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Colonial rule in Africa is one of the experiences in African history that cannot be easily forgotten with the passage of time. It was an experience which began with the scramble for, partitioning and eventual conquest of African societies. The study of colonial interactions in Africa has received commendable attention from scholars over the years.  Nigeria is one of the colonized countries that felt the pangs of colonial rule for over half a century. This study deals with the British conquest and administration of Ngwaland from 1892-1960. The coming of the British and its impact is still a factor to reckon with in the history of any given group not only in Igboland, but in Africa as a whole. Consequently, much has been written about the colonial period although in some cases, information about the African side of the story is incomplete. This work is a contribution to the African side of the story with the Ngwa of Southeastern Nigeria as a case study. By adopting the qualitative research methodology, the work arrives at a holistic narrative on the British presence in Ngwaland. Information on this narrative relied largely on oral interviews, government gazettes, archival materials and relevant secondary materials. Attempts have been made to adequately interpret, analyze data obtained and present results thematically and chronologically. The study adopts an interdisciplinary approach using tools from geography, archaeology and sociology. The aim is to reconstruct the colonial history of Ngwaland as well as examine its conquest and administration by the British and determine the extent they were willing to go in order to fully exploit the potential gains in the land and beyond. The work will also examine the degree and pattern of response adopted by the Ngwa to the challenge of an allien rule. There is no doubt that this work provides a safety pad on which to assess British impact on Ngwaland as well as further research into other salient aspects of the history of Ngwaland yet to be studied. It will also assist in understanding the process of social change and adaptation in the face of challenges. However, the author takes the responsibility of all the surviving imperfections in this work.



Background of Study

From 15 November 1884 to 26 February 1885, European leaders met in Berlin to decide the future of Africa and partition the continent in order to avert possible war among themselves. The conference was attended by fourteen powers: all of the European powers and the United States. Meeting at the Berlin residence of Chancellor Otto von Birsmarck, the foreign ministers of these powers established ground rules for the future exploitation of Africa signed as the Berlin Act. One of the rules was that any European nation that took possession of any African coast, or named themselves as “protectorate” of one, must inform the signatory powers of the Berlin Act. Also, the conference introduced the “spheres of influence” doctrine in which the control of a coast also meant that they would control the hinterland to an almost unlimited distance. Significant too was the doctrine of effective occupation; in order to occupy a coastal possession, the nation also had to prove that they controlled sufficient authority there to protect existing rights such as freedom of trade and transit. At the end, Britain established its sphere of influence and effective occupation in Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Ghana and Nigeria.2 Nigeria became clearly marked as part of the British Empire, a major colonial holding. From then onwards, Britain began her penetration and conquest of Nigeria. By 1890, the British had already advanced into Ngwaland and

Ngwaland became the colonial foothold for further expansion by the British into Igboland. Thus, by the early 1900, Britain had effectively occupied most Igbo village groups by so-called treaty and by war.

The Ngwa are one of the clans that make up the present-day Abia state. British presence in Ngwaland was established as far back as 1890 when coastal traders of Bonny and Opobo, expanding their business interests into Ngwaland had encounters with the Akwete. Already, the British had advanced into Igboland through the Opobo-Bonny front. By 1890 or so, the states of the Oil Rivers had ceased to pose a serious threat to British imperial intentions. In fact, to such an extent had these states accepted British imperium that British consuls came to see it as part of their legitimate duties to champion and advance the interest of the coastal traders, especially of Bonny and Opobo, in

Southern Igboland.3 Thus when in 1890 Bonny traders complained of encountering, at Akwete, resistance to the expansion of their business, the Acting Consul, Annesley, mobilized his ill-trained constabulary for the purpose of teaching that Igbo state how unwise it was to stand in the way of British interests. This first encounter between the British and an Igbo state ended in a victory for Akwete. Annesley and his forces, popularly known as the “Forty Thieves” were routed with a number killed.4 The following year, 1891, the administration of the Protectorate was put on a regular basis with Sir Claude Macdonald as High Commissioner and Consul-General. In October 1891, Sir Macdonald visited Akwete and took up the unsettled dispute with the Akwete elders. The Akwete elders proved reconciliatory and that amicable contact established with Macdonald matured the following year into a treaty of protection between Akwete and the protectorate administration. From this British toe-hold at Akwete, officers of the protectorate started scouring the peripheral towns of Southern Igboland, especially villages in Asa, Ndoki and Ngwa. Thus, British presence and influence became firmly established and they focused their attention on bringing the Ngwa under their effective colonial administration.

With the British presence came further penetration and conquests, achieved either by offering the Ngwa people their usual alternatives of treaty or war, peace or powder.  Before long, Obohia, Obegu, Abala, Asa, Aba, Abayi, Ihie, Ntigha and most communities in Ngwaland came under British control. A colonial relationship was thus created. No doubt, the study of colonial rule in Africa has attracted varying degrees of scholarly interests. A number of scholars, for example, J. C. Anene, Adiele Afigbo, S. N. Nwagbara, S. O. Okafor, W. E. Ofonagoro and J. Nwauguru have investigated aspects of the problem of British rule in Igboland and have enriched our knowledge of this period in Igbo history.5 As far as British conquest and administration of Southeastern Nigeria is concerned, the Ngwa clan is vital to consider, for it was from Ngwaland that the British started scouring other parts of southeastern Nigeria. This work will examine how the British conquered and administered Ngwaland. It will trace the evolution of the Ngwa society and as well as the socio-political organization which the Ngwa evolved over time.

