Igbo names and spellings for various settlements
Abakaliki is Abankaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzö; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owere; Oyigbo is Obigbo... any more will be added.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The White Man on a Bike

“A stop & gossip on the road from Owerrinta to Owerri.” c. 1919-1932. MAA Cambridge.

The story of a white man dragged off a bicycle and killed while riding in the Igbo country has been told in different ways, even in Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart". The man, a doctor named Stewart, was actually killed due to mistaken identity during resistance to the British.

The incident happened in November 1905, in Mbaise, while Dr. Stewart was attempting to catch up with a convoy of colonial troops from Owere to Calabar by bicycle. He was captured and paraded through several areas and finally killed in the Afo market of Onicha Amairi, his body never found.

Stewart was actually mistaken for a man named Harold M. Douglas, the first District Commissioner of the new colonial Owerri District, who is noted in oral tradition and official colonial reports for his ruthlessness.

H. M. Douglas was noted for his focus on building roads which were built with forced labour gotten through Warrant Chiefs and the prisons. Douglas' reputation for abuse and the colonial imposition in general led to the intense hostility towards Europeans in the Owere area.

"Road making at Calabar." c. 1909.

The killing of Dr. Stewart was blamed on the Ahiara which led to the punitive Ahiara Expedition of December 1905 in which many lives and properties in the Ahiara area were lost. Whole villages were levelled and many were taken as prisoners.

Douglas Road, the main road through Owere town, was named after the brutal H. M. Douglas, so was Douglas House, the main seat of what is now the Imo State government.

During the earlier parts of the British colonial regime, roads, and later the railway, were built with forced labour. Prisoners were also used as slave labour in districts of the colonial government. Africans were sent to prison for minor offences to provide prison labour.

Colonial prison at Bende, early 20th century. British Museum.

Prisoners were even loaned out for private uses.

This impression was reinforced by the tendency of the British to use prisoners on administrative and even personal projects. In 1917, for example, the Church Missionary Society grounds at Awka were being maintained by fifty prisoners on loan from the local jail. District officers frequently assigned prisoners to carry the loads of touring officials and to work for local British firms. As though to emphasize the similarity to slave labor, the prison officials annually calculated the value in money of the work performed by prisoners. After the abolition of domestic slavery in 1907, a police patrol without British supervision visited Atani (Ogbaru Division) and seized sixty children who had recently been purchased as slaves. Although six of the children were returned to their northern Nigerian villages, the remainder were given to the police and to other Onitsha notables as domestic servants, on the sole condition that they be given mission educations. The slave owners of Atani were given no compensation whatever, and they could only conclude that the British and their agents had stolen their slaves for their own use. The argument that civilization required that all slaves be freed was lost on them, and for good reason.

– Robert D. Jackson (1975). The Twenty Years War. p. 209.

The British administration in the southeastern area was inefficient and inconsistent. Untrained colonial officers found themselves in isolated areas where many took advantage of the lack of supervision and the permission to use force and violence to quell the sporadic resistance to British imperialism in the area.

"Police Detachment. Bendi." c. 1909.

A district officer gives an example of forced labour wherein he kills a forced labourer for resisting, supposedly to thwart him from alarming others.

On any of these expeditions carriers are a most important consideration as you cannot get anywhere without them, and if any men selected by the chiefs for this work displayed reluctance or unwillingness, strong measures had to be taken at once, not only to uphold the authority of the chiefs but for the sake of other expeditions....
I waited with as much patience as I could command for perhaps an hour, and at last twenty men were brought and I ordered my native sergeant major to get the loads put on their heads. One great big fellow looked very sulky and showed unmistakeab1e signs of giving trouble, and I told two of my men to get hold of him. They attempted to do so, but they were in full marching order and carrying their rifles, and the instant they tried to grab him he hit out and sent them both flying like ninepins. The next second he was bolting for the bush. The interpreters shouted an order for him to stop, but he took no notice, and in a flash I realised that he must not be allowed to get away. Though he was by now fully fifty yards off and going hard, I managed to drop him with a lucky shot from my revolver.
It would have been fatal to let him escape, to tell his friends and tribesmen that white men with soldiers had tried to take him as a carrier, but that he had been too much for them, and had not only run away but had knocked down several armed men first! The story would have grown in the telling, and had it got about in the countryside it would have been a poor lookout ... for any other European who chanced to come along with a small escort or no escort at all....
In such emergencies you must think and act quickly--you can't sit down and hold a convention about it.

– Adams, By Force of Argument (RH MSS. Afr. s. 375 [4]) via Robert D. Jackson (1975). The Twenty Years War. p. 229-230.

