The Concise History of Ozizza
Ozizza is located at the northeastern border of Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. It is bounded on the East by the Akpoha community in Amoha Local Government Area; on the south by the Cross River basin and on the Northwest by Ugwuegu and Nkpogoro communities. The terrain is hilly, rough and rugged. The valleys and basin are rich agricultural lands. The people are mainly farmers, fishermen and traders.
The meaning of “Ozizza” is not clear and its origin has not been established by any acceptable oral tradition or research work. The name “Ozizza” has not been traced to any one person or group of persons. Nevertheless, legend has it that the place was used as an observation post by the armies of the Egus and Nkanus who had settled in different part of Ehugbo, to watch and report on the movement of any enemy group on the other side of Cross River who may attempt to cross over or launch an attack. From time to time, the guards at the out posts were invited by their leaders to report on their observations. Going to answer the call of the leaders was literarily interpreted as “Ozizza Oku.” The point from where the guards take off to answer the call was then called “Ozizza.”
When the Egus and Nkanus withdrew their guards from the outposts the new settlers who took over the place retained the name “Ozizza” This legend has neither tradition, historical nor anthropological support nor has any authority refuted it.
The First Dwellers in the Various Villages
Oral tradition has it that the first person to settle in Amorie was Edemoke. He is believed to have traveled from Nri in the Igbo hinterland of the present Anambra State. His journeys took him through the fringes of the Cross-River at Igbo Ekureku from where he crossed the Akpoha creek to where we now call Ameta. From Ameta he came to Agba in the present Amorie.
When he left Nri, he collected a fragment of the then famous Igbo Nrijuju for his protection. On his journey from Igbo Ekureku to Agba, he saw a mighty cave containing deep blue water and inhabited by dangerous reptiles, crocodiles and tigers. He entered the water and put the fragment of the Igbo Nri juju in it and offered sacrifices to it, thus turning the cave into the home of the powerful Nri deity. As subsequent settlers joined him in the area now called Ozizza, he introduced them to the powerful deity who they accepted to be superior to all other gods they had known; hence they renamed it (Eze-ayi-Ozizza) the king of Ozizza. The crab is the symbol of the juju. The crab was originally called “Icha,” hence the name Ozizza Icha.
The chronological order of the arrivals of the other settlers in Ozizza after Edemeke is not clear. So permit me to start with just any one.
The founder of Orra is Akpu-Eke-Ude, hence the name Orra Ndi Akpueke. His Original name was Akpu-Ike-Ude. He settled in a place now called Ezi Akpueke. He migrated from Aro-chukwu through Atani to the Cross-River. He joined the Abiriba, Ohofia and Edda warriors who were ravaging settlements on the Cross-River basin in search of the Egus and Nkanus whom they heard were moving towards the Cross-River at Ikwo and Uvuruekpe areas.
At Akunakuna, Akpa-Ike decamped and made his way to join Igbo ukwu who was already conquering the area now known as Eho-Igbo (Ehugbo) better called “Umuigbo.” As Igboukwu and his Nkanu warriors moved towards Igbo hinterland, Akpa-Ike moved towards eastward on the fringes of the Cross-River and finally settled on a hill overlooking the Cross-Rivera at a point now called Orra. He was later joined by Ina-Aja.
Ina-aja had lived together with his brother Oboro-iyi at Ebetu in Amikpo until trouble came between them arising from an accusation of adultery against Ina-Aja. He left Ebetu and travelled southward in agony and pain of heart, until he finally settled at the present Ezi Egwu in Agbogo Orra. He came with a juju called Ebetuto to unite him with his brother — Oboro Iyi.
Ina-Aja made his wife the chief priest of Ebetu, which he crowned the goddess of fertility and made it part of the Ogo-cult. This accounts for why, once in a year, the daughters of Ina-Aja wherever they may live in Ehugbo return to their ancestral home at Ezi Egwu in Agbogo Orra to renew their initiation into the Ogo-cult. On that day, women take over Ogo while the men retreat to their homes throughout the night.
Imama is properly called Imama-Okpoto. This is because Okpoto is the founder of Imama. He migrated from Aro-chukwu from where he joined the Abiriba, Edda, and Ohofia army, which moved into Igbo hinterland where they overran small Awgu and Ishiagu villages until they met with stiff opposition from the Ezza nation at Agba Isu in the present Onicha local government area.
Okpoto was a powerful, fearsome man. After the Agb war, Okpoto began to travel alone, levying his own war and winning battles until he came in contact with the Egus who overpowered him and banished him to the Cross-River. At a point close to the Cross River, he settled in a place now called Ovum in Imama. He was a great wrestler and a warlord. Before long, all other settlers in Ozizza recognized his prowess in war and wrestling hence all wars that involved the whole of ozizza were organized and took off from his Ovum settlement. Great wrestlers in Ozizza were discovered and celebrated at his Ogo Ovum hence the name “Ogo Ukwu.”
Amikpo was founded by the duo of Oboro Iyi and Ina-Aja. Oboro Iyi was the elder brother of ina-Aja. They both migrated from the central Igbo land to Aro-chukwu where they got in touch with the Atani warriors. Together they moved upstream of the Cross River until they came to Akunakuna where they settled and lived for a long time. At Akunakuna, they acquired a goddess of fertility which they called Ebetu. Because it was the god of fertility, Oboro Iyi’s wife became its first chief priest. From Akunakuna they travelled to “Ubaka” a village in Bahumono clan of Cross River state from where they crossed the river and settled at a place which they later called “Ebetu” in honor of their god of fertility. It was from Ebetu that Ina-Aja migrated to Agbogo Orra.
