Table of Contents
History & Meaning
The Igbo people are descended from the Nri Kingdom, the oldest in Nigeria. They make up around 18% of the population in southeast Nigeria and have a variety of traditions and customs. This tribe is distinct from the others because there is no hierarchical governance. Igboland was included in the British Empire’s Southern Nigeria Protectorate in the late 19th century, and it was merged with the rest of modern-day Nigeria in 1914. Nigeria became a sovereign nation in 1960. However, Igboland soon became caught up in its most significant conflict at the height of the secessionist agitation in Biafra.
One of the many creation myths in various sections of the Igbo community is one that the Nri people of the Igbo nation hold. The Umueri clan, which can trace its ancestry back to the patriarchal king-figure Eri, is home to the Nri and Aguleri people.
Though his origins are unknown, Eri has been identified as a Chukwu-sent “sky entity” (God). He has been credited with first establishing order among the Anambra people. “Nri and Aguleri, and part of the Umueri clan, is a cluster of Igbo village groups that trace its roots to a sky being called Eri,” according to historian Elizabeth Allo Isichei.
Igbo is a tonal language with numerous varieties, including the Ikwerre and Ekpeye languages, which are Igboid languages. Igbo dialects that might serve as the foundation for a standard Igbo dialect, also known as Central Igbo, were the subject of a study mission conducted by Dr. Ida C. Ward in 1939. This dialect encompassed the Ohuhu dialect and that of the Owerri and Umuahia tribes. All gradually accepted this proposed dialect.
John Goldsmith used the Igbo language as an illustration, to support deviating from The Sound Pattern of English’s traditional linear phonological approach. It is written in the Roman script and the codified Nsibidi ideograms, which are still employed by the Okonko fraternity and the Ekpe society but are no longer generally utilized.
The Igbo used Nsibidi ideography before the 16th century, but it was abandoned once secret societies adopted it and turned it into a secure means of communication. The complexity of the Igbo language stems from its wide variety of dialects, plenty of prefixes and suffixes, and heavy intonation.
The Igbo developed a stronger feeling of a unique ethnic identity due to increased interactions with other Nigerians following the entrance of the British in the 1870s. As a result, the diversity within Nigeria’s major ethnic groups gradually declined under British colonial control. In contrast, disparities between the Igbo and other sizable ethnic groups, such as the Hausa and the Yoruba, became more pronounced.
Communities were the basis for Igbo political organization before colonialism; no kings or supreme chiefs existed. Igbo development is dramatically diverging from political tendencies in pre-colonial West Africa due to forming a heterarchical society instead of a hierarchical organization. An assembly of the ordinary people exclusively controlled the majority of Igbo village governments, except Igbo towns like Onitsha, which had monarchs known as Obis, and places like Nri and Arochukwu, which had priest kings known as Eze.
Even while title holders were honored for their achievements, they were never treated with the same respect as monarchs. Their role in society was to carry out specific tasks assigned to them by the assemblies, not to pass legislation or establish rules. This form of government was very distinct from most others and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana.
The attempted secession of Nigeria’s southeastern regions under the banner of the self-declared Republic of Biafra led to the Nigerian Civil War, often known as the Biafran War, which lasted from July 1967 until January 1970. The famine in parts of the besieged war-bound regions and the ensuing accusations of genocide made by the Igbo people of those regions made the war notorious.
Igboland suffered terrible damage from the conflict, destroying numerous hospitals, schools, and homes. Furthermore, the Federal government only permitted a meager reimbursement of £20 per adult bank account holder in exchange for their access to all the hard money saved in Nigerian banks before the conflict.
In addition to losing their money, many Igbo discovered that other ethnic groups and the new non-Igbo federal government discriminated against them. As a result, many Igbo had problems finding work due to employer discrimination, and by the early 1970s, the Igbo were one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nigeria.
