Igbo names and spellings for various settlements
Abakaliki is Abankaleke; Afikpo is Ehugbo; Awgu is Ogu; Awka is Oka; Bonny is Ubani; Enugu is Enugwu; Ibusa is Igbuzö; Igrita is Igwuruta; Oguta is Ugwuta; Onitsha is Onicha; Owerri is Owere; Oyigbo is Obigbo... any more will be added.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Are you a Mason?"

Are You a Mason? A Member of the Egbo, A Nigerian Secret Society, In Costume.
The most important and widespread of the secret societies in Nigeria is the Egbo society, which…may almost be compared to Freemasonry in England. The dress worn by the lowest-grade members is something like a diver’s suit. The man has fringes of black and red grass round his ankles, and, covering his face, is a mask of wood painted white. (p. 774)

– 1909. “At the Sign of St. Pauls.” The Illustrated London News, Vol. 134, No. 3658. Ross Archive of African Images (RAAI).

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Eze Ede

Ndị Ngwa, around Aba, photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1913. MAA Cambridge.

In the Igbo area, in southern parts especially (Abia, Imo, Rivers), women who are highly successful in farming cocoyams take on the Eze Ede, king of cocoyams, or Ikwa Ede title. Eze Ede become the spokespeople for women in the community. Women with even larger mkpuke ede, cocoyam stores, are initiated with the title of Ezumezu. In some communities, the title associated with women's cocoyam farming is referred to as Lọlọ Ede.

Exemplarily of the dualistic nature of Igbo society, Eze Ede is the female counterpart to a major title for men, the Eze Ji title, king of yams, given to successful farmers with large yam barns. Other similar titles are the Diji and Duru Ji titles. Yams are traditionally cultivated by men, cocoyams are the spiritual and folkloric female equivalent of yams.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Ikenga and other Igbo ritual items, French Catholic Mission

Ikenga and other Igbo religious items, French Catholic Mission, perhaps from converts, many artefacts ended up in European museums and private collections this way, not directly looted or bought, but given up and sold and collected in Europe. Friederich, R.P (1916). RAAI Yale University.

The missionary is a revolutionary and he has to be so, for to preach and plant Christianity means to make a frontal attack on the beliefs, the customs, the apprehensions of life and the world, and by implication (because tribal religions are primarily social realities) on the social structures and bases of primitive society. The missionary enterprise need not be ashamed of this, because colonial administrations, planters, merchants, Western penetration, etc., perform a much more severe and destructive attack. Missions, however, imply the well-considered appeal to all peoples to transplant and transfer their life-foundations into a totally different spiritual soil, and so they must be revolutionary.

– International Missionary Council spokesman, c. 1938. "The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World," p. 342.

Onye Ọcha

Onye Ọcha mask, Igbo parody of a white man during the colonial era from Amobia, part of a larger play. Apart from more serious ritual masks, a key part of many Igbo masquerading festivals are comedic and satirical masks. G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge. [Consider the photographer.]

Ghost policemen masks, symbols of colonial powers, part of the same masquerade play as the Oyibo or Onye Ọcha mask from Amobia. G. I. Jones, 1930s. MAA Cambridge.
A performance in the Northern Ibo village of Amobia was opened by a hooded character called “Government”. He had no face and was crowned with a Homburg hat; an elephant tusk horn, symbol of authority, was laid on the ground in front of him and he read in ghostly gibberish from an important-looking document. He and his acolyte withdrew and were succeeded by a parade of ghostly policemen and court messengers wearing imitations of police and messenger uniforms and with cloth masks over their faces and head. They performed a spirited guard drill before being posted by their commander to their stations to control the crowd. Their followed a supercilious white-faced sun-helmeted figure in white drill jacket and trousers called Oyibo (White Man), who inspected the audience and then took his seat amongst the places reserved for the distinguished visitors who had come to watch the play. After him came a succession of characters, some white-faced, representing female spirits, some black or multi-coloured fierce and masculine creatures with masks that combined animal and human features; others again, mainly harmless or comic or benign, representing antelopes, or other animal spirits or characters drawn from village life. Each had his or her special role to play and having acted it withdrew to the secret enclosure or sat on seats at the ringside waiting to repeat his performance. [...] [A] large concerted display which included characters contributed by all the local societies.

