Aguleri – hometown of Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji, is a predominantly Catholic community in Eastern Nigeria with a village system of settlement. Evidence of urbanization can be dated back to 30 BC. The town is found at the Anambra/Ezu River confluence in Iduu land (the original name of Igbo speaking people of Nigeria); a lovingly stretch of Nigerian countryside-scene of rural peace and rustic charm. Aguleri, therefore, is a confluence town situated within the valleys of Anambra and Ezu Rivers, tributaries of the great River Niger in Eastern Nigeria.
By land and water it is approximately 28km north-east of the commercial city of Onitsha in Anambra State, Nigeria, where it occupies a premier position – culturally, socially, economically and politically. From Otuocha main market in Anambra East Local Government Area, it “sits astride the Anambra River for 40km and continues for another 30km northwards on the right of the Anambra River. It is bounded on the north and south by Benue and Kogi States as well as Umuleri (Umueri) town. On the eastern boarder are Nando, Anaku, Igbakwu, Ifite-Oguari, Umueje, Igga, Omor and Ogurugu, among others. Obelle, Odeke, Echeno (Asoma) in Benue and Kogi States and Anam town villages in Anambra West Local Government Area, form the western boundary.” This means Aguleri people have a peculiar advantage of living both in the upland and riverside areas. With a land area of about 520sq.km and recent population count of over 80,000 inhabitants, all known tropical crops are produced in abundance. The rivers, lakes, and ponds contain all types of fresh water fishes and its wild life is as varied as in the east African game reserve. Water navigation was and is still the major means of transportation in the area. All this explains why Aguleri was the second Igbo town after Onitsha to welcome European explorers, commercial companies, and Christian missionaries at the beginning of the European exploration of Eastern Nigeria.
The name AGULERI means son of ERI. Agulu, the progenitor of Aguleri is the first son of thelegendary Eri, the founder of Igbo race. There are varied versions of this legendary story about Eri, being the founder of Igbo race and, of Aguleri his first son. One of the versions of this founding story of Aguleri and Igbo people says that Eri came from God or rather he fell from the sky and so directly from God to found the Igbo race and the world in general. He landed first at Aguleri, the confluence town of Anambra and Ezu Rivers! This legend holds that Aguleri is the origin and ancestral home of Igbo race. However, the common belief among the people is that Eri came from Israel. Some say Igbo people have ancestral link with the people of Israel through Eri.
According to the historian, Elizabeth Isichie, recent archaeological evidence showed that Eri migrated from South of the Nile to the confluence of the Niger and sailed down Anambra River to settle at Eri-Aka in Aguleri about 5000 years ago. The Bible mentioned Eri (the progenitor of Igbo people) as one of the sons of Gad, who was one of the twelve sons of Israel (Genesis 46:16; Numbers 26:16). The people go on to confirm this conviction by appealing to the many identical cultural and religious elements practiced among the Jews and the Igbo. This is about the strong myth in Aguleri, and indeed among the Igbo concerning the founder of their race, the man called Eri. The people hold that during the exodus of Israel from Egypt, Eri led a group that migrated southward and finally settled at the present location of Aguleri at the bank of Anambra River. It is from there that he founded the Igbo race. This is a common myth among the Igbo. These are the oral traditions, archaeological evidences, and the biblical testimonies about the migration and settlement of Eri with his entourage at a place near Anambra River, later called Aguleri. In all, however, Isichie writes that:
Oral tradition in Aguleri has it that Aguleri originated from Eri, a man sent down from the sky by God to rule mankind. He came down at Omabala/Ezu confluence and finally settled in a place called Eri-Aka in Aguleri. The earth was not as firm as it is today when he came to the earth. His authority to rule and his power over men were derived from God. This is the reason why Aguleri is regarded as the cradle of Igbo civilization.
There are varied versions of the composition of children and entourage of Eri when he first, landed in Aguleri. However, according to Aguleri version of the story, Eri had six direct sons and one daughter. The six direct sons of Eri in order of seniority are: Aguleri, Igbariam, Nteje, Amanuke, Nsugbue and Nri. The only daughter of Eri was named Adamgbo. She was a very beautiful woman and dear to Eri. Adamgbo married and had a son whom Eri named Uli-Eri ((the founder of Umuleri (Umu-eri), and a daughter named Iguedo, the mother and founder of other towns in the Anambra/Oyi River valleys: Awkuzu, Ogbunike, Umunya, Nando, and others. Aguleri people are related to all these towns since they all have a common progenitor. Aguleri is the most senior and patient eldest brother of all the children of Eri. The youngest son of Eri, Menri (Nri) was a priest. He and his family migrated into the Igbo hinterlands. Menri’s children established at Nri and later expanded into other Umu-Nri towns in Igbo hinterlands. According to the local legends, the descendants of these towns and those that migrated later from Anambra River Basin became founders of other towns and villages in what is known today as Igboland.
