Originated in Strength, Diversity, Security and Unity
Dr. Chima Dike, (Ebubedike Aro): Immediate Past President General, Atani Welfare Union Worldwide, Life Patron AWU Lagos and Member Advisory Council AWU-USA.
Atani Village is one of the most progressive in the kingdom of Arochukwu and this is not by accident. We remember that as the Igbos migrated east from Benin they met the land we all know as Igbo land already occupied by the Ibibios that moved south from the Benue valley. The earliest settlements that existed in present day Arochukwu include Ibibio clans of Ibom and Obong Okon Ita, who later became known as the Ibom Isii . The other migrant that followed was the Eze Agwu clan with their brave leader called Agwu Inobia. The Eze Agwu warriors in collaboration with the Ibom clan did fight gallantly to dislodge the rest of the Ibibios but the task was very daunting for them. They knew they could not acquire more territories without help. This led Agwu Inobia to invite a powerful native doctor and a successful mercenary leader from Ada (Edda) called Nnachi. Nnachi put together warriors made up mainly of the Akpa forces led by Akuma Nnubi and Osim from the Abam area. This action was successful in capturing the land area today geographically known as Arochukwu with an alliance of 19 new and old villages around 1650-1700 AD.
The initial conquered area was shared by the three major players of Eze Agwu, Ibom Isii and Oke Nnachi. Each group developed villages specific to them except Oror and Atani villages. Oror originated as a central location for administrative convenience with Ime Aro and Ameze at the North and South respectively. Akuma, from the Eze Agwu clan, who led the liberation, became the first Eze Aro but after his death, Nnachi’s son, Oke Nnachi took over and moved from Utughugwu to Oror. His descendants produce the Eze Aro till today and Oror remains the abode of the Eze Aro till date. Ibom Issi still remains the host clan that was in the land before Eze Agwu and Oke Nnachi. Present day cultural protocol in Arochukwu respects this arrangement.
The Ibibos did not give up that easily and continued to attack the villages from the southern part to regain their lost land. To prevent these repeated surprise attacks, leaders of Oke Nnachi, Ibom Isii, and Eze Agwu decided to station their most brave men and their families at the volatile southern flank where these attacks were coming from. These warriors moved to the area today known as Atani village to live. Therefore, the formation of Atani was a well thought out plan, carefully related to land, security of property and unity of the Arochukwu population.
These men were to beat back any attacks and warn the rest 18 villages of either an attack or an impending attack. The medium for warning the rest of the town was the beating of the Ikoro, which is a huge carved wooden instrument with a hollow center that produces deep penetrating sound when beaten with specifically designed sticks. Atani is the only village that has an Ikoro till today because of this unique role. The Ikoro is still in the same location that it was in the 17th century and there are specific ceremonies and rituals that must be performed today before you can beat the Ikoro Atani. The beating of the Ikoro places the entire Arochukwu town on red alert and ready for war. Atani is therefore an amalgamation of Eze Agwu, Oke Nnachi and Ibom Issi. Despite the extreme rivalry that existed between these three groups, they were united in Atani by a common purpose of protecting the bigger settlement of Arochukwu. Atani is the only village in Arochukwu today that has all the three kindred living in perfect harmony.
It is therefore not an accident that peaceful coexistence is what Atani is known for. It is a village with valiant and fearless warriors as its origin and is constituted by the best the three kindred could put together. We will continue to live in peace were ever we are. We live in peace in our village Arochukwu, we live in peace in Nigeria and we will live in peace in North America. Let all of us in the United States to be each other’s keeper. That was what our forefathers did, they watched each other’s back and so we must keep that tradition and watch out for each other. When your brother or sister makes progress then you are equally progressing.
In the mid 18th century, Arochukwu people began a process of mass migration to other Igbo hinterland driven principally by economic dynamics and trade fuelled by the power of the Long Juju and its intricate web of priests. Atani people, as expected, did not miss out on these opportunities and joined the bandwagon to set up permanent residences in several Igbo communities. Some of these settlements include Atani Ikwerre, Atani Obigbo, Atani Ajatakiri, Atani Achara, Atani Agwa, Atani Umuahia, Atani Akabo, Atani Bende, Atani Ngwa, Atani Egbu, Atani Oguta, Atani Elele, Atani Ihiala, Atani Izombe, Atani Abakaliki, Atani Okporoenyi, Atani Oru , Atani Mgbirichi and many others.
No matter where Atani people live in Nigeria, they can trace their origin to one of the 25 compounds that make up the four kindreds in Atani. A compound is a collection of families that have strong blood relationships. Theoretically, intermarriage within a compound is not allowed or has been, in the last 30 years, outlawed. Intermarriage between members of compounds within kindred is allowed and intermarriage between members of one kindred and another is highly encouraged and celebrated.
The kindreds are Ndi Okwara, Atani Etiti, Ngodo, and Atani Agbo. These kindreds are arranged in this brief according to how you approach the village. Technically, you cannot pass through Atani to any other village in Arochukwu. You enter the village; you retrace your locus to leave the village except if going to Amukwa village or through the farmlands and undeveloped Atani II to Amuvi village. As you enter the village from the main access route which is Isinkpu Village, the first kindred you meet is Ndi Okwara. You then pass and go down the valley (Ngene Ukwu) and meet Atani Etiti. At the centre of the village, around the Mkpala Ekpe, there is a roundabout. A major landmark near the roundabout and in front of the Mkpala Ekpe, is a massive wooden carved elephant structure built by an Atani son, Mazi Felix Ikenga, which signifies that we are Enyimba. If you go left, that will be Atani Agbo and if you go right, that will be Ngodo.
This Table depicts the Four Atani Kindreds and their compounds:
Through Diversity, Atani was created from the three originators of Arochukwu for Security reasons; In Strength, Atani keeps and maintains the community boundaries; and in Unity for Development and Prosperity, Atani lives with her brothers and sisters, friends and supporters.
ATANI NMAWURU, MMA MMA NU; NDI OJI IKORO KA MBA, NDEWO NU!