LOCATION: Igboland (Southern Nigeria)
POPULATION: 18 million
LANGUAGE: Igbo (Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo language family)
RELIGION: Tribal religion
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 1: Nigerians
The Igbo make up the second largest group of people in southern Nigeria. They are a socially and culturally diverse population, living in the southeastern part of the country. the Igbo consist of many subgroups, all speaking one language, and live in scattered groups of villages, lacking the cities and centralized kingdoms that characterize other major groups in Nigeria, such as the Yoruba and the Hausa.
When, and from what area, the Igbo came into their present territory is not known. Their origin is a subject of much speculation. The people have no common traditional story of their origins. Nor do the local traditions of the various Igbo groups provide clues. It is for this reason that some Western writers on the colonial era treated the Igbo as “a people without history.” While this view is no longer considered valid, the Igbo culture historian is handicapped because there is little archaeological data from which to draw. On the basis of cultural data and fragmentary oral traditions, historians have proposed two interrelated hypotheses of Igbo origins: one, that there exists a core area that may be called the “nuclear” Igboland, and two, that waves of immigrant communities from the north and the west planted themselves on the border of this nucleus as early as the 14th and 15th centuries.
The belt formed by the Owerri, Awka, Orlu and Okigwi divisions constitutes the “nuclear” area: its people have no tradition of coming from anywhere else. It is a densely populated area, from which people migrated to the Nsukka area in the north, and into Ikwerri, Etche, Asa, and Ndokki in the south. From these areas, a secondary wave of migration took people farther to the north, south, east, and west. This was a movement that tended to homogenize Igbo culture. The main reasons for migration were population pressure in certain areas and natural disasters.
In addition to this pattern of migration from the nuclear area, there are traditions, confirmed by culture traits, of peoples that entered Igbo territory in about the 14th or 15th century. Of these, three are the Nri, the Nzam, and Anam. Some of these people claim descent from the Bini people of the Benin Kingdom to the west.
European contact with the Igbo-speaking peoples dates back to the arrival of the Portuguese in the middle of the 15th century. For nearly four centuries, the Niger Coast formed a “contact community” between European and African traders. It was a period of trade on the coast rather than one of conquest or empire building in the hinterland, or interior. the main item of commerce provided by the Igbo was slaves, many of whom came to the New World. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, a new trading epoch opened, with a shift to traffic in raw materials for industry: palm products, timber,
elephant tusks, and spices. With this shift, the European traders could no longer be confined to the coast. In the struggle to establish a “free trade” hinterland between 1807 and 1885, the British companies played a decisive role for Britain through their joint program, combining aggressive trading with aggressive imperialism. When, in 1900, the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria was created from the former British Niger Company's administrative area and the Niger Coast Protectorate, Igbo-land was already being treated as a British colony. Between 1902 and 1914, there were 21 British military expeditions into Igboland. Until 1960, Nigeria was a British colony and the Igbo were British subjects. On 1 October 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation with the political structure of a federation of states.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
An accurate census has been difficult to achieve in Nigeria, and the same is true for the Igbo. According to the 1963 census, the Igbo number about five and a half million. this population is very unevenly distributed, with most of it concentrated in a line, or axis, formed by Onitsha, Orlu, Okigwi, and Mbaise areas. Along this line, the density of population exceeds 1,000 persons per sq mi in many places, resulting in one of the world's most densely populated rural areas where people subsist on root crops raised through hoe cultivation. In all directions from this main population axis, the density of the population falls below the Igbo average of 350 per sq mi but remains well above Nigeria's average of 85 per sq mi.
Igboland is located in southeastern Nigeria between 5° and 6°n latitude and between 6°and 8°e longitude. The total land area is about 41,000 sq km (about 15,800 sq mi). Before it enters the Atlantic Ocean through a network of tributaries that make up its delta, the Niger River divides Igbo country into two unequal parts. The greater portion lies east of the river, the smaller one to the west. The western Igbo are territorially marked off from the Bini and Warri, their non-Igbo neighbors. On the left bank of the Niger, the eastern Igbo extend from the Niger Delta, where the Ijo and the Ogoni are their southern neighbors, to the north, where the Igala and the Tiv mark the boundary. On the eastern boundary are the Ibibio. Although separated by the Niger, the western and eastern Igbo have retained their cultural and ethnic unity. In modern times, their attitude toward political questions and their identification with their own leaders have revealed the solidarity between the Igbo on both sides of the Niger.
The Igbo country exhibits a wide variety of physical features. The Niger River contributes to this diversity. the most important rivers—Niger, Imo, Anambra, and Urasi—flow from north to south, indicating a steep northward gradient. Four distinct areas may be distinguished: the riverine, delta, central, and northeastern belts. The riverine and delta belts are lowlying, are heavily inundated during the rainy season, and are very fertile. The headwaters of the Imo and Urasi rivers serve the central belt, a relatively high plain that gradually fades into the Okigwi-Awgu plateau. The Udi highlands, which contain coal deposits, are the only coal-mining area in West Africa.
Igboland has a tropical climate. The average annual temperature is about 27°c (80°f), with an annual range of 5 to 10 degrees. The rainy and dry seasons are well marked. the former begins in April and lasts until October, when the dry season starts. Rainfall is heavier in the south than in the north. Important in the seasonal cycle are the southwest monsoon winds that bring rain and the northeast winds that are dry, dusty, and cold. These dry winds are known as the “harmattan.”
The Igbo language is one of the speech communities in the Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo language family. It is marked by a complicated system of high and low tones that are used to indicate differences in meaning and grammatical relationships and a wide range of dialectal variations. Using a longitudinal dialectal profile, communities at the center and those at the poles can understand one another's dialects; but between communities at the poles, mutual understanding varies from partial to almost none. These polar dialects are the result of greater isolation.
Here are a few Igbo expressions:
|Hello, how are you?||Keku ka imelo?|
|What is your name?||Kedu ahagi?|
The Igbo world in all its aspects is made comprehensible to the people by their cosmology, which explains how everything in the world, including material, spiritual, and social entities, came into being. Through it, the Igbo know what functions the heavenly and earthly bodies have and how to behave with reference to the gods, the spirits, and their ancestors. In their conception, not only is cosmology an explanatory device and a guide to conduct or ethics; it is also an action system that defines what they should do.
The Igbo world is a world peopled by invisible and visible forces, by the living, the dead, and those yet to be born. All these forces interact and affect and modify behavior. the survival of this world requires some form of cooperation among its members, although this cooperation may be hostile in nature. It is a world in which others can be manipulated for the sake of an individual's advancement in status, which is the goal of Igbo life. Reincarnation is seen as not only the bridge between the living and the dead, but a necessary factor in the transaction and transfer of social status from the world of the living to the world of the dead. It is a world of constant struggle that recognizes that conflicts exist and requires that people be able to adjust to changes in their lives—being “good citizens” and cooperating for the good of the group. The leader in this world is given minimal power and yet is expected to give maximum service in return, to fulfill the common goal of progress and “making the town get up.”
Igbo religion is a tribal religion in the sense that its major tenets are shared by all Igbo-speaking people, but in matters of participation, it remains locally organized, with the most effective unit of religious worship being the extended family. Periodic rituals and ceremonies may activate the lineage (larger kinship unit) or the village, which is the widest political community.