During twenty years, Igboland was gradually rebuilt, and the economy was once more thriving as a result of the expansion of the petroleum sector in the nearby Niger Delta, which encouraged the construction of new companies throughout southern Nigeria. In time, many Igbos were able to reclaim their government positions. However, the Igbo people still have a lot of issues, including persistent discrimination and forced emigration brought on by overpopulation.
Tradition & Culture
The diverse practices, traditions, and customs of the Igbo people make up their culture. It includes outdated businesses and fresh ideas incorporated into Igbo culture either naturally or due to external influences. The Igbo people’s visual art, language use, music, and dancing styles, as well as their apparel, cuisine, and language dialects, are all examples of their customs and traditions. Their culture’s diversity is heightened further due to their numerous subgroups.
The Igbo settled legal disputes by swearing allegiance to a god without judicial oversight. He was guilty if the person passed away within a specific period. If not, he was free to leave but might have to go into exile or serve a god if found guilty.
The Igbo people used a calendar with a four-day workweek. Seven weeks made up a month, whereas thirteen months comprised a year. A day was added in the previous month. This calendar still determines the market days in cities and villages.
The early Igbo had a banking system for savings and loans called Isusu and a mathematical technique known as Okwe and Mkpisi. Nsibidi was a ceremonial script used by Igbo secret societies.
Polygamy was once a common practice among Igbo men. A man’s wives, children, and offspring comprise the polygamous family. To establish a more prominent family, including kids to help on farms, men have occasionally married many wives for financial reasons. With colonialism, the Igbo family has transformed due to Christian and civil marriages. Due primarily to Western influence, Igbo people frequently engage in monogamous courtships and start nuclear families. Some Western wedding traditions, such as church weddings, are observed before or after the traditional Igbo marriage.
Asking a young woman to get married typically entails getting her consent, introducing her to the man’s family and the other way around, assessing the bride’s morals, investigating her family history, and paying the bride’s wealth. Usually, the wealth of the bride is more symbolic. Yet, the proposal also includes kola nuts, wine, goats, and chickens, among other items.
Both parties can share a ceremonial feast if the bride’s fortune is negotiated over more than one day. Via negotiations between the two families, marriages were occasionally prearranged from conception. However, following a series of interviews with 250 Igbo women in the 1990s, it was discovered that 94.4% of that sample group disapproved of arranged marriages.
Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, Delta, and Rivers State are native homes to the Igbo people. Although Nigerian English, the country’s official language, is also spoken in some locations, the Igbo language predominates there. Popular towns and cities in Igboland include, among others, Aba, Enugu, Nnewi, Onitsha, Owerri, Abakaliki, Asaba, and Port Harcourt. In addition, Igbos have relocated to other regions of Nigeria, including Lagos, Abuja, and Kano.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the Igbo ethnic group makes up 40% of Nigeria’s 225 million residents or around 40 million people.
The Igbo dominate Southeastern Nigeria, the most populated region in Nigeria and maybe Africa. However, the majority of the southeastern Nigerian ethnic groups, including the closely related Efik and Ibibio people, are sometimes mistakenly labeled as Igbo by other Nigerians and ethnographers who are unfamiliar with the region.
The government’s official statistics on ethnic groups’ populations in Nigeria are still debatable, though, since a small number of these groups have alleged that the government purposefully inflates the numbers for one group to give the other group a numerical advantage.
Various percussion instruments are incorporated into the Igbo people’s musical style, including the ekwe, a hollowed-out log; the ogene, a hand bell made of forged iron; and the udu, which is essentially designed from a clay jug. Igba, ichaka, and opi are some other instruments. Opi is a wind instrument akin to the flute.
Highlife is a different type of music that the Igbo are fond of. Highlife, a highly listened-to musical style in West Africa, combines jazz and traditional music. Dr. Sir Warrior, Oliver De Coque, Bright Chimezie, and Chief Osita Osadebe, some of the most well-known Igbo highlife musicians of the 20th century, are examples of the modern Igbo highlife.