The Ngwa themselves constitute one of the largest homogeneous cultural and dialect groups in Igboland.6 They occupy the major portion of the territory known as Aba District. Ngwaland, in the “palm belt zone”’ lying between the Imo River in the west and the Ibibio in the east, is a rich agricultural belt which fully justifies their adopted name,

Ngwa m – the lucky ones.7 It is one of the most densely populated areas situated in the rain forest of the southern Igbo plain in present Abia State, The area is bounded on the north by the present Umuahia zone, on the west by Owerri and Mbaise, on the east by Ikot-Ekpene and Abak and on the south by Ukwa. When states were created in 1991, Aba zone, Umuahia zone, and Afikpo zone formed Abia state, with the capital at Umuahia. The Aba zone is basically the Ngwa territory. Today, Ngwaland comprises seven local government areas in Abia State, namely Aba North, Aba South, Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South, Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa, and Ugwunagbo. This was done by the

government for administrative convenience.

Okpuala-Ngwa (ancient land of Ngwa), the capital of Northern Ngwa administrative unit, is generally recognized as the ‘heart’ of Ngwaland.8 This Ngwa heartland became the centre for European commercial and administrative interactions in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. However, the Ngwa people came to live in their present location following the east-west migration pattern of the Igbo. They must have displaced some of the indigenous Ibibio, driving them further eastward. They trace their ancestry back to a single family of three brothers – Ngwaukwu, Nwoha and Avosi (according to seniority) – who spread to populate Ngwaland.9 The pattern of name repetition among villages and village groups is so strikingly respected in Ngwaland that villages with the same names are exogamously exclusive in marriage affairs. The oral tradition of Ngwa society has suffered some distortion though. The main body of the Ngwa clan is said to have originated from a village called Umunoha situated in the present Owerri region.10

Tradition has it that when they came to the west banks of the Imo River, it was high tide, so they decided to rest and eat their evening meal. Among them at this time were the new eastern Owerri or Mbaise people. While they were waiting for the tide to ebb, Ngwaukwu, his brothers and their families quickly boiled their yam and hurriedly ate, while the other family groups roasted theirs. The “boilers” crossed the river over the other side in good time, but the “roasters” who could not leave their food, were not so fortunate and by the time they had finished eating their food, the water had risen to such an extent that it was no longer passable; today they remain settled on the western banks of the river. The river was henceforth called

“Imo” on account of its size and rapidity of its growth.11

The three persons whose promptitude had enabled them to gain the left bank of the river are alleged to have been the three brothers mentioned above and to them was given the name “Ngwa”, literally “those who are fortunate and fast”, on account of the expeditious manner of their crossing while the stragglers or roasters on the right bank were known as the “Ohuhu”, literally “roaster” or “those who roast” to commemorate the mode of their cooking which separated them from their kith and kin. According to Chief Nwankpa

Abangwu, “the Ngwa have always been time conscious. They acted Ngwa Ngwa

(transliterated fast fast) and were lucky to cross; hence their name Ndi Ngwa Ngwa, Ngwam or Ndi Ngwa”.12 These names have endured till date although for the Ngwa, the term “Ohuhu” has now degenerated into a term of contempt for all Igbo lying north, northwest and northeast of Ngwaland.

At this time, the area in which the Ngwa settled after crossing the Imo was a virgin forest, said to have been sparsely inhabited by a people most likely to be the Ibibio, who received Ngwaukwu and his followers amicably, allocating them virgin land sufficient for their immediate needs. Ngwaukwu settled at what is now the village of Umuolike where he also established his ancestral shrine, “Ala Ngwa”. This shrine was housed in a small hut known as “Okpu” whence was derived the name Okpuala.13 Okpuala-Ngwa literally means the “Crown of Ngwaland” and it was at Okpuala Ngwa that the Ngwa founding fathers performed their first ritual. They were thankful for their safety and for the rich lands they saw around them. Thus Okpuala-Ngwa became the ancestral and ritual center of Ngwaland, a position it has continued to enjoy in a rather diminished fashion following colonization and contemporary politics. Even today the high priest of Ngwaland traditionally comes from Okpuala-Ngwa, and all the village groups founded after the dispersal of the people have their family shrines in this village.14 For decades, the three brothers dwelt around Okpuala-Ngwa at peace. But as their respective families increased in number, they moved apart in different directions albeit closely linked to each other. Ngwaukwu’s descendants eventually founded the villages of the present Ngwa Ukwu; Nwoha’s descendants, the villages of the present groups of Umuoha, Mbutu, Ovoukwu and Ovungwu; and Avosi, the present villages of the Mvosi (Nvosi) group, all around Okpuala-Ngwa.15

Colonial rule was established in Ngwaland when British invaders conquered the Akwete area in Old Aba division and in 1892; it officially became an administrative unit. With the imposition of colonial rule, Aba, a very important commercial and industrial centre on the Eastern Railway with a network of roads to radiate to all parts of the

Eastern states, became the Divisional Headquarters of the British.

