Oftentimes peculiar traditions arise in societies as a consequence of significant events in their historical timelines. In Igboland, it’s quite common to find numerous communities that have evolved to honor, elevate, and ascribe value to certain species and varieties of trees, animals, or plants due to their various religious or social functionalities.
Amongst the Awka people of what is today Anambra, certain species of black monkeys are venerated for their role in helping procure victories in their wars against their neighbors. According to Awka oral traditions, when Ada mercenaries hired by the Aro warlord Okoli Ijoma, attacked Awka in the 19th century, the black monkeys around the invasion site were said to have alerted the people of Awka of their presence, ultimately allowing them to hastily prepare and successfully rout the invaders.
As a result, black monkeys became totem animals in Awka society and have since been institutionally protected from human attack, consumption, and violence. To this day, people who kill or eat black monkeys are often afflicted with strange illnesses and oftentimes death. Those who do so unknowingly or accidentally are kept in isolation until rituals are performed for their cleansing and reintegration into society. Large chunks of forestland were initially reserved for these animals to roam about freely, but due to urbanization and human activities such as farming, settlement, and logging, today their last true enclave is the sacred Imo Awka forest, or in the Awka dialect: “ovbia Imo Oka”.
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