Kingdom of Nri

Kingdom of Nri

Ọ̀ràézè Ǹrì
10th century?[verification needed]–1911
Nri's area of influence (green) with West Africa's modern borders
Nri's area of influence (green) with West Africa's modern borders
Common languagesIgbo
GovernmentElective monarchy
Sacred king 
• 1043—1089
Eze Nri Ìfikuánim
• 1988—present
Eze Nri Ènweleána II Obidiegwu Onyeso
• Established
10th century?[verification needed]
• Surrender to Britain
• Socio-political revival
Preceded by
Archaeology of Igbo-Ukwu

The Kingdom of Nri (Igbo: Ọ̀ràézè Ǹrì) was a medieval polity located in what is now Nigeria. The kingdom existed as a sphere of religious and political influence over a third of Igboland, and was administered by a priest-king called an Eze Nri. The Eze Nri managed trade and diplomacy on behalf of the Nri people, a subgroup of the Igbo-speaking people, and possessed divine authority in religious matters.

The kingdom was a haven for all those who had been rejected in their communities and also a place where slaves were set free from their bondage. Nri expanded through converts gaining neighboring communities' allegiance, not by force.Nri's royal founder, Eri, is said to be a 'sky being' that came down to earth and then established civilization. One of the better-known remnants of the Nri civilization is manifested in the igbo ukwu artifacts.Nri's culture permanently influenced the Northern and Western Igbo, especially through religion and taboos.

The kingdom appears to have passed its peak in the 18th century, encroached upon by the rise of the Benin and Igala kingdom, and later the Atlantic slave trade, but it appears to have maintained its authority well into the 16th century, and remnants of the eze hierarchy persisted until the establishment of Colonial Nigeria in 1911 and represents one of the traditional states within modern Nigeria.


The Nri kingdom is a kingdom within the Igbo area of Nigeria. Nri and Aguleri, where the Umueri-Igbo creation myth originates, are in the territory of the Umu-Eri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-figure, Eri.[2] Eri's origin is unclear, though he has been described as a "sky being"[2] sent by Chukwu (God).[3] He is credited with first giving societal order to the people of Anambra.[3] Nri history may be divided into six main periods: the pre-Eri period, the Eri period, migration and unification, the heyday of Nri influence, decline and collapse and the Socio-culture Revival (1974—Present).[4]


Eastern Hemisphere at the end of the 9th century CE showing Nri and other civilizations.

Author Onwuejeogwu suggested that Nri influence in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century,[5] and royal burials have been unearthed dating to at least the 10th century.

According to other authors, Eri, the god-like founder of Nri, is believed to have settled the region around the 1500s.[6][7] The first eze Nri (King of Nri), Ìfikuánim, follows directly after him. According to Angulu (1981), oral tradition suggests an accession of Eri in 1043.[contradictory][7] Chambers (2005) laces Ìfikuánim's reign at around 1225 CE.[8]

In 1911, the names of 19 eze Nri were recorded, but the list is not easily converted into chronological terms because of long interregnums between installations.[2] Tradition held that at least seven years would pass upon the death of the eze Nri before a successor could be determined; the interregnum served as a period of divination of signs from the deceased eze Nri, who would communicate his choice of successor from beyond the grave in the seven or more years ensuing upon his death. Regardless of the actual date, this period marks the beginning of Nri kingship as a centralized institution.

Zenith and fall

Expansion of the kingdom of Nri was achieved by sending mbùríchi, or converts, to other settlements. Allegiance to the eze Nri was obtained not by military force but through ritual oath. Religious authority was vested in the local king, and ties were maintained by traveling mbùríchi. By the late 16th century, Nri influence extended well beyond the nuclear northern Igbo region to Igbo settlements on the west bank of the Niger and communities affected by the Benin Empire.[5] There is strong evidence to indicate Igbo influence well beyond the Igbo region to Benin and Southern Igala areas like Idah before the arrival of the Nri. At its height, the kingdom of Nri had influence in over roughly a fourth of Igboland and beyond.[2]

Nri's influence in much of northwestern and western Igboland lasted from the reigns of the fourth eze Nri to that of the ninth. After that, patterns of conflict emerged that existed from the tenth to the fourteenth reigns, which probably reflected the monetary importance of the slave trade.[6] Outside-world influence was not going to be halted by native religious doctrine in the face of the slave trade's economic opportunities. Nri influence declined after the start of the 18th century.[9] Still, it survived in a much-reduced, and weakened form until 1911. In 1911, British troops forced the reigning eze Nri to renounce the ritual power of the religion known as the ìkénga, ending the kingdom of Nri as a political power.[9]