Map II: Map of Ngwaland showing its Original Villages16 Statement of the Problem

The study of colonial rule in Igboland is significant in the history of Igboland. Also, British conquest of Ngwaland is crucial to understanding their further penetration and conquest of other towns Southeastern Nigeria. Consequently, studies have been carried out on the presence of the British in Igboland and our knowledge enriched by those researches. However, despite the growing literature on the colonial venture in Africa, information about the African side of the story is still incomplete as most Eurocentric texts flood the study of Africa’s colonial history. This study is a contribution to the African side of the story as it seeks to comprehensively document the historical developments following British conquest and administration of Ngwaland. Moreover, the student of Ngwa history in the twentieth century has to contend with issues such as the disparity in resistance between the southern Ngwa and the northern Ngwa, the occasional strains in the relationship between the Ngwa clans that remained adamant to British rule and the Ngwa clans that eventually subscribed to and worked for the British. Moreso, the Ngwa people have always been seen as a notorious people and flesh-eaters as well. These points of view have been advanced and canvassed by early European colonial writers and have even been endorsed subsequently and uncritically by Nigerian scholars. In fact, this view has been chanted like a hymn throughout Igboland to the extent that till date, people are wary of going to the region for fear they may be eaten. It is an unfortunate irony that this idea of the Nwga people as notorious flesh eaters continues to be recycled even by the most unlikely persons. As Njoku noted,

the temptation to hymn without verification a popular rhyme is strong and real. Many people actually fall victim to it. But this is a recipie for perpetuating stereotypical myths and ignorance. Neither scholarship nor knowledge is advanced by band-wagon posturing. We can only advance nearer truth by posing searching but neglected questions and by attempting honest answers to them.17

This essay follows dissent from and challenges such entrenched stereotypes. To this end, certain questions are relatable: were the Ngwa a trditionally notorious and troublesome people? Were they perpetually flesh-eaters? Were they traditional flesh-eaters? Did they resort to eating flesh for the fun of it or as a response to certain threatening challenges? In the light of the colonial intrusion, what did their act of flesh-eating portray? Was there any proof that every missing British official was eaten? All these are issues which form the problem that this work will address as it examines British colonialism in Ngwaland. In fact, to study and document the colonial experience of the Ngwa is one of the best ways of putting the history of Ngwaland in its correct perspective.

Purpose of Study

This study is motivated by the desire to reconstruct the history of Ngwaland with particular emphasis on the colonial period in the region. Given the strategic location of Ngwaland, it was crucial to the British in their quest to exploit and control the region. The purpose of this research therefore is to examine the British conquest and administration in Ngwaland as well the impact of their rule in Ngwaland. At every stage in human societal development, there are forces inducing change and forces opposed to change. This study therefore seeks to identify and examine the changes that took place in

Ngwaland during the colonial period. It discusses the patterns of resistance to British conquest and why the patterns differed in both the northern and southern zones of Ngwaland, notably the Isiala Ngwa and the Obioma Ngwa zones. It will also examine the nature and character of the relationship between the Ngwa and the British administrators. This is with the view to determining how much the colonial authorities were willing to manipulate traditional authority in order to establish colonial hegemony. The study will also show the extent the British were willing to go in order to fully exploit the potential gains in Ngwaland and Igboland in general to their benefit. Though not intended to be an apologia for British colonial administration in Ngwaland, this study does not just discuss the ills of British rule because dwelling solely on them will amount to discrediting holistic historical conception. Thus, it will also highlight areas that Ngwaland also benefitted from the British administration even though mostly unintended.

Significance of Study

This study is significant in providing some insights into the transitions and developments during British colonial rule and their impacts on an Igbo traditional society. More so, it is hoped that by this contribution, a comprehensive view in the study of British administration in Ngwaland will be presented. It will also be vital for future academic discourses on Ngwaland as findings will also be meaningful to historians, anthropologists and political scientists as well. It would serve both as a reference document for researchers and as a modest contribution to Igbo historiography, hence adding to the existing literature on Igbo and Nigerian history. In any case, if this study will help in stimulating further discussion and research which may be able to throw more light to the dark corners of Ngwa history, then it will have served a very useful significance.

Scope of Study

The study essentially covers the villages making up Ngwaland as at the time of colonial rule – Okpuala Ngwa, Umuchima, Ahiaba Ubi, Ahiaba Okpuala, Amapu, Nbawsi, Ntigha, Amaoji, Ihie Oji, Abayi, Osusu, Obikabia, Umuolike, Okpuala Ngwa, Amuzu, Asa, Ndoki, Ihie, Obegu, Akwete, Abala and Nvosi. The timeframe of this work is sixty eight years, spanning from 1892 to 1960. This duration represents the long presence of the British rule in Southeastern Ngwaland as a whole.

The starting date of 1892 is significant as it marked the formal colonization of Ngwaland with the treaty of protection signed between Akwaete elders and the protectorate administration. The study terminates in 1960 which marked the end of British political and administrative presence in Igboland and Nigeria.



Sources, Methodology and Organization

Over the decades, attempts at reconstructing the history of pre-colonial and colonial histories of Igbo societies have relied on sources like oral traditions/evidence, missionary, intelligence and colonial reports. For this study, these sources were vigorously employed. It was in consonance with the relevance of oral evidence that Ifemesia wrote that oral traditions are indispensible in the reconstruction and comprehensive study of any society.18 Oral information was obtained by means of interviews conducted across the area of study from Ngwa elders and chiefs. However, the researcher was careful to scrutinize the data from interviewees as much attention was paid on respondents who could give, to a considerable extent, reliable and lucid information than those who with imagined and second-hand information about the area and period under study. In the end, information gathered from these oral sources was complemented with available written records, government gazettes, intelligence and annual reports, assessment and reassessment reports gotten from the National Archives, Enugu. Caution too was exercised in relation to the information from the colonial office as the controversies surrounding such data queries their reliability.

