There is a village in Nnewi that is known as Uru (its Nnewi name is Uhu). It is in Umudim Nnewi. Like many villages and towns, Uhu has a moniker: Uhu hudolu Chukwu (which literally means “Uhu that fell on God”). What a moniker! But it is not exactly what you think.
In the days of slave trade, the Ibini Ukpabi of Arochukwu (also known as Chi-ukwu anị mmadu), the Agbala of Awka (Ọka), and some powerful and popular deities were consulted by people from far and wide. The guilty party was usually said to have been “swallowed” or “devoured” by the oracle. The priests of these oracles later chose to sell those found guilty by the oracle into slavery. Due to the pressure to procure more slaves, many innocent people were found guilty and sold into slavery. It was a huge racket.
On one occasion, a message came that the Ibini Ukpabi had “swallowed” or “devoured” a man from Uhu village. This piece of news annoyed Uhu people. They consulted among themselves, kidnapped an Aro man and sent word to Arochukwu that Ulasi deity of Uhu in Umudim Nnewi had also “swallowed” the Arọ man. Eventually Arọ people released the Uhu man, and Uhu people released the Aro man. It was a draw. In the Nigerian pidgin English parlance, it was a case of “Cunny man die, cunny man bury am.”
Most other Igbo towns continued with the deception of believing that deities were “swallowing” guilty human beings. It was only when the British arrived and their soldiers stormed those shrines that were said to seize and swallow guilty human beings that the organized fraud and human trafficking going on behind the scene were unravelled.
The Ibini Ukpabi of Aro was marketed as the big god (chi ukwu which got shortened to Chukwu). It was packaged as the highest deity that should be consulted when other gods had failed or when the most certain result was needed. Its fame traversed the entire Igbo land and much of the Niger Delta. Aro people resided in different Igbo towns and beyond, doing business and marketing this deity. Some scholars on Igbo cosmology have argued that the Igbos did not have the Almighty God as known today; that it was the deity of the Arọ people, which was referred to as “chi ukwu” (Chukwu) or “big god” because of its prominence, that was translated into English as God. They argued that if there was an Almighty God, there would be a feast for Him, shrines for Him, priests who served Him, etc. That was why the early translators of the Igbo Bible avoided using the name “Chukwu” for God. They chose Chineke, Osebuluwa, Onyenweanyị, etc. It was also how Aro eventually became Arochukwu. In some places where Arọ people settled in other towns, they were called “ụmụ Chukwu” (children of Chukwu).
This confrontation between Uhu village and Arọ people earned Uhu the nickname “Uhu hudolu Chukwu” – Uhu that fell upon chi ukwu of the Arọ people: Uhu that overcame the feared deity of Aro people.
It was a novel action that was unthinkable then.
Today Uhu has continued to display such bravery and uniqueness in different ways. It is probably the village with the wealthiest men in Nnewi. In the 2017 report of Forbes magazine titled The Small Town of the Super Rich, in which Forbes Africa identified Nnewi as the Nigerian town with the highest number of billionaires, Uru alone had three: Chief (Sir) Chika Okafor, Chairman, Chicason Group (Life Vegetable Oil, A-Z Petroleum, etc); Chief Gabriel Chukwuma, popularly known as Gabros (founder of Gabros FC, Nnewi, Beverly Hills Hotel); and his younger brother, Dr Innocent Chukwuma, Chairman, Innoson Group. These three men live face to face one another in Uhu as kinsmen.
Uhu also produced Sir Dennis Ofodeme, Chairman, Uru Industries Limited; and Sir Felix Chukwuma, Chairman, Chuks Medical Diagonistic Laboratories. Before them, there were Mr Bernard Mmadubuko of Overseas Agency, Maazi Ndujekwu Okonkwo of Uzochukwu Bread Industry, Chief Peter Ilechukwu of Oando, Chief Stephen Enemchukwu of Sabina Hotels Limited, and others.
To cap it all, the Nnewi industrial estate, known as Akwu-Uru Industrial Estate, is sited on their land.
Uru is inside Umudim, which is inside Nnewi. It is a village of a couple of ụmụnna or big families. But in terms of human capital and capacity, Uru has thicker muscle and higher stature than many towns. Therefore, when the people of a supposedly small village are referred to as Uhu hudolu chukwu, it is not for nothing.
***Azuka Onwuka is a writer and an indigene of Okpuno-Egbu in Umudim, Nnewi, Anambra State.