Various versions of the origin of Nnewi

Various versions of the origin of Nnewi

There have been various contradictory and controversial versions about the origin and initial migrations of the founding fathers of the present Nnewi Town.

The Four Quarters As The  Progenitor’s Version

Some hold the opinion that the four quarters of Nnewi were the sons of the man  Nnewi in order of seniority.   According to  Professor  Awolalu, Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi were made out of chalk(Nzu) inside a pot which Chukwu (God) gave to the goddess Edo. According to him, after Chukwu had made them in their order of seniority and breathed His breath into them, the goddess Edo told them,

“I am the mother of you all, Nnewi and the land on which you are walking is  Ana-Edo  –   that is my prize from Chukwu because the  Nzu  (chalk)   with which you are made and with which the land is made is a special privilege and a gift from  Chukwu”.

According to him, when these four sons of Nnewi, Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi grew up” they went to Arochukwu and took four sisters and married them. The problem with this version is that the ruling classes in Uruagu and Umudim quarters immigrated much later into Nnewi from  Oba and  Ojoto in Idemili Local Govt.   Area” at a time when Nnewi Town and its monarchy had existed for over two and half centuries: and that both had no historical connection with  Arochukwu.

One Isu version had it that after the death of their father lkenga, when his two sons,   Ezeani Isu and his junior brother Nnewi went to consult the Arochukwu oracle in Arochukwu, Nnewi fell in love with an Aro Princess. She later became his beloved wife and the mother of DIGBO” the first traditionally crowned Nnewi king.  Digbo became the father of Otolo.

According to the version recorded by  Okafor,  Nnewi had four sons: Otolo. Uruagu.  Umudim and  Nnewichi. Although the names represent the present four quarters of Nnewi, historically,  they don’t represent  ‘their chronological order of seniority as will be proved later.   The concluding words of Okafor himself: “From the foregoing, it would appear that Nnewi had no common putative ancestor”.

Ikenga As  The Progenitor Verse

According to ljezie,  Some people maintain that Ikenga was the founder of Nnewi but widely disagree over the origin of  Ikenga. While some claim that he was created at Nnewi .  some claim that he migrated from a particular place which they have forgotten. According to Ajaegbo”, some trace Ikenga’s original home to Abatete. The advocate of Agbaja Abatete origin off Ikenga hold that he was the father of the founders of Nnewi, Oraifite and Ichi  Communities all in Nnewi North Local Government Area. Hence the three communities are being referred to as Agbaja Group communities. According to  Bishop  Uzodike, Ikenga came/from  Diu  (Om)  in OgbaruLocal Government Area. Bishop Uzodike wrote that: “Nnewi was the son of Ikenga and Ifite, the first man and woman from  Olu  (Oru) town in Ogbaru, Anambra State to settle in Nnewi North Local Government Area of Anambra State. Although this version mentioned correctly the name of Ikenga who was the father of Isu and  Nnewi, it omitted conspicuously, the name of Ikenga’s father. Prince Agbaja of Nri who came from  Nri to found Agbaja groups of towns – Isu, Nnewi. Oraifite and Ichi.

Digbo of Iduu (Benin) AS’ The Progenitor Version

According to another version by ljezie”, Digbo who was said to have been the progenitor of Nnewi came from  Iduu  (Benin). He was said to have crossed the Niger with a number of followers, arrived first at Oraifite from where they moved to a  place known as  Oyo,  very close to  Nkwo Nnewi Market. It “vas from there that he went out with his followers to occupy the various  Versions of The Origins of Nnewi 9whole Nnewi territory, Digbo later married and established the present four quarters of Nnewi – Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi. Of the nine significant movements of people which, according to  Professor Onwuejeogwu 7, accounted for the distribution of people in  Igbo cultural area, the Iduu (Benin) movement of 18th century across the Niger was the last.

It occurred at a time when Nnewi and its monarchy of Digbo dynasty had existed for over two hundred years. It could not, therefore, have been the movement that led to the foundation of Nnewi Town named after the father of Digbo. Ijezie himself rightly noted that this Tradition lacks conclusive evidence that Digbo was of Benin (Iduu) origin, He argued that even if he was, that he did not introduce Benin (Iduu or Edo) culture into Nnewi. He concluded that the traditional political system of Nnewi does not embody Benin (Iduu or Edo) terminologies and that the cultural pattern of life at Nnewi is of Igbo and not Benin origin. The name “Digbo” is an  Igbo name and not an Edoor Iduu name. This is the main argument against this version,

Arochukwu Origin As  the Progenitor Version

According to a version by the Late Hon. Ejike Chidolue'” the probability of the founder of Nnewi being a leader of a group of travellers bound up by circumstantial aggression from the ancient town of  Arochukwu for apurpose, was confirmed by elders and it seemed not far fetched. According to him, the name of the founder of Nnewi most common to all elders wasIkenga, who after living with his family or group, ill-treated them, and some of them deserted him and went to different directions now known as  Oba. Ojoto, Umuoji, Ogidi, Amichi etc. According to him the man married a woman or women and begot Nnewi, Isu, Oraifite and Ichi.