Secondary sources were also employed in this study. They include books, journal articles and papers by scholars and unpublished project works on colonial administration in Igboland. A list of these sources, both primary and secondary, is contained in the

Sources and Bibliography section of this work.

This work does not limit itself to the discipline of history alone; it is interdisciplinary in nature employing the services of the disciplines of Geography, Economics, Political Science, Archaeology and Sociology among others. The interdisciplinary approach would ensure the combination of descriptive and critical analysis as well as reinterpretation of verifiable information collected from different sources. This research also employed the qualitative research methodology – the system of inquiry which seeks to build a holistic, largely narrative, description to inform the researcher’s understanding of a particular phenomenon or event. This is based on the understanding that data are not inherently quantitative and can be bits and pieces of almost anything. Hence, this work relied heavily on content analysis of interviews, records, oral histories and reports to describe, analyze and explain the period of colonial rule in Ngwaland. Thematically, it discusses the major themes that shaped the evolution of the Ngwa society before British intrusion, the establishment of the British in Ngwaland and consequent occupation of the area as well as the level of interaction between the British and the Ngwa following their conquest, occupation and administration of Ngwaland. It also combines description with analysis with some degree of appraisal to determine the extent of British influence in Ngwaland. Themes and major events during the period of this study are carefully discussed according to the chronological sequence in which they occurred, hence the date 1892 to 1960.

The work is organized into five chapters and would be presented as sequentially and chronologically as possible for the purposes of clarity and lucidity. Chapter one is the introduction, which considers the background to the study, statement of the problem, purpose and significance of study, scope of study, theoretical framework, literature review and sources, methodology and organization. Chapter two examines the evolution of the Ngwa society and the social, political, economic and military organization of Ngwaland before British intrusion. The third chapter discusses the British advance and interest in Ngwaland, Obegu massacre and the occupation of Akwete in 1892. Chapter four focuses on the consolidation of British administration in Ngwaland. It discusses administrative developments and changes in Ngwaland as well as opposition to British rule in the region. It also examines the impact of the British rule in Ngwaland. The last chapter is the summary and conclusion of the work which terminates in 1960.

Theoretical Framework

The use or application of theories to acquire, explain, understand, interpret or modify scientific or humanistic knowledge is no longer a matter of debate. Modern historical scholarship emphasizes the use of theoretical framework to lay the foundation and shape the direction of research studies. The study of colonial interactions and relationships presents a number of theoretical models among scholars and researchers. There have been, for instance, escapist theories which have argued that participants in the colonial mission had truly humanistic or religious inclinations, though they had to operate within a system which had other economic, social and political intentions.19 Analysis of such theories proves them ineffective in studying pre-colonial or colonial Nigeria.

However, this study is anchored on two theories – the Challenge and Response theory and the Modernization theory. “Challenge and Response” theory is one of the central themes of Toynbee’s A Study of History.20 In his monumental study of world history, Albert Toynbee (1889-1975) used the concepts of “Challenge and Response” to explain how societies/civilizations rise and fall. He studied the birth, growth and decay of some twenty-one to thirty civilizations in the world. He believed that all social groups or civilizations came into existence when some loosely affiliated people were presented with a challenge to which they responded. According to him, some unpredictable factor or event could pose a threat to the ways in which a group of people had made their livelihood in the past. This he called challenge. A challenge could arise as the result of many things – invasion by another social group or civilization, population growth, exhaustion of a vital resource, environmental threats, competition, climate change, warfare or even colonialism.

On the other hand, response was the action taken by the same group of people to cope with the new situation. “Challenge” threatens the very survival of the existing system. Whatever the nature or character of the challenge, it requires that the given social group should band together to forge and present an appropriate and successful response, for it to survive. A challenge from the natural or social environment provokes a creative response in a society, or a social group, which induces that society to enter the process of civilization. “Response” would range from inaction to major change or even adaptation in the living conditions of individuals as well as groups. It could embody new technology, social organization, and economic activities, or a combination of various factors. Response however, required action to overcome the threat and create a basis for survival and, hopefully growth and prosperity.  For Toynbee, “Challenge and Response” were terms reserved for major threats and actions that impacted the wellbeing of the entire population. So, the successful response of people to a physical challenge, a social stimulus, an economic difficulty, produces growth. The general formula is that a challenge exists. In fact, every human race, social group or civilization is always confronted with human or environmental challenges. And different societies encounter different challenges to which they respond in different ways. If a successful response is given, progress is made and a new challenge is presented from the response to the old. So, as long as the people being challenged continue to give successful responses, the society, and eventually the civilization, is in a period of growth.

