Eri (king)

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Eri (c. 900 CE) is said to be the original legendary cultural head of the Nri-Igbo, a subgroup of the Igbo people. From oral accounts, he is said to come down from the sky, having been sent by God (Igbo: Chukwu). It is possible that Eri migrated from the North, possibly the Igala area. Eri settled and established in the middle of Anambra river valley where he married two wives. The first wife, Nneamakụ, bore him five children. The first was Agulu, the founder of Aguleri, the second was Nri Ifikuanim, the founder of Umunri / Kingdom of Nri, followed by Nri Onugu, the founder of Igbariam and Ogbodulu, the founder of Amanuke. The fifth one was a daughter called Iguedo, who is said to have born the founders of Nteje, and Awkuzu, Ogbunike, Umuleri, Nando and Ogboli in Onitsha. As one of the children of Eri, Nri Ifikuanim migrated from Aguleri, which was and still is, the ancestral temple of the people, in search of a place of settlement. His second wife Oboli begot Ọnọja, the only son who founded the Igala Kingdom in Kogi State.[1]

Eri is the founder of Umueri and Umunri clans which was the most influential and powerful dynasty of priests, diviners, and civilizing agents in Igboland and adjacent areas such as the Bini and Igala/Idoma areas. He and his children are responsible for the Igbo Ukwu sites, Four market days, Ozo/nze title systems, Igu alu, and other practices of the Igbo people and their neighbors.[2]

The myth[edit]

When Eri was sent by Chukwu from the Sky to the earth, he sat on an anti-hill because he saw watery marshy earth. When Eri complained to Chukwu, sent an Awka blacksmith with his fiery bellow and charcoal to dry the earth. After the assignment, the Awka blacksmith was given ọfọ as a mark of authority for his smithing profession. While Eri lived, Chukwu fed him and his people with azu-igwe. But this special food ceased after the death of Eri. Nri his first son complained to Chukwu for food. Chukwu ordered Nri to sacrifice his first son and daughter and bury them in separate graves. Nri complied with it. Later after three-Igbo-weeks (Izu atọ = 12 days) yam grew from the grave of the son and coco yam from that of the daughter. When Nri and his people ate these, they slept for the first time; later still Nri killed a male and a female slave burying them separately. Again, after Izu Ato, an oil palm grew from the grave of the male slave, and a bread fruit tree (ukwa) from that of the female-slave. With this new food supply, Nri and his people ate and prospered. Chukwu asked him to distribute the new food items to all people but Nri refused because he bought them at the cost of sacrificing his own children and slave. Nri and Chukwu made an agreement. According to M. D. W. Jeffreys (1956:123) a tradition has it that:

"As a reward for distributing food to the other towns Nri would have the right of cleansing every town of an abomination (nso) or breach, of crowning the eze at Aguleri, and of tying the Ngulu (ankle cords) when a man takes the title of ozo. Also he and his successor’s would have the privilege of making the Oguji, or yam medicine, each year for ensuring a plentiful supply of yams in all surrounding towns, or in all towns that subjected themselves to the Eze Nri. For this medicine all the surrounding towns would come in and pay tribute and Umunmdri people then could travel unarmed through the world and no one would attack or harm them" [3]