The Kingdom of Nri (Igbo: 'Ọ̀ràézè Ǹrì') (948–1911) was the West African medieval state of the Nri-Igbo, a subgroup of the Igbo people.
The Kingdom of Nri was unusual in the history of world government in that its leader exercised no military power over his subjects. 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 Igbo people, and possessed divine authority in religious matters.
The kingdom was a safe haven for all those who had been rejected in their communities and also a place where slaves were set free from their bondage. Nri expanded through converts gaining neighboring 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 civilization. One of the better-known remnants of the Nri civilization is its art, as manifested in the Igbo Ukwu bronze items.
Nri's culture had permanently influenced the Northern and Western Igbo, especially through religion and taboos. British colonialism, the Atlantic slave trade and the rise of Bini and Igala kingdoms, contributed to the decline of the Nri Kingdom.
The Nri kingdom is considered to be a center of Igbo culture. Nri and Aguleri, where the Umueri-Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umeuri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri. Eri's origins are unclear, though he has been described as a "sky being"sent by Chukwu (God). He is credited with first giving societal order to the people of Anambra. Nri history may be divided into six main periods: the pre-Eri period (before 948 CE), the Eri period (948—1041 CE), migration and unification (1042—1252 CE), the heyday of Nri hegemony (1253—1679 CE), hegemony decline and collapse (1677—1936 CE) and the Socio-culture Revival (1974—Present)
Zenith and fall
Colonization and expansion of the kingdom of Nri was achieved by sending mbùríchi, or converts, to other settlements. Allegiance to the eze Nri was obtained not by military force but through ritual oath. Religious authority was vested in the local king, and ties were maintained by traveling mbùríchi. By the 14th century, Nri influence extended well beyond the nuclear northern Igbo region to Igbo settlements on the west bank of the Niger and communities affected by the Benin Empire. There is strong evidence to indicate Nri influence well beyond the Igbo region to Benin and Southern Igala areas like Idah. At its height, the kingdom of Nri had influence over roughly a third of Igboland and beyond. It reached its furthest extent between 1100 and 1400.
Nri's hegemony over much of Igboland lasted from the reigns of the fourth eze Nri to that of the ninth. After that, patterns of conflict emerged that existed from the tenth to the fourteenth reigns, which probably reflected the monetary importance of the slave trade. Outside-world influence was not going to be halted by native religious doctrine in the face of the slave trade's economic opportunities. Nri hegemony declined after the start of the 18th century. Still, it survived in a much-reduced, and weakened form until 1911. In 1911, British troops forced the reigning eze Nri to renounce the ritual power of the religion known as the ìkénga, ending the kingdom of Nri as a political power.
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. There, he would supposedly use magical powers to collect stones from under the water, 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.
While the eze Nri lived relatively secluded from his followers, he employed a group of Jesuit-like officials called ndi Nri. These were ritual specialists, easily identifiable by facial scarifications or ichi, who traveled with ritual staffs of peace in order to purify the earth from human crimes. The ndi Nri exercised authority over wide areas of Igboland and had the power to install the next eze Nri.
Areas under Nri influence, called Odinani Nri, were open to Ndi Nri traveling within them to perform rituals and ensure bountiful harvest or restore harmony in local affairs. Local men within the odinani Nri could represent the eze Nri and share his moral authority by purchasing a series of ranked titles called Ozo and Nze. Men with these titles were known as mbùríchi and became an extension of the Nri's religio-political system. They controlled the means for agriculture and determined guilt or innocence in disputes.
Both the Ndi Nri priests and mbùríchi nobility belonged to the Ikénga, the right hand. The Ìkénga god was one dedicated to achievement and power, both of which were associated with the right hand.
Nri tradition was based on the concept of peace, truth and harmony. It spread this ideology through the ritualistic Ozo traders who maintained Nri influence by traveling and spreading Nri practices such as the "Ikenga" to other communities. These men were identified through the ritual facial scarifications they had undergone. Nri believed in cleansing and purifying the earth (a supernatural force to Nri called Ana and Ajana) of human abominations and crimes.
Year counting ceremony - Igu Aro
The Igu Aro festival (counting of the year) was a royal festival the eze Nri used to maintain his influence over the communities under his authority. Each of these communities sent representatives to pay tribute during the ceremony to show their loyalty. At the end the Eze Nri would give the representatives a yam medicine and a blessing of fertility for their communities.
The festival was seen as a day of peace and certain activities were prohibited such as the planting of crops before the day of the ceremony, the splitting of wood and unnecessary noise. Igu Aro was a regular event that gave an opportunity for the eze to speak directly to all the communities under him.
The Nri calendar is made up of thirteen (13) Lunar months namely:
(1) Ọnwa Mbụ (1st moon) starts from 3rd week in February each year.
(2) Ọnwa Abụa (2nd moon) March to April, (clearing and farming).
(3) Ọnwa Ife Eke (3rd moon) April to May (Ụganị or hunger period)
(4) Ọnwa Ana (4th moon) May to June (planting seed yams).