History of Owerri

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Owerri was founded about the 14th century by our founding father Ekwem Oha.
His mother's name was Arugo.
He fled from Umuori village, Uratta in Owerri North Local Government Area of Imo
State when his life was threatened by his younger brother Ndum. The threat to his
life arose from the dispute over the sharing of the Funeral Cow slaughtered when
their father Oha the aristocrat and embodiment of royalty died. The first son ( Opara
in Igbo) Ekwem was to provide the funeral cow as demanded by custom. He did not
have the means to do so. He appealed to his younger brother Ndum popularly known
as Ndumoha to buy the cow, which he did. Ndum asked for the head, heart and
other parts of the cow that go to the first son in keeping with custom. His reason
being that he Ndum, bought the funeral cow. Ekwem turned down his request and a
quarrel ensued. The elders ( Oha Uratta) were invited to settle the dispute. They did
so by allowing tradition to prevail. Ekwem was entitled to the afor ementioned parts of
the cow being the first son. Ndum did not take kindly to this and so planned to kill
Ekwem in order to have his way. The plot leaked and Ekwem fled with his family at
the dead of the night to Egbu a neighboring town ( Community ) taking with them
some stores and domestic assistants. History has it that his sister was married at
Egbu. His sister fearing that Ndum may look for him asked him to continue his
journey to an unknown and uninhabited land for safety and settle there permanently .
They set out during the night with the aid of owa (native torch) and arrived at a hill
top now known as Ugwu Ekwema and settled there. They heaved a sigh of relief
or what rightly belonged to him. He sounded the drum ( as he was told by his sister )
to indicate his location. His sister was happy to locate him and his family the
following morning. She returned to Egbu thereafter .
The morning broke and they took their first meal roast old yam together in a typical
communion fashion ( not served) with thanks to Almighty and merciful Father our
Lord God for their safety, the thic k forest in the area being infested with dangerous
animals such as lions, tigers and snakes like pythons, vipers and cobras.
The advent of the British saw the anglicizing of Owere to Owerri but pronounced as
though it was spelt Owere. All the neighboring towns ( communities) of Owerri were
founded and existed on planet earth centuries or decades before Owerri came into
existence. It is a God given land ( DESTINY LAND being the slogan for Owerri
Municipal) and has remained protected with all the people therein by the same God
Almighty .
The British found them very clean people. Recall the presence of Nwaorie and
Otamiri rivers flanking Owerri on the West and South respectively . Owerri people
were caring, friendly and accommodating hence the choice of Owerri by the
British Colonial Government as first, Divisional Headquarters later Provincial
Headquarters and today a state capital of Municipal status. It is sad to note what
the so-called modern technology in culverting had done to both Nwaorie and
Otamiri rivers at the creation of Imo state in 1976 when Owerri became the state
capital. The fine bridges that flew across the rivers that once flowed with beauty
were pulled down to give way to the culverts whic h were perhaps
unprofessionally constructed. The rivers are now almost stagnant and would
require millions of Naira to dredge. The influence of the two rivers on the culture
of Owerri people is now historical. 
Oru Owere the annual festival or feast of Owerri indigenes cannot be written
without reference to the founding of Owerri. It has been mentioned earlier that
the first meal of the founding father of Owere and his family was roast old yam,
which they ate with oil bean salad at Ugwu Ekwema (Ekwema's hill).
After breakfast on arriving and settling at Ugwu Ekwema, there was the need for
water for obvious reasons. They knew that the source of Otamiri was at Egbu but
were ignorant of the course of the river owing to the thick rain forest of the area.
The communities or towns through whic h Otamiri flowed, were also known. It is
common knowledge that peculiar sounds or noises are characteristic of running
water from streams and rivers. That was Ekwema's experience that morning. He
ordered his men to use the direction of the sounds/noise to see if any could be
sighted. They obeyed his wish and by surprise stumbled on Otamiri river, close to
where Emmanuel College Owerri now stands. They ran back in excitement to
Ugwu Ekwema and broke the news of the presence of what they described as
OGBU AMUMA - a pleasant early morning sunrise experience of flashing rays of
the sun on the waters of Otamiri river reminiscent of the historical account of the
sighting of River Niger by the Scottish Explorer Mungo Park- GLI TTERING IN THE
OTAMIRI RIVER SIGHTED: Ekwema immediately commissioned his men to clear the
route to the river - IKPU UZO. The route cleared after which he feasted them with
corn porridge. 
The roasting of old yams the first meal and the corn meal entertainment developed
into a cultural festival or feast ORU OWERE with which indigenes commemorate the
founding of Owerri. These events tell the story of the founding of Owerri and the
time or period of the year Owerri was founded with the old yam and corn meal, whic h
are commonly consumed at that time of the year, the rainy season. Worthy of note
is the fact that the yam is old not new yam, as new yam had not yet been harvested.
Therefore Oru Owere is not new yam festival.