One of the most popular forms of art in Igboland is masking(masquerading) which is closely related to Igbo traditional music. A mask may be fashioned from wood, fabric, iron, or natural materials like plants. They are frequently used in social satire, religious ceremonies, initiations into secret societies (like the Ekpe society), and public festivals, which increasingly include Christmas celebrations.
Numerous Igbo dance forms exist, but atilogwu dance regiments are probably the most well-known ones. During the performances, the dancer performs acrobatic feats like high kicks and cartwheels while guided by the local instruments’ rhythms. The Egedege Dance is another South Eastern Nigerian Igbo traditional royal cultural dance.
The Igbo people are primarily involved in traditional practices and Christianity. However, they also have those who say they are Jews.
Odinani is the name of the traditional religion of the Igbo. The Igbo people believe that Chukwu, the supreme deity in Odinani and the creator deity, is in charge of all in the spiritual realm, including everything in heaven and on earth. Therefore, he is also regarded as the creator deity.
The name Chukwu, according to linguistic studies of the Igbo language, is a combination of the Igbo terms Chi, a spiritual entity, and ukwu, referring to a great size.
During European colonization, the Igbo people were exposed to Christianity around 1857. However, the Igbo people were first wary of accepting Christianity because they thought their traditional religion’s gods would do them harm.
Nonetheless, with the help of church agents, Christianity increasingly won adherents in Igbo territory. These men concentrated on influencing the youth to adopt Christian principles while building schools. As a result, the Igbo are recognized as the African ethnic group that has embraced Christianity the most.
Members of the Jewish Igbo community claim they are descended from Jews who traveled to western Africa over a long period by traveling through North Africa and as far south as sub-Saharan Africa, probably following the route of the Arab conquests. In addition, some Nigerian Jews believe that some of the families in the community are descended from the Jewish priests and their servants known as Kohanim and Levites, who lived in West Africa during the reigns of the Songhai, Mali, and Ghana empires and served in the Temple of Jerusalem.
Clothing & Traditional Attire
The Igbo traditionally wore very little clothing because the original function of clothing was to cover up one’s private parts. From birth until the start of adolescence, when they were thought to have something to hide, children were frequently naked for this reason. Both men and women had their bodies decorated with uli body art, which consisted of lines that formed patterns and shapes.
Many ethnic groups in Africa still employ the custom of mothers carrying their infants on their backs while tying a piece of material to their chest to secure the two.
The child carrier is a modernization of this technique. In addition to other jewelry like necklaces and beads, maidens typically wore a short wrapper with beads around their waist. Men and women wore wrappers equally. Men would dress in loincloths, suitable for both the oppressive heat and jobs like farming, and wrapped around their waists and between their legs to be secured at the rear.
As colonialism gained sway, the Igbo modified their dress codes. Before colonialism, clothing became “traditional” and was worn for cultural events. Men’s modern Igbo traditional clothing often consists of an Isiagu top, similar to the Dashiki used by other African ethnic groups. Isiagu (or ishi agu) can be a solid color or patterned with lions’ heads embroidered over the outfit. It is worn with pants and can be accessorized with either the traditional striped men’s hat known as okpu agu or the ceremonial title holder’s hat. Two wrappers, a head tie, and a shirt with puffy sleeves are worn for ladies.
The supreme deity’s name is Chukwu, which means “great spirit.” Chukwu is also known as the creator of the universe and everything in it. They hold that the universe comprises four intricate parts: creation, known as Okike; supernatural powers or deities, known as Alusi; gods/spirits, known as Mmuo; and Uwa, the material world. Ala is the goddess of the ground, the nature of both human and agricultural fertility.
God of the skies is Igwe. Imo Miri is also known as the river spirit. Fishing is not permitted in such deified rivers because the Igbo believe they have a spiritual quality. Finally, the spirit of wealth is Mbatuku. The domestic spirit of women is called Ekwu, or the hearth spirit. The yam spirit is Aha njuku, also known as Ifejioku, and the drum spirit is Ikoro.