The Aro people belong to an Igbo sub-group mixed with Akpa and Ibibio ancestry that originated from the Arochukwu kingdom in Abia State, Nigeria. The total population of the people is about 1 million upward. They are found in about 250 settlements, mostly in Southeast Nigeria. The people are classified as Eastern or Cross River Igbos because of their location, mixed origins, cultures, and dialect. A key factor in establishing the Aro Confederacy as a regional power in the Niger Delta and Southeastern Nigeria during the 18th and 19th centuries is their god, called ‘’Ibini Ukpabi’’.
THE ARO CONFEDERACY
This was a large slave trading network and league of Igbo and Cross River allies led by the Aro people. This flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their influence and presence was distributed across parts of Nigeria’s west Delta region, the entire eastern region, and Southern Igala. It is claimed that it extended through to parts of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. The Arochukwu Kingdom was an economical, political, and oracular center as it was the home of the powerful juju oracle, the Aro King, chiefs and High priests.
CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
The Arochukwu traditional marriage is as old as the kingdom itself. According to its tradition, an Arochukwu wedding doesn’t occur on the Nkwo market day. Marriage here is between a mature man and woman. The pre-wedding event involves the suitor’s family visiting the intended-in-laws, this is called ‘’Ikutu aka’’ (knocking at the door). The other stages include ‘’Ihu Onu Ako’’ which is a ceremony for an open negotiation of the bride price. There is also the ‘’Ibu Nmayi Ukwu’’ which involves payment of bride price and dropping of big pads for carrying the main wine for use in the traditional wedding. This ceremony in the Arochukwu kingdom is always elaborate.
The Aro people have a rich tradition. One factor is the Ekpe society, which is a sacred cult originally from the east of Cross River. The highly religious and judicial cult took a major part in Aro cultism. The use of the writing system, Nsibido, was based on secret societies like Ekpe. Uli, another writing system, occurred mostly in the form of body art.
Another important feature of the people’s tradition includes the Ekeleke masquerade which was important in Aro settlement rather than Ekpe. It was brought from the Aro settlements in the western Niger Delta; it eventually spread to the Oguta area. They were also known for wearing the popular ‘’George Cloth’’. The Ikperikpe warrior dance was very famous among warriors in the old days and continues to be in use.