Nsukka traditional ruler sets enslaved villagers free

Posted by Cosmas Asogwa On Friday, August 29, 2014 0 comments
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  • How jealous king isolated victims because maiden rejected his amorous advances
For over 200 years, the people of Amachukwu and Anioma villages in Ugbene Ajima Community, Uzo-uwani LGA, Enugu State lived in isolation and bondage, forced on them by a jealous king, whose sexual advances were rejected by a village maiden.

Trouble began for the people when a beautiful maiden from Anioma village rebuffed the sexual advances of an old traditional ruler. The jilted lover reportedly took a vengeful action, barring the maiden and her people from marrying from the community or sleeping in other people’s houses. That ancient decree remained irreversible and was subsequently transmitted to future generations, plunging everyone born in both villages in perpetual slavery.Successive rulers kept this obnoxious decree sacred. Not even the cry for justice by the younger generation of children born in these villages would bend the rule. By mere geographical accident of birthplace, those born in Anioma or Amachukwu were like damned souls cursed by the gods, as they inherited the pariah status of their parentage right from their mother’s womb.
But their agony ended on Saturday, August 9, when the new traditional ruler of the town, Igwe Bartholomew Aluma, Okwu na Oke 1 of Ugbene Ajima, led his cabinet members and elders of the town to denounce this unjust tradition and revoke the communal ban on the affected villages.
The event was a memorable day for the elders, women, youths and children of the isolated villages. Some of the elderly men among them, who had lived like lepers all their years, broke down in tears of joy. Their excited wives and daughters danced freely in the village square, singing songs of freedom for a dream come through. Even children lost in the euphoria of the historic celebration jumped about in wild celebration that had eluded them in the community for decades.
Our reporter gathered that the struggle for freedom began many years ago, but none of the efforts was successful. A renewed effort commenced in November last year with secret meetings of Pastor Anayo Odimkpa, ASP Paul Ogbonna and Pastor Anthony Onodi. Their negotiation with notable personalities in the community to revisit their case seemed like fetching water with a basket, yet they never gave up the agitation. And when the matter was brought before Igwe Aluma’s cabinet, he gave a listening ear to their cry for justice. Although the names of these key players may not ring out loud in the world like that of the famous icon, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, generations of children in Amachukwu and Anioma villages would venerate them as true heroes that pulled down the prison gates.
Investigation by our reporter revealed that the two villages were formerly called Amaiseke, a name derived from a local python, Isieke, venerated in the community by pagans. But a Christian revolution led by Anayo Odimkpa, in collaboration with members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal of Nigeria, in October 1996 demolished the Isieke shrine, and subsequently led to the renaming of the two villages to Amachukwu (City of God) and Anioma (Good Land). The revolution also opened the enclosed life of the isolated villagers and watered the seed for the liberation struggle.
While declaring the two villages free, Igwe Aluma said his cabinet and leaders of thought in the community, after much consultation, unanimously decided to revisit the historical injustice suffered by the two villages. He said it took him a long time to investigate the matter. He explained that during his investigation, he wanted to find out whether any member of Ugbene community bought a slave in the olden days and left him in any of the two villages, but sadly that was not the case. Rather, he confirmed that the isolation suffered by the two villages started hundreds of years ago when a certain traditional ruler in Ugbene Ajima lusted after a beautiful maiden from Anioma and wanted to sleep with her.  But the luscious lady, indentified as Nwagbogoeze Ejigioku, reportedly turned down the amoral advance, an act that was adjudged sacrilege in days when traditional rulers were revered as the mouthpiece of the gods.
The king’s wrath burned like hell, and he later spilled it on the entire village where the woman came from, with the declaration that the lady and her people would henceforth become slaves for ages to ages, never to marry anybody from the area. And when the people of Amachukwu cried foul over the unjust punishment of their relations, the traditional ruler decreed isolation on them for questioning the gods.
Even the gods wept for the injustice against the two villages but nothing could change the decision of the king. Investigation by our reporter revealed that the gulf of separation between them and other members of Ugbene community widened with years, such that subsequent generations regarded them as slaves. Although some young men in Ugbene, in their youthful adventure, secretly dated beautiful ladies of the two villages, the romance never exceeded the fun of the bedroom. Ladies from the two villages were never considered worthy of marriage. In fact, such relationships were hidden from other members of the community, lest the culprits incur the wrath of elders.
