Updated: Jun 13, 2020
Commonly referred to as “Mba Ji Ishi Acho Ishi” (the Nation of Headhunters) for their long history of military prowess and exceptional bravery in the face of combat, the Ohafia people have been known to embrace challenges and stand rigid in the face of danger. In a community in which strength and valor were the parameters by which social honors were conferred, wars—especially those with the White Men—were a prime opportunity for young Ohafia lads to earn eagle feathers of their own with which to brandish their caps—a badge of inimitable courage and achievement.
Such an opportunity came in the year 1901, when the British Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF) invaded Igboland in a punitive campaign to demolish Igbo resistance to colonial rule and avenge the Massacre at Obegu. That year, Obegu, a pro-British town in what is now Abia State, had been sacked and a large number of its inhabitants were massacred by anti-British forces headed mainly by the Aro and their Ohafia, Abiriba, and Abam allies. As retribution for their involvement in the massacre, the Ohafia people were among those targeted by British forces.
That year, Eke Kalu, a former-slave-turned-business man, was visiting the British-held port city of Calabar on a business errand when he witnessed the White Men and their African soldiers preparing for their assault on his homeland. Earlier in his life, Kalu had served as a load carrier for RWAFF troops throughout their campaigns and had witnessed the devastating effects of their artillery and machine guns. Driven into action by the urgent need to save his people from their imminent doom, he hurried out of Calabar via canoe and returned to Ohafia, where he issued warnings to no avail.
As they approached Ohafia, the British forces first stopped at Ebem and set up camp. As soon as they pitched their tents, a charge of Ebem warriors led by their commander, Idika Echeme, attacked. Startled at first, the British suffered a few casualties but soon brought the force of their Maxim machine guns to bear on the hapless Ebem warriors, who were armed with mere dane guns and swords. British artillery further devastated the charging warriors and cut down wave after wave, eventually routing the survivors. After the battle, Ebem burned down.
Back in Ohafia, news of Ebem’s demise only helped Kalu dissuade his people from what was considered suicidal resistance. As the British approached Ohafia, a delegation led by Eke Kalu awaited them at the town’s outskirts. As the soldiers neared, he waved a bamboo pole upon which was tied a white handkerchief and shouted: “Anyi kwere na nde Bekee” (we surrender to the British). Approached by the British Captain, who impressed by his bravery, demanded to know his identity, Eke Kalu said: “I from Elu Ohafia. My fada, Imaga Agwunsi, say he no wan war.”
Having averted danger and displayed his command of the White Man’s language, Eke Kalu earned immense respect and influence in his community. Later on in his life, he became a philanthropist and a public advocate, forever going down in Ohafia history as the man who saved the Nation of Headhunters.#Igbohistory