Eze (pronounced [ézè]) is an Igbo word which means king. Such words as Igwe and Obi, plus others, are used by Igbo people as titles of respect and homage to the Eze. Igwe is derived from the Igbo word Igwekala or Eluigwekala, "the sky or heaven above the sky is higher or bigger than land", implying that the Eze is a higher servant of the people. Obi usually refers to the centre building for receiving visitors within an Igbo leader's or man's homestead. When used as a title of respect for the Eze, Obi implies: "the one who sits in the throne house or heart of the Kingdom."
In Igbo tradition and culture, the Eze is normally an absolute monarch advised by a council of chiefs or elders whom he appoints based on their good standing within the community. A popular saying in Igbo is "Igbo enwe eze", which translates to "the Igbo have no king." This popular saying does not, however, capture the complexity of Igbo societies as it has been explored in many centuries of anthropological, sociological and political research.
The Igbo people had and still have ruling bodies of royal and political leaders in which an individual can be recognized by the entire society as primus inter pares, i.e., first among equals. This status is usually hereditary among the male lineage, since Igbo culture is patrilineal. Women in Igbo cultures were known to develop parallel social hierarchies through which they both competed and collaborated with their counterpart male kingship and governing hierarchies.
Kingship in IgbolandEdit
Scholars generally believe that Igbo kingship institutions developed from three sources. The first is indigenous and ancient priesthood, which traditionally combined clerical and political duties of leaders in the village-based republics. This is the case in several places, notably in Ngwa, where Josaiah Ndubuisi Wachuku was Eze and paramount chief during British colonial times. Ezes also were recognized in Arochukwu, Awka, Nri-Igbo, Owere and Northern Nsukka. Enugu-Ezike, Ovoko, and Iheakpu-Awka are home to the Igbo-Eze communities. The King is variously referred to as Eze or Ezedike, depending on lineage.
Secondly, the neighboring Benin Empire imposed certain conventions by colonizing certain parts of Nigeria. According to an opposite view, the Eze of Nri influenced the constitution of the Benin Oba's status. The differing points of view are focused particularly on the communities of Asaba, Onitsha, and Oguta. According to some scholars who argue against what is known as the Afigbo and Omenka Thesis on Origin, Igbo kings of these places trace the historical roots of their investiture immediately to the Oba of Benin. They tend to be called Obi.
The third source of Igbo kingship is believed to be 19th and 20th century colonial impositions by the British Empire. Under an indirect rule policy, the colonial administration created "Warrant chiefs", selecting recognised individuals to serve as tax collectors. Native to the communities, the Warrant Chiefs were usually selected from among those men who were most cooperative with the foreign rulers. For this and a number of other reasons, the Igbo populations often resented and sometimes overtly resisted the authority of the warrant chiefs. An example of such resistance is the Igbo Women's War of 1929.
After Nigeria gained its constitutional independence from Britain in 1962, many of the Warrant Chiefs tried to maintain their power by seeking to recast their political roles. Those with residual political influence and new-found wealth bought honorary Eze-sounding titles. They clamored to be among the 'traditional rulers' retained by the government of independent Nigeria.
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