While the Igbo religion is polytheistic—having many gods—the idea of a creator of all things is basic to Igbo theology. The Igbo believe in a supreme god, a high god who is all good. This god is a “withdrawn” god, who has finished all active works of creation and keeps watch over his creatures from a distance. He is not worshiped directly: there is no shrine or priest dedicated to his service. He gets no direct sacrifice from the living but is seen as the ultimate receiver of all sacrifices made to the minor gods. He seldom interferes in the affairs of human beings, a characteristic that sets him apart from all the other deities, spirits, and ancestors. Although he may be distant and withdrawn, he is not completely separated from human affairs. He is still the great father, the source of all good. The high god is conceived of in different roles. In his creative role, he is called Chinook or Chi-Okike. To distinguish him from the minor gods he is called Chukwu—the great or the high god. As the creator of everything, he is called Chukwu Abiama.
Besides the high god, there are other minor gods called nature gods, sometimes described as kind, hospitable, and industrious; at other times they are conceived of as fraudulent, treacherous, unmerciful, and envious. They are, in general, subject to human passions and weaknesses. But, they can be controlled, manipulated, and used to further human interests. Of these minor gods, Ala, the earth goddess, is considered nearest to the people. She is a great mother, the spirit of fertility of both human beings and the land. Anyanwu is the sun god. He makes crops and trees grow. Igwe is the sky god, the source of rain.
The organization and power structure of these nature gods mirror Igbo social structure. Like the latter, the gods are seen as forming a hierarchy. But, it is usual Igbo practice to appeal to one god or to a number of gods simultaneously without any consideration of their rank or status.
In addition to the important deities, the Igbo believe in other spirits that may be either personal or impersonal, benevolent or wicked, according to the circumstances. People can keep their goodwill by treating them well. Only the wicked need fear them. Among the principal spirits are Agbara and Alosi. Forests and rivers lying on the fringes of cultivated land are said to be occupied by these spirits. Important personal spirits include Mbataku and Agwo (both of whom are spirits of wealth), Aha njoku (the yam spirit), and Ikoro (the drum spirit).
These deities and spirits have anthropomorphic characteristics (human traits). The Igbo attitude toward them is not one of fear but one of friendship, a friendship that lasts as long as the reciprocal obligations are kept.
The Igbo celebrate the major national holidays of Nigeria, including the following: New Year's Day (January 1), Easter (March or April), Nigerian Independence Day (October 1), and Christmas (December 24–26).
In addition, each town has its own local festivals. Those in the spring or summer are held to welcome the new agricultural cycle. In the fall, harvest festivals are held to mark the end of the cycle. The timing of these festivals varies from town to town.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Circumcision takes place about eight days after the birth of a boy and is performed by a skilled woman in the village. At this time the umbilical cord is buried. This is not marked by an elaborate ritual but its social significance is great: a child whose navel cord is not buried is denied citizenship. the child's mother selects the most fruitful oil palm tree from those that her husband shows her; the umbilical cord is buried at the foot of this tree.
Receiving a name is an important event in a child's life, for the child is socially accepted as soon as he or she is given a name. The name-giving ceremony is a formal occasion celebrated by feasting and drinking. A child may be given many names. The parents' choice of names may be dictated by the kind of birthmarks on the child's skin and by the opinion of the diviner, or seer. Njoku and Mmaji, the male and female figures of the yam deity, are conferred by divination. Other names may be given to indicate the market day on which the child was born, or a preference for male children, or a certain concern for the future of the child. the name Nwanyimeole (“What can a woman do?”) means that a father is in need of a male child. Onwubiko (“May death forgive”) expresses the fact that parents have lost many of their children by death and pray that this child may survive. Chukwuemeka (“God has done well”) is a thanksgiving name for the favor received.
Before the advent of Western schooling, adolescent boys passed through a formal initiation known as ima agwo. Girls passed through mgbede, a ceremonial seclusion known as the “fat house.” In southern Igbo communities this was followed by clitoridectomy, or female circumcision.
The process of betrothing and marrying an Igbo young woman is a long, ceremonious one that often takes years and is rarely accomplished in less than a year. Marriage is so important to the Igbo that nothing concerned with it is taken lightly. The process falls into four interrelated stages: asking the young woman's consent, working through a middleman, testing the bride's character, and paying the bridewealth, a kind of dowry.
Death in old age is accepted as a blessing. It is the desire of every Igbo man and woman to die in his or her own town or to be buried within its boundaries. If death occurs at a distance, the relatives bring the body home for burial. After death, the body is clothed in its finest garments, and the corpse is placed on a stool in a sitting posture, propped against the wall. In front of the corpse are placed the deceased's special treasures and the implements of his or her work. Lying or sitting in state lasts for a few hours, during which old friends and relatives come and pay their last respects to the dead. When due time has elapsed, young men wrap the corpse in grass mats, carry it out to the burial ground, and bury it. When the head of a family dies, he is buried in a deep grave beneath the floor of his house. As a general rule, burial follows within 24 hours of death.
The Igbo are often depicted as an egalitarian society in which almost everybody is equal. This obscures some of the regional differences in Igbo social structure. But, in spite of these differences, all Igbo share the same egalitarian ideology: the right of the individual to climb to the top and faith in the individual's ability to do so.
Within this egalitarian ideology, two criteria shape interpersonal relations: age and gender. Precedence is given to males and to seniors by birth order. This latter is the normal basis for headship of an extended family. The behavior between kinsmen and nonkinsmen is similarly regulated by this senior-junior principle. Seniors are considered the moral agents of the young. It is the duty of the children to greet their seniors first in the morning or whenever they meet. In children's play groups, leadership and authority are informally given to the older boys and girls.
The women members of an Igbo village are of two categories: the women who belong to the village by descent, who may be unmarried, married, divorced, or widowed and the women who belong to it by marriage. The Igbo woman in general enjoys a high socioeconomic and legal status. She can leave her husband at will and summon him to a tribunal where she will get a fair hearing. She marries in her own right and manages her trading capital and her profits herself. Although land rights do not normally descend through the female line, and although living in their husband's compounds makes it impossible for them to play important social and ritual roles in their own family's natal village, women can take titles and can practice medicine.
Social stratification is based on wealth. It does not matter what occupation a person engages in to provide for his old age and for his family. With this ideological approach, the Igbo distinguish between obgenye or mbi, the poor, from dinkpa, the moderately prosperous, and the latter from nnukwu madu or ogaranya, the rich.
The Igbo live in compact villages, each built around a central square, which is a clearing with a thatch-roofed mud resthouse of the village men's society and a large open space where meetings and ceremonies are held. Extending from the village, sometimes for several miles, is a wide band of farmland, divided into sections, one or two of which are cultivated each year while the others lie fallow. At the edges of the villages and along the roads and bush paths connecting them are scattered groves of oil and raffia palms.
Most villages are divided into wards, and each ward is divided into compounds. The physical structure of the compounds consists of houses crowded wall-to-wall along narrow alleyways. The entrance to a compound is usually through an ornamental gateway leading from the square. The back of the compound, at the edge of the village, is devoted to garden land where certain crops not planted on the farms are grown.
Village life has changed considerably since the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Villages became connected by roadways to urban centers, which exerted considerable influence even on the most remote areas. The government has also supported development in the rural areas. Electricity was introduced; television sets and radios are now commonplace. the houses, which were formerly made of mud walls and thatched roofs, are now constructed of cement blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Villages have running water, although it is not connected to every house.
Another important development is the network of health centers and hospitals that now dot the rural areas. Almost all villages have a health center and a nurse practitioner or a resident doctor.