Corruption and violence were prevalent during the ‘opening’ of communities of what is now southeastern Nigeria to European colonialism. It involved a series of battles lasting roughly from the 1880s to resistance movements lasting well into the 1920s. The people constantly tested the force of the imposing British, and the British control over of the area was strained and could be described as loose or nonexistent in certain cases. Violence became a persuasive tool that permeated all levels of the colonial administration, including through the 'native' warrant chiefs.

See: Robert D. Jackon (1975). The Twenty Years War. Felix K. Ekechi (1983). Portrait of a Colonizer: H. M. Douglas in Colonial Nigeria, 1897-1920.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The Igbo Tradition of Oratory

Photo: Postcard via the Library of Congress.

There's been focus on the importance of the individual's voice in Igbo societies. The following short examples examine traditions of consensus decision-making and how they have influenced behaviour, relationships, and communication.

Consensus decision-making in Igbo society lead to the development of a particular persuasive way of speaking. Misty L. Bastian on debates between missionaries and members of Önïcha society.

First, it is deemed polite in Igbo-speaking areas to use the terms of those with whom you are visiting or who are your guests. This politeness persists. For example, even today if there was one person in a room who did not speak Igbo, everyone who could do so would witch to a language of mutual intelligibility. Just because a person uses the outsider's terms does not mean that he or she has agreed with the terms' import. […] Such verbal twists and elaborate, ironic construction are common in the speech-play of modern-day Onitsha elders and are much applauded.

This indirect way of speaking, perhaps masked as politeness, would have developed as a way of pushing a particular idea or argument while trying not to offend or put off a particular section of the congregation. Balancing views may have made extremism avoidable.

Money was also a persuader and undermined other forms of leadership. An example among the Agbaja (present-day Enugu State). Interview of Noo Udala, aged c. 102, in Ụmụaga, Agbaja, June 19, 1973 by E. N. Okechukwu.

In fact, much respect was given to these titled men, who because of their wealth were known as ndị āmadị, as against ndị ogbènyè, the poor. These ndị āmadị then formed the governing council of the village or town. They took the initiative in calling meetings and soon, after some time, our elders were happy to be called to such meetings without any efforts to show the influence of their age at such meetings. During deliberations in the governing council of ndị āmadị, the suggestion made by an àmadị was more agreeable to those present than that of a poor elder, no matter if he was the eldest. I do not mean that we now have two separate governing councils. But what I am telling you is that even though the ndị ishi ànị̀ summoned meetings, the views of the rich titled men are more readily accepted. Both rich and poor still attended the council meetings.

In Igbo society, titled people are people of influence. Titles cost money. The more titles could mean the more influence. Titles symbolise success and also knowledge; title societies were centres of esoteric learning.

In the Igbo view, intelligent and therefore trustworthy people capable of leadership would, logically, be also wealthy. Compounds of wealthy people were used as meeting places for the community.

Photo: A meeting in an Igbo notable's compound, late 19th century. British Museum.

Even with more formal leadership, there was representation for various lineages, the core of Igbo society. In Önïcha, before colonisation, there were reportedly eight hidden kings in addition to the Obi of Önïcha representing original Önïcha lineages.

The Aro developed leadership from three kindreds. One of these Nna Atọ becomes Eze Aro. Under them were leaders, and under them lineage heads who take on individuals opinions. A similar structure exists in some other Igbo communities such as Asaba.

The role of the individual in Igbo society also factored in anti-colonisation movements such as Ekumeku and the Women's War. Philip A. Igbafe (1971). "Western Ibo Society and Its Resistance to British Rule".

The first Ekumeku outbreaks were regarded as an illustration of the people's inability to govern themselves. The British administration therefore decided to establish native courts in the centres of Ekumeku activities as a way of bringing the people under effective control. Further violent eruptions after the establishment of these courts pointed to some social ferment which generated an anti-European feeling in the Asaba hinterland and nurtured the growth of a well-organized resistance movement. The Ekumeku risings were then attributed to a lack of supervision of the native courts.

Finally, this tradition of oratory influenced independence era Igbo politicians. Raphael Chijoke Njoku (2013). "African Cultural Values". p. 152.

In the colonial society, the progressively oriented Igbo age-grade organization along with the modern political parties, served as a forum for leadership education. Within the age-grades, the future leaders trained in the art of public speech—an important marker for leadership in all societies. Thus, while the ability to speak, read, and write were inculcated in mission school graduates, the new elite also acquired the skills for public speech through participation in the various age-grades, secret societies, and other village forums. Ikoku, Ibiam, Azikiwe (who belonged to the Ndọkwaka age-grade in Onitsha in addition with membership in other fraternities), Ojike and KO—were all distinguished as political leaders by their knowledge and oratory skills. As members of these indigenous institutions, the elite learnt about the supremacy of institutional authority over that of the individual as practiced among the Igbo people. In public, power resides with the people and one's ability to persuade and convince them.

This social structure may explain why idiomatic expression is so important in the Igbo oral tradition, well known for its proverbs.

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