Nri is an ancient Igbo city-state in Anambra State Nigeria. The Kingdom of Nri was a center of learning, religion, and commerce in pre-colonial West Africa. Historians have compared the significance of Nri, at its peak, to the religious cities of Rome or Mecca: it was the seat of a powerful and imperial state that influenced much of the territories inhabited by the Igbo of Awka and Onitsha to the east; the Efik, the Ibibio, and the Ijaw to the South; Nsukka and southernIgala to the north; and Asaba, and the Anioma to the west. The rulers of Nri did not use military conquest, but used religious authority and control of commercial routes as tactics in the spread of their city-state. Politically, Nri is known to be the most ancient origins of the Eze kingship in Igbo societies. But Nri and its rulers were also known for their occult religious Juju, an institution that instilled both awe and fear in those who made pilgrimages to the shrine.
Commercially, Nri was against slave holding. During the colonial period, Nri and the regions under its political, religious, or commercial control became international markets for palm oil. In the heart of Nri influence was the Igbo Ukwu bronze castings.
NRI KINGDOM is the oldest Kingdom in Nigeria. It was founded around 900AD by the progenitor, Eri, the son of Gad. According to biblicalaccounts, Jacob had Leah as his wife who begot four sons for him. When Leah noticed she had passed child-bearing age, she gave her maid – servant, Zilpah to Jacob to wife, and through Zilpah he had a son named Gad. Gad then bigot Eri, who later formed a clan known as Erites vide Genesis Chapter 30 verse 9; 46 verse 16 and Numbers chapter 26 verses 15-19. Eri was therefore amongst the twelve tribes of Israel via Gad.
During their stay in Egypt Eri became the high priest and spiritual adviser to Pharaoh Teti, the fifth dynastic king of Egypt around 2400 BC.
During the Exodus, which marked the beginning of the mass movement of the tribes of Israel, the tribe of Eri was amongst the tribe that left Egypt following the injunction from God to the Israelites (see Deuteronomy chapter 28 verses 58 – 68). Some of these tribes founded settlements in the southern part of Sudan, where they established the “Nok” culture, which is similar to that of other (sun Cult) culture, like Nri, Fiji, Samoa, and Jukun in the Northern part of Nigeria and elsewhere. But others who could not remain in the Southern Sudan traveled further South, some branched off to Jukun, in Northern part of Nigeria, others continued and arrived at the confluence of Rivers Niger and Anambara known as “Ezu-na-Ọmambala” and settled there while some veered off to the Island of Fiji in the South Pacific Ocean. An intelligence report notes that the Fijians have the same sun culture with the people of Nri.
When Eri arrived at the confluence of “Ezu-na-Ọmambala” he had two wives, namely Nneamakụ and Oboli, Nneamakụ begot five children, namely (a) Nrifikwuanịm-Menri being the first son (b) Agụlụ (c) Ogbodudu (d) Onogu and (e) Iguedo the only daughter. Oboli begot Ọnọja, the only son who founded the Ịgala Kingdom in Kogi State. Meanwhile, Nri-Ifikwuanịm begot Agụkwu Nri, Enugwu-Ukwu, Enugwu-Agidi, Nọfịa, and Amọbia, while his brother Ogbodudu who later became Nrinaoke N’Ogbodudu had founded the Diodo Dynasty, while his brother Ezikannebo founded Akamkpịsị and Amanuke. Onogu Begot Ịgbariam, while Iguedo, the only daughter, begot Ogbunike, Ọkuzu, Nando, Ụmụleri, and Nteje, Known today as Ụmụ-Iguedo clan, while the former are better known as Ụmụ-Nri clan. According to Nri Oral tradition recently substantiated by archaeological findings of Ọraeri/Igbo-Ukwu objects, the unification of Agukwu, Diodo, and Akamkpịsị was enacted constitutionally during the beginning of reign of Nribụife (AD 1159 – 1252) who was the first Eze Nri to observe the Ịgụ-Arọ Festival as a pan – Igbo affair in 1160AD (Prof. M.A. Ọnwụejeọgwu 2003).
Nri-Ifikwuanịm took after his progenitor Eri, and became a high priest among his people. He left Agụleri in search of a better living place, according to Mr. M.D.W. Jeffreys report, and settled at present Nri site. He started performing what Eri did at Egypt, cleansing of abominations, giving titles such as prestigious Ọzọ title, to his people, proclaiming the New Year (Ịgụ-Arọ) etc.
