A short history of Obollo towns and communities in Enugu State, Nigeria

Introduction

Not many historical literature about Obollo communities and their people exist for reasons I would not like to delve into for now. I shall leave that for another time. However, it is within my historical concern that the history of this part of Igboland be researched into for proper documentation of the past. Like the history of any other community, the illustrious sons and daughters of Obollo and others alike will find it enlightening to know just how it was with the people’s past. Historians and scholars interested in the past of the people may use what I have arrived at here to make further researches. Anyway, I am not from Obollo but as a historian, interest and curiosity have been two foremost factors that propelled me to visit the communities for the purpose of obtaining useful oral information to document this “Short history of the people” the same way I would have visited any other community in Igboland for scholarly purposes.

I have therefore out of my own willpower chosen to write on the history of the people the same way I would value it if the history of Ibusa, my hometown is written by a none indigene. I have often considered it scholarly injudicious that graduating Nigerian students are somewhat restricted to conducting researches on topics bordering only on their native homelands, which negates the principle of oneness that we all must uphold and grossly limits individual knowledge too.

It stands to common sense that if the culture and traditions of the Obollo people of Udenu Local Government Area in Enugu State are well understood by the Ichama people in Okpokwu Local Government Area of Benue State, their closest neighbours and vice versa, hardly would communal clashes between the two ethnic groups exist except for political reasons, politicians are at their evil work again. These two separate communities exercise common trade-relations, buying and selling in common market places yet, they do not have iota of understanding for each other’s cultures. The two communities are therefore close and far at the same time or so it seems.

There is no doubt that if the suggestions stated above are religiously adhered to, the much sought unity in the country will without long be discovered. It will just be helpful if history as a subject is made compulsory within secondary school level so that distant Nigerian cultures will be understood to reduce the unexplained internal conflicts that have become unbridled in several parts of the country every now and then. Nothing more can reduce these conflicts other than broader knowledge of cultures of the various people that make up the country or what does it really profit a Nigerian that knows nothing about the history and culture of his neighbouring ethnic groups even though they are located within the same state or sometimes local government areas? Many of us tend to know western cultures more than we are willing to learn even our own.

Again a lot has been said of Blacks whose historical activities are not usually recorded. As some people have said (and it is indeed true), the best way to hide information from the Black man is to put it in black and white. This is because Blacks in Africa lack reading culture which is costly for the continent because it will cause our unborn children to easily forget our past and if our past is lost, how can the future be determined? In fact, most of our historical facts with valuable ceremonies and customs are lost as a result of this poignant attitude. Writers should therefore be encouraged to write on our past events and make apposite documentation of our past. Has anyone ever considered the fact that documentations on the past help reduce unnecessary disputes such as land and secession disputes to thrones. Even matters in the courts are determined by documents that contain useful evidences of the past and present. This is what the western world enjoys.

Lastly, this write-up does not claim monopoly over the entire knowledge of the people and communities of Obollo as a result of which constructive criticisms, sound suggestions and relatable comments will be welcomed to help gather more facts for future researches on these wonderful people of Obollo. Since the essence of research is to continue where any particular one has stopped, this short history of Obollo as written by me will afford future historians and researchers the ability to make imputes. This very write-up is therefore not opposed beneficial criticisms.

Background
Obollo is situated at the regional boundary between the South-East and North-Central Geo-political zones of the country accordingly providing thorough passage to the communities of the far North. In fact, Obollo-Afor strategically stands between the North and South of Nigeria. This is indeed the beauty of the community, enjoying patronization of articles of trade and markets that serve people from the northern and southern regions of the country.  What Obollo enjoyed in peace time she would disadvantageously moan over for this was one reason Obollo became one of the fiercest battle grounds during the Nigeria-Biafra War, an area that the Igbo lost innumerable lives.

The closest important commercial town to Obollo is Onitsha in Anambra State, which also serves their commercial needs. There are Obollo-Afor, Obollo-Orie, Obollo-Etiti, Obollo-Eke and Obollo-Nkwo all in Udenu Local government Area of Enugu State. However, Obollo-Afor for the reason of its strategic location remains the most popular of the Obollo family, naturally on a strategic location along the northern part of the nation. This would also account for another major reason, this community enjoys better developments than the rest of Obollo communities.

