Dr Jimanze Ego-Alowes
Too often, the pre-recorded history of the Igbo is left in the hands of myth makers who have an agenda to push. For instance, monarchists in Aguleri/Umuleri are claiming that the founder-father of the Igbo, the Igbo Abraham or Oduduwa, is Eri. Are they wrong? Perhaps, not. But are they in any sense historically right? Nope.
They have only assertions, claims, platitudes, not proofs, not triangulations. For instance, they are blissfully ignorant that Eri is a dialectal variation of Eshi, of Ehi. The fact of this is important. Immediately, the veracity and logic of dialectal differences are established, as they now are, Aguleri/Umuleri’s claims to being the first port or settlement of Eri is shattered like a broken china.
Philologically, the question then becomes which is the first in use and in coinage? Is it Eshi, Eri, Ehi etc? Additionally, their names Agulu-eri, Umu-l-eri give them away. Agulu and Umu have specific meanings and implications in Igbo language. That will be a subject of another book.
Anyway, we are happy to report that it is now established, philologically, by logic and triangulation, that the paterfamilias of the Igbo is Eshi. His dialectal renditions are Eri and Ehi. For record purposes, yours truly is the first to establish this in history.
Below, is a relevant excerpt, slightly edited, from my book: ”Nigeria: The Unreported Genocide against the Igbo: The Generals Murtala Mohammed-Olusegun Obasanjo Diktats.” Happy reading:
… Anyway, Kamgbe-Eshi metaphorically means before or since time immemorial in Nkwerre and related zones. However, for a philologist there are other hints. One of which is that Nkwerre people say Oha-Eshi, meaning the crowd/community (of Eshi). Also Nkwerre people would praise sing or name themselves Nkwerre okwara-eshi, meaning Nkwerre first born/male of Eshi.
But the matter is not as simple or exhaustive as this. The other facts are: a neighbouring town bears the name Umu-eshi, meaning children/descendants of Eshi. However, a little furtherer away at Oguta, the Oguta people take pride in their group cognomen; Oguta nwa ama-eshi, which translates roughly as, Oguta, scions of the Household of Eshi. Nkwerre, Umueshi and Oguta are all in Imo State.
More interestingly in Anambra, some towns are named: Ora-eri/people/community/crowd of Eri, Umu-leri/heirs/children of Eri, agulu-eri/of the out compound or outpost of Eri.
From all these the following are generally clear for what they mean for the Igbo. Umu/oha/agulu mean children/heirs – crowd/community/multitude – compound/outpost. The mystery is what does Eshi or Eri mean, are they not depicting one reality? Are the differences not only dialectal? Our answer is yes. Eshi and Eri are not synonyms. They are one and the same word varying only dialectally.
The fact of this is given out by the following philological revelations. In Nkwerre, phrases like: kamgbe oleshi ka mu nagi huru? /meaning since when did we last meet? – are a staple. Even more telling is, in the Anambra zone the phrasal equivalent is: Eri-ngbe-nine ka anyi fulu. Its dialectical meaning is that Eri is of the beginning or a point in time. So for an overwhelming swathe of the Igbo, time counts from Eri/Eshi.
In Mbaise and Mbano areas of Imo State the same question is asked as: Ehi olengbe ka anyi huru? The greater point is that Mbaise and Mbano stretch is the heartland of the Igbo. The Igbo autography is built around their tongue.
When you add up the Igbo who use Eshi, Eri, Ehi as a metric of time, the overwhelming numbers explode. More interestingly, the use of Eshi, Eri, Ehi, Eli, is not within any one restrictive belt or region of the Igbo nation. It is as far apart as Oraeri/Umuleri/Aguleri/Asaba/Delta Igbo in present Anambra to Delta States; Nkwerre/Umueshi/Oguta zones Nwamaeshi/kamgbe; Ehi in the sprawling Mbaise/Mbano zones which butts into Abia State. These areas are random, unconnected enough, they don’t constitute a lineage or a sub-group Igbo. That is the phenomenon of Eshi, Ehi, Eri, Eli and other dialectical variants may be easily deemed to be pan-Igbo. That is Mbaise/Mbano, Oraeri/Umuleri/Aguleri/Asaba do not constitute a sub-clan of the Igbo.