He explained that that is why every Ozo titled man in Agbaja or  Anaedo has an  Ikenga as a symbol of authority and all the towns have Edo juju in common. The only problem in this version is that there is no historical evidence that either Kenya, the father ofIsu and Nnewi or Agbaja his father, the founder of the clan, ever came into contact with the  Arochukwu people. However, there was evidence that Nnewi married an Aro princess who was the mother of Digbo..the  first traditionally crowned king of Nnewi. Another version from  Ichi Town has it that Agbaja came from Arochukwu. According to Nneamaka Mojekwu (Various Versions of the Origins of Nnewi.) “oral tradition has it that a  man by name  Agbaja came from Arochukwu, settled at the present day Otolo, Nnewi and later married with the natives among whom he settled”

Mmaku of Ndoni

In  Rivers State As The Progenitor Version The fifth and the most controversial version of the origin of Nnewi, otherwise known as “the Irvingia gabonensis (Ugili) hypothesis of the origin of Nnewi” is held by Dr J.O. Alutu'” According to this version, the progenitor of Nnewi came from Ndoni in the River State of Nigeria.  The man was said to be called Mmaku. While leaving Ndoni, he was said to have taken a piece of chalk from the shrine of a local deity called Eze Agana; and that after travelling for about six kilometres, he came to a cluster of Irvingia gabonensis trees (Odo Ugili) somehow connected with the worship of Eze Agana. Mmaku was said to have picked one of the seeds of the trees and to have travelled all along with it until he arrived at Abubo village in Nnewichi,  Nnewi, (the author’s village)  where he was said to have planted it. The version maintained that the name of Eze  Agana deity of Ndoni whose origin was unknown was later transformed into Eze Duga, the father of Ezeani, the Nnewi local deity in the author’s village.

The author buttresses his argument with his own recorded incantations to  Ezeani during the breaking of kola. “Ezeani Eze Duga!  Ugili Nwa onye Olu” Ezemewi, son of Eze Duga, Irvingia gabonensis of a Riverine lad!”According to this version, Mmaku’later married a woman called Ife-enwe-ugwu and begot Ikenga; Ikenga married a  woman called Ifite and begot Nnewi, Isu, Ifite and lchi. This version of the origin of Nnewi seems to be the most improbable for the following twelve  reasons:

  1. As already mentioned by Ijezie'” and well known to all the descendants of Ikenga, the spot where the progenitor of Nnewi people first stopped was and is still being called “Oyo” near Nkwo market because there he deposited the “Oyo”, a Nri local god of temperament which he brought along with him from Nri. Before his death, Ikenga, his son instituted the Various Versions of the Origins of Nnewi 11″Agbanano” in front of the  Oyo as a meeting place of four people-his two sons, Isu and Nnewi and his two brothers, lfite and Ichi. It is, therefore, more logical that the progenitor should deposit his ancestral god in his first place of call and not elsewhere as in the author’s village.
  2. The version did not take into account the already accepted patterns-of migrations of Igbo people and”it did not fit into any of the nine historical movements in the Igbo cultural area. According to ProfessorOnwuejeogwu11, the movement which led to the foundation ofAgbajaclan of which Nnewi is a part was the third Igbo movement known astheNri movement between 900 and 1910 A.D. Furthermore, there is no evidence in  Igbo History of migrations from coastal Riverine towns upwards to the  Igbo heartland. Rather according to  Professor Elizabeth Isichei!”,”What is clear, is that the Igbo heartland repeatedly built up levels of population pressure which the ecological environment was unable to sustain, and which from time to time gave rise to migrations to other parts of19boland”.Also confirming the same, G.I. Jones’? State that: “one can assume an early dispersion from this centre to Nsukka – Deli highlands in the  East and an early drift southwards to the coast”.
  3. The use of the term  “Olu’  a  derogatory concept for all the  Riverinepeople which developed in the Igbo mainland in the eighteenth century during the era of the slave trade, at a time when Nnewi with its monarchy, had existed for over three centuries, as a theory-base for the foundation of Nnewi, is a historical anachronism., According to  Professor Isichei'”, “One important conceptual category which seems to have developed during the era of the slave trade was the distinction between Igbo and Olu, inland and Riverine. The Olu, with their well-watered farms and protein-rich diet, despised the Igbo for their food and water shortages and their role as 12 Various Versions of The Origins of Nnewi, slave suppliers. To the hinterland Igbo, the! Jlu states, with their  Tradition of origin from elsewhere, were not Igbo at all”.In the words of Professor Henderson’:’, “Olu meant the Riverine or the  Riverine derived slave dealing kingdom associated peoples; Igbo meant upland kingship lacking populations”.Commenting later and the Irvingia gabonensis hypothesis origin of Nnewi, the late Hon. Ejike Chidolue!”, declared: “In respect of tracing the origin of Nnewi to Ndoni (Olu), we have nothing in common with Olu people. The idiosyncrasies, industries, customs, traditions, cultures, dialects and general make-ups are very different and practically unrelated”. ‘ ‘,’It is clear therefore that Nnewi which had been in existence since 15th Century A.D. could not have been founded in the  18th Century A.D. when the derogatory term  “Olu” came to be applied to the  Riverine people. According to  Isu  Oral tradition, the term “Olu” was coined out at  Isu and Nnewi and given to the descendants of Umeji Ikenga, an  Isu  Prince who emigrated from  Isu in-the sixteenth century and founded the  Riverinetowns of Oko, Ishiagu and Ibusa; as will be further explained in chapter five which will deal with the “great Isu Movement”. The Isu oral tradition was indirectly confirmed by Professor Henderson'”, whet) he wrote that: “Some communities in the Eastern uplands like Nnewi did order their”social world by drawing a  contrast between- Igbo and Olu”.
  4. There is no linguistic basis for the transformation of Eze Agana which the author found in Ndoni to Eze Duga which is a shortened form of Eze Duruga, which Nnewi took away from the premises of Eze ‘divinity during the division of inheritance between him and  Isu, his senior brother. Moreover, both Eze; Eze Duga, and Ezemewi are still regarded as kingmakers at Nnewi and: not the fiery gods of vengeance as  Eze Agana of Ndoni whose origin was unknown, as the author explained in (Various Versions of The Origins of Nnewi 13) his note five pages 101 of the third edition of his book. In Nnewi, the origin of Eze, Eze Duga, and Ezemesi are well known as will be explained in Chapter 3.6.3 dealing with the origin of Eze Umu Nnewi (Ezemewi).
  5. The author left out an essential part of the invocation and incantations  to Ezemewi and  recorded only: “Ezemewi Eze  Duga, Ugili  Nwa onye  Olu!” (Ezemewi, son  of EzeDuga, Irvingia gabonensis of a Riverine lad) which is almost ambiguous. The incantations to Ezemewi that is more common says: “Ezemewi Eze Duga! Ugili,  Oli nwa onye  Olu!.”18 (Ezemewi, the  sons of Eze  Duga, Irvingia gabonensis, the  eater/devourer of a  Riverinelad!” The phrase oli (eater/devourer of) was conspicuously left out in the version. The full historical and religious meaning and implications of the incantation to Ezemewi will be well explained in Chapter 3 of this book.
  6. There are confusions of names in the version. The known feminine name was used for a man, and known masculine name was used for a woman. Mmaku, the wife of Prince Agbaja of Nri, who founded Agbaja clan of which Nnewi is a part, was said to be a man from Ndoni in the RiversState. In contrast, Ifite, the second son of Agbaja was said to have been the wife of Ikenga (the first son ofAgbaja) and to have had a son for Ikenga, who was also named  Ifite, the same name as his mother. Since the foundation of Agbaja clan,  there has been no trace of the name of any other man called Mma-Aku; and there has never been the trace of any other woman called Ifite. lfite has always been a masculine name, while Mmaaku has always been a feminine name. It is like that in the version collected by the author, Mmaku (who might have come fromNdoni) the wife ofAgbaja, the founder of the clan, was mistaken for her husband.
  7. Ichi, the last son ofAgbaja, the founder of the clan, had always been and is still being referred to as Ichi Agbaja and never Ichi Mmaku or IchiIkenga.
  8. It was  Eze Nri from Nri, the ancestral home of the founder of the clan who used to come to Nnewi for the purification of abominations (Ikpu Various Versions of The Origins of Nnewi14), the abolition of taboos and ratification of laws and never the king ofNdoni. Even, the author himself noted this fact while discussing taboos in Chapter  12 page 307 of the third edition of his book!”, where he stated that: “A lot of these laws lacking in judiciousness were abrogated in the  1930s. Laws were enacted and annulled at the meeting of the elders and during the subsequent visits of the NRI KING, (emphasis mine) he is asked to give formal ratification to them. The latest law annulled was that forbidding oxen from eating oil palm nuts”.
  9. The descendants ofAgbaja – Isu, Nnewi, Oraifite and Ichi used to annual goon pilgrimage to  Nri to pay homage to  Eze Nri but never to Ndoni to pay homage to Ndoni ‘s king. According to Isu historians, Isu, the first son of Ikenga, the first of Agbaja, used to lead the  Agbaja pilgrims into Nri and during such pilgrimages, he used to receive on their behalf from the  Eze Nri, blessings bestowed on them by the Eze Nri. The blessing called “ANYIM” were said to be contained in an oval basket. The blessings were being distributed to them at Isu on their return.  In about 1900, Major A.G. Leonard”, confirmed in his book. The Lower Niger And Its People that  Nnewi was among the  Igbocommunities that were going on an annual pilgrimage to pay homage Eze  Nri.
  10. The Nnewi chieftaincy and ozo title systems are replicas of  Nrichieftaincy and ozo title systems. The ozo and chieftaincy title names- Ezeani, Eze, Dunu, Ume, Dim, and Dala – are common among- all Igbo towns with Nri lineage as  Nnewi. Riverine chieftaincy and ozo systems are unknown at Nnewi.
  11. There is no trace of the ofo (staff) of any man called Mmaku anywhere in Nnewi, Anaedo or Agbaja but the Ofo  (staff) of the founder of the clan.. called Ofo Ochichi Agbaja, the highest ofo in the clan, still exists and is today in the custody of the Nnewi monarch. It is this staff that gives the monarch the sole prerogative of conferring all Nnewi chieftaincy title to anyone of his choice. (Various Versions of The Origins of Nnewi 15)
  12. There is no historical monument or institution in Nnewi,  Ana-edo or Agbaja that was named after a man called  Mmaku, the supposed founder of the clan, but the native court established by the  Colonial Administration in  1905 to serve Nnewi, Ofaifite and Ichi were named Agbaja Court after the common progenitor of the three towns.

