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The Divine Kings (Eze Nri) of Agukwu-Nri: Short Profiles

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(The first seven Eze Nris used the regnal title ‘Nri Namoke’ and came from the section of Nri Town known as Diodo. Most traditions have however telescoped them into one Eze Nri, simply known as Nrinamoke.)

1. Ogbuodudu Akakọmme (Nri Namoke I) – Ogbuodudu Akakọmme, the first Nri Namoke, was also known as Okporo Odudu. He was a son of Eri and migrated from Agụleri to Amanuke. Either this Eze Nri or his successor left Amanuke and migrated to the present site of Nri Town (after a brief stay at Achalla-Isuana) where he founded the Diodo section of that town. It was from the Diodo section of Nri Town that the Eze Nri originally came until the kingship passed to Nribụife from the Agụkwu section some generations later.

2. Edu Anyịm (Nri Namoke II) – Son of Ogbuodudu/Okporo Odudu. He appears to have been an Eze Nri of far-reaching prestige, because his name is still recalled in the traditions and the rituals of the people of far-away Akụ, near Nsụka. For instance, the Akụ people claim that the Odo cult was introduced to their town by ritual agents from Nri; and on the day that the Odo spirits are to depart to the spirit world after the Odo festival period, this proclamation is made in Akụ: “Nshi Namoke Nwa Okporo Odudu, Ezitere Odo na ọnọghalụ n'Igbo.” (Translation: Nri Namoke, son of Okporo Odudu [the first king of Nri], Has sent a message that Odo has overstayed outside.)

3. Nri Egbobe (Nri Namoke III) – According to traditions, Nri Egbobe was not qualified by blood to ascend the throne, i.e., he was a usurper. But because no eligible successor to Edu Anyịm could be found from the line of Okporo Odudu, he was crowned. His reign was brief and characterised by disorder, for he was a tyrant. The Diodo people hated him, and finally decided to be rid of him. It was an abomination to shed kingly blood, so the people settled on carrying him away to the Evil Forest, tying him to a tree, and leaving him there to die. For seven days the deposed king rained curses on the people from the tree in the forest. He declared that they would be struck by misfortunes and disasters, depopulated and would remain a small community (Ana Nta). Then he died. The curse seemed to have worked. Many young men from Diodo were killed in a tree-felling accident. This was perceived as a bad omen and led to a mass exodus of people from the Diodo section. Diodo was left under-populated. The underpopulation may have affected the balance of power in Nri Town and may have been a remote contributing factor to the eventual shifting of power from Diodo to Agukwu.

Nothing is remembered about the careers of the next three Eze Nris, whose reigns probably belonged to the 15th century:
4. Anwụ Obele (Nri Namoke IV)
5. Odunukwe (Nri Namoke V)
6. Agufugo Egbeli (Nri Namoke VI)

7. Ezeagụ Akubilo (Nri Namoke VII) – By the time of Nri Namoke VII, the Agụkwu section of Nri Town had been established by Nri Ifikuanim who appears to have instituted a parallel kingship at Agụkwu. Nri Ifikuanim and his people had migrated directly from the town of Ugbene, but were also ultimately of Ụmụeri descent. A daughter of Nri Namoke VII was given in marriage to Nri Ifikuanim (or a descendant of his). This daughter had a son who became Nribụife.

In his old age, Nri Namoke VII was utterly neglected by his people, the Diodo section. It was during this time that one of his sons named Avọ emigrated and established the 'rival' Nri centre at Ọraeri. Nribụife, his (Nri Namoke VII's) daughter’s son, was the one who took care of him and brought him food. When he was nearing the end of his life, Nri Namoke VII cursed his family and declared that the eze-ship would depart from Diodo and never return to it, and that if any Diodo man attempted to take up the title of Eze Nri he would perish. He then handed the paraphernalia of royal office to his grandson, Nribụife from the Nrifikwuanim line. Nrifikwuanim kings from Agụkwu have being reigning in Nri Town since then. (Although recently the Diodo people have tried to resurrect their claim to the kingship by having one of their sons Chikadibia Ọgụnmọ crowned as Nri Namoke VIII, as a counterpoise to the more recognised king of the Nrifikwuanim line, Nri Enweleana II.)

8. Nribụịfe –Nribụịfe unified the two moieties of Agụkwu and Diodo-Akamkpịsị into one kingship and ruled as the first Eze Nri of both communities. He established the “Council of State” known as Nzemabụa made up of twelve high-ranking ozo titleholders.

9. Nri Ọmalọ – Nothing is remembered about him, except his name.

10. Nrijimọfọ I – Remembered as a great king during whose time Nri itinerant ritual agents spread the cult of ikenga all over the northern and western Igbo areas. According to Ọnwụejeọgwụ, Nri influence, during this time, reached Nsụka in the north, the vicinity of Ọlụ in the south, and as far west as the vicinity of Agbọ. But, as we have seen, Akụ traditions suggest that Nri influence had reached the Nsụka area earlier in the time of the Nri Namoke kings. What happened in the time of Nrijimọfọ I was probably consolidation of an already far-flung area of influence, and expansion into some new areas, especially to the west.

