EKE Awka Roundabout houses two sculptured blacksmiths; a smith and his apprentice. The smith descends his hammer on a hoe-like object, supposedly, from the furnace into malleable shape on the anvil, while his apprentice exerts energy in working the bellows.
The blacksmith statues replicate a vocation which symbolises Awka people years ago.
On the narrow road that houses the roundabout stand buildings more conspicuous than the blacksmith statues. Just as the statues remain inconspicuous to most people, it illustrates the fading vocation that once represented Awka people.
Years back, a huge blacksmith statue beckons with attraction at the Ring Road axis on the old Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. It suffered cultural neglect as it gave way for the widening of the road.
Despite Awka not being close to the riverine area, whose people had early contact with the Europeans, their vocation attracted the Europeans, who engaged their services.
Before the coming of the Europeans, people argued that Awka people produced bulk of farm implements and other metal products than people in other parts of the country, but obviously led the way in the South.
But today, the people get more attribute from history of their famous trade than in practical terms. Their famous vocation is more pronounced in emblems, receipts, stickers, shirts, even for the diasporas.
When blacksmithing thrived in Awka, its famed smiths’ ingenuity with metals produced guns, hoes, metal gates, diggers for harvesting tubers, gongs, fetters spears, musical instruments, plates, spoons, rings, earrings, necklaces and bangles, among others.
A few metres from the goat sellers, section at the Odera Shopping Complex, commonly referred to as Old Timber Market, remnants of the blacksmiths in Awka congregate for their trades, clustered in ramshackle shops, occupying a plot of land are blacksmiths, populated by middle aged and elderly blacksmiths.
You can’t mistake the place for two things- the clang of metals of different sorts, and some scraps on its narrow entrance. Some of them now combine sale of scraps with their trade.
In one of the shops, a man in his middle forties, chokes charcoal into a hole in the ground, fills it to the point where air from the bellows fans the charcoal to desired degree of hotness, which burns metal red hot before beating into malleable stature.
At the blacksmith’s corner, they turned down appeals to talk to National Light. On further enquiry, one of them told our reporter that the union directive mandates only the union leader to talk to anyone or group regarding their trade and that would happen after paying N20,000 into the union’s coffer.
The union’s chairman, simply identified as Obiora, who showed up much later reaffirmed his colleague’s statement.
Their grudge; government officials on several occasions had visited them to assist them, yet for years, no government’s effort to help transform their vocation to meet with 21st century technological pace. This, they argued, affected the attractiveness of their trade as most of their activities involve crude procedure.
Awka’s smiting prospered the people, made them cosmopolitan as their vocation took them to various parts of the country. This made them more hospitable as their people sojourned in other lands. A version of history traces Awka blacksmithing to Nebeuzor.
According to a community leader from Umuike Village of the town, Chief Peter Agbata, Nebeuzor settled in Nawgu, in present day Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State. He was a blacksmith, hunter and carver.
He became wealthy and wanted a chieftaincy title but Nawgu refused because he is not an indigene. It happened that Nebeuzor married an Amikwo woman and relocated to Amikwo village, Awka.
So Amikwo received and assimilated him; according him rights in their tradition and custom. He hunted for animals up to the present area called Agulu, settled there and established his trade which spread to other villages of Awka. His children took to the trade. With that, they traveled with him across the River Niger for the trade.
According to a surveyor and community leader, Afam Nwobu, history of what brought blacksmiths to Awka was the quest for elephant tusk. Its sell and use for artwork gave rise to the part of Awka known as Amaenyi. Chief Nwobu argued that Awka people were originally not blacksmiths. “The blacksmiths are the new comers; the stranger elements in Awka called Agulu.
Original inhabitants of Awka are farmers and hunters. Nebeuzor, from Agulu, who migrated from Agulu Umuna in Ezeagu in Enugu State, settled in Awka. He lived at Amaikwo, practicing his trade (blacksmithing) and married a daughter of Isiagu Amikwo”.
There may be different versions of how blacksmithing came to bear in Awka, but one fact remains; the vocation shot Awka to prominence but its eminence is dwindling by the day. Chief Nwobu states, “Blacksmithing is strenuous. Civilization and white-collar jobs have really affected the blacksmith trade. Things have changed that you can go to the market and buy machetes finer made than the ones made by our blacksmiths.
“Today if you go round Awka, you discover that most of them still in the trade are those who couldn’t go to school or further their education. Government banned a major aspect that made the vocation attractive and lucrative- manufacture of guns.
If the government can legalise and institutionalise this aspect and license people, many would be involved in blacksmithing. If Awka South Local Government Area can have a blacksmith department to sponsor people to pursue the vocation, it won’t suffer neglect.”
One of the smiths, who refused to give his name, told National Light that that he is still in the trade because there is no alternative job. “I’m still a young man. This is not my ideal or dream job, but I have to manage with this until something better comes my way. There is nothing in this profession to encourage or motivate you to aim higher.
Hoes, cutlasses and gongs are the most sold items but they don’t fetch enough money as in the past. I’m praying that in no distant time that I will detach myself from this strenuous work. I have bigger plans for my future than this.”
An older blacksmith, who also spoke under anonymity, decried the neglect the profession has suffered, stating that having apprentice for the job is becoming more difficult by the day, as most of them no longer see the job as lucrative.
“My father was a blacksmith, so was my grandfather, but none of my child
ren thinks in the line and I wouldn’t blame them when they can get better paying white collar jobs.
“Many items are no longer produced because of lack of encouragement. The most lucrative product of our profession; gun production, was banned after the civil war, signaling the decline in the fortune of the trade and disinterest in many smiths. Some had to venture into other vocations. I have no apprentice because most youths no longer believe in this vocation. These factors dwindle the fortune of the vocation as we need more people in it”
An Awka stakeholder, Michael Nmoh blamed government for the decline in fortune of smithing in Awka that has encouraged youths disinterest in the profession. “Our blacksmithing is not on cutting edge technological level because our government decided it to be so.
If we have centre or institution for such, there is no way it won’t attract influx of youths who will grow the sector and take the vocation to another level. The vocation needs enablers to make it become what developed countries depend on”