, to the Alor man he is more commonly known as Olise. Alor man approached Olise with reverence and reserve; no ubiquitous shrine. As far as we know, there was no attempt to make an effigy of him. Olise had no nkwu (carved image) as such minor powers like udo and okide.


Along the same line of reserve and reverence, and more significant for us modern Alor Christians, the traditional worshipper refrained from dragging Olise into his objectionable fights. He rarely involved Olise in his mission of vengeance (ịtụ iyi or ịkpụ iyi). For that purpose he usually took recourse to Ana or some other lower capricious agents like Udo or even Nwọcha, Omaliko, and especially Agwụmankwụma. In all this one can readily see manifested what St. Paul said in Athens, of the whole pagan world – they are groping in the dark. Our people did grope about, like any other people without Christ, the light. But out of all this, one thing stands out as the silver line in the cloud of the religious world of our fathers. They were saying that there are things which we should not do with him whom we regard as the greatest reality, be his name Olise or Yahweh.

The New Religious Practices A new form of religious worship marks our time. This novelty is experienced both in the main established churches and in various emerging religious groupings. The elements of this novelty include an unmistakeable emphasis on the bible, and from a healthy rootedness in God‟s word to confrontational fundamentalism. Associated with this biblical revivalism is a strong claim to immediacy in relating to God, that is, a sense of less need for sacerdotal mediation and rituals overall. There is a freer rein to the expression of emotions in relating to the divine. These three elements are more or less present in the religious expression of the various assemblies today meeting various degrees of acceptance.

It would no doubt be interesting to make a long study of this religious novelty and its elements in order to see, for instance, what history can tell us about it and the reason for its emergence now in our present society, as well as where it may be leading us. We must however postpone such a study for another occasion. For now we may simply observe that, as the new religious experience crystallises out into a tradition and culture, care must be taken that what we build does not turn out worse than what we have knocked down.

Drawing from Our Heritage There is no doubt that certain things inherited as religious culture of Alor need be knocked down. One thinks immediately of such practices as “funeral cow in arrears”. By this practice it is insisted that no one should be given a funeral with a cow unless his long dead parent had received one. For Christians such a practice makes neither religious nor economic sense.


Regarding the worship of Olise by the Alor traditional believer, the point has to be made that there are elements in it that challenge our Christian worship of the triune God. Indeed one is humbled to observe that our “pagan” forefathers with the reserve and reverence with which they worshipped the Supreme eing, Olise, will rise in judgement and condemn us Christians of the new religious age with our un-evangelical and vengeful chorus of “Holy Ghost-Fire!” which trivializes the divine majesty. It was common in the days of our childhood – the age we already noted as still resonating with institutions of the traditional religion and culture – it was common then to hear such vengeful and venomous utterances as ana sokwọ ghụ; egbe igwe mawakwaa ghị’si, agwọ bụkpọkwaa gh’anya, nkịta salakwaa gh’anya, etc. But it is hard to recall an instance of anyone, however enraged invoking Olise in vengeance. By calling down “Holy Ghost Fire!” is it possible we are unwittingly reducing the Almighty God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to the later day Agwụmankwụma?

Rev. Fr. Dr. Lawrence Madubuko, BD, PhD Lecturer, Blessed Iwene Tansi Major Seminary, Onitsha



Mallinson Ukatu

1. Introduction – The Ezeofor Ofọ is a sacred traditional wooden instrument highly revered in Igboland and used as a means of communication with the gods. It is therefore not something commonly used by all and sundry. In terms of symbolism, it is an apparatus or tool equivalent to that of any other religious faith. It is an instrument portraying wisdom, authority, strength and commitment to the truth. The holder, known as Ezeofor, is the chief priest of Alor and top in the hierarchy of priests. He is expected to be reserved, highly disciplined, respectable, of high integrity, and absolutely trustworthy. He must be of exemplary and impeccable character so as not to offend the gods and incur their wrath. His duties include issuing any aspiring ọzọ title holder or traditional ruler (including the Igwe) with the ofọ as an instrument of authority to serve the community and the gods. The Ezeofor functions as the traditional prime minister and in that capacity serves as the custodian of the culture, traditions, and norms of the town. On passing on of the title holder, the successor is clearly understood to be the next oldest male in the family lineage. Such a person would normally have been old enough not to be very interested in the acquisition of land and such material things. Indeed in the last hundred 341

years, no Ezeofor took up the title at less than seventy years of age. His prime desire would normally be the success of his tenor. Besides, as a perquisite of office, a parcel of farm land is reserved and absolutely exclusive to him.

2. The Akpụ Tree: Focus of Sacrificial Offerings This is a sacred tree, not less than 500 years old, believed to have been planted and nurtured by the first Ezeofor, i.e. Isigwu, himself. The tree was called akpụ-ọfọ and served as the reference point for sacrificial offerings by Alor people to the spirits, as a means of renewing or strengthening the covenants that held the people together. The akpụ tree symbolized a memorial to the founding of the Isugwu-Umuoshi. Its premises would normally be cleared and a red ribbon tied round the akpụ tree in order to invoke effectiveness and potency of the covenants sought with sacrificial offerings. Such offerings were usually sometime in June, i.e. before the new yam festival. The Ezeofor would pour the blood of the sacrificial animal (goat or chicken) round the tree and tie the carcass at the entrance to the premises, for the purpose of warding off evil.

The great Akpu tree; its sheer size made it a tourist attraction. It was reputed to be overe a thousand years old by the time it was needlessly cut down on 18/12/2000 342

The akpụ tree served as the focal point for ilọ mmọọ – the annual sacrificial ceremonies for the renewal of covenants with ancestors and the various gods. In the first place, the covenant with the gods was for success in endeavours, protection from evil spirits, good harvest and general guidance in life. Life on earth was seen as a matter of what the gods decided. A covenant with them was therefore of paramount importance and without it one‟s life would be subject to turbulence and easy capitulation to multifarious vicissitudes. Therefore, for the purpose of recharging the covenant with the gods, done annually as ilọ mmọọ, virtually the whole Alor would gather at the shrine bearing their different sacrificial offerings including goats, chicken, kola nuts, etc. At the shrine, symbolized by the giant akpụ tree the Ezeofor would administer the offerings stating and restating the desires, needs and wishes of the individuals and all and sundry to the gods. The shrine was of course held in utmost reverence; nobody got in there on their own in the absence of the Ezeofor.

3 Traditional Duties of the Ezeofor Apart from the duty of ilọ mmọọ, an annual event already discussed above, the Ezeofor has several other tasks incidental on his position as a kind of prime minister and custodian of the mores, customs, traditions, ethics and moral fibre of the community: i) Dealing with abomination: - It was a primary duty of Ezeofor to keep the community morally clean and pure. Contravention of this statute was a serious abomination (ime alụ), which included such offences as bestiality, incest, climbing of palm tree by a female, stealing yams, etc. On being brought before the Ezeofor by the offender‟s kindred, he would examine the matter and pronounce an appropriate and irrevocable punishment. Punishments included fines, cleansing or outright banishment from Alor. The process of cleansing (ịkpụ alụ) usually involved being paraded naked at the Nkwọ market while in full session.

ii) New Yam: - Ezeofor was normally the first person to present the new yam, essentially from his own farm, at the Nkwọ market. Thereafter, the eating of new yam might begin, usually before the more elaborate festival.

iii) Breaking the Kola Nut: - in any gathering where the Ezeofor was present, it was his duty to break the kola nut. This involved an elaborate prayer session, clearly indicative of the deeply religious nature of the people.


iv) Arbitrations: - The Ezeofor was usually the final point in the settlement of disputes or cases that were knotty enough to go beyond the kindred and the quarter levels of adjudication. His decision was as such beyond challenge.

4. The Ezeofor Lineage The position of Ezeofor, the holder of Ọfọ Alor, was completely and exclusively vested in the Isigwu family of Umuoshi. The title holder is invariably the first son, i.e. the diọpkpala in the Isigwu family. At the present time, the Isigwu stock consists of three branches: * Umuazolu – Mbakwe, Onyekonwu, Nwagu, and Nwudoh families * Umuneli – Ukatu and Ezeani families * Umuekeka – Ibekwute, Ojukwu, and Okide families As the original Isigwu stock multiplied and branched out, the title of Ezeofor, the carrier of isi ọfọ in Alor, devolved on the eldest man in Umuazolu and Umueneli families combined. The task of carrying the wooden carved statue (nkwu) during outings, festivals and ceremonies was that of Umueleka family. Thus duties and tasks were clearly apportioned. By the same token the perquisites due to respective families were clear. For instance, on occasions involving the slaughtering of a cow, it was clear which family got what specific portion of meat.





Emeka Okide



Up to the mid-20th century Alor was still very much a stronghold of traditional religion which was in the olden days exclusively the worship of idols, usually housed in shrines. This could be classified within the belief system generally referred to as animism – which is the belief in spiritual beings or spiritual forces; a broad acceptance that natural phenomena and things, animate and inanimate, possess individual innate souls. All this would indicate that from time immemorial Alor people believed in a supreme spiritual being, which they called “Chi” or God. They worshipped Him their own way through the smaller gods that were instituted to serve as agencies or the means to the omnipotent, omniscient Deity that one did not see. In a way Alor people could be viewed as already predisposed towards the Almighty God such that in due course, and with only a minimum of resistance, it was quite easy to convert them to Christian religion. The account of the processes that brought in and firmly rooted the two denominations of Christianity in Alor has been given in an earlier paper in this book. 345

With increasing influence of Christianity, the scenario gradually changed and only a handful of people are still practicing the old faith today. The two major Christian denominations – Anglican and Roman Catholic faiths – now have several churches, the main ones of which are St. Paul‟s Anglican Church, and St. Mary‟s Catholic Church. Of recent, the Anglican Church decentralised by establishing new parishes at Umuokwu (St. Andrew‟s Anglican Church); Umuoshi (Immanuel Anglican Church) and Ebenesii (St. Mark‟s Anglican Church). The Roman Catholic Church established two new parishes – St. Charles Boromew Catholic Church, Umuokwu, and St. John‟s Catholic Church, Ebenesii. These parish expansions are both a response to increasing populations of parishioners, and an effort to bring the church nearer to the people, an approach completely consonant with the spirit of Pentecostal movement.


The Pentecostal Movement

Pentecostalism pertains to the Christian religious phenomenon that relies on the in-filling or baptism of the Holy Ghost for the work of the ministry, completely reminiscent of what happened to Christ‟s disciples on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection. The movement has largely permeated the whole world and, rather most fortunately, has reached Alor in great force and there are now quite a few Pentecostal churches in the town and her neighbours. These are the Deeper Life Bible Church, Save the Lost Church, Redeemed Bible Church, Assemblies of God Church, Watchman‟s Ministry, The Lord‟s Chosen Church, Kingdom Life Church and Practical Christian Band Church. Plans are afoot to establish in the near future parishes of other major Pentecostal churches such as the Redeemed Christian Church of God.

In addition to the physical presence of the parishes of these Pentecostal churches, the Pentecostal influence is permeating Alor in another way. The current trend amongst Alor youth who belong to the main orthodox Anglican and Roman Catholic denominations is to attend Pentecostal churches in the townships where they reside. Some who still attend the orthodox churches in the townships find the support for their spiritual development by attending one form of fellowship or the other such as the Full Gospel Business Men‟s Fellowship, Sister‟s Fellowship of Nigeria, etc.

It may be observed that a few Alor people still find expression for their spiritual perception in such humanistic religions such as Amorc, Eckanker, Free Masons, Lodge, and so on. These are not part 346

of the Pentecostal movement, hence it is instructive to examine why such secretive religions, which deny the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ, attracted away some people? One can see a good measure of dissatisfaction with the modus operandi of the old orthodox Christian denominations. Some of these Church organisations are perhaps becoming undeniably lack-lustre and materialistic in their approach to the worship of God, and the leaders are sometimes shy to confront sinful habits and notorious sinners in the fold. This would be enough to make some pious Christians rethink their adherence. Indeed the urge to seek alternatives to orthodox churches for spiritual development stems from the fact that most of the older churches lack the tangible or visible evidence of the impact of the Holy Spirit as well as signs and wonders, which accompanied the early apostolic churches in their services, as can be seen in the book of Acts of the Apostles. Also, the dire need for spiritual renewal and rebirth (being „born-again‟) as well as biblical kingdom establishment (having dominion over our circumstances and environment), which are the essential ingredients of Christianity, are not being stressed in some of these orthodox churches. However, a welcome development is the advent of revival groups within the orthodox churches such as EFAC in the Anglican churches and Charismatics in the Roman Catholic churches. In parishes of orthodox churches, where members of these revival groups are in positions of authority, the services are lively and tend to resemble those of the Pentecostal churches, since it is the same Spirit of God that is in operation.

However, we must also note that within the context of Pentecostalism, there are equally some false prophets and charlatans, who masquerade as religious authorities. We do know that out of every twelve, there would always be a Judas, hence the biblical injunction that by their fruits, you shall know them (Matt. 7: 15 – 23). By the pretentious behaviours of these religious quacks, they deceive the unsuspecting public, who cannot easily discern their evil intentions, due to lack of knowledge and maturity on biblical injunctions relating to Godly conduct. As such, there are some charlatans who start off movements for the carnal and material perquisites that can be harvested. Their ultimate intention is to exploit the poor masses that flock to them having been attracted and impressed by the funfair and miracles accompanying their operations. Needless to say, their deception soon comes to light, but not before some hapless seekers of healing/miracles have been duped and further impoverished. It is important that we do not access Pentecostal leaders only by the miracles accompanying their crusades, but more importantly, by the holiness and character of the individuals, for by so doing, we will ensure they do not make merchandise of us.


Iconoclasm: Right or Wrong 347

One of the developments associated with Pentecostalism is the destruction of shrines and artefacts of idol worship in Alor and neighbouring towns. We may recall that in the book of Judges 6: 25 – 32, Gideon destroyed Baal‟s shrine located in his father‟s compound. He was directed by the Lord on this action and he exercised his legal right over what was within his father‟s premises. Historians, traditionalists, and conservative Christians strongly believe that these shrines and artefacts of idol worship should be preserved for the sake of posterity. They contend that these items would in future become major objects of study, a branch of the arts referred to as iconology. It is argued that, religion aside, Alor could in the future become a destination for scholars in that discipline of art/history, if the idol and shrines are guarded, protected and preserved. They also contend that many countries today such as Egypt, Israel and Latin Americas earn an enormous amount of foreign exchange and have numerous job opportunities just by showing tourists the artefacts of the ancient religious practices, which they do not today necessarily believe in. But the iconoclasts argue that that these items exert a controlling influence on the lives of the people who worship and fear them, hence the need to reduce their influence or totally eliminate them. However, as born-again Christians, in as much as we wish to eliminate the artefacts/emblems of idol worship in-order to arrest the negative spiritual influence they exact on the town and their adherents, we do not need to violate or trespass other people‟s properties. Discussion to secure the concurrence of those directly involved, prior to any destruction, should be the way out. The most important approach is to deal with the spirits behind these shrines and artefacts of idol worship. This is being effectively carried out by way of spiritual warfare through prayers, since the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God in the bid to pull down undesirable strongholds (2 Corinthians 10: 3 – 5).


Pentecostal Umbrella and Development of Alor

Alor born-again Christians are increasing in numbers by the day. This is incidental on the migration from the Scripture Union (S.U.) of the recent past, whose members were subjected to intense persecution, to the present liberal Pentecostals to which most people are proud to belong. This is also a reflection of the unfolding revelation from the gospel of salvation to that of dominion after salvation. The present societal acceptance notwithstanding, Christians are still required to carry their cross daily and follow the footsteps of Christ in challenging all societal norms and traditions that violate the written word of God. Alor Born Again Christians Association is an amalgam of the various denominations under the Pentecostal umbrella. The association meets regularly in different locations nationwide and conducts a major annual home-coming event during the Christmas season.


The association has undertaken some development projects in a bid to complement the efforts of the Alor Peoples Convention.

True Christians are a light to the world and salt upon the earth. Because Christians are ambassadors of Christ in this world, they are supposed to season our environment and make it appealing to God. This should be the case in Alor and our belief systems and spiritual development should result in greater development and prosperity for our people.



1 Politics and administration – E.C. Nwankwo and A.I. Afuekwe 2 Age grade system – A.I. Afuekwe 3 Modern governance – C. Aniefuna 4 Native ordinances applicable in the olden days – Emeka Ngige 349



E.C. Nwankwo and A.I. Afuekwe 1


Politics can be defined simply as the art of government. The definition may also include an individual‟s opinion on matters of governing of the state, whether he is a leader or a mere follower. Another perspective to the issue is that outside of party politics, everyone who feels concerned about how he or she is being governed is a politician. This is irrespective of the level of education or enlightenment, and is consistent with the view of the early Greek philosophers who held that man is a political animal.

Administration in our context can also be defined as the management of public affairs. The relationship between politics and administration is that the political atmosphere greatly influences, or indeed determines the administrative bent. Thus, an administrator need not be a politician, but to succeed, he has to fully appreciate the varying political climates under which he manages public affairs. This is to say that the instant politics of a place colours its administration.


Prior to the colonial era, Alor, like most other Igbo communities, was administered based on the grand norm in Igboland. There was no eze or igwe. Politics was reduced to the barest minimum and was based largely on seniority or hierarchy of quarters and kindred units, as well as the levels of titles held. Broad decisions were taken at meetings in the village squares by adult men on issues at that level. At the larger or higher community level, decisions were taken by those qualified to participate, again, based on hierarchy of titles taken, and on the ability to grasp the issues at stake. Alor being an open and accommodating society, whoever was forthcoming with ideas and solutions to the issues at stake had the floor at meetings, in contradistinction to some other communities, where the unfortunate caste system severely segregated and menaced the populace. The people coexisted peacefully and resisted the white man‟s attempts at incursion. They vehemently opposed the penetration of civilization. Indeed they made a covenant not to allow the white man and his teachings take hold in the land. They abhorred tarred roads, Christianity and schools. Some eminent persons at the time vowed not to live to see tarred roads in Alor. And indeed a lot passed on without seeing the well paved roads that later began to adorn Alor.


Colonial and Pre-war Era

During the colonial era, Alor was administered by warrant chiefs. Ezi Alor (Umuoshi, Etiti and Ebenesi) was administered by Warrant Chief Ibekwute from Umuoshi. Ifite Alor had Warrant Chief Nweke Ogbutu Ugochukwu from Uhuezeana administered Uhuezani and Umuokwu (i.e. two units of Ifite Alor). Warrant Chief Ezenwanne Obianyo from Ideani administered Idenu and Ideani (i.e. the other part of Ifite Alor). Since no successors to these were ever appointed, it is clear that the era of warrant chiefs began and ended with these men. It is therefore not easy to carry out a comparative assessment of their performance. Nevertheless, it did appear that Chief Ezenwanne Obianyo came tops. The coming together of Ezi Alor and Ifite Alor marked a turning point in the much needed oneness of the community.

With the unification of Ezi and Ifite Alor in 1950, came the establishment of Alor Town Union, chairmanned in succession as follows: (i)

Ezekiel Obiegbu (Okosisi Ugorji) 1950 – 1953


T.T. Nwoye (later Ichie Enyi I) 1954 – 1957


Joshua Aziagba 1958 – 1961


Bertram Onyeka 1962 – 1965


Alex Ezeanyika (later Ichie Ota I) 1966 – 1969 351

These patriots worked hard to keep Alor united and progressive in the face of the agitation by Ideani to become autonomous from the mainland. The reason for the agitation was essentially geographical. The feeling of separateness was not for any lack of consanguinity or kinship with the rest of Alor. Rather it was engendered by the location of Ideani across a natural divide – the Idemili River. That area became part of Alor in the first place when it was annexed during the Alor – Uke conflict, garrisoned off as a buffer zone and inhabited by Alor elements. The move for autonomy had started in the 1950s and gradually became more strident in the 1960s. Autonomy was achieved in 1970, i.e. immediately after the Nigeria – Biafra war when Ideani became listed as one of the nineteen towns comprising the then Idemili Local Government area of the then East Central State of Nigeria. Amity has very much continued to exist between both communities, especially on account of the fact that there were really no bad feelings generated during the agitation for autonomy. In particular, intermarriage had thrived despite the geographical disjunction.

What could we point to as the achievements of the successive pre-war administrators and political leaders of Alor? It is all too easy to take several infrastructural facilities for granted. We should not forget, for instance, that the motorable roads, some of them with bridges and culverts, connecting Nkwọ Alor to Obiaja, Abatete, Adazi, Nnokwa and Nnobi were physically constructed using hoes, shovels and machetes; there were no graders and earth movers then. To the credit of those leaders, the original construction of what have now become arterial highways into Alor had to be planned, material procured, and the actual work scheduled and executed. The hall which has now given way to a new civic centre was designed and constructed under the valiant leadership of these patriots. They did not lose sight of educational facilitation. In this connection, it is worth recalling that the very first Alor person to qualify as a medical doctor trained in the United States of America under a scholarship organized by the town union. The scourge of erosion did not just start in recent times. We only have more of the same. The town union worked hard to check the scourge by enacting stringent laws on flood control, planting trees and constructing catch pits and sumps. In summary they conducted the affairs of Alor in a manner which evolved into what we know today. We should not rate them any less than the leaders that came later.

3 Post-War Administration to Date After the Nigeria – Biafra war it became necessary to overhaul the governance of Alor. This reengineering was the brainchild of the now defunct Alor Youth Movement (AYM), spearheaded by the Enugu Branch, under the leadership of Chief E. E. Ndubuisi. The greatest legacy left by that 352

organisation was the reorganization of the whole framework of political leadership and administration in Alor. This was achieved basically by crafting a written constitution which provided for two arms of leadership, each with clearly defined roles. First is a three-tier traditional leadership arm, with the Igwe (appointed for life) at the apex, assisted by a council of Ichies, each Ichie representing a clearly identified group of kindred units, and finally a third tier of leaders called Idis, with each Idi representing a kindred unit.

The other arm is the administrative machinery, actually the executive complement running the dayto-day affairs of the town, in a way a stronger version of its predecessor – the Alor Town Union. It is called the Alor People‟s Convention and is composed of the representatives of the kindred units as well as some special interest groups, such as women. It is headed by a president elected for a term not normally exceeding two years. An irony of fate is that the AYM, a particularly vigorous body in its heydays, which revolutionalised or indeed modernized governance in Alor, gradually phased out virtually without trace. The Alor People‟s Convention has been administering Alor since the early 1970s and has benefited from the brilliant leadership of a succession of patriots serving as its President, as follows: (i)

Mazi Charles Onuselogu 1970 – 1972


Hon. Dan. A.U. Jideofor – Owelle Alor 1973 – 1974


Hon. Mike Akigwe – Ichie Ebubedike 1983 – 1987


Chief Sir Emma. C. Nwankwo – Anyaoha Alor 1988 – 1992


Chief Emma Maduka – Chinwatakweugo – 1993 – 1994


Dr. Chris N. Ngige – Okaa Omee – Onwa 1995 – 1996


Dr. Tony Ezika – Ide of Alor 1997 – 1998

(viii) Sir Azubuike Okafor – Ikenga Alor 1999 – 2002 (ix)

Engr. Sir C.C. Aniefuna – Ebekue Dike Alor 2003 – 2007


Mr. Ebele Onyemesili – 2008 – 2009


Mr. Uzoma Igbonwa – Okeife – 2009 -

Following the adoption of a written constitution, the first Igwe was identified and installed in 1973. He was the highly prosperous philanthropist and noble man in the person of Chief Stephen Nwokonkwo Okonkwo, Ogbuefi Chinyelugo, Ezediohamma I of Alor, from Ide of Ifite Alor. The special title, Ezediohamma, was agreed as a reflection of the unanimity in the choice. He laid an excellent foundation in pioneering traditional rulership in the town. Members of his cabinet were 353

elected from various villages in Alor and were installed by the Igwe on December 21, 1974. When Ezediohamma I passed on in 1991 there had to be an interregnum composed of Ndichie and headed by a Regent in the person of Chief John Udoji, Ichie Ehulue I of Alor. The said interregnum lasted for three years, which was an ample time to select a new Igwe, since the mode of replacement excluded any kind of hereditary succession. Following an arrangement that allowed for the rotation of the igweship between Ezi and Ifite Alor, Chief Nkworka himself, from Umuoshi of Ezi Alor, was in 1994 installed as the Ezediohamma II of Alor.