There is no Igbo word for “family.” The term “family” as used by English-speaking Igbo may apply to several different sorts of groups. On the simplest level is the elementary family, composed of a father and a mother and their children, that is, the nuclear family in the usual Western sense of the word. But, under the practice of polygyny, many Igbo men have more than one wife, so there is also the polygynous family, made up of a father and his wives and all their children—father, mothers, and a group of full and half-siblings. Residence is patrilocal; a woman goes to live with her husband when she marries, and sons, when they marry, do not traditionally leave home and set up separate homes their own. Thus, there is, in addition, the extended family: a father and his sons—or a group of brothers if the father is dead—their wives, sons, and unmarried daughters. The extended family usually has about 5 to 30 members.
Ideally, all of the members of the extended family live in one large compound. The ideal of Igbo family life is a big compound. Establishing a big compound depends on the abilities of the head of the compound. It is the demonstration of his personal achievement and his social status. A successful man marries as many wives as he can support, which involves providing farm plots to help the women and their dependents make a living. Polygyny is seen as imposing social and economic obligations that can be fulfilled only by a man of substantial wealth.
The compound consists of a number of economically independent households, each with a man or a woman as the head. All the heads and their dependents recognize the authority of the compound head and would not make a major political decision without first consulting with him. The compound head has numerous ritual, moral, and legal rights and obligations. In Igbo idiom, he is the “eyes of his compound members as they are his ears.” In return, he receives respect, obedience, and material tokens of goodwill.
In recent years, many changes have taken place that contradicts this ideal. Christian marriage and marriage by ordinance (law) are important innovations. Both have given women legal protection and property rights not recognized by the traditional system. This has not, however, completely eliminated polygyny. A legal limit has also been imposed on the amount of bride-price a woman's family may demand. There has been an opposite trend, however. As more women have become educated, their families have raised their expectations of bride-wealth, demanding higher and higher amounts.
Among Igbo professional people, the trend is toward a nuclear family, establishment of a separate residence, and marriage based on love. Tension still exists around the issue of the amount of support that should be given to the members of the extended family, creating conflict between generations.
The everyday clothing in urban areas is not different from that of Westerners. Traditional clothing is still worn on important occasions in the cities and every day in rural areas. There are both formal and informal attire for both men and women. For everyday use men wear a cotton wrapper, a shirt, and sandals. For formal occasions they wear a long shirt, often decorated with tucks and embroidery, over a better-quality wrapper, shoes, and a hat. Women wear wrappers for both informal and formal occasions; the major difference between these is the quality of fabric. For everyday use, the preferred material is cheap cotton that is dyed locally. For formal wear, the wrapper is either woven or batik-dyed, often imported from Holland.
The blouse for formal wear is made of lace or is embroidered. Women also wear a head tie, a rectangular piece of cloth that can be tied around the head in a number of different ways.
Both men and women have distinctive facial markings, although this is becoming less common. For women, the marking is performed as a preliminary to marriage and is called mbubu. the mbubu consists of a series of small slits made in the flesh with a pointed razor. Into these slits, pellets of tightly compressed cotton or palm leaf are inserted, and the whole is smeared with charcoal. The end result is a regular pattern of black oval blobs that stand out on the skin.
The tribal markings of the men, called ichi, are more elaborate and diverse. Some of the Igbo groups use them only on the face, others on the body as well. The latter is often part of the initiation ceremony. The work is done by women; the flesh is cut in a series of lines and soot from a cooking pot is rubbed into them to produce an intensely black effect.
The yam is the staple food of the Igbo. To be deprived of yams creates a condition of acute distress. Whatever substitute may be offered, it cannot satisfy the Igbo palate. There are many varieties, which differ greatly in size, appearance, and flavor. Other starchy foods include rice, cassava, taro, maize and plantains.
Traditionally, the yam was the choice of food for ceremonial occasions. Nowadays, it has been replaced by rice.
A usual meal includes a starch and a soup or stew, prepared with a vegetable, such as okra or bitter leaves, to which pieces of fish, chicken, beef, or goat meat are added. the following recipes are very popular.
Shrimp Jollof Rice
Jollof rice of various types is popular throughout Nigeria, and among the Igbo who live near waterways it is often prepared with shrimp. Elsewhere, the protein may be chicken.
The dish is cooked until the rice grains are soft and separate, but never until they become mushy.
500 g (17.5 oz) shrimp
300 g (10.5 oz) fresh tomato
20 g (0.7 oz) tomato paste
75 g (2.6 oz) onion
fresh red pepper
dry ground pepper
200 g (7 oz) rice
300 ml (11 oz) water
Shell the shrimp. Grind the tomato, peppers, onion, and 6 to 8 shrimp together. Wash, clean, and drain the rice. Heat the oil until it smokes slightly. Add the ground ingredients and cook for 5 minutes. Add 300 ml water and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, and add the rice, salt, and remaining shrimp. Replace cover and bring back to a boil. Heat oven to 120°c (250°f), pour rice mixture into an ovenproof dish, and place in oven. Cook until the liquid is absorbed completely. Stir to loosen the rice grains, replace the cover and allow to sit in warm oven for a few hours with the heat off and door ajar to blend the flavors.
Thin Goat Meat Pepper Soup
This dish may be served with simple shrimp stew and a salad.
480 g (17 oz) goat meat
dry ground red pepper
100 g (3.5 oz) onion
20 g (0.7 oz) tea leaves
20 g (0.7 oz) dried crayfish, ground
100 g (3.5 oz) dried fish (optional)
Wash the goat meat and cut into pieces. Place in a pot and add water to cover. Add salt, pepper, thinly sliced onion and crushed enge. Boil on low heat until the meat is tender. Top up water to cover and add coarsely chopped tea leaves, ground dried crayfish and dried fish. Boil for 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 30 minutes for flavors to blend well.
When Nigeria gained independence from Britain in 1960, its new parliamentary government immediately set out to transform the country into a highly developed, modern nation. It set a priority on education and poured its resources into schooling its people. Universal primary education soon became the norm in southern Nigeria, where the Igbo live. Secondary education also developed rapidly. The Igbo were much involved in these efforts since education had had a long tradition among them, and they saw it as a way of moving forward. One of the first universities in the country, modeled on the American system, was established in Nsukka. This university serves the population of the entire country; however, the majority of students at Nsukka are Igbo. A sign of enthusiasm for education is the fact that in any major city of the country, the majority of civil servants are of Igbo origin.
In addition to the visual arts, the Igbo cultural heritage includes music and dancing. For music making there are a number of wind and stringed instruments. These include the ugene, a kind of whistle made of baked clay, round in form, and about the size of a billiard ball. Chiefs are entitled to carry an ivory horn for sending out messages by powerful blasts of dot-and-dash notes. The horn is blown like a flute, and the note can be varied in length but not in pitch. Probably the most interesting of the Igbo instruments is the ubaw-akwala, a sort of guitar. It has a triangular body formed by three pieces of soft wood sewn together. This instrument is the favorite for accompanying songs and chants and is used by strolling singers in the evenings. Singers are much appreciated, and they must possess not only a gift for music, but poetic ability as well. They improvise their themes as the song proceeds and show great ingenuity in fitting words to tempo and tune.
Dancing is a great Igbo pastime, and it is practiced by everybody capable of movement. There are many forms—for boys, for girls, for men, for women, and for mixed groups, group dancing is associated with religious observances and festivals.
The traditional Igbo economy depends on root-crop farming. Yams, cassava, and many varieties of cocoyam (taro) are the chief staples and provide the majority of the population with its subsistence needs. There are other occupations besides farming, but land is considered the most important asset.
The Igbo system of land tenure is based on four principles:
- All land is owned. There is no concept of abandonment of land or unowned land. Whether the land is cultivated or not, it belongs to somebody.
