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By Prof. Chris Aniche Okorafor

Merry Christmas:
What a joyful celebration this SUNDAY NKWO, DECEMBER 25, 2016 as we review how Britain tried assisting its business economic enterprises to primarily takeover Arochukwu kingdom much earlier than Wednesday Nkwo, December 25, 1901. With their hope of promptly winning the war, their secondary program was to sit back with joys of economic earning victory over Arochukwu and share their annual festival commemoration of the religious and cultural birth of Christ as is well observed in their home and all its empires. They failed in that their programmed prompt attack on Aro. Their control was only firmed at their post-war discursion with our Aro honorary representatives in Bende on Afor Day, March 26th 1902 about 92 days from their surpassed lost merry of 1901 Christmas day.

In these our years, we are though very glad with our hearts prepared to receive THE KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS all through the Christmas season riding on to our Christian New Year. We surely are aware that we have Aro New Year within the 24 days starting with Avor Okpo-Naza-Awada and ending with Orie Ogwugwu Ikeji. Our Eke-Odu the 15th day is the First Day of the New Year leading to the Grand 19th day that is Eke Ekpe.

Of the Christian years, it was Pope Gregory X111 who in 1582 worked with Christopher Clavious a Jesuit Astronomer to establish January 1 as the start of the year which process introduced the Leap Year adjustments. Before then, the First Month was March that had September, October, November and December as the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th respectively with Latin names which they still bear to date even though December for instance is now the 12th and no longer the 10th month.

Aro Kingdom established by our ancestors on winning the 1534 Ibibio War, took over the Ibritam shrine of the Ibibios with archpriesthood and its full oracle control with a novel independent title creation as Ibit-Ukpabi, (“The Drum of Ukpabi” with Ukpabi being the Aro word for the “Creator God”). Among the Ibibio and those of Eastern Delta it was known as “Tsuku ab Jama” which means “God Resides There”. As the Aro got well progressive in the exiting and growing businesses, trades and the helps sort from them with the Ibit-Ukpabi by the vast citizen towns within the then South of Benue and East of Niger rivers down to the Atlantic, Aro was renamed in honor as Arochukwu as well as “Mbot Abasi” meaning “The People of the Great Spirit” by the Efiks and Ibibios. Assessing these issues of our ancestors, definitely help us to recognize and firmly believe and trust in God.

The Non-Christian Businesses.
Aro was very much functional in the international business transactions of these periods. These were active facts involving the trans-Atlantic slave trades which though was ruled out on a December 1883 Berlin Conference which created purely for Aro their interests on colonial and commercial transactions. Britain that worn and displaced the French who cleaned out the Dutch that chased out the Portuguese all within our now Nigeria, had also even before this their planned war on Aro, forced out the King Oba Kosoko in Lagos in 1851, seized and declared Lagos a colony in 1851, shelled Ndoni state to submission in 1876, followed by Atani in 1879. It was though after the Berlin Conference that it created commercial controls in Onitsha, Atani, Obosi, Asaba and Aguleri in 1892.

With expansion of legitimate trade after this collapse of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Aro management skills utilized at the slave trades were still essential in the coastal states like Bonny, Brass, Ubani (Opobo), Kalabari, Okirika and Calabar for the loading and un-loading of ships at the ports and for paddling the new and bigger canoes up and down the rivers flowing from the rich palm interiors. Aro Ibin Ukpabi expertise was still very much required all through their established states.

Aro citizens were not even ever dreamt to be slaves. For confirmation, the Missionary-Teacher Sigismund W. Koler who in 1847 was in Seria Leone teaching the slaves brought back to Africa, he reported in his 1854 book “Polyglotta Africana” the actuality that no Aro native was ever a slave on the routine transcripts to America and European states. Other foreign historians also expressed the accepted uniqueness and mystics assigned to the Aro which included various thoughts of Aro being either migrant Macedonians, Jews expelled from Spain, Carthaginians or Portuguese. Some of these click on the Aro years starting prayerfully a few days before the Eke Ekpe on their Ikeji festival that by their lunar phase standard falls in within the month of September. Incidentally, the Jewish civil calendar in also adopting the lunar phases in determining festivities such that their Hebrew year starts about September 23 about that here in Aro. This is one of the wrong processes of thinking that Aro is of other national sources. It is purely and entirely Aro-Oke-Igbo.

