The Kingdom of Nri (Igbo: ‘Ọ̀ràézè Ǹrì’) (948–1911) was the West African medieval region in southeastern, Nri is an ancient Igbo city-state in Anambra State, Nigeria, a subgroup of the Igbo-speaking people. The Kingdom of Nri was the centre of Igbo culture, religion, and commerce in pre-colonial West Africa. It was the seat of a powerful and imperial state that influenced much of the territories inhabited by the Igbo of Awka and Onitsha to the east; the Efik, the Ibibio, and the Ijaw to the South; Nsukka and southern Igala to the north; and Asaba, and the Anioma to the west. The Kingdom of Nri was unusual in the history of world government in that its leader exercised no military power over his subjects but used religious authority and control of commercial routes as tactics in the spread of their city-state. The kingdom existed as a sphere of religious and political influence over a third of Igboland and was administered by a priest-king called as an Eze Nri. The Eze Nri managed trade and diplomacy on behalf of the Nri people and possessed divine authority in religious matters.
Politically, Nri is known to be the most ancient origins of the Eze kingship in Igbo societies. But Nri and its rulers were also known for their revered traditional religious institutions that installed both awe and fear in those who made pilgrimages to the shrines. The religious practices believed in the existence of one supreme creator God, ‘Chukwu Okike‘; but the Eze Nri was seen as a potent who had powers to undo evil and cleanse the land from abominations and taboos.
“Osu” was the name of outcasts of other communities who migrated and were accepted in Nri. Some Osu became eunuchs. During the colonial period, Nri and the regions under its political, religious, or commercial control became international markets for palm oil. In the heart of Nri influence was the Igbo Ukwu bronze castings.
The kingdom was a haven for all those who had been rejected in their communities “Osu” and also a place where slaves were set free from their bondage. Nri expanded through converts gaining neighbouring communities’ allegiance, not by force. Nri’s royal founder, Eri, is said to be a ‘sky being’ that came down to earth and then established a civilisation. One of the better-known remnants of the Nri civilisation is its art, as manifested in the Igbo Ukwu bronze items.
Nri’s culture permanently influenced the Northern and Western Igbo, especially through religion and taboos. British colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade and the rise of the Bini and Igala kingdoms contributed to the decline of the Nri Kingdom. The Nri Kingdom is going through a cultural revival.
The Eze Nri was the title of the ruler of Nri with ritual and mystic (but not military) power. He was a ritual figure rather than a king in the traditional sense. The Eze Nri was chosen after an interregnum period while the electors waited for supernatural powers to manifest in the new Eze Nri. He was installed after a symbolic journey to Aguleri on the Anambra River. The authorities must be notified prior to the commencement of this journey to obtain the Ududu-Eze,the royal sceptre. There, the process of paying homage to all the necessary shrines/deities in Aguleri by the new Eze Nri, visitation to Menri`s tomb at Ama-Okpu, collection of Ofo, purification of the virgin boy to receive the clay from the chosen diver from Umuezeora in Aguleri, sitting on the throne of Eri at Obu-Ugah in Aguleri by the new Eze-Nri before going back to Nri on the seventh day to undergo a symbolic burial and exhumation, then finally be anointed with white clay, a symbol of purity. Upon his death, he was buried seated in a wood-lined chamber. The Eze Nri was in all aspects a divine ruler.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri hegemony in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century, and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century. Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled the region around 948, with other related Igbo cultures following after in the 13th century.The first Eze Nri (King of Nri), Ìfikuánim, follows directly after him. According to Igbo oral tradition, his reign started in 1043. At least one historian puts Ìfikuánim’s reign much later, around 1225 CE.
In 1911, the names of 19 Eze Nri were recorded, but the list is not easily converted into chronological terms because of long interregnums between installations. Tradition held that at least seven years would pass upon the death of the Eze Nri before a successor could be determined; the interregnum served as a period of divination of signs from the deceased Eze Nri, who would communicate his choice of successor from beyond the grave in the seven or more years ensuing upon his death. Regardless of the actual date, this period marks the beginning of Nri kingship as a centralised institution.
Nearly all communities in Igboland were organised according to a title system. Igbo west of the Niger River and on its east bank developed kingship, governing states such as Aboh, Onitsha and Oguta, their title Obi. The Igbo of Nri, on the other hand, developed a state system sustained by ritual power.
The Kingdom of Nri was a religion-polity, a sort of theocratic state, that developed in the central heartland of the Igbo region. The Nri had a taboo symbolic code with six types. These included human (such as twins), animal, object, temporal, behavioural, speech and place taboos. The rules regarding these taboos were used to educate and govern Nri’s subjects. This meant that, while certain Igbo may have lived under different formal administration, all followers of the Igbo religion had to abide by the rules of the faith and obey its representative on earth, the Eze Nri.
An important symbol among the Nri religion was the omu, a tender palm frond, used to sacralize and restraint. It was used as protection for travelling delegations or safeguarding certain objects; a person or object carrying an omu twig was considered protected. The influence of these symbols and institutions extended well beyond Nri, and this unique Igbo socio-political system proved capable of controlling areas wider than villages or towns.
For many centuries, the people within the Nri hegemony were committed to peace. This religious pacifism was rooted in a belief that violence was an abomination which polluted the earth. Instead, the Eze Nri could declare a form of excommunication from the odinani Nri against those who violated specific taboos. Members of the Ikénga could isolate entire communities via this form of ritual siege.