- Land ultimately belongs to the lineage, or kinship group, and cannot be separated from it.
- Within his lineage, the individual has security of tenure for the land he needs for his house and his farm.
- No member of the lineage is without land.
There is a division of labor according to gender. Men clear all bushes and plant the yams with the help of the women and the children, collectively. Following the planting of yams, the main crop, plots are allocated to the women individually. Each woman plants crops, such as maize, melon, and okra, on the slopes of the hills, and plants pumpkins, beans, cassava, and taro in the spaces between the yam hills.
Trading has become an important source of livelihood for the Igbo. It is no longer possible for them to maintain the desired standard of living by depending entirely on agriculture. There are some Igbo communities where trading has surpassed farming in importance. Trading is an old occupation among the Igbo, and the marketplace has occupied an important place in their economy and life for a long time.
Many Igbo are now engaged in wage labor, with the number of people increasing constantly. The incidence of migrant labor is heaviest in the most densely populated areas. Migration is of three types: villagers seeking paid labor in more urbanized areas within Igboland, those who work in Nigeria but outside Igboland, and those who work outside Nigeria. the opportunities offered to labor, skilled and unskilled, by the economic developments of Nigeria in the past few decades have been grasped by the Igbo. The growing cities, expanding road construction, building boom, new industries, and oil explorations are creating job opportunities demanding varying kinds and degrees of skill; the Igbo are found at every level.
Wrestling is universal among boys and young men, and it is the most popular sport. Every youth who is physically capable practices it and continues to do so until he marries. There are great yearly contests in every part of Igbo country.
The other popular sport is soccer, played traditionally only by boys, but more recently introduced through the school system to girls.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
In addition to rituals, dances, and traditional music, modern forms of entertainment include watching television and going to the movies and discos. Most households own radios, and there are several television sets in each village. The tradition of storytelling continues. As in the past, the Igbo also play games, including card games and checkers. Among the younger people American youth culture is popular, and most young people listen to rap and rock music.
FOLK ARTS, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
The Igbo practice a number of crafts, some engaged in by men only and some by women.
Carving is a skilled occupation and is confined to professional men. They manufacture doors and panels for houses, as well as stools, dancing masks, and boxes for kola and snuff. Tom-toms, or drums, are also the work of specialists. These are hollow blocks of wood and mostly intended not as musical instruments but for spreading information about ceremonies, festivals, and meetings. Another valued craft is that of the blacksmith. It is only practiced by people in certain towns, who are able to control production. The Awka smiths hold the leading place in the profession throughout Igbo country and beyond. They also travel to such distant parts as Bonny, Calabar, and even Lagos, plying their craft. They manufacture items of personal adornment as well as practical items such as hoes and axes. Nowadays, manufactured goods are replacing these implements.
The arts and crafts in the hands of the women include pottery making, spinning, weaving, basketry, and grass plaiting. Earthen pottery is manufactured by women skilled in the art throughout Igbo country. The pottery is limited to vessels designed for utilitarian purposes, and decoration is not developed to any great extent. Spinning of cotton is done by means of a bobbin that revolves by its own weight. Since this equipment is portable, a woman can do her spinning while trading in the market or sitting in her compound. The thread is then woven on hand looms into strips of cloth from 12 in to 15 in wide. The strips are then sewn together and can be used for a variety of purposes. Mat weaving is another of the women's crafts. the craft work of each area is distinguished by its own regional characteristics. One other art practiced by women is artistic abilities in the adornment of their persons by means of stains.
The problems that beset the state of Nigeria in postcolonial times, ranging from a civil war in which the Igbo were principal players to a series of military coups, have affected the Igbo profoundly. Among them there is a continuing distrust of the peoples of the North (primarily the Hausa) and the West (primarily the Yoruba). Although Nigeria is party to several international human rights treaties, the current government's human-rights record is poor.
The crime rate in Nigeria is high, especially in larger urban centers, but rural areas are also affected. Crimes against property generally account for more than half of the offenses. the crime wave was exacerbated by the worsening economic conditions of the 1980s.
Drug-related crime emerged as a major problem in the 1980s. Igboland has so far escaped the worst of this, but young people even here are reputedly now smoking marijuana.
A woman in modern Igbo culture is no longer just a consumer of wealth; she is also a maker of wealth. the traditional values and expectations of the patriarchal Igbo society have changed with the breakdown of the traditional norms, the influence of other cultures, and formal education for women. Igbo women now occupy senior positions in the society just like their male counterparts.
In the past, there were a number of clear-cut expectations for both men and women exerted on the members of the community. For example in the traditional Igbo culture, a boy was expected to display masculinity and stiffness. Femininity in a boy was scorned and a boy would be scolded and beaten to discourage womanish traits. Boys were groomed by their fathers to be brave, bold, adventurous, and audacious. Girls on the other hand were brought up to be soft, subservient, and gentle. Both men and women played their gender roles in a complementary manner. These roles were so deeply indoctrinated into their everyday lives that there was little conflict between the sexes. The gender roles were so clear that a member of either gender doing the opposite of what was expected of him or her would be consider as an abomination. For example, if a girl held her father's gun, that would be an abomination. On the other hand, a girl could stay with the older women in the kitchen as they cooked and told jokes, but the same behavior would be considered unacceptable for a boy.
In traditional Igbo society, the birth of a boy was considered a more joyful occasion than the birth of a girl. For the father, the birth of a son meant the continuation of the family line and a clear path of inheritance. For a mother, the birth of a son brought acceptance in society and a sense of greater acceptance into the husband's family. The birth of a daughter, however, would be welcomed with mixed feelings, especially if she was coming after a line of other girls without a son in-between. Without a son, the father would lose hope of having someone to continue with his lineage, since the girls would grow and be married off, thus leaving the home.
In traditional Igbo society, there was clear division of labor based on one's gender. From an early age, the boy, for example, knew that his duties would include staying close to his father, washing his father's clothing, taking care of the livestock, maintaining farming implements, and gathering yam seedlings for planting. He was expected to protect the girls of the community. He would be allowed to participate in “manly” sports, such as wrestling, and he would accompany his father to social meetings and ceremonies. He was expected to establish himself as a skilled member of the society, perhaps as a farmer, blacksmith, or a shepherd. The man's movements were not restricted.
Girls, however, were taught from childhood that their world began and ended with marriage, childbirth, and caring for the needs of her husband. She was taught that the kitchen would be her primary domain and headquarters.
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann Educational Books, 1958.
Achufusi, G. I. “Female Individuality and Assertiveness in the Novels of Ifeoma Okoye.” In Feminism in African Literature, edited by Helen Chukwuma. Enugu: New Generation Books, 1994.
Agbasiere, J. T. Women in Igbo Life and Thought. London and New York: Routledge and Francise Group, 2000.
Brydon, Lynne, and Sylvia H. Chant. Women in the Third World: Gender Issues in Rural and Urban Areas. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989.
Chinweizu, A. Anatomy of Female Power. Lagos: Pero Press, 1990.
Green, M. M. Ibo Village Affairs. New York: Frederik Praeger, 1964.
Ndiokwere, Nathaniel. Search for Greener Pastures: Igbo and African Experience. Nebraska: Morris Publishing, 1998.
Lerner, Gerda. The Creation of Feminist Consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Obododimma, Oha. “The Semantics of Female Devaluation in Igbo Proverbs.” African Study Monographs, 19 (2) (1998): 87–102.