To say the least, an impenetrable wall separated the two villages with their kinsmen with whom they earlier shared common paternity before the unfortunate incident. Communal brotherhood was totally ruined by one man’s lust for the flesh, stamping a mark of rejection on many families and generations of innocent children.
Reversing the curse turned out to be historic moment in the annals of the community. In the public square of Anioma, Igwe Aluma shared kolanuts among the elders, Ozo title holders in the Ugbene community, who made a uniform declaration that the people of Anioma and Amachukwu villages will no longer live in isolation or be regarded as slaves. Each of the elders also picked a stone from the village square to bear witness that the pronouncement was binding on all members of the community.
While overruling the earlier decree, Igwe Aluma said, “From today henceforth, you are free to marry or have an intimate relationship with any man or woman in Ugbene community. You are free to mingle and sleep anywhere in the town. Nobody should be treated or regarded as outcasts again in our community.”
The former Attorney general of Enugu State, Dr Michael Ajogwu (SAN), who witnessed the event, commended the bold step taken by the community. He explained that the proclamation by Igwe Aluma and his cabinet has restored the people of Amachukwu and Anioma to their rightful position as true sons and daughters of the community and cancelled permanently whatever that was done in the past.
The former attorney recalled that the people of Efuru Idoha in Nsukka suffered a similar fate many years ago, when beautiful maidens were claimed forcefully by the local deity to serve as slaves in its shrine. He said he offered legal assistance during the battle to destroy the deity, adding that the destruction of the deity liberated the people held in bondage, allowing them to relate freely with other members of Ukehe town.
Ajogwu, who hailed from Abbi community in Uzo-Uwani LGA, also recounted another case in his hometown, where some people were ostracised for the past 100 years. He said he mediated in the process that led to the liberation of these people, allowing them the liberty to relate freely and acquire traditional title (Onyishi Ekaya) as other families in the community.
One of the victims, Paul Ogbonna, described the feeling of alienation by other members of the community as worse than hell. According to him, he suffered rejection, humiliation and mockery in the hands of other people in the community.
“This started even before I was born. During my own time, I experienced this rejection in so many ways that left me surprised and shocked. We suffered discrimination and neglect. We were denied so many things as free born of this Ugbene Ajima community because of the stigma. Both the elders and children, women and youths suffered alike,” he said.
Ogbonna, 47, said his forefathers suffered the same cruel fate, noting that reversing the ancient curse seemed like an impossible missions in past years. He expressed joy that Igwe Aluma and respected elders of the community took the bold decision of revoking the ban on his people and accept them as free born of the community.
“We are moving into a new era, where we are now free to associate with our brothers without any barrier. To be honest with you, during those years, I do not feel proud as a member of this community when I remember the situation we have found ourselves. At a time, I asked my father what happened to us. Did Ugbene people buy our forefathers as slaves? But he told me it was because a beautiful lady rejected the traditional ruler. Most often, we were rejected at social gatherings. Even in schools, we enjoy partial acceptance because we suffer isolation from our peers. But I believe that the Igwe, the Ozo tiltle holders and the entire cabinet members are sincere in what they did here today. The God of heaven and earth is our witness that this has been achieved. We have many witnesses at the event, including the former Attorney General of Enugu State, Dr Michael Ajogwu (SAN). So, if the community decides to act otherwise, you will agree with me that they will not succeed,” he said.
Another victim, Pastor Anayo Odimkpa, said the two villages suffered indescribable humiliation, as other members of the community, cut them off in marriage, social relationships, among others.
“These two villages lost the liberty of sleeping together as brothers, passing night together or getting married. They were in the midst of their brothers, yet they lived in a lonely world for a very long time, spanning to 400 to 500 years,” he said.
Our reporter gathered that the granting freedom to the villages came with a prize. But when our reporter asked Odimkpa what it cost him and his people to be free, he said, “When I think about the value of this freedom, it erases the prize from my mind. I couldn’t remember the sacrifice it took, the prize we collectively paid as individuals or as a community to make this feat possible. The value of freedom is priceless. It comes with the pride of feeling the same like any other person, having a sense of belonging in the midst of your brothers.”
Odimkpa said the psychological effect of long years of isolation would take time to heal in the mind of the victims. He noted that it wouldn’t be quite easy to erase the memories of the ugly years soon, but noted that members of the villagers would gradually integrate themselves fully into the community.
