Oka (Awka) is one of the oldest settlements in Igboland, established at the centre of the Nri civilisation, which produced the earliest documented bronze works in Sub-Saharan Africa, around 800 A.D., and was the cradle of Igbo civilisation at large.
The earliest settlers of Awka were the Ifiteana people, the name Ifiteana roughly translating into ‘people who sprouted from the earth.’ The people, themselves, were renowned as farmers, hunters and adept iron workers, all of whom indigenously inhabited the banks of the Ogwugwu stream, in what is now known as the Nkwelle ward of the city.
The deity of the Ifiteana was known as Ọkịka-na-ube, or the god renowned for the spear, and the Ifiteana were known as Ụmụ-Ọkanube, or “worshippers of Ọkanube,” eventually shortened to both Ụmụ-Ọka and simply Ọka (Awka when written in its anglicised form).
In ancient times, Awka was populated by elephants, insofar that a section of the town was named Ama-enyi, with a corresponding pond, Iyi-Enyi, used for elephants to gather to drink.
The elephants were hunted for their prized ivory tusks (okike), which were kept as a symbol to the god Ọkanube in every Awka home, with hunting medicine stored in the hollow of the tusk.
Over time, the town became known for metal working and its blacksmiths were prized throughout the region for making farming implements, dane guns and such ceremonial items as Oji (staff of mystical power) and Ngwuagilija (staff of Ozo men).
During pre.-colonial times, Ọka became famous as the Agbala oracle, specifically a deity that was said to be a daughter of the great long juju shrine of Arochukwu. The oracle, which Chinua Achebe used as inspiration in his book Things Fall Apart ), was consulted to whenever disputes (far and wide) occurred, until it was eventually destroyed by colonial authorities, in the early part of the twentieth century.
Before the inception of British rule, Ọka was governed by titled men known formally as Ozo and Ndichie, who were accomplished individuals in the community. They held general meetings, known as Izu-Ọka, at either the residence of the oldest man (Otochal Ọka) or a place specially designated by the titled men. He was the Nne Uzu, or ‘master blacksmith,’ irrespective of whether or not he actually knew the trade, as the only master known to Ọka was the master craftsman, the Nne Uzu.
In modern times, Awka has adopted the republican system and is currently administered by the Awka South Local Government Area. However, it still preserves its traditional systems of governance with the respected Ozo-titled men often consulted for village and community issues and a paramount cultural representative, the Eze Uzu, who is elected by all Ozo-titled men by rotation among different villages to represent the city at state functions.
Awka comprises seven Igbo groups sharing common blood lineage, divided into the following two sections: the Ifite section and the senior section. They collectively comprises four groups: Ayom-na-Okpala, Nkwelle, Amachalla and Ifite-Oka. The Ezinator section consists of three groups, namely Amikwo, Ezi-Oka and Agulu. Each of these groups has a number of villages, altogether spanning 33 in Awka.