ỊGỤ-ARỌ: Ịgụ-Arọ is an annual festival of the Nri people. It is during this festival that Eze Nri proclaims the New Year to all the Igbo communities under his jurisdiction, and he then announces the Nri calendar to the people. The Nri calendar is made up of thirteen (13) Lunar months namely:
(1) Ọnwa Mbụ (1st moon) starts from 3rd week in February each year.
(2) Ọnwa Abụa (2nd moon) March to April, (clearing and farming).
(3) Ọnwa Ife Eke (3rd moon) April to May (Ụganị or hunger period)
(4) Ọnwa Ana (4th moon) May to June (planting seed yams).
(5) Ọnwa Agwụ (5th moon) Ịgọchi and mmanwụ (Adult Masquerades) June-July.
(6) Ọnwa Ifejiọkụ (6th moon) Yam Ritual (Ifejiọkụ) July –August.
(7) Ọnwa Alọm Chi (7th moon) Yam Harvest (For Alụsị only) comes up August to early September.
(8 Ọnwa Ilo Mmụọ (8th moon) Ọnwa Asatọ festival (September ending).
(9) Ọnwa Ana (9th moon) Ana Ritual comes up in October.
(10) Ọnwa Okike (10th moon) Okike ritual takes place in early November.
(11) Ọnwa Ajana (11th moon) Okike ritual takes place in November ending.
(12) Ọnwa Ede Ajana (12th moon) comes up in ending of November to early December.
(13) Ọnwa Ụzọ Alụsị (13th moon) offering to Alụsị (early January to early February).
The Nri were great innovators in rituals, diplomacy, economy, administration, and management of a segmented and decentralized people. The Lunar system of calculating the year with a system of adjustment was known to the Nri priests of Alụsị Arọ and the knowledge of the movement of the heavenly bodies were employed in calculation the lunar year, according to Northcote Thomas (M.A. Frai) a British Government Anthropologist who served in Ọka District in the early 20th century, in 1910 he reported he got names from the following heavenly bodies at Nri-Pleiades, Orion and Great Bear. Therefore Nri elders had clear knowledge of these stars and others which helped them in calculating the intervals between each Lunar period and finding their directions during their sojourn from one Igbo Village to another in both the semi – forest and the forest zones.
During the Ịgụ-Arọ Festival, Eze Nri proclaims the New Year; he also distributes seed yams to the Igbo People and asked them to go home and farm. He tells the people that after his Ịgụ-Arọ, approximately within four days but certainly not more than three native weeks (Izu Anọ) “you will have the first rainfall, so after this rainfall you can go ahead to cultivate your crop”.
Eze – Nri introduced the cowrie currency (Ego ayo), and a sophisticated system of using cowrie as a medium of exchange and valuation was developed in the Igbo cultural area. The system of calculation and the table of conversion used in the Nri area in the late Nineteenth century were as follows:
1 Mkpụlụ Ego = 1 Cowrie
6 Mkpụlụ Ego = 6 Cowries = 1 isi ego
10 Isi Ego = 60 Cowries = 1 Ukwu
20 Ukwu = 1,200 Cowries = 1 Afịa
20 Afịa = 2,400 cowries = 1 Akpa ego or ili Afịa
10 Akpa (bags) = 240,000 cowries = Nnu Afịa.
Fowls and bags were valued in Ukwu, goats and sheep in Afịa, cows, slaves and land in ili Afịa. Bride wealth was negotiated in nnu, never to exceed four Nnu Afịa. Iron bars and rods, copper bars and rods and manilas were valued in terms of cowries. In order to facilitate carrying them around for transaction, cowries were strung together in rows of sixes and sewn permanently on mats in bundles of 6, 1,200, 24,000, and 240, 000. The mats were rolled, loose ones were tied in bags of 24,000 called akpa.
Prof. M. Angulu Onwuejeogwu equally reported the conversion of cowries to British currencies this way. At the beginning of the 19th century, the British introduced the pound, shillings and pence #, s. d. currency system. This new system was resisted in various ways. First a dual currency system was developed, traditional goods were sold in cowries and European goods in British currency. Later cowries could buy British currency and British currency could buy cowries. By a system of haggling, the exchange rate varied and was determined by several factors. As more European goods began to penetrate without replacement, the British currency backed by law, became dominant. In 1925, the following rate of exchange was still operating in many rural markets.