“There is need to create participatory events in the community, which will bring members of the community together. Sleeping over in other people’s houses in the community would also instil in them the confidence that the old things have passed away. They will try their hands in marriage, which is not be force but by mutual consent of those involved. Through marriage, the sense of complete freedom would take root in people’s mind,” he explained.
Another victim, Pastor Anthony Onodi forced back tears as he bemoaned the long years of injustice suffered by his people. He said the incident took place in 1803 adding that he personally took up the struggle for the liberation of the people in 1982, and was asked to present three cows to appease the land and cook for the entire community. According to him, he fulfilled these requirements, yet to no avail.
Onodi said he felt uneasy in the midst of other members of the community, knowing that he was considered an outcast. He said the situation denied him social relationship with other members of Ugbene community, knowing that he has a pariah status stamped on him by wicked tradition.
“I chose to visit people in the community in the afternoon, knowing that they will ask me out of their house before 12.00am. None of my friends, no matter how close, would ever allow me to stay in his house beyond that time. It might seem small in people’s eyes but it was quite shameful,” he said.
Onodi said he wept silently whenever his children reported to him how other children in the community school mocked them. The isolation also deprived young men from the two villages from picking a bride from neighbouring communities, as their stigma traveled faster than the wind.
“By our liberation, something new is going to happen in this community. Nothing will hinder the progress of this community any longer. Let brotherly love continue,” he prayed.
Also speaking, the spiritual father of the community, Fr John Bosco Okechukwu, described the isolation and rejection of the two villages as a scandal to the church bearing in mind that Christ came to set the captives free.
“Remember that the love of God is expressed in the love for your neighbours. Everybody is important to God because we are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. So, there is no need for this social injustice or segregation. In fact, it is a scandal to the body of Christ,” he argued.
Okechukwu said the gospel of Jesus Christ revolves around freedom and liberty, promising that the people of God would embrace the Amachukwu and Anioma people as brothers in Christ, without any discrimination whatsoever.
Also speaking, a Catholic priest from Ugbene community, Rev Fr Paulinus Ike Ogara, gave his blessings for the liberation of the enslaved brethren. He said the desire for freedom resonates in the mind of every creature of God, describing the humiliation suffered by the two villages as a historical injustice.
“Injustice in one corner of the world is injustice everywhere. What happens to one person affects everybody around him and reverberates everywhere. The victims cultivate certain habits towards other people based on the injustice they are suffering,” he said.
Ogara said some people mistook the isolation of Anioma and Amachukwu people as an irreversible norm in the community simply because the system was allowed to survive for a very long time. He described freedom as a native desire in humans, stressing that every man or woman has dignity as a subject of right.
“What we did here today is the culmination of a long battle for freedom. It is the victory of truth, justice and liberty. Although the struggle has been long and painstaking, we feel the joy of these people who have achieved their hearts’ desire,” he said.
Ogara said the liberation of the two villages would also translate to the growth of the community, as the isolated people would be free to contribute their quota intellectually and otherwise.
“They will now see the development efforts of the community as theirs. I see a new era and a new spirit of Ugbene emerging in our town. This is a new era that has permanently closed the gates of injustice suffered by these people,” he maintained.
A leader of thought in the community, Simon Oliji, explained that the liberation of the two villages goes beyond eating, drinking and feasting. He advised the affected villagers to launch themselves into the mainstream of community activities, from where they would be gradually assimilated into the life of the town.
Oliji, a retired school principal, encouraged the victims to come out of their shells and make their faces visible in marriage ceremonies, burials, church programmes and schools. He lamented that the two villages had been educationally disadvantaged by the situation they found themselves and urged them to leverage on their newly found freedom to acquire formal education for self development.

By advising the people to invest in knowledge, Oliji re-echoed the message of famous Raggae master, Bob Marley, who said, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!”  No doubt, Igwe Aruma, a retired headmaster reputed for his discipline and scholarship, has proved to Amachukwu and Anioma people that the power of knowledge makes a man difficult to be enslaved.

Culled: SUN News

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