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The Polity in Traditional Edda Society
November 15, 2009
In traditional Edda society, it was inevitable that politics would delineate the perimeters of socio-economic and general development relations. Igbo political structure was largely defined by blood ties with which some patrilineal links could be established. Social organization began with the family as the prime unit with possibilities of aggregation up to the level of the village, village groups/towns or community. Villages therefore, have blood links which make everybody related to everyone else.
The political, social and religious organizations of the Edda cannot be delineated clearly, and they originate from the compound (Ezi) through the village (Ogo) to the town/village group and clan (Edda) levels.
The oldest member of the compound (Eze Ezi) presides at every meeting concerning the “Ezi,” attends to the gods of the compound and represents it in the affairs of the village. Decisions at the “Ogbaku Ezi” are normally reached by consensus, but the influence the head of the compound commands depends largely on his sagacity and perspicacity. Matters not agreed upon amicably are referred to the village assembly (Nzuko Ogo).
Next in the political hierarchy of the Edda is the village (Ogo) assembly at which the various Eze Ezi and their lieutenants represent their “Ezi.” Also, any male adult is free to attend the Ogo assembly so long as it will not create rancour.
The village assembly is presided over by the oldest member of the most senior Ezi (that is the eldest son of the founder) and like at the compound level, decisions at the Ogo assembly have to be reached by consensus.
The assembly functions both as a legislative and judicial body, while executive roles are left to selected able-bodied young men of the village or age grade (Ukejiogo) at any given period. When a decision is reached, it is the duty of the “Oku Ogele” (Royal Messenger) to inform, with his metal gong (Ogele), the entire village – going from one compound to the other. He does this, of course, by the order of the village head.
The head of the village assembly also presides at adjudicative matters and is responsible for attending to the principal gods of the village. He may however, delegate matters concerning the smaller gods to the Chief Priest who will consult with him and his cabinet. The Ukejiogo have to be in attendance at both the village and adjudicative assemblies and contribute to their deliberations.
Where decisions are not reached on any matter, it is referred to the town assembly.
Town Village Group
The heads of the villages and their lieutenants constitute the Council of Elders of the town; with the head of the most senior village (that is the village where the founder of the town first settled) presiding. Known as “Ezeogo,” this elder presides as well over the Judicial Council, Town Assembly and religious matters (as the one who attends to the principal deities of the town). Every male adult is free to attend the town assembly.
Like at the compound and village levels, the Ezeogo does not take decisions arbitrarily and decisions - by consensus – are announced to the town through the Royal Messenger who beat the “Ikpirikpe” (Igba) round the villages constituting the town.
“Omu” is used when major decisions are being announced, and it is only the Ezeogo that has the prerogative to do that. He does this at the market or village square with the heads of the villages that make up the town (or their representatives) in attendance. At the end of the announcement, the Ezeogo throws out a leaf of the Omu leaf on the Nkwa which stands in the village square (Ama Ogo). This is an indication to all members of the village that an important announcement has been made and in this way the message is passed on to everybody in the town.
Decisions and Decrees that the Omu is usually announced with include:
The town assembly has no fixed periods for meeting and it can be summoned as the occasion warrants. The Royal Messenger with his gong would normally to inform the citizens of a meeting, but in an emergency the “Ikoro” (wooden log drum or tom-tom) is used.
The age grades feature prominently at the level of the town/village group administration. Their organization cuts across other ties such as family, compound, lineage and village and the age grades – especially those under 45 years of age – are often used by the Council of Elders to implement its decisions.
At this level, age grades in Edda provide vital media for mobilization and co-operation for work, war, government and entertainment. An age grade, preferably the one next to the newly-retired grade, is elected or appointed “Ukejiogo” by the Council of Elders. Retirement comes at the age of about sixty/sixty-five or when the community finds the Ukejiogo incompetent.
Members of the Ukejiogo have to see to the maintenance of peace, law, order and the successful fulfillment of development projects by all those concerned. Once appointed, Ukejiogo, an age grade is exempted from manual labor or payment of levies. They rather would supervise other age grades (known as “Akpu Uke Asaa” – the militant and labor age grades) in their assigned tasks, collect fines and render account to the Council of Elders. The “Ukejiogo” are responsible for both the security of the town and the discipline of the citizens – whether as individuals or groups such as age grades.
Edda Clan Political Organization
As the highest body in the hierarchy of Edda political organization, the Clan Assembly (Nzuko Edda) meets less frequently than the other assemblies and is open to representatives of each of the seventy-two villages in Edda, no matter how small.
In reality, not all the villages send representatives as some are, by tradition regarded as integral parts of others irrespective of their size. Such village groups which can exercise much influence over decisions at the assembly due to their sheet size and dynamism are Nguzu with four villages. Ekoli (twelve), Ebunwana (five), Owutu (seven), Amangwu (nine) and Oso (nine).