As stipulated in the constitution, and as already indicated, the Igwe has a cabinet consisting of Ndichie, who with the Igwe constitute the Igwe-in-Council, and charged with the task of providing leadership in matters that are essentially traditional. A person considered fit and proper to be an Ichie should hold the ugo title. Following is the list of the first Ndichie component of the Igwe-in-Council, all usually prefixed with the title “Chief”: 1. C. Ezeanyika

Ichie Ota

2. J. C. Nkworka

Ichie Idee

3. L.A. Ibeneme

Ichie Odume

4. J.N. Udoji

Ichie Ehulue

5. J.N. Obiora

Ichie Ezu

6. J.Obiorah

Ichie Nkpume

7. L.O. Chinemelu

Ichie Ajilija

8. G.O. Ezigbo

Ichie Agbudugbu

9. J.I Oraekwe

Ichie Ngene

10. B.N. Ojukwu

Ichie Agu

11. I.C.E. Okide

Ichie Atu

12. T. T. Nwoye

Ichie Enyi

13. C.C. Onyemesili

Ichie Okua

14. S.Nwoye

Ichie Oba

15. P.A. Ibekwe

Ichie Yim

16. A.O. Nwoye

Ichie Onyima

17. E.O. Uche

Ichie Ewulu

18. Ben. Ayachebelu

Ichie Oshimili


The following illustrious sons of Alor have, by virtue of their learning, experience, public spiritedness, and contribution to the progress of the town, been adjudged deserving of a place in the Igwe-in-Council and have therefore been appointed Honorary Ichies: 1. Chief E.E. Ndubuisi – Ichie Okwuloha 2. Chief Mike Akigwe – Ichie Ebubedike 3. Chief D.N. Nwabulue – Ichie Ochili Ozua 4. Chief H.N. Nwafor – Ichie Akulueuno 5. Justice G.O. Oyudo – Ichie Idejiuno 6. Chief E.C. Nwankwo – Ichie Anyoha 7. Chief Sam Ojukwu – Ichie Ekwueme

Each of the 18 kindred units of Alor has three Idialos, each elected by his individual community. They are next in hierarchy to the Ichies. Following is the first set of Idialos, all Chiefs: 1. J.I. Okoye

Idialo Ugodinukwe

2. G.N Akubueze

Idialo Ugochukwu

3. C.O. Igwego

Idialo Akubudeugo

4. R.O. Oyeka

Idialo Ugoguba

5. D. Ezeanekwu

Idialo Ugoanekwu

6. V.O. Enenebeaku

Idialo Chikelugo

7. C. Agbazue

Idialo Ugonwobi

8. N. Ucheana

Idialo Ezenweugo

9. L.M.O. Nworah

Idialo Nwajiugo

10. D. Ojukwu

Idialo Nwajiugo

11. Nwadinobi

Idialo Nwajiugo

12. E. Okwuonye

Idialo Ugokwe

13. L. Ubosiogu

Idialo Ugoafulukwe

14. S. Omile

Idialo Nnanyelugo

15. C. Nwokedi

Idialo Chinyelugo

16. I.N. Okudo

Idialo Nnanyelugo

17. A. Okponnwa

Idialo Nnawelugo

18. E. Ezeonugo

Idialo Nnanyelugo

19. E.E. Ndubuisi

Idialo Ohanyelugo

20. O. Afulukwe

Idialo Ugoka

21. N. Nweke

Idialo Obinyelugo 355

22. L. Ngige

Idialo Ugonwammadu

23. B.C. Moedu

Idialo Ejideugo

24. S.E. Ojukwu

Idialo Ugobude

25. V. Ojukwu

Idialo Obinyelugo

26. G. Onyekonwu

Idialo Ugonwamadu

27. A. Nweke

Idialo Ugonwobi

28. G. Okafor

Idialo Ugobuenyi

29. F. Nweke

Idialo Chinyelugo

30. D. Nwabulue

Idialo Nnanyelugo

31. P.N. Akume

Idialo Ugojialo

32. H. Ugonabo

Idialo Ugonabo

33. A. Okafor

Idialo Ananyelugo

34. A. Okaa

Idialo Okaa-owelugo

35. C. Elosiuba

Idialo Ugonwamadu

36. E.N. Nwankwo

Idialo Ugoanekwu

37. B.N. Edozie

Idialo Ugoedozie

38. A. Nwose

Idialo Obikwelugo

39. C.C. Abazu

Idialo Ugoafulukwe

40. S. Madueke

Idialo Ugoamalu

41. B. Nweke

Idialo Chikwelugo

42. A. Mojekwu

Idialo Ugoewulu

43. W. Nnakwe

Idialo Nnakwelugo

44. S. Onoura

Idialo Nnanyelugo

45. G. Okonkwo

Idialo Ugora

46. G. Okpala

Idialo Nnanyelugo

47. Ezepue

Idialo Ugochinobi

48. G. Ifeka

Idialo Ugonwamadu

49. H. Uzokwe

Idialo Ugonwamadu

50. G. Nkiti

Idialo Ugodiebube

51. L. Onyenuna

Idialo Ugochukwu

52. J. Akabue

Idialo Ezeugo

53. E. Nweke

Idialo Ugochukwu

54. P. Nwose

Idialo Nnanyelugo

55. E. Ugozu

Idialo Nnanyelugo 356

Idi Alos paying condolence to the children of a fallen colleague, Idi Ugonabo, 9th July 2010

We may recall that prior to the incursion of the white man into Alor some of our forebears banded up and swore to a covenant to ensure that the white man never entered the town. It is remarkable that even into the 21st century, the idea of such a covenant still cast an ominous shadow on the collective psyche of the people. It was still very much perceived as an obstacle to the physical development of Alor. A propitiatory act was therefore contrived to symbolically nullify any lingering stranglehold of the so-called covenant so as to move the town forward. To this end a bold step was taken in 2002 when Igwe J.C. Nkworka, Ezedohamma II of Alor and his cabinet, assembled at Nkwo Alor market, which housed the Nkwo shrine and symbolically broke the said covenant of our forebears. Prominent among the Ichies that attended the event were Chief L.O. Chinemlu (Ichie Ajilija I), Chief I. O. Okide (Ichie Atu I), Chief J.I. Oraekwe (Ichie Ngene I), and Chief L.A. Ibeneme (Ichie Odume I).

It may be noteworthy that in May 2003, a son of Alor, Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, became the Executive Governor of Anambra State. This dramatically changed things. Alor began to see the best of tarred roads, with connections into Nnokwa, Abatete, and Nnobi. Call it chance, serendipity, synchronism, concomitance or even fluke, but let it be noted that the astounding turnaround in the development fortunes of the town that followed so soon on the heels of the event of symbolic nullification of the said covenant appears more than a mere coincidence. 357

Alor community is relatively easy to administer, given the honesty, patriotism and altruism of her indigenes who tend to shun destructive and partisan politics. For instance, even with the larger population of Ifite Alor, it has the same number of Ndichie in Igwe-in-Council as the Ezi side. The Igweship, as earlier mentioned, rotates between the Ezi and Ifite components of the community. By and large Alor settles for the best hands available for its governance and development in general.

However, the community has not been completely free of some kind of divisiveness born out of religious zealotry. This somewhat irrational sentiment plagued Alor in the 1950s and, even today, there are still some vestiges of that holier-than-thou syndrome often manifesting in terms of marriage moves stultified on account of denominational affiliation. Fortunately, the young ones, especially the prospective brides, are getting wiser, often refusing to pass up opportunities just because “we do not attend the same church”. Lately, there has emerged a great variety of Pentecostal groups. This is exerting several effects, good and ill, and has helped to put some damper on the intensity of religious politics. The underlying thing is that what has sustained the community is largely the ideas and material resources the patriotic sons and daughters inject from outside.


Alor the Source of Exemplary Public Servants

Alor has been a source of some of the most remarkable performers in the affairs of the larger Nigerian society. We may cite a few examples of great personages that have served this country most meritoriously, notably Chief the Honourable Patrick N. Okeke and Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige. The former served Eastern Nigeria Government as the Minister of Agriculture, i.e. in the cabinet of M.I. Okpara, the then Premier of Eastern Nigeria. Under our own Chief P.N. Okeke, the regional government achieved agricultural feats yet to be equaled, much less superseded, by the government of any of the states resulting from the splitting of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria (Anambra, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Cross River, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa). In some of the states, there are still such legacies as farm settlements, as well as plantations of oil-palm, rubber, cocoa and cashew (special erosion control crop). Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, Okaa Omee, Onwa n‟etiloha, may be fittingly described as a phenomenon in the politics of Nigeria. His service to the nation as the Executive Governor of Anambra State (May 2003 – March 2006) continues to be cited as the most glittering example of what governments have to do to be tagged progressive, purposeful and productive. His management of meager state resources for the satisfaction of the welfare requirements of the workforce and the 358

achievement of monumental infrastructural development continues to be a legacy beckoning to be surpassed.

There are still numerous other indigenes of Alor who have served the nation or part thereof most meritoriously. But suffice it to say that the dazzling performance of the two great sons of Alor is an adequate, fit and proper rebuttal to the perception of the Alor man as hardly ever growing beyond the abada sales business in the Onitsha main market. In the 21st century, the persons charged with leadership know what politics and administration are all about – essentially seeking and securing platforms from which to serve God and humanity. May we encourage more Alor indigenes to offer their services at the local, state and national levels. Let us not lag behind on the plea that “politics is a dirty game”. Our two illustrious sons cited above have been heroic exemplars of service to the nation. They are in every way worth emulating.


Chief Sir Emma C. Nwankwo, JP, BA (Hons), KSC, AIPM, Anyoha Alor Sole Administrator, Onitsha 1984 – 1986, Administrator/Chairman, Enugu 1986 – 1988, Administrative Secretary, National Electoral Commission, Anambra State 1989 – 1992, Director General, Anambra State, 1992 – 1997, Chairman, Local Government Service Commission and Pensions Board, Anambra State 2005 -2007 President, Alor People‟s Convention 1988 – 1992 Principal Adviser, Igwe Alor in Council




1. Introduction Age grades in Alor are called otu ọgbọ. It is a system of subdividing the adult population into separate groups using specified time units. The system is as old as Alor herself. In ancient times it involved only those that were interested, since there was hardly any special obligation or compulsion to belong to one‟s organized age group. Such groups often engaged in one or the other of various activities ranging from trades, crafts, dances, or masquerade outings. Those age groups that managed to organize themselves were often active enough to be a source of entertainment during events that concerned their members, for instance in burials. The need to breathe vigour into the organisation of age groups was however often mooted by individuals and groups especially as several towns around Alor and other parts of Igboland have for long had such well structured societal groups that stimulated physical and other forms of community development, among other benefits. This was clearly the stimulus for the action of the Alor People‟s Convention to set the ball rolling.

2. Inception In 1987 the Alor People‟s Convention formally set up the Age Grade system aimed at galvanizing the efforts and resources of all Alor citizens above the age of 20 years towards infrastructural, social and economic upliftment of the community. The exercise took off with some twelve groups. The grades, tabulated below, were initially set up on the basis of five year time brackets, which interval was later reduced to three years: 1. Isi Ogbo

1908 – 1912

2. Alor Amaka

1913 – 1917

3. Chizolu

1918 – 1922

4. Anadodo

1923 – 1927

5. Okonor

1928 – 1932

6. Igwebuike

1933 – 1937

7. Ifeatu

1938 – 1942

8. Ochiagha

1943 – 1947

9. Ifeadigo

1948 – 1952

10. Oganiru

1953 – 1957

11. Ofuobi

1958 – 1962 361

12. Udogadi

1963 – 1967

13. Umuoma

1968 – 1970

14. Obianamma

1971 – 1973

3 Guidelines and Conduct The following guidelines and regulations recommended by the committee set up by the APC were instituted to govern the system.

3.1 Aims of the Age Grade System a) To create a forum to instill discipline in the citizens of Alor b) To use every means at its disposal to discourage indiscipline and ostentatious living c) To use the age grade forum for healthy and competitive development of the town d) To support moral and financial development projects embarked upon by the Alor People‟s Convention and, where possible, to mount any developmental project in Alor, either alone or in cooperation with any other age grade in Alor

3.2 Membership Membership is compulsory for all Alor citizens, male and female, on attainment of age of 20 years; citizenship is by birth, marriage or adoption

3.3 Conditions for Outing of a New Age Grade a) The outing for a new age grade shall coincide with the traditional ọfala festival by the Igwe of Alor. b) A new age grade must be operational for at least one full year, under the supervision of the Council of Age Grades, prior to its outing.

3.4 Conduct of Age Grades a) An age grade has the power to discipline any erring member; the Council of Age Grades must be duly informed. b) An age grade is expected to establish and operate its own constitution which shall cover the requirements for actualizing its aims and objectives. c) The powers of an age grade shall be subject to the guidelines established and operated by the Age Grade Council.


4 Age Grade Council There was need to establish a functional Age Grade Council whose functions shall include monitoring and regulation of the activities of the age grades. Such regulations shall include published by-laws, which must have been cleared by the Alor People‟s Convention. The Council shall disband and acquire the assets and liabilities of any age grade whose membership reduces to fewer than 10 persons. Upon the death of any of the remaining ten members, all the other age grades shall be represented in the funeral ceremony.

5 Functions and Activities of Age Grades An age grade is expected to take on meaningful development projects such as: water supply, market development, road repairs and maintenance, motor park construction, construction/reconstruction of primary and secondary school buildings, erection of sign posts at strategic places, street lighting, etc. Additionally the following provisions should apply: a) General meetings of age grades shall hold at least twice a year – Easter Saturday and 29th of December; meetings of the executive committee could hold as necessary. b) An age grade is expected to participate in events and activities organized by its members, as necessary. c) An age grade may, as a part of its activities, organize its members into a dancing, masquerade or entertainment group (e.g. the Egbenuoba Dance by the Ochiagha Age Grade) which could be arranged to perform in town-wide ceremonies as well as private and public occasions.

6 Assessment of Performance and Suggestions for Reinvigoration The age grade scheme took off on a very enthusiastic note and to quite some extent began to achieve some of the objectives for setting it up. Some of the tangible achievements include: i) Okonor (1928 – 1932) built a block of stores in the Nkwọ market ii) Ifeatu Age Grade (1938 – 1942) completed the construction of the Alor Post Office iii) Ochiagha Age Grade (1943 – 1948) organized the Egbenuoba Dance, a resuscitation of a highly entertaining ancient dance marked by the vivacity of its execution iv) Ochiagha Age Grade built a block of stores in the Nkwọ Market v) Ochiagha Age Grade carried on the maintenance of the road from Obiaja section of the Idemili River into Alor prior to its tarring vi) Ifeadigo Age Grade (1948 – 1952) constructed a block of stores the Nkwọ Alor Market vii) Oganiru Age Grade (1953 – 1957) constructed a block of stores in the Nkwọ Market 363

viii) Ofuobi Age Grade (1958 – 1962) constructed a block of stores in the Nkwọ Market.

For the grand idea of using the age grade system to catalyze development activities, there is no doubt the record could be better since only very few age grades have so far been interested in developmental programmes. It had been expected that the various age groups would be systematically taking up development projects or repair works in several of the dilapidated public institutions, especially schools. The exemplary performance of the above listed age grades should serve as a stimulant to the rest of the groups. By its very nature an age grade is born, matures, blooms and pales away into inevitable obscurity. The rider to this is that every age grade reaches its prime during which it is characterized by the collective vigour, affluence and climax of the patriotic fervour of its members. It is during such a phase of its life span that it is expected to undertake one or more meaningful, even if cost-intensive, development projects on which to emblazon its name.

As it is now, many age grades have aged and are only lying prostrate as they are being drifted along by that eternal conveyor belt called time. The saving grace is that at any given time a number of age grades are either at their prime or at the threshold. That is when to catch and spur them on to do something tangible for the fatherland in order to leave their footprint on the sands of time rather than be consigned to the scrapheap of history. The APC may as well consider re-energizing the Age Grade Council so that it fires up the age grades in order to unleash their currently locked patriotic fervour.

A provision of the Age Grade Council guidelines has been that the Council shall disband and acquire the assets and liabilities of any age grade whose membership reduces to fewer than ten persons and, upon the death of any of the remaining ten members, all the other age grades shall be represented in the funeral ceremony. This provision obviously applies to the oldest age grade whose members are naturally most prone to passing on. But the provision has never really operated because there is no mechanism to ensure compliance. A way out of this is to ensure that no particular age grade should be allowed to reduce to ten or fewer before it is disbanded. This can be achieved by deciding that every age grade whose older age limit hits 80 years shall cease to exist and its members shall flow into the Isi Ogbo Age Grade. Thus, while all other age grades are transient, the Isi Ogbo remains permanent and every person whose age band touches 80 years shall automatically become an Isi Ogbo member. As an illustration, let us use the Chizolu Age Grade (1918 – 1922). As at the time of writing (2009), the older age limit of the time band, i.e. 1918, has hit and exceeded 80 years. Following the scheme being proposed, that age grade should cease to 364

exist and all its surviving members shall devolve into the Isi Ogbo Age Grade. It goes without saying that the Alor Amaka Age Grade (1913 – 1917) would have ceased to exist since all its surviving members would have joined the Isi Ogbo age Grade. For avoidance of doubt, this is only a suggestion.





This section is intended to present information as well as opinions regarding the system of governance of Alor town in the present day. Prior to the introduction of the igweship institution in 1972, Alor was governed by a representative body that over time went under such names as Alor Improvement Union, Alor Local Council, Alor Community Council, Alor Progressive Association, and Alor Town Union. The present governing body goes by the name Alor People’s Convention, instituted in 1971, with Chief I.C.E. Okide, Ichie Atu I, as the President General up to 1978.

Alor is one of the seven distinct communities in the Idemili South Local Government Area of Anambra State. She has a constitution binding on every indigene or non-indigene resident in Alor, in so far as its provisions are consistent with the laws of Anambra State and the bye-laws of the Local Government Council. The constitution provides for the existence of two parallel arms working hand-in-hand, with mutual checks and balances, for the good governance of the town.


Components of the Community: Traditional Administrative Structure

Alor town consists of two broad traditional sections – Ezi and Ifite – each of which is an electoral ward in the present local government and state political configuration. As indicated on the map in the paper on the physical setting of the town, Ezi occupies the eastern part while Ifite is on the western part. Each consists of three villages. Umuoshi, Etiti and Ebenesii-Okebunoye comprise Ezi. Ifite consists of Uruezeani, Umuokwu, and Ide. The present administration has grouped quarters in each village into entities called Kindred Units (see table below). Each such unit has an Ichie as its overseer. In other words, each such kindred unit is the constituency of an Ichie with title names often mostly symbolic of emotional, traditional, historical, and social experience characterizing Alor and her people.


Map showing the six component villages, the road network, schools, and churches; note also the disposition of the neighbouring towns The ichie-kindred unit specificity is without prejudice to the appointment of honorary ichies. Such appointees are, strictly speaking, supernumerary, save that they are usually persons adjudged fit and proper for such an honour on account of their prominence in the community. They are usually illustrious persons who have rendered credible service or otherwise added to the dignity of the community through the achievement of prominence in their chosen field of enterprise. By extension, an honorary chieftaincy title can be conferred on an august visitor to Alor by the Igwe, in consultation with his cabinet.

Under each Ichie there are two to four Idi-Alos who come next (i.e. third, after the Igwe and the Ichies) in the hierarchy of traditional rulership. Table showing the Kindred Units and their Ichie titles




Components of Kindred Units

Ichie Title












Isigwu-Ofor, Irumgbabichi


Nkwele-Enu, Nkwele-Ani, Ihuwam


Isigwu-Akwa, Obiangwu, Mgbalububa








Orofia, Umumbelu


Eziafor, Ogbogu


Umudim, Urudunu


Umu-Ifekibie, Odichalum


Nkwele Okpala, Nkwele Diji


Umuokpalor, Umuezeakpu, Urungwu


Uruowele, Ikpolikpo, Umushime, Umudiagu


Umuokeatu, Umuajana, Umunkwubo, Umumbekwu


Umuru, (Umuokpala Dim, Umuobulu, Ndam


Umuesisi, Umuagwo, Umuezeugwu, Enugoabor


Omuonicha, Umuolum


Ezioye, Umuawo

These traditional positions are for life but not hereditary. The said positions become vacant if the incumbent passes on, or: a) becomes mentally unsound, as may be certified by a competent medical practitioner, b) voluntarily abdicates by way of resignation, c) loses the confidence of the community or has his recognition withdrawn by the State Government (in case of the Igwe), or becomes unpopular, as certified by the Alor People‟s Convention, d) is convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction for a criminal offence involving dishonesty, or for a criminal act carrying a term of imprisonment with or without option of fine.


The Igwe Institution


Based on the constitution introduced in 1971 through the instrumentality of the now defunct Alor Youth Movement, it was decided that Alor should have a traditional ruler. This provision of the constitution was given effect when in 1973, Chief Stephen N. Okonkwo was installed as the first occupant of that thrown and referred to as the Ezediohamma I of Alor. Thus when compared with some other towns in the Idemili area, such as Obosi, Nnobi, and Ogidi, Alor has a relatively short history of traditional rulership. For any aspirant to qualify for the highly revered position, he has to fulfill several stringent requirements with regards to birth, character, maturity, marital status, literacy, and general standing in society. Succession to the throne is in rotation between the two sections of Alor – Ezi and Ifite, and any candidate so selected by the section shall be presented to Alor People‟s Convention (APC) for screening in accordance with the provisions of the town‟s constitution. On being found fit, the candidate transits to the position of Igwe-elect prior to installation. The installation is conducted by the APC according to a stipulated procedure, and includes two critically important customary aspects. One is the capping of the new Igwe by the oldest ọzọ title holder in Uruezeani village. The other is the presentation of the traditional staff of office by the Isigwu Ọfọ family of Umuoshi, the holder of the ọhwọ Alor. The final aspect of the succession procedure is the presentation of the new Igwe, together with his cabinet (the eighteen traditional Ichies), to the Government of Anambra State for formal recognition.

The Igwe has a cabinet consisting of himself and the eighteen traditional Ichies as indicated in the table above. There is however an enlarged cabinet referred to as the Igwe-in-Council consisting of the eighteen traditional Ichies, the honorary Ichies, three special advisers appointed by the Igwe, and six representatives of Idi-Alos (three each from Ezi and Ifite). Together with the members of the Alor People‟s Convention, these members of the enlarged cabinet subscribe to a code of conduct which enjoins them to uphold the dignity of their positions and avoid all acts of commission or omission that tend to bring infamy or disgrace to the institution of ọzọ and traditional rulership and good government in the town.

The primary role of the Igwe as the traditional ruler of Alor is to function as the ceremonial head of the community. Whenever he graces the meeting of the Alor People‟s Convention (of which he is the Patron) with his presence, he is expected to bring his fatherly image and the cooperation of his cabinet to bear on the transactions. His overall duty is to ensure the preservation of the community‟s cultural and traditional heritage. Thus the office of the Igwe is cultural and traditional, not political. This is without prejudice to the Igwe-in-Council effecting amicable settlement in civil matters amongst indigenes of Alor who voluntarily submit to its jurisdiction. Any indigene of Alor 369

desiring to avail himself of this facility shall, first of all, have the case looked into by the appropriate Idi-Alo and/or traditional Ichie, whose decision on the matter shall be in writing. Any party in the matter still dissatisfied at this stage may take the issue upwards to the Igwe-in-Council which, as such functions as an appellate body. In looking through the case, the Idi-Alo and the Ichie who earlier handled the case shall not be eligible to sit in the Igwe-in-Council during the hearing of the aggrieved party‟s appeal. Additionally, any indigene or resident in Alor may appeal to APC in respect of civil wrong done him or her by a fellow resident or indigene. The Convention may deal with the complaint as it deems fit, or may refer it to an appropriate body or authority, including the Igwe-in-Council.

To ensure that the Igwe institution is at all times sustained, a temporary absence of the Igwe from Alor, say for reasons of travel abroad or within the country, amounting to a continuous absence from Alor for an extended period, the traditional Ichie title holders shall elect one from amongst themselves to preside over their meetings. Continuity of proceedings is additionally assured through the instrumentality of the Palace Secretary, usually appointed by the Igwe but with the approval of the Convention, which also determines his credentials, spells out his duties and fixes his conditions of service. His basic functions include record-keeping and public relations. Should the Igwe join his ancestors, suffer a disability capable of preventing him from carrying out his functions, or the stool becomes vacant for any other sound reason, the traditional Ichie title holders would for the duration of that interregnum constitute themselves into a Regency Council and from among themselves elect a Chairman. This council stands dissolved as soon as a new Igwe is installed. The Alor People’s Convention


The Alor People‟s Convention (APC) is the successor of the several representative bodies that had governed Alor from time immemorial, the latest being Alor Town Union. Again it was established as the governing body of the town through the instrumentality of the now defunct Alor Youth Movement. The body has three organs: i)

The Executive arm,


The General Convention comprising all delegates or representatives of the various kindreds and groups entitled to representation in accordance with the constitution,


The Alor General Assembly, i.e. the yearly assembly of Alor indigenes (male and female) to hear and adopt the annual reports of the General Convention and the Executive and to make suggestions for the good governance of the community. 370

The Executive arm is composed of all elected and appointed officers and non-officers as follows: i)

President General


Vice President General


Secretary General


Assistant Secretary General


Financial Secretary




Public Relations Officer


Two Provosts


Legal Adviser


Two Auditors

Officers listed under (i) to (viii) are elected from amongst the representatives of the eighteen kindred units listed in the table above. The Legal Adviser and the Auditors are appointed by the President General, in consultation with the other members of the executive, on the basis of possession of appropriate/requisite credentials. Additional to the ten listed officers of the Executive Committee are twelve non-officers, six of whom must be women, drawn from the representatives of the kindred units. The Igwe of Alor, who is the Patron of the Alor People‟s Convention, is given the right to appoint three persons into the Executive Committee as non-officers. Other members of the Convention are one representative from each branch of Alor Development Union (members of Alor community living outside Alor), three elder statesmen appointed by the Convention, one representative of each age grade, and the chairman and secretary of the Nze na Ozo Council.

For the execution of its day-to-day governance mandate, the Executive Convention works through various standing committees. Membership of the committees is not restricted to the APC members, rather any indigene of Alor considered fit on the basis of his credentials and experience may be coopted. Following are the standing committees: i)











Health 371




Age Grades


Revenue Generation



Ad hoc committees may be set up to address any issues that may arise but are outside the purview of any of the above. For example, there have been committees set up in the past to handle constitution review, population census issues and electioneering/political matters.

In the overall governance of Alor community, the key function of the Convention, working through its Executive Committee and the various standing and ad hoc committees, is to identify and address as appropriate and practically possible, all problems and issues confronting the community in various aspects of life. Working in conjunction with the traditional institution, namely the Igwe-inCouncil, the Convention has the onerous task of operating the constitution and in particular upholding all traditional norms, practices and usages of the community not considered repugnant to civilized standards. As an illustration of this, the Convention, in close collaboration with the Igwein-Council, organizes and defrays virtually all the expenses for the annual ịwaji ceremony held every first Saturday of the month of August, as well as the Igwe‟s Ofala festival usually performed on 23rd December every three years.

Additionally the Convention has the task of making bye-laws designed to discourage wasteful spending by indigenes during private ceremonies so as to enable them contribute meaningfully towards the physical development of the town. The Convention also has to see to it that good neighbourliness is promoted with towns around Alor and, where possible, enter into a mutually beneficial development agreement with any of them.



Alor may be counted among the towns with a special endowment – human resources. In this regard the basic attribute is the peaceful, kindly and humane disposition of the populace that is supreme. These attributes make them easy to govern. They also make them perform as brothers‟ keepers. The town has contributed some of the most resourceful leaders, brilliant scientists, doctors, engineers and administrators to Igboland and Nigeria at large (see section on heroes and heroines).


The igweship institution, as a bastion of traditional leadership, is perhaps the sturdiest rudder established for the guidance of the community. It is not just a mere complement to the town‟s constitutional leadership; it is the mooring of customs, tradition and culture of the people ensuring that the so-called civilization and modernization trends do not corrode the values of the people and wipe off their highly cherished identity. In this regard Alor has been fortunate in selecting and installing persons of great integrity, immense wisdom and impeccable credentials to occupy the revered throne. That tradition should continue as it assures the town of steady physical development, wholesome cultural evolution and balanced material advancement. The representative government enshrined in the configuration and operation of the town‟s administrative machinery called the Alor People‟s Convention, is actually an exemplification of democracy in practice. Through the rationalization of development priorities and the implementation of well thought out programmes, the town in several ways stays abreast if not ahead of her equivalents far and near. The Alor People‟s Convention has since its establishment had the best of leaders. It is expected that, with the maintenance of that trend, development of Alor would continue to unfold to greater heights, the justification for every Alor son or daughter, homebased or even in diaspora, to always beat their chest and proudly say, Alor is my fatherland.