All the various Obollo communities are seen as historically and culturally related although it is doubtful whether any ceremonial activity requiring all towns are still present today. The best way to describe the ancestral relationship that exists between the Obollo communities is to say that they are a tree and branches, planted and watered by only one hand. Obollo-Afor is the tree and Obollo-Orie, Obollo-Etiti, Obollo-Nkwo and Obollo-Eke are all its branches. You will therefore grant me your permission wherever I decide to decide to collectively refer to all the different Obollo communities with “Obollo”, “Obollo community”, “Obollo society” or simply “community”.

Geography
Situated at the Northern part of Nsukka town, Obollo is bounded on the North by Enugu Ezike, on the South by Ezim, on the East by Ikem and on the West by Iheakpu-Obollo all in present Enugu State.

Obollo and indeed Nsukka is a land of hills and valleys thus the reflective “Ugwu” in the family names of many of the indigenes. This may suggest the awareness of the geographical feature of the environment by the inhabitants and perhaps appreciation of these geographical features. The Ugwuenegbe hillock with its stony valleys which geographically separates Obollo-Afor from Obollo-Etiti and Obollo-Eke is well known. Obollo-Eke and Obollo-Etiti are more watered with streams and springs. There is “Ebonyi” also called “Abonyi” stream by Umuitodo. Obollo is known to possess abundant palm-nut trees which make the communities rich in palm-kernel, palm-oil and palm-wine. In those days, forests in Obollo were rich in iroko trees and mahoganies were in abundance. Houses that recently sprang up to shelter people occasioned the deforestations that were responsible for the near extinction of these trees especially in Obollo-Afor. Some of these iroko and mahogany trees can still be found today and are quite beautiful to behold.

Geographically, Obollo is dusty with dry and somewhat sun-baked clayey soil and as a result of the nature of this texture; the soil is hard thus requiring double hard-work and efforts from farmers to till the land. Obollo-Etiti has a loamy soil which is fertile for the growing of crops, only that the loamy soil is hard. Erosion is one natural militating factor that the people of Obollo have struggled to find a way to live with over the centuries. This erosive nature of the soil is almost as old as the activities of man in that environment.

Like the situation with the rest of Igbo communities, Obollo people have been trying their hands on the employment of local means of preserving their own soil from being erosive. The effect of erosion which is gully in nature is visible in Obollo as tree trunks and building foundations are usually left exposed, a situation quite adverse to crops and buildings. During the dry season, roofs of houses and leaves of crops are seen covered with reddish dusts. Wet season makes many of the roads in the area impassable because of the floods and attendant damage.

The traditional form of settlement shows that houses of inhabitants are located in the interiors where palm trees and other trees are thickly sited and not along the roads as may be expected. Explanation offered this writer suggests that the situation was due to the series of civil and  inter-tribal wars that the people feared could erupt at any given time having experienced them severally in the past. A visitor standing along the major road may therefore be baffled to see that there are almost no houses along the road, which in any case is amazing. More so, houses are sparsely located with paths created to lead to the houses of individuals.

Origin
Obollo people need not trace their origin from Egypt, Ethiopia or Israel like many African people do as popular oral account states that Nnam Edu who hailed from East-Abakaliki had three male children who were Olenyi, Otase Enyi and Igwuru Enyi. Olenyi was the father of Obollo; Otase Enyi fathered Asakwo who also fathered Ikem while Igwuru Enyi fathered Eha Amufu.

When Olenyi grew up he married four wives who bore one male child each for him amounting to four sons. These four sons were Ezejo who was the eldest; Ekpa Olenyi, the second son; Ugbabe was the third and Ohullor, the last of his children. The four sons who later grew up preferred to settle at the four regional ends of the land i.e. north, east, west and south. However, history records that the people of Obollo are the direct descendants of the four children of Olenyi.