Oru Owere is Oru Eze ( the Eze's festival). The festival is marked by a period of the
observance of peace, love, friendliness and togetherness, devoid of bitterness,
quarrels, antagonism and physical confrontation, no weeping when death occurs
during the period, no firing of cannon and a time to make up quarrels without third
par ty intervention as stipulated by custom. However Oha Owere is the traditional
institution responsible for its c onduct and yearly observance. They determine the
commencement of the period by a system handed down by our ancestors. The
duration of the period is equally guided by the same system. All the key events
namely the beginning of the period, the roasting of the old yam, the corn porridge
entertainment ( MKPU KPU UZO) and the day marking the end of the period are Orie
market days. The period begins in the month of June and lasts till mid August.
Between the roasting of old yam ( Oru Owere Proper ) and the corn porridge meal is
the GRAND FINALE c haracterized by a colourful procession of age grade
formations in Owerri community through given routes in the Old City . The Civic
procession assembles at Ugwu Ekwema Civic Center ( the c ivic center of Owerri
Community ) from where it talks off and terminates at the end of the procession
where invited guests are received and made to have a feel of Oru Owere with
traditional dances displays and entertainment. The first item of entertainment after
the breaking of kolanuts by Eze Owere is roast old yam. Ugwu Ekwema is our
ancestral home which significance informed our choice of locating the Community
Civic Center. 
Perhaps the reader may wish to know when Owerri indigenes are free to eat the New
Yam. The eating of the new yam by Owere indigenes begins the day immediately
after MKPU KPU OZU which is the day that marks the beginning of the new calendar
year in Igbo culture.
Accordingly, it is pertinent to note that Owerri people the indigenes of the capital
of Imo state do not celebrate the New Yam.
When increase in population began, there was the need to expand to other fronts.
The sons of Ekwem and their families moved away from the ancestral home at Ugwu
Ekwema, to different directions within the confines of the two rivers close to each
other with their families leading to the growth and development of the villages of
Owerri which derived their names from the sons of Ekwem. The grave of Ekwem
stands prominently on the grounds of Ugwu Ekwem Civic Center. Ikenegbu was the
first son followed by Onyeche, Odu and their sister Oyima hence the villages
namely ;
Amawom          Children of Ikenegbu Umuonyeche
The villages were named after the sons and daughter of the founder . Information has
it that about eight to ten villages emerged. Some were sacked and others migrated
away to places far and near in Igbo Land, East and west of the Niger with Owerri
featuring in the name of their new hometowns as Owere in Diaspora. In recent times
some persons who are not indigenes of Owerri, the state capital and who have never
written or published for public consumption any historical account of the founding
or origin of their home town or communities have become Owereologists who give
unprecedented calculated false and hopelessly distorted account of the origin of
Owerri as though Owerri town or community which was in existence centuries before
the British expedition in 1901 had no known origin. Her indigenes are not by
accident of birth but divine providence. Owerri is not a geographical expression. It
has a local setting given by the indigenes. It is not a coming together or movement
of people from different places coming together to settle in a place or a place mixed
with occupiers and intruders or invaders. It is founded through one person and his
family . Prior to the early eighties of the last century, Owerri people the indigenes of
capital of Imo state did not intermarry for the reason of one blood.
Owerri people are peace loving, very friendly, do not discriminate against any
ethnic or tribal group and treat you in a way more affectionate than they do to their
brothers and sisters. They are not criminal or violent by nature. Those who come to
Owerri to work or find a sourc e of livelihood come to stay and not to return from
whence they came for her peace and security .
If you are in Imo State without knowing something about Owerri, the State Capital,
your knowledge of the State is hopelessly incomplete.
The facts to note. 
A. The advent of the British - 1901
B. The Monarchy - the last quarter of the 17th century about 1670- 1680.
The Title of the Eze of Owerri - OZURUIGBO ( The King whose authority spans a
large area of Igboland). 
The first king that is, the Eze- Eze Eke Onunwa
1. Eze Eke Onunwa
1690 - 1735
2. Eze Okorie Onunwa
1735 - 1788
3. Eze Iheancho Okorie Onunwa
1788 - 1845
4. Eze Njemanze Iheanacho Okorie Onunwa Ozur igbo the First
1845 - 1920
5. Eze Ihemeje Njemanze
1921 - 1931
6. Eze Onwuegbuchulam Njemanze
1931 - 1941
7. Eze Johnson Osuji Njemanze Ozuruigbo the 2nd
1941 - 1965
8. Eze Reverend Samuel Njemanze
1966 - 1970
9. Eze Reginald Anugwolu Njemanze Ozuruigbo the 3rd
1970 - 1976
10. Eze Alexuis Anumaku Njemanze Ozuruigbo the 4th
1976 - 1988
11. Eze Emmanuel Emenyonu    Njemanze Ozuruigbo the 5th
is now on the throne as Ozuruigbo the 5th by title, the 8th Njemanze on the throne
and 11th king of Owerri, was crowned on the 11th of November 1989 ( 11/ 11/ 89) 
About 1840- 1850, the kindreds of Eke Onunwa and Okorie Onunwa agreed to leave
the crown permanently with the Njemanze family and became the kingmakers of
Owerri who decide the Njemanze that wears the crown. The oldest man from the
lineage of Akalonu Okorie kindred crowns the Eze of Owerri.