However the conjugation of verbs goes, in the above examples among the various Igbo, the point remains that Eshi, Ehi, Eli or Eri signifies time, actually a point in time. And these same Eshi, Ehi or Eri is also used severally to signify a certain human being as in son/umu, compound/agulu, followers/crowd/oha of Eshi, Eri. And it is used in the line of a paterfamilias, a founder father. And in Nkwerre there is specificity to it: okwara eshi – the first born of Eshi. Therefore, the phenomenon or object that is Eshi, Ehi or Eri was a man, a paterfamilias. The fact of this paterfamilias is acknowledged universally by the Igbo as we have illustrated by the prefix of umu/okwara/oha prefixing Eshi, Ehi or Eri scattered all over Igbo land. That is Eshi, Eri etc. was one common founder father universally acknowledged by the Igbo.
Our contention is that Eshi, Ehi or Eri, who is the same person though dialectally variant, was metaphorised into representing time, a point in time past, time lost. That is Ora-eri in Anambra State and Oha-eshi in Nkwerre Imo State mean one and the same. They only suffer dialectal differences. However, since the words Oha, Ora, Eshi, Eri are all common Igbo words, Pan-Igbo assets, there is no immediate suggestion that Oraeri people and Nkwerre people are direct cousins, though that can’t be ruled out. By the way both Oha and Ora are dialectal variants of one reality, crowd/community.
Our point is that Eshi, Ehi or Eri, is used in the same dialectical sense in which Christ says Before Abraham I am. That is Abraham was more than just a father. He was the first patriarchal father and thus a big and decisive point in time; times ancient and perhaps lost.
So, ”Before Abraham I am,” is the Jewish equivalent of kamgb-eshi, eri-ngbe-nine, a metaphorical flashback to the beginning of time for a people. It means in the beginning of time/I have ancient provenance or in the ancestry of time/time past. More, we have formal time marking equivalents like since, 1. The birth of Christ, 2. The Hegira/the emigration of the nascent Muslim community led by the prophet. Also, one commonly encounters diverse Igbo communities speaking: kamgbe nna anyi ha/eri [ngbe] nna anyi fa/ehi mgbe nna anyi ha.
These are dialectally same, meaning since our [more recent] fathers. ”Since our fathers,” is generic equivalent of the ”since” specificity in the case of the Igbo paterfamilias, Eshi, Eri, Eli, Ehi. And it is universally used in Igbo land to authenticate a tradition, that is that our fathers instituted this practice. The Jewish equivalent, for example, would have been, it is a practice founded by their Patriarchs.
Simply, it is universally human to date an era from its big events or its big founders or characters, like fathers and patriarchs. Kamgbe eshi/ehi/eri/eri mgbe niine, is thus in universal character.
What a philologist or historian can thus deduce is that Eshi, Ehi or Eri is a factual paterfamilias, but now preserved and mythologized into metaphors. However, the fact of his being a founder father is generally accepted in Igbo land even without awareness. Anytime you ask eshi/ehi/eri olengbe you are recognising a fact of your founder ancestor being Eshi, Ehi or Eri.
Also there are no hints Eshi, Ehi or Eri was or considered himself a king. There are no records of special attributes to him save the honour of the Igbo being his progeny. So Eshi, Ehi or Eri was essentially a republican guy and left his progeny a heritage of universal equality. And that was even before the Americans founded something similar for themselves. Or it is feasible that what happened to the Igbo is similar to the experience of Alexander the Great. When Alexander died, he left no instructions and his heirs decided on what to do with the empire. If that is the case for the Igbo, it was to go republican, to go democratic, to scatter powers and never concentrate it.
We also conjecture that Eshi, Ehi or Eri was something of a scholar first and patriarch next. He was such as one who left his home and the lake of his home in search of freedom and universal truths. So the Igbo founding is founded in the search, not in settlement, in the growth not in the freeze. And kingdoms or concentration of powers are antithetical to these. Igbo Ronu.
So Eshi of Nkwerre etymologically and philologically means and meant father of Nkwerre, not king, not Eze Nkwerre for instance. This does not mean that the philological Eshi as father cannot be conscripted by power mongers in the guise of traditional rulers. There is no harm in that partisan ambition. But it behoves scholars in search for truth not to be confounded by the princes of greed in their hunt for power. Ahiazuwa.