Toynbee’s “challenge and response” theory is useful in understanding social change. The theory could aptly explain the challenge of British presence in Ngwaland which was a significant threat to the people. The reaction of the Ngwa people demonstrates Toynbee’s idea of response to challenge. Understandably, people feel threatened by change and want to resist it. At the end of the 19th century, Ngwaland was invaded by external civilization which imposed alien political, social and economic structures and values on the people. The British conquest and administration of Ngwaland was a challenging threat to the survival of the Ngwa people. With the British presence came conflicts between the newcomers and the indigenes. There were attacks by the British on the Ngwa people. Eventually, Ngwaland was conquered and certain aspects of the economic, political and social lifestyle of the people were affected. However, in the face of all these threats and challenges, the Ngwa people, like in most other Igbo communities, found a way to deal with the challenges. Characteristically, they responded to the implications or consequences of this challenge with tenacity and varying degrees of acceptance, rejection and adaptation. They saw necessity as well as opportunity in the midst of suffering and threat. Although the colonial system disrupted the traditional Ngwa society, it did not totally overhaul the entire structure and lifestyle of the Ngwa. As a matter of fact, most indigenous institutions, even in the face of constant threats, did not collapse but continued to exist side by side with the new administrative institutions of the British. In response to the challenge of British rule in their land, there existed a colonized-colonizer interface. There developed some kind of synthesis of the old and new – a situation which the British at first found disquieting but later came to accept and work with. They had to overcome the threat. In responding to the challenge, the Ngwa found themselves in a world in which the old identity was no longer enough and they sought to supplement it by acquiring the identity of their conquerors. In the end, what seemed to be obvious clashes of culture turned out to be a situation in which both cultures were quite accommodative of each other. The fact that the Ngwa are still in existence today shows that their response to the challenge of British rule in their land was effective. It also demonstrates that Ngwaland experienced growth even in the face of challenging circumstances during this period. Thus, the challenge and response of the Ngwa to British rule created a period of growth and transformation in Ngwaland.

There is also the Modernization Theory. Modernization Theory is a theory used to explain the process of modernization within societies. The theory looks at the internal factors of a country while assuming that, with assistance, “traditional” countries can be brought to development in the same manner more developed countries have. It is the transformation which takes place when a traditional or pre-modern society changes to such an extent that new forms of technological organization or social characteristics of advanced society appears. It is an economic theory deep rooted in capitalism. The concept of modernization incorporates the full spectrum of the transition and drastic transformation that a traditional society has to undergo in order to become modern. Modernization is about Africa following the developmental footsteps of Europe (largely the former colonizer of Africa).21 According to modernity, policies intended to raise the standard of living of the poor often consist of disseminating knowledge and information about more efficient techniques of production.

The theory attempts to provide the theoretical framework to describe the road that newly colonized countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America needed in the 19th and 20th centuries to take in order to reach their development destination. It encompasses the world of globalization, where cultural mores and ideas are easily spread throughout the world, leading to a sort of universal culture that serves as a baseline for all cultures. On their arrival in Africa, whites tasked themselves with the responsibility of “modernizing the continent”. That is why they labeled Africa as a “dark continent” which needed to be enlightened (modernized). Apparently, the responsibility of developing Africa was placed in the custody of the metropolitan, modern states. The metropolis implicitly or explicitly implied that sub-Saharan Africa’s development was lagging far behind other regions of the world because of the obvious ‘innate’ inferiority of black people to master the socioeconomic and technological environment in order to improve their social and economic conditions. The entrance of the West into Africa brought about a paradigm shift on how Africa should develop. The West desired to change Africa’s development course in favour of theirs. The “enlightened” then tasked themselves with the responsibility of developing Africa along a new course.

Analysis of this theory however, shows that behind the objective of “modernizing” Africa lies a heinous aim of exploitation and underdevelopment. For one thing, prior to the first encounter with the European ideas of development, Africa had already found its path to development as evidenced in the growth of established empires in the East, West, Central and South of the continent. Ideas of modernization in reality impoverished Africa through colonialism and imperialism by the West. The theory’s emphasis on the supremacy of the metropolis in the development of Africa altered Africa’s superstructure of beliefs and value system. According to Rodney, the colonial conquest that followed the 1884 to 1885’s Berlin Conference (partition of Africa) established a comprehensive economic and political domination of Africa by the West. Africa’s endogenous development path was discarded in favour of an “external driven development path” which was and is still manipulated by the metropolis.22 Application of this theory to this study will show clearly how British rule exploited Ngwaland in particular and Igboland in general. With impetus from the capitalist spirit and the so-called need to modernize the backward economies, Britain carried out her exploitative colonial ambitions. These colonies extended far into Asia and Africa and by that spread also got to Ngwaland and Southeastern Nigeria as a whole. The result was a perilous process which encouraged and supported colonial hegemony and exploitation.

It is against the backdrop of these theories of “Challenge and Response” and Modernization that this work relies. On one hand, the Ngwa people were met with a challenge to their survival and livelihood by the British conquest and administration of their land. So, the Ngwa had to devise a way to respond to the challenge. This Challenge and Response theory would be demonstrated throughout the course of this essay. On the other hand, an analysis of British rule in Ngwaland will show that rather than modernize Ngwaland, British rule in the region encouraged colonial hegemony and exploitation. In all, these theories will help us understand the British conquest and administration of Ngwaland as well as the response of the Ngwa people to such invasion.

Literature Review

A volume of literature has accumulated over the years on colonialism in Africa and Igboland as well as on the pre-colonial Igbo past. For this study, there exists general works on the colonial influence in Igboland, works on the pre-colonial Ngwa society, the system of British administration in Igboland and the reception of the Igbo to British rule. There are also scholarly articles and degree projects on the geography and people of Ngwa. These works form literature that will be reviewed in this work.

With particular emphasis on this study on Ngwaland, a noteworthy piece is J. E.

