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Ibini Ukpabi Oracle

IBOM, AROCHUKWU. Shielded from prying eyes by a century’s worth of tropical undergrowth, and situated at the heart of a winding labyrinth of sacred streams and caverns, sits the principal pilgrimage site of pre-colonial eastern Nigeria as well as a major historical monument of the#TransAtlanticSlaveTrade. The Ibini Ukpabi oracle, which occupies the core of a well-engineered cave complex, was undoubtedly the most influential oracular force in the region for nearly three hundred years before its demise at the hands of British invaders in the Anglo-Aro War of 1901-02.

The Oracle had its origins amongst the people of Arochukwu in the mid 17th century. Gaining renown for the swiftness and efficiency with which it administered justice, it grew rapidly in popularity, and by the mid 18th century, it attracted pilgrims from all over the Igbo-speaking world and from as far away as modern-day Cameroon.

Cunningly, its oligarchy of chief priests succeeded in perpetuating the belief that the site of the Oracle was the physical home of Chukwu, the Supreme Creator deity of Igbo cosmology. The Aro themselves, being long-distance traders, served as agents of the Oracle and persuaded disputing parties to settle their cases with Ibini Ukpabi. Cases presented before the Oracle were believed to be presided by Chukwu himself, whose infallible nature ensured that disputes, divinations, and prophecies were all administered justly. Furthermore, the Oracle’s chief priests demanded that in exchange for their services, Chukwu required human sacrifices.

Human beings selected for such sacrifices were led, in full view of clients, into an inner secret chamber where they were supposedly devoured by Chukwu, and their blood poured into a stream which then turned red upon each sacrifice. However, as was just revealed in the early 20th century, the Oracle’s priests deceived their clients by pouring red camwood dye into the stream to fake the illusion of blood. In actuality, the “sacrafices” were diverted through an extensive network of underground tunnels and slave trails to numerous coastal slave markets, where they would be sold to Europeans by way of coastal Middlemen. Today, Ibini Ukpabi remains the best kept secret of Arochukwu. Although claimed to have been destroyed by the British, the Oracle remains intact at a closely-guarded location that is undisclosed to foreigners and known by a select few. Fearing cultural exploitation by federal and foreign entities, the Aro people have on numerous occasions decried the establishment of any cultural institutions on the direct site of the Oracle, while maintaining an altogether removed stance on matters concerning Ibini Ukpabi and opting for the development of historical sites elsewhere around the town.#Igbohistory


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