Emeka Ngige



The word “ordinance”, as authoritatively defined in our present context, means “an order or a rule made by a government or somebody in a position of authority". The legal definition as contained in Black's Law Dictionary 8th Edition, adds more muscle: “ordinance is an authoritative law or decree, especially a municipal regulation". Further, we take the word native to mean the place where one was born and lived for the first years of one‟s life. These definitions prove helpful in discussing the mode of governance in force in Alor in the olden days. A handicap to be noted early in this discussion is that, like in any other community in Igboland, the native laws and customs, i.e. customary laws of Alor, were entirely unwritten. They were simply passed from one generation to another. It is therefore not an easy task to systematically document the native orders or rules that applied in Alor during the pre-colonial era. In those days, there was no traditional head or ruler such as an igwe for the town. However, Alor was not an exception in being apparently acephalous; it was a major feature of the republican nature of political administration in Igboland of old. Rather, what obtained in Alor was a council of elders constituted for each quarter or clan with powers to exercise judicial control over members of the quarter or clan. There were also hierarchies of priests, i.e. eze mmọọ, administering various shrines and deities at various locations in the community. The priests were actually the custodians of the customs, traditions and all the societal norms. They were the repository of the ordinances – criminal and civil. They were usually the prescriptors of the expiatory and propitiatory items and procedures for sanctions for infringements. Needless to say, they were also the greatest beneficiaries of the fees and sacrificial items that, in some very serious cases, included goats or even cows. All this was very much in force in the pre-colonial days. Upon the arrival of the colonial masters and the Christian missionaries in Igboland, warrant chiefs were appointed to exercise some political/judicial powers over the natives. 2

The Ordinances

A good insight into the ordinances in force in Alor in the olden days has been furnished by Dr. Austin Afuekwe (1992) in his book "A Philosophical Inquiry into Religion and Social Life in Igbo Land: Alor as a Case Study". From that source, we derive that the following ordinances were applied and enforced in Alor in the days of old. These ordinances, by no means exhaustive, fall under two heads – criminal and civil.



Criminal Ordinances

Stealing Anybody who stole any property belonging to another person was deemed to have committed an abomination. Anybody who aided and abetted in the act of stealing was also deemed to have committed an abomination. As a penalty the offender would be bound hands and feet with raffia rope (ịgba ngwọ) and thrown into a pit or abandoned in a bush for some days. The culprit would also pay a fine including presentation of gallons of palm wine, kola nuts, etc. to the quarter. It did not end with this. The next phase of the punishment was designed to inflict maximum disgrace, in order to serve as a deterrent to anybody planning to steal. It was called ajankoliko, a process whereby the thief was stripped naked and redressed with banana leaves and a bead made of snail shells. The stolen article, if recovered, would be hung on his neck. He would then be paraded round the market square amidst songs of mockery to which he would be made to dance. The villagers were at liberty to spit at or beat the culprit at intervals. Any societies or organisations to which he belonged would also invoke their own sanctions, often by way of paying fines as cash or as palm wine, kola nuts, etc. Another form of sanction was outright ex-communication of the culprit. In some cases, he would be a candidate for sale into slavery.

Stealing of already planted yam seedlings was classified as an aggravated form of thievery, a very serious form of abomination precipitating instant excommunication for the offender. For reintegration into the community, a ritual cleansing to be performed by a priest was mandatory. The culprit was required to produce a hen, a cock, tubers of yam, kola nuts, alligator pepper and a gourd of palm wine. The priest would implore the gods and the ancestors to pardon the offender.

Another special offence in Alor was attempting to, or actually stealing, palm wine from up the palm tree. It was deemed as an abomination. The culprit was usually paraded within the community with the stolen item hung on his neck. For him to be cleansed he had to bring a cock, kola nuts, tubers of yam, a gourd of palm wine and alligator pepper.

Murder/Homicide Anybody who killed another person (igbu ọchụ) whether intentionally or accidentally was regarded as having committed abomination. Depending on the facts of the case, the sanction was tit for tat. The murderer himself would have to be killed in retaliation for his act. However, it often turned out 375

that the offender instantly ran away, i.e. banished himself to escape the wrath of the relatives of the deceased who would instinctively gun for his head in retaliation. This principle of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth was freely applicable. Where this was not administered, perhaps because the death was clearly accidental, or perhaps due to some influence or connection the offence was condoned, the culprit could still be punished with banishment from the town or sale into slavery. Where the final resolution was ritual cleansing, the priest, who had to act as the diviner or intercessor, prescribed several items including a cow, eagle feathers, white fowl, kola nuts, alligator pepper, heaps of cowries, forty yams, undiluted palm wine, a bottle of hot drink, and a miscellany of items as prescribed by the priest. By way of an elaborate cleansing ceremony, the gods and the ancestors would be deemed to have pardoned the murderer for the grievous offence.

Poisoning (Inye Nsi) Any person who physically or by "remote control" got another person poisoned (if discovered or suspected) was deemed to have committed an abomination. The penalty would be that the culprit would first be subjected to rigorous trial including oath-taking before the village shrine. The oathtaking may include getting the accused person to drink the water with which the corpse of the supposed victim was washed prior to burial. If the accused died shortly after the oath-taking, he would be deemed to have deserved death and that would be the end of the matter. Such a person‟s corpse would be cast into the evil forest flowed by absolutely by no mourning or funeral. If, on the other hand, he survived the oath-taking, he would be banished, or sold into slavery or completely excommunicated depending on the peculiar facts of the case. Revealing of Community Secrets (Ịgba Ama) Any indigene or non-indigene living in the community who reveals the secrets of the town, village or the clan to an outsider is deemed to have committed an abomination. The sanctions for leaking of secrets may involve excommunication or a fine including the following items: - a castrated he-goat, jars of palm wine, kola nuts, alligator pepper, and yam tubers. These items were used to appease the gods and ancestors but invariably they were consumed by the diviner or the Chief Priest, along with a selected group of people, after which a full reconciliation was assumed.

Criminal Slander (Nkwutọ) Any indigene or inhabitant who maliciously slandered an innocent person's name, especially that of a single girl, such that a prospective marriage proposal was aborted, was considered to have 376

committed a very serious offence, actually an abomination. The penalty or sanction for such a culprit was by way of a heavy fine settled by presentation of heaps of cowries, kola nuts, alligator pepper, palm wine, bottle of gin and cooked food. These items were demanded as a punishment for the "marriage ceremony" that was aborted through the malicious slander.

Sexual Offences Any man who indulged in a sexual act with a blood relation, or the wife of a living kinsman, was deemed to be guilty of incest, a very serious abomination against the land. The culprits were required to cleanse themselves of the abomination and thereafter reconcile themselves with their community. In the cleansing (ịkpụ alụ) ceremony, the culprits would provide a goat or sheep (ram), a fowl, kola nuts, gourds of palm wine and cooked food. In the case of defilement of an under-aged girl by an adult, the former was not required to pay any form of fine. The man would have to provide all the items for cleansing. In case of fornication between a man and somebody's wife, the woman would be required to pay a fine of several items if she was desirous of keeping her marriage. In that regard, she was required to present either a goat or sheep, palm wine, kola nuts, tubers of yam, fish, basket of dead flies and cooked foofoo. In case of a widow involved in a sexual relationship within a year after the demise of her husband, i.e. within the mourning (mkpe) period she was required to perform ịgwa ekwu ceremony in which she would present a live tortoise, a cock, gallons of palm wine, kola nuts and alligator pepper.

Offences Associated with Superstition Giving birth to twins: - Any woman delivered of twin babies was regarded as having committed an abomination. The twins were regarded as a bad omen for the family or the clan. The twins would be killed immediately and the woman banished to her parents‟ home. Thereafter, she would be subjected to some cleansing rituals for which the husband would provide a she-goat, tubers of yam, kola nuts and alligator pepper. Upon completion of the rituals, she would be reunited with the community.

A child cutting an upper tooth first: - Any child whose teething started from the upper jaw was regarded as having committed an abomination that required the cleansing of both mother and child. The chief priest of the relevant shrine in whose locality it happened would demand for a white cock, 377

two tubers of yam, a keg of palm wine, kola nuts, alligator pepper, salt, pepper, palm oil and cooked food. After invocation and pleas to the gods and the ancestors, the upper incisors would be forcibly uprooted.

Divulging secrets of masquerades: - Anybody caught divulging the secrets of the top masquerades was regarded as having committed an abomination. The culprit was required to undergo some reconciliation process with the spirits and the ancestors. The process would cost the culprit a hegoat, bowls of pounded cassava, native torches, kola nuts and alligator pepper.

A female climbing a palm tree: - Climbing of palm trees was an exclusive preserve of males. A female caught climbing a palm tree for any purpose was regarded as having committed an abomination. The parents of the culprit would have to appease the gods and ancestors with a he-goat, a cock, kola nuts, tubers of yam and alligator pepper. The culprit herself would be banned from marrying within the community and she stood the chance of being sold into slavery. Killing of pregnant domestic animal: - Anybody that knowingly killed a pregnant domestic animal, such as a goat or a sheep, was considered as having committed abomination. The culprit was required to replace the animal, and would not be allowed to eat the meat of the slain animal. Further, he was required to put some cowries, alligator pepper and kola nuts, in a miniature basket and place it at a T-junction along a bush path.

Killing of a python: - It was an abomination for any Alor indigene to kill a python (eke) whether intentionally or accidentally. The dead python would be covered with a white cloth and given a ceremonial burial for which the culprit would bear the expenses, as prescribed by the chief priest of the idol that owned the eke.

Eating of dog meat: - Alor indigenes have from time immemorial been prohibited from consuming dog meat. A default was attended with death unless forestalled by a chief priest washing the tongue of the defaulter using water from the Ezigbo stream section of the Idemili River. Dogs were kept as pets in Alor till early 1950s when they were banned due to frequent fatalities arising from dog bites. That ban is still supposed to be in force in force to date, but several families have begun to defy it, citing security as their excuse. 378

A wife shouting in the dead of the night: - A wife heard from outside her home shouting or crying out in the dead of the night i.e. iti mkpu akwa, and in the presence of the husband, was deemed to have committed an abomination, since such an action was regarded as wishing her husband dead. The culprit was required to bring a cock and kola nuts for purpose of reconciling with her husband. The fowl would ultimately be sacrificed by her husband to one of the local deities.

Cock crowing at midnight: - It was regarded as bad omen for a cock to crow before due time, i.e. just before dawn. Such a cock would be killed and its meat eaten by men only. No sanction was applicable to the owner of the cock.

A domestic animal jumping over an open grave: - An abomination was deemed to have been committed where a domestic animal jumped over a grave dug in preparation for the interment of a deceased person. The offending domestic animal would have to be slaughtered and the meat eaten by men only. The owner of the animal would not partake in the eating of the meat.

A woman's market basket falling over backwards: - It was regarded as some kind of bad omen for a women's market basket (ụkpa asha) to fall over backwards from her head. She had to atone for such an incident by providing a fowl, kola nuts and alligator pepper for sacrifice to the local deity.


Civil Offences

The civil ordinances that were applicable in Alor in the olden days were basically the customs and traditional practices regulating marriage, funerals, land ownership, title taking, festivals, family structure and succession, and belief systems and practices. All these topics have been fully discussed by several other contributors to this book and need not be repeated.



In conclusion, it would be correct to say that the strongest control or restraint on the conduct of members of every part of Alor community was the fear of committing an abomination. Offences 379

warranting capital punishment were very much the same as the provisions of the present day national constitution – capital punishment. However, in the far past in Alor, this could be commuted to banishment (ọsọ ọchụ) where it was an accident or in some ways not what may be regarded as first degree murder, i.e. premeditated. Atonement for many of the offences classified as abomination was usually in material terms – kola nuts, food and drinks. In most cases it was before an idol rather than the whole community. The chief priests of the various shrines were thus quite busy, in keeping with the observation that Alor has from time immemorial been a highly religious society.




1 Home upbringing and early childhood – R.N. Obiorah

2 Western Education – R.N. Obiorah, C.F. Ojukwu, C.C. Oyeka


R.N. Obiorah 381



Education is a large field of human endeavour and this explains why it has varying definitions. For our present purpose, therefore we may select a definition that strikes the key as to what we intend to present, since in our context it is wider than mere schooling or learning to read and write. We are taking the definition that involves all this but also includes steering or directing the mental and moral development of the child along with imparting some skills and inculcating the kind of discipline consistent with the prevailing cultural norms. The home, family and even the larger community would be the right setting to start, prior to stepping up into formal tutoring and schooling. Experience shows that the human animal is born with a load of base instincts that need to be directed aright otherwise the individual grows up hardly fitting into the normal society. The eradication of the said base instincts and the infusion of acceptable ones is the fundamental kind of education and is a critically important job of the family.


Family Upbringing and Tutoring

Long before the advent of western education, Alor had its own educational methods. There were even indigenous parameters for measuring the attainment of education. The major ones include acceptable public behaviour and utterances, trustworthiness, relationship with other family members and peer group, level of responsibility, honesty, courtesy, respect for elders, and self discipline. Anyone found wanting in any of the aforementioned is said not to have been trained (azụhọ y’azụ). The first “school” the child attended was and still remains the home. From infancy the child learnt to monitor and respect the moods of the parents and elder siblings. He/she learnt a lot from examples. The female child in particular was made aware of gender inequality as well as the roles expected of a female. Before long, she learnt that a female must sit with her legs closed, whether dressed up or not. She should not stay away from the kitchen while meals were being prepared, unless she was performing another chore occasioned by a division of labour in the family, or except she was helping the mother in the farm. Otherwise she must be around in the kitchen to help grind pepper, wash bitter leaf or do any other thing to make cooking faster for her mother or elder sisters. As soon as she came of age, the basic accreditation she needed in culinary matters hinged on the management of resources she applied in preparing the food, how courteously and punctually she served it, and most critically important, the taste of the food.

For the male child, the role model was of course the father. From him he learnt the wide variety of things a man did to keep his household running smoothly. These would include tilling the ground in 382

the farming season, tending to the crops such as staking and handling yam tendrils, maintaining the house by patching up leaking roof with grass or raffia palm thatch, accompanying him to harvest palm fruit or fetch fodder, as well as assisting in carrying palm wine, especially if the man had many trees to tap. The boy additionally had to take out the sheep (or the single cow in some cases) and see to their proper grazing throughout the day or just tether them out there to feed and retrieve them in the evening. It was work all day long under the coordination of the man. The boy would early in life learn to manage difficult situations rather than melt down in tears like the girls.

In a typical Alor household, post-supper story telling was more or less routine. This was the opportunity for the adults – parents and grandparents – to review the day‟s events, and share current gossips and true life stories. The children would be regaled with riddles, jokes, fables, songs and fairy tales (akụkọ iho) which most often included the exploits of that most cunning of animals, the tortoise (mbe). In the process the children imbibed a tremendous amount of moral lessons and general wisdom to guide them in life. It was in such a setting that children absorbed the original Alor dialect, complete with the proverbs and the idiomatic expressions that suited specific occasions.

Alor people frowned at laziness on the part of the male child. Such a boy was subject to a caustic tongue lash of the mother and any senior siblings, and easily came under the whip of the father who would rather thrash than talk. As for the girl child, particular attention was paid to diverting her from wayward tendencies. A girl found constantly in the company of males or that stayed out late in the evening was always pinned down for correction. Corrections for wrongdoing could in some cases happen outside the family – in the form of mockery. People were mocked mostly in songs by masquerades, ebe dancers, village dance groups, moonlight game players, and sometimes songs were just composed, specifically for an individual, incorporating his or her shortcomings or the undesirable ways. If such adverse societal commentary did not correct the particular person, nothing could.


Home or Family Apprenticeship

Apprenticeship was a particularly important first step in learning a trade, an occupation or even activities considered routine, such as farming. Since subsistence farming had been the most important occupation for men, the art of cultivation of different crops was acquired by the boys through some form of apprenticeship under a father, uncle or some other skilled relative. Alongside 383

small-scale peasant farming came the art of palm wine tapping, livestock keeping, and trading of some sort involving purchasing from some distant market, such as Onitsha, Oye Tọlọ, or Nkwọ Igbo, and selling locally at Nkwọ Alor. Engaging in these activities took some learning to begin with, a sort of education that was completely practical and involved trial and error, learning on the job, and attainment of proficiency over a period of time.


Ịpụ Ebe

In the case of females, apprenticeship had to be in house-keeping and motherhood. A girl approaching puberty or actually there was sent to a type of course on how to become a good wife and mother. This course was the famous ịpụ ebe. This was an age-old collective where young girls were taken through many aspects of home management by experienced mothers. This underscored the fact that our forebears fully appreciated the very important role played by women in running the home. They therefore set up a “training institution” to give them the requisite skills. It was indeed a major setting for the education of girls and that is why we may here try to recapture the features of the “school”. There were three main categories of ebe: - agbọghọ ebe, ebe nwa afọ, and ebe ndi nwelu di. Agbọghọ ebe were the group of girls who were just ripe for marriage. Some such girls from relatively poor families might not be able to attend due to lack of sponsorship, an aspect of which was the ability to afford gifts for people. Ebe nwa afọ was for under-aged girls who were sponsored by their rich parents. The amount of gifts they received depended also on the amount of akụ ebe they gave out as well as the number of friends and relations they had. Ebe ndi nụlụ di was the most enjoyed of all. This was a situation whereby a man sent his newly married wife to perform the ebe rites before the marriage was finally sealed with ima nsi (the final marriage rites). Because her husband wanted to display his wealth, she could easily afford a lot of gifts for both her relatives and those of her husband. She received a lot in return.

It was more or less compulsory for every girl to perform ebe rites. Thus those who were not opportuned to go through these rites during a particular year had to wait for the next turn or were sent by their husbands as soon as they got married.


In indigenous Alor culture, ịpụ ebe was the main means of training girls to bring them up to a marriageable standard. Because every girl‟s (and the parents‟) ultimate goal was marriage, both parents and their daughters yearned to go through the session at least once early in adolescence. A session, which was an annual event, lasted for twenty days, i.e. seven native weeks (izu asaa). Ịpụ ebe was based at the Ifite part of Alor. During this period, the agbọghọ ebe (as the girls undergoing the ebe rites were called) gathered at olile, the communal play ground at Umuhu Ide village, a location not far from the stretch of the Idemili River called the Mmili Okide. There was a matron who instructed them on how to maintain personal hygiene, live in harmony and perform chores just as would be expected of mothers and/or wives. They were taught to cook the different meals of Alor people, especially the soups and such special dishes as ụkwa and ọna.

As a daily routine, the girls would wake up early each morning, sweep the premises, and troop down to the Okide stream where they would take their bath after decorating the idol brought to the shrine on the day the current ebe session commenced. Such decoration was mainly with ushe (cam wood) and edo (yellow claystone paint). They would also decorate themselves and return to their base. One major activity of the girls was the processing and frying of bread fruit seed – ụkwa eghele eghe. They were specially taught how to prepare it to such perfection as to become the trade mark of the agbọghọ ebe. Each girl fried her own portion, shelled the seeds, careful to ensure that the two lobes of each seed remained intact, and preserved them in a small calabash (ntiti). The appearance of the ụkwa would be so attractive and appetizing, and the taste so good that everybody around yearned for a handful. It was actually the reference measure for the taste of fried breadfruit especially when eaten with coconut or palm kernel. There was such a simile as “as fine as ụkwa agbọghọ ebe”. The girls also shelled melon seeds (itu egwisi) and stored the products in some containers for future use in soup preparation.

Singing in their young melodious voices was constantly at the background to all the chores the girls performed. They learned songs from one another, adapted well known songs, and composed fresh ones. This gave them the opportunity to really wade into the gossip mill and pick up all the stories making the rounds at the time. Thus they wove in people‟s names rarely for their good deeds in the society, but more often for their social misdeeds, especially with regards to philandering by young men and flirtatious tendencies of spinsters, widows and the like. This adverse commentary on the character of the bad eggs in the society was called ịtụ ọlụ. The risk of being exposed by the ebe girls restrained many people from scandalous behaviour and many had to strive hard to cover their tracks, 385

or at least pretend to be of good conduct so as to avoid the good measure of public odium brought about by the ebe girls‟ revelations. Through serious practice and rehearsals, they perfected such songs towards the passing out day.

Fashion and grooming were a major part of the daily activities of the ebe girls. Ushe was prepared by using grinding stone to produce the red slurry from the cam wood. They used the ushe as a foundation cream prior to drawing patterns, designs and murals on their smooth youthful skins with uli and ọgaalụ. Such skin decors assumed magnified importance towards the end of an ebe session, the particular day being designated as mbọsị ime akụ ebe. It was usually an nnukwu (big) Nkwo day. Exchange of gifts between the agbọghọ ebe and friends and well wishers went along as a part of the finale. For the girls ụkwa was their top gift item, and whoever received it was of course obliged to give something in return. On the eve of the ime akụ ebe, i.e. the Afọ day preceding the day of passing out, the Okide priest would come to retrieve his idol. This was a way of declaring the ebe session officially closed. The girls who had been singing along with their chores now chanted even more melodiously in jubilation. On the appointed Nkwọ market day, each agbọghọ ebe groomed herself to look her best usually by applying various colours using ushe (cam wood), edo (yellow claystone) and nzu (white claystone). They wore beads on their necks, jighida (another kind of beads) on their waists and tiny bells on their ankles as an accompaniment to their dance. This was all the dressing and nothing was left to doubt. The hairdo would also have been given some special attention by way of plaiting, braiding or some complicated embroidery. The girls would then sing their way to Nkwọ Alor where throngs of people would already have gathered and waited patiently in anticipation of a great festival day. The display by the girls was sensational on two counts – their beauty and their singing. The youthful bodies, so scantily covered, and colourfully titivated were such a spectacle. All and sundry feasted their eyes to no end. This was a great opportunity for every young man in search of a wife. Many instantly made a choice especially if they were materially ready. Others wallowed in confusion, arguing within themselves or with friends as to which agbọghọ ebe was the most delectable. Those not materially ready would sigh in self pity and wait for another year or search out a wife differently as soon as they garnered the requisite resources.


While dancing was not much of a feature of the agbọghọ ebe show, singing was. Movement was more or less restricted to gentle swing of their supple figures, in accompaniment to their singing which, as already described, was usually replete with social critiques of lascivious individuals and their families if not their entire clan or kindred. People usually strained their ears to pick up the details of the songs. The information the girls dished out in their singing was enough to feed the gossip mill for several weeks to come. Those that were the subject matter of the songs had to hide their faces in shame and were often subjected to jeers and mockery by the community.

After the ebe festival at the market square, friends and relatives of the ebe girls come to lead them home. On their way, they visited different families and dished out gifts of delicious ụkwa, ushe and egusi from their stock, and received gifts, often cash, in return. It may be noted that for the particularly striking girls, enquiries from suitors began to pour in and, where no obstacles ensued, dates began to be fixed. This would be expected, since the main function of ebe was to groom a future wife, mother and a man‟s life partner, in essence, to transform a simple village girl by imbuing her with matronly characteristics. This was as much education as was sufficient for the simple agrarian life and communal living that those days demanded, and it worked perfectly well for the people. The arrival of foreign influence via religion and colonialism changed it all and introduced a lot of complications by imposing an extremely tortuous mode of children‟s upbringing we call modern schooling.

Because indigenous Alor people did not believe in separation after marriage, female apprenticeship did not end with ipu ebe. Even after betrothal, girls were still sent to do practical training on how to take care of a family before finally going to settle in a husband‟s place. She was usually sent to live with an elderly woman with a large family. On arrival, her trainer tutored her on personal hygiene, especially with regard to monthly cycles which in most cases, might not have set in for the young girl. With the permeation of Christianity into Alor, the popularity of ịpụ ebe gradually diminished and this aspect of Alor educational practice disappeared. In the early 1960s it was replaced by ije ọzụzụ. This involved a man sending his newly married wife to an experienced woman to learn the art of house-keeping. Most of the time, such apprenticeship was done under a woman of child-bearing age. This enabled the young girl to learn how to take care of the children and the elders, as well as how to prepare herbs to treat minor and common ailments like malaria (isi ọkụ) and convulsion (ishe enu) in children. On the other hand the young wife might first stay with her mother-in-law for six month to 387

two years, depending on how fast the girl could learn. The trainer monitored the girl‟s comportment and would not recommend her for wedding until she deemed fit, especially with regard to her attitude to the relations of her husband, his people and neighbours. She was also expected at this period to have deeply imbibed the intricacies of housekeeping and management of resources, especially food. Specifically, she should be able to process breadfruit for preparing full meals (ụkwa ahọ, ụkwa ọka), and for frying to serve as snacks. She was additionally expected to learn all the steps in processing cassava to produce all its food materials. The processing of palm fruit to extract cooking oil, produce kernel oil, and all the other by-products, especially those that serve as fuel (abụbụ and ichele) during the rains, constituted a major learning process.

As soon as she mastered a considerable number of the necessary arts, the marriage rites were completed. Needless to say, the husband was expected to exercise the necessary restraint so as to ensure that the young lady completed her training prior to making any baby, otherwise truncating her training might portend disharmony in the course of the marriage.


The Domestic Training Centres

Training for girls gradually widened to include both married and unmarried ones. This started in the 1950s, more or less overlapping with the type of training described above and by 1970s had become very fashionable. It was carried out in a semi-school setting and soon became popularly known as „‟domestic science‟‟. This was preferred to sending the girls to secondary school. In some cases, when a girl in secondary school got married, she could be withdrawn and placed in such domestic centres. Here the girls learnt a wide variety of manual skills in addition to home management skills. Newly married girls were sent by their husbands to acquire relevant skills. Parents also sponsored their children of marriageable age to this training. In those days, marriage within Alor was the preference for both young men and the girls, and this was reflected in the preference Alor people had for domestic centres set up by Alor women. A particularly popular one was the Women Progressive Domestic Centre, Onitsha, set up and run by Madam Onyekwelu (aka America).

At these centres, young girls were taught cookery, baking, dress designing and sewing, knitting, bag production, hairdressing, and more. A full course of training, lasting about two years, turned out a young lady versatile in housekeeping and well equipped to set up her own business as a confectioner, seamstress, or restauranteur. Over time, trainees in such centres began to specialize such that, from the late 1980s till date, salons dedicated to hair dressing (palming) began to spring up, not just in the urban areas, but even in Alor, regardless of the extremely unreliable public power supply. In the 388

same vein, several Alor women, married or single, have thrown off all shackles and breached all obstacles and set up catering services capable of arranging and serving a miscellany of refreshments in traditional marriages, weddings, funerals, title-taking, and the like. Some have added party planning and venue decoration to their portfolio of services on offer. All this is to the chagrin of the village women and their age-old ite ose, the association of women married in a given kindred who used to do the cooking for the big occasions within the kindred. No regrets, however, since the heavy “food leakage” traceable to ite ose women has been plugged and, in any case, it is noteworthy that culinary practices have come a long way and have in most cases overtaken the skills of the village women.