11. Nri Ọmalonyeso – Nothing is remembered about him, except his name.

12. Nri Anyamata – (mid 17th century.) The only notable event associated with this king was a long drought (probably in the 1640s), which was followed by severe famine all over the area within Nri’s sphere of influence. Ọnwụejeọgwụ puts his reign to between c. 1465 and 1511, and Douglas Chambers to between c. 1500 and 1530. The chronology of the Little Ice Age droughts in West Africa suggests his reign could have been in the middle of the 17th century.

13. Nri Fenenu – (later part of the 17th century.) Fenenu was renowned for his mystical powers. It was said that he lived to be over one hundred years. Because he lived to be so old, people began to believe he was immortal. His reign is associated with one of the earliest remembered appearances of a large host of locusts (igwulube) in the area. The Eze Nri are believed to have the ability to control the appearance and disappearance of locusts; it can then be understood how the Coming of Locusts during the reign of Fenenu added to his renown as a powerful mystic.
In the last years of his reign (according to traditions), Nri Fenenu mastered the art of levitation, from which he got his ‘reign name’ – Fenenu. One evening, so goes the story, the old king came out into his courtyard to ‘bask in the evening sun’. There he floated away into the sky, and came to rest atop a tall iroko tree. This display of supernatural powers deeply troubled the townspeople. He remained there atop the tree until the elders of Agụkwu with their ọfọ sticks assembled and petitioned him to come down and die like an ordinary eze. Everyone was relieved when the king descended from his lofty perch some hours later. The head of the Adama people went and touched him on the forehead with the ọfọ and he died at once and was buried. Jeffreys suggests that this ‘touching on the forehead with the ọfọ’ is probably a euphemism for ‘ritually killing the king’. In African history, divine kings who had reigned for too long or who were perceived to be dangerously too powerful were asked to die or were killed by their officials; and this might have been the fate of Nri Fenenu. His descendants and the people of his lineage (the Ụmụnnechi lineage) were thereafter debarred from ever producing an Eze Nri again. This debarment still holds true today.

14. Nri Agụ – The beginning of Nri Agụ’s reign portended great promise. There was an increase in trade, resulting in an increasing accumulation of wealth by a section of the people. Dr TN Nwaezeigwe suggests that a number of Nri settlements sprang up in western Igboland during his reign, pre-eminently in the Anịọcha-Oshimili axis, including Ọgwashị-Ukwu and Ogboli-Igboụzọ. Ogboli Igboụzọ is still called Ogboli Nshi-Agụ and Ọgwashi-Ukwu called Adaigbo Nshi-Agụ, apparently after him; and a secondary school in Ọgwashi-Uku still bears his name. However, it must be stated that the 'rival' centre of Ọraeri also had an Eze-Nri who was known as Nri Agụ, and it might have been this Eze-Nri, rather than the one who reigned in Agụkwu, who was connected with the founding of Ọgwashi-Ukwu and Ogboli Igboụzọ. The traditions closely link Nri Agụ of Ọraeri with the River Niger.

Nri Agụ of Agụkwu soon found his life as an Eze Nri with all its restrictions and rigid observances unbearable. He therefore abdicated and, with a few faithful followers, secretly left the town and went to settle in Ọraukwu. It is said that a chiefly lineage in the latter town (Ọraukwu) still traces its origin to Nri Agụ.

15. Nri Alike and Nri Apịa – After Nri Agụ, two very wealthy men vied for the Nri throne – Alike and Apịa. Being men of means and power, no one could stop them and they both succeeded in getting themselves crowned as Eze Nri – the first time the town had seen two crowned kings since the unification under Nribụịfe . Apparently, the trade boom that began in the reign of Nri Agu had affected the politics of Nri: a class of noveau riche had risen who could force or manoeuvre their way into power. They both died ominously. According to some traditions, they both died on the same day; according to other traditions, they died within one market week (four days) of each other.
The reign of Alike and Apịa witnessed a massive expansion of the trans-Atlantic trade in slaves. This trade appears to have only penetrated the Nri-influenced areas significantly from the middle of the 18th century, when we got the first reference to an Igbo slave in the New World with ichi marks, in 1752. Thus, it is likely the reign of Alike and Apịa embraced the mid-18th century. And while these two Eze Nri authorised the inhumane trade in slaves (perhaps because they were traders themselves who might have also dealt in slaves), they declared it an abomination to kill or bleed a slave. This is the origin of the claim by the Nri people that they did not practise human sacrifice. (There are, however, indications that human sacrifice persisted in Nri.)

