Eze Nri Obalike sounding his gong on his Ọzọ stool, round him is the Ọzọ na Nze priestly sect distinguished by their okpu mme (red hats) [or perhaps the Nzemabua council of the Eze], beside the Eze Nri is an Adama boy. The building behind is one of the temples and meeting houses that once dotted Nri, the epicentre of northern Igbo religious life. Eze Nri Obalike is the 14th recorded Eze Nri (15th when including Eri) and headed Nri, the oldest continuous kingdom in the area, from 1889 till 1935. Eze Nri Obalike was appointed as a warrant chief of the Awka Native Court by the British in the 1900s, but relinquished the position afterward; the Eze Nri’s status isn’t simply that of a king but as the head, and origin, of all leaders (also priests) in the area.

The British and Christian missionaries conspired to remove Nri authority in the area by threatening the massacre of the Igbo highlighting the function of Christian missionaries as an arm of European conquest (including the function of aiding in the removal of religious control and reliance within the people and moving it to Rome for Catholics and England for Anglicans, etc.); in order to avoid the mass killing of his people, Nri Obalike, against tradition, left Nri after the British failed to capture him and he was made by the British colonial government to abrogate the codes that governed his Eze status, including taboos and abominations. Before the British, the Eze Nri was not easily accessed or seen, but this changed when he left Nri in the early 20th century. When Eze Nri Obalike was summoned to the native court at Awka in 1910, the government anthropologist Northcote Thomas reported that “the whole assembly rose and [fled]” as the belief was that the Eze Nri’s status was that of a spirit-man. Warrant chiefs introduced to the area by the British were made to renounce the Eze Nri; since then the Eze Nri’s influence has been confined to Umunri, the village-groups of the Nri people. As mushroom kingdoms continued to pop up around Nri and as Christianity dominated Igbo life, the social and religious significance Nri held over the Igbo around today’s Anambra State, northern Imo State, southern and central Enugu State, and some parts of Aniocha in Delta State, retreated.


Eze Nri Obalike photographed by Northcote Thomas during his ethnographic tour of the northern Igbo area around Onitsha and Awka, around c. 1910, coloured by Ụ́kpụ́rụ́ 2017.

Would a bunch of “Igbo leaders” today, Ọzọ na Nze included, sit on the floor like this today? In the olden days you had to actually do something for a red hat, and that does not include simply spending (questionable) money on a title.

#NOTE: The ndi-nze n’ozos don’t sit on bare floor, they usually sits on goat skins and carved stool.


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