Arochukwu in modern-day Abia state looks like a pretty regular town. Women displaying their goods, small kiosks jutting out of every corner, and kids playing barely clad in the streets. Nothing new to see here. Or is there? This unsuspecting town in modern-day eastern Nigeria was the site of numerous atrocities and the place where so many met their end. Sit tight and listen to the story of ‘The cave of Arochukwu’.
Stories for the gods
There is a popular saying in Igbo land, “Igbo enwe eze”, meaning The Igbos do not have a king. This is only partly true. Once upon a time, large swaths of eastern Nigeria were ruled by a theocracy. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the priests (Aro) of ‘Chukwu’ ruled by divine injunction, and their word was law! People from far away lands like Nnewi and Ihiala traveled on foot to the cave of Arochukwu for their religious observances and importantly, to settle domestic disputes.
When the faithful gathered, the priests entered into the caves and people with disputes came to plead their cases before the great god. Arochukwu could strike the guilty party dead by mysterious means. No one knows how he did it. All we know is that the faithful stood outside the cave after the 2 parties had entered, and after Arochukwu passed the verdict, the faithful observed as bright red blood oozed from the mouth of the cave. Chukwu had consumed the guilty.
It was later to be revealed that Chukwu never killed anybody in that cave. The cave had a secret back exit known only to the priests which led onto a river where slave dealers were waiting. The priests made a handsome reward selling the guilty as slaves, and in addition to the taxes they levied on the people, soon became very wealthy men in their time.
So who’s blood was it at the mouth of the cave? Every time the priests of Chukwu sold a slave, they killed an animal and let its blood drain towards the entrance of the cave. The people believed justice had been served, and life continued as usual.
There are more stories surrounding this cave and its mystique, but for brevity those will not be captured here.
Our Culture of Oppression.
One can only imagine how many slaves from Igbo land found themselves on ships making the Atlantic crossing due to the activities of Aro priests and their co-conspirators. One estimate put the number at 4 million people.
I recently wrote a piece on Sopona and how a few people with power used their knowledge to oppress the many. This seems to be a recurring theme across African cultures even till this day.
But there is hope.
Many slave traders knew that Igbo slaves were a stubborn lot. Many Igbo slaves would rather jump overboard and plunge to their certain deaths than live in inhuman conditions in those ships. They would rather die on their own terms than live on terms dictated to them. Cowardice was not an option.
I have great respect for those men and women. We owe it to ourselves each day to stand up for ourselves and protect ourselves from the Arochukwus and Soponas of this world. People who will want to prey on us because they consider us weak.