Mrs. Rita Nneka Obiorah (Ebube Ugbana), BSc Ed, M.Ed, Proprietress Nekritas Nursery/Primary School, Lagos,





As already indicated in the discussion of the religions of Alor by Pastor Sam Okafor-Udah, formal education, or what is referred to as western education, was introduced by the missions – Anglican and Roman Catholic. Thus the inception of formal education in Alor was exclusively church-based. This is why the discussion has to begin from the arrival of the foreign religion, which was 389

exclusively Christianity. Additionally, we may recall that religion followed on the expansion into, or permeation of, the hinterland by the British colonial rule. Even though the story of the great collision of cultures told by Chinua Achebe in his inimitable classic – Things Fall Apart – may be regarded as global, the effects would apply to Alor down to every detail. Opposition was patent, but curiosity about the new strange religion nudged some people towards the new ways of looking at Olise, the all-pervading deity who Alor always had and celebrated elaborately on annual basis (see paper by Rev. Dr. Madubuko, this volume).

In the early twentieth century, the colonial master carved Alor up into warrant chieftaincy domains as follows: i.

Chief Ogbuokebe Ibekwute: - Ezi Alor (Umuoshi, Etiti and Okebunoye),


Chief Nweke Ugochukwu: - Uruezeani and Umuokwu,


Chief Obianyo Ezenwanne: - Mkpazu Ideani, Urueze Ide and Umuawo Ide,


Chief Uwaezuoke Onyido: - Enugo Ideani, Umuru Ide, Onitsha

n‟Ulum and

Ezioye Ide

As of a kind of competition, each of these warrant chiefs nucleated a church. Chief Ibekwute and Obianyo Ezenwanne respectively facilitated the establishment of Anglican churches in Ezi Alor and Ideani by the Church Missionary Society (CMS). Chief Onyido established the Catholic Church in Ideani and Umuru Ide while Chief Nweke Ugochukwu brought the Catholic Church to Uruezeani. As an enablement, each of these warrant chiefs generously gave all necessary aid to the young institutions – by way of shelter and protection, such that the missions were at least initially sited in the respective palaces. From these churches, schools sprouted.

Materials used for drafting this contribution to this volume came from various sources oral and published, foremost among which are Afuekwe (1992) and Ndulue (1994). The latter source, even though tilted more towards the history of the two main churches in Alor, should be highly commended for delving deep into the progress of education. By specifically naming the increasing numbers of products from the earliest endeavours (first school leaving certificate) to immediate postcivil war times (university graduates), Sir Ndulue generated a remarkable historical record.


Catholic Schools

The church and school established in Chief Nweke Ugochukwu‟s compound at Uruezeani had Mr. Amos Anopu of Ojoto as the sole organizer. Cooperation from the people came reluctantly since 390

their culture was being clearly interfered with. But he persevered especially as the Chief and landlord gave his backing. The pioneer pupils of this school included: i)

Godwin Onyechi


Matthew Nweke


Joseph Nweke


Joseph Oraka


Udoji Ozuome


Samson Nwoye


Joseph Izuakor


Muojama Ogbobelu


Donatus Okudo


Okoye Orinwa


Okeke Mbeledeogu


Jerome Nwankwo


Okide Onyenwa


Nwajiaku Ezeoye


Meshach Nwankwo

Note that most of these pioneering pupils had foreign names, i.e. they had been baptized. This change of name was for some a source of mockery and for others an attraction. These pioneer pupils were pitied since they were children who were held in lower regard by their parents. They were considered to be idlers who willingly abandoned farm work for school. First sons and only sons were, for obvious reasons, not sent to school by their parents. Even those who were released could go only after consulting some oracle. In 1916, the school in Nweke Ugochukwu‟s compound was moved to a more convenient site still near his compound – the present Saint Francis School, Uruezeani. It was a thatched building which served a dual purpose – school and church. As a result of lack of maintenance, this building collapsed when Amos Ndupu left.

The School at Ajana Square in Umuru Ide In 1917, through the assistance of Chiefs Uwaezuoke Onyido of Ideani and Ugoka Nkwoka of Umuru Ide, a school was established at Ajana Square, near Ugoka Nkwoka‟s house. The school, just like the church, accepted members from Uruezeani whose church/school building had collapsed. It 391

also recruited pupils from Ezi Alor and the larger Ifite Alor. The first teacher there was Ben Okafor of Umuoji. Next to him was Mr. Betrand Oguezue also of Umuoji. Mr. Edward Onyeka Chikwendu of Urueze Ide Alor was the third teacher, but was later transferred to teach at the new school at Obi Agbo. Edward had attended school at Ojoto and could understand and speak the English language. Mr. Betrand Akukwe of Umuoji was the next teacher there. He was succeeded by Mr. Jacob Oraka from Urueze Ide. Jacob, a pioneer pupil of Uruezeani school, schooled higher at Umuoji and returned as a teacher and, with Edward Chikwendu, made up the first crop of teachers who hailed from Alor.

In 1927, in an attempt to get a more central location, the church/school at Ajana square was transferred to a location in Urueze Ide near Okonkwo Ngige‟s compound. Among the pioneer teachers at this station were Messrs Augustine Olisa Uko from a part of the then Western Nigeria that is now Edo State, Louis Okube from Nnobi, Michael Okeke from Nnobi, Betrand Ukpaka from Nnobi, Jerome Onunkwo from Ukpor, and Louis Chiadikobi from Abatete. Among the pioneer pupils of this station were Dominic Ngige, Peter Ngige, Jerome Nwankwo, Godwin Ugoka, and Emmanuel Okoloigwe. The Ezi Alor School In 1922, a branch of Ajana school/church was established at Mkpu Ata in Ezi Alor, thus bringing the number of Catholic schools in Alor to three. This school was later transferred to Obi Agbo on a piece of land given to them by Patrick Egwuagu. This pullout of Uruezeani people and Ezi people disrupted the hitherto only functional school at Ajana for a period of nearly four years before it was moved to another site at Urueze Ide.

The school at Uruezeani was denied a teacher following the refusal by Chief Nweke Ugochukwu to allow the construction of the road linking Ide to Nnokwa through his land in 1922. However, after he apologized to the Reverend Father, the school resumed when Mr. Betrand Ukpaka of Nnobi was sent there. Teachers who served at this station included Mr. Thomas Okafor also of Nnobi (1924), Mr. James Nwandu of Nnokwa (1925 – 1927), Mr. Isaac Egenti of Ogbunike (1927 – 1929), and Mr. Michael Obi of Obosi.

In 1929, the Catholic Church at Ezi and that at Uruezeani teamed up and acquired a piece of land near the Nkwo Market, where they erected a church building with a thatched roof. The building served both as a church and a school and the teachers served as catechists as well. In 1945, a stone 392

building was erected at this site. By this time, the school at Ngige‟s Compound had united with them and in 1952 another stone building was added to accommodate the increasing school population. Another Catholic school established in the 1960s is the one called United Primary School, Ebenesii, located about 200 metres from the major road just across the Post Office. A new block was added more recently.

Old block of the United Primary School, Ebenesii

The newer block of the United Primary School, Ebenesii


3 Anglican Schools th On 17 January, 1917, the Anglican Church came to Umuoshi Alor through Chief Ogbuokebe Ibekwute. The Church came from Ekeze Nnewi and with it a school was later established in the palace of Chief Ibekwute. The school had some teachers of Alor origin who had attended school elsewhere. Among these was Julius Anagboso Okafo, a pioneer teacher who later became the first Anglican clergy man from Alor. Mr. Elijah Anaekwe, his uncle, had taken him to Oze, where he attended school, and later completed his primary education at Ogidi. He became the first Alor person to pass standard six and this was in 1921. He was instantly employed as a teacher at Ogbunike in 1922. He served in several towns, combining the duties of a school teacher with those of a catechist. There was also Simeon Chukwuma Ndubisi who had attended CMS Central School, Akpakogwe, Ogidi in 1915. These two teachers managed the school in Chief Ibekwute‟s palace and had Appolos Agina, John Emefo, and Ezekiel Omenakaya as their pioneer pupils. Chief Ibekwute initially housed and fed the teachers. The church later took over the responsibility until a salary was fixed for the teachers. St. Andrew’s School, Umuokwu Saint Andrew‟s School was established in 1921 by John Emefo. He had reached class III at the Ezi Enyiagba school but left as a protest over a severe corporal punishment meted to him by the teacher, one Mr. Simon Emenogha. On reaching home that same day, young John carried a wooden tom-tom (ekwe) from his father‟s house to St. Andrew‟s premises where he beat it, summoning people to school. People assembled that day and John started teaching them. The school was subsequently recognized by the CMS authority. The zeal of this self-appointed teacher was admired by Rev. A.N. Asiekwu who gave him a note to Nnobi Central School to continue his primary education.

In addition to John Emefo the self-appointed teacher, the teachers in the school were Peter Ademe of Oba, first official teacher (1921 – 1922), Victor Atamuo of Ogidi (1922, for two weeks), James Obi of Ihiala (1922, two weeks), Michael Anulumadu of Okija (1923), and Fredrick Okonkwo of Nnobi (1924 – 1925).

Pioneer pupils at the school included Josiah Osondu, Mark Osondu, Obi Okoye, Christian Ojukwu, Wilfred Okoye, Ben Anyachebelu, Ezekiel Agina, Nwose Nwudo Odenigbo, Dominic Ngige, Okafor Ekwulugo Abazu, Samson Nwoye, Anaekpeluchi Obiagwu, and Albert Ezika.


Two years after the establishment of the school at Ama Enyiagba, the roof was eaten by termites. This was interpreted by the non-adherents as an act of vengeance by the gods. Undeterred, the Christians expeditiously reroofed their school, which also continued to serve as a church. In 1925 the school, along with the Church, was transferred to Ezi Obi Agbor, the present site of CMS Central School, Alor.

Central School, Alor

Unification of the Schools In 1933, Saint Andrew‟s Church fused with Saint Paul‟s and acquired the present site of Saint Paul‟s Church, which was an evil forest at Umumbelu in Okebunoye. In 1937, the foundation for a stone building was laid on the spot that bore an evil tree that curiously initially resisted cutting. The unification process was not an easy journey. This was because the church/school branches were brought in by different chiefs from different districts. Thus, while the school by Chief Ibekwute was attached to Nnewi where it came from, that of St. Andrew‟s was attached to Obosi district. At last unification became a success. With this unification, St. Paul‟s now had three standard schools – at Ama Enyiagba, at Ezi Obi Agbor and St .Andrew‟s School at Umuokwu (now called Okwu Memorial School, Umuokwu). Junior classes were also being held at St. Paul‟s Church premises as well as at a site at Umuru Ide hitherto used as a cemetery.


A block in the Okwu Memorial School, Umuokwu

Not far from the Okwu Memorial School are the Uruezeani Central School (formerly St. Francis School, Uruezeani) and the Umuoshi Primary School.

Uruezeani Central School


Umuoshi Primary Shool

4 Methods of Education At the initial stages of western education age disparity was very high since anybody that indicated interest was admitted. By the 1940s, it became necessary to admit pupils of narrower age bracket in a given class. Before admitting a child into the lowest class, which was kindergarten, he was made to put his right arm over the head. If he could touch his left ear, he moved on to infant class 1, otherwise he stayed on in the kindergarten for another school year. The rationale for this was not clear; it was simply an instruction from the higher mission authorities. But perhaps they were correlating the length of a child‟s arms with his age, since in those days there was neither birth registration nor even any family record of birth dates.

At the inception of education, formal instruction starting from infant class I was referred to as Obele ABC, i.e. Lower ABC. This involved learning to read the alphabets and their Igbo adaptation (called A, B, GB) for virtually the whole school year. The numeracy side of instructions alongside this was in the form of learning to read and write 1 to 10. Progression was to infant II (Nnukwu ABC) before proceeding to standard I.

During the infant classes, every child carried a breakable slate and charcoal or a kind of pencil for writing on it. As time went on, charcoal was replaced with white claystone (nzu). By standard 1 the pupil progressed to writing with pencil on paper which was in the form of exercise books specific for arithmetic (grid-ruled) and for writing (horizontal lines). At the end of standard II, one was qualified to write with pen and ink. The pen was simply a 15 cm long slim stick with a nib stuck to one end. 397

The pupil carried along his ink bottle. Ink was made in small bottles by mixing the ink powder that came in small sachets with water. Ink smears on the paper were quite common, and blotting papers came in handy. It was really a mark of progress to arrive at using pen and ink. Advancement to higher classes qualified the pupil to use a fountain pen. The best way to show one‟s level at school was to stick a fountain pen in one‟s breast pocket. Having an ink smear on the shirt pocket was even a thing of pride.

5. Curriculum The whole schooling exercise might be regarded as infusing discipline in several directions – academic, personal conduct, cleanliness and hygiene, etc. Discipline in personal conduct was taken very seriously since it constituted the main essence of education itself. Infringements on rules were therefore often visited with serious corporal punishment which was routinely in the form of lashes of the cane. Indeed the fear of the cane made the child arrive punctually at school, trim his hair, brush his teeth, trim his nails, keep his body and clothes clean, resist stealing, avoid fighting even when provoked, and to generally comport himself respectfully.

The academic side of discipline was by way of the routine teaching of various subjects. English and mathematics came in unceasing daily doses. The latter was basically arithmetic with a sprinkling of algebra and geometric concepts, but was a nightmare to quite a few pupils especially if the teacher insisted on marking the corrections before the pupils went home. Religion, called scriptures, had a pride of place and the Holy Bible was the primary text. The Ten Commandments had to be learnt by heart, and the tenets, the orders or the prohibitions had to form the foundation of Christian life. This explains the very high standards of moral conduct that obtained in the past. Singing was practiced or rehearsed in preparation for the mass or Sunday service. Every teacher was equally competent in religious knowledge and the school curriculum and many teachers doubled as Sunday school instructors or catechists, or at least occasionally mounted the pulpit to preach the Sunday sermon. Geography was an important subject right from standard four. It is amazing that the aspects of geography taught in the elementary schools of those days, e.g. the regions and physical features of Africa and even the wider world, are hardly even mentioned in the junior secondary school stages of today. History was solely about the British Empire and the march of civilization as spearheaded by European explorers and inventors. The subject closest to science was nature study which looked at plants and animals. Pupils of higher classes knew the common English names of all the flowering plants in the gardens by heart. Periods were set aside for storytelling, hand writing, sports, games and physical fitness exercises, handicraft, and gardening. Farming was a major out-of-classroom 398

demonstration of some class-taught principles. Harvests of yams and cassava were often plentiful and auction sales to the public were conducted to dispose of some items.

The medium of instruction was a mix of English and Igbo languages. The higher classes progressively incorporated more English. The teachers had difficulty, especially in the lower classes, introducing the diphthong th which had better be pronounced as de or just t. The letters f, r and v posed special challenges since they never existed in the Alor dialect of the Igbo language. The letter r in particular took quite some hard work and patience on the side of the teacher to incorporate. It meant untying the tongue of the typical Alor child to make it vibrate fast enough to pronounce a word like ruler; it is usually lula. Pronouncing a word like “problem” was and still remains a challenge to many; it is easier to mouth “ploblem”. Parallel would be more convenient as “palallel”. Just imagine a nightmare like “parabola” or “supernumerary”!

5. First School Leaving Certificate For over thirty years after formal western education arrived Alor, the schools had not attained the standard six level. They stagnated at standard four. The Catholics who wished to proceed beyond that level had to go to such other towns as Ogidi, Ogbunike or Umuoji; Anglicans had to go to Nnobi, Nnewi, Abatete or Oraukwu. In 1945, the CMS Central School in Alor was granted permission to go beyond standard four and in 1947 the first set of standard six pupils sat for the examination. It was under the headmastership of Mr. Dan Odukwe of Oraifite. Among this first set were Jonathan Eze, Samuel Mbaekwe, Ephraim Ndubuisi, Edwin Ezigbo, and Geoffrey Ezigbo. St. Mary‟s Catholic School was in 1948 granted permission to extend beyond standard four and in 1950 offered twelve candidates for the first school leaving certificate examination. They were Cornelius Elosiuba, Julius Oraka, Justin Okeke Ojiudu, Godwin Okpala, Edwin Anunobi, Betrand Akunyiba, Sylvanus Umenwune, Moses Obidozo, Josephine Uzokife (later Mrs. Afuekwe), Peter Udoagwa, Basil Ogbuonyali (of Eziowelle), and Rapheal Nweke.

We should take special note of a few Alor indigenes who had their education completely outside Alor, even in the twenties, as they traversed the length and breadth of the region learning and teaching. Mention should therefore be made of the following people who contributed their quota towards educating the youths.

Mr. Richard D. Oyeka (of Umuoshi) schooled outside Alor and finished from the Teachers Training College (TTC) Awka in 1928. He thereafter started teaching at Umunze Central School in 1929. At 399

some stage in his teaching career, he also became a Catechist. Among the various towns where he taught were: Owa Alero; Ogwashi Ukwu; Igbanke; Akwa Ukwu Igbo; Akwa Ukwu Akumazi; St. Christopher‟s Onitsha and St. Jude Oraifite, where he finally retired in 1974. He served for many years as a Headmaster in these schools. He had altogether put in forty-five years of meritorious service before his retirement.

It should also be put on record that Mr. Raymond Oyeka (from Agbo quarter) passed standard six in 1938 from Nnobi Central School. That was the last year for Nigerian National Standard Six Examinations before each region started conducting theirs independently. He started teaching at Central School Oba in 1939 and, like a few others, he went back to Teachers Training College (TTC) Awka in 1946, graduating in 1949. He was posted to St. Paul‟s School Jos in 1950. Among the various towns where his teaching career moved him to were: Akwa Ukwu Igbo; Agyaragu, near Lafia; Gudi (where he became a Headmaster in 1953); Kafanchan; St. Christopher‟s Onitsha, St. Paul‟s School Alor etc. He retired as Headmaster Grade 1 in 1975, at Modebelu Memorial Primary School Onitsha, after putting in a total of thirty six years of meritorious service. We should also note that he had in 1951 passed the famous London Matriculation examination, but due to lack of sponsorship, could not proceed overseas for further studies.

Mr. Benson Enendu passed standard six in 1939. In 1940 he entered the Dennis Memorial Grammar School (DMGS), Onitsha, but had to leave for lack of school fees. He started teaching in Burutu and Warri in 1941. By 1946 he went for further training at the Teachers Training College (TTC) Awka and finished in 1949. Thereafter, he was posted to Diobu (1950) and was later transferred to Opobo. Before his retirement in 1984 as a Headmaster, he had served as a teacher in Umuahia, Ihe, Nnewi, Oba, Nnobi, Nnokwa, Uke, Ojoto and Awka Etiti where he retired.

Mr. Leonard Ojukwu-Enendu went to the Teachers Training College (TTC) Irete (now in Imo State) around the early forties and started teaching by 1947 at Umuekwune, near Ihiagwa. His teaching career took him to several other locations including: Umuomumu Mbieri; Amazano near Owerri; Agulu Uzo Igbo; Isuofia and finally at Ifite Ukpo, where he passed on in 1979 in his early fifties. He was a Headmaster for many years before his death.

6. Women Education As is clear from the account thus far, women did not begin as early as men to feature in the progress of western education in Alor. This was for obvious reasons. There was an instinct on the part of the 400

parents to protect girls from the harsher world beyond the home. In terms of economic management, if the boys went to school, their sisters had better stay back at home working to raise money in support of the boys‟ schooling. Many parents did not see the rationale in expending so much money and time sending a girl to school only to later give her out in marriage. Besides, it was believed that an educated girl would become rather difficult to control and would therefore not make a good housewife. Thus, as Ndulue (1994) noted, even “the few Alor girls who attempted to attend school in those days did it in a harp-hazard manner; many started but made no headway”. The myth was broken by Mrs. Sussana Ifejika (nee Ojukwu) who, in 1939, became the first girl from Alor to obtain the first school leaving certificate. She had completed her schooling at Nnobi. This feat was possible due to the fact that her father, Mazi Simeon Ojukwu Nkwogulu, was himself quite an enlightened member of St. Paul‟s Anglican Church. Sussana‟s was thus an exceptional case. In general, girls who managed to go to school hardly proceeded beyond standard four. There was the feeling that girls should not be so much more learned than, or even educationally at par with, their male counterparts.

The whole complex of feelings continued to hold girls back until 1952 when a spirited campaign was organized by the Alor Literary Society. The highlight of the effort was the showing off of the few girls who were at school or had completed standard six by getting them to speak to the public in English. This went far in convincing parents that girls were no less endowed than the boys. It brought about a dramatic change in women education. Those already in school were inspired to go beyond their initial target while a lot more girls became emboldened to start schooling.

We may name a good number of Alor girls who, over time, followed the trail blazed by Miss Sussana Ojukwu. Miss Pauline Aziagba (Mrs. Nnakwe) passed standard six in 1943 and became a teacher. Mrs. Josephine Eluem Ojukwu (nee Oyeka) got her First School Leaving Certificate in 1946 from Girls‟ School, Onitsha. This was possible because as a young girl, she lived with her uncle, Mr. Abel Oyeka, who was a Policeman and they had to move from one town to another on transfers. By 1947, she started teaching at Central School, Oba, and was in 1948 transferred to Central School, Alor. Prominent among her pupils were Mr. Sam Izuegbu (from Ide) and Mr. Solomon Okide (from Umuokwu).

Miss Idah Chinwe Oyeka (later Mrs. Odeluga of Abetete) went beyond the elementary school stage to become the first Alor girl to obtain the Senior Cambridge School Certificate (1953, and in Grade 1). Miss Florence Nwune (later Mrs. Izundu) not only passed the first school leaving certificate, but


was immediately employed as a teacher and became the first Alor lady to obtain the Grade II Teachers‟ (Higher Elementary) Certificate.

Other Alor women who advanced early in education may now be listed: Mrs. Beatrice Oyedu (nee Obiora) teacher and fashion designer, Mrs. Joy Odachi (nee Onyekwelu) teacher, Mrs Agu (nee Odachi) teacher, Mrs. Victoria Onyekonwu (nee Nwabulue) teacher, Mrs. Azuka Ezigbo (nee Oyeka) headmistress, Veronica Nwolisa (now Rev. Sister Mary Martin Nwolisa), Mrs. Eunice Megwalu (nee Anunobi) headmistress, Mrs. Margery Enendu (nee Okafo) headmistress, Mrs. Janet Okonkwo (nee Okafor-Udah) teacher, Mrs. Evelyn Eze (nee Igbonwa) teacher, Mrs. Paulin Igbonwa (nee Chikwendu) teacher, Mrs. Mercy Odeluga (nee Obiegbu) teacher, Mrs. Priscilla Ubah (nee Okoye) teacher, Mrs. Euginia Igwego (nee Edebeatu) teacher, Miss Phoebe Nwokedi, teacher, Mrs. Lucy Anyabolu (nee Omenaka) banker, Mrs. Mabel Ejikeme (nee Anyachebelu) accountant, Dr. Mrs. Joy Agbazue (nee Obiegbu) educationist and author, Mrs. Mary Chikwendu (nee Okafor) educationist, Mrs. Grace Iloabuchi (nee Chikwendu) headmistress, Mrs. Cecilia Okafor (nee Nwolisa) teacher, Mrs. Bridget Nwolisa (nee Okwuora) headmistress, Mrs. Florence Ekwunife (nee Okeke) matron, Mrs. Josephine Afuekwe (nee Uzokife), Mrs. Victoria Mbah (nee Nworah) educationist, Priscilla Onuselogu teacher, Mrs. Josephine Ezeonu (nee Obiefuna) teacher, Mrs. Georgina Umeh (nee Obiwelozo), Mrs. Catherine Nwoye (nee Ilogbaka), Mrs. Janet Oyudo (nee Jideofo) civil servant, Mrs. Agnes Agada (nee Okafor), Mrs. Bridget Ndulue (nee Okoye) headmistress, Mrs. Monica Nwafor (nee Ndulue) headmistress, Mrs. Maria Okoye (nee Nweke) teacher, Mrs. Juliana Ibekwe (nee Akunna), Mrs. Theresa Obiekwe (nee Obelogu) headmistress, Mrs. Christiana Madubuko (nee Igboanugo) headmistress, Mrs. Grace Anyakora (nee Okwuogu) teacher, Mrs. Grace Nwawelu (nee Onyemesili) headmistress, Mrs. Bernadette Ngige (nee Okoye) headmistress, Mrs. Georgina Uchendu (nee Abasilim) headmistress, Mrs. Virginia Moedu (nee Okoye) teacher, Mrs. Catherine Anichebe (nee Ezetulugo) nurse, Mrs. Angelina Okpala (nee Nwose) nurse, Mrs. Catherine Obiagwu (nee Ibeneme) nurse, Mrs. Josephine Agbazue (nee Nwudo) nurse, Mrs. Lucy Ibeanu (nee Nweke) nurse, Miss Florence Okeke (ex-QRC, Onitsha, and UK-trained) nurse.

It is pertinent to mention here that the first Alor lady to become a university graduate is Mrs. Ada Onuigbo (nee Udechukwu).

Let us at this juncture note that so far only a small number of Alor women (Umuada Alor) have obtained doctorate degrees. First among them is Dr. (Mrs.) Ifeyinwa Ifemesia (nee Oyeka) who 402

obtained a PhD degree in Educational Administration in 1988. Next is, Dr. Chinyelu Florence Ojukwu, currently a Senior Lecturer at the University of Port Harcourt, who obtained a PhD in English in 1994. She had a stint in politics when she served as Special Assistant/Adviser to two respective Governors of Anambra State (Dr. Chris Ngige and Mr. Peter Peter Obi) on State Economic and Empowerment and Development Starategy (SEEDS) and the New Partnership for Africa‟s Development (NEPAD) Anambra State Nov. 2004 – 2006. The third, Dr. (Mrs.) Joy Agbazue (nee Obiegbu), had a first degree in education/chemistry, and in 2000 obtained a PhD in Educational Guidance and Counseling. She voluntarily retired in 2007 from the Federal Inspectorate of Education as Deputy Director. Dr. Mrs. Chinwe Ańunobi (nee Okwuebinadike of Umuru Ide) holds a PhD (UNN) in Library and Information Science, specializing in Information and Communication Technology and is presently the Deputy Librarian in charge of Digital Library of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Dr. Stella Ogochukwu Ezeonu has a PhD in physics and is presently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Pure and Industrial Physics, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Dr. (Mrs.) Priscilla Onuselogu (nee Ojukwu) in 2008 bagged a PhD (Unizik) in Education specializing in Educational Foundation and is currently lecturing at the Anambra State University, Awka. We hope and believe that many more daughters of Alor will be inspired to acquire higher, specifically doctorate, degrees in time to come.

