Awka, Nigeria

History

Location in NigeriaAwka was famous for metal working and its blacksmiths before the 20th century and were prized throughout the region for making farming implements, guns and tools. The Awka area in earlier times was the site of the Nri Civilization that produced the earliest documented bronze works in Sub-Saharan Africa around 800 AD.

Before the inception of British rule, Awka was governed by titled men known as Ozo and Ndichie who were accomplished individuals in the community. They held general meetings or Izu Awka either at the residence of the oldest man (Otochal Awka) or at a place designated by him. He was the Nne Uzu or master blacksmith, whether he knew the trade or not, for the only master known to Awka people was the master craftsman, the Nne Uzu.

In modern times, Awka has adapted to the republican system and is currently divided into two local government areas, Awka North and Awka South with local representatives. However, it still preserves traditional systems of governance with Ozo titled men often consulted for village and community issues and a paramount cultural ruler, the Eze Uzu who is elected by all Ozo titled men by rotation amongst different villages to represent the city at state functions.

The current Eze Uzu of the city selected since 1999 is Gibson Nwosu one of the first recruits for the Nigerian Air force and a former head of Air Traffic Operations for the Biafra Air Force, the Lusaka International Airport and the Zambian Air Service Training Institute (ZASTI).

Awka should not be confused with Awka Etiti which is a town in Idemili South local government area that is often mistaken for the main capital. Today it is the capital of Anambra state of Nigeria.

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Awka People

Awka comprises seven Igbo groups sharing common blood lineage divided into two sections. Ifite Section, the senior section, comprises four groups, Ayom-na-Okpala, Nkwelle, Amachalla, and Ifite-Oka followed by Ezinator Section, which consists of three groups, Amikwo, Ezi-Oka and Agulu. Each of these groups has a number of villages. All together, Awka comprises 33 villages.

Awka people today as in traditional times are well travelled. In ancient times demand for their skills as blacksmiths had Awka people travelling throughout Nigeria making farming implements, household tools and guns. Each village had clearly defined trade routes. For example, people from Umuogbu village plied their trade in Benin and in the Urhobo and Itsekiri areas, Umubele were stationed in the Igala areas in modern day Kogi state, Umuike and Umuonaga in present day Abia and Rivers State, Umuenechi in the Kwale and Isoko area of Delta state, and Umudiana, Okperi, Ugwuogige stationed in Calabar area of today's Cross Rivers state.

Today, Awka people can be found all across the globe many working as skilled professionals in a wide range of fields. As a result, there is a large Awka diaspora located primarily in the UK and in the USA. There, they have formed social clubs like Awka Union USA and Canada, Awka Town Social Community UK and Ireland and other community associations. These associations have been a way for people to enjoy their culture as well as to engage in community self-help projects.

Villages

Ayom-na-Okpala Group

    • Umuayom, Umunnoke, Umuoramma and Umuokpu

Nkwelle Group

    • Achallaoji, Umunamoke, Agbana, Umudiaba

Amachalla Group

    • Amachalla, Amudo, Umuzocha

Ifite-Oka Group

    • Enu-Ifite, Ezinato-Ifite, Agbana-Ifite

Amikwo Group

    • Umudiana, Okperi, Igweogige, Isiagu, Obunagu

Ezi-Oka Group

    • Omuko, Umueri, Umuogwal, Umuogbunu 1, Umuogbunu 2, Umudioka, Umukwa

Agulu Group

  • Umuogbu, Umubele, Umuanaga, Umuike, Umujagwo, Umuenechi, Umuoruka

Festivals

The Imo-Oka festival is a week long festival of masquerades and dances held in May at the beginning of the farming season in honor of a female deity who it is hoped would make the land fertile and yield boutiful crops. The festival starts with Awka indigenes visiting the community of Umuokpu with masquerades and it ends with the visit of the Imo-Oka stream on the final day which is heralded by a heavy rain that falls in the late afternoon.

There are four major events performed during the festival, the ede-mmuo, ogwu oghugha, egwu Opu-Eke and Egwu Imo-Oka. Egwu Opu Eke is a rich cultural dance performed by female worshippers of Imo-Oka shrine which includes priestesses and ordinary women alike decorated in colorful costume dancing in the market square in honor of the deity controlling the shrine.

The Imo-Oka festival showcases a variety of masquerades (mmanwu) from sinister ones which flog spectators to friendly ones which sing or dance. The masquerades are believed to represent the spirits of Awka ancestors coming from the land of the dead for the festival.

Awka Pictures

Take a moment to look at these pictures of the Awka area. You can click each image to view larger.