The history of Africa, for the last 500 years and more, is filled with accounts of European invasions and terrorism. Europeans, in their quest to plunder, steal, and expand their empires, entered Africa with superior weapons with a vile intention to subdue and decimate, and without delay, destroyed so many ancient kingdoms and civilizations in the glorious Black continent. One of such thriving civilizations was the Aro Kingdom in Igbo land.
The Anglo-Aro War (Igbo: Agha ndi bekee na Aro) was a conflict between the strong Aro Confederacy in present-day Eastern Nigeria and the British Empire between November 1901 to March 1902, which ended with the destruction of the Aro Confederacy. Although it is called a war by the British and their European historians, we will like to refer to it as “Terrorism”. The terrorist invasion began after years of failed negotiations and increasing hostility between Aro leaders and British colonialists.
Cause of the War
Before the advent of colonialism, the Aro Confederacy―with its capital at Arochukwu―was a strong force to reckon with. The Confederacy whose powers extended across Eastern Nigeria and beyond, was, however, challenged in the last decades of the 19th century by increasing British penetration of the hinterland.
At the height of this penetration, the Aro people and their allies resisted the colonists who posed a threat against their culture, influence, and sovereignty.
The Aros who were very aware that British penetration would destroy their economic dominance in the area, also opposed British religion, Christianity, which also threatened Aro’s religious influence through the deity Ibini Ukpabi. Subsequently from around the 1890s, Aro led raids and invasions on communities were conducted in order to bully those who supported the British, and to undermine British penetration.
On the part of the British, reasons for engaging the Aros varied. Advanced by then British High Commissioner of the Nigerian Coast Protectorate, Sir Ralph Moore, they Included:
“To put a stop to slave dealing and the slave trade generally with a view to the Slave Dealing Proclamation No. 5 of 1901 being enforced throughout the entire territories as from first of January next; to abolish the Juju hierarchy of the Aro tribe, which by superstition and fraud causes much injustice among the coast tribes generally and is opposed to the establishment of Government. The power of the priesthood is also employed in obtaining natives for sale as slaves and it is essential to finally break it; to open up the country of the entire Aro to civilization; to induce the natives to engage in legitimate trade; to introduce a currency in lieu of slaves, brass rods, and other forms of native currency and to facilitate trade transactions; to eventually establish a labour market as a substitute to the present system of slavery.”
In Religion and Violence: An Encyclopedia of Faith and Conflict from Antiquity to the Present, Jeffrey Ian Ross notes that “the Aro people’s use of divinatory practice in shrines dedicated to the god IbinI Ukpabi, to dominate enslavement activities, was perceived to be contrary to the imperial ambition of British powers, which was the cause of a need to consequently destroy the primary shrine, based at Arochukwu”.
The above statement is a pathetic lie, and was the strategy and excuse the British and other Europeans used to invade Africa and exonerate themselves from their crime of terrorism. Who in Africa asked them for their help and opinion of our culture and style of commerce? Who told them that Africa needed their destructive style of civilization? Who made them God over Africans?
The same British that Practiced slavery for hundreds of years and introduced it to various parts of Africa, now absolved themselves of wrongdoing, and started to invade kingdoms in Africa, blaming them for instituting slavery, and killing them, just so they can have access to resources in Africa.
But as usual, the one who kills and wins with the gun is the one who writes the story of the battle – that is how we ended up with various accounts written by British scholars, blaming the terrorism of the Europeans on the Igbo victims of Aro.
The Aro Expedition
While the British forces planned to invade Arochukwu in November 1901, the Aros led by Okoro Oti attacked and destroyed Obegu, a town belonging to the rival Ngwa clan which had for many years been at war with the Aros for many years and were British allies, killing around 400 people.
This meant that the British would hasten their preparation for an attack and on November 28, Lt. Col. Arthur Forbes Montanaro led a force of 87 officers, 1,550 soldiers and 2,100 carriers in four axes of advance to Arochukwu. These were strongly resisted by the Aro forces, despite their lack of modern weapons.
However, on December 28, Arochukwu was captured after days of fierce battles in and around the city, allegedly resulting in the blowing up of the Ibini Ukpabi shrine. Battles between both forces would continue throughout the region until March 1902 when the Aros were defeated in a last major battle at Bende.
As a result of the wars, some Aro leaders, like Okoro Oti, were arrested, tried, and hanged. The Aro Confederacy was destroyed, prompting Eze Kanu Okoro (king of Arochukwu) to go into hiding, although he was later arrested. Although there exist no official records on the number of casualties on both sides, the war had cost the lives of thousands.
The war also saw to the dispersal and displacement of many Aros who migrated to many other places where they formed new communities such as Ajalli (or Ujali), Arondizuogu, Ndikelionwu, etc., or were assimilated by their host communities.
Despite the defeat of the Aros and apparent British access to the interior, serious opposition to British penetration in Igboland clearly did not end. In the years that followed, The British were forced to engage in repeated wars, in various parts of Igboland, with various Igbo clans and groups resisting the colonialists.
(By Ejiofor Ekene Olaedo)
SOURCES OF AUTHOR’S INFORMATION
Afigbo, A. E. (2006). The Abolition of the Slave Trade in Southeastern Nigeria, 1885–1950. University of Rochester Press.
Jeffrey Ian Ross (March 4, 2015). Religion and Violence: An Encyclopedia of Faith and Conflict from Antiquity to the Present. Routledge. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from Google: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MFfrBgAAQBAJ&pg
Wikipedia. (n.d.) Anglo-Aro War. Retrieved June 20, 2020, from Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Aro_War