By Osita Ebiem
Amuzam my home town is a quiet countryside of Igbo land. It is less than thirty kilometers from Enugu. My umbilical cord remains buried there in my father’s compound in Onunkwo. Someday my last remains will also finally be interred in Amuzam and my spirit will join the many generations of our departed ancestors. That is the tradition; an important Igbo tradition – an Igbo dead is taken back home to lie among his or her people. Though presently I am resident in New York far away from Amuzam, through my buried umbilical cord I have maintained an unbroken connection with the town of my ancestors. Ever since I left home there is hardly a day that passed without my reminiscing the many episodes of escapades and fun days of my pre- and teenage years.
Igwe Amuzam has just died and will be buried around the end of October 2018. Amuzam is a small town on the edge of Ugbawka’s eastern boundaries with Agbani. Esu flows through the middle of the town and since Amuzam founding by the revered patriarch Agbushi about two hundred and fifty years ago, it has sustained the many generations of Uzamites. It has provided the bulk of Amuzam’s domestic water needs. Amuzam enjoys adequate rain falls and has never needed to irrigate its farms. Esu flows all year round and it’s fordable in all seasons. Occasionally it overflows its banks but it will quickly recede back to its sandy bed in a matter of hours. We also have Iyakpu, Nneche and Obenebe. But apart from Iyakpu the rest two are annual rivulets. They come alive in mid rainy seasons and dry up completely in the dry season.
Everybody in Amuzam is related to the next person. It’s a tight-knit community of a people who trace their ancestral linage to one man, Agbushi. When I was growing up my mother talked about everybody as her brother or sister, I was always confused because I knew that she was the only child of her mother. I also knew that though she was the first child of her father that she had three other brothers and two sisters by her father.
Like in most other Igbo city states, Amuzam and the rest of Ugbawka ran its society through the elders’ council which made the laws and established the norm and traditions. The youthful age graders enforced the laws as made by the elders. There was nothing like a ruler or an individual who embodied all authorities and power of the town. In some Igbo societies where there were things that resembled individual rulers, they were more like priestly kings who were leaders rather than rulers and their authorities and powers were distributed and excesses were always checked. So in actual fact the entire Igbo had never had rulers but leaders. As a rule, rules, its enforcement, the justice system and the general administration of the town have always resided in the people rather than in any one individual.
However with the coming of the Europeans and their interference in the Igbo traditional society, this order changed. The change distorted Igbo society, its traditions, values and even identity. Ever since this disruption the Igbo has remained an empty shell of its self – an unrecognizable hollow mockery of its old self.
How the change happened
When colonial Britain finally subdued the Igbo with guns, they were anxious to collect revenues or taxes from the people. Due to how the original traditional Igbo society was organized it was difficult and would be more expensive for the Europeans since they would have to bring in more expatriates to go into the villages and towns to collect the taxes. There were no individuals to whom the Igbo rallied to as rulers who would have served as Britain’s central revenue collectors. Individual leaders in Igbo attained their positions through honorable personal achievements in war, hunting, wealth acquisition, wrestling marches, personal piety, etc. These attainments were never traditional and never outlived the individual achievers. They were always buried with the individuals when they died. The offspring were left to chart their own path and prove themselves for any position they must occupy in Igbo society.
So, for the colonial British to maximize their revenue collection from the people, they needed to establish a kind of structure or institution for this purpose. They had to use oppressive and intimidating characters to achieve this. Such obnoxious individuals would go down to the grassroots to intimidate and force out the taxes from the people. For them the people who would do this effectively had to be those individuals who never respected the people’s traditions and culture. These in the traditional Igbo society were regarded as the never-do-wells, the abani di egwu, the thieves and robbers.
These individuals were people at the fringes of the society and had no regards for society’s values; the things that their people stood for. These were the people that the British chose and made them warrant chiefs and gave to them all kinds of meaningless and disruptive titles. These titles were strange and designed to erode the people’s established social, political and traditional institutions. Such titles never had and still do not have any place in Igbo land. So, with the Europeans’ guns these indigenous criminals intimidated and extorted the natives and became laws unto themselves. They extorted the people with impunity and desecrated all sacred Igbo traditions and culture. The British did not care so long as the revenues continued to flow into the treasury of the British Crown.
Igbo people never had what is understood by the Europeans as kings, queens, princes and princesses. Traditional rulers, princes, princesses, Igwe, chiefs, and most other titles are anomalies and do not belong among the Igbo. They are destructively disruptive foreign creations that must be rejected and thrown in the garbage. They were originally ill-conceived and intended for the denigration and belittling of the Igbo. By rejecting this besmirching foreign absurdities and distractions the Igbo must undertake to reform and reposition themselves and their land for real progress and development.
This pervasive strange European intrusion explains why Amuzam chose as its ruler five years ago a person who was known to all Uzamites and beyond as a man with shady character, a thief and a fraudster. Okonkwo Eze ruled as Amuzam’s traditional ruler with the phony title of Igwe for about five years. Now he is dead. A new leader would be elected one year from now after the traditional rites and mourning of the dead.
When the new leader would be elected Amuzam as a part of the larger Igbo must revert and defer to its original Igbo way. In place of choosing a ruler, Amuzam should choose to run its society through a constituted council of elders as the leaders and custodians of the people’s traditions. There has to be recognized and established checks that ensure that those who seat in these councils would not earn the positions by mere reason of being old or being wealthy. In the traditional Igbo society even young people do seat in the elders’ council hence the saying that nwata kwuo aka osoro okenye rie ihe. The youth who has proved themselves worthy; wise and honorable, can partake from the same plate the elders are eating from.
Those who traditionally seat in the elders’ council in Igbo land are reputed as men of integrity, impeccable and without reproach. The council members usually would have gone through the traditional rite of washing or cleansing of the tongue. After which they could no longer tell lies, deceive or pervert justice. They are usually men and women who lived uprightly by making sure that they attained and acquired their achievements; their wealth and positions and conducted their dealings with fellow men and women by adhering strictly to the traditional principles of Ofor and Ikenga.
In keeping with this Igbo traditional heritage, the next Amuzam traditional leaders one year from now must not be thieves, fraudsters, dishonest and persons of shady characters. Nihi n’obodo mee ndi ori ndi ndu ha obodo nine ga aghoro obodo ndi ori.