Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association: Origin and Developments: A Review by Zelugo Dr. Joe Bel-Molokwu

Posted by News Express | 16 November 2019 | 2,279 times

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•Zelugo Dr. Joe Bel-Molokwu

Agbalanze! Ogbuevi Ogbuevi nu o!

Onye na nk’ie, Onye na nk’ie o!

Nke onye chi, nya ze kw’oo!

Title: Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association: Origin and Developments

Published: 2019

Publishers: Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association

Consultant/Author: Chinyelugo Osita Anionwu

Research Assistant: Ugokwe Tobechukwu Etukokwu

Editors: Zelugo Joe Bel-Molokwu & Nnabuenyi Chiedu Ofodile

Contents: 211 pages; 17 chapters

This seminal work is at once many things rolled into one – an educative narrative, a historical record, an academically authoritative output, an essential routine reading material, and a cultural vade mecum for every Onitsha person, and for all who have interest in the essence of Onitsha, this enigmatic city on the eastern bank of the Niger. It is also eloquent testimony to the intellectual potency and cultural depth of Agbalanze Onitsha, a unique component of Onitsha society, and its membership. Agbalanze Onitsha has drawn its membership over time from the crème de la crème of Onitsha. From Zik to Professor Chike Obi. From Justice Louis Mbanefo to Chief Modebe. From Engr. Willie Achukwu to P. N. C. Molokwu, MBE. From Justice Emmanuel Araka to Justice Omenye Nwokedi. From R. M. C. Chukwurah to Ajie Ukpabi Asika. From the lowest to the highest.   

Conceived, planned, researched, written, edited, proof read and produced by components of Agbalanze Onitsha, this book is one to be proud of. That it took time in coming is well justified by its presentation to the world today. It answers virtually all questions there are about the mystique of Agbalanze Onitsha as a revered institution, misunderstood by many, viewed with suspicion by some, reviled by others – but respected by ALL.

Prior to this book, there have been numerous works that touched – albeit tangentially - on Agbalanze Onitsha and what is stands for. Indeed, there is hardly any work that has ever been written about Onitsha that does not talk about Agbalanze Onitsha and Ichi Ozo Onitsha. But none has dwelt on the institution as its sole theme; none has been as well researched as this; none has traced the history of Agbalanze Onitsha in as much painstaking depth; and, above all, none has had the imprimatur of Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association. This feat is to the credit of the leadership of Nnabuenyi Uchenna Mbanefo, under whose presidency this initiative was actualized. It is also to the credit of Chinyelugo Dr. Osita Anionwu that he was able to put so much time and energy into bringing forth this legacy of a book.

Prior to this, there was the production of a video documentary under the presidency of Nwakibie Dr. Henry Molokwu, a project directed by Akunnia Col. George Molokwu. There have also been individual efforts here and there to unravel the innards of Agbalanze Onitsha, so to say. 

The positioning of the book under review today is elevated with the inspiring Foreword by none other than the Obi of Onitsha himself, His Majesty Alfred N. Achebe, mni, cfr, whose voice captured the all-importance of a book of this seriousness and breadth. This is in line with his vision of the emergence of a neo-modern society out of the rich traditional setting of Onitsha. The Agbalanze President, Nnabuenyi Mbanefo, also highlights the critical purpose of this work in his Preface, with the words: “…that the values and integrity of Ozo and Agbalanze in Onitsha will continue to rise to greater levels.”

Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association: Origin and Developments is a blend of quite a rich repertoire. It is well written and is complete with referencing, making it as useful for scholarly work, as it is for casual or inquiring reading. It seamlessly migrates from its deep effort to locate the origin of Ozo title taking in Onitsha, to identification of landmarks in Ozo title taking, to detailed description of sequences, paraphernalia, processes, songs and chants, protocols, ceremonies, regalia and the structure of the association.

Works of scholars like anthropologist Dr. Richard Henderson, who did and continues to research into Onitsha and its people since 1961, his wife and fellow researcher Helen, Ojinnaka R. I. Chukwurah, Jerry Orakwue, Dr. Chudi Okwechime, Onuora Nzekwu are among the sources of back-grounding.

This work traces the growth of Agbalanze Onitsha from its roots that date to the 16th Century exodus from the Benin Kingdom (or maybe even earlier) when it had no specific name beyond the description of “ichi Ozo”, through to the beginning of the 20th Century wherein it is captured from research that there were “about 200” members, on to modern times. Indeed, today, Agbalanze, now well structured as a registered trustee association, has between 800 and 900 members in all parts of the world. From the primordial ichi Ozo within small family units, there are today 37 Agbalanze Ozo kindred units, and the number most likely could have exceeded that, but for initiatives to minimize further splintering of Ozo units.

In 211 pages broken into 17 chapters, the book does a jolly good job in marshaling out the significance of Ozo and its spirituality, as it does with its treatment of the meaning of Agbalanze, Ozo titles and names, rites of passage, administration of the association through a seven-man Executive Council, the processes leading to the development of a Constitution, interviews, and the opening of a befitting headquarters. The book is also well illustrated with photographs, which apparently took great effort to assemble. It also has a chapter on suggestions!

One high point of the book is the rich essay on Ugo, the Eagle, the regal bird, around which Ozo title taking revolves. The eagle’s feather is a sine qua non in the entire process and significance of Agbalanze Onitsha. There is a nostalgic reference to the early days when the Ugo (the feather) was daintily stuck into a specially grown tuft of hair on an initiate’s head. This with time gave way to sticking the Ugo in gold or silver wire thread embroidered caps that we know today.      

In all, this work has done justice to the concept of Ichi Ozo Onitsha, something that has continued to confound non-members and non-Onitsha indigenes at large.

Is Agbalanze Onitsha a cult? Is it a cabal? Is it a religious sect? Is it a coven (okwu alusi)? Is it an exclusive club for millionaires? Is it a segregated society? Is it a political pressure group? Is it a power bloc?

Or, is Agbalanze Onitsha a sacred institution founded and operating on lofty principles of honour, dignity, pride and incorruptibility? Is it a deep-rooted ancestral institution that promotes high values and moral principles? Is it an organization that dwells on the elevation of moral standards, social ethics and clean living?

Will the “outside” find answers to these posers in this rich book?

My answer is:

Icho ima ife di n’Ozo, bia chi e l’anyi Ozo!

Being a review of Agbalanze Onitsha Cultural Association: Origin and Developments, by Zelugo Dr. Joe Bel-Molokwu at the Public Presentation of the book in Onitsha today, Saturday, November 16, 2019.

Source: News Express

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