Ottenberg, Phoebe. “The Afikpo Ibo of Eastern Nigeria.” In Peoples of Africa, edited by James L. Gibbs. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1965.
Ozumba, G. O. “Methodology and African Philosophy.” In Footmark on African Philosophy, edited by A. F. Udiugwomen. Lagos: OOP, 1995.
Turner, James. “Universal Education and Nation-building in Africa.” Journal of Black Studies 2, 1: 3–27.
Uchendu, Victor. The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1965.
Walaka, Jude. The Struggle for an Inclusive Nigeria: Igbo's: To Be or Not To Be. Enugu: SNAAP Press Ltd., 2003.
—reviewed by M. Njoroge
ETHNONYMS: Ala Igbo, Ani Igbo, Ibo, Ndi Igbo
Identification. Igbo is the language spoken in Ala Igbo or Ani Igbo (Igboland) by the people who are collectively referred to as "Ndi Igbo"; their community is known as "Olu no Igbo" ("those in the lowlands and uplands"). Before European colonialism, the Igbo-speaking peoples, who shared similarities in culture, lived in localized communities and were not unified under a single cultural identity or political framework, although unifying processes were present via expansion, ritual subordination, intermarriage, trade, cultural exchange, migration, war, and conquest. Villages and village groups were generally identified by distinct names of their ancestral founders or by specific names such as Umuleri, Nri, Ogidi, Nnobi, Orlu, Ngwa, Ezza, and Ohaffia.
There are several theories concerning the etymology of the word "Igbo" (wrongly spelled "Ibo" by British colonialists). Eighteenth-century texts had the word as "Heebo" or "Eboe," which was thought to be a corruption of "Hebrew." "Igbo" is commonly presumed to mean "the people." The root -bo is judged to be of Sudanic origin; some scholars think that the word is derived from the verb gboo and therefore has connotations of "to protect," "to shelter," or "to prevent"—hence the notion of a protected people or a community of peace. According to other theorists, it may also be traced to the Igala, among whom onigbo is the word for "slave," oni meaning "people."
Igbo-speaking peoples can be divided into five geographically based subcultures: northern Igbo, southern Igbo, western Igbo, eastern Igbo, and northeastern Igbo. Each of these five can be further divided into subgroups based on specific locations and names. The northern or Onitsha Igbo are divided into the Nri-Awka of Onitsha and Awka; the Enugu of Nsukka, Udì, Awgu, and Okigwe; and those of the Onitsha town. The southern or Owerri Igbo are divided into the Isu-Ama of Okigwe, Orlu, and Owerri; the Oratta-Ikwerri of Owerri and Ahoada; the Ohuhu-Ngwa of Aba and Bende; and the Isu-Item of Bende and Okigwe. The western Igbo (Ndi Anioma, as they like to call themselves) are divided into the northern Ika of Ogwashi Uku and Agbor; the southern Ika or Kwale of Kwale; and the Riverrain of Ogwashi Uku, Onitsha, Owerri, and Ahoada. The eastern or Cross River Igbo are divided into the Ada (or Edda) of Afikpo, the Abam-Ohaffia of Bende and Okigwe, and the Aro of Aro. The northeastern Igbo include the Ogu Uku of Abakaliki and Afikpo.
Location. Today Igbo-speaking individuals live all over Nigeria and in diverse countries of the world. As a people, however, the Igbo are located on both sides of the River Niger and occupy most of southeastern Nigeria. The area, measuring over 41,000 square kilometers, includes the old provinces of Onitsha, Owerri, East Rivers, Southeast Benin, West Ogoja, and Northeast Warri. In contemporary Nigerian history, the Igbo have claimed all these areas as the protectorate of the "Niger Districts." Thus began the process of wider unification and incorporation into wider political and administrative units. Presently, they constitute the entire Enugu State, Anambra State, Abia State, Imo State, and the Ahoada area of Rivers State; Igbo-speaking people west of the Niger are inhabitants of the Asaba, Ika, and Agbo areas of Delta State.
Demography. In 1963 the Igbo numbered about 8.5 million and by 1993 had grown to more than 15 million (some even claim 30 million, although there has been no widely accepted census since 1963). They have one of the highest population densities in West Africa, ranging from 120 to more than 400 persons per square kilometer. Igbo subcultures are distributed in six ecological zones: the northern Igbo in the Scarplands, the northeastern Igbo in the Lower Niger, the eastern Igbo in the Midwest Lowlands, the western Igbo in the Niger Delta, the southeastern Igbo in the Palm Belt, and the southern Igbo in the Cross River Basin.
Linguistic Affiliation. Igbo is classified in the Kwa Subgroup of the Niger-Congo Language Family, which is spoken in West Africa. It is thought that between five and six thousand years ago, Igbo began to diverge from its linguistic related neighbors such as the Igala, Idoma, Edo, and Yoruba languages. There are many dialects, two of which have been widely recognized and are used in standard texts: Owerri Igbo and Onitsha Igbo. Of the two, Owerri Igbo appears to be the more extensively spoken.
History and Cultural Relations
Contemporary views in Igbo scholarship dismiss completely earlier claims of Jewish or Egyptian origin—that is, "the Hamitic hypothesis"—as "the oriental mirage." Instead, there are two current opinions as a result of evidence derived from several sources that take into account oral history, archaeology, linguistics, and art history. One suggests the Awka-Orlu uplands as the center of Igbo origin, from which dispersal took place. The second and more recent opinion suggests the region of the Niger-Benue confluence as the area of descent some five thousand years ago, and the plateau region, that is, the Nsukka-Okigwe Cuesta, as the area of Igbo settlement. This first area of settlement would include Nsukka-Okigwe and Awka-Orlu uplands. The southern Igbo would constitute areas of later southward migration.
Until about 1500, major economic, social, and political transformations led to continuous outward migrations from overpopulated and less fertile Igbo core areas to more fertile lands, particularly east of the lower Niger River. The Igbo had cultural relations with their various neighbors, the Igala, Ijaw (Ijo), Urhobo, Edo, and Yoruba. From 1434 to 1807, the Niger coast was a contact point between European and African traders. This was also the period of trade in slaves; this activity resulted in the development of many centralized states owing to greater economic accumulation and the development of more destructive weapons of war. The Portuguese came to Nigerian coastal towns between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; they were the first Europeans to make contact with the Igbo. The Dutch followed in the seventeenth century, and the British came in the eighteenth century. In the late nineteenth century, mission Christianity and colonialist interest worked together for the colonization of Igboland. The Church Missionary Society and the Catholic Mission opened their missions in Onitsha in 1857 and 1885, respectively.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence farming characterizes agriculture among traditional Igbo people. The chief agricultural products include yams, cassava, and taro. Other important subsidiary crops include cocoyams, plantains, maize, melons, okra, pumpkins, peppers, gourds, and beans. Palm products are the main cash crops. The principal exports include palm oil and, to a lesser extent, palm kernels. Trading, local crafts, and wage labor are also important in the Igbo economy. High literacy rates among the Igbo have helped them obtain jobs as civil servants and business entrepreneurs since Nigeria gained independence in 1960.
Industrial Arts. The Igbo blacksmiths of Awka are renowned for their ironsmithing. Men's wood carving and women's pottery and patterned woven cloth are of very high quality, and Igbo carpenters can be found all over Nigeria. The stylized character of Igbo masks consists of figures with beak noses, slit eyes, and thin lips.
