Christmas in Arochukwu is always more of a cultural celebration than a religious one. The ancient kingdom each December attracts indigenes and visitors who are treated to a cocktail of traditional display and unadulterated culture, as each of the 19 villages and different age grades on pre-specified days take turns to display the rich cultural repertoire of the Aros. I hardly miss the vigour and youthfulness of the Ekpo, though the regality and gentility of the Ekpe masquerade should not be mistaken for weakness. Indeed in Arochukwu, there is never a dull moment.
Being a student of sociology, I have always been mesmerized by the rich cultural and historical antiquity of my mom’s homeland. December 2001 was another cultural cum historical reorientation for me. It was the centenary celebration of the Aro-British war in 1901. Prior to the war and long before the Portuguese and British arrived at the coast ofwest Africa, the city-state of Arochukwu had developed into a highly organized and progressive power, supported by a hierarchy of priests and chiefs and a king (eze-aro).
Through the influence of ibini-ukpabi(long juju), the Aro confederation which thrived on the booming slave trade extended its powers across the whole of eastern Nigeria, even as far as present day Benue state. The aros being traders traveled long distances in various directions away from thir homeland setting up posts for trading purposes. Most of these posts survived to this present day as aro settlements away from Arochukwu. An exemplification of this is arondizuogu in imo state which was discovered by Izuogu, an Arochukwu warrior.
The regional stronghold of Arochukwu was a militating factor to the British penetration of the hinterland. The British needed to usurp the aro dominance to create markets for their goods and further their colonial agenda. The aros resisted because it would undermine their religious, political and economic influence. War became inevitable. in January 1901, the British attacked Arochukwu which fell to the superior gun power of the British after 4 days, but not without bravery and valor. The British destroyed the mysticism surrounding ibini-ukpabi and recklessly dismantled the Aro system of government. This defeat consequently had a ripple effect as Igbo communities one after the other lost their autonomy and sovereignty to the invading British.
The centenary celebration of the Aro-British war brought to my realization the high level of civilization attained by most African communities prior to the advent of the white men. The high level of intellectual advancement and socio-economic organization where communalism thrived over individualism, made me more proud of my heritage. The Aro stand-off with the British reminded me of the belief that our fore fathers had in themselves and their institutions. Though out numbered and faced with superior gun power, they chose to die for their land and beliefs. It debunked the notion of Africans being underdeveloped and incapable of achieving any great feat. The Aro example instilled in me a spirit of decolonization, where the white man is not better than us. It was a rebirth for me.
Celebrations like this are necessary road maps for us to discover our identity and embrace what is ours. In this plethora of racial backed deceits and theories, where negative stories about the continent continue to win awards, events like the centenary celebration is a sharp contrast as it idolizes the ingenuity of not only the Igbo race, but the Africans in general. This is because we don’t die, we multiply