The British Occupation: The peace with friendliness of Owerri people was
The British settled and built;
a. Military Hospital later named African Hospital which thereafter was
renamed General Hospital and today is the Federal Medical Centre Owerri. The
Owerri General Hospital is relocated to New Owerri in Owerri Municipal.
b. Government School in 1906 and added the secondary wing now
Government Secondary School Owerri in 1935 and moved the Primary School to
Wetheral Road Owerri as Owerri Township Sc hool in 1952.
Owerri not only Divisional Headquarters but became the provincial headquarters
of the Old Owerri Province was what is now Imo, Abia plus Afikpo up to Diobu in
the Rivers State. The need to have a seaport informed the building of Port
Harc ourt from Owerri the Provincial headquarters. When Port Harcourt was finally
built, Delta province was carved out of Owerri Province with Port Harcourt as its
headquarters. Note that Port Harcourt was built from Owerri as Port Harcourt never
existed before the advent of the British. 
The Monarchy Revisited: All Traditional Institutions in Owerri are hereditary and do
not rotate. There are no ruling houses. The institution stands in one family. The
hereditary system is not necessarily father to son but to a fit and proper son of the
royal family .
The Njemanze / Owerri dynasty is a first class institution and has been involved in
Nation Building and took part in the 1958 Constitutional Conference that ushered
independence to Nigeria where Ozuruigbo of Owerri HRH Eze Johnson
Osuji Njemanze represented the Old Owerri province of the former of Eastern
Nigeria as part of the delegation led by late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe as did the North
and the West led by the late Ahmadu Bello and late Chief Obafemi Awolowo
respectively .
Eze Njemanze Ihenacho of Owerri was the Vicechairman of the Council of the
Traditional Rulers of the former Oil River Protectorate with Calabar as its
headquarters. The Obong of Calabar was the Chairman of the Council Diplomatic
Ties: Owerri monarchy had diplomatic ties with Arochukwu, Nkwere and the Benin
Oil Prospecting in Igbo Land: This began in Owerri before the second world war. The
Second World War broke out and it was suspended. The war ended and shell D'arcy
returned to Owerri in the forties of the last century to continue the oil prospecting
hence the shell camp in Owerri. Shell was in Owerri up to the early sixties before
moving to Port Harcourt when their level of technology could not strike oil in Iho in
Ikeduru LGA of Imo state a few Kilometers away from Owerri. However, today there
is a Chevron Rig in Owerri but not yet commissioned. 
Culture: As subsistence farmers had implements for farming, practiced crop
rotation, built barns for the storage of yams, built native wooden bridges ( Igbo)
across the rivers to link their farmland across the rivers Nworie and Otamiri, had
their cultural dances, songs, moonlight songs, musical instruments, the wooden
xylophone, opi or oja and odu as wind instruments, drums and percussions made of
wood and animal skin, clay pot instruments etc . marr iage rites, birth ceremonies
and funeral ceremonies, punishment for crimes depending on the scene of the act.
Mbari Culture had its root in Owerri : It is now a thing of the past as religion had
dealt a big blow on the arts and crafts etc .
Generally religion/ Christianity in the main relegated our culture.


  1. What was the name of the first British visitor to Owerri? I was told that the locals thought he was a ghost and killed him, and hung his bicycle in a tree, but the wind made the wheels go round and round, so they took it down again and buried it too. Unfortunately for them, more Brits arrived looking for the first guy, and on hearing what had happened, well, you can guess the rest.

  2. @Clive, the incident you mentioned according to historical records happened in Mbaise and not Owerri.