A Brief History of Madam Ekea, an unsung Anioma mother of many nations
- Emeka Esogbue
In Nigerian history, there have been women of uncommon deeds such as Queen Amina of Zaria with the strength and spirit of womanhood also an influential and powerful woman who legend accords with acquisition of military talents from the warriors of Zauzau (now modern-day Zaria). History has also accommodated Efunroye Tinubu of the Yoruba nation who as a result of the diplomacy intrinsic in her was a wealthy and influential trader. There was also Bilikisu Sungbo, the woman that commissioned the walls of Eredo about 1,000 years ago. Forbes Bonette, the Yoruba slave girl who turned the god-daughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain is now a pride of the Nigerian woman. All these women are famous today because history has documented them.
To the Aniomas, Madam Ekea is a great historical figure also situated in the class of other Nigerian heroines such as those already listed above. That notwithstanding, she has not been given a deserving place in history thus the obscurantism suffered by her. A historical activity of her past, which will be discussed here, endorses her as remaining a pride to the Nigerian woman. She is a mother of many nations one of the central reasons, the history of Nigerian heroines cannot be complete without taking into account her extraordinary accomplishments.
Like all other women of today’s Nigeria with legendary exploits, Madam Ekea deserves a place in Nigerian historical space.
Who was Madam Ekea?
She was a trader and progenitor of several settlements, all of which are parts of important communities within the Anioma of today’s Delta State. She was historically a substantial figure in Nigeria because of her matriarchic roles in the social system of the Anioma nation being the head of her households despite the presence of her husband, something very rare in Anioma social organization where the male is the family head. Thus, she maintained some uncommon authority and sustained influence.
Like most African figures with pre-written history, not much is historically known of her family background and early life as primary and secondary sources are at the moment seriously deficient. But the Ibusa legend has managed to retain her birth as having happened around the 16th c to Obosi parents in present day Anambra State, South East of present Nigeria from where she became married to a man from Asaba, South-South of the same present Nigeria. In summary, she hailed from Obosi.
She dedicated her time and attention to the trade that mostly took her across the River Niger especially her Obosi homestead, Onitsha and Atani and as Anioma historians have maintained, proceeds of her trade were mostly invested on her children’s welfare, causing them to become endeared to her. Hence, she also dedicated her care to her family.
Quite unlike Queen Amina who refused to marry because she didn’t want to lose power to any man, Ibusa lore holds that Madam Ekea, the extremely beautiful woman that delighted sense of admiration who worked hard to promote her trade was married to two men at different times of her life; first, to an Asaba man, and when the marriage ended, she married Ezemese, an Ibusa man becoming his fifth wife.
Some characteristics of Ekea descendants
The first characteristics of Ekea settlements are found in the preservation of the name, “Ekea” retained till date by some of the settlements founded by her. Again, till date, her descendants are known to have strong biological and historical attachment to her due to the influence she commanded. For this reason, the mention of her husbands’ names is rarely heard in cultural rites and rituals of her people as has been observed. The settlements founded by her descendants also bear her name as the progenitor as seen in Umu-Ekea (descendants of Ekea) and Isieke (commonly borne by Asaba and Ibusa).
Although these bodies of people traceable to her kinship are scattered around different communities of Anioma today, they still maintain ties and are distinguished by some unique and dominant cultural features they have preserved among themselves.
The second characteristics of Ekea descendants have been the preservation of “Omogwu”, the well-known Umuekea salutation. It is a traditional form of greeting derived from Benin variation of “Omoghun” being an ancient greeting that relates to blacksmithing as an occupation though evidences of blacksmithing have not been noted in Asaba and Ibusa, two major communities her descendants are dominant. Still, no one can tell when the traditional greeting was imported from Benin to Asaba from where it was further traditionally handed Ibusa but it could have been as a result of the relationship maintained with people of Edo Kingdom through trade, wars and diplomatic relationships.
Like in the Yoruba people’s “oriki”, Ekea descendants in Ibusa are traditionally praised as “Ekea Etiti Obodo” due to the centrality or strategic location of their quarters within the Ibusa community. This traditional expression of praise or what the Anioma people natively call “Itu-afa” becomes observable during the funeral ceremonies of a departed Umuekea son or daughter in Ibusa and is usually conducted single-handedly by a woman with responses in the affirmative from other participants in the funeral ceremony, one of the essence of which is to demonstrate the deceased rich ancestry as well as the good life he lived while on earth. This culture is not an exclusive practice of Umuekea people but widely practiced in Anioma.
