OGIRISI: a New Journal of African Studies

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The development of kingship institution in Oru-Igbo up to 1991

Ugo Pascal Onumonu


The saying “Igbo do not have kings”- Igbo enweeze (Jell-Bahlsen:13) is undoubtedly one of the most profound statements in Igbo proverbs. Nevertheless, facts predicated on historical evidences have proven that kingship institution existed in Igboland since the pre-colonial period. However, this claim cannot be generalized since it is not applicable to all parts of Igboland. In other words, this simply implies that there are some parts of Igboland whose people could be regarded as the genuine custodians of kingship institution as an imperishable heritage right from the pre-colonial through post-colonial eras. On this basis, therefore, this paper interrogates the development of kingship institution in Oru-Igbo with a view to bringing to the fore the knowledge of kingship institution that existed in Oru-Igbo at different epochs. Therefore, Oru-Igbo are one of the people that had kings in the pre-colonial, colonial and postcolonial eras in Igboland as considered in this paper within the period which this discourse focuses on. The knowledge and practice of kingship as an institution are not alien cultures to the Oru-Igbo. The paper examines their relationship with the Igbo at the West of the Niger (today’s Delta State of Nigeria) as well as the Benin people of Nigeria in terms of kingship hence it is a common belief in Oru-Igbo that they migrated from a place called Ado naIdu1 in the 15th century. The paper also investigates the essence of Oru2 or why the people of Oru-Igbo pride themselves as Oru-Igbo instead of strictly identifying themselves as Igbo without the “Oru or Oruness” appendage as they often do when the need arises or when it becomes necessary to accentuate their peculiar culture such as the kingship institution. Interestingly, apart  from such issues that touch the identity and culture of Oru-Igbo which are regarded as identity makers, Oru-Igbo people do not on concrete and practical terms disassociate themselves from Igbo nation. Towards this end, the paper interrogates the peculiar kingly culture of Oru-Igbo in the South East ( East of the Niger) of Nigeria and how such legacy endured over the years and practically distinguished them from other hinter land Igbo, most especially with respect to culture. Also, in this paper, however, it is discovered that the Oru-Igbo are unarguably Igbo irrespective of their cultural inclination and some other factors that made other “Igbo” create a new identity in the post Nigeria-Biafra civil war of 1967-1970 by declaring themselves as non -“Igbo”.

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