  1. Nwauguru’s Aba and British Rule23. It is an important source of Aba colonial history. It deals primarily with the political and cultural developments in Aba during the British rule. It also discusses the economic and social interactions between the people of Aba and the British during the period of colonial rule. The work is useful in detailing the events of the famous Aba Women’s riot and how it shaped colonial practices in Aba and Igboland in general. These historical details helped in no small measure to establish a strong footing for understanding the presence of the British in Ngwaland. However, the work concentrated basically on the old Aba Division which is just a part of the larger Ngwa clan. It leaves out colonial administration in Northern Ngwa (Isiala Ngwa and Mbawasi) and other Ngwa regions. The present research attempts to embrace those Ngwa regions not covered in the work.

In a study of this nature, one cannot overlook the contributions of Adiele Afigbo. His Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture24 is at the fore of studies on colonialism and its impacts in Igboland. He discussed the historical origin and culture of the Igbo as well as their economic foundations which was helpful to our understanding of the pre-colonial Igbo society. Chapter eight “Igbo Land Under Colonial Rule” is a preliminary appraisal of the nature of British colonialism, its impact on Igbo society and Igbo responses to the challenges it posed. Another work in the same category by the same author is his contributory chapter “The Eastern Provinces Under Colonial Rule” in Ikime’s Groundwork of Nigerian History.25 Essentially, the author examines the pattern of British administration in Eastern Nigeria and maintains that traditional institutions of eastern Nigeria served the colonial authority. He contends that while the Igbo met an entirely new culture, contact with that alien culture did not change their being. According to him, they were able to achieve this because they were astute enough to use in their own way, the new institutions and values introduced by colonialism, thus maintaining their ethnic essence.26 However, these works only studied colonialism in Igboland in general as there was not much focus on Ngwaland. The author did not dwell on the relationship that existed between the British and the Ngwa, despite having acknowledged that it was at Akwete in Ngwaland that the British started scouring the peripheral towns of Southern Igbo land. Although he noted that Akwete was the first Igbo village to be made an administrative headquarters (in 1897 when it became a sub-district with a Vice-Consul in charge)27, yet he made merely passing statements about Akwete and its Ngwa environs during the period of colonial rule. His works was nonetheless helpful as the present study strives to narrow its focus down to Ngwaland.

Afigbo also made a great assessment of the indirect rule system in Southeastern

Nigeria. His work titled The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southeastern Nigeria, 1891-192928 explains why British attempts to institute and impose a particular system of local administration failed in South-Eastern Nigeria. He examines the nature of the traditional social and political organizations in this part of West Africa and, contrary to the views held by other scholars, maintains that indirect rule started in the area of his study since the introduction of Sir Claude MacDonald’s administration. The author also traces the origin of the administrative system as well as the structural changes which took place between 1891 and 1912 in the warrant chief system. His work is helpful in understanding the administrative systems adopted by the British in Southeastern Nigeria. Although the work discusses indirect rule system in Igboland, it does not extensively discuss the colonial administration in Ngwaland; only when the author discussed the introduction of taxation was notable mention made of the Ngwa. The work which terminates in 1929 does not fully cover the timeframe of the present study. The present research will further its focus into the nature of colonial administration in Ngwaland and how the indirect rule system was applied in this region.

Another work that proved helpful in understanding the pre-colonial Ngwa political and social organization is J. N. Oriji’s “Transformations in Traditional Ngwa Society.”29 The work examines the stages of the evolution of the Ngwa society as well as transformations that followed. However, while Oriji’s work serves a useful purpose in explaining the pre-colonial history and organization of the Ngwa, it does not discuss the Ngwa colonial experience and focuses basically on formation of village groups and clans in Ngwaland.

Oriji’s work The Ngwa History: A Study of Social and Economic Changes in Igbo

Mini-States in Time Perspective is helpful as the author discusses the history of the Ngwa-Igbo of southeastern Nigeria and a variety of themes such as the origins of the Ngwa, their sociopolitical organization, and the organization of local and regional trade networks.30 The work explores the dominant role the Okonko society and Aro oracular specialists played during the overseas trade. It also briefly examines colonialism, the roots of the Aba Women’s Revolt, and devotes a chapter to analyzing developments since Nigerian independence, ranging from the civil war to an insider’s account of events in Aba province during Biafra. The concluding chapter summarizes issues raised in the book, and offers solutions to current social and economic problems facing the Ngwa and other Nigerian peoples. However, the primary focus of the work is mainly on social and economic issues in Ngwa history.

Chukwuma Okoro’s A Brief View of Aba31 throws insight into the geographical setting of Aba. Written from a geographer’s perspective, the work discusses the factors of growth and development of Aba Ngwa and focused concern on the topography and strategic location of Aba, which facilitated its tremendous growth and importance in precolonial and colonial times. The author stressed among other things that the location of markets was one of the principal factors that enabled Aba to become one of the largest trading centres in West Africa. This work was useful in furnishing a geographical understanding of the people of Aba Ngwa. However, its focus is on issues such as geography of Aba, rural-urban migration of people and goods in the area, the centrality of its markets and trading practices. It falls short in discussing other Ngwa villages as well as the colonial administration in Ngwaland. It is the hope of this present work to explore the colonial relations between the Ngwa and the British.

