The British Invasion of Aku: The coming of Agbarigba
“Agbarigba” literally means in Aku dialect “people of the chains”, a name given to the white men by Aku people who were the first to see them in the present Uzo-Uwani local Government as they were chaining people. The coming of Agbarigba is the story of the British invasion of Aku. The Agbarigba came not only to literally chain Aku people but also to use the superior firing power of English guns over cutlasses, spears, charms, and “egbe cham”, to beat the fiery, war-like Aku into submission and defeat. This freed the towns and villages around Aku from the wars, raids and terror being unleashed on them by Aku people. First published in Okikpe magazine, Vol. 1, 1974 by the Aku Undergraduates’ Union, pp. 35-37, the story is a reader’s delight. Follow the story link for details.
THE BRITISH INVASION OF AKU:
THE COMING OF AGBARIGBA
- A. OGBU.
One of the names for the white man in Aku dialect is agbarigba, which means, people of the chains, because the first Aku people to see the white men at Umerum and Ogrugru river ports saw them chaining people. “Gbararaaa” was the sound that panic-struck, hushed and paralyzed the busy life of Aku people in the bright forenoon of a harvest season in the year 1911. It was a strange sound, the sound of shots from very powerful guns.
It was in the forenoon during the harvest season in 1911 that a detachment of steel-helmeted army and police of the colonial administration camping at Nkpologu invaded Aku. This was the culmination of months of preparation for the subjugation of the war-like people of Aku. The white men and their soldiers and police came from the Anambra river to Nkpologu where Chief Nwogoroifi allowed them to camp. Using Nkpologu as their base, they surveyed and learnt all they could about the surrounding towns and villages. They learnt that the only people who would not welcome them were Aku people. Thereupon they shifted their base from Aho Nkpologu to Odanike, very close to the Adada River and almost half way between Aku and Nkpologu.
This move alarmed Aku people who immediately recalled her soldiers who for the past few months had been trying to starve Akpugo to submission. A strict watch was kept of the white men and their soldiers. Neither the white men nor their soldiers did anything provocative except that the soldiers sometimes begged
Aku farmers harvesting yams and okpa (bambara nuts) at Ishi Adada to give them some. The only thing that frightened Aku people was that the soldiers ate the okpa raw. Thus the farmers came to regard them as animals.
The begging for foodstuff increased to such an extent that it became a nuisance. Sometimes the soldiers would take the food by force when a farmer refused. Aku people felt that if no action was taken to persuade the foreigners to leave or to drive them out of their farming areas by force, their freedom to cultivate there
during the following season would be seriously hampered.
It was at the heat of a discussion to find a lasting solution to the presence of the white men camped about four miles out of Aku that one of the white men and some soldiers strolled into Aku. The first family they reached was Amegu-Uwani Mgboko where they saw a bunch of ripe banana which they cut down and fell to helping themselves. This was at the premises of Etude Okagu (died 1961) who was a member of Umu Enyanwu Age Grade, the age grade then in charge of the defence of Aku. The action of the white man and his men was an insult not only to him as a person but as a member of the Umu Enyanwu, the bravest and strongest age grade then in Aku. Raising an alarm, “Uvuru Nweriagada, Ewu akoro m jinishi,” (Uvuru Nweriagada, the goat has eaten yam from my head). (Of course, only a dead man will allow the goat to eat from his head), he attacked the intruders single-handedly and gave the white man a knife cut he would remember all his life.
Before neighbours could rush to the scene, the intruders had taken to their heals and beat the fastest retreat. When Aku leaders learnt that the white man had dared to step into Aku, the bugle (made from the horn of the antelope or bush cow) was sounded, this ordered Aku soldiers to arms. Within minutes of the bugle sound, Aku soldiers were rushing down towards Mgboko armed with cutlasses, spears, and omenye, a few had dane guns. Their aim was to drive the foreigners out of their farming land.
Meantime the colonial soldiers had reached their camp where the whole force was ordered to march against Aku. It was the practice in Aku that in an emergency, soldiers were not to wait for the arrival of the entire Aku force before attacking the enemy. So the first Mgboko soldiers to rush out to meet the invaders saw what they could not describe. The colonial soldiers, advancing in what appeared to be a thin semi-circular line, fired on. Aku soldiers from such a distance that made Aku weapons ineffective. Many Aku soldiers fell and the remaining beat a disorderly retreat into the town.
Panic seized the entire town. Soldiers rushing down from Akutala, and Ejuona had to run back on meeting retreating Mgboko people who exaggerated the invincibility of the white man’s soldiers. The colonial soldiers entered Aku unopposed but on entering, fired and killed men, women, children and domestic animals. The slightest shake of a twig or the rustle of leaves in the bush received salvoes of shots. All houses along their way into the town were set on fire. A great number of people of Agumoha, Umu Odeke, Amegu Uwani and Ezani were killed.
The callousness and inhumanity of the colonial soldiers could not be equaled. When they shot and killed Nwa Lolo Eneado, the first son of Atiyimu Ugwueworo at Ofifia Oka, each soldier took a Kola nut from the man’s basket and then hit his corpse with the butt of the gun. Firing continued as the soldiers moved into the heart of the town. As the slaughter entered Amu-Uba, it became hideous. At Amaidi Ohemje, the soldiers were attracted by the noise of hurrying people taking refuge at Ogwugwu Ejiri. They advanced to investigate.
Ogwugwu Ejiri was a deep, wide, long gully. On reaching there, the soldiers saw a mass of people who had taken refuge in the gully in the hope that the soldiers would not reach there. The soldiers took positions along the gully and opened fire on the defenceless humanity. The firing continued for hours, at the
end of which more than half the population of Mgboko, Umu Ezike, Ohemje, and some people from Ukwuvuru and Umudo Offienyi lay dead.
The night brought an end to the killing. The invaders camped at Ngodongo for the night, made bon-fire and revelled in their victory. Aku elders met in the night and in the morning sent a delegation to the white men. This was to make sure that the
Massacre did not continue into the remaining sections of the town. The delegates approached Ngodongo, waving palm leaves over their heads as a sign of peace. The delegation was entirely made up of old men whose white hairs might deter the invaders from killing them. The leader of the invaders received the
submission of Aku people who undertook to feed the soldiers for as long as they remained at Odanike.
The delegation, on behalf of Aku agreed:
- To obey the white man.
- Not to engage in any war without the white man’s permission.
- Not to attack or continue the siege of Akpugo.
When the surrounding towns and villages learnt of the defeat and submission of Aku, they quickly welcomed the white men as they moved from one place to the other.