Trade. The Ikwo and Ezza in the Abakaliki Division of Ogoja produce a substantial surplus of yams for trade. Women dominate rural retail-market trade. Trading is a major social and economic function of women in traditional Igbo society. Women engage in all sorts of economic activities to make money to purchase the essentials they need. They make mats and pottery and weave cloth. Women do most of the petty trade, which is very active. The manufacture and trade of pottery are almost exclusively the domain of women. Igbo also process palm oil and palm kernels, which they market with the surplus crops from their farm stock, and generally monopolize the sale of cooked foods. They mine and sell salt.
Division of Labor. There is a sexual division of labor in the traditional setting. Men are mainly responsible for yam cultivation, and women for other crops. Usually, the men clear and prepare the land, plant their own yams, cut stakes and train the yam vines, build the yam barns, and tie the harvest. The women plant their own varieties of yam and "women's crops," which include cassava, cocoyams, pumpkins, and peppers. They also weed and harvest the yams from the farm. With regard to palm products, the men usually cut the palm fruit and tap and then sell the palm wine. They also sell palm oil, which the women prepare. In general, women reserve and sell the kernels.
Land Tenure. Most farmland is controlled by kinship groups. The groups cooperatively cultivate farmland and make subsequent allocations according to seniority. To this end, rights over the use of land for food cultivation or for building a house depend primarily on agnatic descent, and secondarily on local residence. It is Igbo custom that a wife must be allocated a piece of land to cultivate for feeding her household.
Kin Groups and Descent. Igbo society places strong emphasis on lineage kinship systems, particularly the patrilineage, although some Igbo groups, such as the Ohaffia, have a matrilineal descent system, whereas groups like the Afipko Igbo have a double descent system. In all the Igbo groups, one's mother's people remain important throughout one's life.
Kinship Terminology. The umunna, children of one father or a localized patrilineage, is made up of specific compound families, which consist of even more basic matricentric household units of each mother and siblings. The umunna is made up of both male and female cognates of an Igbo man's father's lineage. All blood-related kinship groups are bound in the morality or ethics of umunne, the ritualized spirit of a common mother. Ndi-Umune, or ikwunne, is the term used to describe the mother's agnates.
Marriage. Marriage is not a matter for the man and woman alone; it concerns the close kin of both. Marriage arrangements are negotiated between the families of the prospective bride and groom. With regard to the paternity of the wife's children, they belong to the lineage of the husband. When a woman has children out of wedlock, however, they belong to her natal lineage, and not to that of the children's father. Igbo have also institutionalized marriage options permitting "female husbands" in woman-to-woman marriages, in special circumstances. Some daughters with a male status (i.e., "male daughters") do not even have to marry to procreate.
Although females are brought up looking forward to this dual role, it would be misleading to think that the major roles of women in Igbo society are as wife and mother, since Igbo women are prominent in public life as an organized force in both economics and politics. A significant part of a young girl's or a young man's childhood training is geared toward their future roles in the family and as useful and responsible citizens. Women are fully involved in matchmaking and usually participate directly or indirectly in the actual negotiations of marital arrangements for their sons or their daughters, in cooperation with the male members of the families concerned. Women have powerful and active behind-the-scene roles in seeking out the girls they would like their sons to marry. The approval of the mother is vital because the young bride is generally expected to live with her mother-in-law and to serve her for the first few months of marriage, until the new couple can set up an independent household and farmland.
Domestic Unit. Most Igbo lived in villages made up of dispersed compounds. A compound was typically a cluster of huts belonging to individual household units. The typical Igbo village consisted of loose clusters of homesteads scattered along cleared paths that radiated from a central meeting place. The village meeting place usually contained the shrines or temples and groves of the local earth goddess and also served as the market. Large communities often had two such units. Most local communities contained anywhere between 40 and 8,000 residents. Homesteads were generally comprised of the houses of a man, his wives, his children, and sometimes his patrilineal cousins. They were often surrounded by mud walls and were nearly always separated from neighboring homesteads by undergrowth or women's gardens. Northern Igbo women normally decorated the mud walls of their houses with artwork. In the south, houses were made of mud on a stick framework; usually either circular or rectangular, the houses were thatched with either palm leaves or grass and were floored with beaten mud. Co-wives had their own rooms, kitchens, and storerooms. Young children and daughters usually stayed with their mothers, whereas the males lived in separate houses. Population pressure and European architecture has forced significant changes in these old settlement ideals, introducing (cement) brick houses lacking aesthetic appeal.
Inheritance. The bulk of inheritance allotments are granted to the eldest son, who, at the time of the inheritance, becomes responsible for the welfare of his younger siblings. If the eldest son is a minor at the time of his father's death, a paternal uncle will take charge of the property and provide for the deceased brother's family. There is also marriage by inheritance, or levirate—a widow may become the wife of her brother-in-law. In some localities, widows may become the wives of the deceased father's sons by another wife.
Social Organization. Traditional Igbo social life is based on membership in kinship groups and parallel but complementary dual-sex associations, which are of great importance to the integration of society. The associations take several forms, including age grades, men's societies, women's societies, and prestige-title societies such as the Nze or Ozo for men and the Omu, Ekwe, or Lolo for women. The interlocking nature of these groups prevents the concentration of authority in any one association. Age sets are informally established during childhood. Respect and recognition among the Igbo are accorded not only on the basis of age, but also through the acquisition of traditional titles. In Igbo society, an individual may progress through at least five levels of titles. One could liken the acquisition of titles to the acquisition of academic degrees. Titles are expensive to obtain, and each additional title costs more than the preceding one; they are, therefore, considered a sure means to upward mobility.
Political Organization. The basic political unit among the Igbo is the village. Two types of political systems have been distinguished among the Igbo on both sides of the Niger River: the democratic village republic type, found among the Igbo living to the east of the Niger River, and the constitutional monarchy type, found among Igbo in Delta State and the riverine towns of Onitsha and Ossomali. Most of the villages or towns that have the latter type of political system have two ruling monarchs—one female and one male. The obi (male monarch) is theoretically the father of the whole community, and the omu (female monarch) is theoretically the mother of the whole community; the duties of the latter, however, center mainly around the female side of the community.
Women engage in village politics (i.e., manage their affairs, separately from the men). They do this by establishing their own political organizations, which come under an overall village or town Women's Council under the leadership of seasoned matriarchs. It was this organizational system that enabled Igbo women and Ibibio women to wage an anticolonial struggle against the British in 1929 known as the Women's War (Ogu Umunwayi).
Both types of political systems are characterized by the smallness in size of the political units, the wide dispersal of political authority between the sexes, kinship groups, lineages, age sets, title societies, diviners, and other professional groups. Colonialism has had a detrimental effect on the social, political, and economic status of traditional Igbo women, resulting in a gradual loss of autonomy and power.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Although many Igbo people are now Christians, traditional Igbo religious practices still abound. The traditional Igbo religion includes an uncontested general reverence for Ala or Ana, the earth goddess, and beliefs and rituals related to numerous other male and female deities, spirits, and ancestors, who protect their living descendants. Revelation of the will of certain deities is sought through oracles and divination. The claim that the Igbo acknowledge a creator God or Supreme Being, Chukwu or Chineka, is, however, contested. Some see it as historical within the context of centralized political formations, borrowings from Islam and Christianity, and the invention of sky (Igwe) gods. The primordial earth goddess and other deified spirits have shrines and temples of worship and affect the living in very real and direct ways, but there are none dedicated to Chukwu. Ala encapsulates both politics and religion in Igbo society by fusing together space, custom, and ethics (omenala); some refer to Ala as the constitutional deity of the Igbo.