  1. N. Nwagbara’s Iboland: A Century of Contact with Britain, 1860-1960 represents in the words of the author, “an attempt to assess and systematize the account of the contact and to point out unique factors that tended to dent as well as to smooth the interaction”32 between the Igbo on the one hand and the British on the other. The author provides an in-depth study of the imperial process within a relatively small geographic environment. The era covered begins with the historic 1857 Niger Expedition led by Dr. William Baikie and terminates with Nigeria’s attainment of independence in 1960. This was helpful in understanding the relationship between the Igbo and the British during the colonial phase in Igboland. The most significant elements of the contact, from the author’s point of view, revolve around the westernization of the Igbo, their conquest and the character of British colonial rule against which they rebelled. For the most part though, this book is concerned with political and military history and generally studies Anglo-Igbo colonial relations. This present research narrows its study to Ngwaland and attempts to examine the economic and social impacts of the British conquest of Ngwaland.
  2. N. Oriji’s “The Ngwa-Igbo Clan of Southeastern Nigeria: An Oral History Overview”33, V. C. Uchendu’s “Concubinage among Ngwa Igbo of Southern Nigeria”34 and Susan Martin’s “Gender and Innovation: Farming, Cooking and Palm Processing in the Ngwa Region, South-Eastern Nigeria, 1900-1930”35 are all contributions to an understanding of the pre-colonial history of the Ngwa. These works give insight into the cultural and ecological background of the Ngwa people. Oriji’s work basically is a reconstruction of the oral history of the Ngwa with information regarding the evolution of Ngwa polity and some organizations like the Dibia cult and the Okonko secret society. The contributions of Uchendu and Martin go beyond the background of the Ngwa; they contain useful information in relation to the economic, social and cultural life of the Ngwa. Uchendu states that “the paper reports the pattern of concubinage among the Ngwa Igbo . . .”36 while Martin focuses on the history of palm production in the Ngwa region during the early twentieth century and discusses the agrarian and economic changes in Ngwaland during the period of her study. These works on the whole focus interests on the pre-colonial era of Ngwa history and formed the framework for the initial understanding of the people of Ngwaland as well as their organization. These works however are not concerned with the colonial phase of Ngwa history.
  3. N. Nwauguru “The Aba Women’s War in Nigeria”37 provides very concrete insight into the Women’s Riot in Aba during 1929. It analyzes the causes of that war and the major players of the war. The author notes that although the heat of that riot was at Aba, it did not originally start at Aba. He also points out that after the riot, the British had a rethink with regard to their administrative approach in the Southeastern protectorate. As noticed in the title of the work though, the work concentrated only on a part of the colonial phase of the study – the Women’s Riot, although it did provide some preliminary insight into the establishment of colonial rule in Ngwaland. The present study will provide more details into the nature and character of British administration in Igboland.
  4. O. Okafor also discussed the administrative policy of the British in Igboland in his “Ideal and Reality in British Administrative Policy in Eastern Nigeria.”38 He mainly focused on the Native Authority and Local Government system employed by the British in their administration of eastern Nigeria. According to him, the purpose of the work is “to assess the realization of this policy in Eastern Nigeria before 1960.”39 In a similar vein, Afigbo reviewed the number of changes in the administration of British colonies of the Niger basin. His work, “The Consolidation of British Imperial Administration in Nigeria: 1900-1918”40 is a critique of these changes. He discusses, among other things, the relationship and “alliance” between the traditional rulers and the British which he believed “may have been the most important and effective method by which the British consolidated their rule in Nigeria.”41 Although these works make no direct reference to Ngwaland, it proved useful in understanding the colonial institution of local government and representation in British Nigeria which was employed towards the later stages of colonial rule in Igboland and even in Ngwaland.

Another helpful work is M. Ucheji’s The Evolution of the Political System in Isiala Ngwa from the Pre-18th century to 1930.42 The study focused on the pre-colonial evolution of administrative polities in Isiala Ngwa clan of Ngwaland. It extends its coverage from the pre-colonial times to 1930 when the British had effectively established their rule in Ngwaland. However, the focus of the study is on Isiala Ngwa, leaving out the other villages of Ngwaland. The present study covers period of British conquest and administration in Ngwaland in general.

  1. Okechukwu’s project titled Colonial Administration in Mgbowo, Old Awgu District43 gives an insight into the pattern of colonial administration in Igboland. It discusses the British penetration of Mgbowo and the use of warrant chiefs in the administration of the territory. The project work however concentrates study on Mgbowo. The work nevertheless was useful in explaining the colonial influence in Mgbowo which could also be applied to Igboland as a whole.
  2. Nwachukwu’s M.A project Trade and Markets in Ngwaland in the 19th Century also provides insight into the pre-colonial economic history of Ngwaland.44 It focuses on Ngwa arts and crafts, savings and trade. While this work does not delve into the Ngwa’s political or even colonial history, it is useful in examining the economic life of the precolonial Ngwa society which would enable an understanding of their political, social, cultural and economic lives before the colonial period.