British strike to oust Aro before Christmas 1901:
With all the impacts of Aro controls, on December Avor Monday 16, 1901, ten good days to the year’s Christmas, the British Foreign Office through Sir Ralph Moor its High Commissioner for 1892-1902, had received all the intelligence report that indicated the expanse of the hitherto unknown precise location and extent of Aro territory. What to them was still uncertain in their planning warfare against the zonal voicing of the intense of Aro military might.

In edge to invade what was programmed as “Aro territory” and to rule Aro, Britain mustered a formidable army in terms of that age, consisting of 74 white officers, and 3,464 African soldiers. The Captain A. Mackenzie with his troops were to move from Cross River to Afikpo; Captain A. T. Jackson programmed from Oguta; the other troops led by Lt. Col. Festing was to start from Akwete. Their end up points were in Abam, Ohafia and Itu.

These troops were incidentally related as Christian British army, with Christian Chaplains, on the date we know as eve of the day of peace to all men of goodwill – December 24th 1901. Their effects were not to “pacify” the territory, nor to implant Christian principles on the Aro “natives”, but the British business companies had more objectives.

This first savage attack was successfully repelled by Aro. Unfortunately in follow-up attacks, the envisaged and required assistance particularly from the powerful Aro merchants based outside the enclave, their usual allies in Abam, Ohafia, Edda and Abiriba, were effectively cowed or blocked out by the British forces encircling the town. In spite of these and the British increases in their military factors, it is accepted that God’s blessings grew in Aro. The evidence is also believed to arise from the Aro and its neighbor nations they share faiths in Ekpe.

As the war was about getting to the session that may have created a heavy loss of life to Aro, its Enyong Abatim neighbor that often visit as brethren to their Ekpe services and occasionally to the Eke Ekpe, travelled in to restore peace. Just at the time the British were almost about concluding the war with mass murders, the Enyong Abatim troup, paddled with their canoes chanting the Ekpe drum from Asang and reached the Aro Amasu beach. When they landed there and came out from the canoes, onto the mainland, they started beating the Ekpe drums till they reached Ncheghe market in our Ujari village. The Aro having heard the sound of Ekpe drums stopped at once because they and the people of Asang had already known what in spiritual worship the Ekpe drum meant. The British kept silent likewise and stopped fighting the Aro. Then the people of Asang asked the Aro to surrender to the British because they did not have more or enough power to fight the British Empire. There ended the war, and the British Empire claimed the victory.

In this final battle in March 1902, Aro bearing still its characteristic self, in a stop with the British military commanders, objected to any meeting with them and insisted on discussing only with the High Commissioner in person. They were conceded this on Avor day, Wednesday March 26th 1902 in a neutral location in Bende. The meeting although it extended to the second day Nkwo, they failed to have accepted that their long established Aro autonomy within defined limits should be retained, the troops based in Aro should be posted out to Itu, and their traditional religious practices based on Ibn-Ukpabi ought to be honored. This High Commissioner held the opinion that it was to teach Aro “who had persistently resisted any interference on the part of the white man a salutary lesson”, and that his campaign “had clearly demonstrated to them the power of a government that intends to rule them and control their country”.

We these days accept the good salutations relating to our current Christmas which are such as are noted by several Britains. Shandlan that served as an Aro Administrative Officer regret the damage to Aro civilization by citing that Aro had organized a very functional judicial and administrative system. For this Christmas season, let us recall the good deeds our ancestors that developed Aro Confederacy start the1534 Ibibio War; adoption, management and spread of control of Ibn-Ukpabi that created great influence on the neighboring and far distant communities providing their application to Aro for solutions of their problems; established homes in those communities; engaged in trades and business with foreign entities there too and created good visiting roads to those locateons. Aro had even well created roads to their businesses and the expensive Ibin Ukpabi transactions. Mr. A. C. Leonard describes a typical Aro highway thus “The Lower Niger and its Tribes” as “broad, well kept, beautiful avenue of trees” and the “a wonderful floating bridge, by which we crossed over, that extends for quite half a mile, winding in and out among the dense undergrowth.”

Our Holy Wish:
We therefore pray this Christmas that our road contacts, light and water supply, health and education facilities, safe and peaceful livings will enhance in us here the love of God and fellow citizens, business and financial transactions. May we from this Merry Christmas Season, always glory in the excellence of our Founding Fathers, seek solutions for the needs of Aro in our tasks for our personal needs.