Prince Agbaja of Nri As Progenitor Version

The sixth version holds that Agbaja clan of which  Nnewi is part was founded by one  Prince Agbaja of Nri. According to  Emmanuel I. Alutu”, “Tradition holds that the founder of Nnewi was Agbaja, son of Eze Nri (King of Nri) in Agukwu, Njikoka LocalGovt. Area. He settled here in about 12th Century A.D.and bore Ikenga who bore Isu, Nnewi, Orairite and  Ichi. Nnewi bore Umunnealam, Otolo, Uruagu, Umudim and Nnewichi. When  Umunnealam the first son of Nnewi committed incest, he was rejected and driven away and was protected by Umudim. The other four sons of Nnewi that form  the present  village  groups were powerful warriors  with  the result that people  from  far and  near migrated to them  for protection during  the civil and intertown wars rampant in ‘those days.”Alutu explained that Nnewi became the name of the four villages because he was the father of the village groups. He concluded that Nnewi, Oraifite, Ichi and other descendants of lkenga who have Edo goddess in common, are collectively called Ana edo.  The historical merits of this version are:

(i) It was the only version that stated correctly that Agbaja was the founder of the clan.

(ii) It was also able to state the place correctly of origin of the founder of the clan and his Royal status.

(iii) It was also the only version to state correctly that Isu was the’ first son of Ikenga and the senior brother of Nnewi.

Nevertheless, even though his choice of 12th century A. D. as the date of the foundation of Nnewi falls within the era of Nri movement in Igbo History, (Various Versions of The Origins of Nnewi. 16) 12th Century  A.D. seems too early judging from the chronological and, historical sequence of the events that have occurred in the course of new history since its foundation. The beginning of the l5th century, about  1,400A.D. would be a more probable guess, as will be explained later. Furthermore, the Isu version has it that Okpala Nnewi, Umunnealam, was not rejected and driven away because of alleged incest as stated in the version.

It will be shown in Chapter four dealing with how the kingship and Obiship of Nnewi shifted’ from  Okpala to  Digbo, that  Nnewi himself, willingly, and with the consent of Ezeani Isu, his senior brother and the king of Agbajaland, willed the throne to  Digbo, his second son, born of his beloved  Aro wife, ‘ because of the manipulations of Ibini Ukpabi, the Arochukwu oracle. Nevertheless, ibis version has so far proved the most authentic source for further ‘research into the origins and migrations of the ancestors of the present Nnewi people.