The traditions of the Umu-Eri clan, which includes the ancient state of Nri, show that both they and Igala are descended from a still more ancient community in the Anambra valley, and that is Aguleri. Writing on this, Elizabeth Isichie says: “We are all descendants from Eri; but Igala went one way, Agukwu another, Amanuke another, Nteje another and Igbariam another. This separation of Igala from us happened so long ago that now we do not understand Igala, nor can they understand our language.” M.A. Onwuejegwu, in his book, An Igbo Civilization: Nri Kingdom and Hegemony(1981), writes that “the children of Eri migrated: Ogbodudu from Aguleri to Amanuke; Onogu to Igbariam; Onoja to Igala; Iguedo to Umuleri, Nando, Awkuzu, Nteje, Ogbunike and Nsugbue. Agulu as the first son of Eri remained at Aguleri. Each settlement then followed its own existence and development owing allegiance to Aguleri, where their collective ancestral temple remains.” This collective ancestral temple is the Obuga palace square in Enugu Aguleri. Obuga (Obu-Ga) is a temple dedicated to the memory of Gad, the father of Eri. For the Aguleri people, Obu-Ga is the “home of Ga”. Obu means home and “Ga” is the owner of the home. The word “Ga” is the Igbo rendering of Gad. “Gad is one of the twelve sons of Israel, the father of Eri (father of Aguleri), who is the founder of Igbo race. Inside the “Obu-Ga” shrine, archaeologists have recently discovered some inscriptions in old Hebrew language, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.”
It is also claimed that kingship and chieftaincy institutions in Igbo land originated in Aguleri. Onwuejeogwu confirms this fact. According to him, Agulu-Eri (the first son of Eri), who remained in his father’s ancestral home was given the royal sceptre (staff) called Odudu-Eze by Eri and so became the king and spiritual rule of Ime Iduu (Igbo) Kingdom around 4500 years ago. This is one of the major reasons the Eze Nri before his coronation must go to Aguleri to obtain odudu Eze(Royal sceptre).
In a recent study, E.E. Uzukwu, an Igbo theologian made some allusion to this version of the story of the origins of Igbo people. Uzukwu speaks of the theological implications of the myth of Igbo origins in its relation to the coronation of Eze Nri. He writes that the Igbo people have a myth of their origins in which is impeded the myth of their resurrection as a people. “This myth is typified in the ritual initiation of Eze Nri and by the ritual reproduction of Eri, the ideal human, the founder of the Igbo race (whom historians have traced his lineage to the biblical Patriarch of the founder of the nation of Israel ((Genesis 46:16; Numbers 26:16).” The Eze Nri myth is about the victory of life over the forces of death and evil. This is very strongly expressed in the address of the presiding priest when the candidate for Eze Nri is about to be buried in a shallow grave, as part of the life-death ritual initiation:
You who are about to enter the grave, rise up again with a vivid shining body. May no sickness or harm befall you: Rise up as previous eze (king) Ndri have done. Rule your people with truth and justice. Go to Aguleri, obtain your odudu, and may you return safely to rule your people (E.E. Uzukwu, Worship as Body Langauge: Introduction to Christian Worship: An African Introduction, A Pueblo Book. Minnesota 1997: 99).
This brief prayer of the Nri myth points out the transforming dimension of religious initiation in the making of an emerging leader (Eze Nri), as a civilizing hero. It shows the relationship between prayer and the practice of life in the transformation of the society: The practice of the ritual initiation of the priest is to shape the life of both the priest himself and the people. It also shows the dual-role of Eze Nri in the society, a king and priest.
According to Michael Obadiegwu, perhaps, “the Aguleri account of its origin is probably a legend but to say so is not to deny that materials of historical value may not be derived from such myth, provided that rational principles of evaluation are employed. Thus, this legend is no more than the mystification of the premier position of Aguleri town in Igbo history.” It is possible to interpret it as a claim to autochthonous status as Isichie seems close to suggest, when she said: “One may know the town well, and never guess its immense antiquity, for there is nothing visible to suggest it. Yet, Aguleri perhaps, more than any other place, was the cradle of Igbo civilization.”
AGULERI – System of Societal Organization
Igbo people have a village system of settlement. Every town is a federation of villages. And every village is a federation of sub-villages. In most cases, a village could make a town, but since all could trace their origins and cohabitation as a people to a common progenitor and customs, they maintain their unity and name as a town and people. The Aguleri case presents an excellent example of Igbo concept of town, system of settlement and societal organization. Agulu, the progenitor of Aguleri, had four direct sons who make up the four main villages of the town: Igboezunu, Enugu, Eziagulu and Ivite. The two villages, Enugu and Eziagulu (Ugwu-na-adagbe) are regarded as twins or rather come from the same mother. The four main villages with their component families are replicated both in Aguleri-Uno and Aguleri-Otu. The ancestral home-villages of all Aguleris are located at Aguleri-Uno: The villages are: Ivite, Igboezunu, Eziagulu and Enugu. These villages are replicated with component families at Aguleri-Otu as follows: Ivite-Otu, Igboezunu-Otu, Eziagulu-Otu, and Enugu-Otu. With the effect of colonialism and Christianity, a new settlement now exists at Obiagu Aguleri waterside beach (popularly known nowadays as Otu-Ocha and Ameze) as the urban centre of the town.
This means that Aguleri is a single town and what is known as Aguleri-Uno and Aguleri-Otu are mere geographical locations to distinguish those who live in the upland from those who inhabit the riverside or waterside areas of the town. The Igbo word “otu” means “water-side (or riverside).” That means that those villages that end with the word “otu” are Aguleri settlements and town villages located along waterside or riverside areas of Anambra River Valley.