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Nkwerre Opia Egbe (1/2)

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

According to one version of Nkwerre folklore, Chukwu Okike, the creator deity, sent Ogadazu, the patron deity of iron and blacksmithing, to the Okoto forest and instructed him to teach the first son of Okwaraeshi (the mythical founder of Nkwerre) he met the art of smithing. Nachi, a young man who would eventually become the founder of Umunachi, was gathering fruits in the forest when he ran into Ogadazu, who gave him a hammer, an anvil, a pair of bellows, and imbued him with knowledge of metallurgy and the ability to forge iron ore into metal wares.

Over time, in Nkwerre the art of smithing grew in complexity as local technology evolved. In its primitive days, smiths produced nails, needles, and kitchenware. More skilled blacksmiths forged rings, amulets, and ritual staffs used by Ozo title-holders. As the profession expanded and large smithing guilds formed, master blacksmiths were able to focus on the production of more specialized items such as 'ogu' (hoes), 'mbazu' (a digging tool), 'nma' (machetes), and other agricultural tools, driving food production and population increase throughout Igboland.

In the mid-17th century, Nkwerre traders in coastal towns came into contact with Europeans, with whom they traded slaves in exchange for guns, iron bars, and manufactured goods. The advent and mass-proliferation of firearms into the region revolutionized Igbo society, as the gun quickly became a symbol of manhood and affluence.

Nkwerre smiths monopolized the gun trade, as they learned to repair and even masterfully reproduce European guns as well as native cannons, earning their for people the nickname “Nkwerre Opia Egbe” (Nkwerre, the Gun Makers).

The influence of Nkwerre blacksmiths was felt throughout what is now eastern Nigeria and as far away as the Bini Empire and only began to wane as the British pushed deeper into the hinterland in the late 19th century.#igbohistory


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