On the whole, this study is an attempt to bridge gaps in the reviewed literature and to substantially position Ngwaland in the light of its colonial history for in the words of T. B. Jones, “there is no period, even the most recent, about which everything worth knowing is already known or is not subject to re-interpretation.”45




  • All maps used in this work were drawn and read by Ndiche, Cosmas Chinemelum, Cartographer, Department of Geography, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, May 2013.
  • Crowne, The Scramble and the Berlin West African Conference. (Boston: D.C. Health and Company, 1966), 24.
  • E. Afigbo, Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture. (Ibadan: University Press Limited, 1981), 288.
  • E. Afigbo, Ropes of Sand . . . , 288.
  • C. Anene, Southern Nigeria in Transition1885-1906 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966).
  1. E. Afigbo, The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southeastern Nigeria, 1891-1929 (Longman: 1972).
  2. N. Nwagbara, “Ibo Land: A Study in British Penetration and the Problems of Administration 18601930”, (Ph. D diss., Northwestern University, 1965). V. C. Uchendu, The Igbo of South East Nigeria (New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, 1965). W. E. Ofonagoro, “The Opening up of Southern Nigeria to British Trade and its Consequences: Economic and Social History 1881-1916”, (Ph.D diss., University of Columbia, 1971). J. E. Nwauguru, Aba Division under British Rule (Enugu: Santana Press and Publishing Company, 1973). S. O. Okafor, “Ideal and Reality in British Administrative Policy in Eastern Nigeria”, African Affairs 73. no. 293 (October 1974): 459-471.

6 J. N. Amankulor, “The First All-Ngwa Cultural Festival”, African Arts 10, no. 2 (January 1977): 37. 7 V. C. Uchendu, “Concubinage among Ngwa Igbo of Southern Nigeria”, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 35, no. 2 (April 1965): 187.

  • C. Uchendu, “Concubinage among Ngwa Igbo . . . , 187.
  • Enyeribe Chigbu, c. 77, Farmer and Village Elder, Interview, Ntigha, 0ctober 4 2012.
  • E. N. Nwauguru, Aba under British Rule . . . , 22.
  • Enyeribe Chigbu, Interview cited.
  • Chief Nwankpa Abangwu, 67, Retired Civil Servant, Interview, Aba, September 12 2012.
  • E. N. Nwauguru, Aba under British Rule . . . , 23. 14 Enyeribe Chigbu, Interview cited.
  • E. N. Nwauguru, Aba under British Rule . . . , 23.
  • Map drawn and read by Cosmas, Cartographer, Department of Geography, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, May 2013.
  • N. Njoku, Ohafia: A Heroic Igbo Society, (Ohafia: Kalu Onyeoku, 2000), 66.
  • C. Ifemesia, Traditional Humane Living Among the Igbo. (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers, 1980), 56.
  • Ihonvbere and T. Falola, “Introduction: Colonialism and Exploitation” in T. Falola, (Ed), Britain and Nigeria: Exploitation or Development, (New Jersey: Zed Books Ltd., 1987), 5.
  • J. Toynbee, A Study of History, (London: Oxford University Press, 1947), 15-34.
  • Matunhu, “A Critique of Modernization and Dependency Theories in Africa: Critical Assessment”, African, Journal of History and Culture, vol. 3(5), June 2011, 65-72.
  • Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, (Dar es Salaam: Tanzanian Publishing House, 1972).
  • E. N. Nwauguru, Aba under British Rule . . . .
  • E. Afigbo, Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture . . . .
  • E. Afigbo, “The Eastern Provinces Under Colonial Rule”, in O. Ikime, (Ed), Groundwork of Nigerian History, (Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books Plc, 2006), 410-428.


  • E. Afigbo, “The Eastern Provinces Under Colonial Rule . . . , 410-413.
  • E. Afigbo, Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture . . . , 308.
  • E. Afigbo, The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southeastern Nigeria, 1891-1929, (London:

Longman Publishers, 1972).

  • N. Oriji, “Transformation in Traditional Ngwa Society”, Ikenga 4 no. 2, 23-39.
  • N. Oriji, Ngwa History: A Study of Social and Economic Changes in Igbo Mini-States in Time Perspective, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 1998).
  • Okoro, A Brief View of Aba, (Ibadan:Greenwood Press, 1998).
  • N. Nwagbara, Iboland: A Century of Contact with Britain, (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1978), 251.
  • N. Oriji, “The Nwga-Igbo Clan of Southeastern Nigeria: An Oral History Overview”, The Oral History Review 9 (1981), 65-84.
  • C. Uchendu, “Concubinage among Ngwa Igbo of Southern Nigeria”, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 35 no. 2 (1965), 187-197.
  • Susan Martin, “Gender and Innovation: Farming, Cooking and Palm Processing in the Ngwa Region, South-Eastern Nigeria, 1900-1930”, The Journal of African History, 25 no. 4 (1984), 411-427.
  • C. Uchendu, “Concubinage among Ngwa Igbo . . . , 187.
  • “The Aba Women’s War in Nigeria” in Thomas Benjamin, (ed.),Encyclopedia of Western Colonialism Since1450, (New York: Gale Group Inc., 2006).
  • O. Okafor, “Ideal and Reality in British Administrative Policy in Eastern Nigeria”, African Affairs, 73 no. 293 (October 1974), 459-471.
  • O. Okafor, “Ideal and Reality in British Administrative Policy . . . , 459.
  • E. Afigbo, “The Consolidation of British Imperial Administration in Nigeria: 1900-1918”, Civilizations, 21 no. 4 (1971), 436-459.
  • E. Afigbo, “The Consolidation of British Imperial Administration in Nigeria…., 447.
  • Ucheji, “Evolution of the Political System in Isiala Ngwa from the 18th Century to 1930”, B.A Project, History and Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1981.
  • Okechukwu, “Colonial Administration in Mgbowo Old Agwu Division”. B. A Project, Department of History and Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1995.
  • Nwachukwu, “Trade and Markets in Ngwaland in the 19th Century”, M.A Project, Department of History and Archaeology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, 1986.
  • B. Jones, Ancient Civilization, (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1960), 4.