Time after time, stories of ancient origins, evolutions and civilisations of peoples continue to fascinate the curious minds. We all like to seek to know where we come from. Who are our forebears? How did we get here? What makes our race, culture, civilisation and world view unique? What is distinctly heroic about our past? It is an endless universal quest for unravelling race or ethnic self-identity. And answers are never short in supply, as more literature are written, regaling us with exciting tales of epic ancient times in human history.
Eze Chima: An Ancient Aro Epic is a new, refreshing tale of the Arochukwu civilisation, written as a novel and published in 2016. Authored by Chike Nwaka, a writer, poet, artist and an Aro man who confesses to have drunk directly from the folkloric fountain of rich oral traditional tales from his father and grandfather, Eze Chima uses the heroism of one major character, Chima, to shed brighter light on the origins of Aro people, their world views and primordial connections to other ethnic peoples outside Igbo land.
The Aro people, domiciled in Arochukwu land in Southeast Nigeria and found everywhere, have been universally known for ages to be a distinct people among the Igbo. A lot of legendary tales and reputation precedes the Aro race, telling of their uncommon adventurous spirit, enterprise, hard work, integrity, boldness, honour, respect, humility, wisdom and leadership qualities. All these acclaimed sterling Aro attributes are what the central character of Eze Chima personifies in his heroic journey through the riveting story.
In fact, the story of Chima as the protagonist of Eze Chima novel is the story of an unusually epic era in ancient Arochukwu civilisation. According the story, which any enthusiastic reader will find quite absorbing till the last page, Chima was born a prodigy, an adult in a baby’s body as he was a reincarnated being who had lived several lives before his present coming. So strange and unique was his birth that he could already, as an infant, engage a sage, Mazi Uchenivu, in esoteric conversation. The king, Eze Aro of the time, was also amazed by the extraordinary traits and actions of Chima as he grew up. The whole Arochukwu Kingdom was in awe of Chima, as incredible tales of his legendary exploits spread like wildfire. He once, like a David against Goliath, fought Okon, an intimidating bully, who led his criminal gang to rob and rape in Arochukwu, bringing his reign of terror to an end, much to the relief and cheers of the people.
So, it became so obvious to all and sundry that Chima was born with god-like powers. But he did not use his powers for evil, but to protect the weak, help the community and curtail oppression and wickedness. So, when King Orhamenye came all the way from Ebeinu (Benin Kingdom in Edo) to Arochukwu to consult the Eze Aro for help in solving intractable problems in his kingdom, it was Chima who was chosen to be the Messiah. When Chima got to Ebeinu, he became King Orhamenye’s most trusted confidant and adviser, with his uncommon words of wisdom and nobility. Before long, even the people of Ebeinu became fond of Chima as he taught the young people diverse skills, helped people in distress, taught them deep truths about life and helped ensure justice in the kingdom.
Of course, the oppressive aristocrats of Ebeinu kingdom were not happy with Chima’s exploits, closeness to Oba Orhamenye and popularity with the commoners. So, such characters like Azegbedin, a ruthless head wizard, and Ogeame, a power-hungry prince of the former King Ogiso, tried to eliminate Chima but they could not. Meanwhile, Chima married Oba Orhamenye’s daughter, Princess Ivie (later called Adaeze), while he had to valiantly resist temptations from other adoring Ebeinu women like Idia who wanted to marry him. Eventually, Oba Orhamenye, who never liked the boorish cultures of Ebeinu, left for Ife, his father Odudunwa’s kingdom where he once lived before being sent to be king at Ebeinu. Chima too finally left Ebeinu, to go back to Arochukwu after accomplishing his mission. A lot of Ebeinu people left with him and as he journeyed homewards towards Arochukwu, he encountered complex challenges that taxed his leadership skills to the limits. He never made it to Arochukwu when he died, but he became a hero everywhere he stopped and settled down to set up new kingdoms.
Such is the epic tale of Eze Chima the novel, a 206-page thriller that vividly captures the imagination in a gripping storytelling dexterously woven by the author. But while the story itself is situated in ancient heroic legends, it also throws up certain thematic preoccupations that are as contemporary as they are expository. For instance, there is the theme of reincarnation as espoused in the story of Chima. Reincarnation, which is the rebirth of a person, is a common subject in past African literature.
In Eze Chima, reincarnation comes alive again as we are made to believe that life is an endless cycle, a continuum, and man is reborn again and again through different parents, races, times and generations to attain perfection. However, the reincarnation theme in Eze Chima differs from the “ogbanje” phenomenon in Igbo or “abiku” in Yoruba mythology, because the reincarnated man in Eze Chima’s world is reborn through different parents, not dying and returning over and over through the same parents.
Another theme propounded by Eze Chima is that of the supremacy of God as the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the universe and the higher essence of man. According to the story, the Aro people believe in a supreme God variously called Chukwu which means the Most High God; Oka-akaa, meaning He who is greater than all; Chukwu Okike, which means God the Creator; and Obasi-bi-n’elu, which means God who dwells in the highest heights. For the Aro people, God is also ChukwuAbiama, which means God of Abiama, Abiama being the founding father of Arochukwu race.
Next, the theme of moral and intellectual greatness also runs through Eze Chima novel. This simply means that the Aro place a high premium on morality and intellectualism above ephemeral indulgences and immoral living. Chima’s character provides the exemplary Aro personification of high intellect and morality in the novel. Indeed, there is a maxim so dear to the Aro which in Igbo says “Ako-bu-ije”, meaning Wisdom is the Way. Perhaps, if today’s Nigeria could place values of intellectualism and morality above the inordinate quest for materialism and hedonistic indulgences, our society might be a better one, after all.
Also, one could see the theme of campaign for an egalitarian society, where everybody is treated equally and not oppressed or deprived, in Eze Chima. Chima, though imbued with extraordinary powers and wisdom, preferred the simplicity of identifying with the commoners and canvassing the equality of all persons, no matter their social or economic status in the society.
The last but not the least thematic preoccupation of Eze Chima novel is the exposition of the shared humanity in origin and blood of different peoples. In contemporary Nigeria, there is no love lost, politically, between Igbo and Yoruba peoples. But who would now believe, according to the ancient Aro legend, that Aro people of Southeast Nigeria are racially related to the Yoruba people of Southwest Nigeria?
Yet in Eze Chima, enlightenment comes in the tale. Oduduwa, shortened as Odua, is generally said to be the progenitor of the Yoruba race with its origin at Ife in present-day Osun State. However, we are told that the name Odudunwa in Aro/Igbo means the last born child. Thus, Oduduwa the acclaimed Yoruba progenitor was said to be the last born child of an ancient Eze Aro, king of the Arochukwu Kingdom who fathered many children. How Odudunwa the last born child from Arochukwu then came to become the Oduduwa at Ife, the progenitor of the Yoruba people, is a mystery for the interested reader to discover in Eze Chima. Quite interesting!
––Mazi Onwumere is a culture activist, and media/brand management consultant based in Lagos.