Let us also acknowledge the several illustrious ladies married into Alor from other towns, who have also done Alor proud by their glowing academic achievements. Professor Mrs. Amechi Oyeka (nee Ezudike of Nnokwa, married to Professor C.A. Oyeka, Isimmili Alor) has a PhD (UNN) in microbiology, specializing in medical mycology, and served as Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Anambra State University, Uli. Dr. Mrs. Chinyere Felicia Oyeka (nee Onuorah of Oraukwu, married to Dr. Engr Chris Oyeka) has a PhD (Uniben) in Business Education and is in practice as an educationist.

7. Post-Primary Education As already indicated, schools in Alor were quite tardy in attaining their full primary school status. The education authorities in the headquarters of the missions in Onitsha took their time in granting such special privileges as having standard six. This might be attributed to the insular location of the town. Most probably for the same reasons, having a post-secondary institution was beset by similar challenges. The nearest post-primary institutions were quite far away at Onitsha, Nnewi, Oba, etc. For obvious reasons therefore, Onitsha became the destination for whoever could advance beyond the elementary school stage from Alor. It should be noted at this juncture that the very first indigenes 403

of Alor to attend secondary school, namely Jonas Ogbuonye (later Ibeneme, of Umunambu quarter) entered DMGS in 1937. He was in 1938 followed into the same school by Abel Igwe of Umuoshi, Japhet Okonkwo of Ebennesii, and Andrew Obianyo of Ideani.

Gibson Nwokedi (the first university graduate and first medical doctor from Alor) and Godfrey Oyudo (the first lawyer and first judge from Alor), were educated at the African College, Onitsha, a private secondary school owned by Mr. Chukwura of Abatete. Mr. Chukwura‟s mother hailed from Ọgbọgụ quarter, Ebensii, Alor. He was known to have eagerly encouraged and even induced Alor boys to take up admission in his school, and quite a few did.

Very much as for elementary schools, secondary schools were tightly owned and controlled by the churches. Thus the first choice of secondary schools was the Dennis Memorial Grammar School for Anglicans and the Christ the King College for Catholics. Entry into these schools was through a very tough and intensely competitive entrance examination that in those days attracted candidates from across western Africa, followed by an interview from which some sixty boys were selected each year. Gaining admission into any of these two schools thus made a boy a cynosure of all eyes and an instant celebrity. It therefore became a mournful situation if for any reason, which was often financial, the admission was not taken up, such as happened in the case of Godfrey Udoka who was admitted into DMGS in 1932 but could not go. However, that school produced a number of highly distinguished personages of Alor origin, among them Mr. Abel Igwe Civil Servant, Mr. Rufus Ojukwu Civil Servant, Mr. Edwin Ezigbo Chartered Accountant, Mr. Alexander Ezigbo Civil Servant, Mr. Jonathan Eze Civil servant, Mr. Sam Mbaekwe Economist, Chief Ephraim Ndubuisi Historian, Author, and Entrepreneur, Mr. Henry Edebatu Economist, Sir Obiora Okafo Gephysicist and Civil Servant, Eric Okpala Petroleum Industry Professional, Dr. Erasmus Ogbuobiri Electrical Engineer, Chief Emmanuel Nwankwo First Permanent Secretary from Alor, Venerable Israel Nwose Anglican Clergy, Professor Cornelius Nwajide Consulting Geologist, Paul Agina Civil Servant, Emmanuel Obidozie Agricultural Economist, Joseph Osakwe Russian Trained Engineer, Dr. Caleb Nwudo-Odenigbo Medical Practitioner, Jerry Oyeka Civil Servant, Zacheus Ojukwu, Dr. Chris Oyeka Structural Engineer, Kenneth Onyedika Civil Servant, Louis Okwunne Civil Servant, Ifeanyi Ezigbo Biochemist and Civil Servant, Dr. Ebenezer Mbaekwe Ecologist and University Don, Maxwell Ojukwu Civil Servant, Dr. Paul Obiegbu Anambra State Director of Medical Services. The great Christ the King College turned out Mr. Maximus Enenebeaku Medical Laboratory Technologist, Christopher Obiezu, Lecturer in Health and Physical Education, among many others. 404

Alor boys in DMGS, 1961: Front row: Christian Oyeka, Cornelius Nwajide, Emmanuel Nwankwo, Israel Nwose, Louis Okwunne, Back row: Caleb Nwudo-Odenigbo, Joseph Osakwe, Emmanuel Obidozie, Paul Agina, Kenneth Onyedika, Zacheous Ojukwu These two great schools also spawned off other secondary schools. The arrangement was that the new schools were built or owned by the various towns, but managed by the missions, as much as possible using the well known schools as models. To achieve this, the pioneer principals were sent from the great old schools where they had attained at least the rank of vice principal. Examples were our own St Johns‟ College, Anglican Grammar School, Oraukwu, Comprehensive Secondary School Nawfia, Orifite Grammar School, etc. These younger mission schools turned out a large number of illustrious men, many of them already listed. We now add a sampling of our kith and kin who were nurtured at Oraukwu:- Chief Clem Aniefuna (Ebekue N‟Alor), Engr. Jerry Ibekwute Consulting Engineer, Andrew Nwune Former Assistant Comptroller Nigerian Customs Service, Godson Okafor Former Assistant Comptroller of Customs, Goddy Sunday Okoye (Bob Hell) Businessman, Caleb Chinemelu one time Rector of Federal Polytechnic, Oko, Rufus Okafor Industrialist, Professor Emeka Ezeonu Biochemist and university don, Dr. Sam Okide, expert in software development and computer forensics, on the staff of Unizik, Awka, Obi Oyeka Pharmacist, and Dr. Iloabuchi G. Okoye, forestry expert with a doctorate in management sciences, at the ARMTI, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ilorin, Francis Agbazue Industrial Chemist and Entrepreneur, among numerous others.


Another mission secondary, Ife Grammar School, located in far away Ife in Ezinihite, Mbaise, produced Philemon Obiegbu Engineer, Gius Akubue Accountant, Sir Nnamdi Oyeka Chartered Accountant, Jerry Onyeańuna historian and educationist, Israel Mbaekwe, a former school principal, Chief Alex Enyiagba, statistician and former university administrator, Dr. Ebenizer Mbaekwe, Ecologist/ Environmental Scientist, Associate Professor, Unizik, Awka.

Beyond the tightly owned mission secondary schools, several privately owned secondary schools around nurtured many Alor indigenes. Among these we can name Mr. Obum Oyeka, Teacher, who attended Okongwu Memorial Grammar School, Nnewi. Pius Akubeze, Chartered Accountant and one time Auditor General of the Federation, Christopher Okeana Udodi, Economist in the Anambra State Government, and Marcel Obiagwu, Linguist and Library scientist were in Washington Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha. Augustine Afuekwe, PhD Curriculum Development, Educationist and prolific writer attended Modebe Grammar School, Onitsha. Samuel Ogwo, Insurance Consultant, Sir Jonathan Nnodum Aziagba, Chartered Accountant and former Deputy accountant General of the Federation, Basil Okoye Teacher, Benneth Nwokedi, Estate Surveyor, and Frank Emeka Asiegbu graduate of chemistry, petroleum engineer and former Deputy Director in the Directorate of Petroleum Resources, all attended the Merchants of Light School, Oba. Goddy Agbazue, Administrator, and Uche Jideofor, Building Contractor, Chief Sam Ojukwu (Ichie Ekwueme), Security Consultant, and Dr. Everest Ojukwu, Medical Practitioner, attended Our Lady‟s High School, Onitsha.

A good number of Alor boys attended the prestigious Government College, Umuahia, before the Nigerian Civil War: Christopher Oyeka Actaurial Consultant, Eloka Ojukwu Surveyor, Rev. Christian Okeke Architect, Edwin Enigwe Broadcaster; Kenneth Anekwe, Dennis Okafor Geologist and Managing Director, Nigerian Coal Corporation, Enugu, Engr. Azubike Nelson Oyudo Group General Manager NNPC Research and Development, and Dr. Ndububa Ojukwu (first Veterinary Surgeon from Alor) Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone 1 Headquarters, Kano.

Mention should also be made of Josiah Oyeka, the first Alor boy to attend the great Kings College, Lagos. Tribute is also here paid to Rev. Dr. I. Okafor of UNTH, Enugu, Dr. Uzodinma and Dr. Okafor of Unizk, Awka, all holders of doctoral degrees. We should also indicate that Alor can boast of several academics in diaspora. Among them are Ifeanyi Celestine Ezeonu, Professor of Criminology, Department of Sociology, Brock University, St. Cathirines, Ontario, Canada, and Felix Okeke-Ezigbo, Professor of English in the United States of America. 406

The Elementary Training College Since Alor had awakened, albeit sluggishly, to the values of education, a collective dream was the location of a post-primary institution in the town. This was why there was quite some excitement when, in the mid-1950s, the Anglican community secured permission to build an Elementary Training College (ETC) for the training of Grade III teachers. Obosi and Alor had indicated interest in siting the college in their towns. Obosi had an edge since they already had a junior teacher training institution – a Pupil Teachers College (PTC) and only needed to effect infrastructural upgrade. The Anglican Education Authority at Onitsha decided that the first to deposit the sum of ₤2,000 (two thousand pounds) had the college. The representatives of Alor immediately hinted a few Alor traders and they met at No. 4 William Street, the shop of Mr. Pius Mbachu of Umuoshi village. The sum was raised there and then and deposited the following day at the office of the Education Secretary. Alor had the college. Construction work began in 1955 and in 1956 classes took off at the Central School as a temporary arrangement, with Mr. Reuben A. Okwuosa of Ogidi as the pioneer principal. After a few months the students relocated to the permanent site between Umuoshi and Uruezeani. The teacher training function of the school was in 1964 phased out and the college transformed into a secondary school for girls. St. John’s Secondary School In the mid-1950s the Catholic community decided to establish a secondary school for boys. Through the efforts of Chief P.N. Okeke, who negotiated with the Catholic Mission Authority and the Eastern Nigeria Government, the establishment of the school was approved. An impressive sum of ₤8,000 (eight thousand pounds) was soon raised by the church and work started in earnest on a piece of land acquired from the Ebenesii-Okebunoye village in the northern parts of Alor. The school block, the staff quarters and the principal‟s residence were fully in place when in 1958 classes commenced, with Rev. Fr. Bourke as the pioneer principal. The school had the rare privilege of being opened by the last colonial Governor General of Nigeria, Sir James Robertson, who had earlier on the same day cut the tape to declare open the Alor Health Centre. Among the pioneer students were Messrs S.M.C. Ugochukwu, Barrister Emma Iloegbunam, Emma Okeke, Dr. Ike C. Nwobodo, and Prof. Okagbue. The second set of students included Chief Edwin Ngige and Mr. Tony Udo-Ogalanya.


The pioneer principal was succeeded by Rev. Father Fitzpatrick who had been a principal at CKC, Onitsha. Under his management, St. John‟s matured into a leading educational institution in the larger area, turning out boys who marched forward and made waves in academic and other endeavours. We hereby name a few: – Dr. Chris Nwabeze Ngige (OON) Anambra State Governor (May 2003 – March 2006), Engineer Emeka Eze Past President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and Director General Bureau of Public Procurement in the Presidency, Abuja, Barrister Nnaemeka Ngige (SAN), Sir Joseph Izunwanne Environmental Scientist, Sir Afam Edozie Microbiologist and Manager in Nigerian Ports Authority, PAN Okafor Civil servant, Patrick Egwuonwu, Chief John Obiekwe, David Udoji, Christian Ngige, Stephen Manyike, Charles Ezeoye, Isaac Igwe, John Ubah, Patrick Ezeamalu, Dr. Anthony Ezika, Rev. Fr. John Bosco Ezika, Dr. Chuka Manyike, Rev. Fr. Marius Obiagwu.

Main blocks of the St. John’s Secondary School, Alor It is only fair to note that St. John‟s College also nurtured numerous illustrious men from other parts of Nigeria. Here is a sampling: Professor Orji, Professor P.A.C. Okoye, Justice Moses Wakili (Kaduna State Judiciary), Very Rev. Fr. Peter Eze, Rev. Fr. Augustine Chigbo, Rev. Fr. Felix Amaechi Onuorah, Arch. Emeka Ejikeme, Dr. N.B. Onwughalu, Dr. Eddy Emembolu, Dr. Ephraim Onyechi, Dr. Cyprain Afunugo, Dr. G. Nwakalor (Ichie Nnabuenyi), Dr. Chigbo Obiegbu, Dr. Emeka Isamede, Nze Samuel Ezeakudo, Brigadier General Thomas Chiefe, Hon. Patrick Ezenduka, Hon. John Emeka Udoh, Barr. Chumah Godwin Ibemesi, Barr. Emma Iloegbunam, Surv. Chief 408

Vincent Nwachukwu Ezeilo, Mark Anthony Dike, G.I. Udendu, Don Onyenji of Akwukwu Broadcaster, and Eugene Onyeka. Alor has been the richer for playing a role in their upbringing.

Anglican Girls’ Grammar School As stated earlier, the Teacher Training College built by the Anglican community had operated for only some nine years and was transformed to a secondary school for girls. Its first principal was Miss C.F.A. Frances (1965 – 1967).

Main blocks of the Girls’ Secondary School, Alor

The pioneer students included Mrs. Tina Ojukwu (nee Ikenua), Patricia Ozoka from Obosi, Isabella Ezeani, Ifeanyi Okoro from Onitsha, Susanna Mbadugha, Patience Okoli from Nnobi, Eunice Chidume, Ebele Edebatu (nee Igboekwe), and Phoebe Obidozie (nee Omenaka). These students were in their fourth year when the civil war broke out in 1967. Like other schools in Biafra, the school closed. A good number of the students returned after the war when schools reopened in 1970. Quite a few were not able to return, however, for a multiplicity of reasons. Among those that completed their course were Patricia Ozoka from Obosi and Eunice Chidume who, in later years, returned to the school to serve as the principals.

The school has given education to a large number of girls from Alor and beyond, who are today highly accomplished women in various callings and professions. Glowing examples include Dr. Mrs. Chinwe Anunobi (nee Okwuebnadike, PhD Library and Information Science) on the staff of Unizik, Awka, as well as our own Engineer Mrs. Monica Ego Ojukwu (nee Aziagba), a consultant in


aviation control electronics and the 10th President of the Association of Professional Women Engineers of Nigeria.

We here note that Alor has now produced the first indigenous Principal of this great school. She is Ifeyinwa G. Okpala from Umuoshi who herself is an alumna of the school.

8 Education during the Civil War When the Nigeria civil war broke out in July 1967, the first casualties were the schools. All schools in Biafra had to close down and many of them had to be used for the war effort. For instance, St. John‟s Secondary School was initially a camp catering for the hordes of refugees displaced from other parts of Biafra. It later became a military hospital catering for casualties from the various fronts. It should be placed on record that one of the foremost workers in that military hospital was our own Maximus Enenebeaku from Uruezeani, who was an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan before the war broke out. Other schools in Alor became refugee camps for people from other towns that had been devastated by the war.

As time wore on, it became clear that the war was not going to be a short sharp police action that one of the Nigerian army generals had promised. It was after all not very easy to break the Biafran resistance. Thus hope was dwindling for the return of people to their prewar locations. Ditto for school children. Secondary school students were getting restive and some were either conscripted into the armed services or voluntarily enlisted. Needless to say, many perished. It was even worse for university students or young graduates. It is painful to remember that such gems as Basil Okoye, Philemon Obiegbu, Josiah Oyeka, Gaius Akubue, Ebenezer Chibuzo, Anthony Ilogbaka, Emmanuel Obelogu, Cyprain Ikenua, Zacheus Ojukwu, to name a few, paid the supreme price.

Since no end was in sight, it became necessary to get some kind of schooling going again in order to gainfully engage the large numbers of youngsters and keep them from straying off the path of moral rectitude. All the elementary and post-primary schools had however been taken up for other purposes. It was in these circumstances that schools sprang up in unusual places, including private compounds, under trees, or anywhere just barely manageable, as dictated by the size of the class. However, it was not all disorder; quite some organizing went into the whole thing such that every village had a kindergarten school. There were designated places for elementary one and two classes. There were sparse centers for primary three and four while primary five and six classes were


established at only one centre for each of the two Christian denominations. The following table shows how the schools were organized.

As is clear from the table below table, schooling was restricted to the elementary stage. The secondary school boys and girls were as such left unengaged. Many of the grown up girls got married. Some of the bigger boys joined the army, voluntarily or by conscription. Post-primary education was therefore fully in abeyance and had to remain so for the duration of the war.



Available Classes

Umuoshi Uruezeani

Okpala and Benson Nwafor Ogbueze‟s compound Jacob Okafor Christian Nwachukwu Obi Nweke Plus Nweke

Varied Elementary 3 Kindergarten Elementary 1 Kindergarten Elementary 2


Jacob Okafor Aloysius Okafor Gideon Oramalu

Kindergarten Elementary 1 & 2 Varied


Eke Umuokwu Ojukwu Umenalaku Goddy Udemba

Elementary 1 and 2 3 2

Urueze Ide


Elementary 5 & 6

Umuru Ide

Ignatius Ojiudu Ugoka

Kindergarten Elementary 1 & 2

Ezi Oye

Ben Nwose Obiagwu/Madubuko Family Hall Andrew Nwose Anselm Nwose

Kindergarten Kindergarten


Ojukwu Family Hall Aziagba Family hall

Elementary 3 & 4 Elementary 1 & 2


Okpala Aniukwu Okolo


Onitsha na Ulum

Elementary 1 & 2 Kindergerten

9. Postwar Era At the end of hostilities, refugees who camped at the various primary schools left for their various towns. Schools resumed but had now been taken over by the East Central State Government. Thus 411

the control of the schools had been wrenched off from the churches. But the churches could not just fold their hands and watch the children attend school under the ruins that the school buildings had become. The churches raised funds and repaired the schools the best they could. Ironically, this was happening even when school fees were being paid to the State Government. However, it has not been all gloom. Teachers, who had now been freed from church control, became public servants, i.e. government workers with the appertaining privileges.

Despite the disinheritance by the government, the churches did not completely abdicate responsibility for the educational advancement of the children of Alor. Thus in 1993, the Anglican community established the St. Paul‟s Private Nursery and Primary School in the premises of St. Paul‟s Church. The school has been teaching ethics of the church alongside regular school subjects. The primary objective has been to raise children bereft of the moral decadence that has permeated the public schools. In the same vein, the Catholic community in 1996 established its own private School – Mater Dei Nursery and Primary School at St. Mary‟s Catholic Church. Furthermore, in September 2003, the Mater Dei Secondary School was established. Additionally, a computer school has been opened to provide requisite training in computer technology. 10. Achievements of Western Education – An Assessment As was observed by Ndulue (1994, p. 75) “the influence of the nearness of the Onitsha market, where young men could start life making money quickly” has been a factor adversely affecting interest in education up to recent times. The Alor Literary Society, with such committed indigenes as Chief P.N. Okeke, Messrs G.N. Udoka, A.C. Ndulue, Timothy Ańunobi, and a good number of others, mounted highly spirited educational campaigns in the 1950s. In one such event in 1954, the congregation of St. Mary‟s Church joined that of St. Paul‟s at the latter church. The Literary Society really struck the public the way it amazed most by lining up some of the brightest Alor boys then in secondary schools to speak to them on the social, spiritual and especially the material benefits of education. The boys spoke in impeccable English and Mr. Ndulue, then a Headmaster, translated into Alor dialect. Among the speakers were Ephraim Ndubuisi, Obiora Okafo and Christopher Oyeka. The last named was the greatest marvel of the whole show. Chris, then a class two boy in the great Umuahia Government College, was so small he had to be mounted on a table in order to be seen by the huge crowd. And he spoke Queen‟s English. The effect was electrifying. The small boys in the audience felt particularly challenged, indeed fired. The parents felt guilty as to why they could not send their children to be like any of the speakers. Christopher Oyeka went ahead to take a first class honours degree in chemistry from University College Ibadan, then a college of the University of 412

London. He then proceeded to the United Kingdom to study insurance, becoming one of the first two Africans to qualify in actuaries.

Alor people (Pioneers) at the University College, Ibadan, 1960; left to right – A.C. Ndulue, (Librarian), C.C. Oyeka (Chemistry), E.E. Ndubuisi (History), and B.J.O. Okafo (Physics) May we specially commend the Alor Literary Society for their strenuous efforts which have yielded abundantly. In his book, Ndulue (1994, p. 77 – 79) has a long list of Alor indigenes who had by early 1970s obtained university degrees in numerous academic fields. As at now, schooling has virtually become routine for children in Alor. Admittedly, quite a few still fail to reach the university stage due to financial difficulties. This is why the Alor Development Initiative has placed the award of scholarships to financially handicapped undergraduates top in the list of its projects. In this context, we have to note, as earlier observed by Ndulue (1994, p. 75), that the strong financial base of Alor people has itself been a great asset to educational endeavours. Alor traders in Onitsha and elsewhere have provided the town with the requisite financial or economic base on which to leverage other developmental activities. We may recall that our earliest graduates were the products of town-wide, community, church or even individual scholarship schemes.


Finally, let us peek into the future of Alor in terms of educational development. Even though schooling started late and slowly relative to the surrounding towns, it has caught on. This is in keeping with the proverb: onye Alor aha agba ọsọ mmili sọọ n’ozulu ya ahụ, meaning: the Alor man does not seek shelter from the rain until he is almost drenched. Perhaps this is to ensure that the trouble is really worth all the furore. But when he catches up, he does not look back. And this is a great augury for the future since all developmental processes are now based on technology and other aspects of education. It may be true that large numbers of our youths are still very much attracted to merchandising. However, many are recognizing the dangers posed by illiteracy, especially innumeracy. Many are realizing that education is not merely for acquiring a certificate and becoming a white collar worker just managing to make a living, but rather that the basic enlightenment imbued by formal schooling is a fundamental requirement for living in the modern world. This is why the well established traders themselves hardly allow their children to get near the shops unless armed with at least a school certificate. It is indeed expected that in the near future the major markets where our people operate will be populated by highly enlightened traders. Alor elements will be there in numbers, degree holders and all.

Acknowledgements This paper benefited greatly from reviews, ideas, facts and sundry information volunteered or solicited, from sources too many to mention. We wish however to acknowledge the contributions by Dr. E.I. Mbaekwe, Sir Joe Izunwanne, Barr. Emeka Ngige (SAN), Chief Clem Aniefuna, and Chijioke Okeke. We thank them all.




Land ownership and use – A.A. Okafor and N.V. Okafor



A.A. Okafor and Nneka V. Okafor



There is no gainsaying that land is a critically important natural resource for man. It is usually generally available to all within a given community since it is the foundation for the existence of every society. This is why it is such a crucial topic, one that very much merits inclusion in a source book on Alor. The utility and issues around land may vary quite significantly from place to place. However, among Igbo communities a lot of similarities exist. What we shall be discussing as regards Alor will therefore be 415

mostly issues that may be regarded as the unique customs that distinguish her from other nearby communities.

In a nutshell, this article deals with what is known about practices around land matters in: the tradition of ownership, its genesis and the different uses it can be put to. In order to fully project the uniqueness of Alor land usage this work has been written with a dash of eclecticism which allows us to randomly compare, cite and use examples of customary practices in other parts of Nigeria.

2 Definition A good picture of this discussion cannot be well painted without a relevant and simple definition of the subject matter – land. There are different definitions of land, ranging from simple to complex, but for our purposes, only the simple, definitions are relevant. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary Englishi land is „„the solid dry part of the earth‟s surface‟‟. The Illustrated Oxford Dictionaryii has it as „„the solid part of the earth‟s surface as opposed to the sea or air‟‟. From these we may simply take it that land is the solid part of the earth on which human activities have their base.


History of Land Ownership

Initially, land was free thus, everyone was entitled to acquire as much as he could. It was a matter of owning as much as one could clear or stake out, however vast. In the case of the community in question, the man Alor was most probably the first human to settle on the mass of land we know today by that name. He had two sons – Ezi and Ifite. It may be surmised that Ezi, as the „diọkpala‟iii inherited his father‟s compound. The second son, Ifite, was allocated a portion of land elsewhere by Alor to build his residence. This practice of the first son in a family inheriting his father‟s house has evolved into a custom that stands even to date. We may also surmise that over a long time, the two brothers generated descendants who today constitute the two broad subdivisions of Alor, still bearing the names of the original progenitors – Ezi and Ifite. The former comprises of Umuoshi, Ebenesii-Okebunoye, and Etiti, each a cluster of villages. Ifite spawned off numerous quarters grouped within Ide, Umuokwu and Uruezeani villages.

4 Family Distribution of Land The distribution of land to members of the family is a very crucial and inevitable exercise in every community. In Alor, as in most other Nigerian communities, women are not entitled to inherit or be allocated landiv. They only have the right to live in the family house as long as they remain unmarried. However, a married daughter can ask her father for a land for farming purposes only and is in no way 416

in a position to claim ownership of such land. By extension of this fact, a woman is not normally in a position to sell land, whatever her status – wife, daughter, only child, widow, divorcee. The position is different for males. The diọkpala, as noted earlier, rightfully inherits his father‟s house as his residence.v The last son is customarily entitled to his mother‟s house as his residence. This, however, was easy to implement in the earlier days when a wife would not normally live with her husband in the same building such that, even in a polygamous setting, each wife had her separate building within the compound and, in some cases even in a separate compound. This tradition has now virtually fizzled out since husband and wife now live together under one roof. It may be said that the last son has been disentitled, and thus has the same claim on the family land as all the other sons. This is made good by having all the other sons, except the first, allocated their „ana obi’vi out of the family land. In increasingly large number of families, there is hardly any more family land to allocate as ana obi. One is however free to remain in the family premises or, depending on his financial capability, may step out and purchase a piece of land for his personal dwelling. A son may also approach his mother‟s parents or uncles, i.e. his „na ochie’vii (i.e. ikwu nne) for „ana obi’. If the grandfather or maternal uncles are favourably disposed to such a request, they would duly inform ụmụnnaviii, not so much for their concurrence as for their awareness of the development.

In case a man dies childless, his kinsmen defray the funeral expenses and collectively inherit his property, the fundamental and really concrete part of which is his land. If, however, a single individual among the kinsmen defrays the funeral expenses for such a childless person, he alone inherits the man‟s land. By extension of this provision, it is the particular contributors to the funeral expenses of a childless man that are entitled to his land, to the exclusion of those members of the kindred that did not contributeix.

