Owerri was put on the British map in 1893,
it was centrally located, on flat ground, fertile earth, the weather was favourable and the people were welcoming.
It was made it’s own district Council on 11th May 1902 with Sir Harold Morday Douglas as it’s first district commissioner.
It’s municipality today serves as the capital of Imo State. These antecedents led to it becoming the capital of both old and new Imo State.
Currently Owerri town has given it’s name to the larger cultural group or related clans who are now generally referred to as Owerri people.
This group today spans across three local governments named after Owerri: Owerri North, Owerri West and Owerri municipality (which is the main town)
Owerri is made up of 6 clans which are as follows
- Uratta which is the head and largest clan
- Alaenyi clan:
- Nwaoha clan:
- Ochie clan: made up of Okolochi, Ihiagwa, Nekede, Emeabiam and Eziobodo with Ihiagwa being the head of the clan.
A popular saying goes, Owerre wu Owerre wu Uratta, Uratta is the head clan of the Owerri, the Owerri groups were collectively known as Uratta/Oratta before the name Owerri took over.
They trace their origin to a legendary Ofoakuru,
where Akuru came from has been somewhat lost to memory which implies that the Uratta have lived there for so long that they have forgotten where they came from as a result now claim autochthony (that they were the sons of the earth), in the Actual sense Nneorie from whom they claim descent is Ala, Orie Uratta is the cultural heart of Uratta where the Ihu Ala Nneorie is located.
However some Ohaji towns relate Akuru as the brother of Okani.
Few towns known as Umuakuru are found within and outside Owerri.
The place where Akuru habited exists in a quadrangle between Umuayalu and Mpam Egbu to the West, Umorii and Umuoba uratta to the North and Awaka and ihitta to the North east.
The Akuru clans are Nneorie(Uratta), Ome(Alaenyi) and Ezelukwu(Emekuku, Emii)
Uratta is the oldest and largest clan made up of 10 towns: Orji, Amakohia, Akwakuma, Okwu, Umualum, Umuoba, Umuorii, Umunahu, Owaelu and Owala.
Arah is made up of Umuguma, Obirinze, Avu, Oforola and Okuku.
Umunwoha is made up of Irete, Ohii, Orogwe, Ndegwu and Amakohia-Ubi
Ochie consists of Okoloche, Ihiagwa, Emeabiam, Eziobodo and Nekede with Ihiagwa being the head of the clan.
Over the centuries population growth and boundary skirmishes led to a period of intense wars in Owerri, one of such resulted from the killing of Nwagwu from Mpama Egbu by Ihitta people, which in turn led to reprisal attacks from his brother Ofoeje sparking a fierce war between Egbu and Ihitta. It should be noted that these towns often recruited affiliated and allied villages to join in their wars, further embroiling the entire region in conflict.
There were similar wars between Owerri and Egbu, Owerri and Uratta, etc. With the end result that there were exodus of people from this region to form splinter communities such as Uratta Ngwa, Owerrinta, Mpam Mbaise, Ihitte-Owerre, Owerri-Ebeiri and so forth.
One can’t talk about Owerri without talking about Otamiri, the Owerri region is transveresed with four major rivers. Nworie, Otamiri, Okitankwo, and Oramiriukwaoche of all these the Otamirioche is the most important river in Owerri culture and tradition as all the other rivers are it’s tributaries.
It has it’s origin/source at Egbu but flows right through most of the Owerri clans before it enters Ohaji and Echie.
The Otamiri deity is the central deity of Owerri culture after Ala. (Ala Nneorie)
The head of the deity is Ihiagwa,
In Ihiagwa folklore, Otamiri asked the towns to catch the ovu bird and bring it to him, while those from Nekede were busy searching for the literal bird, ihiagwa interpreted it as meaning to come and pay homeage very early in the morning. Otamirioche hence decided to make Ihiagwa his priests.
Based on their position, Ihiagwa are the natural time keepers of the Owerri calender. They had the prerogative of announcing the beginning of the New Year and planting season for the Uratta and neighbouring clans.
At the Otamiri, the people were reprsented by 8 elders or chiefs known as Nde Oha, these Ohas were one from each constituent village of Ihiagwa. These Ohas announced the new year and read out new laws and ordinances from Otamirioche for the year The Oha were the highest level of government in the society.
Ihiagwa claims that Chukwu dwelled in ihiagwa before He left for Arochukwu
Ihiagwa tradition claims that they did not migrate from anywhere, that they have always lived in their current location, however, a parallel tradition mentions an Ogu ochie as their founding father.
It is worth noting that Ochie clan is the only clan that kept the New Yam festival.
It is also worth noting that the Owerri do not eat the three leaf yam known as Una, it is a dietary taboo.
It is also worth noting that while Owerri is part of Alaenyi, it’s tradition of origin is traced to Ekwema Arugo who settled there from Umuorii Uratta.
Popular festivals within Owerri includes but not limited to Onwa Oru Uratta, Oru Owerri, Mgbugbu uzo Egbu, Okazhi Emii, Ugu Emeke, Aguzie Afor Ihiagwa e.t.c
Mbari culture was a form of devotion to Ala the earth goddess shared between the Owerri and the Echie.
It involves votive shrines built in form a stepped pyramidal structure and encircled by pillars and a roof over it, it functioned as a gallery of arts showcasing Ala, her husband, Owu, Otamiri, Nguma and various deities of Owerri pantheon as well as other aspects of daily life. It was made by young women known as nde Mgbe and was dedicated every year during the Mbari festival.
It used to be a common site in the past… a permanent one created in Owerri town in the 80s to immortalized the culture at Mbari cultural centre was demolished by the former governor Rochas Okorocha for to make way his pet projects.
The Owerre dialect is one of the most homogenous of the Igbo languages, almost identical over all the clans.