Much of what is acceptable as the history of Enugu Ezike consists of retold stories which seek to sympathise and eulogise while at the same time justifying the status and position of Enugu Ezike. Several stories of bravery in hunting, love stories, and kindness by a priest, or gift from a stranger who is invited and therefore accepts to settle are very much in the retold oral history. Some three versions are however widely held by the people as the history of their origin.
A story widely circulating among elders and certain indigenous quiz-kids is that a greater portion of Enugu Ezike groups is the offspring of an Igala hunter known as Ezike Oba. A history and culture journal reports V.K Johnson as writing in 1934 that the oral history of Enugu Ezike began when an Igala hunter arrived at Ugwueka and met the Attama “who received him hospitably”. Ezike Oba took off frequently and returned from his hunt with a present of his game to the Attama. As time went on, they established a working, cordial relationship to a point that he married and settled with the host community.
Another version of the myth of origin states that the name Enugu Ezike, or rather Elugwu Ezike or Enugwu Ezike was fashioned from the call of a stranger who was found with a gun and hunting bag wandering on the hills belonging to Ezike. He was then referred to as Onye Elugwu Ezike, which means the man on top Ezike’s hill, and thus the name, Elugwu Ezike.
Ekoyi Iheaka was also mentioned in this story and it was reported that Onye Elugwu Ezike used to bring his game to his hosts at Amube which he gave them as gifts. He soon fell in love with one of the village girls, and they got married, settled down and begat four sons, namely, Ezeodo, Esodo, Itodo and Ozi. These sons grew up and founded their own homesteads which grew into the clans and villages making up the Enugwu Ezike of today.
The final version which emerged during the 1970’s was that a man from Enugwu Ukwu in present day Anambra state who found his way into the area called Enugwu Ezike was a hunter who had shot and trailed a wounded elephant.
He arrived the vicinity of Ekoyi Iheaka and finding the entire landscape unoccupied, went back and told his people. They reportedly asked him to go and live there. He returned and settled beside Ekoyi, and his place has since become the ancestral home of Enugwu Ezike people.
Several issues arise from the myth of origin from a strange hunter. The origin of the strange hunter and his escapade all the way Enugwu Ukwu, and so on, are not clearly retold. The hunter was operating with a hunting gun an innovation in hunting or raiding which came with the slave trade, alongside consumable spirits.
These items spread from the slave-trading posts into the hinterland of Africa beginning from the 17th century. Artifacts and other landmarks of human habitation and settlement in the area pre-date the hunter story.
Finally, it’s an established fact that communities such as Ufodo, Umunaja, Umachi and Amube were already settled groups practicing hoe agriculture and with their established religious practices centered around their Attama. A problem of how to place these communities arises given the fact that they are factually not regarded as offspring of Ezike Oba if we accept the hunter story. A serious problem may arise as to which indigenous group correctly own the land since hunting with gun is a recent African phenomenon.
Available artifacts found in the area clearly contradict the hunter story. Writings and researches on the early history of Enugu Ezike are important. Ukpabi (1965) notes that Enugu Ezike people are predominantly of Igbo origin. He agrees with Afigbo (1978) that the people constitute a nucleus of Igbo northward migration which involved the settlement and lateral expansion in an area before or by 1000BC. Ukpabi (1965) clearly states that the area is one core area of Igbo civilization; the area constituting the main center for the Igbo who “did not appear to have any tradition of migration from any other area”. P.O Sada (1978), talking about patterns of settlement in the area suggests that ” it would seem that there was a dispersal of settlement from this point to the other parts pf the Plateau, meaning the highlands upon which settlements have been localized ranging from Okigwe area to its Northward end around Otukpa.
Afigbo (1978), quoting Shelton (1971), suggests that Enugu Ezike is a more recent settlement; that a sizeable portion of the people are Igala or were ruled and politically dominated by the Igala kingdom of Idah. As time went on, the area came under the influence of slave trading groups such as the Nike, Aro, Abam. The orphan, the weak and the unprotected were easily taken as captives and sold into slavery by the strong. Those seeking protection easily became enslaved to the man or the family that provided such protection. The only attenuating factor to this high-level disorder was run either to an oracle or a dreaded deity as spiritual protector of the group or community. This explains why there is an oracle in nearly every kin group of Enugu Ezike with a responsibility to protect the free-born.
As a result, most of the slaves found in Enugu Ezike were brought in as strangers from outside communities. They worked at farmlands, or as domestic servants, and were literally properties in transit, to be sold when economic exigencies demanded. Slaves were also objects for ritual sacrifice.