I wish to state clearly that the history told above about the origin of the various villages in Ozizza is based purely on oral traditions, myths, legends, etc., handed down over from generation to generation and authenticated by affected physical features, evidence, tools and instrument used by ancient settlers in the places mentioned in this write up. My interview with very old men of sound minds from different villages in Ozizza at different times and under different circumstances went a long way to corroborate the preachment of oral tradition, myths and legends. This write up is not an authoritative account. It is aimed at stocking the interest of the younger citizens of Ozizza to go into full scale research as to how they came to be where they are today: What is the Origin of Ozizza?
Cultural and Religious Background
I am fascinated by the definition of culture as contained in the Merrian Webster’s third new international dictionary, which defines culture as:
“the total pattern of human behavior and its products embedded in thought, speech, action, artifacts, dress codes, customary beliefs, social funds and material traits constituting a distinct complex of tradition of a racial, religious or social group.”
In Ozizza as well as in other parts of Ehugbo, culture abounds. It permeates and dominates every aspect of the people’s life and like a web, Ehugbo culture is summarized in the “Ogo cult,” which in itself is hierarchical and very secretive and finally tied to the life and death of the people.
Culture is dynamic; Ehugbo culture is inclusive. No wonder, our people’s culture has been affected by the dynamic forces of education, Christian religion, civilization, industrialization, information technology, medical science, etc. These have combined to cause changes in our ways of life such as our food habits, belief systems, dress forms, music, dance steps, festivals, yearly calendar, institutions, marriage rights, womanhood, etc.
In Ozizza, before this era of radical changes, the people observed and celebrated various cultural activities and celebrations which included Iri-ji, wrestling (Mgba), Iko Okochi, Iko Ezeayi, Iko Onu-oka, Iko Udumini, female circumcision, Iko Erusi (Okwanta) various initiation ceremonies marking the progress of a male child through the hierarchical stages of the Ogo cult, etc.
Each celebration or observation was marked by appropriate solemnity or festivity which makes the day to stand out from all other days in the native calendar, with its peculiar music, dance steps, food items, code of behavior, language system including animal and spiritual noises, etc. These celebrations and observations gave pomp, vigour morality and decency to the traditional people as they insisted on total obedience to their traditional code of behavior under the pain of severe cleansing rites, ostracism or death in extreme cases.
Ikpe-Egwu, Erebe and Ikpo-Oke-Okwu were the three pillars which supported the cultural life of Ehugbo people by providing deterrence/punishment for breach of cultural norms or breach of law and order. The fear of the consequences to one’s family if visited with punishment was the beginning of wisdom. People feared them like the white patch of leprosy on the forehead and avoided any act that attracted any of them.
With the advent of western education and Christian religion, these forces of morality were gradually eroded, declared fetish and indices of backwardness and allowed to die without putting anything in their place to check moral decay and criminality. With time society broke loose with no practical sanctions to intervene except the precept of the Bible which depended on individual conscience. No wonder, Okumkpo Ozizza in 1993, lamenting the situation said, “Ikpe-Egwu alaga wo; Erebe alaga wo; Oke-Okwu alaga wo.” It then asked: on which moral code do we bring up our children (ayi ji ngini jee azu umu)?
Religion has been variously defined by different authorities, but the definition I admire most is the one I find in Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, which reads thus:
“Belief in the existence of a supernatural ruling power, the creator and controller of the universe, who has given to man a spiritual nature which continues to exist after the death of the body.”
The African (like members of other races of the world) is polytheistic. His lack of scientific knowledge makes him to wonder with awe at any object or place whose shape, size or form differs markedly from what he had known others to be. When his wonder turns into fear he begins to worship that object or place; hence he has the sun god, the moon god, god of the sea, war god, god of fertility, god of harvest, etc. In the same way the ancient Ozizza man created and worshiped many gods such as Eze Ayi Ozizza, Ebetu, Evegere enyum, Ika, Nkpume-Ukwu. This was in addition to the other gods worshipped by other Ehugbo people such as Ibini Ukpabi, Njoku, Nkamalu, Eguru Chi Owoko, Oma-ezi, etc. Individuals, families and kindred also create and worship their own gods depending on their spiritual and physical needs.
Ogo is the most powerful god worshiped by Ehugbo people. It is a cult of secrets, the initiation into which is graded and entered into in stages as one develops the capacity to keep secrets. Initiation into Ogo cult heralds the attainment of manhood by any male child. Without being initiated into the ogo, the male child is not permitted to get married; and if by mistake he impregnates a woman, his right ear would be cut off. In the same vein, an uninitiated boy could not go to war even when his family is under attack. This is because an uninitiated boy is not considered capable of handling manly situations.
Christian religion is a new comer to Ozizza. It was first brought to the people in 1913 by the church of Scotland Mission (CSM), now Presbyterian Church of Nigeria (PCN). It took off at Ezi Akpueke in Orra where the missionaries established a small primary school. The school lasted for two years before it was closed down because teachers flogged the son of a prominent chief who ordered them out of the village for daring to flog his son. However the school was reopened in 1916, this time at the present site of the Presbyterian Church, Ozizza.
In 1924 the school was transferred to Ukpa, the present location Ukpa/Amachara primary School. The Presbyterian Church continued to survive with very few members until 1947 when it was joined by the Catholic Church. With the two churches the Christian faith began to grow. Today there are about a dozen Christian denominations struggling for membership in Ozizza.
Author: Chief Brendan O. Otu (KSM)
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