If a man who has no male child dies his wife and daughters will have ownership over the land as long as they live but with no right to sell or dispose of the land in any way. At the death of the wife, unmarried daughters continue to use the land without the right to dispose of it. If an unmarried daughter eventually bears a son, that son automatically inherits the land.

In a situation where an unmarried man having personal property dies, the said property goes to his father. When the father dies, the property goes to the diọkpala who has the responsibility of burying him but, if other brothers contributed towards the burial, then the property will be shared among them. Where the dead son is the only son, his property goes to his uncles. This is in contradistinction to what 417

obtains elsewhere in Nigera, e.g. in Yorubaland.x Where a deceased wife leaves behind a personal land, it goes to her husband. It should be noted that, where there are two or more wives, the sharing pattern is thus: the diọkpala of the family takes first, then each diọkpala from each wife takes equally and shares with the rest of his brothers of the same mother.

5 Persons who can Distribute Land The person with the sole right to share land in the family is the father. xi Where the father dies without sharing out his land, the rightful person to do so is the diọkpala.xii Where the father had excess land before his death, the diọkpala holds possession of it. His position can be loosely regarded as that of a „trustee‟ because he cannot dispose of the land or erect any permanent structure on it. He can only carry out activities like farming on it. He is obliged to give up his possession and apportion the land to any male offspring in the family that comes of age.

6 Sale of Land Where a person wants to sell his land,xiii the first step he takes is to notify his ụmụnna and find out if any of them is interested in buying the land. For this notification he is required to bring yam and kola nuts. If a member of the ụmụnna is interested in buying the land, he sells it to him at a price considered to be fair but lower than what should the going price for the parcel of land. In case no kinsman is interested, he would then be free to sell to any other person. What has not been clear, however, is the penalty for failure to comply with this provision.

To ensure irrevocability of a land sale, after the transaction, the buyer is required to bring a goat, tubers of yam, and some kola nuts. These items are eaten together by the seller, his ụmụnna and the buyer.xiv This fully seals the contract and tragic consequences are believed to befall anyone that goes contrary to it. A person has full right to sell his excess land but he cannot sell or give it out to strangers. xv Money realized from the sale of land is not normally deployed as a capital in buying and selling business. This is because it is believed that such a business would hardly progress. Such money is however good to invest in marrying a wife, building a house, paying school fees, or training up a child.

7 Land as Security A man in need of cash can use his vacant plot of land as a surety for raising the required sum. This transaction is known as „Ị gba ana aka ego’. In this situation, the lender takes possession of the land 418

and holds it until the debt is settled. He does not take absolute ownership of the land and therefore, he cannot dispose of it. He can only carry out such temporary activities on the land as farming or fetching fodder. As soon as the borrower pays up, he is obliged to give up the temporary ownership of the land.

A person who uses his land as security will usually inform his children. This is in case he is unable to pay up before passing on. Thus the debt may be pushed on the children and, in some cases, his grandchildren or even the great grandchildren. However, no matter how long the debt lasts the creditor can never refuse to relinquish the land on settlement of the debt, nor should he refuse to receive payment.

8 Other Tradition Related to Land If a „nwa ada’xvi is killed, her ụmụnna is entitled to forcibly take anything from the killer including land. Such land is called „ana ọchụ’. Again, in every kindred there is a common land called „ana isi mmọọ’. The eldest man in the kindred has the right to use the land. At his death, his right is automatically relinquished to the next eldest of the kindred. Since this ownership is not permanent, only temporary activities are carried out on the land. He may allow any member of the kindred to farm on it; this privilege is never extended to an outsider. Before a successor takes over, he must notify the other kinsmen with a she goat, yam, chicken and four kola nuts.

Where a landowner decides to use his land and there is no entrance to such land except through a neighboring land, the owner of the neighboring land is obliged to create access way at the request of the former.

9 Conclusion Having discussed the various facets of land usage within the context of Alor community with enriched details from other cultural backgrounds, one will clearly see that land is perceived as a sacred property that is passed on from generation to generation. The acquisition and bequeathal processes involved in any land transaction highlights the importance of land within our African tradition. End Notes 1

2nd Ed., England, Pearson Education Ltd., 1987, p. 787.


Great Britain, Dorling Kindersley Ltd. and Oxford University Press, 1998, p. 453. 419


This is the first son in a family.


Most Igbo communities known to the present authors take this stand, Onitsha being

the only exception spotted among several nearby communities. The people of Onitsha initially practiced this elimination of female children from family property distribution but today this has changed by virtue of the case of Nezianya v. Okagbue 1963, 1 A.N.L.R. 352, where the supreme court held that a daughter is entitled to family property. In the northern parts of Nigeria, female children do not partake in the sharing of family property but in Yorubaland females are fully entitled like their male counterpart – Lewis v. Bankole (1909) 1 N.L.R. 82, Sule & ors v. Ajisegiri (1937) 13 N.L.R. 146. 1

Differences are known in some other communities, for instance in Ukpor, Anambra

State, the diọkpala is entitled to the father‟s house and half of his father‟s other land while the other sons share the rest. In Nnerin in Imo State, the diọkpala takes the father‟s house and another land called „ana ubi’ while the rest is shared among the others. In Benin, Edo State, the eldest son is entitled to the father‟s house and other title houses owned by his father and the rest goes to the other sons. 1

Land allocated to a son to build his residential home.


Maternal grandfather.




This is almost the same as in other communities in Anambra State and obtainable in

a good number of towns in Imo State like Nnerin, Amuri, Umuaka, etc. In Nnerin such land is called „ana onye nwụchilu ụzọ’. 1

In Yorubaland, if the father and mother were alive the property would be shared

among them though the father would generally invite the mother to take the whole. Where the father is also deceased the property passes to the mother provided the deceased child has no brother or sister of the same mother. Where the deceased is also survived by siblings of the same mother the property would be shared among the siblings irrespective of their sex and the parents will take nothing – Adedoyin v. Simeon & ors (1928) 9 N.L.R. 76. 420


This is the practice all over Nigeria.


For the Yorubas the eldest irrespective of the sex as said earlier.


The phrase „sale of land‟ today means less than what it seems because of section 1

of the Land Use Act 1990 (LUA), Cap L5, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004. By the provisions of this section of the Act, all land in the State is vested on the Governor of the State thus what is administered to people in the present case is a customary right of occupancy. This is the nature of right vested on an owner of land. Thus, what is really meant by „sale of land‟ is sale or transfer of customary right of occupancy. 1

In Ukpor, the same requirements apply, but in this case the ụmụnna will kill the

goat which is called „eghu ụmụnna’. The seller takes half of it while the ụmụnna take the other half then there is a part of the goat called „aka ogbuu’ taken by the buyer. 1

This is also the position in Nnerin but in Ukpor, land can be sold out to strangers. It

should be noted that today the custom of not selling out land to strangers is subject to the provisions of the LUA. By section 2(1)(b) the Local Government is vested with the power to control and manage all land in the rural areas, and by section 6(3) the Local Government is empowered to revoke the customary right of occupancy of any landowner if the conditions stipulated are not met. 1

A daughter in a kindred.


Barr. Nneka Vivian Okafor, LLB (Hons), BL, Member Chartered Institute of Arbitrators Barrister at Law




1 Rural economy – N.J. Aziagba 2 Agricultural practices – E. E. Obidozie 3

Alor Mba Nkwu – C.S. Nwajide and E.I. Mbaekwe


Soap-making – Francis Agbazue

5 Nkwọ Alor: more than a market – Mallinson Ukatu





The economy of Alor has been impacted by several factors, especially increase in population and modernization in several fronts. The former has led to deforestation and shrinking of the arable land. The latter has introduced various gadgets and facilities which have in various ways affected the economy arguably for the better. The general economy of the town is, even at present, quite rustic, although it has to a substantial extent been lifted out of the primitively agrarian stage. However, it has not yet, regrettably, become anchored on any level of industrial or manufacturing activity worth discussing. Far back in time one could list farming, wine – tapping, fishing, hunting, making of handicrafts, building construction, trading, etc, as aspects of gainful engagement that provided the people with sustenance or subsistence. Today, farming has all but disappeared largely due to diminishing land space, but quite importantly due to the feeling of most people that all requirements are available in one market or the other, such that all one required was the cash to buy all necessities. All this is why the treatment of this topic is justifiably done mostly by going down the memory lane. It may even be asserted that the economy of Alor in the days gone by was more varied and colourful than today.

2 Food Economy Agriculture, as practiced in Alor, and indeed all the surrounding towns, has from time immemorial routinely involved the cultivation of the land for food crops and vegetables, very much as dictated by the cycle of the seasons. The practice involved all and sundry and hardly any family did not till the ground for procuring a major part of its food supply. Even till date nothing has changed in terms of mechanization. It has invariably been by hoe and machete. Even such inputs as fertilizers and other kinds of soil conditioners have been viewed with some skepticism by the Alor farmer. For instance, he has a suspicion, or indeed some experience, to the effect that fertilizers hasten the spoilage of yams.

Along with shortage of agricultural land, the lack of improvement in the methods of agriculture may account for the fact that Alor is increasingly dependent on importation for her food supply. It may also be noted that there are now many families or households who produce practically no part of their food; it is all purchased from markets in Alor and elsewhere. We may therefore assess the current state of the agricultural economy of Alor as poor and deteriorating, with no remedy in sight. The following accounts of the mode of production of various crops is therefore more of a historical account than a representation of the current state of affairs.


The staple crops farmed and still being farmed are yam, cocoyam (ede), cassava, ọna, and various vegetables. As a tradition, depending on the size of land available, the family plants yams on one flank of the compound and cocoyam on the other flank. The crops are alternated in the following year, i.e. a kind of crop rotation. Usually in the farm where yam has been planted, cassava is planted along so that after harvesting the yam, which takes a shorter maturity period, the cassava is left to mature before being harvested. Cocoyam is planted when the rains have fully set in, and it stays longer in the ground than yam. Vegetables are also planted in between the mounds of cocoyam. Yam comes in such varieties as abana (water yam), abị, ukom, ayịbe, adaka. It is an annual crop which starts sprouting from the tuber even while still in the barn, i.e. even before planting. Its growth period is through the rainy season, withering when the dry season sets in by which time the tubers are mature for harvesting. Alor is situated in that part of Nigeria where the rainy season lasts seven months from May to November, i.e. longer than the dry season which lasts through the five months from December to April. Early planting is by April. After May it becomes late cropping.

Planting is in individual conical heaps that measure about half a metre in diameter and less than a metre high, mostly depending on the ability of the farmer. From the time of planting the yam through to harvest, there is hardly any rest. As the tendrils grow beyond a metre, they require staking to support an upward growth; otherwise the soil scorches them to death. The stakes are sourced from the bushes around, especially from ahaba shrubs, or from bamboo stems cut and split up into two-metre lengths. The farm has to be weeded otherwise the yam tendrils become smothered by grass. Maturity is usually indicated by the withering of foliage. However, before the withering, some farmers selectively harvest some heaps by carefully digging out the tuber, taking care not to hurt the roots, and then filling back the soil. The yam so culled usually produces a new tuber, even though far smaller than the first tuber. Such small tubers are bulbous in shape and could be a delight to eat. To peel off the back, one has to be careful otherwise it literally shoots off one‟s bands, which earned that size of yam the name “gbahwụlụchụba”, meaning “peel off and pursue”.


Part of a yam farm – note mounds and stakes; corn cropped along After harvest, the tubers are graded according to size and tied up in columns in the barn (ọba). A successful farmer is proud to show off his barn which is indeed a beautiful sight. The columns could sum up to hundreds of yams. This mode of preservation is preferred to merely heaping the yams together, which can result in decay or devastation by termites (akwụ ana). As already narrated under the foods of Alor, yam is a staple that can be prepared by roasting (ji ọkụ), cooking and pounding (ụtala ji), and eaten along with palm oil, vegetables and soups of various kinds. It can also be made into flour (alịbọ) using fresh yams, but mostly with any tuber caught deteriorating. The process is to slice it up, dry under the sun and grind with mortar and pestle into powder. The product is then preserved for use during lean times.

In Alor, and indeed elsewhere in Igboland, the yam is some kind of sacred food crop. Although it is not worshipped, it is very highly revered. As an illustration, in the days gone by, if a man dreamt about tilling the ground and planting yams, he would go consult the oracle in an attempt to forestall the evil omen, including death, which the dream foretold. Putting yams into the ground was taken to portend digging a grave for burial. On the other hand, if the dream was about digging yam out of the ground, it was deemed to foretell successful birth in the family and this called for a celebration. This belief lingers, except that instead of consulting an oracle, the dreamer would embark on serious prayers in an attempt to avert the presumably foretold evil. 426

A really industrious farmer may produce enough yams for sale and family consumption. For the average household, however, the saying has been: onye kọchaa ọmagh goo n’asha, meaning, however much you labour in the farm, you must buy some of your food from the market. All this has been because Alor is not endowed with the most fertile of soils. This is why a good number of able-bodied men from Alor migrated to the more fertile alluvial lands north and south of Onitsha. In such places as Oze and Ọgbaru, and even across the Niger in the western Igbo areas, yam production boomed and hardworking farmers made a relatively fair income. In this regard, the economic value of yam could be described as tremendous since a robust yam barn was clearly an index of a man‟s wealth or industry. In cultural terms, the New Yam Festival, referred to in long gone days as ushejiọkụ, was a landmark festival marking the harvest season. During this festival the yam god was toasted with roasted yam. Many towns in Igboland have maintained or recently revived the festival as a major cultural activity. It is gratifying that the state governments in the southeastern area of Nigeria are striving hard to sustain this aspect of Igbo culture through the annual Ahiajiọkụ Lecture series, which is an intellectual harvest in honour of the noble crop. Cassava Cassava has always been a staple food of Alor people. The story of its introduction into Alor has been lost to time, but it is said to have been introduced into Igboland long after yam. In this regard, it is joked that yam has been feeling so noble and proud that, even though it supplicated cassava for assistance in feeding the people, it soon left most of the job to cassava. Whoever displayed a cassava harvest in a barn? Thus even though cassava has been a secondary plant in terms of cropping and attention, it now became the more abundant farm product, processed and eaten in all sorts of ways – ụtala akpụ, akpụ mmili, akpụ ncheke. Garri should be counted, but it has never had the history of being made locally; all garri eaten in Alor is imported. The point remains that over time cassava took over from, or actually supplanted, yam in terms of food economy of the Alor man. It is obvious that, with the soaring cost of yams, feeding would become a major source of financial stress even for an average family. Cassava, in all its consumable forms, especially garri, has thus become a great soccour in the food economy of Alor. Thus, in purely economic terms, devoid of cultural or historical considerations, the yam crop should not really be rated above cassava, which is a staple eaten twice a day during dinner and breakfast, while yam is usually eaten more as lunch. Perhaps it is the notion that yam is a man‟s crop that rates it higher than any other food crop. 427

Coco-Yam The coco-yam (ede) ranks low as a food crop, which is probably because there have been no myths surrounding it, allowing it to be relegated to the status of women affairs in planting, tending, harvesting and even use. It would normally be stored in heaps in a corner of the yam barn – mkpa ede.

The edible part of the plant is the tuber that grows in the soil. The leaves, shaped very much like a heart, can attain almost a metre in diameter and have long stalks. This is why a person caught by the rain plucks up one to use as some kind of umbrella. The crop comes in two varieties – ede ọkụ and ede nkịtị (akasị, ede ụlị). The former has two sub-types – the common white and the less common pink coloured (ede oke mmee) subtypes, both of which can be cooked or roasted and eaten very much like yam. Ede nkịtị (akasị) is never prepared by roasting, but on the relatively rare occasion it is to be eaten as a meal, it takes so much cooking and has to be boiled overnight. It may also be pounded like yam or used to supplement cassava, and eaten with soup. Nowadays, the real use of the cocoa yam is as soup thickener (ụlị). It may indeed be regarded as absolutely indispensable for cooking proper bitter leaf soup.

In terms of food economy, the cocoyam served a typically poor family very well especially in the past. For such families, it could be used as main meals such that even ede nkịtị would be cooked quite often, a practice that helped in the conservation of whatever little yam the family had. Along with roasting ede ọkụ, the family carried on.

Other Food Resources Among these may be named ọna, maize (ọka, ọgbadụ), banana and plantain. Ọna is a food crop of Alor that has gone virtually extinct. The account here given is therefore to serve a historical purpose. It was cultivated in the days gone by very much as a supplement to yams or even cocoyams. It produces tubers and in many ways resembles yam. The stem is like yam tendril, but unlike yam, climbs anticlockwise up the stake. It is thought to have medicinal value and used as such by native medicine men. There are two types – ọna nkịtị and ọna akpụkpụkene. The former has a yellowish colour and a somewhat bitter taste. The latter is bulbous is shape, whitish in colour, and close to yam in texture and taste. It was very much considered a food for the noblesse. Cooking of ọna takes a great toll on firewood. The eating is with ncha, a yellow-coloured type of salad cream, prepared by deep-frying palm oil and mixing with such other ingredients as salt, pepper, and ngụ (an ash from the burning of dry plantain leaves). 428

Maize is planted along with yams and harvested much earlier. Again, this crop may be regarded as the woman‟s responsibility since it is the woman of the house that simply sows the seeds on the yam mounds after the man had made them. There is virtually no special tending for the crop, It just sprouts and soon fruits, maturing early enough to substantially stave off the lean period that follows the planting of yams. Roasted or cooked and eaten with palm kernel or coconut, it is hardly regarded as a main meal. It is also a component of the rare and noble food prepared from bread fruit (ụkwa ahọ or ụkwa ọka). It may also be ground up into a paste and used as a base for the relatively rare delicacy prepared from winged termite (akụu ọka). Not too commonly, some families learnt to produce pap (akamụ) by grinding, sieving and straining out the starch. Some cobs are usually preserved for raising the following year‟s crop by selecting robust ones and tying them up above the fire place. This would ensure the maize seeds did not rot away and also protected them from destructive insects.

Plantain and banana should be mentioned as an important major all-season supplement to the major carbohydrate crops. It has never really been cultivated as such. Rather it is to be found in small stands within or just outside each compound. Plantain could be eaten cooked or roasted, (in the past hardly fried). It may occasionally be pounded alone or as an additive to cassava in preparing foofoo. It cut to thin slices, dried in the sun and preserved for use as a supplement to cassava foo-foo preparation. Banana was in the past also very much used in the same way as plantain, but nowadays, it is virtually all eaten up as the ripe sweet stuff.

As is clear from the above account, the staples of Alor comprised basically of carbohydrates. But Alor has always had a virile, healthy population, strong enough to produce the soldiers that fought the several wars Alor had to. So, from where came the essential proteins, fats, oils and supplements on which the people depended, and indeed thrived? Again, the reader is referred to the paper in this volume dealing with foods of Alor. Suffice it here to summarize that proteins came from domestic livestock, supplemented with meat from animals hunted and trapped from the bushes that had been abundant in the past, as well as from largely imported fish, with a little catch from the Idemili River, reputed to have been a larger water body in the past. Plant-based nourishing food supplements and ingredients came from numerous fruits. The list is long: - coconut, ube, mango, ụkwa, ụkpaka, guava, ụkpa, ugili, ụdala, ụdala nwenwe, pawpaw, orange, pine apple, sweet sop (locally called showan shop), ugolo, ụtu (several types) ọkịlịkị, mmịmị, ụzịza, ube okpoko, cheleku, uda, etc. The last named is a spice that was in the far past an important article of trade. It grew wild as 429

a tree and a good harvest was, after drying, hauled down to Onitsha (of course on foot) and sold for quite some cash. Cooking oil has traditionally been sourced almost solely from the oil palm, a crop of such importance as to deserve a full paper in this volume.

Plantain and banana stands

3 Other Occupations and Economic Activities The Alor man was in the past first and foremost a farmer, albeit of the subsistence genre. He took on any other occupation as a filler, i.e. some activity from which to earn a supplementation to farm produce. Thus he engaged in such activities as carving (producing masks, doors, windows, mortar and pestle (ikwe na aka odo)), weaving of cloths, hats and mats made of raffia palm leaves, basketry (producing ụkpa, anyala, nkata), and blacksmithing. He could also be somewhat adept at building construction such that he supplied the requisite expertise and/or labour for putting up buildings. With modernization such expertise transformed into masonry practice, carpentry, and painting.

4 Commerce Commerce, as practiced in Alor, mainly involved exchange of goods, especially foodstuffs, and was carried out mostly by women. Today, Nkwọ Alor is the only market in the town. However, up to the late 1960s and through the Nigeria – Biafra war, there were some other markets – Oye (situated 430

where we now have the Post Office), Awho (Afor) (situated some two hundred metres eastward of Oye), Shop Bernard (situated just behind the Post Office), Shop Ide (situated close to the family compound of Venerable Israel Nwose), and Eke Umuokwu (situated within the Umuokwu village). Nkwọ has from time immemorial been more or less centrally located, being situated at roughly the boundaries of Isieke, Umuoshi, Uruezeani and Ide, and served the whole town as a rallying point. It was as such accorded the priority of place. It even had major (nnukwu) Nkwọ market day and lesser (obele) Nkwọ market day. Thus, while the other market places served the communities clustering around them, Nkwọ served the whole town and even attracted traders from neighbouring towns. In due course it turned out to be the only market for the town, while the others have ceased to function. As a transition to this exclusive status as the sole market in Alor, it soon began to function as the locality in Alor that had some semblance of a daily market. It became the most prominent motor park and one could buy quite a variety of items, especially fruits, on daily basis. Indeed bananas became so commonly available there that the sobriquet “Nkwọ ogede” soon stuck. The status of the Nkwọ transcends that of a mere market. This has earned it a more elaborate discussion in his volume. A historical attribute of Nkwọ Alor is worthy of mention. In the early days of the ingress of motor transport system into Alor, Nkwọ was the point for offloading goods, including such foodstuff as yams and cassava, carried unaccompanied by the owner from Onitsha as “way bill”. Nkwọ as a deity overseeing the whole town was sure to guard the goods against thievery. The trust was so complete that nobody dared pilfer any item dropped off within the market premises, and such goods might last several days before the rightful owner picked them up. In the rare event that any goods went missing, the Nkwọ deity soon exerted vengeance. The thief would come confessing and somehow paid dearly. It is a pity that such security has gone with the times. What with the fact that some bigots, in the name of their colour of religion, recently desecrated the Nkwọ shrine by burning what should normally have been most carefully preserved as a cultural heritage of Alor.

The flow of goods out of Alor, as an aspect of commerce, could be regarded as practically zero. We had little or nothing to export. The converse is rather the case since from time immemorial Alor has had to import a lot, especially foodstuffs. Most of that inflow has been through the efforts of the womenfolk. They had to trek to distant markets such as Eke Uke, Eke Agụ, Oye Tọlọ (located close to the point at which Idemili River emerges from Agulu Lake), Nkwọ Igbo, Afor Nnobi, Afor Igwe, and of course Otu Onitsha. These tough, hardy women hardly carried along anything to sell in these distant markets, rather they hauled back such items as cassava and fish, in most cases for retailing 431

in the local markets of Alor. Needless to say, these hard-working women significantly supplemented family income.

5 Means of Exchange There is no record of early means of exchange before the cash economy of the present time. However it is not in doubt that goods and services were exchanged by barter. There must have been many varieties of barter, but a particularly notable one would be the mode of transactions in the case of a young man intending to marry into a highly reputable family. Even before the baby girl cut her first tooth, the young man would have to start investing in the marriage by presenting kegs of palm wine to her father in the processing of declaring his intent. From then onwards the young man would have to volunteer himself every year to plant up the farm of the would-be parents-inlaw while the girl matured. The girl might, on growing up, resent the idea of marrying the young man, but custom often made it difficult for her to pull out of the commitment entered into on her behalf. The parents might not be disposed to pay back for all the manual labour the young man had invested.

Other kinds of barter might simply have involved direct exchange of goods, such as cassava for yams, oil for yams, palm wine for plantain, etc. Manual labour could easily be exchanged for food. In due course, cowries became a medium of exchange. A cowrie is the shell of any of various tropical marine mollusks, seven to ten centimetres long, and having a smooth glossy outside and inside. The particular type used as money is the humpback cowrie Cypraea mauritiana, a mollusk inhabiting coastal marine waters.

Cash of old – mollusk shell (cowrie)

The mode or route of introduction of cowries into Igboland is now not clear. It may only be surmised that the shells came from the coastal area of Nigeria where the animals flourished. Here they were harvested, the flesh extracted for food, and the shells cleaned and converted to a means of exchange. It is not unlikely that the cowry was at least part of the financial material for slave trade. 432

A set of four cowry shells was called isi ego, and two such sets were called mbi n'abọ. This cash means of exchange became so convenient that trade by barter soon disappeared. It is not clear how long the cowry system lasted, but it was itself gradually displaced by the pounds, shillings and pence, the currency system of the British colonial administration. The transition may be dated at around the 1940s into the 1950s. During that transition, the conversion rates between cowry and the new kind of currency kept changing until the cowry became extinct as a means of exchange or payment for services. Quite interestingly, cowries are still in use as currency in some parts of the Pacific, Asia, and even western Africa.

6 Greener Economic Pastures Over time it soon became evident that agricultural and all the other economic activities could not sustain the growing population of Alor. Apart from the relative infertility of the soils, erosion was washing away whatever there was of it. As already indicated, able-bodied men looked beyond Alor borders for economic sustenance and soon became migrant farmers in the more fertile areas elsewhere. By the same token, those not disposed towards tilling the land became traders and migrant workers in such growing townships as Enugu, Umuahia and especially Onitsha. In Onitsha in particular, many Alor men made good, most of them trading in abada cloths. This tradition of success in trading has persisted till today, and easily accounts for the relative dearth of Alor persons in the white-collar pursuits. However, the impact of this skewed distribution is that Alor is, rightly or wrongly, counted among the towns in Igboland regarded as populated by moneyed people. A major index of this association with material wealth is the critical mass and the conspicuous presence Alor people constitute in many commercial centres of Nigeria and beyond in Africa and even overseas. Also to be counted is the kind of mansions Alor people are putting up both in their places of abode, and in their homeland proper, the latter category more for the show thereof than for real habitation or as any form of investment in real estate (see paper on the evolution of living quarters).