The family tree here exemplifies the close relationship of Obollo with Ikem and Eha Amufu but owing to frequent strife arising from land disputes, that closeness only exists in genealogy today as there is really nothing to show for it beyond that. Recently there have been series of reunification attempts aimed at restoring the closeness that the various people of Obollo, Ikem and Eha Amufu once esteemed. It is hoped that the intimacy that once existed be rediscovered so that close relationship among the people will unendingly thrive again.

Migration theory
Ulon’Obollo is believed to be the place where the first Obollo people first settled from where they spread to the other places that they can be found today. At a time in history there was a scramble for the occupation of lands leading to migrations to unsettled lands from the original place of settlement. Ezejo moved to Ada and Umuitodo. Ezejo as the head of Olenyi descendants realized that the unoccupied lands of Umuitodo was more suitable for him than the land he previously settled; he therefore did not waste time in deciding that he and his family members settle on the land which was considered arable.

Later in the history, the present Obollo-Eke land opened up. At a time, the scuttle became so severe that organized fighting by young men was deemed necessary to settle in Obollo-Eke due to the mad rush with which the people of the area scrambled to find settlement in the “New World”. This mad rush to settle in Obollo-Eke became so intense that Obollo-Afor became nearly abandoned by young indigenes of the community as they raced to settle in Obollo-Eke, the “New World”. The desire to settle in Obollo-Eke may have been underlined by population density of Obollo-Afor, scarcity of land for further development and search for greener pastures. There were also people who were only being adventurous. Adventure motivated them to search for new homes in Obollo-Eke. Within a short while, Ikem and Leke people were driven from Obollo-Eke and replaced by Obollo-Afor settlers. Today, the Ikem and Leke are found in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of the state of the state.

In recent times, other Obollo communities have developed as a result of series of migrations from the original place of settlement. However Obollo-Afor traditionally remains the mother home of the Obollo people within which every single Obollo indigene is thought to have ancestral link. It is thus orally assumed that Obollo-Afor is the home of the entire Obollo people. It is therefore not surprising that the town accommodates Obollo indigenes from Obollo-Afor, Obollo-Eke, Obollo-Etiti and Obollo-Nkwo. As the capital of Obollo communities, it is a town that has undeniably grown to an urban town from a little known settlement.

Occupation
The Obollo people are agriculturalists and grow such crops as cassava, yams, coco-yam, cashew and palm kernels which they carry to the market places to be sold. The dry season affords the people the opportunity to engage in bush burning. After the burning of bushes, breaking of the ground follows immediately thereby giving way for planting. Planting is therefore ready to be embarked on. Pottery and basket making is also common among the people. Umuosigide is known for their beautiful art of pottery which made Obollo-Afor the pride of Nsukka. They also rear animals like goats which were in high demand also found in a large number in Obollo markets. In the years before now, several indigenes were enriched with proceeds from timbers and mahogany trade which prospered in the region and also carried to distant places like Benue State and particularly far North.

From the above, we can see why Afor market of Obollo-Afor was rich with articles with relatively distant Idoma and Tiv people coming to patronize the market in large number.

Cuisine
The typical meal of Obollo people is pounded yam with “Ogbono” or ground pea soup. Fufu may be prepared but customarily, the Obollo may prefer pounded yam. Nowadays, these delicacies may be complemented with wheat meals to serve visitors. As typical with the Igbo, roasted yam may also be eaten with palm-oil. A typical Obollo home may not miss the favourite dish often served and with very tasty palm-wine.

Festivals/feasts
The Feast of Omabe

There is Omabe feast in which a masquerade of heroic deeds comes out but only once in four years do the anxious anxious people to catch a glimpse of it. This is why “Omabe” is believed to be the name of valiant masquerader with great achievements. The feast may therefore symbolize heroism and braveness of some sort in the life of the community. Omabe feast is also celebrated within distant places of Aku and Ikem and is known as “Odo” (Odoh) in these places. Heads of pigs are specially prepared to celebrate this feast with kegs of palm-wine commonly used to entertain friends. This feast may signify “plenty” in the culture of the people.

