Original

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.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ Tolls

An Ekpe masquerader in Uzuakoli, present-day Abia State. Photographed by G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.

Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀ members controlled important roads in the eastern Igbo area. British imperial interests ran against this system.

Passing by Abruki, which had, however, to be " dashed " in the usual way, we arrived in the evening at Omo-pra [Ụmụ̀ọpara?], the last mile or two into the town being more like an avenue in England, shaded by splendid trees, than a wild roadway in Africa. […] Under a lowering sky, and in a, slight drizzle of rain, we left Omo-pra early the next morning[.]
On the way we passed by quite a picturesque ruin of a conko [Ọ̀kọ̀nkọ̀]—or club—house, standing almost on the road. It was covered with one mass of convolvulus, which grows quite like a weed in these parts, creeping and twining over bushes, shrubs, and trees, but is, for all that, pretty and effective, with its various tints of lilac and purple, enlivening the otherwise sombre foliage with light and colour.
Ekpe clubhouse in Bende, early 20th century. P. A. Talbot. Wellcome Collection.
It appears that these conko-houses are nothing but toll bars—hence their close proximity to roads—to join which members have to pay a certain entrance fee. The custom is for certain members to take it in turn to sit there and demand toll from all people passing with goods for trade or who make use of the road for their own purpose. If this is refused, the club members plunder the goods, and in many cases seize the owners, or drive them away. The priests, it is almost needless to say, form the leading members of these institutions, and when necessary to produce an effective impression, Ju Ju is used, for the connection between the conko-houses and Ju Ju-ism is extremely close and binding. In plain words, conko is nothing but part and parcel of a pernicious system of levying blackmail that seems to prevail all over the country—a system which is in a great measure, I imagine, responsible for the closing of roads and the stoppage of trade. A system which at times recoils on itself, however, for it is on this very account that the club-house in question has fallen into ruins.

– Major Arthur Glyn Leonard (1898). Notes of a Journey to Bende. In: The Journal Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society. pp. 196-197.

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