GREAT ASABA HERITAGE!
A woman named Diaba from Agbakuba village in Nteje, Anambra State, was said to have been impregnated by Onojobo, a prince and trader from Igala land, while she was residing in Eze Anyanwu’s court as one of the court girls.
Anyanwu was said to have hailed from the royal line of Ezechima, the legendary ancestor of numerous settlements east of the Niger, including Onitsha. This explains why Benin, Asaba and Onitsha seem to share a common culture and tradition as in the area of festival regalia like traditional coral beads and hand-woven big flowing white gowns and traditional titles such as the Onowu Iyasele of Onitsha and the Iyase Onowu of Asaba.
The Igala connection
Going back to the Diaba story, after she was impregnated by Onojobo, she was delivered of a male child called Nnebisi, a name which some Asaba sources interpret as “mother is supreme”, same as “Nneka”, in some parts of Iboland, but which Chief Patrick Isioma Goodluck Onyeobi, the Iyase of Asaba, disagrees with and rather claims to be a shortened form of ka anyi nebe isi nke a (let’s watch and see what this one becomes in future). Sunday Sun believes that Onyeobi’s interpretation is nearer to the truth as the names “Nnebisi” or “Nneka” are usually names reserved for female children in Ibo land.
“We’ve always had contact with Northern elements here because the founder of Asaba descended from an Igala prince”, notes Onyeobi. “We’ve always had contact with traders coming from the North as well as the Aboh traders coming from the South. They used to meet at the river bank here we call Igala bank. Nupe and Igala traders used to row down to bring fishes and other things. Our people were mainly farmers and slave traders. And these people used to come in long-range canoes to Asaba where they exchanged goods. So, it isn’t quite true when European historians tell us that our people were in perpetual conflicts. Though there were occasional conflicts, they intermarried.
“ Otherwise how could an Igala prince come to Asaba and marry a woman from Nteje. So, Asaba has always been a sort of meeting point and it will be instructive to know that it was near Asaba that the Lander brothers were captured in 1830 and later exchanged and given back to their brothers who used to come from the coast. So, it was a small community and peaceful then. We were never conquered by any group either from the East or West.”
With the exception of one of the major and longest roads that run through Asaba town, Nnebisi, named after the accredited progenitor, no other son or daughter of Asaba bears the name “Nnebisi” in Asaba today or had ever borne that name, at least in living memory, ever since the origin of Asaba as a people and later as a town. This only goes to show the extent to which Asaba people rever that name. They see him as something of a deity.
But lest we forget, we are still on with the story of the origin of Asaba. Shortly, after the birth of Nnebisi, his mother took him with her, while she was going back to Agbakuba village in Nteje. There she died, leaving Nnebisi in the care of her family relations.
The great discovery
But as young Nnebisi was growing up, he reportedly started noticing that he was being treated differently from everybody else around him. He also noticed that there were certain things he was not allowed to do, certain customs he was not allowed to partake in and certain traditions he was not allowed to observe. When he inquired why; he was told that it was because, by virtue of birth, Nteje was not his true hometown. He asked to be told his own hometown but nobody could tell him except to say that his mother got impregnated while living with one great king, Eze Anyanwu, staying in the land of one big river.
Out of annoyance and frustration, he decided to embark on a journey to find out his true home. A native medicine man whom he consulted told him that his fatherland is beyond one particular big river (later to be named by Mungo Park as River Niger) and that he would need canoe to cross the big river, before he could set foot on his father land.
Story has it that thereafter Nnebisi embarked on the legendary search for his lost hometown on a narrow long boat and a magical medicine pot – a charm given to him by the village medicine man at Nteje. This medicine was supposed to guard him and guarantee his safe arrival to his purported homeland. Nnebisi was supposed to carry this pot on his head and this magical pot was supposed to fall off at the site of his ancestral homeland.
Long march to freedom
Oral history said the pot fell and crashed at the present day Cable Point, off the shores of the River Niger by the great Onishe rocks – a shrine of the mythical goddess – Onishe of Asaba.
“The Nupes and the Igalas, right from the 19th Century have always resided at Cable Point and they are still there”, Onyeobi informs. “Some of them were born there. Their fathers were born there. So, Asaba has always been a peaceful community until the civil war came.”
“The British chose to establish their means of communication to their bigger war armadas and ships in the sea by establishing in Asaba here what they call the Cable Point”, Chief Joe Achuzia, the Biafran war hero and former secretary-general of Ohaneze Ndigbo informs. “In those days, the system was so cumbersome that cable had to be laid all the way from Asaba here down through Burutu, cross the Escravos to the Atlantic. Hence the quarter in Asaba here known as Cable Point.
“Having set up a cable point, they moved upward about a mile into the hinterland where today you have the hotel – the Grand Hotel. There they established the seat of government because that was the deepest part of the Niger where their boat could anchor. And by so doing set up a post office for the purposes of communication, set up the resident quarters which were later converted into a catering rest house, set up a court for the purposes of administering justice and that court remains till today, the Court Four beside Grand Hotel.
“And, behind it, where we now have a library, used to be post office. They also moved about another half a mile inwards along the bank of the Niger to where today you have the stadium and behind it used to be known as Ogige where they have the prison yard and the administrative quarters. We call it Ogige because they fenced the place up.”
Back to the story of he and his journey to his home town, when the pot fell from his head at that spot in the thick forest, shortly after his arrival by the narrow canoe, on the other side of the riverbank, Nnebisi was said to have exclaimed “Ahabam”, an Ibo phrase said to mean “I have appropriately chosen.” It was from that exclamatory that Ahaba, the origin name of Asaba came.
September 27, 2009 at 7:33am