Settlements with Ekea kinship
Some of the settlements in Anioma that directly trace their kinship to Ekea matriarchy are found in:
- Umuekea (located in Ibusa)
- Isieke (located in Asaba)
- Umuoshumi (located in Onicha Ugbo)
- Ezema (located in Ojoto community in Anambra State)
- Umuibiage (located in Ejeme Aniogor)
Settlement patterns of the people of Ekea
Two major patterns adopted in the foundations of these settlements in their various communities have been identified below as:
- Ancestry i.e. ancestral lineage hence birth or what is known as “honourale descent” being the first type of pattern. This particular pattern is notable or identifiable with Obosi (her birthplace); and Asaba and Ibusa (places of marriage of Ekea). By this state of marriage, she bore children that became some of Asaba and Ibusa indigenes.
- Migration being the other type of pattern is “an instance of moving to live in another place”. This may also be defined as the “movement of persons from one country or locality to another”. By this arrangement, there were secondary movements to Onicha Ugbo, Ejeme Aniogor and Ojoto in Anambra State.
The above patterns have been generally broken down with the employment of available primary and secondary sources in dearth though to explain actual occurrences in history and further processes or transformative developments that resulted in the current stage of the settlements as can been seen today.
- Onicha-Ugbo: Here, the historian relies on Ibusa legend which states that Umuafene migrants in Isieke of Umuekea in Ibusa migrated to Onicha-Ugbo to permanently settle. Eventually, they turned out to be geographically situated in Umuoshumi Quarters of Onicha-Ugbo in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. Early in history and as recent as in 1950, it was observed that people of Umuafene did not hastily marry from Onicha Ugbo community. They were assured on determining beforehand, whether the one to be married was from Umuoshumi, the quarters of their kinsmen and kinswomen, which was a way to avoid incestuous marriage. Umuafene is today an extension of Isieke which is also part of Umuekea larger unit. It lies in geographical proximity to Umuezeazu, another clan of Umueze Quarters in Ibusa.
- Ejeme Aniogor: Here, the Historian relies on a well-known Ibusa account in which Obi Ezesi, the King of Ibusa went on exile to Ejeme Aniogor due to his forceful rejection as the King of the community by the Ibusa people. In the process, he caused the migration of great number of his Umuogwu descendants (being a part of Umuekea) to Ejeme Aniogor in Aniocha South Local Government in a primary migration. Thus, a great number of Umuekea descendants are found today in Umuibiage Quarters of that community where they are now located. The Historian recalls that till date there has been an unbroken relationship between the people on both sides. The Historian also recalls that as recent as few weeks ago, there was a traditional meeting between them in Ibusa.
- Ojoto: Here, the Historian will rely on an account documented by Ojelabi, an Ojoto historian. In his work, titled “Where There Will Be No Priest At the Shrine”, Ojelabi maintained that out of the eight quarters that make up Ojoto, Ezema, one of the quarters, was founded by Ibusa migrants from Umuekea. From this secondary source, it is evidential that Ekea kinship extends to Ojoto community which is the headquarters of Idemili South Local Government Area, South East geo-political zone of Nigeria.
Preservations of Ekea heritage
Although Madam Ekea, the mother of many nations remains largely unsung as not much has been done by her descendants in particular and Anioma historians in general to document her historical exploits, the Madam Ekea statue by Nkpayala Junction in Ibusa is sacred to the people of Umuekea Quarters as it is often ceremoniously visited during burial ceremonies. The “Ekea Bombers of Umuekea”, a local football club in Ibusa is named after the matriarch.
- The first observable picture in this work is that Ekea descendants seem unaware of their ancestral connection.
- Despite the widespread of the ancestry in six different communities now, including Obosi, the homestead of Madam Ekea; two major states and two major geo-political zones of the nation, her descendants have done little or nothing to preserve their identity.
- It is very much evident that the totality of people cutting across Asaba, Ibusa, Ejeme-Aniogor, Onicha-Ugbo and Ojoto have done little or no research at all to dig into their historical connection, early and family background and in general, the life and times of Madam Ekea, the matriarch. This aspect of historical observation raises the below questions:
- What part or quarters of Obosi did she hail from?
- Who were her parents?
- What form of trade did she carry out?
- The Obosi, Asaba, Ibusa, Onicha-Ugbo, Ejeme Aniogor and Ojoto people need to come together to take a particular day to celebrate the matriarch on annual basis.
- Institute annual lectures, awards, seminars, workshops etc. in her honour
Anioma historians will do well to carry out further researches on this Amazon as the Yoruba have done to a number of their heroines that include those already listed here.
Emeka Esogbue, a trained historian is the Research Editor of Anioma Essence Magazine, a publication of the Organization For the Advancement of Anioma Culture (OFAAC).