Another non-Nnewi contribution came from an Oraifite female historical researcher, Her contribution agrees to some extent with the Isu version of the origin of Nnewi, According to  Ifeoma Ogechukwu Efobi, an Oraifite researcher: “Nearly all, the traditions of origin of Oraifite, indicate that they’re somehow related to Nnewi and Ichi. These three villages were known and are still known as Agbaja or Ana-Edo. Agbaja, the Tradition went on, had two sons from a woman slave.

It would then be safe to assume that Nnewi was inhabited about the year 1570 A.D.”22, This version was able to give the correct name of Agbaja, the founder of the clan. It also gave the names of Agbaja’s two junior sons Ifite and  Ichi but omitted the name of Ikenga, the first son of Agbaja who begot  Isu and Nnewi. Ikenga was instead replaced with Nnewi, his second son.  By  1570, Nnewi had been inhabited for over one and half centuries.

1570  A.D. is therefore too late as a  possible date for the foundation of Agbaja. This version is nevertheless quite reliable for further research on the origin and migrations of Agbaja group of communities which include  Isu, Nnewi, ‘Oraifite and Ichi. (Various  Versions of The Origins of Nnewi 17)


  1. Awolalu, J.O. West African Traditional Religion. Ibadan, OnibonojePress..   9   9 ~ pp. 57-58.
  2. Okaewe: R.I., “The Missionary impact at Nnewi”. An  Unpublished o.s.» B.A. History Dissertation. 1981, p. 17.
  3. Ijezie, E.O., “Chieftaincy institution in Nnewi up to the end of Colonial Era”. An Unpublished lINNMA.  History Thesis. 1987. p. 4.
  4. Ajaegbo, D.I., “Evolution of  Nnewi, An History Study in Urban development”. An  Unpublished l INN M.A.  History Thesis 1981. p. 5.
  5. Uzodike, L.M., The Ancestory Record of Eze Obuo Family. Enugu.Star Printing and  Publishing Company, 1987. p.xii.
  6. Ijezie, E.O. Op. Cit. p.6
  7. Onwuejeogwu, M.A., An 19b0  Civilization. The Nri Kingdom and hegemony. London,  Ethnographica, 1981., p. 9.Onwuejeogwu, M.A., “Patterns of Population Movement in the IgboCultural Area”  in (JDINANI, Journal ofOdinani Musem. Nri   Anambra State.  Nigeria, No.2  September  1977, pp.  21-37.

8a. Chidolue Ejike, A Review of the groundwork of Nnewi History.Onitsha. Etudo Press.. 1964.  pp. 6-7.

8b. Mojekwu Nneamaka, Groundwork  History of Ichi Town  Enugu, B-Teks Publishing Company, 1994, p. 4.

  1. Alutu, J.o., NNEWI HLSfT(J.R.Y., From the Earliest Tilnes to 1980/82.Enugu. F.G.P. 3rd  Edition, 1986, pp. 6-7.
  2. Ijezie, E.O.,  Gp. Cit. p. 4.
  3. Onwuejeogwu, M.A., Op. Cit. (7b)  p.  34.
  4. Isichei Elizabeth, A History of the Igbo People. London and Basingstoke,  Macmillan, 1977, p. 6.18 Various Versions of The Origins of Nnewi
  5. Jones, G.I., The trading states of the Oil Rivers. London, O.U.P.1963, p. 30.
  6. Isichei  Elizabeth, Op. cit.  p. 19.
  7. Henderson, R.N., The King in everyman, Evolutionary Trends in Onitsha Society and Culture.  New Haven and London, Yale  University Press, 1972, p. 41.
  8. Chidolue Ejike, Op. cit.  p.
  9. Henderson, R.N., Op. Cit. p. 41
  10. Ugochukwu, C.N., A recorded incantations of one of the priests ofEzemewi” which was recorded in August  1977 when the author went with his senior brother, Mr Elochukwu lfiora to observe a sacrifice to the deity.
  11. Alutu, J.O., Op. cit.  p. 307.
  12. Leonard, A.G., The Lower Niger and Its Tribes. London, FrankCass, 1906, 2nd Edition, 1968, p.  39.
  13. Alutu, E.I.,  “Death and  Funeral Rites  Among  Igbo  People of NnewiDivision, East Central State”. A.J.? Unpublished l!N.N B.A. ReligiousStudies Dissertation, 19’J6, Appendix l A.
  14. Efobi, 1.0., “A history of  Oraifite people before 1905” An  Unpublished uu». B.A. History Dissertation, 1983, page 8.


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