10 cowries = 1/2d (Half Penny)
20 cowries = 1d (One Penny)
60 cowries = 3d (Three Pence)
120 cowries = 6d (Six Pence)
240 cowries = 1/- (one shilling)
1200 cowries = 5/-(Five Shillings)
1400 cowries = ₤1 (one pound)
24,000 cowries = ₤5 (Five Pounds)
120,000 cowries = ₤25 (Twenty five pounds)
Having introduced trading and currency which was the cowrie system, and having worked out the rate of exchange to accommodate the British traders and their currency system, Eze Nri introduced a sort of local system for people with extra money to keep on this Prof. M. Angulu Onwuejeogwu 1981 writes:
In Nri, a rudimentary local banking system developed, during the slave trade period, men with strong buildings began to keep the cowries of other people in return for commission. Such men became very rich and were able to give a capital loan to persons who wished to begin a trading venture. No fixed rate of interest was paid, one had to haggle over the interest called Ọmụlụnwa on the principal, isi ego.
Stock Exchange was introduced for the first time in Nri, for instance stock exchange was associated with Ọzọ title. In this system, a person who had belonged to one of the alliance groups called Ogwe Mmuo. The candidate for the title will purchase a total of Nine (9) shares known as “Ọfọ Itenanị”. The shares are known as “Ọfọ” the stall of immortality. The Ọzọ titled man will get his entitlements depending on the number of Ọfọ Ọzọ he has. An Ọzọ man with nine Ọfọ Ọzọ will be entitled to nine shares whenever a new person took the title and made payment. One could sell his Ọfọ, except three, within his Ọzọ group at a loss or profit, whenever he is in need of money. He could use his Ọfọ as security for a loan, the person giving the loan will take the shares allocated to the Ọfọ whenever payments of share were made until the capital and interest were paid back by the owner of the Ọfọ. If a man dies his male children will inherit the total Ọfọ Ọzọ and the allocated shares. Shares of Ọfọ Ọzọ lapses two years after the man’s death, it is known as ovunisi. The family of the dead Ọzọ man will continue to take all shares accruing from the Ọfọ Ọzọ left. The son could use one of the Ọfọ Ọzọ in taking his own Ọzọ title. If he did this he would continue to take shares accruing from his own Ọfọ and those inherited. If he has brothers, the Ọfọ Ọzọ of their father would be shared according to the law of inheritance in Nri. (Northcote W. Thomas, M.A, F.R.A.I) 1913.
The Ọfọ, the staff of immortality, ritual and political authority was converted into a type of security certificate. Nri used the ritual system to achieve economic enhancement via Stock Exchange. This cultural civilization was introduced to Igbo – land before the coming of the British Colonial Administration. Therefore, Nri bequeathed this highly civilized pattern of exchange to Igbo – land.
Eze – Nri introduced the four market days to the Igbo Land, namely Eke, Oye (Orie), Afọ and Nkwọ. In each of the communities where the Eze – Nri establishes these markets, he will keep one of his Alụsị (Deity at that market square, and leave one of his agents to take care of that Alụsị. The inhabitants of that community will pay allegiance to the Eze – Nri through that agent, especially during the Ịgụ – Arọ ceremony of Eze – Nri.
It is on record in Igbo land that Eze – Nri introduced agriculture in Igboland. He introduced yam, cocoyam, and other cash crops in Igbo – land. That is why at every Ịgụ – Arọ ceremony, His Majesty the Eze – Nri will share out seed – yams to the people present, to go and plant. This symbolizes the introduction of yam to the Igbo race.
LIST OF PAST EZE – NRI AND ORDER OF REIGN:
(1) Nri – Ifikuanịm 1043 – 1158
(2) Nri – Namoke (from Diodo) 1090 – 1158
(3) Nri – Buife (From Obeagụ Unified Ọfọ N’alọ Agukwu and Diodo) 1159 – 1259
(4) Nri – Ọmalọ (Uruọji) 1260 – 1299
(5) Nri – Jiọfọ 1 (Agbadana) 1300 – 1390
(6) Nri – Ọmalonyeso (Obeagu) 1391 –1464
(7) Nri – Anyamata (Uruọji) 1465 – 1511
(8) Nri – Fenenu (Agbadana) 1512 – 1582
(9) Nri – Agụ (Obeagu) 1583 – 1676
(10) Nri – Apia and Nri – Alike (both from Uruọji died the same day) 1677 – 1700
(11) Nri – Ezimilo (Agbadana) 1701 – 1723
(12) Nri – Enwenetem (Agbadana) 1724 – 1794
(13) Nri – Enwelana 1 (Obeagu) 1795 – 1886
(14) Nri – Ọbalike (Uruọji) 1889 – 1936
(15) Nri – Jiofọ II Taabansi Udene (Agbadana) 1937 – 1987
(16) Nri – Enwelana II Obidiegwu Onyeso (MFR) (Obeagu) 1988 – Presen