7 Transportation Access into Alor had been historically less conspicuous than into such neighbouring towns as Abatete, Nnokwa, Nnobi and Uke. The Idemili River constituted a barrier, at least seasonally at the peak of the rains when it swelled up to a threatening or actually dangerous volume. This alone was a major impediment to cross-border commercial and/or economic activities. In the 1940s, the major road through Alor was constructed from the Nnobi border through Uruezeani to Nkwọ Alor, and through Umuoshi to Adazi, via Ụkụ Adazi. In early 1950s, a road was constructed running from 433

Nkwọ through the Central School, down through Ebenesii, to the Mmili Ezigbo stretch of the Idemili River, i.e. at the Abatete border. Then followed the construction of the bridge to connect to Abatete. Before this, for a journey to Onitsha by motor vehicle (which had been on foot), one had to wade across the river and wait at Obodo Ọji at Abatete to board a seven-ton lorry. The driver then of the single vehicle was a very popular man called Emeka. With such access to motor transport into Alor, business could be said to have progressed by leaps and bounds, such that one could travel to Onitsha in the morning, purchase articles of trade, and return to Alor the same day.

As soon as Alor became directly accessible by road, several of her indigenes who had made a success of their carriers had something mighty to show for it – personal cars!! Let us name some of these illustrious pace-setters: – Rev. Julius Okafor, Joshua Aziagba, Silas Omenaka, Pius Mbachu, Lawrence Chinemelu, Daniel Jideofor, P.N. Okeke, Bennet Onyeka, Ben Anayachebelu, Lazarus Onyekwelu. Some even forayed into transport business – Pius Mbachu, Joshua Aziagba, Silas Omenaka, Ezekiel Obiegbu. Of course they were all spectacles. Today, as vehicles of all descriptions traverse the fully modernized roads, thanks to the Government of that great son of Alor, Dr. Chris Ngige, it is easy to forget that the level of economy indexed by the population of personal cars actually had very humble beginnings.

Nnodum Jonathan Aziaga, BSc (Hons), FCNA, mni Past Deputy Accountant General of the Federation, Consulting and Auditing Accountant 434





According to Professor Bede Okigbo, the renowned agriculturist, the practice of agriculture is the sum total of all human activities involved in the production and processing of food and fibre. Such activities involve livestock rearing, (e.g. cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, chicken, rabbits, fish, dogs and cats), and crop production (e.g. yams, rice, cassava, maize, plantain, banana, vegetables, and fruits). Farming is possibly the oldest human occupation. By putting the first man into an already prepared farm – the Garden of Eden – God made horticulture, an aspect of agriculture, the first and basic occupation. It could be imagined that in the early stages of civilization, mere food gathering transited to formal and organized farming. The early man‟s nomadic life was driven by the search for food and water but he was eventually able to settle down on chancing fertile locations where he learnt to grow and tend the crops he had picked, and to domesticate some of the animals he captured. Thus since time immemorial man had primarily concerned himself with production of food to satisfy his hunger and also to provide some protective cover (fibre) for his security.


Agricultural Practices by Our Forebears

The basic pursuit from the early man to the modern man has not by any means diminished. What has happened is that agriculture has undergone a series of changes especially during the industrial revolutions in the advanced nations. In Nigeria, evolution in agriculture has only partially caught on; there is still so much use of the most elementary farm implements – hoe and machete. As for Alor, it would not be an exaggeration to say that she has never seen a farm tractor. All crop farming has been executed by the use of the age old machete and hoe. We are still practicing the oldest form of crop farming.

Going back in time, it is clear that everybody, without exception, was carrying on farming to a larger or lesser extent. There was practically no other source of food. A small number of people engaged in such activities as trading, traditional medicine, and some crafts like carving, blacksmithing and housing construction. But these were still only supplementary; everybody was a farmer. Before money became the means of exchange for goods and services, farming was virtually the only means by which a householder produced what he could exchange (barter) for what he needed. So each householder had to labour continuously to produce enough to feed his family, with 435

some disposable extra with which to barter for other needs. The collective physical strength of a family therefore fixed the limit of its productivity. Besides, there was no control over infestations by pests and diseases. There were no such inputs as improved seeds or seedlings, and soilimproving inorganic manures or fertilizers. The best the farmer could do to improve yield was shifting cultivation which allowed him to crop a particular farmland for two or more years and leave it fallow for the corresponding number of years before cropping it again. This was quite easy in those days since land was available in relative abundance. Indeed a lot of the place was thick virgin forest and initial farm yields were sure to be impressive, even without any special input to improve the soil. But the soil had been inherently poor.


Land Resources

Alor town is not endowed with abundant land space. The land mass is small in area and very tightly held by individuals, families, kindreds, quarters and villages. The only extensive area is the swath of territory, about one kilometer by four kilometers in dimensions, bordering the Idemili River. It is however not really suitable for massive or sustainable food production due to its slopy nature and poor soil type, which facts make it particularly prone to leaching, as well as sheet and gully erosion. In any case the land has recently been taken over by the Anambra State Government for other developmental purposes.

Land and, in particular, soil loss through erosion is actually taking place all over the town. In Alor and most of the surrounding towns, all the conditions for sheet and gully erosion are complete – steep slopes, loose soil, torrential rains, intense insolation, and various activities of man especially agriculture and civil construction which strip off vegetation and disrupt soil structure. The areas around the borders, notably along the Idemili River, and the boundaries with Oraukwu and Nnobi, have been irretrievably gullied. Farming exacerbates erosion and land loss is everywhere palpable.


Crop Farming and Processing

Because of the poor soil type as already stated, Alor town was not and is not even today recognized for producing abundant arable crops such as yam, cassava and maize, or horticultural crops like citrus, plantain, banana etc. However, the town has a considerable abundance of wild oil palm which has earned her the sobriquet “Alor Mba Nkwu”. Apart from the poor soil type that is the lot of the town, she is not endowed with a large land mass. Shifting or rotational farming could therefore barely be practiced even in those early times. Even today with all the improved technologies of modern agriculture – improved seeds and seedlings, use of organic and inorganic 436

fertilizers etc, no much improvement can be recorded. This mainly because farm inputs, such as fertilizers, meant to improve the soil and increase yield, are viewed by some rural folk as capable of, or actually, ruining the crops especially yams, by causing early spoilage. Some have only reluctantly accepted improved seedlings of such crops as oranges, cocoa nut palm and oil palm. Even these are not in any way being produced on a large scale.

The prevailing farming culture has from time immemorial been essentially around the yam. Other farm crops have been subordinate to this noble one. Even though cassava production has since overtaken yam production the aura has persisted. Planting and tending the yam crop has been a man‟s job. Planting and tending cocoyams, cassava, and vegetables have been largely the woman‟s duty. In days gone by, a critical measure of a man‟s wealth was the variety of the yams and the robustness of the individual tubers, as well as the number of columns of yams as displayed in his barn (ọba ji). The variety of yams included abana, ukom, adaka, and abi. The last named is particularly suited for roasting and eating with peppered palm oil. The less important ones were ji abana, adụ and ọna. Adụ was the type that grew on the tendril rather than underground. It was notorious for taking forever, actually overnight, to get cooked, thereby consuming an inordinate amount of firewood. Ọna came in two subvarieties – akpụkpụkene and the yellowish one referred to as ọna nkiti, i.e. slightly bitter ordinary one. The former subvariety was quite highly regarded and was usually reserved for special occasions when it would be served as a special meal. However, none of these less important yam varieties was intensely cropped; indeed one never really saw a full farm plot planted up exclusively in any of them. They were all supplementary crops. They were usually cooked and eaten differently with a peppered palm oil sauce called ncha.

It is worth mentioning here that an all-year round vegetable production has recently caught on in Alor. It is essentially an elementary irrigation scheme practiced by women and children along the narrow, partially alluvial strip of land flanking the banks of the perennial Idemili River. Thus even in the peak of the dry season the Nkwọ market sees fresh inine, ụgụ, and mgbọlọdị.


Vegetable farming at Mmili Ezigbo

Harvesting bitter leaf at the fadama vegetable farm in the raffia palm groves of the Idemili River 438

The processing of any farm produce would normally add value to the ultimate product. The virtual absence of any such practice in Alor is an index of the extremely low level of agricultural production in the town. Perhaps the only exception is palm produce. The activities around this single wonder crop have been a major source of economic sustenance for a sizable proportion of the population. The production, processing and sale or use of its many products have for a long time generated employment and cash income. This is why this area of rural economy of Alor is considered worthy of further attention and a chapter of this volume has been devoted to the palm industry in Alor.


Livestock Farming

Alongside whatever level of crop farming our forefathers undertook, rearing of domestic animals – specifically chicken, goats, sheep, and rarely cows – was a matter of fact. This explains why, from far back in time, a typical household in Alor would be secured with a solid wall, within which, in addition to dwelling houses, there must be a penstock (ụla ọkụkọ), a shelter for goats (ịgba eghu), and perhaps a cow stand. Thus from time, rearing of livestock in Alor has been under strict enclosure as nobody would tolerate the devastation of his farm by his neighbour‟s ravaging animals. Occasionally such animals could accidentally break loose from confinement. This commonly happened whenever a vagrant he-goat, that animal outlaw called mkpi mmọọ (a male goat dedicated to an idol of the quarter or village), broke into the premises while sniffing around for she-goats on heat. Goats, in particular would, unless physically restrained by being tethered, pour out of the compound into the adjacent farms and instantly fall to fresh cassava leaves. The consequences would be dire – certain death from cyanide poisoning, unless caught early and some palm oil forced down the poor animals‟ throats. In case of death, word would immediately go round the neighbourhood about the availability of cheap meat. The dead animal would be processed and some parts sold at a give-away price to willing buyers. This way the loss would be minimized. In other words, very rarely would a family kill a goat just for its own consumption; an occasional accidental death of some vagrant livestock might indeed be secretly welcome.

The chicken kept by a household could number some tens at most. They would roam about in the neighbourhood during the day, and come home to roost at night. Eggs were never for consumption; they were strictly for hatching to multiply the stock. Even the cockerels were not just for casual or matter-of-fact consumption. They were either sold to raise cash or were earmarked for certain festivals such as ime Olise, ịlọ mmọọ, or more recently, for Christmas. In case of an epidemic (mgbu ọkụkọ), any chicken suspected as infected would be killed, processed, and either eaten right 439

away or tucked away to dry in the basket (ngịga) hanging down over the fire place. Up to the present time, rearing chicken on roam-around basis is very much the case in Alor. However, some people have tried to rear chicken using modern technology which involves building a special poultry house and equipping it with feeders, drinkers, etc. It also involves the provision of feeds, vaccination and such care, all amounting to a substantial capital outlay and continuous expenditure without any income until egg production begins or the broilers are ready for sale. Those who tried their hands at the business soon realized that it required a sustained attention, serious capital outlay and substantial running costs. There are also risks associated with bird influenza, availability of feeds of specific types, availability of veterinary experts, and a host of other challenges. So most such entrepreneurs do the business seasonally; the farmers time their activity to have eggs and broilers for sale at Christmas and rarely before then. Some who have tried the business and sustained losses due to one chicken epidemic or the other see it as not worth the trouble. As for sheep, it was the main duty of the young boys of the family to tend to them (iso atụlụ). The tending was usually in two ways: - either they were tethered out there in a grassy field, or the boy took them around to graze on whatever grass was available in the neighbourhood.

Iso atulu – a boy tending to sheep before tethering them to graze 440

Again hardly would a family just kill a lamb for meat. It was there to raise more lambs for just shear multiplication for sale. What of cows? It was a measure of wealth to own a cow. Even then, hardly did one man own a cow. It was often a cooperative effort. The single cow would each morning be taken out to the field and tethered to be taken back home in the evening. With some luck, this cow might bear a calf in a period of two to three years.


From Farming to Trading – A Serendipity

As earlier noted, our forefathers practiced subsistence farming, producing barely enough to feed their families. Even the introduction of cash as means of exchange did not solve the problem of inadequate production from the poor soils, especially as the population grew and the mouths to feed relentlessly increased. This constituted a push on the population and the able-bodied enterprising young ones began to look beyond Alor for survival. Thus early in the 20th century many young men from Alor moved over to towns and villages along the rich alluvial soils bordering River Niger and Anambra. Notable among the locations with such rich soils are Nkwelle, Oze, Anam, Ogbaru and Asaba.

These Alor migrant farmers worked hard and were rewarded with rich harvests. Many of them eventually became very successful and this aroused ill fillings among their host communities. In consequence the renewal of expired land leases began to be a problem. About that time, Onitsha was developing into a thriving commercial, religious and educational centre. The arrival of Christian missionaries in Onitsha in 1857 was followed by the establishment of commercial activities by such British mercantile houses as United African Company, United Trading Company, John Holt, Patterson Zochonis, as well as the French companies CFAO and SCOA. Their major business was trade in palm produce, textiles, household equipment and various consumables. These companies needed workers and also needed outlets for their goods. Onitsha therefore easily became the destination of many Alor indigenes displaced from their farming endeavours. They easily started trading in palm produce and textiles. Some learned to become masons, carpenters, bicycle repairers, and tailors. And yet others got employment with the trading companies as store assistants, produce assistants, messengers or office assistants. This was actually a period of economic and social emancipation of our people. As they carried on their businesses, they also became exposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, thereby abandoning the traditional religion. As soon as they got established in their various pursuits, they pulled over their kith and kin to the same business. They


were thus the engine that to a large extent propelled the economic and political developments in Alor.



This paper has tried to highlight agricultural aspects of life in Alor. It has given some insight into the problems our forebears faced in striving to nurture the successions of generations that culminated in us today. It also indicated how lack of prospects in agricultural production, given the poor land and soil resources of the town, became the push that got able-bodied young men out of Alor to the much richer alluvial soils north and south of Onitsha. Their close application to their calling and the resulting achievements ironically became an impetus for another migration, this time to the commercial centre, Onitsha, which move laid the foundation for the brilliant mercantilism which in due course became a byword for the Alor entrepreneur.

Emma E. Obidozie, BSc (Hons) Former Asst General Manager Nigerian Agricultural and Co-operative Bank Ltd., Former Member Technical Committee on Privatization and Commercialization Anambra State, Past Sole Administrator, Integrated Livestock Company Ltd Agricultural Consultant


8.3 ALOR MBA NKWỤ – THE PALM CULTURE C.S. Nwajide and E.I. Mbaekwe



It is hard to imagine what Alor would have been without the family of tropical trees called palms. She would definitely have had a different character. Several towns around which share the same soil, climatic, vegetational and general ecological characteristics with Alor have exactly the same palm culture and industry, but why is Alor distinguished by the cognomen Alor Mba Nkwụ? The livelihood of the typical Alor person has been intricately intertwined with the products of especially the oil palm. It may be generalized, without the risk of contradiction, that there is no single day a typical Alor person would go without using one product or the other of this great crop. On these grounds, a detailed investigation into the lore surrounding these palms, especially the oil palm, is warranted.


Palms of Alor

In Alor, and of course all the surrounding towns and beyond, there are just three palm varieties – the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), the raffia palm (Raffia hookeri), and the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis). They are all, more or less vertically growing, unbranching, i.e. single-stem, monocotyledonous evergreen perennial trees. They thrive in warm, wet tropical climate and a wide range of soil types, especially the sandy types. Alor fits into this ecologically favourable environmental setting.


The Coconut Palm

The coconut palm can be regarded as a “domestic” plant in the sense that a householder deliberately plants a stand or two within his premises or in the adjacent farmland (mbụbọ). Its Igbo name, akụ oyibe, is an indication that it must have been introduced into the general locality, perhaps the whole Igboland, (reportedly from Indo-Malaysian sources), by the colonial masters in their agricultural experiments with tropical crops. At least two varieties are well known in Alor. There is the „‟native‟‟ type, which may be so called because it is by far the older type introduced probably in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. It fruits continuously although after at least five years and that‟s when it has grown over three to four metres, thereby requiring climbing for the plucking of the fresh fruit.


Its propagation is solely though the seed. The so-called native type can grow to over twenty metres and progressively sheds its older leaves (fronds). The base of the frond is strong, bulbous, and broad and clasps nearly halfway around the stem. The horizontally disposed shoehorn marks are not sufficiently protrusive to serve as footholds, making climbing quite tricky. The fronds are compound, up to 6 metres long, with the numerous elongate, parallel veined, rather stiff leaflets arranged bilaterally on a common rachis. The fronds are arranged radially around the apical point of the stem. The roots are fibrous, adventitious, and function for a short while, and die, to be replaced by new ones. Flowering begins about the sixth year. The development of the fruit from the flowering stage takes up to a full year, and a considerable proportion of the fruits drop off before full maturation, often due to some kind of disease infestation.

The ‘’native’’ variety of coconut palm 444

In recent times some highly improved dwarf varieties have been introduced. They are known to begin to fruit profusely within three years and while still less than two metres tall. Even then, the fruits are all for the eating and nobody devotes any plot of scarce land just for planting coconut palms, improved variety or not.

The newer variety of coconut palm – so short, so fruitful

The edible part, which can be called coconut meat, is about the only useful part of the plant. The stem is not strong or durable enough to serve any structural purpose in building construction. The leaves are not even edible for domestic animals to eat as fodder. The fronds are equally weak. A bunch of fruits may consist of up to ten nuts each of them approaching or actually the size of a human head. An outer fibrous mass encloses a hard brittle inner stony shell within which is the 445

sweet tissue and the delicious sap – the coconut milk – mmili akụ oyibe. The milk is considered medicinal and is often recommended as antidote to poison if taken directly the poisonous substance is accidentally swallowed. This is perhaps due to its content of sugars, enzymes and vitamins especially ascorbic, nicotinic and pantothenic acids. However, it is often advised not to drink it if one was taking any medicaments for fear it might have a neutralizing effect on the drugs.

The coconut meat is good to eat alone or in combination with soaked garri, peeled cassava (akpụ mmili, akpụ nghalịngha), maize ọka), bread fruit (ụkwa), and bread. In the past some oil was extracted by frying the meat. Such oil was used as ointment or a body lotion rubbed all over the skin during the harmattan. Perhaps the only other useful products of the coconut tree are the shell and the fibrous mesocarp which can serve as wood fuel.

2.2 The Raffia Palm The raffia palms are again of two types: ngwọ mmili (Raffia hookeri and ngwọ unwo (Raffia vinifera). As the names suggest, while the former grows along water courses, the latter is found in the drier hinterland. Not more than a stand or two could be found in a corner of the farmland adjacent the compound. Ngwọ mmili is the common type which grows in clusters of three to five which form relatively thick groves in the narrow swamps flanking the Idemili River. The tree clearly thrives in swampy areas where water is available round the year.

Unlike the coconut palm that sheds its leaves, the raffia palm retains the leaves such that older lower ones die and dry up but are not normally shed. Along with the leaf stalks, a meshwork of coarse spongy material covers the stem. It grows to about five metres tall, terminated by a crown of fronds each five to six metres long, tapering along the stalk. The leaflets are bilaterally arranged, veined parallel to a prominent midrib, and bears short thorns around its edge. When it is about to fruit, the outgrowth of leaves ceases such that one or two flowering stalks grow out in place of leaves – what the botanists call terminal inflorescence.

The mode of propagation is both vegetative and through the seeds. In case the fruiting reaches completion, the seeds fall off and, under favourable conditions, germinate. Their growth in clusters also suggests that the raffia palm can give out suckers which develop into the tree. There is the danger of extinction of the raffia palm groves since tappers are now virtually extinct. The modern Alor man does not seem to have the time or disposition to go down twice a day to the Idemili River


just to pick up a few litres of wine. Besides nobody needs the raffia leaves for roofing or anything else.

Raffia palm grove flanking the Idemili River The raffia palm has had several uses – building materials, ropes, insect larvae source, and wine. The building materials include the stem, the fronds and the leaflets. The stem is initially strong but decays over time, so is not used for any construction requiring great structural strength or sustained use. It was in the past very much used as bridges (ogwe) over narrow streams. The frond (ọhwọlọ) has been in use as rafters for thatch roofs. It also served as ceiling against radiant heat from corrugated iron roofs. Ropes are made from raffia palm fibre (akwala ngwọ). The thin type of rope (ịgba ngwọ) was very much in use for trapping bats (ọnya ụsụ) and for tethering goats and sheep (ọgbịlị eghu, ọgbịlị atụlụ). The thicker type of rope made from raffia fibre was used for tethering cows in the bush. Nowadays its commonest use is for tying cows being taken away for slaughter. It has from that perspective become fashionable to present a coil of raffia palm rope to a bereaved person to indicate that a cow has been brought along for condolence. In most cases the rope is actually presented along with the cash equivalent covering the average market price of a cow.

The raffia palm stem has also been a source of an unusual kind of delicacy especially for babies and children. As a normal process of natural degradation, recycling, and the operation of the food chain, insects use the dead raffia stem as a substrate. The eggs they lay transform into larvae (agụ ngwọ) at 447

which stage the animals feed voraciously and fatten up. A stem harbouring a harvest of larvae could be identified by the rasping sound of the larvae chewing away in the innards of the dead raffia stem. A larva was in days gone by roasted and fed to babies in the belief that the fat was good for growth and could even be medicinal.

Edible insect larva (agụ ngwọ)

The raffia palm leaves have been particularly useful as a roofing material. As already discussed under the evolution of living quarters in Alor, the roofing material made from it was the main roofing material that replaced grass (ata, abịnị) and eventually gave way to corrugated iron sheets. It has however become rather extinct as a roofing material, an indirect evidence of the elevated level of social and material well-being relative to the time of our forefathers. And now the climax – raffia palm wine. The raffia palm tapper has to go on constant inspection to his patch in order to catch the raffia tree dead at its maturity for tapping. Maturity is indicated directly leaf production is seen to have stopped. The fruit stalk is then cut and stopped from further progression. Tapping is normally twice daily – morning and evening. The product is a particularly sweet sap (nkwụ ngwọ), especially from ngwọ unwo. The wine is far less intoxicating than its oil palm equivalent. This is why it is often considered a drink for women and children. It is on this basis that it is not particularly popular in Alor. Most probably for ego reasons, no man worth his salt would like to be caught drinking raffia palm wine. His peers would jibe at him and ask if he has caught a venereal affliction, for which the traditional cure was some herbs and roots soaked in raffia palm wine. Indeed raffia palm wine had been so little regarded in Alor that it is normally rejected if taken along for marriage purposes, especially for the initial asking. This is all because one needs to drink several litres of it to begin to fill even the slightest sign of tipsiness. 448

The mode of tapping the raffia palm is an inherent limitation to the degree of utility of the crop relative to the oil palm. Whereas an oil palm tree can be tapped for decades, the raffia palm is tapped terminally, i.e. only once and that is to death.

2.3 The Oil Palm This is the greatest of the palms, if not the greatest among our crops. What could we be without Elaeis guineensis? A Brazilian origin has been suggested for this crop, but that is more for other kinds of palms. There is a great diversity within the plant family Palmae; it is known to have up to 225 genera and over 2600 species. It is more or less agreed that the Elaeis guineensis is an indigenous tree species of the tropical rain forest region of western Africa with its warm, high rainfall, and abundant sunshine. Its fibrous root system is most favoured if the soil is deep and well drained, with acidity as close to neutral as possible. Its propagation is solely by the seed, and in Alor often by random spread, i.e. essentially wild. There may be efforts to introduce new breeds, but most of the palm trees we see all over the town simply sprouted and became a part of the vegetation. The farm owner would then start tending it by trimming the fronds, usually in the process of fetching animal fodder or harvesting palm fruits or starting off the wine-tapping process. In full growth, a tree can attain the 10 metre height (nkwụ akpala), with a vertically straight cylindrical stem between 30 and 40 cm in diameter. Older palms often have a thickened base. The stem terminates in a crown that may contain up to 30 compound leaves (fronds). On each frond there may be up to 150 leaflets arranged bilaterally on the two sides of the axis (ogugu) and characterised by veins paralleling the mid rib. Towards the base of the frond, the leaves gradually transform to thorns (ogwu) which themselves disappear as the base is broadened to form a clasper partially round the stem. When in full growth a palm tree may produce up to twenty four fronds a year.

Fruiting takes place, after about four years of vegetative growth, as an axillary flower cluster enclosed by the base of the frond. The inflorescence consists of a main axis and numerous side branches with florets. When mature the fruits on a given bunch (isi akwụ) ripen from the generally black colour to bright red or yellow. The variety called akwụ ojukwu turns from green to yellow on ripening. This variety is highly regarded for its medicinal value.


Oil palm trees as a part of derived savanna vegetation

The crown of an oil palm tree – with ripe bunch; note hole 450

on the stem left by wine tapping the type that produces iti


Oil Palm Economy

Virtually every part of the oil palm tree is useful in one way or the other. The main parts of a typical tree can be listed as the root system, the stem, the crown and the fruit. Perhaps only the roots may not be commonly used, but it is possible that our forefathers, especially native doctors of old, might have had some use for the fibres that so firmly moored the tree to the ground, however tall. The stem served some structural purpose in housing construction, although the stem of the coconut palm was preferred mainly due to the smoothness of its back. Another structural purpose was for bridging narrow depressions. When dry and cut into easily transportable metre-long chunks (akpọ nkwụ), the oil palm stem serves as fire wood, not so much for cooking as for early morning basking usually in the obi especially in the harmattan or rainy times. It was also useful in burning off the hair of slaughtered animals (ịkpọcha anụ) prior to cutting up the carcass. The ash (ntụ) from the burnt stem is used as an insecticide. When sprayed in dry or wet condition on the soil, it is known to deter insects and nematodes from eating up plant roots.

Most use of the oil palm tree is found within the crown which also carries the fruits. First, the crown (igu nkwụ). In Alor the first and foremost use of the fronds is as fodder for domestic animals particularly the goats which are either tethered or free-roaming within the premises. From a given palm tree a few older fronds are cut off either from the broad base, or from a higher point along the frond leaving about a metre basal stump to be trimmed off later. The goats have a way of stripping away the edible part of the pinnae, leaving behind the axes of the leaflets, i.e. broom sticks (mkpụlụ azịza). These are easily cleaned further and bundled up to serve as brooms for sweeping within the house. The one and half-metre tail end of a goat-stripped frond is also used as a broom. Five or six of them are bundled into a long broom for sweeping within and outside the compound. The bundling up is done by tying with a strip (ekwele) obtained from the upper part of the frond. This strip is an all-purpose kind of binding material used for all sorts of tying – housing construction, fencing, and a host of other uses. The bulk of the frond consists of strands of fibre (awhụlị) which serves as a sponge for scrubbing and washing utensils. The back of the frond has a tougher cover called ọbala. Along with ekwele, it is the main material for making baskets – anyala, nkata, ngịga.


The rachis of the frond, when stripped of the leaflets, is the ogugu. It serves several structural purposes, especially for fencing and roofing (rafters).

