‘Ugwu Elom Onele’: The ‘Juju’ Hill

By Dominic A. Okoliko

The road leading to Ugwu Elom Onele snake-curves with dimples here and there, so that gliding through it makes you feel as if you are doing a jingle. Whether you are walking or on the popular Okada or in a vehicle, the feel is the same; one time you’re tossed up, then down, or a twitch to left or right. These huddles faint before the overlooking figure of Ugwu Elom Onele, “the Juju Hill”. It rises stubbornly as you approach it. With a proud towering and a robust base, its sturdy appearance can be intimidatingly inviting. As one braces up against it, it seems to rush at you for a welcome. Yet, its pride would not make it bend an inch. Instead, it is you that would cringe and crave at the same time. Yes, you would pant and gasp with a yearning for its embrace. Is it not how all spiritual places are?

Talking about the spiritual, Ugwu Elom Onele present an ambience of mystery. On the hill top, there seems to be a double fold movement between the earth and the heavens, the joining of nature with the divine. No wonder, the locals used to call it ‘the Juju Hill’, a sanctuary for the deities. Legendary account has it that the huge assemblage of earth that stand tall among its peers was once a feared and revered place. Dressed in a beauty of greens, shrubs and a whole collection of bushes; one hardly can avoid its attraction or fail to recognise the sacredness it bears. Yet, it was said that hardly would one see people walk up the hill if there was no cause to do so. The only exemption then was Elom Onele, the chief Priest of the deities whose spirits pervade the being of the hill. He lived there, under the fortress of the hill and in company of servants, communing day and night with the gods, nature and humans. This is why in the local language, the hill is called “Ugwu Elom Onele” meaning, “the hill of Elom Onele”.

Elom Onele must have been dressed in a regalia close enough to blend well with his surrounding; a surreal appearance of some earthen vest with enough perforation to allow the skin to welcome all the elements. Then the eyes, those sharp eyes, dressed in white chalks present a mirror of a half moon. His look must have been terribly sublime enough to make anyone wanting to stare too long to stoop and content with his bare foot being massaged by the raw and rough stones that decorate the hill. Yet, he was the medium between the people and the deities of the hill.

Whenever the locals experience a dread, a sickness, or see a peace disturbed, the individuals, families or communities involved would go up there. They would consult and sue for solace. They would long to hear the whispers of the hill and the thunders of its roars. Elom Onele was the mouthpiece. Words have life on his lips. They pour out like rain, only that they are erratic and sometimes distant. The ears that must hear of them, like the legs that carries them up there, must make an ascent. They must rise to the beyond, to the peak of the hill where they can catch a glimpse of ‘everything’. You never fully grab it though. There is always a feeling of wanting more; that feeling that makes you look forward to another visit. Sometimes, the words are like oil. They caress and dress wounds. Other times, they are hammered into spears. They lash and cut through one’s loins until they leave one naked with innocence.

Elom Onele must have breathed in too many breaths of the hill where both divine and nature meets. That is why he is thought to possess such potency. But that was Ugwu Elom Onele of yesteryears.

If anything has changed about the hill today, it is hardly the hill itself though. The sturdy and proud look remains. The awesome beauty of its environment is still a point of attraction. And while modern growth of Abakaliki City has caused the hill to give up its watch over the vast heavy spread of vegetations that used to cover the surrounding, Ugwu Elom Onele still maintains its virtue, a lush woodland hosting collection of arboreal, creeping, humping, flying and many species of creatures.

The heritage Ugwu Elom Onele has gathered over the years have made it a crowned pride of Abakaliki. Now under a ‘christened’ name called ‘Hill Top’, its symbolism and sacredness continue to make it an appealing scene to visit. There’s hardly a day or an hour that Ugwu Elom Onele does not entertain visitors in its present form. And like of old, the pilgrims come out to meet the hill for various reasons. There are many who made their ways up the hill for prayers. Others do so to experience some quiet time while some ascend there to simply experience the aesthetic wholeness the hill portends.

There is another new and important feature that the hill now carries. The old Elom Onele and his sanctuary have been replaced by a beautiful edifice whose commitment is to embrace all people fatigued by life scourges and to offer help in guiding them to experience solace and peace. The new sanctuary goes by the name Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre (HRCRC). HRCRC stands half-way up the hill, adding a mix to Ugwu Elom Onele’s ambience. At HRCRC, you will meet a collection of Elom Oneles dressed in welcoming smiles and eager feet that itch to rise for you. They provide listening ears and are skilled in divinizing issues of social injustice, violation of individual rights, relationships and contract breaches, and other things that injure community and personal peace.

HRCRC as the new oracle from Ugwu Elom Onele is a voice whose thunders and whispers have been heard and sustained within Ebonyi state and beyond. Its tentacles spread as far as the boarders of Abia, Enugu, cross River and Benue States and have a legacy that goes back to 27 years ago. Like the hill where it is located, it has become a life, a heritage with rich testaments.

This picture was taken when the Founder, Fr. Kevin O’Hara (SPS) visited HRCRC after the renovation of the Office Complex in Nov. 2017
A view of Ai City from the top of Juju hill
‘Ugwu Elom Onele’: The ‘Juju’ Hill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top