African Studies, Essays

How eke, oye, afo, nkwo market days were introduced in Igboland

It was during the reign of Eze Nrijiofor I 1300-1390AD, the fifth Eze Nri in the line of succession. One day during his reign, four strangers came to visit him at his palace. When they arrived, these four wise men or ‘magi’ pretended to be deaf and dumb. They did not say their names or their mission to Nri. Each of them carried ‘nkata’-basket known as “Abuokpa”. They were taken to the visitors’ room by the king’s servant-‘Adama’. Later in the evening, the Eze went to see them, but they did not greet the Eze and did not acknowledge his greetings. ‘Oji’-kolanut was presented to them but they did not say anything. Later at night, they were shown where to sleep. In the middle of the night, the Eze’s soothsayers sent a rat to disturb them. When the rat went to the first basket that belonged to ‘eke’ and started to nibble at it, ‘oye’ woke up and said “‘eke’ wake up”. When he answered him; ‘oye’ told ‘eke’ that a rat was trying to get to his basket. Eke woke up and the rat ran away. After a while, the rat repeated the same trick on the remaining baskets, and in the same manner, all of them revealed each other’s names.
In the morning, the Eze went to the strangers’ room to greet them and to perform the ‘oji ututu’-morning kola nut rituals. The Adama broke the kola nuts and the king called each of the visitors by their names-‘eke’ ‘oye’ ‘afo’ and ‘nkwo’. The visitors which were referred to as ‘o bialu ije ekwu okwu’-visitors that do not talk, were astonished when they heard their names being mentioned by the Eze. They asked for water to wash their hands and faces; and took the kola nuts that were presented to them. After chewing the kola nuts, they gave the King ‘ite ano’-four earthen pots and directed him to keep the pots in front of the Nri Menri shrine outside the ‘obu’-palace, with each pots facing the sun. ‘Eke’ who was their spokesman, told the Eze that the first pot was owned by him, ‘eke’, the second one by ‘oye’ the third by ‘afor’ and the last by ‘nkwo’. He told the Eze that the four pots were sent down from ‘Chukwu’-God Almighty. He instructed the Eze that he and his people whom he ruled should be observing those names daily as market days, during which they should be buying and selling. These market days are used in Igboland to count the native weeks-‘izu’, months-‘onwa; and year-‘aro’.
Therefore, Eke, Oye, Afor and Nkwo (four market days) make one ‘izu’-week. He also instructed him that the first name that should be given to their male children should commence with ‘eke’, then ‘oye’, ‘afo’ and ‘nkwo’. That is why we have igbo names as Okeke or Nweke, Okoye or Nwoye, Okafor or Nwafor, and Okonkwo or Nwankwo. In the same order, female children should be given “Mgbeke”, “Mgboye”, “Mgbafor” and “Mgbankwo”. The message was preached throughout Igbo land by spiritual priests of Nri and they set up market squares in Igbo land. The four strangers later told the Eze that they were messengers from God. Some foods were prepared for them but they did not eat them. In the noon, these magi of Igbo land disappeared from the Eze Nri palace like angels. The news spread throughout Igbo land and far west and north where it was observed to this day. Edo, Ogoja, Igala-Onoja, and Calabar peoples observe these market days in their lands, though they gave it different names to suit their dialects.
For more Igbo traditions, go to and See also the new book titled: “Nri Kingdom: Igbo, A Lost Jewish Race” by Chief Ambrose Nnalue Okonkwo with a forward by Prof. Miriam Ikejiani-Clark (Ada Di Ora Mma of Nri)
CSN: 40705-2008-17-58
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