Eze Chima was an Aro native doctor. In pursuance of the role of the Aros in the Atlantic Slave Trade quoted…from Michael Crowder’s story of Nigeria, Chima left Arochukwu to Benin to set up as an agent of the Aro Long Juju, for the usual purpose of collecting slaves from Benin.
Whenever, in the olden days, a native doctor travelled to a place, he by custom would, on arrival, report himself to the local chief or to the head of the society of native doctors of the land. He is either the guest of the head chief of the clan or puts up with head of the local society of native doctors. Accordingly, when Chima arrived Benin he reported himself to the Oba of Benin who accepted him as his guest. In time Chima settled down and set up practice as a native doctor and agent of Aro Oracle. He impressed the Oba of Benin so much with his magical art that he became very influential over the Oba. In consequence, the Oba installed Chima a chief in the palace of Benin. Thus the plain blunt and ordinary native doctor who left Arochukwu to establish an agency of the Long Juju, earned a chieftaincy title and became Chief Chima or Eze Chima.
Having found his feet firm in Benin, Eze Chima sent for his brother Ekensu and other relatives from Arochukwu, and also set up an Aro settlement in Benin similar to those Aros had set up within the description of Michael Crowder, in other areas throughout former Eastern Nigeria.
With the march of time, Chima’s practice in Benin expanded down to Niger Delta. Among the Urhobos and Itshekiris also the fame of the Aro Oracle spread and clients from those areas trooped to him to consult the Oracle. The greatest index of Chima’s influence on culture in Benin Kingdom is found in the fact that Benin people adopted the Igbo days of the week – Eke, Orie, Afo and Nkwo – on which Chima made one sacrifice or the other or observed his abstinences and spiritual disciplines, as names also of Benin week days. And till today the Binis have, as the Igbo, Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo – as names of their week days.
According to Mr Wellington Igunbor a Benin historian, who on the mother side, belongs to one of Benin’s traditional chieftaincy families (Chief Gaius Obaseki’s family – Gaius Obaseki who was the Iyase or Prime Minister of Benin in 1947) – the settlement of Eze Chima in Old Benin was established in the area through which Siliku Street runs in the present-day Benin city. As Eze Chima’s influence increased so did population of his settlement expand. So influential was Eze Chima and so completely absorbed in the society was he and his clan that there was hardly a thing he and his people could not do on the basis of equality with Benin indigenes.
How Chima left Benin:
At the time Eze Chima lived in Benin, the mother of Oba of Benin was Asije. The Oba’s brother who also was the Oba’s War Lord was called Gbunwala. One day, Asije the mother of both the Oba and Gbunwala, the Benin War Lord went into a farm belonging to Eze Chima’s people and collected firewood. Eze Chima’s people then caught Asije the Oba’s mother, and beat her thoroughly for taking wood from their farm without permission. Back home, Asije reported to her children – the Oba of Benin and Gbunwala, the Benin War Lord, her bitter experience with Eze Chima’s people. Red with anger, Gbunwala, the Oba’s brother and War Lord, took some of his soldiers, went to Chima’s settlement, set upon Chima’s people – beat them thoroughly and killed some of them.
From that day, Gbunwala began to harass Eze Chima and his people. In the circumstance, Eze Chima decided to quit Benin with his people and return to the East whence he came to rejoin his Igbo kith and kin – or, in the alternative to find new settlements for himself and his people in places far and safe beyond the reach of Oba of Benin.
This story was told in Igbo Primer popularly known as “Azu Ndu”, approved by Government Education Department for infant classes of primary schools in the Igbo Provinces of then Eastern Nigeria, now Biafra, since the beginning of the 20th century.
On their way out of Benin, some of the Eze Chima’s people settled at Agbo (Agbor), 44 miles away from Benin City which they considered far, and out of reach, molestations and influence of the Oba of Benin and his brother, Gbunwala. Others went beyond this distance and settled at Isele-Uku, Onicha-Olona, Onicha-Ugbo and Obio. When they reached the West bank of the Niger, some took a canoe and paddled down the River to Abo and settled. Led by Oreze, the eldest son of Eze Chima, the balance of Eze Chima clan crossed the River Niger to the eastern bank and settled among Oze people – the original inhabitants of what is today the big and prosperous commercial and education centre in Biafra – Onicha (Onitsha). On page 73 of his story of Nigeria, Mr Michael Crowder believed that the migration of Onicha (Onitsha) people – this is of Umu Eze Chima clans – from Benin took place in the 17th century.
Benin-Igbo Exchange of Culture:
Having lived for some years in Benin as one of the chiefs of the palace of the Oba of Benin, Eze Chima, the Aro agent of the Aro Oracle in Benin and his people had learnt Benin chieftaincy institutions and titles and so adapted the Benin system to the administrative structures and customs of the place where they settled among other West Niger Igbo and in Onicha (Onitsha) on the east bank. But as Eze Chima took away from Benin a copy of their chieftaincy institutions, so did he deposit in Benin, and the Binis adopted it, Igbo weekdays – Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo – which are vital in the determination of appropriate days for abstinences , spiritual religious cultures of the Igbo and Bini too. In other words, the West Niger Igbo borrowed from Benin in chieftaincy, traditions, just as the Binis borrowed from the Igbo in religious traditions—through the agency of Eze Chima.”