– G.I. Jones (1984). "The Art of Eastern Nigeria." pp. 59-60. [Quote via MAA Cambridge.]

Abiriba School – Mission Schools

Pole Vaulting, Abiriba School, today's Abia State, ca. 1930-1940. "Missionaries first entered Abiriba, an Igbo iron-working area, in the early twentieth century. Agwu Otisi, a priest of the witch-doctors’ society, was keen to set up a school in the village and to learn about the new faith of Christianity, eventually becoming a Church Elder. The school was under the charge of Rev. R Collins." USC Digital Library.

As late as 1942 [missionaries] controlled 99 per cent of the schools[.] [...] The mission school was an instrument [...] for the rapid Christianization (and hence Europeanization) of the youth of Nigeria. […] The schools taught young Nigerians to aspire to the virtues of white Christian civilization. They consciously encouraged the emulation of European culture, and unwittingly fostered disdainful feelings toward the "heathen" brothers of their students. Consistent with their preconceptions regarding African culture, the missionaries tended to ignore "African" forms of education because they considered them either evil or nonexistent. The African was treated as a tabula rasa upon which could be written a completely new civilization.
With a few notable exceptions, education in Nigeria was based on learning to read, write, and calculate in the English language. [...] As African history was considered either nonexistent or unimportant, the great men who were studied in the schools were the kings of England and the early white empire builders who came to Nigeria with a new and superior civilization. [...] In literature, Shakespeare and the Bible held the stage. Even today, it is not uncommon to find a semieducated Nigerian working as a steward who can name the principal English cities, quote the Bible, and recite Hamlet, but who has little knowledge of the geography, the proverbs and folk tales, or the prominent leaders and outstanding events in the history of his own country.

– James Smoot Coleman (1958). "Nigeria: Background to Nationalism.” pp. 113–115.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019


Ukara cloth, c. 1900-1950. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Ukara cloths are designed with nsibidi mostly for Ekpe club members to wear and are also used to decorate Ekpe clubhouses. The designs are made by the Igbo people who traditionally used nsibidi widely in society, the Cross River Igbo people, the Bende, Eda, Ohafia, Aro area in today’s Abia State. The designs are taken up to the Ezilo area of today’s Ebonyi State to be resist-dyed, usually with indigo. The dating of ukara is uncertain, but ukara became more common around the late 19th century.

Monday, December 2, 2019


The Ebonyi River from a photo album made before the 1920s. The National Archives UK.

The Igbo people who passed and lived around the Ebonyi River were part of a great expansionist Igbo group that mostly sprang out of an initial migration over the Imo from the Mbano area. The groups, including the Izi, Eza, Ikwo, and Mgbo, were large militaristic groups who were able to overtake the lands of several Upper Cross River groups over the last couple of hundred years.

Mgbo children photographed by Northcote Thomas, c. 1913. MAA Cambridge.

The Ogu Ukwu, as they are collectively called due to their large farm tools, were more remotely related to the other Igbo area with a strong warrior tradition, the Abam-Ohafia-Bende area in addition to the Aro area in today’s Abia State. This northeastern Igbo area that mostly makes up today's Ebonyi State was the last to be conquered by the British.

Culturally and linguistically, this area is quite different from other Igbo areas, for example, ọfọ ritual staffs are not generally found in this area and the horse title took precedence; horses are especially important in this area for ritual use; a lot of the horse trade went through here, salt was a major commodity in the Uburu market. The people of this area are generally expert rice cultivators.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Ikenga

The Ikenga, a 1960s luxury GT car, named after an Igbo icon of achievement. Ebony September 1969.

Expatriate photographer’s dream car stirs GT auto design world in Great Britain
At 29, David Gittens [...] has gained recognition [...] as a member of the growing colony of black Americans who are “making it” abroad[.] [...]
[...] Gittens will probably make the transition from the ranks of the comfortably well-off to those of the wealthy [...] because of the futuristic Ikenga, a car which had its origins somewhere in the mind of a nine-year-old Brooklyn boy two decades ago. [...]
[...] Gittens’ Ikenga (named for a mythical two-horned animal representing man’s life force in the culture of the Ibo tribesmen of West Africa) began to take shape in sketches on a roll of photographic paper in his studio. It was to be a luxury car of the GT ( grand touring) class.
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