The “Eze Edda” from Eziukwu Ifuogo Nguzu presides, assisted by Igboeze or Uduligbo of Ezi-Ukwu, Nkagbogo Ekoli Edda.
The Clan Assembly is of two types, namely Atamata and Osisioma; the former being the higher assembly. They are situated at the village square of Ifuogo Nguzu and at Eketa, some two kilometers from Ekoli, respectively. As the hightst authority, decisions on declaration of war and matters relating to life, death and slavery are taken at the assembly without any options or appeal. Every village or village group therefore, tries to ensure that its representatives are intelligent and vocal enough to guard against manipulation and disgrace.
Age grades do not normally feature at “Nzuko Edda” as they are fully utilized at the village and town levels and there is no common age grade that cuts across the clan. They are however, mobilized for such communal effort as war when every village or village group is mandated to send her able-bodied age grades in defence of the interest of the fatherland.
Unlike most other parts of Igbo land and like in areas such as Onitsha in Anambra State, the “Ezeogoship” (Kingship) is hereditary in Edda. However, heredity is not necessarily from father to son. It may pass to any of the oldest son of the patrilineage which produces the “Ezeogo” and to which the head of any slaughtered animal is given.
Waddington (1930), in an Intelligence Report on Edda Clan in the then Afikpo Division confirms the hereditary system of Edda thus:
“Ifugo (Nguzu) is the family of the founder of the Clan and is the first family of Edda. Its head is the head of the Clan and the priest of the Otisi Juju. The head is always the senior man of Eziukwu (Ifuogo), the compound nearest in line to the founder in which the Otisi Juju is. The present holder is Oko Mba, a man of middle age. His successor will be his cousin, Onu Chima”.
The hereditary system in Edda could be better appreciated from illustrations:
X is the founder of village Z, and invariably becomes the Ezeogo of Z. He dies, leaving say, five sons – A,B,C,D and E; so A assumes the mantle of leadership if he performs all the rites in his father’s funeral and rituals of the Ezeogoship and is not phusically or mentally handicapped. If A cannot or does not, B automatically takes over if he can perform those rites and rituals.
When A dies, the right of the Ezeogoship may go to any of the eldest sons of A,B,C,D or E who has, of course, performs the necessary rituals.
In other words, the Ezeogoship stool will be rotationg among the five sons of X and their descendants, and they will constitute what will be known as the Five Houses of the Royal Family. Due to this rotational system, the Ezeogoship has to be assumed by the elderly person (a mature adults). For instance, in Nguzu (the mother village group or town in Edda), there are four Ruling Houses – Nde Ajunwa Okporieke, Nde Agbagha Okporike, Nde Okere Okporike and Nde Ugwumba Okporieke; the fifth (Nde Obasi Okporiekke) having been ruled out of contention for the crime committed by Obasi that almost caused the death of their father, Okporieke.
In Ekoli, the next village to the mother town, the Ezeogo comes from Eziukwu Nkagbogo which has three Ruling Houses – Nde Ibiam Udu, Nde Ama Udu and Nde Ikwuo Udu.
Contest for the stool are not usual, but contestants must come from any of the Ruling Houses. Naturally, the elders have means of minimizing friction and conflicts in regard to the stool of Ezeogo. Take this succession pattern, for instance: The Ezeogo usually has two attendants at any function he performs – one on his right and the other on his left. If he vacates the stool, the attendant on the right takes over (all other conditions having been fulfilled), the one on the left moves over to the right and a replacement elected for the left position.
The Ezeogo is both the spiritual and temporal head of the people. He attends to the important deities of the community and is consulted on lesser deities by the priests and any other persons he delegates their attendance to.
Each village maintains some autonomy on matters of concern to the particular village only, and so has almost a replica of the hereditary Ezeogoship as Edda Clan. The table below shows the villages or towns that produce the Ezeogo for their respective communities:
Sources of the Ezeogo by Village or Compound
It is important to note that no Ezeogo has absolute authority over his people and every decision is by consensus. The paramount Ezeogo invites all the Ezeogo of the various communities on matters that concern the town or village group, and they, along with some members of the Royal family, form the cabinet.
It is not just heredity that gives an Ezeogo prestige, but his personality, strength of character and practical weight. Therefore, an Edda adage observes that “Onye ukpa chiri Eze, ogo echie” (If a poor man is made king, the town closes/collapses). Aside from his personal qualities and attributes, he would count on the practical support of his patrikin to enable him maintain a worthy profile.
As part of the need to maintain the Royal House properly, the Ezeogo always has the lion’s share of communal farmland, palm produse and animals killed during the hunting season. He is entitled to free communal labor on his farms on a selected “Orie” day once a year, and gets special allocations from fines and levies.
The construction and maintenance of the palace are usually collective tasks.
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