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Abam Raids in Ohia-Ukwu, Ohanze and the Development of the Totem of the Three-Leaved Yam (Onu)

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The Ngboko of eastern Ngwaland, who were famous itinerant traditional healers and diviners, have a similar tradition associated with Abam raids.


According to this tradition, before slavery, the Ngboko Ohanze capital of Ohia-Ukwu was a major commercial center that attracted traders from neighboring Ngwa, Ukwa, (Asa and Ndokki) and Annang/ Ibibio communities.


Aro traders were naturally attracted to the strategic commercial center of Ohia-Ukwu during slavery. They thought of colonizing Ohia-Ukwu to use it as a major depot linking them from the Bende area to eastern Ngwlaland and Ukwa, and the termini of the trade route in the eastern Niger Delta (Oriji 1998: 43-45).


It is likely that the Ngboko resented the growing presence of the Aro in Ohia-Ukwu, which, they reasoned, undermined their political and commercial interests, and increased social violence in their community. As tensions grew, the Aro enlisted Abam mercenaries to raid Ohia-ukwu. In a sudden swoop at dawn, the Abam invaded the town and nearby communities, enslaving and killing a large number of people.


Ntigha-Uzo, the priest of the Uju deity is said to have mysteriously escaped during the invasion, hiding himself under the cover of the three-leaved yam (Onu). Since this incident, the Ngboko are believed to have adopted the three-leaved yam as their totem. Much reverence is accorded to the crop, and it is a taboo for anyone to destroy it or eat its root (Allen 1933: 81).


Ngboko traditions also provide some evidence of another taboo that emerged during the Abam raid. According to the traditions, a dog is believed to have nearly betrayed the priest of Uju by barking incessantly near the place he was hiding during the raid. The Ngboko extended their taboos to the dog, which is seen as a perfidious and pernicious animal. Their taboos prohibit, till the present time, any indigene of Ngboko from rearing a dog.


Abam invasions are still remembered as the most violent events that changed the history of Ntigha Uzo and Ohanze during slavery. Admittedly, the demographic and economic impacts of the invasions fall outside the purview of this research. But it is likely that the number of people who died in Ntigha Uzo was considerably high, and Allen may have been close to the truth when he described the raid on the community as a “massacre” (ibid).


As for those who survived, they adapted in varying ways to the demands of their “new world”. Many who felt insecure and could not withstand the psychological shock of the invasions, migrated to nearby communities.


Ntigha Uzo emigrants for example, fled to Ngwa Obi, Amaise, Amavo and Amasa, while those of Ohanze dispersed to Ngboko-Amiri, Ndiakata and Ibeme.


A majority of the population that chose not to migrate rebuilt itself spiritually and physically. The mysterious escape of their priests reinforced their faith in Ala, and especially in the ancestors who protected them during the invasions. They incorporated new totems of the ancestors in their cosmology that embodies their historical experiences during slavery.


It is noteworthy that the invasions are said to have aroused a deep sense of military alertness among the Ngwa. People began to take various security measures to protect themselves from Abam raids. Young men, for instance, were mobilized to police their communities, and war-gods like Ike-Oha and Udu-agha were consecrated to drill the younger generation in the art of self-defense. Hunters and local warriors searched their villages for the Abam and other suspicious faces, and women carried out economic activities in groups to avoid being kidnapped (Oriji 1998: 43-45).


Major A. G. Leonard (1898: 190), an adventurous British military intelligence officer who visited parts of Ngwaland in the late 19th century, has given a vivid account of what he saw:

Although the people [the Ngwa] who enroute turned out in thousands to look at us, appeared to be very friendly and peaceably disposed, not a man apparently moved a step without carrying a naked sword in one hand and a rifle at full cock in the other. Even the boys […] some of them not higher than an ordinary man’s knee […] walked about armed with bows, and pointed arrows made out of reeds.


The alertness of the Ngwa helped to prevent further Abam raids in their communities. The Aro also realized that trade and warfare were contradictory institutions. The increasing hostility they encountered in Ngwaland convinced them to search for more peaceful ways of conducting trade.


The Aro then began to propagate the Ekpe/Okonko/Ekpe which as already noted, was an important arm of their trade network in the Ngwa area and other parts of Southern Igboland (Oriji 1998: 45-50).

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