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Cowries, forgotten means of payment resurrects



IN the olden days, our forefathers lived a communal life. They did not over-stress their sensibilities in search of material things, neither did they aspire to build skyscrapers, own fleet of limousines, wear costly cloths, expensive shoes, nor did they move around with routine of security personnel blowing sirens indiscriminately disturbing the people and polluting the environment. No, they were contended with the little they had, they took to farming and other agro-related ventures for their feeding and they shared things in common.

  The worth of a man was in those olden days measured by his strength, the number of his yam barns and how many wives he is marrying and how many chieftaincy titles he took. This was vividly captured by Chinua Achebe in his world class novel ‘Things Fall apart’. In the novel, Okonkwo abhorred all the bad things that his father, Unoka who was regarded as a loafer and “Agbala” because he had no titles and was so lazy that he had no yam barns, but always delights in drinking, snuffing and merry-making.

  However, the advent of the white man who initially came with their evangelism philosophy, bastardised the tradition, culture and customs of Ndi Igbo, and later turned on the people to milk them dry and introduced many things that include human slavery,

trade by barter, later, money then known as Cowries, that underwent lots of metamorphoses until the various types of money used by the different nations of the world attained their levels today, the Nigerian, “Naira” inclusive.

Ndigbo that embraced the culture of the white men started taking to the life style that made them to forego lion-cloths, beads, jigida, uli custume, etc, for the white man’s mode of dressing. When the colonial people saw the speed the people embraced their culture, they went on to balkanise the hegemony of the Igbos,

destroying their traditional institutions like their deities, Chi, etc which they called or referred to as idols, but ironically, the white men knowing the efficacy of the so-called idols, ferried them to their country where they used them for various inventions, which they in turn sold to the Igbos on their own detriment.

  So for easier transactions, the white men introduced a medium for payment, that today is known as money and the first kind of means of payment was called cowries, known in Igbo land as “Ego-Ayolo”.

  This age-longed forgotten medium of payment has been brought to fore by the Anambra State Government through the construction of the epitaph at the Amawbia Roundabout decorated with cowries. This singular act by Governor Willie Obiano’s administration stands out as historical landmark, for today the young generation and those yet unborn will know that the cowry was at a time the type of money in vogue used in payment of commodities and services by the people especially Ndigbo.

  Another question would probably be, why was Amawbia town in Awka South Local Government Area of Anambra State chosen for sighting such a monument?

  Old Skool went to town and discovered that in the olden days, Amawbia town served as a transit route for the then eastern part of the country, including providing condusive environment for the white men to settle. According to Professor Ifedioramma Eugene-Mary Nwana, the town was a transit route, hence, trade boomed, and because of the high rate of commercial activities that went on in the town by then, the white men introduced cowries as a means of payment and the people embraced it, thus, the town would be said to be the place this medium of exchange and payment started”, he stressed.

  According to Professor Nwana, people from initially all the towns in present day South-East Geopolitical Zone passed through Amawbia on their various business escapades, that in those old days, the town was a replica of today’s Obolo-Afor, in Enugu State, Iyaro park in Edo State to mention but a few.

He also disclosed that because of the serene and condusive environment of the town, the white men established their seat of governance in the town, hence, up till date, despite the fact that the town is not the capital of Awka South Local Government Area and Anambra State which was ceded to Awka town for administrative convenience,

the town boasts of all the tramping of government including hosting the local government headquarters, the NYSC State Secretariat, the Prisons, Anambra State Police Command, the Governor’s Lodge, amongst others.

The town, he also noted, has produced prominent citizens of the country that include governors, senators, academia, captains  of industries, etc, a proof that Amawbia is an old town.

  Even the Amawbia daily market “the Eke Oyibo” was officially constructed in 1905 and up till today, the market still thrives.

  The erudite professor, paid glowing tribute to Chief Dr Willie Obiano, the Executive Governor of the state for the wonderful edifice and for bringing to fore the cowry as it is a legacy generations yet unborn will learn from

  So when next you are in Anambra State, do please visit Amawbia Round About, situated at Amawbia-Agulu Road Junction popularly called Airport to behold the cowries.

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