The lower metre of the frond, i.e. the thorny base (igbegulu), is used as a roofing material for mud compound walls. Its displacement began when the corrugated iron sheet was introduced as a roofing material for houses and compound walls. It is now almost completely out of use, since most compound walls in Alor are made of sandcrete blocks. Let us however note that it served our forefathers well. The attachment of the base of the frond to the stem is reinforced by a number of metre-long thin but tough fibres (akwala) which extend from the bases of the thorns into the stem. This fibre has been used for trapping bats. Young boys made some money by maneuvering through the thorns to extract the fibres (ịha akwala) for sale to trappers. As described in the chapter on foods of Alor, the trapper hangs a long rope (ịgba ngwọ) between two trees one of which would be iroko or ụlụ tree (whose fruits are the food for bats). The fibre is then hooked into a snare which easily tightens around a flying bat that tangles with it. The struggling bat sets off a gong which alerts the trapper who hastens up to pick his harvest before it bites off the tiny thread and frees itself. The thin nature of the ịgba ngwọ obviously makes it undetectable to the bat‟s radar while flying at night. The bats found in Alor and the surrounding towns are essentially nocturnal. This makes the business of trapping bats a strictly nightly affair. Recall the proverb: One does not keep awake with bat trapper in his nightly vigil (mmad’aheso nde matalụ ụsụ amụ anya anyasị). The young frond, ọmụ, located in the central, apical part of the crown, has been very much a cultural-religious material. It is believed to have some special potency which it loses on transformation into the mature frond. That is why it is used for tying up sacrificial condiments in the days gone by often dropped by the way side. An area of land under dispute might just be cordoned off by one of the contestants using ọmụ nkwụ. Shrines are usually indicated by tying ọmụ nkwụ across the entrance or round any big tree, usually the akpụ tree. The ọmụ is also used to indicate that someone has died and that burial or funeral is going on. Tied on the front and rear of a vehicle it indicates that a corpse is being conveyed. It is used to adorn dangerous masquerades. Thus the ọmụ has generally been an indicator of something ominous or dreadful, not only in Alor, but in the wider Igboland. It may however be pointed out that these symbolic uses of young palm leaves are petering out. This is perhaps attributable to the fact that Christians are striving hard to dissociate themselves from materials considered idolatrous.


The critical element in the oil palm economy is the fruit (isi akwụ), although this is arguable because of the pervasive effect palm wine has on the society. However, considering that the palm oil is the only kind of cooking oil easily available to, and affordable by the ordinary man, and that the kernel is a major part of several snacks, palm fruit should rank higher than palm wine. The fruit (mkpụlụ akwụ) is attached to the central stock via the receptacle at the base of the flower (ọgha ngụ). It consists of the epicarp (the outer very thin layer), the mesocarp (the pulpy, oily tissue), the exocarp (thick or thin shell, ichele), and the endocarp (the seed, i.e. the palm kernel, mkpụlụ akụ). Palm fruit harvesting is done by climbing up the tree using any of two devises – agbụ or ete. The former is a straight rope about two meters long, with a double strand bound together, except towards the tips which are looped for slipping in the legs. The latter device is longer because for climbing, it is first thrown round the tree and the two ends are tied up with the climber resting on the tied ends. Both used to be made with a strong/tough stem of a climbing plant called apalị. It appears to have been largely replaced by some thick wire strands. In both cases, the tough material is covered using the rope (ekwele) from the oil palm frond. For climbing particularly tall palm trees and for coconut trees (due to rather smooth stems) the agbụ is considered safer, especially when a pair of them (agbụ ụkpụkpọ) is used. Accidents are rare.

When ripe, a bunch is brought down first by cutting out the base of the frond subtending it against the stem, and then cutting down the stalk. At times, the unripe bunch is cut down if a tree is to be pruned for wine-tapping. The master tapper ranks the wine above the proceeds of the fruit, especially if the timing is against a season such as Christmas. The bunch cut down prior to ripening is not however a complete waste. It would not yield palm oil but the immature kernel (ụtụtọlị) is sweeter and softer than the mature one and is the delight of children. Also often cut down is a bunch containing the bunch of male inflorescence. When soaked in hot palm oil it (uli ọkụ) is useful for lighting up the home at night, usually mounted on a wooden tripod (njide ọkụ).

Once cut down, the scattered fruits and the bunch are gathered and taken home. The bunch may be left for a few days to ease detachment of fruits. The bunch is eventually stripped down leaving the stalk. The fruits (mkpụlụ akwụ) are detached from the thorny remnants of the inflorescence (ọgha ngụ) often initially by cutting out the inflorescence (ịgbọ akwụ).


Cutting out the palm fruits (ịgbọ akwụ) The fruits can be used directly for cooking stew (ohe akwụ) by boiling and extracting the oil. The stew is good for eating rice, yam or bread. It is noteworthy that in Delta State the same stew is called banga, and is highly celebrated as a special soup since it is usually studded with periwinkle, crab, and other sea foods, constituting a special delicacy for eating garri or starch, not for rice.

The normal processing of the palm fruits may begin with perboiling (ighu akwụ) in a large pot (ite ọna) prior to threshing (ịsụ akwụ) which is the separation of the palm oil bearing part (mesocarp) from the nut. The threshing is done in a wooden mortar (ikwe akwụ) mounted at the centre of a circular earthen mound some two to three metres in diameter. Some people have fashioned out disused car wheels into mortars for oil palm fruit threshing. The threshing is done using a twometre long pestle (ọdụ akwụ). The thresher stands astride to deliver the necessary pounding force and normally requires the assistance of a second person sitting near the mortar, often right on the 454

Perboiling palm fruit prior to threshing

Threshing oil palm fruits prior to oil extraction 455

mound, pushing in and around to keep mush within the mortar (ishi akwụ) and to ensure the fruits do not fly off under the threshing force. Threshing done, the next stage is the separation of the nuts from the mush (ịtụ akwụ). Incompletely shelled fruits are returned to the mortar and rethreshed. The nuts are washed and washings (ogulu) skimmed off for some oil, leaving a watery part that is thrown away, usually outside the premises, specifically in front of the main entrance door or gate. The mush is heated in a pot and, while still warm, the oil is extracted. The residue after the oil extraction (abụbụ) is left to dry and stored away to be used as cooking fuel, especially in the rainy season when fuel wood might be scarce or too wet to burn easily. The freshness and fluidity of the oil determine the quality. These attributes would be assured if the fruits are processed early. If left for rather long before threshing, the tendency is to produce oil that is solid rather than fluid under room temperature. Such thick oil (mmanụ agbidi) was the main ingredient, in combination with ash made from burning palm bunch stalk, for making soap (ncha ngụ, ncha nkọta). This aspect of the oil palm-based industry appears to have died off.

A major product of the threshing process is the palm nut. Up to the recent past, a heap or two of palm nuts would be found in every compound in Alor. In recent times however, premises with modern buildings and the remaining space organized according to some horticultural order have no space for such palm nut heaps. This situation correlates with the fact that the occupants of such premises do not really need the eat palm kernel, especially as they spend relatively little time in Alor. For those still very much moored and enjoying the bucolic setting, the palm kernel is an essential snacking component, what with maize (ọka), bread fruit (ụkwa), garri, fresh or dry tapioca (akpụ mmili, akpụ nghalịngha), or even alone. In days gone by, oil that served as body cream (ude akụ) was extracted by frying palm kernel in a pot. The oil was particularly good for soothing dry skins, especially in the harmattan season. It also served a very important medicinal purpose constituting the base for the active ingredient in the making of some medicaments, especially for babies and children. Now to palm wine!! The town is probably called “Alor Mba Nkwụ” because this tree crop is ubiquitous, even though its population is diminishing on account of an aggressive housing construction without any sort of palm-for-palm replacement. But so it is in all the neighbouring towns. The appellation was most probably acquired more due to the attitude of the Alor man to palm wine than for any other reason. It has been suggested that Alor acquired such a humorous nickname long ago, when able-bodied young men had to rehearse military tactics and strategies in preparation for the many wars Alor had to fight. A few drinks facilitated such drills and inevitably 456

involved what appeared to the uninitiated as a disorderly conduct. Besides, a typical tapper is happy seeing alcohol take hold of any man (ańụįa asoghụ gana gana ọdi k’ọbụhọ diochi tel). It is also worth noting that in any gathering where there is an assortment of drinks – minerals, beer, spirits and palm wine – the men first dispose of the palm wine and then see if there is any other drink. All these make Alor such a jolly good place, characterised by hilarity, laughter and sparkle, far from drab and sombre.

Gourd, the good old palm wine vessel

Palm wine tapping has been a full-time occupation for many men in Alor. Of course a typical house holder attends to his farm where, along with his family, he routinely engages in the cultivation of yams, cassava, cocoyam, and vegetables, as dictated by the season. The palm wine tapper (diochi) would, in addition to the farming routine, engage in his business year in year out. In other words, palm wine tapping can be seen as virtually harvesting in perpetuity. Apart from the timing which the tapper determines for himself, normally in tandem with festivities, there is nothing seasonal about the productivity of the palm tree as regards wine yield. It is also noteworthy that a single palm tree can be tapped innumerable number of times in its lifetime which can range from twenty to thirty years. What often puts a palm tree beyond tapping range is its height which can become prohibitive for a triple daily climb.

The tapper regularly, or as a matter of course, surveys his oil palm crop and decides which tree is due for tapping. He classifies the population into the prime fruit producers separate from high wine producers. The latter are referred to as nne nkwụ, literally mother palms. He often tries to clone 457

such stock. Preparation for tapping begins with trimming away the sagging or drooping fronds from the crown. The crown of a tree under wine production is preferably mostly upright.

In addition to the climbing rope, which has been discussed, the other items for tapping in include a steel tapping knife (mma nkwụ), about 30 cm long, with a handle at one end, and the other end flat and lozenge-shaped with both sides razor-sharp. The other important device is called amị. It is made by folding the sheath cut from in-between the frond bases (ashịshị), cutting a narrow slit through it, and forcing a short narrow bamboo tube through. It serves as the collector for the sap. The third item is the gourd (mbubo), which serves as the receptacle for the sap. This has now largely been replaced by plastic cans. The other materials are a strong rope and a wooden rod about sixty cm long for firmly tying the receptacle to the stem.

In Alor tapping is predominantly from the stem, usually starting from as near as possible to the apical point. This produces the variety of palm wine called iti. The other tapping point is the stalk of the aborted fruit bunch. The wine from this is called nkwụ enu, uduko, or ọwhụlịwhụ and is generally far sweeter and more intoxicating than iti. Its yield from a single tree is usually in a smaller volume (a litre or less) than the typical iti production which can measure up to four litres. Nkwụ enu is therefore often not sold as is, rather it is used to „‟titrate‟‟ the iti for „‟hardening‟‟ purposes.

After pruning and trimming, a part of the tree selected for tapping is chamfered into a flat surfaced exposing the softer inner tissue of the fibrous stem. A slit is then made and stuffed close with some palm leaves. After a few days, some early sap would have started flowing and that is when to attach the amị tamped down firmly against the slit using the wooden rod and a rope. The projecting pipe from the amị is then directed into the gourd or plastic can which is tied firmly to some hook cut on the base of a frond above the tapping assembly. The early sap from the stem is sweet, but in a few days changes in taste to what is described as a stronger wine (nkwụ kal’aka). Tapping is by systematically slicing off thin layers of the stem to a depth of six to eight cm such that the opening progressively moves vertically downwards, eventually leaving behind an open rectangular hole. To protect invasion by parasitic insects, the hole is plugged using the sheath (ashịshị) with which amị is made. The productive profile goes through a maximum of say four to five-litre volume of wine and then declines to nil. This may be over a period of one month.


Augustine Obizue, one of the master tappers of Alor, at work; the climbing device here is the ete

Some elementary chemistry of palm wine is instructive at this stage. The liquid inside a palm tree is solely the groundwater taken up by the fibrous roots of the tree. The water may contain minerals but hardly anything else. The water column rises to the green leaves and becomes the medium for the complex set of photosynthetic reactions resulting in the production of sap consisting of simple soluble carbohydrates. This is the product available to be tapped off as palm wine. So at what stage does the sap become alcoholic, or does the palm tree make alcohol? It is intriguing that the palm tree does not manufacture alcohol, rather the sugars contained in the sap very rapidly transform into alcohol once exposed to the atmosphere which is suffused with dust and all sorts of microorganisms – bacteria, viruses, pollen, and spores. Among the spores are yeast cells. One cell of yeast dropped into palm sap multiples into millions in a few minutes and gives the palm wine its characteristic white colour. Most importantly, the yeast feeds on the sugars and produces alcohol which then becomes the active ingredient, the flavour the discerning connoisseur is looking for. In such towns as Oba, where extensive raffia palm groves exist along the swamps adjoining the Niger River, more raffia palm wine than can be consumed is produced. Here, over a few days of storage, yeast activity 459

facilitates the highly desirable fermentation process that is the basis for the thriving alcohol production industry. In Alor never enough is produced to be allowed to stay long enough for completion of fermentation. The longest period palm wine may be allowed to last is overnight (nkwụ ọla), and this would mean that hard drinkers were not around or, quite rarely, were overwhelmed. The usual saying is: “kama nkwụ j’adọ nite, k’ọdọlụ nahwọ”, meaning: wine had rather stay in the stomach than in the pot! Tapping is three times daily – before 7 am, before 11 am and generally around 5 pm. The mid-day tapping is for the day‟s harvest. The tapper does his mixing and portions out what to keep behind for his family and friends and carts off the rest to the market. A large-scale tapper may have up to ten different trees under production at a given time, yielding fifteen to twenty litres per day. The quality of palm wine is often determined by several factors – the weather or season, the palm stock, the tapper‟s skills, and the tapping stage. At any given time in Alor, there are always some tappers who are distinguished as masters of their art. People order ahead from such tappers such that at weekends, festive times or major funeral days, their products would hardly see the market place. Rather it is all requisitioned off days ahead. All some folks want is a cup (otu iko) of so-so tapper‟s product. Let us name some famous tappers: Ezisi Patrick Okeke Nwajide, Augustine Amamchukwu Obizue, and Chukwuneta Nwose of Ọgbọgụ quarter, Ọkọnkwọ Obikwelu Muogbo and Akulue Nweke Amanze of Eziafor quarter, Ọnwụdiwe Nnakwe, Eleazar Ndụbụisi, Sunday Okafor, John Mbadugha, Okeke Daniel Nnakwe and Nwafor Mbadugha all of Agbor quarter, Eric Mezue of Umudim quarter, Gregory Okafor, Pius Okafor, Leonard Okoye Egbo, and Emmanuel Ojinna of Ide, Charles Nwankwo and Oganikpa of Umuoshi, Fredrick Ugodinwe and Bernard Ugoezu of Umuokwu, and many others. Some tappers attempt to make more money by adding water to increase volumes, and sweetening their product with such additives as sugar or saccharin. Such acts have been traced mostly to some unscrupulous migrant tappers, i.e. non-Alor persons tapping on contract for the owners of palm trees. Punishment for such unethical conduct has ranged from pouring away such wines, through prohibition of the offender from tapping in Alor, to outright banishment of culprits from Alor. The tappers are sufficiently well organized to also regulate the commencement of sales: at 11 am prompt, the bell tolls and transactions commence.

As a major occupation for the village dweller, palm wine tapping is an exacting endeavour. Climbing up and down as many as ten moderately tall palm trees, each three times a day, rain or shine, and in time to meet the sales time of 11 am is not for the indolent, weak, sick, or lazy. Indeed 460

the exertion involved in this occupation is so well recognised that the tapper is free to be absent from, or arrive late at, meetings, and can leave any gathering, including church services, to attend to his palm trees. The hazards are well known and include slips and falls (which are really not common), wending through the bush even in the dark hours of the morning for the first tap, and stings of honey bees which are equally interested in the sap.

For a dedicated tapper, the reward is not mean. Prices vary very widely but the tapper is fully psychologically adjusted to all that. From Mondays to Wednesdays, a litre of wine may sell for less than 20% of an equivalent volume of beer. But from Thursdays to Sundays, prices dramatically swing upwards, in response to the influx of Alor people from the various urban areas for meetings, marriages, weddings, funerals and routine weekend visits. The new trend in the funeral industry is to fix burials on virtually any working day of the week. The tappers are happy about this development. The climax in price regimes of palm wine comes at the year end. Tappers look forward to the season, such that by late November, there is a frenzy of trimming and pruning (itu nkwụ Christmas). For a full month from mid-December when the home-coming begins, prices pick up, peak in the festive week, and stay on a plateau till almost mid-January when pockets run dry, marriages and funerals have come and gone and the town is drained of home comers.

Fresh palm wine frothing from twelve-litre jars 461

In preparing for the festive season, a tapper without enough stands of tappable palm trees may be engaged by a family having palm trees but no tapper. The business arrangement is simple – the tapper and the tree owner pick up the proceeds, wine or sales cash, on alternate days. This sort of arrangement has actually been a major sustainer for many families, especially those who have lost their principal breadwinners. Many a widow has had to manage along with proceeds from contract tappers, especially some migrant young men from such far-away places as Abakaliki and Nsukka. Such young men appear to be integrating rather too deeply, with worrisome consequences.


Palm Oil Milling in Alor

The various oil palm-based economic activities discussed so far constitute aspects of an industry intricately intertwined with the culture of the people. However, it is still considered appropriate to detail the activities of a small population devoted to relatively large-scale, somewhat mechanized production of palm oil and kernel. It is the semi-mechanized processing that long ago gave it the name ịsụ akwụ igwe. Women appear to dominate it while the men folk are involved more in management and financing than in direct labour. Indeed women and children have from time past been the main people involved in palm fruit processing, at least up to the point of palm nut shelling (iti akụ mgbele) to free the kernel (i.e. the endosperm or seed) from the hard endocarp (ichele). Some may consider this sedentary occupation an avocation for the lazy, but several women have been known to earn a living simply by cracking palm nuts and selling the kernel to produce dealers, and also selling the ichele, which is a supplement to firewood, especially in the rainy season.

Industrial activities based on the oil palm fruit have a relatively long history in Alor. For instance, the oil mill at Nkwo predates the Nigerian independence (1960). We recall that a well known Alor figure, Mr. Reuben Asiegbu (1912 – 1995), for reasons that were most probably religious, decided to forgo making money as a trader and as a landed gentleman by turning his energies to oil milling for self sustenance while spreading the word of God as his main calling. His engagement in palm oil milling gave the industry some facelift in Alor.

We need not detail the processes of acquiring and assembling the necessary machinery. We rather simply note that the threshing and the pressing components of the system were acquired and assembled by some technicians and that was it. The machinery examined at Nkwọ and at another location on the road to the Alor Health Centre consists of adapted water-cooled diesel-powered electric power generators in which the rotors have been fashioned into propellers to serve as the 462

thresher. The propellers consist of blades which turn within a tank filled with parboiled fruits. A short time of operation separates the epicarp and mesocarp from the endocarp, freeing the kernel. The threshed product is then transferred to the press which consists of an upright mounted cylinder with spiral grooving for tightening weights. A clockwise turn of cross-bars presses out the red oil. In the outfit set up by Mr. Nweke Ugoewuzie of Isieke quarter, the press is mechanized and simpler to operate, and is clearly more efficient in extracting the oil.

Charging the threshing barrel with parboiled palm fruit


Readying the threshed product (mush) for pressing

Extracting oil from the mush – using a labour-saving mechanical device 464

Extracting oil the old way – with the spiral type of press


Using a hydraulic jack to press out more oil


Separating out the kernels from the mush

The economics of the whole operation is somewhat fuzzy, but the industry would not be in operation if the operators were not making profit. Most of the oil is not for local consumption. Traders come from several far away locations, including Lagos and Kano.

Apart from block moulding, palm oil milling is perhaps the only business concern in Alor with a semblance of an industrial system. It is therefore well worth looking into in terms of human welfare especially as concerns health, safety and environment. An inspection of the premises and operational procedures shows that there is a lot to be desired as regards hygiene. It is strongly recommended that the appropriate organ of the Alor Peoples Convention, specifically the Health Committee, should look into the whole matter and try to insist on proper operational modalities. In particular, the workers should have some protective clothing, especially since the floor is perpetually slippery. Maintenance of personal cleanliness should be emphasized. The machines, the factory floor and immediate surroundings should be kept clean. This is the only way to ensure that products are fit for human consumption.

Is there any room for improvement or expansion of the operations? The feasibility can be investigated, especially as the State and Federal Governments have a scheme that promotes small and medium scale enterprises. 467


The Palm Culture

As already indicated, it may be asserted, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no normal day that passes without an Alor person resident in Alor using at least one or the other oil palm product for his livelihood. The list of such usable items from this single wonder crop is as long as follows: – palm leaves for fodder (igu), young palm leaf (ọmụ) for ritual and religious uses, brooms (azịza) made of fronds or sticks, rope (ekwele), sponge (awhụlị, asịsa), baskets (nkata, anyala, ngịga), fruits (mkpụlụ akwụ), wine (nkwụ), oil (mmanụ), kernel (akụ), kernel oil (ude akụ), shell (ichele), mush (abụbụ), and more. This long list is a measure of the depth or degree of intertwining with the culture of the people. Admittedly, some or most of the items have substitutes, imported or contrived some other way, but at what cost? For instance, groundnut oil or olive oil might be good for cooking, but what is the price differential especially in relation to the man in the village? How easily available is any of the imported items? Beer is available but at ever increasing prices. Palm wine is also available but at prices that swing up and down with the seasons and with the days of the week. This enables a habituated wine-bibber nourish his inurement in the early to mid-week price trough from his pocket and wait again, although he can service his habit by shopping around for the ever occurring funeral event, wedding, or traditional marriage ceremony, i.e. ịgba nkwụ, which means what it says, and for which nobody really needs any specific invitation.

The food items or condiments from the oil palm or indeed the other palms of Alor have already been highlighted, all indicating a multiplicity of uses. It now remains to discuss some aspects that have to do with healing, religious worship, and marital symbolism. The use of palm oil goes beyond food. It is also a medicament. It is a base for mixing other materials that serve as active ingredients for soothing itchy skins. For convulsion in babies and young children, kernel oil (ude akụ) is a very important base for mixing the active ingredients. On its own, palm oil is an antidote for poisons such as cyanide from uncooked cassava. Administered early to a goat known to have eaten fresh cassava leaves or tuber, palm oil neutralizes the poison and saves the poor goat. Even for human beings, palm oil can make the difference between life and death in cases of accidental swallowing of certain poisonous materials. In cases of difficulty in stooling (akpaka), perhaps due to dehydrated waste locked up in the rectum, palm oil appropriately applied, serves as a lubricant to facilitate defaecation. In particular, the oil or the palm fruit from akwụ ojukwu, is known to be medicinally very effective, especially as an antidote to many kinds of poisons. In traditional religious practice the young, usually unfolded frond (ọmụ nkwụ) is an important ritual material. Young immature frond tied around a tree serves notice about the tree‟s sacred status. The 468

location is either a shrine proper or the tree belongs to a deity and should be deemed inviolable. Young palm leaves were also an inevitable accompaniment among such odds and ends as eggs, day old chick, cotton wool, broom stick, etc, tied up and dumped along a road or pathway as a sacrifice (ịchụ aja) usually ordered by a deity as a means of ridding some one of some problems or ailments.

To guard a tree in fruit against poachers, fresh palm fronds would be used to tie a bunch of shrubs and scary objects on the tree (ido iyi). This keeps away the timorous or the faint-hearted. The more courageous village urchins, especially in the days gone by, would however devise a way around the iyi, usually by urinating on the bundle and placing an unripe fruit on it as a bribe. Such courageous boys were never known to have died or been hurt by the iyi. Things appear to have changed so much nowadays. A boy caught helping himself on top of a pear tree or such ripe situation may these days be labeled a thief and treated as such. In the days gone by, the owner would rather coax the boy down (lest he fell and hurt himself), share the proceeds of the endeavour equitably, give the boy his fair share and warn him to desist from his pranks. It was simply plain fun. The owner would himself recall his young days as a pear or udala thief and laugh it off.

If a married woman commits an offence considered punishable but eventually pardonable she may be back-loaded to her parent‟s home and left there for a period of time. If however, the husband, usually in agreement with his kinsmen, considers an offence too grievous for pardon, the decision may be to terminate the marriage without any likelihood of reconciliation. This absolute break is usually done by loading the woman‟s property back to her parent‟s house this time with some young unfolded palm leaflets stuck on the woman‟s load.


Summary and Reflections

Alor, being in the tropical rainforest zone, boasts of many tropical forest trees, but from the foregoing account, it is obvious that the “king” of them all is the oil palm. Its various parts and products are essential, indeed indispensable elements of food and other materials used on daily basis. It is, however, regrettable that with the rapid growth of our population and the consequent accelerated land use for housing, the crop is being pushed into extinction. The raffia palms are no less threatened; in fact ngwọ ụnwo (Raffia vinifera) is virtually extinct. The alluviation of the Idemili River is creating a very stressful ecology for ngwọ mmili (Raffia hookeri) resulting in its impoverishment (chlorosis) and obvious drift towards extinction. All told, the sobriquet “Alor Mba Nkwu” may sooner or later prove no longer applicable, a regrettable reversal 469

of a condition that gave Alor a wholesome identity and allowed her to thrive. It is however not too late. There are now improved breeds that can be cropped in numbers where there is still land space, or at least planted in single stands within even the most magnificent of compounds, considering that the tree is so environmentally friendly that it produces no litter whatsoever. We call on all and sundry to consider this option. We need palm trees to retain our identity.


8.4 SOAP-MAKING IN ALOR: A ONCE VIABLE CHEMICAL INDUSTRY Francis Agbazue 1. Introduction Soap has been an invaluable cleansing agent in the day-to-day affairs of man. There are even references to it in the Old Testament books, specifically Jeremiah and Malachi. There is evidence that some form of soap, made by boiling fat with ashes, was being used in Babylon as far back in time as 2800 BCE. Generations past observed hygiene and so must have had their own kinds of cleaning materials. In ancient Alor soap making industry thrived and people must have used the products as an important article of commerce. The evolution of the product is not at all clear, but it may be surmised that our forefathers arrived at soap-making by chance or by trial and error involving the use of ash for scrubbing and then progressed to boiling or heating ash with oil to produce a better scrubbing material.

The basic utility of soaps, detergents and similar cleansing agents is due to the fact that a typical soap molecule has two sides to it. One side is hydrophilic (water-loving) and easily dissolves in water. The other is side is hydrophobic (water-hating) and is able to dissolve grease molecules. Thus although grease will normally adhere to the skin or clothing, the soap molecules can form micelles (submicroscopic aggregation of molecules such as a droplet in a colloidal system) which surround the grease particles and force them to dissolve in water. This implies that, applied to a soiled surface, soapy water effectively holds particles in colloidal suspension which can then be rinsed off with clean water. The hydrophobic portion (consisting of a long-chain hydrocarbon) dissolves dirt and oils, while the ionic end dissolves in water. This way, water can remove normally insoluble matter by emulsification. Thus, while oil and water do not normally mix, addition of soap allows oils to dissolve in