Chieftaincy Title Is A Creation Of Colonial Masters And Is Foreign To Igbo Culture And Tradition

Chieftaincy Title: Colonial Creation Foreign to Igbo Tradition

by AnaedoOnline

Chieftaincy Title Is A Creation Of Colonial Masters And Is Foreign To Igbo Culture And Tradition

By Anayo M. Nwosu

Chieftaincy Title Is A Creation Of Colonial : Before the 1900s, my people did not have any kind of chieftaincy title or “chief” as we know it today. It was only when the British expeditionary Major Moorehouse arrived in Nnewi, after conquering most of the Igbo territories, that the concept of chieftaincy was introduced.

Major Moorehouse was impressed that the Nnewi leaders did not resist the British colonial expansionist ambitions. As a result, he promised to preserve all traditional institutions and authorities at all levels. However, he returned in the first quarter of 1903 to disarm the Nnewi standing army.

All able-bodied men were asked to submit their guns for destruction at Okwu Ọyọ, the general meeting place of the town. They complied with the white man’s request. On the appointed date, Ọnụọ Ọra Nwosu Ezeodumegwu led Nnewi leaders to execute the instrument of surrender as prepared by Major Moorehouse. He thumb printed while the white man signed.



Nnewi and its surroundings came under the colonial rule of His Majesty, the King of England and Wales automatically. At a surrender meeting witnessed by leaders, elders, and chief priests of Nnewi’s deities, Major Moorehouse expressed his admiration for the high integrity of Nwosu Ezeodumegwu. Moorehouse assumed that Ezeodumegwu, being the market leader and speaker for his people, was the king or ruler and referred to him as such. However, Ezeodumegwu quickly corrected him, explaining that the king had recently passed away, and his son would succeed him. Ezeodumegwu was just holding briefs for the young man and promised to introduce him to the white man during his next visit.

Major Moorehouse offered to install the young man as the Nnewi king, but Ezeodumegwu refused, stating that “rulership or Obiship in Nnewi is natural and not contended” (anaghị azọ Eze azọ na Nnewi). In those days, people with Ọzọ titles like Ezeodumegwu wouldn’t covet what wasn’t rightfully theirs and still wake up the next day. Not even the holder of his type of Ọzọ, known as Ọzọ Ataka.

During this era, ancestors were very active in the lives of holders of Ọzọ and Nze titles. Any infraction like lying and covetousness attracted instant deadly or fatal blows from “ndị mụọ” or ancestors. No one ever lived after receiving those blows. Not giving up, Major Moorehouse, who had the military and administrative authority of the colonial government, inaugurated Nwosu Ezeodumegwu as a first-class warrant chief and asked him to recommend the names of other prominent persons in the town to be conferred with the same title.

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All the warrant chiefs were required to report to Chief Nwosu Ezeodumegwu (and the Obi Josiah Orizu, the young Obi Nnewi), who would then report to the colonial government. The warrant chiefs were expected to assist the colonial government in administering the town, particularly in tax collection and disseminating necessary government information to the grassroots. The Obis, or the heads of other villages of Nnewi, were automatically made warrant chiefs, just like some other living warriors and big slave merchants like Ezeudohimili and Dim Ọhachi, based on Nwosu Ezeodumegwu’s recommendations. In addition, Major Moore’s house established a customary court named Agbaja Court and appointed some of the chiefs, including Nwosu Ezeodumegwu, as judges.

The colonial government created chieftaincy titles for the natives in many towns to aid its administration of the Indirect Rule system. In some towns where the natural traditional ruler appeared stubborn, the colonialists would empower an ambitious local as a warrant chief with sweeping police powers. Many emergency warrant chiefs raised by the British, despite the natural leadership structures in Igbo land, ended up becoming the royal highnesses of their towns until today.

After independence and the natural death of warrant chieftaincy, the traditional rulers of Igbo communities, who now answer Eze or Igwe, decided to continue the chieftaincy title-giving tradition, not for tax collections but to honor their illustrious sons or to raise money from the awardees. The Chieftaincy title decoration has also relegated “ichi ọzọ” or “ichi Dim” or “iche Ọzọ Ataka”. Before the white man came to de-civilize us, the Igbo had Obi or Diokpala as the heads of family units, extended family, i.e. Ụmụnna, communities, villages, and towns. The first son of a man becomes an Obi or Diokpala of the family. The first of the first succeeds his father up until the first son of the first family becomes the obi of the town. Some incapable or self-declared unfit first sons could be bypassed or voluntarily pass on the headship role to a more capable brother, son, or nephew, as is still seen in Otolo Nnewi.


READ ALSO: Nnewi: Bishop Bars Members From Chieftaincy Titles

In the past, male children from villages or towns who felt they had accomplished a lot in their professions could choose to take on the Ọzọ or Ichie title. Similarly, illustrious women could take on the feminine version of the Ozo title, known as Nọnọ or Lọlọ.

There are various ranks within the Ọzọ and Nọnọ titles, and there were pre-admission requirements for these esteemed cultural orders. However, not everyone who applied to be inducted into these orders was admitted. Someone could aspire and become a Ọzọ but never an Obi in the pre-colonial Igbo settlements.



It’s worth noting that the Obi or Diokpala title is something that is born, not made by the bearer. The colonial masters, Major Moore house, and Lord Lugard would be amazed on the resurrection morning at what the Igbos and other colonized tribes have made out of the title they created for mere local tax collectors and loyal allies in their time.

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