The Feast of Onwa Eno
The feast is also celebrated by the Obollo and is one of the most important feasts of the year, calculated for four native days from the first day that the moon appears. This feast is celebrated at the fourth month of the year. On this occasion, images that embody the dead are made and worshiped by the people in connection with the people’s belief that the dead demand food and drink from their loved ones who are still alive. The Onwa Eno feast usually commences on an Oye (Orie) day and symbolizes a link between the living and the dead in the culture of the Obollo people.

Feast of Onwa Esaa
It is a feast that takes place beginning from the sixth to the seventh month during which indigenes have the opportunity to see “Akatakpa” masquerades ravage the town to beat both men and women in the town except the aged. Akatakpa masquerades are traditionally known to arm themselves with long whips in the evening. These masquerades are seen despoiling every corner of the town while chasing their unsuspecting victims usually with excitements of some sort, attempting to whip them so that noise prevails while clamours for safety by individuals are paramount to circumvent the devastating masquerades. Only old men and women are free from the whisking of these masquerades because of their weakness. The feasts draws to a close on the last day when the much dreaded masquerades are ushered out of the town ready to reappear in another four years to come.

Other types of masquerades in Obollo land not considered harmful are Okikpe, Okpokwu (Okpokwu is also present among the Idoma people of Benue State), Ukwuidenyi and Mgbudike.

New Yam Festival
Like the rest of Igbo communities, the Obollo celebrate the New Yam Festival which is known as “Isiji” in the custom of the people. The isiji celebration begins at the tenth month of the year. A traditional gathering of notable people of Obolloland is required at Umu Attama Ezeme where fried ground pea is eaten as customarily demanded. The tradition of assembling to eat the fried ground pea witnesses the commencement of New Yam Festival in Obollo.

The relevance of Isiji to the Obollo community cannot be emphasized as it affords the people an opportunity to offer “Ushajioku”, the god of crops sacrifice. The eating of new yam for the year thus begins with the offering of this sacrifice.

Religion
Obollo people are before the advent of Christianity, adherents of African Traditional Religion but today the dominant religion of this people is Christianity . The people are dominantly  Catholics. It is therefore not surprising that many of the illustrious sons and daughters of Obollo are Reverend Fathers and Sisters. There is at least one parish and another eight outstation catholic churches in Obollo-Afor alone so that nearly all the communities that make up the town have at least one outstation. Obollo-Etiti has one main parish with four other outstations scattered around the town. Catholic as the predominant faith of the people testifies to its swift and wide acceptance of that denomination by the people.

Education
Perhaps due to its extreme location, early European missionaries did not visit Obollo early enough to embed education as they did in other places. This affected the people educationally but the eventual brisk acceptance of the educationists when they visited the town in no small way brought progress to the community educationally. The residence of Ugwu Abonyi (the first Eze of Obollo) is believed to have housed the first school in Obollo. He was also said to have also haboured the first set of teachers that in the town and his boys were the first set of students to be regularly taught by the European educationists.

The teachers were later given a land at the present site of St. Patrick’s School, Obollo-Afor. St. Patrick’s School of today is housed inside St. Patrick’s Catholic Parish in Obollo-Afor. The present principal of that school, Mr. Titus Obetta Ugwuanyi is a native of Obollo-Eke who is a highly respected disciplinarian who has the gift for instilling discipline in students. The school is particularly a 3-storey building with Games House and Library. Graduates of the school were later employed as interpreters in local courts and other government establishments. Later PTC was instituted by Very Fr P. Horgan for the training of teachers. This school was later converted to Elementary Training College with Very Fr Horgan becoming the first principal of the school.

Today, however, Obollo has become a leading society in producing highly educated individuals many of who are contributing to the development of the community and Nigeria by extension.

Present
As said earlier the happy Obollo communities are today located in Enugu State, South-Eastern Geo-Political Zone of the country under the Nsukka Division but with the recent wind of agitation blowing in the country for a separate state, the Obollo communities are seeking self-autonomy within the federation of Nigeria. They are praying the Federal Government of Nigeria to make Adada, a separate state for them. It is believed that their location in the proposed Adada State will guarantee the development of the various Nsukka and Obollo communities which they have been lacking since formation of the country.

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