The Igbo concept of personhood and the dialectic between individual choice/freedom and destiny or fate is embodied in the notion of chi, variously interpreted as spirit double, guardian angel, personal deity, personality soul, or divine nature. Igbo have varied accounts of myths of origin because there are many gods and goddesses. According to one Igbo worldview, Chukwu created the visible universe, uwa. The universe is divided into two levels: the natural level, uwa, or human world, and the spiritual level of spirits, which include Anyanwu, the sun; Igwe, the sky; Andala (or Ana), the earth; women's water spirits/goddesses, and forest spirits. Through taboos, the Igbo forge a mediatory category of relations with nature and certain animals such as pythons, crocodiles, tigers, tortoises, and fish.
Religious Practitioners. There are two different kinds of priests: the hereditary lineage priests and priests who are chosen by particular deities for their service. Diviners and priests—those empowered with ofo, the symbol of authority, truth, and justice—interpret the wishes of the spirits, who bless and favor devotees as well as punish social offenders and those who unwittingly infringe their privileges, and placate the spirits with ceremonial sacrifices.
Death and Afterlife. The living, the dead, and the unborn form part of a continuum. Enshrined ancestors are those who lived their lives well and died in a socially acceptable manner (i.e., were given the proper burial rites). These ancestors live in one of the worlds of the dead that mirrors the world of the living. The living pay tribute to their ancestors by honoring them through sacrifices.
Achebe, Chinua (1958). Things Fall Apart. London: Heinemann.
Afigbo, A. E. (1971). The Warrant Chiefs: Indirect Rule in Southern Nigeria, 1891-1928. New York: Humanities Press.
Afigbo, A. E. (1981). Ropes of Sand: Studies in Igbo History and Culture. Ibadan and Oxford: Ibadan University Press and Oxford University Press.
Amadiume, Ifi (1987a). Afrikan Matriarchal Foundations: The Igbo Case. London: Karnak House.
Amadiume, Ifi (1987b). Male Daughters, Female Husbands: Gender and Sex in an African Society. London: Zed Books.
Anyanwu, U. D. and J. C. U. Aguwa, eds. (1993). The Igbo and The Tradition of Politics. Enugu: Fourth Dimension.
Arinze, F. A. (1970). Sacrifice in Ibo Religion. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.
Basden, G. T. (1966). Niger Ibos. London: Frank Cass.
Cole, Herbert (1982). Mbari: Art and Life among the Owerri Igbo. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Forde, D., and G. I. Jones (1962). The Ibo and Ibibio-Speaking Peoples of South-Eastern Nigeria: Ethnographic Survey of Africa. London: Stone & Cox.
Green, M. M. (1947). Ibo Village Affairs. New York: Praeger.
Hodder, B. W. (1969). Markets in West Africa: Studies of Markets and Trade among the Yoruba and Ibo. Ibadan: Ibadan University Press.
Horton, R. (1976). "Stateless Societies in the History of West Africa." In History of West Africa, edited by J. F. Ade Ajayi and Michael Crowder. Vol. 1, 72-113. London: Longman.
Isichei, Elizabeth (1976). A History of the Igbo People. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Isichei, Elizabeth (1978). Igbo Worlds: An Anthology of Oral Histories and Historical Descriptions. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues.
Leith-Ross, Sylvia (1939). African Women: A Study of the Ibo of Nigeria. London: Faber & Faber.
Metuh, E. I. (1981). God and Man in African Religion: A Case Study of the Igbo of Nigeria. London: Chapman.
Nsugbe, Philip (1974). Ohaffia, A Matrilineal Ibo People. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Ohadike, D. C. (1994). Anioma. Athens: Ohio University Press.
Onwuejeogwu, M. A. (1981). An Igbo Civilization: Nri Kingdom & Hegemony. London: Ethiope Publishing.
Uchendu, V. C. (1965). The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
ALTERNATE NAMES: Ibo
LOCATION: Southern Nigeria (Igboland)
POPULATION: 5.5 million
LANGUAGE: Igbo (Kwa subfamily of the Niger-Congo language family)
RELIGION: Tribal religion
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Igbo are the second largest group of people living in southern Nigeria. They are socially and culturally diverse, consisting of many subgroups. Although they live in scattered groups of villages, they all speak one language.
The Igbo have no common traditional story of their origins. Historians have proposed two major theories of Igbo origins. One claims the existence of a core area, or "nuclear Igboland." The other claims that the Igbo are descended from waves of immigrants from the north and the west who arrived in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. Three of these are the Nri, Nzam, and Anam.
European contact with the Igbo began with the arrival of the Portuguese in the mid-fifteenth century. At first the Europeans confined themselves to slave trade on the Niger Coast. At this point, the main item of commerce provided by the Igbo was slaves, many of whom were sent to the New World. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, British companies pushed beyond the coastal areas and aggressively pursued control of the interior. The Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, created in 1900, included Igboland. Until 1960, Nigeria remained a British colony, and the Igbo were British subjects. On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became an independent nation structured as a federation of states.
2 • LOCATION
Igboland is located in southeastern Nigeria, with a total land area of about 15,800 square miles (about 41,000 square kilometers). The Igbo country has four distinct areas. The low-lying deltas and riberbank areas are heavily inundated during the rainy season, and are very fertile. The central belt is a rather high plain. The Udi highlands are the only coal-mining area in West Africa.
It is difficult to obtain accurate census figures for either the Igbo or for Nigeria as a whole. The Igbo population is estimated to be between 5 and 6 million.
3 • LANGUAGE
The Igbo language belongs to the Niger-Congo language family. It is part of the Kwa subfamily. A complicated system of high and low tones indicates differences in meaning and grammatical relationships. There are a wide range of dialects.
|Hello, how are you?||Keku ka imelo?|
|What is your name?||Kedu ahagi?|
4 • FOLKLORE
The Igbo have a system of folk beliefs that explains how everything in the world came into being. It explains what functions the heavenly and earthly bodies have and offers guidance on how to behave toward gods, spirits, and one's ancestors.
The Igbo believe the world is peopled by invisible and visible forces: by the living, the dead, and those yet to be born. Reincarnation is seen as a bridge between the living and the dead.
5 • RELIGION
The major beliefs of the Igbo religion are shared by all Igbo-speaking people. However, many of its practices are locally organized, with the most effective unit of religious worship being the extended family. Periodic rituals and ceremonies may activate the lineage (larger kinship unit) or the village, which is the widest political community.
The Igbo believe in a supreme god who keeps watch over his creatures from a distance. He seldom interferes in the affairs of human beings. No sacrifices are made directly to him. However, he is seen as the ultimate receiver of sacrifices made to the minor gods. To distinguish him from the minor gods he is called Chukwu—the great or the high god. As the creator of everything, he is called Chukwu Abiama.
There are also minor gods, who are generally subject to human passions and weaknesses. They may be kind, hospitable, and industrious; at other times they are treacherous, unmerciful, and envious. These minor gods include Ala, the earth goddess. She is associated with fertility, both of human beings and of the land. Anyanwu is the sun god who makes crops and trees grow. Igwe is the sky god, the source of rain.
In addition to their gods, the Igbo believe in a variety of spirits whose good will depends on treating them well. Forests and rivers at the edge of cultivated land are said to be occupied by these spirits. Mbataku and Agwo are spirits of wealth. Others include Aha njoku (the yam spirit) and Ikoro (the drum spirit).
The Igbo attitude toward their deities and spirits is not one of fear but one of friendship.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
In addition, each town has its own local festivals. Those in the spring or summer are held to welcome the new agricultural cycle. In the fall, harvest festivals are held to mark the end of the cycle.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Circumcision takes place about eight days after the birth of a boy. At this time the umbilical cord is buried at the foot of a tree selected by the child's mother.