16. Nri Ezimilo – Before his selection as the next Eze Nri, Nri Ezimilo had been a ritual agent based in Asaba. He was recalled to Nri Town and consecrated. One night, however, shortly after he became Eze Nri, he was murdered by thieves from Enugwu Ukwu. The thieves were raiders who had come to the king’s compound to steal the cattle paid to the Eze Nri as tribute. Nri Ezimilo had gone out into his yard to see what was going on when the men, not knowing his identity, murdered him. The death of Nri Ezimilo was followed by a severe drought which was said to have affected all of Igboland. This was probably in the late 18th century (sometime between the 1770s and the 1790s) when, according to records, several parts of the West African forest regions were affected by drought.

17. Nri Enwenetem – Because of Nri Ezimilo’s untimely death and because of the drought, which was attributed to the wrath of the murdered king, his son was allowed to step into his father’s position immediately (without the necessary interregnum), and he became Eze Nri Enwenetem. This was the first and only time a son was succeeding his father as Eze Nri, at least since the time of the Nri Namokes. It was also the first and only time an interregnum was not observed after the passing of the preceding king. The drought that followed his father’s death is said to have only ended when Enugwu Ukwu made amends for the murder by giving up an Enugwu Ukwu son and an Enugwu Ukwu daughter to die in Nri in compensation.

18. Nri Añụa – Around the turn of the 19th century, Añụa was consecrated as Eze Nri. He was an aged man, and soon agreed to abdicate in favour of a younger candidate. He has officially been forgotten, and his name does not appear in the official kinglist. His descendants, however, (the Añụa minimal lineage within ỤmụNri major lineage of Obeagụ) have kept his memory alive by maintaining an Eze-Nri Añụa Royal Band.

19. Nri Enweleana I – Nri Añụa was to be succeeded by a man whose name is remembered as Nwankpọ, but the position was forcibly wrestled from Nwankpọ in what was essentially a coup by a young firebrand who assumed the position of Eze Nri as Nri Enweleana I. The reign of Nri Enweleana I coincided with the career of the notorious Arọ slave dealer Okoli Ijọma of Ndịkeliọnwụ, who was raiding the Nri-Ọka axis in the mid-19th century. Enweleana I sent his ritual agents to dissuade Ijọma from slave-raiding and from instigating towns to fight one another with arms and the Ada [Edda] warriors which he (Ijọma) supplied. But when Ijọma rebuffed the Eze Nri’s diplomatic overtures, Enweleana I placed an anathema on him and formed a military alliance called Amakọm to resist the activities of the Arọ slavers. It was probably around this time that Nri, Ọka, Enugwu-Ukwu and some other towns within Nri’s sphere of ritual control stopped holding slaves and a settlement was set up for refugees from slave raids and ex-slaves, known as Amọbịa. The member-towns of the Amakọm military alliance set up to resist the Arọ were: Ọka, Nibo, Nise, Amọbịa, Ugwuọba, Enugwu-Agịdị, Ebenebe, Ukpo, and Amansi. The military alliance is said to have achieved some success in checking the Edda raids in the Nri-Ọka axis, notably defeating the hired warriors at Nọfia and Enugwu-Ukwu. Nri Enweleana I died around 1869 and was succeeded after a long interregnum of about 20 years by Nri Ọbalike.

20. Nri Ọbalike – Nri Obalike became Eze Nri around 1889, and was the Eze Nri when British colonialism arrived in the heart of Igboland. Against the tradition that an Eze Nri must not leave his town, the British forced him to attend the Native Court at Ọka. It was a reflection of the awe and terror in which the people of the Nri-Ọka axis held the Eze Nri that when Nri Ọbalike entered the Native Court for the first time while a sitting was going on, the whole assembly rose and prepared to flee.There, in Ọka, he was forced (at gunpoint, my sources say) to renounce the powers of his sacred office. In August 1911, the British colonial administrators struck the biggest blow on the power of Eze Nri Ọbalike when they compelled the Eze Nri to publicly abolish nsọ and alụ (the very props of the Eze Nri’s authority) in a gathering of the Eze Anị (chief priests of the Anị deity) at Nkwọ Marketplace in Enugwu-Ukwu. By this act, the Eze Nri was repudiating his ritual control of Igbo communities: the Nri hegemony had come to an end, in theory at least. Eze Nri Ọbalike passed on in 1926.

21. Nrijimọfọ II – The first Eze Nri of a ‘modern’ Nri Town. He was enthroned in 1936 after an interregnum of 10 years.

22. Nri Enweleana II – Eze Nri Enweleana II Obidiegwu Onyeso became Eze Nri in 1988. He died around 2018 (the death and burial of Eze Nri are not usually publicised, as they were supposed to be immortal), and his son Prince Ikenna Onyeso was confirmed as Regent of Nri in 2019.

~ Picture: Nri Ọbalike and his attendants, and some Chiefs, during the abrogation of nso and alu, 1911 (Courtesy: Northcote Thomas)


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