Awka has a certain kind of aura about it, because it was the place of the blacksmiths that created implements which made agriculture possible. — Chinua Achebe
Awka is one of the oldest settlements in Igboland established at the centre of the Nri civilization which produced the earliest documented bronze works in Sub-Saharan Africa around 800 AD and was the cradle of Igbo civilization.
The earliest settlers of Awka were the Ifiteana people which translates into people who sprouted from the earth. They were farmers, hunters, and skilled iron workers who lived on the banks of the Ogwugwu stream in what is now known as Nkwelle ward of Awka.
The deity of the Ifiteana was known as Okika-na-ube or the god pre-eminent with the spear and the Ifiteana were known as Umu-Okanube or “worshippers of Okanube”, which evenutally became shortened to Umu-Oka and eventually Oka and its anglicized version “Awka”.
In ancient times, Awka was populated by elephants with a section of the town named Ama-enyi (haunt of elephants) and a pond Iyi-Enyi where the elephants used to gather to drink. The elephants were hunted for their prized ivory tusks (okike) which was kept as a symbol to the god Okanube in every Awka home with hunting medicine stored in the hollow of the tusk.
Over time, the town become famous for metal working of a high level and its blacksmiths were prized throughout the region for making farming implements, Dane guns and ceremonial items such as Oji (staff of mystical power) and Ngwuagilija (staff of Ozo men).
In pre-colonial days Awka also became famous as the home of the Agbala Oracle a deity that was said to be a daughter of the great Long Juju shrine of Arochukwu. The Agbala Oracle (which Chinua Achebe drew on for inspiration in his book Things Fall Apart) was consulted to resolve disputes far and wide until it was finally destroyed by colonial authorities in the early part of the 20th century.
Before the inception of British rule, Awka was governed by titled men known as Ozo and Ndichie who were accomplished individuals in the community. They held general meetings or Izu Awka either at the residence of the oldest man (Otochal Awka) or at a place designated by him. He was the Nne Uzu or master blacksmith, whether he knew the trade or not, for the only master known to Awka people was the master craftsman, the Nne Uzu.
In modern times Awka has adapted to the republican system and is currently administered by the Awka South Local Government Area. However, it still preserves traditional systems of governance with the respected Ozo titled men often consulted for village and community issues and a paramount cultural representative, the Eze Uzu who is elected by all Ozo titled men by rotation amongst different villages to represent the city at state functions.
The current Eze Uzu of the city selected since 1999 is Gibson Nwosu one of the first recruits for the Nigerian Air force and a former head of Air Traffic Operations for the Biafra Air Force, the Lusaka International Airport and the Zambian Air Service Training Institute (ZASTI).
Awka should not be confused with Awka-Etiti which is a town in Idemili South local government area that is often mistaken for the main capital. Today, Awka is the capital of Anambra state of Nigeria. Slogan: Sires of Smiths
Awka comprises seven Igbo groups sharing common blood lineage divided into two sections. Ifite Section, the senior section, comprises four groups, Ayom-na-Okpala, Nkwelle, Amachalla, and Ifite-Oka followed by Ezinator Section, which consists of three groups, Amikwo, Ezi-Oka and Agulu. Each of these groups has a number of villages. All together, Awka comprises 33 villages.
Awka people today as in traditional times are well travelled. In ancient times demand for their skills as blacksmiths had Awka people travelling throughout Nigeria making farming implements, household tools and guns. Each village had clearly defined trade routes. For example, people from Umuogbu village plied their trade in Benin and in the Urhobo and Itsekiri areas, Umubele were stationed in the Igala areas in modern-day Kogi state, Umuike and Umuonaga in present-day Abia and Rivers State, Umuenechi in the Kwale and Isoko area of Delta state, and Umudiana, Okperi, Ugwuogige stationed in Calabar area of today’s Cross Rivers state.
The people of Umudioka and Ezioka wards specialized in carving of wood, and ivory and arts designs including elegantly carved tools, door shutters and door panels, chairs, vessels for presentation of kola nuts, and idols. The ivory carvers produced elegant designs on “odu okike” (ivory trumpet) for ozo titled men and other items as part of the paraphernalia for titled men.
Today, Awka people can be found all across the globe many working as skilled professionals in a wide range of fields. As a result, there is a large Awka diaspora located primarily in the UK and in the United States. There, they have formed social clubs like Awka Union USA and Canada, Awka Town Social Community UK and Ireland and other community associations. These associations have been a way for people to enjoy their culture as well as to engage in community self-help projects.
Over the years Awka Town has attracted people from other states in Nigeria and has a significant number of immigrants from northern Nigeria, Delta and Enugu states, Cameroon and Ghana now comprising more than 60% of residents in the town.