The name-giving ceremony is a formal occasion celebrated by feasting and drinking. A wide variety of names may be chosen. The name may be based on anything from the child's birthmarks to the opinion of the diviner, or seer. The name Nwanyimeole —"What can a woman do?"—means that a father desires a male child. Onwubiko —"May death forgive"—expresses the fact that parents have lost many of their children and pray that this child may survive.
The process of marrying a young Igbo woman is a long, elaborate one. It is rarely accomplished in less than a year and often takes several years. The process falls into four stages: asking the young woman's consent, negotiating through a middleman, testing the bride's character, and paying the bride wealth, a kind of dowry.
Death in old age is accepted as a blessing. After death, the body is clothed in the person's finest garments. The corpse is placed on a stool in a sitting posture. Old friends and relatives visit and pay their last respects. Young men wrap the corpse in grass mats, carry it out to the burial ground, and bury it. When the head of a family dies, he is buried beneath the floor of his house. Burial generally follows within twenty-four hours of death.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
Two criteria shape interpersonal relations: age and gender. Respect is given to males, and to older persons. Children are always required to offer the first greeting to their elders.
Social status is based on wealth, regardless of occupation. The Igbo distinguish between obgenye or mbi (the poor), dinkpa (the moderately prosperous), and nnukwu madu or ogaranya (the rich).
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Village life has changed considerably since the discovery of oil in Nigeria. Houses, which used to have mud walls and thatched roofs, are now constructed of cement blocks with corrugated iron roofs. Electricity has been introduced; television sets and radios are now commonplace. Villages have running water, although it is not connected to every house.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Under the practice of polygyny, many Igbo men have more than one wife. A successful man marries as many wives as he can support. This involves providing farm plots to help the women and their dependents make a living. The polygynous family is made up of a man and his wives and all their children. Beyond that unit is the extended family, consisting of all the sons in a family and their parents, wives, and unmarried daughters. The extended family may have anywhere from five to thirty members. Ideally, all of the members of the extended family live in one large compound.
The Igbo family has changed in recent years. Christian marriage and civil marriage are important innovations. Among Igbo professional people, the trend is toward the nuclear family with its own residence.
11 • CLOTHING
The everyday clothing in urban areas is not different from that of Westerners. Traditional clothing is still worn on important occasions in the cities and every day in rural areas. For everyday wear men wear a cotton wrap (robe), a shirt, and sandals. For formal occasions they wear a long shirt, often decorated with tucks and embroidery, over a dressy wrap, shoes, and a hat. Women wear wraps for both informal and formal occasions. The everyday wrapper is made from inexpensive cotton, dyed locally. For formal wear, the wrapper is either woven or batikdyed, and often imported.
The blouse for formal wear is made of lace or embroidered. Women also wear a head tie, a rectangular piece of cloth that can be worn a number of different ways. The Igbo traditional dress is a danshiki, a long, loose-fitting top. Formerly Igbo women added pieces of cloth to show their marital status and number of children.
12 • FOOD
The yam is the staple food of the Igbo. Traditionally, the yam was the food of choice for ceremonial occasions. Nowadays it has been replaced by rice. Other starchy foods include cassava, taro root, maize and plantains.
A typical meal includes a starch and a soup or stew, prepared with a vegetable to which pieces of fish, chicken, beef, or goat meat are added. Jollof rice of various types is popular throughout Nigeria. Among the Igbo who live near waterways it is often prepared with shrimp. The following recipe is very popular.
13 • EDUCATION
Since gaining independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria has set a priority on education. Universal primary education is the norm in southern Nigeria, where the Igbo live. Secondary education has also developed rapidly.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
The Igbo have number of wind and stringed musical instruments. The ugene is a whistle made of baked clay, round in form, and about the size of a billiard ball. Probably the most interesting of the Igbo instruments is the ubaw-akwala, a sort of guitar. It has a triangular body formed by three pieces of soft wood sewn together. It is played by strolling singers in the evenings. Igbo singers improvise as the song proceeds and show great skill in fitting words to the song's rhythm and tune.
Shrimp Jollof Rice
- 1 pound of shrimp, cooked, shelled, and deveined
- 2 or 3 fresh tomatoes, or 1 8-ounce can whole tomatoes
- 1 can tomato paste
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 3 Tablespoons peanut oil
- 1 cup white rice cooked in chicken broth according to directions on the package
- Heat the peanut oil in a large kettle.
- Add the tomato, peppers, onion, and cook for about 3 minutes until the onions and peppers are softened.
- Add the tomato paste, about 2 cups of water, and the red pepper flakes and black pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes.
- While this is simmering, cook the rice in another pot according to package directions.
- Add the shrimp and simmer about 5 minutes longer.
- Combine the shrimp sauce with the rice, and pour mixture into an ovenproof dish and cover.
- Place in an oven set at 250°f. Bake until the liquid is absorbed completely.
- Stir to loosen the rice grains and serve.
The flavors improve if this dish is made several hours in advance and allowed to rest in the oven with the door ajar.
Dancing is a great Igbo pastime, practiced by everybody. There are special dances for boys, girls, men, women, and mixed groups. Group dancing is associated with religious observances and festivals.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
The traditional Igbo economy depends on root-crop farming. Yams, cassava and taro are the chief root crops. There is a division of labor according to gender. Men clear the bush and plant the yams with the help of the women and the children. Following the planting of yams, plots are allocated to the women individually. Each woman plants other crops in the spaces between the yams and also on the slopes of hills.
Trading is an old occupation among the Igbo. The marketplace has become an important source of livelihood. An increasing number of Igbo are now engaged in wage labor. Growing cities, expanding road construction, new industries, and oil exploration are creating many job opportunities.
16 • SPORTS
Wrestling is the most popular sport among boys and young men, with great annual contests in every part of Igbo country.
The other popular sport is soccer. Traditionally played only by boys, it has been introduced to girls through the school system.
17 • RECREATION
Traditional entertainment includes storytelling, rituals, dancing, and music making. Modern forms of entertainment include watching television and going to movies and discos. Most households own radios, and there are several television sets in each village. The Igbo enjoy games, including card games and checkers. Among the younger people American youth culture is popular. Most enjoy listening to rap and rock music.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
The Igbo practice a number of crafts, some performed by men only and some by women. Carving is a skilled occupation practiced only by men. They produce doors and panels for houses, as well as stools, dancing masks, and boxes. Another valued craft is that of the blacksmith.
Women's crafts include pottery making, spinning, weaving, basketry, and grass plaiting.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
The Igbo have been seriously affected by national problems ranging from civil war to military coups.
The crime rate in Nigeria is high. The problem is worst in larger urban centers, but rural areas are also affected. The crime wave was aggravated by the worsening economic conditions of the 1980s. Drug-related crime emerged as a major problem. Igboland has so far escaped the worst of this, although marijuana use among young people has been reported.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Achebe, Chinua. Things Fall Apart. New York: Knopf, 1995.
Njoku, John E. Eberegbulam. The Igbos of Nigeria: Ancient Rites, Changes, and Survival. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1990.
Ogbaa, Kalu. Igbo. Heritage Library of African Peoples. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 1995.
Igbo Homepage. [Online] Available http://www.lioness.cm.utexas.edu/igbo, 1998.
PrimaNet Communications. TheVirtual Igbo Homesites. [Online] Available http://www.igbo.com, 1998.
World Travel Guide. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/ng/gen.html, 1998.